[The setup: The team has just defeated the big bad Entity. Jamadagni Renuka has tried and failed to destroy the Animus Mortis. Dr. Burton is strenuously objecting to its destruction, claiming that it can be used to learn more about fighting Entities. Carpenter is sitting half-sprawled on the floor, his sword the only thing seemingly keeping him from collapsing entirely.]

Nathan stumbled to a standing position. Sheathing his sword, he approached Burton.

"Doctor, I understand that you want to help. As a man of science, you see information as a weapon, as capable to help people as to hurt them. You want to fight the evil that threatens us by using knowledge against them. I am glad of your devotion and am proud to be at your side."

Nathan swayed, his injuries and fatigue momentarily overpowering him. With a deep breath, he stood up straight, his eyes blazing as he continued.

"In a rational universe, objects and ideas are neither good nor evil, just tools that can be used for either purpose. Unfortunately, the world we've stepped into is not at all rational."

"Please believe me when I tell you, that painting is an embodiment of evil; the stench of it permeates every molecule of its being. Its very presence corrupts any who are near it, without exception. There's no power of this Earth that can stop it. If we don't destroy it, sooner or later, this,"his hand waved at the destruction around them," will happen again, and we may not be able to stop it then."

Looking straight at Burton and searching the doctor's eyes, Nathan pleaded." Please."

Hemelshot gathered the group with his eyes and cleared his throat. He looked about as weather-beaten as anyone you've ever seen, (except perhaps Carpenter) but his eyes were clear and his voice firm.

"We've got maybe five minutes before we get orders to secure the scene and leave everything for the investigators. If we're going to do anything it needs to be now, while we're still without orders."

Hemelshot suppressed a smile at the familiar thought that actions taken without the knowledge of a superior officer are not necessarily against orders.

"I've called an associate of mine in who should be arriving within that time, giving us the ability to destroy this... thing." His hand indicates the painting, but you notice he's standing askew of the painting and never actually looks at it.

"We're a team and should act in unison, even though we don't all agree on the direction we go. I say we take this thing out while we have the chance."

Burton was momentarily discomfited by the intensity of Nathan's demeanor and his plea. He took a moment to regain his composure, and replied in a low, even voice.

"Carpenter... Nathan... it seems reasonable to believe that the Entities will come again, and again, and again, even if we destroy this painting. Fighting and destroying the Entities one at a time is a stopgap measure, an ultimately incomplete and ineffective response to the problem. We must pursue a more permanent solution. This painting may hold the key to that solution. We can't just destroy it!"

"I am aware of the risks involved with exposure to the painting. However, solving big problems often requires significant risks. I believe it should be possible for me to study the painting in a manner that minimizes my exposure to it. A thorough examination of the Animus Mortis promises to yield invaluable information about how the Entities enter our world, and possibly some detail about their world as well."

Burton paused. Carpenter seemed to exude a sad, world-weary certainty, and Burton wondered if his reasoning carried any weight with the holy warrior. He reached over and grabbed the one chair in the room that hadn't been completely destroyed during the battle." Please, have a seat. Your wounds look serious."

Nathan shook his head with a slight tired smile." Thank you, Doctor, but I have miles to go before I sleep."

"The problem, Doctor... Graham, is that you really aren't aware of the risks. There is nothing on this earth that can contain or control what the painting can do. The only thing that it can yield is death and destruction to any who try."

"Believe me, I want what you want just as much. But we can't afford to give the Entities any more of a foothold on our world than they already have. No amount of information or insight is worth that."

"Our first duty is to protect and defend these people, this city, this world from their evil, and if we compromise in that duty, we will lose."

"I don't think we're going to settle this today, Carpenter. However, your words strike to the heart of the matter. We don't know how much of a foothold the Entities have on our world already, and we don't know what can contain or control them. We're fighting blind. The question is, what are we going to do about it?"

Burton slowly paced towards the painting." String theory and the Many-Worlds Hypothesis have come a long way. The principles are in place; it should be possible to construct sensors that can detect transdimensional energy seepage from the painting... perhaps even block it..." Burton's voice trailed off as he made of mental list of what he would need to study the painting.

Hemelshot sighed, and turns off his A/V recording unit." You've got a good point, Burton. I don't want to agree with you, but you're right—we need to study these things and get a handle on how to kill 'em better."He looks at the ground and, reluctantly, continues." You might also be right that you could study it safely, and not be turned into another... whatever that was. You might learn a lot."

He straightens and looks Burton in the eye." But you could be wrong, too. You don't seem the sort who's wrong a lot, either. But I've been doing risk assessment for a dozen years, and my gut's telling me this thing is too dangerous to mess with. You could learn a bunch, but we stand to lose a whole hell of a lot more—you saw what happened when a regular Joe got mutant-ized—want to calculate the odds of us stopping a super-smart freak with access to XSWAT equipment? I don't!"

Hemelshot visibly tightens control of himself." Sorry. I'm still a little wound up."His attitude softens and he makes a rather poor attempt at a smile." Look—there'll be more of these creatures—XSWAT's been around a god while and they're still coming. We'll have more, and less dangerous, opportunities. You'll get your chance to study these things up close and personal, without making your teammates afraid you're going to suddenly tear off the roof."

Listening to Burton speak about various theories that Tyger had absolutely NO knowledge or idea about nearly caused Tyger to fall asleep. Well, not really, but it was just as boring and what Burton was talking about made Tyger's head hurt. However, it did give him an idea at any rate.

"Hey, Doc. You may just be onto something there! We already have one, if not two people who can do something like what you're talking about already. Think about it. We would not have managed to find our way here if it were not the ability for Renuka and Carpenter to sense them." Tyger paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts. "Well... OK, I may just be talking out my ass right now because I don't know how their magic juju stuff works... fuck... it makes my head hurt thinking about it. anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that if Renuka and Carpenter can cast their magic juju evil finding stuff to track Entities, then that means there is something measurable and, hence traceable... whether or not you can make something that can track stuff like that down... annnd... well... I'm just a pilot... I'm supposed to break shit, not think. That's your job."

Tyger sat ensconced within 'his' Blue Steel Special, silently observing the various wavelengths of radio traffic, ranging from the various Police and XSWAT. bands to even the various news reports referencing this particular incident. He could only vaguely imagine the mountain of paperwork now. Sure, there would have been paperwork and a disgusting number of questions to answer before, but now? Now things seemed to have taken a rather poor turn. Sure, the bad guy was defeated. No innocents were killed and potentially thousands of lives had been saved as well. And what had it cost them? Some seriously beat up equipment, most notably his baby, and a whole lot of collateral damage... that was, miraculously, contained to only this one house in Angelus' suburbia. So far, it seemed that things had gone incredibly well, considering that this was their first case and all. His team had been tested under fire and they performed admirably. Sure, there were some things that needed to be hammered out and polished, but so far one could not act for a better team.

With everything going so well... why did he have that deep sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach? Why did he have this horrible feeling that there was some insane wrongness about all of this? He knew it couldn't be the painting. That dammed thing was already creepy as all get-out and he was well aware of the trouble that thing had caused up to this point, and it's potential. That wasn't the source of this feeling, of that he was more than certain. He just sat there in silence listening to the various communications and the soothing hum of his baby. Out of sheer reflex he reached into a pocket to fish out a cigarette, only to realize that he was all out. A muttered curse was given at this revelation and he took a pen, proceeding to chew on it. It wasn't a cigarette, but it would do... for now. He had heard everyone speak upon their opinions about the fate of this painting and he carefully weighed the facts... at least as he saw them, and then threw them against his own past experiences in having to deal with Entities and their ilk. The only person he had not heard from was Jamadagni Renuka, and he was reasonably certain that she would agree with the general consensus of the group to this point. He further considers the events as they have been presented to him up to this point and his jaw tightens, totally forgetting that he was chewing on a pen instead of a cigarette...

He was pulled from his thoughts kicking and screaming with the shattering crack of plastic and the horrible acrid taste of ink in his mouth. After a long series of curses, of which, his crew... heh... his crew... he liked the sound of that, would not hear as he had, so far, kept his speakers off, and as such his thoughts his own. After recomposing himself, Tyger flipped on the speakers and he speaks calmly with a controlled voice. Yeah, it seemed as if just being in the Power Armor had soothed his nerves and even relaxed him noticeably.

"Alright people. This is how I see it. Skippy over there... " a whine of servos could be heard as one of the dark metallic blue hands gestures to the spot where Marcus Bentley, and the Entity they had just dispatched, were but a few moments before. "... was trying to get this painting into a very public place where a lot of people could take a good, long, close look at it and become infected with whatever it is that it infects people with. This thing is fucking evil. We know it, everybody who simply looks in its general direction knows it. Hell, I'm not even looking at it, and that dammed thing still makes my fur stand on end. This much is a given."

Tyger's voice, though modulated and altered through the speaker systems of the Blue Steel, sounded a little off. Almost as if he had bit into something horrible and was still trying to get the taste out of his mouth.

"So, with this obvious fact in mind, and considering the hell we all have just gone through, here is how we are going to play this game. That painting will be destroyed. There will be no further discussion on the matter. If I have to strap the dammed thing to a fucking rocket and send that rocket to the fucking Sun, I'll do it. But that painting will be destroyed. Period. End of story." He goes silent for a moment before continuing. "Look, I don't like pulling rank. I haven't pulled any rank yet that was outside of my rights and duties as an officer of XSWAT., and I would rather not do it now. But if I have to enforce the fact that I am, in fact, in charge of this squad and bring charges on insubordination on any officers in this squad for attempting to argue or otherwise circumnavigate my orders, then I will do so."

The armored, visored head of the Blue Steel turned to regard each, individual member of the 9th Squad in turn as he continued to speak.

"The primary purpose of XSWAT. is to protect the innocent and defend the citizens of Angelus from any and all threats from without and from within at all costs, even our own lives and souls if necessary. Every single one of you should know that. If not, then allow me to be the first to educate you in that fact. What we have here, is a vastly powerful source of evil. I am not going to pretend that I know what its potential is, or even how powerful it really is. I don't know. What I do know however, is that this thing directly or indirectly claimed at least a hundred lives in the last two days. I hope I do not need to remind any of you what we witnessed at the docks or at the asylum? Good. With that in mind, I am going to give a direct order in that this painting will be destroyed. Anyone who attempts to prevent this order from being carried out will be treated accordingly. Are there any questions?"

Hemelshot regarded the scuffed armor casually." Sure you want to make it an order? If it's destroyed in the fight we'll get talked at and told to be careful. If you deliberately order the destruction of evidence, not to mention a valuable historical relic, you're in a whole barn-load and there's nothing anyone can do about it."

A smirk finally broke his countenance." You just stand there looking all important-like and I'll come give you a hand with coordinating the cover story and evacuation."He directed a sideways glance at Carpenter." The painting'll get what it deserves."

The armored head of the power armor gave a slight nod accompanied by a whine of stressed servos. "Yeah, I'm sure. If that means I may have to stand in front of the boss, or even the director herself, then so be it. You have been doing risk assessment for some time, and I have been fighting entities for awhile myself. I know what they can do, what they are capable of, and I have learned to never, ever trust anything that is even remotely attached to them in any way that does not involve their destruction."

The visored head turned to look to Carpenter at this point. "Carpenter. I trust that you have some friends of some sort that can deal with this... thing?"

Despite the cold outer appearance of the Blue Steel and his own voice, he was squirming inside. He would make a mental note to speak with Burton one-on-one, at some later date about this whole matter.

Carpenter grimaced." I'm not sure I'd call them friends, but I know someone that knows what it will take to permanently destroy it."

As Tyger moved off to speak with Carpenter, Hemelshot returns to the spinner and dug out his datapad. He figured he'd better start taking notes on a cover story, and he still owed Amanda Larkins a favor. "May as well take care of both at the same time. Let's see... "

Hemelshot leaned against the spinner and pondered a moment, then decides, "The best lies have pieces of truth in them. Let's tell some of the real story and change a few things." He grins. "Familiar territory."

"'Marcus Bentley was killed while arresting arrest this afternoon, turning a quiet suburban neighborhood into a panic-filled combat zone.' She'll like that line."

"Motivated by his brother's mental illness, incurred three years ago in a Patton Corporation salvage operation, Marcus Bentley utilized his technological genius to create a custom suit of power armor designed to wreck a bloody vengeance on the Patton family.

"Starting with the death of—Agatha and Mark Patton—two years ago and culminating in a shootout with Angelus law-enforcement officers, this is a story of grim insanity and bloody revenge." Pause. "She'll probably replace 'grim' with another superlative, if I know her.

"In an ongoing investigation, officers traced recent stalking of the Patton family to Marcus Bentley, investigated in the killings two years ago, yadda yadda—she can fill that in."

"A parallel investigation by the mercenary team Hanson's Howlers was started when Patton senior engaged them to protect his remaining family. This led the group to a fatal encounter with Bentley, resulting in the unfortunate deaths of the mercenaries. And insert short history here—can't do wrong by praising dead mercs."

"However, their—um, tragic? Sure—demise forced an acceleration of Bentley's mad scheme, allowing Angelus' finest to track him to his lair—hideout sounds too tame—in suburban Epsilon Sector. Evidence recovered from the fire-fight with Hanson pointed to a biological threat coupled with a madman in power armor, hastening the officers on their way." snicker "She'll play up the drama here, probably with a few clips of my—oh, shit the wife'll see it too—driving here." Sigh.

"Upon arrival, law-enforcement officers encountered Bentley, who threatened to lay waste to the neighborhood with both his custom suit of power armor as well as his biological toxins. Acting decisively, the officers neutralized the threat. Yeah, she'll definitely spice this up, but I'm NOT giving her any quotes about the fight—she can go make up her own."

"The meteor alert was initiated in order to get residents away from the scene of the heinous crime as quickly as possible. It was perhaps not the best choice possible to use such an obvious falsehood, but it evacuated the immediate vicinity in the least amount of time, thus securing the safety of hundreds of people."

"The potential biological weapon has been secured and is being transported to blah, blah, blah. The rest is all standard lines and background. There. That oughta cover us and make her happy."

Hemelshot uploaded his notes to Tyger, XSWAT HQ and his dispatch officer, with a note that this should be approved ASAP, as there is again little time to react before we lose the initiative. If we need to include a superhuman element, claim Bentley was an esper who was able to use his magic to interface with a suit of power armor, and the resulting synthesis drove him over the edge.

With that, he again turned his attention to his teammates. In particular, Jamadagni Renuka looked shaken by the being they encountered and could probably use a pep talk.

Tyger looked over the notes that were presented to him from Hemelshot and nodded in approval to himself. "I think this will fly well enough. As long as it keeps the press off of our asses, I'm happy with it."

Tyger went eerily silent once more and the armored head turned to Burton, a soft, subtle whir of servomotors accompanying those movements.

"Hey, that computer Bentley had may provide some more information Doc. it would only make sense to me at any rate. May want to take that with you and add that to your collection of... stuff... that you have already gathered."

As the 9th squad continued to debate, a cold breeze stirred a pile of pamphlets on the floor. The papers and the debris hissed and rubbed together like bat wings, and the malevolent stare of the Animus Mortis had never seemed more wrathful.

Every one of the special police officers felt the emanations of the painting—cramps, headaches, or a greasy, twisted, nauseous feeling deep in the gut. There was something profoundly wrong inside this house, so deeply inimical to life itself that their bodies began to suffer.

And it was getting worse, second by second. What started out as a mild discomfort was escalating, minutely, until by the time it was noticeable the symptoms were too serious to ignore.

Burton's head swam as the wind blew art gala flyers against his uniformed legs. There was a whispering, just on the edge of his hearing, telling him things... promising things both terrible and great.

Tyger, too heard the whispers inside his armored shell—no recording, this. No transmission logged on any of his screens or sensors... just a horrible, mad whispering that seemed to echo within his brain and grow louder and louder still.

Hemelshot staggered as he adjusted his grip on the "Dragon" heavy maser gun. He blinked as his vision seemed to waver, to flicker from moment to moment—and his ears were full of whispers. Somehow, he knew that if he listened too closely, those murmurs would make sense—but once that happened, he was certain he'd have already gone insane.

Jamadagni Renuka hissed as she found her formidable willpower under attack. Her gaze flicked around the room, seeing that only herself and Carpenter were able to push through the whispers and ignore them. Squinting, she summoned her magesight and was able to easily trace the source to the painting on the wall. A shiver ran down her spine as she felt as if the painting were somehow looking BACK at her. "Carpenter!" she called out, one hand going to the wrecked wall nearby to steady herself.

Carpenter nodded, gritting his teeth against the rising tide of bile in his throat. A tiny trickle of blood leaked from one nostril down into his mustache as he gripped the Spatha Sancta in both hands and held it, point-down, between himself and the Animus Mortis.

"In nomine Patris, et Filis, e Spiritu Sanctis..." he murmured, his voice steady and clear. His eyes drifted shut as he reached deep within himself to find the solid, shining core of his faith. 'Holy Father,' he prayed, 'Now would be a good time for a little heavenly help.'

The sword gleamed, limning Nathan himself with a soft pearlescent glow—a glow which swiftly pulsed outwards to the walls of the house and vanished. As if a switch had been thrown, the emanations ceased, and reality felt... normal.

'A lot less... HUNGRY.' Jamadagni Renuka thought to herself. The painting, while still rather unsettling to view, was just a painting once again. Whatever it was that had been making the XSWAT officers sick or trying to influence them was being kept at bay.

Carpenter's brow dripped with sweat. "Time is running out. Every second, it regains its power. If we don't stop it now, it will start all over again."

He removed his hands from the sword, which inexplicably remained standing balanced on its tip while its glow pulsed. "I'm making the call," he added, his hand reaching for the databand on his other wrist.

It takes Hemelshot a moment to recover. It would take longer if he wanted to function on a conscious level, but this was routine.

Evidence. Flip on the A/V unit. Grab the remains of the computer hard drive.

Evacuate. Head to the spinner. Grab Burton on the way. Wait—need to holster gun. When did that get drawn? Never mind. Grab Burton.

Tyger shook his head as if to clear it as the oppressive sensations that emanated from the painting ceased. The visored gaze of the Blue Steel Special seemed to almost glower at Carpenter. "What the fuck did you just do... and why in the bloody hell did you wait until now to do it? That would have been useful yesterday y'know." The enhanced and modulated voice that came from the power armor did nothing to hide the pilots feelings... Tyger wasn't angry, well, not any more than he usually appears to be at any rate.

Carpenter lowered his head with a sigh for a moment, then looked back up as he replied. "I didn't do anything more than ask for our Lord's help. I don't command what happens, I'm just grateful when my prayers are answered."

His brow creased as if something bothered him. Turning to Burton, he asked, "Doctor, you examined the equipment at the warehouse and determined it was used to restore the paining. I don't want to sound overly paranoid, but could the equipment have been able to... duplicate it?"

"An interesting question," replied Burton." The tools for duplicating a painting were present. But the Animus Mortis certainly is more than just a painting. Now that I'll have the chance to examine the painting in detail, I should be able to answer your question—and hopefully many other questions—in short order."

"You shouldn't prep your tools quite yet, Doctor. I've got a strong hunch whoever is behind this order has their own designs on the Animus Mortis." Carpenter's face was calm, but his eyes reflected a turmoil of concern and anger.

Tyger then seemed suddenly distracted for a few brief seconds, and during those brief seconds it could almost be perceived as being a 'calm before the storm' sort of feeling. As soon as those seconds elapsed, Tyger flew into a sudden rage, the massive armored fist swinging with lightning speed about to impact heavily in the ruined truck behind him. The first strike was quickly followed up by other blows that were just as quick, and more than deadly had they been aimed at a living target. As Tyger lashed out at the helpless truck, he bellowed angrily. "That bitch! That fucking BITCH! You'd better fucking believe that well talk about this later!" Obviously whatever had distracted Tyger had him furious beyond reason. Fortunately, that anger that gripped him so suddenly was just as quickly dispersed and all was calm again.

"Alright team... " Tyger spoke, the massive frame of the Blue Steel turning to face his squad. Any indication that he was furious beyond reason at any point in time was utterly gone. "I just got a new set of orders from Cadbury herself." He paused for a few moments, as if he were both considering what he was next going to say, as well as recompose himself. "Apparently it has been decided that the painting is to be taken to XSWAT HQ... immediately. This was not Cadbury's decision, but I am not happy at all about it... not because it came from her... " another pause is given for a split second. "Alright, because it came from her... but also because it seemed that someone... or some ones managed to overrule her. I don't like the smell of this, or what it could mean. At least my protests have been noted, for whatever good it will do."

Tyger took another few moments and the Blue Steel seemed to collapse under its own impressive weight, causing it to land on the truck again, though in a now far more relaxed state. "Our orders are to escort the painting to HQ, a spinner is on the way to pick all of us up... on a brighter note, Cadbury said personally that you all did an outstanding job."

Tyger fell silent then, and sat back slowly, the head of the power armor falling into an open hand with a defeated sigh emanating from the massive suit; a purely human gesture mimicked by the pilot inside, if not in action, then in genuine feeling. for all intents and purposes, it seemed suddenly that Tyger was tired and spent, a feeling that could only be enhanced by seeing a ten foot suit of armor show such body language.

Carpenter stared at the massive steel figure, then glanced at Hemelshot, his eyes troubled." I've got a bad feeling about this."

Flicking off his A/V unit once again, Hemelshot took a few steps necessary to close the distance to Carpenter. He checked for an active A/V unit and began talking in a low voice.

"How sure is your contact that they can destroy this thing? The window is closing faster than I thought but it's still possible. But I need to know if this thing can be destroyed immediately or if he merely knows how and needs time to set it up." Hemelshot's eyes met Carpenter's with the grim question.

Carpenter shook his head grimly. "The point is moot. We've received our orders. Our only chance is to convince Cadbury that the painting must be destroyed."

His eyes bore back at Hemelshot's with equal intensity, "I will not betray the oath I gave when I joined XSWAT, Sergeant. No matter what. The end does not justify the means."

"I swore to preserve, protect and defend from all enemies, foreign and domestic. I believe this qualifies." Hemelshot straightens and relaxes. "I don't know why you swore an oath that overrides that, but I'll respect it." He turns away with a bland expression and moves towards the spinner. You're not sure, but you think he mutters something on the order of, "Law, not justice. XSWAT's just the same old, same old...."

Tyger would hear Hemelshot's words, mostly due to the superior audio receptors within his power armor. After a time, he would speak up, though his voice would betray nothing of the previous emotion that he had once expressed, one way or the other, however the Blue Steel Special would remain in that rather depressed pose that it held.

"I am going to have to agree with Hemelshot on this one." There was silent addition in his tone of voice that stated that he even agreed with the comment made under his breath. "It seems to me that someone above Cadbury wants this painting intact. Now, we have already been witness to what this thing can do, and the way it can corrupt another's mind. Who is to say that this official has not been corrupted in the same way as Patton was? Fuck... this whole thing stinks worse than Davy Jones locker after an all out raid."

Tyger pauses for a moment as if pondering something. "Look, I hate this idea, and I swear that I'm going to have a piece of Cadbury's ass on a silver platter... and if not her, then whoever forced her hand. I may not like all the aspects of this job, but ill be dammed if I'm going to have my hands tied while doing it."

The Blue Steel Special becomes animated once more and stands tall and proud suddenly and the visored head turns to Carpenter. "Alright, I'll play their little game if I must. Carpenter, if your buddies can't deal with this thing on the spot, fine. We will play along, but that painting is NOT leaving our custody for any reason until we get some questions answered... and if they have to pull the dammed thing from my cold dead hands, then so be it.

"Cadbury told me to do my duty. And my duty, whether she likes it or not, is to defend the people of Angelus by any means necessary. I don't know if you all have been paying attention to what has been going on over the past two days, but I would think that this painting is most likely, the biggest threat to this city that has ever manifested to date... or, at the very least, has the potential to be, and I wont let it out of the custody of this team except for its destruction... period."

Carpenter called out to the retreating Sergeant. "That oath also included following the law, Sergeant. Always. Not just when it happened to be convenient for us."

Tyger heard Carpenter's retort and shook his head to himself. For him, it has never been about the law. Ever. He had a job to do, and he was going to do that job, everything else be dammed. He was about to form a rather vicious verbal retort, but thought better of it. "You're right Carpenter. But there are some of us who feel that doing what is right is more important than following the rules. Hemelshot knows this, obviously. Me? Fuck... I live it. My methods may not be pretty or clean, and they sure as hell ain't good for the local property values... but it saves lives dammit. And that is what is important. There will be times when you... fuck... all of us, will be put into a situation where 'do I follow the rules, knowing that it ain't right? Or do I do what is right, even though I'm breakin' the rules.' I'm tellin' ya. If you do what's right, the rule-breaking will be a pain in your ass... but if you don't do what's right, that shit'll haunt you for the rest of your life."

Hemelshot turns on Carpenter with narrowed eyes. His voice is calm and even, but sharp as a cold wind. "Two minutes ago you said, and I quote, 'Our first duty is to protect and defend these people, this city, this world from their evil, and if we compromise in that duty, we will lose.'—are you so quick to turn from, by your own admission, your First Duty? Are you so fearful of earthly powers and human retribution that you would allow this foulness to continue to exist?"

"Yes, we have a conflict. If we obey orders we knowingly and willingly allow this evil to continue its work. If we act to protect the innocents of this city we break the letter of our duty. So what is more important, Carpenter? The word or the spirit of duty?"

"We should destroy it," Jamadagni Renuka interjected." By any means possible. If we don't... how many more will die?"

Carpenter sighed. His words were soft, and tinged with sadness, in Contrast to Hemelshot's sharp tones. "ŒSergeant, you know as well as I it's not that easy. You can't place one above the other, or you end up following neither."

"The easiest thing to do would be to destroy the painting right now and everything else be damned. Believe me, there's nothing more I'd like to do. But if there's one thing I've learned in life, is that the right way is very rarely the easy way. But that doesn't make it any less right."

He turned to include Jamadagni Renuka as he spoke, his words hardening until they rung as hard as steel. "I give you my word, I will do everything in my power to make sure the painting will not threaten the world again. And it may very well be that, when that time comes, I will have to choose between my duty as a man of law and as a man of faith. And I will do what's right, no matter what the consequences."

Carpenter paused, and his words softened back to their previous state." But that time isn't yet. All I can say, Sergeant, Jamadagni Renuka, is have faith."

"I will try,"Jamadagni Renuka said quietly. "I also hope your faith will be stronger than the painting's influence."

Nathan looked at Jamadagni Renuka with gratitude. "Thank you. I'm actually hoping you'll help out on this. Your knowledge of religions may be useful in figuring out what this thing's weakness is."

Hemelshot stares at Carpenter, resignation and a hit of disbelief in his eyes. "Pretty words that soothe your conscience don't impress me. You say 'everything in your power' yet you're unwilling to act. You say 'our first duty' yet you instantly put it aside to follow the easy path of obeying orders. You say 'the time may come' at the moment it's easiest to act and you aren't willing to make a choice." His stance becomes one of exaggerated disbelief, and he takes a step backwards.

"And you're telling me to have faith to wait? Trust you, while you convince us to preserve this evil thing? Watch you protect it and allow its continued existence to corrupt yet more people? Your words almost make me suspect you've been touched yourself." His eyes narrow and his voice drops. "But no, like you said, I have faith."

His words are louder now, and heated. "I have faith that the time is now and you've got the means to end this! You just gave your word you'd do everything in your power—you didn't say everything in your power but wait a little while first! He visibly calms and levelly states, "All it takes for evil to triumph is for good to do nothing. I've acted to the extent of my abilities—what are you going to do?"

Carpenter's eyes narrowed and his words slipped through clenched teeth. "I will do what is right, Sergeant."

A black limousine pulled up outside the house, wheels lowering from recessed housings until the vehicle slowed to a halt. A gull-wing door hissed open and upwards, allowing a young, blonde woman wearing a nun's habit to step out and take a look around.

The nun blinked at the obvious destruction surrounding the house (to include two Hemelshot-shaped holes in the walls and one Hemelshot-shaped depression in the neighbor's grass), then squared her shoulders and walked up to the smoldering hole where the front door used to be.

From the inside, the first indication of the nun's presence is her rosary and crucifix held out in front of her like a shield. The nun advanced slowly, her eyes tightly shut, then paused. One eye cautiously opened, then both—her blue-eyed gaze flicking around the room as she slowly lowered the crucifix and rosary to her side.

"Oh." She said in a soft, soprano voice. "I guess you don't really need me here after all."

Carpenter moved up to greet the nun. "Sister Carmen, I'm glad you've arrived." At her comment, he gives a sheepish grin. "The Good Lord provides. Your presence is still greatly needed."

He quickly introduced the team. "Sister Carmen, this is Sgt. Hemelshot, Dr. Burton, Officer Renuka, and the fellow in the power suit over there is Sgt. Tyger. Team, this is Sister Carmen Rosette. She represents the Order of Enoch."

Without pause, Carpenter gave the Sister a heads-up. "We've been given orders to escort the painting back to HQ. It seems someone is greatly interested in it. We may still need your help in finding a way to get rid of its evil, but for now, I'm hoping you will be a voice of reason and support when we confront our Commander with the situation."

"Let's try and be optimistic about this," interjected Burton. "We have a golden opportunity to learn something about these creatures... something potentially useful."

"Sgt. Tyger, I'd like to arrange comprehensive physical examinations for the entire squad. I want to find out what's causing the symptoms we've been experiencing in the presence of the Entities.

"Carpenter, I'm also very interested in your sword. It has a rather dramatic effect on the Entities. Is there something special about the sword itself, or does it simply serve as a focus for your psion... er... your religious faith?"

Tyger considered Burton's words before replying. "Sorry doc, I learned to not be optimistic. Sure, you may have your opportunity to study this thing at your leisure now, but don't let that distract you from the real goal here. We're here to kill these things, not keep them or their artifacts in a jar. As far as these comprehensive... thingies... fine, I don't give a fuck, but if you want to do your... umm... doctor thing, fine, but you should ask each individual for their consent. I won't make that choice for them. If you want permission to just set up a time and place... fine by me. But it will be up to you to talk everyone into submitting themselves to it."

Carpenter unconsciously placed a hand on the hilt of his sheathed sword as he spoke. "I was given this sword and the understanding of how I was to use it in a vision. To be honest, I know very little of where it came from. Sister Carmen's organization seems to be a little more aware of its history than I am.

"The best thing I can tell you, Doctor, is that the Spatha Sancta is what it is named, a holy sword, blessed by the Spirit. As creatures of darkness, the Entities cannot abide by its touch."

Tyger would take note of the arrival of the limo, and the passenger that came into view. He was inside of his armor laughing his head off at how sheepish, and frightened she appeared to be... and even more amused at how she attempted to play off the whole thing. Of course, inside of the Blue Steel Special... no one can hear you laugh... which was most likely a good thing. After the introductions were out of the way, and Carpenter kindly gave his take on the matter, the armored monstrosity that was the Blue Steel Special moved forward carefully.

"Before this goes too much further, I am in charge here, and I have a question for you. Obviously, you are Carpenter's associate in whatever it is that you do... and I am assuming that you are the one he spoke of when he said he knew of people that could deal with this thing." An armored fist would move and indicate the painting. "What I want to know is this: can you destroy that thing right here, now, on the spot?'"

Sister Carmen blinked and stepped back a bit so that she was nowhere NEAR anyplace between Carpenter and Hemelshot. "I hope I'm not... interrupting anything here." She remarked, attempting to sound casual and relaxed. "But it seems Nathan's already figured out how to shield you all from the painting's influence."

"What?" Jama looked over at Nathan. "How?"

"He's... for lack of a better word, he's put up a ward. You could probably do the same thing, if that symbol on your forehead means what I think it means." the nun replied.

The nun glanced over at the massive power armor and shakes her head in response to his question. "No, I don't know how to destroy the painting." A hint of exasperation entered her voice. "I know how to study it safely to find OUT how." She waved a hand towards Carpenter. "And apparently he does as well." She tilted her head slightly to the left and frowned slightly. "You mean he didn't tell you? There's a "key" involved with artifacts as powerful as this one—each one is different, and the precise circumstances which render the item vulnerable can only be determined with intense analysis."

"And that key is?" Jama asked.

Sister Carmen turned her palms up and sighed. "I don't know—this is the first time I've seen the Animus Mortis in person." She shuddered slightly. "Creepy-looking thing, isn't it?"

The nun shook her head. "I'm sorry, I'm just a novitiate in the Order—I'm not really an Occult expert."

Carpenter stared blankly at the nun for a second, then closed his eyes. Finally, a chuckle escaped his lips. "I'm sorry, Sister. I fell prey to the sin of pride. I assumed that whoever the Order of Enoch would send to deal with me would be... higher in their organizational ladder."

Sister Carmen sighed. "I don't mean to be a disappointment." She waved a hand around at the rest of the room. "You, and your friends, certainly deserve attention at a higher level from the Order, I'd say that's clear."

Carpenter shook his head. "No, no, it's my fault. I meant no disrespect."

Carpenter rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I didn't get the part about 'intense analysis' when we spoke, Sister. I was hoping you'd be able to figure out what was needed quickly enough. Wishful thinking on my part, I guess."

"At least we have the time between now and the time we arrive at HQ for you to do what you can." With a hard look toward Hemelshot, he added. "There's no time to waste."

Hemelshot freezes upon hearing this, and his right eye twitches. He slowly looks towards the nun and softly says, "No—I seem to have missed that detail. Thank you, ma'am." His gaze returns to Carpenter, with a small nod. " Looks like you have done what you could. My mistake."

Carpenter frowned, unsure if Hemelshot's comment was meant honestly or as sarcasm. Willing to give him the benefit of doubt, Carpenter gave a careful nod back.

Carpenter then turned to Sister Carmen. "Nevertheless, you're who's here right now. Whatever information or assistance you can give us will be helpful. Please."

The nun tilted her head slightly to the left and tapped a finger against her chin ."I'm honestly not sure what else I can provide—at least, right here, right now."

Sister Carmen shrugged. "I guess I'd recommend that you get an expert or two lined up. Do you know any authorities on the Occult? Or paintings? Or..." She waved a hand about vaguely. "Science... stuff?"

As if on cue, Burton's voice floated over to the group surrounding Sister Carmen. He was speaking into his data band. "... I'll need to requisition three Heisenberg compensators... I need them to build a broadband psionic containment field in which to house the painting... yes, they're very expensive... would you rather have an Entity pop up at HQ?"

bzzt Er... um... nossir! Um, yessir! We'll make sure the equipment is ready when you arrive. bzt

Tyger took the information given to him by the Nun, the armored head then nods its understanding and then turns to regard both Hemelshot and Carpenter. "Alright you two... simmer down. That's an order, you're starting to embarrass yourself acting like a couple of swabbys bickering over who gets to clean the head and who gets to swab the deck. If you can't just drop the matter, then take turns patrolling the immediate area or something... keep nosey neighbors and whatnot out of the area." He left that part at their option of course. Though he hoped that both men would be able to set their differences aside for the time being. He turns his attention once more to the nun. "Fair enough. It seems then, that I'm not going to get my way entirely. As Carpenter already stated, we have come under orders to bring the painting back to HQ. I'm sure that any facilities that could be needed or wanted to find this 'key' or whatever it is that you need... could be found there. You are welcome to join us if you wish. Frankly, I'm not letting this dammed thing out of my sight until it's destroyed."

Carpenter tried to focus on the issue at hand. "Okay, Sister, what do you need?"

The nun blinked and turned to face Nathan, her eyes straying down to the Spatha Sancta almost instinctually. After a moment, however, she returned his gaze with a slightly distracted expression. "Er, me?" she asked, pointing a single finger at her habit.

"Ummm... well, there are a couple of options here." She gnawed on her lower lip briefly. "You could, for instance, turn the painting over to the Order and let us discover its secret."

"And option #2?" Nathan's tone gave no doubt as to his response to the first one.

The head of the Blue Steel Special shakes his head a couple of times

"I am sorry miss... but, as much as I hate to say this... this thing must be delivered to HQ... I hate the idea of its continued existence, but we have our orders. Again, you are welcome to accompany us back to HQ if you feel the need to do so. Otherwise, you may as well just go home. I apologize for the inconvenience."

Tyger was tired, no, not really tired, more like fatigued and perhaps a bit stressed, and it showed in his voice.

'Well, that could have gone better' Hemelshot thinks to himself. 'I should know better than to make assumptions—these folks haven't trained with me and I don't know what they really mean with they say something. We have got to train together.' With that thought he's reminded that he has things to do, and he heads outside, contacting XSWAT HQ on the way. His side of the conversation can be heard as he walks to the spinner.

"Hemelshot here—has anyone contacted the regular police to set up a perimeter? Thought so—get one set up at about a half mile, or whatever it is the HazMat team recommends.

crackle "Sgt., this is Corporal Hanler. We've got a cleanup crew on the way and a cargo Spinner on the way. The Hazmat guys are inbound and ETA is 7 minutes."bzzt

"What HazMat team? The one you're sending out here ASAP—it's part of the cover story, and it can't hurt to look for mundane contaminants. Besides, it'll make the public feel better if the evening news shows a bunch of guys with white suits and electronics wander around for a bit, then take off the suits and declaring the place safe.

"And I need to get the word to Larkins soon—this is breaking news and I can score a few points for the force if I get the story to her fast. Has Captain Richards approved the biochem scare story? Well, let me know when he does... "

fzzt "Roger, Captain Richards has approved the biochem story—although the orders came down straight from the Director's office. The painting is to be loaded onto the spinner as soon as it arrives. As in, yesterday. Those are the captain's words, not mine, y'understand."bzzt

"So what's the decontamination procedure for close contact with Shadow entities? We need to get the entire team into it—both Officer Jama and Officer Carpenter took injuries and I want them checked out..."

Bzzzzt "The clean-up crew can handle that—I understand you need some medical attention as well. No problem, just let the medics handle it when they get there and I'll log in Section 9, er, 9th Squad for a physical at St. Francis's."bzzzt

Hemelshot's voice fades as he enters the spinner, only to appear moments later carrying the medical jump pack." ... right. Thanks. Understood—we'll wait here for the spinner and escort the painting back to HQ. Hemelshot out."With that he looks at his team's wounded, trying to decide who to attend first.

bzzt "Roger, understood 9th squad will be escorting the painting to XSWAT HQ. Hanler out."bzzt