It was the second bomb that really grabbed people's attention. That isn't to say that they ignored the first one. But, if anything, the first one was really just a warning shot. It was done during off-hours, at an out-of-the-way port, and it was set up so as to cause only a few casualties, even if two of them were fatalities. People were nervous, but many of them wrote it off as a fluke, or at least pretended to. Security was stepped up, people were watching for anything unusual, and officials issued assurances that they were doing their best to guarantee the safety of everyone using the spaceports.
Then the second one went off, this one at Port-Vancouver Spaceport in GNA. This one was timed to coincide with the arrival of two Star Corps vehicles. Casualties numbered in the dozens, the vast majority of them morphs of various types, but no few humans were also caught in the blast.
My lifemate Silvermane always accuses me of being morbid—and perhaps I am—but the first thing I did when I heard about the P-V Spaceport blast was to cross-reference to the list of casualties and scan it for names I recognized. Maybe it's a side effect of the business I'm in. My mind wandered at the though of my beautiful Silvermane and counting the days until shi got back from Chakona—until one name in particular leaped out at me from the list.
Nevaeh Andersson was a friend from all the way back in the academy. Last I'd heard, the cougarmorph had decided that police work wasn't quite her thing and was taking a security position with Star Corps. Her husband did most of the work in raising their twin sons, but losing her was sure to be a blow to the family, and I decided to convey my condolences personally. I spent some time digging through records until I managed to drag up what I thought was her contact information—she was currently stationed on Earth, and I put in a call after checking to make sure that the time wouldn't cause an imposition.
A cougar male, looking sleepy, answered the vidphone. “Hello? Who is this?”
“Chakat Snowpaw,” I answered. “You must be Nevaeh's mate?”
He nodded. “I think she's mentioned you before. You attended academy with her, right?” He interrupted himself with a gaping yawn. “Oh, excuse me. I'm Kevin. What can I do for you?”
I frowned slightly. He didn't sound as troubled as I'd expected. “No, excuse me, Kevin,” I said politely. “Have you checked your urgent messages this morning?”
Kevin looked at me oddly, and a little bit of anxiety began to show in his eyes. “No, I haven't,” he said, shaking his head. “Why?”
“You'd better do it,” I said. “Can you put me on hold while you do?”
“Sure,” he said, distractedly, and his image was replaced with a beautiful mountain landscape, accompanied by relaxing pastoral music. Unswayed by the tranquil scenario, my tail twitched agitatedly behind me.
It took several minutes for Kevin to get back to me. If anything, his look had grown odder in the meantime. “Shir Snowpaw,” he said, slowly and deliberately, “something is definitely wrong here. Nevaeh was supposed to be on one of the ships that returned to Port-Vancouver, but...”
A voice from offscreen interrupted. “...but I took leave for that mission because I was due some time off and both the boys came down with a flu bug.”
I'm sure my eyes widened when Nevaeh stepped up behind her husband. “Nevaeh!” I exclaimed. “Thank heaven you're all right!” And, after a pause, I added, “But why—?”
She shook her head. “You've got me, Snowpaw. It could just be a snafu in the records.”
Nodding, I agreed, “It could be,” but inwardly, I disagreed. A gut feeling told me there was more to it than just that, and I'd learned to trust my gut. “Anyway, I'm sorry to have disturbed you, and I'm glad to see you're all right, Nevaeh. This is one mistake I'm happy to hear about.”
She smiled ruefully. “It's good to hear from you, too, Snowpaw.” Nevaeh gave a quiet sigh. “Though I'll bet those bombing bastards still got a few of my crewmates.”
I nodded again, grimly. “Well, take care. I'll let you go for now. We'll catch up later, I'm sure.”
“Tail high, Snowpaw,” Nevaeh said softly.
“Tail high,” I echoed, and cut the connection.
Something definitely smelled fishy about the situation. I saved the article that had started the mess to my personal datafiles, sent a collection-bot to grab related stories, and put in a call to the office.
“Shir Snowpaw!” the receptionist exclaimed. “How's the sabbatical going?”
“It's going fine,” I answered distractedly. “Silvermane's off looking into some property on Chakona while I lounge around here.”
“Chakona?” she said. “You're not planning on leaving, are you?”
“Not planning, but keeping my options open.” I sighed. “I'm sorry, Miriam, but I don't have time for small talk right now. I need you to get some information for me, okay? Can you get me a contact for the Port-Vancouver investigation?”
Miriam pursed her lips. “Oh, you've heard about that, hmm? Nasty business. We were all sort of hoping that the increased security after Lisbon would catch that sort of thing. Let me see....” I saw her glance down at her computer screens as she pulled up information. “Looks like...it would be a Mr. Michael Culver in Edmonton. I'm streaming his contact points to you now.” She looked up again at me. “You getting involved in that, on your sabbatical?”
I shrugged noncommittally. “Probably not,” I said, “but I've got an interesting lead they might want to pick up on. Thanks for the lookup. Say ‘Hi’ to everyone in the office for me, Miriam.”
She nodded. “Will do.”
“Tail high,” I told her, as she signed off. It always felt a little silly saying that to humans, but they understood.
Michael Culver turned out to be a human in his late thirties. He had a serious look to him, accentuated by thinning, dark hair, and eyes of a nondescript shade that held just enough amiability to derail any notions of calling him “sir” all the time.
“Sorry to interrupt you, Mr. Culver,” I told him. “I'm sure this must be a busy time for you.”
He shook his head. “Not at all, Chakat Snowpaw. What can I do for you?”
I explained to him about my conversation with Nevaeh and Kevin. One of his eyebrows arched. “Interesting, interesting,” he mused. A soft tapping noise and a glance away from the screen signaled his accessing more information. “We've got a genuine mystery, then, Shir.”
I cocked my head curiously. “Why's that?”
Michael gave me a thin smile. “This wasn't just a random crew manifest. The list of deceased were identified individually by DNA evidence. According to the data the investigative team collected, your friend Nevaeh was there bodily.”
“That's impossible!” I protested. “I spoke to her not ten minutes ago.”
The man tented his fingers in front of him. “Oh, I don't believe you didn't. So, the question is, if Ms. Andersson wasn't at that spaceport, then what was her DNA doing there?”
My tail found its way into my hands, and I rubbed its tip while I thought, a habit that had followed me for years. “I'd have to guess it was planted by someone who thought she should be there.”
“Mmm. Someone trying to frame her?” Culver looked doubtful.
I shared his lack of conviction. “Definitely not her style. Especially not with a family.”
The investigator nodded distractedly. I could see his eyes flitting across other screens. “Miss Long forwarded some information about you to me. You've got some credentials that could be useful to me, especially with your first-hand knowledge of Ms. Andersson. You interested in giving me some assistance on this case?”
I made a mental note to “thank” Miriam when I got back to the office, but my curiosity was raised by the strange situation. “I'll catch the next shuttle up to Edmonton.”
Culver shook his head. “If you're heading out, catch me at P-V. I'll forward you some preliminary information I've collected and you can review it on the way.”
The shuttle got me into Port-Vancouver quickly enough, but it took me a good while longer to get out through security. Culver was waiting for me just the other side of the security stations. He wore a darkly amused expression. “Welcome to Port-Vancouver, Chakat Snowpaw,” he said. “We apologize for any delay you may have experienced coming in.”
I laughed dryly. “Thank you for meeting me, Mr. Culver,” I said. I offered him a hand and introduced myself formally, since it was the first time we'd met in person. “I am Chakat Snowpaw, daughter of Quicktail and Riverwatcher.”
Michael took my hand and nodded. “Michael Culver. A pleasure, Shir,” he said. He glanced down briefly at my white forepaw.
“It's a little poetic,” I admitted with a grin.
He chuckled, and then, after a pause, he said, “Well, would you care to take a look at the scene?”
I sobered and nodded. “I don't know if we'll find anything beyond the reports you already sent me, but seeing it in person probably wouldn't hurt.”
Michael nodded back and escorted me to the terminal that was still suffering from bomb damage. As I'd thought, I didn't discover anything new, although the psychic aversion beacons they set up to keep unauthorized people away left me with a little bit of a headache, even through the dampener that he gave me.
I think he noticed that I was feeling under my peak, between that and the trip out, because he offered to take me to dinner as we were leaving the scene. “There's a restaurant that's pretty good for being at a spaceport,” he said, and then added quickly, “We can get a private table and talk work.”
I chuckled. “I appreciate the offer, Michael.” He had cured me of using “Mr. Culver” fairly early on. “Lead on!”
The restaurant in question commanded a decent view of the Columbia River and specialized in old Asian cuisines. Michael arranged for an out-of-the-way table, and he made some recommendations off the menu that indicated to me that he'd been to the restaurant more than just a couple times before.
After we ordered, conversation stilled while I watched some fish in a tank near our table, and Michael seemed deep in thought—or perhaps he was just letting my nerves settle a little bit. I have to admit that I needed it. I finally looked up and was about to suggest that we get down to business when the appetizer he'd ordered arrived. I was about to dig in when I noticed that he had closed his eyes and bowed his head slightly, and I fidgeted uncomfortably, not sure what to do.
A few moments passed before Michael opened his eyes again. “I'm sorry, Snowpaw,” he said, looking genuinely apologetic. “You didn't have to wait for me; I'm just in the habit of saying grace before a meal. It's a pretty old tradition.”
I'm rather certain surprise registered on my face. “I thought that the religious types tended not to associate with us morphs,” I blurted, then looked down as I realized how rude that must sound.
Before I could apologize, though, he held up his palm and shook his head. “A lot of the Humans First types are loudly religious,” he admitted, “but I like to think they don't speak for all of us. This isn't the time to get deep into theology, but let's just say that I still think you and...” He paused, wrestling briefly with the next words before continuing, rushing over the phrase, “...and your people are, well, people and still have souls and...stuff,” he concluded, looking a little sheepish.
I nodded. “Of course, Michael. I'm sorry; I didn't mean for it to come out that way.” I smiled and served him up some spring rolls. He then proceeded to show off his skill with chopsticks, while I surrendered and resorted to my fork. He grinned at me.
Dinner conversation gradually turned toward the case, especially once more food started arriving. Michael asked me about Nevaeh, and I told him what I remembered of her from the police academy. My companion shook his head. “Stable family, good job, no history or signs of mental instability. Definitely not a candidate for a suicide bombing. Which leads us back to the question of what in the world her DNA was doing at the scene.”
I shook my head and shrugged a little, swallowing some chow fun noodles. “Your report said that the body that her DNA was recovered from was pretty close to ground zero for the blast?”
He nodded. “As far as we can tell. There really wasn't much of a body left.”
“So it seems likely that either ‘she’ was carrying the bomb, or a trigger for it to go off.”
“That's what we concluded, too.”
I picked up another bite and chewed thoughtfully. “What about Lisbon?” I asked. “How out of character would the fatalities there be for bombers?”
He set his chopsticks down and counted them off on his fingers. “One was a human female, long-time Star Corps career, no history of violent or antisocial behavior. The other was a vulpine tod, new to the Corps, but a good student and also with a solid, stable background.”
I nodded, poking absently at my food as I thought out loud. “Well, if the pattern holds, the vulpine would be the likely target,” I mused. “Do you happen to recall if he was closer to the blast?”
Michael nodded. “I think so. And I agree with your assessment there.”
Picking up my teacup, I let the steam waft over my muzzle and condense on my whiskers. “Can you get forensics to see how much material was left? Specifically, whether there was more than they'd expect?” I took a drink. “In fact, do it for both of them, just in case.”
“More than they'd expect?” Michael looked puzzled, lifting a snow pea to his mouth. Then he blinked. “Oh, right, I think I see what you're getting at.” His brow furrowed. “You think this points to a cloning operation?”
I shook my head, but slowly. “Accelerated cloning is possible, but it'd take an awfully long time to raise a clone to the point where it could be autonomous. And lugging an inert body around, or even enough biomass to be detectable in a suitcase...” I shrugged, and took another bite. “It's possible,” I said again, but I don't think it's likely.”
“So that brings us back to square one again. But you know the old saying, ‘When you've eliminated the impossible...’”
Licking some sauce from my whiskers, I countered, “So let's work on eliminating the impossible some more.” I settled back, thinking. “And preventing this from happening again.”
Michael set his chopsticks down, looking grim again. “I don't think any of us is foolish enough to think that this is going to stop until we stop it,” he agreed soberly.
I kept eating, but continued, “So we should look to see what ports are likely for the next incident. Lisbon was a minor port; P-V is bigger, but far from the biggest. The next one is probably going to be bigger, but not one of the really major ones. And it will probably have some heavy Star Corps activity going on at the time.”
Michael had produced a PADD and was taking notes. “I'll send that back to the office computer and see what it comes up with.” He smiled. “And while it's doing that, I suggest that we actually enjoy our dinner. We'll have enough time to worry later.”
I nodded and produced a smile. But I felt a little nervous as I finished our food. How dangerous were things going to get? What would happen to those who didn't—or couldn't—emigrate off-world? I hoped Silvermane found something nice on Chakona. I was starting to feel like there was less and less here to stay for.
The office computer picked out three sites it thought were likely for the next attack, based on the criteria we fed it: St. Louis, Bratislava, and Belfast. The Star Corps activity at Bratislava was still two weeks away, which left us with St. Louis and Belfast for our more immediate concerns.
“I'm going to recommend going to Belfast,” Michael suggested, picking up the results his office computer had forwarded to his hotel room. When I offered a puzzled look, he continued, “St. Louis is closer, but I'm thinking that, given its location, it's more likely that that will be a human-heavy station. We'll send a warning, but I think we should go to Belfast in person and see what we can't find there.”
I nodded. “All right.” I was looking up some other useful information, meanwhile: in particular, I was looking to see if anyone scheduled to go in or out of Belfast or St. Louis had recently put in requests for replacement ID. The searches turned up fruitful; one name in St. Louis matched, and three in Belfast. While I started to research those names, Michael was arranging for our trip to Eire.
“We'll leave in just a few hours,” he said. “Try to get some sleep in the meantime. I know all the travel's probably wearing you out.”
I shrugged affably. “I've done worse before,” I admitted. “But are you sure you want to be sharing a room with me?”
“I don't mind if you don't.” He chuckled. “I don't think we'll both fit in the same bed. I'll have them send up a mat for you, if that's all right.” I grinned back and nodded, then set the computer to doing its data mining.
We engaged in some light chatter while the computers worked and the personnel brought up the pad. As he was shooing me off to it and I was protesting that I wasn't really that tired, an enormous yawn attempted to split my head in two.
“You're a lousy liar,” Michael said jovially. “Off to sleep with you, Snowpaw.” I agreed sheepishly and managed to fall asleep quickly, dreaming of running across Eire's green fields with Silvermane.
En route to Belfast, I worked with the data that my search had supplied. First, I checked up on the circumstances under which each ID had been reissued. Then I sent out an expanded query to follow any information I could get access to about recent travel in their name. While that was collating, meanwhile, I looked up some biographical details on the four individuals just for background purposes. There didn't seem to be anything especially unusual in any of those, and the St. Louis travel report came back first. I forwarded that to the spaceport in the HCKNA, and went to review the other three as they popped up.
The one that came back last was the most interesting one. Chargarrilaen was a wolftaur who had been with Star Corps for several years. There wasn't much remarkable about his background, but what drew my attention was the fact that, even now while he was returning from a Corps mission, he was also just finishing a trip from Tulsa to Dublin. Separate transportation networks, which meant that the redundancy checks wouldn't pick up on it. Unless, of course, someone were looking for it. I forwarded the information on to Michael.
After a short wait, I glanced over at him. He nodded to me briefly, then went back to his work. I turned back to my own PADD and continued to work through the data. It kept me occupied for most of the rest of the trip, and I found myself dozing for the last half-hour of the trip.
The Star Corps building at Ryan H. Kane Belfast Spaceport had recently been remodeled, and it had a grand, open feel to it. The marble floor was decorated with mosaics depicting various scenes from around Eire, while free-standing sculptures and holosculptures showed planets, nebulae, stars, and constellations, as well as some of the mythical figures associated with some of those heavenly bodies.
Once we got in, Michael and I walked to the information desk. He displayed a badge and asked if Chargarrilaen had come in. The Voxxan behind the counter looked up the name, and then lifted her muzzle with a puzzled expression. “Well, it says here that we're expecting him in on the Samothrace at 1100 hours...and that he checked in to the arrivals area about fifteen minutes ago.” She shrugged. “It must be a glitch in the system,” she apologized.
Michael and I exchanged a brief look, then he nodded to the Voxxan. “Thank you, ma'am,” he said.
I brought out my badge, and she waved us both back. “Is there anything else I can help you with?”
I shook my head. “Not at the moment. We'll come back if we need anything else.” I gave her a polite smile, and Michael escorted me through security back to the arrivals area.
The arrivals area was sparsely populated, which made Chargarrilaen even easier to locate. Even normally, wolftaurs weren't especially difficult to spot, and there was only one present. He was sitting alone near a corner, uncomfortably clad in an ill-fitting black shirt, with an awkward-looking pack strapped to his back. Michael indicated that he would speak first, and I should come in behind for backup if need be.
He strode up casually but purposefully to the wolftaur. “Good afternoon, sir. Would you be Chargarrilaen?” he asked.
I sensed a frisson of nervousness from the wolftaur as he was addressed. He gave a noncommittal shake of his head. “Uh'm sorry,” he said, slurring his words. “Uh don' hab time t' talk righ' now.”
Michael produced his badge and showed it to him. “I'm sorry, sir, but I'm afraid I must insist.” The nervousness intensified, heading for outright panic. He started to reach back toward the pack, clumsily.
“Snowpaw!” Michael said. I was already moving forward.
“On it,” I reassured him, catching the wolftaur's arms and preventing him from getting into his backpack. He was struggling harder now, but his movements seemed stiff, even maladroit. It was no problem to keep him contained.
Then, suddenly, he stopped. “Uh won' be 'rrested lite dis!” he said, resignedly. I saw his jaw shift, and heard a faint crunching sound.
Michael's eyes widened. “Snowpaw! Stop him!” He dropped his badge and reached for the wolftaur's jaws. I was puzzled, but I kept one hand holding both arms and tried to help Michael out. The wolftaur started to slump heavily. I shifted my weight to try to hold him up. “Forget that,” Michael barked. “Call medical services. Hurry!”
I let the arms go. The sudden weight pulled his muzzle out of Michael's hands while I reached for my communicator. Michael sighed. “It's probably too late,” he muttered, but he continued to fish through the wolftaur's mouth.
I finished the call to the emergency medical services and looked down at the 'taur on the marble floor. Comprehension started to dawn. “He committed suicide?”
“I think so,” Michael said, a little bleakly. He reached to feel for a pulse, then started to administer CPR. I was faintly surprised to see him locate the heart on a 'taur so quickly. I could sense nothing from the wolftaur by this time, but Michael continued until the medical team arrived and took over. Michael accompanied them to the hospital and asked me to detain Chargarrilaen when he arrived.
One Chargarrilaen, complete with ID, was pronounced dead at the hospital, from cyanide poisoning. I questioned the other one, who was both puzzled and more clear-spoken, and turned him over to the Eirann authorities. I was fairly confident that he'd be released shortly.
Michael and I got our travel back to Edmonton arranged, and we discussed the events on the return trip. “It's too bad we didn't have a chance to question him,” Michael said.
I couldn't help feeling a little bit guilty. “I should have tried to stop him. I'm not used to thinking in terms of suicide.”
He shook his head. “It's not your fault, Snowpaw. I don't think either of us could have stopped him.”
I nodded reluctantly. “I suppose you're right,” I conceded.
A silence descended before Michael asked, “So, what do we do now?”
I picked up my PADD and called up some information. “Well, we know where that Chargarrilaen came from,” I said. “Tulsa.” I brought up a couple more files. “And Nevaeh, despite having been at home for a week, traveled out of Shreveport; and Andrew...” I referred to the tod who had been in Lisbon. “...left for Lisbon out of Jackson. Whoever's arranging all of this probably isn't from any single one of those cities (remember, Chargarrilaen traveled to Dublin and not Belfast), but I suspect that that's indicative of the area that he...or she...is from.”
Michael nodded slowly. “That's sound, so far,” he said. “Anything else?”
I shook my head. “Nothing just yet.”
“Okay,” Michael said. “Well, there's still the question of how the duplicates are being created.”
“Right.” I shrugged. “I'm willing to open the cloning theory again,” I suggested weakly.
He chuckled softly. “No, I think your earlier objections to that were accurate. I'm thinking about something else I heard about a while back.”
Curiously, I cocked my head and motioned for him to continue.
Instead of answering my curiosity, he met me with another question. “Have you ever heard of Chakat Goldendale?”
I blinked, and thought for a few moments. “The name sounds familiar, but I can't place it.”
“I read about hir in a scientific journal,” he said. “Chakat Goldendale used to be human, but when he was transporting, the transporter was sabotaged, and his body was lost, apparently. A chakat volunteered to let hir pattern, still in the buffer, be used to restore him.”
I paused, letting that sink in. “So...effectively, a human was transported into a chakat body?”
Michael nodded. “Right.”
I mulled that over some more. “You think whoever's behind this is somehow transporting themselves into new bodies?”
“It's a possibility. Maybe a remote one, but a possibility.”
I set my PADD down. “Don't transporters need mass to re-create bodies from, though? Where would that come from?”
“Human's smaller than a chakat,” Michael observed. “Goldendale either had to get extra mass from somewhere, or was a really small chakat.”
I smiled faintly at that image. “Touché.”
“I'll see if I can dig up more information on that,” Michael said.
I nodded in agreement. “I guess I'll ferret out more on cloning. Just in case. You're probably right on its being a dead end, though.”
“Never hurts to be sure,” Michael said. He smiled at me, and I smiled back. I was getting to like the human.
We set up our data retrieval programs and sent them off to do their work, and then, almost as if scripted, we both turned to each other. “Tell me about yourself,” I said, while he asked, “Do you mind if I ask a little bit about you?” We chuckled, and I gestured to him.
He told me about his career as an investigator, how he came to live in Edmonton, and about his friends. He commented that he was still single (“but looking!”), and I felt a twinge of sympathy for him, although he seemed content with his situation. In return, I told him about my sister Dawnstar, and my Silvermane, off on Chakona now looking into housing.
“Oh!” he said, surprised. “You're leaving Earth, then?”
“Thinking about it,” I said. “Things here are getting more and more tense, and dangerous. When we have a cub, well, we want to make sure shi grows up someplace safe.”
He nodded thoughtfully. “Well, best of luck to you, then. Sounds like Earth's loss will be Chakona's gain.”
I blushed faintly with the praise. “Thank you,” I said softly, thinking about that.
Afterwards, the conversation continued on to various interests and anecdotes. By the time we landed back in GNA, we both felt we knew the other relatively well.
Michael had arranged for an official PTV to meet us at the skyport, and he took me to his home. We continued to chat as I helped him set up his guest room for a quadruped visitor (he apologized for only having a biped-style bed, and I told him not to worry about it), and he checked on his query results before retiring. I didn't feel like heavy reading about cloning technology after another long day, but Michael apparently found something interesting and sent out a personal message before he went to his own room. I almost asked about it, but he caught me yawning again and shooed me off to the guest room. I complied; the question would still be there in the morning.
I awakened the next morning to the scent of bacon, sausage, eggs, waffles, and French toast. I stretched myself out thoroughly, put on a top from my travel-pack, and ambled out to the kitchen, where Michael had a full spread laid out. “I heard you 'taurs had impressive appetites, but I've never had one over,” he said with a smile. “So I made sure to make plenty.”
I laughed, looking over the full table. “Next time, I'll have to bring Silvermane along, if you don't want leftovers.”
Michael just looked relieved. “Good, I was worried there wouldn't be enough.” He lifted a ladle out of a pot on the stove. “Oatmeal?”
“Sure,” I said. “Any chance of brown sugar and raisins to go with that?”
Over breakfast, Michael told me about the message he'd put in last night. “There's a Professor Oceanwalker on Chakona who's been doing some research with technology similar to what caused Goldendale's accident, but under more controlled circumstances. I described what we'd found and asked if shi had any comments.”
“Mmmh,” I commented around a mouthful of waffle (with olallieberry jam). I swallowed and added, “Have you heard back yet?”
“Not yet. It was pretty late on hir part of Chakona when the message was scheduled to arrive.” He drizzled honey on his toast. “What about your cloning research?”
I shook my head. “I need to look that up this morning. I've been a lazy chakat.”
Michael waved me off with a chuckle. “Between all the travel and the jet lag, you're functioning quite well. Don't worry about it. But if you forward your findings to me, I'll help you look through it while I wait for a response from Professor Oceanwalker.”
After breakfast, we both set to work looking through the data on cloning my searches had retrieved. As the day wore on, it became clear that there were more problems with the theory than answers. It was almost a relief when Michael's computer notified him that his reply from Chakona had arrived.
Oceanwalker confirmed that, in theory, one might be able to rematerialize the original body in one location, a new body in another, and fork the mind-matrix across both deliveries. However, shi cautioned, forking the mind-matrix led to an increased transmission of errors into at least one of the target bodies.
“Shi also says that the slurred speech is very typical of someone who hasn't fully adjusted to the new body yet. Or damage to the speech center from a forked matrix,” Michael said.
“And the extra mass?” I prompted.
Michael scanned down the message. “Biogel,” he said. “Non-specific biological material. It's also used to replicate foodstuffs, and in some medical procedures.”
I rubbed my chin, thinking. “There's a key, then. We need to look for someplace that's getting an unusual quantity of biogel delivered.”
Michael nodded. “And Chakat Oceanwalker is eager to hear what we find. And a little horrified, if I'm reading between the lines correctly. Shi thought shi was the only one who had this technology, and shi hates to think of someone using it for something like this.”
Smiling wryly, I said, “I'm not overly fond of the thought, myself.”
We split the rest of the day into two activities. Part of it was looking for unusually large shipments of biogel in the area surrounding the origin locations for the three potential bombing suspects. The rest was researching into other likely suspects for future spaceports. That was the part that had us a little more worried.
“Whoever this is may not realize exactly what happened to his ‘agents,’ but since Belfast is still intact, he'll know something's up. Or she will. We need to be prepared for more subterfuge,” Michael cautioned.
By the end of the day, we had a few potential suspects lined up and had sent requests to the UNTWG to pass on official warnings to the HCKNA regarding travelers by those names originating from skyports near the Tulsa-Shreveport-Jackson regions. And we'd found a couple of larger-scale shipments of biogel in that area, too. The one that had us most concerned was to an area shortly outside a little town called Mineral Springs. We traced the shipment origins for that location, and put in a call to the shipper.
Finally, armed with that evidence and other information we had collected, we petitioned the UNTWG for a search warrant for the address of the recipient of the biogel in Mineral Springs. And then we sat back to wait for the wheels of government to turn, keeping a wary eye on any other duplicate IDs we could find.
I would love to be able to say that Michael and I raided the house, found an illegal transport operation and bomb materials, and made the arrest of a Humans First terrorist. But, truth be told, with the investigation out of the way, the actual arrest was left to local HCKNA authorities. I stayed for a few more days with Michael in Edmonton while we waited for the trial, and we vidconferenced in together to give our testimony.
One Thomas Huang was ultimately found guilty of the two bombings, two intended bombings (a duplicate was found trying to leave from Little Rock skyport), and conspiracy to commit several more. There were also a few assorted charges of identity theft and fraud that were bound to leave the legal system tied in knots for a while (and set some very unusual precedents), as well as some information theft from Star Corps and Professor Oceanwalker's systems; the more solid charges came down first so they could hold Mr. Huang more securely.
Mr. Huang tried to tie himself to Humans First throughout the trial, but the group disavowed any knowledge of his activities. His own testimony was rambling and slightly incoherent, quite possibly a result of the forked mind-matrix. But there was enough evidence to keep him out of society's way for a long while, at any rate.
His devices and schematics were seized, and copies of the schematics were made available to Professor Oceanwalker, who privately expressed no small concern about the way that the system was designed, the fact that an ostensible mad genius had managed to duplicate some of hir research in this fashion, and, further, that he had gone on to do something like this with it.
As for me, I was simply glad that the ordeal was finally over. Although I was glad to have gotten to know Michael during the time we'd worked together, it certainly wasn't the way I'd been planning to spend any of my sabbatical. As I got ready to return home to Cheyenne, Michael invited me to drop by if I were ever in Edmonton again, and next time, to bring Silvermane with me. I smiled and told him I would.
Four days after I got home, two wonderful things arrived there with me. One was a message from Michael letting me know that he had been given a handsome bonus for his work in the bombings, and he had arranged to have half of it transferred to my account. “Couldn't have done it without you!” he said. And the other was the return of my beloved Silvermane.
“I heard all about what happened, Snowpaw!” shi told me, in between greeting hugs and lick-kisses. “And I'm so proud of you!”
“I'm just glad I was able to help,” I said, enjoying hir touch, hir scent, hir very presence again.
“Wait till you see the house I found!” shi gushed. “It's beautiful, and I'm sure it'll be just perfect for us!”
I leaned back, smiling enigmatically. “How do you think it'd work for a vacation home, Silver?” I asked.
Shi blinked in some confusion. “A vacation home?” shi returned.
I nodded. “I've been thinking some more, Silver,” I said softly. “Earth may be dangerous, but not everyone here is. A lot of people here are...well, just people. Good people. It'd be a shame to leave them all behind, too. I think we might still be able to do some good and help make this place — our home — even better.”
Silvermane looked at me uncertainly. “But...I thought we'd agreed...”
I lick-kissed hir, tenderly. “I know, hon. But maybe we ought to rethink that a little.” I smiled softly to hir. “I want you to meet Michael Culver sometime. I want you to think about staying here. If you really think we should still go, then I'll be more than happy to go with you. But think about everything we'd be leaving behind here. The people...we need them, and they need us. I want to dream of rebuilding this world to be a place as peaceful, as open as Chakona. And I want to show the good people, like Michael, that we're not giving up on it.”
My lifemate looked at me, looked in my eyes. Shi smiled a little. “I think I can see that dream in your eyes, love,” shi murmured softly. “I'll stay here by your side, while you teach me to dream more of it.”
Copyright © 2006 David Green
The Chakat Universe is the creation of Bernard Doove and is used with his permission.
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