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XJ-Fuga 2

by ljc

3/07


Summary: Sequel to 'XJ-Fuga', my sci-fi space opera. AU of course.


Note: The date I put on this when I started was 2005, but I couldn't decide what direction to go. I love to read sequels, but find them difficult to write. Usually the conclusion of one of my stories is just that ... the conclusion, and I have no inkling of what comes after.

You'd probably benefit by reading the first part if you haven't already. I've tried to fill in information as the story progresses but it might ruin the first part for you (and that one is my personal favorite). One good thing is that if you've read the first part the clues will hopefully be enough to remind you after waiting two years for part two. <g> Sorry for the long wait.


Warnings, Ratings: Fan Rated Suitable for Teenagers, Profanity


Disclaimer: All characters, places, and objects from The Sentinel belong to Pet Fly Productions, UPN, Paramount and the SciFi Channel. No money is being made. No copyright infringement is intended. This story was written by ljc with the love of the show in mind.


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> > > > > > > > > > > >

Accepted:

The burden of visions was heavy for sentinel and guide.

> > > > > > > > > > > >



>Prologue<


Location: surface of the planet Gaia, temple ruins


Jim, it's time to tell Simon 'all' of it,” argued Blair.


It's not necessary, Chief. I don't think you understand what could happen. I don't think Simon will be able to keep this quiet.”


This is important, Jim. We really need his support on this, and I just think it's time I took my share of the burden.”


Jim sighed deeply before answering, “I know you've seen some of what I've experienced but it won't be the same when it's on your own shoulders, Blair.”


I know, but right now, it's all on yours,” he replied stubbornly.


Jim knew he might as well surrender to the inevitable concerning this long running difference of opinion. Time was running out. He sighed, nodded acceptance, then turned back to finish rolling up their sleeping bags while a visibly relieved Blair returned to stowing the rest of their gear in their permanent shelter.


They only used the shelter for sleeping in inclement weather. It didn't seem odd to them to prefer staying outdoors full time when on their new home, Gaia, even though both of them had spent most of their lives living in space, either on board a ship, station, or artificial habitat.


Since the exodus of all known survivors to Otherspace, Blair had done a lot of research in the data banks trying to find references to this planet, without much luck. He had theories but not much else. He did find a rare reference about Jim's abilities, and an ambiguous reference to the Eye of God. They weren't sure if the Eye of God was the jump space portal that had brought them to safety, or if it was the temple pools where they endured chaotic visions of the future. Either way, they were linked to this place, and Blair was linked to Jim. Their earliest trips here had proven that much to them.


They worked together as pilot and copilot of an experimental jumpship, the XJ-Fuga, that had no known working jump points except back to a ruined galaxy, but calculations were being worked on by the great computers aboard Gaia 1. Someday the human race would expand outward, if they survived long enough.


That's one reason they spent so much time here. Jim's visions, and Blair's, had come to them in a chaotic jumble. Their time here was spent in painstakingly revisiting those images. Jim's visions included sensory details. Blair's included all too cryptic subliminal whispers. Trying to interpret these incomplete forewarnings kept them very busy in these early stages of settlement in the Gaian planetary system.


They returned to the clearing where Henri's shuttle had settled in order to once again lift them back to the main station in orbit around Gaia.


Hey, Jim. It's good to see you again,” said Henri.


It's seems like a steady job agrees with you,” teased Jim.


That it does, and Serena and the kids appreciate the regular hours.” Henri moved to open the hatch, “I never really had a job before this where I could get home regularly, you know, tuck the kids in at night.” Glancing quickly to Jim in apology, “Not that being your copilot was bad. It's just that this is a good life.” With a great sigh, “I feel kind of guilty, after ... everything.”


Blair said, “Don't Henri. This is our life now, and looking back won't help. We just have to deal with things the way they are,” at which Jim settled his arm over Blair's shoulder.


Henri wondered about the solemn look Blair gave Jim but didn't question them. They obviously had a lot on their minds. Reflecting on previous visits here, even after everything that had happened, he still wondered if they were ribbing him about being able to see their spirit animals. He wished he could ease their worries, but he was sure he didn't know the scope of the problems they were facing. He had long been aware of Jim's talents and they had confided to him about their shared visions. All he could do was accept Blair's affirmation, “I know you're right. Let's say we get this shuttle moving. I don't want to mess up that 'regular schedule' now, do I?”


They moved to their regular seats. They always joined Henri in the cockpit for these trips.


Henri called in to Control Central to notify them of approaching liftoff and estimated arrival time.


He didn't observe his passengers reactions. They both tensed at his spoken words, but neither said anything. They couldn't, not yet.



>1.<


Jim and Blair exited the shuttle. Henri stayed behind to finish lockdown and start the transfer of freight from the planet, Gaia. They headed toward their cabins, which were on Deck 3. It wasn't far from Control Central on Deck 1, which was their next destination.


Jim hesitated a moment outside their cabin door.


Blair asked softly, “Sense any problems?”


Jim just shrugged his shoulders and said tightly, “Not this trip, it seems. It's still early dayshift.”


Well, at least we were right about that much. Let's stow our gear and head up to Central.”


Gaia 1 was almost as much their home as the planet was. They quickly settled their gear and headed for Deck 1. On board, in Central, they were Captain and Copilot.


Copilot Blair Sandburg struggled harder to keep up with Captain Ellison the closer they got to Control Central. He was worried that Jim might still be angry with him. He knew Jim was just trying to protect him. Unfortunately Blair had brought up old wounds with his insistence that they 'reveal all' to Captain Banks. He'd never meant to hurt Jim by implying that people still wouldn't believe an Experimental Jumpship Captain's 'crazy visions'.


He had just wanted to make it easier on Jim. He'd tried to explain that it would be easier to give warning ... and to be believed ... if it came from two sources, not one. He never meant to make Jim feel like a freak again. He never meant to remind him about the reactions of other people to his physical gifts and his visions back in their home galaxy.



>2.<


Jim finally reached Gaia 1's main offices and entered. He stood waiting for Blair, his face expressionless and his posture stiff. When a clerk asked their business, he asked to meet with Captain Banks.


Of course, Captain Ellison. I'll see if he's free.”


It took only a moment before they were passed through to the Captain's office.


Jim, Blair, it's good to see you. Have a seat, please. Would you like some refreshment?” Captain Simon Banks was glad to have the pair of them back on board. They'd proven themselves to be good men to have around. Strong men. Brave men. He felt lucky to call them friends. Today, he could tell that they seemed unusually tense, and that said a lot. He wondered if something had happened to bring them directly to his office. “Well, did you enjoy your visit to the temple ruins? It's been a couple of weeks since you left. I hope everything went well.”


It was a ... fruitful visit, Simon,” said Blair, while looking warily at his partner. “Jim?”


Simon watched the byplay between the two, and waited, knowing that he'd hear it when they were ready. It was never easy with these two, but he never discounted what they said ... did ... or even speculated.


Ah, Simon ...,” began Blair hesitantly.


Go on, Blair.”


Well, we've been working on something these last two weeks. We've decided that we're running out of time to do something about it. We thought we'd come directly to you, as it involves Gaia 1.”


Simon leaned forward, realizing that this really wasn't a social call. “Is this about another one of Jim's visions?”


Well, strictly speaking it isn't just 'Jim's' visions.”


He watched the pair speculatively, “It isn't?” Blair seemed talkative enough, but Ellison was sitting stiff and silent. Could there be dissension there?


Blair grinned sheepishly, “No. I, well, Jim and I have had some shared visions. You remember the first time we investigated those ruins on Gaia. We told you about the temple pools. Well, it happened then. And, well, since then we've been trying to sort out what we saw.”


Simon admitted, “You might be surprised that your names keep cropping up associated with various events. We're a pretty small society now, but even though we're spread out in small colonies on Gaia, on this station, and in the mining zone, we still manage to keep abreast of matters of import. I've received reports about you from all over. Let's see ... the warning about the storm surge at Rainbow Meadow Colony ... was that one of your visions?”


Yeah.”


And the flash flood at New Cascade?”


That, too.”


What about the mining craft that nearly crashed into the Walkabout?”


Oh, yeah,” said Blair. He seemed to bounce in place as he asked, “Hey, how are Mr. Sims and his daughter Sarah?”


They're just fine. But I have a feeling you've got something more important to talk about.”


Well, it's just that Rafe seemed interested and Sarah ...”


Simon sighed in exasperation, “Sandburg. Ellison. Just tell me. You're making me nervous.”


They looked at each other like they were surprised.


You're not upset?” asked Jim.

What would I have to be upset about? Perhaps because you're stalling?”


Blair grinned as he replied, “Oh, no! It's just that Jim thought it would be best to let everyone think the visions were only Jim's. And he thought you might be upset because we didn't tell you right away that the visions were from 'both' of us.” Sandburg glanced at Ellison then continued, “Jim thought I would find people's reactions to be ... upsetting.”


Turning squarely to Jim, Simon said, “The accuracy of your previous warnings has earned you a lot of respect, Captain Ellison. I don't think you realize just how much you are ... valued. Our present situation would be quite different if we hadn't heeded those warnings on the other side of the jump point.”


Both Jim and Blair seemed surprised by the Captain's comments. They shared a weary glance just before Jim answered, “'Valued', that's very kind of you Captain. But ... accuracy ... that would be our problem at the moment.” Jim drew in a deep breath then admitted, “This one, this vision, isn't accurate enough.”


And it involves Gaia 1,” Simon stated with growing trepidation.


Jim went on to explain what little he could about their problem, “We haven't got enough to go on. We can't pinpoint a location. We're not even sure of a definite time but it's getting close. That's why we arranged to come back up today with Henri.”


Blair continued, “We've tried to refine what we saw. We've tried for the last two weeks! And we'll keep trying, but like I was saying before, it's getting too close.”


You don't know where, exactly, and you don't know when, exactly. What do you know?” he asked in exasperation.


They looked nervously at each other, then Jim said, “A fire, and an explosion.”


Blair added, “But we don't know if the explosion happens to cause the fire or if it's a result of it ... or if it's one event or two. It seems that they're extremely close together, timewise.”


Simon pondered the possibilities before asking, “The time frame we're talking about, is it hours, days, weeks ... what?”


Days at most. We'll know just before it happens.”


How?”


Jim answered, “All of the visions so far have had cues in them: the occurrence of some action, the arrival of someone in particular, something like that. This one happens right after we get a message from Henri.”


What message? Henri flies cargo in and out of Gaia 1 and down to the colonies on the planet. He's always calling in with progress reports.”


Jim and Blair looked helplessly at each other.


Simon groaned, “That's why you can't refine it.”


Simon thought for a moment, “Is there 'anything' you can tell me about it? Does the area of the damage look at all familiar to you ... or not familiar at all? That last would tell us something, too. Do you recognize any equipment or people involved ... or is the fire and explosion making everything unrecognizable? Could it be equipment failure? Do you think it could be an asteroid or debris collision? Anything ...”


Blair looked thoughtful, “It could be 'any' service corridor on the station. There were people present, but too much smoke to identify anyone. But not debris. We didn't get a visual outside the ship, so we feel it begins 'in' the ship. And the ship lighting was dimmed so it must have happened ... 'must be going to happen' on the offshift.”


Simon sighed deeply as he considered his options, “Well, that gives us something to work with anyway. I'll set up extra watches, full diagnostic scans, and get crews out to check for problems. If the crew is forewarned then we're forearmed. It's something, gentlemen.”


Simon looked questioningly at them, “Are we ... going to have casualties? Can you see beyond the crisis at all?”


Blair looked bleak as he answered, “We didn't know about casualties with the other warnings ... we don't know this time either. We've had visions of future warnings with Gaia 1 involved in some way, so we assume it survives.” Blair hesitated at this point, looking weary far beyond his years, “We've wondered what would happen with the other visions if we fail to handle this crisis properly.”


Simon felt shocked at those admissions. The ramifications of those statements were far reaching and shocked him into furious thinking. He finally began to realize what this would mean to these two men, “Do you mean that you believe our future ... our fate ... could rest on how accurately you interpret your visions? That our fate rests on your shoulders? Gentlemen, that's too much for any man to bear. We all do our best, and I'd never expect anything less from you. I know this is a great concern to you but failure to handle a crisis is not your responsibility.”


But the visions ... are,” whispered Blair, while Jim sat stiff and silent at his side.



> > > > > > > > > > > >

Interlude:

Everything was done that could be planned. Simon and his crew were thorough, for too much depended on the prevention, or at least the handling, of the coming disaster. Henri remained as always ... cheerful. No one told him until later that Gaia 1 went on Alert every time he radioed in to report.

> > > > > > > > > > > >



>3.<


Rafe led a crew through the cargo bays, one at a time. They weren't the only crew on such rounds, but they were sent to Deck 24, CB12. It had been hastily stocked with recovered systems and parts from abandoned ships that had traveled with them to the Rainbow Meadow Habitat, before the surviving ships traveled through the jump portal to Otherspace.


Rafe was not as dapper as he usually was. Wandering through machine parts was dirty work but he'd volunteered and he and his crew grimly did their duty.


They were subdued as they proceeded into the area. This cargo bay was like a cemetery. It held the remnants of some of the ships that had been left behind in the jump to Otherspace. It reminded them of their own losses ... families, stations, whole planetary systems. It was too great a loss to comprehend, and too personal to address at present. This crisis required their full attention. Rafe and the others proceeded with logging the equipment, it's location, and the status of the inventoried items.


They were all relieved when Deck 24, CB12 was finished. They moved on to Deck 24, CB13. This cargo bay was all tank. It was a holding tank for water held in reserve. There were only circuits and meters to check in this area and the crew would soon move on to CB14. Their attention was diverted when the latest Yellow Alert sounded.


Rafe ordered, “Everyone on your toes. Vacate the bay immediately!”


Rafe was the last one into the service corridor. He hit the controls to close the hatch. There was a small click. It was nothing that ordinarily would cause concern. Nothing that would have been out of place. It was a sound that everyone recognized as the closing of a relay to close the door. But the door didn't close.


Rafe ordered most of the crew back to another section, beyond another safety door. As First Officer, he'd been sufficiently briefed about 'the warning', as had all the personnel. They were well aware of the possibly of severe damage being effected after a Yellow Alert sounded. Anything out of the ordinary was to be treated with extreme caution.


Tomas, help me with this access panel.”


The panel came off easily and Tomas reached in to run a manual diagnostic scan. The scan unfortunately provided enough impetus to set off the relay with spectacular and disastrous results. Tomas yelped in pain, then collapsed, as the electronics erupted in sparks. Rafe pulled him back and two other crewmen ran forward to help take Tomas to safety. Rafe hit the fire suppression switch but it too failed to activate as expected. Smoke filled the corridor swiftly.


When Rafe joined his crew at the safety door, he called in a report. “Gaia Central! We have an emergency on Deck 24, CB13. Electronics are fried and sparking. Efforts so far to contain it are ineffective. Request assistance for one injured crewman.”


Throughout the ship claxons sounded Red Alert. Hatches automatically sealed to contain the damage.


Gaia 1 lurched.


Lights blinked off. Emergency lights came on. The decks underfoot soon steadied.


Captain Banks, who had been stationed in Control Central on the offshift since Jim and Blair's warning, ordered, “Damage reports!”


Atmosphere, normal in all sections except the service corridor for Deck 24, CB13. The filters seem to be clearing the air in adjacent corridors with no difficulty. Fire detection now negative.”


The main power came on.


Simon asked grimly, “Was power generation affected?”


Power generation rated optimal, Captain.”


Captain? Cargo Bay 13, Deck 24 is ... it seems to be missing, sir,” said Lt. Johanna Johnson.


The main water reserve tank?”


Yes, sir.”


Send a crew down to investigate and assist First Officer Rafe. Make sure a medic accompanies them. Let's hope it's just damaged electronics.”


Yes, sir.”


Simon asked, “Is our orbit steady?”


Calculations being done now, Captain.”


Casualties?”


Only minor injuries so far reported.”


Simon hoped that would remain true.


Captain, orbit is safe for the moment. We'll need a minor correction, but it need not be immediate.”


Acknowledged. Send out damage assessment crews. I need to know if this ship ... station ... is safe to move in it's present condition. Start a roll call of all personnel and visitors; make sure no one is alone and injured. Let's go people!”



>4.<


Jim and Blair weren't crew but they were known by sight by almost everyone on the station. Gaia 1 was their base of operations, even though they spent a great deal of time on-planet. They offered their assistance.


Jim was irked. He'd hoped to be assigned to damage control. He was well acquainted with shipboard mechanics. His senses were capable of detecting damage normal senses might overlook, especially with Blair to ground him.


Blair was irked because he was concerned that several members of the crew were unaccounted for at present. He'd gladly have joined Jim in searching for them. Jim's senses would have been a big help, but instead, they were requested to join the Captain at Control Central.


I wonder what Simon wants.”


Jim glanced at Blair, “What do you think he wants, Chief?”


Well, I'd guess he'd like to know if we've 'seen' anything else.”


Jim sighed, “I wish it worked that way.”


Me, too. The other crises were different though. We didn't have much in the way of aftereffects to consider once the main crisis point was in the past. We didn't have to look for anything else. I mean, after getting everyone and everything moved out of the way of the storm surge and the flash flood, and getting the mining craft out of the way of the Walkabout, well, after that the crisis was pretty much over in short order. We didn't have 'time' to investigate the visions further.”


And now we do.”


Well, it wouldn't hurt to try.”


At which point they reached the Captain of Gaia 1.


Gentlemen, I have a request ...”


We'll get right on it, Simon,” said Blair.

You could wait until I ask!” said Simon gruffly.


Blair was quick to answer, “We figured you'd be busy, so I thought I'd save a little time. We discussed exploring the visions again on the way in to Central ... that is what you were going to request, right?”


Get to it then, gentlemen,” said Simon, sounding irritable but actually just concerned.


The import of the conversation was not lost to the other occupants of Control Central.



>5.<


They settled into trance with the ease of long practice.


Jim was soon engulfed in a flash and swirl of colors, the abrasive feeling of hot then cold then freezing, the smell/taste of burnt electronics and ionized gases, all blown from his notice by the sound of the tearing metal then no sound at all. Blackness surrounds. Distant focus outward. Trail of ice mist. Trailing outward. Trailing inward.


Blair 'saw' the ice mist as white on black, hazing out the points of light, the stars, in the distance. All that was overlaid with 'Voices' Blair heard in some sense other than sound. Voices clamorous, then airy as light itself as their twining whispers divulged their secret, “fire fading ... ice flowing ... fire and ice ... ice and fire.”


When Jim opened his eyes he saw that Blair looked puzzled. Blair said, “I get the fire fading.”


Jim rubbed roughly at his nose, “I'm glad of that. I can still smell it though.”


Ice flowing,” Blair said thoughtfully. “When does ice flow, when we lost our water reserve to space? Did you get a visual?”


Yeah, I saw the flow outward but also a flow inward. I took it to be a comet tail ... ice mist in the blackness of space.”


An ice comet. Fire impels ice outward. Ice rides fire inward. Ice shifted from outsystem. That seems to fit the requirements.”


And that would be Captain Megan Connor's department.”


Yeah, maybe Mr. Sims can help out.”


Chief, would you stop with the matchmaking.”


Blair waggled his eyebrows, “Well, if Rafe doesn't ask her soon, I will.”



> > > > > > > > > > > >

Process:

Crisis point was past. Ahead lay the keys for survival.

> > > > > > > > > > > >



>6.<

Simon sat heavily in his chair. The offshift was over but he was far from finishing his duties to his station. It was hard to stop thinking of Gaia as a cruise ship traveling between the richest planets of the Allied Systems. His crew had handled themselves well under crisis. He needed to let them know he was impressed with their professionalism. Commendations would be in order for some of them.


Life was different here, that was a given. He couldn't say that it was better, not after all the losses they'd suffered. But it did seem that guilt was a direct result of surviving for many, including himself. Most of the survivors felt it to some degree. Most families had been decimated by the disaster. Many people had not even one relative that had escaped. Simon sighed heavily at that thought. Of his own crew, only he had a surviving relative, his son Daryl.


Survivor guilt. Simon felt it himself. He remembered his last visit from Joan. She'd seemed more like her old self ... pre-divorce. Her only worry was for Daryl during this visit with his father. It was only that visit that had spared Daryl's life and it was something for which Simon would be forever grateful.


But now, he had to put aside the past. There were too many things that required his attention. It seemed inconceivable to him that he was the highest voice of authority in this entire planetary orbit, and the only other person that held any great authority in the system was Captain Connor on the Walkabout. Only the tiny colonies based on the planet were close enough to give immediate assistance ... if they were 'able', and then only if the shuttles kept flying.

He'd just returned from a planning session with First Officer Rafe, Shuttle Pilot Henri Brown, XJ-Captain Ellison, XJ-Copilot Sandburg, and Captain Connor via their com link. Ellison and Sandburg had been included without second thought; not from the Captains, nor any of the station's crew.


The meeting had accomplished everything, and more, than he had expected.



>7.<


> > > > > > > > > > > >

The audio/visual link had been instituted with no problem.

> > > > > > > > > > > >


Blair greeted Megan happily. Their friendship had begun before the trip to Otherspace and it had been some time since he and Jim had assisted with the rescue of the mining ship captained by Gerald Sims.


Simon began to lay out the problem for the others. None of them had been on the bridge, and they needed to be updated on his present concerns. “All of you here know about the emergency on Gaia 1. Currently, we have systems under control. No major injuries were reported, and all of our personnel have reported in. The problem is that our water reserves have been depleted by half. That doesn't mean we're in immediate danger, but I will institute moderate rationing until the situation is improved. On that note, I have a plan that I'd like to present, but it will require cooperation on many fronts.”


Megan Connor offered, “Without cooperation we'd never survive here, Captain Banks. I have an idea that will help but I need to organize several mining ships.”


Simon grinned for the first time in hours, “I think we might be on the same wavelength.”


Megan grinned in return, “Our surveyors have been hard at work since I assigned them the problem of mapping the 'neighborhood'. They've located a number of ice asteroids and their orbits are in our database. It'll take a good push to send one insystem, but I think it's doable.”


Henri added, “Captain Banks, as you know, I was chosen to represent the shuttle pilots. They wanted me to assure you that the shuttles can carry cargo pods of water up from the planet if needed. We'll do what we have to do to supply Gaia 1.”


Simon accepted both offers gratefully, then turned to add a question for Jim and Blair, “I have to know if there's anything else to the visions you two have had. Have you seen anything that would involve this stage of the crisis?”


No one present was surprised by the mention of the visions, nor even that Simon had asked them both.


Blair slowly shook his head as he answered, “The visions we've had all seem to involve a point of crisis, not how the crisis affects the subsequent events. The aftereffects are almost surely a result of the way the crisis is handled. From what we've been able to 'see' after the fact, this seems to be the correct direction to take. We both, in different ways, sensed what seemed to be a comet, or ice asteroid, coming insystem.”


Simon seemed pleased as he asked, “Then ... you have no more warnings to give at present?”


No. I think the worst of the crisis is past,” said Jim.



>8.<


Rhonda came out of Mining Admin and headed directly to the Captain's office. “Captain Connor, Captain Sims has taken off for ICE32. He'll call in when he matches orbit.”


Thank you, Rhonda. It's certainly lucky for us that the survey of the local area is nearly complete. This crisis has shown what we can do if we're prepared. We'll soon be able to get down to serious mining and production of material for durable goods. How is Joel coming on the plans for the Materials Fabrication Center?”


The people who came here with us had little knowledge of mining or manufacturing, but the knowledge is in the databanks. Applying it takes a lot of work, but they're getting there. The Ore Processing Center will be just slightly insystem, and the MFC will be still closer in, so that moving materials will be a matter of decreasing orbital trajectory which will be more economical. Joel's had his hands full working with the design teams.”


Megan added, “More economical, and safer, too, to have those facilities 'downwind' so to speak of the Walkabout.”


Rhonda grinned when she said, “Joel seems to be in his element. You know that he had a hand in the mining procedures that have been worked out. It seems that he has a definite affinity for explosives.”


Megan smiled, “I think I heard as much. No matter how busy he was he always made himself available during the trials the mining Captains undertook to test procedures. As head of Mining Admin, are you satisfied with the changes to the safety protocols we've instituted? I want them to be more than just 'adequate'.”


You know that we doubled, then tripled redundancy. We shouldn't have another incident like the Wellspring's near collision with the Walkabout.”


From your mouth to God's ear,” Megan muttered. “This is home now, and safety is a priority. We'll need a safe home to raise our families. By the way, how did Joel take it when you told him?”


Rhonda blushed as she replied, “Joel was stunned but happy. After ... everything, to have our own child will be a true blessing.”


Aye. You know I wish you all the best. I don't know how we'll manage without you for a while in Admin, but we'll make do.”


Well, it's not like I'll be far, Captain. You know you can call on me anytime.”


If I can get past Joel, you mean.”


Well, there is that,” Rhonda chuckled.



>9.<


Rhonda entered their cabin/suite to find Joel already at home.


Hon, dinner's almost ready.”


You didn't have to do that, Joel, but I'm glad you did.”


Did you just come from your meeting with Captain Connor? Is Gerald on course? Everything alright with the Wellspring?”


They're fine, both Gerald and Sarah. They've been working the sims enroute. Captain Adams and Captain Enfield will assist during each phase. They'll be ready when the time comes.”


Joel sighed, “We've been very lucky, this side of the jump point.”


Rhonda came up and wrapped her arms around his waist, “I know. To think that Blair is a Guide.”


And that Ellison is his Sentinel.”


I'm glad Blair keeps in touch. He's a good person.”


We knew that early on, didn't we. I don't know what to think of his and Jim's visions. I shudder to think how I would handle something like that. It's ... it's almost too heavy a burden to bear. I don't know how he does it.”


'They' do it,” Rhonda added softly.


Yes. Maybe that makes it easier in a way. That they have each other to lean on.”


Hmm. I wonder ...”


What?”


If there's anything we, or someone, could do to help them?”


Kind of a ... backup?”


Maybe. A support network?”


Who could do that though? It would have to be someone high up to organize it. Someone that can make things happen fast.”


Captain Connor?”


And maybe Captain Banks? He's a friend of their's, too.”


Yes, maybe a council, a 'small' council,” she emphasized.


Joel smiled at his wife, “I think it's a good idea. Let's talk to Megan ... tomorrow,” as he hugged her a bit tighter.


Rhonda gave him a quick kiss before saying, “Hmm. 'Tomorrow' ... that's a good idea, too.”



>10.<


Gerald Sims guided the Wellspring into contact with asteroid ICE32 with hardly a noticeable bump. “Sarah, are you ready?”


Position is optimal.”


Release clamps.”


We're down and secure, Dad.”


Well, now we wait for the signal. This is going to be a touchy maneuver.”


We'll be fine, Dad. We've worked the sims over and over on the trip out. The calculations were checked on the Walkabout and on Gaia 1.”


I know, I know. Besides Rafe would never approve it if it wasn't safe.”


Dad!”


Gerald just grinned.



> > > > > > > > > > > >

Respite:

A cheer went up in Central when ICE32 reached a matching orbit with Gaia 1. The shuttles had indeed carried a few pods of water up from the planet, but there was no serious deprivation from the diminished reserves. Now it was just a matter of mining the ice and transferring it to a cargo bay, to which the three mining Captains would give able assistance. Then came the process of melting and filtering what was necessary to have an onboard reserve. That left a big chunk of ice in solid form, in orbit near them. It was a 'hard' reserve they were happy to have for future needs.

> > > > > > > > > > > >



>11.<


> > > > > > > > > > > >

The audio/visual link was instituted with no problem, and was becoming accepted as an established forum for Gaia System government.

> > > > > > > > > > > >


Simon leaned forward and rested his clasped hands on his desk. “I've been approached by Captain Connor about a suggestion put forward by Joel and Rhonda Taggart on the Walkabout. It's something that should have occurred to others before this, myself included, but better late than never as the saying goes. It concerns James Ellison and Blair Sandburg.”


Ellison and Sandburg looked surprised, but didn't interrupt.


We've been very fortunate in the talents of the survivors that arrived here in Otherspace. It was easy to recognize the contributions of many of them: the farmers, the doctors, mechanics, pilots, and all of those who could apply the knowledge that we carried with us. But what most amazes me are the talents of a Sentinel and a Guide. Who would deny the benefits we've already enjoyed?”


I don't think I need to tell you that they've taken a large burden on their shoulders. But they also have some grave concerns. Not long ago they shared some of those concerns when they came to me with their last warning. Even with a partner to back them up it's a lot of responsibility.” Simon looked solemnly around the assembled people, those in person, and those attending through the 'link'. He ended his gaze on Jim and Blair.


We've already seen the advantage your visions have given us in several situations since arriving here. I want to emphasize that we know that our survival does not only rest on you. Our survival depends on all of us, and that 'includes' you.”


Blair looked decidedly pale, and Jim reached a steadying hand to touch his forearm. Blair's hand released it's deathgrip on the arm of the chair. He turned his hand over to clasp Jim's.


Megan added, “Blair. Jim. Your visions have saved a lot of lives. I hate to think what would have happened if the Wellspring had crashed into the Walkabout. But the people that survived the jump to Otherspace already know about your warnings. Every ship, station, and planetary colony has benefited from them already. They know you. They trust you. Most of all, they need you. 'We' need you. I know it's a lot to ask ... but if I know you as well as I think I do, you've placed that responsibility on 'yourselves' already.”


Jim looked unsure as he asked, “I'm not sure what you have in mind. We're just two men. The visions are ... difficult to interpret, and we don't know how the handling of future crises will affect them.”


Simon sighed, “We'd like to do whatever we can to make that burden a little easier to bear. What we're proposing is that a council be prepared to hear your warnings. It would be a very small group that can act swiftly. Right now, authority rests mainly with the Captains of Gaia 1 and The Walkabout. We should have a representative of the planetary colonies, too. I know it's a heavy responsibility but there just isn't anyone else that can do this. We can't help with the visions, but we can work together. We're few enough that we can put a plan into motion quickly. This latest crisis is an excellent example of that.”


Simon went on, “I've tried to understand, and I've tried to explain to the others the limitations of your visions, but we need to not just survive here. We need to flourish and expand. We have plans to manufacture more stations, more ships, more products and facilities for the planetary colonies, also. We'll do what's necessary to those ends, but a Sentinel and Guide team, that's an advantage we can't afford to ignore.”


Jim warned, “Simon, you have some idea of the limitations of the visions. Even if we do everything right, there could still be major damage, injuries ... deaths. Everyone here needs to understand that this isn't like calculating jump points. It isn't an exact science and misinterpretations can be fatal.”


Blair seemed to stare into the uncertain future as he added softly, “That's been our worst fear.”


Silence prevailed for several moments as their last statements were processed.


Blair looked at Jim and said sentinel soft, “You did warn me, man.” Then for the others, because they hadn't missed the communication even though they hadn't heard it, “I told Jim before this crisis that it was time for me to share the burden.” Turning to Jim he said firmly, “It isn't just on your shoulders, Jim.”


I know that's why you did it, to share the burden.”


Partners.”


Simon, with the others, watched and listened to this private exchange amidst their conference, then he added quietly, “Partners, and the Gaian System's Sentinel and Guide.”



>12.<


Jim and Blair walked back to their cabin deep in thought. Jim kept eyeing his Guide. He was well aware of the jumps in his vitals. He was waiting for Blair to open up about what was bothering him.


When the door to their cabin closed behind them, Jim settled in to relax ... and to wait for Blair. Blair's agitation kept him moving until he felt ready to reveal his worrisome thoughts to Jim.


When the time came, he stood stock still and pleaded, “'Tell' me we didn't cause this last crisis, Jim.”


Jim sighed, “I should have seen this coming, Chief. You know that's not true. We didn't cause the crisis.”


But the loss of the water reserves happened 'because' of our warning. They wouldn't have engaged that relay at that time if we ...”


Blair, listen. The relay would have been engaged at some time. It's not our fault.” He stopped to look more closely at his Guide, “Come on, Chief. Remember, two of the other visions we gave warning for were natural disasters. And there was nothing we did that could have caused the near crash of the Wellspring. You don't normally doubt yourself. Is that all you're worried about?”


I know you're right,” and Blair sighed deeply, trying to accept emotionally what he knew intellectually to be true. “'With' our warning they were ready to handle it, at least.”


And don't forget that the mutual aid idea was a natural result of that crisis. Being able to work together in times of danger may be crucial to long-term survival.”


I know. That will foster bonds between the colonies on-planet and the stations, too. And, it's a good feeling to know that they support us.”


Then why the doubts?”


It's just ... man, I don't know how you do it.”


I'm sorry ...”


Don't, Jim. There's no need; no reason to be sorry. I wouldn't want you to carry this burden alone. Maybe that's why I'm here. Maybe a Sentinel needs a partner to back him up. It's too much for one person. You're a Sentinel. I'm a Guide. It took a while just to figure that much out. Then the visions came to us both. Maybe this is our destiny.”



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Consequence exacted:

For Sentinel and Guide, heavy was the weight of legend.

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finis