forget the many steps to heaven
it never happened and it ain't so hard
happiness is a loaded weapon and a
short cut is better by far
explosive bolts, ten thousand volts
at a million miles an hour
abrasive wheels and molten metals
it's a semiautomatic, get in the car
corrosive heart and frozen heat
we're worlds apart where we could meet
where the street fold round and the motors start
and the idiot wields the power
where the chosen hold the highest card
on the field of honor where the ground is hard
so the highest hand is joking wild
and the house soon fold and no-one stand
I put my finger on and dialed
the tower, the moon, the gun, and
nine nine nine, singer down
cloudburst and all around
the first are last, the blessed get wired
the best is yet to come
I put my finger on and fired
heat-seeking, out of the sun
you can set the controls for the heart or the knees
and the meek'll inherit what they damn well please
get ahead, go figure, go ahead and pull the trigger
everything under the gun

"Under the Gun"
Sisters of Mercy

The trip from the docks to, ultimately, the hidden parking garage the team had dubbed "Santa's Workshop" was relatively quiet. Quiet and long. Running from the docks to that creepy 'Mom & Pop's' Oriental shop so Jama could pick up those supplies. That girl always managed to confuse him. First she tells him that her Hamtaros liked things like whiskey, cigarettes, rice and things like that. Now, she had to get a wok and who-knows-what else for a spell. "But I thought your Hamtaros liked booze and rice," Tyger quipped in his typical smart-assed manner. He really did not expect a reply, and he was not disappointed.

For a brief moment, he considered counting how much he had to donate for the whole thing, but he realized rather quickly that it really didn't matter. He didn't have much money in his account, which was frozen, and even less on hand. He had gone without money before; he would have no problems in doing it again.

Yiska, at some point had decided to go off and do his own thing. Tyger was not exactly sure what that guy had in mind. Despite Yiska's abilities, he seemed to be far too much of a loose cannon. Tyger suppressed a half-chuckle at that thought. Tyger: Ex-Pirate of the Pacific Ocean, Clade terror of the high seas, Power Armor pilot extraordinaire, and the first person to spout off his feelings about something, especially regulations, calling someone a loose cannon. Perhaps he had matured a little. Maybe he had calmed down.... No way! Tyger smirked and realized that Yiska had something important to do, whatever that was, and he knew he would do the exact same thing if the situations were reversed.

Tyger took his eyes off the road to look over at Hemelshot for a moment. Normally he would be driving, with Tyger riding shotgun, but a broken leg bound in an instant-cast made it hard to drive. Besides, Tyger was not as inclined to send the car into any of the surrounding scenery. Still though, he had to give the man props: He had just been through hell in a handbasket, to put it simply, and was not only still sane but walking as well. Granted a good portion of it could have been avoided in the first place. After all, he didn't have to take that creepy doll off of that creepy boat. That was just silly of the Lieutenant to do, and he recalled mentioning that several times. Despite the rivalry between the two of them, Tyger would not give Hemelshot an 'I told you so' about this whole thing.

He sincerely doubted he ever would....

Brogan and Jama were in the back seat of the car, seemingly a bit more comfortable without the presence of Yiska now. Brogan was disturbingly quiet, and Jama even more so. That only made the rest of the trip seem that much longer...

There was nothing to do now but wait. That was always the hardest part in Tyger's mind. Not the preparation. Not the execution. It was that seemingly endless wait between the time when all the preparations were done and before the action started.

In this case it was a little different. There was nothing to actually DO at this point. Jama had curled herself up in front of that wok and started burning some of the strangest things, all of which, when combined created one of the worst smells he had the unfortunate luck to stumble across. Perhaps her Hamtaros like it or something. It really did not matter. As long as the spell was cast and Jama did her magicy-juju-hamtaro thing.

Of course to do whatever it is that she was doing, meant that Jama would have to remain in a trance, effectively leaving her totally defenseless and unaware of her surroundings. There was little to worry about. Brogan seemed to have a thing for the petite sorceress; he would make sure she was protected.

Protection. That got Tyger thinking. As he perched on the hood of the currently inert car, he looked at the nearly spent cigarette between his fingers, the blueish-gray smoke curling about as if it had a life of its own. Tyger pulled back the sleeve of his hardened trenchcoat and powered up his databand. He had to send a message. Sure, they may have locked out his XSWAT account, but he had several civilian E-Mail accounts. He spent a few moments composing an E-Mail that would be sent to one of Marcy's civilian E-Mail accounts, queued to send when there was a clear signal:


I heard from Cyndi that you had to leave town to take care of some stuff. She didn't tell me where you went or how long you would be gone. I didn't ask. I trust you. I just can't wait until you come back.

Baby, the shit is about to hit the fan over here, and things ain't lookin' too good for the home team.

They say I'm a criminal now, but you know I gave that up, right? I was only trying to do the right thing. When this shit is all over, it will make one hell of a story, that's for sure. I just hope that when the dust settles after this one, that there will be a decent place for our honeymoon...or a wedding for that matter.

Anyway, I'm sure you're safe wherever it is you are, it's most likely safer than it is here. I ain't worried. I love you Marcy. Take care of yourself babe, and I'll see you when you come home.

Your fuzzy troublemaker

Tyger set the message to auto-send and closed out the databand. Sure, there were a couple of white lies in there. He knew where she had gone and why, but he also did trust her. He was also worried. Worried sick! He somehow wanted to let her know just how worried he was, but part of him wanted to put up that strong front. That was always hard, especially with her.

Tyger released a sigh and looked over his shoulder towards the remainder of the team. Yiska was still out doing Yiska-things, and who knew what that could entail. Considering the esper's choice in women, that worried him. Carpenter was locked up at XSWAT HQ, it turned out, due to him trying to carve a hole in the Vault. Bloody fool! Either he wasn't thinking or he's totally lost it! And then he realized it. The entire city was going mad. Nathan Carpenter never did anything without thinking about it. The man knew what he was doing, and there was a very good reason for it. The fact that he and the squad were now wanted criminals was only compounded by the fact that his best friend, most likely the straightest man Tyger had ever known, was now behind bars. That ain't right. That ain't right at all.

So we're criminals now, eh? Tyger mused to himself as he hopped off of the car. Enemies of the state, even though we're the good guys. He knelt for a moment and gathered a handful of pebbles. That's about as fucked up as Nate being behind bars. Tyger walked back to the car after taking a short tour of the current floor of the parking garage with the pace and gait of a caged animal plotting its revenge.

The guys in charge say we're criminals. But the bad guys are the ones in charge right now, therefore it would mean that to them, we are the bad guys. After all, stopping their plans would be bad...for them. Tyger grinned as he stalked back to the car and reclaimed his perch upon the hood.

Oh, this is gonna be fun. I know how to play Bad Guy and lawbreaker. That's easy. Tyger smirked as he flicked one of the pebbles he had acquired into the air, bouncing it off of a support pillar which caused it to ricochet from the pillar to the ceiling and fall to the floor. I ain't got no problems in going back to that game. I know how to fuck with the law. Tyger flicked another pebble at the same wall, again bouncing it off of the pillar to hit the ceiling, the tip of his tail twitching with the 'tick' sound that the small stone made after each impact.

But the hard part will be playing 'Bad Guy' and yet at the same time goin' out to prove that we're really the good guys and that the real bad guys are the ones in charge. Showing everyone that we're 'Bad Guys' because we're doin' the right thing and that's stopping the real bad guys from doin' whatever they want. Tyger sent a third pebble at the pillar and bounced it off of the ceiling. However, before it hit the floor, a fourth was flicked at it, which redirected the pebble's fall to hit the ceiling again. 'Course, that ain't gonna be easy at all. But that's what'll make it fun and one hell of a story to tell Marcy when she comes home.

Tyger grinned to himself and repeated his last stunt once more. Gotta still play by the rules and do the right thing. Oh well, it can't be helped I guess... Tyger once more flicked a pebble to bounce it off of the pillar to the ceiling, only to send another pebble to intercept and send it back to hit the ceiling. I guess that's what comes with being a hero. Tyger grinned and sent a third pebble to keep the first one airborne. I can do that. Won't be easy, but I can do it... A fourth and fifth pebble were sent out in rapid succession. The fourth went to hit the first to continue to keep it airborne, the fifth was bounced off of the pillar to make the first hit the ceiling again. ...Because I'm the best and we're Ninth Squad and we can do anything!


Tyger was in the process of beginning another volley of the little targeting game he started to occupy himself with when Jama shattered the silence with her accusation. This caused the Clade to not only lose his concentration, but the pebbles and the remainder of his cigarette as well. Tyger muttered something under his breath as he hopped off of the hood of the car and made his way to the rest of the squad, fishing out a fresh cigarette.

Jama was furious, even more than usual when he pushed her too far. It took her a moment to calm down and explain the situation. That whole tirade bought the squad a round of his deadpan 'Well Fuck' in response to the quickly deteriorating situation. To make matters worse, Jama needed the Grimorium to get things figured out.

The shit is about to hit the fan...Jama needs her creepybook and I need my Blue Steel. Tyger shrugged his shoulders. "I'll go and get it. I can sneak in and pick up the book. Shouldn't be that hard."

Brogan looked at Tyger almost as if he had taken a blow to the head "What?"

"I said I'll go and get Jama's book. I know where it is, I know the layout of the place. As much as I hate ninjas, I know how to act like one if I need to. I can sneak in, get the book and leave with the Blue Steel."

Brogan shot Tyger a look that was disturbing even with the rebuilt man's sunglasses.

"What? I can do it. I can be sneaky if I need to."

Further argument on the matter was silenced when Hemelshot announced that he had contacted Captain Richards, who said that there would be a mandatory meeting that would ensure that getting in and out would be quick and painless.

Since the subject changed, Tyger realized that it was time to get a "shopping list" together of the things he would pick up at the precinct house. His Blue Steel Zero, Tools, ammunition,, wait, that stuff was at the Workshop. Power Armor, tools, combat kit that the LT had made them all assemble awhile ago, and truck if possible to haul stuff around in, if possible. He barely heard Brogan mention something about an old system logon.

He listened intently to what Hemelshot and Jama had to offer as far as what they should do about the current situation. Well, He was only partially paying attention. His mind was elsewhere as he tried to think about what he was going to need, and more importantly what he would need to do. It was not any easier for him when his mind went to Marcy. A question snapped from Hemelshot that brought him out of his thoughts.

"Sir, we don't have a lot of time. Those boats will be making landfall within an hour at my best guess. Now, we know that Masada ain't using submersible carriers for this shindig, he is using freighters and tankers...though I have no idea how much they have been modified. It ain't unusual for pirates on a budget to have large boats like that get rebuilt on the inside to facilitate Power Armor and shit... it's cheap and it provides a great disguise until they get up close. Once they are close enough that you know it's a fake, it's already too late.

"Point is, is that I don't know about this case, but that's only cause I didn't get a good look at those boats. But if you want my opinion, I'd say that each one of those has been modified to drop everything it has with a quickness. Whether the hull was modified or if they cut themselves out of it, I would give those guys about thirty minutes after making landfall to drop everything and be on the move, if that. Of course if the boats are modified with deployment ramps, they have VTOL Transports other than Power Armor and the foot-sloggers are motivated it could be a lot less."

At some point Brogan had chosen to step out and had returned, carrying a fireman's axe in his hands. Tyger looked at the man with a slightly raised brow. Certainly unorthodox, but who was he to comment on anything. He looked to Hemelshot for a moment and then back to Brogan.

"Okay, I'm ready. What's the plan?" Brogan said.

"Good question man. My guess would be to hit up 13th Precinct. They ain't too far from here, pick up what we need to pick up, and head on over to XSWAT HQ and bust Carpenter out of the brig. If there's a truck or something downstairs in the Workshop, I think we outta use that to grab as many toys as we can before we shove off." He looked to Hemelshot. "Sir?"

Brogan stood stoically next to Jama, keeping lookout during her trance. She sat perfectly still before her wok filled with burning incense, oblivious to everyone and everything. And she'd stay that way until the spell ended, completely dependent on her squad-mates to protect her if anything went amiss. Brogan wasn't taking any chances at this point, not using anything less than lethal force, not waiting for a kill-order from the Lieutenant. But just this once, the Angelus media, Gurzorath's minions, and Internal Affairs had all taken a pass. And Brogan had a minute to gather his thoughts.

He couldn't get the image out of his head—of the old man's plasma screen down by the docks, with its litany of atrocities, and images of 9th squad: Hemelshot, Tyger, Carpenter, Renuka, Yiska, and finally, himself, all shattered into a thousand jagged fragments in a blast of telekinetic rage. Their lives were all shattering now, not as quickly, just as thoroughly. Except for Brogan. His life had shattered months ago, and he thought he had left it behind him well enough. No longer. Now the whole City, including his family and his old squad, knew that he wasn't dead after all, and that he was an Enemy of the State.

It's finally over—I can't go on with that charade any more. They all know by now—they know I lied to them. They know what I am, what I've done, what I'm accused of doing. And they've seen me—on every 'screen in the City. All the people who thought I died, who grieved for me, went to my funeral, and then went back to their lives without me—now they think I'm not only a liar and a freak, but a traitor as well.

And what am I going to do about it? Save them all, if I can. Maybe someday, if they live to hear, someone will tell them I wasn't a traitor. Maybe they'll even believe it. I can live with the rest, or die with it. What's important is defeating Gurzorath. If we fail, it won't matter what anyone thinks about us as individuals. And if we succeed, perhaps I'll be forgiven, before Death finally makes an honest man out of me.


Jama's shout broke him out of his reverie. Brogan realized his mind had been wandering a bit, and he felt like kicking himself. How long had he been awake exactly? Too damn long! Never mind....

Jama quickly recounted the disastrous events which had unfolded in the Council's emergency session: Cadbury relieved of her duties, XSWAT disbanded. Suddenly, everyone was in motion, sending messages and making phone calls. The Enochians' fleet got closer by the minute, and the whole City was oblivious. Brogan warned the Order of Enoch of the invasion, and they offered help if Brogan needed cybernetic repairs. He promised to keep in touch. "Via con Dios."

The Grimorium was a problem—it was still at 13th Precinct, on Jama's desk. Tyger offered to 'stealth' it out. Brogan was convinced he'd heard Tyger wrong. Tyger repeated himself, and Brogan really regretted not having any hair to pull out. Maybe if he pulled Tyger's hair out instead... no, wait. Hemelshot contacted Richards at the 13th, and the Captain informed him everyone would be at a briefing in half an hour. No need for stealth, if they had any luck at all. Problem solved.

What they really needed to do was warn everyone, about the Enochian invasion, and Hart's intention to disband XSWAT. There was a window of opportunity, between the invasion and the announcement of Hart's decision, during which XSWAT would have to be mobilized to stop the invaders. Hart wouldn't have the chance to announce his decision publicly. Once every XSWAT trooper was geared up and on the street, ready to fight off an enemy invasion, there was no way Hart could disband the force until after the fighting, and if news of his intentions leaked out during the emergency, he'd have to explain himself before the troopers would stand down. That was assuming anyone in XSWAT or Angelus City Hall lived through the invasion, of course.

Brogan was certain that Internal Affairs had disabled his XSWAT system ID, so he couldn't log in at the precinct, type up a warning message and hit send: all. Even worse, if he tried that, they'd locate him in a matter of seconds. The same was true for the rest of 9th squad. Brogan checked an old address on his wrist-pad, one he hadn't used in several months. The electronic ping he sent should have set off all kinds of alarms, bells, whistles, and red flags. But it didn't. Gotcha!

"Being dead has its merits, I guess." Various members of 9th Squad—those that weren't on the phone or otherwise occupied—turned to look at him. By now they all knew that look of grim satisfaction on Brogan's face meant that he was officially Up To Something Unpleasant.

"It's my old Bomb Squad system ID. Internal Affairs doesn't know it's still active, and they haven't flagged it. We can use it when we get to the Precinct, for a few minutes, anyway. If anybody wants to send any messages, get them ready in advance." And with that, Brogan went to back to his wrist pad, typing furiously.

Yeah, I'm gonna warn everyone in XSWAT about the invasion, get 'em all geared up and turned out, then pray it's not too late. But that's not the half of it. The Enochians cruised right up to the docks because Hart pulled in all the patrol boats, and while they were getting ready to take the City, he sat on his fat ass in City Hall disbanding our defense forces. Thousands of people are going to die today because of that fuck-up, and it's time everyone hears about it.

Does he even know what's happening? What will Hart do when he finds out about the invasion? He'll expect XSWAT to save him, because there won't be anyone else to turn to. And they'll do it, because he's a citizen of Angelus. But I'm not XSWAT any more. They call me an enemy of the state, but I still serve the public. I'll fight to save Angelus from the Enochians. I'll do whatever it takes to save the City from Gurzorath.

And if it's the last thing I do in this life, I'll save all of us from Owen Hart.

While the rest of 9th squad discussed their options—for mobilizing the Clades of Angelus, getting Carpenter out of jail, ensuring Cadbury's safety if necessary, Brogan finished the 'wake-up call' and saved it, to be sent when he logged on at the precinct. As the 'new guy' on the squad, he wasn't as familiar with the situation as the rest of them, so he'd trust their judgment, and whatever they decided, he'd back them up one hundred percent when the time came. But there was one more thing to be done. He was terribly short on ammo, and the barbarians were at the gate. Brogan had little or no training with the military weapons in the Armory, but there was something he had learned to use on the bomb squad, and it never ran out of ammo....

"Be right back." He strode over to the stairwell leading down to the Armory level. Hemelshot reminded him there wasn't much time to go down there. Brogan replied "No sir, there isn't" as the door closed behind him. He found the cabinet marked "Fire Control." Outside, his squad-mates heard the sound of twisting metal. The cabinet opened. Brogan emerged seconds later with a well-sharpened fire axe in his hands.

"Okay, I'm ready. What's the plan?"

And why is everyone looking at me like I'm crazy?

Cadbury dismissed, XSWAT disbanded, Masada literally minutes from assaulting the outer walls of Angelus, and Gurzorath ready to break out of Omega at any moment. Jama shuddered with barely concealed emotions and bit at her lip to keep from crying. It was all too much. She was only twenty-three years old (to be twenty-four in a few months), and it was as if the weight of the world was on her frail shoulders.

Holding the wok in one hand, she carefully placed the leftover herbs and incense inside the bowl. She might need this again, to see what Masada was up to, or to watch Omega from afar. But would it matter? Was there anything they could do? Hemelshot was wounded, his leg in a cast, Tyger not much better. Carpenter was gone (arrested, perhaps?), Cadbury dismissed and possibly under arrest as well, and the rest, herself included, had been labeled criminals.

Without warning her hands started to shake and the wok fell with a clang, scattered ashes and joss sticks across the concrete floor. With a sharp sob she fell to her knees, her face buried in the crook of one arm in an effort to hide her tears.

Tyger looked from Hemelshot when he heard the wok fall to the hard floor of the parking garage. He blinked, now that was a sight. He released a a sigh and stepped over to Jama though her tears were hidden, the fact she was crying was not. Yeah, he was banged up, but it was nothing worse than his usual bumps and bruises from a long hard day at work. The Clade moved to a knee and placed one hand on the young sorceress' shoulder. "Hey now, it ain't as bad as all that."

"Tyger... I don't want to die. Not now, not like this." Jama replied

The Clade replied with that self-confident "Han Solo-esque" crooked smirk he had. "Now hold on a second. Who said anything about dyin? I dunno about you, but I ain't ready to go yet. I told Marcy I wasn't gonna die, and that I'm gonna marry her. Now, It is hard as hell for me to marry someone if I'm chilling with Davy Jones, so that means I ain't gonna die."

Tyger moved Jama's arm aside so she would almost be forced to look him in the eye. "And since I ain't goin' nowhere, that means you ain't either. We're Ninth Squad, dammit. We've done what nobody else could do, and we've done what nobody else has ever done. Sure it was some tight scrapes, but we're still kickin' ass and takin' names ain't we? This ain't no different than that time at the Asylum, in that Painting, our first or second trip to Omega or that crazy-assed trip to space.... Hell, we even kicked ass in another fuckin' dimension!"

He stood up then and offered Jama his hand, while looking to the rest of his team. "Now, I dunno about the rest of you, but this party is just starting, and I ain't goin' nowhere without one hell of a bang. I ain't gonna let them beat me because I'm one of the Supreme Ten they can't beat me, and we ain't gonna let them beat us because we're Ninth Squad and nobody can beat Ninth Squad. Power Armor, politicians or Hell itself, we've faced it all and come back alive, kicking and begging for more. This ain't gonna be any different."

Jama stared at the Calde in almost wide-eyed amazement, then shook her herad and started to laugh. "Thanks, Tyger," she replied, wiping the tears from her face.