Thoughts as 2000 Draws Nigh
Dr. Blair Sandburg, Ph.D., M.A., Detective, Major Crimes Department, Cascade PD, professor of Anthropology, Guide, and Shaman of the Great City was bored. And when he was bored he got restless. It was a trait he knew got on other people's nerves, but since he was alone it didn't matter. He only wished he could get up and pace or that he could get some work done.
Instead, he was tied to a chair in a dark room. So he did the only thing he could, he brooded. When Jim and the rest of Major Crimes finally got their collective butts in gear and found him, he would give them a piece of his mind. He snorted mirthlessly at the thought. Right now he was convinced that giving them a piece of his mind would easily double their intelligence.
Normally Blair considered them to be smart. After all, a person didn't get to be a detective in the Major Crimes department by being dumb. Intellectually he knew each and every member of the department was intelligent. Captain Banks had been a member of his high school debate team, he had graduated with honor from college. Captain Taggart -- well any man who knew as much about bombs and how to defuse them safely as Joel did was well educated in Blair's book. Blair just hadn't managed to drag out any information about Joel's education -- yet. He knew the bomb squad captain had gone to college, if only on the GI Bill.
Jim Ellison tried very hard to hide his college education and his upper class background. But every now and then, the tough ex-Ranger would say something that brought everyone up short. And his choice of books -- well, Blair had to admit that they were a dead giveaway. Jim was smart when he wanted to be.
Henri Brown, with his infectious smile and ready laughter hid his smart mind behind his jovial personality. Underneath that smile though, Blair had found a quiet, generous man who would never give up on a good mystery or a good friend. A man who fought him ever so gently over who got to fill out the crossword puzzle in the department newspaper.
Rafe -- well groomed, affable and infinitely helpful, Rafe neither hid nor proclaimed his intelligence. He just quietly did his work and let the others come to their own conclusions. On discovering that Rafe was taking classes at Rainier, Blair had been amazed at their scope and proud that his friend was so well respected by his university peers.
Megan -- Blair was not going to even try to categorize the Australian inspector's mind. It baffled him almost as much as it left him lost by its maddening methods of deduction. She could pull the right answer out of thin air sometime. For a brief moment he wondered if she would let him test her for ESP but decided against it.
Blair sighed. He admitted to himself that each and every one of them was intelligent. So why was he still tied to this chair? Why was he still locked in this office? Why had no one noticed he was missing? Where was his Blessed Protector?
Growing wearing of arguing with himself, Blair turned his attention to the clock mounted on the wall. Gloss and high tech, its chrome finish glared at him evilly as the digits counted down. One hour, forty one minutes and twenty four seconds. Twenty three. Twenty two. What crazy bureaucrat really believed the millennium changed this year anyway? Everyone knew it really changed on 2001. Putting a countdown clock in the emergency administration building was stupid. And it was annoying him with its silent count towards oblivion
His breath caught in his chest and Blair forced himself to regain control. He drew a deep breath in through his nose and slowly released it the same way. The gag in his mouth kept him from muttering to himself or yelling at his captors. If he had to be tied up, they could have the decency to let him vent his frustration about the situation.
The door to the office opened and for a moment, Blair's hopes rose. As soon as he saw the flowing robe, the fell again. The masked figure came close to him . The gloved hands were oddly gentle as they checked his restraints.
"How are you doing, Dr. Sandburg?" The mechanical voice echoed eerily in Blair's ears. "You need to stop fighting the cuffs."
Blair glared at the figure. They had been very careful with him. His bruises were from his capture. He had fought hard and the figures had been apologetic about hurting him. He wondered if they knew how badly they had hurt him, but he doubted it. Other than subduing him, they had treated him well. They had also been very careful so he would be unable to identify them.
The figure stepped out of the room and returned a moment later with a first aid kit and backup. Side-by-side, the two robed figures looked identical. Both wore a long, hooded gray robe that covered them from head to toe. Their hands were covered by white cotton gloves to prevent fingerprints. Two featureless masks stared down at him, even their eyes hidden behind thin gauze inserts.
"He's torn up his wrists fighting the cuffs." One electronically changed voice spoke as the form knelt next to him. "I want to bandage his wrists and put the cuffs over the bandages to prevent any further damage."
"I'll hold him while you do it." The other replied with the same odd voice.
"Let me get this bracelet off him first." The first one spoke again.
A gloved hand pulled on a leather and bead bracelet before cutting it off. Distantly, Blair heard the enraged cry of a big cat, followed quickly by sound of a hawk. He looked around, trying to see where the sound came from. All he saw was the plain white walls of the room.
Blair grunted as the one grabbed his arms and held them in place very tightly. He tried to pull away, and at the movement remembered why he had been so very still while waiting for his rescue. Pain, mild pain, shot out from his wrists as the cuffs were removed. He knew he could survive that. It was the other pain that worried him. A blast of white hot, intensely fiery sensation jolted him from his side. He ground his teeth into the gag, fighting back a scream.
"Breathe. Shallow breaths, Dr. Sandburg." Even with the electronic modulation, the voice sounded worried. "Don't fight the pain. Ride it out."
It took several long moments before the pain began to ease. Once the agony subsided, Blair reopened his eyes. The two masks were close, just a few inches from him. A tug at the gag convinced him to release it. One of the figures tossed it away.
"Why are you doing this?" He whispered hoarsely.
The two looked at each other and looked away. One of them held a plastic bottle to his lips. Blair shook his head, memories of Lash trying to push forward. He couldn't risk being drugged.
"It's only water."
"I don't trust you." He murmured, his head bowing with pain and exhaustion.
"He wasn't supposed to get hurt." The other person spoke.
"He fought too hard and we had to defend ourselves." For the first time, Blair noticed a difference in the sound of their voices. It wasn't much, but it was there. He mentally tagged this voice One. "We couldn't let him stop us."
"We need to get him to a hospital. I think his ribs are broken."
One cursed, fluently, expressively and thoroughly. "We'd better tell the others."
Blair looked up at the clock. It's glowing, red LED numbers blurred in and out of focus. One hour, twenty one minutes and fifteen seconds. Fourteen. Thirteen.
How had he gotten into this jam? He closed his eyes and let the memory come.
"Are you sure about this, Chief?" Jim asked for the umpteenth time.
"Yeah, Jim." Blair grinned at his friend. "You go on with the others. I'll check in with Halsey and Wilcox, take them some of the party. Then I'll head back to station."
Due to some bureaucrat's fear of the Y2K bug being a real and dangerous thing, Cascade's finest had a special team of officers all on standby. Of course that meant all of Major Crimes was wearing their pagers and were on duty. So they were bringing the party with them, sans champagne. They and the other officers on duty were going to have a nice view from the roof of the precinct. The fireworks were going to be awesome.
Not everyone got such a nice assignment though. Halsey and Wilcox had volunteered to man the special, state-of-the-art, Y2K compliant, EMP ready, underground bunker that was housing all radio communications for emergency services for the changeover. It was a good idea to have the center ready, just in case. Blair admitted it. Jim admitted it. Simon admitted it. They didn't expect trouble, but that didn't mean trouble wasn't out there, ready to attack Cascade. After all, Cascade was fondly called the most dangerous city in America by the PD.
Blair quickly packed a bag with things from the party. Joel's hot wings, Simon's potato bread, H's chicken with rice, Megan's ... well he didn't know what it was, it was good anyway, Rafe's caccitore, his salad and slices of Jim's pie. He grabbed a six pack of soda and headed out the door. It was a long drive out to the command station and he wanted to get back in time for the fireworks display.
Traffic wasn't as bad as he thought it would be so he made pretty good time. Blair pushed the button to announce his presence.
"Cascade Emergency Command Center. Please identify yourself." The voice was rendered unrecognizable by the electronic voice panel. Above the door a video cam swung around to focus of Blair's face.
"I'm here to deliver your food, guys." Blair held up the sodas and the bag.
The door buzzed open.
Blair looked around curiously as the door closed behind him. He stood in a blank room, four feet by four feet with a door on the other end. He waited impatiently for the other door to open.
When it did he froze. His hands were full, unable to reach for the weapon holstered under his arm. Two men faced him, their hands were full too, holding shotguns pointed at his stomach. A gut wound at this distance was lethal within minutes, very painful minutes.
"Come in." The electronic voice startled him. The speaker on the wall had reproduced it faithfully. "Carefully."
Blair let them take the food and the drinks, being very careful not to make any sudden movements. He was not ready to die, and he wouldn't be ready for a long time.
"Dr. Sandburg?" One of the masks stared at him, indecisive.
The other turned to look at him. Finally he spoke, "this is Dr. Sandburg? The same one?"
"Yeah, I think so." The evenness of the voices made Blair confused. He couldn't tell them apart. Between the costumes and the voice modifiers, they all seemed to be the same. A gloved hand began searching him.
"He's packing!" The hand found his holster and pistol. Reflexively, reacting exactly as his academy instructor had drilled him for so long, Blair exploded into movement. There were only two of them and the one searching him had just walked in front of the one standing guard.
Blair spun, grabbing the gloved hand and twisting it in a 'come hither' hold. As he straightened, the robed figure pulled tightly to his chest, the guard swung his shotgun uneasily back and forth. Blair wrapped his free arm securely around his hostage's throat.
"You can't shoot me without hitting your friend. Just open the door and I'll be gone." Blair spoke quickly and quietly. Maybe, if he talked fast enough, he'd get out of this and get a chance to call for backup. "I'll let him go as soon as I'm outside. No one will get hurt."
He began edging toward the security door. A slight squeak, the sound of a tennis shoe on the linoleum was the only warning he had. Blair shoved his prisoner away, releasing him at the same time and turned. His movement swung him into the blow, making him gasp in pain as ribs parted. He saw two more of the robed, masked figures, one bringing a rifle to bear on him as he fell.
"Alive! That's Sandburg! He has to be taken alive!" He heard a mechanical voice screaming. At the last moment the rifle pulled up. Instead of firing, the masked figure slammed the rifle butt into Blair's head.
Blair opened his eyes to see the glowing digits of the clock change again. Forty-five minutes and nineteen seconds. Eighteen. Seventeen.
He looked over at the wall, seeing for the millionth time the pattern made by sprayed bullets. The deep pockmarks made him want to scream in fury. Neither of his friends had made it. Both had been deemed useless to the cadre, lacking the skills that their captors considered necessary for survival.
"WHY?" He yelled, wondering if he would get an answer. A camera moved, focusing on him.
"Do you need something Doctor?" The mechanical voice came over the speaker by the door.
He looked around, mind whirling. This was the first time they actually answered him. "Why are you doing this?"
"For the new millennium, of course. You know that." The voice actually sounded human, as if the person behind the speakers was too close to the microphone. "Ask a real question."
"Where are Wilcox and Halsey?"
"They failed the test Dr. Sandburg. Failures can't go forward."
"Why haven't you killed me too?" Blair breathed in as shallowly as possible, trying to stay conscious. Something felt worse, a tightening in his chest that seemed to be growing. He sent a prayer for Jim to hurry up and rescue him.
"We need you for the next millennium. You will be one of the teachers of the next generation."
The voice seemed happy to be able to answer his question. The speaker crackled a bit as the words continued. "We needed someone who could easily translate from one world to the next. You fit all the needed requirements. And then fate led you to us at this wonderful, auspicious moment."
The door opened and a robed figure entered. It paused at his side, pale blue eyes looking at him worriedly. As soon as Blair's eyes focused on them, one winked at him. He started to speak but a slight negative movement silenced him. Jim came to attention beside the chair, watching with Blair as the television screen came on to show the city of Cascade.
"Not much longer, Dr. Sandburg. Then we usher in a new world, a new millennium, a gentler way of life. Civilization as we know it will collapse." The voice continued as the monitor scanned the city. "People will go back to the life they had before the evil of the west destroyed the new world. Tribal life will become the norm again."
"Not everything about tribal life is perfect, man. There were and are just as many problems with that life as there are with ours." Blair argued softly, his breath hitching uncomfortably. Instantly the blue eyes fixed themselves on him.
Another pair of figures entered, sliding in under the camera. One braced itself against the wall and the second used it as a ladder to climb up the wall. Carefully balancing on the figure's shoulders, the figure attached a device to the camera. Trailing a set of wires, the figure leaped back to the floor and connected them to a small laptop.
"You are only arguing to see if we really studied. Very well, professor." The mechanical voice didn't seem to notice the change in the camera's perspective. "Tribal people have never participated in mass murder, world war, deforestation, eugenics, biological weapons, or nuclear weapons, just to name a few things.
Jim's hand, sans the gloves, slid over Blair's lips. Blair started painfully as he heard his own voice coming from a small speaker set next to the laptop. Seemingly unsurprised, Jim knelt behind Blair and began trying different keys until the handcuffs unlocked.
"You are making dangerous generalizations." The words could almost of have been his. "There are many dangers to tribal life that you have missed. If they become prevalent here and now, how will that affect your new society."
"Which tribal dangers?" The voice seemed petulant as it asked.
"High infant and child mortality, subsistence survival means that one or two bad years can wipe out the entire tribe," the not-Blair's voice asked as Jim removed the ropes that literally wrapped around Blair from upper chest to his waist. "And you can't forget the fact that many tribal groups get wiped out by other tribes."
"But that won't happen here, professor." The mechanical voice argued. "We will teach them better. The new tribes will be peaceful. They will understand that the new millennium is a new chance for mankind. The last chance."
As Jim pulled Blair upright, supporting him when his feet refused to obey him, Henri Brown pulled off his mask. He quickly joined the sentinel, helping Blair walk. Their progress was slow, too slow as they half carried the younger man to the laptop where Rafe was still connecting wires.
"You only have thirty minutes to get clear, Jim." H whispered. "Get him out of here."
"I'll be back, H." Jim whispered back. With a murmured "I'm sorry about this, Chief." the sentinel ducked down to catch Blair's good side with his shoulder. Then he stood, holding his guide in a fireman's carry.
From outside the door, Megan's voice whispered, "We're clear."
The pain flared as they ran down the long underground hallways, Megan covering them. Grim faced SWAT team members crouched at the exit to the of the command center. They quickly pulled open the heavy steel door, allowing the sentinel to rush through without stopping.
Blair was barely conscious when he was lowered onto a gurney. He blinked as the all too familiar paramedics began asking Jim about his symptoms. He didn't have to say a word before his partner had them raising the head of the gurney so he could breathe easier. With a sigh, he allowed his eyes to drift shut.
"What do we have?" The high pitched voice belonged to Sally Anne. He knew her far too well. Blair fought off a groan. He knew she would visit him in the hospital and quietly fuss over his new injuries.
"Sounds like a collapsed lung." Jim's growl was taken as fact by both paramedics.
Instantly Blair had an oxygen mask over his face as Sally Anne called in the injury. Her partner, Noah quickly cut through Blair's T-shirt, running a gentle hand down his bruised ribs. They never asked how he knew, in fact, Blair suspected they were among the many people in Cascade's emergency services who suspected that the fraud claims were the real fraud. over the past months, many had quietly gone from suspicious glares at him to respect to understanding. Not one had asked, but all now accepted anything Jim said at about a crime scene, an investigation or a certain ex-observer's medical health as gospel.
"Are you coming with us, Jim?" Noah asked.
"I..." Blair heard the desperate longing in his sentinel's voice. The big man had promised to go back and help the others finish recovering the control room. But all of his instincts were demanding that he go with his guide.
"Enqueri?" A soft voice made Blair's eyes open in surprise. "Would you trust me to watch over him?"
"I'm staying here." Blair forced himself to speak past the pain that was dragging at him. Several heads turned to him and as one they shook their heads.
"I'll be there as soon as I can." Jim growled before turning and running back toward the command bunker.
"Your guide is under my protection until you return." AJ whispered, her eyes following the disappearing figure. As soon as he was in the building, she grabbed the side of the stretcher and helped the paramedics load it into the ambulance.
"AJ, he needs me." Blair whispered.
She smiled down at him and shook her head. "He needs you alive. Rafe and the others will keep an eye out for him. I will watch over you so that he can pay attention to them. Rest now."
Blair was not sure why, but suddenly all the fight went out of him and he felt the darkness of oblivion reaching out for him.
The soft sound of voices woke him. Blair focused on the words, listening to Simon and Joel with his eyes closed.
"So did they manage to get any of their Y2K virus loaded?" Joel asked.
Simon chuckled. "No. All the complaints Sandburg made about having a secondary facility must have gotten through to the techs in charge of the emergency bunker. It has more safeguards than the precinct. One of them said it was Sandburged... They hired one of his university pals to make it as close to hacker resistant as possible."
He heard the sound of the door opening. A set of footsteps came straight to him. Jim's voice "Chief?"
Blair opened his eyes, blinking against the bright hospital lights. Before he had to ask, Jim held a straw to his lips.
"How long?" He whispered against the tightness in his throat. He hated the feel that was left after surgery.
"It's still New Year's Day, Chief." Jim grinned.
"You stopped them? They wanted to sabotage the new millennium." Blair's voice was slightly stronger this time.
"Everything is still working, thanks to you. If you hadn't hit the redial on your cell phone, AJ wouldn't have warned us you were in trouble. And we wouldn't have been in time." The sentinel's words made Blair frown.
"I didn't call AJ yesterday." At his words, the others all frowned too.
"If you didn't call her, how did she know to call Rafe?"
"Are you really going to ask that?" Jim asked Simon. He turned back to his guide. "I really don't care how she knew. I'm just glad she had Rafe tell us you were in trouble."