Disclaimer: ‘NCIS’ was created by Donald P. Belisario and Don McGill and is owned by CBS Television Studios. ‘Stargate: SG1’ was created by Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner and is owned by MGM Television Entertainment and Gekko Productions. Cierre was created by Ed Greenwood and Jason Carl in the ‘Dungeons & Dragons: Forgotten Realms’ game accessory ‘The Silver Marches’.
Author’s Note: This is in the ‘Tabula Avatar’ universe and is a sequel to ‘Debt of Blood’; it won’t make sense if you haven’t read that story. In NCIS continuity this takes place during Season 5 between the episodes ‘Corporal Punishment’ and ‘Tribes’. I had moved Stargate SG-1 continuity forward by a couple of years, as I stated in ‘Debt of Blood’, and then I’ve moved it forward by another six months because otherwise Jack’s second promotion could not legitimately have taken place. This story, therefore, takes place early in Season 9 of SG-1. Written in answer to reader requests for more about Cierre’s time on Earth. One: Sergeant Slaughter
“You’re looking a little rough, Probie,” Tony DiNozzo remarked. He most definitely did not look rough; his glossy dark hair was brushed sleekly down, his casually elegant clothes were unblemished, and his eyes were clear. “Out on the town last night? Nah, I can’t see it. I bet you just stayed up all night playing on your computer.”
“I did not stay up all night,” Tim McGee denied. His fair hair was slightly awry and a little line of stubble on one cheek showed where his shaving had not been as thorough as it might have been. “Okay, maybe I stayed up a little later than I should have done, but I’ve had five hours sleep. That’s enough to get me through the day.” He tried to stifle a yawn but failed. “And I wasn’t playing. I was doing serious research.”
Ziva David looked up from her computer and snorted. “I think Tony has it right. You were playing with your elfs and dwarfs, were you not?”
“That would be ‘elves’ and ‘dwarves’, actually, Ziva,” Tim corrected her. “And no, I wasn’t.”
A crease appeared between Ziva’s eyebrows. “Elves, yes,” she conceded, “but ‘dwarfs’ I know is right. ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’.”
“These days, since ‘The Lord of the Rings’, everybody says ‘dwarves’,” Tim insisted.
“Elves, dwarves, and hobbits,” Tony said. “It’s a hell of a way for a grown man to spend his evenings. Although I suppose elves are better than stumpy guys with beards or hairy feet. Liv Tyler was a pretty hot elf chick in that ‘Lord of the Rings’ movie. Are there hot elf babes in your games, Elf-lord?”
“Why? Are you thinking of playing?” Tim asked.
“Kibbitzing, maybe, if the visuals are good enough,” Tony said, “but I’ve got better things to do than playing computer Dungeons and Dragons.”
“You could try working,” a voice said from behind him. Gibbs. “Grab your swords and your crossbows, adventurers, and saddle up. Dead Marine.”- - - - -
Tim looked at the dumpster where the body had been found and gulped. He knew what was coming but didn’t say anything.
“McGee,” Gibbs said, exactly as Tim had predicted, “get in there and take pictures.”
“Yes, Boss,” Tim assented. He clambered into the dumpster, grimacing as his suit came in contact with the rusty metal of the dumpster’s edge, and started examining the scene and taking pictures. Luckily the dumpster must have been emptied recently and, apart from the corpse, there was very little garbage there. He was able to avoid getting any dirt on his clothes other than the original streaks of rust.
The dead man had been an impressive physical specimen. Tim estimated that he would have stood a couple of inches over six feet tall, broad-shouldered, and well muscled. The bloodstained rip in his shirt, just under the ribcage, implied that he’d been stabbed. Tim raised his eyebrows. Either the Marine had been taken by surprise or the killer was extremely formidable. Making a frontal attack with a hand weapon, against a trained and obviously strong Marine, was a tough proposition. However it wasn’t Tim’s job, at this early stage in the investigation, to make assumptions and so he went back to making a careful examination of everything visible.
When he had done everything he could he climbed out of the dumpster and went to rejoin the others. Tony and Ziva had photographed pretty much every square inch of the alley, including of course the patch of dried blood that was, presumably, the site where the stabbing had taken place. Now they were questioning the bar cleaner who had found the body, when he went out to dump the night’s trash, and the Metro cops who had been the first responders and had spotted that the dead man was a Marine. Gibbs was looking on, sipping at a coffee that he had acquired by some mysterious osmosis, and waiting for the arrival of the Medical Examiner.
“Boss,” Tim called, as he approached Gibbs, “I think I’ve noticed something significant.”
Gibbs merely raised an eyebrow.
Tim pointed at the rust streaks on his suit. “See these? I couldn’t see any sign of rust on the victim’s clothes,” he reported. “Maybe there are some traces underneath him, I guess, but if there aren’t it means that he went into the dumpster without touching the sides. And that would mean he was thrown in. He’s a big guy, Boss. Too big for one person to pick up and throw. There would have to have been at least two people involved. Two killers or one plus an accomplice.”
Gibbs nodded. “You could be right,” he said, “but we’ll see what’s under him once Ducky’s finished with the body where it lies. You get busy doing your thing and pull up his service records. And here comes Ducky now.”
The Medical Examiner’s truck trundled up and Doctor Mallard, followed by his assistant Jimmy Palmer, exited. “And what do you have for me today this fine winter morning, Jethro?” Ducky asked.
“Dead Marine in the dumpster,” Gibbs replied. “Looks like a stabbing.”
“Oh, dear,” said Ducky. “I do hate it when a young man’s life is cut short. And I am not overly keen on climbing into skips. I’m not as young as I was and, frankly, the activity that I think you Americans would call dumpster-diving has never been a hobby of mine. I think I may have to utilize a step-ladder.”
Gibbs turned his attention back to Tim. “What have you found, McGee?”
“Not much, Boss,” Tim admitted, looking up from his PDA. “Gunnery Sergeant Michael Sherman, age 34, born in Astoria, Oregon. That’s all I’ve got. There’s a lock on his records that I can’t get past from here. I’ll need to be at my desk computer to get anything more.”
Gibbs didn’t express his disappointment verbally but the way his eyebrows descended, and the set of his lips, made his feelings clear. “There’s a security camera just back there,” he said. “It doesn’t cover the murder scene but it should show who left the bar by the back door. Get me the footage.”
“On it, Boss,” Tim said, and scurried off.
Jimmy Palmer had brought a small ladder out of the truck and was positioning it against the dumpster for Ducky’s use. Gibbs strolled in that direction. He examined the edge of the dumpster and ran a finger over the metal. “McGee brought up a good point,” he said to Dr Mallard. “I want to know if there are any rust streaks, or paint scrapings, on the underside of the body that would have come from the dumpster rim rather than the base.”
“Very well, Jethro, I’ll bear that in mind,” Ducky said. “I take it he believes the body was thrown in without touching the sides? That would be an impressive feat of strength, for a lone killer, and so it would imply multiple assailants. Or else we are looking for Tarzan of the Apes.”- - - - -
Tim put a picture up on the overhead display. “Gunnery Sergeant Michael Sherman,” he said. The screen showed a white man, his brown hair in a ‘high and tight’ Marine buzz-cut, grey-eyed and handsome in a rugged way. “Currently attending a course at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico. Before that, for the past four years, he was assigned to something called Project Blue Book. I hit a brick wall there. It’s classified way beyond my access level. The only thing I managed to find out is that it’s run out of Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado and it took everything I had even to find that much. Beyond that… I’ve got nothing.”
“Go see Director Shepard, ask her to see what she can pry loose,” said Gibbs. “What else do we have?”
“The course doesn’t run at weekends,” Tim continued, “and he was free to go pretty much anywhere he liked. I’ve tracked down a couple of guys from the same course and they tell me he mentioned that he was meeting a girl. But he never told them her name. Or much about her at all.”
“We’ll talk to them later,” Gibbs said. “Anything else?”
“Not a lot,” Tim admitted. “His phone’s pretty new and there isn’t much on it that could be relevant. A couple of missed calls, two-thirty-eight a.m. and two-fifty-six, might be an indicator of the time of death. The CCTV footage is pretty poor but Abby’s busy cleaning it up. That’s all I have for now.”
Gibbs turned to Tony and Ziva and raised an eyebrow.
“The bar staff confirm he was with a girl,” Tony reported, “and she sounds pretty distinctive. Tall, wearing skin-tight leather pants and top, African-American, in fact they say she had the blackest skin they’d ever seen, but her hair was white. And I don’t mean with age; she looked young enough to get carded. Long, straight, pure white hair.”
“Carded? So she showed them ID?”
“A US passport,” Ziva said, “but they do not remember the name on it except that it sounded foreign.”
“They were only interested in making sure she was over twenty-one,” Tony said, “and she was. And we had to roust them out of bed – it’s still way early for people who were serving bar until three in the morning. Maybe they’ll remember more if we go back to them when they’ve been up and around a while.”
“Credit card slips?” Gibbs asked.
“She paid cash,” Tony answered. “Sorry, Boss, no paper trail there.”
“They did remember that the girl and Sherman did not leave together,” Ziva added. “She left first and he followed a few minutes later.”
“Yes, she left alone and then he too left alone,” Ziva confirmed. “They think it was shortly before two.”
Gibbs nodded. “We need to speak to her.”
“It shouldn’t be too hard to track her down,” Tony said. “There can’t be too many people around with jet-black skin and white hair.”
“Unless it is a wig, Tony,” Ziva pointed out. “Like those of, for instance, Little Kim.”
“That’s Lil’ Kim,” Tony corrected her, “but, yeah, good point.”
“Wig or no wig, find her,” Gibbs ordered. “Start with taxis, hotels, you know the drill.”
“On it, Boss,” Tony said.
Gibbs nodded again. “Ducky ought to have something for me by now,” he said. “Track down that girl – and, McGee, find out more about the victim.”- - - - -
“Ah, Jethro,” Ducky greeted, as Gibbs entered the autopsy room, “how does the hunt for Tarzan of the Apes proceed?”
Gibbs raised his eyebrows. “What makes you say that?”
“Young Timothy’s suggestion that the body was hurled into the skip is corroborated by the evidence,” Ducky replied, “as there are no rust marks anywhere on the clothing that could have come from it being dragged or pushed across the edges of the container. There is dirt from the floor of the skip – the dumpster – but that is quite different. However I see no reason to hypothesize multiple assailants and every reason to deduce that the killer was possessed of quite extraordinary strength. Easily sufficient to lift and throw even a man as large as was Gunnery Sergeant Sherman.”
He pointed to the chest of the corpse on the autopsy table. “First, the cause of death. A single knife thrust that penetrated below the ribs and angled up to reach the heart. The blade was approximately eight inches long and was driven in up to the hilt.”
“It’s a soft target, Ducky,” Gibbs pointed out. “All it means is that the killer knew how to use a knife.”
“Exhibit two,” Ducky continued. “Our Marine was struck on the right shoulder by a relatively small, rounded, blunt object. The pommel of the knife, I would expect. The blow was delivered with such force that the shoulder joint was, quite literally, shattered. His arm would have been rendered useless immediately. In fact I doubt if he would have ever regained use of the arm without reconstructive surgery.”
“And half of his defenses were taken out in one blow,” Gibbs said.
“Quite so,” Ducky said. “And as for his ability to defend himself with his remaining arm – take a look at this, Jethro.” He took hold of the dead man’s forearm and turned it so that the inner surface was uppermost.
Gibbs came up to the table and bent down to look closely at the arm. “Finger marks,” he observed. “The killer must have quite a grip.”
“Indeed,” said Ducky. “When you take into account that the process of bruising would have stopped immediately upon death, which must have come within seconds of the knife thrust to the heart, the force applied to the arm must have been considerable. A literally ‘vice-like grip’ rather than being merely a metaphor.” He removed his glasses, fiddled with them for a moment, and then replaced them. “The marks appear to have been made by a rather slim hand. One might almost take it for that of a woman.”
“So, not Tarzan of the Apes but Xena Warrior Princess,” Gibbs said.
“Ah, yes, I believe that I understand the reference, although it is not a television show that I have watched,” Ducky said. “It is possible, I suppose, but the odds are against it. Women simply don’t have that kind of upper body strength. No, it is far more likely that we are looking for a man who, although his hands may be slim, is heavily muscled. Someone, I would say, resembling the Marine Corporal you encountered recently who was abusing steroids.”
“Corporal Werth? Hmm. Maybe I’d better check to see if he ever served with Gunny Sherman,” Gibbs mused, “and where he is now. Although it would be a hell of a coincidence.”
“He does fit the physical profile of the killer,” Ducky said, “but I hardly think he will be the only one. Admittedly men with the necessary strength are not numerous but I can think of a few. Olympic hammer-throwers and shot-putters, for instance. Come to think of it, there were female hammer-throwers competing for the former East Germany who could well have been strong enough to inflict those injuries – although their femininity was a matter of debate and subject to repeated testing by the international sporting authorities.”
Gibbs was used to Dr Mallard’s digressions and how to steer him back on track. “Anything you can tell me about the weapon?” he pressed.
“A double-edged, spear-pointed, knife approximately eight inches long and two inches wide at the hilt,” Ducky answered. “Extremely sharp and with no serrations on the blade. Not a survival knife; I would say it is designed for only one purpose. Killing.” He raised his right hand to his face and stroked his chin with his index finger. “That could also apply to the murderer of Gunnery Sergeant Sherman. A highly trained and ruthlessly efficient killer with formidable strength and combat skills. Do be careful, Jethro, and warn our young colleagues to be equally careful. I sense that we are facing someone against whom the slightest mistake could be instantly fatal.”- - - - -
“I’ve got a hit on the girl, Boss,” Tony reported. “A taxi-driver remembers picking up a girl who fits the description, back of the club, around two. He dropped her at the Hyatt Arlington.”
“Then why are you still here, DiNozzo?” Gibbs asked. “Ziva, you go with him.”
“I shall drive,” Ziva said.
“No way,” Tony objected. “I want us to get there alive.”
“I will get us there fast
,” Ziva countered, “and I believe that Gibbs said that we were to hurry.”
“You’re bickering, not hurrying,” Gibbs put in. “Move, both of you.”- - - - -
“Cierre LuaLua,” the receptionist informed them. “Room 419.”
“Unusual name,” Tony remarked. The receptionist shrugged.
“Is she in her room?” Ziva asked.
“I think so,” said the receptionist. “She’s pretty noticeable and I saw her going in to breakfast pretty late. I haven’t noticed her going past since. But I wouldn’t swear to it. I could easily have missed her if I was dealing with someone checking out or whatever.” She handed them a blank room card. “You’ll need this to operate the elevator.”
“Thank you for your co-operation,” Ziva said, as she accepted the card.
“Were you quoting from ‘Robocop’?” Tony asked, as they left the reception desk and headed for the elevators.
“If so it was unintentional,” Ziva said. “I presume you are referring to a movie? I have not seen it. There are more important things for me to do with my time.”
“Hey, you can pick up useful tips from movies,” Tony said, as he pressed the button to call the elevator. “Like, there’s one scene, I think it was in a Schwarzenegger movie, where the bad guys go up in one elevator as the good guy comes down in the other and they miss each other. Or was it the other way around?”
“If you wish us to go up in separate elevators we can do so,” Ziva said, “but that would not be efficient. Especially as the receptionist gave us only the one card.”
“Fine, but don’t blame me if we miss her the way it happened in the movie,” Tony said, “and I don’t think Gibbs would see the funny side. Oh, crap, I’ve jinxed us.” He dithered for a moment before joining Ziva in the elevator.
They ceased their bickering as they approached Room 419. Music, a gentle rock song that Tony vaguely remembered as having been featured on trailers for ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, could be faintly made out through the door.
“She seems to be in,” said Ziva. She banged on the door, keeping her body to the side so that any shots from within would miss her, and called out “Federal Agents! We need to talk.”
The music stopped. “Federal Agents? That is police?” an accented female voice replied from within the room.
“NCIS,” Tony called. “Navy police. Cierre LuaLua? Open the door, please, we need to ask you some questions.”
“I am not in Navy,” came the reply. “What you – what do you – want to ask?”
“We’ll explain once you open the door,” said Tony. “We’re not going to stand here and shout our questions.”
“Very well,” the room’s occupant replied. She opened the door, to admit the agents, and backed away ahead of them as they came in.
Ziva entered first, holding up her NCIS identity card, and Tony followed her. They saw a young woman, wearing grey cargo pants and a white sweatshirt, who was some three or four inches taller than Ziva. Her hair was snow-white, slightly wavy and not looking at all like a wig, and her skin was just as jet black as the witnesses had described. She had eyes that were a startling amber color, like those of a lioness, and she fixed the two agents with a somewhat disconcerting stare. Her left hand was out of sight behind her back.
“Well?” said the exotic woman. “What do you want?”
“Special Agent DiNozzo,” Tony introduced himself, “and Officer David. You were at a bar on DuPont Circle last night with Marine Gunnery Sergeant Michael Sherman.”
“I was,” Cierre LuaLua confirmed. She stopped there and merely looked, impassively, at the two agents.
“Where did you meet him?” Ziva asked.
“Colorado Springs,” Cierre answered.
“So you’ve known him a while?” Tony said. He hadn’t expected that answer.
“Three years,” Cierre said.
“Did you come to Washington to meet him?” Tony asked.
“No,” Cierre replied.
“Lady, if you’re going to just give one word answers to every question this is going to take all day,” Tony said. “I have other things to do, and I guess you do too, so I suggest you stop talking like a freaking robot.”
“What do you have in your left hand?” Ziva asked suddenly. She tensed, ready for action, and moved closer to the other woman.
“This,” Cierre said, bringing her hand into view. She was holding a nine-inch spear-pointed knife. “You might…”
Ziva grabbed for the hand and went for a Krav Maga disabling lock. To her astonishment the black woman went with the move and twisted out of the lock, dropping the knife in the process, and struck with the heel of her right hand to Ziva’s jaw.
Ziva managed to ride the blow but her head was jolted back and her NCIS cap fell from her head. She retaliated with a jab to the solar plexus. Cierre ignored the strike and seized Ziva’s arm with fingers that felt like steel bars. She pulled the Israeli girl forward into a rising knee-strike that drove the wind from Ziva’s lungs. Ziva gasped for breath but still managed to deliver a head-butt to Cierre’s jaw. It rocked Cierre slightly but didn’t stop her lashing the back of her right fist into Ziva’s face. Ziva wobbled, remained on her feet through sheer willpower, and tried to hook a leg behind Cierre’s for a trip. It didn’t work. The tall black woman wrenched Ziva’s arm around and forced her down onto her knees. Cierre raised her right hand for a chop aimed at the back of Ziva’s neck.
“Freeze!” Tony yelled. He had his gun out and was aiming it between Cierre’s eyes. “Stop or I’ll shoot!”
Cierre obeyed, standing as still as a statue with her arm still poised for a blow, and maintaining her grip on Ziva’s arm.
“Let her go!” Tony ordered. “Back off.”
Cierre released her hold and Ziva slumped forward. She put out a hand to stop herself from hitting the floor, knelt for a moment still panting for breath, and then, as Cierre moved back, Ziva clambered to her feet and hastily moved out of Tony’s line of fire.
“I… do… not believe it,” Ziva said. “She is as strong… as Corporal Werth.”
“She kicked your ass worse than he did,” Tony said.
“I won that fight against Corporal Werth,” Ziva protested.
“I remember it more as a draw,” said Tony, “but you sure didn’t win this one. I think we’d better take her in.”- - - - -
“Cierre LuaLua,” Gibbs read. “Born 1982 in Kinshasa, Zaire – now the Democratic Republic of Congo – but a naturalized US citizen as of October 2005. Employed as a civilian consultant to the US Air Force. Based at… Cheyenne Mountain. McGee? Have you come up with anything on that ‘Project Blue Book’ yet?”
“Not much,” Tim admitted. “Even Director Shepard isn’t really getting anywhere. What we have, so far, is that it’s a scientific project dealing with Deep Space Radar Telemetry. Originally it was commanded by Major-General George Hammond, USAF, next there was a civilian called Dr Elizabeth Weir in charge, and then, a year and a half ago, Brigadier-General Jonathan O’Neill took over. He’s just been promoted to Major-General and transferred to the Pentagon.”
“Only a year and a half as O-7 before making O-8? That’s pretty rapid promotion,” Gibbs commented. “Wait a minute. Jonathan O’Neill with two Ls? Jack
“You know him, Boss?” Tony asked.
“I’ve heard of him,” Gibbs said. “Air Force Special Operations. Had a rep as a pretty tough customer for a Chair Force officer. What would he be doing running a science project about deep space? That’s about as likely as…”
“As you doing it, Boss?” Tony suggested.
Gibbs allowed himself to show the merest hint of a smile. “That’s not a bad analogy,” he said. “Gunnery Sergeant Sherman seems pretty out of place there too. And this… Cierre LuaLua. What’s a Congolese immigrant got to offer a space research program?”
“Her documents say she’s a translator,” Tim said.
“For what? They speak French in the DRC,” Gibbs said. “The Air Force must have thousands of people who speak French and I can’t see how any African languages she speaks would have any relevance at all to space. Some sort of Black Ops in Africa, maybe. Deep Space Telemetry has ‘cover story’ written all over it. And I have a feeling that whatever they hired her for has nothing to do with her languages. More to do with the way she managed to beat Ziva.”
“I underestimated her,” Ziva said. She was cradling her left arm in her right hand. “I would not have believed that a woman could be so strong.”
“How’s your arm, Ziva?” Gibbs asked.
“Sore,” Ziva admitted.
“Go down and get Ducky to take a look at it,” Gibbs ordered. “No, we’ll both go.”- - - - -
“My word,” Dr Mallard said, as he looked at the finger marks on Ziva’s arm. “You are going to have some nasty bruising, my dear.”
“Do we have a match, Ducky?” Gibbs asked.
“I do believe that we have, Jethro,” Ducky confirmed. “The marks on Gunnery Sergeant Sherman’s arm are not clear enough for me to be certain but there is certainly a strong resemblance. The likelihood is that the young woman arrested by Anthony and Ziva is, indeed, she whom you dubbed Xena Warrior Princess. The killer.”
“It’s nowhere near enough for a conviction,” Gibbs said, “but it’s a start. Now I’ll head up to Interrogation and ask her a few questions. No, scratch that. I’ll ask her a lot