Title: The Unwilling Sentinel
Series Order: 2
Banner Art: None
Word Count: 1,880
Warnings: Mentions of tertiary level character deaths
Authors Note: John wasn’t willing to give up the sky. Not even for the one thing that might make him whole. At least, not at first.
John had known since he was ten years old and saw his first air show that he wanted to fly, that he needed to fly. Everything he had ever done, everything that he had dreamed of since that day had been aimed towards that end. School, sports, after-school activities, all of it had been aimed at that one overriding goal. And when he had gotten the appointment to the Air Force Academy it had felt like his dream was in his grasp, just waiting.
Going through the in depth physical needed to get into the Academy had turned out to be no fun at all. John had known that he was going to be poked, prodded and examined on a level that was beyond what he had endured to get into various sports programs over the years. So he thought he was prepared for how his skin would want to crawl off at the sensations of impersonal hands and needles touching it, but he wasn’t. As the day wore on, John felt himself begin to flinch and move away from the medical personnel more and more. Digging deep, he grabbed hold of his patience and endured. To be able to fly he had to get through this.
Two days after his express tour to sensory hell, John and his father got a personal visit from an Air Force Major with Sentinel unit tabs on his collar. Thirty minutes later, John knew that he carried the genes to be a Sentinel and that his dream of flying was going to be harder to obtain than he had ever thought. The Air Force expected him to join their Sentinel unit after graduation and all his courses were to be changed to reflect his new circumstances. Taking a deep breath, John nodded. He was still going in, he would pass his new classes, but he would still work towards his goal. He wanted to fly.
For four years John had learned everything available to him about being an officer and a Sentinel in the Air Force. He had graduated in the top ten percent of his class and had gotten his first set of degrees in both Engineering and Applied Mathematics, in addition to his certification from the Sentinel Unit. From there he was sent to the DOD facility for Sentinels for his in depth training on how to use and manage his enhanced senses. Over the year spent at the facility John went on various “field trips” to different institutions around the country to round out and finish his education. By the time he got out of the training unit he had been to a body farm, a training facility for drug dogs, an R&D lab developing new types of high explosives, and had gotten fully qualified as a field medic. And yet throughout all the training, all the upheaval his awakening senses caused him, John retained his need to fly. Using every excuse, and every day of leave that could be begged, he made his way into the sky.
Not long after he came fully online at the training facility, John started to feel the need for a Guide. As training went on, the nagging need, the mental itch that never went away, built. He knew he needed someone to be his baseline, his anchor to the world around him and his senses, but every time he got around an unbonded Guide the need went away. Careful research lead him to the information that, if any of the Guides had been the one for him, he would have felt an increase in the itch until he had sated the need in his Guide. So that lead him to the logical conclusion that none of the Guides he had been so carefully exposed to were for him. Which after a great deal of thought and painful examination of his feelings, didn’t bother John a bit. Depending on another person for his health and sanity still felt wrong, no matter what his so called instincts said.
Then through a stroke of good luck and unexpected grace, John’s dream came true. Thanks to his test scores, and his extreme dedication to his need to fly and an empty slot, John got orders cut to go to flight school. For a few glorious months John devoted all of his attention to learning how to fly, the Air Force way. He didn’t worry about his senses, the need for a Guide, or his future, he just flew. Fourteen years after he discovered his need for flight, six years after he was informed he was a Sentinel, and a year after his unexpected orders were cut, John had his wings. Two weeks later John shipped out for the Middle East and his first combat tour.
Over the next twelve years, John spent more time over seas and in combat zones than he did in the US. Flying proved to be was what he was good at. John developed a reputation for bringing more people home than he lost, and when he had to deliver them, his drop offs were always done safely. Experience in the air showed him that so long as he was flying he never zoned. Exhaustive testing conducted by the Sentinel unit and informal tests done by himself showed that his natural ability to multitask and need to keep his passengers safe kept him focused. Unfortunately what worked in flight didn’t translate over to dirt side duties. Several times a month John was found staring into space, focused on something his squad-mates couldn’t see. To combat this, the SU assigned Guides to every squadron that he was stationed with to no avail. John couldn’t bond with them. Eventually his squad-mates learned how to handle his zones and how to draw him out of them quickly.
But due to his frequent zone outs while on the ground, John started getting a reputation for being rather lazy and disconnected from the people around him. His CO’s had no problems with his performance in the air, and many with his abilities on the ground. Thanks to the senses that he could never shut off, John knew what his reputation was, and he knew that without a Guide his ground-bound zones would get worse. During his one stateside posting he even tried getting married to a very nice young lady thinking that she might be able to solve the problem. Unfortunately while she was very nice, she wasn’t able to be what he needed to function. So less than a year after they married, they quietly divorced. On his fifth posting out of flight school, John got lucky and found two people who together could perform the functions of a Guide.
Thanks to Mitch and Dex, John was able to function as well on the ground as he did in the air. He managed to perform his duties as leader of his small squadron, keep up with the never ending paper chase needed to keep his men supplied, and go to all the meetings his CO called. Everything was going along beautifully until Mitch and Dex were caught in crossfire and their chopper made a crash landing in the desert. The next several days were a blur to John, with isolated incidents standing out in a normally perfect memory. Telling his CO that he was going after his men, that was clear, the flight wasn’t. Finally arriving at the crash site, seeing and smelling the burnt bodies of his friends, and hearing one faltering heartbeat laboring to continue, that was painfully clear. Landing, collecting the dog-tags of the dead and digging their graves all passed in a blur. Trying to get his remaining friend out alive was forever imprinted in John’s nightmares, but he never really remembered his extraction.
When his CO tried to get him court-martialed, the Sentinel Unit came through for him. Thanks to Mitch’s foresight in filing interim Bond paperwork with them, John was cleared of the charge of disobeying a direct order and going AWOL, but a black mark was still there on his record. When he next came up for orders, John made sure to take a posting as far from combat as he could, he went to Antarctica.
Flying over the never ending expanses of blue/white ice became a source of peace and healing for John. As time passed, he learned to sleep through the night with out waking from nightmares of Mitch and Dex and the crash that killed them both. He began to enjoy living on the bottom of the world and the silence that was a balm to senses that were used to the hustle and bustle of a busy combat base. Slowly the itch, the need for a Guide began to swell again. He was healing.
Eighteen months after he had taken his posting at McMurdo, John starting ferrying a group of people over to a base in the far outback of Antarctica. Trying very hard to not listen, he still learned that it was a base with a security level that was far in excess of anything he had ever held. And the people who inhabited it came from all over the globe and from all manner of scientific disciplines. He could have sworn that the bonded Guide he had taken out was an archaeologist of all things. Then there was the supply list that came through. What did they need an electron microscope, a forge, twenty-five cases of MRE’s and a portable x-ray machine for?
Then he took a Brigadier General (and bonded Sentinel) up for the flight out and almost got shot down by an alien squid for his trouble. More shaken than he wanted to think about, John managed to get his passenger safely to his destination. When the General offered to take him down into the bowls of the base he had spent the last four months delivering personnel and supplies to, John jumped at the chance. Once down the weirdly even elevator shaft he paused, sniffing the air. There was something that was teasing at his senses. Shaking off the feeling of something unusual, John started wandering around.
Passing what looked like a fully stocked lab (and wasn’t that the electron microscope?), John wandered over to where he heard several voices discussing what sounded like his flight in. Confronting the man lead to more confusion than he was willing to show, so John let his mouth run on a sort of auto-pilot as he sat down in the weirdest looking chair he had ever seen. And then the chair lit up under him and he felt in his bones a hum of power and danger. With the hum came the sensation of warmth and belonging, flowing up from the base where the chair was joined to this alien base under the ice.
When he heard a voice order him to “Major, think about where we are in the solar system.”, it was automatic to obey, to display what he was asked to. Five minutes later, John shook the hand of the man whose voice he had so readily obeyed. And felt the need in his soul for a Guide finally outstrip his need for the sky. He had found his Guide.