It's all about the Numb3rs

SMU - Sciences Building

Labs fill the Science center. At least two labs have been set aside for each subject, one for an on-going class and one for further experimentation and class work when the regular school day is done. Walls are adorned with posters spewing scientific facts and achievements, and advertisements for interns litter the halls. Several displays have been set in glass cases, showing off notable experiments of the past.


"Well, you can start by telling me why exactly you thought you needed to bring me in to do these equations." The labs are rather quiet at the moment, what with summer being in full swing, but there do seem to be some signs of life rippling through the building, particularly in the area of the mathematics rooms. Most of the rooms are empty, the boards wiped clean, but one of them has lights blazing, the door slightly ajar, with white boards set out instead of the usual chalk, a small woman working her way through what look to be a series of mathematical calculations, while talking into an earpiece, though she's gesturing as she speaks, as though the fact that the person she's speaking to isn't right in front of her hasn't occurred to her. or, perhaps it has, considering she occasionally pantomimes doing rather painful things to someone. "You could have brought a monkey in to do these Markov Chains."

Really, the tall brunette that frames herself in the doorway for a moment would tend to disagree with that assessment. She, after all, considers herself better than a monkey, but wouldn't want to try solving a Markov Chain, herself. At least, not without very, very clear instruction. But, that has a lot to do with the fact that she's not really studied statistical mathematics well enough to be able to tell you just what a Markov Chain actually is. No doubt, though, the theory would come in handy in at least a couple of her cases. As it is, however, she watches the Asian woman for a moment and then enters slowly. That the woman is talking on… perhaps the phone?… isn't lost on her. She'd wait for her to finish, but if this isn't who she's looking for, she doesn't want to interrupt the call any longer than necessary. Thus, her body tilts some in question. She glances down to a small card she holds in her hand. "Xiu Mei Sun?" She glances up at the other woman gain, speaking softly, more mouthing the name than speaking it… for all that she's westernized the order. If it's who she's looking for, great; she'll wait. If not, she'll quietly slip away and keep looking elsewhere.

"I'm sure you could work a few into your budget." Xiu Mei continues writing, not seeming to be slowed down in the least by the voice wittering away in her ear, moving from one board as she finishes it to the next in the line, carrying the eraser along with her as she goes. "Well, of course you can. You can afford me, can't you?" The small woman pauses mid-writing, as she hears a voice behind her, and her attention shifts from the board, to the woman standing inside the doorway, "I'll call you back." And just that quickly, she disconnects the call, removing the headset and setting it aside, "This is what happens when you let someone sit behind a desk for too long…I'm Sun Xiu Mei, what can I do for you? I think I have the room for another 30—" She looks down at her watch, "36 minutes." She turns back to the board, finishing off one line of numbers, before she recaps the marker and sets it on the sill, sticking the eraser back onto the board.

Rachel smiles as the woman introduces herself. "Rachel McKendrick," she says by way of greeting, extending her hand. "Special Agent Rachel McKendrick, actually." She even offers the FBI badge to prove it. Her smile is genuine, if skewed a little wryly. These sorts of introductions are always awkward. People see an FBI badge, they get nervous. Every time. "I was given your name by Dr. Peter Hauser." Hauser, of course, was a mathematics professor at Stanford at one time, though he moved to NYU a couple of years ago. And the woman's accent is definitely NYC. "He suggested I introduce myself, if I got the chance." And somehow, through the grapevine, he knew to suggest looking for her in the University. Academic communities are small communities.

Just as the woman reaches out to offer her hand, Xiu Mei brushes off her hands. An old, instinctual habit, born of more years using chalk and not so many using dry eraser. But she does accept the handshake, her grip professional, without being too overbearing, eyes falling to the badge, once it's displayed, before it returns to the woman's face, "Not the division I was expecting, but I'm not surprised to hear that he recommended me." Seems the asian woman is not completely unaccustomed to being approached by government types. "How is Dr. Hauser? Still living in his own basement?" Seems the good doctor has an aversion to actually using the rest of his house, or he did, back when Xiu Mei knew him. "Good to meet you."

Rachel chuckles dryly. "Yeah, last I heard, he was still telecommuting, too, as often as he could." Perhaps that's the danger of dealing too much in the science of discovering secrets: You go nuts. Or maybe that's just the personality of Dr. Peter Hauser. Chances are, when he passes on, they'll discover the walls in the rest of the house covered with complex, if somewhat nonsensical, mathematical equations. Not to mention black journals from floor to ceiling. "Nice to meet you, too, Ms Sun." She looks at the whiteboard. "I hope I haven't interrupted anything too… urgent." It's pretty obvious, when she looks at the board, that the strings of numbers really don't mean all that much to her. She's going more off the tenor of the earlier conversation — which actually didn't sound all that life-or-death. Just pointed.

"It always surprised me, to see such a timid mouse of a man, in a body that seemed fit for a rikishi. But I suppose you can never tell what someone will be like just by the look of them." Xiu Mei steps away from the boards, not even bothering to look back at them, as she moves towards where there's a table, which she hops up on, rather than taking one of the seats close to it, "I think you'll have quite a few people fighting over those journals when the time comes." A hand does rise, to wave off the work on the boards, "That's like seeing me working on a word jumble and asking me if I was doing anything important. I wasn't. He just likes to bring me on to give them a reason to keep pumping money into his budget. But I don't think you came all the way here just to introduce yourself."

"Mm. No." Rachel shakes her head now, joining the woman at the table. She has absolutely no idea what a rikishi is, but she can at least, from the context, agree to the general sentiment. Hauser is a mountain of a man, physically, but hardly imposing otherwise… unless he's shouting down people he considers to be completely and utterly wrong in their proofs. The profiler observed that once. It surprised her. But she's never been on the receiving end.

"Dr. Hauser once told me that he believed human behavior could, in many cases, be distilled down to basic numbers. Statistical probabilities, I guess. I expect there's a certain amount of truth to it. A lot of what people do is based on trends. I've got this one particular case, though. I think there's something else at work. I'm not exactly sure what, however. I'm hoping, with your expertise, you might be able to see a pattern I'm missing." She produces a printout of a Google map, now, pulling it from a pocket inside her jacket. On it are some red dots, made with a sharpie, pinpointing a series of locations between Denton and Lewisville, just north of Dallas. The dots are numbered, but at no point do two sequential numbers fall side by side. Indeed, the scattering of the numbers seems pretty random.

"I've got nine locations. They're all different, except that each one of them appears to have been hit by the the same people. I'm pretty sure it's a group, probably of two or three working together. They're methodical and thorough. There's not usually a lot left to work with, when we get to the scene. But, they're using an animal of some sort, which is how we've been able to link them. Not exactly sure what type of animal it is, though. DNA results came back inconclusive. Too much human DNA mixed in with the sample to give us a clear species." She gives a mild shrug at that. Contrary to what shows like Law and Order or CSI lead people to believe, forensics lab work isn't always quick or air-tight conclusive. Indeed, most of the time it's a crapshoot. But, Rachel doesn't feel the need to actually say it. It's just a reality she lives with.

"But, look here. We've got a shoe store, a tenement building, a computer parts manufacturer, an agricorp barn, a new condo development, two jewelery stores — we thought maybe we had a pattern with those, but who knows? — a reservoir, and a community college campus. The locations seem random, but… I don't know. I've just got this… well, a hunch, I suppose. There's something more to it. I think it's the ground locations that are important, not the buildings. I just can't prove it. And I can't figure out where the next hit will be. But, I'm sure there's going to be another one. I'm sure it's going to be soon. And I'm sure it's going to fit into this pattern, somehow." On some level, it actually could be a Markov Chain. Or maybe a Hamiltonian cycle. But, Rachel isn't the one to figure that out. And, there's no guarantee that's actually what they are.

But, then, that's why she's come to the math wiz.

Xiu Mei reaches for the map as the agent pulls it out, sitting sideways on the table she she can spread the map out in front of her, "Well, if it is a single group, then we can look at a couple of variables. First, what is the point of origin? That's simple geographic profiling. Can we figure out where their base of operations might be located? If they are using an animal, that will be a limiting factor. Second, how are the victims connected? Very rarely do repeat offenders pick truly random victims. There's usually some sort of connection. Either the victims know each other, or the attacker knows the victims or of them, or it may be that they are all connected to a common place. A business they all frequent, a coffee-shop where they like to go in the mornings. Is time of day a factor? What about time of the month? Every event has a pattern, we just need to figure out what the pattern is. Before you end up with another dead body on your hands, or another victim in the hospital. Though, there's only been one murder so far, so it seems that that might have been the aberration."

"That's just it," Rachel says. She's a profiler. All those questions? She's looked at them all. She does her job well. "I got nearly nuthin'. Far as we know, it started at number one and has moved through each location in sequence to number nine. Geographically, we've confined our search pattern to within fifteen miles of 35E. The only thing the locations have in common, aside from proximity to the freeway, is that they've all got fairly easy access off the freeway. That suggests to me that there's some sort of transport involved. State troopers have the whole route between Denton and Dallas staked out — on ramps, off ramps — but we don't have a clue what sort of vehicle we're actually looking for. It's as likely to be an SUV as a transport truck. Or even an RV, for all we know. They're looking for anyone carrying an animal with coarse, red fur."

She shakes her head. "We've checked motels and temporary residences all up and down the route. Nothing's come up. We've tagged feed stores and pet stores, looking at customer lists for clues. Unless it's an agricorp or identifiable farm, though, there's a lot of business that happens as cash exchange. No names. No records beyond the amount of sales. The animal can't be bigger than 60… 80 pounds at most. So, it's not like that amount of feed is going to be all that uncommon." Not with all the farm dogs around.

"The only other linking factor I've got is that all the hits took place on dry, moonless nights. Or, if there was a moon, it was concealed by heavy cloud cover. Which suggests our perps really don't want to be seen. And, it tells me that the next one's likely to hit either at the dark of the moon — or the next time we have significant cloud cover, but no rain."

But, who can trust the weatherman to deliver. Really?

Here, she takes a breath and lets it out. "Too," she continues, "we've actually had four murders. Which is half our sites. It could easily become five, if the victim we've got lying at DCH goes south." DCH: Denton Community Hospital. "Farm worker. Looked like he was mauled by a thresher."

Yeah. That was pretty. "So did the others, actually. But they weren't breathing when we found them."

Rachel doesn't look particularly happy, really. Indeed, there's obvious tension around her eyes, now. "But, I think our killers are looking for something, something pretty specific. The owners of the sites, the residents of the sites, aren't connected by anything we've been able to uncover — business records, family, friends. Not even bloodtype." And, in a day and age of vampires, they do check for such things. "But, I would bet a month's pay there's something specific we're missing. I just can't see it." Not yet, anyway. A visit to DCH is on her list.

"Well, if you'd looked at every angle, you wouldn't be coming to me." Xiu Mei shrugs, lightly, as she goes back over the locations, "I'll need background on the victims, and as much of their recent activities as you can get for me. If this group is looking for something specific then there has to be some point of commonality between the victims, something either actual or implied that the attackers felt the victims could deliver for them." She looks back up towards the agent, "Sometimes it's easier to figure out the math when you don't think of them as people, but as variables." And that's something the mathematician is exceedingly good at. One of the reasons she contracts out to the government as often as she does. People are easier to figure out when you look at them as problems, and not as living beings, "I'll get started with what I have right now, maybe see if I can determine the point of origin, which can be done, even if it looks as though the points of departure are completely random. See if it's actually the highway that's their entry into the area or not."

It's sometimes hard for Rachel to think of people as variables when she's seeing and feeling them attacked first-hand… all in her own head and body. But, she doesn't say that. Still, her expression draws wryly to one side, and she nods. "I'd appreciate it, Ms Sun," she says evenly. "A point of origin, anything really, would make my job a whole lot easier." She rises, now. "I'll arrange to get you a copy of everything I can. Of course, I do need to officially remind you, this shouldn't be shared beyond we two. And, of course, I'll also make sure you consultant's fee is submitted through the proper channels." She doesn't expect the woman works for free, after all. And she'd never have come in the first place if Hauser's tip hadn't led her to discover Sun's name on an approved Bureau list already. So, it should all work out from that perspective. Reaching into her inside pocket, once again, she withdraws a small business card, passing it to the other woman lightly. "If you need anything, or come up with anything, please call."

"It's the least that I can do. This country has been very good to my family." And even if she doesn't have any desire to strap on a badge, or desk jockey in some locked-down cubicle at the NSA, doesn't mean she doesn't liker to help when she can, "I will keep you regularly updated. And I do enjoy the challenge," she's never lied about that. This is certainly a woman that loves a puzzle. "And I'm sure you know how to contact me, if you want regular updates." Xiu Mei accepts the card, pulling out a small ID wallet to slide it into, before she tucks it back away, "Thank you for coming to me with your problem. Else i would have spent the rest of the evening reliving my first year of grad school."

Rachel actually laughs now. It's light and brief, but still. Somehow, she appreciates the comment. Or, at least, the irony in it. "You're welcome," she says dryly. Not too many people she knows that would accept a puzzle like this with such aplomb. "If I come across anything else, I'll let you know. In the meantime…" She glances to the whiteboard with it's arcane equations. "I'll leave you to your… monkey business?" A wry smile, she inclines her head in a somewhat formal fashion. "Thank you again. Have a good day, Ms Sun." And, with that, she takes her leave.

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