It had been an exhausting three hours, and Hemelshot knew his work had barely started.

Getting back to Cadbury's office had been easy—he landed on the roof again and simply walked down. There was nobody up there anymore and Hal had again brought him the elevator. Aside from the gaping hole in the ceiling and the lack of a Director, the office was pleasantly familiar.

Then things became... complicated.

The window proved a useful sounding board for his ideas, even though the conversation was mostly one-sided. Hal offered an occasional idea but left Hemelshot to himself for the most part.

Hemelshot had paced the length of the office. "It all comes back to Hart. He's in an agreeable mood at the moment, but as soon as we deal with the disaster we need to already be in a secure position. Now that there's no more uber-nasty in Omega waiting to pounce Hart will grow paranoid of us, and from some of the comments between Brogan and Tyger it's justified." He reached the end of the room, turned and started back.

"We need to exonerate ourselves, discredit Hart and at the same time not destroy confidence in the government." He stopped. "Not discredit—just not destroy confidence in the system." He turned and moved to the desk. "We can get rid Hart because nobody will take orders from him anymore—not that he was evil and used the system for his own gain.

"How about us? Decoy? No—undercover. We've been working to root out the threat from Omega for quite some time. That's what the old 9th squad was doing, and as Renuka can explain, the continuity of symbols is important in magic. We stepped into their heroic shoes—no, leave the adjectives for Larkins—and continued their work. That could work—the trip to Masada's island, the degradation of the land surrounding Omega, the civil unrest and Hart's need for martial law to keep Angelus from destroying itself, the deception to entice Masada to attack, everything can be explained." Stopping in mid sentence, Hemelshot looked up from his datapad and stopped making notes.

"So why stay undercover after Masada?" He paused, blinked and rolled his eyes. "Of course—information gained from Masada led to a more severe threat of forces in Omega, and an indication of imminent attack. We remained undercover in an attempt to infiltrate... then what? We failed?" Another pause, this one longer. "Probably—no, not failed. We got the time, and were reporting to Cadbury, and I guess Hart—he was here—when Omega preempted our preparations and forced an impromptu defense."

A few minutes consultation with Hal closed the gaping loopholes in the story, then came the hard part.

"Coordinator Hart? I have a proposition..."

* * * * *

"Excellent. Thank you, sir. I'll be getting to work." With that he closed the channel. Hemelshot leaned back in his chair and wanted to wipe his hands—politicians always made him feel greasy, and this felt like he was becoming one. With a grimace he tried to put the unpleasant thought out of his mind, and got to work.

* * * * *

That had been three hours ago. In that time Hemelshot, with the bountiful assistance of Hal—or more correctly Hal with the guidance of Hemelshot—had formed the foundation upon which to build the disaster relief efforts that were to come.

The first step had been to contact the people with disaster relief experience. This proved a morbid task as most of them—the best and brightest and most courageous of the law-enforcement personnel—were gone. Dead stopping Masada, dead responding to Cadbury's call at the bridge, imprisoned by Sentinel Watch for being 'unreliable', in hiding from Sentinel Watch, or simply missing. It was a frustrating task and Hemelshot was forced to assign field promotions left and right.

Root access and the active assistance of the mainframe worked wonders, and personnel would finally start returning to work. Firefighters, nurses, ambulance drivers—and more importantly the dispatchers and staffing coordinators—would be coming online. Slowly at first, but with increasing speed. With Hal able to respond to and coordinate between the millions of e-mails being sent hourly, it was a miracle but it was starting to happen.

The contracts with the slew of independent security corporations would take a little longer, but he hoped to have them signed by dark. That would at least put some visible security forces on the street, preventing major rioting. He couldn't hope to stop all the looting, but he could minimize the loss of life. Security and medical systems were the first to be rebuilt, then sanitation, temporary housing & relocation plans. Reconstruction could wait, would have to wait, as the necessities were a nightmare enough. He made a note to have Hal look into international aid sources.

And now it was time for the Big Lie. He knew it was a lie, Hart knew it was a lie and Larkins would probably know it too, but the true story would serve no purpose other than to confuse the people further. In time, perhaps within only a few years, the truth could be told and the true sacrifice that Cadbury had made could be revealed. Until then, this would have to do.

Amanda Larkins had been found and released from prison, found a camera team and they had managed to bring along an impressive amount of gear. Larkins looked mad as hell and totally professional, while using makeup to hide the lingering bruises from her 'detention' with Sentinel Watch.

He knew this wouldn't be any fun at all.

* * * * *

The harsh glare of the portable lights made Hemelshot sweat this time, too. A too-hasty makeup job covered the worst of his bruises and abrasions, but he still looked like he'd been through hell. At least he'd managed to scrounge a spare uniform, and Larkins waved off his concerns about his appearance with a casual, "It makes you look more authentic."

* * * * *

" the entire martial law and 'enemies of the state' was a cover?"

"As I said before, not entirely. Angelus was faced with a threat that could have resulted in the total obliteration of the city. The city had been infiltrated by agents of the enemy who instigated the widespread civil disturbances seen all across Angelus for the past months. It was decided that martial law was the best response to this. As to the treason charges, yes they were a cover."

"For everyone, or just for 9th Squad?" Larkins pressed.

Hemelshot suppressed a wince. There was too much truth to that question for his comfort. "I was not privy to who else might have been in on the operation, but I trust he believed that it was the best course of action available."

"I can understand that, but why did he disband XSWAT the very night that we were attacked? If he knew we were about to be attacked why wouldn't he build up our forces?"

"While his actions most certainly disrupted the XSWAT chain of command, it was done soon enough before Masada landed that we retained an intact command structure when it was most needed. As I mentioned, we knew Masada was coming but not when—he could have waited out at sea for weeks—and we needed to make him overconfident enough to land his forces. The apparent disruption of the primary Angelus defense force was deemed sufficient."

"By Hart?"

Another almost-wince. "I'm afraid I don't know who made that decision. You would have to ask Hart about that, however, and I suspect you will receive a polite 'no comment'."

Larkins didn't believe it, but continued. "Moving on, why did you continue after Masada attacked? Martial law continued, Sentinel Watch kept arresting people, the clades and espers were isolated and attacked,"

"Miss Larkins," Hemelshot interrupted with a small, sad smile, "I'm afraid I was not part of any of those decisions. You'll have to ask Coordinator Hart about the big picture, and why certain actions happened.

"I know that we—9th squad—spent much of that time investigating leads from Masada. We established ourselves as independent from Hart in order to gain access to certain sources, which proved invaluable though—I'm sorry to admit—almost too late."

"Too late? What do you mean?"

"We had spent some time there and learned of a sizable force preparing to attack. It wasn't until early this morning that we were able to escape Omega and inform Coordinator Hard and Director Cadbury of our findings, and by then the only thing we could do was rally at the bridge." He visibly winced. "We were able to hold them off, but it took the combined efforts of hundreds of brave men and women, humans, clades and espers combined.

"You haven't yet mentioned who you were fighting."

"We call them entities—evil aliens from another dimension is as good a description as I've found." He holds up a hand. "I don't have time to go into detail at the moment, and I refer you to Sergeant First Class Jamadigni Renuka. She's been studying the entities for a while and can give you a much more comprehensive explanation."

Glancing at the chronometer, Hemelshot was shocked how long they'd been talking. "Miss Larkins, I --"

"What do you think Hart should do now?" She interrupted him this time, going after the story.

The question was expected, and Hemelshot was uncomfortable with the answer he had prepared. He knew Renuka and Carpenter would disagree, and it would send Tyger absolutely berserk, but it had to be done so that the continuity of the government would continue. "I think he should remain Coordinator until the current situation has been stabilized, then step down.

"I think he will find it difficult to continue as Coordinator. While his actions have insured the continued survival of the city, there are many who have suffered because of them. Sentinel Watch was necessary to temporarily take the place of XSWAT, but the interagency paranoia and distrust will last a long time. As much as I personally may have disagreed with his actions, I cannot but point to his results. The city has suffered, certainly, but we have survived. We will provide aid to the injured, we will rebuild and we will once again have a city which is help up as a model that the world may strive to match.

He help up a hand as Larkins was about to ask the question again. "But as far as Hart is concerned, he has damaged and offended many of the people of the city. However knowingly and willingly he sacrificed his political career to insure the city's survival, in doing so he also sacrificed his ability to effectively lead.

"He knew it was a possibility, and when the situation was presented to him he knew he might be called upon to make the sacrifice, to alienate himself from his peers and make himself the target of the hatred of many in the city. He knew what this would cost him, and he did it anyway.

"As much as I dislike his actions, I cannot but respect the man who is willing to make such a sacrifice."

"One last question, please." Larkins looked intently at Hemelshot and asked, "Do you know who killed Davies?"

Hemelshot knew this one was coming too, and again had his answer ready. "I'm afraid I cannot comment on an ongoing investigation. Inquiries are continuing."

Larkins looked faintly surprised. "With five sectors in flames, hundreds of thousands of people dead and the city in chaos, you're still working on a single murder?"

His eyes focused directly at the camera, Hemelshot's gaze grows grim and he nods. "Yes. Well, perhaps not at this precise moment but the investigation will continue. No matter who, no matter the circumstances and no matter how long it takes, the life of every citizen of Angelus is protected by law. Esper, clade, pure-strain human, clone or even a brain in a jar—the law applies equally to all, and at all times.

"I know that there will be opportunities for looting, for easy crime in the days ahead. Police and emergency personnel will be working day and night to relieve the suffering of our fellow citizens, and their attention may well be elsewhere if a low-minded criminal decides to use their dedication to easing the pain of others as an excuse to break the law. But they should know this—Angelus will recover, the police will return. This is no grace period and there will be no amnesty for crimes committed during this state of emergency. Your acts will be found out, your identities revealed and I will not rest until every criminal has been punished."

Visibly shaken by this outburst, Larkins regained control remarkably fast. "Thank you, Lieutenant Hemelshot. I'm sure our viewers will act entirely within the law in these troubling times."

Hemelshot's mouth quirked as he replies, "As I said earlier, XSWAT will not be reinstated until zero-eighteen-hundred this afternoon. We wanted to give those officers who have made other arrangements sufficient time to return to active duty. My title for the moment is Disaster Relief Coordinator."

"Well then, thank you Disaster Relief Coordinator Hemelshot." She maintained her smile for a fount of ten, then looks to the cameraman to insure the recorder was off. Then with a snarl she turned to confront a standing Hemelshot. "That was very nice and convenient and totally full of shit, Richard! What the hell's going on?!"

Hemelshot groaned. Damn. He was right—this wouldn't be any fun at all.

* * * * *

What seemed like hours later, Larkins had finally left. The interview had in fact taken slightly more than an hour, and in that time a few people had arrived.

"We got the e-mails—the ones where 9th Squad is ok again and where Hart made you Disaster Coordinator. That true, Hemelshot?"

Hemelshot nodded at the three. Two were dressed in civilian clothing, the third in the back wore a Sentinel Watch uniform. He tensed, preparing for a fight.

"Good. I'm Alex Belimont and I was an acquisitions manager for 12th precinct. Charlie here was in vice and Sam behind us joined SW when XSWAT was disbanded. What can we do?"

With a sign, Hemelshot realized that Hal wouldn't have let just anyone up the elevator. He smiled as it sank in that he was no longer alone.

* * * * *

"...actions are completely unacceptable!"

It was during a discussion with the Delta sector council representative that the call came through.

"Councilwoman Dawes, let me make this perfectly clear. We are still in a state of martial law, and Coordinator Hart has declared the entire city a disaster area. As the duly appointed Disaster Relief Coordinator my authority supersedes that of any other government agency including the sector representative, as per Article 35, Angelus City Code 101(a). You do not have the authority to give me orders, you do not have the ability relieve me from command, and you most certainly do not have the right to withhold resources that could save lives.

He leaned in towards the screen and continued, "You have two choices—you can allow my requests and be instrumental in saving thousands of lives, or you can cause problems, get arrested and your successor can make the same choice."

The voice started high and enraged, "How dare --"

A light on a side screen started to blink, and Hemelshot cut into the start of the tirade. "Madam, I'm afraid I must cut this short. Think it over, and if you have not relayed my orders to your departments within five minutes I'll consider that your resignation. Thank you, goodbye."

With that he hit the 'disconnect' key a little harder than was necessary. Damn the woman anyway! Eighteen hundred stations and over two thousand ambulances and she wanted to schedule a meeting to 'negotiate'. "Hal, please monitor her communications and let me know if she doesn't pass the orders on."

He turned to take the priority call, then added "And after three minutes, alert her second in command to the impending resignation of Councilwoman Dawes. Thank you." He successfully smothered his grin until the screen went black, then he had to let out a laugh. One of the many clerks bustling in and out of the room caught his eye and shared in the humor, then moved on.

The moment over, he tapped the screen and thought, please God be good news, and was faced with one of the men he'd placed to watch the front doors and monitor traffic into and out of the headquarters building. The name was, Johnson, Jilson? "Jackson. How can I help you?"

The man straightened, not expecting to be recognized, grinned and explained. "Sir! We've got a squad inbound with Jamadigni Renuka under arrest—apparently she surrendered willingly because they hadn't heard you're the good guys again. What do you want me to do?"

Hemelshot closed his eyes briefly. God, thank you for proving you have a sense of humor. "Give the squad the news, release Renuka and send her up here. I'll have orders waiting at the elevator." He thought for a moment then, "Corporal Jackson? I thought I posted you to the door. Why do I see the receptionist desk behind you?"

The man braced and replied, "You did, sir. I was at the door sir, but things got too busy for me to keep track of there. I assigned two of the new arrivals to monitor the door and moved to where the comms --"

Hemelshot broke in. "I understand. Good work, Sergeant. Keep me posted. Hemelshot out."

He looked to the ceiling, silently thanking Him. Renuka was a Godsend and would be able to coordinate the city's mages, few of whom had ever joined XSWAT.

Not to mention she'd get Larkins off his back.