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This is the third installment in the Sentinel At War Saga. (I think it qualifies as a saga, or at least it will if I ever finish it!)
Sentinel At War
Rafe nudged Brown. "Take a look at that." Brown opened his eyes and looked in the direction his friend was pointing. A big smile crossed his face when he saw Ellison and Sandburg heading towards them. Blair was hobbling along beside his partner, crutch under one arm the unoccupied hand motioning as he spoke. There was a vaguely amused look on Jim's face as he slowed his pace to match that of his injured friend.
"I don't care how many times I see it, I just don't believe it." Brown said shaking his head. "I don't know what the kid's got, but if we could bottle it we could make a fortune."
"Yeah, maybe we could even get the General to mellow out." Rafe added. They looked at each other. "Nah." They both said shaking their heads. The two men were still laughing when the pair reached them.
The two came to a halt in front of the laughing men. "Do we want to know?" Blair asked.
"No." Jim shook his head with a smile. "Their sense of humor is so strange it might warp our minds."
"Very funny, Ellison." Rafe said as he caught his breath. "You guys released for full duty?"
"Yep, ready for duty." Blair piped up. Henri looked at the crutch and raised a questioning eyebrow. "Oh, come on, I only took the stupid thing to make the doctor happy. Now that I'm out of there I have some native remedies that will work wonders." He suddenly jumped subjects. "Has anyone seen the Major? We need to report in."
Brown thought for a moment. "I think I saw him over by the mess tent about twenty minutes ago."
"Great! Come on, big guy. Let's dump our gear and get some food; I'm starving."
"You're always starving." Jim looked at the other two. "I swear he's got to have a hollow leg with the amount of food he manages to pack away." He put his hand on the back of the younger man's neck and steered him to the mess tent.
Jim spotted Major Banks sitting against a tree near the tent. After filling their trays, the two men sat down across from their commander. They were both shocked by the look of exhaustion and stress on the big man's face.
"Major, what's going on?" Blair asked, worry in his voice.
Simon looked up and stared blankly at them for a moment. He then began to explain. "After the battle three days ago, we found that we have four men unaccounted for. I'm afraid they've been captured by the Japanese."
Blair knew there had to be more to the story for the Major to be reacting this strongly. "What else?" The younger man prompted. Jim focused in on the major and heard the increase in his heart rate.
Simon took a deep breath. "You know that a few weeks ago we got a group of reinforcements. They were temporarily assigned to another unit so I didn't have a chance to meet them yet." Simon stopped for a second visibly steeling himself. "One of the missing is a seventeen year old private named Daryl Banks." He buried his face in his hands; Blair and Jim could barely make out his next words. "My son." The two men felt as if they had been punched in the gut.
"How?" Blair asked.
"From what one of his buddies said, he ran away from my ex-wife and joined up by lying about his age. It was a coincidence that he was shipped here." Simon paused. "They won't let me go out to search. I've tried to leave camp a number of times but the General posted guards as soon as he found out saying I was needed more here and he would assign a patrol to find Daryl and the missing men." Blair moved to the major's side and put his hand on the big man's shoulder trying to relay comfort.
"Sir," Jim began, "do we have your permission to go on a recon patrol?"
Simon looked up and, for the first time in days, felt a glimmer of hope. He remembered the captain's special abilities. He then turned a frown on the crutch in the younger man's hand.
"How can Sandburg help you if he has to use that?"
Blair lifted the crutch. "This thing? I don't need it, see?" The young man set the crutch on the ground and took a few steps around. "I only kept it to get sympathy from Rafe and Brown."
Jim regained Simon's attention. "Just give us a chance. What have you got to lose?"
//My two best men as well as my son. // Was Simon's first thought.
As if hearing the thought, Blair said, "We can do this, sir. We will find out what happened to Daryl and bring him back." The remainder of the statement went unspoken but was understood by all. (One way or another.)
As they ate, they planned their search. "I don't like the idea of the two of you going alone. I could..."
Jim interrupted him. "Major, if something happens, they will need you here, not out searching. We will be back as soon as we can."
"What if you took Brown and Rafe?" Simon asked.
Jim shook his head. "The two of us stand a better chance of avoiding enemy patrols. The more we add, the greater chance of being spotted." Simon reluctantly nodded. They polished off their food and, with Simon's help, requisitioned enough C-rations for a week.
They gathered their equipment and left a note for Brown and Rafe telling them that they had been reassigned for a few days. Jim added a postscript telling Brown that if he touched his soap, Jim would make him eat it when he got back.
They entered the jungle close to the last position Simon had for his missing son. Using his sight Jim could see the occasional American boot print. Blair kept his eyes on his Sentinel, not wanting to see the blood on the ground that had not yet been washed away by the rains. He noticed a trickle of sweat run down the side of Jim's face. He didn't miss the minor tremors as they moved along.
"Jim, are you alright?" Blair whispered.
"Yeah, Sandburg, I'm fine." Jim looked over his shoulder at his guide. "I'm one hundred percent."
"If you say so." Blair said not believing a word of it. He decided to keep a closer watch on his friend. He could tell that Jim was having problems regulating his temperature. The younger man had lived in the tropics long enough to recognize the symptoms of malaria.
Jim followed the footprints, starting with one set of prints that were joined at intervals by those of the remaining three missing men as they got further down the trail. Blair stayed as close as possible to prevent his friend from zoning as he searched for increasingly faint signs.
Jim suddenly stopped. Blair almost plowed into him. "What is it?" Blair whispered just loud enough for Jim to hear. The big man motioned for him to move back. They quietly worked their back several hundred yards.
"They're just over that ridge." Jim explained when they had moved far enough away.
"Can you hear any Americans?" Blair asked.
"No, but that doesn't mean anything. All I can hear are Japanese voices."
"Can you hear them clear enough to repeat what they are saying?"
"Yeah, why?" Jim asked puzzled.
"If you repeat what they are saying, I might be able to translate a word of two and it might give us a hint about our guys."
Jim nodded; the kid's reasoning made sense. He began to repeat word for word what was being said. Blair had pulled out a notebook and pencil and was quickly writing down every word he could understand. The final result looked like a missing word puzzle.
"Commander Ito . . . . time . . . . .prisoner . . .keep . . move . . sub
schedule pick up . . . not useful."
"... not question my plans . . . understand."
"Looks like they do have at least one prisoner." Jim said as he looked at the words.
"But why only one." Blair looked at his friend. "Do you think the others are..."
Jim didn't allow the younger man to continue his sentence. "I don't know, Chief, but we will find out. They might have transferred the officers to the sub. I don't know about the two enlisted men. They won't consider them important."
"But if they aren't important, why keep them?"
Blair's face lost its color as he thought back on reports he had seen about how the POWs were treated. He fought back a shudder and grew even more determined to bring back Daryl Banks. He just prayed the boy was still alive.
Once it grew dark, they crept closer to the ridge. Jim focused his hearing on the compound. His patience was awarded when he heard in English a short prayer.
"Okay, Chief. Someone is alive down there. I just heard him." They moved closer under the cover of darkness.
"Can you see anything?" Blair asked.
"Give me a minute." Jim looked past the canopy of camouflage netting that prevented allied planes from seeing the encampment and into the camp. Off to the side was a 15-foot pole. The pole had two men tied to it. The two men, one black and the other white were standing with their arms stretched over their heads and tied to rings attached seven feet off the ground. "I can see him."
"Is he alive?" Blair asked.
He watched as a young Japanese soldier walked over towards the prisoners. He lifted the white man's head and quickly let it drop. Jim tried to hear a heartbeat but soon realized the man was dead. The soldier moved over to the young man Jim knew was Daryl. The young man lifted his head as the soldier approached. "Yeah, he's alive."
"Thank god." Blair sighed.
Jim nodded in agreement. Keeping his eyes on the boy as they moved forward, he saw the enemy soldier touch the young man's face. He could see the hatred and fear in Daryl's face. Jim groaned when the boy spat in the soldier's face, earning himself a beating.
"What now?" Blair asked quietly when they reached the camp perimeter.
"We'll need to wait a few more minutes for the guard to pass us. I'll take him out. When I do, I want you to grab Daryl and then we are going to get the hell out of here."
"Sounds like a plan."
The minutes seemed to crawl as they waited for the guard to pass. Finally it was time. Jim moved like a cat in the darkness, moving without a sound. Blair followed in his footsteps, taking care to remain as silent as possible. With a silent and deadly motion, the enemy soldier was dispatched without a sound. Blair quickly moved to the pole. They had only minutes before someone would notice the missing guard. Holding his hand over the boy's mouth, he whispered his intent to the young man. Blair did not want to be attacked if the kid panicked. "I'm an American, here to get you out so be quiet." The boy nodded. Blair cut the ropes holding Daryl up, barely managing to catch him before he fell. Blair then moved around to the dead man, cutting him down as well. Jim appeared at his side.
"You get Daryl, I'll take care of him." Jim whispered as he put the body over his shoulder. "Let's go."
They moved swiftly to exit the Japanese camp. Jim could hear the alarm being given as the prisoners' escape was noticed and they found the dead guard. The big man was beginning to reach the end of his endurance. He was starting to have problems controlling his senses. At first he thought he imagined the small shadowed depression in the hillside, but as they drew closer he could tell that it was the entrance to a cave or tunnel. He quickly checked it out and could tell that it was vacant.
"Okay guys, underground."
Blair took one look and blanched. Small dark spaces were not his favorite places. But his worry for his friend outweighed his fears and he followed the others into the earth covering the opening. Jim looked around and saw a side tunnel. After telling the others to stay he took the dead man a distance away. He collected one of the set of dogtags to give to grave registration after setting the other one in place. He made his way back to the others before collapsing.
Blair had just lit the small lantern when Jim returned. He was barely able to get the lantern out of the way a catch the big man as he fell to the ground. "Shit. I knew it." He exclaimed. "Daryl, bring me that pack. He gestured at the one Jim had dropped when they entered the tunnel. Since no one had spoken during their flight from the enemy camp, the young man was surprised that Blair knew his name. Blair started pulling the first aid supplies from the pack. "Come on, big guy. Take the medicine." Blair hoped the aspirin would help to keep the fever down.
Daryl watched the one he knew as Blair take care of the other soldier. "How do you know who I am?" He asked curious.
Blair looked up. "Your dad sent us."
Daryl rocked back on his heels. "What! How did my dad know I was here?" The young soldier was puzzled. "I thought he was at an airbase."
"He is. He's at Henderson." Blair told him. "He found out that you were here after you were captured. It seems that the first sergeant made the connection. Your dad tried to come and find you himself but the general wouldn't let him. He put your dad under guard because he kept trying to come after you. When your dad, our C.O., filled us in we volunteered."
"He's gonna be so pissed off at me." Daryl said.
"Yeah, he probably will but he loves you. He'll only hurt you little." Blair smiled. "Now get some rest. You are going to need it."
The young man laid down, pillowed his head on his arm, and quickly fell asleep.
Blair returned his attention to his friend. "What's going on with you?" Blair asked half to himself and half to his partner. He could feel the beads of sweat on his friend's forehead and the tremors racing through the big man's body.
"Sorry, Chief. Wish I could have timed it better." Jim whispered.
"It's okay, big guy. We'll just hole up here until the worst is over and then we're out of here."
"What about the soldiers?"
"They passed right by us. We're safe for now." He soaked a cloth with water and placed it on Jim's forehead. "Try and get some rest. It will be better in the morning. I want you to turn all of the dials down. I can tell that you're having trouble, so just turn them all down. I'll keep watch," he reassured. Jim's eyes drifted shut. Blair stood and untied the blankets from his pack. Covering the two men, he sat between them with his back to the tunnel wall and watched. He fought to stay awake, not knowing what kind of a reaction a sentinel would have to a disease like Malaria.
The first time he drifted off, the quiet crying from Daryl awakened him. He could barely hear the words the boy was saying. "Don't go, daddy. Please, I'll be good. I promise, Daddy, I promise. Please don't leave me." The heartfelt cry repeated over and over until Blair managed to wake him up. Daryl looked up at the man who had rescued him.
"What is it?" He asked quietly.
"You were having a bad dream." Blair explained.
"Sorry." Daryl looked away embarrassed.
"Don't worry about it. You're entitled. Everyone here is." Blair smiled. "If you need to talk, just remember I'm right here." Daryl nodded before curling up in the blanket and falling asleep again.
It was almost dawn when his partner's thrashing around awakened him again. "Jim, calm down, it's okay." Blair said in a calm voice.
"Mayday, mayday. I'm going down. Mayday. I'm going down at coordinates..."
Blair realized Jim was having a nightmare about being shot down. He worked to bring him out of the dream. Holding the big man down was difficult. But Jim quieted as the younger man talked. Blair wished he could get out into the jungle to search for native plants that would help with symptoms of the disease. He soaked the cloth again, noting that their water supply was getting low. He sponged the sweat from his friend's face, trying to lower the increasing fever. As the fever escalated, Jim began to toss and turn.
"Take it easy, big guy. Stay with me."
Jim's body suddenly stilled and he opened his eyes looking up at his guide. "Where are we?" He asked confused.
"We're in the tunnel you found for us, hiding from the Japanese soldiers." Blair explained as he got Jim to take the remainder of the aspirin and drink more water. "As soon as you feel better, we will head back to camp. Just try to rest. We'll go soon."
"Okay, Chief." The big man lapsed into unconsciousness. Blair arranged him so that he was lying comfortably.
"Daryl." The young man looked up.
"Yeah." Daryl whispered.
"Jim is out of it for now." Blair explained. He shook his canteen. "I'm going to see if the coast is clear. We need more water."
"It's not safe out there."
"No kidding." Blair muttered to himself. He then spoke loud enough for Daryl to hear him. "I know. I'll be careful, but if we don't get more water he will die." He said as he moved to the entrance. "Watch out for him. I'll be back as soon as I can."
Blair moved the palm fronds covering the small entrance. He carefully looked out and listened for enemy soldiers. After a few minutes of silence, he carefully crawled out into the open keeping his weapon ready. He kept low to the ground and backtracked to the stream he and Jim had passed on the way to the Japanese camp. He kept looking around, unable to shake the feeling that he was being watched but was unable to spot anyone. It was one of the many times he wished he had senses like his Sentinel.
After filling the canteens, the young guide started back to the tunnel. Suddenly, he heard soldiers in the distance. He frantically looked around to find somewhere to hide. He spotted a hollowed out tree trunk. He squeezed into the opening, barely able to fit, and blocked the opening with a fallen branch. Blair curled up in a ball, only opening his eyes enough to see the soldiers passing by his hiding place. He felt that they should be able to hear his heart racing with fear. It seemed so loud in his ears.
It seemed like hours before the soldiers had been gone long enough for the young man to feel safe enough to move. Blair carefully uncurled his body and pushed his way out of his hiding place. He was worried about being separated from Jim for so long with only a kid to watch over him. He hurried back to the tunnel.
"Daryl, its me." Blair whispered not wanting to be attacked. He uncovered the opening and slipped inside. He took a moment to let his eyes adjust. Taking a step forward he almost tripped over a small bundle in his path. Checking to make sure it wasn't a bomb he picked it up and brought it with him. Checking on the two men he found them both asleep. He could feel the heat radiating off of his friend.
"Damn." Blair whispered to himself. He remembered the bundle from the entrance. When he opened it, he almost fell down in shock. In the bundle were the plants he needed to help Jim. Blair quickly set about making a potion that would help. When it was done and had cooled enough to drink, the young man managed to get it in to his patient. It wasn't easy but he managed to get enough down the big man's throat.
A half-hour later Jim opened his eyes. "What's going on, Chief?" He said weakly.
Blair smiled. "Looks like you've got Malaria." Blair said matter-of-factly. "It's almost run its course. In the morning we should be able to head back to camp." Blair watched his friend closely. "How are you feeling?"
"Like an army camped out in my head."
"What about your senses?"
"They're still turned down. Every once in a while the dials slip."
"Good, keep them down for now. I want you to drink some more of this."
Jim took the cup and sniffed the contents, making a face at the smell. "What the hell is this? It smells like horse piss."
Blair laughed. "Too bad, you need to drink it. Trust me; it will make you feel better."
"Maybe, if I can keep it down."
"Just turn down smell and taste all the way and drink it." Blair ordered.
Jim made another face and quickly drained the cup.
"Very good." Blair smiled. "Now try and get some more rest so we can get out of here in the morning." Jim turned down his hearing and fell into a deep healing sleep.
He slowly came awake, feeling weak but better than the day before. He was pleased to find that his controls were back in place. He could feel his guide's hand resting on the center of his chest. //I guess he wanted to make sure I didn't become delirious and wander away. // Jim thought. He reached out with his senses to check on his companions. He calmly listened to their breathing and heartbeats. He started to drift off again when he heard sounds outside the tunnel. He moved over to his guide, placing his hand over his mouth. Blair's eyes opened abruptly to see Jim leaning over him with a finger motioning for silence. Blair nodded, Jim moved over to Daryl. He repeated the procedure with the boy. They kept silent as the soldiers passed the entrance. Jim gave the signal when it was clear. They all sagged with relief.
"We've got to get out of here and back to camp." Jim stated when the soldiers were out of hearing range.
"Do you feel well enough for the trek back to camp?" Blair asked worried.
"We don't have a choice." Jim answered. "It's not going to get any easier and we don't know if or when I will have another relapse."
They gathered their gear preparing for the hike home. Jim kept his senses on alert. Under his breath Blair kept a running commentary going to keep his Sentinel grounded. The undergrowth was so thick it seemed to take forever to get through it. The three men continued to push through. Suddenly Jim fell to his knees retching.
"What is it?" Blair asked worried.
"Can't you smell it? It's all around us."
Blair turned trying to smell what was affecting his partner so strongly. He could barely smell it but that was enough. He immediately identified the scent of decomposing bodies. "Dial it down, Jim. Filter out the smell. Where are they? I can smell them." Blair looked around.
"They are under our feet. We are on top of a mass grave."
"Oh, man. You think it's Japanese?"
Jim took a close look around. The area was over grown but there was still evidence of a small village. The big man closed his eyes and shook his head.
"No Chief, I don't think so." He gestured at the remains of the village on the edge of the clearing. "Let's get out of here." With his sense of smell dialed down to zero Jim stood. "We only have a couple of miles left to go. Then we'll find out if anyone knows what happened here."
Blair nodded. Jim worried about his young friend; he had seen soldiers who had reached the end of their endurance when it came to the horrors of war. He watched the younger man's face as their eyes met. He could see Blair drawing strength from the knowledge he wasn't alone.
A half-mile from the village Jim motioned for them to halt. His head tilted as he listened. Blair could see him relax.
"What is it?" He whispered.
"Our guys are ahead. Doing a routine patrol." Jim explained. "Now we just need to get their attention without them trying to blow us away."
"Are there any Japanese soldiers around here?"
Blair smiled. "I've got an idea." The young man started to quietly sing. "My country 'tis of thee..."
Jim grinned when he heard the comments from the approaching men. Blair stopped singing. "What's so funny?"
"The guys don't think very highly of your singing ability."
"Very funny, I didn't hear you chiming in."
"Chief, if I had started singing, they might have thought there was a wounded animal out here and shot it to put it out of its misery."
Blair almost lost it. "Good point, big guy." The two men were laughing as the patrol reached them.
Blair recognized the Marine lieutenant leading the patrol. "Hey, Jeffries, you come to bring in the lost lambs?"
"So that's what that horrible bleating was, little lost army lambs."
"Ha, Ha, very funny. What's going on at the base?"
"So far it's been quiet but you know how quickly things can change."
The squad corpsman moved over to where Jim was sitting. "Captain, are you injured?"
"No, just a slight case of malaria." Jim answered.
"How long since the fever broke?"
Jim looked over at Blair. The younger man answered. "About ten hours, why?"
The corpsman looked confused. "Unbelievable, you shouldn't even be on your feet." Jim just shrugged. The medic checked out Daryl's wrists and other bruises. After rebandaging the young man. The corpsman went over to his lieutenant. "We can go when ever you're ready, sir."
Rafe was the first to spot them as they entered the camp's perimeter. He took off on a dead run to notify major Banks that his men had returned. He knocked on the tent support.
"Sir, they're back."
Simon shot out of his chair. "Where?"
"They're on the way to the Med tent."
Everyone got out of the way as the big man ran through the camp. He pulled up short when he spotted his son. Tears of relief began to run down his cheeks. Daryl's attention was caught by the sudden silence. He looked around and saw his father.
"Dad!" He shouted and ran into his father's outstretched arms.
Word went through the camp like wildfire; the Major's son was safe.
Jim and Blair waited for a few minutes before walking over to the newly reunited pair. "Ellison and Sandburg reporting." Jim said saluting the Major. Simon turned and looked at his best team.
"Good work men. I knew I was putting the right men on the job." Simon said smiling. He grew serious. "The others?"
"The two officers were transported out by sub. Corporal Malone died of injuries while in the Japanese camp. He's buried in a tunnel a days march away." Jim reported.
"We will have a formal report for you in the morning, sir." Blair added.
Simon looked down at his son. "Stay here for a minute, Daryl." The young man nodded.
Simon motioned for the two men to follow him a short distance away. He turned to the pair. "I don't know how to say this. You've returned something precious to me and I don't know how I will ever be able to thank you." Simon said quietly.
"No need, sir." Jim said. "Just go and spend some time with your son."
Simon nodded and coming to attention saluted the pair. They returned the salute and headed to their tent, leaving the father and son to their reunion.
Blair turned to his friend. "I don't know about you but I'm starving for something besides cold c-rats."
"I could eat." Jim replied. "Hope it's half way decent."
Blair started laughing. "Army food? You are a comedian." He laughed all the way to the mess tent.