DISCLAIMER: The Sentinel and its characters are the property of Paramount Studios and Pet Fly Productions. These stories are offered for the enjoyment of the fans. No money has exchanged hands.


Fire and Ice
by
Sue Wells

.

Act I

Jim Ellison parked his blue and white Ford truck in Rainier's visitors' parking lot. He left the truck and crossed the street to the plaza in front of Hargrove Hall. He glanced at his watch in the fading rays of the setting sun: 5:25. He was early for his meeting with Sandburg, so he slowed down, adjusting the collar on his black leather jacket.

Jim strolled across the paved concrete and brick walkway, reaching the extended bottom step of Hargrove's main entrance. The wind shifted direction, blowing the scent of water towards him. Spinning around, he faced the focal point of the plaza, a pile of rock slabs topped with bushes and a three-way fountain spraying into a shallow pool. Jim involuntarily stepped backwards, halted by the four-foot tall gray stone wall flanking the side of the building's front entrance. He continued to stare at the fountain and the world turned white.

Blair Sandburg strode towards Hargrove Hall, his once-again familiar backpack over his green windbreaker. He saw Ellison waiting by the entrance and quickened his pace. "Jim, man. Sorry I'm late, I forgot --"

He trailed off, examining Jim more closely. Ellison remained silent and wasn't even looking at him. Blair pushed a loose strand of hair back. "Jim," he began, uneasily. Blair turned partially around, so he was facing the same direction as the Sentinel. He observed an ordinary scene of campus life, small bustling groups and single students streaming across the plaza, in the direction of the dorms, their minds doubtless occupied with thoughts of the just-starting weekend. A few students sat on the low stone benches arranged around the corners of the grassy inlay surrounding the water fountain.

The fountain. Blair took in a startled breath and faced Jim, assessing his condition: unseeing, unhearing, totally unresponsive to the outside world. The Sentinel had zoned. Sandburg stepped directly in front of Jim, trying to block his friend's view of the fountain. He covered Jim's still left hand with his right one. "Jim, it's okay." Blair spoke in the soft soothing tones that Jim had dubbed his "Guide's voice". Blair tilted his head upwards, gazing into Jim's blank blue eyes. "C'mon, Jim, I'm right here. Follow my voice back, you can do it. Jim, I know you're hearing me --"

Jim blinked. "Blair? What --?"

"C'mon, I want you to sit down for a minute." Blair guided Jim over to one of the stone benches and urged Jim to sit facing outwards, his back deliberately to the fountain.

Jim eyed Blair as he sat next to him. "Well?"

"You zoned. It couldn't have lasted long, 'cause I'm only a few minutes late."

"Zoned? But I haven't zoned in ages, why now?"

"You tell me. What happened after you arrived?"

"I was five minutes early; I looked at my watch. I was at the bottom step of the stairway when the wind shifted, and started blowing my way. I smelled water" -- Jim hesitated slightly -- "not just any water, I recognized exactly what it was from. I turned around and saw the fountain. I guess I had a flashback. I saw you lying face down in the pool, and H and I dragging you, and-and --

"The memories wouldn't stop, so I concentrated really hard on the scent of the water and --"

"You zoned." Blair scrutinized Jim, concerned. Ellison had purposely induced a zone-out, rather than remember the day Sandburg had almost died. "This isn't good," Blair mumbled to himself, then caught Jim's stare.

"I never thought... How do you do it, Chief? How do you walk past that" -- he gestured behind them, at the fountain -- "without, without --"

"Remembering? It was hard. At first, I simply used the back entrance, but eventually I just made myself walk past the fountain. I tried focusing on the good parts of it."

"The good parts of it?" Jim choked out, in a half-strangled voice.

Blair reached for Jim's shoulder. "I don't remember all of it, 'cause I wasn't, well, 'here' for the whole thing. I mostly remember being the wolf and seeing the panther and waking up, alive. Y'know, the GOOD parts." He took a breath and removed his hand. "We've never really talked about this, before. What do you remember?"

Several moments of silence followed Sandburg's question, then Jim spoke. "You, Chief. You were such a big part of it that I overlook the fact that you weren't really 'here' and don't remember things the same way I do." Jim paused, eyes trained on the entrance to Hargrove. "Megan and I got here as fast as we could. I raced up the stairs, then I caught your scent, from behind me. I whirled around and saw you, floating face down in the pool. H and I carried you out and laid you on the ground. Simon was yelling, asking did I hear a heartbeat?

"I didn't. I listened as hard as I could, but I didn't hear it."

"Jim, stop. You don't have to tell me any more," Blair fidgeted in his seat, uncomfortably feeling that he had manipulated Jim into his sudden, atypical need to share. "I shouldn't have asked."

Ellison continued, ignoring Blair's words. "Simon and I tried CPR. I can still hear him counting the beats between compressions while I was giving mouth-to-mouth. The paramedics showed up and asked for room. Simon and I stepped back and they bagged you. I kept yelling at you to breathe and saying 'This can't be happening' over and over. A paramedic said 'sorry, guys', shook his head and disconnected his equipment. I -- I lost it."

"Jim," Blair interrupted again. "Please. You don't have to tell me anything else. We don't need to rehash this."

"I think we do -- or at least I do. Besides, I'm almost at your 'good part'. Now, where was I?"

"You lost it."

"Oh, yeah. I yelled 'This isn't over', knelt down and started giving you CPR again, but nothing happened. Simon and H dragged me away and Simon yelled, 'He's gone!' I looked down at you and everything was blue-tinted. In your place, I saw a large wolf. He looked at me, then bolted. There was a flash of white light, and I saw Incacha. He told me to use the power of my animal spirit, held out his hand and the panther sprang out of it.

"I shook off Simon and H and knelt by your side. I put my hands on your face and concentrated on me and you, and getting you back. The wolf and the panther appeared again, leaped towards each other and merged. Everything went white and I suddenly heard a heartbeat -- your heartbeat."

"I began chest compressions again, you rolled your head to the side and coughed up some water. The paramedics came rushing back, gave you oxygen, and flashed the thumbs up sign. The rest you know."

"Yes. Thanks for telling me, Jim. I know it wasn't easy." Blair scanned his Sentinel. "Are we okay, here?"

Jim nodded and rose to his feet. "Shall we?"

Blair stood up, too. "Are you sure you still want to do this? We could blow it off, go split a pizza or something instead. The testing can wait for another day."

"Sandburg, I'm fine. I know how busy you are, now that you're leading a double life again. I said I'd support you, and that includes Sentinel tests. So let's get busy." Jim stepped towards Hargrove Hall.

"Wrong way."

Jim stopped. "What? But this is the Anthropology Building."

"Uh huh, but my office is over there, now." Blair gestured two buildings down, to the left of Hargrove. Jim's extra-sharp eyes read the name on the distant placard even though it was significantly darker than earlier: Apter Hall.

"I'm no longer a part of the faculty, as Chancellor Edwards pointed out. Space is at a premium, so my office was given to an incoming professor."

"She kicked you out of your office? That witch! Listen, Chief, I'll --"

"No, Jim. I know how tight office space is in the anthro department, I spent three years in the basement, remember? Besides, she's right -- I'm just a student now and as such, not entitled to any office space. C'mon." He started walking towards the Apter building.

"My friend Doug Logan is letting me share his office. It's in the Geology Building and close to my classes so it's a good working arrangement for us." They reached the front steps of Apter Hall, which closely resembled the gray stone facade of Hargrove, and entered the glass double doors. "Besides, it gave me my current test idea," Blair said, escorting Jim to the third floor. He opened a closed door and flicked the lights on, beckoning Jim to enter. "I'll just pick up my notebook."

The office was the size of a third bedroom, with an impressive mahogany desk and two leather visitor's chairs occupying most of the room. Blair walked past the massive desk to a three-quarter sized cherry wood desk flush with the back wall. A blue painted bookshelf stood against the back wall, overflowing with anthropology textbooks and a few randomly placed artifacts, binders and loose papers. It contrasted with the two carved mahogany bookcases along the adjacent wall. They were full of textbooks on geology and gemology, with an occasional rock sample interspersed among the books, acting as a bookend. Jim frowned, noting the discrepancy in style and size of the two office spaces.

Blair grabbed a green notebook from his desktop. "What do you think of my new digs?" He nodded towards the large, mounted movie poster centered over his desk, its bright colors advertising "Support Your Local Sheriff".

"That's Doug's office-warming present, cool, huh?" The movie poster was flanked by smaller pictures of a wolf and panther to the right and four blown-up 8x10's of Sandburg on various field assignments on the left.

"Isn't it a little cramped?" Jim asked, remembering how Blair's clutter had filled the enormous storage area that had been his basement office.

"Hey, I'm a squatter here. Doug's doing me a tremendous favor, giving me any space at all. Plus, I can use the whole office anytime he's not here. C'mon, I'll show you the lab."

They left the office and Blair led Jim halfway down the corridor. He stopped at a room with "Sedimentary Laboratory" etched in the door's frosted glass. Finding the room unlocked, Blair entered, flicking on the lights.

They walked into a large lab classroom with five rows of multi-stationed, blacktopped desks facing a similarly topped teacher's desk at the front of the room. Steel cabinets and glass cases full of rock specimens lined two of the walls and a row of bookcases stretched along the windows on the outside wall. A freestanding lab sink with a gooseneck spout and deep basin was placed at the front of the room.

"Welcome to Sentinel Geology 101." Blair waved Jim towards one of the stations in the back row. He pulled out the metal barstool invitingly.

"And what does one do in Sentinel Geology 101?" Jim asked, settling into the indicated chair.

Sandburg chuckled, pulling out a tray of samples from the desk drawer to Jim's left. "One observes rocks, or in this case, sand."

"I know you're going somewhere with this. Care to fill me in, Darwin?"

"Sure. I was reviewing our earlier cases for possible inclusion in my new thesis, and I came across the Tommy Juno file. Specifically, the arraignment, which was dismissed because no one believed you saw what you saw at that distance."

"And how does looking at rocks tie into the Juno case? Besides, that case is ancient history."

"History tends to repeat itself, if we don't learn from its mistakes."

"Mistakes?" Jim bristled, and Blair remembered that Jim had been personally involved in the Juno case; he had seen Tommy Juno gun down his friend and fellow cop, Danny Choi.

"Yes, mistakes. We were new to the Sentinel thing, and I hadn't anticipated the possible legal ramifications of using your senses on the job.

"Jim, your eyesight and hearing are your greatest assets, just as they are for people with normal senses. We've successfully transferred the concept of the pain dial to your hearing, so that you can dial your hearing up or down, to block out or enhance sound at will. I think we can do the same thing with your eyesight."

"What good'll that do? Knowing that creep was two football fields away wouldn't have stopped Juno from killing Danny."

"No, but it would've avoided the mess at the arraignment. You could've used the knowledge that Juno was guilty to uncover other, legal evidence against him -- and bypassed the suspension and civil rights violations -- if you had known up front the distances involved. That's what we're testing for here, to give you an accurate self-measurement of your visual acuity."

"In English, Sandburg."

"I want to put 'notches' in your vision, so that you'll know you're seeing something twenty or forty times better than a normal person would. To accomplish this, we'll use the microscope, which has lenses set at pre-defined powers of magnification. It's a cumulative process, so it won't happen over night, but we can get a good start on it tonight.

"We'll begin with the basics." Blair picked up a small vial from the sample tray. "Sand. There are four different grades of sand: coarse, medium, fine and very fine, all determined by the radius of the sand grains, as observed under a microscope." Sandburg put the vial down, then picked up two small paper strips and placed them on top of the desk, to the left of the microscope. He reached for the vial again, unstoppered it and poured a tiny mound of granules onto each paper strip. Then he placed one sand-filled strip under the microscope and checked the magnification. "Okay, the lens is set at twenty power. I want you to examine the sample under the 'scope, using your normal vision. Let all of the magnification come from the microscope, the way anyone else would. Next, look at this second sample, here" - he tapped the remaining strip - "and boost your vision so that the sand grains here exactly match the appearance of the ones under the microscope.

"In other words, you'll be looking at the sample on the desk at twenty times normal vision. When you're comfortable looking at the sample at twenty power, I want you to canvass the rest of the room. Get familiar with the way everything looks at that magnification, and try to mentally mark what your vision feels like at twenty times normal. Do it several times, using the other grades of sand, too. Our goal is to enable you to walk into any room and consciously boost your vision to twenty times ordinary vision. Then, we'll increase it to forty, sixty, a hundred times normal, using the other lenses on the 'scope."

"And how long'll this take?"

"I've no idea, but you know what they say: a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Behold your first step." Sandburg pointed at the microscope.

"What'll you be doing while I'm looking at this stuff?"

"I'll be a couple of rows up, working on my rough draft." Sandburg picked up his notebook, walked towards the front of the classroom, and relocated himself in the third row.

Jim's gaze flicked from his Guide to the sand grains under the microscope. He examined the grains intently. It felt weird, relying on an external aide to enhance his vision; he hadn't done that since he'd used the magnifying lens to find that illegal road in the Cyclops Oil case, back when his eyesight had been "temporarily downgraded to normal."

Ten minutes later, Jim lifted his head up and stared at the sand grains on the strip of paper to his left. He boosted his sight and the granules became gray, brown and white ping pong balls. Oops, too much, he thought, making a conscious effort to reduce his sight. He tried again, picturing the way the fine grains of sand looked under the microscope. It wasn't hard to do; after several minutes of staring at the sand, he could see the after-image of the granules without looking through the microscope. Jim concentrated on sharpening his vision gradually, and within seconds the unmagnified sand, viewed with Sentinel vision, matched the size and shape of the magnified granules. He examined the grains for several minutes, then closed his eyes and repeated the procedure, first looking at the magnified grains, then using his enhanced vision to see the plain grains at the same magnification. After three more repetitions of that, Jim kept his vision at twenty power and focused on Blair, two rows ahead of him.

Sandburg looked like a close-up shot in a movie. Jim observed every curl in his partner's hair, saw the creases in Blair's forehead as he scribbled in his notebook. The over-large words in the notebook were easily legible, but Jim's glance shifted away. He had no intention of reading any part of Sandburg's new thesis until it was freely offered to him. The smooth black top of the lab desks yielded hundreds of tiny scratches, scuff marks and stains from years of student use, likewise the chairs, when Jim turned his attention on them.

He let his gaze drift to the windows, but the shades were drawn for the night, and the bookshelves below them were only stocked with textbooks. He idly read a few of the titles: Origins of Sedimentary Rocks, Principles of Paleontology, Field Guide to Rock and Mineral Identification. Even when the titles were read sideways, they sounded boring and academic.

He skimmed quickly over the steel cabinets; large gray cabinets were uninteresting at any magnification. That left the glassed-in cases, which housed rock specimens. Jim surveyed the first case methodically, starting with the far left side of the topmost shelf. Several thick, pointy crystals of deep purple caught his eye, with a small card in front of the sample: Amethyst followed by its chemical composition, SiO2. Next to the amethyst were marked samples of brown smoky quartz, light pink rose quartz, yellow citrine, milky white quartz crystals and clear quartz crystals with black spikes of rutile embedded in them. Looking at the samples at twenty power, the rocks were almost breath taking with their rich, varied colors and sparkling, mostly smooth surfaces.

The left-most rock on the second shelf was a chunk whose top was covered in small, slightly rust-colored red crystal cubes, identified as vanadinite. Jim's gaze moved further down the shelf, finding a couple samples of the more familiar mineral, malachite. The different shades of green bands were present in both the round, polished stone and the exposed surface of the natural rock. The two samples of azurite that completed the row had similar bands in varying tones of blue. Before Jim could lower his gaze to the third shelf, the back door swung open.

A man just under six feet tall entered. "I thought I saw the light on in here. Oh, it's you, Blair."

"Doug!" Blair grinned, ceased his writing and quickly joined Jim and Doug at the back row. He lightly poked Jim, a silent reminder to knock his vision back to normal. "Jim, this is Doug Logan, geology teaching fellow extraordinaire. Doug, this is Jim Ellison, my friend and roommate."

Jim took stock of Sandburg's office-mate as they shook hands. Doug Logan had a firm grip, friendly brown eyes, and thick black hair that would barely pass the collar test.

"Ellison? Are you one of the cops Blair hangs out with?"

"Yes."

"He seems to be in good hands, then. After hearing some of his field exploits, I'm amazed he's still walking around in one piece."

"He is something of a trouble magnet, even here in Cascade." Jim agreed, keeping a straight face.

Blair glowered. "I heard that! And I'm standing right here. Don't talk about me like I'm invisible."

"Sorry, Blair. I didn't mean to bother you, just wondered who was here. It's way too early for the midnight rockhounds --" Noting Jim's puzzlement, Logan explained, "The students tend to keep late hours at the lab, hence the nickname. But most of 'em wouldn't be caught dead here on a Friday night, unless it's exam time. So, what're you two up to?"

"Jim's a closet Nature man, likes to get away from the city to recharge his batteries," Blair confided. "After years of camping and mountain climbing, he's become interested in nature's building blocks, the area's rocks."

"The university has some fine specimens, here." Jim indicated the rock samples in the glass cabinet he'd been studying before Logan came.

"Yes, Rainier's collection is world-renowned," Logan agreed. "But there's something to be said for the stones that man has tampered with, too."

Blair rolled his eyes. "That's Doug's idea of a joke," he explained. "Doug's field is gemology, the science of gems and gemstones. Y'know, diamonds, emeralds, rubies, et cetera. He's an acknowledged expert, and one of the youngest ones in the field, too."

"As a matter of fact, I've got some stones you might be interested in, Blair. Hang on a second, they're up front." Doug quickly walked to the front of the room, unlocked and rummaged around in the teacher's desk drawer, then returned. "Here." He held out his hand, revealing three nicely sized cut diamonds.

Sandburg picked up one of the diamonds, whistling. "Wow, man. Are these real or cubic zirconium?"

"Most definitely real. I was polishing them for a friend of mine, Dr. Fyodor Rudin. You really should look at one under the 'scope, Blair. They're quite impressive." He walked over to the microscope Jim was using, removed the sand sample from the viewing area and placed the two remaining diamonds under the microscope. He fiddled with the dials, then backed away. "Take a look at those beauties."

Since Blair was preoccupied, examining the diamond in his possession, Jim stepped over to the 'scope and checked out the magnified diamonds.

"Notice the sparkle of the diamond as you look at them, that's also called the diamond's 'fire.' It's determined by the cut of the diamond, with the angles of the facets or sides of the stone very carefully calculated to properly refract light through the diamond. The cuts have to be proportioned just right to get the best refraction, hence the best brilliance or fire in the finished diamond."

Blair nudged Jim. "Hey, no fair hogging the 'scope." Ellison withdrew and Blair passed him the third stone while he took his turn at the microscope. "This is awesome, man."

Jim glanced at the diamond resting in his hand, his vision easily sliding up to the twenty times normal eyesight that he'd been using in the testing. Then he further increased his eyesight, absorbed in the multi-color flashes of light cast by the flawlessly cut gem.

"Of course, cut isn't the only thing that makes a fine quality diamond. There's also color, clarity, and carat -- the four C's of the diamond world. These particular stones are of exceptional color and clarity. As for carats or weight -- well, you can see for yourself they're rather large. The biggest one is ten carats, the other two are about seven carats each."

"Thanks for the sneak peek," Blair said, raising his head from the microscope. He extracted the diamonds from the viewing area and handed them back to Doug. Then he noticed Jim, staring intently at the diamond in his hand. Blair walked over to Jim and nudged him in the ribs while talking to Doug. "Your Dr. Rudin must be a wealthy man, to own such gems."

"Oh, Fyodor doesn't own the diamonds, he's the gem expert attached to the show that they're in: the Splendors of Russia exhibit. It's been traveling across the US for the past year or so. Cascade's the last stop before it heads back to Russia."

"The Splendors of Russia exhibit?" Blair snapped his fingers. "I have heard of that. Jim, did you read the article about the upcoming exhibit in yesterday's Times?"

"Yes, I did," Jim answered, mindful of Sandburg's poke in the ribs. "A bunch of the Tsar's treasures, things like Faberge eggs, royal knickknacks, costumes and jewelry, isn't it?"

"And gemstones, cut and uncut," Doug amended. "The various Tsars were huge gemstone collectors. Even though the stones in the exhibit are just a fraction of the original collection, they are well worth seeing." Logan held his hand out and Jim passed the last diamond back to him. He crossed to the front desk and returned the diamonds to the desk drawer, locking it. Then he rejoined Jim and Blair.

"Aren't you worried, having such expensive diamonds just lying around here?" Jim asked, his cop's instincts aroused by the cavalier treatment of the highly valuable diamonds.

"They're not just lying around here, I keep them in a locked drawer. You and Blair are the only people who know about the diamonds other than Fyodor and me. I'm returning them to him tomorrow, anyway."

"Thanks again for showing us the diamonds," Blair stepped in as peacemaker. "Now, we've got to get back to work."

"I only stopped by to grab a couple of references from the office," Doug said. "Don't forget to check out the exhibit. It opens two weeks from today, on the sixteenth."

Continue on to Act II...


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