Author: c_b_syndrome/LJ Harris
Rating: PG13 this chapter - R overall
Spoiler Warning: Even though it's seriously A/U... Yes
Other Warnings: Depends on how easily squicked you are... it -is- CSI, after all.
A/N: Um, yeah…there is what –appears- to be a rather LARGE continuity error here. Trust me when I say it was deliberate.
Previous chapters can be found here:
Prologue // Chapter One // Chapter Two
“Be Careful What You Wish For”
24 hours ago:
Greg Sanders snapped photo after photo of the DB from every angle and he was fairly certain he’d figured out the COD. Although he wasn’t a Medical Examiner and Doc Robbins probably wouldn’t take too kindly if Greg stepped on his toes over this, in his opinion it was obvious. After all, it was pretty damned difficult to live after you’ve had your brains explode out of the back of your head.
Okay, so how the man’s grey matter had managed to boil over and pop his skull open like a pressure-cooker with a broken valve was still to be decided, but hey, at least half the mystery was solved. The only thing that Greg knew of that could cause an actual internal explosion like that was fire –namely the entire body and specifically the head being engulfed. And since there was no sign of spontaneous human combustion, or any other type of burns on the DB, he could safely assume there was another cause. Well, that was what the Medical Examiner was for, right? Greg figured he should leave something for Doc Robbins to do.
One thing he noticed was that the man had spent too much time in the sun through his life. His skin was bark brown and leathery. I wonder if-- Greg shook his head and snapped another photo. Nah, too much sun will give you melanoma, but it won’t make your brain explode.
The flash bounced off of the gauntlet on the DB’s right hand and wrist causing Greg to mutter a curse and blink away the after-image. Kneeling next to the body, he waited for his eyes to adjust back to the darkness and felt around in search of a tell-tale bulge in a pocket that would indicate a wallet and possibly an ID, but didn’t find anything. Well, I suppose robbery might’ve been a motive. Seems like overkill just for a wallet, but I’ve seen worse over less, too.
The DB certainly looked like he had money, too. The clothes weren’t just custom –kinda have to be to fit this guy-- they were well-made. And… well… a Hummer isn’t exactly an economy car.
Greg lifted the DB’s right hand to take a closer look at the gauntlet. It certainly wasn’t the typical jewelry a rich, middle-aged man would wear. Definitely custom-made; Greg had never seen anything like it before. It looked like polished chrome over stainless steel, which meant it had to be cast, rather than worked like silver or gold. It was jointed at the wrist and the first knuckles to allow for ease of movement while the fingers and thumb were left exposed, and while it was certainly efficient in design –designed for what, though?—it was still quite artistic in its simplicity. But the gauntlet wasn’t just for show. As expensive as it had to be to make it, if that were all it was for, the man could have had it wrought from gold.
Gold and silver are soft metals, though, Greg thought as he noticed some light scratches along the knuckle-guard and the palm. This was designed to withstand an impact. He could also feel scratching in the top of the gauntlet, but shining his Maglite directly on it made it difficult to see. Greg changed the angle of the beam, turned the DB’s hand so that the top was horizontal to the ground and squinted. There was definitely a pattern there, but it was very finely etched; even oblique light wasn’t bringing out the detail.
Greg pulled a jar of fingerprint powder out of his kit, then he carefully dusted the top of the gauntlet and blew off the excess. Just as he’d expected, the fine powder settled in the etched design, making it more visible. What he hadn’t expected, was what was revealed. “No way,” he breathed, then snagged his cellphone from the holster on his belt.
“Dude, you need to come see this.”
Ten minutes later, Greg was waiting --while not exactly patiently, at least quietly—for the inevitable question from Warrick. The other CSI’s lips were pursed and his brows were furrowed as he studied the gauntlet from every conceivable angle and Greg was about to give up and just tell him, when Warrick said, “Okay, so what am I looking at, here?”
Finally! With a grand gesture that would make any kid with the coolest new toy proud, Greg turned the DB’s wrist at an angle for Warrick to see the etching. “This!”
Warrick was spectacularly unimpressed. “Greg, if you know what it is, would you like to share?”
With a sigh and a sag of his shoulders, Greg said, “Sorry, yeah. I’ve only seen stuff like this in books. It’s an—“
And that was when everything went sideways.
Neither of them had heard anything approach the scene --and out in the desert like that, a vehicle could be heard coming from miles away—but the two CSIs were knocked back by the force of a sudden strong wind and blinded by a bank of lights that threw everything into surreal, stark relief. The next thing he knew, Warrick was tackling him and pinning him to the ground.
Greg couldn’t see much from his angle, but he heard the roar right above them and felt the furnace blast and saw the ground shift from grey to a flickering gold and it seemed like forever that whatever it was just hovered over them…
…then it was gone as suddenly as it had appeared and the rumble of engines and the whine of a chopper seemed quiet in comparison.
Warrick rolled off of Greg then and both men flopped over onto their backs to be greeted with the business ends of half a dozen guns inches from their faces. Greg had to force his eyes to stop crossing in order to see who was on the other end. The bodies were back-lit and he couldn’t see any faces, but he could pick out enough detail to recognize military uniforms.
Both men slowly raised their hands without argument.
Once back on the highway, they were met by a dark-haired, dark-eyed, slight-built man that appeared to be the officer in charge. “Gentlemen, I’m General Roy Mustang, and I’m afraid you’ll be coming with us.”
“Look,” Warrick said, “I don’t know what you think is going on here, but we’re from the Las Vegas crime lab. I can show you my ID, if—“
“I’m well aware of who you are and why you’re here, Mr. Brown,” Mustang said, then with a sharp gesture with a leather gloved hand to the soldiers behind them, he spun and strode off.
Both Greg and Warrick had their arms yanked roughly behind them and they were cuffed. “Hey,” Warrick protested. “Wait a minute!”
“Sorry about this, man,” one of the soldiers behind them said, as blindfolds were brought down over the CSIs eyes.
Warrick tried to dodge away. “Dammit! What the hell’s going on here?”
He stopped fighting when a serious-looking blonde woman pulled the hammer back on her weapon and pointed it right at Warrick’s head without a word.
Greg remained silent as he was blinded and then hooded --more interested in the General and the design he caught a glimpse of on the man’s leather glove. It was remarkably similar to the design etched into the DB’s steel gauntlet and a theory was beginning to gestate.
The chopper ride was short and didn’t give Greg much idea of direction or distance and while he got the impression that they’d passed through a hangar by the way their steps echoed, it wasn’t all that helpful. The trip down in the elevator only told him they were fairly deep underground; which was no help at all except to tell him that escape was next to impossible.
Not that traipsing through the desert would have been a good idea anyway.
They’d been led down a series of corridors that obviously weren’t empty. Greg could hear other people passing them by –some were strolling, but most of them seemed to be in a hurry—and no one said a word.
They finally ended up in a room that was positively silent in comparison to the corridors, and Greg could feel carpet under his feet. He stayed right where he was put and listened as several people left and the door was closed, but he could sense that someone was still in the room with him and Warrick. And although the carpet muffled the sound of bootsteps, he could tell whoever it was, was really, really big.
The cuffs came off first and Greg rubbed the circulation back into his wrists while he listened to the other set coming off of Warrick. Neither man moved or said a word; at this point it was better to wait.
The other person in the room came back around in front of Greg, then a deep voice said, “You’re welcome to remove the blindfolds now.”
Greg took off the hood and the blindfold, then blinked at the assault of bright light and sea of green carpeting at his feet. When he glanced up, all he could see was a wall of desert fatigues and lurched back a step. He followed the perfectly straight line of buttons up… and up… and had to take another step backwards in order to see the face above the uniform.
The soldier had to be at least seven and a half feet tall and damn near as broad across the shoulders, and it was only the amused crinkle at the corners of his light blue eyes that kept Greg from cowering in a corner at that moment. The thick, blonde mustache hid the soldier’s mouth, but shifted when he smiled, and he was completely bald except for the curled forelock. He nodded slightly then said, “I am Lt. Colonel Alex Louise Armstrong.” He waved a huge hand about the room and said, “Please make yourselves comfortable. You’ll be given time to freshen up and eat, then Colonel Hughes will be here to speak with you.”
Greg glanced around, noticing that someone had made the effort to make the room look welcoming. There were colorful quilts on each of the two beds, with a change of clothes for both of them, pastel paint on the walls and framed prints. There was a door that Greg assumed led to the bathroom and a small table with covered trays on the other end that had some rather tantalizing scents coming from them.
“Nice digs,” Warrick said as he gazed around. Then he faced the Lt. Colonel and added, “For a cell.”
“We apologize for the inconvenience, Mr. Brown, but you’re not being held prisoner here.”
”Really? So what do you call it? And how the hell do you people know our names?”
“Colonel Hughes will be here in 30 minutes. You’ll be informed then.” Armstrong then bowed to each of them. “Mr. Brown. Mr. Sanders.”
The entire time Armstrong had stood in front of them, he’d kept his hands behind his back, but Greg watched carefully as the man reached for the door and was satisfied to see he was wearing a gauntlet similar to the DB’s. Only Armstrong’s was of a different metal –brass it looked like—and with spikes along the top. The design, as well, was somewhat different… but it was enough to add to the theory Greg was forming.
As soon as they were alone, Warrick started pacing and mumbling. Greg, on the other hand, settled in a seat at the table and lifted the cover off one of the trays. He was impressed with the KC strip and herb-roasted potatoes. Not one to let a free meal go to waste, he dug in.
“What the hell is going on here?” Warrick grumbled as he flapped his hands about and continued to pace. “This is America; they can’t just lock us up without a reason. What happened to the Fourth Amendment, for crying out loud? And I don’t care how nice this room is, it’s still a cage. For that matter, where in the hell is Sheriff—“ Warrick stopped in mid-step and stared at Greg. “You’re eating?”
Greg shrugged and said around a mouthful of steak, “I’m hungry.”
“Did you hit your head or something?” Warrick jabbed a finger toward the door. “We’re in some secret military installation, being held without charges, without a phone call, and without a goddamned explanation. Doesn’t that worry you just a little bit?”
Greg shook his head as the fork full of potatoes hovered halfway between his mouth and the plate. “Nope. Not really,” he said, then shoveled the potatoes into his mouth.
Defeated, Warrick fell into the other chair at the table and said, “Okay Greg. Spill. You know something, don’t you?”
“Well, you know that gauntlet on the DB?”
Warrick’s eyes narrowed in suspicion and growing impatience. “What about it?”
“Did you notice that General Mustang had a similar design on his leather gloves? And the big guy—“
“Lt. Colonel Armstrong, right.”
“Yeah. He had something like it, too.”
“What are you hinting at? These guys are part of some secret organization? Like…” Warrick smirked and barked out a short laugh, “the Illuminati?”
Greg scowled and swallowed the last mouthful of steak. “Of course not. Jeeze. Everyone knows the Illuminati are a myth.” He returned the lid to the tray and pushed it away from him. Then he pointed at Warrick’s still-untouched dinner and said, “You gonna eat that?”
Warrick rolled his eyes and pushed it over to the younger man. “So what’s your theory, then?”
“Well, the symbols within the circles looked familiar, but at first I figured it was a coincidence and the DB was just into the mystic stuff and probably didn’t really know what they represented,” Greg said as he sliced into the second steak. “But then, I saw the salamander inside the circle on the General’s glove and it hit me… these guys are for real.”
“Salamander?” Warrick said as he shook his head in confusion. “Greg, what in the hell are you going on about?”
Greg blinked, stunned, then he said, “According to Paracelsus, the salamander was a fire elemental.” At Warrick’s blank look, Greg said, “Well, his original name was Philippus Theophrastus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim, you might’ve heard of that one…” When Warrick’s expression didn’t register any recognition at the name, Greg sighed, gestured at the door with both hands and said, “Fireballs? The General has a salamander inside a circle on his glove?”
“Greg? Pretend I have absolutely no clue of what you’re talking about --which I don’t, by the way—and just come out with it.”
The younger man threw his hands up in frustration, then said, “Dude! Alchemy. These guys are modern-day alchemists.”
Warrick stared for a long moment, then groaned and fell back in his seat. “You worry me.”
“No really, you worry me, Greg.” Warrick jumped to his feet and started pacing again.
“I’m serious Warrick, they’re—“
Warrick put up a hand and said, “Stop. Just… stop. I can’t deal with your conspiracy theories right now.”
Greg shrugged and went back to eating. “Suit yourself, but when you find out I’m right--”
“Greg,” Warrick said warningly, and Greg took it as his cue to shut up.
Thirty minutes later, Greg was stuffed, had showered and was now reclined on one bed with his back against the wall watching Warrick wear a path in the carpet. Neither of them had spoken a word since Warrick had slapped a moratorium on any theories.
There was a short knock, then a pleasant-looking man in his early thirties, with sharp green eyes behind rectangular glasses and a perpetual five o’clock shadow, entered. Greg came to his feet, but the man waved him off and said, “At ease. Please.” He held out a hand to Greg first. “Colonel Maes Hughes. Mr. Sanders.”
Greg shook it, then Hughes turned and offered the same greeting to Warrick. “Mr. Brown.”
Warrick cast a disdainful glance at the hand, but made no move to return the greeting. Instead, he flopped down on the edge of the other bed and said, “So you’re going to tell us why we’ve been illegally arrested, here?”
Hughes smiled slightly and grabbed a chair from the table, spun it around and set it in the middle of the room between the two CSIs. He straddled the seat and folded his arms over the backrest. “You haven’t been arrested, Mr. Brown. We only want to know what you know about General Grand’s murder.”
“And if we decide not to cooperate?”
Hughes shrugged. “You’re free to walk out of here. No one will stop you.” He nodded at the door. “That door was never locked.”
“Walk out under our own power and get lost in the desert, you mean.”
“That’s always a possibility, of course.”
“And if we cooperate?”
“We make sure you get back home. Safe and sound.”
“But the evidence stays,” Warrick said. “I assume your people have all of it, right?”
“Everything you’d collected, yes.”
“Why cover it up? I’d think you’d want to know what happened to one of your own.”
“We already know what happened to him, Mr. Brown. We’ve been tracking this killer for awhile now. But we need to keep this in-house.”
“He used some prototype weapon you’re developing?”
Hughes looked down at the floor as though he were struggling to come to a decision. After a long moment he glanced back up at Warrick and with a sigh got to his feet. “Come with me.”
Greg and Warrick followed Hughes down another level of the complex and through another maze of corridors. As they rounded yet another corner, Hughes said, “I apologize for all the cloak and dagger shit, but for the uninitiated, it’s difficult to explain exactly what we’re dealing with—“
“I heard you got promoted, Hughes,” a slimy voice said from behind them, and Greg spun to see a tall, thin man with the eyes of a predator. He was wearing desert fatigue pants, but only an undershirt, and didn’t have the air of someone willingly in the military.
“Kimblee,” Hughes spat and any hint of the affable man of a moment ago was completely gone; replaced by a hardened soldier.
Kimblee smirked. “I’m surprised that the General allowed your lips off his ass long enough to play tour guide.”
“I’d heard someone took you down in Afghanistan.”
Kimblee tsked and sauntered up to the three men. As his hard amber eyes raked over first Warrick then Greg, he said, “Like it would be that easy.” He glanced at Hughes, shrugged and smiled arrogantly. “They wouldn’t let me do what I do best, so I came home.” He zeroed in on Greg again and took a step closer. To Greg’s surprise, the man sniffed deeply and closed his eyes as though he’d just smelled the most expensive perfume in the world. “Hmmmm. You’re a little low on iron, pale boy, but you’ll do nicely.”
“Stand down, Kimblee,” Hughes ordered, but Kimblee ignored him and reached out for Greg’s shoulder. The younger CSI could see the circle, triangle and stylized half-moon tattooed into the palm just before a silver flash zipped past his nose and flung Kimblee’s hand back.
The thunder of running boots pounding down the corridor toward them was almost drowned out by Kimblee’s cursing as he clamped his right hand tightly around his left wrist. “You sycophantic twit! Do you know how long it’s going to take for this to heal?” he said as he steadied his bleeding left hand, palm up –which was now sporting a wide, saw-toothed blade right through the center of the half-moon tattoo.
“Let’s hope it leaves a nice scar, Crimson,” said a tall, blonde soldier as he held a gun to Kimblee. Three other soldiers surrounded the injured man with their weapons trained on him while a shorter, stocky red-head slapped a pair of manacles on Kimblee that had a metal rod as a stretcher between the cuffs.
“Get his ass to the infirmary,” Hughes said, as the red-head gave Kimblee a thump in the back of his shoulder to get him moving. “And don’t take your eyes off of him.”
The red-head saluted, then shoved Kimblee again and said, “Come on, Crimson, we got your favorite room reserved just for you.”
“And I want that back, Breda,” Hughes called as the group marched off. The red-head –Breda—waved acknowledgement, but Hughes never noticed, as he’d turned an intense glare at the tall blonde soldier who’d stayed behind. “How in the bloody hell did that psychopath manage to get this far, Havoc?”
“Sorry, sir. He triggered a cascade failure in the sensor grid; had the patrol chasing their tails while he slipped the net.”
Greg noticed that Warrick was staring hard at Havoc, as if he looked familiar, but the CSI couldn’t quite place him.
Hughes turned and the four of them strode on down the corridor, as he said, “We need to get that security grid back up immediately, Captain.”
“The major’s already on it, sir.”
Hughes winced and smiled. “I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be the poor soul on the other end of that line,” he said as the stopped at a door. “Gentlemen,” he said to Warrick and Greg as he opened the door and waved them in.
As Warrick passed by Havoc, he said, “Weren’t you driving the truck?” Havoc merely shrugged and Warrick scowled. “Let me guess, that Hummer never made it back to the crime lab, did it?”
“Well, it made it back to a lab,” Havoc said. “Nice job wrapping it up, by the way.”
Greg could have sworn he heard Warrick growl.
The two CSIs entered what appeared to be the main operations of the complex, which was currently buzzing with the controlled mayhem of uniformed soldiers barking a confusion of orders into their headsets while monitors overhead flashed from one scene to another in rapid succession. In the center of it all was the coolly professional blonde women who’d pointed a gun at Warrick earlier.
“—I don’t care if they’d just come off of a 20 mile hike in full gear and haven’t even had a shower, roust them out of their bunks and get them out on the perimeter, now. We have more of them coming in and some of them are just as dangerous as Kimblee.” She glanced up at Hughes, saluted swiftly, then went back to what she was doing. “I don’t want anyone to so much as sneeze without you telling us, do you understand soldier?”
Hughes led Greg and Warrick to another room that was much smaller and quieter, with a large screen on the wall and a computer keyboard embedded into the tabletop. There was one seat, currently occupied by a short, geekish Sergeant and a couple of other chairs in the room, but nothing else.
The sergeant snapped to attention as soon as he saw them enter, but Hughes was far more casual. “Sergeant Fuery,” he said, “you’re due for a break, aren’t you?” Fuery shot a quick glance at Greg and Warrick, then understanding, he nodded and exited the room. Hughes turned to Havoc and said, “Captain, make sure we’re not interrupted.” Once the door was closed, he settled into the seat at the console and invited the other two men to take the remaining chairs on either side of him.
Warrick hesitated. “Why do I get the feeling this is turning into a bad spy movie, here?”
“I tell you, then I kill you?” Hughes said.
“Something like that, yeah.”
“I assure you, Mr. Brown,” Hughes said as he turned to the console and started taping the keys, “You’ll leave here very much alive.”
“So why share classified information with us?”
“Who’s gonna believe us?” Greg said.
“Don’t tell me you’re still going on about that conspiracy shit, Greg,” Warrick snapped. “You trying to tell me that these people are using a military complex to turn lead into gold?”
“Actually,” Hughes said as he hit the enter key, “that’s taboo.”
The large screen on the wall flared to life with a circle and a complex series of symbols within as Greg said, “It more than that, Warrick. Alchemy was the science of the time, and connected to the spirit. It was a way to get closer to God.”
On the screen, the image faded out and was replaced by a photo of a dark-skinned, grey-haired man with eyes of an unusual shade of red. To one side of the photo, the screen was split in two. In the top section, a 3-dimensional full body shot panned in 360, showing the man’s athletic build and the tribal style tattoos which covered his entire right arm. Below that, stats scrolled up the screen.
“Until the church declared it heresy, then it went underground,” Hughes added, then gave Greg and appraising look. “So you’ve read some of the texts?”
Greg chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck. “Well, a friend of mine gave me a couple of them as a joke when I graduated high school. I’ve collected a few more on my own.”
Warrick glanced from Greg to Hughes and back again, incredulous. “You’re kidding, right?”
Instead of answering, Hughes smirked and pulled up another file. This one was of the same man, but it was video of him in action. His physique wasn’t for show, the man was using specialized, and quite efficient, hand-to-hand techniques that took down several soldiers who tried to come at him at once. Not a single move was unnecessary, yet it was graceful and smooth. It was a deadly dance that sent a shiver up Greg’s spine.
Finally, the man had made it through the gauntlet of soldiers and slammed his right palm into a wall. There was a quick flash of reddish light, and Warrick said, “Wait a minute, did that guy’s arm just—“ then he went mute as the wall exploded into dust.
The screen faded to black and the room was silent for a long moment.
“Woah,” Greg said softly.
“That, gentlemen, is our killer,” Hughes said. “He was one of our own until a couple of years ago, when he snapped and disappeared. He’s been taking out alchemists one by one ever since and every time we get close, he disappears like a shadow at high noon.”
“What in the hell is that?” Warrick exploded. He lurched to his feet and jerked Hughes up by the collar with him. “Are you doing some sort of bio-engineering here? Turning people into weapons?!”
Just as quickly, Greg was up and trying to wedge himself between the two men. “Warrick, chill. This isn’t going to get us home alive, dude.”
“We never were going home alive, Greg. We were never going home at all.” Warrick focused on Hughes, who was remaining remarkably calm. “We were just going to disappear into some government black hole and never be heard from again. Weren’t we?”
There was a sound of snapping fingers and suddenly Warrick’s hand flashed with a brief flame. He and Greg both yelped and jumped back, instinctively checking themselves for more sparks from a fire that had already extinguished itself.
“I would appreciate it if you could refrain from mauling one of my best officers, Mr. Brown,” Mustang said as he sauntered the rest of the way into the room.
Hughes wiped at the singe spots on his uniform and then his chin, which was devoid of stubble in one small spot now. “Your aim’s a bit off there, Roy.”
“Gracia told me she prefers you clean shaven anyway, Maes.” Mustang faced Warrick, who was shaking his burned hand, and said, “The sting will fade in a few minutes and you won’t even have a red mark.” He crossed the small room, leaned back against the console with his arms crossed and regarded the two CSIs a moment. “Nobody is being used for bio-weapons research, gentlemen. Everyone who joins the alchemist program does so under their own power and with full disclosure.”
“Then what?” Warrick asked. “They spend the rest of their lives living in this underground complex like moles?”
“On the contrary. Usually this place is running on minimal support. We’re under a high-alert status right now.”
“Because of one man?”
“That one man is singling out and killing alchemists.” Mustang waved at the empty seats and said, “Please. Sit down. We’re going to be here awhile.” When neither Greg, nor Warrick made a move, Mustang smiled and said, “Look at it this way, if you listen to me ramble on, it delays your trip down into that ‘government black hole’.” Greg and Warrick glanced at each other, but neither man budged. “That was a joke.”
“You need to work on your delivery, Roy.”
Mustang scowled good-naturedly at Hughes and said, “Isn’t there someone in the complex you haven’t inflicted pictures of Elysia on?”
The light banter between Hughes and Mustang was going a long way toward easing the current tensions in the room, and as Greg began to relax again, his observations were becoming clearer. From the beginning, the two of them had been lured in deeper and deeper, and now Greg was certain it wasn’t just an effort to keep them silent.
“You could’ve just taken all the evidence and left us at the scene,” Warrick said. “After all, if we talked, we’d lose our credibility. So what’s really going on here?”
A look passed between Hughes and Mustang, then the General rubbed a hand down his face, and that was when Greg noticed the man had shadows under his eyes and tension lines around his mouth, and knew he hadn’t been sleeping.
Mustang was silent a moment, as if he were measuring his words very carefully before he said them. “We… I need your help,” he said, finally.
Gil, Sara, Catherine and Nick sat around the table in the break room in silence; each lost in their own thoughts. What miniscule bits of evidence any of them could find concerning the disappearance of two of their own and a small town sheriff had been delivered to trace and it was a waiting game, now.
Even with the toughest of cases, Gil had always, always, kept the rest of the team focused and hopeful. When the odds were stacked against them… when there appeared to be almost no evidence… Gil Grissom pushed and bent and twisted the team’s minds --forced them outside of the box-- and they would find their answers.
He was the glue that made them a cohesive unit –and even he was silent right now.
Gil being quiet wasn’t that out of the ordinary; Nick was used to it and had learned to read the quality of the man’s silences, but this time there was a difference. There was always a light in his eyes as the gears in his mind turned and that was currently missing. Nick figured he could chalk it up to fatigue –they were all starting their next shift and none of them had clocked out from the last one-- but there was also a sense of waiting.
Sofia Curtis came in --looking positively chipper compared to the rest of the team, but that wasn’t saying much. She’d been called to a scene where a child had been hit by a car and thrown through the windshield. Not a pretty sight –even worse when it was a kid.
The tall blonde took one look around the table as she pulled out a chair and sagged. “Nothing, huh?”
Sara groaned softly and dropped her head down on her folded arms on the table; Catherine sighed and closed her eyes; Nick slouched back in his seat and slid down a ways… Gil remained as he was, as though he hadn’t heard a thing.
Sofia winced. “Damn,” she muttered.
Catherine gave her a tired smile and said, “Tell me you at least have good news? I know I could use it.”
Sofia hesitated a moment, then said. “Open and shut. The driver wasn’t negligent; the kid just came out of nowhere. We’re just waiting to ID him.”
Archie Johnson chose that moment to poke his head in the door and he was practically vibrating with excitement.
”Griss? You’ll want to take a look at this.”
Doctor Al Robbins let most of David’s yammering go in one ear and out the other as they headed down the corridor. The young man was a damn good assistant ME, but his theories were… crack-pot, to put it mildly. David was generally pretty good about keeping the conspiracy speculation to a minimum most days, but with the disappearance of Warrick and Greg so close to Area 51 and under such mysterious circumstances, it seemed that his imagination was running at warp-speed.
Doc Robbins didn’t say anything; preferring to just let David ramble. They all handled stress in their own ways, this one just happened to be the assistant ME’s. Besides, he had to admit, it was rather amusing just how far out into the ozone David could go with his theories, and Lord knew he needed it right now.
There still wasn’t any word on Warrick and Greg’s locations and Al was doing his damndest not to think the worst. It was hard though, with no ransom as of yet and no clue. Two of their best were gone, just like that. Bad enough that they were members of the team, but Warrick and Greg were friends… family, even.
Doc Robbins’ hand rested on the door of the autopsy room and cast a long-suffering glance back at the assistant ME. “David, they’ll find Warrick and Greg and there will be a perfectly rational explanation of how they disappeared,” he said, as much to convince himself as to convince David.
”Don’t you think it’s a little weird that there’s no evidence, though?”
The senior ME sighed. He knew David wasn’t going to think otherwise until all the facts were in and staring him right in the face –but he tried… he tried. “There’s always evidence, David,” he said as he pushed the door open… and promptly had his feet shoot out from underneath him.
“Doc!” David blurted and bent to help Al up. As soon as the man was upright and steady, he’d waved off his assistant who seemed intent on dusting him off. “You okay?” David asked.
Doc Robbins was more interested in the trail of water on the floor, but ground out, “The only injury is to my pride, which is far better than what maintenance is going to suffer when I get through with them.”
“What a mess,” David said as his eyes followed the trail. “Uh—“
Doc Robbins saw the empty table just as David did and sagged. “Not another one.”
“Why would someone steal a dead kid?”
“Maybe he was late for a party?”
Gil leaned over Archie’s shoulder as the photo-analyst pulled of one of the aerial shots of the crime scene that had been taken during the search, then added filters and adjusted the resolution –explaining as he went. “I couldn’t understand why you wanted me to analyze a shot of the ground,” Archie said. “I mean, I went through filter after filter and there was nothing there but a bare patch. But then…” He set a blue filter over the photograph and suddenly a faint shadow appeared that wasn’t there before.
The rest of the team had followed Gil and were watching as well, and Nick said, “That could still just be a natural formation.”
Gil’s eyes narrowed as he studied the shot and he shook his head. “No, there’s a definite pattern there.”
Archie smiled and nodded then tapped out a series of commands on the keyboard. “That was my thought, too. So I simulated a polarizing filter…” As he demonstrated, the pattern became more pronounced, then clearly visible…
…of a large circle with a series of triangles, a stylized flame at the top and—
“What is that? Some sort of lizard?” Nick asked.
Gil’s head tilted as he studied the image. “No… I think that’s—“
“It’s a salamander.”
Gil spun at the familiar voice to see Warrick leaning tiredly against the door frame and Greg next to him with a cockier than usual grin on his face. A million things soared through his mind that he wanted to say to the two men --colleagues and friends-- but all he could do was stare as his mouth flapped like a beached fish.
Not that it mattered; the rest of the team had swarmed around their prodigal teammates and voiced everything he couldn’t at the moment.
Gil let the welcome-homes, back-slapping and hugs go on, feeling tangible relief fill the room. Partly because it gave him a moment to slow his own thoughts down and partly because everyone needed to dump all the fear and worry out of their system.
When everyone had settled down, Warrick elbowed Greg and nodded at the photo on the screen. “That is one arrogant son of a bitch.”
Gil glanced from one man to the other and finally found his voice. “So? What happened to you two?”
Warrick went serious, held up a mini disc and said, “We need to talk.”
Roy sat on a bench outside the hangar that disguised the entrance of a vast underground complex in small patch of desert in the middle of a large Air Force base that had been called Area 51 for decades. As the sun rose, casting the desert landscape in hues of rose and purple and mahogany and gold, he could hear the climbing whine of jet engines starting up in the distance as experimental aircraft was being tested.
All too soon, the desert would be unbearably hot and washed-out, but for now, Roy could enjoy the cool air, the muted colors, a cup of hot coffee, and the reminder that sometimes he wasn’t as significant as he would like to think. The world that Roy Mustang knew was on the brink of change, and whenever he’d reached points in his life such as this, it had always amazed him and humbled him that the Earth herself didn’t even blink.
This time, however, Roy couldn’t help but think that she should be. The decision he’d come to a few years ago; the plans he’d made, were coming to fruition, and he knew the impact would be far-reaching.
He heard Maes approaching from behind and couldn’t help the smile. The man almost never managed to catch the sunrise when he could avoid it, preferring to steal every moment he could with his wife and daughter. Roy knew his old friend must really be rattled at the past 24 hour’s events if he was joining him outside this time of day.
Maes settled onto the bench next to him, and sat in silence for a long moment. His elbows rested on his knees, his hands were clasped and he was staring down at the ground. Roy’s smile faded at the other man’s posture –this couldn’t be good news.
Maes finally turned to Roy, but not lifting his head. “I got a report from Intel. Miami-Dade police just tried to run two sets of prints through AFIS and got locked out.”
Maes nodded. “The first one was Envy.”
Roy saw Maes hesitate and his folded hands clench in an effort at control. “The other set?” he asked, but he already knew the answer… or thought he did.
Maes swallowed, then said, “Ed’s.”
Roy gripped the edge of the bench tightly because it suddenly felt like it had disappeared from under him. “How?”
Maes shook his head. “We don’t know yet.” He faced Roy again and sat straight, his green eyes gone hard. “You wanted to go public. Looks like you got your wish.”
Roy brushed his hand down his face and sighed. “How soon can you get out there?”
Maes got to his feet, and said, “I’ve already got the jet warming up, but it’ll take four or five hours. Best we can hope for is damage control.”
“Keep me apprised, Maes.”
Maes patted Roy’s shoulder and left without another word.
Disclaimer: Fullmetal Alchemist (Hagane no Renkinjutsushi) was created by Arakawa Hiromu and is serialized monthly in Shonen Gangan (Square Enix). Copyright for this property is held by Arakawa Hiromu and Square Enix. CSI: and CSI: Miami are created and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and owned by CBS. All rights reserved.