Sentinel Fan Fiction Page || Fanfic -- Drama
Summary: An old enemy turns time into a matter of life and death. But is Jim and Blair's friendship strong enough to change the past? Drama and angst with sci-fi elements. (In three parts)
Warnings: Rated PG for mild language. Spoilers for many episodes, particularly Warriors and Sentinel Too. Pre-The Sentinel by Blair Sandburg. Requires trust in the author to take care of Jim and Blair, as well as reading all the way to the end to see everything resolved. For readers who need more explicit warnings before they read a story, a more detailed warning is located at the very end of this story, but it does spoil some of the plot.
A single line of tildes
indicates a scene break.
A double line of tildes
indicates a change in time frame.
Author's notes: I started writing this story in the fall of 1999, and two years later, The Albatross is finally done! Thank you to Becky and Iris Wilde for their incredible support and patient beta-reading, Dolimir for her beta skills, and Beth Manz for helping with initial brain-storming.
Written to the following music: Tarzan soundtrack, #10 & 13, Celine Dion's song "Live", Brule's Lakota Piano, Michael W. Smith's Freedom album, and the soundtrack to Pearl Harbor by Hans Zimmer.
Time No More
The lab assistant wiped sweaty hands on his white coat, pushed up his thick glasses and exhaled deliberately. He looked down again at the object sitting on the cleared area of the black laboratory workbench. There was something special about this stone -- he was convinced of it even if his esteemed research professor wasn't -- and he was determined to find out what it was. The only time he could get the lab to himself was late at night, but he was more than willing to put in the extra odd hours if it would confirm his suspicions. If this did what he thought -- no, what he was sure it did, it would revolutionize the scientific community, then the world. He had only begun to fathom the implications.
Numerous different accurate timepieces which repeatedly gained minutes when put beside it.
Chemical reactions which consistently happened faster than controls when conducted beside it.
He even had a plant that had grown from a seed, matured and produced flowers, then died in half the time it should have.
But he needed more evidence. He needed larger-scale experiments with a higher subject number. And to do that, he would have to split the stone into many pieces so he could conduct the tests simultaneously.
He reached for the heavy metal awl and large mallet and poised the tools above his target, aiming to strike at the center.
"Stop! Get away from that!"
The lab assistant whirled at the voice, surprised to realize he wasn't alone. A man dressed in black with his face covered by a mask was walking swiftly through the maze of counters, aiming a gun at him that was fitted with a silencer. Panic filled the assistant, as did the knowledge that he had to be on to something. Otherwise someone else wouldn't be trying to steal it from him. His terrified thoughts rushed on -- if the stone really did what he thought it did, and it fell into the wrong hands...
Impulsively he lunged for the object, blindly wanting to protect it. A muffled shot rang out. He fell to the floor, managing to hit the security button underneath the counter as he collapsed.
As the alarm sounded and blackness began to close around him, he thought of the thief who had pocketed the stone and was getting away. He had lost his chance to do more experiments, to get more data, more proof.
If only he'd had more warning...
It was almost time.
Hidden beneath the forest underbrush and enveloped by the tangible darkness of the night, he waited patiently, not moving a muscle beyond the occasional blinking of his eyes and his quiet breathing. After years of practice, he had learned to be still, prepared for the one moment when his ability to act at the proper instant -- not one second sooner, not one second later -- would determine whether his best friend lived or died.
Whether he lived or died.
He had waited so long for this moment. And now it was almost here.
Standing just beyond the shoulder of the black asphalt road illuminated by only a sliver of silver moon, he watched... listened... waited. A random breath of predawn air passed its cool edge across his face. He blinked but did not shiver. The faint light of the waning moon briefly caught his eyes, revealing unwavering concentration and focus.
He was ready.
The sound of an approaching vehicle met his ears. A dark sports car sped by at a speed far above the legal limit, sending a whoosh of air into the bushes where he waited. Every muscle tensed in readiness.
Then time blurred as the next events happened exactly as he knew they would.
The blue and white pickup bore down on his location in pursuit of the first car, careening around the corner as fast as the sports coupe had, with less stability but more determination. There was no time for second thoughts or hesitation.
He needed none.
Headlights glinted harshly off silver fur as he escaped from the shoulder of the road directly into the oncoming truck's path. Tires screeched and screams erupted from the pickup as it swerved, but it was too late.
The animal had not left enough room for the truck to brake or avoid collision.
<splintering of glass>
<crunching of metal>
Blinding splinters of light pierced his eyelids, ruthlessly stabbing their way into Jim Ellison's foggy, barely awakened consciousness. His eyes flickered open, then squeezed tightly shut again when the morning sun's rays assaulted his vision without mercy. He tried to shift position where he was sitting, but the movement only produced sharp pains in his back, neck, and chest, causing him to gasp in discomfort. He groaned as he struggled to get past his disoriented state, to remember what had happened and where he was.
He decided to open his eyes again, this time more cautiously. Squinting at first, he allowed his vision to adjust to the brightness -- enough to know something was wrong with the light. Gradually, he opened his eyes more widely. How could everything be so bright, yet so unfocused? Without warning, comprehension slammed into him with full force, adrenaline clearing his mind instantly when he realized what was wrong. He was seated inside the cab of his pickup, staring at the windshield. The entire glass was cracked so badly that the sunlight streaming directly through the windshield shattered into a thousand shards of light, making it impossible to see clearly through the window. He could make out something indenting the mid-section of the glass -- a large tree branch. A few more inches and the tree would have broken completely into the cab, right into the passenger's seat...
Immediately, he reached out with his senses and his hand, ignoring the pain, searching.
The heartbeat -- it was there, slow but steady.
A hand -- his fingers closed gently around it. The hand was warm.
Relief flooded him. Quickly jerking into motion, Jim unbuckled his lap belt and shifted to face his friend, ignoring his own protesting bruises while examining Sandburg for outward signs of injury. Aside from a few cuts on Blair's forehead, presumably from the splintered windshield, the anthropologist seemed surprisingly free from trauma. "Blair! Blair -- you with me?" he called.
The silence lasted a few interminably long seconds before the younger man stirred slightly in his seat, a quiet moan slipping from his lips as a wince passed over his face.
Blair Sandburg's head hurt. A lot. Then he remembered. They had been chasing a suspect down one of the lesser-traveled back roads on the outskirts of Rainier University next to a forest, and the last thing he could recall was an animal bolting out in front of the pickup. Blair groaned, not wanting to move. He decided his headache and the fact that they weren't moving now were both bad things. On the other hand, at least they meant he was alive. But what about Jim?
"It's okay," a scratchy yet soothing voice spoke, then someone squeezed his hand. "Can you open your eyes for me, Blair?"
Blair sighed with relief at the sound of Jim's voice. His friend sounded okay, and he squeezed the big warm hand in return. Simultaneously, his eyelids fluttered open. Blair groaned again, but he didn't allow the discomfort in his neck to keep him from turning his head toward the voice. Woozily, he blinked up into the worried blue eyes of his partner, who smiled when their eyes met. "Jim," rasped the anthropologist as he leaned back against the front seat. "You okay?"
"Yeah, Chief," answered the detective. "Steering wheel bruises and whiplash, but not bad considering what the truck looks like. How do you feel?"
"Like I just had an up close and personal encounter with the windshield." Blair moved his hand to his forehead, hissing when he touched one of the cuts. "Probably nothing a few band-aids won't fix, though."
Jim chuckled. "That won't be a problem as long as we can still get the glove compartment open," he said, doubtfully eyeing the now-warped drawer in front of Blair as he reached over to help undo his friend's seatbelt. The dash had been pushed so far into the cab's interior that it rested only an inch or so from Blair's knees, and the passenger-side door was buckled as well from taking the brunt of the impact with several evergreen trees. "Somehow I don't think we're going anywhere in this truck any time soon. Sit tight. I'll come around to your side and help you get out. Looks like it's going to take both of us to get your door open."
Blair nodded, swallowing as he noted the tree limb pressing against the windshield. The accident had obviously been a very close call. "Careful, man," he said as his partner turned to force open his own door.
A few minutes later, Jim was outside the truck, working in the cool autumn air with Blair to get the passenger door open, but no amount of grunting and muscle straining could pry the buckled door away from the rest of the truck's frame. "You'll have to crawl out of the driver's side, Chief," Jim called across the window to his partner after a particularly strenuous though ineffectual attempt.
"Right," agreed the anthropologist. Awkwardly, he shifted across the front seat and out the driver's door, joining Jim who had walked back around to the driver's side.
Both men paused to gaze at the totaled vehicle, its front wrapped around three particularly large trees. It was a miracle neither of them had anything more than cuts, bruises and muscle strain. Unfortunately, the accident had also allowed their suspect to escape -- again.
Pulling out his cellphone since the radio on the dash was damaged as badly as the windshield, Jim reluctantly prepared for the unpleasant task of informing Simon of their situation and the unsuccessful pursuit. According to his watch and the brightness of the morning sun, they had both been unconscious for about an hour following the crash. After a pause, a static noise combined with electronic beeps blared from the phone, causing the detective to yank it away from his sensitive ear. "Man!" he exclaimed. "Guess this phone took a beating, too." He abruptly punched the power button to silence the obnoxious noise. "Looks like we're going to have to hike to the nearest payphone."
"There's a small gas station down the road toward the university," Blair suggested. "They should have a phone we could use."
Jim nodded. "Good. You didn't leave anything valuable in the truck, did you?"
"Nope," answered Blair, patting his backpack before he swung it over his shoulder. "Got it all right here."
The two men turned to walk out from the shoulder to the road in the direction of the station, both hobbling a bit from the stiffness of sitting in the warped cab for so long.
"All this for an animal that was trying to become roadkill," grumbled Blair. "Didn't it know not to interfere with official police chases?"
"Yeah," grunted Jim. "We were never that close to catching the thief until last night, and he managed to get away again!" The detective shook his head. This case had been particularly frustrating since Major Crime's efforts to identify the suspect had been unsuccessful so far. "I can't believe I didn't hear something coming out of the forest," he continued. "I should've been paying more attention."
"Give yourself a break, Jim. You were concentrating on driving, not wild animals."
"Probably a stray dog," said Jim. "It all happened so fast. I don't think we hit it. It probably got away. I didn't hear or smell any injured animals around the crash site."
"I hope so, for all the trouble we went through," said Blair. "But it was no dog, Jim. I saw it."
The taller man's expression changed slightly as he considered his partner's next words.
"It was a wolf."
The high jingle of an old-fashioned bell interposed itself into the midst of the men's conversation as they entered the small gas station shop a half-mile down the road from the crash site.
"...wonder why the pumps are gone," Blair was saying as he pushed the creaky old door open and held it for his friend who was right behind him.
Jim shrugged as they approached the counter where an elderly man, presumably the proprietor of the small convenience shop, sat in an old wooden chair with his back to the gray Formica counter, reading something. The detective hadn't driven this particular road in a number of months, and from the looks of things, this gas station -- or whatever it was now -- didn't get much business from anybody. The old pumps had probably leaked and been removed for environmental code violations, he figured.
The old man still had his back to the front of the store, apparently in no hurry to maneuver himself around to view his customers. "Haven't had real gas pumps here for years," he croaked over his shoulder, still reading his book. "MARGE! We got ourselves a customer!" he called.
"That's funny," Blair said, more to himself and Jim than the inattentive shop owner. "I could've sworn I saw the gas pumps out here last week."
In the process of awkwardly shifting off his chair, the old man accidentally knocked his wire-rimmed glasses to the floor behind the counter. He groaned loudly as he stooped to retrieve them. "Not enough genuine classics around to use that stuff. Gasoline stopped being profitable years ago, kid. MARGE!!!"
Jim and Blair stole glances at each other in reaction to the bizarre conversation.
"Keep your pants on, Evan!!!" an old woman finally screeched in annoyance in response from the back room. "I'm comin' as fast as I can!"
"Sir, our truck broke down and we wondered if we could please use your phone--" began Blair as the shopkeeper rose slowly to his feet, pushing his glasses back on his nose with one hand.
Now at his full height, the stooped old man peered, then squinted through his glasses, looking first at Sandburg, then Ellison. His mouth dropped open in a full-blown expression of shock and awe, temporarily speechless. Then his lips quivered as he slowly formed the words as if declaring the fulfillment of a prophecy. "Professor Sandburg... Detective Ellison.... You've returned.....!"
Blair's eyes widened. Jim's forehead furrowed.
Arms flew over the counter in a synchronized movement as Jim and Blair automatically tried to catch the old man before he fell to the ground, but they weren't fast enough.
"Sir? Sir! Are you all right?" yelled Blair as he leaned over the counter while Jim looked for a place where he could get around the front counter without having to jump over it.
At the same time, an old woman shuffled into the shop through a back door. "EVAN!" she screamed, rushing to his side as quickly as she could move.
Meanwhile, Jim had found a small swinging door and pushed past it to the other side of the counter. "He's breathing and his heart's beating fine, ma'am," the detective said, stooping to loosen the man's collar. "I think he just fainted."
"What are you, a doctor?" the woman huffed as she pushed Jim aside and proceeded to not-so-lightly slap the old man's face in an attempt to arouse him. "Evan! I'm getting sick of this!"
The old man moaned, then his head listed to the side again.
Seemingly satisfied that he was going to be okay, the woman turned her attention to Jim and Blair, shooting irate looks in their direction. "Don't you people have anything better to do besides dressing up like an anthropologist and a detective from the last century?!? I tell you, this generation has too much time on its hands!"
"Ma'am?" Blair began. "I'm afraid I don't understand."
The woman sighed in disgust, clearly aggravated and impatient. "If you must know, my husband is fixated on the fact that he was a janitor at the Cascade P.D. years ago, and that someday Ellison and Sandburg are going to return to Cascade. Doctors say it's Alzheimer's dementia, but I call it plain crazy. Every time a lookalike walks in this place, he starts acting strange."
Blair spoke politely. "I still don't know if I totally understand what's going on here, but I am Blair Sandburg and this is my partner, Jim Ellison."
"... it... really... is... them...." moaned the old man.
Jim looked at the semi-conscious figure on the floor. "If we could just use your phone, I could call for help--"
"NO!" yelled the old lady, her anger somehow fueled by Blair's last comments. "Now get out, both of you, before he passes out again!"
"All right, no need to get excited," Jim said quietly. "We're leaving." He motioned for Blair to follow him.
The quavery voice of the old man drifted to the door as the bell tinkled again and the shop's door creaked shut.
"But Marge... this time... it... was... them...."
Outdoors once again and no closer to getting a tow for the truck or a ride for themselves, Jim and Blair turned to walk down the road toward the main part of Rainier University's campus. So far, the only thing improved by the stroll was their stiffness.
"That was a little too strange," Blair commented, adjusting the backpack strap on his shoulder over his red long-sleeved shirt.
"You mean those two have been stuck in that store for a little too long," said Jim, shoving his hands into the pockets of his brown jacket.
The anthropologist shook his head. "If they knew who we were, why was she so bent out of shape about us dressing like --"
"Ourselves?" finished Jim. "I don't know, Chief. I thought the old man was the weirder of the two -- did you see that look on his face? I felt like I was King Arthur."
Blair chuckled. "Then I must be Galahad."
"You did say something about it being 'Holy Grail time' when I first came to your office."
"Not just that, man. Galahad was the pure knight."
"Oh, brother. In that case, you should be Lancelot."
"That could work," Blair grinned. "Lancelot got all the women."
Jim growled good-naturedly as they continued to walk down the edge of the paved road. "Why do I always get the raw end of historical conversations with you?"
The younger man opened his mouth to reply, but Jim's outstretched hand signaled him to be quiet. "There's a vehicle down the road, coming toward us," the sentinel said after a moment of listening. "Sounds just like my old F150."
In a few seconds, the truck in question rounded the corner. "It's even a teal F150," Blair chuckled. "You're good, Jim."
The Ford truck approached the two men, slowing as it neared them but not stopping. The sun's reflection off the windshield shifted at the last minute, revealing the driver to be a middle-aged man. A woman about the same age sat in the passenger's seat and was pointing frantically at Jim and Blair as the truck drove past.
"Jim, what's she saying?" Blair demanded.
Before Jim could answer, they watched as the truck almost drove off the road, then squealed its tires when it swerved back into the lane and sped away.
The detective frowned and shook his head as he looked down the road in the direction the truck had gone. "All I could hear was, 'That's them! That's them!' Then the woman screamed and the man swore."
"Did Simon forget to tell us we were on America's Most Wanted?" Blair exclaimed.
"I kept trying to tell you..."
Ellison laughed. "Quit worrying, Chief. We've had stranger days than this. We'll just take a nice walk onto campus, head for your office and call Simon. Then we'll get the truck towed, a box full of butterfly bandages plastered to your forehead, a vehicle from the motor pool, and last but not least, that annoying suspect. Got it?"
"Whatever you say, man. I say there's something weird going on. I don't know what it is, but something isn't right," Blair insisted, still unconvinced.
"That's what you get for eating pizza last night with toppings that belong in a salad bar. See? I can see the top of Hargrove Hall from here. We'll cut through the woods behind the Museum of Anthropology and be there in ten minutes tops."
"Okay, but if we see 'Wanted' posters of us taped to every bulletin board and telephone pole when we get there, let's just say I told you so."
The street separating the Museum of Anthropology from the rest of campus was deserted when Jim and Blair emerged from the woods and crossed over to the group of imposing gray stone buildings that included Hargrove Hall.
"In all my years at the university, I've never seen this street empty on a Monday morning just before 8 o'clock," Blair said doubtfully, scanning the normally crowded area. "All the parking spaces should be taken and everybody should be rushing to class."
"There must be something going on today," said Jim as he looked down the street. "This street is blocked at the end with orange cones. Today a holiday? Some kind of special ceremony happening this morning?"
"Not that I know of," answered the anthropologist as they walked up the side driveway that ran along Hargrove Hall. Several maintenance trucks stood parked on the driveway, and four large red and white striped tents lined the central green between the rows of classroom buildings. A small group of men milled around the area in front of the hall, filling the air with the sound of power tools as they worked to erect a podium complete with dark blue valance trimming. "On the other hand, maybe I've been away from campus more than I thought." Blair touched his friend's arm, nodding toward the fountain as they approached it and stopped a few feet to the side. "What the--?" he whispered.
Hundreds of flower arrangements, ranging from small bouquets to huge wreaths, were piled around the fountain in a cacophony of color and shiny plastic, many with note cards attached to them. Jim wrinkled his nose and sneezed before he could consciously ignore the mixture of floral scents. The scene looked like a public outpouring of sympathy and remembrance in response to the tragic death of a famous person.
In front of Jim and Blair, just to the side of the fountain, rose impressive white marble sculptures of two men done in the classical style of Greco-Roman art and set atop a wide, polished black marble platform. The first sculpture depicted a tall man wearing a short, rather sparse toga with a strap covering half his chest and a skirt stopping above his knees, displaying the man's exceptional musculature to its fullest potential. The sculpture stood about ten feet tall in a stance similar to Michaelangelo's David. In his left hand he held a proportionately imposing crossbow, loaded with an arrow. At his feet, a gun lay next to a Cascade P.D. badge. A short haircut topped the handsome face that looked out over the campus with watchful, protective eyes. The strong jaw was set in readiness.
The second marble sculpture stood somewhat shorter than the other but was no less breathtaking. This statue was dressed in a long toga that fell in graceful folds stopping just above sandaled feet. Flowing curly locks of hair fell softly just above the man's shoulders, framing a finely featured face whose eyes exuded energy, curiosity, and wisdom. His right hand rested on the taller man's shoulder in a gesture that seemed to visibly calm and center him, and the left hand was outstretched to the side as if beckoning others to gather near for teaching. A backpack lay at his feet, partially unzipped with the top of a book entitled The Sentinels peeking from the top of it.
A golden plaque at the base of the statues read
Sentinel and Guide
In Memory of James Ellison and Blair Sandburg
Guardians of Cascade, Washington
1996 - 1999
The two men stood gaping at the statues, Jim with his mouth partially open and Blair with his eyes wide.
"This must be some kind of joke!"
"Are we dead?"
"I guess somebody forgot to tell us."
"I don't think that toga's you, man."
"Well, they didn't get your hair right. It's too perfect."
"Ha! Notice how your gun is on the ground. How appropriate!"
Jim and Blair would have continued bickering in front of the statues had a trolley full of tourists not passed behind them with the tour guide's voice booming from the loudspeaker. "This street is popularly known as Garbage Truck Lane," intoned the woman's voice, "the place where Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg were almost run over by a garbage truck when Jim zoned on a red frisbee being thrown on the lawn to your left. According to the accounts of eyewitnesses, Blair pulled Jim to the ground just in time and saved his life. Now we're approaching the fountain, the place where Jim found Blair's body after Alex Barnes killed him. We'll be stopping here for a few minutes for a traditional moment of silence and to allow you to take pictures. Please do not leave the trolley..."
"Jim!" hissed Blair, coming back to reality before his partner did. "Does that banner say what I think it does?!"
A long white banner spanned the width of the green behind them. It read
25th annual Sentinel Day 2023
"Guess we were right about the holiday," gulped the detective. "But how --"
His words were cut off by the rising screams of a crowd of people exiting the trolley, unhindered by the pleading of the tour guide to stay in the trolley.
"Look!!!!! Over there!!!!"
"It's Ellison and Sandburg!"
"They look just like them! Over there!!!!!!!!......"
"We've gotta get out of here," said Blair in a low voice as the crowd began to stampede toward them with cameras flashing.
"Right." The detective's voice was still dazed.
Blair grabbed his partner's arm. "Come on, man! This way!"
So Jim and Blair ran.
Startled heads turned from the roped-off displays inside Hargrove Hall as Jim and Blair burst through the front door and bolted down the left hallway through an opening in the milling crowds. Tourists hurriedly moved aside to avoid being trampled by the two men. Their unsubtle entrance evoked a number of shouts and screams as some people caught sight of their faces.
"This way!" hissed Blair softly while running, thankful that Jim would be able to hear him above the din. The detective followed closely behind his partner, and at the last minute Blair ducked around a corner into another hallway. Before Jim knew what was happening, Blair pulled him into a small, pitch-dark room and yanked the door shut.
Both men panted heavily from the exertion, then briefly held their breaths in the darkness as the sound of many pursuing footsteps pounded down the hall toward their location, then faded.
Blair let out a sigh of relief and sagged against the cold wall. "Last I remember, this was a --"
"Janitor's closet?" whispered Jim, his eyesight already adjusted to the lack of light. "Well, it still is." He stifled a sneeze. "Can't you tell by the smell?"
Blair chuckled softly. "Yeah. It was the first place I thought of to hide."
"Not bad, considering your office is probably some special display room or something."
"We have to get out of here soon, man. They're going to start turning Hargrove inside out looking for us. It would've been one thing if one old lady had seen us, but I think over thirty people saw--"
"Shhh," Jim interrupted, placing a hand on his blinded partner's shoulder. He turned his head, listening. "There's a vehicle idling outside the back of this hall. Do you know a way to get out from here?"
"Well, yeah, I think so," answered Blair. Then his eyes widened in realization. "You mean we're gonna steal a car!?!"
"Borrow, not steal," Jim defended. "They'll get it back. You got any better ideas?"
Blair hesitated. "No."
"I didn't think so. Now let's get out of here -- people are coming back this way!"
With that, the two partners cautiously opened the door, peered out to make sure no one was looking, then dashed down the side hallway to the nearest exit.
"HEY! What do you think you're doing!?!" yelled the uniformed man unloading packages from the back of the large chocolate-brown van.
"Hang on, Chief!" yelled Jim as the two men landed in the front seats and Jim released the break, screeching away from the corner.
"Couldn't you have picked something less top-heavy, Jim?" Blair yelled back, gripping the edge of his seat with one hand and the edge of the open window with the other. Seconds later, approaching sirens filled the air. "Or less conspicuous than a UPS truck?"
"Fugitives can't be choosers, Sandburg," Jim shouted as they careened around a corner and sped toward the edge of campus. "And it's not my fault they haven't made these things more aerodynamic!"
The clumsy brown van swayed precariously as it barreled through a neat row of orange cones and squealed around a corner, heading for the highway nearest to Rainier. Unfortunately, the campus was large and the shortest route wound through a section of stores and a residential district. Jim's glance in the side mirror confirmed that at least five squad cars had joined the chase, the blaring chorus of sirens crescendoing in a promise of more to come.
"We know Rainier and Cascade just as well or better than anybody -- at least we have that to our advantage," Blair muttered under his breath.
"Yeah, assuming no major changes to the streets and buildings have been made in the last couple decades," answered the detective through clenched teeth. Brakes screeching a half-mile ahead caused Jim to scan forward with his vision, confirming what he feared -- two patrol cars had formed a roadblock up ahead, and the others tailing them were only minutes behind. The look on his face communicated everything to his partner.
"D*mn!" said Blair.
"DRIVER OF UPS TRUCK #54!" A loud voice blared without warning from what appeared to be the truck's dashboard, startling both men. "THIS IS THE CASCADE P.D.! PULL OVER IMMEDIATELY!"
"They don't bother to redesign the outside of this beast but they figure out a way for people to speak directly into the cab," muttered Jim. Slamming on the brakes, he threw the van into reverse and stepped on the gas, causing Blair to lurch forward.
"Jim, I don't think this thing is cut out for one of your U-- Aaaaaaaaah!" The anthropologist yelled as Jim yanked the wheel to the right and the gigantic metal box on wheels pitched on two tires as it was forced to change direction 180 degrees at a speed far above what its engineers had ever intended.
Impervious to Blair's reaction, Jim accelerated once more. "Sandburg! Listen to me! Where's the nearest alley?"
"Uh... uh... I think there's one down this street to the right --"
"Good." Another sharp last-minute turn and the two men were hurtling down a lane barely wide enough for their vehicle and strewn with boxes and other garbage.
"-- but it's a dead-end!" finished Blair frantically as the truck rapidly approached the end of the alley and skidded to a halt mere feet from the edge of a black dumpster. Desperate bracing barely kept the anthropologist from flying through the windshield as they braked.
"Doesn't matter, Chief!" shouted Jim as he slid his door open and motioned for Blair to follow. "The other streets have already been blocked. We'll have to make it on foot. Come on!"
Wailing police sirens sounding louder by the second fueled both men's escalating apprehension. Jim took off in a run, briefly glancing over his shoulder to make sure Blair was right behind him. Spotting a narrow opening leading to another alley running perpendicular to the one they were in, the two men darted toward what appeared to be their only chance for escape. However, their fear turned instantly to horror when they emerged on the other side only to find a black BMW rushing to a stop before them.
A man dressed in a charcoal gray suit jumped out of the car, gun drawn. "CASCADE P.D.! PUT YOUR HANDS UP!"
Jim and Blair slowly raised their arms in compliance, but the next word out of their mouths was the same.
Detective Rafe's gun remained firmly trained on the two men, his gaze unwavering. Streaks of gray through his dark hair and the fine lines at the corner of his eyes made him look slightly older, but he was impeccably dressed as always. He seemed to exude an aura of confidence that came with years of experience.
"Rafe! Don't you recognize us?" Blair pleaded. "It's us, Jim and Blair. Please, you've gotta help us!"
"Ellison and Sandburg are dead." The well-dressed detective's voice sounded controlled, but his weapon trembled slightly, the movement noticeable only to Jim's eyes. Inclining his head slightly toward the open car door, he called toward the microphone. "This is Detective Rafe. I have --"
"Wait!" Keeping his arms still raised, Jim spoke calmly. "Listen to me, Rafe. I don't know how many crazies you've seen in the past 25 years claiming to be Ellison and Sandburg. I don't even understand how we ended up here. But I do know that Blair and I are alive, and I know you're one hell of a detective and someone I can trust. You might be our only hope of figuring all this out." Jim raised his voice to be heard above the nearing sirens. "If you help us now, we'll answer your questions -- whatever you want. If you don't, and we really are who we say we are -- well, you know what'll happen to us better than we do."
The BMW's com system crackled to life. "Detective Rafe, please come in! Have you spotted the suspects? What is your situation?"
"Yesterday we were eating Chinese with you in the breakroom and you admitted you had a crush on Rhonda," interrupted Blair. "Jim and I said if you asked her out, we'd help you cook dinner for her this Friday night."
A strange look passed over the detective's face, and he paused for what seemed like an eternity before speaking again. "I never got that date with Rhonda. That was yesterday -- twenty-five years ago." He blinked, still staring at the two men.
When the other squad cars showed up moments later, the alley was deserted.
The old cathedral's bell was chiming the noon hour when people began gathering on the sidewalks of the two streets at one of downtown Cascade's major intersections, sipping their coffee and taking bites of sandwiches while turning their gazes upward to the enormous television screen mounted on the side of a high rise building. Brief opening music played, followed by the blonde newscaster's practiced voice.
"Welcome to the noon edition of Cascade's number one news station, Channel 5. I'm Wendy Hawthorne. Today Cascade is celebrating Sentinel Day, marking 25 years since the disappearance of Detective Jim Ellison and his partner, Blair Sandburg. Although the two men have been presumed dead for over two decades, a discovery made by an elderly man and his wife early this morning may call into question what authorities previously believed about the fates of these two men. Let's go to Don Haas who's standing by live at Rainier University Campus. Don?"
The scene switched from the studio set to an elderly reporter standing at the edge of a road cutting through a forest. The wreckage of a blue and white pickup was visible in the background, with at least 20 men and women milling around the area. Yellow police tape tied to tree trunks fluttered lightly in the wind behind the graying reporter facing the camera. "Thank you, Wendy. I'm coming to you live from the scene of a truck accident which authorities believe occurred sometime late last night or early this morning. You can see the wreckage behind me. This blue and white pickup was found at approximately 10 a.m. this morning by Evan and Marge Cutler, the elderly proprietors of the old Rainier gas station located on the edge of the university campus. The pickup's make, model, coloring, and license plate match that of the 1969 Ford Ranger driven by Jim Ellison at the time of his disappearance twenty-five years ago. The vehicle's features appear to be identical to the Ford Ranger on display at the Cascade Sentinel Museum, where Ellison's vehicle is preserved. The museum's vehicle, however, has not been stolen.
"Ordinarily, most would not consider such a finding unusual since there are a number of replicas of this classic model in the city. However, this particular truck has a genuine gasoline-burning engine, which was operating at the time of the crash. Gasoline-consuming engines have been illegal since 2010. Forensics is searching the vehicle for further clues, but at this time authorities don't have a good explanation ...."
The rhythmic ticking of the wall clock's brass pendulum played a strange counter-melody to the quietly methodical swish, swish of a small wooden stick stirring against a shallow clay dish on the highly polished surface of the oak desk. Together, the sounds created an eerily calm atmosphere within the dark, luxuriously spacious office.
The hand stirring the mixture paused as a sleeve was pulled up slightly, revealing the white cuff of a dress shirt closed with an engraved gold cuff link. Adjustment made, the hand absently traced a pattern of a single eye with the stick. The shape remained only a fraction of a second before being reabsorbed into the fluid. Once again, the hand resumed its deliberate circular movement, gently agitating the liquid in a ritualistic manner.
The man smiled to himself, not wanting to disturb his preferred environment of tranquility and darkness created by the drawn opaque blinds and lack of music. Concentrating on the small bowl before him, he mentally listed each ingredient of the mixture, recalling its exact origin from remote South American jungles and the research he had done to find the recipe and hone it to perfection. What had once been an amateur hobby had grown into an expert's obsession over the years. Raising the stirring stick from the bowl, he allowed the excess to drip slowly from its tip, then slowly passed it mere inches from his nose.
Being this close to death was exhilarating.
Closing his eyes, he suppressed the shiver that threatened to pass through him. Focusing on the ticking of the clock, he leaned back in his dark leather desk chair and took calming breaths. A gun was so ... mundane compared to the ceremonial preparation of an ancient weapon's poison. His fascination with it had taught him a new respect for the tribal warrior. He pitied the common person. They had neither the time nor the ability to appreciate such things.
He, on the other hand -- he had plenty of time.
Unexpected pounding on his door tore him rudely from his reverie. His hand twitched, knocking the clay dish from his desk to the ground where it shattered on the plastic desk mat. The precious liquid oozed among the fragments. The man swore. Shoving back from his desk in a direction to avoid the spill, he felt a wave of anger almost overwhelm him. The hand still holding the wooden stick trembled, then steadied. Casually, he let the stick drop to the floor where it bounced a few times before settling among the broken clay. "Enter," he said in an impeccably controlled tone.
A fresh-faced younger man in a brown suit pushed open the tall polished door too eagerly, blowing into the office. "Sir!" he panted. "There's something we think you should see." Without waiting for an answer, he crossed the room to the covered windows, shoving the vertical blinds aside with a hurried flourish.
The brightness of the noon sun flooded the room, glaring harshly off the glass Sentinel Museum across the street. The executive recoiled, his hands flying up to shade his eyes.
"There!" pointed the assistant. Directly across from them, scenes of a totaled blue and white pickup flashed across the large outdoor screen on the side of a nearby skyscraper, framed by the bright blue sky and a fantastic view of the city.
"Get me audio."
The assistant scrambled to a panel in the wall and entered commands onto a lighted glass surface. Sound assaulted the room from every direction as the reporter's voice described the most newsworthy story of the day. The older man inched forward to the window, still squinting at the scenes which played out before him in a surreal nightmare.
The assistant waited until the news cut to a commercial, then proudly blurted out the information he eagerly wanted to share. "Our sources at the police station say the truck's DMV registration found in the glove compartment is dated April 15, 1999 and contains Ellison's name and address. Even the vehicle identification number is the same!"
His boss stared out the window for several moments longer, then turned from it. "I need more information."
"Sir, I'll be happy to get --"
"No. I'll get it myself." He headed for the door, then paused, glancing at the broken pottery behind his desk, then back at the assistant. "Clean that up, will you?"
Rafe looked up from the screen of his computer after re-reading the word displayed: MATCH. He blinked a couple times, as if expecting the words to disappear, but they didn't. "Of all the explanations of what I saw on the news this morning, I sure never thought of this one," he said, shaking his head.
Jim lifted his thumb from the small glass pad. "Won't somebody be able to track that you made a match on our prints?"
"No," Rafe answered, swiveling in the chair to face the other men. "I'm disconnected from the network at the moment. I had an old file with your and Blair's prints left over from those days of working on your case. Kept them. The matching software is state-of-the-art, though. The department let me have a copy for home since I use it so much. I can't believe it. It really is you." The handsome detective's eyes softened, and he extended a hand to Ellison. "It's been a long time."
Jim shook his hand, then smiled as the older detective pulled him, then Blair, into tight embraces.
"Please, make yourselves at home," said Rafe, motioning Jim and Blair to sit down. "What I can't understand is how?"
"We don't understand it, either," answered Blair. "The last thing we knew, it was 1999 and we were in the middle of a high-speed chase. We thought we had the suspect in that string of artifact robberies."
"I remember," said Rafe. "That was your last case."
Blair continued in a rush. "We were catching up to the guy when a wolf ran out in front of us and we crashed."
"A wolf?" Rafe sounded confused.
Jim cleared his throat and threw his partner a slightly exasperated look. "Why don't we start from the beginning? We'll tell you what we last remember, then you can fill in the blanks."
"Like you said, Sandburg and I were investigating a series of artifact thefts in the greater Cascade area. Several places had been targeted in the past three weeks -- a museum, a small shop specializing in things from ancient South America, a private collection, and the Peruvian embassy. There didn't seem to be a pattern in the objects that were stolen, except that all of them were rare, valuable artifacts from ancient South America. From our analysis of the crimes, we thought it was one person working alone, and we figured the stolen goods were being sold on the international black market. We didn't have an I.D. on the suspect, although we thought the suspect was male and obviously had some expertise in security systems.
"Last night around 11:30 PM -- well, Monday, September 13, 1999 -- I was at Rainier picking Sandburg up at his office since the Volvo was in the shop. Just as we were leaving Hargrove Hall, we got a call that the security alarm in the Rainier physics lab had just been activated and a student had called security about a robbery in progress. Since we were on campus, we headed for the tech building. I thought I heard the direction of the getaway vehicle, so we pursued through the back roads along the forest that runs next to the beach. I called dispatch to let the station know we were on his tail. From what I could tell, the thief was driving a black Z-28. We were closing in when an animal ran in front of us. The next thing I knew, we were waking up this morning in the totaled pickup."
Rafe nodded. "That sounds pretty close to what we thought happened, except for the accident part. From what we could tell, you didn't crash. We found the pickup intact in a small clearing at the edge of the campus. Blair's backpack was inside, but you two were gone and there was no sign of another car or its driver. Initially we thought you'd been kidnapped, but we found a Z-28 matching your description abandoned three days later with no sign that you two had ever been in it." The older detective sighed. "We searched for weeks -- months afterward. It was as if you'd just... vanished."
"Did you ever catch the suspect?" asked Blair quietly.
"No," Rafe shook his head. "Whoever the perp was, he went underground and all the leads dried up." The detective ran a hand through his hair and lowered his eyes as he remembered the unpleasant events he'd tried to put behind him. "Simon had Major Crime split into two teams -- one on the case and one looking for you two. It was tough on everyone. The captain, Joel, Henri, Megan, and I worked on our own for months after the cases were officially closed, hoping we'd find something. We never did." Rafe swallowed and shook his head. "It took six months before we could even bring ourselves to hold a memorial service. It was so hard to admit that you two weren't coming back."
Jim laid a hand on Rafe's shoulder. "We know you did all you could. Speaking of the others, what happened to them?"
"About five years after you guys left, Conner went back to Australia to care for her father when he fell ill. Haven't heard from her in a long time. The F.B.I. offered Taggert a job as a munitions expert and he moved to Washington D.C. with his family. Henri --" Rafe paused and chuckled. "Henri left the force a couple years later to tour full time with his band. It got to the point where he had too many concerts and not enough vacation time."
"And Simon?" prompted Blair.
"Simon -- the captain passed away last year. Heart attack. But not before he made his mark as the best police commissioner Cascade ever had. They dedicated a huge bronze statue of him in the P.D. lobby just last week." Rafe chuckled. "He would have hated it."
"Got that right," said Jim. "I hate mine, too."
"Oh -- you've seen it, I guess," laughed Rafe. "Nobody ever thought you'd see it, Jim. The irony is pretty funny, come to think of it. I remember the day those statues were unveiled, five years after you disappeared. Your father and brother were there, Jim, and so was Naomi. Somehow, it helped your families and the rest of us feel that your contributions to the city had finally received the recognition they deserved." Rafe grinned again. "If you think that's bad, you ought to see the big Sentinel Museum downtown. It's a huge glass structure. Your old Expedition is in the front display case. Some woman tracked it down, had it rebuilt with a solar-powered engine and used it for awhile. She bequeathed it to the museum in her will."
Jim groaned and rolled his eyes. "Do these people have nothing else to do?" he groused.
Blair leaned forward in his chair, his next question written on his face. "My thesis?"
"Everybody knows, as you probably guessed. Rainier released your research a decade after you disappeared, and Simon played a big part in releasing the information for the cases you and Jim worked on after you met. He confirmed most of what you'd recorded about Jim's sentinel abilities, and it sure made sense to the rest of us. You two became, well, legends all over the country." Rafe sighed. "People come from all over to see where you lived and worked."
"This is all so --" Blair began.
"Weird," finished Jim. "I feel like I've gone to my own funeral and I'm hanging around afterwards for the potluck."
"You don't have any other information that could explain why we suddenly found ourselves twenty-five years in the future?" asked Blair.
"Or how we can get back?" added Jim.
Rafe shook his head. "Haven't a clue. I do have some information we collected on the case after your disappearance. Simon kept a lot of stuff as well -- newspaper clippings, notes. He bequeathed all of it to me in his will. The box is in my garage. Maybe you guys will find something we missed."
"You never told us what you're doing now, Rafe," reminded Blair.
Rafe smiled. "I'm a senior detective in Major Crime with specialty training in missing persons. A few years back I thought about leaving the force and starting up my own private investigating firm but decided I could do more if I stayed." The older man chuckled, looking up at Ellison. "Come to think of it, that means I outrank you, Jim. More experience, higher rank, more arrests...."
"Yeah, yeah, don't push it," Jim grumbled good-naturedly.
A few minutes later, Jim and Blair were following their friend into a simple but comfortably furnished spare room. Rafe plopped a large brown box onto the queen-sized bed. "Until we figure out what's going on, you're welcome to stay here at my place," Rafe gestured. "Is there anything else I can get for you?"
"Actually," Blair glanced sideways at Jim in a meaningful way, "there is. See, we stole this truck --"
"Borrowed, Sandburg. Borrowed. Not stole," Jim cut in.
"Borrowed this UPS truck when we trying to get away. We left it in an alley close to where you picked us up. If you could make sure it gets back to its proper owner, we'd really appreciate it."
"You stole a truck?" asked Rafe incredulously.
"Borrowed!" corrected an irritated Jim.
Rafe grinned and shook his head. "Now I know you're the real Jim Ellison."
Continued in Part Two...