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Daring From Within

By Lyn

Part 2

Something stroked hypnotically across his brow, almost sending him back to sleep.

“Jim?” A warm hand cupped his cheek, patting gently. “You with me?”

The warmth turned to overpowering heat as Jim swam up from the depths of oblivion and he slapped the hand away. He staggered to his feet and stood swaying, blinking furiously to dispel the fuzziness from his vision. “Sandburg?” he croaked. “What are you doing here?”

Blair stood as well, holding his hands out in a placating gesture. “I was worried about you, man. You’ve been unconscious for over an hour.”

Jim turned away then and stared bleakly at the bars of the cell. “Why do you care?” He turned back and glared at Blair. “Worried your precious prize lab rat was gonna die? Scared they’d blame you and you’d end up like your friend, Thomas?”

Blair paled visibly and he swallowed convulsively. “They’re watching and listening,” Blair whispered. “Can you…” He cupped one hand to his right ear.

It took a moment and Jim’s head was pounding by the time he finally managed to increase his hearing and hold it at the optimum level. Sandburg, of course, wasn’t a sentinel so Jim made a staggering motion toward his cot, relieved when Blair took the hint and wrapped an arm around him and helped him over, lowering Jim down to the bed before sitting beside him.

“Why?” Jim said again very softly.

“Because this has to stop,” Blair replied sotto voce. “Because I need to fix things.”

Jim snorted at that. “You and what army?” he asked sarcastically. “Protesters have been trying to get this place closed down for years. Nobody cares.”

“I have a friend who’s willing to help… us.”

A tiny shred of hope formed in Jim’s battered soul. “Who?”

“I can’t tell you,” Blair said. “I don’t want to put him in danger in case…” His words trailed off and he shook his head.

“In case you fail?”

Blair shook his head. “We won’t.”

“Professor Sandburg.” Both men looked up at the summons from beyond the cell. “Doctor Morris wants to see you.” The guard who’d spoken smiled nastily. “I’ll take care of Ellison.”

“I need to run some tests,” Blair countered, standing up. “Hopefully, your attack didn’t damage his senses permanently.”

“Doctor Morris said immediately,” the guard replied in an uncompromising tone.

“Okay.” Blair reached behind him and gave Jim’s hand a fleeting pat. “I’ll be back for you,” he whispered. “Trust me.”

Jim said nothing. He figured he had nothing to lose but maybe something to gain. Death was as welcome right now as escape.

~o0o~

“Ah, Blair, thank you for coming to see me,” Doctor Morris said when Blair walked into his office.

“I got the impression the matter was urgent,” Blair said then cursed silently when he realized how sarcastic that sounded. “Sorry,” he added, walking over to stand in front of the doctor’s desk. “We had a slight problem.”

Doctor Morris raised an eyebrow. “Slight problem? Bit of an understatement if you ask me.”

Blair shook his head. “The guards overreacted,” he protested. “Jim’s been subjected to a great deal and he’s finding it hard to adapt. If you’d just let me work with him more—“

“Your specialty is research, isn’t it?”

“Actually, sir, my specialty is Sentinels and when I brought Ellison to you, I was told I’d be allowed to work with him.”

“And you have but it seems your methods aren’t working where Ellison is concerned. I’ll admit your theories have merit, Blair. In many cases, a less… forceful approach has been beneficial but Ellison’s a tough one.” Doctor Morris shook his head. “I’ve spoken to the committee and they feel we have no recourse but to terminate.”

“What? No!” At Morris’ sharp look, Blair forced himself to pull back and tried to stay calm. “Doctor Morris, Ellison is probably the strongest, most gifted Sentinel we’ve ever had. His abilities are beyond belief, sir, and we’ve only just scratched the surface.”

Morris was already shaking his head. “I agree with you, Blair, but he’s no good to us if we can’t convert him. The decision has been made.” He leaned forward and steepled his hands on the desk. “I have some good news though. We have a new subject coming in next week. He sounds very promising. I’ve convinced the committee to allow you a supervisory role.”

Blair forced a smile onto his face and forced back the bile that threatened to crawl up his throat. “I’m honored, Doctor. I’ll do my best with our new sentinel.” He glanced at his watch. “If you’ll excuse me, I have documentation on Sentinel Washington to finalize.”

Morris gave him a wide smile. “One of your success stories.” He waved toward the door. “Go, my boy, go. Might I say, I’m proud of you, Blair. I saw genius in you the moment you entered Rainier.”

“Thank you, sir. Could I ask… that you hold off on the termination?”

The doctor frowned. “I can’t see what good that will do,” he replied. “The committee’s decision is absolute and Ellison’s becoming too difficult to control. I don’t want risk more manpower in trying to keep him controlled.”

“Of course, but I’d like to finalize my research and documentation on him. It might help with future… difficult subjects.”

Morris appeared to mull that over then nodded. “Makes sense. I can give you twenty fours hours.” He waved a hand at the door. “Back to work then, Blair.”

Blair inclined his head and fled from the room. His heart pounded in his chest and he floundered for a moment, panicking over what to do next. Go straight for Jim? He had no weapons, no fighting skills, and Jim was in no condition to defend even himself. He knew both of them would be dead within minutes. Praying he’d have time before the elimination order on Jim was issued, he left the Institute and headed out.

A few blocks before he reached his apartment, he ducked into his local grocery store and strode over to the counter. “Good evening, Mrs. Lim,” he said.

The owner of the store smiled back at him. “Blair! Hello, what can I get you tonight?”

“I’m hoping Teo might fill my order for me,” Blair said, holding out a list of items. “I’m in kind of a hurry and I really need to use your phone.”

“Of course. Teo?” Mrs Lim waited until her teenage son came up from the back of the store and handed him the note. “Can you collect this for Blair?”

“Sure. Hey, Blair.” Teo gave Blair a laconic wave in greeting and Blair answered in kind.

“Teo, thanks, man. I’m in kind of a rush but I need to make a phone call. You mind?”

Teo raised an eyebrow. “Tip?” he whispered, glancing toward his mother who’d gone back to stocking the shelves.

“Be kind to your mother,” Blair whispered back then slid a twenty dollar bill surreptitiously into Teo’s hand.

Teo’s mouth fell open but before he could say anything, Blair held up a hand. “Treat Amy to that movie she wanted to see.”

Teo grinned and nodded enthusiastically. “Thanks, Blair.” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “Phone’s in the office out back. I’ll have this ready for you in a few minutes.”

“Thanks, man.”

~o0o~

Blair dialed Jack’s number, then waited anxiously while it rang. Finally, he heard Jack’s voice.

“Hello.”

“It’s Blair. We have to move tonight.”

“Where are you calling from?”

“Don’t worry, it’s a secure line. They’re planning to kill Jim Ellison. We’ve got to stop this.”

“I’ve only just met with the organization,” Jack protested. “We need at least a week.”

“We don’t have a week!” Blair hissed forcefully. “It has to be tonight. Tomorrow, at the latest. I can probably stall them till then.”

There was a long silence then Jack sighed. “I’m sorry, Blair, it can’t be done.”

“Come on, Jack, please,” Blair pleaded. “Look, I know it took me a long time to get the courage to do something about this… but if Jim dies before you can make a move….”

“Then perhaps you should have done something long before now,” Jack replied coldly. “And remember Jim Ellison’s not the only Sentinel at risk.”

“I know that!” Blair snapped then added in a hoarse whisper, “I’ve seen too many good men and women die and didn’t do a damn thing about it, but now I am. I just… can’t do it on my own.”

“Blair, I’m sorry, I’ll do what I can and be in touch. I just can’t see us getting a good plan in place for at least a week. See what you can do to delay things. You were always the guy who could talk anyone into anything. Tell them you have an idea for some kind of research that will amp up Jim’s senses. Make him Superman! These guys are greedy enough, they won’t want to lose an opportunity like that.”

Blair thought hard for a moment. “Okay,” he replied finally. “I do have some research I’ve been working on. I don’t know if it’ll fly but I’ll give it my best shot.”

“Good. Stay in touch whenever it’s safe to do so. If things go sour, I’ll see what I can do from my end.”

“They already have, man,” Blair said softly, “and it’s pretty much all my fault.”

“Feeling sorry for yourself won’t help Ellison or the other Sentinels, Blair,” Jack barked harshly. “You’re doing something now. Focus on that.”

“Okay. I’ll be in touch.” Blair hung up the phone and took a deep breath. He could do this. The situation was already as bad as it could get. If it meant Jim Ellison and the other Sentinels would be free, he’d die trying.

Pasting what he hoped was a nonchalant smile on his face, he headed back out into the store.

Teo had just finished bagging up his purchases. “Going camping?” he asked as Blair handed him some cash.

Blair shrugged. “Been thinking about it. Need a break from the rat race.”

Teo handed him the bags. “Have fun. I’ll let you know what the movie was like.”

Blair paused for a moment then set the bags back down on the counter. He needed to get back to the Institute and keep an eye on Jim, work on his research, do whatever he could delay Jim’s death until help arrived. “Actually, would you mind hanging onto this stuff for me? I’ll collect it later… after work.”

Teo shrugged nonchalantly. “Sure, no problem.” His eyes crinkled in amusement. “Do I get another tip?”

“I’ve already given you two,” Blair said in mock protest. Teo shrugged then grinned and waved him away. “Thanks, man.” Blair patted Teo on the shoulder and left the store. Maybe he was getting the hang of this covert stuff. He suddenly realized that even if he got Jim out of the Institute, Ellison might not want to have anything else to do with him, and rightly so.


~o0o~

“Professor Sandburg?”

Blair turned and saw Doctor Friedrichs walking toward him. Behind him, a guard pushed a covered gurney. Blair swallowed dryly. Was he too late?

“Doctor,” he said, fighting to keep his voice steady. “What can I do for you?”

“There’s been an unfortunate accident,” Friedrichs said. He swiped a pudgy hand across his brow, loosening his carefully coiffed comb over so that strands of hair flopped into his eyes. “Your sentinel—“

“Ellison?” Blair’s heart pounded in his chest.

Friedrichs shook his head. “Washington. He suffered a massive heart attack while I was administering ECT. Very unfortunate, I know. He was showing a great deal of promise. Still…”

Blair felt like the air had been sucked from his lungs. Evan Washington, 30 years old. A paramedic who’d been brought to the Institute when he’d suffered a massive zone out while attending a drug lab explosion. The treating doctor at Cascade General worked part-time at the Institute and recognized Washington’s symptoms. Evan had been eager to help his country and had been brainwashed into believing the Institute was training him for great things. The problem had been that Blair had realized as soon as he’d started testing him that while Washington’s abilities were strong, his control over them was poor and nothing Blair did seemed to help. Evan had been suffering from increasingly frequent zone outs and seizures. Only Blair’s carefully fraudulent reports had kept him alive thus far. Now he was dead and Blair might as well have killed him by his own hand.

He leaned against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest, feigning nonchalance when all he wanted to do was curl up and die. Tears burned his eyes and he blinked them back furiously. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

Friedrichs nodded. “I wondered if you’d like to attend the autopsy? I think it could be very interesting. It would certainly help your research.”

Blair fought back the nausea that surged. “Sorry,” he managed to husk out, “I have several reports to complete. Could you perhaps advise me of your findings once you’re done?”

“Of course.” Friedrichs nodded and went on his way, motioning for the guard to follow him.

Blair didn’t wait to watch them go. Heading for the stairwell, he made his way down, almost tripping and falling headlong the rest of the way. Trying to catch his breath, he pushed open the door and hurried toward Jim’s room. There were no guards in sight, Blair was relieved to see but when he unlocked the door, his concern grew. The room was empty. He took a step in and whispered, “Jim?”

Before he even registered it, there was a blur of movement and he was suddenly barreled across the room and slammed painfully against the wall. He struggled to breathe as a forearm was pressed against his throat, and he looked up at Jim.

“Easy, big guy,” he wheezed, reaching up in an attempt to pull Jim’s arm from his throat.

Jim shook his head. “Not till you get me out of here, Sandburg. I heard another sentinel died tonight. The guard said I’m next.”

Blair tried to shake his head and failed. “That’s why I’m here, man,” he managed to rasp out. “I’m the cavalry… Well, my friend, Jack is, but I’m here to get you out.”

The pressure on his throat lessened slightly and Blair grabbed a much needed gasp of air.

Jim’s eyes narrowed. “Who’s Jack?”

“He’s the leader of a group who have been trying to get this place closed down for years. I met with him. They’re going to storm the building, free as many sentinels as they can.”

“When?” Jim asked.

“Jack said they need a week but I’ve got an idea to stall the Institute from...” He swallowed. “From terminating you.”

“Killing me. Why don’t you just say it and be done with it, Sandburg. Anyway, doesn’t seem like anything you have to say holds any weight, does it?”

Blair felt his face flush but he pushed at Jim’s arm. “Why do you think I’m here, man? If they won’t listen to my ideas for training Sentinels to be a boon to the community as a whole and using people like me as their guides then I don’t want to be a part of this project.”

Jim’s eyes narrowed. “Guides? You thinking drugging and torturing and beating a person down is guiding them?”

“No! I think what we were working on together was working. Your abilities are awesome, Jim! You just need to learn control so you don’t kill yourself using them.”

“And you’re the expert… the guide… who can help me.” Jim’s voice dripped with sarcasm but Blair didn’t back down.

“It’s been working, hasn’t it?” he asked, glaring back at Jim. “You’re achieving so much more control, more focus, more range, and having fewer zoneouts every day.”

“So why do they want to kill me?”

“Because you’re not toeing the line.”

“Because I know what they want me for – a trained assassin. I already did that when I was in Covert Ops. I didn’t like doing it then and I don’t want to do it now!”

“And now we’re back to why I’m here,” Blair said. “To get you out of here but we have to try and hold them off for a few days until Jack can get a team together and get as many of you out of here as possible.”

“It won’t work, Sandburg,” Jim replied. “They have no idea what they’re going up against.”

“And you do?”

Jim merely tapped his right ear. “They’ll be killed before they even make it past the front door. These guys already know what they’re planning and they’re probably already onto you. I suspect they have a mole in their group. Most of the time, the white noise generators stop me from hearing anything beyond this room but there’s a guard or two who love to brag.”

“Washington,” Blair said. He felt more nausea surge. “He didn’t die accidentally.”

“Who?”

“Another sentinel I’ve been working with,” Blair explained. “If the Institute is onto Jack’s group, they may be already beginning to kill off all the sentinels here.” He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to summon up the strength that had got him thus far. “I have to warn them.” He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and pushed again at Jim’s constraining hand. “Look, will you let me go? I swear I’m on your side.”

There was the briefest hesitation before Jim dropped his arm but he still looked wary. A distant explosion echoed through the room and Jim pulled the phone from Blair’s hand. “Too late,” he said. “Maybe your friend, Jack, figured something out after all.”

Blair shifted back to the door and listened. He could hear shouting and gunshots, the sound of pounding feet. “I can’t see how. I spoke to him only an hour ago and he said there was no way…” He paused, an awful thought coming to mind. “What if… what if the Institute has decided to cut its losses and run? We don’t know who the hell is firing weapons out there. I mean, where are your guards, man?”

“Whoever it is, we don’t have time to wait around and find out,” Jim said. “Maybe they’re not onto you yet and they won’t stop you from leaving. Go now.”

“What about you and the others?” Blair asked. He shook his head and crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m not leaving you here alone. Not now. If we come across anyone, maybe I can convince them that I’m taking you to the lab.”

“In the middle of a firefight? I doubt they’d believe you, Chief.”

“I’m still coming with you,” Blair said firmly. “I can look after myself, and back you up.” At Jim’s patented doubtful look, he added, “I was bullied by the biggest and meanest in school. My buddy, Sweet Roy, you know, the boxer, taught me a few tricks to keep me from getting the crap beaten out of me.”

“You’re not going to listen to me, are you?” Jim asked as he moved toward the door.

“Not this time.” Blair jumped as a blast shook the room. “What are we going to do?” he asked shakily.

Before Jim could respond, the door swung open and a guard strode in. “You’re going to come with me,” he said.

“I don’t think so.” Blair inched closer to Jim and stood in front of him. He was literally shaking in his boots but he’d made his decision. No one else was going to die because of his naïveté.

Jim pushed him slightly to one side. “Relax, Chief,” he said. “This is the cavalry. What the hell are you doing here, Stone?”

Blair gaped at Jim. “What? I don’t understand.”

The guard stepped forward, holding out his hand and shaking Jim’s. “Good to see you again, Jim. We thought you were a goner.” He looked at Blair and smiled. “Detective John Stone. I’ve been working undercover here for the past three months, trying to find enough evidence to get the Institute closed down. I didn’t want to make contact with Jim until I knew we had a chance of getting him and the others out but after you spoke to Kelso, we decided it couldn’t wait.”

“Jack?” Blair felt a little dizzy. “He told me they couldn’t move for at least a week!”

“Sorry, Sandburg,” Stone said without the slightest expression of remorse on his face. “While Kelso thought you were on the level, we couldn’t be sure. With what happened today with Washington, we figured we couldn’t wait any longer. Kelso’s team is laying down a diversion for us. I’m here to get Jim out.”

“What about the others?” Jim asked.

“Banks is on the way with back up. They’ll do what they can. My orders pertain specifically to you, Jim. With what you and Sandburg here can tell the world about the Institute, it should be enough for an investigation. We need to bring down the top guys here or they’ll just start over again somewhere else.” He held out a uniform. “Put this on. You’ll blend in better.”

Turning to the door, he cracked it open and checked the hallway. “Coast is clear. As soon as you’re ready… If we get stopped, let me handle it.”

Continued in Part 3

October 2013

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