Traces: Framed!

Traces

Malcolm Rose

Kingfisher

Chapter One
<p>
The skeleton lay on the classroom floor, and Luke Harding prowled around it,
thinking. Then, on his hands and knees, he went around again, taking a
closer look. Still he didn't touch the specimen. Without looking up, he
pointed to the rib cage and said, "Malc, there's a tiny mark on the sixth rib.
Looks like a knife wound to me. Scan it, will you?"
<p>
The flattened orb moved in, hovered above the bleached bones, and swept a
laser over the fault. "It is consistent with a stab wound made by a narrow
blade, pushed in at an approximate downward angle of 43 degrees."
<p>
"By looking at the edges of the cut, I'd say it was made on living bone and
not done by cunning examiners on the skeleton. What do you think?"
<p>
"I do not have the capacity to think. I conduct forensic tests and supply facts.
I confirm that the wound was inflicted on live bone by a sharp instrument with
a slightly jagged edge."
<p>
Luke glanced over his shoulder at Malc. "What's it doing here?"
<p>
"Irrational question," the neutral male voice said.
<p>
"Well, what sort of exam is this?"
<p>
"Criminology, Year 11, Final Qualification, Advanced."
<p>
"Right," Luke replied with a grin. "Advanced. So what's a simple knife wound
doing in an advanced exam? I could have spotted it with my eyes closed."
<p>
"Illogical and unlikely."
<p>
"Oh, loosen up, Malc."
<p>
"This is your Final Qualification Examination. Not a time to be loose."
<p>
"You're so boring, you know. Anyway, let's do what I'm expected to do—and
fail to get an answer, no doubt. A DNA scan, please."
<p>
Malc drifted down the entire length of the skeleton and then reported, "No
traces left exposed."
<p>
"Hairs and fibers next."
<p>
"None detected."
<p>
Luke already knew that there would be no obvious traces to help him
complete the test of determining the victim's identity and the cause of death.
Luke hadn't made it to the top of the class to have the answer handed to him
on a silver platter. "This is a tough exam. Are you getting nervous, Malc? I
didn't know you got nervous."
<p>
"Illogical. I am a Mobile Aid to Law and Crime," Malc responded. "Without a
nervous system, I cannot get nervous."
<p>
"Confirm the inscription on the back of the watch, please."
<p>
"Capital C, dot, capital S, dot. Love, comma, capital F, dot, capital E, dot."
"Mmm." Luke walked slowly around the specimen again. The school
instructors had a stock of skeletons somewhere. They were dragged out one
at a time for practice and examinations. Clearly, this one was supposed to
mimic a murder victim who had lain naked and undisturbed for five years or
so. "No blood, no hair, no DNA, not even tendons or ligaments left, no traces
of clothing. No flesh, so no evidence of flesh wounds.
<p>
A completely clean male skeleton with no possessions except a "pairing"
ring and a watch. The only sign of violence is a knife wound that probably
missed the heart—too easy for an advanced exam. No, I've got to be a little
bit more imaginative. Give me an ultraviolet scan."
<p>
Under Malc, the white bones began to glow.
<p>
"Ever thought of a career as a spotlight in a nightclub?" Luke asked with a
wicked smile. As soon as Malc bathed the skull in crisp blue light, Luke
spotted a faint glimmer from deep inside an eye socket. He cried, "Stop.
Home in on the right eye area, will you? What's that?"
<p>
"A thin slice of Fluoroperm 60, circular in shape."
<p>
"Ah. An old contact lens, you mean. Now we're flying. What type is it?"
<p>
"It was made to correct severe shortsightedness," Malc answered.
<p>
"Can you measure the prescription?"
<p>
"Yes."
<p>
Luke smiled and shook his head. "Go ahead, then."
<p>
"To measure it accurately, the lens would have to be rehydrated in saline
solution . . ."
<p>
Luke interrupted. "How long does this exam last? Just compare your best
estimate with the optician's database and tell me which men match that
prescription."
<p>
"With experimental error, there are 357 matches. In alphabetical order they
are . . ."
<p>
"Stop," Luke cried. "Maybe I'm not quite flying yet. Filter out all those who are
the wrong height. How many left?"
<p>
"87."
<p>
"Taxiing onto the runway," Luke muttered to himself. "Our man has perfect
teeth. Take out everyone who's known to have fillings."
<p>
"34 remaining."
<p>
"How many with the initials C.S.?"
<p>
"Three."
<p>
"How many have a partner with the initials F.E.?"
<p>
"Two," Malc replied.
<p>
"Two? Not one? Are you sure?"
<p>
If a machine could wear a look of indignation, Malc would have worn it.
Luke held up both hands. "Yeah. All right. You're sure. You would have told
me if there'd been any doubt."
<p>
Luke hesitated, wondering where he'd find the inspiration to make the final
choice. He glanced back at the strong bones of the left leg and then smiled
to himself. "Does your database have any personal details about these two
men?"
<p>
"Confirmed, but it is not complete."
<p>
"Okay. Tell me if one of them was . . . let me guess . . . a high jumper."
<p>
"Correct," Malc replied.
<p>
"Liftoff! That's him. So, who's our shortsighted friend?"
<p>
"Colin Stanley."
<p>
Luke laughed. "Do I detect a hint of relief in your synthesized voice?"
<p>
"Illogical. Without a nervous system, I cannot experience emotions."
<p>
Luke retorted, "Oh yeah? You almost sighed."
<p>
"I must remind you that you still have to establish the cause of death—since
you do not wish to consider stabbing."
<p>
"Okay, Malc. Time for you to do a little bit more work—a chemical analysis
on the contact lens. You see, the examiners put it there, and they think,
because it has given me the victim's identity, I'm going to look somewhere
else for the cause of death. But I don't think I've squeezed all the juice out of
it yet."
<p>
Malc recorded the infrared and ultraviolet signatures of the contact lens and
then reported, "It does not have any juice . . ."
<p>
Luke interrupted. "Never mind. I just want to know if any questionable
chemicals got out of our Colin's body in his tears. If he was poisoned, maybe
there'll be a trace in his contact lens."
<p>
"When the lens dried out, it trapped within it a small amount of cyanide. It
has a very distinctive infrared spectrum."
<p>
"Good grief! Evidence for soft tissue damage without even having any soft
tissue."
<p>
"Being nonhuman, I do not have the capacity to grieve."
<p>
"As a team player, Malc, you're pretty cool, but on a scale of one to ten you
score minus one for sense of humor."
<p>
"On a scale of one to ten, there is no minus one," Malc retorted. "For the
purposes of completing the examination, you are required to state your
findings."
<p>
"Boring." Knowing that Malc would be relaying his performance to The
Authorities, Luke took a deep breath and said, "Colin Stanley suffered a
nonlethal stab wound with a narrow blade but was probably killed by cyanide
poisoning."
<p>
Suddenly a woman's voice, speaking through Malc, boomed into the
classroom. "Congratulations. An impressive performance with which to
graduate. At 16, you're the youngest person to pass all of the criminology
tests and complete school. Your first assignment will be given to you soon."
The detached voice of The Authorities paused and then added, "Just for the
record, tell me why you thought the victim was a high jumper."
<p>
Luke smiled. "The bone's much more developed in the left leg, like it did a lot
more work than the right, and there's evidence of impact damage—especially
in the knee—so it took quite a beating as well. I thought it might be a high
jumper's takeoff leg. That's all. Just a lucky guess."
<p>
"More astute than lucky, Forensic Investigator Harding. You've got a very
sharp eye. Keep your mischievous streak in check, and you'll do well."