CSI Amistad
by Chakat Acer
Opening Gambits - Part 2


Berdoovia, a jewel in its own right.

It wasnít a major city by any stretch of the imagination. For the most part it was always overshadowed by Amistad, or Redpaws, despite the fact that neither of them boasted the largest centre of learning on the plant. The Dewclaw University, being a major source of income for the city that it was paired to, managed to operate constantly, making use of the varying system of years across various worlds to ensure that there was a constant flow of people through the halls and corridors of Chakonaís gift to education.

Matt liked it. It was a reasonably quiet area, despite the occasional stories that came through about student parties getting out of control. It had good scenery, if you liked that sort of thing, and was a sensible distance from the coast rather than being built up and along the cliff-tops like Chakona was.

He was a urban creature though, a Human born in the big city and having spent his time moving from one artificial world to another ever since, so that Berdoovia was the closest that he had ever got to nature for an extended period, aside from brief cross-country runs to meet someone for business. Keeping to the more industrial areas and the warehouses allowed him to remain comfortable with his surroundings.

He moved quickly through the streets, ignoring the mechanical loaders that lumbered around, and keeping a surreptitious eye on any of the Chakats that were in the area. None of them paid him any attention though, his personal sense of belonging in a place like this easily fooling their empathic talents into ignoring him totally.

He only needed to consult his map occasionally, and found his destination easily, despite having never been there before. As he approached though, he was slightly put-off by the sheer weight of traffic around it.

One of the men recognised him as he approached, and moved over to greet him. "Hey Matt. I was wondering whether you were going to be showing up."

"Yeah, well I wasnít intending to be late. Some kind of crowd control or something..."

"Oh man," the other replied. "Talk about the left hand not knowing what the right handís doing..." When Matt frowned, his contact shrugged. "A Humans First group started a riot. Or tried to anyway. Someone tipped off the authorities to what was happening and they had cops moving in before it even started."

"You think someone talked?"

"Nah," the other man replied. "Someoneís been finding out about these raids and tipping the cops off... oh, for about a month now. Itís not perfect by a long shot, but someone is certainly getting word out about whatís happening, way before it goes down."

"Is that why weíre clearing out?" Matt asked, looking at the warehouse.

"Nope," the other man replied brushing his hand lightly across Mattís arm in a casual looking visual non-sequitur.

Matt winced as the faint scratch that he felt, and then looked down at his arm in horror, seeing the faint line in the skin where the needle had been dragged across it. "Wha?"

"You screwed up kid," the other man said, not exactly unkindly, but decidedly without warmth. "Thanks to you the cops are all over the Gateway. Weíve got word that they tracked down the trucker you topped, and itís only going to be a matter of time before they find our merchandise. In fact, they probably already have. Weíre cutting our losses, and right now, youíre one of them."

Matt ran his fingers down the scratch, then looked around, wondering how they were planning on hiding his death. There wasnít anyone around that they wouldnít trust of course, but when he diedÖ .

"Donít worry about the Chakats spotting your death," the man said, as if reading his thoughts. "Some of our tech guys have been talking to the guy with the beard again, and they came up with some very interesting tricks. The instant you came in here, we got telepathic barriers in place. Theyíre not just hiding us though; theyíre projecting a safe image of us. And theyíll keep projecting a safe image of you until weíre well clear of here."

Matt nodded slowly. He hadnít honestly expected anything less, even from people that were trying to kill him. Even as he thought this though, he felt a wave of weakness washing through him, a feeling he recognised as oxygen deprivation from a shuttle accident. He started to collapse, and felt himself being caught and then laid more gently on the ground, as he tried desperately to draw breath. No matter how deeply he breathed, he felt that same weakness spreading further-

The world seemed to explode in a single soundless explosion of light.

The Amistad Crime Lab was quite a spacious, even airy place, with only the basement area being reserved for the more chilly business of the coroner's office and the morgue. It worried some people that a building that made its business dealing with crime and criminals could be so cheerful looking, like the better class of office belonging to some kind of mega-corporation.

This was Chakona though. Adopted home of the Chakat species and their cousins the Skunktaurs, the entire planet had been built up as a civilised world by civilised beings, and even the less pleasant areas of law enforcement could do their job in relative comfort.

Thus it was that when captain Darkflight of the FSS Roanoke stepped into the Day Shiftís break room, it was to find what amounted to a lounge there, complete with comfortable seats, a small kitchen area, and a general purpose holoscreen. It was a south facing room, avoiding direct sunlight but catching a stunning view out across the bay that Amistad was built around. Ships, ranging from the massive ocean liners down to smaller sailing craft used by hobbyists and the like were visible across the water from this cliff-top view.

"How do they manage to get any work done with this view?" Darkflight asked hirself aloud as shi looked out over the panorama.

"You have to time it right," a voice behind hir said, with a wry humour.

Darkflight turned, and found hirself looking at CSI Woodum, the day shiftís supervisor. She was a morph, of the snow leopard breed. A bipedal morph rather than a taur like Darkflight. She wore what shi believed to be her customary clothing; ragged shorts, a camouflage vest, and an equipment vest.

Darkflightís clothing was more formal than that, since shi was still in the normal uniform of a Star Fleet captain, the red the brilliant shade of a newly replicated material. The commbadge gleamed with a freshly polished shine, and the gold braiding down the sleeves was an impressively fresh colour as well. Hir fur, a deep, rich, black speckled with white dots that seemed to shimmer in and out of sight as shi moved, had been smoothed neatly, and almost shone.

"Wow... You really do polish up well Ďlight," Woodum commented, looking hir up and down.

"Would that I had done this for your team," Darkflight replied, stepping closer. "Weíve got some representative of the Rakshani royal family coming through in a few hours. Technically I should be busy sorting out business on the Roanoke, and then attend the reception." Shi embraced Woodum, more gently than a Chakat normally would as a shi remembered in time the smooth lines of hir dress uniform.

"Iím sure Wayland can manage that without you for a while," Woodum replied, returning the hug. "How have you been?"

"Well enough considering. You?"

"Again, well enough. How long are you here for? Because Sammy was asking if youíre planning on skiving again..."

Darkflight grinned back. "Little terror isnít he? To be honest I wasnít planning on being here at all. We were diverted here at the last minute because the Kowloon wasnít able to make it because of some kind of engine trouble. Now that weíre here weíve been reassigned to... Well, I canít say yet. Iím not even sure that I have clearance to know about it yet to be honest. Anyway, it looks like Iíll be around on Saturday, so you can assure Sammy that at the very least Iíll be there by telepresence."

"How well thatíll go down I dread to think," she replied warily. "Oh, and before the others get here, I need to warn you about something."

Darkflight sighed. "Okay, how formal do we need to be here?"

"Pretty formal," Woodum admitted. "The chief has been on my ass about the last time we met up as part of our work and not wanting a repeat performance of it."

Darkflight cocked hir head. "I thought you didnít take things that way," shi commented, before grinning at the warning look that Woodum shot at hir. "Okay, formal it is then."

"Thanks. I think they all know that we know each other. Oh, aside from Nico. Heís a Foxtaur that transferred here. And here he is, already involved in a major case thatís got Star Fleet involvement."

"Some of them get all the luck," Darkflight commented wryly. "Almost makes you wonder what you did wrong all those years ago, doesnít it?"

Woodum was about to reply, when the door behind her opened, and Art Coburn, the labís Quange CSI, stepped in. He was carrying a couple of folders, which he tossed onto the table in the centre of the sitting area, where the CSIs tended to hold their more informal meetings.

"Hey there Boss," he said genially, before catching sight of Darkflight. "Uh..."

"Art, meet captain Darkflight. Shiís in charge of the Roanoke."

"The Roanoke?" Shellfire asked, stepping into the room just ahead of the rest of the team. "As in the ship that lead the mission to Narrowmere?"

"As in," Darkflight agreed. "That was a tight one I must admit. Itís nice to be the captain of a ship like that and not immediately be remembered for big battles," shi added thoughtfully.

"I thought that Narrowmere was one of the Non-Aligned worlds," Trent commented warily.

"íWasí is very nearly the correct term," Darkflight commented. "They got hit by a plague, and ended up calling for Star Fleet assistance. Our best estimates put the casualty list at roughly 30% of the population before we even got involved. It would easily have been 100% if theyíd left it much longer, and could have just as easily gone well beyond that if a shuttle had gotten off-world.

"As it is the population is about 60% of what it was, and the Federation has a foothold in one of the Non-Aligned worlds. Not that weíre meant to think about it that way," Darkflight added hastily. "But we know for a fact that if Narrowmere had been part of the Federation when the plague hit there wouldnít have been more than a few hundred casualties at worst."

Trent raised an eyebrow, before turning sharply and glowering at the doorway.

Agent Roberts raised a hand, as if to defend himself, as he stepped into the room. "Sorry Trent," he apologised. "Force of habit."

"Yeah, well force your habit somewhere else," Trent said warningly, and not without genuine venom.

"If we could get back to the topic at hand," Woodum interrupted sharply, knowing full well how this was going to go if it was left on its own.

Trent glanced at her, then pointed a warning finger at Roberts before sitting down and pointedly ignoring the Psi Cop as best he could.

The others sat as well, slightly more cautiously, with Woodum taking the head of the table, while Darkflight sat on her left.

"Okay," Woodum said, deciding that it would be necessary to start things rolling. "Doc, you said you had a final report on those DBs that youíve got downstairs."

The middle-aged grizzly-bear morph that had settled himself into one of the chairs along the middle of the table nodded, pulling a PADD from his jacket pocket and dropping it onto the table. Sensors in the table immediately registered its presence and linked to it, so that when Doc tapped a control on the PADD the entire surface of the table seemed to reform into the full autopsy report on the two dead bodies that they had found.

"As you can see the injuries to both of our victims are identical," Doc announced, gesturing to the images of the two bodies being displayed lengthways along the table. "COD in both cases was massive electrical discharge, generated internally and individually at seemingly hundreds of points along the nervous system. Roughly 60% of the nervous system in both cases has been burnt out, including the entirety of the autonomic nervous structure leading to and from the heart and lungs.

"Death would have been fairly instantaneous once it began, but given that whatever did this stripped all of the useful metals from the blood at some point beforehand, they were suffering from serious oxygen deprivation and suffocating before the shock hit them.

"As to what did this..." He touched a control on his PADD and a new image was opened in the central display on the tableís surface. It was a set of pieces of metal, irregularly shaped, but clearly shaped by some means. "There were some definite structures amongst the metal that was plating the nerves. Mostly it was useless, but these things were the nearest thing I could find to an intact sample. I sent it over to trace for analysis," he concluded.

"I ended up with it in the end," Trey Blackpaw interjected. "They were a very interesting design of nanomachines; microscopic robots. Normally these things are used for industrial work, or for the more serious kind of medical procedure. These ones were intended for nothing more than rapid replication at a specific point, and then self-destructing once they found a specific target, in this case a major nerve."

"What a way to go," Woodum said slowly.

"Indeed," Trey agreed. "As a means of assassination it is extremely effective. These nanomachines would not even show up under a variety of scans, but once triggered could complete their replication-suicide cycle in perhaps thirty seconds."

"Any idea what the trigger actually was here?" Trent asked.

"We donít have a large enough sample to work with," Trey admitted, "and I was only able to retrieve a partial copy of the programming from them that I could test-"

"Is that safe?" Nico asked suddenly. "Presumably testing the programming would mean actually running it?"

"Not entirely," Shellfire assured the young Foxtaur. "We have simulators built into the labís computers that can trick the code into thinking that itís running on a real nanomachine when itís actually just on a virtual one. Totally safe for us." Nico nodded his thanks, but continued to look pensive.

"My testing," Trey continued, "indicated that there was no facility for receiving a signal from any external source. Therefore the devices must have been triggered by some kind of countdown; either a clock of some kind, or one based on the number of replications that had been performed so that once a certain mass was reached, rapid exponential growth could begin in earnest. In both cases I suspect that the timing was different; Eiji Chizuko presumably died to protect the secret of whatever was in the crate that Trent found, whilst Lee Johnson died while his killer was still present to... Tidy up his remains," Trey finished grimly.

"You got that one right," Art agreed. "When ah arrived he looked like heíd just pulled over for a bit."

"And that explosion would have covered any signs of the nanomachines," Shellfire pointed out. "Perfect cover, especially since we probably wouldnít have suspected foul play in this matter if we hadnít known to look for it. Certainly the APD would never have been likely to call us in on this one."

"How come?" Trent asked. "Driver dead, rig exploded..."

"The explosive was a plasteel detonator," Shellfire explained. "Itís not a commonly known fact, but plasteel, which is the stuff that is used in place of fibreglass or plastic in a number of different vehicle designs nowadays, can be rendered unstable and potentially explosive with the right techniques. The part that they chose to attach the detonator to was part of the fuel tank. If we hadnít known to look for an explosive, or even if I hadnít had experience with these things, we might never have suspected anything more than a badly fitted connector. As it was Art managed to pull enough images of the control mechanism in the cab for us to make a good estimate about its design."

"How easy is it to find this kind of equipment?" Darkflight asked curiously. "I mean, weíre talking about a plasteel detonator - which is something that all my military training never prepared me for - and sensor ghosting equipment that was good enough to fool the planetary sensor grid. Weíre not talking small-time here, are we?"

"Not by a long shot," Woodum agreed. "Federation security forces have actually managed to keep information about plasteel detonators off the internet, which is a small miracle, so knowledge of them is fairly limited."

"And the sensor ghosting equipment was top of the line," Shellfire added. "There wasnít much left, but what we found showed indications of various kinds of technology in there. Caitian sensor equipment, apparently rigged using an old Rakshani multiplexing technique..." Shi shrugged. "Whoever built this was good, and could probably put together a lot of other stuff as well using the same kind of techniques."

"Well, itís nice to see that their inventiveness wasnít limited to just their merchandise," Trent declared.

"And what was that anyway?" Doc asked. "No oneís got around to telling me yet."

"Drugs, Doc," Trent replied, his tone flat, though with a hint of satisfaction about it, as if this explained everything. "That crate was packed full of all sorts of shit. Mostly low-grade stuff, but thereís a good weight of the really dangerous stuff as well. You know; the stuff that Humans canít take more than a sample of without risking an overdose?"

"I donít understand," Nico said, frowning.

"Which part of it?" Woodum asked.

"Well, weíre talking about a double homicide. Two people, who may not even have been able to work out what was actually going on... Are those really justified by a crate full of drugs?"

The more experienced CSIs exchanged looks, before Roberts unexpectedly jumped in with an answer. "You havenít been on Chakona long, have you?"

"A couple of days," Nico admitted.

"Chakats have a pretty good tolerance for drugs," Roberts informed him. "Sort of, totally amazing. If a Chakat wants to get high, they need to take a lot of drugs. They can easily get through a monthís worth of something like cocaine just to get the same result as a Human might on a single dose. Now imagine a human taking that amount of cocaine in one go..."

"Our tolerance to drugs only goes so far," Darkflight explained calmly, but with an inner hint of anger. "It is possible for them to affect us, but that point is perilously close to the point at which our immune system canít protect us and we overdose. In other words, any Chakat trying to get high is risking their life by doing so. And despite this being a major point in early education, some Chakats still try it later on."

"Thus Chakona has a zero-tolerance policy to drugs of any kind," Woodum concluded. "Someone trying to pass through customs with Ďrecreational drugs for personal useí will be turned back, or if they can prove a pressing need to be on Chakona would have them confiscated and be landed with a hefty fine. Thatís the minimum penalty. Drugs trafficking like this... Life imprisonment, easily."

"Actually," Trent added, "we found this stuff at the bottom of the crate." He flicked a transparent evidence bag containing a vial of some purple liquid over to Woodum. "Trace ran this through the mass-spec for me, and I got the results a couple of minutes ago. Well, I say results... I was able to copy the results file, but itís encrypted, Amber Three security." He put his own PADD on the table, and touched a finger to the table, tugging the relevant file out and flicking its image in the direction of Woodum, who caught it and loaded it into her own PADD.

After a few seconds of reading, a thin growl escaped her. "Phalanx," she muttered darkly, casting a look at Darkflight, whose expression went equally stormy.

"Youíre sure?"

"As sure as I would be about anything that ran through that mass-spec," Woodum replied. "And given that we just footed the bill for having the damned thing retuned it had better be working properly."

"Um, what exactly is ĎPhalanxí?" Shellfire asked, looking between Woodum and Darkflight.

"Itís something that carries an Amber Three security classification," Woodum replied abruptly. "That means I canít tell you about it beyond saying that the probable sentence these people would get just went up from life imprisonment to either vivisection, or spacing."

Eyebrows were raised around the table, apart from Nico, who seemed confused again. "Er. Spacing?"

"They stick you in an airlock, seal the inner door, and then blow the outer one explosively," Roberts replied bluntly. "Depending on how bad youíve been they might strap you to the inner wall so that they can bury you properly, or they might not bother in which case youíre probably set to burn up on re-entry."

A thoughtful silence followed that pronouncement, until Darkflight coughed to get peopleís attention. "To get us back on topic... I had my people assist yours in combing the area around the rig for any signs of a hitch-hiker that might have left in a hurry. They were able to find some tracks, but those led as far as a small clearing and then ended at what looked like the landing site of some kind of runabout. We got some shots of the tread marks on the ground but I donít know how much that will help."

"More than yah might think," Art declared. "If yah can pass those shots over ta me, ah can run them through our records and ah should be able ta come up with something."

"That would be useful," Darkflight replied. Hir tone then turned sour again. "I hope it will anyway, because neither the planetary sensor grid, nor our own scans, came up with anything leaving that area between the point where Lee Johnson picked up his hitch-hiker and when we arrived. Weíre currently working on the assumption that whatever ship they used was equipped with the same kind of sensor ghosting equipment as the rig was. So weíve expanded the search to include everything within fifteen kilometres, but-"

Hir commbadge chirped happily, drawing a scowl from the black Chakat. "Darkflight here."

"Ah, captain. I was wondering if youíd decided to abandon us completely enough that you werenít going to answer," declared a cheerful voice with a Scottish burr through the communicator. "I was about to start getting the replicators working on a captainís uniform that I could wear to this reception when Squrl convinced me to give you one last chance. "

"Thank you Wayland," Darkflight interrupted. "One more like that and I might apply for a transfer to CSI full-time. The Roanokeís designers could take a few hints from whoever designed the break rooms in these offices."

There was a chuckle from the other end of the conversation. "Well now, Iím sure the Admiral will be happy to hear that when she comes aboard in... Oh, about two minutes."

"Oh genestealers!" Darkflight swore. "Sheís not due for another couple of hours, surely."

There was another chuckle, this one a hint darker. "Aye, I thought that would get your attention. I reckon youíve got just long enough to reach a transporter and get up here before she arrives."

"Wayland..." Darkflight growled, before the commbadge chirped to indicate the conversation had ended. "Iíve got to go."

"It sounds that way," Woodum agreed sympathetically. "Down the corridor, third on the right. If anything urgent comes up weíll pass it your way."

"Thank you," Darkflight managed to say before dashing out of the door.

"So much for Star Fleetís involvement," Roberts commented.

"Donít worry, shiíll be keeping in touch," Woodum replied. "Anyway, as I recall you were meant to be trying to track down our suspect."

Roberts nodded, sitting back to get a bit more comfortable. "And Iíll thank you properly for that later," he warned. "We must have gone through hours of footage before we found this guy. He was briefly in touch with Eiji, our foxmorph victim, when he requisitioned the loader to help him move a crate around. The crate. Once that was done he headed down to the surface. Timing of the transports down to the surface suggests that he must have headed straight for the hitchreg office once he got out of there."

"What about the crate? Where did that come from?"

"Apparently itís part of a regular shipment," Roberts replied, looking down at his PADD, a Psi Corps issue one rather than the crime lab design that the others were using, and which would have allowed him to download the information directly into the tableís display. "Every couple of weeks a ship turns up from one of the lunar colonies. Itís always the same company, and always the same procedure: ship docks, crates are off-loaded, another set of identical crates is loaded onto the ship, and it leaves. Every time, Eiji has apparently been assigned to handle things, normally assisted by someone dropped off with the cargo."

"This has happened before?" Woodum asked, slightly horrified at the idea.

"I donít know how long the drugs-related part has been going on, but these same shipments have been going on for over a year now. Thereís one interesting thing though: our suspect, Matt Rosen, was new. This was his first time."

"So what? Whyís that significant?" Trent looked confused now.

"I think he hadnít clued onto what was happening properly," Roberts explained. "Heís carrying this lethal, and seemingly undetectable, weapon. On top of that heís assisting a foxmorph, not one of their employees, who drops a hint about knowing what these crates have in them...

Matt scowled as the foxmorph loader finished moving the last crate into position, alongside the others. He was anxious to get on, and this wretched morph didnít seem to be in any kind of hurry, as if this was just another job to him. Why couldnít he just get on with it?

Eventually the foxmorph was done, and stepped back to run a critical eye over the collection of crates, both those that Matt had brought with him and the others that had arrived from other places. He glanced around as Matt sighed, and grinned at the human.

"Gotta be careful you know," he declared cheerfully. "We donít want people taking too much of an interest in these now, do we?"

Matt managed to keep back his reaction to that only by the barest margins. The little fucker actually knew about what was going on! He must be planning on turning these crates over as soon as there wasnít anyone in the way...

Oh well, there were ways of dealing with that, Matt realised as he slipped his hand into the pocket where the little weapon with its deadly cargo rested.

"Are you working under the assumption that Eiji had known about this all along?" Woodum asked slowly.

"It fits the facts that Iíve got. He always went out of his way to be there when these shipments came in, claiming that they were Ďgreat tippersí, and the one time that he couldnít be there the shipment was actually rescheduled so that he could be. I donít have the authority to check his bank records, but Iím guessing that he was either working for these guys directly, or was getting a hefty pay-off for his assistance. Either way the new guy wasnít aware of this, and was a bit trigger-happy."

"In that case I dread to think whatís happened to him now," Shellfire commented. "They wonít be happy about losing such a valuably placed individual, and since theyíve lost at least one crate of drugs thatís got to be worth quite a lotÖ"

"Minimum value for that stash was about 16.8 million credits," Trent informed hir. "Depending on what this ĎPhalanxí stuff is," he cast a look at Woodum, who remained stoic, "and the prospect of bargaining for a higher price for long-term addicts... It could be as much as twice that."

"Phalanx would probably make it three times more," Woodum offered. "And they are going to be very upset when they find out that we know that theyíve got hold of it." She thought for a second, then looked at Roberts. "What about the company that was doing this? Do we have anything on them?"

"I couldnít check anything beyond the companyís web page," Roberts reported. "Theyíve never done anything involving telepathy or other talents before so the Corpís records on them are pretty non-existent. And beyond the fact that they call themselves..." He glanced down at his notes. "Mah-ree... Er... Naa-"

"Rakshani owned company?" Woodum asked, taking pity on him.

He nodded gratefully. "They do chemical works mostly, but have a line in advanced organic chemicals and drugs as well as more regular ones. Ideal for setting up a drugs lab. Their main office is on Kaíturna, with a second, smaller office, in Curtisport. Most of the admin and stuff is done on Kaíturna, along with all of the industrial work that they tell you about on the website. The groundside office is mostly a showroom from what I can find."

"Where else do they have offices?" Woodum asked slowly.

Roberts looked through his notes again. "All over the place... Not many in human territory, or territory held by Terran morphs like Chakats. Chakona is about the only one of any significance outside Rakshani space in-fact."

Woodum frowned for a moment, and then nodded abruptly. "Okay, orders. Trent, get a copy of that list of offices off Roberts and check with the local PD around those offices. See if weíve got any unexplained deaths that match our vics. Shellfire, youíre doing the same, but expand your search to the rest of the Federation if you can. That might not be easy, because they might not realise what theyíre dealing with, but we need to check anyway. We might get lucky. Trey, check your own files, and the X-Files of any other PDs that maintain them as well. This is the sort of thing that is likely to end up there, so you might get lucky.

"Art, get hold of the tread data on that runabout from the Roanoke, and run it through our records. Then try and find it."

"Lucky you," Trent said, somewhat sarcastically.

"Roberts," Woodum continued, "weíre going to be heading up to the main office on Kaíturna. With a bit of luck we might find something useful there."

"How much are we taking in the way of support exactly?" Roberts asked, a hint of nervousness showing through his calm expression.

"Not much," Woodum replied. "Weíll alert the Kaíturna police office, but thatís only a small one. We shouldnít need anyone anyway. This is sounding like a rogue group within the company so far, as opposed to a large-scale effort. I donít imagine there would be any problems."

"Um, we might want to check with the local PDs in these areas about the drugs rates before we do anything that rash," Roberts replied, slightly more than a hint now showing.

"Would that we could," Woodum responded. "But these people know that weíve been all over that scene. They have to know by now that weíre at least aware of that crate, which means that we can trace it back to them. Regardless of who is actually responsible, we need to at least show up on the scene so that we can try to spot anything unusual going on."

"Um, what will I be doing?" Nico asked suddenly.

Woodum sighed. "Nico, I need you to start working with the police to try and track down... Damn, you donít have clearance yet for that kind of search yet. Okay..." She thought quickly. "Work with Trent. Trent, Iím going to need you to double up here. Divide the labour however you want, but check out Matt Rosen as well. It shouldnít be too hard to pull up his citizen file. Try to pick up any criminal records that he might have as well. You never know, maybe heíll he in there."

When Nico and Trent nodded she smiled grimly. "What a way to go... Okay people, letís roll!"

"Ah, just in time. Well, nearly anyway," Wayland commented as Darkflight materialized on the Roanokeís transporter platform. Just behind the sandy coloured Chakat - who would have looked very solemn to anyone who didnít know that shi only did that when shi was trying not to smirk - stood an elderly human female, in the full dress uniform of a Star Fleet Admiral. Her hair, piled up neatly, was going from a rather definite blonde to white or grey, passing distinctly through yellow on its way. Her skin was wrinkled and weathered beyond her actual years, though the fire in her eyes and the grace with which she stepped forwards suggested that this was from living and working hard rather than from abuse of her body.

"Admiral, we werenít expecting you for another hour at least," Darkflight said as shi came to attention and saluted.

"So commander Wayland informed me," Admiral Sharpe replied, with a certain grim humour. "When I turned up two minutes earlier than shi was expecting. Shi then went on to complain about needing to change the locks to stop people sneaking in like that."

A faintly guilty look flashed across Waylandís face, which Darkflight ignored, stepping closer to the Admiral. "If I may ask Admiral, what exactly brought you here so soon? We genuinely werenít expecting you for another hour or so."

"You of all people should need to ask about that?" She shook her head, clearly disappointed. "Partly Iím here to ensure that all the necessary preparations are completed," she continued as she stepped out of the transporter room and into the corridor, forcing Darkflight to scamper a few steps to catch up. "Itís not often that you find yourself running this kind of show after all, and despite the capability that you show when required to turn yourself out for official business I thought it best to ensure that our top representatives are going to be in the best possible condition for the job."

"Oh Makers," Darkflight muttered under hir breath.

"My thoughts exactly," Admiral Sharpe agreed. "Oh, and on a similar note, may I ask why you were delayed, given that you should have been up here organising things in the first place?"

"We got involved in assisting the Amistad crime lab with a case. Assisting in transportation mostly."

"And you took the opportunity to see Jessica again?"

"We spoke briefly," Darkflight admitted. "Mostly it was business though."

"What sort of business?" she asked, frowning.

Darkflight looked back along the corridor, then up ahead of them. "A drugs shipment. Theyíre still trying to work out exactly what was happening with it, but theyíve got some good leads to follow up. There is a problem though."

"What kind of problem? I know that drugs are an uncommon problem on Chakona, and I canít see how they could be complicatedÖ"

"The shipment included a quantity of Phalanx," Darkflight declared.

Sharpe stopped abruptly, a look of horror crossing her face before being replaced by professional concern. "How much?"

"I donít know," Darkflight replied. "Iím assuming that Jessica will forward such information to me as soon as she can, as the nearest thing she has to a contact in Star Fleet."

"Damn it, of all the times," Sharpe muttered. "Can Wayland handle things without you?"

"Shi normally does, so I donít see why not now," Darkflight admitted.

"Splendid, then get as much information as you can, now. Especially, get me a location, and Iíll make sure that someone is in place to handle things if they go wrong." She nodded decisively at Darkflight, who responded with a sharp salute, before turning away and heading for the communications office.

"Oh, and captain," the Admiral called after hir.

"Yes Admiral?"

"I hope that you will still be available for dinner tonight..."

"Hey Roberts," Trent called as he jogged down the corridor after the Psi Cop.

Roberts turned, not entirely willingly, and glanced down the hallway at the CSI. "You wanting to talk to me has got to be a first," he commented.

"I donít," Trent replied bluntly. "I need a copy of that list of sites off you."

For a moment Roberts hesitated, then tapped at his PADD and handed it over to Trent so that the CSI could copy the list himself. "You know, in your place I might have just gone and checked the website."

"Oh I intend to," Trent said idly as he copied the list to his own PADD. "But I need a copy of your list to compare it to in case anything changed between you getting hold of it and me checking it out." With a casual display of disregard for other peopleís property, Trent simply tossed the Psi Copís PADD in his direction rather than handing it back, forcing Roberts to almost dive to catch it.

Though a couple of people did treat this to a bemused look, for the most part people ignored it. Roberts wasnít entirely surprised.

Trent had transferred to the crime lab late in 2326, about five years earlier, and roughly the same time that Roberts had been transferred into his position as Psi Corps Liaison. Right from the start Trent had made it clear that he disliked telepaths of any kind, only acknowledging them when his job required it. Normally this sort of behaviour wouldnít be tolerated in a CSI, and Roberts had been continuously amazed by the fact that Trent not only got away with it, but that Woodum was apparently willing to assist him in doing so by keeping him away from any cases that directly involved telepaths.

Roberts, and the rest of the lab in fact, had become used to his slighting of telepaths over the years, to the point where the mere fact that Roberts wore a Psi Corps badge would excuse Trent of almost any insult he cared to hurl in Robertís direction.

Nico had settled into one of the labs, and was idly checking through his e-mails, and the various newsgroups that the lab had going. Notes floated in from all over the Federation about interesting cases, new techniques, and bits of gossip.

Glancing through them, Nico felt an almost godlike sense of perception, a feeling that if he could understand all of these snippets and hints that he could not only perceive the universe clearly for the first time, but that he could begin to truly understand it once and for all, maybe even predict the crimes before they even happened.

Then of course someone would splash a dirty joke across one of the newsgroups, or some other side-issue would break the moment, and Nico found himself wondering how exactly he had gotten himself into this situation anyway.

The sound of Trent and Shellfire approaching drew him back to the present even more firmly. Closing down the various internet pages, he turned and looked up at the door as the two CSIs stepped through it, both chatting about a game of some kind.

"Iím just saying," Trent declared, sounding like he was reiterating some much valued point here, "if theyíd spent those couple of extra points then theyíd have had it."

"Trent, you canít work that kind of thing out just from the numbers. Think about it: the only thing that they could have gotten as far as the third point, even with the additional gear, would have been a couple of ranger units, and those would have been picked off in a couple of seconds." Shellfire nodded at Nico. "I hope you donít mind us going on about this a bit. Itís a regular thing between the Day and Night shifts, and Trent has never quite gotten the hang of the non-numeric side of it."

Nico frowned, then remembered the brief tour heíd been given, where Art had pointed out the communal break room, which had a massive conference table set up, most of the space on which had been taken up by some kind of holoboard for games. Clearly the two shifts had some kind of interaction at least.

"Sure," he said. "Iíll be getting on with this," he added, gesturing to the list of notes on his PADD.

Trent nodded, then sat down at a computer and tapped rapidly through various screens before dumping a large amount of information to Nicoís terminal. "Thatís Matt Rosenís citizen file, and whatever the Federationís criminal records file has sent us. Scan through it and see what you can find."

Nico looked at the information that Trent had provided him with as the other pair sat down and began working as well.

Matt Rosen was almost a member of a new species as far as Nico could see from the citizen file, which listed various background details including passport control from moving between worlds. Any time a person showed up on a planet, their citizen file was updated and an entire copy was transferred to that world in case anything in it was needed there.

This file showed that Matt Rosen had been all over the place, including Rakshani and Voxxan space, but never for long. He had been born on the Earth, in one of the Russian industrial districts, where he had grown up. His education was predictable, with reasonable grades at college, and then a transfer into practical work rather than any attempt at further education. He had gone into freight control, a glorified term for someone who had to follow cargo around on its journey from point A to point B and ensure that it got there safely. Effectively that made him a glorified courier who couldnít be trusted to drive himself around. That had lasted for three years before he had been taken on by - and here Nicoís jaw shifted uncomfortably as he tried to silently pronounce the Rakshani name - Mareinal Brezhane.

At that point he had been mostly working between various Rakshani worlds and stations, moving industrial chemicals around as needed, until he had been moved over to Kaíturna at the request of one of the local operations managers. Less than a week ago, Matt Rosen had officially transferred to the Kaíturna office, bringing an updated copy of his citizen file along with him. He had spent most of the time over that week apparently hanging around on Kaíturna, before his passport logged him travelling via the Gateway to Chakona.

From there, the trail led to the Hitchreg office, where he had produced his passport as evidence of his identity. And after that, it vanished.

Skimming through the places that Matt had visited, Nico became more certain about his assessment of Matt Rosen as some new species. The human had been all over the place, but had never appeared to log time anywhere other than major urban centres. Could it be that he was unable to get the hang of a world outside the busy cities?

"Done," Shellfire declared suddenly.

"What? Already?" Trent looked astonished, and Nico wasnít far behind him. Stellar communication was a tricky business at the best of times, and getting around every crime lab in the Federation in less than an hour should be impossible.

"Well, Iíve got the messages out," shi admitted. "And thereís not a lot more I can do for now. The nuances of FTL communications aside, Iím just waiting for people to get back to me now."

"What kind of nuances?" Nico asked, remembering that this was the sort of thing that he would need to ask about.

"Oh, time-lag, that sort of thing," Shellfire explained. "Basically even FTL communications are subject to some kind of time delay between being sent, and being received. It isnít an instantaneous thing after all, any more than radio is. If we were in dire need of information then weíd be using the subspace relays, and getting the signals pushed through as soon as possible. But itís not that kind of urgency.

"Also, different worlds, and different parts of different worlds, are working on a different time-scale to us, so some of them will be starting their lunch right now, whilst others will be just getting into work and others will be just leaving. Basically, even if I could get messages to every office in the Federation this quickly, most of them would be on the wrong shift, and others would be upset to be stopped just short of leaving..." Shi shrugged as shi lounged on a sitting mat. "So, the only thing that I can do, I have done, which is to e-mail an information request to all of the offices, which was basically just a send-all with a few names removed."

"While Iíve got to do the ones that you donít," Trent grunted, still typing. "And since Iím not just doing a Ďsend-allí, this is taking longer."

"Give me that list," Shellfire said, with a good natured resignation. "Iíll get some of them."

"Howís that search coming?" Trent asked as he slid his PADD over to Shellfire. "Turn up anything useful on Rosen?"

"Some things," Nico admitted. "He was born on the Earth, in an industrial area. As far as I can see heís either been on ships, in spaceports, or visiting other industrial areas since he left there."

"You get that type sometimes," Trent admitted. "Some guys just canít seem to see the point in nature. Hell, some of them would probably pass on a polygraph if they told you that meat grew on shelves in the supermarket."

Nico nodded absently, hoping that they didnít ask him about where meat had normally come from for his meals. Diving onwards, he flipped over to Rosenís criminal record. What there was of it.

"Um. Heís never been convicted of anything before. He was arrested once for possession of drugs and once for suspicion of dealing. It was never taken to court though..." He frowned as he read through the next section. "In both cases a company intervened on his behalf... The Wakefield Conglomerate..."

Flicking through Rosenís citizen file again, Nico frowned. Wakefield Conglomerate wasnít a group that he had heard of before, at least in a manner that he had been likely to remember. And he didnít remember seeing anything to do with them in the file. "That seems to be the only time that theyíve had anything to do with him. No employment record with them, no record of couriering for them... That looks like the only mention of them."

"Weird," Trent agreed. "Maybe we can ask him when they bring him in."

"Assuming that they find him," Shellfire pointed out.

Nico glanced through the passport records once more. "There arenít any anomalous records about him moving around on here. Assuming that his passport is flagged he wonít be able to get through customs. So heíll have to turn up sooner or later, or hide out on Chakona for the rest of his life."

"I canít imagine either of those working out," Shellfire said. "Chakona is too open for someone who canít understand where meat really comes from, so hiding out here for any length of time will be torture. And getting through customs, with the news out about the drugs shipments that have been getting through... There are going to be resignations and investigations over this mess for the next few months at least, and security is going to be tighter than ever."

"So we just need to wait for him to turn up then?" Trent asked, with a slightly sarcastic edge to his voice.

Shellfire looked about to respond, when hir comlink went off. Fishing it out, Shellfire spoke softly into it. Nico didnít catch what was said, but he did see the surprised look on Shellfireís face.

The problem with an unexplained phenomenon was that no one ever knew how to categorise it, or even if they should bother to. Thus, the records of the various X-Files departments across the Federation were chiefly organised according to their proprietorís tastes, and with an efficiency based on their merit in the eyes of the proprietorís supervisor, when they existed at all.

Treyís were amongst the best, second only perhaps to the Federation Bureau of Intelligenceís own office back on the Earth. Hys records covered a large part of the Federation, as news came in from travellers through the Gateway, as well as other offices.

Searching the records was tricky. Something this specific would probably have been noticed early on, whilst searching for something too generalised turned up a plethora of reports, most of which clearly had nothing to do with the current situation. It wasnít even advisable to go into details searching for unusual metal content in the blood, because at least one of their victims had been in a situation where this would never have been spotted.

It didnít help that the kind of people that reported X-Files werenít normally the best of witnesses. Most people, when confronted by something that mysterious, tended to either rationalise it to the point where they werenít honestly doing much more than fooling themselves, or make it sound more dramatic or mysterious than it actually was, so that either way it wasnít much use. What you needed to report X-Files properly was a cool head that was open to reporting what you actually saw rather than what you think you should have seen. Oddly, this made X-Files personnel one of the keenest supporters of the idea of AIs being used for observation purposes, because most of them, Trey included, felt that it was the only way to get a proper witness.

Hy honestly tried not to let that run over into hys regular work, but when you had a habit of instinctively half-believing what people said to you most of the time, you tended to find it creeping into the rest of your work as well. Thus, hy had quickly become aware that Jessica tended to call hym in to question people that she was sceptical about.

Unfortunately, that scepticism wasnít helping much when it came to finding anything about the current case. There were plenty of unexplained deaths, since any coroner could list a mysterious death in there after a certain amount of searching and checking had been done as part of the normal course of business. None of them matched what Trey was looking for, at least in Treyís own files. Thus, the only other option was to request information from the other offices.

With the e-mail server now handling the task for hym, Trey stepped out of hys office for a moment, nearly running into Art in the process.

"Ah, Art. Did you want to talk to me?"

"Ah shoor did," Art agreed. "Ah got those tread patterns off the Roanoke, and ah matched them up."

"Excellent. We have a suspect then?"

"Maybe," Art admitted, holding out a PADD for Trey to read. "The treads are from a custom job. Modified Webber runabout apparently. A whole batch of these were produced for the industrial complex on Kaíturna, specially fitted for low-grav, ground-ta-orbit work. That kindía thing."

"So all of them belong to the companies based on Kaíturna?"

"Added incentive to get up interest in the new area. Saves Ďem from having to provide a runabout of their own if theyíve got at least one guaranteed to be able to handle light cargo and such."

"So one of those runabouts was used to pick up our Mr Rosen," Trey said thoughtfully. "Are any of them reported as being in the area at that time?"

"Thatís the problem," Art replied. "Most of the companies have got other runabouts by now. Weíd need to go and check Ďem all in person."

"Well the most sensible place to start would be with Mareinal Brezhane," Trey reasoned. "Iíll see if Jessica has left yet. "

"Hold up a moment, Trey," Shellfire called out as shi stepped out of the labs and hurried over, followed by Trent and Nico.

"Is something wrong?" Trey asked, tilting hys head on one side.

"PD just found Matt Rosen," Shellfire explained.

"Ah, splendid. Will they be bringing him here directly?"

"Depends on whether theyíve had a coroner at the scene yet," Trent interjected. "They found him in the docks district downtown a couple of minutes ago. Auerís already on his way down there to secure the scene."

Trey grimaced, and then sighed. "Oh very well... Trent, Shellfire, have you finished with those information requests?"

"I got a couple more to do," Trent admitted.

"Iím just helping Trent finish up and waiting for replies. My PDAís already set to notify me when they come in," Shellfire added.

"Fine..." Trey sighed the sigh of one who regrets being second in seniority when the boss decides to do some field work. "Art, try and catch up with Jessica. I wish I could say that you would find one of these runabouts, but I doubt it. Give the rest of us the specifications so that we know what to look out for. Trent, I want you to finish up your work here, then head down and process anything that Shellfire sends back. Shellfire, Nico, grab one of our coroners and get down to process the scene."

"Where will you be?" Trent asked, pulling his PADD out and handing it to Art so that the Quange could copy the records about the runabout over to it.

"I?" Trey grimaced. "Someoneís got to stay here and keep track of the paperwork..."

A section of the docks are had been taped off by the time that Shellfire and Nico arrived, with a crowd gathering around the line. Even Chakats, as pacifistic a species as you could hope to find, were capable of morbid curiosity.

Ducking under the tape and waving hir badge at one of the officers, Shellfire, glanced around, and then headed for the officer that shi suspected would be in charge.

Detective Auer Kale, the chief homicide officer in the Amistad PD and the crime labís main link with that office, made an imposing presence on any crime scene. In a world of Chakats and other Ďtaurs, a biped was unusual enough. Most Chakats though didnít tend to be more than five and a half feet tall, whereas Kale was closer to seven foot tall. Seeing him standing next to a group of Chakats was an impressive practical demonstration of the dangers of not thinking carefully about genetic engineering: Chakats were engineered to be friendly, and the Turners had spent some time working out how Chakats could exist alongside more regular morphs and Humans. The best that someone could say about that kind of foresight as it applied to Kale was that if it had happened, it hadnít exactly been acted upon.

Brown hair covered most of what was visible of Kaleís body beneath the layer of heavy adapted body armour that he wore on official business. A line of black hair started between his ears and ran down over his shoulders like a mane. The pair of horns, the most obvious sign that whoever came up with the idea for Kaleís modifications was just having a laugh, gleamed in the sunlight as the Minotaur swung around to greet them.

"Hey Ďfire," Auer said. "Whoís the new kit?"

Shellfire smiled back. "Nico just started today. Hell of a way to get going huh?"

"Might as well hit the ground running," Auer agreed. "I got your stiff over here," he added as one massively muscled arm gestured towards a gap between two warehouses.

"Any witnesses?"

"Nada," Auer grunted. "Nearest we got so far is a couple of kids saying that they came by about an hour ago and he wasnít there, then he was when they came by just before calling it in. Figure thatís about twenty, maybe twenty five minutes that someone could have dumped the body."


"Not around here. The whole area is covered, but itís all internal aside from a couple of generalised cameras back on the main streets. Too many small alleyways for anything short of a carpet-bombing approach to work here, so they got a couple watching the entrances and not much else."

Shellfire shrugged. "Well, we canít hope for everything. Nico, check the perimeter. See if you can find anything that might be to do with this. I wish I could say that you would. Iíll take the alleyway and the area around the body."

As Nico wandered off, Auer watched him go, then turned to Shellfire. "Heís handling it?"

"So far," Shellfire replied, running over the scene with hir ALS. "Heís already done field work, backgrounds, and now an actual crime scene. Hell of a day to pick to start on. Itís just a pity we canít put him in on his own for a while."

"Isnít that normal?" Auer asked, leaning against the wall and causing the metalwork to creak.

"Sure, for a few days, youíre not meant to let a new CSI off on their own. And they canít be primary on a case for even longer, maybe a year at least. I donít know why, but thereís a note attached to Nicoís file saying that weíre not allowed to let him out of our sight for a couple of weeks extra. I havenít had a chance to ask why yet."

Kale grunted. "Canít be that urgent or theyíd tell you, surely?"

"Depends on the reasons," Shellfire replied, frowning at the gravel around the body. Industrial standard tarmac had been used in the area, as opposed to anything more aesthetically pleasing, though in deference to the Chakat practise of not having footwear without a good reason it was smoother than most worlds would have thought necessary, and even when it was worn away by the forces of nature it wouldnít reveal any sharp edges.

That lack of footwear had been a key clue in a number of cases around Amistad, where footprints and pawprints could be matched to their owner as easily as a fingerprint when they were left on the right surface. It also helped to eliminate a large part of the population at times, when something definitively not a Chakat pawprint was found.

Still frowning, Shellfire pulled a smoky black plasticized sheet from hir field kit. Laying it on top of an area of the tarmac next to the body, shi pulled out a pair of wires, attaching one end of each to opposite corners of the sheet, and running the spare ends to the aux-out slots on hir tricorder. Kale looked interested as shi tapped a couple of controls, and a ghostly image of two boot prints began to appear on the sheet.

"Cool," Kale said approvingly as the image solidified.

"Yeah," Shellfire agreed, considering the image that had appeared. "Probably male. About size 10... Working boots rather than shoes. Hmm..." Shi picked up the sheet, holding it up to the light, and nodded. "Wear pattern should be fairly distinctive. You see that part?" shi added, indicating one part of the image.

"Scuff mark?" Kale guessed. "He was crouched down?"

"Position and scuff marks are consistent with someone crouching down to place the body here. Which means that this wasnít a simple dump, it was a careful placement."

Shellfire sensed the surge of wariness that radiated off Kale as the detective pulled a tricorder from his own belt. The police issue model had more in common with the design used by Star Fleet than those used by the crime lab; greater range and the capability to analyse and classify such things as bombs and other kinds of traps took priority over the more analytic functionality of the crime labís version, whilst it was also determined that most of the additional software and expansion ports for plug-and-play add-ons such as additional sensors and probes wasnít required by the police force.

With a professional determination that might have surprised anyone who hadnít seen him in action before, Auer ran the tricorder over the body, the surrounding ground and the alley and its walls. His attention was then directed to the surrounding rooftops, before he grudgingly turned back to Shellfire. "Looks clear," he announced.

"Thanks," shi murmured, uncertain of how glad shi really was that Auer was so paranoid. Shi knew the general story that everyone else did, about how Auer had lost one of his friends in a Humans First attack the previous April, when they had both been assigned to one of the Star Corps space stations orbiting the Earth. Auer hadnít been hurt, but had blamed himself for not checking things properly, despite the hearing clearing him of failing in his duty. Thankfully the only other individual harmed by the bomb had been a Human, who had apparently suffered some kind of transporter accident in the process, though details about that had been sketchy.

Since he transferred to Chakona though, Auer had been scrupulously paranoid about things like bombs, choosing to believe that anything might be a trap rather than accepting that it might be innocent. Whilst that was good for a police officer, he did take it slightly further than other officers did, meaning that he occasionally made those he worked with nervous.

Growing up on Chakona - arguably the most civilised colony world in existence - had left Shellfire with an inherent feeling of safety about the world around hir, and even years of work as a CSI hadnít blunted that view on things. It just never occurred to hir to suspect traps like that.

With the area now cleared as safe, despite the fact that Auer would have already checked it once, Shellfire returned to work.

As she materialised aboard the Roanoke, Jessica looked around with interest. On her previous visit the previous day, she had been too busy to worry about the appearance of the place, being on her way to the site of Lee Johnsonís freshly exploded rig. Now however she was actually visiting, if only briefly, and she had the time to pay proper attention to those parts of the ship that she might visit.

She was intrigued to find herself meeting up with Darkflight again, as the captain was waiting in the transporter room to greet them rather than sending someone else to do it, or perhaps more pertinently, attending the official functions that Jessica guessed were what had diverted them to one of the secondary transporter rooms.

"Hey Ďlight," she said, stepping off the platform. "Donít you have official business right now?"

Darkflight shrugged, a faint grin showing through. "As of just after I got aboard, I suspect that you became my official business," shi admitted.

Jessica shrugged back, her affected air of nonchalance covering a keen sense of intrigue. "Well, itís nice to hear, but with four of us it could be tight..."

Behind her Art blew a raspberry, while Roberts made a somewhat querulous noise. Darkflight grinned more openly, then looked sharply at the door and came to attention an instant before it opened, allowing Admiral Sharpe to enter the transport room.

"As you were captain," she said before the Chakat could rip off a salute at her, before glancing at the transporter technician. "Please wait outside for a moment."

Once the technician had left, she nodded a greeting at Jessica. "I thought that we ought to have some privacy for this conversation, given the nature of what we may be dealing with."

"Wouldnít a conference room be better for that then?" Roberts asked, looking around. The primary transporter rooms were intended to serve as embarkation rooms as well as transfer points, and so tended to be built to accommodate a reception committee as well as guests. The secondary ones were normally only used for light cargo transfer, or when the primary ones were operating at capacity, and so the room was significantly smaller. It wasnít quite crowded, but with three Ďtaurs and two bipeds it was a bit close.

"Would that we could, but all of the conference rooms are currently booked, or in one case, double booked," Admiral Sharpe replied. "Anyway, this room has equal shielding to most of the conference rooms, so it will suffice for our purposes."

"And what purposes might those be?" Jessica asked, now very curious.

Sharpe composed her expression to a state of official concern. "Iíve been in touch with Star Fleet Command. To be brutally honest with you, they were unaware that even news about the existence of Phalanx had got out of their labs, and are very keen to ensure that it goes back to that situation as soon as possible. As such your shift at the crime lab, along with agent Roberts are being granted a limited Amber Three clearance in regards to this specific situation."

"That means that we get to know about Phalanx then," Robert surmised. "So what is it?"

Sighing, Sharpe started on her explanation. "When Chakats were created, it very quickly became apparent that for all of their advantages they had a couple of disadvantages. Things like weighing more than a human, or not being able to use some standard designs of equipment were obvious problems. Less obvious were the issues that began to appear when Chakats took up regular work in the clean-up operations following the Gene Wars, and settling on other worlds.

"You see, whilst the Chakat immune system is a marvel at fighting off poisons, toxins and the like, it very quickly became apparent that it also fought off a number of beneficial things, like medicines, and a variety of battlefield equipment and techniques wouldnít work on Chakats. Itís a little known fact, but during the early days more Chakats were lost to that problem than were killed outright by other means.

"And so Star Fleet developed Phalanx. It had a huge classification seal slapped on it right at the start, and has retained it since then. Bluntly put, it temporarily shuts down the immune system of any Terran-originated sentient, meaning Humans, Chakats, just about all morphs, and so forth. In Chakats it works for long enough for most kinds of medicinal drugs to take affect before wearing off. In anything with a less advanced immune system, it can cause terminal immune system deficiency in a single dose."

"The last I heard was that it was also highly addictive to Voxxans," Jessica added, "though without any actual effect on their immune system."

"There is that," Sharpe agreed. "The upshot of course is that when used in combination with just about any street drugs, it will allow a Chakat to get high on the same kind of dose as a human, allowing for the difference in body-weight of course."

"So that crate we found was for Chakats as well as Humans, huh?" Art asked.

"Indeed. As such this case youíve become involved in has now dragged me into it as well. The Chakonan government wonít be happy to hear about Phalanx getting out into the general public."

"How has it got out anyway?" Roberts asked.

"I have a few suspicions about that," Sharpe admitted. "Mareinal Brezhane, the company that the three of you are on your way to investigate, recently won a contract to produce a variety of drugs and so forth for Star Fleet. Amongst those was Phalanx. All of the drugs, even the low-ecological-impact aspirin variant that we developed for planetary scouting missions, have the same security notice attached to them. If someone at the labs has looked through these drugs and tried to work out what they are for, or produced more than was specified in the contracts, the company could face some quite hefty fines at the very least, as well as losing Star Fleet contracts in the future."

"And youíre warning us about this because youíre concerned that they might try to hide the evidence?" Jessica asked.

"Iím also concerned for your safety as well," Sharpe replied. "I canít imagine that they would try something as dangerous as Ďdisposingí of a crime team, especially one accompanied by a Psi Cop, but I felt it necessary to warn you, and to tell you that Iíve been assured that someone will be there should you need help. More than that even I donít know, and Iím the one whoís meant to be giving the orders," she finished with an aggravated air.

"Are we able to count on Star Fleet for support?" Jessica asked. She had an issue handgun on her belt, but nothing more. Art and Roberts were in the same situation.

Sharpe gestured at a Star Fleet issue container leaning against one wall. "I can give you this much now," she informed them. As Jessica opened the container, she explained the contents. "Shield belts and pattern enhancers. The belts are rated for our security teams to use on commando missions. The pattern enhancers are intended to boost a transport signal. Unless the shields and transporter barriers around the Kaíturna complex have been illegally boosted, these should allow the Yorkshire to transport you out through any resistance that they could put up."

"And the Yorkshire is..."

"A Balmoral class frigate," Sharpe replied. "They originally arrived here as part of the reception committee, but Iíve reassigned them to security instead. Captain Tzume was getting frustrated with the entire affair anyway; apparently thereís something between his family and that of our guests that isnít on the official files. Probably safer to have him out of the way in lunar orbit. Anyway, theyíll be waiting for a signal from you, one way or another. If you need military support call them. If you need more manpower for a search, the same applies."

"And if we need something quieter?" Jessica asked.

"Iím hoping thatís the part that I havenít been told about yet," Sharpe replied ruefully. "None of the ships around here are equipped for covert operations, except possibly the Roanoke, and I canít spare any of their people from security at the reception. Speaking of which, weíre both due back there a couple of minutes ago," she informed Darkflight, who grimaced. "Donít think youíre getting out of it that easily," she added, turning towards the door. "Iíll give you long enough to sort out their transport, and then if youíre not in the reception straight away weíll all come down here to join you. And you can explain why itís so cramped in here!"

It was chilly.

It was something that Trent had never quite understood about the morgue, that even in the middle of summer, when even humans on Chakona had been throwing caution to the wind and stripping back to shorts, sandals and nothing else, the morgue and the attached coronerís office were always cold enough that you needed to add a couple of layers when you entered them. By a ridiculous twist, they even maintained the same temperature during the depths of winter as well, which various members of the crime lab had calculated by various kinds of logic to be impossible, even with the air-conditioning running perfectly.

Where logic hadnít prevailed, they had turned to other ideas, even drafting in a geomancer that had been involved in a case (involving said geomancer, a split water mains, four lightning rods, half of Amistad losing power for the night, and a series of tunnels that city planners were still trying to map properly), but even shi hadnít been able to understand what was going on down there. It was simply a fact, whatever temperature you set the air-conditioning for, the entire section was always Ďchillyí.

Trent had grabbed a jacket before heading down there, and shrugged it on as he passed through the doors marking the temperature divide, shivering despite the extra layer.

"Hey Doc," he said as he stepped into the operating room. "I heard Shellfire sent Matt Rosen down here."

Doc glanced round, and nodded. "That shi did. Iíve only just started, but I can give you a preliminary COD already."

"Already? How the..?" Trent gestured down at the body in front of the bear morph. "No cuts, no incisions... I didnít think you were allowed to do things that non-invasively."

"First thing I checked," Doc said, indicating the screen above the head of the autopsy table that held the mortal remains of Matt Rosen. "COD was a massive electrical discharge caused by nanomachines that had attached themselves to his nervous system. Time of death was just before dawn, Amistad local time. Lividity suggests that he was moved around a bit after he died. A lack of definite pattern suggests that he may even have been turned over a few times between dying and being dumped.

"The scratch mark on his arm is also consistent with the other pair. The only inconsistent part was the degree of damage that the nanomachines actually did; in the other cases it was spread fairly evenly throughout the body, though concentrated on the major nerves around the brain and chest. In this case, it was concentrated much more heavily around the brain and chest, with almost no damage to the extremities. Iíve collected blood samples from different parts of the body and sent them to be checked out, but Iím guessing that blood from the extremities shows almost no sign of metal loss."

"Any theories about why?"

"Do I have to do all the work for you?" Doc chuckled. "Okay, my guess? If you track down where this guy died, Iím betting that youíll find evidence that he died a lot quicker than the others did. That would account for the lack of dispersal."

"Cool. Anything else?"

"Not yet. Youíre early. But you can help me by taking his personal effects off my hands." He indicated a set of sealed evidence bags on the counter by the door. "All ready for you to deal with. Should anything else come through, Iíll be sure to let you know."

Trent nodded, grabbed the bags, and headed out.

The next half an hour seemed to disappear as he slowly disentangled the clothing and personal belongings, checking them all as he went, handing out work to the lab technicians as it was required. After half an hour of fairly exhaustive work, he had reached a number of conclusions.

Firstly, Matt Rosen had either been stripped of anything resembling a PADD. Even the unicom that most people carried as a phone, PDA, calendar, and so forth was missing. Anything that might have held personal data or contact information had been removed. On the other hand the guy had been allowed to keep a fancy looking watch, his credit chip, and his wallet, though the electronics controlling the LCD picture frame inside it had been removed.

Secondly, the guy had a strange, if robust, sense of fashion. His clothes were all quite expensive, but nondescript, the cost having apparently gone into making them almost indestructible. Trent recognised the material used in their construction as the same stuff that they made uniforms for colony teams and Star Fleet exploratory teams out of. He even had a jacket made of the stuff, which had set him back more significantly than he had thought it would when he bought it, but was still looking like it had been purchased the day before despite being twenty years old.

Thirdly, the guy had suffered some kind of accident involving a drink, or some kind of sloppy food. The leg of his trousers was stained, and still smelled a bit of what Trent guessed was some kind of spacer MRE gunk. It was fresh though, which Trent was hoping meant it was either post-mortem, or not that far anti-mortem. Certainly Art hadnít reported anything like this being in Lee Johnsonís rig, which probably meant it was either in the runabout that had lifted Rosen out after he killed Johnson, or some time after that. However it turned out, it was a decent thing to look for.

Fourthly, there was some kind of yellow residue on the arm of the jacketís sleeve. A cursory examination had revealed that it was probably some kind of pollen, but not much more than that, before Trent had sent it down to the Trace lab. Given that Rosen had been out in the countryside Trent wasnít hoping for much from that one.

Fifthly, in the area around where the scratch would have been, Trent was able to find little, though across the back of the jacket and the trousers there was a partial imprint from sleeves. It wasnít much, but the impression of the jacketís seams was reasonably distinctive and might be useful in the event of a tie-breaker.

The last piece of useful evidence that Trent uncovered was a smear of viscous golden fluid, almost treacle-like. It was in the bottom of one of the jacketís inner pockets, and even without sending it through the trace lab Trent had an idea of what it was.

"Sampling the merchandise were you?" he asked aloud as he sniffed tentatively at the swab that he had used to get the sample of the smear.

"If youíre referring to the stuff that went missing from the chem. Lab, Iíll protest my innocence now," replied a voice behind him. "If not, then I have no idea what youíre talking about."

Trent glanced over his shoulder, and cast a not entirely surprised look at Beachrunner, the Chakat that effectively ran the chemistry lab, and was frequently found holding court in the trace lab as well since Shellfire went to full field work, on behalf of the Day Shift.

"Thank you. The next time the boss asks about missing supplies Iíll remember that you had nothing to do with it," Trent replied. "Iím talking about this stuff," he continued, sliding the swabís bud back into its cover and sealing it. "Weíll need to run this through the mass spec, but Iím guessing that itís metazyne."

Beachrunner accepted the integriswab, and looked closely at it. "Thatís the slang name for metras-phyronyne isnít it?"

"Yeah, one of the less helpful things we got from the Rakshani," Trent agreed. "They use it like Terrans use aspirin, but it gives humans a kind of hyper-sensing, like all of your senses get kicked into overdrive; telescopic vision, super-hearing, that kind of stuff. Burns your stomach and intestines out of course, but back-alley cloning makes it easier to replace those than kick the habit. They used to get this stuff back home. I used to smell it all the time around some of the guys my kid tried to hang out with."

Trent heard a querulous noise behind him, and turned in time to catch Beachrunnerís surprised expression. "Makers Trent... I didnít even know you were mated, let alone that you had a kid." Beachrunner cast a glance at Trentís hands where a ring or even a band indicating that he had removed one before putting gloves on was not in evidence.

"I probably still am married," Trent admitted, seemingly unconcerned by this. "I never filled out anything declaring the marriage void or anything. I just donít tend to think about it much." Ignoring the puzzled, perhaps even offended, expression that Beachrunner had turned on him, Trent went back to work. "Get that down to the lab. Iíll be along in a couple of minutes to check up on those samples I sent down already."

Beachrunner hesitated for a second, then turned and left, returning slowly to hir own domain. On the way shi found hirself unusually thoughtful. Trent had always seemed like an okay guy. An obsessive about his work - normal work in the Amistad crime lab didnít require people to put in more than an hourís overtime a month normally, while Trent regularly worked enough hours for a six or seven day week - but how could any guy, even one like that, just forget whether he was even married or not?

Shi knew that humans were sloppy creatures when it came to things like marriage, allowing opportunities to slip past them where Chakats gathered those they were close to around themselves and made them all special. No other species required three different classifications beyond merely Ďfriendí and Ďmarriedí to distinguish their degree of attachment to someone. Beachrunner didnít have any lifemates yet, though several companions and a single denmate, not counting the various people that hung around the party scene, made for plenty of company already.

To a Chakat the idea of someone simply... forgetting... for long periods that they had been married was beyond merely being offensive. It was like forgetting your own soul...

"Okay, tell me who Iím going to meet."

The three of them were crammed into a cargo shuttle, alongside a number of cargo containers. It wasnít perfect, but it was the best that Darkflight had been able to do; since the lockdown on the Gateway ended civilian traffic had been overloaded, and one of the Roanokeís shuttles on a supply run to one of the Star Fleet outposts on Chaíturna had been deemed the fastest way of getting two CSIs and a Psi Cop to Kaíturna. The moons were almost at their closest approach, and the Yorkshire would break orbit and approach the shuttle close enough for the three of them to be transported over, and then return to Kaíturna to transport them down.

That left them with a two hour trip, most of which looked like being very boring since the pilot had already given them fair warning that shi was used to just carrying cargo, and probably wasnít going to get any kind of extra pay for carrying people.

That left hanging around in the cargo area, keeping quiet or, as Jessica was now trying, getting on with official business.

Roberts leaned back, the casual arrogance that went with being a Psi Cop, and which some of them seemed to carry like a badge of honour, allowed him to appear just as at ease perching on the edge of a cargo crate as he would if he was reclining in a comfortable office chair.

"Mar-" he began, before giving up. "The company weíre investigating," he continued, ignoring the chuckle from Art, "is run by a guy named Lucas Val-Morgan. Heís human, and apparently so are quite a few of the workers. This branch used to be a Terran owned chemical works before the Rakshani mother-company managed to buy them out. They kept most of the workers, but the management itself was almost cleared out to make way for the Rakshani office staff. Val-Morgan kept his job."

"How many Chakats?" Jessica asked.

"Not that many," Roberts declared. "The work ethic here is more towards keeping employment figures up rather than automating simple jobs, so they donít exactly follow normal Chakonan practise in that regard. Some of the office workers are Chakats, but beyond that itís entirely non-Chakats, and mostly Humans."

Jessica sat back to consider this, leaning against a crate that she had draped a spare overall over. It wasnít actually that odd; like any minority community, even one living amongst such a friendly majority as one made up largely of Chakats and Skunktaurs, tended to gravitate to its own districts, and there were several places that, by a kind of social Brownian motion tended to employ a larger percentage of non-Chakats than was normal. And given that the ratio of Chakats to non-Chakats on the lunar colonies was lower than on Chakona, where it was roughly 7:5 (or 3:1 including the Skunktaurs) it was more than likely that there would be a few companies that employed almost no Chakats.

There wasnít any actual law against it, aside from the usual ones which stated that you had to at least give everyone the opportunity to apply and a reasonable chance of getting whatever job you offered. But even then, despite what the people writing such laws might think, it wasnít possible by any legal means short of conscription to actually force people to apply for a job at a company where they would be in a minority.

"You think weíre gonna find anything?" Art asked.

"I doubt it," Jessica admitted. "Weíve got no evidence that the entire company is involved yet, which means that anyone in the upper management could be entirely oblivious to whatís going on."

"Doesnít say much for them," Roberts commented.

"With big companies like this, you get that sort of thing. One person running the books, another assuming theyíre being honest... The bigger the company the more people you have in the chain of assumptions. Speaking scientifically itís easy to see; with each layer of the calculation you add in a new error factor. By the time youíve gone up a couple of layers beyond the corruption you can be hiding a small fortune. A few more layers and you get enough rounding errors, fudge-factors, corporate-political-niceties, and general fluff that there wouldnít be any way to prove that someone was doing extra-curricular work in the labs without an outside audit."

"Which is where we come in," Art pointed out.

"Weíve had a couple of incidents of it in Amistad," Jessica admitted. "Normally itís someone tops someone else to protect their guilty secret about the money that they borrowed to pay back the gambling debts or something stupid. Chakats may average a higher IQ than Humans, but some of them are just born stupid, same as other species."

"What if it is the management involved in this?" Roberts asked. "I mean to say, this is a satellite office; surely in this case it would be easier for them to mess with the accounts, because there arenít people just down the corridor that might come and look over their shoulders."

"It could be," Jessica agreed. "Iím hoping that isnít the case though. For one thing itíll be a lot harder to track down. And for another itíll be more dangerous. This time around we can risk going in pretty much alone and unarmed, but if we get wind that this goes to the top, or starts at the top, things are going to get tricky very quickly." She looked at Roberts. "Worried?"

"Somewhat," Roberts replied. "I probably shouldnít tell you this, because itís a breach of security... I wasnít as surprised by the idea of Phalanx as you might expect."

"Somehow I got that impression," Jessica replied. "Care to explain why?"

"The Psi Corps has been doing some research of its own. Itís not illegal as such... But itís still dubious. The main product of this research was a set of drugs collectively referred to as ĎSleepersí. Theyíre Talent inhibitors, designed to suppress one or more psychic talents for different lengths of time. They range from the basic stuff that we can pump into someone to cancel their talent while we restrain them, right up to tactical deployment variants that we can flood a combat zone with and will neutralise any Talents of anyone that doesnít have the antidote in their system. Most of these are still in the test stages, and all of them are classified. But the telepathic suppressors work both ways; if a mund... a non-telepath," he corrected himself, "is dosed on one of them, I may not be able to pick them up, or work out what theyíre up to. I wouldnít be able to tell them from a hologram if I was face-to-face with them."

"And youíre worried that these people might have something like this as well?" Jessica asked.

"If these people were willing to risk the kind of chaos that breaking Star Fleet security protocols will bring down on them, then they might be willing to try with Psi Corps stuff as well. I thought that I had better warn you before we walked into there and relied on my Talents."

Art raised an eyebrow, and then glanced at the front of the hold. "Hey, youíve been saying this stuff about security... What about the pilot?"

Roberts glanced towards the cockpit, and shrugged. "Our pilot is currently enjoying the fact that weíve all decided to shut up and let hir have some peace for a while. Shiís not enjoying having live cargo on board." He had the decency to look at least a bit embarrassed by the flagrant breach of laws that he had just committed.

Jessica looked at him carefully. "And you wonder why Trent has so much trouble dealing with telepaths..."

Roberts looked Jessica in the eye. "I can assure you detective Woodum, that your co-workerís opinion of me is not something that I lose sleep over." This said, the Psi Cop sat back, and closed his eyes, doing a fair impression of trying to sleep.

Jessica sat back as well, unsure whether the standard blocking techniques that they taught all police officers for preventing scanning by low-grade telepaths would be any use against someone like Roberts. Probably not, she decided as she slipped some earphones into place and hit the play button on her WalkFur. Despite that she didnít bother trying to discontinue a line of thought that had sprung up; For a telepath, youíre a bad liar friend. Why do you care so much what Trent thinks of you?

It was getting silly.

They had taped off an area around the spot where Matt Rosenís body had been found, back to a radius of ten metres. The alley he had been dumped in had been taped off at its extreme end, and security footage had been pulled from the cameras in the area. Shellfire had gone over every print shi could find, every piece of evidence that shi could track down...

So far the only conclusion that shi had reached, despite hours of work, was that someone had used a transporter to get into the alley, had stayed long enough to put Matt Rosenís body in place, and had then left by transporter as well.

"The technical term for this kind of scene, is Ďuninspiringí," Auer informed hir sympathetically.

"Thanks for that one," shi replied, standing up and dusting hirself off. "I think we can call this scene a dead end. The transporter traces were too decayed even by the time we got here to get more than the fact that they existed, and there isnít enough of the rest of it. That shoe-print is probably the best evidence that weíre going to get from here."

Auer nodded, and looked around, indicating where Nico was standing, apparently engrossed by a section of wall. "You pair get your stuff together. Iíll make sure that the rest is cleared up."

"Thanks," Shellfire replied, picking up hir kit and walking over to Nico. "Hey, weíre leaving, unless youíve found something."

The foxtaur didnít seem to notice hir, and simply carried on staring at the wall.

Shellfire looked closer, wondering what had hir co-workerís attention. Most of it was just random junk; posters for teenage bands and so forth werenít exactly common around Amistad, but still popped up sometimes. Graffiti was even less common, although this area did seem to have more than its fair share. A few scrawled names and so forth made up most of it, though there were a couple of good pieces of artistry in there which suggested some real talent beneath whatever had made them go out and scribble on the walls. Especially good was the picture of a Barclayís Wolf that had even been shaded in somehow. The dragonfly that had been spray-painted in beside it was also a quite good, if simplistic, design. And the... Shellfire paused, tilting hir head slightly, and then decided that it was probably a jackalope... was quite good as well, if slightly cubist.

"Whatís caught your eye?" shi asked, leaning slightly closer to Nico as shi did.

The Foxtaur jumped; clearly startled that Shellfire was so close. For a moment his limbs seemed to tangle, and he nearly tripped over his tail before recovering enough to calm down. "Uh, Shellfire... Is something wrong?"

"Aside from you getting so engrossed in graffiti that you didnít hear me calling?" shi asked good-naturedly. "Iíve got two transporter traces, both at opposite ends of the footprints leading to and from Matt Rosenís body. The traces have degraded already, so weíre not going to get any more from here. Auerís going to clear the scene once weíre away."

Nico nodded, glancing back at the wall once more before turning away and following Shellfire back to the Makarbee.

Stepping into the offices of Mareinal Brezhane, Jessica found herself better able to appreciate the sentiments that Darkflight had expressed upon entering the crime labís break room. The reception area was done out in a quite startlingly opulent fashion, which Sammy had once informed her was Fifth Imperial Dynasty Rakshani, when she had commented on it at a concert hall.

It was a style that involved quite a lot of architectural silverwork and marble, along with ornate tapestries. The ones at the concert hall had all been in honour of famous musicians and performances. These ones appeared to be great achievements of industry, placing great bridges and roadways alongside a surprisingly artistic view of a group of Skunktaur workers engaged in the production of... Some kind of spaceship?

More than the tapestries or the marble however, there was one thing that drilled it home that this was the office of a successful company; as you stepped into the reception area, it suddenly felt like you were carrying a huge weight, as the artificial gravity began to take hold and brought you back to standard Chakonan gravity rather than the 0.28 gravities that Kaíturna exerted.

Planet or moon based artificial gravity was always a risky business. Get it slightly wrong and you could do unpleasant things to the surface, to the atmosphere, or to the surrounding area. A space station was something different, because it was built with artificial gravity in mind, while even an asteroid could become unstable with a badly tuned gravity generator. The most skilled engineers worked for Star Fleet or the Star Corps, which left only the very rich and powerful able to support artificial gravity in such a situation as this.

"Oh man, can you feel those gees?" Roberts asked, trying to straighten up. "Why didnít they turn it down a bit?"

"Itís probably psychological as much as anything," Jessica answered. "Intended to force people to enter in a cowed state. They probably turn it down for their own people."

"I canít see whut youíre complaining about," Art said, having not even faltered as they passed over the sharp gradient between lunar and artificial gravity. Bred, at least in part, as workhorses, the Quange had what some people considered a ridiculously excessive ability to withstand shifts in gravity and acceleration. It would have taken a shift of at least twice that much to get Artís attention.

As they strode across to the reception desk they were met by a short human in a neat suit, wearing thin-rimmed glasses. He had a round, good natured face with a bald patch developing, which was odd given that the treatments for such things were cheap by comparison to the style of architecture in the reception area.

"You must be detective Woodum," the man said, holding out his hand in greeting. "Iím Lucas Val-Morgan, Emlerav of Mareinal Brazhane" he continued.

Jessica raised an eyebrow at his apparently instinctive use of the Rakshani form of his official title - director of operations - as she took his hand to shake it. She was then slightly startled, though not sufficiently to fight back or resist, when she found herself drawn into a hug that was administered with almost Chakat enthusiasm.

Art accepted a hug as well, though Roberts clasped his hands behind his back in as polite a declination as he could manage, before Jessica spoke. "Youíre correct, Iím detective Woodum, with the Amistad Crime Lab. Iím afraid that weíre here on business however."

"Oh? I wasnít aware of any crimes being committed around here, or even on Kaíturna at all for that matter," Val-Morgan replied.

"You keep track of that sort of thing a lot do you?" Roberts asked, frowning.

"Of course. On a planet relying on local labour isnít something that you need to worry about, because commuting is so cheap, even on Chakona. But on a lunar colony like this? People canít afford to commute from Chakona or Chaíturna, and when even the air on a colony like this isnít free, the costs for commuting are prohibitive. And so we rely on local labour, which could dry up at a momentís notice if people decide that the crime rate around here is too high and start leaving. We at Mareinal Brazhane are committed to providing work for as many as we can reasonably support, but we canít do that if they decide to abandon us," Val-Morgan finished unhappily.

Jessica blinked in surprise. She had known intellectually, that the lunar colonies tended to attract less attention from her line of work than the rest of Chakona, but it had never occurred to her to question why this might be, or why it might be more urgent that this state of affairs continued.

"Well itís nice to meet someone who is concerned about such things," Jessica replied before her surprise could be noted. "Unfortunately itís not a crime around this area that weíre concerned about directly. We have evidence that a drugs shipment was transported to the Chakona Gateway as part of a regular shipment from your company. Weíre naturally concerned that more shipments might have already got past us, especially since... Weíre here for two reasons," Jessica continued after a pause. "We need to check out your labs, and we also need to check out any runabouts that you have as well. Weíll be checking the runabouts from other companies around Kaíturna as well, but your companyís connections mean that we need to start here."

Val-Morgan looked genuinely horrified, the deeper implication of the Star Fleet contracts that his company held no doubt having occurred to him immediately. "If there is anything that I can do to help..."

"For now your cooperation with a few questions will suffice," Jessica assured him. "Star Fleet wants this kept quiet for now, but I should warn you that they are worried that at least one of their more highly classified drugs has ended up in the shipment that we caught. For now weíre going with that, so weíre going to need to make an inspection of any areas where you produce these drugs for Star Fleet."

"Of course," Val-Morgan agreed. "If you can follow me this way, I can check with one of our managers to assist your officer in checking our vehicle yard. After which I can show you the respective areas that we produce drugs specifically for Star Fleet."

Shellfire stepped back into the lab, aiming to step into the locker room and stow hir field kit, when shi found hirself accosted by Beachrunner.

"Hey Ďfire," shi said, stepping half out of the trace lab. "You got a minute?"

Sighing, Shellfire looked at the younger Chakat somewhat wearily. "That depends on what itís for," shi replied.

"Trent handed over a load of stuff from Matt Rosen that he wanted checking out. Weíve got most of the results back and I figured that you wanted to be there when we went over them."

Shellfire paused significantly, keeping a steady gaze on Beachrunner as shi did. You didnít spend years training a naturally high empathic talent to precision levels just to leave it switched off when a co-worker was trying to slip something past you.

"Okay," Beachrunner said after a few seconds of silence. "Trent said some stuff that... It worried me, okay? I just want other people around the next time in case he tries weirding me out again."

"What about Trey?"

"Hy was my next choice, until I spotted that youíd arrived."

Shellfire shook hir head wearily. "Go and get Trey. Iíll be there in a couple of minutes." As the younger Chakat hurried away shi went into the locker room, wondering what could have got Beachrunner so worried. It wasnít exactly a secret around the lab that Beachrunner hung around the party scene, and since drugs and getting drunk werenít an option for Chakats there were rumours about other options, none illegal as yet, that had been tried at various times. Shellfire wasnít up on all of the details since it wasnít hir kind of thing and none of them had reached the attentions of the crime lab yet, but various kinds of non-chemical stimulation had been mentioned. It was hard to imagine how Beachrunner, who claimed merely to be observing in an official capacity at such parties - though doubtless sampled the fruits of their labour occasionally - could be Ďweirded outí by Trent, who had no social life, spent far too long at work... Actually that was enough to scare various Chakats by itself...

Grabbing a bottle of water and hoping that it wasnít too old - such things were normally left in lockers by the Day Shift in case the owner needed something to keep them going whilst passing through in a hurry - shi stepped into Treyís office.

Trent, Nico and Trey were there already, along with Beachrunner. Shellfire wasnít entirely sure whether Beachrunner had invited all of them, or if they were just there on principle, since they were all going to be involved in the case. Trey was behind hys desk, while Trent was perched on the edge of a desk in the X-Files section, while Nico was eying that half warily and had settled lounging as officially as possible against the edge of Treyís desk.

"Ah, Shellfire. Shir Beachrunner was just about to explain to us some of the findings from the scene that you were investigating."

"Okay, several major pieces of evidence were uncovered from Matt Rosenís body," Beachrunner declared. "The first was the food stain on his trouser leg. That one came back quite quickly as ĎBio-meal protein paste.í Yuck," shi added. "How they can eat stuff with a name like that I donít know. And how they eat it when they can read the ingredients that are on the packaging..."

"Give it a rest furball," Trent said. "Or I might go and tell you about the stuff that comes out of the vending machine down the hall."

Beachrunner cast a nervous look out of the door, and Shellfire grinned at the thought. Shi was modern enough that knowing what went into the fodder they got from the vending machines didnít put hir off it as such. Having Trent, who had grown up eating worse on a regular basis on the Earth, go into explicit detail would be going too far though.

"Does it tell us anything useful?" shi asked before Trent could get started.

"Not in itself," Beachrunner admitted. "Itís not an uncommon meal-pack, taken with several pills and a quantity of water. Provided that you donít mind losing weight because there is nothing in there that doesnít need to be, a single meal-pack can apparently satisfy a human being for a full day. Can you imagine that? Eight days a week, you only need one meal...

"Anyway," shi continued, drawing hirself back to the subject at hand, "there arenít many places that youíll find this around Chakona. Only civilian traffic that canít afford replicators bothers to keep this stuff around. Star Fleet doesnít even bother having it aboard their ships, and the Star Corps supplies at least the next grade up to its field teams and colonists. That doesnít narrow it down though, with the weight of civilian traffic coming through."

"Iíve been over those trousers again," Trent added. "The stuff was definitely dropped after Rosen was dead, and wasnít wiped off properly afterwards. Dunno whether they just didnít care or what. Splatter pattern was definitely not from Rosen himself though."

"Next, the drugs that were found in Rosenís pocket," Beachrunner continued. "Definitely metazyne. Cheap stuff as well, rather than the real thing, although it probably cost as much as the real thing if he bought it anywhere near Chakona. Which I donít think he did," the young Chakat added triumphantly. "Chemical markers came back as matching those found in metazyne that was brewed to fund Humans First activities on Mars. There are half a dozen drugs out there all with the same markers because they came from the same kitchen, and this was definitely from that group.

"We also got the tox-report back from Rosenís blood. He was a user alright, and Doc said that his liver and intestines were his own and in good condition, so he was probably new to it. Breakdown of the drugs in his system indicates that he may have been high when he was on the Gateway."

"So he was under the influence of metazyne when he killed Eiji? Interesting," Trey murmured. Seeming to gather his thoughts, he nodded at Beachrunner. "Log this as linked to any cases that Mars might have when you get a moment. They should be interested to know that a Ďkitchení is selling this far out. And backtracking Mr Rosenís route may give them a hint of where he picked it up from."

"You sound like thereís more to it than that though," Shellfire pointed out.

Trey shrugged. "I know of the Ďkitchení that shir Beachrunner is referring to. Traditionally they supply users belonging either to their own group - at a discount rate to ensure they donít go anywhere else and the money is kept Ďin the familyí - or to members of groups opposed to them. The latter is at a ridiculous price, but with sufficient market saturation that users have little choice in the matter. It would be interesting to know which of those he was."

"Well his credit chip wonít help much there," Trent declared. "Thereís nothing on it worthwhile, aside from some transfers to cover costs down to Chakona and around once he got here. The damned thing was new a couple of days ago."

"A pity," Trey agreed. "What other evidence did you find?"

"The imprints of some sleeves on the back of the jacket," Beachrunner replied. "They looked distinctive, and theyíre custom made. Unfortunately we donít keep records of all of the custom made designs. Weíve sent a copy of the imprint off to the major manufacturers that do this sort of work, but with just a seam from some sleeves to work with it might be tricky. We probably wonít get a hit back off that."

"What about that pollen stuff?" Trent asked impatiently. "Please tell me you got something useful out of all this."

Beachrunner scowled at Trent, then turned to Trey. "The pollen was from a Sailies Windflower. Commonly found all over Flinders Continent, which doesnít help us. What does help us is the presence of some insecticide in amongst all of the pollen."

"I was under the impression that Chakonan law forbade the use of insecticides," Trey said slowly.

"Except under special circumstances," Beachrunner replied triumphantly. "Berdoovia has suffered a swarm of Wingspire hornets recently, and got special permission to protect some of its groves in the more public areas against the little critters. Nothing lethal; itís actually more of a deterrent. But they were required to catalogue all instances of spraying so that the eco-groups canít object too much if anything unrelated goes wrong in the near future."

"From which you learnt that this was from Berdoovia?" Trey asked.

"Better. I got an address. Only one grove with Windflowers in it was sprayed."

"Why dump him in Amistad then?" Shellfire wondered aloud. When Trey raised a bushy eyebrow at hir shi shrugged. "These people might not have noticed the pollen, or realised it was significant if they did find it, but why go to the trouble of dumping his body in Amistad? If they could perform open-ended transports around the world without being detected by anyone then why dump the body in an alley where we would find it? Auer got very suspicious about the way the body was dumped, but he was convinced that there werenít any traps set up."

"Maybe a message," Nico suggested. "A warning perhaps?"

"If it was a warning it was not aimed at us personally," Trey declared. "This was meant as a warning to other members of the group. I believe that we were correct in our assessment that Mr Rosen was not meant to kill anyone, and this is his punishment for it."

"It does seem a bit... Extreme," Nico commented. "Yes, he damaged their operation, but surely it wasnít worth killing him over it."

Trey shrugged, flicking hys tail back and forth as hy did. "Chakona has always been hard on drug users and suppliers. If someone has managed to establish a market here, it would be unrestricted by competition, and they could set whatever rules they wanted. But once something has been done, and has been acknowledged to have been done, it becomes easier the next time around. We might tighten our security, increase checks and so forth, but the next group will start with the knowledge that it can actually be done. So if they are able to return, they will most likely have competition. By bringing the operation into the open he may have irreparably damaged their profit margins in the future.

"Whatever their reasons for killing him," Trey continued, "we need to locate where he was killed if at all possible. Shellfire, Trent, I want you over at that address. Get CCTV footage if you can; Berdoovia isnít covered by as complete a system as Amistad, so it might be tricky to keep track of him if he moved around a lot."

"It shouldnít be too hard," Trent replied. "Someone that lives in space or urban areas like this guy did will stick close to similar areas anywhere he goes. In Berdoovia, that means the warehouse district probably. They should have decent coverage around there."

"Very well then," Trey said. "I suggest that you head over there immediately then. Iíll alert the local PD to assist you. If you should require further back-up beyond a couple of officers, then you should get in touch with me."

There should realistically have been no reason for these to be here. The hanger was the size of the shuttle hangers aboard orbital platforms, and currently packed full of runabouts of various kinds, laid out in rows according to no visible pattern. Craft running the full range from light tugs up to long-distance executive transport shuttles were packed in.

But there wasnít any reason for it. The industrial complex that this was a part of had underground relay systems in place to ferry cargo back and forth from the main cargo dock, minimising the need for anyone to launch their own craft. That meant that having a hanger full of shuttles like this meant only one thing; status symbols.

"Whoa. Why do ya need so many of these things?" Art asked as he looked around the hanger. "Ah thought the main port handled cargo traffic."

"Cargo traffic perhaps," replied the human beside him. "But we prefer that VIPs donít think of themselves that way, or get the impression that we think of them like that. Normally this bay would be almost empty, but weíve got renovation work on the other hanger, so itís a bit crowded in here right now."

Art glanced at the human. The man had been introduced as Flynn, and like many of the workers that the Quange had seen so far wore a Rakshani style uniform, modified for his different physiology. He was tall, the subtle shifting in his bone structure suggesting some kind of genetic engineering to Art. Not the most dramatic sort, but enough of it to make Flynn something more exotic than a regular guy.

His hair was mostly brown, with bronze, almost metallic looking, streaks running through it. His eyes were a quite intense blue, the corona bearing an almost crystalline appearance. His voice was oddly musical, which Art suspected came from the modifications as well. Too many morphs, even those that didnít originate in the non-aligned worlds, had some kind of sexual orientation to their modifications. This guy didnít look the sort to go for that sort of thing on himself, and had probably inherited it from his parents, which meant he was lucky to have gotten off so lightly.

Looking back into the hanger, Art began to catalogue the runabouts. He already had an idea of which one he needed to look at; the thing was lurking around the back of the hanger, the chrome finish a bit more battered than it appeared on the promotional flier that Art had been provided with, but otherwise a perfect image of the shuttle he was looking for.

"Ah need ta start with that wun," he declared, indicating the runabout.

Flynn looked a bit confused by the choice, since Art hadnít mentioned that they were looking for a specific model, but shrugged and led the way down a ladder onto the hanger floor.

The air stank of overcooked engines, grease and ozone. Partly that was coming from the welding torches around the hanger, and the heavy power lines strung around the floor. Most of it was radiating in waves off the climate management field that covered the main hanger entrance, the massive gaping hole that led out into a relatively narrow alley and then out onto the surface of Kaíturna. As Art watched, the hanger door, a massive armour plated affair, lumbered laboriously into place, the massive gears that drove it setting small tools vibrating across the floor.

"Ya need that kind of armour do ya?"

"Like I said, this is normally executive parking. Most of them like to know that theyíre going to be safe here. Also, the hanger was refitted as a blast shelter when the Rakshani took over. Dunno why; I guess they just prepare for things like that."

Art nodded slowly, stopping alongside the runabout that he had spotted from the balcony. It was the right design, and the serial numbers stencilled onto the hull matched as well now that he could see them clearly. Crouching down, he looked at the underside of the runabout as best he could. There wasnít much to see from this angle, and he wasnít expecting to find much anyway. Even if the thing had been sitting in a muddy pool back on Chakona there might not have been much left to show for it by the time it reached the moon; a combination of air-friction, vacuum-freezing, the effects of sunlight and shade during the trip to the moon, and the rapid drop/ rise in temperature when the runabout entered the hangerís atmosphere would have removed quite a lot of evidence even if a cleaning crew hadnít got to it yet.

Stepping up to the open hatch of the runabout, Art listened carefully for the first hint of a startled or outraged cry that might suggest an objection to him investigating the inside. Flynn was still hanging around, but aside from that there were only the disinterested glances of people who hadnít got anything more interesting to look at than a roving detective.

The inside of the runabout was a bit of a mess. The cabin wasnít large, mostly due to the cargo room that took up most of the rear section, and it looked like the normal activity and detritus of a non-converted runabout had been compacted into the cabin. Art looked around, wary of the fact that the cramped space, while no doubt capable of being adapted for Taurs, was currently set up for Humans, or more probably for Rakshani. There wasnít much room for a Quange to move around without knocking something.

Despite that, Art could see one thing had looked like very useful evidence; splatter from some kind of gunk had solidified on the floor, a void suggesting that it had fallen across something not dissimilar to some trousers, assuming that the person in the trousers was lying on the cabin floor at the time.

That alone put Artís senses on alert for anything else that might turn up. He had picked up the report from Trey about the evidence found on Matt Rosenís body, and recognised the Ďfoodí in question. He also recognised that same food when it was several hours old and had dried to the consistency of sandstone. The likelihood of this being the correct runabout had just gone up several orders of magnitude.

Running his tricorder over the inside of the runabout, Art noted other minor points, such as the presence of dirt and leaves, that indicated that this runabout had been down on Chakona in the middle of the wooded area, definitely not somewhere that it should have been. It still amused Art that people never considered it necessary to have anything resembling a doormat in shuttles and runabouts, despite the strange things that people might be carrying on their boots after entering or leaving a spaceport, let alone more rural areas that such a craft might set down in. It was one of those strange blind-spots that many sentient races seemed to share.

Sliding himself between the seats, Art tapped at one of the consoles, bringing up the runaboutís flight log. Or what there was of it. Whoever had gone through the log had simply deleted everything, not even trying to hide the fact that it had been altered.

And that stank. If this was the same runabout that had sneaked past the planetary scanner grid then the people running it had to be really good. That kind of technical skill would easily extend to altering a few flight records with sufficient subtlety that the guys in the computers labs would have needed to look over it for hours to even work out that it had been modified. And yet here it was, not even carefully hidden.

Pulling the communicator from his equipment vest, not willing to trust the local relay stations to handle the less powerful signal from his commbadge, Art dialled up the crime lab.

Evening was closing in, brilliant streaks of orange highlighting the clouds that stretched out across the barely visible ocean. Shellfire smiled as the sight warmed hir, the radiant light of Chakastra casting a satisfying glow along the kilometre length of Sunís Rest, one of the major streets of Berdoovia. During the initial laying out of the city the designers and architects had seen fit to stretch great avenues across the city that would be certain to catch the very best of the sunlight and present unobstructed views of the magnificence of Chakona even to those in the middle of the city.

To Shellfireís mind, they had succeeded.

Trent of course didnít see the beauty of it, and was watching the local groves, waiting patiently enough for Shellfire whilst keeping an eye on the one grove that he suspected that they were looking for. Shellfire wasnít surprised at his inability to see the wonder of it; Trent had never seemed open to that kind of thing, obsessing about work more often than not. Shi couldnít entirely understand why he was like that, but had at least become used to it over the years.

As the last curve of Chakastra dipped below the horizon, leaving the first stars twinkling in the sky, Shellfire turned a satisfied smile on the world and looked over at Trent.

"Done now?" Trent asked with a half-smile on his face. Even if he couldnít appreciate something like a sunset, Shellfire had found that he was still able to appreciate other people appreciating it.

Shi nodded. "I needed that. We donít tend to see these things too often."

"Yeah," Trent agreed half-heartedly. "I think this is it over here," he added, indicating the grove. The streetlights had started coming on, and the Sailies Windflowers glittered brightly in the semi-darkness, the silvery patterning on the petals casting shards of light around the area as the faint evening breeze set them gently purring to each other. The Windflowers were one of the native plants, which some people had jokingly suggested meant that they had more of a right to be on Chakona than the Chakats did.

The pair of them stopped next to the grove, Shellfire pausing to smell the sweet scent from the grove, while Trent looked around the nearby rooftops.

"Not much luck here," he commented. "Too many trees and not enough CCTVs. Youíd have thought that theyíd trim these things occasionally," he added, gesturing up at the trees in this particular grove and the next one along, where the branches had been wound together to create an archway.

"We should be able to find something though," Shellfire replied, tapping hir commbadge. "Shellfire to Bushwalker. Nico, are you there?"

"Iím here Shellfire," Nico replied. "Iím at the security office, and can see both of you on the CCTV now."

"Well stop peeping and find Rosen," Trent told the Foxtaur, looking around to find the specific camera that their colleague was using.

"Weíre already working on it," Nico replied. "Based on the time logged by the HitchReg office, and the approximate TOD provided by Doctor Campbell, Weíve narrowed his presence there down to... There he is," the Foxtaur declared with some satisfaction. "He was heading... Out along the main road, towards the docks."

"Any idea how far?" Trent asked, taking a few steps and glancing down the main road as it stretched down to the harbour.

"Iím checking," Nico replied. "It looks like he was heading for the warehouse district down by the dock. About... Eight hundred metres down the main road."

The pair of them climbed back into the PTV and set it heading down the road, a concentrated silence filling the space inside the vehicle as Trent lounged as comfortably as possible on one of the taur-form seats, while Shellfire drove.

Finding a place to park at the entrance to the warehouse district was easy enough, and Shellfire glanced down the dimly lit road between the different warehouses as shi paused. "Nico? What now?"

"Thatís a good question," the Foxtaur replied. "The warehouses maintain internal CCTV records, if any. The district CCTV records donít seem to exist at all... Youíll need to look around to check out exactly whatís going on there."

"Do we at least get a hint of where he was heading?" Trent asked.

"Into the district is the best I can give you," Nico apologised. "Do you want me to join you? I could be with you in about fifteen minutes probably."

Shellfire considered, then shook hir head. "Donít bother. We need to get on with this. The trailís going cold enough as it is... See if you can dig up any records about Mareinal Brezhane and where exactly their storage areas around here are."

Stepping out of the PTV, the two CSIs headed down the road between the warehouses, Trent looking around with a kind of clinical interest, while Shellfire looked more confused, an expression that deepened as they went deeper into the district and met with dimmer and dimmer lights.

"Do they actually have lights around here?" shi wondered aloud after a few minutes walking. "Surely this is a bit dark, even for somewhere like this."

"Probably cut down for the night," Trent replied, not entirely seeming to believe it himself. "They do that some places."

Shellfire nodded, pulling out hir tricorder and stretching out with hir empathic senses. Neither registered the presence of anyone in the near vicinity, and yet there was a distinctly nervous feeling that shi couldnít shake.

It was a feeling that intensified as they moved further onwards, despite Shellfireís efforts to subdue it. "We need to head back," shi eventually declared. "We could be hours looking around like this. Nico should have gotten in contact by now," shi added slowly, realising that the Foxtaur was more than a few minutes overdue to get in touch with them.

Trent nodded, his expression shifting from clinical to wary in an instant. "Somethingís going on," he declared, looking around. "We should have seen someone by now."

"Youíre only mentioning it now?" Shellfire asked, mildly irate at how calmly Trent was taking the possibility of things going wrong.

"Iíd guessed that youíd spot anything before it got too close," Trent admitted, pulling the handgun off his belt and idly tapping his thumb against the safety catch. "Letís head back. Slowly," he added.

"Sure," Shellfire agreed, mock-casually. "It wouldnít do for a couple of CSIs to have to admit that they got this badly spooked after all." Smiling wanly at the attempt at a joke, Shellfire tapped at hir commbadge.

Then tapped at it slightly more sharply as the soft hiss of localised jamming came through it.

"This just stopped being simple," Shellfire said, pulling hir own handgun out and thumbing the safety off with a faint bleep, at the same time that Trent thumbed his own weaponís safety catch off. "We need to move quickly."

Shi had taken only a couple of steps when the first blaster shot hissed past hir head, setting both CSIs diving for cover.

The Day Shift will return...

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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