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Urban Legends: The First Ride

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This story is No. 2 in the series "Urban Legends". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Frank Martin died a mysterious death. From his ashes comes a man wanting to know why Frank died... an make the guilty pay.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Movies > Transporter, TheBigHeadFR15116,271081,18022 Mar 1322 Mar 13Yes
Disclaimer: None of this belongs to me. Just the general idea, and even then, I might deny everything.

Summary: Frank Martin died a mysterious death. From his ashes comes a man willing to know why Frank died...and make the guilty pay.

Warning: Crossovers ahead. Yes, Plural.

Rating: Mature; for mild cursing and violence.

Feedback: Most certainly welcome.



Three Months Later...

The well lit garage was empty, except for the gleaming black BMW Z4 M Coupe. Inside of it, the driver was checking the futuristic LCD cockpit displays for any anomalies that might have occurred. It was mostly a futile action, since the car was fully controlled by one of the world’s most amazing pieces of technology, a Knight Foundation AI codenamed KITTEN, or Knight Industries Three Thousand Enhanced. However, the driver was a man of meticulous habits, and checking for his vehicle’s status was one of them. Visually, everything seemed normal, so he spoke, while dressing his riding gloves.

“Status, KITTEN?”

“All systems nominal, Frank. We’re good to go,” the sensual feminine voice spoke, sending a tiny thrill of excitement down Frank Martin’s spine. On the dashboard, above the steering wheel, concentric blue spheres represented Kitten’s voice patterns.

Frank held the wheel with both hands, and his wristwatch beeped an alarm. He looked at it and a memory came to him, unbidden, making him chuckle a bit.

“Something funny?” KITTEN asked, sounding amused.

“Just an old memory, about schoolgirls and homework, never mind. I thought Michael and KITT would send us off,” he said, while his fingers danced over a panel, activating the sensor grid for the car and lifting the hardcoded human-based security.

“They’re waiting outside. They both thought this would be something you’d like to do alone.”

“How very thoughtful of them,” he said with a great deal of sarcasm, and clutched the first gear. “Ok, love, let’s roll.”

The enormous garage door opened, and the German sports car rolled out, the sensor in the front above the grill pulsing with a strong blue light. Outside, parked slightly to a side was a Shelby Mustang GT500 with a red sensor decorating the impressive hood of the muscle car. Michael was resting against KITT’s frame, arms crossed in a relaxed position. Frank stopped the BMW to his side, the window rolling down on its own.

“I still think the Viper would be a better frame,” Frank pointed out.

“He chose it, what can I do?” Michael said with humor, patting KITT’s hood affectionately.

“Must be the age,” KITTEN added in a mock whisper.

“What do you mean?” KITT’s voice echoed among them.


“Oh, come on, a Shelby Mustang? If this doesn’t mean overcompensating, I don’t know what it is,” the other AI said, bringing a smile to the human pilots.

“KITTEN, I don’t need to overcompensate for anything,” KITT replied, sounding affronted.

“Who said I was mentioning you?” the female AI hit back, now eliciting a full laugh from Frank, and a small cough from Michael Knight. Once the laughter died out, Michael turned to Frank.

“You sure you’re ready?” Michael asked, sounding slightly worried.

“Yeah, ma, I am. You wanna hold my hand before I go out into this big scary world?” Frank replied sarcastically and Michael sighed.

“Okay, okay, I got you. No more asking if Frank is ready. You sure Las Vegas is a good place to start?” -oOo-

“I’ve found something,” Will said, interrupting the beginning of another one of Frank’s training sessions. While the former Transporter had few problems regarding the use of his strength with everyday things, he was also a martial artist with military training, so adapting to his new bionic status was taking some time. They had to rethink ways to make him test his limits, because human parameters went right out of the window with him. A VR system had been redesigned to offer them enough variants in a timely fashion, so that Frank could grow accustomed to his new limits and his new partner, KITTEN. The AI worked as the best operator and intel source that Frank ever had, and every mission that KITT, Michael or one of their trainers could think of, the duo would usually beat.

That was mainly possible because KITTEN had learned early on how to tap into Frank’s bionic implants, enabling her to effectively receive and transmit data based on their input. Frank now had an encrypted radio based on his bionic ear and vocal chords. A new program was integrated with KITTEN’s, thus enabling her to understand subvocalized speech, based on the movement of Frank’s vocal chords and trachea, so the man had to only move his mouth for her to understand everything he said. She had also managed to tap into his eye’s data stream, thus enabling her to ‘see’ whatever Frank saw, and also enabling her to create data overlays over it.

When Will interrupted them, Frank was about to don the VR eyepiece which would enable him to ‘see’ the virtual environment created for the new ‘mission’ they had planned for him and KITTEN. He stopped the action, though, and turned to Will.

“What?” he asked, Michael coming closer to listen, as well.

“My father was a damn smart man, so we have little to no clues about most of what he did to you, except for the parts I know already, the ones which were a part of our common research. However, one thing was never mentioned in our common research, trinium. Trinium is the alloy used in your bulletproof mesh, and as far as I know, under strict control of the US Military. They have lent some of it to some research institutes under their scrutiny, and somehow it came into my father’s possession. Since I know he wanted no involvement with the government, he probably obtained it from other ways. That’s when I found this,” Will said, showing them a printout from an organizer sheet, with a date, the word ‘trinium’  and the place, ‘Las Vegas’. “I’ve done some quiet inquiries about it, and as far as my contacts know, there are no research institutes dealing with Trinium in Las Vegas. The closest one is here in LA.”

“So, what do you think happened?” Michael asked Will.

“I think someone obtained a sample, and he or they sold it to my father. Who or how, I have no idea.”

“You could ask daddy dearest,” Frank suggested, voice cold.

“If the FBI would let me talk to him, I could. However, I don’t think they want anyone speaking with him yet.”

“So, we’re back to square one. Las Vegas is way too vague to go on,” Michael said.

“Perhaps, perhaps not. Maybe it’s just the case of asking the right people. Since I believe you father skipped any proper channels entirely, let’s ask the improper channels,” Frank asked, and started subvocalizing to KITTEN. In a few moments, he started speaking to no one.

“Hey...yeah, it’s me. No, I haven’t, not yet. You either, from the looks of it... Luck only has to do with it depending on the sex of the cop arresting you... Because I know you?...Look, I called because I need a favor. I need the name of someone in Vegas...Someone who knows things...yeah. No, it’s personal. Very personal...No, no need. Someone screwed me over, I want some payback with interest... No. Possibly. No. If I need. No. NO. Bobbie, let it go. It’s personal. Yeah, you are, but this is about me. So, you going to give me a name?...I’ll call in an hour. Take care, and no TV stunts, all right?...Asshole,” the conversation with the air ended, and Frank turned to the awestruck men waiting on him. “What?”

“Nothing, it’s just surprising, that’s all. KITTEN made a phone call for you, right?” Michael asked, and Frank nodded. “So, you have a name?”

“In an hour, I should.” -oOo-

“We might hit something. If it doesn’t pan out, we may have other options by then, so I guess yes, it’s a good place to start as any.”

“Okay,” Michael said, but before Frank could roll away, he spoke again. “Look, I know you’ve done the lone wolf thing before, but don’t forget you have backup now. If you need us, call, we’ll be there.”

Frank nodded, and the window closed, leaving him alone with his AI companion.

“You ready for this, KITTEN?” he asked one last time.

“If I answer you like you answered Mr. Knight, will you get a clue and move on?” KITTEN replied, and Frank had to laugh. Whoever had coded KITTEN’s interaction package surely had a sense of humor, because she had a wit like few humans had.

“All right, all right. Clue has been got. Let’s go,” he said, and they drove out of the compound, to the City of Sin.

*****

The drive between Los Angeles and Las Vegas started calm, with Frank taking the chance of reading some of the compiled info about Anthros’ research and discussing it with KITTEN.

“The big question remains, KITTEN. Why me? I’ve never betrayed any of my clients, except for the slave ring and the senator. That’s the only two reasons I can think of.”

“FLAG is checking if the senator case had other links we didn’t pursue and you probably know that the Triads have a history of being hard to track and infiltrate. But don’t worry, we’ll get to the bottom of this, one way or the other.”

Frank sighed. “This would be so much easier if they'd let me have five minutes alone with Tony.”

“Mr. Knight is trying to get Will to talk to him, but he’s being stonewalled. This is going to be an uphill battle, since FLAG doesn’t have enough autonomy or political power to overrule the FBI, or whoever holds jurisdiction of the case now. We’re lucky enough to have the research files and you,” the AI commented.

“And that doesn’t make sense as well. Why the hell nobody did a play for me? I think that the US military or my own, if they knew what happened, would be foaming at the mouth because of what I can do.”

“Not that many people from the government know what Dr. Anthros did, and those who do were sworn to secrecy. For the time being, you’re safe, unless Dr. Anthros decides to talk to someone, or someone from the project itself does. Either way, you’re safe with us. One thing coded deeply into my circuits is that Knight Foundation takes care of their own.”

Frank nodded slightly, hoping it was true.

“Ok, release auto cruise,” he said, and the car went back to his control. “Let’s have a bit of fun, and try out some of the extras. Engage stealth mode.”

“ECM engaged. Radar deflection engaged. Stealth mode enabled.”

And like that, a car that previously had a radar profile smaller than a bicycle suddenly turned into a wheeled version of the F-117.

“Now, let’s see if it works as advertised. Super Pursuit Mode.”

An icon started flashing in KITTEN’s panel, and Frank pressed it. The car’s turbo boost engaged first, making it leap more than nine feet up, and almost at the same time, the tires rotated inward in a forty five degree angle, activating the ground effect mode, which made the vehicle float over a highly controlled air cushion, two feet above ground. Special panels opened over the car’s sides, firing two compact but highly effective turbines, making the BMW jump from mere 121 miles an hour to an impressive 340 mph.

“Super Pursuit Mode engaged,” KITTEN voiced to a laughing like mad Frank Martin.

At that particular moment in time, to him, life was good.

*****

It was no surprise that they did a fairly good time between the Foundation’s main compound and Las Vegas. Frank learned a bit more about controlling a car that could reach absolutely scary speeds. He was thankful that only ten percent of the driving itself was left to him, the rest was controlled by the AI, otherwise they wouldn’t have survived the first five miles, which they completed in less than a minute.

The AI told him a bit more about her ‘conception’ process, and she had the surprising ability to not turn the story into some boring long winded geek-speech. One part actually made Frank laugh again, the hi-def image of Michael’s face when the developers showed him what voice pattern they had chosen to the –then- recently christened AI. That made him remember the first time he had met the feisty KITTEN and her ‘brother’. -oOo-

“Frank, Frank! Wake up! WAKE UP!” the voice echoed in his ear, and the Englishman almost jumped from bed.

“What’s up, KITTEN?” he asked, eyes scanning the darkened room. Michael had offered him the chance of doing something else about his life, something good, and he had said he was going to think about it. However, time to think had been cut short.

“I believe Mr. Knight has betrayed you and called the police.”

Frank shot out of the bed, and was looking out for some clothes while KITTEN still spoke in his ear.

“While I work for the man, I don’t believe he should have done something like that to you. The question now is, do you trust me?”

“Finding hard to trust anyone right now, love,” he said, while tying his sneakers.

“What if I say I know a way for you to escape without anyone noticing? Only thing you’d have to do is trust me,” she replied in that sexy voice, with no hint of fear or nervousness of any kind.

“Why should I?” he said, looking out of the window. Jumping out was feasible, but he wouldn’t come out unscathed. Too bad he had no time to train with his implants.

“Because I could have left you sleeping until they had surrounded the house with no way for you to escape? Besides, if I do this, I’m risking my own future with the Foundation.”

Weighting the very few options he had, he sighed. “What do I do?”

“Okay, this is going to feel weird, but I’m hacking my way in into you bionic eye data stream,” she said, and he felt his right eye, or at least his eyesight on said eye go wonky for a few seconds. “I’m in, now I can see what you see. Feeling anything weird?”

“Not right now, no. Now what?”

“Door, then right, then left. No one at the hallway right now, but be quick.”

Frank did as she said, taking extra care with his steps and movements. Once he turned left, KITTEN echoed in his ear.

“Stop. Two cameras in the next hallway. Look to a fixed position in the hallway, and don’t move your eyes around very much or you’ll feel dizzy. I’m going to overlay the cameras’ coverage over your eye’s input. Ready?”

“I didn't understand half of what you said, but go ahead.”

In a moment, like something out of a sci-fi movie he once saw, there was a computer-generated overlay of the cameras and their field of vision making an integral part of what he was seeing. It was actually very odd, as if he was playing a video game, but at least he had a good idea on what to do. When he shook his head, the vision moved with it. His brain, not yet ready to accept the eye’s forced input, complained, making him feel dizzy as hell. He swayed in place and KITTEN called back.

“Keep your head still for a few moments until your brain learns how to use the extra input.”

He did, and a few moments later, his head stopped spinning.

“Now,” KITTEN continued, “take a look around, but slowly. I have the overlay calculated enough, it should remain fixed, as if what you’re seeing is real. Close your left eye so you won’t be too confused.”

Doing as she said, he could ‘see’ the extra input really well, and with the left eye closed, his brain complained less.

“There is a gap in their coverage, if you follow it, you should have no problem getting to the stairs.”

The gap was small, and without KITTEN’s help he would have no chance of using it to escape. He followed her visual cue to the stairs, and once he reached the apex, the overlay vanished.

“Now, slowly down and then to the right. I’m guiding you to meet me, then we can both go away.”

“You sure you wanna do this?” he asked in a whisper.

“No, but I’m not going to follow a man who betrays another an hour after he says he won’t do it. So, keep going, Frank.”

Two steps down the stairs, his vision changed again, and he had seen things like that in the past to know what he was ‘looking’ at. “KITTEN, why did you activate night vision?”

“I didn’t. The anthrocites probably decided that my intervention was the jumpstart they needed to activate your eye fully. That might ease up things a little bit, but at the same time be extra careful. Until you learn how to change vision modes, they could engage at random. I’m going to add some extra filtering to the night vision, so you might see things better. Wait a moment.”

He did, and after three seconds his NVM, or Night Vision Mode looked way clearer, far better than anything like it he had seen in the past, even in the SAS.

“Okay, done. I could do more, but there’s no time to fine tune it now. Keep moving. Right, then two doors down. It’s the kitchen, it’s empty at this time of the night.”

Frank moved, and entered the room six seconds later, closing the door behind him. One thing was bothering him, and while he knew enough about computers and some about hacking to know that either KITTEN was the best hacker on the planet, or she had some way of knowing how his system worked to a point to be able to change things at will, like flipping a switch.

“KITTEN, are we secure?”

“No one nearby. Right side of the large fridge, door to the outside.”

He moved again, and the door was locked. “Locked.”

“Wait a minute. Rerouting alarm...checking for tripwires...Ok, I don’t have how to access the door’s key code, so force the door open. It should be safe, now.”

“Should?” he asked, really not liking her doubt.

“Best I can do from here.”

Having no other option, he grabbed the handle with his right hand and twisted. The metal groaned and gave way, and the lock’s internal mechanism broke out with a pop. Frank opened the door to an almost unlit back garden. To the right, there was an unloading area, and to the left the garden continued, a trail going to another large building, some sort of warehouse.

“Big building to your left,” KITTEN said. “There are two cameras on the trail, go by the garden, I’ll guide you.”

“How can you be so good at this?” Frank asked in a whisper.

“This what? Helping you?”

“Everything. You’re a hacker, apparently one of the best ones, from what I just saw, and you guided me almost perfectly from a military standpoint. How this can be?”

“A few more yards and all will be explained. Don’t worry. Besides, if this is your way of showing military protocol, you’re doing an awful lot of noise whispering. Keep quiet. Do you know how to subvocalize?”

“Yes,” he said, using the technique.

“Good, the program works. I can ‘see’ your vocal chords moving, and it allows me to interpret what you’re saying. Garden, to the right of the trail. Keep low, there’s a sentry posted to the other side of the building. He can’t see you now, but he likes to wander around.”

Frank moved like a ghost, old abilities that never really vanished coming to the fore. Only thing missing was an MP5 in his hands and night ops cammo. He covered the distance fairly quick, and in seconds his back was resting against the warehouse’s wall.

“I’m here,” he said, still subvocalizing.

“Ok. Move all the way along the wall and then turn left. There’s a door there, it’ll be unlocked.”

“What about your brother?”

“KITT is...indisposed right now. He just came out of an operation, so to speak, so he’s still recovering. He won’t be a problem. Now, move along.”

“Moving.”

He followed the wall, keeping a very low profile. The overhead lights pointed outside, so he was safe in the shadows if no one looked directly to the warehouse.

“Stop,” KITTEN ordered, and he froze. “Guard’s moving. Stay still.”

If such a thing was possible, he would have melded himself into the wall, but he was doing the closest possible.

“I’m going to distract him. Wait one.”

He waited for a few moments, and that’s when he finally accepted that things would be completely different from now on. His hands weren’t sweating.

“Ok, move,” he heard KITTEN call some seconds later. “But try to keep completely silent. He’s going to the main house, but if he hears something, he might come back.”

Frank followed her orders, and soon he was opening the back door to the warehouse. He walked on into almost absolute darkness. His NVM allowed him to see that it was a very large garage, with one car he couldn’t identify very well resting over a hydraulic lift, and another one, a beautiful BMW, standing a few feet away.

“KITTEN?” he subvocalized, but she remained silent. “KITTEN?” he whispered, trying to find the woman in the darkened room.

Suddenly, the BMW came to life, the engine starting over with a nice, controlled roar that turned into a lovely purr a few seconds later. Looking around, he didn’t see her, but he came closer to the car. A strange blue light lighted over the front of the hood, sweeping in a sideways pattern.

“Hello, Frank,” KITTEN said again, but this time the voice was coming from the BMW, and not his ear.

“Where are you, KITTEN?” he asked, looking all over for her.

“Right in front of you,” she said, and Frank looked to the BMW, which he now recognized as a Z4 M Coupé. “Allow me to introduce myself fully. I’m a Fourth Generation Knight Industries Artificial Intelligence, codenamed KITTEN, or the Knight Industries Three Thousand Enhanced.”

“And she, Frank, is going to be your partner,” Michael Knight said, coming out of the darkness. -oOo-

They arrived on the designated address, a very trendy bar/nightclub with some time to spare. Frank looked around, while KITTEN used her sensors to sweep the area.

“The club is very full, it will be hard to pinpoint anything unless it’s almost on top of you. There is a back exit here,” she said, showing him the bar’s blueprint projected over the car’s windshield. “Restrooms’ windows here and here could be forced, they give access to an alley, going out here,” she continued, the blueprints moving to show him all possible angles.

“Okay. Keep your sensors peeled. I’m going in,” he said, and stepped out of the highly advanced car.

After passing a folded hundred dollar bill to the muscle to skip the line of overeager teenagers, the British man was almost blasted away by solid wall of noise, that some people seemed to call music. His bionic ear suffered for a microsecond, until KITTEN adjusted the input. He reached the bar, calling the barman, a curvy woman that smiled tiredly at him.

“I’m looking for a guy named Rusty,” he almost screamed in her ear, but she apparently understood him and pointed to a guy sitting on a corner booth, nursing some kind of drink. He nodded his thanks and moved to the guy, subvocalizing to KITTEN. “Can you give me some info on him?”

“Yes, I’m hacking Las Vegas Police Department right now. He’s not armed, has a cell phone, a wallet, car keys and some poker chips in his pockets. I got a match on him. Richard ‘Rusty’ Ryan. He has a few DUI, a lot of unpaid parking tickets, IRS apparently has a thing for the man, and was arrested a few times as a shoplifter, but these are fairly old. I could go deeper, if you want.”

“No,” he subvocalized. “I can make a bet you won’t find much, he’s either a fake and my brother played one over me, which means I’ll track him down and kill him, or Mr. Ryan here is the real deal and he was never caught on a compromising enough situation. Keep listening in.”

“Will do.”

Frank came very close to Rusty, and the man finally looked at him. “You look a lot like your brother,” Ryan screamed.

“That’s the miracle of twins, they look a lot alike,” Frank hit back, almost at the same volume.

“Come on, let’s go somewhere less noisy,” Rusty said, standing up. Frank followed him to the back of the bar, and they entered a small door, walking over a small corridor to a back room, where an empty poker table waited for them.

“Room is clean for listening devices, Frank. No cameras as well,” KITTEN said on his ear.

“Sit,” Rusty said, and they both sat down. “Now, your brother told me you did transport and that you needed something. What is it?”

“Info. Someone sold something to a guy who double-crossed me, and I need to know where he got it in the first place.”

Rusty scratched his chin. “Easy to obtain?”

“No, from what I learned, almost impossible. Probably stolen and traded hands a few times. I know it probably came to Vegas.”

The other man hummed. “There are two guys who would probably know something. One is a straight guy, does straight deals, never double-crossed anyone and has a fairly limited clientele. If he did it, he was either double-crossed as well, or someone used him only as a contact point. Number two, I’d say it would be your best bet, no one who is someone in the biz would deal with him, he’s an idiot with a fairly large bank account and little to no finesse in making his play.”

“Addresses?”

Ryan scrabbled something in a napkin he removed from a pocket. “First one, deal with care, he’s a friend, I don’t want him hurt if he did no wrong to you directly. Second one, I couldn’t care less.”

“Deal,” Frank said, pocketing the folded napkin. He stood up, and started walking away.

“Hey,” Rusty called, before he had the chance to move out. “Your brother told me you do delivering, no questions asked. I might have a job, interested?”

Frank shook his head, resolutely. “I only deliver payback nowadays, pal. I don’t think you’d like my going rates.”

“Okay, but if you change your mind...”

This time, Frank didn’t bother with an answer.

*****

Frank and KITTEN arrived at the first address some time later. It was a discrete albeit large home, which denoted that the guy inside had some taste, and was smart enough to hide his wealth from the world outside. No flashy cars parked anywhere and no pieces of art of dubious taste decorated the garden. Since Rusty asked him to deal with the man nicely, he rang the intercom to the house. Someone answered a few moments later.

“Yes?”

“I’m here to see a man named Max. I was sent by Rusty Ryan,” Frank said.

“Mr. Maxwell is feeling indisposed at the moment. Please come back at a later date,” the voice replied, and cut him off.

Frank bristled. “KITTEN?”

“House belongs to a Mrs. Elisabeth Turner, and she rents it from time to time. It’s currently rented to a Maxwell Imports Ltd., whose owner is a man named Maxwell Collins.”

“AKA Max, our guy.”

“Precisely. Maxwell was never arrested, and there are no police records of him anywhere in the US. It would take me some time to search Interpol and affiliates files’ on him.”

“No need. House’s security?”

“Standard security package from a local company. I have all the blueprints and the maintenance slips, no custom jobs were done since the first implementation, except basic maintenance. I’ve already locked my way in. Five people detected, only one in the upper level of the house, currently inside the main bathroom. Two in the kitchen, one in the back garden, one in the garage.”

“Best way in?”

The house’s blueprint appeared projected over the windshield, and KITTEN walked him in through the entire breaking and entering, except for the fact he wouldn’t need to break anything to get in.

A quick jump over the high wall, propelled by bionic legs put him inside the perimeter. With the AI’s help, in a few minutes he was standing outside of the master bedroom’s door. His ear detected that the man was indeed feeling indisposed, if the sounds of retching coming from inside the room were any indication. Frank walked in silently, coming to the room’s bathroom. Max was a big, balding man with a presence that would be imposing, if not for the fact that he was puking his guts outs in the toilet. Besides, he was an old customer from an old job.

“Not your best day, I gather,” Frank said from the bathroom’s door. Max’s head snapped to him, and the man turned an even scarier shade of green.

“Who are you? Wait, I know you from somewhere....,” Max asked, controlling his rather rebellious stomach for the moment and at the same time trying to place the face standing a few feet from him.

“For now I’m just a common acquaintance from Rusty Ryan. He told me you’d be the man to ask a few questions,” he said, coming into the bathroom.

“I remember now. You delivered something to me a while ago...France, I think. You came highly recommended then,” Max said, trying to stand up, and Frank helped him. “Thank you. Something I ate decided I wasn’t a good host so it decided to kick my stomach from the inside. But you never said your name,” the man pointed out, some of the green fading away.

“And I don’t intend to. Different rules, but this one remains the same. No names. I know yours out of necessity, but you don’t need to know mine, for now.”

“I can accept that, a man with rules. Good people to do business with, less chance of backstabbing. Now, what can I do for you, Mr. Nameless?” he asked, sitting at the now closed toilet.

“Trinium. Ever heard of it, ever negotiated it to someone?” Frank asked, his ear focused on the man’s heartbeat, which remained surprisingly steady.

“I’ve heard the word, yes, and some very different people are interested in it, but no one that I know ever touched it, whatever it is. Why?”

“It’s personal, and deals with men with no rules,” Frank said as an answer.

“Worst kind of people, but sorry, I can’t help you with it. I know a man named Letierre, he lives here in Vegas, he might know something, and he’s the sort of fellow you just mentioned.”

“My second stop for the day,” the Transporter mentioned.

“Ah, good,” Max replied. “If you ...talk with him, remember to say a few words in my name, if you can. He did something to a friend of mine I’m not too happy with.”

“I’ll do my best to pass your message down,” Frank replied.

“I would escort you out, but since my stomach seems to know if I move two feet away from the porcelain goddess, I’m afraid I’ll leave you to see yourself out,” Max replied, already standing up.

“Thank you, I can find my way out on my own.” -oOo-

“We have an unexpected problem,” Will said, entering the meeting room.

Bonnie and Michael were reviewing some data concerning the new AIs, and Will’s interruption was a blessing, at least from Michael’s viewpoint.

“What is it?” Knight asked, removing his glasses.

“I suppose you read Frank’s psychological profile,” Will said, and Michael nodded. “Frank Martin was a very dangerous man because he was always in control. Being in control, with training like his made him someone to fear, because if the situation escaped his control, he would do anything to put it back in control. That made him successful while in SAS, it was the reason why he was kicked out, and made possible for him to solve Senator Billing’s case.”

“Why are you speaking in the past tense? Frank is still alive,” Michael said.

“I’m talking about the old Frank, the one who could hit a man with full strength and only break bones, killing being a very conscious decision. The new one can kill a man with a slap. For him, that is being out of control, and he doesn’t know how to go back in control. This is causing a lot of problems, main one being his reluctance of testing his own limits. He won’t train with anyone, and breaking cinder blocks in half, while amusing to see for the first few times do not produce useful results. I’m kind of lost right now,” Will said, frustrated.

“Where is he now?”

“Running track, beating the Olympic records for fun.”

Bonnie was thoughtful for a few seconds, and suddenly her hands danced over the keyboard. “I might have a solution, an old project of the foundation that was abandoned due to the contractors’ disagreement with final cost. KATO.”

Michael smirked. “Oh, yeah, the Hornet’s driver. Smart denomination, that one,” he chuckled.

“What?”

“Nevermind, a joke of us older people. Go ahead, Bonnie, explain it to our new egghead,” Michael nudged the half-fuming brunette.

“KATO, or Knight Advanced Tactical Operations is basically a virtual reality training simulation, where anything from a single person to a battalion could be trained using a completely simulated environment, adapted to reflect any situations devised by the trainers. It was initially a project commissioned by the DoD, but the costs were deemed prohibitive. We devised a full demo for presentation purposes, including a working set of goggles and a responsive interface suit. With some help from KITT and KITTEN, Frank could use KATO to train himself until he feels ready.” -oOo-

The BMW approached Mr. Letierre’s home, a mansion built upon one of Vegas’ hillsides, in one of its most exclusive neighborhoods. Frank felt at ease, his old clients usually hid in plain sight in places exactly like these. The house proper was hidden from its neighboring residences by some natural formations and some ingenious architecture, which guaranteed the owner’s total privacy.

“Okay, KITTEN, give me a bio on our guy.”

“I’ve just finished my search on him, and it doesn’t make sense,” the AI said, showing a black and white picture of an ordinary-looking man close to forty years of age.

“Why not?”

“From the records I could find, Francois Letierre died at childbirth in Paris, France, forty five years ago. The man posing as him didn’t actually exist until fourteen years ago, where he started using the Letierre ID. There is nothing to go on regarding who the man really is, except that the Letierre persona is fairly rich, and is known for being a patron for the arts. His collection is considered to be one of France’s top five. He’s considered a loner, and a mystery by those close enough to him. One other point of interest, he adopted an orphan child one year three months ago, a girl by the name of Raven.”

“Okay. If the man is really dirty as the two other painted him to be, it wouldn’t be too hard to figure why Letierre didn’t exist until fourteen years ago. He probably changed IDs, did a plastic surgery of some sort, and reappeared as this French patron of arts.”

Frank stopped close enough to Letierre’s mansion to see the front gates, but hidden enough not to call attention of the man’s security detail.

“Now, KITTEN, give me...”

“Frank, I’m getting an odd reading from the house,” she alerted, changing one of the LCD’s panels to reflect what her sensors were picking from inside the house. Computer generated models were shown moving like their living counterparts, and from the looks of it, they were fighting, apparently with swords. It was not sparring, Frank knew that, at least. A woman and a man, the woman being shorter, but more agile. The man probably missed a step or unbalanced, and the woman took advantage, ramming the sword into the man’s gut.

“Damn,” he said, pressing down on the accelerator. The car shot out like a bullet, blowing the main gates open a few seconds later, without a scratch on its frame.

“Frank, take a look at this,” KITTEN said, the CG showing the woman over the guy’s prone body, sword held high above her head. In a swift motion, the guy’s head rolled down.

The transporter was out of the car in a second, his bionic legs propelling him at nearly seventy miles an hour, but something blew him back a good bit, some sort of electric explosion, making his back impact the BMW.

“What the hell... KITTEN? KITTEN?” he asked to the car against his back, his ear getting a lot of static. He tried to stand up, only to feel his bionics starting to twitch. “Ah, hell no. Not the time to end the warranty,” he complained, his vision on the right eye going completely out of focus. After some very precious seconds, he stood up on will alone, ignoring the still silent AI, and started stumbling to where the explosion was still taking place. Some electrical sparks traveled up and down his bionics, making motion of any sort an exercise in futility, the wall to his right the only thing keeping him standing. Meanwhile, several paintings started to go up in flames, and the sprinkler system engaged, thoroughly soaking his suit.

He reached the large room where the fight had taken place to find the epicenter of hell. The room was destroyed, nearly everything was broken or torn or burned beyond any sort of repair. A body, probably Letierre, was sprawled on the floor, the head a couple feet away. The woman who had fought him was also stumbling away through another door, a sword in one hand serving mostly as a crutch, her clearly feminine body clad in a skintight black bodysuit. Frank only managed to see a lock of blonde hair vanish below a black baklava. Having no other option right now, he tried to follow her through the now broken in a million pieces glass doors, which gave way to a large veranda. The twitching was starting to stop, so he managed to keep at least steady on shaky legs. Holding on to the still existing door frame, he tried to shout, but his artificial vocal chords only let him give out a weak croak. The woman noticed, though, looking back at him. Shaking her head, she climbed over the veranda’s rail, her body swaying like mad.

Frank tried to scream “no”, but his voice once again failed him. The woman tilted backwards, sword still in hand, and the night engulfed her freefall to the ground, some sixty feet below.

*****

It was too dark to see where the body had fallen, without the help of his now offline optics. The twitching had mostly receded, and his ear had stopped sounding like a radio station from Mars. Things were starting to go back to normal, so he tried to call his AI companion again.

“KITTEN? KITTEN?” he asked, his voice sounding odd, but understandable.

“Knight Industries Three Thousand Enhanced Online. Checking status,” the voice replied, sounding too mechanical. After a couple minutes that Frank used to go back to the destroyed room and Letierre’s body, KITTEN’s voice returned, sounding like her normal self. “Frank? What happened? Are you okay?”

“I don’t know, some sort of electrical explosion. And I’m ok, it must have caused an EM pulse, my bionics went all crazy, and they’re just going back to normal, or close to it,” he replied, his optics finally coming back on, allowing him to see better.

“That shouldn’t be possible. All of my systems and yours are shielded against EMP.”

“Not saying it was, but it’s what it looked like. How are you?”

 “Systems 87% nominal and climbing. The police and fire department have been notified of what happened, they’re congregating to this position.”

“Someone must have called them,” he said, not touching the body but looking around. He found Letierre’s sword mostly hidden behind an upturned sofa. “Are you feeling well enough for some make-up?”

After a moment of silence, she replied. “Yes, all of my systems regarding you and our integration are functional. You want to do it now?” she asked.

“Frank Martin is dead for the common world, love. Give me a face,” he asked, and his entire face started twitching a moment later, the anthrocites that rested below his skin contracting and expanding his facial musculature, filling gaps with their nanomesh, and in less than a minute, a man that resembled Frank Martin but wasn’t him was standing in the destroyed room.

“The police is here, Martin, they just passed by me, and they’re querying the DMV. They’re about to enter the house.”

“Don’t worry, KITTEN, I’ll deal with them. Warn Michael, though.”

“On it.”

The first cop to appear trailed a weapon on Frank, who had his hands held high. “FREEZE!” the man screamed.

“I’m not armed, it’s my car you found out there. My name is Martin Rider, I’m an agent with FLAG,” he said, calmly.

“What the hell is FLAG?” the newbie cop asked, coming closer, gun still aimed.

“We’re a sort of governmental troubleshooters. The dead man here was part of an ongoing investigation of ours,” Frank, now under the Martin Rider’s persona, pointed to the headless body. It was probably a mistake, because until then, the cop hadn’t noticed it.

“Holy shit!” -oOo-

“Frank Martin is dead,” Bonnie declared, her attention going back to the three men around her. “I’m sorry, Frank. Due to complications stemmed from a very complicated surgery, you were declared dead at 7:43 PM, November 7, 2006.”

“I’m sorry to hear about my own demise. I think a nice funeral is going to be provided?” the dead man asked, with a hint of humor in his voice.

“Yes, it is. However, I think you should warn your brother about the truthfulness of this fact, perhaps explain to him what happened,” the woman said.

“No need, Bobbie has heard about my death before, and it never bothered him. I won’t think it’ll matter now,” he shrugged.

“I just finished uploading the last of your new IDs into the proper channels. KITT and KITTEN are going to clean up any trails that might point back to ‘Frank Martin’, and I think in a day or two, all the evidence about your past will be gone.”

“So, who I will be?”

“Here, take a look at this. I think we did a nice job, don’t you?” she said, giving him a folder with a few papers inside.

Frank took a look inside, checking the first page. “Martin Rider, huh? Who chooses names in this place, anyway?” -oOo-

The black van stopped at the limit of the cordon off, and four people disembarked, each of them holding a case. The team leader approached the detective responsible for the crime scene.

“What do we have, Jim?” Gil Grissom asked, slightly adjusting his glasses.

“I think we’re in for a lot of trouble on this one, Gil. I think it’s another headhunter cult case,” Brass said, and Catherine Willows looked at her superior curiously.

Gil shook his head, noticing the curious look on his friend. “The headhunter cult could be called the police’s version of the boogie man. Same modus operandi on all cases, heads cut with a very sharp object, usually a sword, and the area of the crime scene is usually razed by some sort of electrical storm. The victim has a fake ID, and no one can trace back the old one. However, we have no connection at all between the victims, and the suspects are entirely different people. General consensus is that we’re dealing with a cult, but no one managed to pinpoint their methods or members. So, who do we have here?” he asked Brass, while moving to the crime scene.

“Exactly what you described, except for the ID part, which we still haven’t managed to check out. Our victim is one Francois Letierre, age 45, rich guy, likes his art, which, by the way, are now mostly good for the garbage truck. He’s suspected to be a high roller fencer, but we’ve never managed to get him. However, we have a complication. Ever heard of FLAG?”

“Foundation for Law and Government. Their agents are usually ghosts, no one knows what they really do, but they have some serious backing,” Cat replied instead.

“Well, we have one such ghost currently resting inside one of our patrol cars. He was on the scene, said Mr. Letierre was a suspect on one of their investigations.”

“Does he check out?” Gil asked.

“Just did. I was going to release him, want to talk to him first?”

“No. Catherine, you talk with him, I’m going to start on the scene. Warrick, check outside, Watson, with me.”

The two men nodded, going their separate ways, while Catherine followed Jim to one of the patrol cars. The detective opened the back door, and the man disembarked, his suit soaking wet, holding the opened handcuffs in his hands, which brought a slight smile to Cat’s face.

“I believe this belongs to one of your men,” the man said, giving the cuffs to Jim, his rough voice tinged with an English accent. “Martin Rider,” he said.

“Captain Jim Brass, Las Vegas Police. This is Catherine Willows, Crime Scene Investigation, Mr. Rider. Now, what does FLAG has to do with our dead man?”

“He was a suspect in one of our investigations. Apparently he either stole or got into possession of government property, and we’re checking to see where he got it from and who ordered it.”

“You wouldn’t know who killed him, would you?” Brass asked.

“Well, that wouldn’t be too hard, since I believe her corpse is lying somewhere down the cliff at the back of the house,” Martin said, which elicited some surprise on both cops. Jim called Gil over the radio, passing down the info.

“So, what did you see?” Catherine asked.

“Not much. I had the house under light surveillance for no more than a few minutes when I noticed the first explosions. I rammed the front gate with my car, but when I tried to get into the house, I was blown back by a secondary explosion, which threw me back against my car. I was very dizzy, but I got in, and then the sprinkler system activated. That’s why I’m like this. I found the dead body, which I believe to be my suspect, and a woman dressed head to toe in black, holding a sword. She was very dizzy as well, I think she also got caught in the backlash. She managed to escape me through the veranda, where she climbed the rail and either jumped back or fell off. I’m more inclined to believe she jumped, but I’m not sure. Now, if you guys can provide me some towels, I’d be very thankful. Then we can continue this.”

*****

Frank was directed towards an ambulance, where a paramedic held a blanket and a cup of hot coffee. He was under the watchful eye of Capt. Brass, but he had no intention of evading the police, not after what he had heard. So, he was dealing with a cult, apparently widespread. Would Dr. Anthros have any connection with them?

“Look, I have some dry clothes at the back of my car. Could I bother you to use the back of the ambulance to change clothes?” he asked the paramedic, who agreed with him.

He walked away nursing the hot coffee and moved towards KITTEN, still parked at the exact same place he had left her.

“Pop the boot, love,” he said to the BMW as soon as he was close. KITTEN did as ordered, while whispering in his ear.

“I just collated whatever info I could on this headhunter cult, Martin. They really are widespread, there are worldwide accounts of people murdered in the same way. No case was ever solved, they didn’t find enough evidence to convict anyone.”

“How many occurrences?” Frank asked, while grabbing a sealed pack containing a full change of clothes. He closed the trunk, while checking around, his ear focused on every whisper of conversation going on.

“So far, two hundred and forty seven cases documented, going back as far as 1911.”

“That is highly improbable, not one solved? Someone must be hiding it pretty thoroughly.”

“I agree. What do we do now?”

“Keep listening in, and get me the info on the last ten cases in the US. I’m going to change clothes and go back to talk with them.”

“Okay.”

*****

Gil entered the darkened house, his powerful lantern leading the way, Jarod following right behind. The temp transfer from Boston was one odd human being, but that wasn’t saying much to the experienced CSI, who was a declared non-people’s person. He was highly observant of things, and he had a way of navigating the scene that put many of Gil’s teachers to shame.

“Strange,” the Bostonian said, his own lantern moving along the walls, “the patterns of the explosions do not match anything I’ve seen before. It seems like it moved following the walls, instead of blowing through them.”

“Electrical explosions usually behave like that, they follow the pattern of the metallic structure built-in the residence,” Gil replied, checking other areas in the meantime.

“I know that, but why is that vase blown up? It’s porcelain, a bad electrical conduit. The pattern seems random, as if everything was rigged to blow, but only parts of it did.”

Gil stopped his own examination, and looked around. Jarod was right, it was a very strange pattern. Besides, the amount of damage caused would only be possible if someone blew up a high voltage generator, not something usually found in an ordinary, albeit highly expensive, residence. His radio beeped, and Gil answered.

“Grissom.”

Gil, our ghost from FLAG said that the probable murderer was female, and is a smear against the cliff at the back of the house.”

That surprised both CSI, and Jarod spoke. “I’ll check on it.”

“You’ll going to have to walk right through the crime scene. Be careful not to disturb anything. Jim, we’ll check it,” he replied to the radio, after warning Jarod.

“And I’m going to play host to a ghost. Brass out.”

*****

Jarod navigated through the rest of the house with ease, his highly developed and trained brain trying to figure out, to pretend, the whys, hows and whats of the entire situation. So far, the evidence pointed to some sort of vendetta between the participants, a vendetta that had some clear rules, like the use of swords instead of more modern weaponry. He passed the body, trying really hard to not step on any evidence, but the sprinkler system had probably washed away any DNA, and moved things out of place enough to damage their investigation severely. The position of the body and angle of the head suggested that the man was resting on all fours when he was decapitated. The lack of a gouge against the hardwood floor proved that whoever had given the killing blow had a lot of experience and ability with a sword, it wasn’t simply a lucky shot.

He could check the rest of the evidence later, by now he had to check the body of the probable murderer. Jarod moved to the veranda and looked over the rail. Using the flashlight, the pretender measured the fall at fifty three feet, death was certain with ninety four percent of chances, the rest went with severe disability and a very narrow margin went to ‘plain luck’, which would mean the woman walked away almost unscathed. No place for the body to be stuck or hidden away, it was almost a sheer drop with some bushes along the way to the ground.

Nowhere to hide, but no body. Large dark spot and a depression denoted that indeed something had fallen down and hit the ground, bleeding all over it. Jarod used the flashlight in a pattern he had developed, trying to find any clues to what had happened and who had moved the body. From that altitude, he couldn’t see a thing, he’d have to find a way down to check it thoroughly. However, he’d first had to warn his superior.

“Grissom, Watson here. There’s no body at the bottom of the cliff, but I think someone moved it. I’d have to go down and check to be sure,” he said over his issued radio. “I’d have to climb down, I don’t see any other way from here.”

Understood. Let’s deal with the house while I arrange for some climbing gear. You sure you’re up to it?”

“I’ve done a thing or two like it when I was younger, I can do it,” Jarod said with a smile.

Ok, then come back in, I’ll pass it down to Brass.”

*****

Frank returned to talk with Brass, now dressed in dry clothes, but Catherine intercepted him first.

“Could I have a print pattern from your shoes? I need it for comparison,” she asked, holding a large sheet of some sort of special paper.

“No need, you can have it all. I changed to something less wet,” he said, pointing to himself, handling her a bag containing his soaked suit and his shoes.

“Thank you,” she said, looking inside the plastic.

“Not a problem,” he replied, and Brass came closer.

“We have another complication. Apparently someone was waiting for our suicidal assassin down the cliff, and removed the body,” the captain said, radio still in hand.

Frank cursed silently a few thousand times. “Well, captain, seems like my only lead just went to hell. Do you mind if I stuck along for some time until you guys either solve it or give me something to go on?”

Brass looked thoughtful for a moment. It was the first time a fed asked nicely for some support, and he had given them a lot of credit about solving the case.

“Under a few conditions,” the captain said.

“Name them.”

“Condition one, you won’t harass or interfere in our investigation. Unless this travels beyond the county’s limits, it’s still a Las Vegas-based crime. Condition two, if you want our cooperation, you give us yours back. Condition three, you’re in as an observer. I can give you access to any information we collect, but using it to fuel your investigation is subject to mine and Gil Grissom’s direct approval. Agreed?”

“Agreed, but on two conditions of my own. Condition one, I can’t divulge what I’m after, it’s part of my investigation that I keep it a secret. Condition two, you won’t mention my involvement in any reports, as far as the government and the powers that be are concerned, you guys are on your own. Deal?” he asked, extending his hand.

“I can live with that. You have a deal, Mr. Rider,” he said, shaking the offered hand.

*****

Frank kept away from the crime scene, just following the procedures from a distance. KITTEN listened in to all the conversations happening, while he listened to one or two.

“Martin, Mr. Knight wants to talk to you,” the AI voiced in his ear.

“Yes, Michael?” he asked, turning away from everyone.

KITTEN told me what happened. The police is causing any trouble?”

“No, we came to an agreement, they’re going to play nice, and so will I.”

“Good, good. Any ideas on what happened?”

“None, so far. This thing sounds way too weird, any way you look at it. People going at each other with swords? What the hell is wrong with this picture?”

Michael chuckled. “Sorry, sorry,”  he apologized. “You’re right. Swordfigthing is not a common way to practice murder, at least not in the beginnings of the twenty first century.”

“My only hope now resides in finding the man’s files and hoping they’re not bombed all the way to Baghdad.”

“Will wants to check your bionics to try and figure out what happened. Once you’re finished there, we’ll set up somewhere to meet.”

“Tell him I want my money back, the warranty sucks on these shits.”

Another chuckle. “Six hundred million dollars will be a dent on his salary.”

“Like I would care. Martin out,” he said, and the connection was cut.

*****

Later that night, the CSI people had collected a lot of evidence, but in Grissom’s own assessment, nothing that would explain it fully. The evidence was contradictory and the sprinkler system had caused too much damage. The coroner had already moved the body and the head away, and the sword was bagged and tagged among the rest of the evidence. Jarod was readying himself to climb down the cliff, just making a final check on his gear.

“Okay, I’m good to go,” he said, his kit strapped to his back.

“Good luck, and be careful down there,” Grissom said, helping him climb the rail.

“I will,” he said, and let his body go on a controlled descent.

*****

“Martin, we might have another complication,” KITTEN voiced into his ear. He was following one of the CSI guys from a safe distance, being careful not to step on anything.

“What is it?”

“The girl that Mr. Letierre adopted, Raven. I started searching for things that could be related to the case, when I caught this, it was recorded on Mr. Letierre’s cell phone answering system. ‘Mr. Letierre, Amanda Sapton here. Did you send someone to pick up Raven instead of your usual chauffeur? I’m calling because the man looked...well, a bit odd. Please call me back as soon as possible, I’m at (702)555-4341.’. I just checked the number, it’s listed as St. Mary’s Primary School, right here in town.”

“Oh, bloody hell. KITTEN, good going. Keep looking, we might have a kidnapping on our hands. I’m going to warn Capt. Brass. Try to reach my brother, tell him I might need to talk to Ryan again, to set up a meeting. Tell him it’s a kneecap affair, he’ll know what it means.”

“On it.”

Frank ran towards the captain, but under normal speed. “Brass, we have a situation.”

“What is it?” the captain turned to him.

“FLAG has the authority to jump a few hops during a case,” he explained. “My partner was searching for anything that could be related to this, when she stumbled upon a recording on Letierre’s cell phone answering machine. We both think his adopted daughter has been kidnapped.”

*****

Jarod saw. Jarod evaluated. Jarod collected. Jarod simulated. And Jarod concluded.

However, even to the pretender’s highly evolved brain, his conclusions were doubtful. The woman had fallen, hit the ground hard, on her back, broke her neck and bled all over the ground, enough to cause death by exsanguination. Then she rolled over, pushed up on all fours, sat down, stood up, searched for her sword and walked away, over the rock outcroppings surrounding the area.

How in heavens had she done it?

Jarod?”  Grissom’s voice called over the radio.

“Yes?”

Did you finish up down there?”  he asked, a hint of nervousness creeping into his usually collected voice.

“Just did. It doesn’t make any sense, Grissom. The woman fell down, hit the ground very hard, bled all over it, enough for me to believe she would have died of blood loss, then she stood up and walked away, unaided.”

A moment of silence. “Are you sure?”

“Completely. There are no tracks anywhere, except hers and now mine. No way for a helicopter to have picked her body up and still leave the marks on the ground. I just collected the blood samples, photographed the entire area, did a foot print and searched for anything that could have belonged to her. No such luck. Anything better we’d have to come back in the morning.”

Come back up here, then. This case just got kicked up. Mr. Letierre’s daughter has been kidnapped.”

*****

The CSI people, plus Captain Brass and a disguised Frank Martin were all congregated around KITTEN, the former Transporter at the driver’s seat with Gil Grissom sitting at the passenger’s.

“Okay, KITTEN, play it back for us,” Frank asked the AI.

The recording played back, everyone listening carefully.

“What time was this recorded, KITTEN?” Grissom asked.

“Timestamp of the message is five thirty five PM, Dr. Grissom,” the AI answered back, passing as a human intel source.

“That was almost ten hours ago. We need to run,” Brass said. The first twelve hours after a kidnapping were critical.

“If I may, gentlemen?” Frank interceded.

“Go on,” Brass said.

“With my status, I have a lot more mobility than the police. I can go after the girl while you guys search for clues about it here. Acceptable?”

Brass was divided, but he had to acknowledge it was probably the best option. “Yes, but I want one of us with you the whole time.”

“I could go,” Jarod offered promptly.

The captain nodded and looked to Gil. “He’s your responsibility.”

“Go, Jarod. Take your kit with you. I’ll warn Sara and Nick, if you need help, call them.”

“Will do,” Jarod said, going to the passenger’s side while Gil moved out.

“My first stop is this Amanda Sapton’s address. You can find me on this number,” Frank said, passing a simple card with a phone number on it, and the effigy of a knight chess piece.

“Be careful, and good luck. Keep us posted,” Brass replied, pocketing the card.

*****

The black BMW tore away from Letierre’s property, Frank breaking a lot of city traffic laws in the first mile alone.

“This entire thing makes little to no sense,” Jarod voiced once he felt secure enough that Frank could drive the car.

“Agreed. I could understand someone kidnapping his daughter to force some kind of deal, but then why kill him? KITTEN, any luck with ransom notes?”

“Nothing at all, Martin. His e-mails, the ones I could track at least, are clean, and no more messages on his phone numbers,” the AI answered back.

“Any luck with my brother?”

“Yes, I just spoke back with him, he said Mr. Ryan will be waiting on you at the same place you’ve met before. He said that if you don’t call him back in an hour, he’s coming to Vegas to hit you.”

Frank grimaced. “I’d like to see him try. Okay, plot me the most direct course to Mrs. Sapton’s address.”

“Course plotted.”

“What if we’re looking at this wrong?” Jarod voiced a moment later.

“How so?”

“Think of it like two separate crimes. The kidnapping and the murder. Let’s say, Mr. Letierre hears the message about his daughter’s kidnapping on his cell phone, then he goes home to wait for some sort of ransom message. He arrives at home to find a member of his cult waiting for him. Thinking maybe the woman is responsible for the kidnapping, they fight, and since he’s worried about his daughter, he fights badly, and ends up dead. The assassin escapes somehow, but she is not aware of the kidnapping.”

Frank processed what the pretender said, thinking it thoroughly. “Makes some sense, but we don’t have nearly enough facts to corroborate it. Damn. Mr. Watson, hang on. KITTEN, Super Pursuit Mode.”

The icon flashed on the panel again, and Frank pressed it down. The car jumped to the air and landed on the air cushion, its speed climbing exponentially. Jarod looked to the outside, and back to Frank a moment later.

“Computer assisted driving. Advanced engineering. So, what does the KITTEN acronym stands for?” he asked.

“I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours, Mr. Jarod. I just checked your credentials, and while exquisitely made, they’re not authentic. So, who are you?” KITTEN said instead.

Jarod smiled, and Frank turned to him. “Start talking, or I turn around and deliver you to the real guys.”

Having no other option, Jarod decided for the truth.

“My name is actually Jarod, I don’t know my last name. And I’m what you’d call a Pretender.”

KITTEN spoke a moment later. “A Pretender has been theorized as being a human with above-genius intelligence and an aptitude to ‘blend in’, meaning that he could be anyone he so wished. I guess it’s not a theory anymore, is it?”

“No, hasn’t been for a while,” he said, and started explaining about his past and the trouble following him, and his crusade against the Centre.

Frank was stunned. “Holy Mother. You have an even more fucked up life than I do.”

“Colorful way of putting it,” Jarod replied. “So, KITTEN?”

“I am a Fourth Generation Knight Industries’ Artificial Intelligence, codenamed KITTEN, the Knight Industries Three Thousand Enhanced. What can we do to help you, Mr. Jarod?”

He looked to the car, and to its driver. “Right now, help us find this little girl. The rest can come later. You know, you sound a lot like Ms. Parker,” he commented.

“Who is this Ms. Parker?” the AI asked.

“She’s...you could consider her a sort of friend or a sort of enemy, depending on the day,” Jarod spoke with a smile.

“Clarify, please,” KITTEN replied, curious.

“I think you’ll learn, KITTEN, that females in general are hard to clarify, even to someone like me,” he replied.

Frank shook his head, with a smile of his own. “How much longer to this Sapton woman address’?”

“At our current speed, we’ll reach Mrs. Sapton’s house in one minute, seventeen seconds,” the AI replied.

“So, what are you doing with Vegas’ Crime Lab?” Frank asked.

“This is not the first kidnapping that has occurred in Las Vegas area, it’s actually the fourth. They all have the same MO, no calls to parents, no ransom demands, nothing. Captain Brass probably didn’t mention it to you because, as I understand it, he feels you might be some sort of threat, being a federal agent,” Jarod spoke. “I have a very soft spot for kidnapped children.”

“I understand,” Frank replied, and they had no more time to talk because the SPM was disengaging, one more corner to turn and they’d be at Amanda Sapton’s house.

*****

Mrs. Sapton, a middle aged woman with some graying hairs and a weight problem was relieved to see two men, a criminalist and a federal agent, about little Raven. The woman was most helpful, to the point of allowing the criminalist to do something to her, some sort of trance where she told them things she didn’t even remembered having seen about the guy who passed as Mr. Letierre’s chauffeur. They acknowledged her help and departed into the nice looking car, promising to keep her informed about the little girl.

“Nice thing you did back there, Jarod,” Frank said, complimenting the man.

“The human brain remembers things it has no immediate recollection of. You can describe a painting perfectly if you let your subconscious help out, instead of just your direct memories. All I did was to help her find the frame of mind to do so. Now I’d say we have to go to St. Mary’s, see if we can find something there. I’m going to warn Grissom,” he said, pulling out his radio. “Grissom, Watson.”

Go for Grissom, Watson,” the scientist replied, still back at Letierre’s.

“We’ve interviewed Mrs. Sapton, she remembers a tall guy, six foot one, maybe one and a half, tattoo on left ring finger, a celtic knot, one eighty pounds approximately, brown eyes that seemed very nervous, small scar over left eyebrow, dressed as a chauffeur. He had one of Letierre’s letterheads with a note to her, saying that the current driver was substituting the old one for a few days, that Raven was supposed to go with him. She found it odd but complied.”

I’m sending Sara and Nick to Letierre’s office, and we’ll start searching for suspects based on that description. What are you doing now?”

“Going to St. Mary’s to try and find something there. Watson out.”

Keep us posted. Grissom out.”

“I’m going to make a pit stop along the way,” Frank said, while navigating traffic.

“We don’t have much time to waste,” Jarod said, holding on.

“I don’t think it’ll be a waste of time, quite the contrary. The police aren’t the only source of intel on the streets.”

Jarod nodded.

*****

“Martin, I might have something,” KITTEN spoke as they navigated through the light traffic.

“Go ahead,” Frank said, optimistic.

“Based on Mrs. Sapton’s description, I’ve managed to find one man that fits it accurately enough, an Evander Lancaster, AKA ‘Earl’. Several arrests, all for minor crimes. He’s been going in and out of prison for the last eleven years. According to his file, he has a gambling addiction, and his crimes are usually to foot the bill of his gambling debts.”

“Earl of Lancaster,” Jarod smiled. “I think I’ll never understand people’s need for nicknames.”

Frank shrugged. “Last known address?”

“1143, Perkson Road. I’ve called the listed telephone number, no one answered,” the AI replied.

“Where is it?”

“The other side of town, Martin.”

The six hundred million dollar man cursed. “Send this info to Brass, KITTEN. A patrol car might be there faster than even we do.”

“On it. I’d suggest dropping this name to Mr. Ryan, he might know the man’s whereabouts better than the police.”

Frank nodded, and a few minutes later, they were stopping at the same nightclub as before, but this time Rusty was leaning against a car parked on the outside. Frank stopped at his side, the window rolling down.

“It’s me,” Frank said, when Rusty didn’t identify him promptly. The face changed, but the voice remained the same.

“Nice make up job,” he commented. “Your brother explained the situation. We don’t like people who kidnap kids. You have anything for me?”

“Tall guy, six one, maybe one and a half, one eighty, brown eyes, scar over left eyebrow, tattoo of celtic knot in the left ring finger. Our search came to a man named Evander Lancaster. Police is searching for the man as well,” Frank said.

“Earl? He might have the looks to fool a woman out of his panties, but he has no brain to use them. I think this is way beyond him,” Ryan said, already fishing his cell phone.

“You know where he may be now?”

“Knowing him? If he was a smart man, probably going out of state with the kid, but he’s probably spending some cash at a poker table. Being Vegas, this could mean a lot of places. I’m sending word ahead. Any way I can contact you?” Ryan asked, while dialing a number.

“Here,” Frank said, giving him a card.

“As soon as I know something,” the man said, and started speaking on his cell phone.

Frank rolled out, his next stop already planned.

*****

“So, you’re not Martin Rider,” Jarod commented, while Frank once again broke many traffic laws.

“Nowadays I am,” the FLAG agent replied evenly.

“I see. But you’re not wearing any make up,” the Pretender said assertively.

“No.”

“Interesting. I’d suggest we get to the man’s last known address, then perhaps back to the school.”

They started driving, Jarod in silent contemplation, until he turned to Frank. “The man, this ‘Earl’, had help from a third party. I can see two ways this transpired: one, the woman at the house who killed Letierre is this third party, and she used the child to unbalance the situation and win the fight. Second way, she has nothing to do with the kidnapping, Letierre hears the message from Mrs. Sapton, goes back home, finds the woman there, and thinking she’s the one responsible, fights her. Since he’s worried about Raven, he ends up making a mistake, and loses. Tell me, what did you see? Anything you might remember may help us.”

Frank thought about what little he had witnessed, his mind replaying every second of it. “Nothing much. She was wearing black clothes, skintight, and she was putting a baklava back on.”

“KITTEN, I believe you can take control of driving for a few moments, right?” the Pretender inquired.

“Yes, Mr. Jarod,” the sexy voice replied.

“Martin, if you please? I need you to focus entirely on what I’m going to do to you,” Jarod asked.

“Ok, KITTEN, auto cruise on,” the ex-transporter told the AI.

“Auto cruise engaged,” the AI replied, and the steering wheel started turning on its own volition.

“Now, Martin, close your eyes and pay attention to my voice. The only sound you’ll listen is my voice,” Jarod started, and continued the hypnotic chant, until he noticed that Frank was relaxed, and in the frame of mind he needed. “Okay, Martin, I need you to remember the woman that you saw in Letierre’s home. I need you to take a mental picture of her. In this picture, I need every detail you can remember. Can you do that for me? Can you take this picture and describe it for me?”

“Yes,” Frank replied in a monotone.

“Okay, Martin, now, describe her for me. Do you remember how tall she was?”

“Yes.”

“How tall was she?”

“Five foot nine,” he replied, monotonously, but with certain.

“Good, very good. And her weight, can you take a guess at her weight?”

“One sixty. Perhaps more, I don’t know.”

“That’s nice. Now, what was she wearing? Let’s start with her feet. What was she wearing on her feet? Describe them for me.”

“Black shoes. No laces. Rubber soles. Plain.”

“That’s good. And her legs?”

“Nice ones. Strong, muscular. Like a ballerina,” he replied, a silly smile on his face.

“So, you liked her legs,” it was an affirmation, not a question, which brought a smile of amusement to the Pretender’s face.

“Yes,” he replied, the silly grin still on his face.

“Anything on them? Anything tied to them?”

“Black leggings. Small pouch on the right leg,” he continued the description.

“Can you see what’s in the pouch?” the Pretender asked.

“No. Closed.”

“Okay, let’s continue. Her hips. Anything on them?”

“Belt. With pouches. One of them has a tear. I can see something shiny. Gold. Maybe a jewel,” Frank continued, shaking his head.

“That’s very interesting. Are you sure?” Jarod asked for confirmation.

“Yes,” Frank said, nodding slightly.

“Okay. Now, on her back, did you see anything?”

“No.”

“And her front? Can you see her front?”

“Yes,” Frank replied.

“What do you see?”

Frank smiled again. Jarod looked at him and shook his head, amused. “Aside from them, what do you see?”

“Nothing...No, wait. On her belt...a ring. Large ring, for rappelling.”

“Good. And her sword. Can you see her sword?”

“Yes. It’s a rapier. Nice weapon. Seems old, not a modern day copy.”

“That’s just perfect. Now, Martin, on the count of three, I want you to open your eyes and remember all that you just told me, okay? One, two, three,” Jarod said, and Frank snapped back.

“She was a thief,” Frank said, receiving a confirming nod from Jarod.

“Or she is a thief, I’m not entirely sure she’s dead. How did that happen, I don’t know yet. I think that the swordfight, the electrical explosion and how that happened are connected, but I don’t have all the facts.”

“So, you think she killed him because she wanted to rob him?”

“No, I think she killed him because she had no other option. She wasn’t carrying anything larger on her, not even a tube to carry paintings. What she wanted was small and probably easy to transport, probably the jewel you glimpsed. It had some meaning to her, and she wanted it back. The fight was purely bad luck on both their parts. What intrigues me is how she was carrying that sword on her. You didn’t describe any sheath.”

“She didn’t have one, that much I’m sure. Do you think she stole it from him as well?”

“I can’t say for sure, but I know you can’t fight well with a sword you’re not accustomed to. I think it was hers to begin with, otherwise the fight might have another entirely different outcome. Besides, there was no gouge on the floor where the beheading happened. That demonstrates a very high skill with the blade,” Jarod concluded.

“Finding her would solve a lot of problems,” Frank conjectured.

“I could try to, but I don’t have much to work with. We don’t have any hard evidence based on her, and the electrical explosion most surely destroyed anything that could have been picked up on the security tapes, if she hasn’t disabled them beforehand. We could try to ask Ryan about any female thieves currently in Las Vegas, but I don’t think he’d part with the information, and if she had all that trouble for a simple jewel, I don’t think she would try to, ah...fence it.”

The radio on Jarod’s hand beeped.

“Watson, Brass,” came the voice from the Captain.

“Go for Watson,” the Pretender replied.

We have two uniforms at Mr. Lancaster’s address now. They knocked, but it seems that nobody’s in, and we can’t do much about it. So far, this is based on a description of a probable witness, and for the next ...thirteen hours we don’t even have a missing person’s case in our hands, and the only person who could scream about it in someone’s ear is currently resting in two neat pieces at the coroner’s table.”

Frank cursed. “What do you want us to do?” he asked out loud.

I want to know what happened to this girl as much as you do, Rider, but my hands are tied for the moment. No judge would give me a warrant on those facts, at least not for the next thirteen hours, and we both know this might be too late. I’m willing to listen for opinions.

“We’re going there anyway, I’ll see what I can do,” he replied.

I’ll warn the boys to wait for you. Brass out.

*****

They arrived at Lancaster’s address to find a small house in very bad conditions, surrounded by houses in the same general state. It seemed like the city lights never came shining their way, nor the luck. Waiting for them were two uniformed cops, one looking at the front door, other at the back.

When Frank parked KITTEN, the car’s sensors started a scan of the house, top to bottom.

“Martin, I’m detecting one male human, adult. He’s apparently tied to a chair in the living room, and his heartbeat is pretty low and erratic. No girls in Raven’s age bracket in the vicinity of my sensors, though.”

“Thanks, love. I’ll... I mean, we’ll check it,” he said, giving a nod to Jarod, who had his fake CSI ID in plain sight. They walked to the front door, both policemen coming closer to them. After a brief introduction on their parts and a quick explanation of what the cops had seen, or not seen, Frank turned to them.

“I have the autonomy to get into the house without a warrant. If you guys want to stay out of this and out of trouble, I suggest you stay out here,” he told the two uniforms. “Jarod, I think you might want to come with me.”

“I will,” the Pretender said, and Frank, covering the door with his body, broke the lock.

They entered into a small living room, the blinds completely shut, breaking the vision from whoever was outside. Tied to a chair was an unknown man, out of commission.

“This isn’t Earl,” Frank noticed.

“FRANK! Get out, NOW! I’m detecting a bomb!” KITTEN voiced in his ear a moment later.

“SHIT! EVERYBODY OUT! THERE’S A BOMB!” he screamed, and instead of following Jarod out, with all the speed he could manage, Frank grabbed the man, chair and all, and flung him outside, following a moment later.

He landed on a roll and kept moving, grabbing the unconscious man and the semi-destroyed chair with his left arm and throwing him over his shoulder in an improvised fireman’s carry. He hadn’t given two steps when the bomb exploded, blowing the house to smithereens.

Frank was flung away for the second time in less than twelve hours, but this time, instead of impacting his car, the asphalt was his cushion, his very hard and gritty cushion.

*****

The paramedics and the fire department arrived a few minutes later, but Frank knew, by the way of KITTEN, that everyone was more or less all right. The only one who had suffered a bit more had been the unconscious man, who had some abrasions from both impacts, but nothing really serious, at least not from them. However, his vital signs were very low, and Frank knew enough about first aid to know that the man had been severely doped.

“Know who he is, KITTEN?” Frank asked, nodding to the unconscious man being placed in the ambulance, while he rested against his car, his right hand pressing a bandage against his bleeding eyebrow. Jarod stood to his side, watching the remains of the house burning out.

“Yes, Martin. He’s Patrick Vermont, Letierre’s real driver.”

“I don’t think this Earl is an assassin,” the FLAG agent voiced.

“He isn’t,” Jarod spoke a moment later. “The bomb exploded a few moments after you opened the door. It was a trap for our Mr. Lancaster, and I think that the driver was put there so they would both die and confuse the police even more.”

Jarod’s radio beeped a moment later.

Watson, Brass. What the hell is going on?”  the LVPD Captain asked, his voice nervous.

“It seems that someone also wanted our Mr. Lancaster dead. They prepared a bomb, placed Letierre’s real driver inside the house and triggered it to blow a few moments after someone opened the front door.”

This case is starting to get on my nerves,” Brass replied, the tone considerably lighter. “One headless victim, one possible kidnapping, a bomb, an attempted murder...Any sign of the girl or this Earl?

“No, sir. Except for the driver, the house was empty.”

“Goddammit. Anyone hurt?”  he finally asked.

“No, sir, just some cuts and bruises.”

They heard the captain sigh on the other side. “I think it’s going to take some time for the fire department to release the area so we can search for evidence. Come back to the lab, I want a meeting so we can discuss this.”

Jarod turned to Frank, who nodded. “We’re on our way, sir. Watson out.”

*****

They were driving back to the Crime Lab when KITTEN spoke.

“Martin, a phone call for you. It’s Rusty Ryan.”

That surprised both people inside the car, and the connection was made a second later.

“We found him.”  

“Where is he?” Frank asked.

He’s at the poker tables at the Bellaggio, and from what my source tells me, he’s not going to get up from the table any time soon. He’s apparently on a winning streak.”

“You have no idea. I’ll meet you there,” Frank replied, while the car spun around and crossed lanes without slowing down.

Huh, no, you won’t. Me and the Bellaggio owner aren’t exactly friends, so I’ll stay away. If he leaves, I’ll have someone tailing him.”

“Ok. Keep me posted. I owe you one,” Frank replied.

Nah, this one’s for free. I’m a concerned citizen,” Rusty replied, earning a snort from Frank.

“Yeah, right. Anyway, I still owe you.”

“Until some other time,” Ryan replied, and disconnected.

“Should I alert Brass?” Jarod asked.

“Not yet, I want to ask this guy some questions first,” the man replied, his thoughts darkening at each passing mile.

*****

‘Earl’ Lancaster was smiling from ear to ear. Somehow God decided to smile at him today, because the blessed cards kept turning his way. He wasn’t a religious man, far from it, but he guessed the Big Guy must have had something against that brat. The plan had worked as the man said, so did the deliver, and his twenty grand were still smelling on his fingers. Now, with almost a hundred grand from his winnings, he had enough to pay his debts and still have enough to keep him going for a while.

One more hand, though.

But not the one who grabbed his shoulder.

“Evander Lancaster? We’d like to ask you a few questions,” the accented voice asked at his back.

Well, his luck had apparently just run out.

*****

Evander did what most guilty parties usually did, when confronted by the law, he tried to run. However, he didn’t take into account the strength and the abilities of the person holding him. A second later, he was being slammed hard against the poker table, chips and cards flying to all sides. The face within an inch of his own was fuming, the black smudges of ash and the cut above his eyebrow saying that he wasn’t having a good day.

“Where is the girl?” the man growled.

“G-girl? What girl?” he faked.

“Raven Letierre, the girl you kidnapped yesterday, you piece of shit,” the guy continued, slamming him against the table again.

He was about to be slammed for the third time when he was suddenly freed from the man’s clutches. Seeing the last bit of luck shining, he stood up in one move and started running.

*****

Frank was grabbed from behind by two pairs of hands, and he unbalanced, letting go of Earl.

“Let him go,” a voice echoed in his ear. He turned around just enough to notice two suits grabbing him, probably the casino’s security.

“I don’t have time for this,” he replied, and using the strength of his legs and arms, he twisted around, making the two men fly. “KITTEN, keep an eye on our runner.”

“I am, Martin. Mr. Jarod is following him as well. I’m sending you an overlay,” the AI said, and his bionic eye had suddenly a projection of a red trail over it.

He was starting to move when two other men jumped him. “Goddamn, I’m a fed...” he was starting to say when two more joined, cutting him. Four against one without guns weren’t that much of odds when Frank was a normal human, with his bionic replacements, they were hardly a nuisance. However he had to keep in control or he’d end up causing too much damage to innocent people.

The five men pile up was suddenly four more airborne and one standing up. “DAMN, I’m a federal agent!” he screamed.

“FREEZE!” a voice said, and he turned to see one security with a gun aimed at him.

He growled, but lifted his hands. “Look, I’m a federal agent, you’re letting a suspect on the kidnap of a child run away,” he explained.

“Show me some ID,” the security demanded, and he was soon joined by another one, while the men Frank had shoved away circled him from a distance.

Frank slowly removed his ID from the inner pocket of his suit, and opened it. One suit came closer and grabbed it, and scanned it. “What the hell is FLAG?”

“I’d like to know that myself,” another voice rang out, and this one had a known tone of authority on it.

“Foundation for Law and Government,” Frank replied, turning to the newcomer, a man clad in an expensive and modern looking suit. “We’re investigating the theft of government property, which got aggravated by a murder and the kidnapping of a seven year old girl. Who are you?”

“Terry Benedict. I’m the owner of this casino,” the well-dressed man said, grabbing Frank’s ID from the hand of his security guard. “And what are you doing here, Mr. Rider?” he asked, after checking the ID.

“Following the only suspect we have, until your goons tried to stop me. A seven year old girl is in grave danger,” Frank said, looking to the people surrounding him.

“If you had come to us first and asked for our help, we wouldn’t have stopped you,” Terry said, giving the ID back to him, which made the security relax a bit.

“I’m pissed and in a hurry. I was almost blown to hell twice today, and am not in a good mood. So, am I clear to go?”

“I’m inclined to keep you and call the Las Vegas Police, but if what you said is true, the girl has priority. Go on, I’ll have orders to shut down the casino so he doesn’t escape,” Terry replied, and one of the security promptly started speaking on his radio.

“Call Captain Jim Brass at the Las Vegas Crime Lab, he’ll vouch for me,” Frank said, and started running away.

*****

Earl moved with the speed and logic of the desperate, meaning he was going where his running feet took him, which meant away from the casino and the guy after him. However, every time he saw a security person he moved away, which finally took him to the elevators. He climbed in the first one he saw open, and pressed the first button his hand reached. Thank the Lord, it was empty, and he waited with bated breath until the doors closed. The elevator started moving up, and he started breathing easier, then with a sudden lurch, the car stopped.

“Naughty, naughty boy,” a sexy voice came over the speakers, over the muzak.

“Who’s this?” he asked, turning around and finally looking to the camera above him.

“Someone who has very little patience for child kidnappers. Where did you take her, Earl? Where is the girl?” the voice asked, the tone smooth and dangerous.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, his heart beating like a locomotive on overdrive.

“Oh, no? Let’s see if I can refresh your memory,” the female said, and the elevator started moving again, but this time the lights went down. It started climbing, but at a speed far above its nominal. “So, still don’t remember?”

“N-no,” he said, scared.

“Okay,” the elevator stopped, and suddenly started dropping down in freefall. Earl screamed his brains out, his bladder failing him. “What about now?” the female asked again.

“STOP! PLEASE!” he begged, and the car stopped suddenly. “I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you. T-there was this guy, r-right? W-well dressed, had this plan to get this brat, o-offered me twenty grand to do it...said there was no risk to me. S-so he gives me this nice suit, a note and a Beemer, tells me what I have to do. Piece of cake, I grab the girl, who makes no fuss about it, and I deliver to the suit. Only then she started screaming. I collect my cash...a-and I decided to try my luck on a game or two,” he replied.

“What’s the name of this suit? Where did you take the girl?” the voice asked, hard.

“I-I don’t know. He never told me, honest. A-and I took the girl to a private airfield outside of town, a place called Bennigan’s.”

“What else?”

“N-nothing, I swear. Nothing,” he said, his voice a pleading whine.

“Any clues where this ‘suit’ might have taken the girl?”

“N-no...wait, wait. He had a partner, with him. Another suit. I remember the guy saying it would be nice to ‘go back home for a bit.’” He said.

“That doesn’t say much,” the sexy voice replied.

“No, that’s true, that’s true. But you know, I went out on a date or two with this girl a while ago, said she was from Texas. Funny accent, she had. And this guy? This guy sounded exactly like her,” he said, nodding to himself.

“So, you think they went to Texas?” she asked.

“I think so, yeah,” he said.

“That’s good. Thank you,” she said, and went silent.

A few moments later, his uneasiness set up again. “Hey, won’t you let me go?”

“In a few moments,” she replied, and the man slumped down on his own puddle.

*****

“KITTEN, where is he?” Frank asked, as soon as he was out of sight of Mr. Benedict and his hired security.

“Still inside the hotel, Martin. He took one of the elevators, and I locked him down. He’s between floors now, I can put him anywhere you want. I’d advise you, though, that the elevator will require some cleaning, the man’s bladder isn’t working up to spec.”

That made him laugh. “Jarod?”

“Waiting at the elevator hall. I told him to call Captain Brass. Mr. Lancaster was fairly open with the information, once he learned what an AI with an attitude can do,” KITTEN replied.

“The girl?”

“That’s one piece of bad news. Apparently, he delivered her to a private air strip outside of town, Bennigan’s, and according to him, he overheard one of the men talking about taking her to Texas.”

“Shit. Okay, I’ll meet Jarod, you bring the guy down. Tell Michael we’ll be moving to Lone Star as soon as we finish down here.”

“On it.”

“Ah, and call Bobbie. Tell him...tell him ‘you don’t need to come, but I’d like to see you try.’”

“Okay.”

*****

Later on, at Vegas’ Crime Lab, the entire graveyard shift team plus Frank Martin, still in his guise as Martin Rider, were sitting at their meeting room, briefly talking about the case before going to analyze the evidence they had collected.

“According to the man responsible for the Bennigan’s field, the two men departed on a rented Learjet, and he clearly remembers them taking a sobbing young girl with them. When he asked what was going on, they explained the girl was a runaway, they were taking her back home to her family. Their flight plan puts them landing at Dallas,” Brass told them, consulting his notebook. “I called the local law enforcement, they said they were going to check on it, and I told them to wait for you, Rider.”

“Thank you, Captain,” the agent nodded, eager to be on the road already.

“Our noble Earl is singing like a canary. Apparently when he realized the time he’d have to pay for kidnapping and for his suspected involvement on a conspiracy to commit murder, he thought about his life’s choices and had to repent for that. From what little I could catch, he had no prior knowledge of who the girl was, or her father, she was just a walking twenty thousand dollars roll of cash. He also knew nothing about the man taking a forced nap on his ex-house. He said he hasn’t gone to that place since yesterday morning, and when I showed him a picture of what remained, it only served to reinforce his sense of civic duty.”

Nick Stokes gave away a sarcastic chuckle. “Amazing what the prospect of being bombed to death does to a person.”

“What about our mysterious assassin?” Frank asked.

“I found a way down the cliff after sunrise, and I agree with Jarod’s opinion,” Grissom said, removing his glasses for a moment. “How did she do that, I don’t know. There must be something here we aren’t seeing, but we’ll only know after we check all the evidence.”

“Which means a lot of work. This entire situation is confusing,” Greg said.

“Couldn’t agree with you more,” Sara agreed. “Let’s get to work, then.”

“Speaking of, where is Jarod?” Catherine asked, looking around.

“He said he was going to buy something edible to eat, since he skipped dinner last night and he’s running on empty since midnight,” Frank said. “He said that what he collected is waiting with the rest of the evidence, in case you people asked.”

The CSI team stood up, Gil coming to speak with Frank. “I hope you have luck in your investigation, and that you find this little girl. All the help we can give you, feel free to ask, and we’ll be in touch about Letierre’s files.”

“Thank you, Dr. Grissom. Good luck in your findings as well. Captain, am I free to go?” he asked the balding man.

“Yes, Mr. Rider. I’ll keep in touch,” he said, and offered his hand, which Frank shook.

Frank left them, hoping that they would have something for him after they processed their evidence.

*****

KITTEN was waiting for him on the outside, motor already running. Frank walked to the driver’s side, door opening on its own. He sat down and looked to the man riding shotgun.

“You sure you want to come?” he asked the Pretender.

“My obligation lies in finding that girl and what happened to the other three kids. I’ll miss them, but they won’t miss me. I left them a note explaining my findings, that will be all the help they’ll need from me in their investigation. So, yes, I do want to go. It’s been a while since I’ve been to Texas.”

“Okay,” Frank said, and started rolling out of the parking lot. “Let’s hope we’ll have a bit more luck there.”

“And a few less bombs,” Jarod said, smiling.

“I believe the correct phrase to be ‘Amen to that, brother.’” The AI said, making them all laugh.

The End

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