Disclaimer: The Sentinel and its characters are completely the property of Paramount and Pet Fly Productions. I use them out of reverence, solely for fun and not for profit.

Spoilers: The Killers

Author's Notes: This is Lyn's belated birthday present, and a New Year's Day and Millennium Day present at the same time. Also, the dialogue in the flashback was written by the authors of The Killers and is not this author's own work.

The Great and Terrible Oz



The loft was dark, quiet and bare, just the way Jim Ellison liked it. There was no light glaring its way into his bedroom, no noisy music from his neighbours, no one to rouse him from his well-earned sleep.

But a shriek sounded in the silence, and Jim came completely awake in a split second. The shriek had been his.

What a dream! No, what a nightmare!

The Sentinel looked around, ran his hands up and down his arms and legs, searching for the strings that had been there only moments before.

But there were none. There never had been any.

Jim took a deep breath, groaned it out again, and lay back against the bed. His heart was pounding as if he had run a race to Marathon, and he was covered in sweat, now prickling his sensitive skin.

Where did that come from?, he wondered with a shudder, remembering.

He had been a puppet, a marionette for a clever manipulator of men. He danced to a tune he could not remember, arms jerking flaccidly as the wires went up and down, legs jigging to the beat of the song against his will. He could not see the man in charge of his body, the wizard hidden behind the curtain, the one who nullified his will. Though he had tried to escape, once he realised how he was being used. He had tried and tried and tried, but despite his twists and turns, there was no way to evade the bonds that held him captive; and he was jerked around and around by the puppetmaster.

In the end only his own scream bought him freedom.

Jim started to analyse the night terror which had so spooked him, and thought back to the case he had just solved. The Juno brothers. The carnival. The House of Mirrors with its multiple reflections, throwing him off as the assassin drew a bead on his forehead.

Well, that explained the basis for the imagery. The midway housed a stand which gave performances of fairy tales for the youngest of its patrons. Jim was certain that his subconscious had picked up on it and used it against him.

But who was the puppeteer? It couldn't be either Juno brother. Jim had killed them, and both of the twins were assuredly dead and harmless. So who was left?

The detective sat up straighter, determined to come to an understanding of this dream. Loss of control, ah, that was his deepest fear, his hyperacute senses sputtering in and out on him the goad that tortured him; and the idea that someone else was in control of him, that was terrible Phobos let loose in his life.

But he had felt something earlier that fit with the dream, Jim realised. The words he had spoken to his ridealong, Blair Sandburg, came back to him.

"Well, you were right," Jim said.

Sandburg stared up at him, an expression almost of rapture on his face.

"It was me, and it was the weirdest thing."

Sandburg was enraptured and encouraging.

"I was standing there and everything was a blur. And it was as if I was standing outside myself, looking at myself."

Sandburg was enraptured and encouraging and understanding.

"And I could make myself move and see and hear. But it wasn't me. It was someone else."

Sandburg had jumped on that, as quickly as a terrier on a rat. "The most important thing here is that you, you took control. See what I'm saying?"

Jim hardly had time to consider that remark before Beverley Sanchez came to thank him for saving his life. Sandburg turned the conversation with a joke about the Faithful Companion knowing when to leave, and Jim lost the moment.

What had Sandburg meant?, Jim asked himself in total confusion. He, Jim, had just said he wasn't in control, that someone else had been in charge, that he was looking on from the outside. How did Sandburg jump from that to telling Jim how important it was that he had taken control?

Hah! The dream, the dream, the dream image! The unseen puppeteer! Now that he thought about it, Sandburg had been something of a puppeteer for the dead Dylan Juno. He it was who operated the controls as the corpse wheeled its way down the path to its living twin, he it was who made the recorded voice answer the questions as if the dead spoke, he it was who controlled the sound level and choice of words. He it was who bamboozled Tommy Juno with his cunning sleight-of-hand and clever deception.

Sandburg was Dylan Juno's puppeteer.

Was he also Jim Ellison's puppeteer?

Ellison swore mightily. If Blair Sandburg thought he was going to manipulate Detective James Joseph Ellison, if he had the temerity to think he could run the Sentinel, then the grad student had a big lesson coming.

And James Ellison would teach it to him.

Jim revelled in his anger, an emotion much more comfortable than panic, and small mutters of heartfelt determination spluttered on his lips. His brutal sense of honour intervened, however, and brought up other memories of Blair Sandburg. Of his arms around Jim as Danny Choi's death sank in and Jim skreeled his loss to the heavens. Of his solid belief in the rightness of Jim's abilities—which did feel better whole than divided in the wake of Danny's loss, Jim realised with amazement. Of his earnestness in trying to find ways to help Jim gain the control he needed desperately.

Huh. Maybe Sandburg wasn't the evil manipulator that appeared in his dreams. Maybe he was honest in asking nothing more for his very real help than the opportunity to document Jim's sensory experiences. Maybe he meant what he said about Jim taking control. Just maybe.

Maybe it would be a good idea to watch Sandburg more closely, not push him away. Take whatever chance came along to observe the observer when he wasn't putting his best foot forward. When he was just kicking back and being a guy. When his defences were down. Now, how to make that happen? There was the trick!

Jim got up and made himself a cup of coffee, peering out through the doors of the balcony, watching faint streamers of pink pierce the night clouds.

Dawn was not far away.

~ End ~

E-Mail Ismaro at ligela@sympatico.ca
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Page last updated 8/15/03.