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Capt.Simon Banks' office

Cascade Police Headquarters

Major Crimes Division

3:00 p.m.

[I guess we've come full circle,] thought Scully as the three agents entered the captain's office. A little over a year earlier, she sat in this office, looking to investigate one of Mulder's 'suspicious leads', never realizing that the things she witnessed and experienced during that case would change forever her perceptions of the world and her place in it. Now, she was entering the same office, trying to mentally prepare herself for a case that would most likely once again change forever her ideas about life as she knew it.

As they walked into the office, Blair greeted the Sentinel and Guide warmly. "Mulder! Dana! It's good to see you again."

Scully replied, "it's good to see you too, Blair. I just wish it were under better circumstances." She then turned to the older man standing behind her. "Blair, I take it you remember our boss, Assistant Director Skinner?"

Blair nodded as he shook the older man's hand. Skinner then offered his hand to Simon, who rose from his position at his desk, observing the entire proceedings with some surprise and skepticism. He introduced himself again, "Walter Skinner. And you are?"

Simon shook Skinner's hand firmly. "Simon Banks, Cascade PD. I was Jim's captain." He grimaced at the thought of having to talk about his friend in the past tense. He silently prayed that he wouldn't have to do that for much longer.

Introductions now out of the way, Mulder got right down to business. "Any word from Jim, Blair?"

Blair nodded. "I spoke with him a couple of hours ago. He says he believes he's in an underground bunker and they're holding a young woman with him. Other than that, he was still a bit out of it, and he fell asleep shortly after we talked. They have a lot of white-noise generators going, so he couldn't really hear anything outside of his room, and he was too tired to filter out the noise."

Scully added, "everything we found out points to him being taken in the direction of the mountains. We have more detailed information, but I'd rather not go over it here. Is there some place we can go to talk?"

Blair volunteered, "the loft's not too far from here. Do you still remember the way?"

Mulder replied, smiling. "I think we'll have no trouble following you. Let's go."

Unseen by the group, an American bald eagle followed, watching them carefully from his perch outside the captain's office.

*****

From his new perch on the balcony of Jim's loft, the eagle listened intently to the conversation inside. Panther was sitting below Eagle's perch, his ears listening intently to the conversation, but his mind and heart focused on another place that was far, far away. He let out a frustrated sigh, which caused Eagle to look at him with sympathetic disdain. "Why don't you just go to him? I know this whole thing has you worried sick."

"I know," replied Panther, "but I promised I would look after his Guide and the young ones until they found him." He shook a bug out of the fur at the back of his neck, remembering the awful look of fear, dread and emptiness on the young human Guide's face when he walked into the loft for the first time since watching his Sentinel vanish before his eyes. "Why do these Sentinels nowadays have to get themselves in so much trouble? I miss the old days when all we had to do is help them prepare for the occasional earthquake, flood, volcanic eruptionÖ" his voice trailed off with the wistful sentiment.

"I know what you mean," replied Eagle. "You should see the things I've had to get the young ones out of! And this young Sentinel has developed this awful tendency to run off to places without his Guide. I swear, sometimes I wonder if he's going to last until the next one comes."

"These two aren't much better," added Panther. "At least their village is smaller. And he doesn't go off and do anything stupid without his Guide nearby. But now…" His voice trailed off again, the concern and fear for his Sentinel evident in his voice.

He looked up when he felt Eagle's annoying peck on his shoulder. "Go," Eagle encouraged. "I'll take care of them here. Your Sentinel needs you now. I'll help them find him."

Panther nodded his thanks, then leaped off the balcony. Satisfied, Eagle turned his attention back to the conversation in the loft.

*****

Jim woke up and was able to get a better handle on his surroundings. The light had been so distracting before because he was in a totally white room. Both he and his companion were dressed in a white t-shirt and boxer shorts. He looked around the room for a door or windows, even a crack in the wall that he might somehow be able to see through to get a better idea of the surroundings outside his room, but found none. The room smelled clean, but somehow not antiseptic, the way a hospital would smell. He extended his hearing out beyond the walls of the room, and what little he could pick out from the clammor of noises convinced him that he was in some sort of medical facility, possibly a laboratory of some kind.

His companion noticed that he was awake, and moved from what looked to be her bed to rest at the foot of his. "Good, you're awake! Are you feeling better?" Jim nodded as she continued, "sometimes it takes people a while to get over the transport. But don't worry, you'll be fine. You're safe for now. No one's done anything to you since they brought you in here."

The last words were said with such fear that Jim felt like he was talking to a eight year old and not a grown woman. He looked over at the woman with brown hair and hazel eyes, and he felt like he was looking at someone with the mind of a very old woman, but with the soul of a eight year old.

She asked him, "what's your name?"

"Jim Ellison."

"Oh. Well, hello, Jim. It's nice to meet you. My name's Samantha Mulder, but you can call me Sam. Everyone does, except my brother."

[Mulder? It couldn't be.] He remembered Mulder telling him stories about his abducted sister. She asked Sam, "what's your brother's name?"

"Fox. He thinks it's silly, he never lets anyone call him that but me. I think it's a great name."

[Oh my god. It really is her. Where the hell am I?] He threw off the shock and smiled to his companion. "I think it's a great name, too."

*****

852 Prospect

4:30 p.m.

Simon Banks, for once in his life, was speechless. When Jim first approached him about what he now understood to be his Sentinel abilities, he simply thought the detective was maybe a little stressed out. At worst, he might need a little help from the department shrink. Post-traumatic stress disorder from his time in Peru or some such nonsense. Then Sandburg walked into their life, and the word normal seemed to take on a whole new meaning, at least when it came to his best detective and his new 'partner'. After a while, though, he got used to it. He had even grown to respect Sandburg, to a degree. Even like him a little.

And now this. Simon didn't know whether he should feel grateful for the three FBI agents who were putting their careers (and possibly their lives) on the line to go after the creeps who had taken his friend, or be angry that they could be partially to blame for his getting abducted in the first place. One look at the two men, though, helped him to understand that they felt more than their share of the blame for Jim's abduction, and that because of that, they were going to see this through to the end. There was no need for Simon to heap any more blame onto the two men's shoulders. Besides, Jim Ellison saved his life once.

It was time for Simon to return the favor.

The captain listened intently as Agents Mulder and Scully (unlike Blair, he was still uncomfortable with the idea of addressing Feds on such familiar terms) went over the train schedules that their friends they called the Lone Gunmen dug up for them.

Mulder explained, "all right, we have three trains that qualify as our suspicious means of transport." He pulled out a map of Cascade and drew three lines across it, marking the paths that the three trains took to wherever Jim's final destination might have been, then let out an audible sigh.

Blair commented, "these lines follow the same track out of town, but after that, they branch out over half of the Cascade Mountains! How are we ever going to cover that much area?"

Mulder thought for a moment, then declared, "all right, we'll split up. Blair, you and Captain Banks…"

Scully cut him off before he could finish the sentence. "Not this time, Mulder. We don't have much idea of what or who we're really dealing with, but from what we do know, we know these people are extremely dangerous. We already know that they're after someone with Sentinel abilities, or else Jim would never have been a target. That makes you their next logical target, so you're going to need all the protection you can get."

Mulder let out a silent sigh, visibly relaxing. He was defeated, he knew it. She was right, and once she got that tone of voice with her, there was no talking her out of it. He asked her, "well then, how do you suggest that we go _as_a_group_ to check out these three train lines before they get a chance to move him?"

Suddenly, the American bald eagle that was following the group before flew into the room. Everyone in the room jumped back, startled and uncertain what the wild bird would do. But, as Blair noticed that the window was still closed, he realized who the bird was. He squatted beside the birds position near the map and asked it, "you know which route we need to follow, don't you?"

As the bird's head moved up and down in what the others could only assume was a nod, Mulder squatted on the other side of the bird, opposite Blair. Following Blair's lead, he asked, "who are you?"

Blair laughed at the innocence of the statement. He didn't believe in the spirit guide either, until Jim told him about his face-to-face experience with the panther in Peru. He asked Mulder, "you haven't seen this bird before, have you?"

Mulder shook his head, curious at what Blair was implying. Blair continued to explain, "I'm pretty sure the bird's your spirit guide. Jim's is a panther. Must be that the form of the spirit guide is chosen based on the culture that the Sentinel emerges from... Anyway, he appeared to Jim once in Peru when he had to rescue me and Simon from some drug dealers. He showed up again at the loft the night Jim disappeared. From what I can tell, the spirit guide steps in when help is needed that either a Sentinel or Guide might normally provide. In this case, it's Jim's tracking abilities, am I right?"

Eagle thought for a while about the Guide's words. He was fairly close, for someone with so little experience with Sentinels in his culture. Only Panther's Sentinel fully understood the role of the Spirit Guide and the control he had over the lives of his Sentinel and Guide. They would all learn soon enough, though.

The bird nodded again, and scratched gently on the map, pointing to one of the routes leading through the mountains.

Blair understood what the spirit guide was trying to explain. "Simon, do you have some hiking gear you can get your hands on?"

Confused, Simon answered, "yeah, I have some at home. Why?"

Blair then asked the other three, "did you bring hiking stuff with you?"

Scully replied, "considering the places Mulder usually drags me to, I never leave home without it anymore."

Blair directed them, "good. Can everyone get a hold of their gear and meet back here, say, at 5 tomorrow morning?" As all heads nodded, Blair continued to explain, "Mulder, your guide is directing us to take a look at this line first. I know some of the area in those mountains. A lot of it is hill country, so we're going to need to take the truck and be prepared to hike some. My guess is that Jim is most likely being held somewhere along this train line, and we'll need to get some rest and get an early start in order to get there in any shape to fight to get Jim out of there."

As the rest of the group nodded their agreement, Blair could swear he almost saw that old bird smiling.

*****

Well, folks, that's all I'm writing of this one for now! I haven't gotten anyone yet who's agreed to jump into the Round Robin, so I'm going to wait a couple of weeks and finish Blessed Protector before I take another look at this. If no one else wants to pick it up from here, maybe I'll write some more. But, I _know_ a lot of you like this concept (you've told me as much), and I was hoping I might be able to see someone _else's_ take on the whole idea for a change.

Drop me a line if you're interested! I'm waiting!

*****

End part 3…[On to the Round Robin] [Back to Fiction Page]