Prologue: Standing Down
God, he was tired. It wasn’t the shift in time zones, or the fact that they’d been running him through an obscenely overblown gauntlet of tests. Not even going to the funeral was doing it.
It was simply the fact that he’d been going on for eighteen months, now. Nonstop. All by himself. His team was dead, the pass was safe, he was back in the states, the press was going nuts over him, and the army just wanted him to keep going, like some combination of Energizer bunny and Rambo.
James Joseph Ellison just wanted to rest. How long had it been since he’d just kicked back, slept without keeping a paranoid ear out for intruders, gone without a weapon by his side? Even in Bali, with Lila, he’d rarely, truly let down his guard.
The twenty-one salute blasted out, loud enough to make him want to break military stoicism and flinch, cover his ears. It sounded almost too loud to handle. A lot of things were that way. Too much. It was like the vibrancy of the jungle had traveled with him, making colors brighter, sounds more acute, sensations in general so much more alive.
Ironic, here at a funeral. It was the third he’d borne witness to for these men. The first had been his own work, a simple, contrived burial with a few heartspoken words soon after the crash. The second had been a concession to the Chopec, who did not want the spirits of vengeful warriors wandering around because they had not been given a proper farewell. At least, by Chopec standards. Since he had to live and work with the tribe, he allowed them to do their thing. Then the army had finally come for him, exhuming the bodies and returning them to the states for this third, official and cold ceremony.
He was ready to go home now. Home. Where the hell was that, anyway? All he knew was that it was no longer in the military.
“Captain Ellison?” He turned to find yet another one of his keepers. The man nodded at his salute. “Please, come with me.”
He didn’t bother even sighing as he followed the man, obediently sitting silently through the car ride, waiting until the questions began inside some government interrogation room. *Ah, the joys of debriefing,* he thought sourly to himself, the small, tired mental rebellion the only protest he allowed himself. His discharge papers were in the mail, all it came down to now was getting through the last rounds of emphasizing what he didn’t know and couldn’t tell.
Over and over again. The same damn thing. God, let it end!
His mental pleas didn’t seem to have any effect, as it lasted several more very intense hours. When he could finally escape, he was so exhausted that instead he remained sitting, letting the officers drift out first. For awhile he just stared at nothing, finally focusing on the mirrored window that surely hid observers. Not that he gave a damn. SOP, all of it. Jim finally sighed and refocused, taking in his reflection. Nothing really unusual, same thing he’d been seeing from the mirror since he’d returned. Same thing he saw in the damn papers, all plastered with the military’s official picture, of him in dress uniform, and the one that some camera happy idiot from the “rescue team” had taken of him in Peru before they’d left. If the kid was lucky, he’d get enough money off that picture to replace the camera Jim had broken.
Not that the picture was any more impressive than how he looked currently. It was all the same. He was just... tired.
He allowed himself one more sigh as he hauled himself to his feet and headed out the door. He was stopped just outside when another man called his name. Jim turned to see a well built man, just short enough to make his height noticeable, dressed in civvies, and with the exception of his regulation short hair, so much like one of the Chopec that it gave him a case of the shivers. It was like he’d never get out, never be free. Just an endless, Twilight Zone of eternal debriefing. “Sir,” he declared instead, pulling up into a weary salute. Never mind if it wasn’t necessary. Better safe than sorry. The man, who was surely only a few years older than he, waved it off, and Jim relaxed, still keeping perfect posture under the man’s strange scrutiny. For a few disconcerting moments, it seemed like the man’s probing brown eyes were scrutinizing his very soul, all through his own eyes.
Then in an abrupt motion, the man nodded, apparently finding whatever metaphysical shit he was after. “Congratulations, Captain,” he declared, holding out an envelope. “You don’t have to stand sentinel any more. They want you over in 351 to sign some papers, and you can go.”
“Thanks,” Jim almost mumbled as he took the papers, unnerved by the man’s strange behavior. He turned and headed down the hallway, then paused and looked back. The man was still watching him. For a second, Jim could swear he heard the growl of a large cat, and see the ephemeral outline of a bobcat’s snarling face covering that of the man’s. He blinked and shook his head, and the strange sensations disappeared. Damn, he really was tired. Yes, he was ready to stand down indeed.
Enter the Watchman
The phone was ringing. Corin was more than able to accept that fact. Having it ring at oh-three-fucking-hundred, however, was something he detested. He groaned and rolled over in bed, getting handset from base with practice that made things only slightly easier. “What?” he grunted, mentally snarling wordless threats. He was getting old, he deserved his rest, dammit!
“Corin?” a male voice asked, familiar but names not making it through the mental fog of disrupted sleep.
“Who the hell else would it be?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” the voice chuckled. “Depends on if you kept up your habits of hiring bed partners.”
Old jokes, along with the laugh, triggered fond memories, making him sit up and actually wake up. Suddenly wondering how the hell he could’ve NOT recognized the voice, he couldn’t stop a grin. “Zane. Goddamn, it’s been too long.”
Again with the laugh. “Amen to that. Look, I’ve got a question for you. You remember a soldier- Ranger, a Captain James J. Ellison? He made it big in the news about five years ago-”
“When he got dragged out of Peru. Held a pass against... eh, something or another nasty for a year on his own, men dead. Honorable discharge a few months later. Yeah, I remember.”
“Your memory’s fading, then. Was 18 months, not 12. But I’ll let it go this time. Did you read his debriefing report?”
Corin paused long enough to drag sleepers out of his eyes, trying hard to recall the obscure case. “Probably,” he admitted ruefully, “but nothing’s springing to mind. Why?”
“He showed evidence of sentinel abilities.”
“SHIT!” He pounded the mattress in frustration, then raked his hand through his hair, pausing as if to tear it out. “And we let him loose?! Goddamn, black ops trained, anti-insurgence, AND a fucking sentinel candidate?! Why the hell didn’t we follow this up?”
“Easy there, easy. We did. He got the standard follow-up tests, probably thought it was an extra for his debriefing. He registered a bit higher than normal, but nowhere near what the retrieval team reported. He shut his senses down.”
“Damn, I hate it when they do that.”
“You and me both. Anyway, from limited reports it looks like they came back online with a vengeance. But here’s the kicker. He’s picked up a partner, and unlike Ellison, he’s not a cop. Looks like a goddamned hippy, goes to the local university for a higher and deeper in anthropology. The REALLY scary shit is this kid’s planned doctorate looks like it’s supposed to be about sentinels.”
Corin groaned and flopped back on the bed. “Where the hell do these nuts come from, and why don’t we catch more of them?”
“Sorry,” Zane deadpanned, “I think our lords and masters are more concerned with the Area 51 conspiracy freaks.”
“You do know they’re probably recording this as we speak?”
“Of course. Why else would I say it like that?”
He laughed and shook his head, wondering once more at his friend’s unending, albeit downright weird, sense of humor. “Well, you have any suggestions before I go and try to sort this out?”
There was a pause, a hesitation unfitting the other man. “Actually, my recommendation is to leave them alone.”
“You been doing crafts again?”
“Cor, shut the hell up about that or I swear I’ll kill you.”
He laughed again, gloating over the memory of when Zane had used a pot of rubber cement and ending up accidentally high from the fumes. He still got a hell of a kick reminding his old friend about it. “Ok, ok, it’s dead.”
“It better, ‘cause otherwise you’ll be. Anyway. Look, the partner- if they don’t kill each other, that is, I swear they’re complete opposites- has some interesting theories. If he goes and does what he wants with Ellison, they might stumble over something we’ve missed. You’ve got to admit, we’re turning just a bit stagnant.” In his mind, Corin could see the man shrug, that trademark grin splitting his dark face. “Fresh blood can do a lot, if it comes with unorthodox experience.”
“And if it doesn’t work, we have a dead sentinel and a potential field partner. Not to mention what’ll happen if he does complete that doctorate.”
Zane sighed. “And if they die, we lose nothing but potential. And come on, admit it. We’ve got minimal funding as is, can you imagine trying to fit another team in on our current budget? We have nothing to lose here, Cor. Let them go, keep some tabs on them, and see if they learn some new tricks. If they don’t, well, you can always recruit them later. If they do....” He faded off, leaving untold dreams unspoken.
It was Corin’s turn to sigh. “Is that your professional opinion, soldier?”
“All right then.”
Silence stretched between them, past comfortable to finally seem to mimic the time and physical distance between them. “It’s been too long,” Zane finally admitted softly. “Too goddamned long.”
“That’s the way life is,” Corin replied with equal softness. “That’s the way our jobs are.”
“Yeah, I suppose.” Another, shorter pause. “You should come visit some time. Say you're there to inspect the facility, or some shit like that.”
A weak and weary grin tugged at Corin’s lips. “I wish, but I have enough crises here at the capital.” He sighed, then gave in to impulse. “But I do miss seeing your ugly mug more often.”
“Same here. Well. I have to go harass some more of the ‘cruits early tomorrow, so I’d better let you go.”
“Sure. I’ll see ya, Zane.”
“I’ll see you first.” The customary good-bys done with, the phone began emitting the dial tone. Corin gently put it down, then his fingers slowly released their hold and drifted to the photo resting in the place of honor beside it. Slowly, as if reluctant to do so, he picked it up and drew it close, hardly needing the faint illumination from the streetlight to make out the figures captured in time. Two dark skinned young men, dressed in fatigues, still just barely in their teens, standing side by side with arms draped over the other’s shoulders. The man on the left was half Amerindian but looked full blood, riding high on war stories about a Navaho code talker father who died during World War II. The man on the right, simply of Arabic-decent – almost three generations American – who wanted to do his duty for his country. Dear god, no wonder they ended up in so much trouble. And equally no wonder they’d so easily accepted the other’s friendship.
Corin sighed and gently put the picture down. Zane had been right: it had been too long. But right now, he needed to update his files.
He had a new sentinel.
The sudden voice outside his jail cell snapped his gaze up from the investigation of the peeling paint in the corner. On the other side of the bars stood a man of moderate height, his clothes casual, and short black hair marked only by the fact that his bangs draped over one of the glacial green eyes currently trying to bore a hole through Lee Brackett.
Shit, the rogue thought, almost willing to swear his heart skipped a beat. He’d never seen this operative out in the field, but he knew quite well what sort of tales the man had created. Tales no doubt that had been toned down to hide important details. “Corin,” Lee said calmly, covering his panic under professional tranquility, “this is a pleasure.”
“Bullshit,” the man snapped. “We both know I’m here to tie up your goddamn loose ends.” He began to pace in front of the cell, prowling around while glaring at Brackett. “What the hell were you thinking, Lee?” he finally asked, quiet, calm... dangerous. The quiet before the storm, an eruption, the explosion to end them all. “Using a Sentinel to go after a plane. A goddamned plane.” Corin shook his head and sighed. “You know, I really did think more highly of your intelligence. I mean, the A.V.C.X., well, that I can see. It fits you. The Ebola virus as insurance, well, that takes balls. But a Sentinel....”
Lee could feel his last bargaining chip dribble away down the drain. They knew. They fucking knew about the Sentinel thing! He’d gone into the whole damn thing thinking he’d been the first to connect Sandburg and Ellison to the enhanced senses, and all the time they KNEW?!?! “You were expecting this, weren’t you?”
Corin snorted derisively. “If you were paying any attention, you’d already know I had overestimated your intelligence concerning that. When I was informed you were in the area stirring up shit, and Ellison was asking about you....” He shrugged. “Sadly enough, I’ve long since come to the conclusion that Sentinels attract trouble.”
Only long practice and training kept the rogue from commenting. They knew about more out there. Shit. And if he was getting this information for free.... “Just shut up and kill me already.”
That actually shocked the other man into silence for a moment. Then he threw his head back and laughed uproariously. “Kill you?” he finally managed to gasp, “oooh no. No, Mr. Brackett, you’re too valuable for us to kill you, at least, right now.” He straightened, and grinned. “Even bent tools can be used. Some can even be straightened. Use that vaunted intellect of yours.” He suddenly lunged forward, catching Brackett’s prison suit and dragging him forward, mashing him against the bars. “And remember,” Corin hissed, “never, ever fuck with me. That includes fucking with my Sentinel teams. Approach one of them again and you will find out just why they manage to keep the crime rate so low.”
Lee was released casually, flicked away like a bug while Corin brushed his hands off. “You’ll be transported in an hour. I’ll see you at your new post.”
* * *
Corin walked from the detention center, almost pleased enough with the situation to hum to himself.
“Almost” being the keyword. The fact that Brackett had come so close.... He sighed, the good mood disappearing. That had been too close. Thank God he’d been able to learn about the situation in enough time to control the damage. Speaking of....
He pulled out his cellphone and hit redial. “Jack Kelso,” a voice on the other end declared.
“Jack. This is Corin. Thanks for that tip. We’ve got everything nicely wraped up on this end.”
“Hey, you know I’m glad to help. Besides, I like Sandburg. He’s a little offbeat, but not a bad person. He going to get any fallout?”
“We’ve got it covered. The government will be happy to deal with the threat of Brackett for a signed confidentiality contract with Ellison and Sandburg.”
Kelso snorted in what had to be disgust. “So then you get to use him some more, until he becomes a liability again..... Damn it all! This is why I left.”
“Jack, calm down. I can personally guarantee that the agency will never use him again. I’m not talking anything violent or permanent, but I will make sure he’ll keep away from the C.I.A.”
“Your word on it?”
“That’s good enough for me.”
“Good. And hey, call me again, Kelso. Good to hear from you.”
“I’ll do that. And if there’s more Ellison/Sandburg difficulties....”
“Call me immediately then, too. Take care, Jack.”
Corin terminated the call, and gave in to temptation on the way to his car, humming as he walked across the parking lot.
It was turning into a good day.
“Oh. My.” Corin stared at the TV in bemusement. No wonder Jenna had been laughing so much when she’d given him the tapes. He’d been seeing the TV executive on and off for several months, a pleasant relationship they both considered temporary and purely physical. But she’d been present during an Ellison Alert. Actually, it’d been a legitimate request from Cascade about a string of bank robberies, but that was close enough for Corin. Anything dealing with the freelance Sentinel had his attention. When Jenna had seen a picture of Ellison, she’d inexplicably started laughing almost hysterically. His demands of why had been answered several hours ago in the form of these tapes put together by one of Jenna’s reporters. Highly amusing, in a cheap, docudrama of a cop show way.
He laughed, a deep, long bellow, then rewound the tape. Onscreen, the door opened to reveal a boxer clad Jim Ellison, holding a gun and backed by Blair Sandburg, also in boxers. Ellison did his best to terrorize the reporters, and Corin just laughed. *Damn, Jenna. I owe you a hell of a dinner for this.*
Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes
“Excuse me?” the corporal called from the doorway. The man sitting behind the cluttered desk looked up with definite interest, green eyes mild underneath black bangs.
“Yes?” he answered, voice just as casual as the way he was dressed. The slacks and button down shirt were as rare as hen’s teeth around the military facility, usually a clear sign of “civilian.” Despite the fact that the neat, yet lived in office was as far from things in the building as it could get, and considering the news he carried, not to mention that he’d been specifically sent as messenger, the corporal decided this was the other type.
The dangerous type.
“I was sent to tell you there’s been an Ellison Alert.” Having done his duty, the corporal stood at attention. He’d been told to wait for an answer, although what on earth an ‘Ellison Alert’ was, he was sure he didn’t want to know. Not the way the ‘civilian’ straightened, his eyes hardening as his entire attention focused in on the messenger.
“Really. Who? What happened?”
He rattled off the appropriate serial number, mentally thanking the powers that be for actually sending him prepared. “I believe there was a request for satellite photos, in the La Montańa region.”
“I see. Thank you. Dismissed.”
He resisted the urge to obey. “I was told to take back an answer, sir.” The title slipped loose automatically, a survival trait he wasn’t ready to give up. The man behind the desk glared up at him. “Then say I’m dealing with it. Dismissed, soldier,” he declared, steel in his tone.
Survival instincts overrode thinking, the voice touching off the order to retreat in his hind brain. Hastily walking away, he couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief for making it out of what felt like a dragon’s den. God willing, he’d never find out what an Ellison Alert was.
* * *
Corin sat back in his chair, following the sound of the soldier’s footsteps hurry down the hallway. Finally satisfied that he would not be disturbed again, he steepled his fingers and lapsed into thought. La Montańa. That was where he’d disappeared, what... six years ago? Ellison had always been an annoying one. Problem after problem....
Never mind that they ALL attracted trouble like Venus Flytraps attracted bugs. Ellison had the unique ability to attract about five times more than anyone else. Perhaps the region had something to do with it. Well, no matter. He shook off the thoughts and turned to the computer, quickly checking the general files. Nothing going on there that needed to be confidential, and he’d personally made sure that nothing remained for Ellison to find suspicious.
So why was he looking in the first place? Was this a Sentinel matter, or not?
A few minutes debate, then he sighed and dialed the Pentagon, quickly locating Ellison’s contact. “Go ahead and send the photos,” he ordered. “But get some information why, if you can.”
After hanging up, he went back to pondering the situation. “Jim, Jim, Jim,” he murmured to himself, so softly that no normal human being could ever hear, “why do you give me these fits?” Heaving a sigh, he reluctantly went to update his most troublesome Sentinel’s file.
“I WANT ZELLER!!!”
“I’m sorry, sir,” the Fan Belt Inspector flunky stated with obviously fake serenity, “but I can’t allow you in.”
Corin got even further into the flunky’s face. “Listen closely, you pompous little prick. I have authority from the United States army to get in there. Let. Me. In. Do you have any idea who I am and what I can do?”
“You’re a washed up Mulder wannabe for the military’s spook squad that technically doesn’t exist, so technically, all you can do is stand there and make asinine threats.”
*Awww, shit.* Corin straightened and turned, glaring down at Lindsey. He and the agent had a long history together, and none of the good parts were really enough to make her less of a bitch. “Thank you so much for that charming infodump,” he snarled. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
She gave him a grin that was all teeth, no humor. “I’m in charge, asshole. We have a righteous claim on Zeller. The army does not.”
Corin bit back a frustrated growl and a comment about over-righteous people. Had to admit, it’d been pure luck that Ellison had contacted the CIA over Zeller, and even more luck that the info had trickled down to him. All told, it was probably a miracle he’d made it to Zeller’s prison cell before the bastard was locked up tighter than the stick shoved up Lindsey’s ass. “Look, Ellison is a matter of my concern. He and a fucking _anthropologist _ caught an international terrorist that’s managed to escape you idiots for far too long. I want to know just what he’s up to.”
Lindsey sneered at him. “Read the report. Or better yet, talk to Ellison yourself.” She turned as if to sweep away, paused, then glanced back. “Let me guess. He’s one of your superwimps, right?”
He forced a disgusted snort. “Hardly. Just knew him way back. We went through boot camp together.”
It was her turn to snort. “I think he’s a little young, _dear_. But I suppose you always did go for the younger type. Like... oh, what was his name? Bane?”
The world almost disappeared in a red haze. “Bitch.”
“Oh, was that it? My mistake. Bitch Zane. Yes, it fits him.”
The red haze in front of his eyes increased, and it was the thinnest line keeping him from trying to beat her face in. “You’re going too damn far over the line, Lins. You don’t need to go after my friends, stick to assaulting my character.”
“Friends?” she mocked. “Funny, that’s not what I heard twelve years back. Something about a stubborn, naďve whore-mongering son of a bitch was more like it.” She shrugged, almost looking like she really didn’t care. “Of course, you always did say the oddest things during sex.”
The red haze drained away, apparently switching to a flush that burned in his cheeks. “Well, that’s probably the last time you got any, so I don’t fault you for a misinterpreted memory.” There’d been a lot more cursing at the time.
Her eyes narrowed, the only sign she ever showed of her more intense anger. “Sorry to disappoint you, but I’ve actually been married a decade.” He gaze flicked to the side of the corridor behind him. “And speaking of.” She waved to a dark complexioned man, who trotted up to pull her into a half embrace.
“I was wondering where you’d gone off to,” he said. “What happened?”
She shrugged again, giving the man her smug cat grin. “Just showing an... old acquaintance how things work around here. Corin, meet Jimenez. My husband and the special agent in charge.”
Corin gave him a fierce grin and resisted the urge to shake hands, in the process squeezing the little bastard’s fingers into mayonnaise. “And it seems my work here is done. Sorry to meet and run like this, but I just realized I need to go.” He nodded a barely civil goodbye, then turned and walked away.
It was not a good day.
A rogue Sentinel. It'd been a long time since they'd had to deal with one of those. Not that he was complaining, mind. It just galled him that people, even when gifted with superhuman abilities, remained so appalingly... HUMAN.
Alex Barnes. Looking over her records, it was a pity they'd lost her. So much potential for the shadier side of things. But never flagged, since never tagged, and now all gone.
What a waste.
Corin stared down into empty blue eyes, the blank face of beautiful potential, all lost in the deepest zone he'd seen in years. Whatever had done her in had been a HELL of a sensation. *Speaking of....*
He pulled the stack of papers from his back pocket, unfolding the crumpled shets and smoothing them out. He'd jumped on a jet far too early in the morning, gained three hours through time zones, and arrived in Cascade to snatch Alex's... SPECIAL info from the hospital's fax machine on his way to the room.
It read like a bad action adventure novel. A temple to, or perhaps for, Sentinels. Something they'd only vaguely heard about, and even then only from the program's most advanced participants. All found by a rogue and.... How the hell to label Ellison, anyway? Free agent, perhaps? Or just loose cannon?
And then there was the Sandburg business. Drowned, first dead, then miraculously not, though considered beyond recovery. Like nothing he'd ever heard of or experienced between Sentinel and Guide, to borrow Brackett's favorite and shockingly accurate term. Much as he hated to admit it, Zane had been pretty smart in his assessment of the situation. Left alone, Ellison and Sandburg were indeed one hell of a research team.
But that wasn't enough for Corin. He sat down next to the zoned woman, leaning close to whisper in her ear. He's long ago memorized the exact timbre and rhythm that could - theoretically - pull any Sentinel back to reality. It took almost an hour, but eventually those big blue eyes blinked to awareness. "Good morning, Alex," he declared, still speaking softly but finally leaning back to get comfortable. "I've got some questions for you."
* * *
Jim Ellison spent a restless night, blue tinted dreams crowded by strangely acting felines. A jaguar, pitch black, looked on and screamed in rage as a graying bobcat prowled around another jag, colored the standard gold under chocolate rosettes. First the bobcat cleaned the jag's wounds, long savage bites and clawmarks the panther knew were his own handywork. Then, the bobcat attacked the jag, meticulously remarking her the exact same way. Once done, the bobcat walked casually away, never once glancing at the panther.
The dream worried Jim more than he wanted to admit, summoning still fresh memories of Alex, who was barely a week in the hands of the Conover Mental Institute. While he did manage to convince himself that it was simply just a dream, the unease remained until his lunch break. Mentally calling himself twenty different kinds of a fool, he used that time to dial up Conover and ask for a status report. He hung up only mildly disgusted with his paranoia. No change, still the fugue state. All was well.
Nothing was different. He was still the only Sentinel in Cascade. Everything was fine.
The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg
“My thesis "The Sentinel" is a fraud. While my paper does quote ancient source material, the documentation proving that James Ellison...actually possesses hyper-senses is fraudulent.”
Corin watched the TV as a brave man threw his life away. He was shocked when he suddenly realized he was crying. The tears were a strange mixture, respect and relief, fear and pride, and probably mingled with a hundred other emotions he couldn’t name. *My God, how can he do that?*
“Thank God we were never that crazy,” a deep voice rumbled from the doorway.
The shock of recognition kept Corin from being too annoyed at getting so wrapped up he didn’t register that he had a visitor. He turned from TV to doorway slowly, relishing the time to take in all the details to his friend, the long ago former partner in crime. Zane had actually changed little, gaining a few more crow’s feet at the edges of eyes and mouth, a smattering of silver in the vaguely receding but still regulation perfect buzzcut. All in all, only tiny signs a Sentinel or long time friend would notice. Zane’s face crinkled just a tiny bit more as he managed a lopsided, wry smile. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by now that it’s Ellison’s fault we’re finally in the same room at the same time after.... What? Ten years?”
Corin couldn’t stop a ghost of a laugh, didn’t try to. “Twelve, actually.” He stood, moving around the desk to embrace the man he’d once considered a brother. “What the hell took you so long?”
Zane pulled back with a smirk. “Well, I did try to schedule a flight the instant I heard some idiot publisher was trying to put out a kid’s dissertation on Sentinels. But it turned out that since some asshole of an administrator right above me wouldn’t declare that the shit had officially hit the fan, I had to take a civvie flight out. Do you have any idea how rare those are in the hellhole back regions of Nevada?”
He laughed again. “Sorry. I’ll remember to do that next crisis.”
“Damn straight. Just wish there wouldn’t be a next one.”
“Afraid that’s not how the job works,” he sighed. “So, you catch Sandburg’s statement?”
“Enough to get the idea. I’m impressed.”
“Same here. He’s got balls, that’s for sure.” They sat, both listening with half an ear to the outraged reporter ranting on about fraud and the damage to Rainier’s reputation. When he finally paused for a commercial, Corin finally spoke. “I’m glad we never had to make a decision like that. I don’t think I could do that,” he admitted. Nothing like old friends to bring back habits of confession.
Zane chuckled faintly at that. “So what exactly do you call facing up to the sergeant about hearing people that aren’t there, spotting an ambush a mile away, and all that shit? Before our program, it’s a miracle we didn’t end up in the nuthouse.”
He made a face. Trust Zane to get all philosophical about it. “Wasn’t anything else to do.”
“Yes. That’s the only reason I’m here behind the desk and you’re still training green, snotnosed Superman wannabes.”
“And why I’m still allowed to have opinions.”
Suddenly realizing the old, bitter argument was rearing its ugly head yet again, they fell quiet. Corin broke it first, sighing once more. “Damn. I thought we were past that.”
“Or that after a dozen years it wouldn’t matter,” Zane commented with equal softness. “Sorry.”
“I’ll accept your apology if you accept mine.”
That got a laugh. “Alright, then. Moving along. What’s the plan?”
“About Ellison and Sandburg?”
“No, Lois and Clark.”
“Honestly, I’m not sure. They’re a bit too famous now to just disappear. The brass with want the old dog and pony now to reassure them that we do have real, live Sentinels working for them. Probably best if we bend the truth a little. Ellison showed some enhanced senses, but not enough for a full Sentinel, and considering his traumatic mission in Peru, decided he’d be too nuts to keep in the program. Not to mention not worth it.”
“Good, but we have Jackson. Sniper and occasional assassin, three years black ops, sight and touch only.”
“Trauma works, though. Not to mention things could’ve gotten ugly with- you know- being in the program. Hmm. And considering how Oliver turned out, we can use him as another excuse.”
Corin grinned. “That potential enhanced sixth sense kicking in again?”
“Exactly,” he grinned back, obviously happy to be back in conspirator mode again.
“Excellent. Now all that leaves is the original question. What do we do with them?”
Zane shrugged. “My vote is still to leave them. They’ve managed to pick up a few tricks for us. Imagine what they can do in double, triple the time? Ellison’s not at the peak he’d be if we were training him, but imagine what could happen if we wait another three years? He might go far past what we could do. We won’t know unless we let him stay loose.”
“I just dislike _keeping_ him loose.” He was grateful when Zane didn’t mention the control freak thing. Maybe they both WERE learning after all this time. “Too many variables.”
“He -they- can still be recruited at any time. We’ve got the carrot of untapped Sentinel knowledge.”
“Hmm.” He mulled over it for several minutes, then nodded. “All right. I will bring in Alex, however. She can be useful.” At Zane’s curious look, he shuffled through the folders covering his desk, finally surfacing to hand her dossier over. “Rogue. Somewhat of a nutcase, very prone to zoning.”
“Needs a constant Guide, then,” Zane muttered.
“Actually, I have one under consideration. I’ve been thinking of bringing Alex in for some time lately, actually. Too much talent going to waste. Here.”
He handed over another file, at which Zane raised an incredulous brow. “You’ve got to be kidding me. I trust that guy about as far as I can fly an Osprey, and you want to pair him with a- a-” He looked at Alex’s file again. “A psychopath? That’s about as smart as sitting on a scorpion and a snake. You’ll get dead real quick, one way or another.”
“Have you actually worked with him?”
“Hell no! I met him when he first came in, and that’s it. There is no way I’d trust my life, let alone one of my trainees’, with him!”
“I put him with Grace. She thinks it should work out.”
Zane snorted dismissively, ignoring the fact that he’d often declared that Grace could charm any one, man woman or child, into doing things her way. “Still don’t trust him.”
“Which is why I want you to be their primary trainer.”
“I don’t trust them either, but they’re of too much use to us. I know you’ll keep them in line.”
“But- that’s just nuts! I can’t do that!”
“Yes. You will.”
Zane easily saw that it was neither suggestion nor support. “Sir yes sir,” he growled mockingly, looking away to glare at the television. They sat that way for several minutes until Zane sighed. “I hope to God they don’t turn out like us,” he declared softly, indicating the TV where Sandburg once again declared his guilt, this time with a picture inset of Ellison. Corin winced at the resentment in the statement. Noticing the movement, Zane turned back to look him in the eye, sadness laced with bitterness in every line. “I miss the old days, Cor. Back before this Sentinel shit ruined everything. Look at us. Two stupid old farts kicking each other over a bit of stupidity. I miss being friends, partners.”
Brothers. The word echoed unspoken through the room.
Zane sighed and stood up. “I wish we could go back to that. But then we’d be out of a job, and God only knows what would happen to the kids we’ve trained. So I guess I’d better be heading back for them. Goodbye, _sir_.”
Corin nodded his own goodbye, not trusting his voice. The way things were. God, he missed them too. Why did they have to go away like that?
“Good old days weren’t always good, and tomorrow’s not as bad as it seems,” he whispered to himself, trying to find fake solace in the song lyrics. But it still felt too damn hollow.
And somehow, he had the dangerous feeling it wouldn't be a true prophecy.
Let me out of here!!!! A.K.A. Home
I want to read more! To get back to the fic archive
Any questions? Complaints? Screams of outrage that I actually consider myself a writer and/or dared to show this in public? Tell me! Send it all to Norcumi@backtick.net! I love mail!!!!
The Sentinel, Jim, Blair, and any basically everything but the fic itself, Zane, and Corin (MINE!) belongs to Pet Fly and Paramount. No infringement intended.