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Fly-By-Night

Written by Sailor Chronos
Based on a screenplay by D.C. Fontana and Richard Fontana.

Chapter 1

Los Angeles seemed to be breathing a sigh of relief as the night banished the scorching heat of an early autumn heat wave. The few drivers that passed the five-story office building that housed Datasource Corporation paid no attention to its modern architecture and sparse aesthetics, since they were focused on their own errands.

Inside, a lean, wiry man dressed in black work clothes was feverishly working at the combination lock of a large wall safe, at the same time trying to avoid movements that would cause any noises to emanate from the compact tool belt that was buckled around his waist. There was no telling how thoroughly the security guard would do his rounds.

After successfully cracking the lock and opening the safe, the man scanned the labels on all the boxes inside, then quickly reached in and pulled one out. He stuffed the small flat box into a pocket with a button flap, fastened it securely, and then shut the safe once again. Then he turned away, shut off the light in the sparsely-furnished room, and cautiously opened the door to check the hallway. No guard yet.

He hastily slipped into the hall, closing the door behind him, and moved furtively toward a nearby stairwell door. He had almost reached it when the security guard rounded the corner.

"Hey! Hey, stop!"

As the guard ran forward, the thief ducked into the dimly-lit stairwell and began to climb. In seconds the security guard reached the door to the stairwell and yanked it open, pausing just long enough to pull out his gun before resuming the chase.

The end of the stairs at the top floor was not going to stop this thief. He clambered up a metal ladder, flung open a hatch, and pulled himself up onto the roof of the building. Hearing the guard still pursuing, he ran out a few steps and unclipped a flashlight from his belt to flash a signal into the night sky.

Its distinctive thrumming sound blocking out everything else, a helicopter came to a hover just above the building. Its passenger side door was open with a short ladder hanging from it. The thief jumped for it and hauled himself aboard with the help of the pilot, a square-built man with blond hair and a beard.

The security guard emerged from the roof hatch just in time to see the chopper lift away. He immediately fired a useless shot from his gun as the chopper's lights vanished into the night.


Walter Nebicher felt that he usually did his best work at night, but this afternoon proved to be an exception as he quickly tapped entries on his computer keyboard. He was comfortable with the machine, absorbed in the letters and numbers, and was paying more attention to that than to the person behind him.

Captain E.G. Boyd, a middle-aged, balding, no-nonsense type of cop with a distrust of practically all things technological, was irritably pacing up and down in the confines of the Special Sections office. "When are you going to be finished?" he grumbled, loosening his tie. The office's air conditioning just couldn't seem to keep up with the heat produced by those machines.

Walter, however, appeared to not mind the room's climate. "With this program?" he asked, not looking up.

Boyd swept one arm to indicate the three walls that were lined with computer banks. "With this whole thing you've been doing for the Feds."

"Oh, you mean the emulation."

"Is that what I mean?" Boyd asked sarcastically.

Now Walter stopped typing, and for the first time looked at his commanding officer. "That could take a while, Captain. You see, I have to make this computer look like an MTX-482, then run all the logic tests with my diagnostics-"

Boyd held up a hand to stop what was already becoming, to him, an incomprehensible torrent of jargon. The office door behind him opened, but he ignored it. "Now say all that in one simple sentence," he insisted.

Walter hesitated, and then said, "I'm running a computer check-"

"Why didn't you say that in the first place?" he interrupted again, turning away from Nebicher's flustered expression to see Roxanne Caldwell standing just inside the doorway with some papers in her hand. "What have you got?"

She handed him the papers. "The first report on the Merchant's Bank holdup. There were three witnesses who got a good look at the suspects."

Boyd took the reports and scanned them briefly. "All right. Let's get 'em in here to look at mug shots." He started toward the door, and then turned back to Walter, pointing at him. "And you get that Fed thing done as fast as you can, Nebicher," pronouncing it correctly for a change. "That computer's supposed to work for US." He strode out.

Walter and Roxanne exchanged a stunned look as Boyd left. This was the first time that the captain had ever conceded that he might actually be expecting something from the computer.

"Right, Captain..." Walter said to the retreating back, then sighed and ran one hand through his wavy black hair before facing Roxanne. As usual she was beautiful and dressed impeccably; today her shoulder-length blonde hair was pinned up with a clip.

"What time are you picking me up tonight?" she asked brightly.

He smiled back eagerly. "How about seven? We can have dinner at that little Italian place around the corner, and catch the ten-o'clock movie..." He stopped when Roxanne nodded thoughtfully. "Is something wrong?"

"No..." She shrugged, with a somewhat sheepish half-smile. "Well, I was remembering that my mother told me once to never get involved with men I had to work with."

Walter wondered why she would bring this up now when she had already given him strong indications that she was interested in a relationship. He tried to reassure her. "Your mother's right... but I wouldn't exactly call lasagna and a movie 'getting involved'."

Now Roxanne grinned at him a bit mischievously. "I think that would depend on where we had the lasagna... and the rating of the movie." She turned and left the room.

With an anticipatory smile, Walter turned back to the computer, only to be interrupted once again when Lt. Jack Curtis entered. Tall with a slight paunch and unruly grey hair, the man looked perpetually tired.

"Walter, got a minute?"

He always had time for his friend. "Sure, Jack. What is it?"

"Damned if I know." With a deep sigh he consulted a small, ratty-looking black notebook. "I caught the call on that break-in at Datasource Corporation last night. Burglars made a clean getaway - in a helicopter, yet."

Surprised, Walter said, "Sounds like James Bond."

"That's what the guard said. Anyway, I'm not getting much joy on this one. No fingerprints. No decent description. And the company won't even tell me what was stolen. It's classified: 'government stuff'."

"You'll have to have a clearance to work on this." It was a known fact that any law-enforcement officer who was trying to investigate anything to do with the government had to have permission to do so.

"We're working on it," said Jack in a tone that plainly expressed his impatience with bureaucracy. "In the meantime, I found a helicopter rental company that rented a chopper out last night at nine o'clock. The pilot brought it back about midnight, and that's the right time frame for that burglary."

"Did you get the pilot's license number?"

"Right here." Jack showed Walter a page in the book. "Can you use the computer to check it out with the FAA?"

Walter grimaced uncomfortably. "This one's tied up, but I can do a search with my home computer. I should have an answer by tomorrow morning."

"Fast, Walter," Jack demanded. "I need it fast."

"I know, Jack. I know." He turned back to the computer, staring at it helplessly.