Officer Bruce McBride looked out over the barricade that served to divide Angelus from most of Roh Sector. Despite the rain, smoke still billowed from ruined buildings and wrecked machines. Scarcely twenty yards away was the crumpled shape of an Enochian powered armor, its 8 ton form smashed into the street. Fifty feet of "angel," for lack of a better word, had done that. Robed and winged, it had appeared just when all had seemed lost, blazing sword in hand, to wreck utter and total carnage on the invaders.
McBride shook his head at the thought. If he hadn't been here to see it himself, he'd have never believed it. The angel, with the face of former XSWAT Director Cadbury no less, had taken the battle straight to enemy. Striding forward as if all of the Enochains guns, missiles, blades, and energy weapons, meant as much as the rain that had been falling for the last week or so.
Shifting his MP-12 where it hung from a shoulder strap, McBride turned back to the cluster of fellow officers standing around the portable heater. The fighting had only ended a few hours ago and no one was sure when they'd be able to leave. Not that they expected relief. Angelus was just a hair-breath from total civil disorder and with XSWAT gone it was up to men like him to protect the people of the city.
"Hey," he called. "Anyone have any idea where that angel thing came from? And if it will be back?"
One of McBride's fellow officers, Officer Robert Salisbury (or "Steak" for short), was attempting to bend back the barrel of his Berretta Shotgun. 'Steak' had gotten on the bad side of an esper's "friendly fire" and his shotgun resembled a pretzel more than an instrument of war. Looking up from his work, 'Steak' replied, "I swear: I have seen more weird shit today than I have in my entire career of late night guard duty and horror flicks. A walking glowing building lit up like a skanky nightclub? An army of gun wielding cats? Modern-high-tech power armor wielding swords? What is this? Some freaking fan-boy science fiction? I am going to wake up tomorrow and this is all going to be the dream byproduct of that 'chupacabra' taco—or whatever the hell they're puttin' in them besides meat these days—that I had earlier tonight."
"That's nice, Steak, but it doesn't answer my question."
I'll betcha it was them 9th Squad guys from Beta Sector," a gravely voice chimed in. The owner of the voice, judging by the equipment, was a member of XSWAT. Any obvious markings indicating sector, identification, or rank was gone. The man was wearing clamshell armor, or what was left of it. What wasn't covered in torn and tattered armor and uniform, was covered in emergency bandages.
Before either of the police officers could offer their thoughts on the matter, he looked up from a paper cup half-filled with bad coffee. Both officers could see the battle had treated him pretty badly, as a good portion of the left side of his face was covered in bloody bandages. "Had to be them. Those guy's ain't human. I heard that a couple of 'em could stop a fully loaded APC in its tracks just by standing in its way... one of 'em can toss Power Armor like ragdolls... and that isn't even their esper." The man paused for a moment.
"Their esper, I heard, could make a man's head explode from a mile away just by looking at ya funny. They have a guy who carries a sword... a bloody SWORD! That alone tells me he ain't normal. And don't get me started on their mage or their mechajock. That mage has gotta be somthin' that ain't human, and I ain't ever heard of a clade being that good with a suit of armor.
"Those guys ain't cops... shit... I don't know what they are... but they ain't normal."
Steak regarded the XSWAT officer with scrutiny. "9th squad? The bunch of nutjobs that flew into the rad-zone twice? I'll bet you breakfast that they aren't even real. Spend a couple hours in the middle of Omega and you're gonna come out mutated or something worse."
The XSWAT officer looked like he was about to say something but suddenly thought better of it. "Don't forget landing a shuttle from space that everyone says shouldn't have survived reentry and fell apart once it touched down. Besides being plastered all over Angelus because Hart says they're terrorists, y' can't forget that the whole lot of 'em were right there when the old Coordinator bought it... and that was on live TV. If that ain't real, I got no clue what is."
"Meh, that's just a publicity stunt. They've got some sort of bigot sitting on counsel now," Steak grunted as he continued to bend his shotgun back into shape, "Betcha they made up some freak-heroes and then discredited them just so they could get rid of all the freaks in the PD. Stupid politicians."
"Ya ever seen that mage of theirs out of armor?" McBride asked with a grin. "She's..." He made a familiar hourglass shape with his hands. "Ya know what I mean?"
The grizzled officer shook his head. "Yeah, I've seen her on the news. Like at that big mall in Alpha Sector." He cast a glance to Steak, "They were right in the middle of that too y'know. All over the news and 'net after that too." He looked back to McBride. "But I'd be careful though. She's small and pretty... but she'll blow your nuts off with a lightning bolt if you look at her wrong."
"Don't let Santorino hear you say that." The speaker crouched under his issue slicker, a cup of coffee in his hands. He glared at the others from under a bandaged brow. "He was tellin' me she and the one with the sword came into Angelus General after the riots, with all of us sitting around waiting to get looked at..." Everyone nodded, unwillingly recalling the scene. "And she pulled out that wavy knife of hers and cut the doors off of the vending machines. Started handing stuff out left and right. And when the nurse complained, the guy with the sword told 'er she could fuckin' bill 'em." He shook his head and drunk his coffee. "Santorino thinks she can do no wrong."
The XSWAT officer looked to the new speaker with a slight frown, not that anyone could tell given the condition of his face. Although he did have that 'If you only knew about half of what I have seen' look. He did not want to cause any problems, and they were all on the same side. "Maybe not. I know she's real, and the rest of those guys from Beta are too. I also know you don't go crossin' someone like her. That's all I'm sayin."
"What's Santorino think of the clade?" Steak asked.
"Him? He's fuckin' crazy."
The man seemed to wince at the mention of the clade, as if mentioning him struck a chord. "That bastard needs to be behind bars."
Another officer, a kid really, from Downtown by the looks of him, spoke up next. "Espers, mages, swords and clades aren't even the weirdest part—I heard they've got a dead guy with 'em, too. He's some kind of zombie cyborg, or something like that."
This was just too much, and the kid got a hail of jeers and empty coffee cups for his input. "What the hell are you talking about kid?" Steak was prepared to believe just about anything after today, but this was getting ridiculous.
"Weinrank, vehicular forensics. I wouldn't believe it either, but the guy was married to someone in my precinct before he died! After she found out what happened to him, she couldn't even stand to hear his name. They transferred her to Epsilon sector when some rookie wouldn't take a hint and she decked him."
Steak still wondered if this was a put on. Was this kid for real? "Okay, 'vehicular forensics,' what do you think happened to that power armor over there?"
Weinrank looked at it for a moment. "Well, it looks to me like a 15-meter angel with a sword ripped it apart. But I left my field kit at the station, so that's just an educated guess."
Quiet laughter spread through the small crowd, and Steak turned around to face him again. "Good one, kid."
"Hey," McBride popped up, "If those 9th Squad guys made the Angel, why did it look like XSWAT Director Cadbury?"
The XSWAT officer drained the rest of his coffee before answering. "Cause Cadbury is in charge of XSWAT. XSWAT's been defending Angelus since it was built, and she's always been our face to the public and media. If an XSWAT squad had something to do with making that Angel, then it's only right that the Angel would have the face of XSWAT."
"You're trying to tell me that little sorceress of theirs did all that?" The speaker was a woman of medium height, with tanned skin and rich black hair that fell in wet ringlets past her shoulders. She waved her arm in the direction of the barricade and the ruined weapons of war beyond. The cloth of her jacket had been burned and shredded, revealing the dull gunmetal of the cyberarm underneath. The woman paused and regarded the faces turned her way. "Littlewing, 26th Precinct, Gamma sector," she replied, as way of explanation.
"I mean listen to you all. I'm supposed to believe the 9th Squad is made up of a dead man, a clade who's so good a pilot he should be in jail, some guy who uses a sword instead of a gun, a brain exploding esper, and a mage who can call up a 60 foot winged woman on command? Is that it?"
The XSWAT officer regarded the woman. "I never said that they did it. I just think they have something to do with it." He paused for a moment, "Grayson, 18th Precinct, This is my turf." The last was added to indicate that he was from Rho Sector.
"And I said that they ain't human. No human could pull off the type of stuff that they've done. I know I can't. Can you?"
"Hey," McBride said, "What can you do?" He took a step back at the look Grayson gave him and then continued. "I mean, XSWAT's full of... uh... ahhh... super-cops," he finished lamely. "There's guys running top-end wire, you got combat cyber-grafted 'borgs, espers, mages, and even clades. Hell, you're from Rho, don't you guys have the Silver Fox, an ex-L&S fox-clade who hauls around a butcher knife on a stick?" He shook his head, "And you're telling me the 9th Squad is even more whacked than that?"
Grayson looked over to Mcbride and shrugged his shoulders. "I'm a bit of both. Not all metal like most of your 'borgs and nowhere near as good as your other magicians. I'm special." He gave a wry smirk as he pulled back the sleeve of his coat, revealing the hard shell of a bionic limb. Despite his injuries, the metal arm seemed to be totally untouched by the conflict it's owner had been in. Even moreinteresting was that it was not the highly machined and polished sort of bionics one would expect. The armored plates were covered in writing—etched sigils and runes flowed the metal surface in an almost artistic manner.
"As far as Silver Fox goes..." Grayson shrugged again, pulling his sleeve back into place. "...I've heard of her. She's a clade that's been beefed up to fight in L&S. Last time I checked, that did not make her a wanted criminal."
"Kids." Snorted an old man. No uniform, just a flannel shirt tucked into a worn pair of work pants. No badge, but he cradled an old Mossberg shotgun like a lover, his calloused wrinkled fingers clearly very familiar with the ancient firearm. "Super-cops. Bah, rubbish." He hawked and spit into the rubble, his careworn face staring towards the barricade, eyes narrowed.
"They're people." He insisted, disdaining any attempt to introduce himself or join the police's little clubhouse meeting. "Just people, with a job to do." His head swiveled, flicking his gaze over the assembled officers. "Like you guys. Just with more gumption and less jawing." He chuckled dryly. "Look at us sitting here, taking on an army with popguns and chewing gum—you can ask my wife when its all over who the real heroes are, and she'll tell you." He lifted the shotgun and rested it on the barricade, settling the butt into his shoulder. "It's us."