The officers made a small scene as the clot of colorful uniforms entered the placid coffee shop. The group made its way to one of the booths and settled around it.
Orders for tea, coffee, and other beverages made, Carpenter wasted no time. "OK, guys. The scene back at the precinct was awkward, but I'm not going to let it go."
"I know that some of you did not take Sergeant Hemelshot's order well, and I want to hear from you. Unofficially. Off the record. As a friend." He reached up to take the badge off his jacket and place it on the table in front of him.
Tyger lit up a cigarette and released and sat back a little. He didn't need any prompting to take off his badge and drop it onto the table in front of him. "Dick has a point, but that point only goes as far as how dangerous the Sector is. I've been on the other side of the wall and it damn near killed me." He dropped a few ashes into the small ashtray in front of him as he continued. "I won't deny it needs to be done though." Tyger then took a long thoughtful drag from his cigarette. "Funny thing about it, is that despite the fact I'm kinda siding with Dick on this, if ya'll wanna go in, not only will I be there with you, but you may end up fighting with me to see who's in front."
Gently sliding his badge on the table, with a small look-around to make sure Hemelshot wasn't somehow spying on them, Yiska spoke. "I'm just really confused. Isn't XSWAT's purpose to protect people from these things? How can we do that if we keep getting caught by surprise and surviving by the skin of our teeth? Knowing where the wolf's den is, is the key to hunting him."
Carpenter looked toward Jama, waiting for her to say her piece.
"I never said anything about going into Omega physically... I wanted to use some scrying spells I've been working on." Jama twiddled her thumbs as she spoke, staring at the table top. "I hadn't heard about anyone doing that before, or what had happened to them. But..." she looked up and glanced her at her fellow squad mates, "We can't just ignore Omega and hope it will go away."
Tyger took a drag from his cigarette before answering. "I know what you were suggesting, and if it hadn't already been tried before, I would tell you to go for it." He paused for a moment, looking almost thoughtful. "I know that we can't ignore the Sector, but we can't go in there half-cocked either, nor can we do anything about it until we've got the ability to do so, and truth be told, we don't have it."
"But can't we train?" Jama asked, turning to look at Carpenter. "Shouldn't we train? So that when the time comes, we're ready?"
"Okay, let's get one thing straight." Carpenter's voice cut through the comments. "We will go into Omega Sector. I know that. You know that. The Sergeant knows that.
"What we don't know is when. We are far from being ready to tackle it, and I'm convinced we won't get the chance to set a timetable.
"Sergeant Hemelshot is aware of this. He doesn't want us to go in half-cocked, because that won't achieve anything but waste our lives. And I agree with him. Think about it this way, Yiska. You wouldn't walk into a bear's den armed with nothing but a pointed stick." Carpenter's grin was infectious.
"Unfortunately, the Sergeant's way of putting this across is to shut us down until he feels he has a working scenario worked out. That I don't agree with. We need to prepare ourselves as much as we can. As quickly as we can."
"But that doesn't mean we get sloppy. We have to watch our step, not take unnecessary risks. Jama, you didn't know about earlier attempts to probe the sector using magic or psionics. That tells us there's more we need to learn about Omega before we can take a step in, physically or figuratively. That's what Graham, Yiska, and you can do now. Learn. Investigate. But do not engage. Is that clear?" Carpenter's eyes bored into Yama's and Yiska's, filled with stern appraisal mixed with concern.
"Tyger, you and I are, for what it's worth, the ones with the most experience fighting Entities. We need to come up with tactics, maneuvers, plans of attack that we, together, as a team, can use to take them down. The Sergeant wants you to set up some Power Armor as tackling dummies. That's a good tack to take. Keep working on it. Think of things we may face and try to simulate them. Just don't kill any of us in the process, OK?" The grin flashed again.
Carpenter's easy demeanor dropped off, and his voice and body language changed to bring even more weight to his words. "Now, what I definitely do not want you to think is that we're somehow or other circumventing the Sergeant. He is the man in charge, no argument. What we're doing is honing our skills, our abilities so that when he gives us an order, we will be able to execute it to the best of our abilities, without fail.
"When the ball drops, we will not have the luxury to debate his decisions. Each one of us needs to trust our teammates to do what needs to be done. If we're to have any chance to win this war and live to tell of it, it can't be any other way. Understood?"
"So... I should work on my scrying spells? And practice them... just as long as I don't go into Omega with them?" Jama asked.
"Sure," Carpenter replied, "if you feel they will be useful. Your comments about historical places made me think, too. I've always wondered if Entities had visited Earth before, if this isn't the first time we've fought them. I've just never had the time to really look into it. Is that something you think you could research? Maybe we can get some clues on weaknesses they may have that we can take advantage of."
Tyger returned the Paladin's grin as he put his cigarette down. "Yeah, I know that is what Dick intends, and I agree with him. At some point, we will go into the Sector, it is just a matter of when and what toys we bring with us when that day comes, and how we prepare ourselves for it in the meantime. So what if we don't have a timetable for it. That ain't no excuse to not be trainin' for it when it actually happens."
He took a pull from his cigarette and exhaled slowly. "But there's a problem with using my baby to train us how to fight entities. Entities don't fight like Power Armor does, and they sure as hell don't fight like I do. Sure, you and Dick will be getting some good training about how to deal with guys that are bigger and faster than you all, but that doesn't do myself, Jama, Yiska, or Burton any good." Tyger paused for a moment to let his words sink in. "I've been doing some simulation training off and on, and the system can simulate Entities for me to fight, so I don't see a reason why we can't set something up where you all join me, or go it alone. That way, we can train all day long, fix our tactics, and how we all work together, that will benefit everyone, all without running the risk of getting anyone hurt."
"Sounds like a plan." Carpenter pointed to Tyger to emphasize his agreement. "Let's make it so."
Tyger nodded and decided to enjoy the rest of his cigarette. "I'll get right on it Nate"
"So Jama, Burton, and I should concentrate on figuring out what makes these Entities tick?" Yiska asked. "Many of our abilities are not directly combat-oriented, I doubt the computer could simulate what an Entity's mind feels or thinks like."
"True," Carpenter replied. "But the three of you do have abilities that can affect the physical world and can be useful in combat. For example, Jama could cover the Sergeant or I with her shield spell to give us a fighting chance when we take on an Entity at close range. You could use your psychokinetic push to knock an Entity down and make it more vulnerable. And Dr. Burton has already shown his ability to analyze an enemy's vulnerabilities and exploit them.
"Believe me, none of us is extra ballast. We're all capable of contributing in the fight."
Yisak nooded. "That's true. I feel better about all of this now, having talked it out a bit. I would have still followed orders—don't get me wrong—but knowing the reasons behind it makes it so much easier to understand and follow."
"Nathan, Tyger, Yiska," Jama nodded to each officer in turn. "I will start my research once we return to the office. I will look into evidence of Entities arriving on Earth in the past, as well as means used to defeat them. I will also look into spells that can be used to assist all of you in battle, to better defend us against the Entities and their attacks." She paused and took a sip of tea. "I just wish I'd been able to finish explaining my theories."
"Well, don't throw away those notes. They might be a good start for your research. After all, are they theories, or just hypotheses? How much evidence do you have to support them? Think of it as your new hobby." He smiled as he sipped from his cup.
"Hypotheses, I guess." Jama took another drink and looked thoughtful. "I mean, I did a lot of work on world mythology and folklore for my thesis, and that helped form some of my ideas. That and some reading I've been doing on the nature of magic and magical beliefs.
"It all comes down to power, you see. People, places, and things can all have power in them, either placed there when they are created, or given to them over time—usually because people believe in some aspect of the place or object. Older parts of the world have many places of power, because the people there have legends and stories about odd features and ancient buildings, and even if people don't exactly believe those stories, they still pass them down. America is very young, in some ways, and has fewer places, but it has a huge population, so even if only a small number of people think about a place or object and the myths attatched to it, that's still a large group of people. Angelus... Angelus is even newer, not even a century old, and its myths, if it has any, are too new to have accumulated much.
"Does this make sense?"
Tyger blinked a couple of times, and thought about what Jama had said for several moments. "Yeah, in a way, I guess it does. But, what does that have to do with whatever it is you're talking about? Angelus doesn't have any mythology, as you put it, and it's very new. What does this have to do with Entities and the Omega Sector?"
Jama put her tea cup down and started to speak, stopped, then started again, obviously sturggling to put into words her idea. "It means... that...." She paused then started again. "Entities like Angelus not because it is beach-front property, but because it is new. Unformed, with no overlying mythology they must conform to. It is easier for them to manifest here than anywhere else in the world and harder for us to fight them because our symbols are so far from their places of power." She pointed to Carpenter, "If Nathan were at the Vatican, I doubt an Entity could appear, and even if it did, he'd be able to make short work of it."
"That makes a lot of sense," Yisak agreed. My people used to make spirit totem poles to ward off evil and we put a lot of significance in the burial of our dead, to ensure safe passage into the next life. Perhaps these things actually worked. Do you suppose all mythological beings were/are entities? Vampires, werewolves, etc.? Forced to take shape as whatever the populace believed was evil?"
Tyger looked at Jama, considering her words for a moment before he spoke. "I think you lost me there kid. Yeah, sure, Angelus is new, but there's a lot of stuff that's not. Mostly its people and their ideas. Hell, someone could even argue that because Angelus is a free-floating island that does it's own thing, that it's more a part of the sea than anything else. Wouldn't that make it kinda attached to the mythology of the sea then?"
"Only if people actually treated it that way, right?" Carpenter said, looking to Jama for confirmation. "The point I think Jama is trying to make is that it's the strength of the people's belief that serves to power the site's... presence, I suppose. Its shape and form. Am I understanding that right?"
"Yes," the young sorceress nodded. "Angelus is so big people don't really think of it as being part of the sea, and even if they do, it doesn't fit into the typical romantic view of a wind-driven ship. People look at Angelus as an example of modern technology..." she paused for a moment, "or as the worst of man's arrogance in bending nature to his will. And as for the mythology of the sea... you're more part of that, Tyger, than Angelus is."
Tyger raised an eyebrow as he canted his head slightly. "How do you figure?"
"You're a pirate. Or were."
Tyger looked at Jama with a slightly raised brow. "Yeah, I was, but if it's just a matter of size... well, most of your modern vessels, especially those that require a high capacity like a super carrier, cargo ships and many luxury liners too. Some are big enough that they are larger than some, although small, towns. Is it a matter of scale then? I find it hard to believe that there a whole lot of folks who think Angelus is not part of the sea. Especially those that work on the Hydrolizers and spend their time at the edge or on patrol. Sure, it ain't the whole population, but it's still a lot of folks."
"It may not be that they don't think of themselves as part of the sea, but that they don't think together about it." Yiska commented. "This doesn't seem to be a community that is held together by its beliefs in anything besides money."
"A ship, not matter how big it is, is still a ship," Jama pointed out. "There is a certain... mystique to ships and the people who sail them. Angelus isn't a ship, it's more like... like a huge 20th Century oil rig or some such. It's isn't part of the sea, it simply sits on it. But even the crew of the largest ocean-going ships must respect the power of the sea. Angelus is so big... it virtually doesn't need to."
Tyger shrugged his shoulders a bit. "Well, the fact that it's on the sea and floats around on its own means that it is just a really frikkin' big boat. Maybe you all don't see it like that, and I'm sure that most of the folks who live here don't see it like that either. Sure, the biggest ships have to respect the sea and its perils, but I'm pretty certain that if you made a ship that's as large as Angelus, it could ignore that stuff too. Would that suddenly make it something else instead of a really big boat..." Tyger trailed off as if he had been hit upside the head with a lead pipe and was only now coming to the realization that he had been hit. "...or maybe because it just IS a really big boat that it can ignore the rules and power of the sea that you all are talking about. I mean, think about it. If someone went and built a battleship the size of Angelus, don't you think the crew would get into the same mindset that the people of Angelus have as far as the sea is concerned?"
"That they are no longer on a ship anymore?" Jama asked. "Probably."
"Exactly" Tyger returned. "But if that is the case, then your argument is only made stronger." Tiger sipped at his cup of coffee before continuing. "They ain't part of the sea and they ain't part of any land, so I guess that puts them in a bit of limbo where the rules just don't apply to them... period."
"Neither part of the sea nor part of the land...." Jama mused. "That's how they executed pirates in England. Hung them on the beach at the point of high tide."