A/N: So what happened to this story, you may be asking? Well, the last time I updated, I also posted the first chapter of a new story under Batman Begins, called Can't Get You Out Of My Head, just as an experiment. I was quite surprised, because in just twenty-four hours I got fifteen reviews. So I wrote another chapter and another. The average number of reviews per chapter of Can't is twelve. The average per chapter of Power: Samara is two and a half.
But I love this story and I have a few very loyal people who are enjoying it too, so I couldn't leave things hanging where they were. On with the story!
To give Elliot his due, he didn't pounce on Munch the moment the older detective came in the door, and even waited until he had taken off his coat. But once Cragen paused by Munch's desk to ask, "How did the Scott indictment go?", he felt he could join in the conversation under the guise of simply being interested.
"Smooth as silk, for once." The dour, cynical Munch actually smiled. "They only refused one charge, that of depraved indifference. Their logic was that if he was actively trying to kill her, then he wasn't exactly indifferent. I had to admit I could see their point."
"Good." Cragen nodded. "And Family Court's happening tomorrow afternoon, right?"
"Yes. Belleview promises they'll have a written assessment of Anna Morgan in time. I don't know about Mr. Morgan, but she's going to be there; her lawyer is seeing to that. I'm afraid Anna will be disappointed, because Samara's case worker won't be bringing her along. Children's' Hospital won't give the green light."
"I can't disagree with that, whatever state of health a kid's in." Stabler put his two cents worth in. "It doesn't matter how toxic the home is, it's still home and it's familiar. When they're as young as she is, of course they want to go back."
"Not this one." Munch shook his head.
"No?" Elliot shrugged, acting casual. "Well, I haven't met her. I'll take your word for it. By the way, has—."
"Yes." Munch beat him to it. "The lab has called and they want to talk to us about the results on the tape. Can I make it clear to you how little I appreciate your breathing down my neck on this?"
"You're not fooling anybody, Elliot." Cragen chided him affably.
"I'm sorry—." The younger man began, but Munch was in a waspish mood.
"It isn't just that. It's the horning in."
Cragen looked sharply at Stabler. "Elliot, I told you—."
"I didn't!" Elliot held up both hands in a defensive gesture. "I haven't touched the Morgan case."
"Not on my case, on my turf as this unit's conspiracy theorist." Munch explained. "There's a strict quota on these things. One per unit is the limit. Back in Baltimore, when I started out in Homicide, our conspiracy wonk was a guy named Crosetti. He was a Lincoln assassination theorist, not my field, but valid, and I respected that—well, I ragged him about it now and then, everybody did, just as you do me, but I never horned in. That's the important thing. When he died, I stepped up to the plate and took on the mantle. Not before."
"You're mixing your metaphors there, John. You have a sports metaphor and a religious metaphor. Watch it; sometimes they react badly." Cragen went along with him.
"Thanks, Captain. As the resident conspiracy wonk, I upheld the torch of eccentricity and the tireless search for truth in the face of scorn and derision with all my might. In fact, I did so well that I brought my theories along with me to New York. Here I am, playing in the big leagues at last. And you will wrench that away from me only when I leave here permanently. I'm not giving it up. Not with the most interesting election of living memory shaping up. Once I die or retire—then you can have it. Not before."
"Got that, Stabler?" Cragen asked, totally deadpan. "You are a mere apprentice, Grasshopper. Munch is the master. Learn from him. Strive to be worthy. Just don't tread on his toes."
Elliot Stabler did have a sense of humor, even if it was sometimes hard to locate, so he hung his head and scuffed the floor with his toe in mock shame. "I—I'm sorry. I won't do it again."
"Good man." Cragen slapped him on the shoulder. "Now Munch, about that video."
"Yes. The techs had a lot of questions about it, where it came from, how it was filmed. I told them we didn't know. They want to talk to us about it as soon as possible."
They collected Benson and Huang along the way, and so all five of them were soon crowded around the video specialist's work area.
"This is the strangest video tape I've ever come across—and by that I don't mean the content." stated the specialist.
"How so?" Cragen asked.
"Have all of you had the video tracking lecture yet?" Some of the SVU nodded while others shook their heads.
"Okay, then. Those who have will have to bear with me. All video recording devices leave tracking lines. These lines control and synchronize video tape recordings for playback or editing. There is no getting away from them. It's built into the medium.
"We can sometimes identify the exact camera or duplication machine from the tracks alone. Now on conventional playback devices such as you have at home or in the office, you'll never see them, because they occur above and/or below the picture you see on screen. But on our equipment here—let me get this going—you can see them clearly."
He started the video, and they watched as the interview began. The tech let it play until it reached:
"Well, there's no way you could have pulled them out of thin air, so someone must have made them beforehand and switched the plates. Who was it? Your mother? Yes, that's it. To lend credence to her story."
"Nobody helped me. Stop yelling at me!"
"Then prove it! Do it again. You can't, can you?"
"See? Everything's as it should be, until now." The technician paused the tape for a moment. "Watch this."
Strobe flash, unbearably bright light. The screen showed a well in a clearing, all in black and white. A buzz heightened to a whine, then fractured into a rattle.
"There aren't any tracking lines." Benson observed.
"Exactly. And that isn't possible. It's like—it's like you stopped metabolizing oxygen and switched to nitrogen. It just can't be done." the tech explained.
"So how is it working?" Cregan asked.
"I was hoping you could tell me."
"Could somebody have invented a—a different way of controlling and synchronizing video recordings?" Benson contributed.
"No." The tech shook his head. "This is the invention that controls and synchronizes video recordings. If it doesn't use this, it wouldn't be a video tape."
"Maybe that part of the video was transferred from a DVD?" Elliot tried.
"No. I was up half the night trying to figure out how it worked. I have advanced degrees in this field, but I still don't understand." The tech would not be moved.
Six people stared at the screen as the scene returned to the interview room and the lines reappeared.
"Nobody wants to say it," Benson broke the silence, "because we all know how it's going to sound. Could—could Samara have put those images, those sounds on that tape? I mean, if we're going to get to the bottom of this, we should rule out the possibility."
"What?" Stabler stared at her. "You're not saying you think this is for real?"
"No." She looked at him steadily. "I'm saying we won't get anywhere until we know for sure it isn't."
"How do we do that?" Munch asked. "Proving a negative is harder than herding cats."
Huang spoke up. "I have an idea…"