A/N: As always, I own nothing here but a few ideas and an OC or two. Other than that this story occurs before the end of Season One of "Person of Interest," no particular time frame in mind. Furthermore, as the creators dribble out information about The Machine, how it works and how it communicates, this story will inevitably skew further afield. We'll all just have to live with that.

As always, a thousand thanks to Esperanta, whose skilled eye and ear consistently allow me to create the illusion that I'm someone who knows what the heck she's doing.

Pixels in the Night

Chapter Thirteen

Working Separately Together

New York City: BAU Headquarters

Before Penelope could participate further in any discussion of the man who might or might not be Rensselaer, three things happened almost simultaneously. The first was that the small data company in Iowa that operated the opinion polls all the victims had filled out responded to their queries and their warrant. Among other things, they made all of their programming immediately available online to the BAU. The second thing that happened was that Morgan reported that he, Reid, and JJ Jareau were all on site in the Village, near where Ms. Melton-Flynn lived and worked.

The third thing to happen was that Agent Donnelly himself strutted into their midst, all high spirits and importance, to tell Aaron Hotchner and Emily Prentiss where the coffee urn could be found and where the best places were for takeout food.

"Better still," Donnelly said, studying something on his smartphone, "let me contribute one of my assets to your efforts."

Well, that one wasn't hard to figure out. Donnelly wanted access. The BAU had power, and his little loser operation needed more traction.

Hotchner eyed Garcia. "Would that help?" he asked with smooth courtesy, and anyone who didn't know him would think he was happy for the offer.

"That's—that's entirely unnecessary," Penelope said. What she was actually thinking was, Not a chance, Poopy Pants.

"Oh, no problem at all," Donnelly said with a thin smile. He made another long survey of something on his phone and selected something. There was the expected series of beeps, then—on speaker: Donnelly apparently really liked to highlight his power as he exercised it—a man with what sounded like a mouth full of gum said, "Yeah?"

"Yes," Donnelly said. "Look sharp. I need you to second a visiting team today."

"But the, uh, the cost-analysis you wanted?" the contract worker on the other end said with a note of dismay. Faint Brooklyn accent, vaguely reminiscent of Ben, the IT guy who'd taken early retirement when cancer bit him in the butt. Hell, maybe it was Ben. Maybe chewing gum was therapeutic.

She wondered whether there was medical marijuana-laced gum.

"Multitask," Donnelly commanded. "You're a smart boy. You figure it out."

Garcia glanced at her Unit Chief, who knew perfectly well what Penelope's usual response was to interference from outside. Hotchner nodded ever so slightly at her, silently letting her know that she was free to blow off Donnelly and everybody on his pitiful excuse for a task force, with or without a tactful smile.

She took three seconds to calculate how likely it was that any of Donnelly's retiree IT consults could break through her walls. Another two seconds to calculate how easily she could manage to crack through Donnelly's defenses, meaning a straight shot to everything the task force had, and didn't have, on the man who might be Jim Rensselaer.

She spun out her perkiest smile. "Cool!" she burbled. "You can start him on this—" She took a slip of paper and wrote down the address where the program for the opinion poll was parked. "We need an analysis of the programming architecture right away."

That ought to keep him occupied for the day.

Donnelly read Garcia's information and request to the man, shut off his phone with neither thanks nor farewell, and beamed at Penelope. "This time next month, we'll have full in-house IT," he confided. "No more of these part-timer jackasses."

Donnelly beamed. Hotchner shrugged.

Donnelly muttered a couple more pleasantries and bustled away to his own operation. Garcia turned her back on him and seated herself, turning her attention exclusively to other aspects of the opinion poll.

"They don't solicit participants via email," she reported over her shoulder to Rossi, Hotchner, and Prentiss. "They have a pop-up ad on a couple entertainment sites where people can opt in, but they don't actively target people. So someone's using the results of the survey, but the survey itself is more than a fishing expedition for victims. The company solicits email addresses for people who want to receive information and special deals from its partners."

"And the partners?"

Garcia chased a few more links. "A step up or two up from spammers. Mostly catalog outfits, third-party—oh, hang on. They recommended some other links, depending on the replies—yeah, respondents who indicated health problems, or interest in health problems, hang on here, I may have something here. Yeah, got it. They had links to a couple support boards for people with medical concerns, look—"

"Yeah?" Hotchner suddenly barked into his phone. "Hang on. Garcia, JJ's sending you info on our potential UNSUB; that takes precedence over everything else."

Penelope opened her search software and waited, her fingers poised over the keyboard.

"Who?" Aaron growled. "What the hell's he doing there? Yeah, that's the guy." Perhaps he didn't realize that at the same time that he shot the UNSUB's contact information over to her he also sent her the photo he'd just been sent—of Jim Rensselaer, big as life, enigmatic smile all over his face.

In the Village?

~ o ~

New York City: The Library

The tall bony one, Agent Reid—one advantage to returning to their secure walkie-talkies was that they no longer had to refer to individuals in their sights by coded references—was calmly discussing body disposition techniques with the looming, muscular Agent Morgan. There was nothing creepy or amusing or weird to it; it was just another aspect to their job. Apparently their current suspect pretty much dropped the bodies where they fell—in a bedroom, on a front porch, out in the back yard—and walked away.

On an intellectual level, Finch derived some gratification from the fact that the go-to experts on profiling were as baffled as he was as to motive. He listened as they verbally pushed the pieces around, trying to find a fit, always coming up as lost as he was. On a crime-fighting level, he was appalled. He'd hoped this bunch had more on the ball than Donnelly's crew.

"Be back," Reid said to Morgan suddenly.

Three minutes later, the same diffident, nasal voice spoke again into Finch's earpiece.

"Excuse me?"

Harold frowned. Whom was Reid addressing?

"We need to talk," the voice continued, still mild, but determined.

"This isn't a good time, Dr. Reid," John Reese replied. He was giving away his knowledge of the agent's identity for Finch's benefit, rather than his own, Finch realized.

And he was spotted. Or he deliberately allowed himself to be spotted.

Harold glanced at the photo of the lanky multi-PhD with the messy hair and the fashion sense of a graduate assistant. Spencer Reid. Formidable intellect with hit-or-miss social skills. Mild Asperger's, most likely, although at the higher reaches of the intelligence scale, it gets to be a tricky business differentiating between reasoning styles and pathology.

"So you know me. Good, that'll simplify things. I've noticed that you aren't watching Penelope Garcia right now," Reid continued. "It's only natural that some questions should arise."

So Morgan has made Reese from his contact with him in D.C., and he's identified him to the other members of his team. Things are getting more interesting.

Finch spoke quietly into the connection. "Your own discretion, Mr. Reese."

"We have—common interests," said Reese.

Ordinarily, Harold felt completely comfortable with only audio input from his partner, but things were just turning too weird, too fast. Dancing his fingers across his keyboard, he got access to one surveillance camera after another, until he could see, in black and white, and with poor resolution, Dr. Reid—his hands in his pockets and his body posture nonthreatening—standing beside John Reese just outside the entrance to a parking garage.

"You and I?" The academic's tone was, well—academic. Like Reese, he kept his gaze on the street, and on the entrance to the dental offices.

"Ms. Melton-Flynn," Reese said finally. "Keeping her safe until the cavalry shows up." The resolution from the camera with the best angle was so miserable that Finch had to presume from John's tone that he was smiling. "Unless you're the cavalry?"

"We're in a legally—interesting position here," said Reid. "We share a nexus—Ms. Garcia—and apparently a belief that Ms. Melton-Flynn is at risk. We have no legal mandate to take action at this time."

"And I have no legal mandate whatsoever," said Reese. "But given the information Ms. Garcia and your team are pursuing, it's a reasonable assumption that—something unpleasant could happen. We don't want that."

"Define 'we.'"

Reese chuckled. "I represent a concerned third party," he said. "One who has contacts with Ms. Garcia, who considers her a credible source, and has reason to feel—protective of her."

"Her hacker friend." There was no questioning tone to Reid's voice.

"A concerned third party," Reese repeated coolly.

"Really. One moment," the agent said. On Finch's screen he could see that Jennifer Jareau—the agent they'd code-named Soccer Mom—was calling Reid. "Yes?" he said into his phone.

Because he was still bluejacked, both Finch and Reese heard both sides of the conversation.

"His name's Martin Sattler," Agent Jareau said. "Age around thirty, five-ten, brown and brown, small mustache. Thin build. Former pharmaceutical rep, now working with a medical research firm. She met him through a support board for people unhappy with the results of their surgery. He's promised her that he can help her buy her way into a study of a new drug that drastically reduces scarring. Garcia's on it, locating him. How's it going with you?"

Fascinated as he was by this dialogue, Finch nevertheless opened his data-gates wide and dove headlong into his investigation of Martin Sattler. Within twenty seconds, he was sure that it was an assumed name. There were plenty of Martin Sattlers in the United States, and not one of them met the criteria for Ms. Melton-Flynn's predator.

"Unremarkable," Reid was replying to Agent Jareau in Finch's earpiece. "I'm talking to the guy that Hotch took a swing at. He's here in the Village, watching out for Ms. Melton-Flynn."

"Really?" There was laughter in her voice. "That's kind of weirdly convenient, isn't it? Does he have, like, a Bat-signal that summons him?"

"He has the next best thing. He has a friend with connections to Garcia."

"Ah. The hacker thing."

"It's a reasonable assumption."

Like Finch and Reese, the two agents rang off without formal farewells. There had been no greeting, either, Harold realized. Their communication was based as thoroughly on mutual trust and goals as his was with Reese.

It was an interesting insight.

~ o ~

New York City: BAU Headquarters

At her work station, Penelope Garcia kept her search engines up and running and pinned all of the data for Ms. Melton-Flynn and for the man whose name was certainly not Martin John Sattler in an easily accessible place. Fake name, fake address, fake backstory, and a burner phone—the likelihood that Martin Sattler was up to no good kept increasing exponentially.

"His car," Dave told her, looking at a text message.

"I'm on it," she said. "Whatcha got?"

"Red Acura," he said. "Out of state plates, she thinks. Maybe five years old, she thinks."

"My precious, you don't give me much to go on," she told him mournfully. Nevertheless, since miracles occur all the time, she began pulling up lists of cars. The uncommon color—in terms of popularity, Acura paint jobs tended to cluster toward black, silver, and white—might help. She didn't want to eliminate in-state owners right away; there might be a vanity or specialty tag that could be mistaken for out-of-state.

Low and to her right side, a dark blue box—Bureau internal messaging software—opened up on her computer. Donnelly's contract IT guy had an initial read—with more yet to come—on the underlying code for the opinion poll. He was definitely old-school—used CYOA (for choose your own adventure) to describe the way new polls spun off from the original, for instance. He closed, pure Bureau contractor, with a timestamp, his initials—BLV—and his employee ID.

She didn't have the heart to tell him that he'd been assigned busywork. It wasn't his fault that Donnelly'd assigned him to the BAU, where he was neither wanted nor needed. Yet he had gotten back to her remarkably fast. She'd been sure that the architecture analysis would pin him down for most of a day; he'd reported back to her in just under an hour.

Yeah, some of those old-school guys can kick it.

"I'll need more," she reported back to Rossi. "Nothing's popping out here."

Rossi spoke into his phone to JJ. Penelope turned her attention again, briefly, to Donnelly's maybe-helper, more-likely-mole.

A quick employee search confirmed that Bertram Lynn Vogel (not Ben from Brooklyn after all) had worked full time for the New York Field Office for nine years, mostly crunching numbers for White Collar Crime. He'd had a couple heart attacks and now picked up a little cash as a part-timer for Donnelly. She found his official employee ID—old, nobody'd bothered to update it in the past eight years—and saw a bland, round-faced guy with a white moustache and van dyke beard. Coke-bottle glasses.

He didn't deserve to be kicked around by Donnelly.

She just had to try, of course. A few taps, and—voilà! She was in contractor BLV's machine. She hoped his firewalls were more robust against non-Bureau personnel, because she'd had little trouble gaining access to his files, or at least his Bureau files. He'd been with Donnelly for three months, off and on, mostly performing basic searches and financial analyses. A rapid survey of his search history raised no flags; whatever he usually did for Donnelly, it related only tangentially to the hunt for terrorists.

He did, however, have two very interesting lists of names on his computer. One of them, a list of 49 names, was identical even in its ordering to the list Kevin Lynch had given her the week previously—the one with, among other things, the list of partners in La Strega Siciliana. Bert Vogel's data searches seemed somewhat similar to hers, which wasn't surprising. Garcia was damn good and damn thorough. So, apparently, was Mr. Vogel. He seemed to have missed Ms. Margolis's involvement with a lawyer who represented a known drug dealer. On the other hand, he'd found Mr. King's past partnership with an embezzler currently under investigation for doing again what he'd done so well in the past.

He'd missed the connection between Geraldo Falcone and Harold Jay and Harold Patridge, but then, he hadn't been looking for one. That had been her own investigation. Jay and Partridge weren't persons of interest to White Collar Crime.

The other list, however, took her breath away. It was ten names—the eight of them who had flown in that morning on the BAU jet, plus the pilot and copilot. Bert hadn't done anything with that list—from its timestamp she could see that he'd been sidetracked by his assignment to the BAU. That must have been surreal for him, she thought.

Another folder among the consultant's Bureau-related files was coded EVILOCKR, which at first she read as evil locker.

No, not that, it struck her suddenly; it meant evidence locker. A couple clicks assured her that, yes, this was the file on the gang that had robbed an old NYPD evidence locker for items from a murder in the early 1970s. It turned out that the crime related to the early life of Carl Elias, a man very involved in organized crime in New York City. Not Seventies terrorism, she realized: modern terrorism, in the form of Carl Elias, who was engaged in a scheme to wrest power from the Russian gangs and the old-line Mafia dons alike.

Scary guy. He looked like somebody's junior high math teacher who lived with his mom and walked to school, the kind who'd never recovered from being bullied out of his lunch money. Looks were deceiving, however. Bodies were falling all over the five boroughs thanks to Elias and his small, tight-knit organization.

She watched a surveillance video of four masked men entering the outer area, where the evidence clerk sat behind wire and bullet-proof glass. Watched the clerk, the guard, and one terrified civilian—a paralegal, according to notes—hit the floor as the robbers entered. She watched the tallest of the robbers bend down and yank the civilian to his feet.

"A lefty," said Aaron Hotchner, behind her as panic shone on the paralegal's geeky, middle-aged face.

"Yup," she said.

Righties hardly ever noticed what hand a person used. Lefties always seemed to notice other lefties, as though it was a secret handshake to their club. Without even thinking about it, the lefty identifies other lefties.

Aaron Hotchner was a lefty. Penelope Garcia was a lefty.

And Jim Rensselaer was a lefty.

"Is that's him?" she whispered back to Hotchner, clicking on a digital image. "Is that the guy they think is Rensselaer?"

And there he was, unmistakably identical to Jim Rensselaer: the mystery CIA guy, the black ops specialist who was either selling himself to the highest bidder to promote terrorism (the Donnelly view) or to sabotage local criminals (the Prentiss view).

"I guess so," Hotchner replied, keeping his voice low. "Donnelly doesn't have a real name on him yet—he just calls him the guy in the suit—but in the CIA, he's supposed to have gone by Stewart, Price, Winters, and Reese."

Her eyes about popped out of her head.

Neutered beagle Reese, owned by Harold F. Jay.

Neutered cat Reese, owned by Geraldo Falcone.

Jim Rensselaer—no wonder he cracked up when she gave him the message about the vet's appointment!—who worked for Bob Stroud, like in Robert Stroud, the Birdman of Alcatraz. Who connected her with Harold, who was VoD. Who was egedn. Which meant "bird."

And, come to think of it, so does Vogel.

"And that's definitely the guy you saw who was shadowing me?" she said, knowing the answer, but wanting it to be different.

"Him or his twin," Hotchner said with confidence.

"Interesting," she managed to mutter, while remaining outwardly serene as ever.

She turned smoothly back to her investigation of the man who called himself Martin John Sattler, but her brain was buzzing.

What the hell have I brought on myself? On the team?