Part I

I miss the sun.

Growing up in Bali I had sun almost every day. Bright and warm, with clear blue skies and cool ocean breezes, I loved the sun and the long days I spent on the beach, swimming, surfing, or just soaking up the rays. I remember sleeping outside some nights, in a hammock strung between two trees, with the soothing sounds of the surf to lull me to sleep.

For the record, Angelus doesn't have much sun.

I have been told that Angelus is much like pre-Cataclysm Seattle. Constant mist, haze, and clouds, with almost daily doses of drizzle, if not outright rain. Supposedly it has a higher than normal rate of suicide and depression, but I'm not sure that's true (well. in some areas it is, but that's because of Omega Sector). Personally, I don't think it's the best place to recover from a serious injury. Oh, the health care is fine, some of the most advanced in the world, but the view out my hospital window tends to be dreary and gray. Not the most cheerful of scenes. I miss the white sands and blue waters of Bali. Perhaps I should ask Director Cadbury about some time off and return home for a visit.

Of course, if I do go home, I'd probably have to try and describe what it is I do in Angelus. They know I'm with XSWAT, but other than that, I don't think they have a clue. Well, Grandfather knows, I'm sure of it. In fact, I think he knows quite a bit he's not telling me. Like where he knows Cadbury from—and how long as he known her? Yiska's visit is still fresh in my mind, and the revelation that XSWAT's esteemed leader is some sort of supernatural protector of the world is a tad unsettling.

Wait... I seem to have derailed my train of thought.

I'm not sure if my parents are ready to hear I fight monsters for a living. Or that their 23 year-old pride and joy has spent roughly four of the last seven weeks in the hospital. That I was nearly killed in the line of duty not once, but twice. And I haven't been on the force more than six months yet.

After my first day with XSWAT, I felt ready to quit. I'd been bitten, battered, bloodied, and came back to the precinct covered in mud, blood (most of it someone else's), muck, and slime. I think I took three straight showers before I felt clean again, and ended up sleeping on a cot in the briefing room. But I stuck with it, and have seen why XSWAT exists and what it must fight against. I can't quit XSWAT now—not with the fate of the world (literally) at stake. XSWAT, Cadbury, Angelus, and just about everyone on Earth needs me, and people like me, to stand against the Entities and the horrors they bring. If I turned my back on that, I don't think I could live with my self.

So here I lie, propped up in my bed, once again. We joked once, that XSWAT needed its own wing at Angelus General. Little did I know how true that was. We have the upper floors of the east wing, positioned specifically to catch the rising sun. I've been here so often over the last few months I almost have my own room, especially since Elizabeth Carpenter had Nathan bring in a virtual greenhouse worth of plants—most of which are native to Indonesia, if not Bali itself. I actually kind of like it, but worry that if I try and being them home, I won't be able to take care of them. I wonder if I can create a localized rain shower to water them? Maybe I can try that in the bathroom some time—I'd rather not soak my room, it's not good for the furniture.

Anyway, the first time I almost died in the line of duty was during our trip into Omega Sector. There, the animated corpse of a dead XSWAT officer (a member of the previous 9th Squad, in fact) smacked me with the arm of the Powered Armor she was piloting. The impact cracked and/or broke most of my ribcage, resulting in my getting a whole new one. Through the science of nanotechnology (not the magic, there is a difference—and I should know) I only had to spend something like three weeks in here (or in therapy). I then rejoined the rest of 9th Squad (the current one), for a vacation in Rio de Janeiro, where we ended up getting into a fight with the the Nominus Circle. Of them them punched me in the chest with a bolt of lightning, promptly shattering my brand-new ribs. And thus my second near-death in the line of duty.

So it goes.

I've gone through several surgeries (again) and even spent time in the nano-bath to have my skin regrown and repaired. It's even color-matched correctly, with the doctor telling me I'd be ready for the beach and bikinis in about a month. Which is nice to hear, but I think I'll give Rio a miss this time. Hawaii maybe. I liked it there when I went one summer.

But I digress. It's 9:00 AM and time for breakfast in the sun room. I (slowly) get out of bed and settle myself into the self-powered wheelchair I've been given. It's still too early for me to be walking far on my own—the doctors don't want me putting any undue stress on my ribs or my new skin. I find myself agreeing, much to my chagrin. Just getting into the chair leaves me gasping. My chest hurts and taking a deep breath only makes matters worse. But I have to breathe deeply, It helps stretch the new cartilage, you see, and keeps the muscles from getting stiff. It's time like this I wish I knew healing magic. The hantus are good at keeping me from getting hurt, but afterwards? I'm on my own.

I've gotten pretty good at driving the chair around. It has a simple joystick control and goes just fast enough for me to be a hazard to myself and others. I glide out of my room and into the elevator for the short ride up to the "sun room."

Part II

I enter the Sun Room to find one of my fellow patients is already there. Officer Gutierrez, up from the burn ward. He's out of Alpha Sector, Precinct 2, and is a pyrokinietic. Of course, it sounds sort of odd to talk about someone who can summon fire to be in the burn ward—but his wounds aren't from flame, but from acid. Entities have a wide variety of attacks at their disposal, including the ability to spit acidic saliva

Like me, Gutierrez has been undergoing nano-baths, in which his wounds are cleaned and the skin is slowly rebuilt. He's told those of us who gather in the Sun Room the details of this several times. He seems to enjoy the looks of disgust and nausea it creates. Sort of reminds me of Tyger.

"Heya beautiful," he calls by way of greeting. He does this every time he sees me... and most of the other female nurses and officers. It seems almost second nature to him, which is why I've stopped taking him seriously over it. Besides, I've seen his supposed "girlfriend." Another officer out of Alpha, she's nearly six feet tall and built to match.

I roll up to the table and Gutierrez waves to me from around a mouthful of his breakfast. We've got a good spread today. Juice, muffins, fruit, pastries. Mostly Western stuff, but that's okay, I'll manage. They have tea (green even!), and the fruit is fresh enough. Since I'm not a Buddhist, I can and do eat meat, but most pastries are too sweet and heavy for me—for breakfast anyway.

As I eat, two other officers come in, filling their plates, grabbing chairs, and digging in. We exchange nods and hellos, but go back to our food fairly quick. Breakfast is about the only time we're not being poked and prodded, so we try and enjoy it while we can.

While we're eating someone new arrives. She's a bit taller than me (no real surprise there), slender, and has long flowing hair a beautiful shade of blue. Like me, she's in a wheelchair. There's a pause as everyone looks at the new arrival. Eyes glance over her, judging not her figure (well, maybe in Gutierrez's case), but her injuries. Where? How bad? Glances are exchanged and I brace myself for the ritual to come. It seems to be some sort of tradition—I went through it, Gutierrez loves to put others through it. It's a bit morbid, but it does bring us closer together—breaks the ice, so to speak, in a slightly disturbing way.

Part III

"I'm Corporal Renee Lively, Zeta Sector, Precinct 4," the new girl says, brushing her hair out of her face. I find myself wondering if it's dye or natural, I hear genetic adjustments can be made for that sort of thing. "Pleased to meet all of you."

We nod and as one look to Gutierrez. "How'd it happen?" he asks, on cue, chewing on a pastry.

"Ah..." she seems a bit taken back by the rather abrupt question, but recovers quickly. "An esper did it." She motions with one hand to her midsection, "Punched right through the armor and into the cockpit, and then through me."

We all shake our heads, murmuring how espers are not to be trifled with. Yiska may be on my side, and that's fine, but I've seen what a truly angry one can do—Ryan Sands's ruined home is a prime example of that.

"You get 'im?" Corporal Norm Cantrell asks. He's an older officer who seems to have seen more than his share. Black-haired, skinny, with a scar on one cheek, he came out of SWAT and knows Sergeant Hemelshot. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not.

"Yes," Lively nods. "We... well, the rest of the squad did. I wasn't much help after he hit me."

"Gutierrez, Alpha Sector, Precinct 2." Gutierrez sticks out his hand, which Lively takes, and gives her a wink. I stifle a groan and settle for rolling my eyes and brace myself for what's going to come next. "I had a Class I Entity throw up on me. Burned right through my jacket, skinsuit, everything. Took off most of my skin and...."

"Enough." Mask, a canine clade, holds up his hand. "You can stop now. We're eating and you can try and disgust Lively with your stories later." Lively looks more than a little grateful at the save.

"But..." Gutierrez protests, but only halfheartedly. He knows he'll get his chance later—usually after he returns from treatment.

Mask's ears twitch as he fills his plate with sausages (served just for him, I suspect). "Mask, Gamma Sector, Precinct 9."

Lively looks at around at the table, having figured out what comes next. "And?"

"Gunfight with the Kurobara-Kai. AP round went right through my clamshell, broke a rib, collapsed a lung." Mask, as you might suspect, is a clade of few words.

Lively gives a slight shudder, the description bringing back some unpleasant memories I bet.

"Corporal Norm Cantrell, Rho Sector, Precinct 7." Norm looks up from his plate. "We were investigating an Angel's Blood ring when one of the perps we'd tagged changed. Killed two of his buddies ripping out of his restraints." He pauses, for effect I think. "Grabbed me and tried to shove me down it's throat." The first time he told that part of the story I broke out in a sweat... I knew what that was like first hand. "Bit my lower right leg off." He pauses again and gives the table a non-nonsense look. "I'm going to be getting a new one in a few days."

Yeah, Cantrell and Hemelshot would get along just fine. I wonder if Cantrell bothered to stop shooting while the Angel Blood Entity swallowed his leg? I know nothing as minor as a missing leg would slow down the Sergeant for long. The thought forces me to bite my lip to keep from laughing.

"I see." Lively turns to me and any laughter left just vanishes. "And you?"

"Jamadigni Renuka, 9th Squad, 13th Precinct." I pause and Lively's eyes go wide. I guess our reputation precedes us.

"Didn't you..." she starts.

"Survive Omega? Yes...."

Everyone else manages to look otherwise occupied as Lively starts to ask the inevitable. "What--"

"I'd rather not talk about it."

"Oh..." She looks at her food then back at me. "You here because of...."

"Omega?" I give her a weak smile. "That was last time. This happened while I was on vacation."

"In Rio," Gutierrez adds, almost grinning and probably mentally picturing me in a tiny string bikini. Maybe I should start my localized rain shower experiments in his room.

"Yes... in Rio. The Nominus Circle was trying to open a gate to..." I pause myself, trying to think of the words to describe the black gulf that opened up over the statue of Cristo Redemptor. "to... somewhere else," is my lame attempt.

"Oh... I see." I decide telling her 'no you don't' would be rude. Anyone is XSWAT has seen a lot of strange things, but if you haven't been in Omega, if you weren't there at the feet of Cristo Redemptor, you can't really say you understand.

"Welcome to the Sun Room," Mask says, ears twitching.