On the Edge of Forever
Kirk lunged for the intercom a moment before Spock's voice blared through the speaker. "Captain, security has reported that the prisoners are no longer in the brig. They have disappeared."
Kirk slammed his fist down on the intercom. "Damnit! And Ellison and Sandburg were just transported out of sickbay. I want to know how 'T'Sal' managed to perform an intra-ship transport. Send a full team down to the transporter room, and find out where in the hell Sandburg and Ellison were transported to."
"Captain, if 'T'Sal's' objective was to kill them in order to effect a change in history..."
"Then she could have beamed them into space. I know, Mr. Spock. I know," Kirk said, one fist clenched tightly at his side. "What did our sensors show?"
"I have found no indication that the beam was discharged into space, Captain," Spock replied. "However, the interference from the anomaly makes such sensor readings suspect."
Kirk sighed. "Understood, Mr. Spock." He was really beginning to hate temporal space anomalies. Then a thought occurred to him, and he turned to Doctor McCoy. "Bones, did you ever remove the subdermal chip from Ellison?"
McCoy shook his head. "No, I hadn't gotten around to that yet." A worried expression marked his face. "Do you suppose that's how 'T'Sal' got a fix on him?"
Kirk nodded. "I'm sure of it," he said.
"And the other Romulans."
Kirk shook his head. "She knew they were all locked in the brig. It would have been pretty easy to get a fix on Romulan lifeforms once she knew their precise location."
McCoy's blue eyes flashed with guilt. "I'm sorry, Jim." He shook his head. "I--"
Kirk raised a hand. "Not your fault, Doctor. We didn't suspect her until too late, and, as for sharing the blame, I should have been more careful until her identity was confirmed. Then there's security. She managed to elude them as well." He walked past McCoy, intent on heading to the bridge, and added a final comment. "So don't go hoarding all the blame yourself, Doctor."
McCoy nodded, sighing. "I sure hope they're alive. The young man's a bit intriguing, and a hell of a lot more amiable than Ellison."
Kirk forced a small smile as he walked out of sickbay, shaking his
head. That, Doctor, is the understatement of the century.
Blair's heart raced wildly, panic gripping his chest as he felt his body dissolving. Oh God, this is it... This is really it. Death. His thoughts were silenced as his body blinked out of existence. Then, slowly, he shimmered back into reality. A desert landscape stretched out in front of him, canopied by a brilliant red sky.
He blinked, then gasped in a lungful of air. He looked to his left, relieved to see that Jim had also made it in one piece. One piece... Quickly, he ran his hands over his body, counting off his fingers and toes. He breathed a sigh of relief. All there.
For a moment, he wondered what had happened. Then he remembered the discussion about the energy-matter conversion thing, and his relief skyrocketed. So this is the transporter. Too bad I wasn't awake for it the last time. A slow smile found its way to his lips as his fear gave way to fascination... and delight. Man, talk about awesome! What a ride!
Blair was jarred from his thoughts when Jim moaned, falling to his knees. Blair crouched beside him instantly, his fascination replaced by concern. "Jim? Are you okay?" He placed a hand on the Sentinel's shoulder, hoping his touch would give Jim the anchor he needed.
Jim shook his head. "I hate that," he said. "That damn thing sends my senses haywire, though I was learning to get a handle on it."
Blair furrowed his brow. "How many times have you been transported like that?"
A sinister voice answered from behind. "Obviously more times than he would have liked."
Blair shot to his feet, spinning around to see Skalas and two Romulans, male and female, standing a few feet away.
Slowly, Jim rose to his feet. "How did you beam down here? Kirk said --"
"Ah yes, the interference," Skalas finished. "Well, we still have a small part of the crashed shuttle down here. There's an emergency beacon encased in a rather indestructible material. Saavan here was able to furnish the appropriate communication codes, and we were able to use the beacon's signal to compensate for the interference."
Saavan smiled and offered a small bow in acknowledgment. "Though our transport was still not without risk. We lost one," she said.
Skalas looked around briefly. "Ah yes. Unfortunate."
Jim's took a step forward, his chin raised defiantly. "So what do have planned?"
Skalas smiled. "For you?" He pulled a phaser from behind his back and leveled it on the Sentinel. "We had thought about killing you, but this is better. This way we permanently remove you from Earth's history, which will have the same effect on history as your deaths. However, we get to use you for study. There are no records of Sentinels in Romulan civilization, and I am most curious to find out what genes give rise to your abilities."
"So you can manufacture Sentinels?" Blair's eyes stared accusingly at the Commander.
Skalas nodded. "That would be ideal, yes." He waved the phaser. "Enough talk. We must move. Company is on the way, and we must, of course, elude your Starfleet friends until help arrives."
Why do the bad guys always give away so much of their plans, Blair wondered, then realized with sinking dread that maybe Skalas was being so talkative because he believed his plan fool-proof. Just how far away was the 'help'? And what could he and Jim do to help the Starfleet guys?
Saavan stepped forward and removed a small cylindrical instrument from the pouch attached to her waist. "Your arm please," she told Jim.
Obediently, Jim held his left arm forward, apparently knowing exactly what Saavan was going to do. Blair frowned, eyeing the Romulan instrument warily. "What are you doing?" He took a step forward to intervene, but Jim stopped him with a warning look.
Saavan pressed the tip of the instrument against Jim's lower arm. A soft hiss sounded, and she returned the instrument to the pouch. "Now the Enterprise won't be able to hone on to your signal."
Skalas stepped up to Blair and eyed the young man, a glint of amusement in his dark eyes. "It is nice to see you again," he said, smiling when Blair swallowed hard. "I was hoping we could pick up where we left off."
A dangerous smile touched Jim's lips, and he stepped in between Skalas and Blair, glaring at the Romulan commander. "Okay, Skalas, this is the way it's gonna be. You leave him here - alive and unharmed - and I'll cooperate with you one hundred percent. You hurt him, you won't live another day. That's a fact."
Skalas raised his eyebrows, meeting Ellison's hard gaze. "This is most interesting," Skalas said, stepping around Ellison to approach Blair. The Romulan looked back and forth between the two men. "I did manage to read some of Sandburg's notes, and I found the information on the Guide-Sentinel relationship most interesting. Of course, I don't know how much of it is true, but, from your reaction, I see that at least some of it has merit."
He walked away from the two men casually, glancing at Saavan. "I think I'll hold onto Mr. Sandburg," he said. "Oh, I'd let him go in an instant if I thought you'd keep your word. I am not an unreasonable man. However, you humans are so difficult to understand. Too unpredictable. Some of you value honor. Others do not." He shook his head. "No, I think I'll get your cooperation by keeping Mr. Sandburg. Any infraction on your part will be met with a punishment to your friend." He smiled, glancing at Blair. "And any infraction on Sandburg's part will result in injury to you."
Ellison straightened, the muscles in his jaw taut. "Let me make it easy for you," he said. "I always keep my promises. Remember that. You touch him, you're a dead man."
Skalas cocked his head, reaching behind him and pulling out the agonizer. Blair gasped, his eyes locking onto the small device. Oh God, no... not again. He really didn't think he'd be able to take another dose of the pain caused by that thing. Unconsciously, he took a step behind Ellison, praying to every deity he could remember that Skalas didn't use the device on either him or Jim. Oh no... His heart hammered in his chest with heavy realization. There was no telling what effect the agonizer would have on Jim. Blair shivered, remembering the unimaginable pain caused by the device. He couldn't bear to think of what Jim would experience with his hyper senses.
"Rule number one," Skalas said. "Do not threaten me
or my people." He rubbed his thumb along the side of the agonizer. "You will
only receive this one warning." Quickly, he returned the agonizer to his waistband
and glanced at his two comrades. "This is enough conversation. Kirk will no doubt
penetrate the interference soon and pinpoint our location. We must put distance between
ourselves and the shuttle."
"What have you got, Mr. Scott," Kirk asked his Chief Engineer.
Scotty stood worriedly over the transporter console, studying the sensor reading carefully. "There was a signal, Captain," the Scotsman reported, "but it lasted only a few seconds."
"Ellison's subdermal? Let me guess, his signal coincides with the location of the subspace message Spock picked up."
Scotty nodded. "Looks like they called the cavalry, Sir." He shook his head. "But it's still only a rough estimate... accurate to about fifty meters."
Kirk nodded. "That's good enough," he said. "Good work, Scotty."
The engineer smiled. "Aye, and that's why ye pay me, Sir."
Kirk offered a small smile. "I want you at the transporter when we shuttle down. Keep a fix on our signal at all times," Kirk said.
"Aye, Captain," Scotty acknowledged. "I'll nay let
ya outta my sight."
The temperature was dropping rapidly, and Blair was clothed only in the blue-grey sickbay garb. He wasn't even wearing shoes, and his toes had long ago gone numb with cold, which was a good thing, he supposed, since he knew the bottom of his feet had to be pretty messed up from walking on the rough terrain.
"Hurry it up," Skalas barked.
Blair cast a worried glance at Jim and hurried his pace, limping noticeably. He knew it was only a matter of time before his feet refused to support him. Jim glanced down at Blair's bare feet, then looked back at Skalas. Blair knew exactly what Jim was thinking, and he placed an inconspicuous hand on the Sentinel's elbow. Jim caught Blair's pleading gaze and gave an almost imperceptible nod. Blair released the breath he'd been holding. Now was not the time to attempt an escape.
About twenty minutes later, Blair's pace began to slow. He had no idea where they were going, or how long they'd have to walk, but he knew his feet were on the verge of giving out. He was pretty sure his toes were already frostbitten. He took a little pleasure in noticing the tiny shivers afflicting the three Romulans. At least the cold was affecting them as well.
Skalas gave Blair an angry push forward, causing the young man to stumble. Jim's hand shot out, grabbing Blair's shirt and keeping him from falling.
"I said keep up the pace," Skalas growled.
"I'm trying," Blair said, hurrying his pace and gritting his teeth against the pain shooting up his legs.
Skalas whipped the agonizer out and waved it toward Ellison. "I am not endeared to this miserable planet," he said. "Your pace is unacceptable!"
Blair gazed wide-eyed at the agonizer. There was no way he could let them use it on Jim. Come on, Sandburg, move it! He'd sooner shoot himself than let Jim pay for his weakness.
"I'll go faster," Blair said, his voice near hysteria. "Hey, man, just put it away. I promise I'll go faster."
Jim placed a hand on Blair's shoulder, but his eyes glared daggers at Skalas. "Let me carry him."
Blair's face flushed. God, how pathetic was he? There was no way he could let Jim carry him. The Sentinel may not show it, but even he had to be affected by the cold... the sensory dials only negated the sensations of the cold, not its affects.
"No, I'm okay, Jim," Blair said quickly. "I can walk. I'll do better."
"No one is carrying anybody. That will only slow us down," Skalas said. "But I think if I give your Sentinel friend a taste of the agonizer, you might find the motivation to quicken your pace."
Panic clutched Blair's chest, and he stepped in front of Jim. "No, don't. I said I'd walk faster."
Jim grabbed Blair's shoulder and yanked him out of the way, taking a step toward the Romulan commander. "You're wasting time now, Skalas."
Skalas seemed to consider Jim's words, gazing at the large man thoughtfully, then glancing at Sandburg. "You have only one more chance," he said. "I suggest you keep up the pace."
Sandburg nodded quickly. He wasn't sure how much longer he could maintain the pace, but, to keep Jim safe, he'd walk over hot coals if necessary.
Jim nodded, then started to turn around. The blur of motion caught everyone by surprise, and, before Skalas could react, Jim had the Romulan commander's throat in one hand and the phaser in the other. The two other Romulans immediately drew their weapons.
"Put them down!" Jim glared at the two aliens, pressing the phaser beneath Skalas' chin.
An amused smile touched the commander's face. "You don't know how phasers work, do you, Sentinel?"
Jim glared at Skalas. "I'm sure if I pull this trigger, something bad will happen to you."
Skalas chuckled, and the sound made Blair's blood run cold. Maybe the Romulan commander wasn't putting on an act of false bravado. Maybe there was something about the phaser that would make Jim's position a precarious one.
"You cannot use it on me this close. It'll kill us both," Skalas said.
Blair furrowed his brow. "One of the Romulans shot me with that kind of weapon, Jim," Blair said, then looked at Skalas. "I'm still here."
Skalas raised an eyebrow. "Ah, yes, but of course there are different settings... settings neither of you will be able to decipher... and right now it's set to kill."
Jim clenched his jaw. "Blair, get out of here."
Sandburg shook his head. "No way, Jim. I'm not l--"
Jim's voice held such fury, Blair actually jumped, but he continued to shake his head. There was no way he'd leave Jim alone with three Romulans.
Ellison sighed, pressing the phaser harder into the Romulan commander. "Sandburg, just go. I'll catch up with you, but I need you out of here now."
"For chrissakes, Sandburg, will you just LEAVE already. Turn around and run as fast as you can. I'll find you."
Skalas' smile never faltered. "So will we, and then you both will pay."
Blair took a few steps backward. He didn't want to leave Jim, and,
truthfully, he had no idea how far his feet would carry him, but the quality in Jim's
voice urged him to obey. Quickly, he spun around and took off toward a scattered
outcropping of rocks in the distance. There was little cover in the immediate vicinity,
but he could see large tree-like plants in the distance near the rock formations.
Kirk studied the remains of the Romulan shuttlecraft, then scanned the rocky terrain surrounding the landing party. Finally, he turned his gaze to his navigator.
Chekov studied his tricorder intently. "I am picking up several lifeforms, Keptin, but the interference is making it difficult to pinpoint their location." He looked up. "Their general direction is North," he said, heading off in the appropriate direction. "I'd estimate about 1 kilometer in this direction."
Kirk, McCoy, and the two security officers took off after Chekov.
Kirk glanced at the burly security guard next to him and said, "Keep phasers set on
stun. We know there are natives in this region, and previous reports list them as
Jim repositioned himself, slipping an arm around Skalas' neck and keeping the Romulan in front of him as a shield. "Don't try anything," he warned the two Romulans, walking backward and dragging Skalas with him.
Saavan took a step forward. "There is nowhere for you to run here, Ellison."
Jim was well aware of that fact, and he knew he had to neutralize the three Romulans in order to ensure both his and Sandburg's safety. Unfortunately, the two Romulans were standing several feet apart, and he knew any minute that they would make a move to circle around him. He could only guard one direction at a time, after all.
Determined not find himself in such a vulnerable position, he tightened his grip around Skalas' neck. "Nobody move," Ellison hissed, listening to the Romulan commander's gasps.
Skalas' hands rose upward, clenching around Jim's arm. Frantically, Skalas tried to pull Ellison's arm down, but Jim clenched his jaw and held tight, surprised to realize just how much strength these Romulans possessed. In fact, Ellison felt his grip giving way. He figured the only reason he was able to hold onto Skalas, was the fact that he was cutting off the alien's air supply.
Moving swiftly, knowing he couldn't hold Skalas much longer, he
swung the phaser forward and pressed the trigger, taking out Saavan. The Romulan female
crumpled to the ground just as the other guard fired his weapon. Jim, however, had
anticipated the move and pushed Skalas forward into the beam while flinging himself into a
roll. Skalas dropped to the ground, unconscious. Jim came down on his knee and fired off a
shot, hitting the remaining Romulan squarely in the chest.
Blair ran as hard as he had ever run before, but his pace was barely better than that of a brisk walk. He limped over the rocky terrain, stumbling every few feet, his legs in agony and his feet numb. A light frost covered the ground, but the temperature seemed near freezing. He felt as though he were walking barefoot over ice, even though the bottoms of his feet registered little sensation.
His mind, however, was focused not on his discomfort, but on the welfare of his Sentinel. God, Jim, you'd better be okay. Blair would hate himself for running away and leaving Jim to face three aliens alone if anything happened to the Sentinel. I'm his Guide, I'm supposed to watch out for him. He stumbled again, falling face-first toward the ground and barely getting his hands out in front of him in time to cushion the fall. The coldness of the hard terrain penetrated his thin tunic easily, draining the meager strength out of his body. He lay there, panting hard, his eyes closed. But he told me to run away. He made it seem like my presence would be a liability. Blair swallowed hard, clenching his eyes. Don't be stupid, Blair, he told himself, of course you're a liability. You can't fight, and you won't even carry a gun with him in the field. What kind of back-up are you?
He was so lost in his own guilt, that he didn't even recognize
sleep when it claimed him.
Jim tuned his hearing, listening for the sounds of his Guide: heartbeat, respiration, or even a muttered curse here and there. He kept his tactile dial turned as far down as he could, aware that the cold would be affecting his scantily-clad partner severely.
What he heard sent a bolt of fear through his chest.
"K'abla chai moefahluc."
"Rith if throadtha!"
The group of seven bare-chested male humanoids stood over the
unconscious human, each taking turns poking him with the tip of a spear. The natives'
lower extremities were covered with a taut, green material that looked very much like
large sewn plant leaves.
Ellison heard the voices of the approaching Starfleet officers, and debated whether to continue on toward Sandburg or double back to meet up with the officers. He knew that Sandburg was surrounded by seven strange men, but he didn't know what kind of weaponry they carried or whether or not they were hostile. In addition, he heard several more heartbeats behind and to either side of him, and he was pretty sure from the heart rates that they weren't human. If he were to move forward, he'd be sorely outmatched and would most likely not contribute to Sandburg's rescue. On the other hand, if he doubled back to Kirk and the others, he'd be able to lead them quickly to Sandburg, and then, at least, he'd have armed back-up.
Ellison stopped in his tracks and spun around, bolting into a run
toward the Enterprise landing party.
Kirk and the landing party spotted the crumpled figures of the two Romulans up ahead, and all five men broke into runs. McCoy knelt down next to the male Romulan and ran the medical scanner over his body.
After a brief pause, the doctor looked up at Kirk and said, "He's dead, Jim."
Kirk's eyes scanned the Romulan, seeing no signs of injury. "How?"
McCoy slung the strap of the medical scanner over his chest. "Poison. Specifically Beta-cyanodiathalene. There's a small puncture wound on his neck, probably from a dart."
"The natives," one of the security guards muttered.
Kirk nodded. "Apparently." He sighed, bringing a hand up to rub his eyes. "Which means Skalas, Ellison, and Sandburg are still missing and now presumed to be in the hands of hostile natives... if they're even alive."
"Keptin, reading a humanoid figure approaching rapidly," Chekov announced, furrowing his brow as he studied the tricorder intently. "Uh... it's difficult to say for sure, but the unknown appears to be human."
As if on cue, James Ellison emerged from behind a pile of large rocks several meters in the distance. The detective quickened his pace and skidded to a halt in front of Kirk, breathing heavily. McCoy was at Ellison's side immediately, running the medical tricorder over the exhausted man.
Jim spared a glance at the fallen Romulans before turning his attention to Kirk. "Sandburg's in trouble. He's surrounded by a large group of... people... aliens... whatever." He took several deep breaths, providing his screaming lungs with much-needed oxygen. "I hear several heartbeats in the vicinity, seven of them are near Sandburg." Ellison's eyes scanned the horizon quickly. "And we're surrounded."
The security guards immediately withdrew their phasers, looking around worriedly for signs of hostiles. Kirk opened his mouth to order the phasers lowered, but Ellison spoke first.
"Put those away," Ellison hissed. "They could have killed us by now if they wanted, and if you fire on them, you'll likely provoke a reaction."
Kirk nodded. "Do as he says."
Immediately, the security guards put their phasers away. Seconds
later, several bare-chested humanoids emerged from their various hiding places amidst the
rock formations. Jim was impressed with the effectiveness of their concealment. Several
spears pointed in the landing party's direction, and, slowly, Jim, Kirk, and the rest of
the landing party raised their hands in a gesture of surrender.
Blair awoke to the sound of drums. He opened his eyes, seeing a canvas roof above him. His heart flew into a panic when he realized he had no idea where he was or what had happened to Jim.
Blair jack-knifed into a sitting position, taking in the rest of his surroundings. He was in a tent, laying on top of a large animal fur spread out over the rocky ground. Another fur blanket had been placed over him, but now lay crumpled over his legs. He grabbed the heavy fur with both hands and slid it off of his body, revealing his bandaged feet.
He bent over to inspect the odd bandaging, bringing his legs up so he could feel the smooth, glassy material of the green wrapping. His fingers brushed over the material, and he likened the texture to that of plant leaves... specifically, the large, smooth leaves of common house plants. He attempted to wiggle his toes, but realized he couldn't feel his feet. That realization sent his heart on another rollercoaster ride, and he sank backward, falling against the soft fur of the throw rug.
The canvas flap of the tent's doorway swung inward with a soft rustle, and Blair raised his head to look at the intruder. His breath caught in his throat at the sight that greeted him. A young woman entered, stunningly beautiful with long black hair and silver eyes. She wore a long grey gown that looked remarkably like silk. She smiled when her eyes met his, then knelt next to him, raising one hand to brush against his cheek.
"Yidara verdugo califi. Cono son gial?"
Blair recognized the question in her voice, but had no idea what she'd just asked. "I don't understand," he said, though he knew his words were likely just as meaningless to her.
Blair blinked in surprise as her meaning became clear to his muddled mind. He creased his brow, trying to focus on the odd sensation in his mind... it wasn't a voice... not exactly... and they weren't even words really... more like concepts that his brain automatically translated into meaningful words. He gazed at the woman with wide eyes, suddenly absolutely certain that she wanted only to help him.
Not knowing what else to do, and hoping that she would understand the gesture, he nodded. "Yes," he said, hoping that if he kept his responses to the simple yes-and-no type that she would learn their meanings.
Her smile broadened. The image of a large mango-like fruit flashed
involuntarily in Blair's mind. Slowly, the woman rose to her feet and exited the tent.
Ellison and Kirk walked in front as the dozen or so natives prodded them with spears toward what Ellison assumed to be North. The Sentinel kept his hearing extended, searching for his Guide, and his jaw remained clenched tightly when his efforts continued to meet with failure. He dared not think about what the absence of that heartbeat might mean.
Jim continued to search for signs of his partner as he allowed himself to be herded to an unknown destination. Several minutes later, his efforts were rewarded with the sound of Sandburg's frustrated voice.
"I was with a friend... uh... how can I make you understand?" A pause. "Like this... see... friend. I need to find him."
A female voice. "Teka merosei gidehe?"
Another pause, then, "Yes! That's right. Friend. Partner."
Jim wasn't even aware of the smile that touched his lips until Kirk leaned close to him and whispered, "What's so amusing?"
Kirk's question startled the Sentinel. He'd forgotten about the men around him.
Jim kept his voice low and replied, "Sandburg. He's alive."
Kirk's eyes betrayed his relief, and he nodded.
Several minutes later, the group arrived at a large village. Pyramid tents stood in a semicircle opposite a collection of large rocks. Jim cocked his head, listening.
"Hey, what are you doing? Why can't I feel -- OW!" Blair hissed and his heart rate spiked.
Blair's exclamation of pain sent Jim's protective instincts into overdrive. He rushed forward toward the tent that housed Sandburg, but found himself restrained by several large warriors. A man on either side held his arms, and another stood directly in front of him holding a large spear.
"Sandburg!" Jim glared at the men, his gaze promising retaliation. In one swift motion, he brought his legs up, kicking the warrior in the torso. The man released a surprised grunt as he fell backward.
Then all hell broke loose...
Kirk and the two security officers took action, disarming several nearby natives and reclaiming the phasers. A flood of spear-wielding warriors descended upon the group, and Jim found himself flat on the ground, staring up into a pair of furious dark eyes as a spear arched downward toward his chest.
Time seemed to stop as every native, whether engaged in battle or not, froze. The spear that had been on a lethal trajectory toward Jim's heart stopped in mid-air, and the warrior holding it slowly turned his head toward the source of the desperate cry.
His heart pounding fiercely in his chest, Jim followed the man's gaze... to the fallen figure of his partner. Blair laid on his stomach in the doorway of a tent, his arms propping his chest up as his horrified blue eyes took in the violent scene before him.
For several seconds, no one uttered a word, then, suddenly, the world erupted in a frenzy of activity. Jim and the landing party seemed entirely forgotten as the natives rushed toward Blair, crowding around him. Jim sprang to his feet, barreling through the crowd like a mad bull, determined to get to Blair before an over-eager warrior decided to place a spear through his partner's chest.
He was totally unprepared for the sight that greeted him. Instead of hostility, the natives surrounded Blair with gestures of concern and affection. Two women knelt on either side of the anthropologist, speaking in gentle words as they fussed with the bandages around his feet. The rest of the natives observed the scene silently, not even sparing Jim a glance when he pushed himself to the front of the crowd.
Blair looked up, relief flooding his face when his eyes locked with the Sentinel's. "Jim? Oh man, am I glad to see you."
Jim heard Kirk and McCoy pushing themselves through the crowd, and, a second later, they emerged next to Jim. Ellison and McCoy knelt down beside Blair simultaneously, and the two women shifted back to allow them room, apparently sensing that the two men presented no danger.
"The feeling is mutual, Chief," Jim said as McCoy ran the medical scanner over the young man.
Jim looked down at Blair's feet. "What's this? Why can't you walk? I didn't think your feet were that bad."
Blair shrugged. "Well, to be honest, I didn't either... until they gave out on me... but now I can't feel a thing. At least I could sort of walk before, now they're completely numb." He glanced uncertainly at the woman to his right. "I... uh... I've been able to gather that these bandages are actually plant leaves that have anti-bacterial and anesthetic qualities."
McCoy's scanner drifted over the plant leaves around Blair's feet. "Hmmm..." The doctor creased his brow, studying the scanner. "You're right. They also seem to be coated with a thermogenic substance. This is damn impressive. I'd like to take a sample of these leaves back to the ship," he said, glancing up at Kirk.
The woman on Blair's right placed a gentle hand on Blair's shoulder. "Gidehe?"
Blair looked at her and nodded, smiling. "Yes, he's my friend." He gestured to Kirk and McCoy. "They're my friends, too. They don't mean any harm. They were just concerned about me."
The woman smiled as if in understanding. "Tidha reaudig gidehe trieds," she said, raising her eyes to encompass the crowd.
Immediately, the natives dispersed, but the two women remained. Carefully, they slid their arms beneath Blair, lifting him up, one arm each supporting Blair's legs and the other around his back as they carried him swing-style back into the tent.
Jim followed close behind, Kirk and McCoy on his heels. The rest of the Enterprise landing party remained outside. Jim waited until the two women lowered Blair onto the make-shift bed before kneeling next to him. A hundred questions swirled in his mind.
"Can you understand them, Chief," Jim asked. "And they understand you? What happened? How did they find you? They haven't hurt you at all, have they? Did--"
Blair raised his hands in the air. "Whoa, Jim. Slow down. One question at a time." A strange expression flittered across his face, and a smile touched his lips. "Gee, now I sound like you," he said, chuckling.
Jim smiled. "I'm obviously having a good influence on you," he quipped. "Now spill it."
Blair's smile faded, but his eyes retained their spark. "Well, I was running and... and..." a flash of guilt crossed his face, but he covered it quickly. "I'm sorry, Jim. I really didn't... I mean... why did you tell me to leave? Do you have any idea how hard that was? Here I was thinking you'd been hurt... or worse... and all I could do was run."
Jim opened his mouth to interrupt, but Blair didn't give him a chance to speak. "I wanted to turn back, but you... well... you made it seem like I would just be in the way." He lowered his gaze quickly, his face coloring. "I'm never doing that again. I'm supposed to be your back-up, remember," he said, raising his eyes again to look at Jim. "You wouldn't EVER run out on me, would you?"
Jim spoke quickly before Blair could cut him off again. "No, Blair, I'd never run out on you... but that's not what you did here. I ordered you to run, remember?"
"Just shut up for a second, okay," Jim said, his voice firm. "Yes, you're my back-up, and no, you are NEVER in the way, but, in this case, having you around would have given them leverage. I had Skalas, so they couldn't shoot at me without risking him, but you were a target."
Blair swallowed, looking away. "Yeah, might as well put that on my tombstone."
Jim frowned, not liking the tone in Blair's voice. Ellison glanced at Kirk and McCoy, deciding he had too much of an audience to continue the conversation, and opted for a change in subject. He'd take this issue up again later with Blair.
"So you wanna tell us how you manage to communicate with these people," Jim asked.
"I'd like to know the answer to that question myself," Kirk said.
Blair looked up at Kirk, then at Jim. Finally, he shrugged. "I don't know... exactly." His eyes sparked with excitement as the previous conversation was forgotten in light of the current subject. "It's really weird. I mean, I don't understand a word they say, but I get these impressions... like flashes of things in my mind." He ducked his head a fraction, looking at Jim as though expecting ridicule. "It's almost like... well... I know this is gonna sound really weird, man, but it's like they're communicating telepathically, or something."
"But why haven't they communicated with us in that way," Kirk asked.
Blair's mouth dropped open as he stared up at the Captain. "You mean you believe me?"
Kirk nodded. "I have no reason not to. I've seen first-hand how you interact with them, and we have encountered several telepathic species in the galaxy. In fact, several are members of Starfleet."
Blair's eyes widened. "Really?" His face lit up with an incredulous smile. "You mean, like, really telepathic? Communicating via thoughts? Emotions? Icks-nay on the words?"
McCoy chuckled. "Unimaginable," he said, his voice teasing. Slowly, he began to unwrap the bandages around Blair's feet.
Blair seemed oblivious to the Doctor's ministrations, completely missing the implied insult, his mind too focused on the new discovery. "So, I've been, like, sending and receiving telepathically? This is SO cool. I mean, I knew something was up, but it's not like I heard voices in my head. I kind of figured that... well... I guess I was looking for a more, you know, ordinary explanation... like maybe I was subconsciously picking up on their body language and vice-versa." He shook his head. "No, no... who am I kidding? I knew what was happening, but I was just too overwhelmed by the concept and, by the way, worried about Jim--" he threw the Sentinel an annoyed glance, "--to think about it too much."
Jim sat on the floor, stunned, having a very hard time believing in the concept of telepathy. But, then, I would have laughed at the concept of Sentinels a few years ago. He shook his head. Ah hell, when in Rome...
"So what about Kirk's question," he asked. "Why haven't they communicated with the rest of us telepathically?"
The tent's flap swung inward, admitting the young woman who had spoken earlier. She looked at Blair, her dark eyes bright with kindness. "Thesha shameishan yosh gaigeigh," she said, bowing her head slightly.
Jim and Kirk looked at Blair for the translation. McCoy spared the woman a brief glance, then returned his attention to Blair's frostbitten feet.
"Uh..." Blair glanced back and forth between the two men. "Well, I think she said something about me being different." He creased his brow, gazing at the woman thoughtfully. "I think she called me a holy man. A shaman."
The woman nodded. "Gighe youd tehub parutcha. Jiahra haybura caruhaw xaughen san lanaetra."
Blair looked decidedly uncomfortable. "She, uh, said that I possess a spiritual center and a receptive mind... or maybe that was 'empathic mind'... I'm not sure."
"Queh gauraeen zaen matarafka kiloreeshki. Yiddan hazenla gaigeigh frisbania," she said.
"That's the reason the warriors did not hurt me," Blair translated. "They recognized me as being a shaman."
"Tridha hurizna reigha. Huroc ipaora nara genu."
"They are very protective because beings like the others -- the Romulans, she means -- have come and hurt her people."
"Speaking of Romulans," Kirk began, "ask her if she knows where Skalas is. He's the leader of the group of Romulans we found dead a kilometer outside this village."
Blair's furrowed his brow. "Dead?" He looked quickly at Jim.
Ellison raised his hands. "Not me, Chief. I didn't kill them... but I wouldn't have hesitated to if the situation required it. You know that."
Slowly, Blair nodded. Then his brow furrowed and he bit his lower lip, tilting his head. "She says she doesn't know where Skalas is. He escaped when the warriors attacked the intruders. And I think she's sending me the image of another species... aliens... they have dark skin and beards. They wear this dark material with, like, a shiny chest covering. They're very war-like, and they want only to destroy."
"Klingons," Kirk muttered.
"What are Klingons," Jim asked.
Kirk frowned. "Klingons are one of the Federation's enemies. That's all you need to know right now," he said. "Are the Klingons here now?"
After a brief moment, Blair shook his head. "No, they've been here in the past."
"Okay, so why can you only communicate telepathically with them," McCoy asked, finally pulling his attention away from Blair's feet.
Blair looked at the woman, and a silent exchange seemed to occur between the two. Finally, Blair said, "They're telepaths, but they can only communicate with those that have receptive minds. She says my mind is only receptive to other telepaths... those who have the ability to send and receive."
"Can she read our minds," Kirk asked.
The woman shook her head. "No," she said.
Kirk, McCoy, and Jim looked at her in shock. Blair simply smiled. "She's learned a couple of our words. Actually, I think she's learning the language from me... my mind. She hears the words, taps into how my brain interprets them, and assimilates that information." Blair paused briefly, gazing at the woman silently. After several seconds, he continued. "She says that I am probably a very good communicator amongst my kind. I did not know it before now, but my receptive mind allows me to pick up on the emotions of others and I unconsciously use those... uh... vibes, I guess... in the way I interact with other people... just like she can pick up on your emotions," he said, glancing between Jim and Kirk. Blair smiled triumphantly, his eyes bright with awe. "Wow. This is really getting easier now that I've got the hang of it. At first I could only understand simple concepts, but now I'm into the really deep, metaphysical stuff. Full sentences. It's amazing!"
The woman laughed, and Blair lowered his head in embarrassment. Then he seemed to realize something and tilted his head, smiling. "You know, I don't even know your name."
The woman raised her eyebrows.
"Ah," Blair said. "That's beautiful... Nagia."
Jim shook his head. He was having a hard time dealing with the concept of telepathy, and the silent communication between Blair and Nagia wasn't helping matters any. In fact, it was downright eerie.
Nagia offered a slight nod of thanks in response to Blair's compliment.
Jim couldn't help but chuckle as he shook his head in disbelief. "What is it with you and women, Chief?"
Blair colored slightly, remembering the time Jim had compared him to a dog that would "jump a table leg." Nagia stiffened noticeably, and her gaze narrowed. She strode over to Jim and, without warning, smacked him on the side of the head.
Jim's hands shot up to cover his head. "What the hell was that for?"
Blair fell backward, laughing. "Oh man! I'm SO sorry, Jim... I was just remembering a rather crude comment you made... the table leg, remember?"
Nagia pointed a finger at Jim. "Yeada hairtan gurosti manwual," she said, then turned on her heels and left the tent.
Jim rubbed the side of his head, glaring at Blair. "You wanna translate that, Chief?"
Blair shook his head, barely able to control his laughter.
"No man, no way. Trust me, you DON'T wanna know."
Two hours later, Ellison, Blair, and the five members of the Enterprise crew sat on the ground inside the tent. Kirk had checked in with Scotty and informed the engineer that the landing party would be remaining on the planet until morning, when, hopefully, Blair would be well enough to travel. Scotty had beamed down a pair of thermals for Sandburg, and Nagia had brought in more animal furs so the men would not have to sit on the cold ground. Blair's feet had been re-wrapped with the medicinal plant material, and McCoy had asserted his approval of the medicinal qualities of the plant, stating that, for the time being, Sandburg was in no danger of losing any toes.
A large plate of assorted fruit sat in the center of the group, and one of the security guards sat off to the side, munching contentedly on a purple fruit rind. McCoy, of course, had scanned all the fruit and announced it fit for consumption.
Sandburg and Chekov sat together, with Blair propped up on a stack of pillows since he was unable to sit cross-legged. The two youngest members of the group chatted excitedly, with Blair eager to hear all about the Enterprise's explorations and Chekov eager to learn about the life and times of a twentieth-century anthropologist. Unfortunately, due to the interests of history, and much to Blair's dismay, Chekov was severely limited in the amount of information he could relay to Blair; though, the anthropologist complained that he and Jim already had an "eye and earful" of the twenty-third century, and he didn't see what difference a few more bits of information would make in the overall scheme of things. Kirk was unconvinced by the argument.
Blair was just finishing his story about encountering a group of potentially hostile natives back on Earth, offering a sheepish smile as he concluded the story. "So they figured that someone as uncoordinated as myself couldn't possibly be a threat."
Chekov leaned back, laughing, and even Kirk and the rest of the landing party released a few chuckles. Jim simply smiled, shaking his head. McCoy shifted, obviously a bit uncomfortable on the hard ground, and leaned forward a bit.
"So tell me, son," the Doctor began, "how'd you manage to team up with Ellison?" He threw the detective a brief glance. "No offense, but you two seem about as different as--"
"You and Spock," Kirk finished, raising his eyebrows and fixing the doctor with an amused gaze.
McCoy scowled. "I revel in those differences."
Kirk chuckled, though Blair looked a little confused. "Who's Spock?"
"My first officer," Kirk said.
"Back to my question," McCoy huffed.
Blair smiled, a devilish glint in his eyes. "Well, that's actually an interesting story," he began, looking at Jim. "Is it okay...?"
Jim nodded. "They pretty much have all the information in their computers, anyway, so no embellishment or obfuscations, Sandburg."
Blair put on a look of pure innocence. "Me? Embellish? You MUST be joking." He chuckled slightly, and looked back at McCoy. "Anyway, back to the story. Jim's senses had been latent for a while and were kicked in when he spent a week on a stakeout in the woods. He had no idea what was going on and thought something was physically wrong with him. So, he went to a doctor. I was sort of um...." a wicked smile broke out on his face, and he glanced back at Jim, "well, dating a nurse there and she faxed me Jim's medical records."
McCoy grunted, looking disgusted. "Twentieth century medicine," he said, shaking his head. "I KNOW there was doctor-patient confidentiality in your century."
Blair nodded. "Yeah, but, hey, there was a larger good to consider," he said, looking decidedly pleased with himself. "Anyway, so I snuck into the hospital and snatched the name tag from Jim's doctor. I borrowed a jacket and stethoscope and walked into the examination room..." Blair snapped his fingers in the air. "Hey, come to think of it, the doc's name was McCoy." He smiled brightly, glancing between Jim and the doctor. "Hey, whattya think? Fate?"
Jim shook his head. "This century, Blair. Finish the damn story."
Blair rolled his eyes upward. "So impatient. Anyway, so I told Jim that he should go see this brilliant guy at the university... me of course, but he didn't seem too impressed with my act at the time. I was a little surprised when he showed up at my office later. I tried to tell him about the Sentinel stuff, and I think at one point I said he was a throwback to primitive man." He blushed slightly, looking uncertainly at Jim. "NOT a good idea, I realize now, because about two seconds later I found myself being slammed against the wall with my feet dangling in the air. Jim called me... what was it... a neo-hippie-witch-doctor-punk and said my behavior gave him probable cause to search the place for drugs."
All eyes turned to Jim, who looked distinctly uncomfortable.
"What's a neo-hippie," Chekov asked.
Jim smiled. "Right there," he said, indicating Blair with a jerk of his chin.
Blair narrowed his eyes. "Oh that's SO funny." He looked at Chekov. "During the sixties, there was a movement spawned by the younger generation in response to the Vietnam war. They proclaimed peace and love, and, yes, a lot of them experimented with drugs. Neo-hippie is a term to describe a modern - well 1990's modern, anyway - version of a hippie." He shrugged. "I've been called that a lot. Anyway, back to the story. So, where was I? Oh... yeah, so, I got a little mad and said something and, this time, he actually started to listen to me. Unfortunately, he still wasn't very receptive, and he stormed out of my office. A second after he left, I remembered that I needed to warn him about the zone-out factor... That's when a Sentinel focuses so much on one sense, that he blocks out the rest. He becomes totally oblivious to the rest of the outside world. That's why primitive Sentinels always had partners to watch their back and pull them out of a zone. So, I rushed outside to tell Jim what he needed to watch out for, and there he was... standing in the middle of a street with this monster garbage truck barreling toward him. I mean, here I'd finally found a full-blown Sentinel, never mind that he wanted to use me for a punching bag, and he was about to be flattened. Next thing I know, I'm pushing Jim to the ground and the garbage truck barrels over us. Not even a scratch, though I was close to needing a new set of boxers, believe me. So, after that, Jim say's 'let's go', and I'm like 'as in you and me'. The rest, as they say, is history."
"And how long have you been studying Ellison," McCoy asked.
Jim clenched his jaw. He didn't like being thought of as a lab rat.
"Oh, about three... ow!" Blair leaned forward, reaching one hand out toward his feet.
"What is it," McCoy and Jim asked simultaneously.
McCoy ran the scanner over Blair's feet and studied the readings.
"I just got some feeling back all of a sudden," Blair said. "My feet are really beginning to hurt... and itch."
"Well, it looks like the anesthetic chemicals of the leaves are drained. It's just as well. We need to get you back to the Enterprise, anyway, and that means getting you back to the shuttle."
Blair raised his eyebrows. "Huh?"
"What about the communicators," Jim asked. "Can't the Enterprise get a lock on us?"
Kirk nodded. "As you heard, I spoke with Scotty a couple of hours ago, and while he could transport us out of here using the boost from the communicator signal, the safest method would be for us to return to the shuttle."
McCoy looked at Blair. "Do you think you can stand?"
Blair nodded. "Yeah, I can stand. Just help me up."
Jim and McCoy each grabbed one of Blair's arms and hauled him to his feet. They kept their grips firm, keeping the full pressure of his body weight off his feet.
"How does that feel," McCoy asked.
"Okay," Blair said quickly.
"Think you can stand on your own," the doctor asked.
"Okay, then, on the count of three," McCoy said, glancing at Jim, who nodded in affirmation. "One... two... three."
Both men released their hold on Blair, who managed to stay upright for all of two seconds before his legs crumpled, causing him to release a hiss of pain. Jim and McCoy acted swiftly, catching him before he fell. Carefully, they lowered him to the ground.
"Looks like those feet still need some time," McCoy said. "I recommend staying the night. If you don't get normal feeling back by tomorrow, we'll have to carry you out of here."
"Oh that'll be fun," Blair muttered.
"Why don't you just let me carry him back," Jim said. "You said it yourself, he needs to get back to the ship."
McCoy shook his head. "His feet are healing nicely. We'll just re-wrap them and let the plant work overnight. By tomorrow he should be able to walk, though you'll probably have to help support him... and I imagine it's not going to feel to pleasant for you," he said, directing that last comment at Blair.
Blair raised his chin and gazed at the doctor. "I can walk. You just get me to my feet tomorrow and point me in the right direction."
Jim grunted. "Sandburg, with your sense of direction I'm half-tempted to handcuff you to one of the security guards here," he said, pointing to the red-shirted young man munching on a piece of fruit.
The security guard offered a small smile.
Blair scowled. "Yeah, great idea, Jim. Like I wanna be standing next to someone wearing a bright red shirt when some royally pissed off alien psycho is out there on the loose... probably armed."
The guard's smile immediately faded. "Maybe Starfleet should
think about changing these colors," he commented, looking at the Captain.
Blair snuggled beneath the fur blanket, shielding himself from the cold. The sound of soft snoring drifted to his ears, and he turned onto his side, trying to get comfortable on the hard ground.
Blair opened his eyes, darkness surrounding him.
Blair, help... please...
Quickly, Blair rose to his feet, surprised to realize that they felt normal. He looked down, but couldn't see past the thick darkness.
His head shot up at the voice in his mind. Quickly, he rushed through the tent's access flap... and froze at the sight before him. An impossibly large moon hung overhead, casting an eerie glow to the scene in front of him. His breath caught, his lungs too tight to pump air. Stunned, he let his eyes drift over the horrific scene.
Bodies were scattered everywhere - men, women, and children. Bodyless heads rested near headless bodies in various places. Mothers gripped children in morbid embraces, their arms locked rigid in death.
The stench of burned flesh filtered to his nostrils, causing his bile to rise and threatening to destroy his nebulous control.
"You like my handiwork, Sandburg?"
Blair whipped his head around, seeing Skalas standing a few feet to the right, a smug smile plastered on the Romulan's face.
Jim felt himself being pulled from the comforting embrace of sleep by a vague sense of wrongness. Slowly, he descended toward consciousness, his subconscious extending his hearing to listen to his surroundings. One familiar, frantic heartbeat stood out amongst several slow, beating hearts. He came fully awake, opening his eyes, his vision penetrating the darkness easily. He looked over toward Sandburg, noticing the pained expression on his Guide's sleeping face. Jim laid there for several seconds, watching Blair, deciding not to wake the young man unless his obviously unpleasant dreams escalated to nightmares.
Less than a minute later, Blair's heart rate jumped a fraction, and he released a low whimper, turning his head sharply away from Jim.
Skalas raised one hand, pointing to something in the distance. "I'm afraid your friend wasn't very cooperative."
Blair turned his head, his gaze following Skalas' outstretched hand. His eyes locked on the limp, bloodied figure of his Sentinel a few feet away. Blair was too stunned to wonder how he'd missed seeing Jim before, his mind filled with white horror. A pain gripped his chest, like a fist squeezing his heart, threatening to crush the vital organ. He could no longer breath, and his lungs burned, screaming in protest. Jim...
"I even used the agonizer on him, but he wouldn't cooperate. It was interesting, though. His reaction to the device was most unprecedented," Skalas informed him.
Blair heart rate skyrocketed, and he released a deep, heart-wrenching plea. "Jim... please, no." Tears immediately escaped his closed eyelids, streaming down his cheeks. "No.. Oh no. No."
Jim pushed himself to his feet, moving to kneel next to Sandburg.
"Is he okay," Kirk's voice asked.
Jim looked behind him to see Kirk propped on one elbow, gazing at Blair in concern. Slowly, Jim nodded.
"It's just a dream," the Sentinel whispered.
A small whimper brought Jim's attention back to Blair. Gently, Jim reached out and placed a hand on Blair's shoulder, giving the young man a firm shake. "Sandburg, wake up. Come on, it's just a dream. Wake up."
Skalas gripped Blair's shoulder, grinning broadly. "This isn't a dream. It's real." The alien's free hand reached behind him and pulled out the agonizer. Skalas held it up, letting the moonlight illuminate the small instrument. "This is real, too," he said. "And I've decided to give your friend one more taste of it before I kill him."
Blair felt like he'd been punched. Jim's not dead? Oh dear God, he's alive... Blair took a step toward his fallen Sentinel, when, out of nowhere, strong arms grabbed his own, holding him in place. With a soft chuckle, Skalas walked over to the unconscious Sentinel. Slowly, the alien knelt down, placing the small device against Jim's cheek.
"I think you'll find his reaction interesting," Skalas said, lifting his dark eyes to peer at Sandburg.
Skalas' finger twitched, and immediately, Jim's body arched. The Sentinel threw his head back and opened his mouth in a silent scream, his eyes wide, staring in blank horror into the night.
"NO!" Blair tried to lunge forward, desperate to stop Jim's torment, but the arms prevented him from moving.
Blair tossed his head, his brow furrowed. "...alive," he muttered.
Jim clenched his jaw, giving Blair another shake. "Come on, Chief, snap out of it."
Suddenly, Blair's body arched, and he threw his head back. "NO!" His scream pierced the silent night like a siren, causing all five Starfleet officers to spring to their feet.
The two security guards immediately poised themselves for action, looking frantically around for danger.
"It's okay," Jim said loudly, speaking to the group. "It's Blair, he's just having a nightmare." He kept his voice flat and calm, in stark contrast to Blair's pathetic wails.
"No. No. No! Oh please. Jim...." Blair's desperate pleas sliced through Jim's chest like a knife. Suddenly, Blair brought his arms up, struggling against some perceived threat. Jim ducked as Blair's left fist nearly connected with his jaw.
Quickly, Jim reached out, grabbing Blair's arms and pinning them to the ground. "Blair, it's me. It's Jim. Come on, wake up," he urged, leaning over the younger man.
Blair found himself pinned to the ground by two large Romulans. Skalas stood over him, holding the agonizer in front of him. With an anticipatory smile, Skalas bent over Blair, and, a moment later, Blair felt the cool hardness of the instrument against his left cheek. He closed his eyes, knowing exactly what was to come next... knowing he couldn't take another second of that agony... praying death would claim him before Skalas pressed the trigger. Blair concentrated hard, willing his heart to stop. All he wanted was to die... to join his Sentinel and deny Skalas the opportunity to revel one last time in his misery.
Jim's sensitive ears picked up the gradual slowing of Blair's heart, and, after a few seconds, Sandburg's struggles ceased. Cautiously, Jim released his hold on Blair, looking up at McCoy. The doctor held a medical scanner over Blair, studying the read-out intently.
"This is odd," he muttered.
A moment later, Jim's ears detected a sudden drop in Blair's heart rate. A slice of panic shot through Jim's chest, echoed by McCoy's exclamation.
"Damnit!" The doctor sprung to action, grabbing his medical bag and retrieving a hypo and vial.
Not waiting for the doctor, Jim grabbed Blair's shoulders, shaking the young man violently. "Blair! Wake up, damnit. Come on! WAKE UP!! OPEN YOUR EYES NOW!!"
A female voice intruded upon the moment, causing McCoy to look up from the hypo he held poised above Blair.
"Tyaga halari rayas," Nagia said, staring at Blair with horror-filled eyes. She cast a brief glance at McCoy, silently urging him to put the instrument away. The doctor lowered the hypo, but did not return it to the bag.
Nagia knelt beside Blair in one fluid movement. Quickly, she grabbed Jim's hand, then reached out with her other one and took hold of Blair's limp hand. She looked at Jim, dark eyes locking with sky blue ones, and the Sentinel involuntarily held his breath, captured by the intensity of her stare. Without knowing how, Jim suddenly knew what Nagia wanted him to do, and he pulled his eyes away from hers, looking down at the face of his Guide.
"Blair," he began. "Stay with me, buddy. I'm right here. All you have to do is open your eyes."
"Blair," Jim's voice called. "Stay with me, buddy. I'm right here. All you have to do is open your eyes."
Blair heard the voice in his head, but felt the urgency of the plea as a physical sensation... like a vibration through his body. His heart fluttered, and he fought his way back, unable to resist the call of his Sentinel.
"Jim," he croaked, his throat tight.
"Yeah, Chief. I'm here. I need you to open your eyes, for me."
"He's not here. He can't hurt you."
"He killed you."
"No. No, Blair, I'm right here. I'm fine."
"No," Blair protested, refusing to open his eyes. "I saw you die."
"It was a dream, Blair. I'm alive."
"Alive?" His voice held apprehension... and hope.
"Yeah, Chief. Just open your eyes. Okay?"
Nagia released her hold on both men and rose to her feet, taking a few steps back to give the two men space. Jim glanced up at her, his eyes expressing his gratitude, then he turned his attention back to Blair, releasing a relieved sigh when Sandburg's eyelids fluttered open.
Blair's eyes shifted to look at Jim, a mixture of fear and disbelief filling his gaze. "Jim?"
Ellison nodded. "In the flesh," he said, offering a smile even though his heart was pounding a mile a minute and he felt like someone had just sapped all the energy from his body.
Blair blinked, taking a deep breath. He began trembling, slightly at first, then more violently as he held Jim's gaze.
"It's okay, Blair," Jim said, leaning forward and slipping one arm under Blair's back. He lifted Sandburg into a sitting position, allowing the young man to lean against his chest. "You just had a bad dream."
"Oh God," Blair croaked, his breathing suddenly coming in short, shallow gasps. "Skalas was here. He'd... he'd killed the whole village... and he used the... the agonizer on you."
Jim pushed Blair's chest forward, forcing his partner to lean forward. Slowly, Jim began to rub circles on Blair's back, trying to calm the young man. "It's okay, Chief. Just breath."
"He killed you, Jim. Then he... Oh God, it was so real. It was real... not like a dream, Jim," Blair insisted.
"Hya gwenir tura gyahe," Nagia whispered, her tone apologetic.
All eyes turned to look at her, and, after a moment, Blair said, "I'm so sorry."
Jim looked at his partner curiously. "What, Chief?"
Blair met Jim's gaze, and, when he spoke, his voice was still shaky. "She said that, in the past, her village was visited by Romulans. They killed many and destroyed the village. Then they just left. It took her people years to rebuild. She was only a child at the time." Blair swallowed, taking a deep breath. "She had a dream about it tonight. She said that her dream must have merged with mine, and that's why my dream seemed so real."
Jim's eyes flashed with anger, and he straightened. "Lady your dream almost killed him!" Jim began to rise to his feet, but a soft touch on his shoulder stopped him.
"No, Jim. It's okay. It's not her fault," Blair said, his voice soft.
"Ero yosaful," Nagia said, and, when Jim looked back up at her, he saw that her eyes were filled with tears.
Jim suddenly felt about two inches tall. "I'm sorry, Nagia," he said. "Of course, it's not your fault." He looked back at Blair, giving the young man a gentle squeeze. "Jesus Christ, Chief. You scared the hell out of me."
Blair raised one arm and slipped it behind Jim's back. "Sorry," he muttered, his voice still unsteady. "It wasn't exactly pleasant for me either." He inhaled a shaky breath and closed his eyes. "Man, I saw you die." His voice cracked on that last word, and he shifted his weight to lean against Jim. "It was so real," he whispered. "I don't ever want to go through that again, so don't die, okay?"
Jim nodded. "I'll put that as number two on my to do list, okay, Chief?" With a gentle smile, Jim grabbed the fur blanket and draped it over Blair.
Jim felt Blair tremble, but the anthropologist managed a small smile and looked up at Sentinel. "Number two? What's number one?"
Jim's smile faded, and his eyes became serious. "Making sure you don't die, Chief."
A sudden hiss startled both men, and Blair flinched, whipping his head to look at Doctor McCoy, an expression of sheer surprise marking the anthropologist's face.
"Wha--?" Blair's eyes fluttered, and he managed an irritated glare at the doctor before his eyelids drifted closed.
"What was that," Jim asked, his tone neutral.
"A mild sedative," McCoy said. "His heart rate was still a bit erratic, and this'll allow him to sleep while stabilizing his heartbeat."
Jim nodded, gently lowering Blair back to the ground. He grabbed
the fur blanket and draped it over the smaller man, praying his Guide made it through the
rest of the night without experiencing anymore vivid nightmares.