(See Page 1 for Disclaimer, Background, Summary, and Author's Notes)

A New Challenge (Page 4 of 4)
by Linda3


Even though he'd only been in The Sentinel Center's Director's office for ten minutes, the long wait for the test results was wearing on Jim's nerves. He'd finished the last round of tests over two hours ago; it'd never taken this long to get the results before. He knew even as he was taking the tests that his senses were higher than ever before, now he just needed the official accreditation and to find out his new Level rating. Being called in here from the main waiting area meant that the results were in and would be brought to them shortly.

"Detective Ellison."

Jim stopped pacing around the office and returned to one of the two comfortable chairs in front of the large desk that dominated the room. He turned his attention back towards the older man sitting there. He'd almost forgotten that the director was even there.

After years of dealing with nervous sentinels, Director Robert Michaels knew how to keep his voice smooth and neutral. "I know that waiting is hard. But when a sentinel asks to be retested, each test is gone over very carefully. The Ratings Committee knows how important this is to the sentinel making the request and wants to be certain of its findings before announcing the results." Michaels clasped his hands together on the desk and leaned forward. "But I feel that I do have to warn you, we get sentinels requesting retesting all the time. The vast majority of them test out at the same level, most having just had a temporary spike of some kind leading them to believe that their rating had changed. A few occasionally do test out at one level, sometimes two, higher. Any greater increase than that is very rare. Especially for someone your age who has been at the same level for so many years." He raised his hand to stop the protest he saw forming on the sentinel's face. "I'm not saying it's not possible. I just don't want you to get your hopes up too high when the odds are against you. We always hope for the best, of course, but we also want you to be prepared in case it doesn't work out the way you hope it will."

But it will this time. Jim had every faith in Blair's findings, somehow trusting them even more than the all equipment and experience here at the Center. Before he could voice his opinion, two members of the Ratings Committee entered the room, their faces careful not to reveal anything. One handed a folder to Director Michaels then stood back as it was opened and the contents read.

Jim watched as the other man read the results. The white noise generators built into the building kept him from listening to the man's heartbeat or respirations but he couldn't help but notice as his eyes grew wider as he continued reading. Turning to the next page, he quickly scanned to the bottom, his eyebrows almost getting lost in his hairline. When, instead of speaking, he just turned a questioning look to the Committee member who had handed him the folder, it was everything Jim could do to keep from reaching out and grabbing the paperwork himself.

"We verified the results three times. That's what took so long. There's no question that this is correct." He looked over at his partner who just nodded, agreeing with the conclusion.

"Would someone mind telling me what's going on?"

Director Michaels turned back towards Jim, a definite smile on his face. "Let me be the first to congratulate you, Sentinel Detective Ellison. You've just made Sentinel Center history."

Sentinel Detective Ellison? Only detectives with a Level Five rating or above were given that title. So Blair was right after all. But what did he mean by...

"What do you mean by Sentinel Center history?"

The Director was beaming and the two Ratings Committee members were now openly smiling as well. "Sentinel Ellison, you are the first sentinel whose rating has ever jumped from a Three to an Eight. And after some more precise testing, which is only used for the highest rated sentinels, Eight through Ten, it might even go higher."

Jim sat back in his chair as his breath left him in a loud whoosh. He figured his lower jaw was hanging somewhere around mid-chest. Eight? Eight? And possibly higher? Eights and above were considered the rarest of sentinels. The Elites. He had to open and close his mouth twice before anything came out. "How?"

"How could this happen? Well, other than the virtual impossibility of all your previous tests having been wrong, the only other way that a low level sentinel can jump at least two levels is if they finally meet their true guide. It would have to be an equally strong guide. Only the presence of the true guide can bring out the previously latent, stronger senses. Even with that, in the entire recorded history of sentinels, there has never been a jump of this size at one time." He leaned back and studied his new sensation. "Now then. What new people did you come in contact with around the same time you started noticing your increased senses? A new girlfriend, perhaps? Anyone new at work?"

No one immediately came to mind except... "I, uh... I bought a slave not too long ago."

Michaels waved his hand dismissively. "That's nice but slaves can't be guides. It's not possible."

Although Jim had never seen a slave act as a guide, he'd never thought about it before either. "Why not?"

The second Committee member spoke up. "It's been tried several times over the past 100 or so years and always failed. Modern genetic testing finally determined that the empathic genes needed to be a guide were entirely bred out of slaves, probably several generations ago."

"Oh." He guessed it made sense. At least as much as anything else was making sense right now.

The Director spoke up again. "Now, I know that all this is probably a shock and a surprise to you, I know it is to me, but the important thing right now is to locate this guide. The fact that you haven't been overwhelmed yet means that it's somebody you come into contact with regularly. His or her presence is grounding you right now, but that won't last forever. You're going to need to bond soon and start getting some hands-on guidance to get a handle on and be able to use these new, heightened senses." He looked at the small calendar sitting on his desk. "Today is Friday, use the weekend to try to figure out who it could be. We'll need you back here first thing Monday morning to do the next level of testing. I'll clear it with your captain. If you don't bring your guide with you, then, once we get your exact rating, we'll arrange to have someone from the Guide Guild sent over to help you, at least while you're working. Until we can find you a permanent guide."

Jim's head was spinning as he tried to absorb everything being said to him. "If I don't already know who my guide is, how will I figure it out?"

"Well. It'll be someone fairly new to you but who you already feel very comfortable around. Someone you find yourself wanting to be around. You'll probably feel inexplicable protective feelings for this person, too. You'll feel good just being around them. And, if this goes the way it should, that person will also want to be around you, even if they don't know why yet. Sounds like a latent guide to me, so it could be anyone. A recently transferred police officer or even a new janitor. Think about any new businesses you might have started going to, like a different grocery store or coffee shop. Try to think of anyone new you've been in contact with on a regular basis. Now that you know what you're looking for, I think you'll be more aware of this person next time you see him or her."

Standing up, he stuck his hand out to Jim. "Congratulations, again, Sentinel Detective Ellison. We'll see you bright and early Monday morning. Hopefully with your guide."

Knowing a dismissal when he saw one, Jim also stood up and shook the Director's hand. "Thank you, sir. I'll be here Monday." Nodding to the two Committee members, he turned and left the office, his only thought at the moment was to get home and tell Blair the news.

He had barely started driving away from the Center when Jim realized that he really needed to go to the station. Simon knew that he was being retested this morning and was probably waiting to go over the results with him. Besides, getting tested was no excuse for missing the rest of the workday.

His new sentinel rating and status would also mean a change in his detective rank as well. He would now be a Sentinel Detective. Beyond a Sentinel Detective. As an Eight or higher, he would now officially be an Elite Sentinel Detective. There was going to be a lot of paperwork in someone's future to make all the changes. Still wishing he could talk to Blair, at the next light, he turned his car in the direction of the PD.

As he entered the bullpen, Jim became aware of things he hadn't noticed before. People talking across the room, the almost silent hum of the computers, the swish of the janitor's mop at the end of the hallway. Lowering himself into his chair, he tested his senses by carefully focusing his hearing outward. Two detectives in the break room were making plans for tonight. So Casey and Murphy have a thing going on. Interesting. The sudden ringing of a nearby phone abruptly jarred him back. He shook his head as his ears continued to ring even after someone answered the phone. Okay. So there is definitely a downside to all this. Before he could think about it any more, Simon opened his office door and motioned him inside. Guess he got the call from Director Michaels.

Seated in his usual spot, in one of the chairs set in front of the Major Crime's captain's desk, Jim took a big whiff of the flavored coffee he held. Sipping it, he closed his eyes as all the subtle flavors rolled over his tongue. Coffee never tasted this good before. His eyes flew open when what sounded suspiciously like a snort reached his ears. Simon had a definite smirk on his face as he watched him.

"Enjoying the coffee, Jim? I can leave if you'd like to be alone with it for a few minutes." Grinning at the glare he received in return, Simon's expression changed to a slightly more sober one. "Seriously, though, how are you dealing with all this? How are your senses right now?"

After swallowing another sip, Jim reluctantly placed the coffee mug on Simon's desk, then sat back in his chair and crossed one ankle over the opposite knee. "To tell you the truth, I think I'm still a bit numb. I mean this morning I woke up a Level Three and now, just a few hours later, I'm at least an Eight." He shook his head. "I know you're not a sentinel, Simon, but believe me, that's a lot to take in."

"I'm sure it is. I've already notified Human Resources of your status change. They'll start the paperwork and can add in your official rating after the tests on Monday." Simon shuffled some papers around, then placed a 1/4 inch thick booklet on top. "Now, about your guide." He tapped the cover of the book. "As you know, regulations state that it is preferred that a Sentinel Detective use a guide, especially in the field. At your new level, it's mandatory to have one at all times while working. Do you have a guide or are you going to use the Guide Guild?"

Jim shook his head. He was familiar with the regulations. The higher a sentinel's rating, the greater the senses, but with each higher rating came the greater risk of a sensory spike or even worse, zoning. There was no question that having heightened senses was a double-edged sword. "Director Michaels and I talked about that. He feels that I had to have come in contact with my true guide, that's why my senses have become so heightened. He said for me to try to figure out who he or she is by Monday. If I can't, then they'll provide a temporary working one from the Guild. If I don't find my guide within a reasonable amount of time, the Guild will match me up with a suitable, permanent one."

"Are you okay with this?"

Jim shrugged. "There's not much choice. Bonding with one's true guide is always the preferred way to go. But sometimes that's just not possible. When that happens, the Guild steps in and tries for the best possible match."

Simon looked pensive. "So, do you have any ideas on who your guide might be?"

"Not really. Michaels gave me some pointers to help me figure it out. I just hope I do by Monday. I never liked those snooty, know-it-all Guild guides."

Leaning back, Simon nodded. "Okay then. Since you can't work alone right now, use the rest of today to catch up on your paperwork. Maybe you can even scout around and see if you recognize your guide here at the station." He gave his detective a pointed look. "But absolutely no going anywhere outside the building by yourself. Not even lunch. Go with someone or better yet, order in." Waiting until he got a nod of agreement, he relaxed his expression. "Take the weekend off and do whatever it is you have to do. After your tests on Monday, we'll see where we stand and take it from there."

Recognizing another dismissal, Jim stood up. "Okay." He turned towards the door only to stop and turn back around when he heard Simon call his name.

"Don't let all this get to you too much. Just keep in mind that you were already a good detective before today, once you get a guide and a little training, you'll just be an even better one. I, for one, am looking forward to having an Elite Sentinel Detective on my team."

Hearing his captain's words brought a small, slightly relieved smile to Jim's face. It was nice to know that his change in status wouldn't mean that he'd only be thought of as just a walking forensics lab. "Thanks, Simon." At Simon's 'go on' wave he left the office, feeling a bit more at ease about everything.

Leaning against the wall of the building's old cranky elevator, Jim wished it would move at least a little faster. His head was killing him and all he wanted was to take some aspirin and lie down someplace dark and quiet.

After leaving Simon's office, he'd spent the rest of the day testing his new senses, while at the same time, surreptitiously checking out almost everyone in the station, trying to see if he felt any type of 'guide' vibes from anyone. By the end of the day, all he'd gotten for his efforts was a huge headache, made tolerable only when he finally managed to turn everything down. He had planned on stopping at a few places on the way home, just to see if anyone 'clicked', and maybe pick up some take-out for dinner, but couldn't bear the thought of facing anyone else.

As soon as he opened the loft's door he realized that lying down wasn't going to be an option. Blair was in the kitchen cooking up something that, even with his senses turned down, smelled delicious. One look at the eager, inquisitive face reminded him that he had forgotten all about the person who had convinced him to get re-tested in the first place.

Jim watched Blair's face change from open and enthusiastic to puzzled to uncertain. Whatever greeting the younger man was going to utter died as he bit his lower lip, waiting for his master to speak first.

"Smells good in here, Chief. What're you making?"

Blair's whole body seemed to relax as he answered. "Chili. The cook at Master Eli's showed me how to make it. I had to change a few of the ingredients to accommodate your senses but it should still be pretty good. Speaking of your senses..." The inquisitive look was back in full force.

"Let me wash up. We can talk while we eat."

While in the bathroom, Jim downed a few aspirins and splashed some cold water on his face, even though his headache was already starting to fade. Feeling better, he returned to the kitchen to find Blair ladling chili into two bowls. The dining room table was already set for two with a bottle of beer at one place setting and a glass of milk at the other, as well as a box of crackers. Blair looked up as Jim approached the kitchen.

"Go ahead and sit down, Sir. I'll bring the bowls to the table." Blair's anticipation was almost palpable.

Once seated, Jim examined the bowl in front of him. The thought of eating a spoonful of five-alarm chili made him very nervous. On the other hand, Blair had said that he had taken his senses into consideration when he made it. But at what level? His old Level Three? As if reading his mind, Blair spoke up.

"It's very mild, with just a tiny bit of chili powder. No hot peppers. I figured if you tolerate this well, then I can gradually add more powder and spices until we find out what works best for you." He looked so hopeful that Jim just didn't have the heart to not at least try it. Scooping up a small spoonful, he toasted Blair with it then cautiously put it in his mouth. Ground beef, tomatoes, onions, red beans and, as Blair had said, just a hint of chili powder. Not bad at all. He grinned and nodded at the chef as he swallowed.

"See? Told ya."

After both men had been eating for a few minutes Blair couldn't contain himself any longer. He'd spent the entire day on pins and needles, waiting until he could find out how the re-testing had gone. "So. Sir. How'd it go today? The tests? What'd they say?" He was practically vibrating with anticipation.

Jim was feeling much better now than when he first got home. So much so that he decided to tease Blair a little. Turning his face downward as he took another bite of chili, he kept his voice deliberately neutral. "Well, the tests were pretty thorough. They tested everything. Then it seemed like forever before the results came back. But that was because the Ratings Committee went over everything three times before releasing the final results." He picked up the beer bottle and took a long slow swallow.

Across the table Blair felt like throttling his master. Since using physical force was out of the question, that only left using his voice. "And? And? Did they give you a new rating?"

"Yes. But not to a Level Six like you thought."

"Oh." Blair seemed to deflate. Almost immediately he made an effort to hide his disappointment. "Well, I guess any increase is a good thing. Right? So what level are you now?"

Seeing the devastated look on Blair's face, Jim decided to stop playing around. "Actually, Chief, you were more than right. I tested out much higher than a Three. I've been rated as an Eight."

There was stunned silence from across the table. Jim filled in the void by adding, "I have to go back for more tests on Monday. The tests I took today can only rate up to an Eight. They think I might even go higher."

"Higher?" It came out more of a squeak than a word. After swallowing a few times and taking in and slowly releasing a deep breath, Blair managed to sound somewhat normal again. "All right, Sir. I need details. Tell me everything that happened, everything everyone said. Don't leave out anything. Wait! Don't start yet." Blair jumped up and ran to his room, returning to his seat a minute later with several blank sheets of paper and a pen. He poised the pen over the top sheet and looked up. "Okay. Now."

Barely suppressing a grin at seeing Blair in full academic mode, Jim proceeded to tell the eager slave everything that had happened, starting from when he arrived at the Sentinel Center and ending when he got home. Except for asking a few questions, Blair never looked up, his pen fairly flying across the pages as he documented Jim's accounting of his day. He finally sat back, tossing the pen onto the table. "Wow. This is incredible, Sir. No wonder they verified your results three times. Now, of course, the most important thing is to find your guide. As rare as Elite sentinels are, Elite guides are even rarer. That's why this probably hasn't happened sooner. You needed to be in contact with your true guide to bring out your senses' full abilities."

Jim raised his eyebrows. "So you're saying if I never came across this guide, my senses would have stayed at a Level Three?"

"That's how it usually works. It takes a guide of as close to the level of the sentinel as possible for the pair to work well together. If the sentinel is much stronger than the guide, then the guide can't handle it or the sentinel. Equal levels naturally work best. That's why so few sentinels reach the Elite level, there aren't enough Elite guides around to bring them out."

"So why didn't I notice this big jump in my senses as soon as I came across this person? You'd think I'd notice going from a Three to an Eight."

Blair thought for a minute. "It was probably a gradual increase. It would have been too overwhelming to just suddenly..." He clapped his hands together, "... 'Bang! Go from a low level to an Elite just like that. Since it was gradual, and you weren't in the habit of using your senses a lot anyway, you didn't really notice the changes. Which probably also means you had repeated contact with this person as your senses were increasing. That would explain why you haven't zoned or had any other problems. Yet."

Jim didn't like where this conversation was going. "And if I don't find this person?"

"Not good. At the Elite level, you're a lot more sensitive than other sentinels. Your guide will have to be able to almost immediately know when your senses are going out of control and then be able to get you back online. A non-Elite guide will have a hard time bringing you out of a deep zone. And since you'll be using your senses a lot more now, your chances of zoning will go way up, too. Just being in contact with him or her is working for now, but it won't last. You'll need to bond soon in order to keep your elevated senses under control."

Jim sighed. "That's what Michaels said, too. But how do I find this person? Because if I don't, it looks like I'm royally screwed."

"There's always the Guide Guild. Maybe they'll have a guide strong enough for you. A strong Seven might work if you aren't rated any higher than a Nine. It won't be the same as bonding with your true guide, of course, but..." Blair shrugged.

He watched, alarmed, as Jim sagged back in his chair, an air of defeat surrounding him. Guilt stole over the young slave as he realized just how bleak a picture he had inadvertently painted of his master's future.

"Don't worry, Sir. We'll find him or her." Blair sounded determined enough for both of them. "We'll just use proven scientific methods. Figure out where you've been, who you've been around since this started. Eliminate those who don't fit the profile and eventually we'll have our person." He tapped a finger on his upper lip a few times, eager to start putting things right. "We know it started around the time of the auction so we'll use that as our start date." Pulling out a new sheet of paper, he wrote 'Auction' on the middle of the top line. He then slid the paper across the table to Jim. "Write down anyone new you came across that day that you may have also come in contact with more than once since then. Then keep going. Think of any place new you've been to at least a few times or places that you go to regularly that may have hired new people shortly before the auction. Even if it seems irrational, write it down. We can always eliminate. We should end up with a list of places with new people that you've come into contact with more than once since then. Then we can check out those people." He stood up, feeling the need to be doing something productive. "I'll clean up while you write."

Jim stared at the paper in front of him. This was pretty much what Director Michaels had suggested doing but at least doing it this way meant he didn't have to actually go to every place he knew just to check out the people. After the headache he got just checking out the PD, this seemed like a much better way to go. But at least he had eliminated most of the PD already. Reaching across the table, he snagged Blair's pen and started trying to remember who he had come in contact with starting around the time of the auction.

By the time Blair was finished in the kitchen, Jim had finished his list. Such as it was. He never realized that he was in such a rut. Gas at the same gas station every week. Groceries always from the same store. Take-out from the same few places. Same movie theatre every time. Even when he went out after work with the guys, they always went to the same bar. The only time he seemed to break out of his routine was when he was with Blair. Who was now standing beside him, hand out, waiting to look over the list.

Jim watched as Blair nodded as he read. "Pretty short list, isn't it? I never realized how limited my choices of places where I go is."

Now Blair shook his head. "No, this is pretty typical." At Jim's look, he continued. "Sentinels like structure. Routine. It's easier on the senses when you know what to expect. Remember, most zoning and spikes occur from something unexpected happening. And a sentinel without a guide, even a low level one, would be even more inclined to stick with known places." He grinned. "Besides, a short list makes our work a lot easier than a long one."

"I guess that makes sense. I never really thought about it before."

"But now you have me to help you. At least until we find your guide."

Jim wasn't sure but he could have sworn that the light in Blair's eyes dimmed a bit at that last sentence. Before he could think any more about it, Blair turned away. Gathering up the other papers from the table, the younger man headed towards his room.

"I guess I'll go work on this. I want to go over it again some more before adding it to my other notes." He stopped and turned around. "Unless you need me for anything else tonight?" Unlike with his other masters, he sometimes almost forgot his place as a slave. Which was something that could get him into real trouble someday if he wasn't careful.

"No, you go do whatever you need to do. I'm just going watch some TV for now."

"Okay. Goodnight, Sir."

"Goodnight, Blair."

Jim watched as Blair disappeared into his room, then settled himself on the sofa. He picked up the remote but didn't turn on the set. Something was niggling at the back of his mind but he couldn't quite figure out what it was. Something about that whole conversation with Blair. He mentally shrugged. Oh well, if it was important it'd come to him eventually. He pointed the remote and clicked until he found an old movie, then settled in to watch.

"Okay, that's the third one." Blair hoped he sounded neutral as he crossed off another place. They had checked out three of the businesses on Jim's list and no one had even remotely blipped on the sentinel's radar. The manager at each place had confirmed that no employees had been hired or left since the time of the auction. They'd been driving all over town, staying at each location until Jim was sure he hadn't missed anyone. He didn't want to say anything, but he was getting tired and hungry.

"So where to next?"

Blair looked at the list again. "WonderBurger. The one near the loft."

Jim started the truck. "Perfect. What say we go ahead and eat while we're there? I don't know about you but I'm ready for some lunch."

"Sounds good to me." It was true. Right now, even fast food sounded good. Not that he would have disagreed with wherever his master wanted to eat.

The restaurant was fairly busy so Jim used the time they stood in line to focus on the employees. First those working the front counter then the ones in the back, cooking the food. Nothing. He'd talk to the manager about any other employees after they ate.

Even though Blair questioned Jim about his impressions while they ate, he didn't seem all that disappointed to learn that, once again, no one gave off any special vibes. As they were finishing up and getting ready to leave, Blair went back to the counter to refill his iced tea. With three places down, they still had three more to go.

Jim watched him as he started to gather up their trash. He couldn't help but feel proud of how far the young slave had come since they first started passing him off as a free citizen. While Blair still wasn't totally comfortable with the charade, no one had yet ever questioned his presence when they were out in public.

After talking with the restaurant manager and verifying that he hadn't missed anyone, Jim led the way through the glass doors and out into the parking lot. Once again there had been no new employees hired in the last few months. He really didn't want to check out any more places or people. It was a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon and he could think of a lot better things he and Blair could be doing than driving around town testing perfect strangers to see if he reacted to any of them.

Just as they exited the building, Blair stopped and tugged on Jim's sleeve. "Uh. You know, Sir, after drinking all that tea, it'd probably be a good idea for me to use the restroom before we head out again."

"Okay. I'll go start up the truck. But don't take all day. I want to get to the next place." And get this over with while there's still some daylight left. Something about being out searching for a guide just didn't feel right, even though he knew how important it was to find him or her. Turning away, he didn't see the hurt look on Blair's face when he mentioned that he was impatient to keep looking.

Sitting in the idling truck, Jim adjusted the air conditioning so it would be cool in the cab by the time they left. Even though he had to park on the far side of the lot, he had managed to back the truck under the only shaded spot available so he now had a clear view of the door Blair would use. A truck similar to his caught his attention as it pulled into a space across from the door he was watching. It was the same make and model but older and the exterior was fairly beat up. Judging by the ladders, buckets and other work paraphernalia in the bed, Jim figured it belonged to house painters. Three men looking to be in their mid twenties got out, and looking at their white, paint spattered clothes, the sentinel confirmed his guess. His attention was diverted from the painters by Blair's heartbeat. The young slave had his refilled tea in one hand and was holding the door open for a mother pushing a stroller through with one hand while holding another small child's hand with her other hand. After they had safely entered the building, Blair turned and started walking into the parking lot looking around for the truck. With his attention distracted, Jim watched as Blair walked right into the painters, bumping one of them and dropping his full paper cup of tea onto a paint-covered leg and shoe.

"Hey! Watch where you're going. Look what you did!"

Blair stared in horror at the now soaked work boot and pant cuff, and at the remaining iced tea now forming a river across the asphalt. He felt a shove on his shoulder and looked up into a large angry face.

"What? You're not even gonna to say anything?"

"Leave him alone, Benny. Maybe he's a retard or something."

The third man joined in. "Yeah. C'mon, I'm hungry and thanks to that long line at the ATM, we've only got 30 minutes left for lunch."

As soon Jim saw Blair being shoved, he moved. For the first time in his life he felt the strongest instinct known to sentinels overtake him. Protect The Guide!

He was out of the truck and halfway across the parking lot before he even realized that he had opened the door. Only seeing Blair's stricken face calmed him down enough so that when he reached the group he could behave rationally again.

"There you are, Blair. Everything all right here?"

Benny spoke up first. "No, everything is not all right. This idiot drops a whole drink on me then won't even apologize."

Jim pulled out his wallet and held up three twenty-dollar bills. "I think this should cover any..." He glanced down at the well-worn work clothes "... damage and buy all of you lunch today. What do you say? We can all just go our separate ways now. No real harm done."

Snatching the money out Jim's hand, Benny stuffed the bills in his own pocket. "Sure. Fine. Whatever. You just might want to keep a closer eye on your retard there." Still grumbling, he turned and left with the two other painters in tow.

That taken care of, the sentinel turned to make sure his guide was all right.

His guide?

Jim literally stopped breathing as suddenly everything fell into place.




His heart was beating a wild tattoo in his chest as he forced himself to inhale again. Blair was his guide. His true guide. Not some stranger he might have just happened to have run across one day. He knew, all the way to the very core of his being, that it was true. His search was over. It made so much sense he was surprised that neither one of them had figured it out earlier. It also explained everything. Such as why he had been so drawn to Blair from the moment he laid eyes on him. And why he didn't, couldn't, think of Blair as just another slave. Even how he had made the transition from a Level Three to an Eight so effortlessly. The total rightness of it all filled his soul. The sheer joy of it all filled his heart.

Jim couldn't wait to get home to tell Blair what he had discovered. News this wonderful was way too important to reveal while standing in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. Besides, knowing how an excited Blair would probably react to this new, radical change in their lives, it would definitely be better to be in a private place when he dropped this little bombshell on him. The sooner he told his guide, Jim couldn't help but smile at the word, the sooner they could start making plans for their new future.

The now hyped-up sentinel turned around and started towards the truck. "C'mon. Let's go home. We have some things to talk about."

In his excitement over his revelation, Jim never noticed how quiet Blair had been the whole time he'd been thinking. How he'd been standing uncharacteristically still with his head hanging down.

For the first time since the auction, Blair followed his master with a sinking heart. This time he had really done it. He had almost blown everything. His clumsiness could have gotten his master in real trouble if his slave status had come out and he'd cost him a lot of money, too. Now Sir, no, he was sure it would now be Master once again, was so angry he didn't even want to continue the search for his guide. He couldn't help but remember what had happened every time Mr. Shaw had said they were going to have a "talk". The now trembling slave dreaded even thinking about what his punishment would be this time.

The ride home was made in silence, each man lost in his own thoughts. It wasn't until they were riding up in the elevator that Jim noticed Blair's unusually quiet demeanor. A quick scan of his vitals signs showed a faster than normal heart rate and somewhat rapid, shallow breaths. That wasn't too surprising. Blair still wasn't comfortable talking to citizens under the best of circumstances, the run-in with that idiot had undoubtedly left him a bit shaken. But he was sure that his news would make his guide, God, he already loved the sound of that phrase, forget all about the incident in the parking lot.

Entering the loft first, Jim hung up his coat then went to the refrigerator. He could hear Blair hanging up his coat as he grabbed a beer and uncapped a bottle of water. Turning back around, he was somewhat surprised to see Blair just standing in the middle of the living room with his eyes downcast. Even accounting for what had happened, something wasn't right.

Holding out the bottle of water, Jim frowned when Blair made no attempt to take it. Instead, the younger man remained motionless except for a now noticeable trembling.

"What's the matter, Chief? You're not still upset about that moron in the parking lot, are you? It was a simple accident, the guy totally overreacted. Besides, it's over and done with now. Forget about it." He held out the water bottle again. "Here. Drink some of this. You're looking a little pale there."

Blair slowly lifted his hand and took the bottle. Now was not the time to disobey even the simplest order. "Yes, Master." He raised the bottle and took a sip of water, lowering his eyes again as he lowered his arm.


"Okay, Blair. What's going on here? When did we go back to Master and why do you look like you're scared to death?"

When Blair raised his eyes to answer, he was surprised to see, not anger and disgust in his master's eyes, but confusion and concern. The words just tumbled out. "I-I spilled tea on a citizen. He could have found out that I'm really just a slave and demanded that I be punished and then you could have gotten in trouble, too, because of my dressing and acting like a free citizen. So you had to pay him a lot of money so he wouldn't find out." The troubled blue eyes lowered again even as Blair straightened his back and squared his shoulders. "I'm sorry that my clumsiness caused you problems, Master, and I'm ready to accept my punishment."

Watching Blair's automatic response to having committed an offense to his Master, even if he was the only one who saw it that way, made Jim realize that maybe his expectations had been too high. He shouldn't have expected that the relatively short amount of time that Blair had been living here would have enabled him to overcome a lifetime of slavery conditioning. He had to make Blair understand how he saw their personal relationship before they could even begin to go forward as sentinel and guide.

"Blair, I think we need to talk. Let's sit down."

Jim led Blair to the couch and sat down beside him, half turning so he was facing the younger man. "First thing we need to do is to clear up any misunderstanding about what happened in the parking lot. That guy was an idiot. It was an accident, plain and simple. You did nothing wrong. It's not worth worrying about. Got it? It's no big deal."

"But, Sir."

Jim was relieved to note that they were at least back to 'Sir' as Blair took a deep breath and let it out.

"What if one time I really do something wrong and everyone finds out what we've been doing? Won't you get in trouble? Would they take me away from you? I-I..." The curly head bent down and Jim had to notch his hearing up a bit to catch the next few words. "I don't want to belong to anyone else."

"And you never will."

The conviction of the sentinel's answer caused Blair's head to jerk back up.

"I mean it, Blair. No one will ever separate you from me. I give you my word."

Okay then. Now was as good a time as any to start the main discussion. "I felt the connection between us as soon as I saw you at the auction, but I didn't know what was going on then. Buying you just felt right and I've never regretted it for a minute. To me, you were never 'just a slave', and by the way, I don't want to ever hear you refer to yourself that way again. I don't even think of us in terms of 'master' and 'slave'. I want everyone to see you the way I do, as an intelligent young man with a lot to offer. Maybe I pushed you a little too fast and a little too hard into passing as a citizen but I know how slaves are seen and treated and I just couldn't stand to see you treated like that. If I made you do things that you weren't ready for, I'm sorry. But I'm not sorry about the way I feel and that's not going to change." Especially now.

A surprised Blair just sat there wide-eyed. "I-I... don't know what to say." A small, shy smile formed. "Thank you, Sir. I'll try really hard not to disappoint or embarrass you. I'm just always so afraid that I'll do something wrong and when the authorities find out what I've been doing, they'll take me away." The unspoken "from you" hung in the air.

"Like I said, never gonna happen. Remember, your dressing up was my idea, not yours. And by law, the master is responsible for slaves' actions. So no matter what happens, you'll never be blamed. And it's my right to dress you any way I see fit; I guess it's just never occurred to anyone to have their slaves wear anything other than the traditional whites. Besides, you've been doing great. No one has even once ever questioned who you are or what you were doing."

"What about today? That was close."

"Not really." Jim grinned. "That idiot may have thought that you were mentally challenged but he thought you were a mentally challenged citizen. People have very set ideas when it comes to how a slave should look and talk and act. Since you don't come close to any of that, it never enters anyone mind that you could possibly be anything other than what you present yourself as—an intelligent, well-spoken person. Probably college educated. So just relax, be yourself and everything will be all right."

Blair sat back, looking a bit more at ease. "Okay, Sir. If you say so."

Jim smiled. "I say so." Now it was his turn to take a deep breath. "There's something else we have to talk about. I wanted to be sure you understood how I see our relationship before I tackled this subject."

"Sounds important."

"It is." Suddenly feeling nervous, Jim stood up and walked a few steps away. He turned back around and ran a hand through his hair. "I don't know how else to say it, so here it is. I figured out who my true guide is. We don't have to look any more."

A series of emotions flittered over Blair's face so quickly it was hard to keep up with them. It ended with what Jim called his 'brave face'. Although his mouth was turned up in a semblance of a smile, his real emotion was hidden behind it. This time it was an overall aura of sadness.

"You found your true guide? That's great, Sir. Now the two of you can officially hook up and start learning how to be a real sentinel and guide team. Before you know it, you'll be bonded. I hope it's someone you already get along with since you'll be spending so much time together." It was Blair's turn to stand up. "Well, I guess you'll want to get going. You know, tell whoever it is the good news and start making plans. Will you be back for dinner? Of course not, you'll want to have dinner with your guide. What was I thinking?" He picked up his water bottle and Jim's beer bottle and headed towards the kitchen.


Blair stopped and turned back around.

"We're not done talking yet and I really would like my beer back."

"What?" Looking down, Blair noticed that the beer bottle he was holding hadn't even been opened yet. "Oh. Sorry, Sir. I just figured you'd be leaving now. You know, off to see your... guide... and all." He handed over the dark brown bottle and watched as Jim crossed over to the couch and sat down, lifting his legs onto the coffee table with his ankles crossed. Jim then opened the bottle and took a long drink, sighing in contentment when finished.

"You're right. My guide and I do have a lot to discuss. This is going to be a big change for both of us. So the sooner you sit down, the sooner we can get started."

"Huh?" Blair just knew he was missing something really important here but his brain didn't seem to firing on all cylinders right at the moment. Why would a sentinel want to talk to him when his guide was out there somewhere?

Jim sighed and sat up, putting his feet on the floor. Okay, so subtle wasn't going to work here. He'd thrown a lot at Blair in the last few minutes without giving him time to process any of it. And here comes the biggie. "I finally figured it out in the parking lot. It was so obvious, I don't know why neither one of us ever figured it out earlier. But once I realized who it was, it all made perfect sense." He looked directly at Blair. "Blair, you are my true guide. I know this as well as I know that I'm a sentinel. And nothing that anyone can say or do will change that fact."

The sofa cushion sank as Blair dropped heavily onto it. He didn't think a sentinel would joke about something this serious but what his master had just proposed was impossible. "Sir. I-I don't mean to contradict you or anything, but what you just said isn't possible. As much as I would love for it to be true, it's been known for years that slaves can't be guides. It's a proven fact that any empathetic gene was bred out of all slaves at least a few generations ago. Even the director of the Sentinel Center told you that, and you have to figure that with all the money and resources that the Center has, and the years of research that they did, that the scientists there would know for sure whether or not a slave could ever be used as a guide."

A small grin appeared on the sentinel's face. "That may be true for ordinary slaves but as we both well know, you are far from ordinary. You seem to be forgetting your own heritage." He aimed his beer bottle forward. "Remember, you weren't bred from slave stock so you don't carry any slave genes in you at all. What you do have are the genes from two free born citizens. I'm sure that during your years with Professor Stoddard, if your mother had any guide genes in her family, it would have come out. So that leaves the unknown factor, your father. I can almost guarantee you that if he's ever found and tested, it would turn out that either he himself is a guide or that there are guides in his family. And you, my little guide, have obviously inherited those genes." Jim placed the bottle on the coffee and sat back with his arms crossed across his chest. "So, what do you think of my theory? Plausible?"

Scratching the back of his neck, Blair looked down towards the floor. "I guess it is possible, theoretically speaking, of course." He looked back up, directly at Jim. "But what makes you think that I inherited any of these supposed guide genes. That I'm a guide? That I'm your guide."

Jim met Blair's gaze and held it. "A couple of reasons. One, you've been interested in sentinels since you were a boy. You told me that you became as obsessed as Professor Stoddard. A passing interest would have faded away. Two, one of the things that guides do is keep tabs on their sentinels. Every guide I've ever known has done it; it's some kind of instinctual thing, I guess. You started doing that with me almost from the day we met. You have notebooks full of stuff, why else would you be doing that? Three, there has been a special connection between us since day one. I feel it and I know you do too. There's no way you can say that what we have is anywhere near a normal master/slave relationship. It never has been. And four, what happened earlier today. When that guy shoved you, one thought entered my mind. Not protect Blair or protect your slave. But Protect The Guide. Even though I knew you weren't in any real danger, for a few seconds, I could have really hurt him just for touching you like that. I guess it took that incident for my head to finally realize what my heart already knew. You, Blair Jacob Sandburg are James Joseph Ellison's one true guide. Now and forever. Any more questions?"

For one of the few times in his life, Blair was at a loss for words. Everything he had just heard was true. It had all just felt so natural, so right, that he never thought twice about any of it. And if his being in danger, albeit only slightly, was enough to bring out the Blessed Protector instinct in a sentinel, well, that pretty much made it a lock. A sentinel will naturally protect almost anyone in need, but the BP level is reserved strictly for the guide. Wow. He was a guide. Even better, he was Sir's guide.

But what did he really know about being a guide? He had no training whatsoever. It was one thing to run a few tests on a low level sentinel but now they were talking about an Elite sentinel. They required very special handling from Elite level guides. He was way out of his league here. As if he even had a league to begin with. An Elite sentinel was a rare and precious thing. The best of the best. Nobody would ever allow an untrained slave to even pretend to be an Elite's guide. But if he really was Sir's true guide, everything was worse now than before. An Elite sentinel didn't work well with other guides. Since it took his true guide to bring him online, it was usually that guide, and only that guide, the Elite sentinel could bear to be around on a full-time basis. What a mess. Because of him, Sir, instead of being a content Level Three was now going to be a miserable Elite, forced to work with one, or more likely, multiple guides that he almost certainly would have a hard time being around. And he couldn't see any way to fix it.

"Ya know..." The sentinel's voice broke into the new guide's thoughts. "I was kind of hoping you'd be a bit more, I don't know... happy... or... something... about all this. Instead you look like someone just took your puppy away. Are you really that upset about finding out that you're my guide?"

"No! No. It's not that. It's just that I never expected to be anyone's guide, never mind one to an Elite sentinel." Blair jumped up and started pacing in front of the couch. "I don't know how to be a guide. What if I do something wrong? What if you get hurt because I don't know what I'm doing?" He stopped and faced Jim. "Wouldn't you be better off with a trained Guild guide?" Even as he said the words, the thought of his sentinel being with another guide hurt him deeply. He was already feeling possessive and was ready to fight any guide who tried to take his rightful place beside his sentinel. But he also only wanted what was best for the sentinel—and he wasn't it. It was an intense internal conflict the likes of which he had never felt before.

Jim understood Blair's dilemma. He was the newly discovered Elite sentinel. People would go out of their way to make things easy for him. Blair, on the other hand, was a slave with no guide training other than what he had picked up as Professor Stoddard's unofficial, and unaccredited, assistant. To be suddenly told that he was now expected to be the guide to an Elite sentinel had to be overwhelming.

"Blair. Calm down. Let's think this out logically." That got his guide's attention as the pacing stopped and Blair stood in front of him. "You've been guiding me since day one, we just didn't know it at the time. My transition from a Level Three to an Elite went so smoothly, neither one of us even realized what was happening. And that was only because you were instinctively guiding me through it, keeping me grounded and keeping my growing senses in line. Granted, you don't have all the training and book knowledge of the Guild guides but you can learn all that. What you do have are all the natural, God given instincts and intrinsic powers that all guides are born with. You have all the abilities that make guides—guides."

"Even if everything you said is true," Blair held up his hand to stop the protest he saw forming, "and, yes, I believe it is too, nobody is going to let a slave be a guide. You said so yourself. The second the Sentinel Center finds out about me, I'll be gone and you'll be stuck with a bunch of Guild guides who don't know anything about you. It's not right." He tapped his chest a few times. "I'm your guide, not them. I should be with you. Not some uppity Guild guides who get assigned to you until you can't work with them any more. It's not right."

Jim smiled to himself watching Blair's growing indignation at his assumption of not being allowed to be his guide. Not that he planned to let anyone else take his place, of course, but it was almost comforting watching Blair's possessive guide instincts come online. Knowing that Blair wanted this too.

"No, it's not. Look, we both have a lot to learn. You about being a guide and me about being an Elite sentinel. I'm sure this isn't the first time a new guide has come online with no formal training so we'll just wait and see what the Sentinel Center does in cases like this. I'm sure that I'm in for a world of testing and training myself." Standing up, Jim walked over to Blair and put his hands on the smaller man's shoulders, waiting until he had full eye contact. "Listen to me. Everything will work out. On Monday, we'll go to the Center and tell them everything. Then it'll be up to them to decide how they want to handle it. Believe me, having a new Elite sentinel and guide pair will be their first priority. Any other details can be worked out later."

"Even the fact that I'm a slave?"

"As far as I'm concerned, that's not even an issue. It hasn't been since the day we met. And now that relationship will be a far distant second to our sentinel/guide relationship. Everyone else will just have to get used to it, if we even tell them. Once we come out as an official pair, I don't see why anyone has to know your background. The only person at the station who has ever met you is Joel and I trust him completely. So, until we talk to the people at the Center, there's no point in worrying about anything. Right?"

Blair nodded, feeling some of the tension leaving his body. "Right, Sir. So what do we do now?"

Jim lightly clapped the thin shoulders once then went back to the sofa, sat down and picked up his nearly empty beer bottle. "The first thing that has to happen is that you need to stop calling me Sir and start getting used to calling me Jim."

"What! Sir. I can't do that!"

"Trust me, Blair, you have to. I've heard guides call their sentinels many things, especially when they're pissed off at them, but 'Sir' is not one of them. Sentinels have the senses and get most of the attention, but after a certain level, they can't function without guides and they both know it. For their part, guides have an inborn need to guide, to be with a sentinel. This mutual need for each other makes it one of the most equal partnerships there is. So if a guide were to constantly refer to his sentinel as Sir, well, it would certainly call attention to them and make people wonder what was going on. We're going to be under enough scrutiny, especially at first, so we shouldn't do anything that would call even more attention to ourselves." Lifting the bottle to his lips, he finished the remaining liquid then grinned. "But don't worry, you have the rest of today and all day tomorrow to get used to it. As for me, I need another beer." As he passed a still silent Blair on his way to the kitchen, Jim turned towards him. "You want one?"

This time Blair's mouth dropped open. "A beer? Me?"

"Close your mouth and yes, you. Starting Monday, Blair, your life is going to change in ways you probably can't even imagine. I'm guessing that the Center won't want to disclose your status as a slave, at least not until they think people are ready to accept the idea. And that won't be any time soon. That means that for all intents and purposes, you'll be thought of and treated as a free citizen and a high ranking guide. Which means that you'll be expected to interact with other citizens as an equal. A reaction like that to a simple invitation to have a beer will be seen as a bit over the top, not to mention a little odd. Most American males start drinking beer in their teens, by the time they graduate high school, it's almost second nature." Jim stopped and held up one hand. "No, you don't have to drink if you don't want to. In fact you don't have to do anything you're not comfortable doing. You just have to watch your reactions to what people say around and to you. A simple 'No thanks' will do. And I'll always be there to back you up, no matter what."

Jim walked over to his seemingly overwhelmed guide and again placed both hands lightly on the smaller man's shoulders. "Look, Blair. I know that today has been a real shocker. In fact it's been one shock after the other. But if anyone can handle all this, it's you. Once you have a chance to sit down and process everything, you'll see that it all makes perfect sense. And I promise, you won't be alone, we're in this together, all the way." Stepping back Jim turned and headed back towards the kitchen. "So, how 'bout that beer?"

There was a slight pause then a quiet "No, thanks" reached him. Jim was about to insist, if for no other reason than to watch Blair's reaction to his first beer, but he realized just how hard those two words must have been to say. Grinning to himself, he didn't stop his trek to the refrigerator, just threw out a casual "Okay, no problem. You want anything else?"

"Uh, no. I think I'll go to my room now and meditate for a while. If that's all right."

Turning around with his cold prize in one hand, Jim snagged a bag of chips off the counter with the other as he headed back into the living room and made himself comfortable on the couch. "Blair, as of this afternoon, you don't have to ask permission for anything anymore. You're free to do whatever you want. Well, within legal limits of course. It certainly wouldn't look good for the newest Elite detective's guide to get himself arrested for anything. But other than that, you're pretty much free to do as you please. Uh, except that the loft rules still apply. Yeah, those are definitely still in force. Okay, except for those two things, you're good. Well, maybe... No, no I think that's it for now." Jim was nodding to himself as he picked up the TV remote.

There was a hint of a smile in Blair's voice as he answered. "Well, if you're sure that's everything, Sir, I'll be in my room."

He had barely taken two steps when he heard, "Wait!"

The command halted Blair in his tracks. Hesitantly, he turned back around.

Jim was shaking his index finger in the air. "I knew there had to be at least one more thing. What's with this 'Sir' business? You already know the new rule about that. Right?"

Blair dropped his eyes. "About that. I... I don't know if I can do that. Calling a master by just his first name goes against everything I've ever been taught. Even Master Eli wouldn't let me go that far and he was about as tolerate as you could get. As for everyone else I've dealt with..." A small shudder went through the slender frame. He raised his eyes just enough to look partway through his lashes and nervously rubbed one hand over the knuckles of the other one. "Maybe we can come up with something else?"

The hopeful tone tore at Jim but he knew that it had to be done this way if Blair was to be fully accepted as his guide. A nickname or something might work some of the time but when things got serious, and in his line of work that was inevitable, nothing but hearing his own name spoken by the guide would work. A sentinel needed his guide to be focused on him and the job, not worrying about trivial things like names. Inspiration struck. Of course! How obvious.

"Blair, I understand that with everything you've been through, it's hard to go against your training. So I do understand why you would find it so difficult to call your master by his first name. Buut... how about calling your sentinel by his given name? I'll bet no one ever told you that you couldn't do that. I doubt if the subject ever came up. Am I right?"

The way Blair's head jerked up, eyes and mouth wide open, told Jim he'd struck paydirt. "Close your mouth, again, Chief. I've already seen your carp imitation, and frankly, I'm not impressed. So I take it you never thought about it this way, huh? I told you that the sentinel/guide relationship supercedes any other relationship so as long as you remember that you're talking to your sentinel, and try to forget all that master stuff, you should be okay." Settling back, Jim pointed the forgotten remote at the TV and hit the power button. "Now if you don't mind, I actually have the rest of a rare Saturday afternoon off and I plan to kick back and find a game to watch. You can join me or go meditate, your choice. But later we're going out to dinner to celebrate. Hmmm. A nice steakhouse." He pointed the remote at Blair. "And I don't want to hear anything about red meat and cholesterol. I'm having a juicy steak with mushrooms and onions. And a loaded baked potato. And a nice bottle of wine. Yeah."

"People will think we're on a date." A rarely seen gleam was twinkling out of Blair's eyes.

Jim hit the mute button on the remote then waved it in the air. "So what? This is our night. Tonight it's steak and potatoes and wine. Next time you can treat, when you get your first paycheck. Then you can pick the place."

"Uh... paycheck? Did I miss something somewhere? Are slaves getting paid now? Hey, do we get a union and everything?"

"Funny. No, slaves don't get paid, kinda defeats the whole purpose of slavery to pay them. But guides do get paid. In your case, since you're a detective's guide, you'll be paid by the police department. Being a brand new guide and having no police experience, you won't exactly be at the top of the pay scale, but being an Elite guide and working with an Elite sentinel should definitely be worth something extra. I guess they'll tell you all about that when you fill out your paperwork at the station. Or we can ask about it at the Center on Monday."

Blair had that look that said he had so many questions circling his brain he couldn't decide which to ask first. If Jim wanted any peace at all between now and dinner he had to make a stand.

"Listen up. We have all day tomorrow to talk about anything you want. Sentinels and guides, the Center, getting paid, opening a bank account or whatever else that overworked brain of yours can come up with. But right now I'm going to watch a game and you can go do that hoo-doo voo-doo that you do so well when you need to mull over something. Later we're going to have a nice dinner and relax and enjoy ourselves. Comprende?"

"But what about—"


"Okay, what if—"


A large sigh emanated from where Blair was standing. From the corner of his eye, Jim could see his guide purse his lips in frustration. It was an effort not to smile.

"Fine. I guess I'll be in my room. Call me when you're ready to go?"

Jim made it a point to stare straight ahead at the still silent TV. "Not a problem."

Blair turned and headed for his room. Just before entering he turned back around. "Jim?"


"Uh. Nothing. Never mind."

The new guide entered his room and shut the door. A few seconds later Jim could faintly hear Blair's meditation music even though it was obvious he was wearing his headphones. He smiled. 'Nothing' huh? He was sure Blair was testing to see his reaction to being called by his first name by someone who up till now was only known as his slave. Apparently his nonchalant response passed the test.

Picking up the remote again, Jim just held it in his hand. He was determined to keep tonight light and casual. But he had no doubts that tomorrow would be one long question and answer session. If fact, Blair was probably in there writing down all sorts of questions in his notebook right now. But that was all right. He would answer everything he could to the best of his ability. What questions he couldn't answer they would save for the Sentinel Center. He was glad they had decided to leave the question about revealing Blair's slave status up to them. He chuckled to himself. The Center had no idea what was in store for them come Monday. They were about to encounter the most unusual guide they would probably ever have in their facility. Records and stereotypes were about to be broken. And he would be there the whole time to make sure his guide was treated fairly and decently, although he hoped that the excitement of a new Elite sentinel and guide pair would overshadow Blair's rather unique status as a slave.

No matter what though, starting Monday, life as he and Blair knew it was never going to be the same again. Aiming the remote at the TV, Jim unmuted the sound and switched channels until he found a basketball game in progress. He slouched down and ignored his own house rule about feet on the coffee table as he made himself comfortable. A night off, a beer, a ballgame and a guide, life just didn't get any better than this. Let tomorrow and all the other tomorrows come, with his guide by his side, he felt more than ready to face any challenges that might be out there. A quick audio check into the small bedroom revealed more meditation music and the scratching of a pen over paper. At least for tonight, all was right in Cascade's newest Elite sentinel's world.

~ End ~

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Page last updated 9/27/07.