Part One: Questions

In the hallway outside of Director Alice Cadbury's office were a series of six paintings, three to each side. Officer Jamadigni Renuka, looking some what resplendent in her dress uniform, the hem of her coat brushing her ankles, took a moment to study each one.

They were, in order, portraits of Beowulf the Geat, Siegfried the German, and Roland, paladin of the French king Charlemange. Then came Saint George, the dragon slayer, Saint Anthony, and Saint Francis of Assisi. A curious collection to say the least.

The first time she'd seen them, right before the mission to Castaway Cay, she felt there was a meaning behind the portraits. They obviously meant or symbolized something, if not to XSWAT as a whole, then to Cadbury herself. But what?

The most obvious link Jama could find was between Beowulf, Siegfried, and St. George. All were slayers of monsters and dragons, with Beowulf being credited with killing the monster Grendel, then his dam, and finally a great fire-breathing dragon. Siegfried killed the dragon Fafnir, bathed in its blood, and become virtually invulnerable. Saint George killed a dragon in either Northern Africa or somewhere on the coast of the eastern Mediterranean. Did the dragons symbolize Entities? And if so, how did Roland and St. Francis fit into all of this? Anthony, at least, could lay claim to physically wrestling with Satan. All Roland had was.... She paused, struggling to come to grips with where her thoughts were leading her.

Roland had the unbreakable sword...


At that moment the realization hit her so hard she almost fell down.

She stared at the pictures, eyes focused on the portrait of Roland, knight of the Franks and...

"Paladin. Nathan Carpenter."

Which meant St. George was... "The Patron of Soldiers. Richard Hemelshot."

Beowulf, slayer of monsters. "Tyger."

Saint Francis, patron saint of animals and the environment. "Yiska."

Which left, Siegfried, St. Anthony, and herself. Anthony was another patron of animals, which didn't seem to fit, while Siegfried.... She thought on what she could recall of Siegfried and the Ring Cycle. He'd killed Fafnir, a transformed giant, by digging a pit, hiding in it, and then stabbing the dragon from below. He bathed in the blood and became invulnerable, except where a leaf had landed on his shoulder. He'd also cooked and ate Fafnir's heart, gaining the ability to speak to....

"Birds. Speaker to birds. To spirits. To hantu. I am Siegfried, also known as Sigurd."

And that left Anthony. Was Anthony supposed to be Cadbury? Who wrestled with the devil? Or someone else? Graham Burton perhaps? But Burton was a scientist and (as far as she knew) an atheist. What she knew of Anthony didn't seem to fit.

Perhaps Cadbury would explain it.

Tyger was also approaching Cadbury's. He had his own questions that needed to be answered. He had avoided asking them aloud over the last couple of years, but today that ended. Today, he asked his questions and he got them answered. "One way or another..." he muttered under his breath.

It was about then he realized that he was not alone. His feline ears twitched on their own volition and he spotted Jama as she looked at the paintings on the walls and speaking the names of the 9th Squad aloud. What in the hell was she going on about now? They were just paintings, right? The Clade stopped and mumbled a curse under his breath. No, there was no such thing as "just a painting" anymore. Besides, this was Jama: when she started putting pieces of a puzzle together, making connections, she tended to be right or at least right enough to make him happy.

Dammit! Why does everything always have to be over my head? Why aren't I smart like Jama... or anyone else? Why don't I get it? Tyger bit his tongue at the realization. I'm a Clade... I wasn't put on this earth to "get it." Tyger's shoulders slumped just a bit as he stood behind and slightly to the left of Jama silently. But I have friends and family that do "get it" and are patient enough to explain it to me. That's better than nothing, and a hell of a lot more than what I had before. A visible shrug would cast those thoughts aside.

"Hey Jama," Tyger spoke softly. "What was all that about?"

Jama visibly started and stumbled backwards a step as Tyger moved to catch her, stopping when she regained her balance.

"H-Hello, Tyger," she stammered. "I... I think I've just realized something. Something very important about us and maybe Director Cadbury.

"Oh? Like what?" Tyger canted his head curiously, his ears swiveling forward to listen.

She pointed at the wall. "These paintings.... They aren't up here just for show—they have meaning, they symbolize... us."

Tyger blinked and was about to chastise Jama for being silly, when he realized that when Jama figured something out like this—she was usually right in some manner of speaking. "Yeah, I heard you making some of the comparisons. He looked over to the painting of Beowulf and smirked. "But I dunno... I think that I'm better looking than that guy...."

"Who had the strength of thirty men in his hand..." Jama paused and glanced at Tyger, "He wrestled with monsters and killed Grendel by tearing its arm off. Much like you and your armor. This is serious Tyger."

Tyger then looked to Jama and frowned. Any and all signs of mirth, joking, and wisecracking was gone from his voice. "Jama... you and I both know that Cadbury knows a whole hell of a lot more than she's letting on. I'm not a smart guy and I figured that out a long time ago. I don't know how, but I have this feeling that when we go in there and ask those questions...." Tyger paused for a moment as if in thought. "We may learn more than we wanted to know, and get a whole hell of a lot more than we bargained for...."

"'The most merciful thing in the world is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents,'" Jama quoted, looking at Cadbury's door.

"What?" Tyger replied, looking confused.

"It's a quote from an early 20th Century writer by the name of Howard Philips Lovecraft. I think he would have understood all of this perfectly. But then, as Carpenter might say, 'And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.'" Jama gave Tyger a slight grin, "John 8:32—Carpenter isn't the only who can quote scripture."

Tyger lifted a brow at that. "You guys are seriously beginning to make me question my lack of faith." He reflected on some of Jama's words, closing his eyes as he did so. He remained silent for but a moment and then looked at Jama. "I'm scared Jama. Not scared of what we face. We faced down a Class 3 twice, kicked its ass both times, one of those times was on its own turf... and we've lived to talk about it. We've faced the Omega Sector and walked out of that too. I ain't scared of demons, monsters or shit that goes bump in the night. I'm scared of what's gonna happen if we fuck up."

"That woman knows a whole hell of a lot more than what she's lettin' on." Tyger gave a nod towards the doors that led to Cadbury's office. "And I aim to find out what she knows about me, us and this whole goddamned thing." The Clade gestured to the paintings in general. "And..." Tyger's voice dropped an octave or two, his voice growling. "...I think she knew something about last night. She sure as hell knew about the Weasel being around...."

"So which one of these white men represent me?"

Tyger's train of thought was suddenly derailed at the interruption from Yiska. Almost without thinking, the Clade pointed to the picture of Saint Francis. "That guy I think. I dunno, ask Jama. She's the one that figured it out."

Jama nodded. "Yes... the patron of animals and the environment. That seems to fit you best. Lieutenant Hemelshot is Saint George, Sergeant Carpenter is Roland, Tyger is Beowulf, and I am Siegfried. I don't know who Saint Anthony is supposed to be."

"Ummm... Just because both of you know more about this stuff than me, I gotta know, who's Saint Anthony? Why is he special?" Tyger nodded to the picture of the Saint. "And why is he on that wall instead of someone else? I mean... there are other guys that did neat stuff back in the day, right?"

"Anthony is said to have wrested with the Devil, both physically and morally." Jama replied, nodding at the picture in question. "I think it stands for Cadbury herself, who it seems, wrestles with the Entities daily.

"What do you think, Yiska?"

"Honestly, I think you're better off asking Carpenter this, but I think St. Anthony was known for shutting himself up in abandoned forts, tombs, and other places in order to fight the devil. Sounds a lot like what Cadbury is doing on the other side of van Goren's Door. On the other hand, he is the patron saint of amputees. He could be Hemelshot's Saint. But if you're looking for a good saint for Cadbury, St. Andrew makes more sense. From what I remember, Andrew is Peter's brother. They were both fishermen when Christ called them to be Fishers of Men. He's the patron saint of fishermen, mariners, and fishmongers. But then, he might make a better saint for Tyger, being an ex-pirate and all. Beowulf doesn't make much sense there, because after all, Beowulf was Scottish."

Tyger shrugged his shoulders. "I dunno... I mean, considerin' my past, what I've done an' all that shit, I think I'm the last one to sit there an' claim that I'm a hero... much less a saint of any sort."

Yiska looked confusedly at Jama, "Okay, but why are they all Europeans or Jews? What is so significant about the Judeo-Christian faith that removes the possibility of having an Asian, or Indonesian, or Native American iconic figure up there? We've got our own demons that we fight."

"No offense meant to Jama, but I don't think she's qualified to answer that. Nor is Nate for that matter...." Tyger lifted his hand just slightly to indicate Cadbury's office, hopefully silencing any protests to his words before they started. "The only person who can answer that question is behind that door." Tyger grinned just slightly at the simple logic. "After all, she's he one who set up XSWAT... and she's the one that had those paintings hung there in the first place."

"Fishers of men..." Jama glanced at the painting of St. Anthony again, apparently oblivious to everything else Tyger and Yiska had just said. "If it was Andrew instead of Anthony I'd say that was Cadbury... who seeks out men to serve a higher cause." She turned back to the others. "She recruited me personally, you know."

"I believe she recruited all of us personally," a quiet voice interjected from behind the group. Carpenter stood there, still wearing his dress uniform, now less than pristine with the evidence of the heated battle earlier in the evening.

"Tyger? Yiska?" Jama asked.

Tyger looked to the painting first, and then to Jama. "'Bout two years ago when I hit Angelus, and effectively ended my career as a pirate, it was Cadbury who stood over me inside of my broken suit of Power Armor and offered me redemption. She extended her hand and told me, basically, that I could serve XSWAT or go to the gallows."

Tyger looked over to the door of Cadbury's office. "I knew then, and I know better now, that somethin' wasn't right. She knew enough about me to pick me out of a crowd of ragtag mechajocks." He then looked over to Yiska and Jama. "I know XSWAT's got some pretty strange methods of gettin' folks to sign up... but pullin' a beat-up Clade out of thrashed-out Power Armor ain't normal." His voice dropped a bit and he looked over to the door again, almost suspiciously. "And then there is Croe, and how she got me roped into the Supreme Ten. I ain't complainin' about that, but it just seems a little.... odd, if you ask me."

"Well, I'm here in Angelus because of my dreams," Yiska said. "So if she's who I think she is, she not only has called me to serve here in Angelus, but may also be my ancestor."

"That stone that I gave her, with the oh-so-well-thought-out-introduction by Sarge, is actually part of a massive Karuk tribe medicine wheel from up in what used to be Northern California. Her reaction tells me that Cadbury, or rather one of my ancestors that makes up what Cadbury is, probably carved and placed that stone where we found it."

Carpenter raised an eyebrow. "I've got the sneaking suspicion I'm walking into the middle of an already-running debate. I remember the Sergeant making some comments about Jama and you having some theories regarding our Director, but I didn't get the whole story. Care to share your insights, Yiska?"

"Well Carpenter, historians say the Karuk people have lived in the northern part of California for over 10,000 years, but I believe that they were there from the very beginning. Regardless, my people are far older than any text of the Bible, Quran, Hindu, Buddhist, or any written language for that matter. When we die, our spirits, if they are wise and noble, return to guide the living through dreams and visions. They are also known to return in physical form when the tribe is in need of protection."

Yiska paused to breathe and for emphasis, "I firmly believe that Cadbury is the ancestral guardian spirit of California. I can't tell you how or why, like Jama can, but it makes sense that the cataclysm that sank California compressed all of the ancestral spirits spread out over the entire land and those that just died into one small floating city—the last remnants of what used to be California. With the advent of these demons, it only makes sense that these guardian spirits would need to take physical form in order to battle the Entities in the spirit world and here in Angelus, both politically and physically."

Carpenter took the lecture in stride. "That would explains Masada's statement, if we assume that he views all spirits not tied to his narrow-minded worldview as enemies of his faith."

Jama nodded. "What do you think he meant about her being an Entity herself. Is something like that even possible?"

"I think that's exactly Carpenter's point," Yiska responded. "Anything 'otherworldly' gets classified as demonic or, if we choose to be post-modern with it, an Entity. I wouldn't lump her in that group, though. She's one-of-a-kind here; there's only one of her protecting the door in Omega, and we know there are thousands upon thousands more Entities than her, with different ranking, et cetera"

Carpenter shrugged. "I'm not sure he referred to her as an Entity specifically; more like he considered her another demon."

A muted beep drew attention down the hall, towards the elevator. Hemelshot stood at a junction near the elevators, staring at his wristcom, apparently having just stepped around the corner.

Tyger's ear twitched in confusion, as he was certain he hadn't heard the elevator open. Sarge must've done something sneaky, like gotten off on the floor below and walked up. Sneaky bastard.

Hemelshot slowly walked towards the team, stopping at the picture of Saint George. "Renuka, you may have something here. I've just correlated our personal information with that of these paintings." He closed his eyes and slowly shook his head. "I should've done this when you mentioned your theory—I've been past these paintings half a dozen times by now."

"I only just realized it about five minutes ago," Jama replied. "And these aren't the same paintings that were here five months ago."

He turned to face the picture of Saint George face-on. "My birthday is the twenty-third of April." He then turned back to Renuka. "The Feast of Saint George. I've never been a soldier like he was, but in the days of Rome the army was equivalent to the police anyway." He shruged. "I don't know if Entities are the modern equivalent of dragons, but I certainly have a tendency to lead the team into a dragon's lair of trouble—and we've done a pretty good job of killing it, too."

He then turned to face the picture opposite. "Beowulf. Born to a Northern Germanic tribe called the Geates, who founded the 'Fortress of the Geates,' or Geatsburg. Now known as Gothenburg." He pauses and contemplates the picture. "Anyone care to guess where Burton's ancestors were from"?"

Hemelshot took a few steps down the hall to the next picture. "Sigfried, Sigur to the Norse. Dragonslayer. Mostly invulnerable. Understands the language of birds, and gets lot of help from supernatural sources. Sound familiar, Renuka?" He frowned before continuing, "I wouldn't recommend going into politics, though."

Again a turn and this time he looked at Saint Anthony and smiled "Here we have the patron saint of lost items. Tyger, you mentioned coming to Angelus 'about two years ago'—January thirtieth, I believe was the day you made landfall. The Feast of Saint Anthony is generally celebrated on the seventeenth, but the Coptic Church has the closest cultural ties to him and celebrate it on the thirtieth."

Another step down the hall, crowding the team towards Cadbury's door. "Saint Francis of Assisi. Patron Saint of animals and the environment, among other things. His feast is on the fourth of October." An inhaled hiss from Karuk indicated he was personally aquainted with the date.

Hemelshot turned and gestures to the final picture. "Roland. Paladin, magic sword and sworn to serve Charlemagne—the person who more or less brought Europe out of the Dark Ages after the fall of the Roman Empire." He looked pointedly at Carpenter, then Renuka. "Cadbury could be said to be filling his shoes quite well, leading Angelus out of the dark ages of the cataclysm. No?"

Tyger shrugged as well as he listened to the exchange. Most of it was over his head, but he did learn a thing or two as well. One didn't work with the likes of Jamadigni Renuka or Nathan Carpenter and not pick up something. "That guy called her 'one of them'. So what if she is? Who is to say she's bad as all that? I mean, if she is tryin' to keep the door shut, then she's on our side, right? If she is bad as Spermburp says she is, then why is she tryin' to fight the Entities in the first place?"

He paused and looked over his squadmates. No. Not his squadmates. His family. "The way I see it, if she is somewhere... out there..." Tyger gestured rather oddly, trying to indicate what he meant. "...keeping the Entities out, then she prolly needs folks on this side, here, to deal with those that get past whatever she's put up and is keeping put in place. Hell, I dunno how that crap works. But If what Skippy showed us holds any truth to it, then she's got a whole hell of a lot to keep out, and she needs all the help she can get."

"Either way," He continued scratching the back of his head, "We don't know for sure. And we won't know until we ask." He looked from Carpenter to Yiska and then to Jama. "I have my own questions to ask her. Though none of them are 'the-fate-of-the-world-hangs-in-the-balance' sort of important... they are important to me. These are questions that I can prolly find the answers to on my own, but I'm pretty sure that Cadbury knows the answers anyway, so I'm gonna star with her." Tyger then turned to the door and took several steps towards it, stopping to look over his shoulder. "You all are welcome to join me if you want... get your own questions answered... 'cause they sure as hell ain't gonna get answered out here."

"Ahem." The cough was light, but it cut through the buzz of conversation like a knife. Standing in the doorway, Alice Cadbury lifted one hand to gesture towards the group. "If you'd all join me in my office?" Despite the warmth of her invitation, a reserved coolness remained upon her face—a face that seemed oddly marked with weariness. The director of XSWAT physically seemed the same... a woman of average height, with shoulder-length locks of curly, platinum-blonde hair. Her face and figure remarkably attractive and stamped with a timeless beauty often seen among Hollywood stars of the 1950's—as if Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner, Jane Russell, and Lana Turner had been rolled into one, complete with a small beauty mark just above her lips. Nevertheless, a certain undefinable element about her seemed somewhat dimmed, like a hand lifted to provide shade from the sun.

Tyger staggered backwards a couple of steps, almost falling to the floor. It was as if the soft clearing of the throat had slammed into the Clade's chest like a fifteen pound wrench. This was absolutely the very last thing he actually expected to happen by any means.

After he quickly regained his balance, Tyger tried for all the world to not look totally embarrassed or chastised by the sudden appearance of the highest ranking member of XSWAT. "Yes ma'am," was all he managed to mutter as he stepped past the Director into the waiting office.

Jama swallowed dryly, glanced at Carpenter, and then followed Tyger. It was now or never. The next few hours would hopefully see questions answered, for good or ill, for better or worse, and contrary to Tyger's assessment, the fate of the world did hang in the balance.

As Yiska passed Director Cadbury into the office, he bowed his head slightly and gave a barely audible, most sincere, "Thank you," as he had done back at van Goren's door.

Hemelshot stood in the hallway, silently watching his team enter the Director's office, his eyes never leaving hers. With only the two of them remaining, he approached her door and gestured inside. "After you, ma'am."

Part Two: Answers

Cadbury quirked an eyebrow at Yiska, then inclined her head to Hemelshot and entered. The Director's office was as it had always been—a huge, tinted vista window looking out over the city behind a monolithic black basalt desk. A comfortable leather chair (also jet-black) rested behind it. Cadbury touched a corner of the desk and a selection of holographic screens winked into view. Another selection raised the light level in the crystalline lanterns in all four corners of the room, and a silent assistant was summoned to bring in enough chairs for everyone.

A few moments passed while she waited for the squad to be seated, a serene expression seemingly fixed in place on her countenance.

Tyger stood in the office silently, his hands clasped behind his back. He watched the assistant move to and fro putting the chairs in place. When the assistant was done, he still stood there, waiting. Is it just me, or is it cold in here? The Clade's thoughts were silenced when he saw the rest of the squad make their way inside, He hesitated for a moment and then sat down slowly. Tyger looked from each of his squadmates and then to Director Cadbury.

Might as well get this over with. "Ma'am I..." He hesitated for a moment. his words caught in his throat. He cast a glance to Jama from the corner of his eye briefly and then continued. "...have some questions that I need answered. But I think that Jama's concerns are more important. I... can wait until her and Yiska are done."

He really didn't mean to put the spotlight on Jama like that. He was more than willing to get things started, but what Jama and Yiska were wanting to know was far more important that what he wanted to know.

There goes Tyger again, Yiska thought, I'm going to need to recruit Marcy if I'm going to break him of this depression. But my question isn't very different from everyone else's question... all I want to know now is what is a permanent solution to Van Goren's door.

Jama glanced at her seat and then at Tyger. Remaining on her feet, she slowly turned to look at Cadbury, taking in the holograms, the desk, the chair behind it, and the windowed view of the city. Her hands clenched spasmodically, almost on their own accord, until she finally clasped them in front of her in an effort to quell their restless nature.

"Those paintings out there. They represent the 9th Squard, don't they?" she asked, pausing for a moment before adding "And you."

The Director leaned back in her chair, her slender hands steepled together upon the top of the basalt desk. "Your Grandfather always said you were very perceptive, Sergeant Renuka. I'm pleased to say that he—and you—are correct."

When Cadbury confirmed both Jama's and Hemelshot's suspicions that those paintings out there were some representation of 9th Squad and XSWAT in general, Tyger blinked several times in disbelief. He had thought it all a joke really. Just one of those games that people played, looking for signs and portents when there really was none. He looked from Cadbury to Jama, then Hemelshot and then to the floor. "We're doomed," he murmured under his breath. He didn't expect anyone to hear him, in fact he really hoped that nobody did. But it was true though, granted it was overused and clichˇd, but that is how it works: the Hero(s) go forth and do great deeds, gain a reputation as Heroes, then, in the line of duty... doing what it is that Heroes do, perish.

Jama visibly relaxed for a moment and then nodded. "Thank you, Director." She glanced back at her squadmates and then took a deep breath. "If you don't mind me asking... what are you?" There, she'd said it. Blunt and to the point, in a manner more like Tyger, but it didn't matter, an answer, in some form, would come. Seeing the look on Cadbury's face, she hastily continued. "I mean... Yiska thinks you're a guardian spirit and claims to have seen you in Van Doren's home, while Masada said you were an Entity of some sort. And I..." Jama paused and willed herself to look Cadbury in the face. "I find certain parts of your official biography to be rather convenient. You... uhm... certainly don't look to be 93."

Cadbury leaned back in her chair, her palms laid flat on the surface of the desk. Her eyes opened fractionally wider as Jama asked the question.

"What... am... I?" Cadbury repeated, a hint of a smile at the corners of her mouth. "That's a complicated question, Sgt. Renuka." The director paused briefly. "May I ask what brought on this... line of inquiry?"

"Umm..." Tyger began, lifting a hand slowly. "Well, first off, you always seem to be in the know of what is going on and where. I mean, getting sent to Rio on 'vacation' just in time to stop some crazy cult from opening a gate to... hell... I don't know where or what was on the other side, but it was fucking creepy. Anyway, that was a bit too convenient. Also, like Jama said, Masada accused you of being an Entity, or at least "one of them" is how he said it. And he seemed right pissed off about the whole thing too. You could say that he would show that to anyone outside of his narrow views, but he didn't show that to Yiska, nor did he show it towards Jama. That tells me somethin' ain't right." Tyger watched Cadbury carefully as he spoke, monitoring her reactions.

"That doesn't mean I believe him..." the Clade continued, "... or that I'm takin' his side, but someone doesn't go slinging something like that around without a reason. That means he knows something. Something we don't." Tyger was, in a way, trying to take some of the heat off of Jama. After all, he did get things started, and then deftly handed the whole thing over to her with a quickness. "Ma'am, regardless of what the truth is, I think... no... I know that we can handle it."

"Ahhh...." Jama seemed caught between glaring at or thanking Tyger. She settled for a quick 'thanks-for-derailing-my-train-of-thought' look and returned to the matter at hand. "As Tyger said, Masada all but accused you of being an Entity. And when coupled with Yiska's vision, well...." She paused and then forged ahead. "Before we went to Castaway Cay six officers were killed. Once we arrived we found that Dr. Nevius had ordered over 26,000 clads to their deaths just to find a way to fight Entities. All of us here have been hospitalized in some form or another doing the same. Omega claimed Dr. Burton, while our trip to Rio nearly claimed me. We have been through Hell, or close to it, have survived Omega, have fought, killed, bled, and died for you. I think it is time of us, all of us, to know the truth. To know what we fight and how we may defeat it... for matters seem to be coming to a head, and if there is any truth to Masada's future, any truth at all, the fate of all mankind, not just Angelus is at stake."

Cadbury took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Her eyes closed and her head bowed slightly before she continued. "Forgive me. I do not mean to be disingenuous, but to fully answer your question will be complex." Her chair turned until the director was looking out over the city, her expression fixed and distant. "My background, as you see it in the datanet, is a lie."

"I am, by your count, over 10,000 years old." She paused. "And, in a way, Mr. Masada is quite right."

Her chair turned back to face the squad, her eyes fully meeting those of Jamadigni Renuka. "As a sorceress, particularly one of your traditions, you can define the essence of what a 'spirit' is, correct?"

"Yes." Jama answered in a small voice. "I... I can look at something... or someone and see them as they really are. To see their spirit in its purest form... to see their true nature." She paused and swallowed dryly. "It is something I would not do lightly, as it is a sight I will never be able to forget."

When Cadbury made her well-calculated reply, Tyger was caught off-guard and his mouth opened just sighlty. Part of this was due to the fact he did not know what "disingenuous" meant, but more to the point, the fact that both Yiska and Jama were right. The fact that Cadbury admitted that Masada was also correct caused Tyger to pale a little, an odd appearance to be sure. He turned to look right at Yiska for a moment and then back to Cadbury. "So... you're some sort of Guardian Angel or something for Angelus then?"

The director considered Tyger's remarks, then nodded sharply. "That would be one way of putting it, Sergeant," she replied, her shoulders straight in the high-backed chair. "Spirits inhabit a great many things, from statues to paintings to swords... and places." As she finished, her icy blue eyes came to rest upon Nathan Carpenter.

"Spirits interact with the power of belief and faith. Some slumber so deeply they never awake and touch the world only in the lightest of ways. Others are free to walk where they will. It was not always this way."

She shook her head lightly. "But that's another story for another time. I represent the spirit of a place—the region you called California. Other peoples, down through the ages, have named it different things. I am proud to say that my heritage is, for the most part, one of discovery, freedom, tolerance, and hope." Her face darkened. "That is not to say that there are not shameful and terrible things in my totality, however. What is important is how I have chosen to incarnate the beliefs and legends that make up my land and my people." The grim expression lightened, and her eyes grew distant. "A very wise man taught me that."

"So you are a god," Jama replied, glancing quickly at Hemelshot before continuing, "...of a sort."

Alice Cadbury shook her head firmly. "I would never make such a claim, nor seek any worship."

"But you have asked for, and accepted out service.," Jama said. "We may not worship you, but we do follow you."

The director met Jama's gaze levelly. "There's an important difference between godhood and leadership. I would expect someone like you to understand that." Jama bowed her head slightly, but said nothing.

"Some spirits may lay claim to godhood, and some may have been worshipped as such." She slapped a palm lightly upon the desktop. "But not I."

Cadbury's mein softened as she took a breath. "For many years, I did nothing, knew nothing more than faint whispers of the people and the land.

"The first cataclysm awakened me, but only partially. I spent a great deal of time wandering the world, watching humanity rise to greatness and sink to new depths. There were times when my identity had some meaning." Alice's eyes swept over Yiska. "The native tribes, for instance, knew me as the great spirit. But even then I was a wild thing, formless and shifting like the sea."

"A great flood killed all of the First People, and so the ravens made new people to populate the Earth," Jama said quietly.

"For a long, long time, however, I was little more than a vague suggestion. That all changed forever about two hundred and fifty years ago. I met a man who defined me, who shaped my being for all time."

Jama turned her face to the ceiling and closed her eyes. "2112 minus 200 equals... 1911... minus 50 equals.... 1862. Abraham Lincoln..." she paused a moment and then looked at Cadbury. "Or Emperor Norton?"

Cadbury blinked, then her eyes narrowed slightly as she turned her attention to Jama. "You're quite a good student of history, Sergeant," she said with grudging approval. "Yes, I am speaking of Joshua Abraham Norton." Alice smiled, a true touching-the-eyes smile that brightened up the room. "He was an exceptional man. He taught me that character comes from within." She looked to Tyger. "Not from one's past.

"He also understood about the power of belief. There were many among us who grew interested in him—that's how unique a person he was."

Her voice grew quiet. "I took physical form to speak with him—doing so cost me a great deal—it took me a long time to recover, but was well worth it." She gestured at the office. "Almost everything you've seen here, and at Van Goren's house, was influenced by him."

Tyger listened intently to the exchange between Cadbury and Jama. Occasionally one of his ears would twist over towards Jama, and the other would remain pointed towards Cadbury, a very feline action. As Cadbury explained things, or rather, answered the questions presented to her, and in some cases, answering them before they were asked, Tyger interlaced his fingers and listened, the tip of his tail twitching back and forth as he tried to piece it all together and make sense of it.

When Cadbury blatently stated spirits have claimed godhood and requested, or demanded worshipers, he looked over to Carpenter for a brief moment and then back to Cadbury. "Emperor? California had an Emperor?" His voice suggested his usual lost confusion on matters that were over his head. He had heard and seen a lot of things, so he had learned to take most of it with a grain of salt. He also wasn't much of a historian either, but something about 'Emperor' and 'California' being together in the same sentance just didn't make much sense.

It was when Cadbury looked at him that the Clade seemed to shrink in his seat. Why did he always get that sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach when she looked at him like that? "But...I thought that the United States was always a democracy, how could he be an Emperor?" Tyger murmured the question in a feeble attempt to somehow direct Cadbury's attention off of him with that look of hers.

Hemelshot had been quiet so far, simply been absorbing the information being divulged. Now he joined the conversation, looking up from his wristcomm and addressing Tyger.

"The man was a joke." He glanced at Cadbury and added, "No offence intended against a man you respect," and turned back to Tyger, "But he was a self-proclaimed emperor that the local government tolerated because he amused them. No power, no followers, no money—he died in the street, penniless. It's mentioned he was a philosopher and," again he turned to Cadbury, "from your statements I'd gather a rather impressive one. About whom I wouldn't mind learning more.

"But later." Hemelshot faceed Cadbury head-on. "Right now I've got a question of my own.

"Setting aside the rudeness of discussing a lady's age, what does it have to do with us? So you're older than you look—so what? It's reassuring to know there'll be some consistency in leadership." He leaned forward. "What I want to know is, is our job going to change because we've 'discovered your secret'? It's a given that," he waved his hand in the air dismissively, "great forces are in motion, and events of major significance are afoot, but it's late and I've got a haunted doll to deal with at home. It's not that I'm not curious, but is there anything I need to know or can I rely on Renuka to summarize things for me in the morning?


Yiska turned to Hemelshot with a look of disbelief in his face. "Unless you don't want to be part of the discussion about permanently closing Van Goren's door, Lieutenant, because that's going to be my next question. Cadbury's identity is significantly important, Hemelshot, because whether or not you care, the rest of us need someone to trust and follow. We haven't lost enough of our nerve endings to be able to quietly discuss philosophy with a genocidal maniac or even agree to discuss strategy with him. But that's besides the point." Yiska turned back to address Cadbury, "Director, is there a permanent solution to Van Goren's door? It seems all we've been doing is catching up to what has been leaking through... We were able to put a stop to the door opening in Rio, surely there must be some something we can do to close the door here."

Hemelshot regarded Karuk with mild distain. "Karuk, I think that is precisely the point. Before tonight, I believed that Director Cadbury has been working to fight for the safety of Angelus longer and more effectively than anyone else. I had every confidance that if she knew of a better and more effective way to safeguard the city, she'd have done it already. Nothing I've heard tonight has changed that." He settled back in his chair.

"And unlike you, I trust that she's already been doing everything she can—including sending us to Rio. This isn't some anime where we're suddenly more important and more effective just because we know something new and different. If there was a way to shut that door, she'd have done it or had us do it. And if you don't trust her to have been doing that all along, or if you don't trust me enough to be in charge, there are solutions for that, too."

Hemelshot turned back to Cadbury. "My apologies, ma'am. Perhaps I phrased my question abruptly, as I'm sure my teammates are interested in your background, philosophical inclinations, and the ramifications of not having life insurance deductions from your paycheck. I'm afraid I'm a little more fundamental, and am worried about what this revelation means for us—what changes to our operational procedures can I expect?"

Taken back by the sudden hostility present in the room, Jama looked almost shocked as she physically stepped away from where Hemelshot sat. "I didn't ask you to be here, Sir." she snapped, angry at the disdain the Lieutenant seemed to have for matters she felt were important . "This was just supposed to be between the Director and I."

Tyger lifted a brow at the answer given, first to Hemelshot, and then to Cadbury, and then back to Hemelshot. "I dunno about all of that. If he had the right idea about something, acted on it and failed due to the system, you can't blame him for that. At least he tried. There is also the fact that whatever he said or did influenced our Director some way... before she became our Director and set up XSWAT... and that alone is enough to convince me that he wasn't a joke."

Tyger then looked to Yiska after he spouted off, his attention moving once more to Cadbury and then to Hemelshot. "Sir, I don't know about you, but I know that a lot of the stuff that Jama, Nate, and Yiska all talk about with spirits, magic, and all that stuff is well over my head. I don't get it and I really doubt I ever will..." He paused and took a breath, exhaling slowly.

"But that doesn't mean I shouldn't be here. That doesn't mean that any thoughts or ideas I have should be thrown out, or me being here ignored. On top of that, I have a lot of crap I can be takin' care of right now too. May not be a kid with a crazy doll, but what I've got is just as important to me as your kid is to you." He looked directly at Cadbury as he continued. "But I'm here, tryin' to learn what's going on and figure it all out. What I don't get anyone here will explain to me." He then looks back at Hemelshot, frowning. "Point is, Sir, is that you, as our team leader should be in here. You should be here before any of us are..."

Another pause, and for a brief moment his eyes flicked to Carpenter and then back to Hemelshot. "If it's that big of a deal, after we learn what we need to learn, I'll go back to your place and help you with your kid. Crazy doll or not... cause that's what family does."

Cadbury raised a hand. "One moment, please." Despite the calmness in her voice, her statement was certainly not a request.

The director's eyes sought out Hemelshot. "Lieutenant, your people requested this meeting. They've earned a right to get some answers to their questions."

"Also," She continued, holding the other man's gaze with her own, "I make no pretension to omniscience or perfection. It may be that you or someone in your squad can intuit something useful from this conversation."

Cadbury took a breath and returned her attention to Yiska and Jama. "With regards to the door...I don't know." She admitted. "There may be a way to close it forever—and I certainly hope that's the case."

"The Entities are definitely attempting to cross over. They're looking for any source of power they can find to break the rift wide open."

"So..." Yiska frowned, "What do they use for power then? Souls, Emotions? Most of them seem rather mindless, unlike Ys- I mean the Class IIIs. Come to think of it, when we fought him, Scanner mentioned that she tried to cut off some sources of his power. I dont think anybody bothered to ask her what those were."

"No... we didn't," Jama agreed. "Director?"

Cadbury's eyes glittered with some deeper emotion, although her features remained composed. "Entities, as a rule, feed upon souls." Her flat statement belied a certain tightness in her voice. "They seek out pure and innocent souls over older and 'corrupt' ones—and some can occasionally gain sustenance from items or places steeped in magical power."

"Ysarille..." The Director smiled lightly. "You can say his name here—we are shielded..."

"...he and some few other Entities have learned to cast spells and utilize power sources that are more familiar to sorcerers such as Renuka, here."

Tyger listened to the revelations presented by the Director in silence for a few moments. Then something occurred to him. "This may seem kinda silly to ask..." He began slowly at first. "...but it may help somehow, so I gotta ask it: Do Clades have souls? I mean, think about it for a minute. We have heard and seen Entities possess humans... and in the process, consume their soul. But to my knowledge nothing like that has happened to a Clade."

"Everything has a soul," Jama said with confidence. "Be it natural or man-made."

"I agree." Yiska says, shifting his weight in the chair. "And regardless, I think we can consider anything on this planet fair game for the Entities as far as consumption goes." Turning back to Cadbury and Renuka, "Now, when van Goren opened the door to "The Outside" did he break some cosmic law? Are the Entity's punishment? Was Yzzy on the other side just waiting? I'm just not sure how Van Goren single-handedly accomplished what a cabal of mages and a dozen sacrifice victims couldn't at Rio (besides our involvement)." Yiska lowered his head and rubbed his temple, the lights in the room flickering briefly, "What did Van Goren do differently? Why has his door remained open and the one in Rio close? If magic power comes from that outside, why would the Entities enter our world only to feed on less of it? I'm missing something because it isn't adding up." Yiska looked back up, "Speaking of things that aren't adding up—Director, where is everyone else? Why are you the only spirit concerned with this tear in the fabric of reality? Did we miss the Spirit Moot or something?"

The director's eyes closed briefly, then reopened with a laser-like focus on the young esper seated before her. "First, it is my understanding that Dominic van Goren was one of the most brilliant sorcerers of his era. Second, do not confuse the soul with sorcery. Third...."

Cadbury leaned back in her chair, and the lines of her face displayed her weariness more than ever. "I can't be certain what has happened to the rest of my kind. I sense that some are still slumbering, while others have been... consumed by our enemies." She sighed. "They prefer to work in secret when they can, but the time is soon nigh when they will be powerful enough to attack openly."

"Then how do we awaken others of your kind, Director?" Jama asked. "How do we alert them to the dangers facing both them, and the rest of the world?"

Tyger frowned just slightly. "But will they be ready in time to stop Gurzorath an' whatever he's planning? Apparently... he... it... whatever... is gettin' to be strong enough to manipulate folks here already to do whatever he wants. I saw as much when I was at Bloody Bay an' I have a feelin' that some of those images that laughing boy showed us on the shuttle were about the same guy."

The Clade looked from Cadbury for a moment and then to the other members of his team, and then back to the Director. "We know what's gettin' ready to happen, you've known for a long time I bet. But the rest of the world is fuckin' clueless. I dunno if that's how you've all wanted to play the game or not. That's not any of my business. What is my business is kickin' ass an' takin' names."

"You an' just about everyone between you an' me on the food chain knows that I've been askin' for better weapons and armor for a long time. Granted, I appreciate the upgrades and work you all have been putting into the Blue Steel Project, and then there are the improved masers we have been issued as well. But all of that, except maybe the masers, are still way below what any military has access to. Hell, even the masers are not much better than some firearms out there on the market."

"Now, I ain't bringin' this up again, here and now, as an excuse to have bigger, better toys. Everyone here knows that XSWAT is undermanned and outgunned in just about every situation we come across. Be it rogue mercs, pirates, cyber criminals, or Entities. Every fight we've relied on our skills an' determination not to fail to see things put right. Normally, I could buy that that is enough to hold things at bay while the politicians do their thing."

"Right now, it seems we are gettin' ready to face a lot of Entities. More Class IIs than any of us could shake a stick at. It takes four or five XSWAT Officers to put down one Class II. The more Class IIs you throw in there, the more Officers it's gonna take to put down those Class IIs without takin' too much of a beating."

"If what's-his-nuts is saying is true, and/or Gurzorath is commin' to give us all season's greetings, then we ain't ready. Spirit an' determination goes a long way in my book. So does big guns and heavy armor. When the shit hits the fan, I don't think we will have enough of any of it to see it through... despite our best efforts."

"Ma'am, we're gonna need help when it comes down to it. We're gonna need military grade weapons an' armor for XSWAT, we'll prolly need to get the Order of Enoch to jump in, as they do this sort of stuff. We need whatever help Jama an Yiska can pull together from wherever they get it from too. Point is... we need to be gettin' ready for this showdown."

Carpenter's voice cut in, soft and steady. "I don't think 'this showdown' is going to be won by the one with the biggest guns. Our goal is not to destroy every Entity on Earth or beyond, but simply keep them from coming over to our demesne. Am I right, Ms. Cadbury?"

Without waiting for an answer, he continued. "Regardless of his intentions, van Goren opened a door. The book we recovered from Omega Sector holds the key to close it again. Which we will, once we figure out what it is. Anything else we do at this point is a delaying action."

Carpenter's face broke into a grin. "Of course, some increased firepower would be very helpful in that regard."

The director nodded, her platinum-colored tresses bobbing lightly with the motion. "You're correct, Sergeant Carpenter. My goal, and the purpose of XSWAT, is to defend the people of this city against the Entities. With regards to the second point, all I can say at this time is that we are well prepared."

"I'm working on the book as best I can..." Jama paused and glanced down at her boots. "But I don't fully understand all of it yet. There is only so much I can call upon at once and still keep under control. I thought the book might help with that, but so far...." She gave a slight shrug and continued, "I am an animist, but much of the book is more in line with Hermetic Theurgy. It deals with calling up on not the spirits of elemental forces, but the spirits resident in the Earth and other celestial bodies." Her eyes narrowed for a moment as she looked over at Cadbury. "Like you. Perhaps the book might help in waking up the sleeping spirits of the Earth..." Looking thoughtful Jama's voice trailed off.

"I wish you luck in your studies, Sergeant Renuka." Cadbury replied tiredly."Unfortunately, my time is limited." She glanced at her watch. "I realize that the answers I can provide are not necessarily the ones that you seek." The director smiled lightly, a bit of sparkle rekindling in her eyes. "But I hope I have provided some limited amount of guidance to help you on your way."

Tyger gave a slight nod. "I know that XSWAT was set up to defend Angelus and its citizens from the Entities and all that stuff. An' I'm more than sure that whatever's gonna happen, you got XSWAT prepared... I just wonder if it will be enough."

Part Three: Denouncement

Carpenter raised his hand. "Before you dismiss us, I do have one question to ask, if I may?"

Cadbury nodded. "Go ahead, Sergeant Carpenter." The director's smile remained in place. "Don't think I haven't taken note of your patience."

Nodding in acknowledgment, Carpenter paused for a moment, as if to collect his thoughts, then continued in a casual tone.

"In my last contact with Sister Carmen Rosette, who is, as you know, a member of the Order of Enoch, she reported the existence of the splinter group we know as the Enochians, along with their suspected activities. I then passed that information to you and XSWAT."

"One of the pieces of information she gave us was the suspicion that a highly-placed member of this city's government was friendly to their goals and possibly helping them out."

Carpenter leaned forward, his voice dropping all casualness. "My question to you, Director Cadbury, is, was it the City Coordinator?"

Tyger was prepared to leave many of his questions unanswered for the time being. After all, there was no need to bother her about his own personal quests at this point in time. Not after watching her and gauging her reactions. Then Carpenter asked his question, and that brought up a question, or rather, a suspicion concerning the whole matter.

"Nate brings up a good point ma'am," Tyger began. "As you, and everyone on this team knows, myself and Marcy took a little trip to Bloody Bay. While there, I saw a man, whom at the time I did not recognize... but now know to be a cybernatically-enhanced mercenary-assassin who goes by the name of "The Weasel." When I first saw him at Bloody Bay, I noticed he had a file and information opened on a laptop he was using..." the Clade paused and directed his attention to Cadbury. "...that file had your picture and name tattooed all over it.

"At the time I thought something was wrong, but because I could not place a name with the face I thought to leave it alone for later. When I realized that it was the Weasel looking over your file, I had thought he was checking up on a mark. I know you've got enemies ma'am. Everyone in power, political or otherwise, does. It was because of that, I brought it to your attention..." He trailed off for a moment as if collecting his thoughts before continuing.

"But when I did that, you gave me every indication that not only did you know of his presence, but you were certain that he was not after you." Tyger frowned then. "I'm not accusing you of anything... but I know you knew something ma'am. You always do. What I wanna know is... what gives?"

Cadbury frowned, her brow furrowing somewhat in thought as she addressed Carpenter first. "To my knowledge, Coordinator Hunter was a man of great vision. I don't believe he would have been involved with fanatics such as those you describe." She checked her watch. "In fact, I am nearly late for an emergency City Council meeting to elect a Coordinator-pro tem and set the date for another election."

The director glanced briefly at Tyger. "Anyone hired to kill me would have their work cut out for them, Sergeant Tyger. It seemed pointless to dwell on the possibility of assassination with so many other threats to consider."

Tyger's reply was quick, almost as if he had not thought his retort thorough. Almost. "Ma'am, with all due respect, you didn't answer my question. Fine, The Weasel wasn't comin' after you. I can buy that. But you knew he was comin' for someone. You gave me every impression that you knew he was here before I told you about him.

"But you haven't explained why he would have a bunch of information about you... yet not be after you. Why he would be here, in Angelus, to do a job with a bunch of information about you... yet not be after you, and you knowin' all about it. So I ask again ma'am... what gives?"

Jama stared wide-eyed at Tyger and Cadbury as the implications of his (and Carpenter's) questions dawned on her.

Carpenter's eyes had not left Cadbury's face through the exchange.

"Asked and answered, Sergeant." Cadbury replied to Tyger, a slight edge sharpening her voice. "I'm quite sure that the methods and practices of a professional assassin are beyond my understanding."

Tyger's eyes flicked towards Carpenter for a moment, and then back to Cadbury. "Somehow I doubt that that is the whole truth. You let on that you know a lot more than you're tellin' us. To me, that also means you know a whole hell of a lot more than you're lettin' on."

"You knew he was here, you know what he does. The Weasel is good, damn good if you ask me... otherwise he wouldn't be considered the best. But he ain't perfect. I told you that he was here for you, you knew he wasn't... an' you told me that much. So does that mean you knew who he was after?" Tyger shrugged his shoulders. "Meh... hard to say. He coulda been after any number of folks. But I told you about it, about what kinda danger he is. And now the Coordinator is sleepin' in a body bag... and nothing was done to keep somethin' like that from goin' down in the first place."

Tyger paused and looked over the rest of his teammates. His family. Jama, Nate, Dick, Yiska. He even had a vague impression that Doc was here in his own way too. His gaze turned back to Cadbury. "Ma'am, I started with XSWAT because I had to. You gave me a choice, even if it wasn't much of one. From day one, you've shown me that you know a whole lot about what's goin' on. That there is a whole hell of a lot more that you ain't tellin' any of us. At first I fought because I had to, it's what I do and it's easy for me. I then started fightin' because I started likin' it. That's part of what made my choice to stay on so easy, even if there were some who were tryin' to convince me otherwise. I've defended you and fought for you because I trusted you.

"I know that I'm 'just a Clade' with a record a mile long. I know that to most folks I'm just some mechajocky who's got bullets for brains an' should be on a battlefield somewhere an' not XSWAT. But at least I'm honest. I got my own crew back in the day because the boys trusted me... I didn't keep shit from 'em, and I was straight with 'em. I'd like to think that I've been straight with everyone. Even if they didn't like what I told 'em, or how I said it... they could never say I wasn't straight with 'em.

"I guess what I'm tryin' to say is that I'm findin' it a bit harder to trust you. I know you've got what's best for Angelus and for the people and city in mind overall. But I don't know how much more we'll be willing to put up with if you can't be straight with us."

Carpenter stood and faced Cadbury.

"With all due respect, Director, I think we need a proof of faith to settle this."

Using his left hand, he drew his sword, holding the hilt in a backwards grip with the point down. He held it out in Cadbury's direction.

"In the presence of the Lord, nothing can be hidden. Place your hand on the pommel of the sword and answer the question; only the truth can set you free."

"Are you responsible for the City Coordinator's death, or stand by when you could have prevented it?"

Hemelshot leaned forward and softly said, "Carpenter, if you would kindly put up your weapon? Some things must be taken on faith. I don't remember the chapter and verse, but didn't God say, 'I refuse to give proof of my existence, for proof denies faith and without faith I am nothing.' If we are to trust her actions to save the city, should we not trust her spoken word?"

Leaning back he continued, "That said, ma'am, I would very much appreciate a simple answer. The phrase 'It would be pointless to...' usually indicates a politician that has something to hide. I'd thought you were above that sort of thing." He paused, frowned then stood, "Actually, ma'am, it doesn't matter."

"I trust you with the safety of the city," he said as he slowly stepped to the door, "That's good enough for me. You have your secrets, and I thank you for sharing a few of them with us tonight. I'd like to speak with you tomorrow, though, as your words indicate a need for preparations."

Carpenter did not move or change his stance. His eyes remained locked on Cadbury as he spoke.

"And there lies the main difference between us, Richard. For you, it's the results that matter. 'The end justifies the means.'"

"But the means must be worthy of the end, otherwise you risk making your goal meaningless. If we start treating people's lives as just chits on the board, to be traded about with no thought to the true cost, we become no better than James Masada. We risk destroying the very things we're trying to defend and preserve.

At that instant, the room vanished, whited out by a harsh radiance emanating from the director. She stood, her shadowless form attaining a skyscraper-like significance, giving the squad of XSWAT officers the impression that they stood in the bowl of some massive arena. The director's high-backed chair disintegrated into a fine powder, and the massive stone desk spiderwebbed with cracks as a sudden thunderclap rent the air with staggering force.

The weight of over ten millennia blazed out from Alice Cadbury's eyes, and the air itself thrummed with the echoes of a vast and terrible heartbeat. Twin suns flamed in her pupils, each containing the accumulated essence of not hundreds, but thousands of lifetimes. Her narrowed gaze focused mainly upon the Clade Tyger as she opened her mouth to speak, her words fathomless and rolling like the tide of an ancient sea.


Carpenter blanched as his superior metamorphosed into a figure of mythology. His hand clenched his sword, knuckles white. His other hand shaded his eyes from the fulminating brilliance of the figure towering above the team, his lips mouthing silent words, most likely a prayer.

Tyger was stunned into utter and complete silence for several moments. He was barely able to think, felt unable to move, much less speak. Eventually he snapped himself out of it and he slowly moved to his feet with great effort. Carefully, one step taken at a time, he stood at Carpenter's side. He looked up to the being that used to be Director Cadbury as defiantly as he could, which considering the circumstances, merely standing was about all the defiance he could muster. The Clade swallowed several times with some difficulty before he spoke. His voice was quiet, barely above that of a whisper, for to speak any louder would betray things he would rather not have betrayed. "Or what? You'll kill me? Torture me? Toss me into a cell? Kick me out of XSWAT? Banish me from Angelus?"

Tyger shook his head slowly, one hand resting on Carpenter's shoulder as if for some measure of stability. "Sorry ma'am. I've faced down Omega, thrown down against Class Three Entities and been on Death's doorstep more times than I can count.

"If I've tested your patience, I apologize... but you've tested my trust. I can fight for Angelus, I can fight for my family and I can fight for the safety of the world at large. But I can't fight for someone, regardless how noble the idea... how much for the greater good it is... if I can't trust them."

He took a long, deep breath and closed his eyes, his hand squeezing Carpenter's shoulder, almost as if trying to draw some of the paladin's strength. "I trust Richard Hemelshot because I know he wouldn't betray me. I know he'd help me out if I needed it. I know that he and i don't always see eye to eye on a lot of stuff... but when it comes down to it, I trust him to lead me and my family to victory and bring us all home.

"I trust Nathan Carpenter because I know that he will keep us on the right path. He will make sure that we, as a squad will do what is right... even if it's hard no matter what.

"I trust Yiska Karuk because he knows stuff that I don't understand. Between him and Nate, I know we can't do wrong, because Yiska is willing to argue something from a different point of view so we don't do something stupid.

"I trust Jamadagni Renuka because, like Yiska, she knows stuff I don't understand. She keeps us educated about all sorts of stuff that I couldn't begin to explain. A lot of the stuff we've done, we couldn't have done without her."

Tyger closed his eyes as he paused once again. He looked at his squadmates and then back to Cadbury. "...I trust them all ma'am. And even though I'm an ex-con, an ex-pirate, and a Clade... I sincerely think and hope that they Trust me to do what I gotta do on the battlefield and off duty... to show that I ain't some monster or worse..."

"With all due respect ma'am... I don't think I can trust you anymore. Not the way I kept trust in you before anyway. You're the Director of XSWAT. You are supposed to personify everything XSWAT is and what it stands for. You've just shown me that XSWAT stands for secrecy, lying, threatening one's subordinates, and the like. If I wanted that, I would have gone back to bein' a pirate or a common thug."

Tyger then stood on his own, still obviously shaken by Cadbury's display of power, but resolute nonetheless. "I can fight for Marcy, I can fight for the safety of the world, I can fight for Angelus and I can fight for my family here. But I can't fight for you or for XSWAT." He fell silent for a few more moments almost as if he were weighing his words and intentions. "If that means you have to take my rank and my badge, I'll leave 'em on the secretary's desk on the way out."

The Clade came to the position of attention and rendered a salute. He then turned on his heel and, sufficiently cowed, rebuked and chastised, he made his way to the doors of the Director's office. He rested a hand on the handle and gave one last look to Cadbury. "I'm sorry I tried your patience and wasted your time Ma'am. Try to have a good remainder of your evening, and I hope your meeting goes well." At that, he pulled the door open and stepped out without a further word.

After Tyger left the room, the light dims and reality, such as it was, returned to normal. Still standing over the cracked ruin of her once-nifty desk, Cadbury sighed and didn't quite roll her eyes. She turned her attention to Carpenter. "That was...regrettable, Sergeant, but I don't enjoy being called a liar."

She collected her thoughts for a moment. "I find your intention of investigating the Coordinator's death laudable. You may wish to begin with the classic question: 'Who would benefit most from his death?'" With that, she gestured to the door. "Dismissed."

Carpenter looked down, for a moment looking like he is about to buckle from some great weight. He straightened up, glances over at Cadbury with eyes brimming with unidentifiable emotions, then quietly sheathed his sword and walked out of the office.

Jama rose from her chair, glancing at the door and then the Director. She swallowed and then spoke. "'I can call spirits from the vasty deep'," she quoted, then continued. "Will you come if I call upon you, Director? Can you lend me some of your power in times of need? Some of your strength? The services of your domain?"

Cadbury quirked an eyebrow. "Of course... but strength is one thing I seem to be short of just now, so I wouldn't recommend it." A moment passed. "Dismissed, First Sergeant Renuka."