I seem forsaken and alone, I hear the lion roar; And every door is shut but one, And that is Mercy's door.
Of course I'd heard about him. Hard not to, considering who he was and why he was at the Academy. Still, not really my business, so I'd ignored him until we were matched during self defense practice. Normally cadets are partnered up by the same gender, but our class was short a man and a woman, so the instructor paired the two of us for workouts and practices. See, Sandburg's a small bloke -- I'm a good three inches taller – and the instructor pulled me aside and told me that this way I wouldn't be at a disadvantage.
I felt insulted, and I'm afraid that I wiped the floor with him just to prove that I didn't need that sort of 'help.'
I felt a bit guilty afterwards, and I held out my hand to help him up as he lay sprawled out on the floor, panting from the drubbing I'd given him.
I should've saved my conscience the trouble of regretting being so hard on an untrained opponent; the sneaky sod pulled a good move on me as I was pulling him to his feet that resulted in my gaining respect for him. His method of gaining the upper hand was 'unorthodox' and if he'd really meant to hurt me, he could have. Wasn't very proper for a protector to pretend-bite his opponent into submission, but this boy did have some skills – just not legitimate ones for law enforcement.
“Bloody hell, mate, who in perdition taught you those moves?”
He rolled off me, and stood up, and I matched him so that we were both on our feet and facing each other.
He was grinning, and it was infectious. I smiled back at him and then poked him in the ribs. We'd already had full bodily contact so a little invading of his personal space didn't give me any qualms.
“Where'd you learn the street fighting? Damn me if you wouldn't have broken my collar bone if you'd have hit me harder. And bitten my ear off. You never learned those moves in any martial arts class, mate.”
He laughed and slapped me on my shoulder.
“A friend of mine was a boxer, and a long time ago he showed me some moves to use in case I ever got into trouble I couldn't talk my way out of – he wanted me to know how to survive a fight. I've never had to take it too far, though.”
“A boxer. That's illegal here in New Rainier, isn't it? To box for pay with an audience? It was allowed on my home planet – I'm from Uluru – until we joined the Compact.”
He shot me a wary glance and then shrugged. “Roy died years ago, but yeah, it's illegal. He showed me how to box, a little, but I've never done it for pay. I'm not that good at it. Hey, would you show me those moves you creamed me with? Those weren't exactly listed on the curriculum.”
So I showed him some techniques, especially ones that were good to use against a larger opponent.
He didn't seem like a criminal. Psychic ability runs in my family, and while I've not exactly got the gift, I do have the knack of reading people. He didn't strike me as the sort to harm others.
When we were released to leave, I caught up to him after he'd changed out of his work-out clothes. We walked outside together and I stepped in front of him, stopping him.
“So what's your story, Sandburg? I've heard you're a drug enforcer who cut some sort of deal to get off, and as part of it you have to work for MIC. That true?”
He gave me a long assessing look before he replied. “I was found guilty of trafficking Yana – supplying the plants to make it, that is – but because I was claimed by a sentinel my sentence was changed to serve as his guide. Since he's a detective with MIC, yeah, I help him. I also scrub floors and clean the bathrooms for them. Satisfied?” He got a look of concentration on his face, and a moment later stepped around me. “Jim's in a hurry and wants me to meet him at the end of the driveway. So long, Connor. Thanks for the help today.”
I watched him jog down to meet this Jim, who evidently he had telepathic communication with, and when the old blue and white vehicle rolled to a stop in front of him, he climbed in and slammed the door. His Jim floored it, putting on his siren and lights as they sped away.
Hmm. My gran always told me I was as curious as a cat. I decided I wanted to know more about Blair Sandburg, convicted Yana dealer.
I started by making a list of what I knew for certain: his name and age, his class, his auditing the academy courses. Then I looked into his background and his conviction. Jim was James Ellison, twenty-nine years old, middle elite class, active sentinel and essentially Blair Sandburg's guardian – and guard. Sandburg wasn't allowed to hardly even blow his nose without getting permission first.
I watched the holo recordings of the trial where Sandburg was found guilty. There was plenty of evidence against him but there were also enough questions to make his claim of being innocent possible. Ellison had gone to the mat for him, had agreed to bond after the detective had avoided it for years.
Uluru had only been accepted in the Compact for the last three years. My own tattoo with my assigned class of lower superior could still startle me when I caught a glimpse of it on the back of my hand. Sandburg being in the bastard class didn't much matter to me; the bloke couldn't help what his parents got up to. But it did matter here at the center of the Compact worlds. Some of the places I'd gone to sight-see even had signs up stating 'no admittance' to the bastard class.
He was smart, but that I'd already known from the classes we were taking. Some of the instructors liked to call on him, and from the snotty tone in their voices, they were hoping to catch him out in a wrong answer. They never had, though. I hadn't known that he'd almost completed his Ph.d in Ecological Anthropology; he'd kept mum about his education when we were first told to stand up and introduce ourselves to our other class members.
Seemed a shame that he'd gotten caught with the Yana plants. I decided to take him out, get him drunk, and then ask him about his arrest. I'd use what little talent had been passed to me to decide if he was truly one of the good ones.
I'd lured him into coming with me by telling him I'd appreciate his help in going over some of the trickier bits of New Rainier law. He had suggested finding an empty classroom at the Academy building, explaining that he was banned from libraries. I told him I had a place in mind, and that if his probation officer fussed, I would verify that I had insisted he come to help me study. He shrugged and said he thought it would be okay then, and Jim would come by later anyway. As long as he was with Jim it wouldn't matter where he was, anywhere in Cascade. I didn't tell him I was taking him to a bar that specialized in drinks and food from Uluru. When we came to Brumby Station, he cocked a quizzical eye at me, and then grinned. “Oh, cool, and I guess you're missing your homeland. I've never been in here, too expensive a bar for my tastes, but I've been to Uluru before, with my mother. It's a beautiful planet, especially the Southern continent.” He rocked a little on his feet, and beamed at me.
“Let's go on in. I haven't had a proper beer since I arrived on New Rainier. And I'm buying. S'only fair, since I'll be picking your brain.” I knew from my research the night before that he was not allowed to earn any money. If he had a credit in his pocket, that sentinel of his would have given it to him.
Of course, he protested about that. “I can pay my way. And Megan, it'll be good for me to review things; we can help each other.”
Well, either he was a great con artist, or he really was innocent of those charges, although I'd have a hard time explaining what exactly led me to that conclusion. I hoped he was a genuinely good man. After I'd plied him with beer, then I was going to have the bartender add a little incentive to telling the truth added to the next pitcher. I'd get him to agree, and then with Cimba altering his drink, he'd be less guarded and I'd ask him to tell me the truth. For some reason, it was important for me to know the truth.
Laughing, I pushed him through the double doors.
We got through the tutoring fairly quickly, and I did get a few confusing points cleared up. Blair – he'd told me to call him that – and I settled in to talking about the places we were both familiar with on Uluru, and I kept refilling his mug. He was fun once he'd loosened up a little, and from the way he kept bringing his Jim into the conversation, he had it bad for his sentinel. I decided I wanted to meet Jim Ellison for myself and see if he lived up to his guide's description.
When Blair started checking the time, I decided to challenge him to a game of Can't Lie. When Cimba was added to beer, you could choose to stay quiet and take a forfeit – a kiss, taking off your shirt, a lap dance, those sorts of things, or you could tell the truth. You weren't supposed to be able to lie after you'd drunk down a mug.
So I proposed a drinking game before we headed off, and I explained about how it worked. He looked thoughtfully at me, and he didn't look as blitzed as he had a few moments ago.
“Megan Connor. Did you get me here in order to get me drunk enough to agree to tell you the truth? You didn't have to do that. Unless the question violates Jim's privacy, I'll tell you what you want to know.” He frowned, and was back to looking a bit muzzy. “Oh. You don't know if you'll believe me when I tell the truth. Cimba... Hang on, I need to check something. The last truth-test I took ended up with me in seizures from an allergic reaction to the medication. I'd better check to make sure Cimba wasn't one of the ingredients.” He opened his slave and asked for some cross-checking and when he gave me a thumbs up, I signaled the bartender and made my request.
“Oh Heavenly Spirits, why do you want to know that? If you make me answer this, then I'm going to ask you the same question.” As a threat it was ineffective; it didn't bother me at all to tell him how I'd lost my virginity.
“In a barn with Riley Walker when I was seventeen. Vanilla regular intercourse. We were sure we were in love for the rest of our life. Six months later we broke up and it was a relief. Now spill the sordid details. And since you're bi, you have to tell twice.”
Blair took another gulp of the Cimba laced beer, then grinned at me. He'd been putting on a show earlier. He wasn't shy one bit about his sex life.
“Boys, hmmm, let me think back – it was so long ago; Johnny Lee, on Marna – before it was added to the Compact. And it was in the back of his delivery van, and I was fifteen. Well, almost. Blow jobs. And then there was sweet, sweet Mari-Anne. I was sixteen, she was twenty, and she was on top. We were both students here at the University. She dumped me when she found out how old I really was.” He smiled, lost in his memories for the moment. Then he dropped the smile. “Megan, Jim's going to come and get me soon. What do you really want to know?”
“Drink up first.” He rolled his eyes but drank down the rest of his mug. I passed him mine and he chugged it too, setting it down with a thud on the table.
He held out his hands in a wide, open gesture. “Ask me. I'm not going to lie. But I won't tell you private things about Jim. He's mine, my lover, my sentinel.” He looked a bit horrified when he'd stopped talking. “Sheesh, I think this Cimba really must have something to do with inhibiting the ability of the frontal lobe to form deception – and to keep my thoughts to myself. I mean, I know that I love Jim, but why am I telling that to you? Okay. In the interest of science, ask me your questions.” He made a comical face and I waited until his breathing had evened out and he looked calm again.
“Are you guilty of trafficking in Yana plants?”
Hmm, short and sweet. I decided to ask the same question in another way.
“Are you in any way responsible for the production of Yana?”
Well, that was interesting.
“How are you responsible for the production of Yana?”
“I was stupid. I let a girl sweet talk me into letting her and her brother catch rides in my bird, and I didn't think about why they wanted the deal. I didn't check her out, I didn't even insist on their full names. I thought it was a good bargain – her brother would work on my bird for free and she would always buy me dinner. I thought that sometime, when it was right for her and me, we'd sleep together. It's my fault that so many people were hurt by that drug. I should have known that a deal that's too good to be true, isn't, and that there was a catch somewhere. I am responsible, but I didn't do it on purpose. I didn't know that they were using me to smuggle the plants to New Rainier, but it's still my fault. Is that what you wanted to know or is there something else?”
His voice sounded tight, and in a way I was sorry to have upset him. But I had my answer. I'd reached out and held his hand while he was talking, and he felt honest to me.
“Yes, mate, that's what I wanted to know. But you're wrong. You were a victim, too. Does your Jim know you feel this way?”
“Yes, he does,” came a deep voice from behind me and Blair looked up, a heartbreaking look on his face.
A good looking man around thirty or so, short darkish-colored hair, and tall walked past me to Blair's side of the booth.
“Scoot over, Chief. And I know you feel guilty and your buddy here is right. It wasn't your fault.”
The fellow slid in next to Blair and put an arm around his shoulder.
“Would I be correct in guessing you're Jim Ellison?” I asked, but of course I knew he must be.
“That's right, Officer Connor. Blair told me you two had some studying to do. Funny, back when I was at the Academy we called it drinking. So, are you two ready to call it a night, or should I buy a round?”
Blair was kind of melting into Jim's side, and though I would have liked to get to know Blair's sentinel, I thought it best to let Jim take Blair home while he could still walk.
“We're done for the night. But I might want to borrow your partner again sometime soon, to review some of the material for the next test. You're invited, of course. Maybe the two of you can show me some of the other drinking holes in this city. And I'm Megan. Blair and I are pals, since we tossed each other around during our self defense class yesterday.”
“So did he pass your test? And I don't mean how much alcohol you can stuff down him before he decides to demonstrate some of the ceremonial dances of the Sho'nakan.” Jim smirked down at Blair, who elbowed him back in the ribs.
“Man, are you ever going to let me live that down?”
“No, Chief. Not in a hundred years.”
I thought I heard Blair call him a dick, but it was said too softly for me to be sure.
I stood up. It was getting late and getting home and to bed was sounding good.
I ruffled Blair's hair, and extended a hand to Ellison. “Blair, I'll see you tomorrow. Ellison, good to meet you, Blair only said your name at least fifty times tonight. And yes. He passed my test. Did I pass yours?”
He nodded and he gave my hand a firm shake. We didn't have to say it. He knew that I'd decided that Blair may have been convicted of a crime, but he was no criminal. And I knew that he'd decided that I could be trusted not to hurt Blair.
We could be mates, all three of us. I'd be on New Rainier until I completed the Academy so I could return to Ulura qualified to make arrests without a New Rainier training partner. I hoped we could keep in touch, though, even after I went home. I liked Blair, and Jim seemed to be a decent fellow. I had a good feeling about both of them, and I may not be as psychic as some of my other relatives, but my knack had never let me down before.
I gave them both a last look before pushing open the door and stepping out into the wet drizzle so typical of Cascade and this area of New Rainier. Jim still had his arm around Blair's shoulder and he dropped a kiss onto the top of Blair's curly head. Blair touched Jim briefly, gently on the face, and he looked so contented that it gave me a lump in my throat . Blair'd had a rough deal, no doubt about it, but he had something good, too, and I was glad for that.
Jim Ellison was trusting me to not hurt Blair. Well, I could do better than that. He was my friend now, and when we were back at the Academy, I'd look after him. Take him along with me to other cadet functions. Eat lunch together. Voice my opinion that he was an innocent man.
I'd look after him.