CSI Amistad
by Chakat Acer
Opening Gambits - Part 1


"Welcome to Chakona Gateway," Trent muttered to himself as he and Shellfire both stepped off the transport shuttle, waving their IDs at the guard.

"It's not that bad," Shellfire replied cheerfully, picking up hir field kit from the shuttle's cargo pod, then handing Trent his own as well.

"Oh come on," Trent replied sourly. "Knowing full well that I don't like space travel, especially on something as small as that shuttle, they still decided to send me up to an orbital facility. And on a case which should only require one of us anyway."

Shellfire grinned, waving hir ID at the next set of guards as they headed further into the station. "It's been quiet recently," shi pointed out.

"Of course it's been quiet recently," Trent pointed out. "We're based on Chakona. Honestly, I sometimes think that the tourist industry is the only reason that a planetful of Chakats could possibly need a police force."

"Yeah, and because of the recent dip in the crime rate, they want us all fully utilised," Shellfire continued. "And that means that sometimes we double up on things that we wouldn't normally double up on." Shi smiled at the next guard. "Hi there. CSIs Trent and Shellfire, from the Amistad crime lab."

"Hi," the guard replied in an easygoing manner. He glanced over the pair of them, and Trent considered what image the pair of them presented.

Trent was a Human male with no genetic engineering in his heritage, and he hadn't compensated for this lack very well by staying indoors a lot. Thus a pale complexion was topped by untidy hair of a colour that could only be referred to as 'dirty' blond. His clothes were in better condition, though not by a long way, and consisted of a pair of trousers, a shirt, and an abused looking equipment vest. The best kept thing about him in fact was the field kit in his hand, which almost gleamed and the contents of which - should anyone wish to check them - were sorted, checked and arranged immaculately.

Shellfire on the other hand was a Chakat, roughly half Trent's age. Hir fur was mostly a pale cream colour, except across the top of her lower torso and up the spine of her upper torso, where it was a brilliant flaming orange and yellow pattern that twisted like flames when she moved. Hir own clothes consisted of an equipment vest in much better condition than Trent's, a utility belt to supplement the lack of other pockets, and a pair of bracers on her forelegs.

"You'll be needing to talk to agent Roberts," the guard said, reaching for his commbadge as he did and putting the call through.

"Please tell me that he didn't just mention..."

"Keep quiet and maybe this will be over quickly," Shellfire muttered back in response to his urgent entreaty.

Before Trent could reply, the guard turned back to them. "If you'll follow me please," he said, indicating one of the passageways leading further into the Gateway's structure.

"This just keeps getting better," Trent muttered as they set off.

Lee Johnson stepped into the HitchReg office and glanced around as he headed for the desk. At this time of year the office didn't tend to see much traffic, and so there were only a couple of people in it. The young Chakat behind the desk actually looked bored, which was especially bad for this kind of office. The hitch-hikers that stopped here were normally keen to share their stories, and the kids that volunteered at the offices came away with their horizons broadened.

"Hello, how can I help you?" the young Chakat asked as Lee stopped in front of the desk.

"I'm truckin'," Lee informed hir. "You've got me down on the file. Name's Lee Johnson. I just stopped to see if someone was here that needed pickin' up."

The youngster tapped at the keyboard for a moment, and Lee took the opportunity to look hir over. Definitely young, probably just doing this as part-time. "How long you been here?"

"A couple of weeks," the kid replied, concentrating on the screen in front of hir.

"What happened to the regular guy? Don't tell me they got rid of ol' Spot?"

"Huh? Oh, you mean Blackpatch," the kid said, warming up a bit and taking more interest now that shi realised shi was speaking to one of the office's regulars. "He had to take some holiday."

"Nothin' serious I hope," Lee said with a frown.

"Nah," the kid said as the screen finally changed to show Lee's details. "Something about his godkit's birthdays..."

Lee nodded, and smiled fondly at the memory of Blackpatch, known affectionately as 'Spot' to most of the regulars. The longtail Chakat had been effectively running this HitchReg office for the last couple of decades, and the collection of photos that shi would show to anyone stopping here for any reason, not to mention hir engaging conversation style and occasionally ludicrous stories that shi had picked up from those on their way through, had meant that people had not only been more likely to stop there, but less likely to leave on time as well. That shi also possessed a brilliant memory for people and faces, and thus knew exactly where shi had got to in a story that you had left halfway through several months earlier, had made hir one of the most popular Chakats around, and easily made this one of the most popular HitchReg offices around. The collection of god-sons, -daughters, and -kits that shi had acquired over the years was a testament to hir popularity.

"Okay," the kid said, nodding at the screen. "You're still in here. Are you still in the same vehicle as before?"

"Sure. I'm not gonna lose the ol' rig just yet."

"Great. Are you setting out straight away?"

"Yeah. Just stopped by to see if there was someone wanted takin' my way. I'm headin' for Eyre."

The Chakat glanced across the room speculatively, with an uncomfortable expression on hir face. "Well, we've got one guy who's heading that way. Odd sort though," shi added, still looking uncomfortable. "Not your regular hitch-hiker. Very sullen as well."

Lee glanced back across the office, his gaze settling on the figure he guessed the kid meant. Even in a section of the office where there were only three hitch-hikers, this guy was very clearly on his own. This guy was simply sitting there as if the rest of the world didn't exist, and could probably appear to be on his own in the middle of a crowd.

"You think he's got a deathwish?" Lee glanced back at the kid to be met by a startled expression, remembering only a few seconds too late that something which would be normal to a trucker who originally came from Terra would probably be totally alien to a Chakat kid who was probably born and raised on Chakona. To Lee, this guy looked like someone who had a grudge against the world, and wasn't planning on hanging around long enough for anyone to complain about his attitude. "Tell you what," Lee said as kindly as he could, "I'll take the guy off your hands. I've dealt with a few guys like him before. I talked a couple of them out of it. The other guy... Well, leastways I made sure that people knew where I'd dropped him off."

"You're sure you want to deal with that?" The kid didn't look certain but certainly seemed more relieved that someone was dealing with it.

"Course I am," Lee said, glancing back at the hitch-hiker on the far side of the room. And he had been thinking he might be lonely.

It is him, Trent thought wearily as they approached the apparent crime scene. A human stood on the far side of the tape, a notebook in one hand, and a carefully studious expression on his face. Whilst for the most part he wore regular clothes, there were a couple of odd things about them. Firstly, he wore gloves, which was fairly unusual with a semi-casual suit, and downright peculiar in the reasonably balmy atmosphere of the Chakona Gateway. The second odd thing though, explained the first one quite easily. A golden badge embossed with the Greek letter Psi was pinned to the man's lapel.

"Nice to see you too Trent," the man called out, in what would have been a non sequitur to anyone else. After all, Trent hadn't yet said anything. Not aloud, at least.

"Roberts..." Trent ducked under the crime scene tape as he spoke. "What are you doing here?"

"You know as well as I do, it's standard procedure in this kind of case to have a Psi Cop around for the preliminaries." Roberts tossed his head in the direction of a foxmorph and a rabbitmorph that were standing off to one side, their clothes askew and offended expressions on their faces. "I happened to be on the Gateway on other business, so I got called in directly rather than having them ship someone else in." He nodded at Shellfire. "Nice to see you again 'fire."

"Hello Agent Roberts," Shellfire responded, cordially enough, though not responding to his friendly tone as such. "Are those the vics?"

"Yep. So far they both seem genuinely offended, so I'm guessing right now that they are both the victims here. Trent, I've had the area sealed, and got them to cut this area off from the rest of the station's atmospheric recycling, but I don't know how well it'll hold it. I tried getting them to bottle some of the air for you, but by the time they'd messed around with hazmat suits and stuff there probably wasn't much of it left. Certainly I never had any trouble getting in here without ill effects."

"Yeah, but Psi Cops are meant to have the sex appeal of a rusty nail anyway, so it shouldn't have mattered anyhow," Trent replied, the comment not entirely meant in jest. "I'll grab what I can from the scene before the recyclers do too much damage."

"We'll talk to the vics, then I'll grab the security footage," Shellfire agreed, ignoring the insult with the same practised ease that Roberts did.

As the pair of them walked off, Trent looked over the scene.

Contrary to some opinions, an environment like this wasn't an ideal crime scene, especially for this type of crime. Whilst some samples of atmospheric evidence might be retained for hours in a planetary atmosphere, on a station atmosphere recyclers would tear evidence apart before you'd even had a chance to realise it was there. And as for the damage done by automated cleaning devices... Already there was a clean trail through the faint layer of condensation that covered the metal flooring, where someone hadn't stopped a cleaning drone in time.

On the other hand, it did mean that there would be only one layer of evidence to worry about, with minimal contamination present. That plus the familiarity with this type of crime scene made it relatively easy to pick out the vital evidence and spot the unusual aspects.

The obvious commonality: the weapon of choice. There were a couple of fragments lying around, but most of it was still intact. There was still enough for him to see that it was even more homemade than the usual kind that they met; little more than a plastic bottle with a timer built onto the latch covering the hole. Trent slipped some gloves on and pulled the camera from his field kit. Snapping off a number of shots of the fragments and the bottle, he pulled out the camera's tricorder attachment and used the ALS to get a couple of shots of the layer of moisture that was across the floor.

Under the light from the ALS, the moisture glowed a greenish blue. Mostly it was concentrated in a rough circle around the bottle, though there was a faint sheen from it covering just about every reasonably cool object in the room.

The two morphs were looking no less disgruntled or embarrassed when Shellfire approached them. If anything they looked more bedraggled than they had before, with the rumples and minor tears in their clothing showing up more clearly under closer inspection. The rabbitmorph had actually lost a bit of fur around the ears as well.

Agent Roberts, still calm and professional, did the introductions. "Shellfire, meet Tony Farway," he indicated the foxmorph, "and Daniela Murro," he gestured towards the rabbitmorph. "Both were passengers taking a short-cut through this room when they claim something happened, and they felt really horny. Next thing they know, they're both waking up properly in each others arms."

"I demand that you arrest him!" Daniela pointed angrily at Tony the foxmorph. "He raped me!"

"Ha!" Tony didn't seem too impressed by that assessment. "That sounds good coming from you! Why don't you just confess instead of trying to lie to a Psi Cop?"

Shellfire frowned, concentrating. Hir empathic talent, more powerful than that of most Chakats to start with, had been honed by years of training, and shi trusted it as readily as a tricorder in cases like this. Neither of the pair of morphs seemed inclined to back down, and both seemed equally convinced that they had been assaulted by the other. A glance at Roberts told hir that he had picked up the same thing, despite his lower E rating.

"Yes, I'm a Psi Cop," he declared, cutting across the brewing argument. "And as such I'm qualified to tell you that you are both victims here."

"How can that be?" Tony objected, shivering slightly as the shoulder of his T-shirt nearly gave way and let a draft in. "She forced herself on me!"

Daniela looked about to respond when Shellfire cut in as well. "It's entirely possible, because you were both the victim of a lust-bomb." Shi continued quickly without giving them the chance to object. "It's something that we've seen springing up occasionally recently. Mostly it's a harmless prank pulled by friends on each other. Sometimes though, they target strangers.

"The concept is quite interesting," shi declared, warming to the topic. "Synthetic mating scent and pheromones are stored in some kind of container, and then released either slowly or all in one go. If it's done slowly then it can just mean anyone caught by it getting unusually horny around each other for a short while. If it's done very quickly, then it can induce a feral mating-lust in most species. At that point, as in this case, the victims just tend to focus on anything around them as an object of sexual release." Shi shrugged. "It's not a very pleasant experience at first, but it does mean that you weren't in control of your actions. Fortunately we've got good precedent in the law for dealing with something like this and once we catch whoever planted that lust-bomb you should be able to claim compensation from them easily enough."

"How..." Tony started, then stopped. Then he tried again. "How can something like that affect both of us..."

Roberts shrugged. "There's a genetic master-key built into most of these things."

"A what?" Daniela didn't look impressed at his use of what most natives of Chakona would have considered a reasonable popular-science term. Then again, Chakona's education made certain that people were aware of such things early on.

Roberts got there before Shellfire could. "A master-key makes something useable to anyone. Blood with a genetic master-key won't be rejected because of being incompatible. Drugs with a master-key can work across species. Sperm with a master-key can be used to fertilise any species. And synthetic mating scent with a master-key can affect almost any species it comes in contact with. Even Chakats are affected, though their immune system tends to clear things like that out quite successfully."

"We'll need to take blood samples from both of you to confirm that you were both affected, though..." Shi glanced at Roberts again. "Your prognosis?"

Roberts seemed to concentrate, then nodded. Pulling an official looking tricorder from his pocket, he set it to record. Shellfire mimicked his move with hir own forensic tricorder. "This is Agent David Roberts, resident Psi Corps liaison attached to the Amistad Crime Lab, rated E3 and T5. At this time it is my professional opinion that Tony Farway and Daniela Murro were both the non-consensual victims of a class three lust-bomb attack by persons currently unknown." He glanced at Shellfire.

"This is CSI Shellfire, criminalist assigned to Amistad Crime Lab, rated E5+. At this time I verify Agent Robert's judgement that both Tony Farway and Daniela Murro were both the victims of a class three lust-bomb attack by persons unkno..." Shi cut off abruptly as a thin scream, desperate and fading all too quickly, echoed through hir mind. Hir empathic talent was raked by the desperation and fear as shi desperately tried to close hir mind off again, regretting that shi had left hirself so open after scanning the two morphs.

A desperate glance at Roberts was all that shi needed to confirm that it hadn't been hir imagination. His expression was grim, focused off into the distance as his greater telepathic talent tried to focus in on where exactly the cry was coming from. No doubt he had felt the same thing that shi had, though his lesser empathic talent would have muted the worst of it for him. Abruptly, as shi finally managed to block out the worst hirself, Shellfire was startled by Roberts leaping into action.

"That way! Thirty metres! You two!" He pointed at the two morphs, "Don't go anywhere!" He tapped his commbadge as he started running. "Gateway Security, this is Psi Corps Agent Roberts. Attack under way! Section J16!"

"Trent!" Shellfire called, wanting to tell him to keep an eye on the scene while shi and Roberts went to investigate. Roberts was combat certified, and her own reluctant certification had recently been renewed, but Trent's...

He was already beside her, the CSI issue handgun already out. "No way," he said, a nervous edge touching his otherwise calm voice. "You guys keep an eye around here," he called to the security officers that had been about to follow them. Then to Shellfire, "you're going to need at least one CSI on the scene that isn't suffering from empathic shock."

As recreations went it was fairly basic. The walls were very clearly textured with low-resolution brickwork images, the photorealistic gravel and tarmac across the floor were very obviously tiled squares a metre to a side, and the sky was a simply radial gradient that started an unrealistic shade of blue directly above them and faded into a pale blue at the horizon in several distinct steps. There was no sun, no clouds, and no shadows as every surface simply gave off enough light to be seen properly.

That was okay though, since the main reason that this simulation was running was eating up so much processing time that there was nothing spare for a fancy environment.

"Okay, listen up," called out the snow-leopard-morph that stood in the middle of the badly simulated alley. She was tall, wearing reasonably official looking tattered shorts that looked like cut off combat trousers. She hadn't bothered with a top as such, having instead decided to simply pull an equipment vest on over a camouflage patterned vest. Some people might have taken her for a random mercenary, or someone trying to look trendy, until they spotted the police badge she was wearing on her belt.

"Most of you are probably familiar with a holodeck," she explained, gesturing around the simulated alleyway before crossing her arms. That drew the attention of several of the people that were currently sharing the alley with her, several of whom had already noted that the tension straps at the sides of her equipment vet had been let out slightly more than might otherwise have been necessary in order to accommodate her breasts. "Now most of the time holodecks are good for simulating things. You've probably seen all sorts of things being created, including entire forests. But the next time you see one of those forests, take a proper look at the trees. Take a good look at the rocks.

"Holodecks such as this rely a lot on fractal patterns, and stored templates. So just like a replicator will always produce exactly the same hamburger when you ask it to, right down to the shape and arrangement of the bits of onion, a holodeck will always produce the same tree, or one based on the same fractal pattern, if asked. While this is good for the designers, since it allows them to cut down on the processing time that the holodeck uses, it doesn't help us as CSIs.

"For those who haven't realised yet, the designers also scrimped on the physics engine. Try dropping a rock into water, and it'll produce a splash. But that splash, those droplets, the number and direction, are randomly generated based on a very basic physics engine and using the speed and direction of the rock as a seed value. Good for them. But not for us."

She turned and gestured towards what looked at first like a pair of still figures. The angles they both stood at though, suggesting both of them were in motion, gave away the fact that they had both been created as part of the program though. One held a gun, whilst the other was trying to run away.

"This is a recreation of a scene that took place a few days ago. In order to compare blood splatter patterns, we can't rely on a holodeck's normal physics engine, and so..."

The lecture, which was beginning to reach a significant point, was cut short as the pager attached to her belt emitted a sharp whine. She glanced down at it just as sharply, and quickly read off the display.

23320208 14:15:29 WPN16491 (CSI TRENT) WEAPON ACTIVE

Mere seconds later it was followed by a second whine, and a new message.

23320208 14:15:35 WPN16482 (CSI SHELLFIRE) WEAPON ACTIVE

Tapping at her commbadge, she put a call through to the only other member of her team of CSIs that might be able to give her answers with their only qualified empath away.

This office was not a normal one. It looked distinctly like it belonged to two different people, despite the same handwriting being common to all of the documents and notes.

The left half of the office, as seen from the door, was laid out neatly, with a ring of desks around the walls, with neatly laid out photos of evidence, bodies, damage and general scenes, all relating to active or recently closed cases. Occasional pieces of evidence were laid out as well, alongside notes relating to these. A computer terminal sat on one side, the screen set to show the standard crime-lab interface for searching through different databases.

The other half of the room was laid out in a similar fashion, with the mirror image ring of desks and the computer terminal, but what was laid out was of a very different style. Images of crop circles, badly blurred images of flying objects, and photos of strange creatures were set out haphazardly, apparently with little regard for organisation. A cast of what looked like the footprint of some prehistoric monster was resting precariously against one corner of the end desk, while a device, looking like it had been formed from molten bronze inlaid with jewels, was acting as a paperweight for a book on UFOs. Newspaper cuttings made up more of the decoration on this side as well.

The desk in the middle of the room represented the only calm and uncluttered point in the entire room. An expensive looking swivel-mounted massage mat - the 'taur equivalent of a very expensive and comfortable office chair - was neatly positioned so that the occupant could easily reach the computer terminal on the central desk, as well as seeing the rest of the room without having to stretch too much. Two sets of trays, both with 'IN', 'OUT', and 'PENDING' slots, were also within easy reach. A selection of stationery was laid out, including an interface pen more commonly associated with computer graphic designers.

The desk's occupant was no more or less peculiar than hys office. Shaped in a 'taur form that would be familiar to anyone that had visited Chakona, hy was a Skunktaur. Complete with the black and white markings and bushy tail that the name signified. Hy wore a leather waistcoat that had a decidedly genuine air about it despite the normally exorbitant costs of purchasing, transporting or even replicating such an item. Some glasses had been pushed back up onto hys forehead, though the independently mounted flip-down data-goggles that had been mounted on them suggested that they were more an affection than a necessity.

Currently hy was reading up on documents relating to the right half of the room. Most of them were obviously junk, and had gone straight from the IN tray to the bin. The current one had caught hys eye because it was an old favourite of sorts: a ship by the name of the Folly, which had a mysterious talent for travelling a lot further, and a lot faster, than any ship had a right to. Reports of this ship and its exploits had been going back and forth for years, alongside rumours of a number of ships that all possessed similar qualities, and whose crews all wore commbadges of an identical design.

It was an interesting story to follow, especially since the clearance carried by this office's owner meant that hy had picked up on some interesting rumours bouncing around Star Fleet regarding this ship and its activities in the past.

Chuckling, hy put the document into the PENDING tray for later filing along with the several dozen similar stories about the Folly, when the commbadge, which had been placed next to the intercom on the desk, bleeped urgently.

"This is Trey."

"Trey, it's Jessica," came the abrupt reply. "Trent and Shellfire are both up on the Gateway, and both of their weapons just went active. I need to know what's going on."

Trey raised an eyebrow, a gesture which, with hys bushy eyebrows, was nearly enough to dislodge hys glasses. It was not often that hys boss called upon hys talents so abruptly, or so blatantly. Nevertheless, hy was happy to oblige her, especially given that two of hys fellow criminalists were potentially in danger.

"I shall attend to the matter immediately," hy announced, before clearing a space on the desk directly in front of hysself and placing the commbadge reverently in the middle of it. Whilst it was not necessary, hy had occasionally had a bad turn doing this over such range, and it was useful to have the commbadge in an easy to reach and uncluttered area. "I am beginning," hy stated, clearly enough that hys voice would carry clearly to the still active commbadge.

As hy focused hysself, hy idly brushed the fingertips of hys left hand across the pawmark on hys right breast. All Skunktaurs bore an identical mark there, its pattern woven into their genes. Only the colour changed: blue for telekinetics, red for telepaths, and black, the colour of Trey's own pawmark, for astral projection.

It was a number of seconds of concentration before hy finally found hys focal point. Then, almost as if a slow-motion film had jerked back into real-time, hys mind flowed upwards, hys senses reaching out into the ether for the tiny point of lights and minds that represented the Chakona Gateway orbital station. It was a familiar journey, as hy had taken it a number of times over the years. Thankfully it was an easy journey to remember; had the Gateway not been in a geosynchronous orbit it would have potentially taken hours of wandering back and forth across the orbital tracks to find the damned thing, despite its enormous size once you were actually on it.

Once hys mind actually reached the Gateway, hy announced carefully, "I have entered the Gateway," being especially careful to hide any traces of the mild queasiness that rushing towards and into such a large object gave hym. Jessica was relying on hym after all.

Tracking down the two CSIs was a bit less of an actual science, and more down to blind instinct. Hy simply concentrated on the two minds that hy wanted to find.

With an almost jarring sensation, hys senses coalesced into a single body as hys astral self shimmered into existence for an instant before hy faded from sight again. While appearing in astral form was a nice party trick, and had certainly had its uses in the past, Trey was in no mood to be shot at or to distract his fellow CSIs with an unnecessary apparition.

The scene was a peculiar one. It was a large cargo storage area, mostly empty though with a few metal packing crates still standing around. Trent, Shellfire, and agent Roberts were all in the room, standing out in the open, though with their weapons drawn. A couple of other people were present, their image fuzzy to Trey's still adjusting senses, but it was clear that they were neither a threat nor a solution to the more obvious problem.

In the middle of the room, currently picked out in the ghostly aura that Trey had always associated with the recently departed, a bipedal form in what might have been a dockworker's uniform was sprawled. There was a hint of a tail, but the aura obscured too much for Trey to be sure, and there seemed to be ghost images of the tail. Despite this, hy still needed to find out what was going on, which meant that hy needed to become apparent.

Shellfire was looking around nervously, wondering what exactly was going on here, when a shimmering in the air caught hir attention. Glancing to hir right, shi spotted the ghostly image of Trey, the crime lab's resident UFO-ologist and expert on psychic and psionic Talents, as hy solidified hys image as best hy could.

Nodding a greeting, hy raised hys hands and began signing in the quick-fire variant of the standard Terranglo sign language that the members of the crime lab had mastered for this kind of circumstance, for whilst it was useful for Trey to be able to project an image like this, he couldn't actually produce sounds whilst doing it.

{Greetings. What is your situation?}

Glancing around, still nervous at what had happened and not trusting hirself to lower hir empathic barriers to check if there was still danger, shi didn't want to remove hir hands from the handgun, and so compromised by raising one of hir forelegs and signing back with a handpaw.

{One casualty. Roberts doesn't seem to have picked up anything suspicious. Other scene is secure. Will secure and process this one ASAP.}

For a moment Trey was still except for hys lips shifting quickly. Shellfire recognised it as a side effect of Trey speaking through his physical body, presumably communicating with whoever had tipped hym off that something was going on. Then he focused slightly to Shellfire's left, and she followed hys gaze to see Trent signing furiously.

{...secure. Require full lockdown of Gateway - repeat: Full lockdown. Suspects may still be aboard.}

Though hy was clearly not entirely happy with the order, especially since it came from someone one rank down from hym, Trey appeared to relay the request for a lockdown. That was going to be interesting, Shellfire realised, given that a number of freighters were on their way through already. But Trent was right: any one of them could be carrying a potential...

The thought struck hir that they weren't even certain that this was a murder. Keeping hir weapon ready, shi stepped closer to the body and ran hir tricorder over it.

"Dead," shi declared, frowning at the readings.

"Are we talking about murder or not?" Trent asked, looking around critically at the crowd.

"Massive damage to the nervous system... I can't see any sign of external injury," Shellfire added in exasperation.

"I can't sense anything nearby from a murderer," Roberts declared, holstering his gun. "It must have been an accident. Which means we can call off the lockdown order," he added with a glance at Trent.

"Lockdown remains in place," Trent replied bluntly. "Death in such circumstances is murder until proven accidental. And I don't believe that a sociopath couldn't slip past you," he concluded as he glanced at Trey and began signing again, relaying the new information and repeating the request for a lockdown.

Roberts looked like he was going to object, but Shellfire shook hir head. "Don't bother. Even if it is accidental, at least we'll keep the suspect and witness pool together." As shi spoke, Shellfire allowed hir guard to drop a bit, allowing the general flow of emotions from the people on the Gateway to come back into hir mind. Roberts was right: there didn't appear to be anyone nearby that felt responsible for this death. But as Trent had pointed out that didn't mean that someone wasn't masking their feelings or that - Makers help them - an AI of some kind had committed the crime.

Roberts didn't appear convinced, and for a moment Shellfire felt a tiny flame of exasperation, maybe even something verging on being annoyance or genuine anger, at the enmity between Trent and Roberts. Shi could understand it, and she was glad that it was as minor as it was; Trent wouldn't even acknowledge the existence of telepaths normally. But that didn't mean that it wasn't very annoying for her to have to deal with.

Setting aside the interpersonal differences that her co-workers suffered from, Shellfire directed hir attention to the body and began to process it and the immediate surroundings prior to its transport down to the surface.

"Doc' I've got a couple of CSIs trying to enforce a lockdown order on the Chakona Gateway. Tell me that they are justified to do so."

The Grizzly-morph coroner glanced over at CSI Woodum - Jessica to her friends, at least when she wasn't on duty - and smiled grimly. "That, I can do. Whatever else this was, it wasn't an accident unless it's the most peculiar one I've ever seen."

"On this planet that's saying something," Woodum muttered, before glancing at CSI Trey, who was hanging around the doorway. "Call the Gateway, and pass on the message that this is a genuine murder. No excuses until Trent and Shellfire have cleared people."

"That's not going to be popular," Doc said carefully as Trey left. "Keeping that station under lockdown..."

"They've survived for two hours now, I'm sure they can handle it a bit longer," Woodum replied. "For now, let's have a look at the vic'."

Douglas "Doc" Campbell led the way over to the secondary worktable, the smaller one normally reserved for non-taur subjects. "Subject is Eiji Chizuko. Male foxmorph from Japan, of the slightly rare Kitsune breed," he indicated the four tails which had been spread, two on each side of the body. "No apparent damage to the epidermis, aside from a few newly developed calluses. His record indicated that he moved to Chakona a few weeks ago though, so that's understandable if he's been a dockworker the entire time. The only other external injury, barely noticeable but it does bear mentioning, was this." He indicated the morph's upper arm, where a small patch of fur had been shaved off. In the middle of the shaved area was a small scratch, a centimetre long. "This scratch doesn't appear to be consistent with any injuries I can imagine him sustaining," Doc explained. "It's either too small or in the wrong place for most injuries."

"Deliberate?" Woodum leaned closer, then glanced up at him.

"That's for you to work out. The internal injuries are much more interesting though." He indicated the big central screen on the wall, which currently showed an image similar to that which an MRI might produce. "Take a look at this," he instructed, indicating long yellow lines that ran through the body on the screen.

Woodum looked up at the screen, frowning. "It looks like these follow the nervous system... Well, most of it..."

"An incredibly high metal content," Doc explained. "Normally this kind of metal content would be found in a Human or morph body, but not so densely, or even in these areas. It would be spread throughout the bloodstream instead."

"And there isn't anything in the bloodstream?"

"I've sent a blood sample to trace for analysis, but it looks like something took all of the metal from his blood and spread it around his nervous system... And then fried him."


"COD was an electrical discharge that burnt out roughly 58% of the nervous system, including all of the nerves to and from the heart and lungs, and a fair portion of the brain itself. Death would have been fairly instantaneous, but painful as well, especially given the symptoms before that."

"Symptoms? What kind?"

"You'll need to check with trace, but I'm guessing that this guy's haemoglobin count was very low. There is almost no iron still in his blood, which means that oxygen wasn't being transported around properly. Even without the damage to his nervous system, this guy was going to be dead from oxygen starvation in the near future anyway."

"Oxygen starvation from iron deficiency... And then someone electrocutes him?"

"From the inside," Doc clarified. "There are no external signs of electrical damage. And that means that the electricity started inside his body and never had a chance to leave it."

Shaking her head, Jessica smiled grimly. "I'm starting to think that this needs to just be filed away in Trey's X-Files and left at that," she declared. "Anything else I should know about?"

"We're done here," Doc declared. "I'll notify you if there is anything else." As Jessica turned for the door, he called after her, "Oh, are we still up for Saturday?"

Turning back, Jessica frowned, then nodded. "Sure. Sammy asked me this morning whether you were going to be there. He informed me very gravely that you weren't going to wriggle out of it this time," she added with a mock-serious glare.

"He would," Doc replied with a grin. "Well you can tell him that unless they suddenly want me to process some VIP, celebrity or minor deity, I'll be there. Missing last year's party was bad enough."

"Good to hear," Jessica replied, before leaving.

Despite the air conditioning, there was a distinctly equine smell to the Video Analysis lab when Jessica entered. Given the room's current occupant, the smell was hardly surprising, though it was a bit shocking in this quantity.

"Ya ask me ta come in when Ah'm in the middle of a workout, and den ya complain when the lab stinks," Art muttered when Jessica commented on it. His off-white hair was still damp from the rapid shower that he had managed to grab before hurrying into the office. "Ain't this meant to be mah day off anyway?"

"Would that we could afford for you to take it off," Jessica replied. "One unexplained death like this is one too many though, especially with an ambassador due in the next couple of hours."

"Ah got ya," Art agreed. "So, ya'll be wantin' to see if someone topped this guy?"

"I'm going to guess from that question that we're out of luck."

"Ya right on that one," Art agreed. "First, Trace came through on the blood. This guy had regular haemoglobin counts."

"I thought he was suffering from a critical iron deficiency?" Jessica settled herself onto the edge of the desk, crossed her arms and glared down at Art, who was sitting in front of the video lab's main workstation.

"Ah know," Art agreed. "Take a look at this." He tapped one of the buttons on the keyboard and the main screen on the wall lit up with the image taken from a security camera on the Chakona Gateway.

Eiji Chizuko, his four tails hanging limply and his stance suggesting boredom, was on one side of the screen as the image focused on the centre of the storage room. He was moving a couple of smaller crates around, a light enough job that there was no point in bringing in mechanical equipment to help. Jessica frowned at the timecode on the screen; it showed that this was less than a minute before.

Very abruptly, Eiji staggered. He tried to straighten, clutching at his throat as visibly gasping for air as he tried to draw oxygen from blood that was no longer able to carry it. His staggering carried him a couple of metres to his left, further into the centre of the room, before he very abruptly spasmed as if he'd been electrocuted, and collapsed limply to the floor.

"He started suffocating... It wasn't even thirty seconds before he was killed," Jessica murmured, scientific curiosity the only thing she allowed her voice to convey.

"That explains the haemoglobin count," Art agreed gruffly. "Doesn't tell us what happened though. The lab came back on the metal lining this guy's nerves: normal metal content of the blood, though badly burnt along with the surrounding tissue." He looked over the list of details in front of him again. "There were a couple of odd structures that might have survived the heat damage. Might be artificial structures, but they can't tell what kind."

Jessica nodded, then glanced up as the door was opened, rather hesitantly. A young looking foxtaur stepped cautiously into the room, and then smiled nervously. "Um, I'm looking for CSI Woodum."

"That's me," Jessica said, sliding down to the floor and sliding the ID off her belt as she did. "And you are?"

The Foxtaur glanced at her ID, then started at her question, before producing his own ID. "CSI Nico Bushstalker. Um... I was told that you were the one that approved my transfer to this office," he continued nervously, as if worried that this might offend her.

"Yes, I did," she agreed. It hadn't been a hard decision as such; the Amistad Crime Lab had been without a Wild Country expert since their last expert had transferred to one of the Star Fleet CSI teams. Though Nico had only graduated into the ranks of field agents a few months earlier, a Foxtaur normally came with the added bonus of having grown up in woodland areas, and so knowing at least roughly what to expect already.

That Nico had requested specifically to transfer to Amistad to be closer to some old friends, and that he had come out ranking top in his class, had assisted her decision greatly.

"Art, can you handle things here?"

"Shor," Art replied, nodding. "Ah dunno what Ah'll be finding from it though," the Quange added with a perplexed glance at the CCTV footage.

"Maybe we'll get lucky," Jessica said with a shrug. "Try going back over the last few hours if you can. Doc spotted a scratch that he can't identity on the vic's right arm, and I have a feeling that it might be related."

Art nodded, then just as Jessica was turning to leave the phone on his desk went off. Jessica paused as he picked it up and spoke rapidly into it.

"We got worried when he didn't turn up on time," the HitchReg office worker said, hir hands clasped nervously together. "Normally he's good about being on time, but today he didn't. Then after a couple of hours we called his rig..."

Jessica nodded as sympathetically as she could, while keeping an eye on Art as he got in touch with the planetary sensor grid's control centre. The centre were already routing things to them, but the authentication was taking a while to sort itself out. "Do you have any information on his passenger?"

The young Chakat nodded distractedly, doing something to a computer terminal off to one side of the screen. As shi did, Art got the sensor data up and running. "Got it. That is where the rig is," he declared, pointing at a glowing shape on the thermal view. "Those two next to it," he pointed at the other two heat signatures, "are the cop cars that headed out there."

"So they're within a few metres of the rig," Jessica said, glancing at the scale. "Why are you telling me that they can't find the rig?"

"Because it ain't there," Art replied succinctly. "I've talked to those officers, and they all agree there ain't nothin' there."

Jessica looked carefully at the monitor, frowning. "I take it that they've checked for visual cloaking and so forth."

"The guys at the control centre had them walking back and forth through that image to make sure. If it's there, it's gone intangible."

That didn't make any sense. Quite aside from the difficulties of preventing something from falling through the planet's surface or flying off into space if it was rendered intangible, there were much easier ways of making a rig, even the large class V that they were looking for, vanish in the wilderness.

"Someone's ghosting the sensor grid," she decided.

"That's mah thought," Art agreed. "Just say the word, I'll take Nico out there and we'll track this thing down proper."

For a moment Jessica was still, then she nodded. "Get going. A missing trucker might be nothing, but someone using equipment sophisticated enough to put a ghost image on the planetary sensor grid is big-time."

The aircar that they requisitioned was designed by Chakat engineers, and had been manufactured at the New Bletchley industrial plant by Century Systems, one of the Chakonan government's principle contractors for official transportation needs. It was of the sturdy Makarbee Hummer models, built along the same lines as the old terran Hummer, and more military HUMM-V, as a solid and hard-working vehicle. This particular one was the newest addition to the Amistad PD's collection of non-police-specific vehicles, bearing the APD logo and the Crime Lab seals on the side, but without anything visible to mark it as an official vehicle.

The Chakat design, and rigorous testing by the Skunktaur engineers that put it together, ensured a comfortable seating arrangement for almost any kind of morph, including some of the more exotic types. Inertial compensators, normally not seen in an atmosphere except in some types of fightercraft, were a concession to the possibility of the vehicle being involved in a chase or an attack, and meant that, barring a major system failure, the various seat-belts and buckles were largely just for show.

Though the original design was never intended as a convertible, the aircar also featured a retracting roof, though as a ward against high-speed winds and stray insects a climate management field ensured a domesticated journey even during gale-force winds. As a side-effect, an aircar of this design had once been flown safely at an altitude somewhere just below low orbit with the roof down without any sign of the atmosphere inside the aircar becoming unhealthy.

Art had taken a liking to the old model of the Makarbee, and was finding this new one to be a bit of a bother, since it handled without most of the old quirks that he had grown used to. He was also aware that someone was going to be upset about the fact that he still hadn't managed to tidy himself up properly and was leaving sweat marks along the seat.

Nico on the other hand seemed to be enjoying the ride, at least when he noticed that it was actually happening. His attention seemed to be elsewhere for the most part, as if the young foxtaur was thinking deeply about something.

"Wha's on your mind?" Art asked as the aircar blasted over a hillside before sliding neatly into a pre-programmed route that would follow the motorway along until it reached the police officers at the site that the rig was supposed to be dumped.

"Huh? Oh," Nico seemed to come back to reality slowly. "Uh, I was just thinking about being on Chakona... It's so different from back home..."

Art nodded. "Yeah, ah bet. Bit more high-tech than you're used to huh?"

Nico frowned for a second, then nodded abruptly as if remembering something. "Yeah... Lots more," he said despondently. "It's not just that though," he added. His tail hung limply, across the seat behind him, but Art was worried to notice that it did twitch occasionally, as if it wasn't under conscious control.

For the next few minutes they flew on in silence, until Art grunted. "Ah got somethin'," he muttered, taking back manual control and bringing the aircar around in a slow curve back to what he had spotted.

Art brought the aircar down low, frowning at the grass along the side of the highway. This area was quite heavily wooded, and it was only a brief glimpse of something familiar that had grabbed Art's attention in amongst the otherwise seemingly identical foliage.

"See that?" he asked Nico. "What do yah make of it?"

Nico looked out where the Quange was pointing, and frowned. At a glance it didn't seem to be that dissimilar from any other area of grass and vegetation. Then a few seemingly random lines came together...

"Something went into the woods?"

"Yup," Art agreed. "Heavy duty grav-track, ah'd say." He brought the aircar down and pulled a scanner out, along with a couple of the additional attachments for it. "They said that this guy was drivin' a class V rig. So that would be..." He fiddled with the scanner, then made a couple of final adjustments to it before getting out.

Art was already over to the side of the road before Nico slowly got out of the aircar and followed him over. The Quange had also already completed his tests before the young Foxtaur peeked over his shoulder.

"Definitely a class V," Art declared, looking over the readings. "And we're what? A good fifteen clicks down the road from the ghost image..."

"That's a bit far, even for advanced sensor ghosting equipment," Nico offered.

Art nodded absently, not bothering to ask why a Foxtaur wild-country expert would know about the limits of sensor ghosting equipment. "It's not impossible though," he replied, before reaching for his commbadge.

"Trey, what have you got on that case in Marpletown?" Jessica jogged the last couple of steps to catch up with the Skunktaur, before slowing down to walk alongside him.

Trey glanced back at her, and shrugged. "Not much I'm afraid," he informed her. "All that I've been able to get out of the museum so far is that one of their newer employees was checking a sensor malfunction in one of their more... select... galleries, and panicked when he found something had been 'mislaid'."

"And 'select' means..?"

"They didn't say," Trey replied. "Though the brief glimpse I took suggested that it's more semi-legal items, such as religious artefacts that they would rather not give up, rather than erotic or kinky."

"And the missing item?"

"I couldn't see any sign of anything missing, but that doesn't mean that there wasn't. I certainly wasn't able to take too much of a look at any rate. They did have a number of very worried looking people in the vault."

Jessica frowned, unsure of how to take that. That Trey had apparently very calmly broken the security around a sealed vault using hys talent was nothing new. She had encouraged it on several occasions when suspects had been less than helpful about things, though she was fairly certain that she had never mentioned bypassing security around official vaults before.

"Did you get any idea about what was stolen? Hints about the size, that kind of thing?" Jessica glowered at hym in the hope that hy had found something more. It got her very annoyed when people deliberately tried to make her job more difficult than it already was.

"Nothing," Trey replied succinctly, and with a hint of annoyance. "Beyond the fact that it was being kept in that vault I haven't a clue. Even the other items weren't much help, because they were a fairly eclectic collection."

"Well, we'll give them a few days and then try chasing them up about it. Until then, we'll just have to..." Jessica was cut off as the comlink on her belt bleeped at her. Thumbing it on, she growled out, "yes?"

"Ah'm sorry," Art's voice replied over the channel, not sounding put out at his boss's annoyed tone. "Ah can call back later if it'll be easier."

Jessica rolled her eyes towards the ceiling. "Sorry Art. What have you got?"

"We've found the rig," Art reported. "Looks intact as well. Ah just called in for the cops to clear the area before Nico and ah went in to look over it, and ah was wonderin' if you was gonna want to send somewun out here to help, or if we're handling it ourselves."

Jessica glanced at Trey, who made a show of not being interested in the conversation, then genuinely was distracted for a moment as a Chakat from the trace lab playfully slipped hir tail around hys hind leg. Hy responded by brushing hys own tail across hir nose playfully, a move that, with hys bushy tail, temporarily blinded hir.

"I think that the two of you can handle things yourselves," she declared after a few more seconds thought. "How serious does it look anyway?"

"Depends," Art replied with a hint of dry humour. "How serious is the guy being dead at the wheel?"

The rig was a standard design for a class V; a massive flat-bed with a cabin at the front. Heavy-duty tyres rested on the ground for normal motion, while the grav-tracks that had given away the rig's route were currently retracted back under the bed. A full load, looking like it was mostly metal crates, was set up on the back of the bed. Art glanced at the labels, but wasn't able to read them at this distance. Whatever was in them was heavy though; despite the rig being on firm ground the wheels had sunk significantly into the dirt from the weight on them.

That had to be at least partly why the grav-tracks had been used to get the rig off the motorway; to the right sensors or to someone who knew what they were looking for, they stood out like a flare, but they left less of an obvious trail than a fully loaded rig would driving through that same vegetation.

And whoever had driven it off under the trees had done so skilfully, seemingly moving it unnoticed through spaces that Art would have been sure that it couldn't pass through without leaving some kind of devastation in its wake. He doubted it was the driver, who certainly matched the photo that the hitch-reg office had provided of Lee Johnson, had done so willingly. Whether he had been alive when it happened would have to wait until a coroner could make it out to take a proper look at the situation.

Outwardly there didn't appear to be anything wrong here. If Art hadn't known that Lee Johnson was listed as a missing person under suspicious circumstances, and the forensic tricorder hadn't already confirmed that the man was dead, then he might simply have suspected that the human had pulled over for a nap. There was nothing here to suggest foul play, except maybe a tear in Johnson's sleeve, which could have come from a work-related accident as easily as anything criminal.

As Nico looked around the area, searching for additional clues about where someone else might have gone, Art began to check out the rest of the vehicle, trying to see if anything was missing, or if there was any sign of who the hitch-hiker had been.

Across the rig's bed there was nothing though. That wasn't entirely unexpected, though Art had hoped that there would be something to indicate that this was some kind of robbery aimed at the cargo. However, unless whoever had been here had come equipped with the gear to break the seals around the containers, and then reseal them sufficiently for a forensic tricorder to be unable to spot the break, the crates hadn't even been checked out beyond a cursory glance, and Art's brief inspection of the dirt around the rig and of the flat-bed itself suggested that no one had even done that.

He next turned his attention to the cab, where Lee Johnson's body was set up, sitting, leaning back in the driver's seat as if he had simply fallen asleep there. The cabin was designed exclusively for Humans, despite the prevalence of Quange in the cargo-hauling business, and Art wasted a couple of minutes trying to work out how to get in properly before giving up.

Under the glow of his ALS, various past offences in the cabin showed up; stains from old meals, wear patterns in the tough synthetic of the seats, several drinks ranging from soft to mid-range alcoholic that had clearly gone awry for one reason or another, and semen stains from at least three separate incidents if the overlap patterns were anything to go by.

"You shoorely had fun in here," Art murmured to the body in the driver's seat as he slipped the ALS back into its holster in his equipment vest and checking the images that his tricorder had recorded. Whilst it wasn't standard protocol to record everything on a scene like this, Art had been to too many scenes that had either become mobile without warning, or had fallen apart for some reason. Being the crime lab's EVA and vehicle expert had advantages sometimes, but it also meant examining things that had either been moving at speed, or tended to start doing so.

As the tricorder came on, it ran a passive scan of its surroundings. It was a standard feature, and one that had saved time on many occasions as it allowed a CSI to get straight on with their work rather than having to rely on starting it up manually. A passive scan wouldn't register on any kind of sensors since it gave off nothing for them to detect, and the tricorder operating in passive mode gave off no more energy than a standard torch would. It was therefore a cruel twist of fate that the faint bleep from under the seat coincided with Art activating the tricorder.

The Quange froze where he was, barely balanced and painfully aware of the pounding of his pulse in his ears. Gently, as gently as he could, he climbed down far enough that he could see under the seat.

There weren't many things that it could have been. A bomb was a likely one, which worried Art, because most bombs went off rather than bleeping, unless they were about to go off. The other option, which Art silently prayed was true, was that it was a part of the sensor ghosting equipment that was quite neatly throwing the van's image nearly fifteen kilometres away. Unfortunately, there wasn't much room for taking chances.

Calling for help wasn't much of an option; the sensor ghosting equipment generated enough interference that comlinks were useless, so Art had been forced to go nearly a hundred metres back down the road before he was able to contact the lab. And even if he could have called for help, it probably wouldn't have done much good, because even assuming that the planetary sensor grid was able to spot them (which it wouldn't be with the ghosting equipment in operation), the chances of a ship being able to pick the three of them up with a transporter being in the area was slim.

For a moment Art considered calling Nico over to take a look. Then he dismissed the thought. Whatever the Foxtaur knew about advanced technology there probably wasn't much point in asking about something this advanced. That left Art still alone and trying to work out what to do next.

"You know, traditionally we like CSIs not to manhandle DBs until a coroner has looked them over," Doc said reproachfully.

Jessica restrained a smirk as she glanced at Art, who was gingerly fingering a patch of synthskin that had been applied to his hide. A few other signs of burns, less serious and not worthy of anything more than a wash and a bandage, were the only other signs of what had happened out in the country.

"Well you can try to get past the damned bomb next time," Art grumbled. His escape had been a close thing, especially since he had done what some people might have called the proper thing - though others were still calling him crazy for it - and had dragged Lee Johnson's body out of the cabin before the rig exploded.

It was only by chance that the Roanoke, a Changi class heavy cruiser, had been in the area, and had been able to perform a site-to-site transport of Jessica and several police officers to the site of the rig's explosion. Captain Darkflight had even extended them the courtesy of sending a pair of Geelong runabouts to assist in moving things around. Having the runabouts around so that they weren't having to perform massively power intensive open-ended transports had saved hours, not to mention cutting the potential power bill for that particular operation in half.

Darkflight had requested, and been granted, permission to hang around, since shi was intrigued by the situation that shi had unexpectedly been drawn into. For now shi had chosen to hang around to supervise the check of the site and the surrounding area in case there were any other signs of explosives or at least some sign of the errant hitch-hiker that Lee Johnson had been carrying.

Lee Johnson himself was now set up on the operating table, mostly untouched by the explosion, but definitely not as badly off as he would have been if he'd been left in the cabin.

"By the way," Doc asked as he fiddled with one of the pieces of equipment that seemed exclusive to the coroner's office, and which Jessica had never bothered to learn the function of as a result, "what does the scene look like?"

"A crater the last time I checked," Jessica replied succinctly. "Whatever that explosive was, it did a number of the rig. We've got a few samples back and in the lab, but the whole thing is being slowed down by the fact that we can't transport anything that might be evidence." He tailed lashed back and forth in irritation at the peculiarities of transporter technology. It was a miracle that could send people thousands of kilometres in seconds, and could be adapted to serve as a replicator for any pattern stored in memory...

That was the problem of course. If any pattern could be replicated, and any pattern stored in the computer could be altered, then evidence was no longer secure the instant a transporter touched it. Even evidence sealed, signed and observed at both ends of the transport by credible witnesses counted for nothing if it went through a transporter, since the latest AI routines would be able to edit evidence in real-time.

"Anyway, Shellfire came down from the Gateway to co-ordinate the efforts on the ground, while Trent and Agent Roberts are staying up there to look into the other two cases."

"Ah bet Trent's just thrilled by that," Art said.

"He didn't sound too happy," Jessica agreed. "But he's got more experience in that kind of environment than Shellfire, and I need hir down helping Nico anyway."

"Well, he might be happy with the news that I have," Doc informed her as he finished setting up the equipment. "Over here you will see Eiji Chizuko, the Kitsune foxmorph from the Gateway." He gestured at the monitor above the second metal workbench, where the foxmorph was set out. "Observe the abnormally low metal content in the body except around the nervous system, and the haemoglobin that, despite being intact is slowly falling apart from lack of vital metals."

Jessica nodded, familiar with the display from her last briefing on it. Art looked more interested since he had only heard about this rather than seeing it on the morgue's displays.

"Now observe on this screen," Doc said as he turned and gestured at the monitor above Lee Johnson's workbench, "as I run the same scans..."

Jessica had already formed an idea about where this was leading, and so wasn't entirely surprised when the scan of Lee Johnson came up showing exactly the same anomalous readings.

"The metal content is slightly higher here," Doc said, using a laser pointer to indicate the more vividly yellow area. "That's a natural difference between the species though. Everything else though... Right down to what I suspect to be the point of entry for whatever did this," Doc indicated a scratch on Lee Johnson's arm, "these two are identical cases."

"Our killer just went serial," Art muttered.

"That narrows things down a lot though," Jessica said, glancing over at the matching scratch mark on Eiji's arm. "For one thing HitchReg have just got back to us with a photo of the guy that Johnson was transporting. Art, head over to the A-V lab and see what you can make of the photo. At the same time send it up to Trent and tell him to start on the security footage. Try following Eiji around and see if the guy from the photo turns up. Tell him to get them started on a records check of everyone that's been through customs. I'll handle the Civic Records division, and see if I can find anything there about whoever this is. I doubt it will come to anything, but we've got to hope."

Trent was feeling a lot happier about things now that he was back in the loop. For a few hours it had looked like he was going to be left out of things, or even worse left with Agent Roberts for company as he sorted through both crime scenes by himself. Then several things had happened.

In approximately chronological order, word had reached them that Art had found the vehicle belonging to the missing driver, then they heard that the vehicle had exploded, then they found out that a Changi class cruiser was assisting them and Trent found himself able to requisition various other people to help sort through records for him. Shellfire had been recalled to the surface at some point, leaving him with Roberts, but he had eventually gotten around that by sending Roberts to check out the security footage while he retraced Eiji's movements around the Gateway.

He was in fact happier than he had been for a long while.

As he picked his way through the cargo bays, he ran his tricorder over various crates and boxes, mental and electronic notes piling up as he went. It was the kind of thing that he lived for nowadays, in fact since he had transferred from Amistad PD; the careful sorting and sifting of evidence that would lead, inexorably, to the final capture. Vaguely he considered a time, before his transfer, when he might have been watching a football game, or playing baseball with his sister's boyfriend - how long had it been since he had spoken to either of them? - but he pushed the thoughts aside. Work was what mattered here.

It was while he was heading through the third bay, having dodged a set of workers that should have been heading back down to Chakona and were instead stranded because of the Crime Lab's lockdown order, that he came across the prize.

Agent Roberts wandered through the cargo bays, studiously ignored by everyone. He could see their resentment towards him and the various crime scene related people boiling, but the Psi Corp's reputation, however undeserved it might be, moved around him like a force field, diverting people's attention away from him.

Technically he was just out for a stroll, and should anyone ask he would have told them such. He rarely got to visit the Gateway except on business, and since the only way on or off was via the Roanoke's transporters, it seemed like more fuss than it was worth to head back to the surface. So he walked. And no, he definitely wasn't looking for CSI Trent.

There was no reason to after all. Sure the guy had some kind of twist in his head that meant he could tell when he was being scanned telepathically, despite being zero-rated for any kind of Talent. And sure the guy hated telepaths of any kind. So there was no reason to go looking for him. Hell, there were plenty of reasons to avoid him.

Despite which, he found himself trawling the cargo bays, where he knew for a fact that Trent was working, and where his excuse of 'just seeing the sights' wouldn't hold up for more than a second.

It was irritating him, especially since as a telepath, and a Psi Cop, he was meant to be able to understand people's minds. He had been trained to perceive motive, to pierce intent, and to know people's agendas better than they did themselves. He was good at it, which was what had earned him the liaison job with the Amistad Crime Lab. It was quite an honour to get the job, despite the apparent stigma that went with it.

And despite that he found himself unable to fathom his own feelings. What was it that had been written about Sherlock Holmes once? 'The detective who could discover anything, except for the state of his own health'. Something like that anyway. Well, the guy had been a cocaine addict, so he obviously hadn't been able to spot some things.

It annoyed Roberts that he couldn't work out his feelings about Trent. Part of him couldn't stand the guy, and enjoyed the mutual annoyance that Trent felt for Roberts. But part of him... It had worried him when he had woken up one night thinking about Trent despite all of that.

His meanderings had taken him past one of the secondary cargo bays when he picked up a surge of elation from inside. Without needing to focus, he recognised Trent, and mentally kicked himself for not spotting the CSI sooner. But he'd never felt the criminalist so excited before...

Stepping into the bay, Roberts headed over to where Trent was standing in front of an open cargo container, the kind used for shipping people's personal belongings over long distances. The CSI was grinning like a lunatic, and Roberts was impressed that the elation barely flickered when he spotted the Psi Cop approaching. If anything his elation took on a more smug edge than before.

"Hey, Roberts. You remember telling me that if this was a murder then there should be a reason for it?"

Roberts nodded warily, thinking back to the conversation when the report about the autopsy had filtered back up to them.

"Take a look at this for motive," Trent told him, still grinning.

Raising an eyebrow, Roberts stepped closer, and looked into the cargo crate. What he saw made him whistle in appreciation. "Okay, score one for the Crime Lab. That is definitely motive..."

The Day Shift will return in Part 2.

Chakats and Chakona are the creation of Bernard Doove and are used with permission.

"CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" created by Anthony E. Zuiker

CSI: Amistad and the FSS Roanoke, along with associated persons, are the property of Chakat Acer. Comments, thoughts and queries to Chakat Acer at Argyle83-at-hotmail-dot-com


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