The spinner pulled to a stop near the Darwin Memorial Art Museum. This was where Jamadagni Renuka had summoned the Spirit of Angelus: The Digital Angel. Tyger stepped out of the spinner and into the light drizzling rain that seemed to almost permanently hang around Angelus. While everyone else had umbrellas, hoods or cloaks, Tyger only wore his uniform. On these little trips, Tyger preferred to feel the weather and enjoy the rain. Marcy followed her husband, though she maintained a respectful distance as he stood in front of the statue to Alice Cadbury.
She could not hear what Tyger told the statue. Even though she was curious, she never did ask what Tyger said. It was always between him and his mother, and even though she was his wife, she had no right to intrude upon that particular intimacy. After his few, brief words, he left a single white rose with the statue.
Every time he came here it was the same without fail. Every January fifteenth and every Mother's Day, Tyger came to this statue. Sometimes he would stop by more often, but he always came on those days without fail. Sometimes he just stood there in silence. Other times he talked, sometimes for hours as he sat at the foot of the statue. But every time he left that single white rose. Although Marcy was not there for every visit, every time she was, the status seemed to almost smile.
The next stop was Rutger Bridge. This little ritual was less precise, Marcy noticed, but it was by far more solemn. Every January Fifteenth and any time he came to Rutger Bridge, Tyger paced towards the far end and walked the entire length of the bridge, looking down, to the left and right. Sometimes he would turn suddenly as if something had caught his attention. Other times he would stare out wistfully as sad memories tugged at his mind.
Marcy had no idea what Tyger had gone through, but she had heard the stories from both Tyger and others. She heard how every able-bodied man and woman, and who knows how many who should not have been fighting in the first place, made a stand when The Wall surrounding Omega Sector shattered. The deluge of horrors that flowed through from that foul place was the stuff of nightmares.
Sometimes Tyger still woke up in the middle of the night. Sometimes his right hand twitching and shaking, sometimes screaming incoherently. Sometimes he just sat bolt upright and shook. Those were the worst. The times when he just sat up shaking in fear and staring off into space. But every time it was the same thing: Omega Sector. Rutger Bridge. Gurzorath. It was never easy to get her husband to calm down when he woke up like that. But she always managed somehow. She never did pretend to understand the horrors he had faced. She only accepted that nobody ever truly survives Omega Sector and everyone is scarred.
But her husband stood alone on that very bridge ten years ago. When Alice Cadbury left to sacrifice herself. When the press of the dead, both defender and Entity alike became too much. When the call to retreat to the next line of defenses came. Tyger stood alone on that bridge to make sure that every man, woman and child were across and in the relative safety beyond the bridge within the city itself.
He should have died that night. If not on the bridge, then at the terror of what came after that. But he didn't. Tyger, that bastard, kept his word. And he survived.
Marcy stood, waiting for her husband to finish his patrol of the bridge. He always took his time here. Especially when it came to reading the names of those who had died that night in the stalwart defense of their city. And he always paused to read a prominent inscription that was on the bridge.
When Tyger was done, he walked with a noticeable weakness in his body and knees. As if a great weight had been pressed upon his shoulders. Marcy moved to her husband and wrapped her arms around him in a tender hug "You know you don't have to do this to yourself Tyger. They knew what they were doing that night. They knew the costs. Their sacrifices were not in vain."
Tyger smiled sadly. "I know Marcy. But...I have to. I have to tell them thanks. I have to tell them that what they did was not in vain. Even if they can't hear me, I have to tell them that, because I don't know how many of them didn't get to say goodbye, or tell their loved ones 'I love you' before they walked out the door for the last time. If I don't...I...well....I guess that would make what they gave up mean a little less. And they don't deserve that."
Damn you! Marcy smiled sadly in reply to her husband's words. "I understand." I can't fault him, but I just wish he wouldn't do that to himself. "So...one more stop?"
Tyger gave a slight nod. "Yeah, one more stop. Then we really have to get to the ceremony."
"Well, at least they are at the same place." Marcy smiled as they walked back to the spinner.
* * * * *
After reaching the XSWAT Headquarters Building, the spinner flew around the main three-pillared building before peeling away slowly. It took some maneuvering and work, but a reasonable spot inside of the lot was found. Once Tyger parked the spinner, he got out and opened the door for Marcy.
"You know, just because I outrank you doesn't mean you have to do that." Marcy smiled.
Tyger shrugged his shoulders and closed the door. "Does that also mean I can't do it even though I want to?"
"You're a real piece of work. You know that?" Marcy smiled as she fidgeted with Tyger's uniform, making sure that everything was in place. "When I first met you, you were an overconfident, cocksure, scruffy, jerk of a man, and a real asshole to boot."
"I'm almost afraid to ask what you think now." Tyger gave a wry smile as lifted his chin, allowing Marcy more room to adjust his tie and collar.
Marcy gave a grin, her eyes glittering in amusement. "Oh, you're still an overconfident, cocksure, scruffy, jerk of a man. And a real asshole when you set your mind to it." She kissed him when his ears seemed to fold back. "But that's why I married you."
Tyger grinned and took Marcy's hand in his own and kissed her knuckles lightly. "Are you sure it wasn't my charming good looks and impeccable manners?"
Marcy blushed and took her husband's hand with a smile. "No, you silly man! I married you because you're exactly the opposite, and that's what makes you fun."
Marcy recalled, as she walked with Tyger hand in hand, towards the central chamber in XSWAT Headquarters, that she still did have to remind her husband exactly what his good qualities were from time to time, as if he still possessed some insecurities about his past. Sometimes it was a chore, but most times it was as easy as just telling, or rather reminding, him that it was his faults that made him attractive.
There were, of course, times when she had to question why she stayed with him, why she married him. But somehow Tyger always did something that served as a reminder. From something small, like remembering some minor detail or promise, to days like today where he showed his unswerving loyalty to his friends and family.
Marcy genuinely wondered how much of that was instilled in Tyger from the beginning and how much of it he had learned. How much of that loyalty was part of Tyger's 'Never-say-die' attitude, and his utter refusal to give up on anything without a fight? How much of all of that was already present in him from day one, and all it took was the words and actions of such heroes as Richard Hemelshot, Jamadagni Renuka, Nathan Carpenter, Doctor Graham Burton, Malachi Brogan or Yiska Karouk? Did it really matter?
* * * * *
The central chamber within Angelus XSWAT Headquarters was immense. Built in the mid 2090s, soon after the creation of XSWAT, and bested only by the Institute of Tomorrow for sheer technological design and splendor, it was one of the most advanced buildings in all of Angelus. With cold, clean, polished and machined surfaces, hard stone floors, numerous works of modern and traditional art, several shrines to many different religious and spiritual denominations, and more, it was the Center of Angelus. A building established to defend the city from any threat from without and within.
Normally, the XSWAT Headquarters building was fairly empty or was far more quiet despite the numerous visitors that would come by on a day to day basis. Most XSWAT officers worked directly out of their local precincts, leaving XSWAT Headquarters for administration, research, development, record keeping and advanced training. There were special occasions such as award ceremonies, gatherings, promotions and similar that brought a lot of traffic to the central hall. Today was one such day. Numerous men and women, dressed in the pristine dark blue dress uniform of XSWAT mingled and milled around with many, but a lesser number of civilians; mostly spouses and family of the XSWAT officers most of whom were present. Throbbing through the hall was the droning commotion of hundreds of conversations going on at once. Not to the degree that each was trying to be heard over the other, but the sheer volume of people chatting, talking was immense nonetheless.
Tyger stepped into the central chamber from the parking garage entrance and looked over field of blue uniforms, distorted here and there in patches by those who were civilians and smiled. What happened next always brought tears to her eyes. It always happened when Tyger made his appearance whenever he was recognized by XSWAT, and on occasion, the general citizenry of Angelus itself.
There was no announcement from anybody or any device and Tyger's footfalls were too quiet to be heard over the din. Like a wave of power, a respectful hush slowly fell over the fell over the crowd. It started with a few individuals, but that sudden desire for silence resonated from where Tyger and Marcy stood and quickly overtook everyone in the central hall.
Two steps. That is all it took. That is all it seemed to ever take. Again, a wordless cue caused the field of blue to split down its center. At first two or three officers stepped aside to make way, and then more and more, with greater frequency, until Tyger was able to walk freely, flanked a wall of XSWAT officers on either side. To Marcy, it seemed to always be a repetition of a story she read about in the Bible; how Moses parted the Red Sea. Though wholly different, the analogy was the same and no less impressive. And every time she is with him at times like this, Marcy noticed that her husband always seemed to walk a little taller, regardless of what was on his mind.
As the crowd parted and Tyger moved forward, Marcy walked with him, her fingers interlaced with his own. She could hear the questions just above the hushed drone of conversations that were still in the background.
"Who is that? Why are we moving?"
"Dude, don't you know your history? Rutger Bridge!"
"Why do we have to stand aside for that walking carpet?"
"Hey! If it weren't for that 'walking carpet', you wouldn't be here. Show some dammed respect for the man!"
"Oh yeah? What did he do?"
"Take a walk by Rutger Bridge sometime and read what's there. That's all you need to know."
"Rutger Bridge? The last stand in front of the invasion? That's the clade that stood alone and was the last to leave?"
"Yeah, that's him. He made sure everyone was across before he took a single step backwards."
"Funny, I thought he'd be taller."
She knew Tyger could hear them too, but she also knew that he didn't care. He got what he wanted. He got a city that recognized him for what he was, he got friends and family who genuinely care about him. He got a home and that was all that mattered.
Of all of the shrines, symbols, pieces of art and the like, the one that stood out the most was a complex etching on the ground. A highly intricate series of sigils. A ward. The Ordinus Seal. Covering the seal itself was a layer of transparasteel, designed to protect the relic from being damaged by anything but the most devastating of attacks. Unseen, but surely present were countless wards and abjurations in place to protect it on the metaphysical level. The greatest minds gathered together to erect energy fields that kept the seal safe from any rogue espers as well as the most advanced energy weapons. As long as the XSWAT Headquarters Building still stood, there would never be a repeat of the events on the sheer scale that nearly destroyed Angelus, twice.
If one cared to look, near one of the field emitters protecting the entrance to the separate hall that held The Ordinus Seal, cleverly decorated as a piece of artwork and serving as a guide to just what this ward was, one would easily find the significance of this seal; its history, its purpose, who created it, and who went into making it. Very few individuals were permitted past the emitters, shielding the Ordinus Seal from being tread upon by casual passersby.
Only a select few individuals were allowed to ever get close enough to Ordinus Seal to touch it. Most of these individuals were part of the Department of Metaphysical Affairs, the Director of XSWAT and a very small handful of others. Tyger was one. And he always stopped by that particular piece of artwork and took his time in reading over the inscription that described the Ordinus Seal.
Marcy never knew what it was that Tyger said, but every time he visited the Ordinus Seal, it was just like the statue at the Darwin Memorial. Tyger stepped onto the seal and moved towards the very center, and fell to his knees. He always placed one hand on the seal itself, over one particular rune at its very center. Marcy did not know what Tyger said, or even if he said anything at all at times, because she was not allowed to get that close to the Seal. Despite that, she knew her husband, and she knew that the particular sigil he seemed to pray to was the one that housed Alice Cadbury when she sacrificed herself. She knew that many times his silent visits were quiet, simple affairs, where he sometimes spoke to the rune as one would speak to the gravestone of a loved one. Other times they were deeply sad and profound, for when he would finally get up, there would be tears on the seal itself where her husband spent some of his grief.
Fortunately, this was one of those days where Tyger seemed to be in a better mood. He stroked his fingers over the seal tenderly, while those within the central hall relaxed and continued where they left off, the gap that was created before now closed by the time Tyger took his place on the Seal. Eventually Tyger stood up and gave a slow salute to the Seal itself before he turned on his heel with a slight smile upon his face.
"Everything ok baby?" Marcy murmured when Tyger drew near.
"Yeah, every thing's fine hon. I was just tellin' mom about what's been goin' on with me and us. Told her what we were doin' today. That sort of stuff." Tyger replied as he took Marcy's hands in his own once more.
"You really miss her don't you?"
Tyger gave a slight nod. "I'd be lyin' if I said I didn't. But I also remember somethin' Yiska told me ten years ago too: 'We're supposed to bury our parents. It's the way of things. That's been goin' on for thousands upon thousands of years. It don't make it easy, or right even, but it's what happens. The main thing is to remember them'. So that's what I gotta do. Just remember mom as she was...an' let her know that I do love her from time to time."
Marcy smiled and kissed Tyger's cheek. "If I didn't know better, I'd swear that you were growing up."
Tyger placed a finger to his lips conspiringly, grinning. "Shh... don't tell anyone. It'd ruin my finely crafted image."
Marcy giggled and playfully slapped Tyger's arm. "C'mon you, you've got a ceremony to attend."