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The security at Rainier was virtually non-existent; for a place with a Hazmat Unit, even a small one that doesn't normally store anything particularly deadly, security was criminally lax. Admitted, I set things up so that a fire alarm would sound in another part of the campus, but there should have been some protocol for the situation, a minimum of two guards with orders not to leave their posts, no matter what. It appeared, however, that there was no provision made for emergencies; the only person who approached me was Dr. Price, and her comment that, "This is a restricted area. You shouldn't be in here" was unlikely to be a deterrent to any even half-determined would-be terrorist, let alone a professional like me. Getting past her was easier than taking candy from a baby.

As an aside; this is not something that would normally involve the C.I.A. Rainier doesn't usually carry any materials as hazardous as ebola virus; it was merely a... well, an overnight store for it; but Dr. Price is normally based at a Unit in Atlanta that does carry some extremely dangerous materials, and she should have made sure there were better precautions at Rainier.

Having got the canister containing the virus, my first priority was to put it somewhere safe. Fortunately Kelso's office was nearby. Kelso, incidentally, was very helpful in supplying the police with misinformation that established 'Lee Brackett's' identity and character.

Next, I needed to find a way to get into the facility holding the A.V.C.X. stealth fighter that was my immediate target. That would be a slightly tougher job, but I had an idea about that - hence my theft of the ebola virus. Five years ago, I was C.I.A. duty officer in Peru. I debriefed Mathis, a Special Forces officer who commanded a troop that rescued a Covert Ops officer who'd been stranded there for eighteen months. Mathis' report on that officer's behaviour was very interesting; of particular note was his comment that James Ellison seemed to hear things before anyone else did.

I knew that the C.I.A. found my report of that debriefing interesting, and for some time thereafter watched James Ellison, but when, in civilian life, he showed no signs of the acute hearing that Mathis had reported, the covert surveillance was terminated.

I was interested enough to investigate the subject of acute hearing, and found details of men with acute senses in an old book, The Sentinels of Paraguay. So - there was a name for what Ellison possibly was. Sentinel. And there were references to a companion, who guided the sentinel in the use of his senses. Perhaps that was why Ellison had shown no signs of his gift when he left Peru; one of the primitives there must have acted as his guide. In Cascade he did not have one.

Searching further, I came across some academic papers on the subject of sentinels, written by a young student, Blair Sandburg; and then I discovered that Sandburg had become friendly with Ellison, and was actually working with him; and when I hacked into the Cascade PD's computer system, I discovered that Ellison had on one occasion claimed to have identified a gunman at a distance of fully two hundred yards. His identification was thrown out on the grounds that nobody could identify anyone at that distance, especially in the poor light available; but I knew then that what I had only suspected before was true. James Ellison had a better than average sense of sight and hearing; possibly touch, taste and smell too, but sight and hearing were the important ones. He'd managed to keep his abilities hidden, even from the C.I.A. surveillance, but if Sandburg was working with Ellison, that could only mean that Sandburg knew what Ellison was, and could guide the man.

Ellison was the key to getting into the A.V.C.X. facility, and the ebola virus would provide him with the incentive to help me. Working with him would also let me assess the man with a view to drawing him into C.I.A. work.

First I went to see him, taking with me a dummy explosive device, and told him I wanted him to help me commit a crime. I laid it out - either he helped me, or I'd release the virus. Then I tossed him the dummy explosive to delay him, and left.

Next I had to prove to him that I meant what I'd said. I released a sleeping gas in a theater, called 911, then hid to watch what happened.

Dr. Price really should have realized that not even ebola would leave a whole theater full of people apparently dead, with no obvious sign of disease, inside the time frame involved. Ellison, however, knew immediately that the people lying around were sleeping, not dead; and I was not surprised when he tracked me to my hiding place. I warned him that next time it would be the ebola, and escaped by seeming to drop Westlake off the balcony. I had already prepared the floor underneath so that she would have a soft landing, if Ellison failed to hold her. Her commitment to our work is really admirable.

The following day, I contacted Ellison, telling him where to meet me. As I expected, both he and Sandburg were wired - and had been supplied with protein transmitters, which did surprise me; but the scanner confirmed the presence of the transmitters. Then I took then to the A.V.C.X. facility. We were challenged at the gate; I had my gun to hand but, as I had hoped, Ellison beat me to it; he used the car door to knock the guard out.

He tried telling me I was a traitor; while I headed for the bridge leading to the plane, I spun the fiction that the government I had sworn allegiance to no longer existed. Then I explained about the grid, telling him I was sure he could tell the difference between active and inactive mines, and reminding him that I needed to be alive to disarm the detonator on the canister of virus.

I was right; there was only one problem as we crossed, when he seemed to black out for some moments, but Sandburg talked him back. As a side note; those blackouts make it unlikely that sentinels would, in the long term, be of any great use in the field.

Once across I overrode the system, triggering all the mines. Another side note; it was altogether too easy to do that. Granted it could only be over-ridden by someone who had successfully crossed the bridge, but it should have been password protected so that only someone authorised could change the setting. Having Sandburg along made it easy to provide a warning to the emergency security squad; I didn't want to kill anyone.

I have to admit I didn't expect Ellison to attack me once I was into the plane, and while we were fighting the remote control unit I had ready to 'defuse' the explosive attached to the container in my car was broken. To maintain the fiction that the virus was in my car, I got Ellison to help 'defuse' it.

In fact, Kelso had already taken steps to return the virus to the lab in Atlanta.

Ellison had established himself as a police officer, and his immediate superior, Captain Banks, arrived moments later. Banks explained that Ellison - and Sandburg with him - had been working to recover the virus; they left me with the lab security team, who claimed me as an army arrest. Once the hazmat team had secured the apparent container of virus and they and the police had gone, I identified myself to the security commander.

Earlier, Waters had stolen a helicopter from the nearby air force base, and was waiting for me on one of the offshore islands. Since I had no idea how long it would take to get into the lab, our arrangement was that he would wait until he heard from me. Unfortunately a coastguard on a routine check found and arrested him. His report will follow when the C.I.A. has secured his release.

My conclusion; the security at the A.V.C.X. facility, while adequate against most potential intruders, has weaknesses. I got in without seeing anyone except the single guard at the gate. Anyone managing to cross the mined bridge can prevent pursuit too easily by over-riding the system. Using Ellison both helped and hindered my mission; his sentinel abilities speeded up my access to the plane, but his protective instincts prevented me from leaving with it.

Investigating a sentinel was not part of my brief, but because circumstances led me to observe one closely I would add, with regard to Ellison - or other sentinels, should we find any, that I do not think they would be of any great value to the C.I.A. Apart from the danger I already mentioned of them blacking out, Sandburg's study of them indicates that they are territorial, and have a strong instinct to protect their home territory. They will, however, only react aggressively if their territory, or the members of their personal tribe, are attacked. Although Ellison was in the army, it was before his senses came online; now that they are, he appears to have chosen Cascade, his home town, as his immediate territory, and he has little interest in protecting anywhere else. In addition, his guide - Sandburg - appears to be a man who will never follow orders unless he sees an advantage in doing so. He is apparently easy-going and peaceful, but in an army setting he would cause considerable disruption because he would query the necessity for almost every order given by a superior officer, and be able to provide logical reasons for doing so. He is like a conscientious objector who is quite prepared to kill, provided he makes the decision that it is necessary - but is not willing to obey an order to kill that has been given by someone else. And he has considerable influence over Ellison. If Ellison's territorial behaviour is typical of sentinels, I suspect that most guides would show similar character traits to Sandburg; they would need that independence of thought in order to assist their sentinels to best advantage.

Surveillance equipment - directional microphones and infra-red cameras - in the hands of trained operatives are probably as accurate as a sentinel at picking up information most of the time.

* * * * * * * *

Thomas Cole reread the report he had just written, correcting two or three typos as he went and altering a word here and there. He saved the file, printed it and signed it. He glanced at the clock, noted that it was nearly five, put the report into his boss's in-tray, grabbed his jacket and left the office, idly wondering what crazy undercover operation he would be given next.

Life was much simpler when he was left in peace to drive Viper.


Copyright bluewolf