By Sherrylou with LindaS
Beta read by Dotty, Mary Shukes Browne, CJ and Martha
Written for PetFly by:
Teleplay by: Harv Zimmel and Gale Morgan Hickman
Story by: Harv Zimmel

PG-13 for language
internal thought in italics


Act I

Cyclops Oil - Northstar 5; Rig 18; 40 miles off the coast of Washington

Clattering down the metal staircase to 'C' deck, Jack Buchanan hustled over to the dive system tank; the eerie silence and lack of supporting personnel indicative of the earliness of the hour. The last dive the day before had been a real bitch and his body still trembled from exhaustion. "Just get the job done," he mumbled to himself, as he scrubbed a hand over his wearied eyes and across his whiskered chin. He just wanted to get back to his quarters and crash on his bunk. With no scheduled dives until later in the morning, he was looking forward to the downtime. And why did this job always fall to him? Why couldn't Billings handle the system's check? It wasn't like he was doing anything at the moment.

Satisfied that everything appeared normal, he quickly made mental notations of the outside instrument settings. The ringing of the phone interrupted his concentration. "Buchanan," he answered absent-mindedly. Recognizing the caller, he lowered his voice. "Yeah, I'm checking the dive system now." He paused, listening intently. Looking around surreptitiously, he hunched over the phone and hissed softly, "Look, I know the situation. I told you how I feel. So, we contact the authorities and let them handle it. Plain and simple. Could we talk about this later? I've got a job to do."

Hanging up, his fingers lingered on the receiver. Damn! What a mess. What a fucking mess! He didn't want to get involved. No way, man. Sometimes it was better to turn a blind eye ... but he already knew too much.

He finished up the outside checks and then opened the hatch and entered the small chamber. Waving around the analyzer wand, he cursed when the small instrument began to click more rapidly. A sudden slamming of the metal hatch drew his attention away from the detector, and he spun around in time to see the door latch shut. Dropping the instrument, he rushed to the door and twisted the hatch's handle. Why wouldn't it budge? Confused, he tried again, and then a horrific realization began to sink in. Trapped! My god, he was trapped! As he pounded against the door, his heart rate quickened with each cry for help.

What to do? What was he going to do? Someone had to be out there, the door just didn't close by itself. Moving over to a side porthole, he peered through the tiny window and rapped frantically against the glass. "Hey! What the hell you doing? Hey! Hey!" He continued his shouting as a shadowy figure disappeared from his view. "Let me out. Let me out. Hey!"

As high-pitched beeping resounded throughout the small chamber, his eyes flew to the dials and widened in panic at the rising gauges. A choked sob escaped his lips, and he began to flip switches to no avail. Returning to the door's porthole, he continued his plaintive cries, both fists thumping against the heavy metal door. God, his whole head felt like it was going to explode. "Get me out!" he screamed one final time before raising both hands to clutch his throbbing head. A warm wetness oozed through his fingers. His vision dimmed, and he made one last attempt, reaching out for help, reaching for salvation, as his bloody palm splayed against the tiny window. God! No, no, no.....

Jim grabbed another box as he started clearing the area by the sofa. All this stuff just lying around, cluttering up the room, claiming new territory, messing with his senses, had to go. He didn't care if Sandburg had an authentic skull of the missing link or a map to the lost world, Atlantis, hidden around here; the ungodly mess was soon to be history ... gone ... out of here.

Finding an unrecognizable food-like substance cemented to a plate halfway under the couch, he held the offending object away from his body. "I'm not even going to hazard a guess what this is -- or was," he griped and tossed it along with the plate into a box he'd mentally labeled as 'dumpster bound.'

Pleased with the headway he'd made so far, the sound of approaching footsteps drew his attention toward the door. Ah-ha. So, the perpetrator was returning to the scene of the crime. Jim arched an eyebrow as he looked at the remaining 'evidence' littering the living area. Time to remind a certain messy anthropologist the law of the land -- or loft, so to speak. Oh, yeah, Sandburg. He focused tightly on the opening door. Court was now in session, and Ellison's Rules of Order were first on the docket.

Reaching for the doorknob of the loft, Blair paused as he felt a tiny, persistent ache sweeping through his chest. His hand dropped from the knob and lightly skirted across his newly healed ribs. The bruises had faded, but the memory of being shot was still quite vivid. Shot! God, he could hardly believe it. Thank goodness for Kevlar ... and that Zeller had aimed for his chest and not his head. He shuddered at that thought and inserted the key into the lock.

With a twist of the knob, Blair opened the door and entered. Stunned, his eyes scanned the sight before him as his mind hurried to understand what he was actually seeing. Scattered around the living area were boxes filled with stuff -- his stuff! Two sat on the floor near the couch and another on the coffee table. What the hell was going on? Momentary panic seized his chest and the thought of the one-week promise from so long ago filled his mind. Okay. Calm down. Keep it nice and light, he told himself, even as his brain raced for a possible explanation.

Hoping to keep his voice from shaking with confused emotion, Blair dropped his keys into the basket, took a deep, centering breath, and then spoke, "Hey, uh, Jim. What's going on, man? You got a hot date tonight or something?"

"Time to get organized, Chief. This mess here is starting to drive me crazy."

Oh. Blair didn't like the sound of his roommate's voice, flat and emotionless. This was so not good. He slipped out of his jacket and casually tossed it onto the couch. Glancing at the untidy condition of the room, he crossed over to Jim and asked innocently, "What mess?"

Before he knew it, a plate was pushed into his hand and Jim was spouting something about a science experiment and even the sprouts having sprouts. He looked up from the plate in time to see his partner manhandling one of his artifacts into a box.

"Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Time out, Jim." Blair set the plate down and carefully removed the large mask from the box. "This is a rare devil mask from the Onkatu tribe in Kenya. It's on loan from the university."

"Well, why is it lying around?"

"It's not lying around." Even Blair cringed at the untruth of that remark. He listened as his roommate's voice rose slightly, ranting about papers -- his papers -- on the TV.

"That's how I work. You know, I go back and forth with things as the muse strikes." There. Jim had to see the reasoning in that.

With a handful of papers, Jim gestured toward Blair's room. "You've got your own bedroom there, Chief. Muse it up all you want." Never stopping once, he continued around the room picking up books and papers.

"Yuk, yuk, yuk. Good one, Jim." Carrying the mask to his room, Blair called over his shoulder, "Don't you think you're getting a little territorial?"


Uh-oh. There was that cold, distant tone of voice again. "Yeah. Territorial," he reiterated. Emerging from the small room, Blair decided to lay all his cards on the table. "Okay. Let's take the refrigerator for example," he said as he gestured toward the fridge and then proceeded to rattle off his points one by one. "You've got the leftovers color-coded. You've got yours in the blue, mine in the red. Oh, and let's talk about your house rules a little. I can't flush the toilet after ten o'clock. I can't play music that you can hear in the living room." Exasperated, Blair flung his arms out from his body. "Who can live like that?"

He raised his eyebrows, as if to question Jim again, and then watched in amazement as Ellison replied without missing a beat while at the same time continuing his 'search and clean' mission.

"I can live like that."

Before Blair had a chance to respond to his partner's statement, the phone rang and both men reached for the receiver nearly bumping heads. Backing off, he allowed Jim to answer and began picking up some of his notes and books. The place didn't look that bad, not compared to his days back in the warehouse. After all, a little clutter was good for the soul. Concentrating on what he was going to say next and mulling over several approaches to counteract Jim's stringent set of rules, Blair was surprised when he felt a tap on his shoulder.

"Get your coat, Chief. Simon needs us down at the station."

Blair hastily set down the papers and grabbed his jacket from the back of the couch. Slipping it on, he then hurried to follow Jim out the door. The discussion was tabled for now, but knowing his roommate, it would be revisited as soon as they got back.

Oblivious to the impressive view of Cascade's skyline, Simon paced in front of the large window, momentarily gathering his thoughts before finally turning to face the two men in his office. Gerry McMullen, a long time friend and captain with the Coast Guard, had asked for his help, and now he needed to ask his two friends for their help. Ellison stood at a relaxed parade rest, a remnant of his military training, eyes keen with interest, waiting patiently, while Sandburg casually rested his hip against the conference table, cradling a mug of coffee. His coffee, Banks noted.

Noticing the expectant looks on both their faces, the captain proceeded to fill his men in on the problem. "About an hour ago, the Coast Guard received a call from an off-shore oil production rig. There's been a death."

Ellison's eyebrows scrunched in confusion. "Wouldn't that be the Coast Guard's jurisdiction?"

Conceding to the point with a shrug of the shoulder, Simon explained, "Normally. However, there are a few questions here that they need some answers to." He shifted uneasily, hesitating slightly before revealing the real reason behind the request. "Besides, the captain's a buddy, and I told him we'd help. There's a storm alert along the coast, and they're strapped for manpower."

Jim remained unexpectedly quiet while Blair, setting aside the coffee cup on the table, not surprisingly piped up, "Who got killed?"

"Details are sketchy," Simon continued quickly now that Ellison had made no objection. "You'll have to fill in the blanks. The rig is the Northstar 5, owned by Cyclops Oil. A company chopper is standing by at their corporate airfield to take you there."

"Exactly how far out are we talking?"

Simon paused before answering. Was there a hint of wariness in Jim's voice? "I don't know -- forty, fifty miles."

"All right! Nutty." Blair's voice vibrated with excitement as his hand excitedly pumped the air.

"Yeah. Nutty," Jim agreed with a less than enthusiastic response.

"Jim, you and Sandburg are going to be on your own out there." Looking directly at his detective and knowing that detective's propensity for often pushing the limit in regards to procedure, Simon toughened his voice. "I expect regular reports. You're a long way off from any back-up."

Ellison acknowledged the request with a, "Will do, Captain," then straightened up and turned to his partner. "Ready, Chief?"

The young man nodded and followed the detective, calling out a last minute farewell to the captain. "Later, Simon."

"Be careful," Simon added, almost as an afterthought as the two men headed out of the office. A nod and a wave were his only responses to his admonition. Crossing over to the coffee pot, he glanced out through the opened blinds, catching one last sight of Ellison and Sandburg as they exited the bullpen. Jim had seemed unusually subdued, and that puzzled him. However, it was just another routine assignment; one his detective should handle easily. After all, what could happen within the context of a few hours? With that final thought, he poured himself a cup of coffee and then set about clearing out the in-box on his desk.

Arriving at the airfield and spying the corporate helicopter, Blair's throat tightened, and he swallowed nervously. Squaring his shoulders, he internally steeled himself for the upcoming ride. Buck up, Sandburg. Swimming is not an option. Simon did say chopper, though a boat ride would've been nice.

An approaching mechanic called out to the pair, "You guys from the police?"

"Yeah," Jim answered back.

"You'll find all-weather gear in the shack." The mechanic jerked his thumb over toward a small building. "Better hurry up. With the approaching storm, the pilot's anxious to get back to the Northstar 5."

Swiftly slipping into the bright orange jumpsuits, the two men quickened their pace toward the waiting chopper. However, as Blair neared the helicopter, his steps began to slow. Jim was halfway there when he stopped, apparently noticing the younger man lagging behind. "Something wrong, Chief?"

"Uh, no ... no, everything's fine." Blair offered Jim a weak smile as his partner came to stand beside him. That's it. Talk it up. Keep your mind off of the several hundred feet of air between you and solid ground once the chopper takes off. "Just thinking about the trip out. Hey, did you know that the Chinese recorded the first concept of rotary wing aviation in the fourth Century A.D? It's in a book called 'Pao Phu Tau,' about a Master who--"

Jim chuckled, cutting off the impromptu aviation history lesson, and gave Blair a friendly push. "Enough with the lecture, Orville. Get in the bird."

Using one finger, Blair playfully tossed an 'up yours' expression over his shoulder as he ducked his head and hurried toward the small door. Jerking it open, he climbed in, got situated in his seat, and then wiped away the dust caused by the backwash of the blades from his face and eyes. As Blair pushed back a few loose strands of hair from face, he watched Jim settle quickly in next to him, slip on the headset and then give him a 'thumbs-up' signal.

The whine of the engine grew along with the roiling he felt in his stomach, and his fingers dug deeply into the edge of the seat. Oh, god. He swallowed back the rising bile as he felt the slight jerk of the helicopter lifting off, and the landscape swirled before his eyes dizzily. As a distraction, past Anthro 101 lectures came to mind, and he recited them silently, by rote; the speed of the words increasing as solid ground faded from sight.

"Would you look at that ocean? It's so raw ... so primal."

Ten minutes into the flight and already Sandburg's excited nattering filled the small confines of the cabin and showed no signs of stopping. God, did someone wind him up before the trip? Maybe it was Simon's blend of Kenyan coffee. Jim smiled slightly and allowed his eyes to wander to the aforementioned view. "So deep," he whispered uneasily. He shuddered as an unpleasant sensation crept over him.

Resting his head against the cool window, he continued to stare at the water. With eyes fixed to the vastness of the sight below, Jim tuned out the voices droning around him. Whatever Sandburg and the pilot were talking about held no interest. Instead, he watched the sunlight shimmer across the ocean's surface as tiny whitecaps leaped among the liquid jewels. The mesmerizing water dance drew him in, and he felt his eyelids grow heavy.

*~ Flash ~*

An uncontainable sense of overwhelming fear -- breath-stealing terror!

*~ Flash ~*

Chattering teeth -- flailing arms -- muscles burning with each kick!

*~ Flash ~*

A wet, choking darkness, surrounding him, pulling downward ... tugging ... tugging...

Blinking several times, he jerked upright, now wide-awake. What the hell was that? Scrubbing a hand over his face as if to wipe away the confusing images and terrifying feelings, Jim cast a sidelong look at his partner. Blair was still regaling the pilot on the finer points of man versus nature. Just now noticing the pilot's long, red hair, he chuckled to himself. Figured -- even forty miles out at sea, Sandburg would find a woman to hit on. Glancing out the window at the glittering water below, he scanned the horizon and tightened his sight. There, off in the distance, loomed the rig, a small metallic island surrounded by miles and miles of ocean.

The pilot's voice broke through his mental haze. "Look, we'll be on the rig in five minutes, but that storm front's moving in fast. It's going to get kind of bumpy. So, strap in that tight little butt of yours, okay, Lamb Chop?"

Jim grinned at the nickname for his partner and couldn't help adding his own dig. "Need any help there, Lamb Chop?

"You, too, Beef Stick."

Beef stick, huh? And who'd she think she was? Shari Lewis? Well, the hair coloring was right and she did have the same little beady eyes and pointy nose, Jim observed. The chopper bounced as a sudden downdraft caught the rotors, and an uneasy quiet settled within the cabin. Once again, his attention was focused on the rising swells, the churning ocean wild and angry, as the winds continued to buffet the small craft, signaling that the impending storm was not far off.

Enduring several more minutes of rough flying, they safely reached the rig, and the landing was accomplished without much difficulty. Climbing out of the copter, Jim stretched his legs, glad to be out of the confining enclosure, and took a better look at the pilot. Tall, not bad to look at, well built but sturdy, and he noted a slight toughness in her demeanor. Extending his hand, Jim flashed the young woman a smile "Thanks for the lift."

"Glad to be of service. I'm Maggie Bryce. Basically, I'm the taxi service for this tin can." She accepted the proffered hand and gave it a firm shake and then another gentle squeeze.

"Detective Jim Ellison and my partner, Blair Sandburg." Reclaiming his hand, he watched wryly as she ran an appraising eye over his partner before returning her focus back to him.

"I've got to tend my bird. You boys head to the mess hall. It's through the first door, third floor from the deck. Yo, beef stick," she called out, giving a little seductive wink. "If I were you I'd wrap up my business fast. It's gonna be dark soon, and that storm front's moving in pretty quick."

"Right." Jim shook his head in amusement at the obvious flirtation. She must not get out much, he thought as he walked up a ramp, taking a casual look over the railing. The expanse of the tumultuous sea stretched out in all directions, seemingly endless even to his sentinel eyes. The rolling waves caught his attention, and the same gut-wrenching fear as earlier took up residence within the pit of his stomach, holding him frozen in place until a gentle hand and a concerned voice breeched his inward captivation.

"Jim. Jim, you okay? What is it?"

Jim shook off the sudden chill he felt. God, what was happening to him? He gruffly brushed aside Blair's quiet inquiry. "Nothing. Nothing, Sandburg. Come on, let's get inside."

Worried, Blair chewed on his bottom lip as he stared at Jim's retreating back, frustrated at the response or -- really -- lack of it. Something was just not right here. What had happened wasn't a normal zone out, but for a moment there, Jim had been mentally someplace other than on the rig. Still puzzling over the incident, he continued after his sentinel and stepped through the portal. Surprised to find that his partner had already slipped out of the jumpsuit and was leaving through another door, Blair quickly unzipped the outer garment and stripped it off, hanging it up on a nearby hook.

Hastening to catch up to his partner, he hurried down the stairs, the tinny sound of his feet clanging on the metal steps echoed noisily in the stairwell. Blair made it down one flight when he caught up to Jim and, latching a firm hand onto the older man's bicep, took the opportunity to muscle him into the corner of the landing. Concerned, he hissed out, "Come on, Jim. Talk to me. That was not 'nothing.' What is it? Your senses?"

"I'm fine. Let's just leave it at that and get this over with. The sooner we're off this oil rig the better."

Feeling the tense muscle underneath his fingertips and seeing Jim's eyes shift away from his -- a classic Ellison avoidance maneuver -- Blair was not buying Jim's line. Something was definitely wrong. He edged closer, now chest-to-chest, getting in Ellison's face. "Why don't I believe you? Convince me."

A scowl crossed Jim's face. "Sandburg." He lowered his voice, adding a threatening tone. "Drop it."

Forcibly shrugging out of Blair's grasp, the detective continued on his way, once again leaving Blair behind. Blair shook his head in complete exasperation and then, at a slower pace, followed Jim the rest of the way down the stairs and into the mess hall. With each step, his determination to find out what was bothering Jim increased. Go ahead, Jim. Run all you want. But sooner or later, we are going to talk.

As Blair entered the dim room, conversation stopped, and he saw numerous eyes glance toward him then quickly turn away. Whoa! Tough crowd, he thought as he approached his partner's side. Blair quirked an eyebrow and stifled his amusement at Jim's futile throat clearing attempt for attention. In a hushed tone, he offered, "Uh, maybe there's some kind of protocol involved here. There are certain tribes in the Amazon where newcomers have to strip down -- "

Jim stepped further into the mess hall, interrupting Blair's comments, and flipped open his badge. "I'm Detective Ellison, Cascade Police Department. Who'd be in charge here?"

A tall man, spiked graying hair, craggy face, nonchalantly took a sip of coffee before setting the cup aside. Getting up, he moved toward the detective. "I am. Ben Crilly, rig foreman."

With a friendly exchange of handshakes, Jim continued, "Hi, Ben. There's been a death reported?"

Crilly paused, and what appeared to be a look of irritation flashed across his face. "It was an accident. I don't understand why the police are involved."

Standing off to the side, Blair observed what looked to be an interesting match-up. Better watch out, Jim, he warned silently, as his eyes flickered back and forth between the two men. The large foreman took another step closer to the detective, invading his personal space. Now they were head-to-head, two alpha-males squaring off.

"We've been requested to investigate."

"Investigate what?" The voice now was more brusque and colder.

Jim smiled and replied calmly, "I'm sure you're just as anxious to get us out of here as we are to leave."

Ooh, smooth, Jim. That's it. Work the man. Blair's eyes twinkled with appreciative delight as the detective held his ground.

Crilly stepped back, rubbing a hand over his weary face, and his voice softened. "Yeah. Sorry, uh, it's just that it's tough on the crew when you lose a guy. How can we help?"

"We need to see the medic's report and the body."

"That'd be in the infirmary, 'C' Deck -- Medic's name is Weaver. You'll have to show yourselves around. We've been setting risers on the wellhead around the clock, and we're short-handed as it is." Turning away from the detective, Crilly called out loudly to his crew, "All roustabouts; rotary table in three minutes. I want that 30-inch casing at the ready." The earlier cooperation vanished and the foreman stepped around the two men with a gruff, "Excuse me, gentlemen."

Blair backed away from the door and watched as the crewmen headed off to their various jobs. Eyes wide at how quickly the room emptied, he shrugged his shoulders and walked back over to his partner. "Uh, I guess we gotta go find 'C' deck?"

Jim didn't answer Blair's question, but turned his attention to the two remaining crewman in the mess hall. "Either of you gentlemen direct us towards 'C' deck?"

Coughing, a man from the back of the room answered, "Two levels d-down. Infirmary's off the m-main corridor."

"Thanks. You okay, partner?" The detective approached the speaker who was huddled under a blanket and hunched over a steaming cup of coffee.

Following Jim to the back of the mess hall, Blair took a good look and cringed. Aw, man, what was the poor guy doing up and about? The shivering was noticeable even from where he stood, and the man's face exuded a sickly pallor.

"I will b-be." The man barely sputtered out the response, his voice trembling uncontrollably. Taking a deep breath, he continued, "H-hot water to my suit crapped out d-during a dive this morning. Damn b-body loses heat quick when you're breathing helium-oxygen in 40-degree water." With shaky hands, he raised the coffee mug to his lips and sipped the hot brew.

"Yeah. You're the rig diver?"

The man set the cup down and looked up at the pair warily. "Yeah. The only w-water man out here n-now that Buchanan's g-gone. Name's Lacey Billings."

Jumping into the conversation, Blair asked gently, "How you doing? Buchanan. Is that the guy who died in the accident?"


Well, that tells us a lot, Blair snorted quietly to himself. He listened closely as Jim continued to question Billings and got answers that basically amounted to one or two-word responses and revealed no information at all.

"You know who called the Coast Guard?" Said firmly, frustration now shaded Jim's voice.

Billings paled even more, if possible, and Blair realized that Jim's last question must have hit a nerve because the conversation ended abruptly. Billings got up quickly, saying something about a hot shower, and then sidled his way past the two men. Looking around the room, Blair noted that the other crewman had made a hasty exit, and they were by themselves. With the mess hall now empty, he stuffed his hands in his pockets and looked to Jim. "'C' Deck?"

Jim nodded. "'C' Deck."

Information was at an all-time low. Jim was ready to strangle the next person that said, "I don't know." Weaver had been no help at all, copping out with the fact that he was just a medic and not privy to the day-to-day operation on the rig. Damn! Thirteen men on this tin bucket, and nobody knew what had happened. Well, Buchanan certainly hadn't done it to himself, that much was obvious.

Guiltily he looked over at Blair. Shit, the kid was still green and shaky looking. How had Sandburg put it -- Buchanan had blown up? An apt description of the body. Weaver had tried to warn them and had been right. Seeing the results of the sudden reduction of pressure in the dive system to a human body had not been a good idea. For a moment he thought he'd have to scrape Sandburg off the floor. It was almost more than Jim himself could stomach.

Done ramming his head against a brick wall -- that said wall for the moment being the medic -- he decided to continue his investigation at the site of the 'so-called' accident, and they headed toward the dive system tank. Walking down the corridor, Jim asked, "You ever feel so unwelcome in a place?"

Expressive hands fluttered as Blair explained, "We're invading their territory, Jim. These guys work out here for weeks at a time. They develop their own society."

Yep. He knew Sandburg would have an answer to that question. But he wasn't buying that line. "Chief, if you ask me there's something a lot bigger than resentment going on here."

He paused by the dive system tank, looking over the equipment. Grasping the wheel that opened the door, Jim jerked his hands away from the tank's hatch. The skin on his hands tingled, heat flaring from his palms to the very end of his fingertips. "Whoa! Man, that's weird!" he said, as he shook off the feeling, rubbing his thumbs across his fingers.

"What is?"

Jim motioned Blair over to the door. "Check it out. My fingers are burning and itching."

Cautiously, Blair touched the wheel and then, shaking his head, ran his hands along the rim.

"You don't feel it?" Jim asked, slightly surprised. He knew that it hadn't been his imagination; he could still feel the annoying tingling deep below the skin's surface. However, whatever the residue was, it wasn't discernable to the normal touch. Unwilling to touch the wheel again, Jim nodded toward the hatch. "Open it up."

Blair spun the wheel and pulled the door open. Walking inside, Jim checked out the interior of the tank. "For Buchanan to die in here, this hatch would have to be closed and all the pressure would have to be pumped out of here."

Stepping into the tank and taking a seat on the bench, Blair asked, "What are you getting at?"

"Well, for one thing, he could adjust the pressure anytime he wanted to with this -- this release valve." He flipped the switch back and forth easily.

"Looks like it works just fine."

"And, even if it didn't, all he'd have to do is unseal the hatch." Jim stepped out of the tank, and Blair followed.

"Freak accidents happen."

Unconvinced, Jim shook his head. "Sure, they do." Right, Sandburg, and if you believe that, I got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. Walking away from the tank, his eyes scanned the area, looking for something -- anything odd, out of place. A tool left lying haphazardly in the far right corner among a collection of pipes and valves caught his attention. Maybe. Just, maybe...

Crossing the open area, he picked up the long wrench and ran his fingers along the edge, feeling the slight indentations. He walked with it back to Sandburg. "I think we hit the jackpot here. You see this mark?"

Blair looked to where Jim's finger was pointing. "Mm-hmm."

"And this one here?" He closed the hatch, and Blair sealed the door. Carefully, Jim threaded the wrench through the wheel, locking the door with the wedged tool. The marks on the tool matched the wheel's rim. "I think we just blew the accident theory right out of the water."

Grabbing the wheel, Blair yanked hard a couple of times, but the jammed wheel refused to turn.

"Time to get Forensics out here, Chief." Satisfied at having discovered the 'how,' now all he needed was the 'who' and 'why.'

Act II