Disclaimer: The main characters are not mine, this is an amateur effort written purely for fun of it, and no money has exchanged hands. It is not intended to breach the copyright of Paramount and Pet Fly Productions.
And my thanks to Susan my patient beta reader for all her help, advice, and for making it the story that you'r reading today.
NOTE: This story is set in the near future in an America very different from today, Sentinels are acknowledged and their abilities are used in everyday life in Police Work, Military, and Search and Rescue. Guides are thought of as second class citzens who's only function is to serve their sentinel, they become their property. Some guides turn rogue, and are hunted down by the sinister GDP, who have total power over them.
Captain Simon Banks of the Major Crimes Division of the Cascade Police Department knew that today was going to be different; For the first time, Ellison was coming back to work as a fully on-line Sentinel. Simon leaned back in his chair, and took a deep satisfying pull on his cigar; cigars, a good cup of coffee and fishing were his only vices. He vaguely wondered if this sentinel thing would be useful the next time the two of them went fishing. He frowned, reminded that next time it would not be just the two of them, they would have to bring along a third person. He allowed resentment to take hold for a moment before banishing it.
With a sigh he picked up the much-thumbed copy of Sentinel 101 which he had borrowed from his son, Daryl. Daryl had asked in return that Simon arrange for him to have a chat with Ellison for his end of term project for his Sentinel 101 class at high school.
One thing was sure, with Jim back at work, he certainly wanted to avoid the disaster that had occurred when Ellison had been summoned by Assistant District Attorney Swift to check over his statement for an upcoming trial. As a Sentinel with a newly bonded guide, Ellison was entitled to a 7 to 14 day period during which he would be left alone with his guide to consolidate the bonding and educate the young man as to his duties and his sentinel's expectations. But Swift's case had been too important and standard practice had been over-ruled. Ellison had zoned and in attempting to bring him out of it, his empathic Guide had been injured by the touch of an onlooker. Banks' skin crawled at the memory; it was a situation he would not allow to happen again.
With a sip of his coffee and the contented sigh of man who intends to enjoy the calm before the storm, he opened the book at the first marked page. He made a mental note to have his secretary Rhonda buy Daryl a new copy; this one was going to have to be his handbook on the care and handling of a sentinel/guide pair.
For the first time he read the introduction he had skipped to get to the meat and bones of the Sentinel condition.
Sir Richard Burton, the Victorian explorer, first recognized the Sentinel condition among certain tribesmen of South America. For more than a hundred years his work was widely regarded as a flight of fantasy. It was only in the 1990's that the condition was noted in the modern western world.
The existence of Sentinels was met with some disquiet; their enhanced senses seemed to pose a possible threat to those not so gifted in areas as mundane as athletic competition and as sensitive as privacy rights. Sentinels were encouraged to find work in military and paramilitary organizations such as police and search and rescue; arenas where enhanced senses could serve the public and the sentinels themselves would work in a disciplined environment. Uneasy public acceptance of sentinels turned to wild enthusiasm during the terror campaign in 2000. The "Millennial Cleansing" conducted by malcontents across America brought the sentinels into their own. Enhanced senses detected explosives, found victims in the rubble of destroyed buildings... Simon skimmed the next lines. Okay, okay. I get the point; they became national heroes. He could just about remember that when he was in grade school the President himself selected sentinels as his personal bodyguard. He skipped the next few paragraphs, and then continued reading.
The major drawback faced by those with the Sentinel condition was what came to be known as the "zone-out factor". Sentinels who concentrated on one sense could become so focused that they lost their grounding to their surrounding and entered a state that resembled catatonia. Without a stable focus, as the sentinel's senses became more sensitive, sensory input could overload them; driving them to insanity or even to a final zone-out which ended in death. Burton's work hinted at a solution to be found in the "guide." Tribal sentinels had companions who helped them focus their senses and pulled them out of zones. The effectiveness of these companions was reportedly uneven, particularly in respect to the zoning problem, but Burton's published work did not identify the characteristics of the successful guide. It wasn't until a researcher virtually stumbled across Burton's unpublished, unedited field notes in the Museum of Anthropology in Cambridge, England, that the missing piece of the equation was found. Right, now he was getting somewhere.
The missing factor was a rare and specific talent possessed by the successful guides. Burton labelled that talent "empathy" and called the companion-guides "empaths" for their ability to sense the emotional and physical needs of their sentinels. In some manner not yet understood the guide is able to "mesh" his nervous system with that of his bonded sentinel; this allows him to support the sentinel's use of his senses and prevent zoning. This information was made public just as the terror campaign escalated and the existence of empaths was widely recognized. Because of the concern for privacy rights threatened by the ability of some individuals to literally "invade" another's emotions and the subsequent discovery that an empath "bonded" to a sentinel was hindered in the inappropriate use of her empathy, legislation was passed conscripting guides for the anti-terrorist campaign. The Guide Development Project was created to find, train and assist potential guides to reach their full potential and take their place in society.
The guide commits him or herself fully to the sentinel. Once bonded, the guide's life revolves around their sentinel. In exchange, the sentinel protects the guide from the emotions of those around them. It is a truly symbiotic partnership and guides willingly become the... Simon shook his head over the next page of text. The "spin job" of the approved Sentinel 101 text bore little resemblance to the truth he had witnessed when he had stood by and allowed a frantic young man to be forced into a room to "willingly" bond with an out of control sentinel. Mentally shaking off those nauseating memories, he skipped to the next section.
When the sentinel/guide bonding has taken place, the guide's empathy comes fully on line; his or her natural ability to create barriers to protect himself or herself from the emotions of the people around them is weakened. This should not be construed as a loss to the guide as research has shown that the majority of empaths do not possess sufficient natural shielding ability to protect them from "emotional burnout," an overload of the neural paths that carry the emotional input to the brain. However, the presence of his or her sentinel provides a boost to the shielding ability of the guide. Guides can be parted from their sentinels for periods of time, the length of which depends on the strength of the individual guide, however prolonged periods of separation causes attrition of the natural barriers, leaving them emotionally exposed. The end result is a guide driven to insanity, often to suicide.
When working... Here it comes, Simon thought, maybe I'll finally get something useful out of this drivel. When working with a sentinel, a guide lowers his barriers so that he can open the empathic paths to the sentinel. By channelling emotions both from and to the sentinel, he helps him control his senses and avoid zone out. When frightened or injured the guide, with the consent of the sentinel, can use the emotional strength of his sentinel to regain control of his empathic barriers and find comfort. When the sentinel/guide bond is in active use, the guide can be hurt by a simple touch from anyone other than his sentinel as that person's emotions overload the empathic paths sending him into shock. A sentinel's reaction to this violation of his guide is always violent, sometimes resulting in the death of the offender. Simon exhaled he hadn't realised before just how lucky Carolyn Plummer had been to avoid serious injury when she had dragged Ellison's guide away from him. Because the guide is at risk from an unexpected touch, the GDP developed a range of behavioural cues to ward off unwanted... Simon remembered skimming over that part; it wasn't one he cared to revisit.
Once bonded the partnership is for life... even if neither "partner" ever wanted, ever imagined such a relationship. Simon leafed through the thick volume, scanning pictures of sentinels and guides working together in times of crisis and relaxing together in times of peace. Stopped at the full color photographs of prospective guides laughing and talking or quietly studying on the lawns of the GDP Institute. Simon closed the book and set it aside. Then he fished out the booklet he had gotten from the evidence lock-up, part of a consignment of illegal propaganda put out by so-called rogue guides and their supporters. It was a criminal offense just to have the booklet in his possession.
Now let's see the other side of the story, the truth that the guides speak, not the official fairy tale I believed like just about everybody else. The story told by Guides who say they would willingly devote their lives to work with and assist sentinels in service to the public, but not at the price of slavery. Simon paged until he came to a picture of the "guide posture." The GDP would have people believe that only by kneeling, head bowed and hands crossed at the wrists behind his back can a guide "ward off an unwelcome touch" by "announcing" his status as a working Guide. In our experience, and the experience of countless empaths before us, this "posture" has one purpose and one purpose only and that is to condition the Guide to accept the Sentinel as his absolute master. In this position the Guide must depend upon the sentinel for protection because he himself is awkwardly balanced to retreat from handling or even to see it coming. Similarly, to "protect" the guide from inadvertently drawing the attention of another person and being overwhelmed by emotion, he remains silent until addressed by the sentinel. This supposedly allows the sentinel to shore-up the empath's natural barriers. In reality, it further isolates the guide from the rest of humanity.
Sentinels eat first, the GDP would have you believe that this is merely so that one member of the partnership is on watch at all times and the sentinel is more likely to be distracted by hunger than the guide. What is does is conditions the guide to see the sentinel as the provider of his very means of existence. The empath's money and possessions are transferred to the sentinel when he becomes a guide. The GDP says it is to protect the guide from the hassles and angered emotions of everyday life; the sentinel conducts the business for both members of the partnership. In reality, the guide is left with no means of support but his sentinel's handouts. He travels on the sentinel's passport so they are never separated, again for the guide's protection. And the guide is left without the ability to escape a miserable life.
Simon hadn't realized how legislations and policies designed to "protect" a class of rare and special people needed for sentinel abilities to operate at peak performance condemned them to virtual slavery. He read on.
Some empaths, conditioned from childhood by "history" lessons and socialization, are able to adapt and accept their "ordained" role in life. For them, life at The Institute can be pleasant. Simon flashed on the pictures in Sentinel 101. For those empaths who believe that they too have certain human rights, the "educational process" is quite different. As long as a guide accepts the GDP view, is willing to become the property of his sentinel, to be owned like a slave, he is treated in a humane manner. But if he does not then he is sent for re-training... He knew more about that than he wanted to and wished he had never let that particular genie out of the bottle. He knew the truth behind the comforting propaganda, had recognized it in the battered, brutalized form of Jim Ellison's guide, Blair Sandburg. Legal disputes between sentinel and guide are the jurisdiction the GDP; complaints brought by a guide of mistreatment by sentinel can only be directed to the GDP; the GDP routinely allows sentinels to "discipline" their guides in "whatever fashion they deem most suited to the circumstances." God, if the sentinel is a bastard, the guide is on his own. He's nothing more than a slave. Simon ground out his cigar in the ashtray in angry disgust. Well, at least he was better prepared to deal with his sentinel/guide team. Simon placed the booklet inside the Sentinel 101 book and slid it into the desk drawer; in 10 minutes, Jim Ellison would be entering the bull pen, and he would have a chance to put what he had learned in practice.
The next in the series is "Living With The Past"Written by Susan Foster