Part I: Driving Lessons
It took a lot to intimidate XSWAT Lieutenant Malachi Brogan, cyborg entity-hunter. Asking Director Renuka for a favor counted as "A Lot" in his book, especially when he wasn't being entirely honest about it. He'd been putting this conversation off for a while, and he was surprised he hadn't been summoned to Renuka's office about it already. But then, both of them had been too busy to sweat the small stuff—like finding her a driver who wouldn't crash and get her killed. Or getting him in touch with his long-lost son. Or both, if that was the case. As he walked down the hall towards her office after his shift, Brogan considered his all-too-limited options.
Who else can I go to with this? Hemelshot went and got himself locked up. Carpenter's got kids, but they're all still just... kids. Yiska? Oh crap, not Yiska! And Tyger... sure he'd be glad to help out with this, but he's got the people skills of a chain saw.
Which, of the original 9th Squad personnel, leaves Jama. Who's now the Director. Now, how in the world... oh yeah, there was that Council meeting, where I wouldn't shut my big fat cybernetic mouth. It's a terrible thing I've done to her. And I'm going to be paying for it, for a long, long time.
As Brogan reached the Director's office, he realized she would agree emphatically. Jama was on the phone with... someone. Brogan wasn't sure who, actually, but it didn't sound like a pleasant call. She waved him in anyway, and he helped himself to the office's only cyborg-rated chair, after making sure Cadbury wasn't sleeping in it. Where was that cat, anyway...
... at which point 16 tiny claws latched onto Brogan's do-rag, and what was left of his scalp. Ambushed again! He winced, and gently removed kitten, do-rag and all, from his head. Cadbury reluctantly surrendered the brightly-colored cloth after a brief tug-of-war, and Brogan tied it back on, more tightly this time, while Cadbury busied himself using his armored boot for a scratching post. Jama smiled in spite of herself. He looked at the crazed kitten trying to shred his leg. "Get your own headgear, you little bandit." Brogan spoke quietly, mindful that the Director was still on the phone. At least Cadbury wasn't hiding under Jama's desk and hissing at Brogan like he had the first month he'd been here.
Jama concluded her call and looked at Brogan. She appeared slightly frazzled. "It's okay if you don't want to talk about it, Jama. I don't want to pry. I was wondering though... if you've had time to check up on that new driver I recommended. It's been weeks, and you still don't have one."
Her expression changed immediately, and Malachi Brogan realized that His Favorite Sorceress had, indeed, done some checking up, and she knew exactly who the 'new driver' he recommended really was.
Okay, Brogan, you're in it now....
Jama tapped at the surface of her desk and one of the holographic monitor screens floating over it changed. "'Mitchell Brogan'," she read. "formerly Mitchell Weinrank. Son of Detective Paige Weinrank-Brogan and Officer Malachi Brogan." She glanced over the top of the screen and Brogan couldn't help but notice the symbol on her forehead had changed. Great, the all-seeing Eye of Horus. How appropriate. "Interesting family tree there, Malachi. Is there something you should be telling me?"
Malachi studied the hologram thoughtfully, resting his chin on one hand. "Didn't know he'd changed his name. Guess things are worse than I thought." He was speaking to no one in particular. Breaking out of his reverie, he looked directly at Jama. "Yes, there's rather a lot I should be telling you, both as XSWAT Director Renuka, and as my old friend from 9th Squad who knows me as no one else does."
He was referring to the time she had used True Sight on him, at his request. The experience had been painful as well as frightening for each of them, for different reasons. In spite of what she had seen within him, Jama had never expressed any revulsion, or pity towards Brogan, and because of that, he felt a great deal of admiration or respect for her.
Brogan stood up and walked over to the office door. "We should discuss this in private, if you don't mind." he said, as he closed it. "This is just between you, me, and Cadbury."
He sat down again and took a deep breath, gathering his thoughts. "First of all, I'm sorry. I've never concealed anything from you before, and I had no intention of doing so in this case. I didn't tell you who Mitch was, because I didn't want to prejudice your appraisal of his abilities. I really do think he's the right man to be your driver, and I wanted you to see that before we got into... anything else. I knew you'd find out sooner or later, but he changed his name to Brogan, so that made it sooner."
"Now, here's the problem. He knows my 'death' was a sham. Or at least... he suspects. Mitch has been trying to contact me via my old bomb squad e-mail account—HAL alerted me several weeks ago. He's also been investigating me, and sooner or later, he'll get the real story."
Brogan leaned back in the chair and faced the ceiling. "Obscurity suited me better, Jama. But Mitch is a damn good investigator. I can't have my own son telling the whole City my death was faked so an Entity could possess me. But that's what he'll do. So I figure the best way to deal with it is to bring him in. Give him a job. Keep him out of trouble. Oh hell, what am saying? This is XSWAT. I mean, the wrong kind of trouble."
He looked at her hopefully. "What do you say, Jama? Will you help me with this? I'm not kidding—he's hell on wheels."
There was a long moment as the Director sat there, looking thoughtful. Cadbury was investigating her desk, so Jama produced a small toy mouse and tossed it his way. The tiny kitten pounced, rolled, and then grabbed the stuffed plaything in his teeth. A few disemboweling kicks later, and he proudly settled down with his prize.
Brogan noticed Jama's attention wander to the little cat's antics. She seemed to relax as she stroked Cadbury's head with one finger, bringing forth a series of purrs that seemed far too loud for such a tiny animal.
The two of them certainly have hit it off well. With any luck, that'll be a good omen.
"I thought I could drive myself... but the last few weeks have shown me the folly of that idea. Everyone," her eyes went to the phone, "seems to want some of my time. And for the most trivial of matters. I could use a good driver. One I can trust to get me where I need to be, one that won't tell me I'm too young or inexperienced, one that will listen when I need them to."
She paused and poked Cadbury, who promptly attacked her hand. Without using his claws, Brogan noted. "If Mr. Brogan... if Mitch asks me questions, what do I say. What do you want me to say?"
Brogan concentrated for a moment—and concentration did rather interesting things to the scars on his face. "Jama, one of the reasons I came to you with this is because I can trust you to say the right things, in the right way, and be honest about it. Mitch is going to find the truth, eventually. But if he's working for you, then it's all strictly confidential. Once he's signed on with XSWAT, it's alright for you to tell him as much, or as little, as you feel comfortable with. And something tells me he'll take on the job." Brogan grinned slightly.
Tell him the truth, as far as you know it, Jama. For now, no one needs to know Hart set me up—he and I have made our peace. If anyone can figure it out, it's you. Or Mitch. But I don't know what either of you will do then, and I've lost all my appetite for revenge against that man. Let's save that for another day.
"So, I guess that just leaves one question." He still had that odd smirk on his face.
Jama knew Brogan sometimes had a devious streak in him, but it dawned on her that he was taking a perverse pleasure from "putting one over" on his own son, and enlisting her help to do it. The man was positively twisted! Did Alice Cadbury stop to consider this sort of thing, even for an instant, when she recruited an Entity into XSWAT? Jama arched an eyebrow at Brogan.
He went on. "Are you sending his transfer through regular channels or will you be recruiting him in person? I realize with your schedule it's easier to go through channels, but given how... sensitive this situation is, I think it might be worth your time to handle it personally. Besides, Mitch knows who you are—he's been checking out the rest of 9th Squad, not just me. I'll bet he'd jump at the chance to meet the famous Jamadigni Renuka, Defender of Angelus, XSWAT Director, and Sorceress Supreme. Probably thinks you're kinda cute, too."
"Cute?" Jama shook Cadbury off of her hand and sent him tumbling across her desk. The cat came up on all fours and promptly leapt at the stuffed mouse. Brogan suppressed a smile. "Do you realize the president of a major financial institution for Angelus said the same thing? He felt I was too pretty to be a real XSWAT officer and wanted to talk to my husband about financial matters."
The holographic screens floating over her desk winked out as Jama typed on a virtual keyboard. "I don't need cute right now." She glanced at Cadbury, "Well, aside from him. I need people who can work with me and help me get things done." She held up a hand, "I know—Mitch is that kind of person, or else you wouldn't have recommended him." She paused, laced her hands in front of her chin and looked over the resulting bridge. "So, where do I find this driver of yours?"
Brogan pulled a face of mock-embarrassment, held up a hand and bowed his head slightly in halfhearted contrition. "Oh my, did I say 'kinda cute'? I shouldn't trivialize something so important—make that, 'extremely beautiful', Jama. As if that was a problem. Would you rather be ugly as sin, like me?" He crossed his arms and shook his head, No. "I'd bet your predecessor had a similar problem when she first got the job, but after 20 years, nobody hassled her because of her looks. And in time, you're gonna put all those chauvinists and nay-sayers in their place, Madame Director. But even now, there's the occasional situation where being 'kinda cute' is an asset. Like say, this one. You might as well make the most of it."
"Oh, and the info on where to find Mitch was in that file you just closed. Some detective! I guess you'll just have to reopen it." The smile left Brogan's face. "And while you're at it, take a look at mine, as well—I mean the old one, not my XSWAT file. I know, I'm a crazy old cyborg. Just humor me for a moment, Jama, if you don't mind."
Reaching over, Jama brought two new screens, one showing an image of Mitch Brogan, the other Malachi's Angelus Police file.
It occurred to Jama that she'd never seen what Brogan looked like before his face got burned, but then she realized she knew almost exactly how he used to look. She stared at the old image dispassionately, barely betraying the shock of recognition.
She's getting good at that, Brogan noticed. She's already gone from 'extremely reserved' to 'nigh-unreadable' in only a few weeks. Before too long she'll have added 'infuriatingly inscrutable' to her repertoire. Look out, Angelus!
Brogan studied Jama's reaction a moment longer, while she looked at the images before her. Like father, like son. It was 20 years younger, and many of the details—hairstyle, uniform and the like, were different, but Mitch Brogan had his father's face. She looked up at Malachi.
"I don't look in mirrors any more, Jama. I can't stand seeing myself like this. But seeing my old face, that's even worse. And I worry—when I see him—that something could happen, that he could end up looking like me. I'm not trying to talk you, or myself, out of this, I just want you to know all the issues. In answer to your query, he's in the Vehicular Forensics Lab, at Angelus PD Headquarters."
Part II: Driving Miss Jama
Mitch Brogan looked at the eighth run of his simulation and decided to start over again. He had the data recorders from no less than nine wrecked vehicles synched up and running in real-time, replaying the events leading up to a pileup on the Trans-Rho Expressway. But it looked... wrong. There was something on the freeway, causing the pileup, but every single data recorder had missed it. And the trafficams had all chosen that moment to go tzap! and quit working. It didn't make sense. So, the only thing left to do was 'link up with the black boxes, look for handshakes with other vehicles on freeway that hadn't crashed, track them down, get a court order for their black boxes, and check to see if they saw anything. This was going to be no fun at all....
And of course, Erin was on the phone. "Uh, no, I think it's great you got promoted. Yeah, I know we were both supposed to be on the list. It's just that I've been a little busy lately. Other people? You mean 'other detectives' right? Can I call you when I get promoted, too? Oh, well then I guess I'd better just get back to my lab work, Detective...." Click.
Mitch looked at the phone. Nope. No damn fun at all. He heard something going on outside the computer lab. David Cho, his number-one mechanic and partner in assorted victimless crimes, poked his head into the lab.
"You won't believe who's here, Brogan. Take a wild guess!"
"Don't care, Dave. Work to do. Whoever it is, keep 'em outta here, okay?"
"Well, what's wrong with you?"
"Erin just called." He smiled a big, fake smile. "Dear John..." He stopped smiling. "She tried to let me down easy."
"She's a stuck-up bitch. Never mind. Jama-whatsername's here. From XSWAT!"
"Dave, of all the times for one of your stupid XSWAT jokes...."
"Mitch.... I. Am. Not. Joking." He went over to Brogan's desk and grabbed one of the interweb printouts which checkered the cubicle walls. It featured color photos of 9th Squad; three men, a Clade, a cyborg, and a young woman, all in XSWAT field gear. Dave pointed at the woman. "It's her, Mitch. XSWAT Director Renuka is here."
The both stared at each other for a moment. Then the speaker phone on Mitch's desk almost startled him out of his chair. "Brogan, you have a visitor in Captain Chaffee's office."
Mitch jumped. His chair fell over, and the printout went flying as he reached for the phone. Dave stood there, shaking his head. "Oh, this is gonna be good."
"This is Brogan. I'll be right there."
As Mitch hurried out the door, Dave put a hand on his arm. "Do you think this is about your old man?"
Mitch shrugged. "I have no idea. Dave, you're the only one who believes me about that. Gotta go."
Brogan hustled down the hallway, straight to the Captain's office. Inside, he found Captain Chaffee looking slightly bemused, possibly even uncomfortable. In the chair to his right sat XSWAT Jamadigni Renuka, in full dress uniform. She looked, if anything, even smaller in person than in the photos he'd seen of her, which did absolutely nothing to lessen the impact of meeting her in person. Holy shit!
It was all he could do to keep from blurting the words out loud. Instead he managed a very formal, if not terribly precise, "Technical Officer Mitch Brogan reporting, Captain." And turning to her, "Pleased to meet you, Madam Director Renuka. What can I do for you?"
She stood, and Mitch had to instantly suppress the thought of "Aren't you a little short to be XSWAT Director?" as well as a grin. Instead he took her extended hand. "Hello, Officer Brogan," she said with a smile. "I have a few matters I'd like to speak to you about..." she paused and looked to Captain Chaffee, "in private, if that is okay with you?"
Captain Chaffee looked at Brogan. Mitch shrugged and tried to look innocent. The Captain didn't buy it for a second. Brogan had been a good kid before his old man died. Then he'd gone off the deep end—he'd become convinced his father was still alive, or come back from the dead as some kind of XSWAT zombie cyborg. It developed into a fixation and started effecting his work.
Mitch actually got into a brawl Downtown, with his own mother, of all people, because of his obsession, and she had transferred to Epsilon Sector afterwards. Chaffee had nearly fired Brogan last month when he'd taken personal leave to go fight the Enochians, just because somebody in XSWAT hacked his old man's e-mail account. But then somebody decided the 'Angelus Volunteers' were all heroes, so the kid got off the hook.
And now, this jumped-up little sorceress half Chaffee's age, all dressed up as the Director of XSWAT, comes swooping into his office like Brogan's fairy godmother for a private chat with the boy! This was too much. The Captain looked at Brogan. "We'll talk about this later, kid. Madam Director, if you need anything, I'll be out front." He shut the door behind him a little harder than necessary.
Mitch watched his Commanding Officer leave in a huff with a mixture of amusement and dread. It was funny as hell to see him kicked out of his own office, but there was really nobody to blame but him, and he was going to catch all kinds of crap for it later. In the meantime... he turned to the young woman across from him with a nervous smile.
"Well, Ma'am, you've got my attention."
Jama stared at the door for a few moments longer. "I was going to ask if he had a spare office we could use." She turned back to Mitch, "I hope this won't cause you any trouble."
"It's okay, Ma'am. Captain Chaffee won't admit it, but he's a big softy. He's just worried about me."
"I'll bet." Motioning to a spare chair she gave him a nod. "Officer Brogan, I've heard a lot of good things about you..."
"You have? That's unusual, lately."
Jama shook her head, attempting to dispel Mitch's doubts. "Yes, I have. I heard you were in Rho when the Enochians invaded, for example. I also hear you've been asking questions... about 9th Squad, among other things."
"I didn't do much in Rho Sector, Ma'am. Not a single kill, didn't even get wounded. Saw what your Angel did, though. That was... impressive. And frightening." For a moment, Mitch thought he saw a slight look of embarrassment on the Director's face, but then it was gone. Had he imagined it? Get to the point, you idiot! She's the Director of XSWAT and you're wasting her time!
He sighed and nodded, "Yeah, I've been checking out 9th Squad. Director Renuka, I'll get right to the point—I don't believe in coincidences. My father died in an explosion, last Fall. Two months later, a cyborg named Malachi Brogan joined 9th Squad. I've been trying to find proof they're one and the same man, but I can't. It's caused me all kinds of trouble, and of course everyone thinks I'm crazy. And now that you're here, I have to wonder, how much trouble have I gotten into, exactly? That's what this is about, right?"
Jama paused. It's times like this I wish I had Cadbury with me. The little fluffball is good as a distraction and giving me time to think. Then she got a slightly sly, almost 'what would Malachi say' look on her face. "How much trouble would you like to get into, Officer Brogan? I have an offer I am prepared to make... but I must warn you, once accepted, there's no turning back."
She couldn't be any more melodramatic without mirrorshades and a pair of red and blue pills! Who's wasting time, now, Miss XSWAT Director? Why bother asking me when you already know what I'm going to say? Besides, if it keeps you talking, I don't mind chilling out with you in Chaffee's office a while longer....
"Guess I'm already in trouble, Director Renuka, so it won't make things any worse to hear you out. Go ahead—I'm interested."
All trace of humor vanished as Jama suddenly became very serious. "Officer Brogan, I'm prepared to offer you a place in XSWAT. I... we need talented people like yourself to replace..." she paused and her hands seemed to grope at the air. This is where Cadbury would hop in my lap and give my hands something to do. "... to replace our losses."
Mitch could see the emotion on her face. Are they really that desperate? And how far am I willing to go for the straight story? Me, join XSWAT? This is insane! But she's serious... I could be part of XSWAT. Doing what, I have no idea....
"We lost nearly a fifth of our force during the Invasion," she continued. "I realize you lost even more regular police, and it's not fair for me to try to pull you away like this, but..." She paused and closed her eyes for a moment. "You come highly recommended and deserve to know the truth. But I have to warn you, XSWAT is a dangerous place. Even before the Invasion I attended far too many funerals." There was a moment of silence while Jama's gaze became distant and unfocused. Then she shook her head. "So," she said with a slight smile, "how would you like to be my dedicated driver?"
Several of the wheels turning furiously inside Mitch's head all tried to shift gears at once, without a clutch. "Highly recommended" my ass! There's only one person in XSWAT who might recommend me, and in this case I can guess why. The Director's Personal Driver was normally considered a 'prestige' assignment, but now Mitch realized that his investigations of 9th Squad had indeed gotten him into a great deal of trouble—and the Director, or someone close to her, wanted him where she could keep tabs on him. Personally. Great.
Worse, refusing this assignment would land him right back in Chaffee's cross-hairs, where he would receive the first of many other I-told-you-so's before his career in Vehicular Forensics messily imploded. But that was a moot point—he was taking the assignment, regardless. Mitch knew he was a good driver, but he also knew when he'd been thoroughly outmaneuvered. Was it you, or was this Dad's idea, Madam Director?
Mitch came to a decision, and sat up straight in his chair. Up to this point, he'd been very awkward and deferential, and Jama hadn't seen much of father in him at all, but now that changed before her eyes—it was as if Malachi's mannerisms, his body language, had been stolen by a mere human. Mitch looked at her intently, leaned forward slightly with one arm propped on the table, and chose his words very carefully. "I never considered becoming a chauffeur, Director Renuka—I'm trained in vehicular forensics and combat driving. I'm very flattered. If I accept your offer, I'll have to insist on some conditions. As your driver, I'd be completely responsible for your safe transit. With all due respect Ma'am, that means no back-seat driving—you'll have to trust me to do the job. I'll have your vehicle checked out by the shop here before I start. They'll make sure it's 100% safe, and sweep it for bugs. Your predecessor had a limo—I'd recommend you keep up that tradition. It's safer for you and there'll be times you'll need the space.
With all that in mind, Madam Director... yeah. I'd love to be your dedicated driver." He leaned back in the chair, smiled just a little and crossed his arms. You want to turn a prestige assignment into some kind of head-game... fine. That doesn't mean I have to make it easy for you.
Jama seemed to relax slightly once Mitch had said 'yes.' "Excellent." She paused and looked thoughtful. "Except I don't have a limo. Not right now. The original Director's vehicle was wrecked and right now I'm driving myself... in a regulation patrol spinner." She glanced over to Mitch. "I presume you feel qualified enough to select and outfit a new vehicle for me?"
Then again, maybe that was a little TOO easy. What did I just agree to? "Yes, Ma'am. I can do that. Just put me touch with someone on your end who can handle procurement, and I'll let 'em know what you need."
"Good." Jama gave a slow nod and then adjusted the hem of her long coat. "One reason I was told I needed a full-time driver was because of my schedule. I can't be everywhere at once, and the time it takes to get there I can use to read up on what is expected of me. As for your skill in combat driving... well, as Director I'm simply the most obvious XSWAT target of them all, aren't I? Entities, Enochians, Satori Hanzo... the list is longer than I like. While it might sound like a soft job I fear it might not be. Not now, while we are still trying to restore order." Jama looked up, "Do you understand what I'm trying to say?"
Entities? Hey, I'll bet THAT's what caused the pileup on Trans-Rho! They don't show up on sensors. But who the hell is Satori Hanzo? Oh, man, this is gonna get sooo weird! "Understood, Madam Director. You'll be safe while I'm at the wheel."
Standing, Jama shook out her dress coat and clapped her hands together. "Well, now that that's settled, it looks like we have work to do." She extended one hand to Mitch, "Welcome to XSWAT Officer Brogan. Do you wish to tell your commander or shall I?"
"Uh..." Mitch hadn't thought about it, but now that she mentioned it, "... I think I'd like to explain it to him, if that's okay with you, Ma'am. Just one other thing, if you don't mind my asking. What you said earlier... that I deserved to know the truth... will we have time to talk about that?"
"Yes..." Jama said slowly. "I think we will." She tapped a finger against her chin and looked at the ceiling. "Have you had lunch?"
"Yeah, but that was yesterday. I'm driving... Boss."
"Oh, and one last thing. Do you like cats?"
"What? Oh, yeah, I love cats. My sister has this humongous old Maine Coon our Dad gave her, years ago...."
"Does she now...."
Part III: License To Drive
Mitch stayed behind for a few moments to explain the situation to Captain Chaffee. After Renuka left his office, Chaffee returned, sat down behind his desk, and looked at Mitch expectantly. "Well, Brogan?"
"Well... you were right, Chief. I'm in big trouble. Director Renuka just transferred me to XSWAT."
"That's not funny, Officer Brogan." Chaffee's reaction made it that much harder for Mitch to keep from smirking. He almost succeeded.
"I'm not joking, Chief. The Director wants me to be her personal driver. Starting right now. She's already out front—gotta go, can't keep the lady waiting! We'll talk later about re-assigning my open cases, okay? Everything'll be fine." Mitch eased his way out the Captain's office door as he spoke, and left before his flustered former Commanding Officer could come up with a coherent response.
When Mitch exited the front doors it was to find Director Renuka leaning against the dark blue armored body of an XSWAT spinner. Some of his fellow officers (ex-fellow officers, he reminded himself), were giving her a wide berth and wary looks, but they were all paper-pushers anyway. The patrol officers, on the other hand, often stopped to say hello and exchange a few words. As for Jama, she took it mostly in stride, ignoring the looks and returning the greetings.
"Well," she said, as he came up. "I take it this isn't going to be sufficient for the Director of XSWAT, is it? It's a brand new Stozwind." She rapped the outer shell, "It's supposed to be more durable than the spinners we were using last year, and a lot faster. Two-hundred ninety kilometers an hour on the ground, around 870 in the air. Room for two, full communications suite, lights, the works." Jama looked up, "The only problem is it's too small for a standard squad, but I think it might be good for specialists."
Mitch looked at the Stozwind spinner with a unbridled lust. "Oh... I am going to love this job. Madam Director, if you brought along this toy just to impress me, it's working. Yeah, it'll make a great 'interceptor' vehicle. Uh... once you've got your limo, can I have this one?"
Jama quirked an eyebrow at Mitch's request. "They wanted to give this one to me as my private car... we only have six of them right now, and the rest are on field trials." She paused and shook her head, "Anyway, Officer Brogan, we can worry about this later. I trust you to select a proper vehicle for my needs, and since you'll be driving it, I also trust you'll see it properly outfitted. So, shall we do lunch?"
Mitch stopped gawking at the nigh-flawless embodiment of vehicular sexiness long enough to answer her. "Lunch. Yes, Ma'am."
Jama stood away from the spinner and opened the door. "Well, then get in, you're driving."
"It'll be my pleasure, Madam Director." Mitch got in and the driver's seat slid back to adjust for his height—the Director had been the car's previous driver, and she was a good deal shorter than Mitch. He reached up to his collar, pulled out a length of fiber-optic cable and secured a magnetic induction connector to the base of his skull, behind the right ear. The other end of the cable led to the cuff of Mitch's jacket—with a flick of the wrist, a connector appeared in his hand, which went into the car's dashboard data port.
Mitch's headware immediately synched up with the car's network, and he had true 'fly-by-wire' capability. He grasped the controls anyway—people got nervous when he flew using just the computer and did the 'no-hands' trick. The last thing he needed was a nervous sorceress in his passenger seat, especially the one he was now working for!
After she got in next to him, Mitch looked over at his new boss. "Okay Chief, where to?"
"Seri Noya. 561 Miranda. Alpha Sector." Jama glanced over to Mitch. "I hope you like Indonesian?"
"Today just keeps getting better. Now let's see what this machine can do...." Mitch's enthusiasm got the better of him, and everything happened at once. Mitch concentrated for a few moments, making some fine adjustments to the control surfaces, as the lights and sirens came on, and the car lifted off with inhuman precision. Then Mitch cut loose with everything the Stozwind had. As they accelerated into the Angelus sky, he grinned like maniac, and Jama suddenly felt quite relieved she hadn't had lunch yet.
Leaning back in her seat, Jama closed her eyes for a moment. Driver indeed! He's worse than Richard! I bet you knew he was like this, Malachi. Cracking her eyes open, she managed to tilt her head just enough to bring Mitch into view. "Do you always drive like this, Officer Brogan?"
He glanced over and realized Director Renuka wasn't exactly enjoying the ride. "No Ma'am, I don't... only on special occasions." His smile went away for a bit as he focused on his driving. The car slowed to something like a rational speed, and inserted itself back into the regular traffic pattern swiftly, yet very smoothly. The lights and sirens stopped, and within moments everything was back to normal. "Guess I got a little carried away, there. Hope this is more to your liking, Chief. Wouldn't want to spoil our lunch." Jama noticed a very slight smile had returned to his face. Split personality? Get him behind the wheel and he's completely different, much more confident.
Mitch glanced over at her again to make sure the Director was all right. She looked better. In fact she looked great. I'm in a customized Stozwind, driving Jamadigni Renuka to lunch at Seri Noya. Any minute now, one of my reality checks is gonna bounce!
"Ma'am? If you don't mind, I'd like to know who recommended me for this position?"
Jama took at look out the window, watching as the spires of Alpha Sector slid past. No time like the present. "Malachi Brogan."
Suspicions confirmed, Mitch sighed and nodded. "Kinda figured." He put the spinner on autopilot and waited silently until the Director turned to face him again. He looked at her soberly, and his tone was very serious now. "We're long overdue for a father and son talk, Ma'am. I don't know how you do things in XSWAT, but now that we're in the same department, I don't think he can keep avoiding me."
"Which is why I'm here." Jama noticed Mitch had become very calm, all traces of excitement and glee at getting a chance to put the Stozwind through its paces gone. "Malachi... Lieutenant Brogan, felt it would be best if you knew now, instead of later." She nodded to the spinner's control yoke. "And he was serious about having you as my personal chauffeur, as well. It gives you a chance to know the truth, the real truth, and not be forced to dig around looking for scraps, piecing together rumors, and still not knowing if you were right."
Jama sat back in her seat, hands clasped in her lap. "There has been too much deception, too many lies. And we've paid for it in lives."
It was Mitch's turn to look out the windshield. He thought about what she was offering. "Yeah, I know... I remember how confused everyone was, when he tried to warn us about the invasion. It was all true... every word. I didn't go out there just to fight the Enochians—I wanted to know what was going on." He turned back to the Director. "If I didn't say it before, Ma'am, I want you to know that I appreciate this opportunity. And I'm honored to be working with you. And Dad... I mean, Lieutenant Brogan. You've been through a lot with him, haven't you?"
"We...." She paused, "we..." and then paused again. How would one go about explaining what the 9th Squad had been through? Omega—not once, but twice—the trip to Rio, Castaway Cay, into orbit, Silverhills Mall, the Enochians, the Digital Angel, Alice Cadbury, and Gurzorath.
He looked somewhat disappointed, but not overly so. Mitch had gotten used to having doors slammed in his face when inquiring about his father. "I think I understand, Ma'am. Like you said, I've pieced together quite a few rumors about 9th Squad. I'm sorry if it's hard for you to talk about. It's just that... he's my father. Losing him tore our family apart. My Mom's in denial—she curses anybody who speaks his name, and I haven't even seen her in weeks. And my sister thinks I've gone insane these last few months. To us, Malachi Brogan is a ghost. But you've actually been with him all this time. Knowing that's not just a rumor, that it's really him, that means a lot to me."
Jama looked at her hands. "I'm sorry. I'll try and tell you more... but not here, not now. There's far to much and... well... some of this is best spoken of back at XSWAT."
"I'd like that, Ma'am. I surely would." He drove on in silence for a while.
"We're almost there. Hold on." Jama hardly noticed the car going off autopilot. The spires of Alpha Sector's business district rose up to meet them as Mitch spiraled the spinner gracefully down to street level, to make a perfect four-point landing at the front entrance of Seri Noya. Mitch looked mildly pleased with himself. He cast a sidelong glance at Jama. "Madam Director Renuka, do my responsibilities include getting your door for you in situations like this?"
"I... ah..." Jama stopped and looked puzzled. "I don't know. Director Cadbury almost always had someone to open her doors. It was part of her image. I know I can get the door myself, but... what do you think?"
Mitch looked around outside. The XSWAT Stozwind was already drawing a bit of attention. "I think this is a swanky restaurant and you're a VIP who just arrived in a very hot car with her personal driver. Stay right there; I'll get your door, Chief." He got out, visually scanned the area, as if he knew what the hell he was doing, then walked around the car to open Director Renuka's door, and offered her his hand.
After Mitch helped her out of the car (also completely unnecessary), he secured the vehicle and left it parked out front in the space marked 'Reserved For Police', then followed Renuka inside.
Part IV: Jama & Mitch Go To Seri Noya
"Uhm... Ma'am?" Mitch looked at the table. "What is all of this?"
The table was covered with an assortment of small dishes. He recognized some of it—rice was pretty universal, but much of the rest was a mystery.
"This is satay ayam," Jama started, pointing at one plate. "chicken, lamb, and beef on skewers. And this is dengang udang. That's corn fritters and shrimp." She pushed one plate closer. "Lumpia goreng. Egg rolls. There's also some crab, soy bean, rice, lemon grass soup, and gado-gado. That's vegetables in peanut sauce."
This has got to be some kind of 'eccentric sorceress' thing. Either that, or she's testing me. Or maybe she's getting revenge for that four-gee takeoff back at the Lab. "All I can say, Ma'am, is that's a good thing you ordered for both of us—I couldn't even read the menu. Everything smells good." And with that, he began filling his plate, cautiously, with a little bit of everything.
"Oh, and we have some tea and Bintang." She held up a glass of beer. "Or do you like Sing-ha?"
"I think I'll just have the tea, here, Chief. One of us has to drive, right?" Mitch ate without speaking for a while—definitely a sign he was enjoying the meal, Jama thought. "So, was there something else you wanted to talk about, Ma'am? Or do you prefer not to discuss business while you're eating?"
"No..." Jama glanced at the open doorway to their fairly private alcove. "We're fairly out of the way and hidden, so I think it will be okay to talk about things you want to know."
"You know what I want, Ma'am—I guess that's why I'm here. I need to know what really happened to Malachi Brogan. And I'd like an explanation for all the secrecy about him. His death certificate is on file, we went to his funeral, executed his will, the whole nine yards. Why?"
As she had back in the car, Jama struggled to put it all into words, and Mitch could see that the effort was troubling her a great deal. This time, it was worse. The whole subject simply carried too much emotional freight to discuss lightly with someone she hardly knew, no matter how much they deserved to know. Yet she felt obligated to try, and therein lay the conflict. And she was normally so well-spoken... this wasn't just a stalling tactic to put him off.
Watching her, Mitch realized this was officially Not Working. You're an idiot, Brogan. A beautiful woman with a fast car takes you out to a nice restaurant, you won't even have a drink with her, and now you're asking her a bunch of questions. Remember all those people who say you've gone nuts? They're right. Time to change the plan.
"Madam Director, I apologize." She started to say something, but he shook his head slightly and held up one hand. "No, it's alright. You're not comfortable talking about this—I should've realized. I'll withdraw the question, for now. There'll be another time."
Jama relaxed. Another time would be better. It would let her organize her thoughts and draw up the right sort of presentation. Mitch did deserve to know the truth... anyone in XSWAT did, but here? Now? She still wasn't ready.
Mitch ordered a beer and took a long pull from it. When he looked at her again he had an all-too-familiar conspirational look in his eye. For a moment, Jama got that strange feeling that Malachi was sitting there, 20 years younger and whole again.
I really wish he'd quit doing that—no wonder Malachi doesn't want to meet him!
"I'll make a deal with you, Madam Director. You've only known him for a few months, but that was since his... um, disappearance. As I understand it, he's been through a lot of changes since then. I've seen his pictures—he's not even recognizable anymore. Now, me... I knew him for over twenty years, so if you want to know what he was like, you know, before XSWAT... well, you can ask me anything."
Anything? Anything at all.... Jama considered that, and felt she was at a loss again. She was used to accepting people as they were, much like she accepted the spirits for what they were. You can't change a spirit (much), and many people were the same. Still... it would help to understand Mitch, perhaps, if she knew more about Brogan. So start with the simple things. "Why did he become a police officer?" she asked. "And why did you?"
Mitch laughed and his beer almost went down the wrong way. He set down the bottle and covered his mouth for a moment. When he recovered he was still grinning. "I thought you'd know, Ma'am. He makes a point of telling everyone. I mean everyone. Family Tradition. Hear the capital letters? So... what about you? Not too many sorcerers wear a badge."
"Ahhh..." Jama nodded. "I see. Much like my family—we've always had at least one sorcerer to carry on the clan traditions. As for myself, I never intended to be police officer... or even live here in Angelus, but...." She paused for a moment and Mitch could see the sudden play of emotions across her face.
Have I struck a nerve?
"Alice Cadbury invited me personally. I think she saw something in my future." She looked to Mitch. "And your father's."
He kept his face as neutral as he could manage. Mitch had decided not to press her for more information about his father, but now she seemed ready to volunteer at least a little bit, perhaps in return for what he had told her. He prompted her to continue, very tentatively. "So, Cadbury recruited him, as well?"
"She recruited all of 9th Squad. Except , I think, Dr. Burton... and he's dead." She took a drink of her Bintang.
"The ones she recruited all survived." Mitch thought about that for a moment. "It's interesting, Madam Director... now that you're doing Cadbury's job, you're recruiting 9th Squad's children. Well, one of them, anyway." He raised his beer. "Here's to family traditions."
Jama raised her own glass. "Yes..." she said then paused. "I wonder... will Nathan's and Richard's children follow in their footsteps? I don't think Tyger can have children and Yiska... if his Institute works he will have all the children he needs." She smiled. "There's power in traditions, you know."
Mitch shrugged. "Time will tell, Ma'am." A slightly suspicious look crossed his face. "Hey, speaking of traditions... I didn't get a chance to ask you earlier; what exactly happened to Cadbury's limo? I've heard rumors about your last driver, Madam Director!" He said the last bit with an almost accusational tone, one eyebrow raised.
Jama laughed. "They're all true. I swear, Richard Hemelshot wrecked more patrol spinners than the rest of the 13th Precinct combined. And he wrecked Alice Cadbury's limo as well. It was when we... ah... 'invaded' XSWAT HQ to get her back to her office." She looked up at the ceiling, apparently recalling the scene. "We were being fired on... by the automated roof defenses, and he had to set down fast." She looked over to Mitch. "The limo was pretty much a wreck once it was all over."
Mitch had heard about many of the awful events of that day—in the media, at memorial services, and through the rumor mill. But this particularly absurd story was completely new to him. He stared at Jama in astonishment. "Madam Director... did I hear you right? How exactly do you 'invade' XSWAT HQ in a... a limousine?" Mitch laughed as he spoke the last word.
"By never giving the other side a chance to think," Jama said in all seriousness. She thought for a moment about the scene—the limousine sitting on HQ's roof, the sound of the defense systems firing, the flood of Watch security, the shooting, shouting, and yes, screaming. "We never stopped moving and we never let up. We only had one real purpose—get Director Cadbury to her office so she could activate the defensive wards. It... it wasn't easy." She paused again, remembering the reports that flooded in shortly after Alice Cadbury had activated the warding system. "And then it got worse."
Mitch despaired of trying to keep the conversation light. The Director's mood shifted very quickly whenever they touched on her history with 9th Squad. He supposed he'd get used to it, and it didn't hurt that he was curious about such things anyway. As long as she felt like talking, he'd just do his best not to upset her. "Yeah, it got a lot worse. And then it got better, thanks to him. I'll never forget that day, Ma'am. We were pretty confused, at the Lab, until Hemelshot took over as Relief Coordinator. Then we all knew what we had to do. He may not be a great driver, but he's an incredible organizer."
Jama nodded. "Yes. Yes he is. Richard has an amazing grasp of logistics and organization. He also has the right amount of..." How should she phrase it? "... ruthlessness."
Mitch was reminded in that moment how precarious his position was. Although they were now fellow members of XSWAT, the heroes of 9th Squad were extremely dangerous, and included an assassin among their ranks. He could hardly keep from flinching at the Director's understatement. "Ruthlessness? I guess you could call it that. If it weren't for that business with Davies, some people say he might've been the next Director of XSWAT. Then again, I've also heard Cadbury was training you as her replacement for quite a while, Ma'am."
"Richard would have been a good XSWAT Director," Jama admitted. "He knows how to get things done and how to motivate people to do them." She paused and once again Mitch could tell the Director wasn't looking at him, or even the restaurant, but more memories of the recent past. "But before she left Alice Cadbury told me 'I can't think of anyone better to take my place when I am gone. You know how to balance power with responsibility, duty with honor.'" Jama smiled, "Your father took that to mean I was to be the next Director of XSWAT, whether I wanted to or not."
It wasn't uncommon for new XSWAT recruits to be a bit confused on their first day, but the Director's personal attention was giving Mitch an extra-strong dose of disorientation. "Uh... Madam Director? You're saying you didn't actually want the job? And my old man had a say in it? I don't get it."
Jama took a drink from her glass. "No... I didn't want to be Director. Not at first. I wanted to stay in the field. I thought I was best suited there. But Malachi, your father, wouldn't hear of it. He had decided I was to be Director's Cadbury successor and told everyone she'd been grooming me for the job." She paused for a moment to look at Mitch. "She hadn't really, unless you count everything she put us through."
"Nathan felt I should be Director as well. He said as much when we had that meeting in January. He felt I was the one who'd stayed truest to the ideas of XSWAT throughout all of the troubles. Still, I didn't want to be Director... until I ended up in Nathan's hospital room after Gurzorath fell. Tyger...." Jama stopped and glanced at the doorway to the alcove before turning back to Mitch. "Don't speak to anyone of this, but Tyger came this close," she held her thumb and forefinger close together, "to having an emotional breakdown. He felt he'd lost everything. And that made up my mind. I was determined to follow Alice Cadbury's words and take her place as Defender and Director."
At this point, she had Mitch's complete attention. He leaned on the table, chin resting on one hand, listening raptly to every word. He would never forget any of this, nor would he ever speak of it to anyone. "I won't tell a soul, Ma'am. But I hope you won't either. What you're telling me, about Dad, that doesn't sound like him. I don't doubt that it's true—it explains a lot, actually. But he's definitely changed since he joined XSWAT. The old Malachi Brogan wouldn't have done that—wouldn't have done a lot of things I've heard about the last few weeks."
Picking up a skewer, Jama pulled a strip of chicken off with her teeth. She chewed slowly, thoughtfully, before replying. "I never knew the 'old' Malachi Brogan, so I can't say, but I know this: our time in 9th Squad brought all of us together, made us closer than friends. As we learned more about Omega Sector and its threats, our eyes and minds were opened to the seriousness of Alice Cadbury's mission. To defend not only Angelus, but the world. No one could have seen what we have and not been changed, for good or ill."
"For good or ill, Ma'am. That's what worries me. I've heard he's done a lot of good things, but he's also done some... uncharacteristic things. Like his diatribes against Hart—he was never political before XSWAT. And I've seen footage of the battle at the Wall, against Masada. He used to avoid violence—now they call him 'War Machine.' And as for the way he maneuvered you into this job... my old man was never so manipulative."
Mitch noticed that she had finished her chicken, but her glass was empty. He refilled it from his own bottle and continued while she drank. "But since he recommended me to be your driver, I guess that gives us something in common, Directrix Renuka." He raised his beer bottle and drank deeply, looking at her through the glass to see how she reacted to the archaic title.
"Direct-what?" Jama asked, looking a little confused.
"They used to give men and women different job titles. I don't care for 'Directress, but I think Directrix sounds kinda classy. Don't expect it'll catch on though, unless you decide to use it yourself."
Jama's eyes narrowed. Malachi had assured her that Mitch wasn't sexist in any way, and she had taken his word for it. And now this. She was just about to give him the standard, "Doesn't matter if I'm a woman" speech when she noticed a very slight, not-quite-concealed smirk on his face. He was kidding her! Not to mention changing the subject....
"No..." Jama said slowly. "I think I'll stay with 'Director.' It worked well enough for Cadbury."
Jama fell silent and sipped at her glass. "Do you think his... death and being rebuilt as a cyborg changed your father? Is that what made him more violent?"
Now it was Mitch's turn to struggle for the right words. "Ma'am... I don't know. I'll tell you what I've found out: a bomb blast nearly killed him. That must have been traumatic enough. Then he was rebuilt as an Entity-killing machine for XSWAT. But they couldn't rebuild his face, could they? That didn't help. And then they armed him and sent him out to fight Entities. Of course he's violent."
Mitch shook his head. He wasn't through. "But that's just people talking, Ma'am. If there's more to it, I intend to find out. For now, I'd just like to know if he's gone crazy, or if you think he's still alright? I mean, if he's as dangerous as people say, he'd be off the force, wouldn't he?"
"I don't think Malachi is crazy." Jama took another drink. "I think he found a greater purpose and something worth fighting for. Entities show no mercy, either to humans or their own kind. We can do neither when dealing with them. We are... were fighting a war, one with no quarter asked or given."
She paused and wiped at her eyes. "And we lost so many doing it."
"Yes, Ma'am, we all did. I went to a memorial service for the Angelus Volunteers... Lieutenant Brogan spoke a few words there. He talked about putting the war behind us, about hope for the future. He said we can learn from the past, but we can't live there." Mitch smiled. "Told me the same thing when I was a kid. I had no idea, back then, what he meant. Now I do. It's good advice." He reach over to an adjacent, empty table, grabbed a cloth napkin from an unclaimed place setting, and handed it to Jama without a word. "You seem to think highly of him."
"Not just him, Nathan, Richard, Tyger, Yiska, all of them. We went through a lot... we looked out for each other, saved each other from harm... or worse, fought and bled for each other." Jama dabbed at her eyes. "I know understand when they speak of the brotherhood combat brings."
Pushing back from the table, Jama shook her head. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to be this way, but...."
Mitch looked a little embarrassed for his new boss. "It's quite alright, Ma'am, after everything that's happened. It's just a private conversation, and I'm glad we could talk like this, before we went to work. It makes things a lot easier, knowing all this... so thank you."
He took his cue from her and began to get up from the table as well. He felt okay to drive, but he watched her closely as she stood up. He wasn't sure how much beer she'd drunk, nor what her tolerance was. He couldn't bring a slightly tipsy Director back to HQ in the middle of the afternoon on his first day!
Part V: Gone In 60 Seconds
Mitch went out to get the customized XSWAT Stozwind warmed up while the Director went to the ladies' lounge to freshen up. He expected she'd be a few minutes. That suited him just fine—it gave him a few more minutes to check out her exquisite ride. He plugged in, powered up the lifters, and that's when he noticed them. A pair of Versa-tran sedans powered up just after he did—one across the street, the other a few spaces ahead of him. One of them edged out of its space slightly, as if preparing to pull out.
Some police officers, after years of questioning suspects, acquired an uncanny ability to read their body language and facial expressions. Mitch didn't know people that well, but he knew how they acted behind the wheel—he understood driving language. Something very bad was about to happen here. Renuka had said it herself, not two hours ago, "As Director I'm simply the most obvious XSWAT target of them all, aren't I?" And she'd be coming out the front door any minute now.
Mitch very furtively queried the transponders on both vehicles, and ran a quick check on them. They were both stolen. So who are you assholes, anyway? Too sloppy for Yakuza. Enochians with really bad taste in cars? Unemployed Sentinels with too much time on your hands? Entities out looking for fast food? Whoever you are, you moved to soon, and now I'm onto you.
That could have gone better. Jama stared at her reflection on the restroom mirror. She didn't wear much makeup, and what little she did have on hadn't been affected (much) by her tears. Was she ever going to come to grips with what had happened? Probably. But it would take time, for time healed all wounds, even emotional ones. Still, it wasn't easy.
Straightening her jacket, Jama took a deep breath and stood up straight. No sense in keeping Mitch waiting any longer than necessary, and besides, she needed to get back to her office and make sure Cadbury hadn't totally destroyed it.
Then her phone rang.
Mitch cursed himself for a moment—he'd been the one to leave the Director's personal vehicle—a two-seater!—parked right out front for 90 minutes or longer, so anyone could see the Director was inside, with no backup! Never again. He didn't even have a direct comm-link yet. Time to improvise. Seri Noya's number was listed, of course.
"This is XSWAT officer Mitch Brogan, calling for Director Renuka. Please page her immediately. If she doesn't answer, try the ladies' lounge." The maitre 'd wasn't impressed, but Mitch convinced him it was urgent, his patrons might be in danger, and that it would be a shame if 'something happened' at his restaurant. "Director Renuka speaking."
"Officer Brogan here, Ma'am. I'm out in the car, and we've got company. Two other cars, waiting for someone, possibly you. Don't know how many men, or what they're armed with yet. We need to get you out of there, Ma'am, but the front door's no good."
"How fast can you get to the roof, Officer Brogan?"
"As fast as you like, Ma'am." Mitch made adjustments to the anti-grav units and control surfaces. The car voided warranties on the drive train and the airframe, wailing in protest. He whispered quietly to it, "Don't worry, sweetheart, everything'll be alright." He patted the dash as he spoke, and the alarms quit blaring.
"What was that, Brogan?"
"Just having a word with your car, Ma'am."
Great, now he's acting like Tyger with the Blue Steel Zero. Boys and their toys!
"Never mind. I'll be on the roof 60 seconds after I'm off the phone. Make a low, slow pass with the door open, and I'll fly up to meet you. Then we're gone. Got it?"
Oh, yeah... she had waaay too much Bintang! "Ma'am, you'll do what?"
"I'm a sorceress, Officer Brogan, remember? Just trust me."
"Oh, right. Yes Ma'am. Roof level, 60 seconds, low and slow, door open. Trust you. Got it."
"Go!" And she hung up the phone. Mitch poured on the juice, and the Stozwind screamed. His would-be pursuers were left wondering why he'd taken off without the Director. Seconds ticked by while they deliberated in confusion. Momentarily one went after Mitch and the other stayed to cover the restaurant.
Meanwhile, Mitch built up speed heading down the street, luring one of the Versa-trans after him, then lost his pursuer completely as he suddenly lifted off and pulled up into a vertical inside half-loop. The big sedan simply couldn't match the Stozwind's rate of turn, and went sailing into the sky in a huge arc, rapidly losing speed and control. Mitch leveled off even with the roof of Seri Noya, heading back towards the restaurant. He made a half-roll to right himself, completing a classic Imelmann maneuver, then slowed down to open the door.
The Director, as promised, was on the roof, and suddenly, with a swirl of air around her long coat she was, indeed, flying to meet the Stozwind, and climbing into the passenger seat. She made it look easy, like she was having fun. Her dress uniform was slightly disheveled, hair all windblown, face a bit flushed from exertion, her eyes... Mitch realized she looked more alive right now than she had all day throughout their conversations.
She really did want to stay in the field. She's loving this. Who wouldn't... flying like that....
His expression must have mirrored hers, at least a little. The Director was giving him that appraising 'raised eyebrow' look again. Mitch had to admit he'd enjoyed his little 'aerobatics routine', and he wondered if she had seen it. She probably thinks I was 'hot-dogging', never mind that it made perfect tactical sense!
"Show off much, Officer Brogan?" Yeah, she'd seen it alright.
"And yourself, Madam Director?" They were both about to burst out laughing at each other.
He was starting to think they'd make a clean getaway when the first shots hit their car. The sedan covering the restaurant had finally gotten off the ground and come up behind them. Men with submachineguns leaned out the windows on either side, spraying bullets wildly in the direction of the Stozwind. Warnings lit up on the dash and alarms began blaring.
"Strap in and lower your seat back, Ma'am. You'll present a smaller target and the G-forces will be easier to take." Jama stared at him in horror. G-forces? What was he planning to do with her car? Just in case, she followed his advice.
Mitch patted the wheel and whispered to the Stozwind "You're okay, baby, be still now. Let's show 'em what you got." Again, the alarms shut off, and the car began to accelerate. Jama couldn't tell if it was gunfire damage, or just Mitch's driving, but the car had acquired a number of rattles and whining noises it never made when she drove it. The Stozwind also seemed to have acquired a good deal more power and speed with him at the wheel, which was somewhat reassuring, assuming he could handle it.
Mitch urged the Stozwind to breakneck speed, hoping their tail would make a mistake and wipe out. The bullets kept coming, though, occasionally pinging off the back of the car, seldom doing any real damage. The Director was right—it was a durable machine. Most of them missed, as Mitch dodged in and out of traffic. But he had to lose the gunmen before they got a lucky hit. Weaving between lanes, he made a gut-wrenching lag-roll, then turned abruptly between two buildings long enough to get out of sight of their pursuers.
Jama didn't know how much more of this she could take, after a good-size meal and she-wasn't-sure-how-many beers. But for the moment, Mitch was back to flying straight-and-level, while the Versa-Tran had apparently missed the turn. He made a couple more quick turns to confuse them, then sped off in a random direction.
"Okay. For the moment, we lost 'em. I'm calling this in." Mitch keyed the radio. Dead. "No, I'm not. Alright, then I'm taking you back to HQ. They'll be expecting that, whoever they are, so I hope you don't mind if I take the scenic route, Madam Director. Don't want to make it easy for them." He spoke without taking his eyes away from his driving.
Jama didn't respond immediately, as the shock from her first taste of Mitch's all-out tactical maneuvering wore off. He looked over at her in concern. "You okay, Chief?"
"Are you sure your name isn't really Hemelshot?" Jama closed her eyes for a moment. Well, at least she'd know how well the Stolzwind would hold up under extreme stress and combat conditions. "Now what?"
"We should be alright for now, Ma'am. At least the shooting stopped. Any idea who they were?"
Jama looked over her shoulder and out the spinner's narrow back window. "Yakuza, I think. Satori's been working through proxies to try and get me in his pocket. Crude, but it keep his hands clean. I bet this is something similar. He probably doesn't even expect it to work, but is using it as a diversion."
Mitch contrived to make his way back towards HQ while staying off the main thoroughfares of Alpha Sector, driving fast without further discomforting his passenger. After a bit he decided to see if the stereo still worked.
Feel the vibe, feel the terror, feel the pain, it's driving me insane.
I cant fake, for God sakes why am I driving in the wrong lane?
Trouble is my middle name, but in the end I'm not too bad.
Can someone tell me if its wrong to be so mad about you?
Mad about you
One thing still didn't make sense to him. "Entities show no mercy, either to humans or their own kind. I'm still trying to figure out that last part, Ma'am. Their own kind?"
Are you the fishy wine that will give me a headache in the morning?
Or just a dark blue land mine that will explode without a decent warning?
Looking out the window, Jama thought for a minute, before responding. "Where ever the Entities come from, their ecosystem is intensely competitive. The slightest sign of weakness is a signal to attack. There is no 'apex-predator' in their world, and they seem to as glad feed on each other as on us." She turned to look at Mitch, noting how intent he was on the spinner's controls and displays. "Yiska's... friend Scanner is one such being."
Mitch noticed something on the radar, and shut off the music. The Versa-Tran he'd 'thrown for a loop' back at Seri Noya was running a high-level search pattern along the edge of Alpha sector, and they'd spotted him leaving. "Hang on, Madam Director!" The Versa-Tran went into a power dive and sent a hail of gunfire into the Stozwind, as Mitch sent full power to the anti-grav and tried to dodge out of the way. Bits of alloy and plastic flew everywhere as several non-vital systems went dead, and once again, the interior of the Stozwind filled with the sound of dash warnings.
I thought this thing was armored? Jama ducked as something flew by her face. Of course, even with modern composites, there was only so much you could do for a vehicle of this size, and odds were her attackers were using armor-piercing rounds of some sort. And tracers, she added as some bright streaks passed the passenger-side window.
Mitch calmed the car first, then spoke to the Director. "Shhh... everything's okay, angel." The alarms went silent. To the Director, "They shot out the lights, sirens, and the collision radar—I'll have to 'eyeball' everything. We're still flying, though!" Jama looked outside. Mitch was 'eyeballing' his way through traffic with no radar, straight into the steel and glass canyon mazes of Omicron Sector at 130 kph with a carload of trigger-happy killers in hot pursuit.
The Stozwind cut a dizzying path through the sky-lanes of Omicron sector, weaving around, over or under slower-moving vehicles at a dangerous clip as Mitch dodged between monolithic skyscrapers, trying to shake off their attackers. As the Versa-Tran fell farther behind, it became harder for the gunners to get a clear shot at the Stozwind, and it looked as if Mitch might make another getaway, but the chase went on too long—the other sedan from the restaurant soon joined in.
They attacked from a side-street on the right, nearly catching Director Renuka in their crossfire. For the first time during the chase, however, the passenger window afforded her a good view of her attackers, and Jama instinctively called up a Ken in the path of the oncoming vehicle, as well as the gunfire spewing out of it. The big sedan lurched around the apparently paper wall at the last second, then made a hard turn and dropped into pursuit of the Stozwind alongside its companion.
Jama's display impressed Mitch, but he was too busy not crashing to say much about it. "Thanks. I could get used to having a sorceress riding shotgun." A grim smile crossed his face very briefly. This would be fun without all the damned bullets....
The Director thought nothing of it—she worked more magic than that before breakfast, most days. Glancing at the two sedans ithrough the rear window, she asked, "Is there any way you can get me a clear shot at one of them?"
Mitch really wondered if the Director wasn't feeling well. Had she smacked her head on the window during a high-G turn? She wasn't armed, with a gun, or well, anything! "Clear shot with what, Chief? Never mind—no, I can't. We're 'fully defensive' here. Two of 'em on our tail, with plenty of ammo. I gotta lose 'em."
"Very well. Keep driving, Officer Brogan." And with that, the Director began another spell, a summoning ritual in which she started talking to... well... someone. Mitch had no idea what she was up to, so he simply did as she asked, and concentrated on putting some distance between them and their would-be shooters. Then he noticed that it had quite suddenly gotten very dark and cloudy over Omicron Sector, and large heavy raindrops began to splatter rapidly off his windshield.
"Hmmm. Madam Director, is this your doing?"
"Great. The radar's out, and you've called a rainstorm, why? Ma'am." This time, Mitch wasn't so impressed. He sounded downright irked. Flying without radar gave him a disadvantage even when visibility was nearly perfect, but in bad weather, it made things far worse for him, and much easier for their pursuers. Given that Madam Director could actually control the weather, calling up the worst weather possible, under the circumstances, seemed rather suicidal to Mitch. The next thing she did seemed equally suicidal.
Unstrapping her safety harness, she told him "Just hold the car steady for a few seconds, Officer Brogan." Once out of the harness, she turned around in the seat to face the back of the car, looking out the rear window of the Stozwind. Mitch nearly reminded the Director what he'd said about "backseat driving", but once she was out of her harness, he really couldn't make any hard maneuvers without tossing her all over the car anyway. He sighed and did his best to keep it all together—the Stozwind, Director Renuka, and possibly himself. The distraction of Jamadigni Renuka kneeling 'bass ackwards' in the bucket seat next to him didn't help, but he was really much too busy to enjoy the view anyway....
Once she got turned around, Jama had a good view out the back, and she could see the lead Versa-Tran following them some distance behind, through the heavy rain. And now that Mitch wasn't driving like a maniac, they were gaining on him. But they had no idea what was about to happen next... Jama made an appeal to the spirit of the storm, and a lightning bolt arched down from the clouds and struck the sedan, sending it tumbling out of the air. Its emergency 'chute popped, and it settled roughly into the street below as thunder rolled across Omicron Sector.
Mitch saw the flash in his rearview mirror, and realized his new boss had knocked out one of the chase vehicles with a lightning bolt! "I take it back, Chief! I love flying in the rain!"
He was so elated, he almost didn't notice the next ambush. This time, they came at him from the left, in a jumped-up Nakamichi Wyvern coupe, guns blazing. This was getting serious—in the Director's custom Stozwind, Mitch could run circles around a Versa-Trans, but a Wyvern was bad news. Who the hell were these people, anyway? And who was their car dealer?
At the last second, Mitch dodged the Wyvern as it charged out into the skylane, and took evasive action with a hard turn down a side-street to the right. The Director wasn't strapped in, and went flying across the car with a yelp as she was unceremoniously tossed to the left as a result. Of course, there wasn't anywhere else to go, so she landed in Mitch's lap. Fortunately, he was flying by wire, and had both hands free to catch her. "I gotcha, Chief! You alright?" Although he looked more than a little uncomfortable, Mitch couldn't keep from grinning, just a little.
He's as bad as Tyger. Jama wondered for a moment if she was fated to constantly be the passenger for lunatics behind the wheel. Still, they were alive and in the air, which was more than could be said for the typical drive with Richard Hemelshot. "Nothing harmed but my dignity."
"You might want to get your dignity strapped in, Ma'am. This is where it gets rough."
The Wyvern had little trouble keeping pace with Mitch and Jama in the Stozwind, and Jama quickly strapped herself back into the safety harness. Mitch used every evasive maneuver he knew, to no avail. Fortunately, the Wyvern only had room for one gunner, so the sheer volume of gunfire dropped off dramatically. They were going so fast now that they had left the Versa-Tran far behind. Mitch shook his head. "Only one thing left to do, Chief."
"You're not going to ram them are you?" Jama sounded dead serious, and more than a little worried.
"No, Madam Director, I wasn't planning on it." Mitch really had to wonder why she'd ask a question like that. Was it some kind of 'XSWAT' thing?
"I hear you've done the 'astronaut' thing before, Ma'am. Brace for launch." And with that, Mitch stood the Stozwind on its tail, accelerating out of the traffic pattern, into the cloudy Angelus skies. Jama and Mitch were both pressed hard back into their seats as he redlined the power plant and all the anti-grav units straight up out of Omicron Sector. Looking out her window, Jama saw floor after floor of office buildings streaking past, faster and faster. The Wyvern followed, and once they cleared the tops of the mighty Omicron skyscrapers, Mitch leveled off, headed in the general direction of XSWAT HQ, and it became a contest of sheer speed. With a few whispers of encouragement, Mitch coaxed the Stozwind to run a good deal harder and faster than it normally would, pushing it far beyond its usual limits. Somewhere behind them, the Wyvern either gave up the chase, or simply broke down—in the end, Mitch didn't know and didn't really care.
Jama couldn't believe what was happening—the Stozwind was making an incredible amount of noise, even more than before. It sounded like it was about to fly to pieces, and no wonder! The racy-looking coupe chasing them was still going strong when they reached the Stozwind's top rated speed—870 kph, but Mitch kept going well past that. He urged the Stozwind to speeds it shouldn't have been capable of—900, 950, then 1000 kph. The Wyvern fell behind quickly after that. Mitch maxed out his airspeed at 1005 kph, then finally began to ease it down when he was sure the chase was over.
Mitch patted the dashboard one last time as he entered the approach pattern over XSWAT HQ, whispering, "That's it sweetheart, you showed 'em. You really showed 'em." He looked exhausted. Turning to Jama, with just a hint of a smile on his face, "Nice having lunch with you, Madam Director. What's for dessert?"
Jama swallowed and tried to sit up. Her stomach was quietly protesting the sudden burst of speed and she feared the worst might happen if she so much as dared to open her mouth.
Two regulation patrol spinners rose to meet them, falling into formation alongside the Director's damaged aircar. Mitch indicated via hand signals that the radio was out, but they were otherwise OK, and proceeded to land.
Part VI: The Road Warrior
Sitting safely on the roof of XSWAT HQ Mitch Brogan turned off the Stozwind spinner, leaned back in his seat and let out a deep sigh of relief. The car seemed to echo his sentiment as it cooled around him—a steady stream of hisses, pops and pings issued from its over-stressed engine, airframe and body panels. He took a quick look around, as if anyone would be crazy enough to follow them here. One of their escort vehicles still circled the roof, while the other prepared to land next to them. There was no sign of their would-be assassins, and the sun was coming back out. Five minutes ago I was about to die, and now it's a beautiful day. So, this is XSWAT.
He looked over at Director Renuka, who appeared unhurt, yet not entirely well. He didn't have to ask—a ride like that would shake up anyone. Mitch felt pretty rattled himself, but it was the gunfire that got to him. "Ma'am, you might want to take a minute before you try to stand up." It didn't take him long to realize he had underestimated her.
Madam Director had exited vehicles under fire before, and she could bloody well step out of one on the roof of XSWAT HQ surrounded by her own people! When she turned to speak to him, her voice sounded clear and steady. "Officer Brogan, I'd like you to give this vehicle a thorough inspection, report back to me on the extent of the damage, then recover all the rounds still in it—find out what kind of weapons they were using, and where they might have come from."
Okay then, right down to business. Mitch unplugged the dashboard data feed and held up the jack for her. "Yes, Ma'am. Damage report's already done—your car's been giving me real-time updates from the get-go. I'll get her back to the shop to be scanned so we don't miss any spent rounds, then send 'em all over to ballistics, make sure this case gets top priority. And I'll have it repaired ASAP, of course." Then Mitch got out and headed around to open the Director's door.
Too late! She wasn't having any of it here at HQ. By the time Mitch got there, his charge was already getting out of the Stozwind on her own. Director Renuka still could barely stand up without shaking, so she made a show of leaning against the car to inspect several bullet-holes, steadying herself as she climbed out. A pair of XSWAT troopers were approaching from the spinner which had just landed a few meters away, and she wasn't about to show the slightest weakness in front of them.
"Repaired?" She looked over at Mitch. "Sounds good." She took a breath and managed a weak grin. "Oh, and we have five more of these for you to destroy, you know."
He grinned back at her, even though the remark stung a little. "Understood ma'am, but I like this one." He surveyed the damaged spinner with a look of grim admiration on his face. "She's not really destroyed, Chief—they just winged her pretty bad. But she pulled through just fine, and brought us home." Mitch patted the car's fender reassuringly as he spoke, as if he worried about the Stozwind's feelings more than his own.
Jama was beginning to wonder just what was going on between Mitch and "her" spinner. (If it was even hers any more... ) She knew full well that there were spirits in almost everything—after all, she spoke with them every time she cast a spell. But had she ever considered whether a machine had a spirit? Well... it made sense. She had summoned the Digital Angel, the spirit of Angelus, so why shouldn't a machine have a spirit? People ascribed personalities to their cars, and combat vehicles were treated with a certain degree of reverence by crews, who often said a certain vehicle might be lucky (or unlucky) and would look after its crew as along as they looked after it. The way Mitch Brogan spoke about vehicles, or to them, certainly made it seem that way. And when he spoke to them, they listened. He wasn't a sorcerer, of course, but the result was the same—when he asked it to, the Stozwind had done things she'd never seen before. Was he really 'tapped in' to something within the machine, or was Mitch Brogan just plain car-crazy? And what did that say about Tyger?
The answer would have to wait. None other than Master Sargeant Norman Greyson was approaching her, looking quite concerned. Corporal Calderon walked beside him, speaking softly into his radio.
Greyson stopped a few steps short of Renuka, and took a moment to see that she was in one piece, then cast a very disapproving glance towards Mitch and the shot-up Stozwind. "Good to see you're okay, Madam Director. Could we trouble you for a sit-rep? And who's the kid? I think I've seen him somewhere before."
Standing up straight, Jama tugged her long jacket into place. "Sargent Greyson, this is Officer Mitch Brogan, who just joined XSWAT this morning as my personal driver." She patted the Stozwind's flank, "And if it wasn't for his driving skills, I fear I'd have fallen victim to a rather well-equipped assassination attempt." She paused and turned to look at the spinner's bullet-ridden outershell. "I think it might have been an attempt by Satori, but we can't be sure these days."
Greyson and Calderon exchanged a look of sudden comprehension, and spoke in unison. "Brogan?" Greyson continued, "As in Lieutenant Malachi Brogan?" Mitch suddenly felt more than a little uncomfortable. Saw this coming a mile away.
Calderon stepped forward and offered Mitch his hand. "That name is known to us, of course. Brogan's family are all in the Angelus PD." Told you, Chief, everybody knows about that. "It's good to have another Brogan in XSWAT, and also good that you've proven yourself equal to this task."
Mitch shook hands with the odd, blue-haired Corporal, and replied. "Uh, well... I think the lightning bolts helped quite a bit." He glanced over at Renuka. "The Director had a thunderstorm up her sleeve." Calderon simply smiled.
Then Greyson spoke up. "Waitaminnit! I remember now... Rho sector, the Enochian invasion, Angelus Volunteers... that's where I saw you. Only you called yourself Weinrank then, and you asked about Brogan, said he was supposed to be dead." He was looking at Mitch very suspiciously, waiting for an explanation.
Mitch wasn't really sure how to explain this, after so much had changed. And he didn't really know how much about his old man was common knowledge in XSWAT. Actually, he hardly knew the real story himself. He started to say something, then looked at Director Renuka in a silent plea for help. This was your big idea, Chief....
"Which is what he had been told at the time," Jama filled in. "Officer Brogan knows and understands more now than he did then. As to his name..." she paused and gave Mitch a quick glance, "He chose to use his mother's for a time, until the status of his father could be settled." There, that should be ambigious enough.
Mitch backed her up quickly. "Officially, I don't think that's ever been resolved, but I'm sure it'll get sorted out, now that things are settling down." He glanced at the shot-up Stozwind. "For most people, anyway." He looked back at Greyson to see if he was satisfied. No such luck.
"And that rookie you mentioned—the one who got into a fight with Brogan's 'widow'... what ever happened to him?" Greyson still remembered everything Mitch had said, and it still wasn't adding up. At this point, Jama looked at Mitch and gave him her patented 'raised eyebrow' look, but only for a moment. Gonna have to explain that, later. Way to go, Greyson.
Mitch smiled at the Sergeant. "He did alright. I'll tell you all about him sometime." He glanced over at Jama. "Uh... now maybe we should get Madam Director inside, just in case. Ma'am?"
Jama nodded, "Yes, I would like that." She stepped away from the Stozwind and started for the roof access. "Officer Brogan, if you would come with me please, we'll finish up the details of your assignment to XSWAT. Calderon, Greyson... carry on."
Mitch could feel Greyson's eyes on the back of his head all the way to the elevator as he followed Jama inside. They didn't speak. The uncomfortable silence continued for a few moments after the doors shut. He shrugged. "I guess that could've gone worse. But it makes me wonder how this is going to work. I mean... the rumors just never seem to end. Do you ever get used to it, Ma'am?"
Jama thought for a moment and then shrugged. "The more I try to dispel rumors the more people will think there is something to them. I have heard many things about me and the rest of 9th Squad, little of it true. But..." she turned to look at Mitch, "Rumors often turn into legends, and people are often more willing to believe the legend than the truth—and there is power in that."
Jama could hear long-pent-up anger in Mitch's voice when he replied. "I've heard it all, too, Madam Director. People talk about you, my old man and the rest of 9th Squad... and most of it wasn't the stuff legends are made of—it was just plain old gossip. In all the time I spent trying to find out what happened to him, dealing with all that was the worst. Now that I'm here, I can see it's still going on, and I'll be right in the targeting reticle. Hell, before too long, they'll probably be making up rumors about you and I!"
Jama turned to him with a look on her face he hadn't seen before, one eyebrow raised, and he instantly realized he'd said too much. Oh, shit....
The elevator stopped with a beep, stuck between floors due to Jama's finger resting on the 'Emergency Stop' button. "Are you finished, Officer Brogan? If you recall, I told you XSWAT is a dangerous place. It's more than cutting-edge spinners and lunch with the Director. There are... or will, be five thousand of us, and try as I might, I can't ensure every single XSWAT officer will be as dedicated as I'd like. Police officers gossip, so do fire fighters, doctors, and sorcerers. I suggest you learn to deal with that." She paused, and then slapped the 'Start' button. "We'll continue this in my office."
How many bullets can I dodge in one friggin' day? "Understood, Ma'am. I'll deal with it. And for the record, I've quit gossiping, as of today." He didn't sound apologetic, or angry—just very serious. Actually, Mitch felt very relieved, for a moment when Renuka stopped the elevator, he fully expected all hell to break loose. Madam Director was not the 'beautiful when she's angry' type. No more pissing off the new boss!
More quietly, he said to no one in particular, "The more I try to deny it, the worse it'll get."
Part VII: Life In The Fast Lane
The new Director's office was—there was no other word—austere. On the wall outside of her door was a well-worn, petite XSWAT uniform with First Sergeant's stripes and numerous strange stains. The item opposite was a mystery to him—a standard-issue riot shield, warped and bent to the point of uselessness by an impact whose magnitude he could only guess at. Perhaps there'd be time to ask about it later....
Inside the office, there was serious business to attend to. The grilling Mitch had received from Master Sergeant Greyson was nothing compared to being scrutinized by Corporal Cadbury. The kitten eyed him warily from under the desk for a few moments, then decided it was safe to come out. Mitch held forth a hand tentatively, which Cadbury sniffed cautiously, then began vigorously licking and gnawing when he tasted the residue of satay ayam on Mitch's fingers. He looked at Jama.
"Guess he wants to come along next time."
"We'll see about that." She picked Cadbury up and walked around behind her desk, suddenly in a very serious mood.
Jama sat in her chair, Cadbury a ball of fluff in her lap, and spun it around to face the windows and the view of Angelus. Mitch realized he couldn't see the slightest hint of the Director—the chair was obviously intended for a far taller person. The was a long moment of silence, broken only by Cadbury's contented purring. For a moment, Mitch has the strangest visual—of Jama sitting here with a monocle and a cigarette in a long holder, Cadbury in her lap, laughing maniacally as Mitch squirmed on an operating table. Then he shook his head as her disembodied voice reached him. "I have seen what Malachi Brogan has become. What he really is, underneath the burned skin and armor plate. What lives inside him and keeps him alive. What he must feed from time to time. And try as I might, I will never for get it."
Mitch was suddenly completely lost. She wasn't kidding him, and she wasn't saying this just to scare him. So, what the hell was she talking about? He'd heard rumors... that Malachi Brogan wasn't like other Entity-slayers; that he actually fed on his kills; that he was part Entity himself; and others even more bizarre. But he'd written them off as gossip and rumor-mongering like he'd said back in the elevator. And now here he was in Director Renuka's office getting the straight story from The Sorceress of 9th Squad herself... and it's all true?!
This, he suspected, was what she couldn't bring herself to explain at the restaurant. Was she too distraught to go on, or was she simply waiting for his reaction before she continued? She didn't say any more, and Mitch still couldn't see her. He walked slowly over to the window next to the Director's desk where he could see her. But Mitch couldn't face her now—like Jama, he stared out the window at the Angelus skyline as he spoke. "Excuse me, Ma'am, but just what in the living hell are you saying?"
The silence stretched out between them for several seconds, neither of them able to face the other, before she could answer him.
"Your father... your father has an Entity within him."
Mitch had been thinking, wanting, hoping that he'd eventually get to meet his old man once again, now that they were both serving in XSWAT. Suddenly, the thought of that reunion sounded like a very bad idea—and Mitch had no idea what he wanted. What was he doing here anyway? This whole place was completely insane, from the director, right down to the recruits. Then he remembered that 'insane recruits' included himself as of now. You don't have to be crazy to work here, but it sure helps!
He turned to look at the Director, his face ashen. Mitch knelt on one knee next to the huge chair, and placed a hand on one of its arms near Jama's to steady himself. He spoke quietly—they were less than a meter apart now. "I've seen him... at the Memorial Service. He may be a cyborg now, and yes, he looks like hell, but... Madam Director, I heard his voice. And I remembered his words. That was no Entity, it was Malachi Brogan."
Jama closed her eyes, seeing in her mind a battered and bruised teenaged boy, his face defiant, a rippling black shadow lurking at his feet. "Yes, your father is still your father, but he shares his body and soul with another. They are joined in a symbotic relationship, and each needs the other to survive." She held Cadbury to her chest, the tiny kitten giving her an almost concerned look.
For the first time that day, as he knelt next to her over-sized chair, Mitch was actually looking up at Jama. The earlier hesitation and uncertainty in her voice as she spoke of these things was gone now. She looked rather calm and... not serene, but peaceful and resolute. Still your father. Nothing else she might have said could possibly have kept him from breaking down completely. She had been preparing herself for this conversation.
And Mitch understood now, as he studied her face, why it had been so hard for her to talk about all this earlier. It wasn't just the extra security her office afforded—this was the Director's place of strength, where she could face these demons and not fear them. Or at least, not be overwhelmed by them. This had been her intention all along—to bring him here for this conversation. Going out to lunch had simply been her way of testing the waters first. But they'd both got more than they bargained for, hadn't they?
Now here they were, and the truth was almost too much for him. But Mitch had to see this through... he'd come too far not to hear everything. The Director had gone to a great deal of trouble to bring him here. And his father... still your father! Things were far worse for Malachi Brogan than Mitch could ever have imagined. He slowly stood up, and walked over to one of the comfortable chairs across the room from the Director's desk.
"Alright, Madam Director, it sounds like this'll need a lot of explaining." Before he sat down, he asked, "Shall I pour us a couple of drinks first?"
"Tea, if you please." The Director motioned to a table on the other side of the room, "I keep the pot there."
Tea? Damn, I could use a scotch. Note to self Brogan: The Director's office is b.y.o. Oh, note #2: put a bar in the limo! Like most developed countries, Angelus had laws against alcohol in vehicles, but here as everywhere, the lawmakers had seen fit to exempt limousines.
Mitch walked over to the side table without a word, having used up his daily quota of complaints back in the elevator. The electric water heater he understood. Open the lid, pour in water, press button. He eyed the antique teapot warily—no USB port, no indicator, and no thermistor of any kind. How the hell does this thing regulate temperature anyway? Damn this 'eccentric sorceress' crap, anyhow. No way is any decent tea coming out of this thing. Shoulda kept my mouth shut.
He dropped several tea bags from the open box into the pot and waited for the for the heater to ding. He served Jama's tea as she liked it, no sugar, no cream, then poured one 'straight up' for himself, and prepared for the worst. It was... outstanding! Okay, tea service for the limo. Scotch is over-rated, anyway.
He nodded towards Jama. "This is excellent, Ma'am, thank you. Let me know who supplies it, and I'll make sure your limo is always stocked."
She gave him a slight smile. "A family friend back home. My mother sends me a box every few months."
Mitch looked at her over the brim of his teacup, still swallowed up by the enormous chair, and dwarfed by Alice Cadbury's old desk. He wondered when the Hatter and Rabbit would be dropping by. "Very well. Now, would you mind telling me, Ma'am, just how my old man went and got himself possessed by an Entity?"
"Do you know how he became a cyborg?" The question seemed an odd one, but Mitch knew there was more to it than that.
"All I've been able to find out for certain is that he was disarming a bomb, and it went off. Officially, it killed him. Lots of people get 'borged due to accidental dismemberment, so I figured that must've been a cover-up for something. I just wasn't expecting... anything like this."
"There was an Entity there as well." Jama's voice was calm, almost detached. She held her cup of tea in one hand and idly scratched Cadbury's stomach with the other, who lay in her lap on his back, twisting and purring like the happiest cat in the world. "It tried to eat him, so he fed it the bomb he was working on. After the explosion there was just him... or what was left of him." Jama sipped at her tea and smiled down at her cat. "Then Cadbury—Alice Cadbury—offered him a place in XSWAT. Having no real future otherwise, he accepted.
"A trip into Omega awoke the Entity within him. Things we met there... recognized him... if not as one of their own, then as something not quite human." She finally turned to look at him, the symbol on her forehead now appearing as yin and yang. Mitch wasn't sure how to take that. "He thought—I thought—the Entity was killing him, but Yiska's... friend, Scanner told him it was keeping him alive. The two had become one, a symbiote, each supporting the other. The Entity keeps your father alive, and Malachi Brogan kills the things the Entity feeds on.
"But as to how he came to be possessed in the first place? That I don't know. Most Entity possessions are cases of mental domination or lethal physical transformations. Malachi Brogan is a fairly unique case, Scanner is the only other person XSWAT knows of that is symbiotically linked to an Entity—and she doesn't know how it happened either." She paused, took another sip of tea and scratched Cadbury between the ears. "Happy kitty," she murmured.
Who in hell was this madwoman, who threw lightning bolts at her enemies, then sipped tea and stroked her kitten while she calmly spoke of Entities and possession? This is completely insane! Maybe the Doormouse is bringing crumpets....
Mitch knew his next question was pointless, but inevitable all the same. He gave the Director a dark glare. "Is there a cure?"
Jama closed her eyes and set her cup of tea down. "No. No there is not. They are linked not only on the physical level, but spiritual as well. Any attempt to remove the Entity will almost certainly kill your father."
Mitch leaned back in the chair and tilted his head up, facing the ceiling, lost in thought. "That's it, then. All the secrecy, the cover-up, faking his death... it was because of this. And now I'm part of it... I had hoped I'd be able to explain things to 'Trish... my sister... maybe patch things up with Mom. But there's no way I can tell them any of this, is there?" He sat up and faced Jama again, with that same dark, desperate look. "I can't do a damn thing about any of it, can I?"
Jama was silent a moment, while Cadbury sat up and looked over at Mitch. He could have swore the cat was almost glaring at him, showing his displeasure at Mitch upsetting Jama. "No," she said. "You can't change the past. What's done is done. All we can do is try and deal with it as best we can." She looked up, "He wanted you here, you know. So all the secrets could be told and you could stop wondering and waiting and imagining. He has come to terms with what he is now... and I think he hopes you will too."
For several seconds, Mitch sat there, considering everything Jama told him. He knew she was right, and no matter how it all upset him, there was nothing to be gained by taking it out on her. "I'll... I don't know, Madam Director. I'd like to say I'm glad to know the truth, but I'm mostly just... shocked. Like you said, he's still my father. We'll sort it all out, eventually."
Then he gave her the best smile he could manage. It came out as a rueful grin. "Meanwhile, you've got yourself a new driver, Chief, unless you've decided I'm too much trouble."
"Trouble?" She smiled and Mitch felt his heart lighten just a little. "You haven't met Tyger, have you?"
"I only know him by reputation. Hopefully I'll get to meet him soon—I hear he's working with my old man." Mitch got up and began gathering up their dishes. "I probably should get busy on those forensics, Ma'am, and Captain Chaffee wanted me to stop by his office again. Will there be anything else?"
Jama shook her head. "No, I think we've had enough fun for one day. I'll see you here tomorrow morning, 8 AM sharp. We'll get your badge and authorizations taken care of, and I'll give you a tour of the tower." She paused, "Unless you'd rather take the regular new recruit orientation?" Mitch was fairly sure the Director was giving him a sly smile as she asked the question. Well, almost sure.
"8 AM sharp, Chief. Hell of a first day. I can find my way out." Mitch saluted the Director, turned and went on his way, leaving Jama to reflect on the day's events with Cadbury.
Part VIII: She Drives Me Crazy
Back at the vehicular forensics lab, Captain Chaffee had a few words for Mitch, most of them rather loud. Some of them had four letters. By this time, it hardly mattered—he didn't report to Chaffee any more, and he was doing Chaffee a favor by helping out with his open cases. "Okay Cap, that's everything except the Trans-Rho Expressway case. No problem."
"No problem? Brogan, that thing's a nightmare, and I've got nobody who can deal with it! You've got to stay and finish this one!"
"Sorry, no can do. Give it to McCarthy—she's good; I used to work with her."
"Detective Erin McCarthy—just got promoted, doesn't have a full case load yet."
"Hey, good idea. You're okay, Brogan. Now get the hell outa here!"
Having mollified his former boss, and dumped the worst case ever in his ex-girlfriend's lap, Mitch went looking for Technical Officer David Cho in the computer lab. "Hey Dave, I'm back—got something to show you down in bay five."
"Mitch! What's going on? I heard you transferred to XSWAT! The rumor is you're Director Jama's driver now." Dave spoke rapid-fire as they walked down the hall, loudly enough for passers-by to hear, oblivious to their stares. Mitch rolled his eyes. Every damn place I go....
"That's 'Director Renuka' and yes, it's true." He answered quietly, between clenched teeth, hoping Dave would get the hint. "I've got her car in bay five, and we have a lot of work to do. Let's keep quiet about this, okay?" At which point he opened the door to bay five, and turned on the lights.
Dave's effort to 'keep quiet' lasted just long enough for Mitch to shut the door behind them. "Holy shite! Who shot up the Stozwind? This thing's a freaking mess!"
"Yes, thanks Dave, neither of us got hurt... the Director's fine... I'm fine. She wants ballistics on every round we can recover. And a repair estimate. Then maybe you could help me with specs for her new limo...."
Dave rolled his eyes at Mitch's histrionics, then started to groan at the thought of recovering what looked like maybe a hundred bullets from the air-car... it looked like an action-movie throw-away... then Mitch got to the part about the limousine.
He turned to Mitch with a suggestive look on his face. "Did you say 'limo', Mitch? You're gonna be driving XSWAT Director 'Bad Mama Jama' around in a limousine?" Before he could answer Dave started making 'bow-chicka-wow-wow' noises and... maybe that was supposed to be an air guitar... he didn't really want to know.
"C'mon Dave, gimme a break. It's bad enough I've been shot at today. And I can't even talk about the rest of it! Let's just get started, alright?"
"What about your old man, Brogan? Did you find out about him?"
"Yeah, Dave, I finally did. But if I told you I'd have to kill you." The joke was ancient, but something in Mitch's voice made Dave wonder if he was serious. "Wow, they got to you quick."
Mitch looked at him soberly and nodded. "You have no idea."
Dave did an MRI scan, revealing something over 100 expended rounds still lodged in the Stozwind, numbered them and printed up two lists so he and Mitch could extract them without getting in each other's way. Then they spent several hours tediously removing bullets from the car and logging them as evidence. While they worked, Dave pried as much of the story from Mitch as he could.
"So how did all this happen, exactly?"
"Pretty much just what it looks like. Automatic weapons fire. Couple of Versa-Trans full of thugs; I ditched one, the Director downed the other one with a lightning bolt."
Prang!!! Dave stood up too quickly and smacked his head on the car's gull-wing door. "Ouch. Are you fucking with me, Brogan?" Something wasn't right here; Mitch was usually the serious one....
"It's no bullshit, Dave—I saw her do it. Then there were a couple of guys in a Wyvern, they gave me some trouble. Had to flat out-run them. Redlined the reactor, over-cycled the anti-grav... it was insane."
Dave didn't like what he was hearing—that was no way to treat a fine machine like this! "Uh, Mitch... how insane, exactly?"
"Had her up a little over a thousand kph."
Prang!!! Doorframe again. "Dammit! Brogan, you're out of your mind!" Dave dropped what he was doing and accessed the Stozwind's diagnostic computer. "Hmph. Everything looks okay—you got away with it this time—one of these days you won't be so lucky. For several minutes after that, Dave was busy with the computer while Mitch continued working in back of the spinner.
"So, what's Director Jama like?"
"That's Director Renuka, Dave. She's... kind of intense. Really serious, most of the time."
"In that case, you two should get along just great. You getting anywhere with her yet?"
"She's my boss, Dave! Don't be ridiculous. And why is my personal life so important to you?"
"Not important, just amusing. You always find such... interesting partners, Mitch."
"Now, what's that supposed to mean?"
"Hey, you went to Seri Noya? Nice place. I take it that was her idea, given your taste in fine dining."
Prang!!! This time it was Mitch's turn to hit his head as he jumped up in surprise. "Dave, get out of the flight log! This is Renuka's personal vehicle!"
"No curiosity, Mitch? Everywhere she's driven this thing since she got it—it's all here." He continued scanning the data recorder entries. To most people the raw data was cryptic gibberish—to Dave, it was a third language, in which he was quite fluent. "Hey, why'd she take off her safety harness in Omicron Sector?"
"Well, Dave... she needed a better view out the back to throw a lightning bolt at someone! Now, do you really want to risk pissing her off?"
"Uh... maybe not." Dave switched off the the computer and went back to work on the ballistics. Naturally, he finished before Mitch, who complained about having to recover most of the rounds from the Stozwind's undercarriage.
"It wasn't my idea to do all those barrel-rolls, now was it?"
"It's called 'evasive maneuvers' Dave."
"Looks like hot-dogging to me. Speaking of which, I'm going to the cafeteria. You want anything?"
Mitch checked his watch—it was way past dinner-time. "Philly steak and cheese 'without' and a bag of chips. Unsweet tea."
"Ugh. No wonder the Director picked the restaurant. Be back soon."
Mitch grumbled something unprintable and kept working. He couldn't see much, lying under the Stozwind on a crawler, so there wasn't much warning when Erin McCarthy barged into the vehicle bay a few minutes later. Was it just bad timing, or had she been waiting to catch him alone?
From underneath the car, he couldn't see anything but her boots, but he recognized her immediately anyway. No other woman could walk like that wearing men's boots. No other woman would want to. "Mitch Weinrank-Brogan, we need to talk. Right now." Her tone of voice would have scared most people. After what he'd been through that day, Mitch wasn't "most people."
He kept working, and called from beneath the car, "I'll have to get back to you, Erin. I'm kind of in the middle of something here." He tried to make it sound concilliatory, but apparently that wasn't good enough.
"You're not in the middle of something, Mitch, you're under something, and it isn't me!" Erin had a lot of 'pet peeves' but when he paid more attention to his car than to her, she really got mad. "Now get your ass out from under that damned hot rod!" He rolled the crawler in her direction until she could see his face. "Close enough." she sneered.
Mitch's head was between the toes of Erin's boots, and she stared down at him, hands on her hips, lustrous blonde hair framing a deep scowl. He found himself staring straight up at 180cm of emotional instability and smiled weakly. "Hi, Erin." He was really glad she fell into the 'beautiful when angry' category, because she got angry on a fairly regular basis, quite often at him. She looked especially beautiful and angry right now, and this time he'd actually given her a good reason. I'm a dead man.
"You think you can just throw away your career in forensics, then leave me to clean up the mess? This stinks, Brogan. This case you dumped on me stinks, and so do you!"
Still looking up at her from the floor, Mitch sighed and shook his head. "I'm not throwing away my career—I'm transferring. And you got that case because nobody else could handle it." It was a good effort, but it didn't quite work. At least, not the way he expected it to.
"Don't you try to weasel out of this by flattering me, you pathetic piece of... what? Tranferring where?" The question short-circuited what would doubtless have been a masterpiece of invective. Another bullet dodged—Mitch started to think he was getting good at this, until he realized answering her question wouldn't do him any good at all. Trapped again!
Then it dawned on Mitch that he was talking to the only person in the entire department who hadn't already heard about his transfer. What, I finally get to tell someone myself? And it's Erin? Oh, I really should savor this moment....
He waved her back a couple of steps, rolled the crawler out from under the Stozwind and stood up. Mitch grinned and leaned against it affectionately. "How do like my new ride, Erin? I mean, aside from all the bullet-holes...."
Somehow, Erin had been so angry, she hadn't noticed XSWAT in 30cm-high letters on the side of the car. She stared at it in disbelief for a few seconds, then looked back at Mitch again, speechless for once. He kept smiling, waiting for her reaction. It came soon enough.
"You've gotta be fucking kidding me! What are you gonna do at XSWAT? Make coffee?"
Mitch grinned even wider at this, if such a thing was possible. "Uh... tea, actually. The Director prefers tea. When I'm not driving her around, that is. That's my new job—I'm Director Renuka's personal driver."
Erin was really getting ready to blow a gasket, now. "I don't believe this shit! You're actually leaving the lab to be a... a fucking chauffeur for that little witch!!!"
"Sorceress, actually. Or, if you'd like me to be precise, 'spirit caller'." Director Renuka's accented English was unmistakable. Mitch wasn't sure if he'd been saved or had just gone from the frying pan to the fire. On the other hand, he was curious to see how six foot of angry forensic tech would deal with five foot two of XSWAT Director. Maybe Erin would try to step on Jama and all his problems would be solved with another lightning bolt from the sky. He could only hope.
Okay, Brogan, you're in it now....
Mitch did his best to wipe the all-too-smug grin off his face, and spoke quickly, before Erin could make things any worse. "Ah, Director Renuka. Nice of you to drop by. This is Detective Erin McCarthy—one of our best lab techs, prior to her recent promotion. She's kindly offered to help finish up my casework after I transfer." He gave Erin a huge smile as he said this. The look she shot back promised horrors when they were alone again.
She walked towards the Director with a smile so fake there were scars visible. Towering over Jama, Erin extended her hand. "So, you're the one who's taking Mitch away from us. He'll be missed." She barely remembered to add, "Ma'am."
The Director took the extended hand in her own, sliding her other behind her back. She keeps a knife there, Mitch thought with a sinking sensation. Erin wouldn't start... no... she wouldn't.
"It wasn't exactly my idea," Jama replied with a far more genuine smile. "But fate seems to have thought otherwise. I'm sorry for the difficulties this will cause you."
Erin casually took a step to one side, not-too-subtly interposing herself between Mitch and the Director. Feeling a little territorial all of a sudden, Erin? I had no idea you still cared. Maybe I can start the car and get the bay doors open before she bites my head off....
"Yeah, Mitch and I were just discussing his fate, Madam Director... so... if this wasn't your idea, do you mind if I ask, who wanted him out of here?" Mitch knew that tone of voice... Erin was fishing... trying to dig up something to use against him. With the Director of XSWAT? She really was crazy!
Jama looked up at the tall woman with a neutral expression. "I don't think it is a case of wanting him out of here, but of wanting him to be in XSWAT. His skills will be greatly appreciated there."
Erin's expression went cold. Her voice dripped with lab-quality sarcasm. "Yes, Ma'am, he's very talented. Whatever skills he's using, I'm sure his performance in XSWAT will be completely satisfying."
Oh shit, she had to go there. Dave!
David Cho came to the rescue, entering the lab just in time for Erin's latest provocation, carrying Mitch's sandwich, his own half-eaten chili-dog stuffed in his mouth. He stopped in the doorway, mouth too full to speak, taking in the scene: soft-spoken diminutive XSWAT director confronting abusive amazonian APD detective, while Mitch stood by the car waiting to die.
Mitch had one chance to change the subject before things got really ugly. What a life saver! "Hey, Dave! My philly's here!" It was a remarkably poor choice of words. Dave nearly choked. Which 'filly' was he referring to, and why was he committing suicide like this? Erin shot him a withering stare. And Jama's eyebrow nearly left her forehead.
I am So. Very. Dead.
Jama turned back to Erin and Mitch noticed the symbol on her forehead had changed again. How does she do that? Or do I really want to know? It looked like three commas chasing each other in a tight circle. "Are you Officer Brogan's former commanding officer?" she asked, her tone tight.
Erin's voice lost a bit of its edge. "No Ma'am, we've been... through a lot together."
"That may be, but I fail to see what concern it is of yours how Officer Brogan handles his career path," Jama replied.
The fake smile returned. "Well then, Ma'am, I guess you two have things to talk about... I really should be going." She turned toward Brogan with a sarcastic sneer, pointing towards the bullet-riddled Stozwind. "Good luck, Mitch. Looks like you're off to a great start." Then she turned and stalked out of the vehicle bay. Jama watched her go with an almost sad expression.
Dave and Mitch exchanged a relieved look and shrugged in unison. Dave walked over and handed him a brown bag. "Philly steak and cheese 'without' and a bag of chips. Unsweet tea. Enjoy, pal." I'm not even hungry anymore.
Turning to Jama, Dave set aside the remains of his chili-dog and extended a hand. "Director Renuka! Mitch told me all about you. I'm David Cho, number one mechanic. Mitch and I went through school together. And I see you've met Detective McCarthy. Mitch is really gonna miss her."
Uh, Dave, could you dig my grave a little deeper?
Jama took David's hand with a warm smile. "Well, at least someone is glad to see me. And I take it you're not overly upset that Mitch is coming to work for me?"
"I think it's great, Ma'am. After all, I'll still get to work with him, especially if he keeps bringing in spinners like this." He glanced at Mitch making 'tsk tsk' noises and shaking his head sadly.
Mitch rolled his eyes at Dave. "Very funny, Cho." He turned to Jama. "Uh, so what brought you over here, Ma'am, aside from the brilliant conversation?"
Jama paused and glanced at the door Erin had left through. "She's going to try and cause trouble for you, won't she?"
Mitch shook his head slightly. "You don't know our Erin, Ma'am. In a couple of hours, she'll calm down, sweet-talk me into helping her on a case," he gave Jama a wicked grin, "... then she'll make trouble for me. That's how she operates."
Jama's brows narrowed and Mitch realized her forehead had a new symbol on it. Crossed spears over a squiggle. Wonderful. "You're XSWAT now, Officer Brogan. If Detective McCarthy has a problem with that, then I want to know immediately. I do not tolerate harassment of my people."
Her people. Mitch remembered their conversation at Seri Noya and how the Director had talked about the sacrifices XSWAT had made. He was one of 'her people' now, and as far as he could tell, XSWAT looked after its own. As McCarthy might just find out if she decided to make his life any more complicated than it already was.
Wait, what is she saying? Mitch snapped back to the here-and-now.
"To be honest I'm not sure why I came by." Jama gave a slight shrug, her hands open to the ceiling. "I think part of me wanted to make sure you didn't wear yourself out trying to find out everything about that," she nodded to the Stozwind, "before tomorrow morning. That and..." she actually looked a little embarrassed, "that was my personal transport. So now I'm either going to have to call a taxi or borrow a patrol spinner."
"Um... I'm sure we can arrange something, Boss. Just gotta run a couple more tests on our girl here, then call it a night. Dave, could you give me a hand?"
Dave had no idea what the hell Mitch was talking about, but he could see there was something going on, so he played along. Mitch lowered himself into the driver's seat, plugged in and started up the Stozwind. Dave took the passenger seat, and suddenly, the doors were closing as the whine of the anti-grav units rose higher and higher. Mitch brought up a number of diagnostic displays on the dash-comp and pretended to study them.
"What are you thinking Mitch—can't you see she's totally into you?"
"You may be right. I've got a huge favor to ask, Dave." They spoke in hushed, casual tones, both keeping up the pretense of discussing the spinner's condition.
"Knock off a little early. And if you should happen to see the Director and I leaving together... you might mention it to Erin."
Dave couldn't believe his ears. "What, is our little Mitch finally growing a pair? Sounds like fun to me, but it's your funeral." He paused for a moment. "On one condition."
"I'll expect a full report tomorrow."
"Pervert. Yeah, fine. No pix, though."
Mitch shut down the spinner and they both climbed out, as Dave once again chewed Mitch out for pushing the Stozwind too hard. "You were lucky this time, Brogan." Then he turned to Jama once again. "Madam Director, thanks for being patient with us—I'm calling it a night. It was nice meeting you." And with that, he sauntered casually out of the vehicle bay.
Mitch was alone with Director Renuka now. Okay, here goes nothing! "Chief, I hate to say this, but anyone loans you a spinner is gonna get an earful from Chaffee tomorrow—he's still kinda pissed about this whole XSWAT thing. I could call you a cab... or if you prefer, I could give you a lift myself."
Jama watched Dave leave with an almost amused look. Mitch had a feeling she knew exactly what was going on and hadn't been fooled in the slightest.
"I think I'd like that."
Then again, her showing up out of the blue hadn't exactly the most subtle of stunts either. If she wanted a cab, or anything else, she could've gotten it at XSWAT HQ, couldn't she? So she's not fooled and I'm not fooled. Maybe we should both stop kidding each other... but I guess neither of wants to right now. Or else we can't afford to. Damn, this could get complicated.
"Alright, Ma'am, let's stop by my office on the way out—I need to pick up a couple of things." They proceeded to the computer lab, and Mitch's cubicle. "These are for you, Chief." He smiled and handed her a leather bomber jacket and a motorcycle helmet. "Let's see how those fit, then we'll be ready to ride."
The helmet fit alright, once she tightened up the chin strap. Then Jama removed the long jacket of her XSWAT dress uniform and tried on Mitch's bomber jacket, which nearly swallowed her up. He could hardly keep from laughing. "It'll do for the ride home, Boss."
Glancing at her reflection in a nearby window, Jama shook her head and grinned. "Perhaps I'm making a mistake... It's still not too late to call a cab, is it?"
Mitch shrugged. "No it's not, but you'll be missing a hell of a ride. You haven't even seen the bike yet, Chief. Besides, that gear looks good on you."
"You think so?" Jama looked from Mitch back to the window, tucking her long coat under one arm. They'd had to undo the tied up knot of hair at the back of her head, and Mitch couldn't help but notice how it fell in rippling waves down to her waist. He wondered what it would be like to run his hands through it.
"Okay, let's see this bike of yours."
What? Oh crap, he'd spaced out again. The Director certainly was playing hell with his thoughts, that was for sure. "Sure thing, Chief. Right this way."
He'd given her his helmet for a reason, but Jama walked to the well-lit parking lot without it, apparently without a care for who recognized her, or saw them leaving together. By midnight, Mitch figured everyone on second shift would be talking. Okay, if that's how she wants it....
And then they came to Mitch's bike... a black late-model Nakamichi Raiju. In other words, a crotch-rocket suicide machine with seating for two. "On the ground, she's even faster than your Stozwind, Ma'am. But I promise you, we'll just keep up with the traffic tonite. So, do you trust me?"
Jama studied the low-slung bike with care, folding up her dress jacket and placing it in the cargo net behind the seat. "You're to be my driver, correct?" she asked in an obviously rhetorical tone. "And you got us out of that mess today in one piece. So yes, I do trust you to know your job and what's expected of you."
"Yes, Ma'am. So, where to?" Mitch climbed on the bike and offered her a hand up. Your place or mine, he wondered.
"XSWAT Director's residence," Jama replied as she settled herself behind Mitch. "Do you need directions?"
"Yeah, that'd help, Chief. You'll be safest if you hang onto me." She gave him the address, and they sped off into the cool Angelus night.
Part IX: Easy Rider
Mitch enjoyed riding after hours, when the traffic thinned out and he could open up the throttle, but tonight, with the Director's arms around him, he really wasn't in any great hurry. He took his time, stayed reasonably close to the speed limits, and didn't do anything crazy or take any weird shortcuts. Even so, they arrived at the XSWAT Director's residence sooner than he would have liked.
"Here we are, Ma'am. Just wondering—how will you get to HQ in the morning?"
Jama set the helmet on the seat, added the bomber jacket, and then pulled her own dress coat out of the cargo netting. "You're my driver, aren't you? We have to be at HQ at 8 AM sharp." She smiled, "Is that okay with you?"
Mitch still wasn't sure if he hadn't mis-read the whole situation. He returned her smile, a bit uncertain. What the hell was he doing at the director's residence after hours, his first day on the job? "Anytime you need me, Chief, even if we're both technically off-duty. And just between us, you can call me Mitch.
"Thank you... Mitch" Jama paused for a moment, and seemed ready to say something, but settled for turning away slightly and biting on the index finger of her hand. "It's..." she looked back over her shoulder, "it is rather late you know. It... it doesn't seem right for you to have to travel across town at this time of night and then be back before dawn to pick me up."
He was already back into his jacket and halfway on the Raiju. "Oh, that's okay, it's really not..." He stopped and looked at her; studied the expression on her face. They both knew this was crazy. "Is that an invitation... Jama?"
The Director looked to her house—which was huge, Mitch had to admit—and back. "Yes."
He secured the bike, pulling his 'crash kit' from under the seat in the process, and followed her inside. "I've read about this place—Alice Cadbury lived here, didn't she?" As he spoke, Mitch hung his jacket on the rack by the door, then helped Jama with hers.
"If you could call it that." Inside the house was open and spacious, its size exaggerated by a distinct lack of furnishings. "She spent most of her time at HQ actually. I've brought my things over from my old apartment, but..." Jama indicated her surroundings with a sweeping gesture. "As you can see, they sort of get lost in here."
No wonder she's an emotional wreck, living like this... surrounded by ghosts, burdened with traditions, always out of place. She'd have been happy in her own space. "So do you like it here, Jama?" He was clearly far more interested in her than the house, as he stood there watching her.
"Of course," Jama replied, far too quickly. Almost instantly her expression softened. "Well, not exactly. I've been thinking of bringing Cadbury, but he's so small, and I'm not here that often, and..." She paused and shook her head. "He likes it in my office... and besides, the tower would feel empty without him. But I didn't want to discard everything of Alice Cadbury's, so I declared this to be the official Director's residence. But there's just me and this place is... daunting."
Without a word, Mitch crossed the distance between them with a few tentative steps. Slowly, as if he expected her to object at any moment, he put his arms around Jama and looked into her eyes. Very quietly he said simply, "I'm here."
With those words Mitch could feel the tension draining from her body. Jama almost seemed to slump in his arms as she exhaled. Returning the gesture, she leaned forward and rested her head on his shoulder. "Thank you."
For a long time, they just stood there, holding each other in silence. Then Mitch looked at Jama with a wicked grin on his face. "Think I've got a little more work to do tonight." Jama gave a him a questioning look—what could he possibly be talking about? Then she let out a shout of surprise as Mitch literally swept her off her feet!
"Mitch! What are you doing?"
Holding her in his arms, he said, "I'm still your driver. Where to, Chief?"
To his amazement, the Director actually blushed. "Mitch, I have a confession—there's no guest bedroom in the house... yet. There's just my room."
He smiled. "Miss Renuka, I assure you, I'm a gentleman—I won't snore or steal all the covers. If you don't mind sharing."
Jama looked at Mitch for a moment and then leaned forward. Her lips touched his for what he felt was an all-too brief kiss. She pulled away and didn't say a word, simply pointed the way, then rested her head against Mitch's shoulder as he gently carried Jama to her room.
Trouble is your middle name
But in the end you're not too bad
Can someone tell me if its wrong to be
So mad about you
Mad about you
Give me all your true hate
And I'll translate it in your bed
Into never seen passion
That is why I am so mad about you
Mad about you
Epilogue: Jesus Built My Hot-Rod
About a week later, Jama was busy in her office when Mitch let himself in. She looked up with her best 'this better be important' gaze, and he gave her the 'yes, it is' nod. She waited for him to speak.
"Corporal Cephus reports a strange vehicle parked on the roof, Ma'am. No clue how it got there or where it came from. She'd like you to come up there and check it out."
Jama pointed at the stack of paperwork on her desk. "I'll be a while here, I'm afraid. Really, Officer Brogan, this sounds like your specialty—you go, and report back to me."
Mitch's tone was guarded, even deferential. "Sorry, Ma'am. Corporal Cephus requested you personally. She's up there now—maybe we should both go up there, see what's going on, and then you could have a word with her."
Jama paused for a moment, frowned, and set down the designer pen she'd inherited from the previous Director. Corporal Cadbury promptly made an expensive cat-toy of it. "Alright, I think I'll do that."
During the elevator ride to the roof, Mitch thought about the first time he'd been alone in this exact lift with the Director. He'd been right—people were talking about them. And she'd been right—there was no point denying it. (Especially not now!) It could have been worse; along with all the innuendo and speculation, there was a strong undercurrent of approval, typified by Master Sergeant Tyger's "Well, it's about f***ing time!"
Corporal Cephus was waiting by the door when they got to the roof. She saluted the Director and pointed toward the landing pad with a huge smile. "Ever seen anything like that, Ma'am?"
Behind Jama, she could tell Mitch was grinning from ear to ear by the sound of his voice. "Madam Director, your ride's here. Ready for inspection."
The anti-grav limousine sitting in her reserved space on the roof was fully eight meters long, painted a darker blue than other XSWAT vehicles—almost black, and absolutely spotless. Jama was completely surprised, or at least she put on a good act. "Officer Brogan, you informed me this would arrive next week."
"Well, it's scheduled to arrived next week, but I had 'em rush the order Ma'am. Otherwise how would I surprise you? That's never easy, you know. Everything's perfect—I had Dave check it out before I signed off on it."
"Indeed." Jama walked around the limo, looking it over. The plates said XSWAT-1. It appeared to be well-armored. Peeking inside, she noted the interior matched the decor in her office, right down to the tea service. She continued to the front of the massive vehicle, checking out the driver's seat—Mitch's domain. Everything looked standard, except for a couple of extra data ports. She'd ask him about those later. She shut the door, and noticed the final touch.
Mitch had taken the liberty of naming her limo. Jama had to wonder if he had known the truth about Alice Cadbury. It was possible, considering how much time he'd spent finding out about 9th Squad. How else to explain this? Just ahead of the driver's door, it was painted tastefully in small, flowing script:
SPIRIT OF CALIFORNIA
Life's like a road that you travel on
When there's one day here and the next day gone
Sometimes you bend and sometimes you stand
Sometimes you turn your head to the wind
There's a world outside ev'ry darkened door
Where blues won't haunt you anymore
Where brave are free and lovers soar
Come ride with me to the distant shore
We won't hesitate
Break down the garden's gate
There's not much time left today
Life Is A Highway
Mad About You