"Dammit, not again!" Captain Ellison exclaimed as he heard the tortured sound of a dying engine. He could feel the shift in the fighter's handling as the bullet-ridden engine died. It had been his only hope; they were still an hour from base. The battle with the Japanese Zeros had been fast and furious. The engine damage had caused him to fall further and further behind his squadron, his wingmen his only company.
"Panther Two, Panther Three." He radioed his wingmen.
"Panther Two here. What's up, Panther One?"
"Not me for much longer. My engine just died." He looked out of the cockpit. "There's an island down there. I'm going to try to parachute to it. When I eject, you guys go on to base and get my rescue organized." He ordered.
"Ten-Four, Panther One." Rafe, AKA Panther Two answered.
"Yeah, Ten-Four, One." Henri Brown, Panther Three, responded reluctantly.
Jim could hear the worry in their voices. He knew they were remembering the last time he had been shot down. "I'll be okay, guys. Just get back soon." He judged that he was close enough to the island and punched out. As he drifted to the ground, he watched them circling. His mind flashed back to the cockpit of the B-26 Bomber he had been co-pilot for.
The other pilot stretched in his seat. "Come on, Jimmy. It's just a small wager."
"Sorry, Jack, got to save my money and I'm not going to waste it on a fool bet."
Jack keyed the mike. "Hey, Danny boy! You think it's a fool bet?"
"Don't know," was the reply from the back of the plane. "But Mickey and me would sure like to see it." The two pilots could hear the smile in the young man's voice.
"I can't believe all this fuss over a rumor. You know as well as I do. That, if the pictures ever existed, her studio would have tracked them down and destroyed them."
The discussion over the possibility of nude pictures of Betty Grable was tabled when he spotted the Japanese fighters gaining on them.
"Damn, I knew we should have a fighter escort." Jim growled.
"I know, but the brass decided that we would be less conspicuous this way." Jack reminded him.
"More like an easy target." Jim muttered. These were the last words said that weren't orders or expletives.
The Japanese fighters scored direct hits on the bomber's tail section and engines. Between the exploding engine and the loss of rudder control, the plane was on its way down. Jack saw an island a short distance away and aimed for it. When he realized they weren't going to make it, he gave the order to abandon the aircraft. The crew jumped from the dying plane.
Jim watched the deploying parachutes; he kept turning trying to also keep the fighters in sight. His worst nightmare was coming true. As the planes circled, one plane kept shooting at the floating targets. The fighters circled until the injured men hit the water and then flew away. The crew had managed to stay reasonably close to each other and the deflated raft. Once the raft was inflated, Jim climbed aboard he helped the rest of the injured men aboard. This was the first chance Jim had to assess their injuries.
They were all wounded to varying degrees. Jack and Mickey were in the worst shape. Jim and Danny paddled the best they could to get them to dry land. It took hours in their weakened condition but they managed to make landfall before dark. Danny started taking care of the more seriously wounded while Jim searched for firewood. He returned not only with food but also with a dressed out animal for dinner.
Danny smiled weakly as the tall captain entered the small camp. "Cap' I think I need some help here." He pulled his hand away from his side and held it up. His hand was covered with blood.
"Oh, my God! Why didn't you say anything?" Jim said as he fell to his knees beside the young man he considered a younger brother.
"Didn't feel it until I sat down. I was too worried about Jack and Mickey." He quietly explained. "It's not like you have room to talk." He gestured to the bloody gash on the big man's head.
Jim shook his head and bandaged the younger man's wounds. He was worried Danny had lost too much blood. Once Danny was asleep, Jim checked on the others. Jack had taken a couple of bullets to the legs and seemed to be resting well. Mickey was a different story. He had a major abdominal wound; it looked like a large caliber round had ripped it's way from one side to the other. He could see that Danny had already doped Mickey up with morphine for the pain. Jim just hoped there would be enough.
Jim set up the fire and made soup from part of the meat before roasting the rest. He tried to convince Jack to eat when he woke. After eating, the older man fell back to sleep. Jim then checked the rest of his charges before he too fell asleep.
The next day found Jim digging a grave for Mickey. Sgt. Mickey Serris had died during the night from his wounds, quietly slipping away in his sleep. The day was quiet; the strain was starting to tell on the remaining men. The Captain watched Danny grow weaker; infection taking hold in spite of the sulfa drugs Jim had covered the wound with. Jack watched as Jim cared for the younger man, bathing his face with cool water trying to keep the fever down. On the third day, the youngest member of the crew died.
With each death Jim closed off. Jack tried to keep his co-pilot focused, trying to keep him from withdrawing completely.
"Come on, Jimmy, They're going to find us any day now. I need you with me."
Jim took a deep breath and focused on his surviving crewmate. The days passed slowly. Jack's wounds became septic and no amount of medication would clear the infection. Jack died in Jim's arms, deliriously calling out for his family. The lone survivor sat rocking the body in his arms, tears silently sliding down his face, dropping one by one on the face of his lifeless friend.
Two months of waiting and watching were rewarded. Jim had been keeping track of the enemy planes flying overhead as he watched for a rescue plane. The changes in his ability to see and hear were gradual enough that he didn't notice them changing. He didn't have another person to use as a frame of reference. He was seeing and hearing planes miles away. He was awakened one morning by the sounds of weapons fire. He searched the sky and for the first time spotted American fighter planes in a pitched battle with an equal number of Japanese Zeros. He cheered as the enemy planes were destroyed. When the fighters turned in his direction, he was ready. He used the shiny metal case of his lighter to signal a SOS using the sun reflecting off of the lighter. Jim sank to his knees in relief when the lead plane flew over-head wagging his wings signaling message received.
He was rescued two days later by submarine. After being debriefed upon reaching the base, he requested a change of assignment. With a minimum of training, he was rated as a fighter pilot and transferred to Henderson field on Guadalcanal.
The Captain got along well with his fellow pilots but didn't allow anyone to get close enough to be called friend.
Jim left his memories just before he landed on the beach. He gathered up his parachute and buried were it wouldn't be seen by anyone flying over or patrolling the island. He faded into the jungle and prepared to wait for rescue. He found a clean water supply and set up camp. Once the perimeter was secure, he tried to get some sleep. The noises from the jungle around him kept him awake. As one sound started to quiet, another would start even louder.
The Captain spent an uneasy night without much rest. Knowing he had a day or two, he decided to explore the island. He kept seeing a large cat out of the corner of his eye, distracting him every time he seemed to see someone in the distance. He suddenly saw a bright metallic object on the side of a hill. He focused in on it to see it clearly; without thinking, he reached out with his sight until everything else faded away and it was the only thing visible. It became his whole world.
The young man watched as the parachute floated down to the ground. He looked through his binoculars to see if it was friend or foe. He was careful to stay out of sight, having no love for either side. He had been recruited early in the war because of the expeditions he had made to the Pacific Islands his first few years in college. He clearly remembered the recruiter who had come to the Rainier Campus. The army officer had pulled in all of the men who had participated in the latest expedition. The single men were easy to convince.
Blair shook his head at the memory of how gullible they had been. He had been nervous about the Coastwatcher mission, not so much due to the danger, but the knowledge of what his mother's reaction would be. He knew she had a very poor opinion of the government and the military in particular. She had never fully recovered from the loss of his father during the Bonus Army riots. To say she would be upset would be an understatement.
The young Coastwatcher had been put ashore on this particular island eighteen months before with a radio, code book, aircraft identification charts, and enough rations for two years. He had spent the first month exploring, finding very little evidence of human habitation. During the next six, he was frequently forced into hiding as Japanese soldiers put ashore for fresh water and fruit.
Blair was grateful the island didn't have a deep harbor. His days fell into a routine. He studied at night when it was impossible to identify the aircraft overhead. His favorite was a book that had been dropped four months before in the last drop. The book centered on myths and legends. Written by Sir Richard Burton, its primary focus was a person he called a Sentinel...a warrior with enhanced abilities. Blair's imagination was captured as he read. He hoped that the military never found someone with those gifts to exploit.
He had been watching the American from the moment his parachute opened and tracked where he landed. The young man decided to watch him for a while to get an idea of the best way to approach the pilot. He didn't want the officer to shoot first and ask questions later. Blair worked hard to stay out of sight. Every time the big man seemed to have spotted him, the pilot abruptly turned away as if searching for something. He watched as the pilot set up camp. When it grew dark, he left the pilot alone and went back to his own camp vowing to reveal himself the next morning.
The next day, Blair hiked back to the downed pilot's camp and was surprised to find it empty. He followed the trail through the jungle. As he pushed into a clearing, he saw the big man standing absolutely still, not a muscle moving. The younger man walked around the Captain in a wide circle. He stood ten feet in front of the oblivious man and could barely discern the man's breathing.
"Oh, man. He's really out of it." Blair muttered to himself. He tried to see what the other man was so intently focused on. Suddenly the man's immobility and lack of reaction struck a cord with the young man. "Oh, wow, he couldn't be." Blair moved closer. "Hey, Captain, it's time to wake up now. You need to pull yourself out of it." The younger man carefully reached up and touched the pilot's arm. "Come on sir, its time to wake up."
Suddenly the big man took a deep breath and looked around frantically before clasping his hands to his ears and falling to his knees. Blair was surprised for a moment, and then he remembered what he had read in Burton's monograph. He rested his hand on the big man's shoulder and began speaking softly.
"Okay Captain, I know everything is so loud it hurts, but you need to turn it down." He thought for a second. "Captain, can you see a radio volume knob in your mind?" The big man barely moved his head yes. "Great, mentally take hold of the knob and turn it down until the sounds feel normal." The younger man could see the lines caused by pain on the older man's face ease and the pilot followed his instructions. Jim slowly opened his eyes, finally seeing the man behind the voice for the first time. The young face looking at him had a worried expression. Even kneeling, Jim could tell that the other man was only approximately 5'10" with longish curly brown hair and a very deep tan.
"Who are you?" Jim asked, realizing the other man had been speaking American English.
"Blair Sandburg." He answered holding out his hand. "And you are?"
"Captain James Ellison." Jim looked around. "What are you doing here? And what just happened?"
"Well, I was put ashore here to be a coastwatcher a year and a half ago." He took a deep breath. "As for what happened to you, I think I can explain better at my camp." He stood and gestured for Ellison to follow. Jim nodded and followed. He was amazed the kid had been left on the island alone for so long without relief.
"How old are you, kid?" Jim asked curiously.
Blair looked back over his shoulder. "I'm 25 next month. Why?"
"Just wondered, you seemed awful young to be a coastwatcher."
Blair thought for a minute. "I was the youngest of my group that signed up but I knew I could handle it so I didn't worry about it." He shrugged and turned back to the trail.
Jim had been hearing a rhythmic pounding noise, but so far had been unable to place the sound. He started focusing on the sound and managed for the second time to zone out.
Blair had continued for about twenty feet before he realized he was no longer being followed. He turned to look and saw that the big man had drifted into nowhere land again.
"Shit! Man, you have to quit doing this." Blair muttered as he walked back. "Come on, Captain, time to come back." He rested his hand on the big man's arm. It took a few seconds but Blair was able to bring him out of it.
Jim looked confused. "What happened?"
"I'll tell you as we walk. We need to get under cover. Come on." As they walked Blair started to explain by asking questions. "Can you see farther than most people, hear things other people can't, your senses of touch, taste and smell are off the map?"
The big man nodded. Inside, Blair was jumping for joy. Captain Jim Ellison was a honest to goodness Sentinel. "What is the last thing you remember before you blanked out?"
Jim thought for a second. "I think it was a sound. A drumming sound."
"Can you still hear it?" Blair asked.
The Captain concentrated for a moment easily picking up the sound again. "Yeah"
"So what does it sound like?" The younger man asked eagerly.
"I'm not sure, I think its a lub-dub kind of sound." Blair looked at him in surprise.
"Bear with me for a moment." Blair grabbed Jim's hand and held to his neck just over the pulse point. The big man pulled his hand back in shock.
"Oh, my God! You mean, I'm hearing your heartbeat?" He shook his head. "This isn't possible."
"Come on. I've got more information at my camp."
Jim followed in a daze, his memory flashing back, seeing bits and pieces from the last time he had sensed things better than normal. By the time he had sorted things out in his mind, they had reached the younger man's camp.
Blair bustled around gathering his notes and papers. The Burton monograph was beginning to show signs of damage from the high tropical humidity; the edges of the paper were turning green with mold. Blair proudly showed the big man the picture of the warrior Sentinel. He explained the importance of the enhanced senses in tribal society...the greater ability to protect the tribe from man made or natural disaster.
"There is one problem." Blair hastened to explain. "The zone out factor." Jim looked puzzled. "It says here in Burton's writings that, if a Sentinel focused on one sense to the exclusion of the other senses, he could lose contact with reality."
"Okay, I understand that part. How do I shut these senses off?" Jim demanded.
Blair looked down at his feet and then glanced up at the Captain. "Uh, you can't. They don't shut off." He stated quietly.
"What do you mean, I can't. I did before."
The younger man gave him a startled look. "No, you may have turned them down for a while." He looked seriously at the upset pilot. "But they kept coming back when you least expected, didn't they?" Jim wondered how the kid had learned so much and nodded yes. "Captain, you need to learn how to control your senses. Then you will be able to use them at will." Jim took a deep breath and slowly let it out. He focused on the younger man. Suddenly, a colorful bird in the trees distracted his sight. Before he knew it, his world turned gray.
Blair was gathering food for their dinner when he turned and saw Ellison freeze in place. He quickly set everything down and rushed to the Captain's side. "Here we go again." Blair muttered. "Come on Ellison, follow my voice back." Blair stood in front of the big pilot. He grasped Jim's arm and shook him gently. "Come on Jim, snap out of it." After a few minutes the younger man was becoming desperate. He rested his hand on the big man's chest.
Jim's world began to brighten. He could feel a patch of warmth over his heart. Ellison came to, surprised to see the younger man's worried face in front of him. Blair watched as awareness returned to the big man's eyes. Jim looked around. "What the hell happened?"
"Remember what I told you about zone outs?" Jim nodded. "Well I think you focused too hard on something and lost control again which let that one sense overload." Blair stopped and looked at the Captain. "What's the last thing you remember before the zone out?"
"There was a bird in the tree over there." Jim gestured towards the jungle in front of him. It was carrying something shiny in it's beak, I was trying to see what it was."
"How far away was it?" The scientist in the young man making an appearance.
Jim looked. "I can't tell. The distances don't make sense." He said with worry in his voice.
Blair patted him on the shoulder. "Don't worry big guy, I have an idea." Jim looked at him skeptically. The younger man started pacing back and forth, hands waving in the air as he explained. "Okay, I want you to look toward the tree you saw the bird in with your regular sight." He waited as Ellison tried to focus.
"I can't see it."
"Alright just start walking in the right direction, and I will pace it off." The two men headed out. Blair concentrated on counting his paces and making sure the big man didn't zone. He was surprised when the big man stopped.
Jim looked down at the younger man. "Okay, Chief, how far was it?"
Blair did a rapid calculation in his head. His eyes widened. "Wow, you saw that bird from almost 2000 yards away. Almost half a mile, and that's without any training." The younger man continued to mutter under his breath. Jim automatically dialed up his hearing to listen to the monologue as he followed the younger man back to camp. "Man, I can't believe it, a real live Sentinel. I wonder if all of his senses are as enhanced as his sight and hearing. We need to do some tests. I wonder what brought him out of the last zone?"
Blair stopped in his tracks and stared at the big man. "What?"
"You brought me out of it each time."
"Has this ever happened before you being here?" Blair asked, wondering if in the past Ellison had zoned and someone had been able to bring him out of it.
Jim started to say no but he remembered a couple of incidents; one on the island where he had been marooned and another shortly after he was found and returned to base. He had thought they were just blackouts and told the younger man so.
Blair's brow creased in thought. " Obviously something brought you out of it, your standing here." He looked up at the big man. "Do you know what it was?"
Jim thought back. "The first time I remember anything like this happening this happened was on the island I was shot down on before. I remember blacking out and when I came to, I had a days growth of beard. The second time was after I got back to base. They told me it had been a couple of days. They found me on the beach and took me to the base hospital."
"Do you remember what brought you out of it?" Blair asked worried. He saw the stress on the older man's face.
"Pain." Jim answered. The first time one of the local island predators decided to try and make a meal out of me. One bite and I was wide awake. Luckily my movement scared it off. The next time at the hospital, when they started sticking needles in me I woke up." He looked at the younger man with a smile. "I don't know what you did, but it worked great."
"I need to do more research, but after we eat." He smiled at his companion.
The two men worked together to fix their meal, both quietly processing what had happened. By mutual agreement they didn't discuss the Sentinel business. Instead, they talked about what they missed most about home.
The Captain's list was short as he had no family to return to. "I've been in the army since I left home. My family disowned me when I joined up. My father wanted me to go into his business and my brother felt some kind of rivalry toward me. The minute I signed up, my family turned their backs and I've never been back. So the army became my home, one that I could take with me every where I went." He explained. "What about you?"
"Just my mom, and going to school. Although my mom is so angry she could just spit. I left her a letter telling her what I was going to do. I couldn't tell her where but I couldn't just disappear. She was very disappointed in me when I joined the army with only one year left before getting my degree in anthropology." He turned away and made a vow under his breath. "One day I will go back."
Jim took a good look around the camp. He noticed how short of supplies the younger man was. "How long has it been since they dropped supplies?" He asked.
"Oh, about four months ago." Blair thought for a moment. "Yeah it was a month before the radio broke."
Jim was amazed at how matter-of-fact Blair was about being stranded and forgotten on this godforsaken island. He didn't hear any bitterness in the other man's voice.
"How would you like to get off of this island in a couple of days?" Jim asked.
The younger man's face lit up, and then just a suddenly dimmed. His shoulders slumped. "I can't, I'm assigned to this island. That's what I signed up for." He said quietly in a defeated voice. "When you get back, maybe you could get..."
Jim interrupted him and turned him around. "Look Chief, they fell down on the job, not even coming to check when your radio went down. Maybe there's a reason and maybe there isn't, but that's what we need to find out." Blair looked at the Captain with hope dawning on his face. Jim smiled. "Come on kid, do you really think I could leave behind the only person in the world who knows what's going on with me?" He shook his head. "I don't think so."
"But what about my orders?"
"We'll take care of that when we get back to base. The rescue sub should be here in about a week."
"No problem, I can do a week in my sleep."
"You know kid, sleep sounds like a pretty good idea right now." The captain's words brought the younger man's own exhaustion to his attention. The adrenaline from the days events was dissipating. Ellison watched with amusement as the younger man seemed to fold in on himself. He walked Blair to his bedroll in the cave and moved back to the small fire. He tried to digest everything he had learned as he listened to the younger man settle into sleep. His entire world had been turned upside down in a single day.
Blair's eyes flew open with fear. The hand over his mouth was holding him in place. He looked up top see the captain leaning over him.
"Don't move Chief, we've got company." The young man nodded his understanding of the need for silence. The two men sat without moving or talking until Jim could no longer hear the intruders footsteps. "It's safe, they've moved away." Blair gave a sigh of relief.
"Man, that is happening more and more often. This island is so small that they wander all over it when they pull in for fresh water." Blair stood brushing himself off. "We'd better eat quick before they come back." Jim watched in amazement as the younger man matter of factly started putting his things away.
"So, this happens a lot?" Jim asked.
"At least once a week." Blair smiled. "To tell you the truth, I won't miss it a bit."
The pair kept out of sight of the Japanese patrols. There were a few close calls during the long week. Only Ellison's abilities keeping them from discovery. They learned a lot about each other during the quiet times by sharing their life stories. Jim learned about the younger man's traveling mother and the relatives scattered all over the country. He shared stories about growing up in Washington state. Even with the distance between his younger brother and himself; he hoped Stephen was alright. The last he had heard was that his brother had been sent to England by their father to take care of the London office.
Blair could hear the pain in the older man's voice as he spoke about his family.
On the sixth night, Jim saw the signal from the submarine coming to rescue him. He told Sandburg to get his stuff together and get moving. Blair gathered his books deciding anything else could be replaced. He stood staring at Burton's book for a long moment.
"What is it?" Jim asked confused by his young companions hesitation.
"What's going to happen once we get out of here?"
"We'll go back to base." Jim said impatiently seeing the rubber raft coming closer to shore.
"Come on, do you really think they will let us stay together. They will probably reassign me to another island." Blair said worry in his voice.
"Over my dead body." Jim said under his breath. "Don't worry kid, you'll be with me. Trust me. I will find a way."
Two days later:
The two men stood at attention in front of the Base Commander for Henderson Field. "Now let me get this straight Captain, you need Lt. Sandburg assigned with you, because..." The General let his voice trail off waiting to be filled in.
Ellison looked at the younger man who nodded. They had decided to tell only as much as necessary to stay together. They chose to only tell about Ellison's enhanced sight, keeping the rest secret. Jim took a deep breath and began to explain. He watched with a sinking heart the Generals expression of disbelief, and in turn anger.
"Are you saying you have battle fatigue? Because that is what this lunacy sounds like."
Jim stood even straighter. "No Sir."
"General." Blair interrupted. He could see the growing stress his Sentinel's face. "We can prove it." The coastwatcher knew the General would only believe his own eyes.
The General glared at the pair moments away from having them both thrown in the stockade. Seeing the determination and protectiveness in the younger man, the General decided to give them a chance. "If you are lying you, will both be in the stockade within five minutes. Do you understand?"
Blair nodded and tugged at the tense Captain's arm. He whispered just loud enough for the big man to hear. "Jim, it will be just like the tests we did on the island. We can do this." Jim resisted for a moment then looked down at the younger man.
"Okay, Lieutenant, what do you want me to do?"
"Just relax for a moment, I need to get a few things." Blair turned to the General. "Sir, do you have a pair of binoculars?" General Warren nodded and reached into his desk drawer pulling out a pair. He started to hand them to the lieutenant. "No Sir, those are for you."
"Alright Lieutenant Sandburg, let's start this little sideshow."
Blair was growing angry with the disbelieving General. He only managed to keep his temper by remembering that Jim needed him. "Sir, if you will look out the window Captain Ellison will describe what he sees in the distance and you can determine for yourself if we are telling the truth."
The young Guide took Jim through the steps they had worked out on the island. Blair kept his hand on his Sentinel's back to keep him grounded. As Jim described what he saw the General was amazed. He was already thinking of ways to use the eagle eyed pilot.
"Lieutenant Sandburg, you're dismissed." The General motioned for Blair to leave. He looked down at the Captain's paperwork. The younger man looked at him with disbelief.
Jim came to attention and spoke out. "With all due respect sir, have you been listening to anything Sandburg said?" An angry look crossed General Warren's face, but before he could speak the Captain continued. "The Lieutenant keeps me from losing control of my sight. For example, if I were on a recon mission and I focused too hard, I would zone out and stay that way until the plane crashed, or if I was on the ground, until the enemy found me. If the Lieutenant is with me, it will not happen."
Blair was amazed at the level of confidence the big man had in his abilities. He only hoped he never let him down.
General Warren stared at the young man for a long moment, taking in the long hair and borrowed uniform. Very well Captain, the Lieutenant is assigned to you personally. You are solely responsible for him. With your abilities, I am reassigning the both of you to Major Banks Squadron" At Ellison's look of surprise the General asked. "Do you have a problem with a Negro commander.?"
"No Sir, I didn't realize the Major had been reassigned from the European Command."
Jim responded, he was very pleased with his new assignment. The Major's reputation had preceded him.
"Very well. Dismissed." Jim stood at attention and saluted before leaving. He elbowed Blair who attempted to salute. As Ellison reached the door the General spoke up.