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What's in a Name?

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Blair walked into the loft, sighing as he reviewed his evening. It had started out so promising. He should have realized Sonia Price's "I'd love to hear about your tribal experiences" was just a line. He'd made several attempts to talk about traditional medicines, but she inevitably turned the conversation to herself and her work at the CDC. Five hours of my life I'll never get back, he thought sourly. When she'd mentioned an early flight to Atlanta and suggested they adjourn to her hotel, he pretended to misunderstand and dropped her at the lobby.

Entering his room, he noticed the lone sneaker he'd thrown haphazardly toward the closet. Its mate had disintegrated when he'd tossed it on the mined bridge at the army base. Well, better his shoe got blown up than a human being. He chucked it in the garbage and sighed again. The money he'd spent on the vapid Sonia could have gone towards a replacement pair.

His eyes roved the room and landed on "The Sentinels of Paraguay". Something Brackett said had been niggling the back of his mind, but they'd been too busy for him to focus.  He opened the book, flipping through the pages.  He'd bought it second-hand and a previous owner had done some annotating. Marking up the book both offended Blair and sent his imagination spinning.  Had this person, like himself, been fascinated by the subject of sentinels, or just idly curious? There'd only been a few notations here and there--not enough for Blair to conclude anything.

He turned to the page where Burton described the sentinel's companion. It was a very short description, as the explorer focused almost entirely on sentinels and their extraordinary abilities.   He'd shared Burton's explanation with Jim after the garbage truck incident: The companion accompanied the sentinel to watch his back and prevent zone-outs.

In the margin next to the paragraph was a single written word: Oma.  Blair pulled out a small English-Quechua dictionary and looked it up.  The word had multiple meanings: capital, head, leader, top, guide.

Guide. Bracket had used the word to describe Blair's relationship to Jim.  "You're his guide", he'd said. Blair thought back to their time at the army base.  He'd taken the lead, telling Jim how best to face each challenge--what sense to use and how to use it. With a start, he realized he'd been doing that off and on since the Switchman case. Is that what Brackett meant?  He'd researched every scrap of information on sentinels he could find. Where the hell had Brackett gotten his information on guides? Would he have told me if I'd asked?

Blair looked down again at the word. He'd always thought the appropriate Quechua word for his position was yana--partner, a term which tended to make Jim bristle. Yana was used not only to describe people joined through common activities, but to domestic partners or spouses.  Was that why Jim reacted to "partner" but didn't blink an eye when Brackett called him "guide"? Blair sighed once more and closed the book.

In the kitchen, he put the kettle on and pulled down his box of teas. This new development bore watching. He thought about discussing it with Jim, but his own instincts, whether as yana or oma, advised against it. Better to wait and watch. He smiled and pulled down a second mug as Jim walked through the front door.