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February 16th, 2006

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10:02 pm - Numb3rs: Statistical Ghosts
Finally, this story is ready for public consumption. :-) Many, many thanks to my lovely beta reader, mistraltoes, for her encouragement and her sound and thoughtful comments. Also thanks to whitemartyr and to V.-who-has-no-LJ.

Title: Statistical Ghosts
Genre: Angst, Episode Related ("In Plain Sight," aka the child porn episode)
Rating: oh, PG, I suppose, for mild thematic references

Numb3rs: (post-“In Plain Sight”)

Statistical Ghosts

by izhilzha


The text on the monitor slid into a blur. Charlie blinked, feeling the scratch of tired, dry eyes, but the letters refused to resolve. He sighed and leaned his face into one hand, fingers and thumb lightly pressed against his eyelids. When he let go and blinked again, just enough moisture had gathered to let him focus.

Google entry 144 out of 746,217. Which meant he was on page-- Charlie divided the list automatically. 49747.7, or 49748 pages actually created by the search engine. He was on page 9. The list at the bottom here told him that, and it was accurate.

And this was the fifth search he’d tried. Nothing relevant had turned up under the search terms jessica cartman, jessica cartman pictures, jessica elizabeth cartman, 13378 5th st. south pasadena, or los angeles graduating class 1993.

Search engines, Charlie thought, were not nearly as precise as they could be. Even one set up in a neat hierarchy of probability (like Google) wasn’t able to give results that were narrow enough to be useful.

How could he, Charlie, narrow this search?

Resting both elbows on the table in front of him, Charlie put his head in his hands. He’d tried. Internet search engines had a low probability of finding someone with such a common name, especially with no recent information to help sort the data. During the day, he’d called several local newspaper archives, had tried to find her number through Directory Assistance (which led to 23 awkward phone calls), tried to find her parents’ number (after prodding his own father’s memory for the adults’ names). He’d tried the elementary school they had both attended. He'd even called the Missing Children department of the FBI office. Don would have his head when he found that out.

The end result had been nothing. Not even zero, just . . . no solution.

The heirloom clock on the wall behind Charlie hollowly chimed the quarter-hour. He didn’t bother lifting his head to check the exact time; it had to be after 2 am. Instead, he tried to come up with places to look that were legal for a civilian to access. Unlike DMV records, which had been his first idea.

He hadn’t looked at obituaries yet.

That previously unacknowledged thought slammed him to a stop. For a moment, throat tight, he couldn’t breathe. The image of little Libby, dark tangled hair, bruised, pained eyes shifting in fear, melted into that of another dark-haired girl. She shrugged her father’s hand off her shoulder, staring at Charlie as he sat on his bike waiting for her to come and play.

She’d sat in the corner of his yard for a while, and Charlie hadn’t known what to do. “Are you okay?” he’d asked. It had taken her such a long time to say "yes."

Her eyes had looked just like Libby’s.

Charlie dragged in a breath. His hands were shaking, and damp where they covered his eyes. Maybe, maybe that was okay, just right now, just for a minute, since he couldn’t manage to do anything that would actually help him find her.

A gentle touch on one shoulder made him jump.

“Charlie?” His father’s voice was quiet. Concerned. “What’s wrong?”

“Dad.” Charlie found his voice too thick to speak properly. He wiped his hands across his face and cleared his throat. “What, ah, what are you doing up?”

“Got up to get a drink, and then . . . .” Alan pulled out the chair next to Charlie’s and settled into it. “I heard you crying.” Patiently, hands resting on his knees, he waited.

Charlie swiped the heel of one hand under his left eye. “I’m fine.” His father gave a disbelieving snort, and Charlie glared at him. “I am. Just a little frustrated. I haven’t found any information that could be the same Jessica.”

Alan leaned past him to squint at the laptop screen. “Google, huh? Did you try all the high school graduating classes?”

“Yeah.” Charlie stared at the text without really reading it. He should click on the next entry, #145, or he should type a new search term into the engine. But what use would it be? “I’ve been looking for over 2 days now. Not a thing. It’s like she disappeared.”

“Oh, come on. There’s no rush, is there?” Alan shifted in his seat. “I mean, it’s not going to make a difference if it takes you two days or two weeks to find her.”

Charlie bit down on a sharp retort. “Maybe there’s no rush for her.”

A hand closed warmly on his shoulder. “Charlie,” his father said. “Let it go. It was not your fault.”

“Dad. I know.” Charlie cut him off in mid-admonition. “I was a kid, that’s  . . . that’s it. But you didn’t see her eyes.” He closed his own, trying to will the memory back into its childhood box. “I am an adult, now, and when I saw Libby's picture, the one we found, I knew exactly what it was that I'd only sort of  . . . sensed  . . . back then. And I still  . . . I can’t find her.” Charlie thumped a fist lightly against the tabletop. That was it, and that wasn’t it at all, and God, this wasn’t fair.

Alan squeezed his shoulder, and then offered, in an annoyingly practical voice, “Why don’t you ask Don to help you look?”

Startled, Charlie looked straight at his father. “Where have you been the past week? I doubt Don’s going to want to parcel out Bureau resources for his little brother’s private search. Especially since . . . .” Charlie tried his laugh and found it both shaky and short. “I don’t think Don would have time to help me out with this. I mean, it’s not that important, Dad.”

“Charlie, Charlie, Charlie.” His father sat back, rubbing one hand across his forehead. “It’s pretty important to you. I figure it would be important to anyone who has to see that kind of pain in this world.”

Charlie shrugged, gaze fixed on the monitor. Maybe, but that didn’t mean Don would want to help.

His father suddenly vented a half-chuckle. Charlie looked over to see the older man shaking his head. “I always knew you had a big heart,” he said wryly, “but I never figured you had a responsibility complex as big as Don’s.”

“Don?” Charlie combed hair back from his face, trying to find a mental equation that would set his own failures against the competent, quick temper of his brother, and make the two sides balance. His brother, who had seemed to treat the fallout of his agent's death as more important than finding a living little girl.

Now his father really smiled. “Don thinks he’s everybody’s big brother, not just yours.” His eyes crinkled in thought. “I suppose I’m glad you picked that trait to copy, but that doesn’t mean you have to let this eat you alive. You helped rescue Libby.” Alan leaned forward. “Keep looking for Jessica, if you need to. But don’t let the results dictate your happiness.”

“What if I don’t find her?” Charlie found his voice calmer than it had been so far, as he shaped the numbers into words his father could understand. "Out of American kids between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four, one in every thirteen will at least attempt suicide. A girl is three times more likely to attempt suicide than a boy. Approximately sixty percent of those girls were abused. What if she didn't make it?"

Alan pointed a finger into Charlie's face. "You were her friend," he said firmly.

Charlie felt his throat close up again, and the room blurred. The words were barely a whisper. "What if that wasn't enough?"

The answer came just as softly: "What if it was?"

The words hung in silence, the other half of the equation that had been throwing off his thinking since they found Libby's picture. The computer screen swam back into focus. 3:27 am. Charlie reached for the keyboard. "It's getting really late. I can pick this up tomorrow."

"Finally." Alan grunted a little getting to his feet, but the pat he gave Charlie's shoulder on the way out of the room felt both approving and satisfied.

Charlie watched him go, then pressed the power button and let the screen go dark.


Comments, critique, and other responses welcome!
Current Mood: cheerfulcheerful
Current Music: Chocolate, by Snow Patrol

(20 lit candles | Light a candle)


Date:February 18th, 2006 10:44 am (UTC)
Do I get to say, Is Good? Still loving your Alan. But you need a wider audience. Maybe post it to Numb3rCrunching?
[User Picture]
Date:February 18th, 2006 10:46 am (UTC)
Oops, that was me. LJ keeps kicking me out. :(
[User Picture]
Date:February 18th, 2006 06:57 pm (UTC)
You totally get to say, "is good." :-D I'm startled; I *know* have multiple Numb3rs fans on my flist...they must all be too busy to read it right now or something. I feel like making a post and begging for comments. *g*

I'm going to put it up on fanfiction.net today...I know the Numb3rs archive there gets a LOT of people coming through at the moment. Numb3r Crunching is also a good idea. I don't post there often, but this is a very good reason to do so.

I was trying to convince myself to join numb3rs_fic yesterday, but the sheer amount of slash they have is offputting. Not that that stopped me from putting them on my flist, in case cute stories (there's a Larry/Megan series I've read some of) turn up. *ponders*

p.s. does the title work at all? *hates making up titles*
Date:February 19th, 2006 12:42 am (UTC)
*awed silence*

Well, if your readers are having the same reaction to this that I had the first time I read it, they're too moved/awed/wowed to say anything. Comments will ruin the mood. I know that sounds strange, but there ya go.

Regarding the title: *very* cool. It sounds like a real term, even if it's not . . .

RE: joining numb3rs_fic: if you're uncomfortable with the material they have there, I'd say give it a pass. You can talk to the CalSci Library and start an entry there, right?

I know you put a lot into this, so don't be discouraged by lack of feedback. I suspect it served a purpose far deeper and more important than mere feedback can accomplish.

But regardless, good on ya.


Date:February 19th, 2006 01:38 am (UTC)
There's also numb3rs_fanfiction, which is a Yahoo! group that only allows links to mature fic (het or slash), not the actual posting of it. I got here from the "crunchers," just so you know.

Nice story! This episode begged for a follow-up, and yours is great. :)
[User Picture]
Date:February 19th, 2006 05:54 am (UTC)
You didn't sign your name! I don't know who you are! *is sad*

But thank you very much for dropping by, reading, and especially for commenting.

And thanks for the numb3rs_fanfiction headsup. I may have to see about joining.
[User Picture]
Date:February 19th, 2006 03:50 pm (UTC)
The title is good; it intrigues, relates to the fic without giving away the plot, and as far as I know, isn't likely to be confused with anything else.

I hear you about the offputting. Early in my fannish experience, I was asked for one of my pieces to put in a 'mixed' zine. I was flattered and torn, but finally turned it down. OTOH, there's also the point to be made that unless people post gen, the slash content on numb3rs_fic will stay high. So, you do what you're comfortable with.

Anyway, excellent work, IMHO. Encore!
[User Picture]
Date:February 19th, 2006 05:11 pm (UTC)
The title is good

Whew. *g*

OTOH, there's also the point to be made that unless people post gen, the slash content on [info]numb3rs_fic will stay high.

Yeah, that thought has crossed my mind. :-D I'll have to give it a bit more of a ponder. Between finishing that Don fic.
Date:February 19th, 2006 10:11 pm (UTC)
Don fic? What Don fic is this? A "response" to Statistical Ghosts? 'Cause, ya know, I'd read it. :-)

[User Picture]
Date:February 19th, 2006 10:43 pm (UTC)
V., I though I told you about this one! At least that I was working on it. :-) Yep, it is kind of a "response"...more like a companion piece with a bit of continuity. (That's nice and ambiguous, huh?) Don couldn't have a line in *that* episode, *re: Charlie,* such as, "What, he do something I don't know about?" and not have me pounce on him for it.

Yes, fic for your little Donnish heart. Soon. I hope.
Date:February 20th, 2006 04:32 am (UTC)
Well, I know I told you you needed to write a companion piece, but I don't think you said anything about actually working on it. Cool.

"Yes, fic for your little Donnish heart."

:-) Oh, goody.


[User Picture]
Date:February 20th, 2006 06:06 am (UTC)
I think I said that when I had a very rough draft but wasn't sure how I was going to fix it or if it could be fixed. Now I've figured out what I'm doing--I just need to finish and tweak, tweak, tweak it. :-)
Date:February 20th, 2006 05:30 pm (UTC)
"I think I said that when I had a very rough draft but wasn't sure how I was going to fix it or if it could be fixed."

That's entirely possible. I know you've got other stuff in the works and it's possible I forgot because I didn't want to get my hopes up for a companion piece. :-)

"Now I've figured out what I'm doing--I just need to finish and tweak, tweak, tweak it."

So go. Tweak already. :-)

[User Picture]
Date:February 19th, 2006 02:19 am (UTC)
Your story is really good. I really liked the resolution you brought to Charlie; I felt like there really wasn't any in the episode. You really got their voices right; I hope to read more of your fics!
[User Picture]
Date:February 19th, 2006 05:50 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm glad you thought the voices were good; I always worry about that when I start writing in a new fandom. I too thought there wasn't enough resolution--I had to find out what Charlie would do afterwards.

Yes, I have at least 2 more Numb3rs stories currently in various stages of being written. There shall be more...just not sure how soon! :-)

[oh, and ICON LUV. *stares mesmerized at Charlie*]
Date:February 19th, 2006 02:19 pm (UTC)

Make it easy to find

Very nice. Please make it easy for fans to find your story by posting or linking from the CalSci Library archive at http://www.cslibrary.us/submissions.html
[User Picture]
Date:February 19th, 2006 03:55 pm (UTC)

Re: Make it easy to find

Have to agree with previous Anon poster, submit this lovely thing to CalSci, I'm sure Wolfpup would love to host it! (Besides, while FFN does get a LOT of traffic, not everyone who surfs there will pick up and read this story or comment on it. Mostly because, like me, they dread the piles of poo they have to dive through to find the few gems that get lost there.)
URL to CalSci: http://www.cslibrary.us/index.html

CoMod @ Numb3rCrunching *grin*
[User Picture]
Date:February 19th, 2006 05:10 pm (UTC)

Re: Make it easy to find

Ooo, look, our CoMod has come to visit my LJ! :-) *waves*

(She called my story lovely. *writerly squee*)

Heh, I know what you mean about FFN. I kind of use it as a catch-all for my fic, even though they usually get more comments here or in specific archives (Sugar Quill, etc) anyway. And boy, have I done my share of 'wading' to find the 'gems' (I really wish sammac and dedletrbox would get themselves archived on CalSci--they've got fantastic stuff which I never would have found except by said wading.)

I have indeed taken your advice and submitted this to CalSci, and shall do so with any other Numb3rs fics I actually manage to finish. I'm glad to be able to support a basically-gen archive--there are too few around.
[User Picture]
Date:February 19th, 2006 05:04 pm (UTC)

Re: Make it easy to find

Thank you! That suggestion has been made, and I submitted this story to CalSci Library last night! :-) Any further stories will be archived there as well, I hope.
[User Picture]
Date:February 20th, 2006 08:57 pm (UTC)
Finally got to read this. Very good, well-done. Every now and then, I try to find old friends and acquaintances online. Interesting results sometimes.

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