How many days and nights since the Fall of Gurzorath? I don't even know any more. I stood watch over the relief workers at the Rutger Bridge long after the rest of the squad left; I'm not sure how long. And then... well, it's one of those "I can laugh about it now" moments. Sentinel Watch showed up to relieve me, along with X-SWAT and the regular APD—a mixed squad. And of course, one of the Sentinels, a rookie, wanted to arrest me.
Like I said, I can laugh about it now. I think by that time, we were the only people in the whole City who didn't know I'd been pardoned in full. Looking back, I realize how close we were to doing something really pointless there. Fortunately, the rookie's Lieutenant jerked on his leash and I walked away.
I went back to HQ thinking we still had a serious interdepartmental problem, and went looking for Hemelshot so we could have a little chat. Of course, he was already miles ahead of me—that's why he's in charge. Our "little chat" resulted in the aforementioned full pardon, a field promotion and a new assignment. I've now been in charge of "site security" for something like a week. I think it's been a week, but like I said, I'm not sure.
Later that night, I heard Jamadigni Renuka had been picked up by an errant Sentinel Watch patrol and brought into HQ. Lucky for them, she was unharmed. Jama went and had a "little chat" with Hemelshot the next morning, with results similar to mine.
And I had a few words with the Sentinel Watch commander as he was leaving HQ. It's hard to get into a police spinner with 200 kilos of cyborg leaning on the door. He recognized me, of course.
"Brogan. We were just leaving. We heard about the charges being dropped... we don't want any trouble...."
"Neither do I commander. I just wanted to thank you, for bringing Sergeant Renuka here safely. You saved everyone a great deal of trouble."
"Excuse me, but what the hell are you talking about? Look, I know who you are... you're one of those renegades...."
"I'm X-SWAT, 13th Precinct, 9th Squad, and so is she. But Sergeant Renuka's much more than that. She is... was, Director Alice Cadbury's hand-picked protégée, and if anything had happened to her because of you..."
I lowered my shades and looked at him in the harsh glare of the roof floodlights.
"...nobody wearing that uniform would be safe, commander." I dug a finger into his Sentinel Watch jacket.
He just stood there, staring into my eyes in horror like he'd been struck with Entity madness. I put my shades back on and he came back to his senses momentarily. The rest of his troops just stood there watching—none of them moved or made a sound.
"You had no way of knowing you were in so far over your head. Thanks to your professionalism, we've avoided a massacre. Good work. Perhaps we'll all get through this insanity, yet. Carry on."
I left them standing around on the roof, with that WTF? look on all their faces, and got back to work. I really shouldn't have bothered, but first it was Cartwright at Rutgers Bridge, and now this idiocy. Nobody messes with X-SWAT, they don't screw around with 9th squad, and they sure as hell don't arrest my favorite sorceress without answering to me!
After that, like I said, it's all blur. Sporadic Entity attacks occurred at disaster relief sites in all the affected sectors, and I only had so many troops to cover them. Worse, some of them were "green"; they'd never fought Entities before. Mixed squads were the rule, but losses were high due to the learning curve. We had to give them the short version of X-SWAT training: If you see an Entity, shoot it once, then run like hell if it doesn't go down. That gave the new guys a fighting chance against Class 1's, and bought our experienced troops enough time to take down a Class 2, at the expense of a new guy and his equipment.
Once the new guys learned the difference between Class 1 and Class 2, they expanded their repertoire: if they saw a Class 1, they shot it once and ran. If they saw a Class 2, they called for backup (screamed for help) and fell back (ran like hell.) After that, we didn't lose so many new guys. A few of them even signed up for the full X-SWAT training course—including a certain obnoxious, somewhat familiar rookie. It's a miracle he's still alive....
There were a few sites that got 'repeat visitors' or sometimes even attacks from multiple Entities at once. Actually, it seems like there were more than a few, and I spent several days and nights picking up the pieces afterwards, then hunting down the Entities responsible. Those were the worst. And they were the best. Part of me still has a need to do that, and it felt good to make a few kills myself, just like old times. I missed 9th squad—somehow, it didn't feel the same, hunting Entities without them. At one point, I think I saw Scanner, but I can't be sure.
I lost track of days, nights, there might have been a weekend. I worked with disaster relief, tried to keep their sites secure, to keep amateur Entity-slayers alive for another day, and hunted a few myself when I had to. Then I got the call to return to HQ. Something big had come up—something different—and Hemelshot wanted to talk to me. This should be good.
"We need to capture an Entity alive. Jama's in the Vault, looking for anything that might be useful. I want you to write up a list of equipment you'll need, then go down to the lab, asap."
"Uh... technically, Sir, Entities aren't really alive...."
"Brogan, don't be a smart-ass. You know what I'm talking about."
"Right. Equipment? We've got nothing. There's no non-lethal weaponry effective against Entities. We'll have to knock one out the hard way, or else force it into a cage while it's still kicking and drooling. Not just any cage, either. I mean, an industrial-grade, King Kong style, acid-resistant cage. I'll see what we can come up with."
"Check with HAL, then get down to R&D. You might be surprised."
"Sounds good. Sir? You want a Class 1, Class 2, wolf spider, or one of each?"
"Brogan, get out of here. Now."
I got the hell out. Next stop: R&D. On the way, HAL informed me that, sadly, no, there hadn't been any breakthroughs in non-lethal anti-Entity weaponry since I'd been gone. The search for a cage wasn't completely hopeless, however. Back in the early days of X-SWAT, there had been a token effort to try studying the Entities, but every single capture mission had resulted in 100% KIA, so the project had been abandoned. Only one cage still existed, in storage down in the HQ subbasement.
I went down and looked it over. It had to be over 70 years old, but it was still in one piece. Bars over 10 cm thick were spaced about 30 cm apart all around. It probably weighed too much for me to lift. I walked up and tried to bend the bars, without success. They were slick and featureless, due to some type of acid-proof coating, and so were the floor and ceiling of the cage. Between the bars, heavy-duty refractive Lexan completely sealed the cage. It looked like it might stop an Entity from blasting or deliquescing its way out. The damn thing might actually hold an Entity, if you could one into it. How do you teach an Entity to sit? Shoot it with a C-90 and yell "SIT!"
Overall, the whole thing far exceeded my expectations, and that was the problem. HAL had designs on file for smaller cages, intended for Class 1 Entities, but it would take at least a month to have one fabricated and delivered to HQ. And Hemelshot needed an Entity captured right now. This cage was too big to hold a Class 1.
If we used this cage, we'd be trying to capture a Class 2 Entity. Alive.
So we did.
After that, it's all a blur....