The Next Generation
"Matt!" Daryl Banks called again, his voice almost hoarse from screaming. "Matt, damn it! Matt, can you hear me?" Daryl quit shouting, trying to calm his frantic breathing enough to hear any response. After a moment the figure on the ledge below him stirred.
"Dar Daryl?" the weak voice floated up to him, followed by a groan that the teenager could hear on the trail above. Daryl could see Matts head turning from side to side as his friend tried to see where he was.
"Dont move," Daryl called down to him. "Youre on a ledge. Youve got some room, but not much. Are you hurt?"
Matt raised his head then let it drop back against the rough stone. "My leg," he called. "My leg really hurts, and my head. And my back and arm. Oh, shit, I hurt all over."
"Hang on, bro, Im coming down." Daryl looked frantically around the narrow trail and the sharp drop, trying to find some safe way down to his friend.
"No, no! Dont, Dar, dont try it. Youll fall. Go get some help." Matts voice choked off in a pained gasp. "Oh, god, Daryl. Hurry!"
"Okay, all right, man. Here," Daryl scrabbled in his backpack then just decided to drop the whole thing to his friend. "Matt," he called.
After a moment, the young man on the ledge below pried his eyes back open.
"Matt, Im going to drop the backpack to you. Theres some water in it and a space blanket and some cereal bars." Daryl looked worriedly at the low clouds that had moved into the area during their hike. He thanked his fathers foresight although earlier in the day he had been embarrassed when his dad had checked the contents of the pack.
"Here it comes. You ready?" Matt weakly nodded his head and closed his eyes as Daryl positioned the backpack and let it go. As he hoped, the pack landed just beyond Matts head, easily within reach. A small shower of stones and dirt fell onto his friend. Matt brushed the dirt away from his face and reached back with his arm, grabbing hold of the pack.
"G got it," he called weakly.
"Im going back down to the camp. Ill be right back with help, okay? You keep still and drink some of that water. And you might want to see if you can get that blanket out. I think its going to rain. Okay?" Daryl hovered anxiously on the edge of the drop off.
" kay, Mom," Matt called back. Daryl winced when Matts body stiffened in pain.
"Im going now, man. Ill be back as soon as I can with help." Matt just nodded; eyes clenched shut against his injuries.
The trip back to the camp was a nightmare. Shortly after leaving Matt, fat raindrops began to splatter Daryl as he raced down the trail. Daryl and Matt were both enrolled in the Explorers with the Cascade Police Department. The program was designed to give young men and women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one some insight and experience in police work in an effort to interest the new generation in joining the law enforcement community.
The members of the program rode out with the officers, learned basic self-defense, and even spent some time on the firing range. In addition to these activities, they took field trips to the morgue, the state penitentiary, and got to participate in S.W.A.T. and E.O.D. drills. This weekend was supposed to be fun; was supposed to be a reward for hard work; was supposed to be a respite for the mentors and participants from the rigors of work and school.
The skies opened and poured their wrath down on the mountains below. Daryl fought against the rain and the pain in his sides and legs as he forced himself onward. Almost blind from the deluge, he prayed with every gasping breath he took that Matt had been able to get the thin blanket out of the pack and cover himself before the downpour. Stumbling into the camp area, he began shouting for help.
Hands grabbed at him, voices shouting in his ears. As he was pulled into the combination recreation room and dining hall, Daryl searched blindly for that one voice, that one person who could truly help him. His father. And suddenly he was there, wrapped securely in strong arms, held tight against a broad chest.
"Oh, thank God, thank God. Youre safe, youre okay." The deep voice burrowed through his panic, bringing Daryls mind back in focus.
Pushing away, Daryl looked up just as Matts father, a long-time sergeant with auto theft, pushed through the crowd to his side. "Wheres Matt? Matt? Daryl, wheres my son?"
"He fell," Daryl gasped out. "Oh, God! Dad, Matt fell."
"Find Jim and Blair," Simon snapped. The camp-out, while designed for fun, was also a time to teach some outside survival skills. Jim, as a former Army Ranger, was a natural teacher in that area. Blair also had valuable information to impart, especially about edible plants that could be found in the forests. Both men had been mentors in the program for the past year, since Blair had made detective.
The heavy rain had turned into a real thunderstorm. The Park Rangers who had been called flatly refused to let anybody go up the mountain to search for the injured young man, and reluctantly Jim agreed with them. The other officers and Explorers had wanted to override the Rangers, but listened to Jim as someone whose experience they respected. Roger Franz, Matts father, had been almost rabid in his insistence to go out, alone if necessary, to rescue his injured son. It took several men to hold him back until he could listen to reason.
Daryl had been taken to his cabin for dry clothes and then joined the others back in the main dining hall to look at the maps of the area. He showed them, as closely as he could, where they had been hiking when Matt had fallen. The recent rains, like tonight, had weakened some areas of the trail and the ground had simply given way beneath Matts feet. There had been nothing Daryl could have done the save his friend. He repeated over and over what supplies had been in the backpack he had dropped to Matt.
The night was long and sleepless, although the campers tried to get some rest in anticipation of the mornings rescue attempt. Bright and early the Rangers arrived with a Search and Rescue team complete with a full array of climbing gear and first aid supplies. A handful of men, including Roger, Daryl, Simon, Jim, and Blair, were picked to accompany them. They were just finishing up their plans and packing away the maps when one of the Rangers, who had gone ahead, burst into the dining hall. It was still raining steadily, but the fierce downpour had passed on through.
"Bad news." Johnny Rathbone was short and stocky, his face flushed beneath the rain hat. He shook water off the slicker he wore over his Park Ranger uniform as he faced the tense group. "Trails washed out about a mile up, mud slide. This storm should pass through within the next few hours, but we wont be able to get by until tomorrow at the soonest."
"No. Oh, no, youre not leaving my boy out there " Rogers voice broke, then he continued, "out there, hurt, all alone. No. Im going to get him."
"Roger, hell be okay," Simon tried to soothe the distraught man.
"How do you know?" Roger demanded. "What if it was Daryl out there? Youd be moving heaven and earth to get to him! Youd have this sentinel..." Roger stopped, appalled at what he had been about to say.
All eyes turned to Jim and Blair. No one had ever brought up Blairs press conference since he had been admitted to the academy or when he had been put on the short list for a position as a detective in Major Crimes. Jims ability was the elephant that lived at Cascade PD.
Blair moved right up beside Jim, laying a hand on the small of his back. Jim stared at Roger for a moment then turned and went to the door. Blair followed him, and the rest of the men followed him. Outside in the steady drizzle Jim turned to face northwest, the direction that Daryl and Matt had taken the day before.
With Blair beside him, anchoring him, Jim closed his eyes and let his senses range out and out further and further away. Blairs quiet murmur in his ear kept him aware of his surroundings as he searched. Far away and weak, he heard it. A faint moan, the hitching of a breath, a whispered "Oh, please, Dad, Daryl, anyone. Please. Please come find me." A broken sob wafted through the wilderness to the one pair of human ears that could hear it.
"Hes alive," Jim said, "and reasonably coherent. Hell be alright until we can get to him."
Roger broke down into sobs. "Thank you, thank you," he mumbled brokenly. The other men stared at Jim in awe. After hearing so many stories about the former Ranger, and some even witnessing Jim at work, it was a totally different experience to see him use his abilities to this extent.
There was nothing to do but go back inside and wait. The long tense day was broken by the intervals when Jim would step outside, his guide with him, and listen again to the mutterings of a lost, hurt boy. Several of the men began to ask questions, opening up the opportunity for Blair to finally finally speak openly about Jims abilities and explain what this could mean to them as brothers in blue.
Roger grew more and more anxious as night approached again, but Jim was able to reassure him that Matt, although at times had been quiet, was still alive and seemed to be coping well. The young man was convinced his father would come for him and that Daryl would not leave him alone on the mountain.
About two hours after dawn the next day the rain had cleared from the campsite and the Park Rangers returned. "We got a go ahead on the weather," Rathbone told them. "Lets gear up and get up that mountain."
They had barley begun up the trail when a flash of movement off to the left caught Jims eye. He turned and froze, staring at the young buck that limped along beside them.
"Jim?" Blair asked, stopping behind him. "What is it?"
"Do you see that?" Jim asked quietly.
"What?" Blair turned to look off the trail.
"The buck," Jim continued to stare straight at the animal. "Its right there, cant you see it?"
"I cant see anything, Jim. How high do you have your sight?" Blair asked.
"Its normal, I dont need to turn that up, yet," Jim replied. While he stared at it, the obviously injured animal limped away. Jim closed his eyes and shook his head. Not again, he pleaded, not again.
"Jim, you need to tell me what you saw," Blair insisted. They had fallen a little way behind the others in the rescue party. Jim described the vision he had seen.
"How do you feel?" Blair asked after a moment of thought. "Threatened in any way? Any desire to push me off the mountain?" He regretted the words as soon as they left his mouth; especially after he saw the flash of pain they caused Jim. "Sorry, man, forget I said that, okay? But seriously, how do you feel?"
"I feel worried. Afraid that we wont get there in time. Thats mainly it," Jim said seriously. He looked forward then did a classic double take.
"Did you see it again?" Blair asked, peering around the taller man.
"No, not the buck. But up ahead, next to Daryl, theres a badger," Jim said with a sigh.
"Oh, shit. You know what this means, dont you?" Blair asked anxiously.
"Yeah, I have a fairly good idea," Jim answered grimly. "Simons going to be pissed."
"Which ones the sentinel?" Blair asked.
"Matt. And Daryl is his guide." After that, there wasnt much to say. The trip up the trail took much longer than it had when Matt and Daryl had hiked it had just two days ago. A safe route had to be found around the mudslide, one that would let them transport an injured man back down if they couldnt get a helicopter in to the area.
Matt heard them coming; wondering why it was taking them so long to get to him. He could hear their voices long before the first head poked over the ruined ledge to peer at him. His fathers face appeared beside that of an unknown man.
"Matt!" called Roger. "Matt, can you hear me?"
Matt winced, wondering how his father could be yelling so loudly. Did his dad have an amplifier or something with him? And how far had he fallen, really? The faces looked so close, almost on top of him. But his eyes must have been playing tricks on him, and his ears. Because the rescue people climbed down the crumbling slope for a long time before they finally got to him.
"Take it easy, son," the first man said. "Im Johnny Rathbone, with the Search and Rescue unit. Looks like you got a pretty good set-up here," he said as he opened his kit and started to take equipment out.
Matt had tucked the solar blanket around him and over his head as much as he could to keep the cascading water and mud off him during the storm. Now he had his head out but left the blanket on to keep what body warmth he could inside. One bottle of water was empty but he had created a pocket of sorts with part of the blanket to catch more water in case he needed it.
"Thanks," Matt whispered, hoping they would tone their voices down.
"Now, Im just going to take a look at you here," Johnny continued, "along with my partner, Bob. Can you tell me where it hurts most?"
"My legs broken," Matt said, "and my head hurts really bad. My arm and shoulder hurt, but I dont think theyre broken. And I dont think I have any internal injuries."
Bob grinned at him. "Got it all down, huh, son? Well, let me just verify that before we start moving you around any."
Above, the other men stayed well away from the edge, afraid of breaking it down any further. Jim and Blair pulled Simon and Roger off to the side. Jim looked uneasy and Blair looked grimly determined.
"Simon, Roger, we need to tell you something," Blair began.
Rogers face paled. "Matt hes going to be okay, isnt he? You said, last night, hed be okay."
"Hes going to be fine," Jim said quickly, cocking his head to one side. The voices from below were just a fain murmur to most of the men on the trail, but clear as a bell to Jim. "Hes got a broken leg, some cuts and scrapes, and a concussion."
"What we have to tell you may be hard for you to believe," Blair said.
Simon must have read something in his expression because his anxious look turned to a frown. "Oh, no. Hell, no. No way." The captain was shaking his head back and forth in denial.
"What? What is it? Tell me!" Roger demanded.
"We think Matt and Daryl are a sentinel-guide pair," Blair said bluntly, "like Jim and me."
"What? What do you mean?" Roger stared at them in shock, as if Blair had just said his son was going to grow wings and fly off the mountain. He had listened in fascination as Blair had described what a sentinel was, but had not really believed it could happen to others, certainly not his son.
Jim nodded his head. "Im pretty sure they are. I saw their spirit animals, and I can feel it in Matt, very strongly."
"Im feeling much the same from Daryl," Blair answered, looking at Simon. Since his dissertation fiasco, Blair had abandoned his role as observer, throwing himself wholeheartedly as a participant in the sentinel phenomenon, becoming the full-fledged guide that Jim needed and deserved.
"What do we do?" Simon groaned. Roger just stared at them, too stunned to say anything further at the moment.
Blair closed his eyes for a moment, looking like he was seeking some deeper understanding. "Matts senses of sight and hearing are spiking, but hes got touch turned way down low, probably to deal with the pain. Weve got to help him get the other senses under control before they drive him crazy," he said, opening his eyes and looking straight at Roger.
"Captain?" Roger asked, hoping for someone in a position of authority to advise him.
Simon sighed. "I suggest you listen to them," he said. "It may save all of you a lot of grief in the long run."
After a long moment, Roger turned back to Jim and Blair. "Do what you have to to help my son," he said.
Blair turned immediately to the group behind them. "Daryl, come on over here for a minute, would you?"
Daryl listened with a far more open mind that either Roger or Simon had. "A guide? Cool. Matts my best friend, like the brother Dad never got around to giving me," he said with a quick smile toward his father. "What do I need to do?" he asked, sobering. Blair and Daryl walked a few steps away, Blair talking earnestly all the time.
Jim turned to Roger. "Ive got a few suggestions for you," he started.
"You might want to take notes," Simon advised dryly.
*** end ***