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Daring From Within

By Lyn

For Lou, who provided the plotbunny and issued the challenge. Hope you like it. Boy, has this story taken a long time to write. In between RL and re-uploading my entire website plus welcoming a new granddaughter, this story sat, nudging me from time to time and with my muse alternately pushing and ignoring me. I hope you enjoy it.

Many thanks to Annie for the inspiration to continue writing this and for her beta.

‘Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.’

- T S Eliot

Part 1

Blair couldn’t believe he was really thinking of going ahead with his plan. And therein lay his dilemma. If he couldn’t commit to this, couldn’t have the courage of his convictions after witnessing all that he had on a daily basis, going home and dwelling upon, not only the cruelty, but his own part in it, he might as well just go back to toeing the party line and watch everything he’d worked for wash down the drain.

Identified as a genius at an early age, Blair had been in an accelerated learning program from the time he began school. He’d been accepted at Rainier University at the tender age of sixteen, being groomed from his first day there for his position with The Sentinel Project.

Now, he was about to throw away everything he had worked for, probably breaking some pretty big rules at the same time, because he could no longer live a lie. He didn’t even want to think about what might happen to him if he was caught. The only colleague who’d ever complained to the authorities about the Project had left the Institute one day and never returned. Blair had assumed John Thomas had just quit until he’d received a phone call from John’s terrified wife, saying he’d never come home. The police had investigated and come to the conclusion that Thomas had simply moved on. There was, of course, no indication of foul play. Blair knew now there never would have been. The Institute was thorough in covering up their mistakes.

It was then that Blair had really begun to look beneath the surface of the Project, to read between the lines of the Institute’s manifesto, and then to volunteer for hands-on work, rather than the research he’d originally been hired for. What he’d discovered had horrified him. His guilt and remorse at having been involved, and, in at least one case, being instrumental in finding a sentinel and convincing him to come to the Institute, had eaten away at him until he knew the only way to salve his conscience, and to at least try to redeem his actions, was to leave and take as many of the sentinels with him as he could.

He knew, even when the seed of just his own escape had first taken hold, that the chance of dying was far greater than success, but his innate sense of justice would not allow him to give in, far less allow him to stay. He’d made sure to keep himself low profile, to keep his comments and reports bland and non-accusatory, and had earned the respect and trust of the Directors, allowing him to investigate further and gather information and evidence. He wasn’t sure it would ever be of use legally. The standing of The Institute with the government was beyond reproach, and most of the public didn’t even know it existed.

Now, with his hand shaking, his chest tight, Blair reached for his phone and dialed.

“Rainier University.”

“Jack Kelso, please.”

“One moment and I’ll see if he’s in. May I ask who’s calling?”

Blair took a deep breath. There was every chance once Jack knew who it was, he’d refuse to take the call. “Blair Sandburg.”

There was a pause of way too long, and Blair seriously considered hanging up, then he heard Jack’s voice.

“Blair?” He sounded hesitant.

“Jack.” Blair felt some of his tension ease at the sound of his friend’s voice. “How are you?”

“Good. What can I do for you?” Blair could detect the coldness, the distance, even in those few words.

“Just wanted to say hi,” Blair said, drumming his fingers anxiously on his mouse pad.

“Why? If you’re looking for more guinea pigs for your project—“

“It’s been a while,” Blair cut in, well aware the conversation could be monitored. “I thought we could have a drink. I heard from James the other day. He said to say hi.”

There was only a split second hesitation before Jack seemed to catch on, as Blair had hoped he would. The man was ex-CIA, trained in espionage, after all. “How is he?”

“Good, doing well. So… you free tonight?”

“Sure, later. I’m free after 10. Usual place?”

Caffey’s Bar. Okay, so Jack was hedging his bets, making sure they met publicly. Blair didn’t blame him. “Sounds good. I’ll see you then.” He hung up the phone and sat back in his chair, willing his pounding heart to calm. Now, all he had to do was figure out how to shake the tail he was sure would be dogging his every move. He might be a trusted employee but that trust only extended so far where the Institute was concerned.

~o0o~

Blair was exhausted by the time he made it to the designated meeting place. It had taken him the best part of two hours to shake any possible followers by taking a complex journey of buses and walking, scurrying into stores and malls, sneaking through back exits and continuously looking over his shoulder. He wondered if Jack had gotten tired of waiting for him, or even if he’d bother to show up at all.

“You look like you could use a beer,” said a familiar voice.

Blair looked down to see Jack at his side. He smiled in relief, reaching out to shake Jack’s hand, pulling back when his friend didn’t reciprocate the gesture. “More than one,” he said feelingly. “How are you, man?”

Jack shrugged. “Good.” He steered his wheelchair with practiced ease through the crowd at the bar and waved a hand at the bartender. “Two beers, Matt. We’re in the back room.”

The bartender gave him a wave of acknowledgment and Jack spun his wheelchair around and led the way into the back of the bar. Matt followed them and Blair waited until he’d set their drinks on the table and gone before speaking. “Thanks for seeing me.” He took a grateful sip of his beer.

Jack shrugged. “I had my doubts but…”

“But?”

“Let’s just say we were friends a long time, Blair.”

“Were?”

“You went your way, I went mine.”

“I didn’t know!” Blair leaned forward. “I’ve been with the Institute since I was 19, Jack! I had no idea what was going on there until now.”

Jack took a sip of his own beer. “So why now?”

“Because now I’ve seen what’s really going on, I need your help.”

“As I recall, I warned you about that place when you first came to me about Jim Ellison,” Jack said harshly. “You promised the Institute would be Jim’s salvation. Instead…” He shook his head and fell silent.

“I know what I said,” Blair replied, “and at the time, I honestly believed that what they were doing there was good. Helping sentinels, finding guides for them…”

“And now?”

Blair sighed. “Let’s just say I’ve seen the error of my ways.”

“So, what do you want from me?” Jack asked. “And how do I know I can trust you?”

Blair stared at Jack. “Because we were friends a long time,” he said. When Jack didn’t respond, Blair leaned in closer. “You know me, man. Okay, I was an idiot. I fell for the bullshit the Institute spouted. Now I know the truth and I want to make things right.”

“Like John Thomas did?”

Blair sighed. “John went at it the wrong way. Attempting to publicize the atrocities there just made him a target. I want to get Jim and as many of the others as I can out of there.”

Jack looked at him calmly, took a sip of his beer then set the glass on the table. “And how do you plan on doing that?”

“I don’t know!” Blair said in frustration. “That’s why I called you. You’re the expert on espionage stuff. There has to be some way of getting in there and rescuing them.”

“You’re talking about a strike on the Institute?” Jack shook his head. “Frankly, Blair, the association I help from time to time has thought about it a few times but they’re known as dissidents and I’m finding it more difficult every day to keep my head below the parapet. I know I’m being watched carefully. Besides, no one has ever been able to get hold of plans of the facility or any Intel that might help.”

“Until now,” Blair said. “Now you have me. I’ve got plans of the entire facility, how many security guards are in every area at any given time of the day or night… security codes.”

Jack’s eyes lit up at that then he backed off again. “And I’m supposed to trust you, just like that. For all I know, the Institute might have sent you here to get Intel on us!”

“Ever since I read Burton’s book when I was fifteen, I wanted to find a sentinel,” Blair said sincerely. “I studied and researched every aspect of Burton’s writings, and when I found the notes that were never published about guides, I knew that was what I was meant to be. It was the only thing I wanted to do from then on. Something I knew I was destined to be. When I heard about the Institute and the research they were doing with sentinels, I thought it could only help. I had no idea what they were really up to.”

“Which is?” Jack asked.

Blair took a quick look around. Seeing no one nearby, he replied, “Training sentinels as assassins, covert ops spies, matching them with guides who have been trained by the Institute, using dampeners to keep their senses lowered until they need to use them, abusing and torturing them by experimentation in the name of science, and then when they’re totally brainwashed, sending them out to kill or be killed. And the Institute doesn’t give a damn if they are killed, because since the project has been approved by the government, more sentinels are being identified and coming forward, volunteering their abilities.”

“Like Jim Ellison.”

Blair shook his head. “Jim was different. I found him.” He felt a lump rise in his throat at his betrayal of the man who’d come to him, desperately seeking help. “By then, I was working for the Institute, doing research. I thought they could help him more than I could. I might have wanted to be a guide, but I didn’t know the first place to start.”

“So now you want to salve your conscience. Stop that little voice in your head that keeps telling you what a fuck up you are?” Jack asked sarcastically.

Blair flinched at the words. “A little, yeah.” he said finally. He crossed his arms over his chest. “Mostly, I just want to get those poor bastards out of there.” He sat back. “If you don’t want to help me, or can’t, I’ll find someone else who can or I’ll do it myself.” He gave Jack a challenging glare, though his heart was pounding in his chest and he felt like he could barely breathe.

Jack studied him for a long moment and finally, Blair pushed his chair back and stood. “I have to go,” he said. “I’m due on for my shift in a half hour.”

Jack pushed his wheelchair away from the table. “I’ll give you a ride part of the way,” he offered. “Can’t risk you being seen with me but it’ll give us a chance to go over the plans.”

Blair felt lightheaded with relief. He offered Jack his hand, and this time, Jack shook it without hesitation. “Sounds good. Thanks, Jack.”

Jack smiled. “Thank you for finally seeing the light.”

~o0o~

It seemed as if the pain was a constant part of his being now, as much a part of him as breathing or eating or sleeping, though he did precious little of that these days. There was always one more test and then the recovery from it, which could take days sometimes. The nights were the hardest. They were the times when he wanted nothing more than to take himself down into the deepest zone possible, one from which they’d never be able to wake him and then they’d be forced to let him just fade away.

For once, it was dark here in his cell. They called it his room but it was so much a prison that it had always been a cell to him. There were bars on the windows and locks and guards on the door. Sometimes he imagined he was back home, at the loft, with its spacious rooms and the skylight above his bed. He walked there in his dreams when he was allowed to sleep, touched the familiar furniture, walked up the stairs and lay on the wide bed and just looked up at the clouds through that small glass window in the ceiling.

He turned over to his side on the narrow cot, bunched his pillow beneath his head and closed his eyes, letting his mind take him back there, away from the pain and the evil that this place had visited upon him.

There were times now when he found it almost impossible to believe that he’d ever lived a normal life, outside these walls. He knew that he had, though the memories were dim and becoming more so with every passing day.

He’d joined the Army straight out of college and had gone into the Rangers where his skills as a marksman had soon led to him being seconded into covert ops. He’d led a team into Peru, their mission to set up a militia with the help of the local tribesmen and then to hold the Chopec Pass. Before they could even begin their mission, their chopper had been shot down. Jim was the only survivor. His memories of his time in Peru were vague now; mere glimpses of a life that sometimes felt more like something he’d seen on TV than something he’d lived himself. While he was there, his senses had become more acute and a Chopec shaman named Incacha had guided him in using them to their best advantage.

After a time, he’d been rescued from the jungle and had settled back in Cascade where he’d grown up. He joined the police force, becoming a detective first in Vice, and then more recently in Major Crime.

His senses appeared to have returned to normal once he was home until he had to spend a week on stakeout alone while trying to apprehend a bomber who called herself the Switchman. Veronica Sarris blamed Jim for her father’s death and had decided the only way to avenge him was to blow up half of Cascade, while taunting Jim in emails that he’d never catch her. He almost didn’t. His senses chose the time he spent on stakeout to come back online and he lost her the first time he got within arm’s reach of her. Frustrated and starting to believe he was going insane, he’d finally gone to see his Captain, Simon Banks, and told him he needed time off. Banks had been less than sympathetic, told him to take a day off and see a doctor. Jim had followed the advice, and at the hospital, he’d met Blair Sandburg, a young anthropology student.

Blair had told Jim about Sentinels, people like him, whose senses were genetically enhanced beyond that of normal humans. Unfortunately, Blair was at a loss as how to best to help Jim control those senses, telling him the information he’d found had not been fully documented, and he suggested Jim go with him to the Sentinel Institute where a group of scientists were working on something known as The Sentinel Project.

Jim had been wary at first, telling Blair he couldn’t take too much time away from his job but Blair had gone with him to speak to Simon Banks and managed to convince the Captain to give Jim an extended leave till he could get a handle on his senses. Banks had given permission, no doubt figuring he’d have a fully functioning detective back under his command, and one with heightened senses at that.

It had been fine at first, a few simple tests a day. Then one day Jim smelled something chemically different in the water he was offered and was sure it was drugged. When he refused to drink it, four guards entered the room and beat him almost senseless, the drugged water was poured forcefully down his throat and he passed out to wake up in a nightmare.

He’d seen Blair a few times in however long he’d been kept prisoner here, the last time Blair had been talking with one of the scientists outside Jim’s cell. “You know how it works, Sandburg,” the scientist was saying, “we knock them down, destroy all that they’ve been and then we build them up again, make them what we need them to be.”

Jim had waited for Blair to come into the cell and set him free but Blair had simply looked through the bars at him, then turned his back and walked away.

The door to his cell opened and two guards entered, interrupting his trip back through time.

“On your feet!” one of them ordered.

Jim shook his head, determined to make a stand this time. If refusing to take part in any more tests meant they killed him, he figured he’d still have won. A dead Sentinel was of no use to them and he’d be out of his misery. It was a win-win situation.

“Move!” The man pulled a prod from his belt and reached toward him, the tip brushing against Jim’s chest, causing spasms to flash along his nerve endings.

He reared up from the cot, a guttural roar tearing from his throat. Pushing off as strongly as he could, he leapt for the guards, taking them both to the ground. Struggling to subdue his tormentor, he could feel the pounding of a baton across his back as the other guard fought to gain control.

Jim got a hand around the throat of the man pinned beneath him and began to squeeze, watching as the guard’s face turned red and his eyes bulged from their sockets.

“Stop! Jim! You’re killing him!” he heard someone shout, and they struggled to pull Jim away from the man beneath him.

“Good!” Jim rasped.

“No, no, it’s not! This isn’t the way to fix this. I can help you, I swear.”

Jim recognized Blair’s voice and let go of the guard, staggering back to his feet, his chest heaving, his heart pounding so loudly, he could hear its echo in his head. “How?”

He caught the flash of something from the corner of his eye and ducked back but the baton from the second guard caught him a glancing blow to the temple. Agony exploded in his head, his sight dimmed to a blur and then nothing.

Continued in Part 2

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