Mitch Brogan stands on the ancient dim-lit marble steps in front of the Angel Wing Cathedral, breathing the winter air of Angelus after midnight, literally blowing off steam after the altercation inside. The combined effect of the darkness, quiet and chill calms him quickly, for which he's thankful.
Nice going, Brogan. Think you can get through another day without firing anyone... or maybe without getting yourself fired? That'd be just great. Never mind the Yaks—we've got office politics here! Forget about it.
With a sequence of thoughts Mitch activates his link with the Crash Team's spinner, checks its status, and gives the autopilot a flight plan. For the next three and a half minutes, he monitors its progress as it streaks over Epsilon Sector in a high arc above streets, buildings, and traffic. When he makes visual contact, Mitch takes direct control, bringing the old Maverick quietly, smoothly down to earth on the street in front of the Cathedral.
The spinner's doors open as Mitch walks calmly over, takes the driver's seat, and plugs in. He closes his eyes, leans back in the seat and smiles, like some kind of addict who's been too long without a fix, enjoying the sensation of actually being in control of his machine. It's a fine evening for a drive, and if the Yakuza want to have a go at him when he's driving... well, he's undefeated there.
His reverie is disturbed as the Cathedral doors swing open and the Crash Team comes out; Lorraine, followed by Liz and Diedre, who looks exhausted, then Chrysine and Nicodemus.
Mitch waves them all over. "Anyone needs a ride, back to HQ or anyplace else, just ask. And, since I've got us all on the Yakuza's hit list, it's my responsibility to provide a safe lodging. If any of you don't want to go home tonite, I've made arrangements."
Lorraine politely asks, "Is that an order, sir?"
He smiles and shakes his head. "Not at all, Lorraine. If you've got a safe place to stay, I'm glad to hear it."
With a nod of her head, Lorraine calls home and calls a spinner to her location. "C'mon, sis. Let's go home." Turning to Diedre she asks, "You're still a bit out of it—want to come with us or go with him?"
Diedre looks skeptically at Lorraine, then Liz, then Nicodemus, then Lorraine again. "Roi't. Got a couple of good Robin's here: spend a night in some Bugs Bunny's Brick's mansion with a soul-eater or in a mouldy bunker with a Two-Thirty Bacardi who's gonna put 'is Germans all over me Ballrooms while I takes a Bo-Peep. N'shit, thanks, but no. I'm going back t'me Pope."
Mitch grins hesitantly. "If I followed that, it wasn't too flattering, but we can drop you off at HQ to pick up your bike, Didi. Guess if the Yaks interrupt your beauty rest, they're in for it."
"S'not you, Guv'nor. B'I'm not about t'spend the night wit' peoples I just met t'day. Gucci-goo assassins or not. 'Sides, they'll stay away if'n they know wot's good fer them." Diedre pats her maser - obviously still left on creature setting.
Chrysine blinks at Diedre's comments and then turns to Mitch. "I will come with you sir."
"Ooh, I don't know," Elizabeth mulls over the idea, holding her chin in a theatric gesture. "It is tempting to see where Mitch likes to take his women where Jama won't find him." She grins wickedly.
Mitch shrugs. "Hate to disappoint you, Liz, but Jama knew about this place before I did. And wherever Lorraine's going is likely a lot more comfortable."
"Well if yer so curious, the rest of us can go with L'raine here—have yerself a spot of posh, wot? If'n yer so interested in his ass—take it!" Diedre gripes.
Elizabeth's grin from her jab at Mitch switches to a dangerous smile as she regards Diedre. "What's the matter, Didi dear?" she says in a silky voice. "Afraid we'll corrupt your lily-white soul?"
Diedre regards Elizabeth with a "you just wait bitch" smile, "And that's the other thing. Somebody shut her up." With that Diedre stalks off in search of a cab.
Nicodemus, leaning on his staff, watches the exchange impassively. "Ms. Yasha", he begins with his disturbingly accentless, even tone. "Possessing a sin-free, uncorrupted soul is far more advantageous than one that is rotting and corrupt. While I refuse to offer commentary or judgement upon your—or anyone else's—essence, I find it unfair to ridicule Ms. Thornhallow simply because she chose a different path."
Elizabeth turns and, with half-lidded eyes, retorts. "You may very well be right on that 'pure soul' thing there, Nico. Tell you what, if I ever find someone with one, I'll be sure to ask."
Without waiting for an answer, she turns to leave, addressing Lorraine. "C'mon, 'Raine. Let's go home."
"And shut him up too, while yer at it." Diedre shouts in Nicodemus' direction. "Goddamn Nutters."
Mitch can't help smiling just a little. As she walks away, he shouts a heart-felt "Thank you, Diedre!"
It's only a few minutes until another spinner arrives to pick up Lorraine and Elizabeth, but Mitch insists on staying until they're safely on their way. They don't think it's necessary at all, to which he calmly replies, "The Yakuza might agree; if we see them, let's ask."
Then Mitch finds himself with Nicodemus and Chrysine, at which point he realizes they're the Crash Team members he knows the least about. Great... now what? "Chrysine, take shotgun. Nic, please watch for tails. Zero emissions—turn off databands, phones, uPods, and everything else. And no lights."
The Maverick lifts off with no lights on, either inside or out, and much to the alarm of both passengers, most of its instruments seem to be off, as well. Within seconds, they're streaking across Epsilon sector in the dark, completely off the normal traffic grid, at maximum speed.
“Sir?” Chrysine asks while staring out the window at the glowing blur of the Angelus skyline. “May I ask you a question?”
Mitch glances over at her for a moment, then turns his attention back to his driving. "Go ahead."
“Why were we picked for this squad?”
"Different reasons for everyone, Chrysine, but they're really all the same—HQ chose officers who'd be difficult, if not impossible, for the Yaks to corrupt. Personally I, uh... didn't have any input on the selection process, but I have complete confidence in its results."
What the hell am I saying?
“‘A house divided against itself cannot stand’.” Chrysine turns from the window to look at Mitch. “What use is it if we are ‘incorruptible’ if we kill each other before this is all over?”
His impassive face gives way to a rueful smirk. "I hope you're exaggerating, Chrysine... Seriously, getting these people to function as a team is one of my responsibilities. Looks like it'll be harder than I expected." He shakes his head and frowns. "They've got to get used to each other, and it'll take time. Same goes for me, I suppose."
“Yes sir,” Chrysine replies, as her ears flick forward and then back. “In the arena my sisters were all I had. We lived, eat, slept, and bathed together. We were a family of a sort. But here,” she sighs, “I don not feel I belong here and the others... ahhh... I’m sorry sir, I will stop now.”
"Actually, I'd say that's perfectly normal... for XSWAT. We get lots of recruits who don't belong anywhere else. Hell, I've been here ten years and I'm still not sure if I belong." He shrugs, an odd one-armed half-shrug, as one arm remains rock-steady on the wheel. "Where else would we be, if not here? My advice is, don't drive yourself crazy worrying about it." Mitch's voice sounds as if he's trying to comfort her, but in the darkened spinner, he can't tell, right away, if it's working. And besides, he's concentrating completely on his driving, so he can't even spare a glance in her direction at the moment—all he can do is listen.
"Perhaps we should have all come to this safe house," Chrysine muses. "So we could get to know each other better. I mean, Officers Hemelshot and Yasha obviously do, but I know nothing about Officer Thornhallow." She pauses, "I can not even understand a word she says."
Mitch grins slightly. "Diedre Thornhallow... who'd have believed she's a healer? I'm not sure; but the dialect might be a defense mechanism—she can speak English when she feels like it. Ah... almost there."
The Maverick angles down sharply, banking hard and decelerating towards an old parking structure. Mitch lands, and proceeds to the lowest sub-level, still with no lights, steering with the 'parking radar.' "Stupid spinner trick number 237. But Dave forgot the curb feelers. Okay, we're here."
He parks next to an elevator, gets out, and enters an access code. Below the garage, there's an old underground bunker: a small complex of storage rooms and shelters, long disused and empty, but still functional to some degree. Mitch doesn't say why it's here, or how he knows the code, but didn't he say the Director knew about this place before he did?
The amenities are spartan—old cots, bottled water and self-heating rations. More recently, he's brought in a futon and a mini-fridge stocked with his favorite lager. "I spent a few days here when Jama told me to leave, before I found an apartment in Epsilon. Didn't expect to be back so soon."
Since getting into the spinner with Mitch and Chrysine, Nicodemus has been disturbingly silent. Only once during the trip has he taken out his pocket watch to check the time. It’s only now, after being admitted into the underground hideaway does he speak. "Interesting choice of accommodations," he murmurs, in response to Mitch’s decision to come here after Jama told him to leave.
He seems older as he stands there now. As if some unseen weight was upon his shoulders. After only a few moments of taking the hideaway in, he focuses his attention on Mitch. "I need to..." He pauses, as heseeks to choose his words carefully "...rest. Some of the events that transpired tonight have taken their toll and I need to reorient myself accordingly. Someplace private would be preferable." Mitch nods and points at a reinforced door. "That used to be a workroom—rad levels are almost down to normal these days, so a few hours in there won't hurt you." Nicodemus looks to the reinforced door and lifts a brow. He considers asking about the radiation, but thinks better of it, at least for now."I see." He withdraws the pocket watch and checks the time. Satisfied he looks to Mitch. "I appreciate the accommodations. When do you intend on departing to the investigation site or sites?"
"We report in at HQ first thing in the morning, complete AAR's on last night's fiasco, then get copies of all available reports from the sites in question. The one we're following up on is underwater—I'm betting nobody's tampered with it yet. I'll have to find us a salvage team."
Nicodemus nods slightly in response. "Understood. I should not require more than a few hours."He then made his way towards the armored door, opening it slowly. He paused at the threshold in thought for a few moments. "However, please feel free to retrieve me if I have not emerged by the time you are ready to depart." At that, Nicodemus steps into the workroom and closes the door.
Mitch nods, "Of course, Nicodemus." Turning to Chrysine, he cocks his head slightly. "I have no idea where they found him."
The Clade gives a slight shrug. “Same place they found all of us, I guess.” She sets the bag containing her kwan-do down and visually sizes up a cot. “Sir... ah... can I ask you sort of an awkward question?”
He begins straightening up the futon and replies, "I guess so... what's the question?"
As she sits down on the cot, which creaks under her, Chrysine clasps her hands together. Her ears are back, while her tail flicks back in forth in a manner that reminds Mitch of Corporal Cadbury when he’s uncertain of what’s going on and what he should be doing about it. For a moment, just a brief moment, Mitch wonders what would happen if he gave Chrysine a good skritch between the ears.
“I have very good hearing,” she begins, “and the ICU partition is not very thick.”
Mitch has been busy folding a blanket at the foot of his futon up to this point, but hearing this, he freezes in place, staring at Chrysine intently. This simply had not occurred to him, and the ramifications could be dangerous, for both of them...
“Is it true what you said?”
...and he wonders just how good her hearing is. Good enough to tell if he's lying? It's been twenty-four hours since Elizabeth cold-cocked him, practically read his mind, and nearly got the whole story out of him... this could be much, much worse.
Chrysine is much more disciplined than Liz, but she apparently already knows... everything? And physically, she's far more than a match for him. That leaves only one way to handle this....
Mitch continues to stare at her for a long moment before answering, as the silence between them grows more awkward. Chrysine's tail twitches faster, and finally he replies. "Jama seems to think you're trustworthy. And I'd have to agree. You could've kept quiet about this, but you took the first opportunity to discuss it in private. So, let's discuss it."
He goes to the fridge and grabs a couple of beers, returns and sits on the cot next to Chrysine, offering one to her.
Chrysine accepts the bottle with a nod, glances at the label, and then twists the top off with an almost absent-minded motion. Mitch almost stops her, to tell her she’s going to need an opener, then recalls the glimpse he had (through the haze of Nicodemus’ burning car) of the Clade pushing a thousand-pound forklift through a cluster of Yak. He also tries not to think about how easily she could twist other things off... like his head, for example.
Chrysine isn't sure whether to be shocked or amused that her squad leader keeps a bottle opener on his utility belt, but he's got one at the ready. Since her bottle is open, he gives it a glance, shrugs, and opens his own. He takes a long drink and finally answers, "Yeah, Chrysine, it's all true. If you've got questions, ask... there's a lot of rumors going around, so it's best you hear about it from me."
The ears flick back, then forward. The tail stops, except for a slight twitch near the tip. Mitch wonders if a Clade, specifically a fox-human cross, has any of the same instinctual responses as a cat, even one as intelligent as Cadbury. It’s a lot easier with Tyger. At times like this, his bluntness would almost be welcome.
"Hmmm...complicated question. It's a long story. This isn't my first field assignment, Chrysine. The first one was seven or eight years ago, and I actually left Jama for about a year... it ended when I met Ryuzo. That was before he took over; nobody really knew who he was, but he sure as hell knew me. I guess he figured striking at someone near and dear to the director of XSWAT was a good way to make a name for himself." As he says this, Mitch removes his uniform jacket, his tie, and begins to undo the top of his skinsuit. Chrysine starts to look acutely uncomfortable.
“Ahhh... sir, I do not think you need to do this.”
"You need to know what we're up against. Ryuzo took down half my squad, and the curse he put on me would have been lethal, if Jama hadn't done this. She had to bleed it out of me." He pulls the top of his skinsuit to the left, revealing an ugly, badly-healed scar from a puncture wound, perilously close to his heart.
Chrysine leans forward, her blush of embarrassment gone. She examines the scar with a practiced eye. “The Director did that? With her kris?”
He fastens his skinsuit again. "There's another here." He points to his solar plexus, "...and a third..." now it's his turn to look embarrassed. "...never mind that one. Ryuzo left me alive, but he intended for Madam Director to kill me herself. She nearly had to. I still owe him for that. It's payback time, with seven years' interest. So I volunteered for this... and Jama decided to divorce me, right then and there." He shrugs and smiles at Chrysine. "It's not easy, sometimes, working for her."
Chrysine drinks from her bottle, looks at it, then drinks again. “The Director warned us the Yamaguchi-gumi will probably strike at us for costing them face. Will she do the same for us? Or you, if it comes to that?”
Mitch's eyes narrow. In spite of their marital troubles, and the scars he bears, he still has faith in his wife. "She's right. Ryuzo's a sadistic, ruthless, demented bastard... and there's nothing he won't do. But people look at Director Renuka, see how small she is, how polite, well-spoken... and they underestimate her. Mama Jama'll do whatever she has to, Chrysine—count on it."
Up to and including sending her husband out to die on a suicide mission with a bunch of rookies, he thinks grimly.
Chrysine raises her bottle to Mitch, “‘Ave Brogan. Morituri te salutant’.” she intones and then finishes it off. In response to his quizzical look, she replies “Hail Lieutenant, those who are about to die salute you.” She pauses, sets the bottle down, then stands and starts to undo her jacket. Mitch has a sudden twinge of something that’s not fear mixed with apprehension and then relaxes as the Clade folds up her jacket and sets it on a crate. She then sits back down on the cot and beings to remove the undershirt, “I have seen what the Yakuza can do, Lieutenant Brogan, both in the arena and in the street. I will do whatever has to be done as well.” She sets the shirt on the jacket and starts to open up the blanket at the foot if the cot. “You can count on it.”
Mitch follows her example, finishing his own beer. He looks at Chrysine very seriously. "I'm sorry, Officer Chrysine, but I can't let you do this."
The Clade glances around herself in confusion, before looking over at Mitch, “Do what, sir?”
He smiles, ever so slightly. "This cot's obviously too short... you'll be much more comfortable on the futon."
He's still sitting on the cot where they've been talking, and shows no sign of moving... in other words, he's just being stubborn, not to mention rather smugly self-sacrificing. Still, it sounded sort of like an order, and the futon does look very comfortable....
“Ahh... you sure, sir?” There’s a twitch of her ears followed by a flip of the tail, “I am just a guest.”
He gives her a conspiratorial sideways look. "Technically, so am I... actually, I'm not sure who owns this place, these days. The important thing is, we're safe here, so relax."
“Yes sir.” Chrysine stands, gathers her jacket and shirt and moves over to the futon, which was longer than the cot and certainly did look more comfortable to sleep on. As she knelt down to spread the blankets out, Mitch found himself needing to look elsewhere. They were called “skinsuits” for a reason, and Chrysine filled hers out rather nicely.
He stretches out on his cot, staring at the ceiling. His first day on the job hasn't exactly been an unqualified success... but the Old Man is safe, and so is the Crash Team. In the silence, he hears an occasional soft 'thump'; Chrysine is resting on her side, and her tail moves when she sleeps, swatting against the futon behind her. It's not enough to register on the motion sensors, so after a couple of minutes, the lights go very dim.
Mitch is very nearly asleep, barely conscious at all, really. By sheer force of habit, as he slips away, something less than a whisper passes his lips, so faint that not even Chrysine, several meters away and half-asleep herself, can be sure of what she hears.