Mitch turned and walked away from the Director without a word.
Do you remember our wedding? How we felt that day? Do you suppose we'll ever feel that way again?
He had no answer for her last question today, and very little hope that he ever would.
We can only learn from the past, Jama—we can't live there. At this point he wasn't sure what he'd learned—everything that led up to this moment seemed inevitable—there was nothing he would have changed, even if he'd wanted to. The last ten years, they'd both made mistakes, honest ones, and otherwise done their best at every turn, and this was where it got them... if there was anything to be learned, it was only that life simply wasn't fair.
We already knew that. Welcome to XSWAT. Talk to you later, Chief.
The short bike ride back to his cheap rental on the 93rd floor at "Quality Towers" in Epsilon Sector cleared his head nicely. After a couple of weeks, the other tenants stopped looking at him sideways when he rolled his bike off the freight elevator. No way was he parking a Nakamichi Raiju on the street in this part of town. Besides, it made an interesting conversation piece in the living room, next to the mini-bar. A bit of scotch, and Sergeant Mitch Brogan felt ready to go to work. Time to make some phone calls!
"HAL... how you doing?"
"My core neural structure continues degrading according to the most recent projections, Sergeant Brogan."
Mitch raised his scotch, tossed back the last of it. "Mine too, HAL... mine too. I've got a list of XSWAT personnel I need to locate, ASAP. And I'll need to reserve a meeting room at Epsilon Sector HQ tomorrow if there's one available. Get Director Renuka's approval on that."
"I'll take care of it, Sergeant Brogan. Which personnel do you need to locate?"
"Let's start with... Diedre Thornhallow." Mitch rolled his eyes. Might as well get this over with.
"She is currently at the 7th Precinct in Iota Sector."
"Thanks, HAL." Mitch dialed the number HAL gave him and introduced himself. Eventually he got the Desk Sergeant, who sounded a bit confused when he asked for Officer Thornhallow.
"Who's this again... Brogan? ...you mean from HQ? You want who?" Mitch heard him call for Thornhallow without muting the phone. "Hey Thorny, you won't believe this! Phone call... it's Brogan from HQ... no, not him, the other one! She'll be right with you, Sergeant. Please hold."
"I thought the dog was barking a bit mad, Scott. I'll pick up at me desk," Mitch heard through the phone before the familiar clicking sounds meant his call had been transfered. "Ah don't Adam and Eve it, tea-pot of the boogey-man himself. What can I do fer ya, guv'nor?" Came across a young woman's voice with a thick British accent—punctuated by the annoying sound of someone chewing gum with their mouth open.
I warned you, Jama—nothing but trouble. Mitch listened to Thornhallow's cockney'd slang with a mixture of confusion and amusement, puzzling out just enough of it for a (hopefully) coherent response. No way to sugarcoat this, nor any point, really. So, you like word games, Diedre? It was a voice-only call, but Mitch smiled wide anyway, wide enough so she could hear it. "Officer Thornhallow, I have a message from the "boogeyman." Madam Director is impressed with your sterling service to XSWAT, as a reward for which you're being reassigned to a special squad in Epsilon Sector, effective immediately."
He kept smiling and waited quietly for her reaction before delivering the kicker. This should be good....
There was a pause on the other end of the line—the gum chewing had stopped. "Grasshopper's three stops down from Plaistow. Didja catch that Scott?"
"He means you're being given one last chance before they fire you, shoot you, and then dump your sorry carcass in the deep blue." Came the Desk Sergeant's voice over the line.
"Well that's not all true is it?" replied Diedre.
"Word is, the director and him are getting divorced. She's looking for an excuse to fire him—you're it."
"And now he's giving all the twists in the force a bark, eh?" Diedre's voice comes back into the phone. "Gimme a pot o' glue, would ya guv'nor? Used t'be a chap'd give ya a demerit or a court-marshal—not lining up brown bread in an alley somewhere. Oh, and call me Didi. Last name's a bit of a mouthful, not that I mind of course."
Lining up brown bread...? Ah, to hell with it. Long as she can keep an appointment. "I don't mind either, Officer Thornhallow. And it'd be best if you'd call me Sergeant Brogan. Tomorrow at 3 p.m., sharp, we've got a meeting at Epsilon Sector HQ, to meet the rest of the squad. I'll notify your Captain so you can sort out your open cases between now and then. Don't worry about all the 'administrivia'—we've got a high-priority case and we're getting started immediately. Paperwork can wait. Welcome to the team."
"Bloody pitch!" Diedre turned away from the phone, "Scott, guv'nor here's got me on some case that doesn't require paperwork! I'll finally get some action!"
"I doubt you really need more of that. And he's wise if he's not asking you to do any paperwork."
"Who's on the line, Didi?" came another female voice.
"Director's boy-toy, Margaret. None o' yer business."
"They're not even divorced yet, Didi, have you no shame?"
"Sh'yea—you wish Marge-The-Barge! Gettin' meself transfered to a new unit. Gonna see some real action—the kind that doesn't involve paperwork."
"More than likely, they're looking for an excuse to fire you, Didi."
"You both can shut the f—" *click* as the receiver was slammed down into the base.
Mitch let out a heavy sigh, and said into the dead receiver, "Very well then. I look forward to meeting you, Officer Thornhallow."
Sure hope she makes more sense in person... now who's next? "Hard part's over. HAL, can you get me a line on Chrysine?"
"Officer Chrysine is currently on duty in Rho Sector, Sergeant Brogan."
Why doesn't that surprise me? Mitch dialed the number HAL gave him and waited. Calling an officer in the field was a hit-or-miss prospect, possibly even dangerous, but if it was a bad time to call, her data band would be silenced—no harm in trying. Missing persons were the most time-sensitive of cases, those in Omega even more-so, and he didn't even have a squad yet, so he called...
...and she answered. "Roar" sector was in full swing tonight, he could tell as soon as the line opened—it sounded like bedlam at the zoo. Mitch heard sirens in the background, along with shouts, spinners streaking by, engines revving, and (he thought) a reporter's voice he recognized. It sounded like something major had just gone down. Party's over and they're cleaning up... whatever it is.
"Officer—Hey! You cannot park that there! Back behind the barrier!—Officer Chrysine speaking, how can I assist you?"
Back into the no-nonsense "Director's Man" persona. And how long will that hold up, when half the force thinks she's kicking me to the curb? Heck with it... they'll figure out soon enough that I'm not going anywhere. "This is Sergeant Mitch Brogan, from HQ. Something urgent's come up, Officer Chrysine. Please tell your OIC you're taking a short break. We need to talk."
There was a pause in which Mitch could hear the racket of whatever-it-was Officer Chrysine was involved in. "Ahh... right at this moment, sir? Things are a little busy here. A suspect broke out of Angelus PD custody, killed three of their officers, and then stole an APD pursuit special. We chased him into Rho where he crashed. We have a real mess here."
Mitch breathed a mental sigh of relief, realizing that he'd gotten the right idea from Chrysine's file—she took her job very seriously. But can she work with 'Didi'? "Sorry, Chrysine, but things are tough all over—I'll make this quick so you can get back to work. I've got a decorated XSWAT officer missing in Omega, the Order of Enoch may be involved, and Madam Director has ordered me to put together a special squad and find him. Your name came up. Epsilon Sector HQ, tomorrow at 3 p.m., team meeting. You get all that?"
A hollow booming noise drowned out whatever reply there might have been. Mitch heard a few echoing clangs followed by: "Sorry, sir, the suspect managed to hit an industrial hauler loaded with waste. The fires do not want to go out. Give me a moment."
More sirens, shouts, and a faint crackling noise that Mitch figured was fire. A typical day in "Roar" Sector. Then: "Sergeant Montizano, sir? I have Sergeant Mitch Brogan on the line. He says the Director has tapped me for a special investigative squad and wants me at E-Sec HQ tomorrow at 3."
Montizano's response was inaudible over the sound of Angelus's waste by-products going up in flames.
"Ahh... Sergeant Brogan? I have confirmed with my OIC." She paused then continued, "Will the Director confirm this? My Sergeant is not happy to see me go."
"I'm sure he's not. Yes, Director Renuka personally suggested I call you. Chrysine, we're living in interesting times; we've come to the attention of those in power; now let's just be careful what we wish for. I'll see you tomorrow."
After he switched off, Mitch paused to pour himself another drink. He'd had it all backwards—recruiting Thornhallow had been the easy part, crazy as she was. His conversation with Chrysine made it clear that he was pulling some of XSWAT's best new recruits off their normal assignments for... what? The Director's personal project? A suicide mission? This was only going to get worse—some of the names on his list were old friends. I've made two goddamned phone calls and I already hate being in command. Does that mean I'm doing something right? Whatever—Jama's counting on me... so is Dad, wherever he is.
"Okay, HAL, where's this Officer Nicodemus Tsanthos? And did I pronounce that correctly?"
"Yes, Sergeant Brogan. He's currently at XSWAT HQ, in the Vault. That entire area is shielded, so you'll have to go through Lieutenant Anubis and have Tsanthos paged. Or wait until he emerges."
Mitch was barely able to touch his scotch before the telephone rang. "Sergeant Brogan?" HAL began. "The incoming call is from XSWAT HQ."
He set his drink on a side table (in reality a bachelor-chic tool-caddy) and picked up. "Got it HAL. Brogan here."
"Sergeant Mitch Brogan," began the neutral, accent-less voice. "This is Officer Nicodemus Tsanthos. While I have been expecting your call, I ventured that it would be best that I contact you first. I do hope that this is a good time."
Cradling the phone in one hand, Mitch turned toward HAL's optical pickup on his terminal, pulled a one-armed shrug and cast the computer an incredulous wtf? look during Tsanthos' introduction. "Yeah, just sitting at home making some calls tonight. We need to talk."
"Excellent. I am well aware of the current situation concerning your father and his support team, I find it most perturbitory that the entire matter remains a mystery to me as well. While I am not surprised that the Director would take a personal interest in this matter, I find it intriguing that her response would be to create a new squad for the sole purpose of either locating him within Omega Sector or determining of the Order of Enoch is possibly involved."
"I guess you could say I put her up to it. Sort of. Your name came up, Officer Tsanthos—you're being transferred to the new squad, effective immediately. We've got a meeting scheduled tomorrow at Epsilon HQ, 3 p.m. I trust you'll be there."
"I would not necessarily say that you put the Director up to this excursion. It was inevitable. In any case, I have fully anticipated this change of assignment, and have kept my research scheduled flexible because of it." There was an almost courteous pause.
"You could almost say, Sergeant Brogan, that I have been waiting on you... for quite some time, as a matter of fact. That said, my transfer was completed almost a week ago in anticipation of this eventuality. I was beginning to wonder what was taking you so long. In any event, I shall see you at the appointed time."
Trying very hard not to betray his sheer disbelief, Mitch simply said, "Alright, then. See you tomorrow, Officer Tsanthos." And hung up. How in the hell did you transfer to my squad a week ago? It didn't exist! Jama was right—this guy was good. Either that, or there was a serious leak in her office. Mitch sat there for a moment, seething.
For the past decade, control of information leaking from Director Renuka's office had been fairly well-handled. If something needed to be leaked, Malachi Brogan leaked it. And if someone else on her staff let anything slip, they'd answser to him, or to Madam Director. But now? Old Brogan was gone, there was some jumped-up little mind-scanning freak in the Director's office, and now this guy Tsanthos... whoever or whatever he was... who could see the Director's plans before she gave the orders, was poking around at HQ!
Gotta do some house-cleaning, afterwards. Meanwhile, Tsanthos promised to be useful enough. He was damn good, but not as good as Mama Jama—he hadn't seen everything. Either that or he was discrete enough not to let on about it. Prescient and discrete? Yeah, we should be so lucky. I'll take what I can get. Okay... back to work.
And where'd I put that scotch? "Your glass is on top of the tool cabinet, Sergeant Brogan."
"Uh, thanks HAL. Was I talking out loud?"
"So, you're reading minds now, too?"
"It was the last object in your hand prior to the phone call. I ascertained you'd want to find it again afterwards. Was I correct?"
"Yes. Thank you."
"I'll need to contact Officer Lorraine Hemelshot next, HAL."
"Her databand is on, but it indicates she's off-duty, and currently at Dante's."
"Hmmm." Mitch paused. "I wonder if she remembers the night Dad got burned?" After many years, Jama had told Mitch of the incident at Richard's house, warning him (quite unnecessarily) not to bring it up again.
"I do not have sufficient data to reach a conclusion." HAL replied, "Shall I ask Officer Hemelshot?"
Mitch's drink went down the wrong way, and he suddenly remembered why AI's made such lousy drinking partners. For all his apparent sophistication, abstract social concepts like, say, tact still escaped HAL's grasp.
"Absolutely not. Uh, tell you what, HAL. I think we'll call it a night. I'm gonna give Lorraine a call, but Liz has had a really tough day, so I'll get around to her in the morning. Thanks for all your help. Good night."
"Good night, Sergeant Brogan."
Okay, here's where it gets complicated....
Mitch dialed Lorraine's number.
The keening wail of an high-power electric guitar filled Mitch's office, supported by the rhythmic pounding of a heavy metal thrash band in full swing. The noise diminished considerably as Hal engaged the filtering routines, but the noise could not be completely suppressed. Lorraine's voice suffered some distortion from the filtering but came through, loud and enthusiastic.
"Heya, Hal! Haven't seen the override codes used in a while. What's going down?" Mitch started to frown, and took in a breath to reply when Lorraine spoke up again, apparently having been given the answer by Hal. This time her voice was much less festive.
"Sergeant Brogan. What can Officer Hemelshot do for you tonight?"
"Congratulations are in order, Lorraine. Got an assignment for you. And your first case... straight from the Director."
"Great!" Came an enthusiastic response. "Thanks for the heads-up. I'll be sure to dress well when I report on Monday."
There was a short pause as Lorraine moved through the crowd at the club, then the background noise lowered significantly and a low, sharp whine activated. Lorraine's voice hardened as she continued, "Ok, I'm alone and the channel's been secured. What's so important that you had Hal break into my databand with the emergency security codes?"
"Malachi Brogan is now officially a 'missing person' and Madam Director has ordered me to assemble a squad to find him. You've been selected, Lorraine. Squad meeting's tomorrow at 3 p.m.—Epsilon HQ. Then we'll get started. You get all that?"
There was a moment of silence, then in precise enunciation, "So for my first XSWAT deployment I am being tapped into a temporary squad being sent on a mission motivated by the Director's concern for her father-in-law. Got it. Tomorrow at fifteen hundred at Epsilon. Anything else?"
Mitch paused a moment before answering. He was very much aware of the situation without a summary from his squad's youngest rookie. "Of course she's concerned; they go back a long way—both started out on the same squad. Maybe you heard about that, Officer Hemelshot." Then he changed the subject before she could go off. "By the way, how's Liz?"
"I don't know, sir. Would you like me to begin official surveillance of subject Elizabeth Carpenter? I can have the paperwork ready in an hour." Lorraine knew she was being unfair—Mitch was only the messenger—but she couldn't stop herself from retreating to the safety of the overly formal.
Jamadugni Renuka had just destroyed her career. Being the daughter of a convicted murderer was bad enough, but having her first assignment be blatant nepotism would sink any potential that she'd ever be taken seriously as a cop. Her throat tightened and she forced her tear ducts to constrict as she continued in a level tone.
"My apologies, sir. That was unnecessary. I will inquire as to Miss Carpenter's mental and emotional status when she arrives, and relay the information to you. Will there be anything else, sir?"
"That's alright, Lorraine—I thought you might have seen her since the funeral. Tomorrow morning I'll be at Captain Brogan's office over at HQ. If there's anything—anything at all—that you want to discuss, feel free to stop by. Meanwhile, you two have a good time tonight."
"Sir." It was the routine response given by subordinates the world over who want to give an honest answer without saying anything. Lorraine cut the link calmly, forcing her emotions into a box and putting them onto a mental shelf. There would be time to grieve later—now it was time to prepare for an S&R mission into Omega.
Everyone knew what the older Brogan did for a living and how dangerous it was, and the Director was apparently killing two birds with one stone by both scoring points with her estranged husband and tanking her career. As she left the club she thought, 'I didn't think the Director hated my father so much.' She left a quick message for Liz, then all thoughts turned to the upcoming mission and the possibility that she might be able to burn something.
Mitch stared at the phone for a moment, shaking his head. And people wonder why I don't have any kids! Never mind. Lorraine already had a father... now she needed a squad leader. So, it was time to get down to business. Mitch went back to his computer, where HAL had kindly downloaded a few files he'd be needing. He spent a couple of hours studying reports from old Brogan's "Department Of Omega Recovery" on recent forays into Omega Sector. (D.O.O.R.? Oh Dad, really....) The problem was, there still weren't any good maps of the area inside the new Wall. Getting in and out depended entirely on having someone who could navigate the warped and twisted streets of Omega. With Malachi Brogan gone (and Scanner unavailable) that left... nobody. Maybe.
Mitch heard a knock at the door, grabbed his maser and took a quick look at the entry monitor. Liz stood in the hallway, looking around nervously. He shut off the computer, opened the door and motioned her in without a word.
Elizabeth nodded and stepped in, gliding through the foyer into the main living area. Her eyes scanned the room, pausing only briefly on the glass still holding a finger of alcohol.
In a crisp, business-like manner, she went straight to the point. "I had the chance to talk to Director Renuka earlier this evening. She indicated you wanted to speak with me about a new assignment."
Mitch nodded, "Yeah, Liz, glad you stopped by. Figured I'd call you in the morning, but since you're here...." He walked into the tiny apartment's living area as he spoke, sat in one of his cast-off chairs, and offered her the other one, facing it. "Can I get you anything?"
Elizabeth sat in the chair indicated and leaned slightly back, crossing her legs. She shook her head, then winced slightly.
"No, thank you. I'm still recovering from the last one."
Mitch looked at the young woman for a moment, wondering how much Jama had told her. "Madam Director ordered me to assemble a squad and find Malachi Brogan. You've been assigned to the new squad, Liz."
Elizabeth nodded coolly. Looking straight at Mitch, she said, "You're planning to go into Omega Sector and I'm the closest thing you have to a tame Entity."
For just a moment, Mitch froze. He had never liked hearing Liz talking about herself like that. He took a sip of scotch—the ice had melted, it was half-water now. "You're the only officer who has the slightest chance of going in there, and finding your way out again." He shrugged. "But there's something else we need to talk about first."
He leaned towards her, returned her intense gaze eye to eye. "This is important, Liz. Off the record. And I need to know. Have you ever been In There before?"
Elizabeth smiled tightly, steepling her fingers in front of her face without breaking eye contact with Mitch.
"That's the sticking point, isn't it? The answer is no, Sergeant. I have not. And I have no idea what will happen if, or when, I do."
"Me neither." He bowed his head for a moment. Forgive me. Mitch looked up at her again, shook his head. His voice was flat. "I don't when we're going in, yet, Liz. Soon. Anything happens, I'll be right there with you."
Elizabeth flashed a fierce grin. "I wouldn't expect anything else."
She stood up. "Is there anything else?"
"Yeah, one more thing. I meant to tell you this afternoon... the Order gives you any more trouble, I want to know about it. We're not gonna let 'em push XSWAT around. Jama's pissed about it, so am I, and we both think the Order might know what happened to Dad."
Elizabeth cocked her head with a rueful grin.
"Yeah, she did mention her suspicions about them regarding your father's disappearance. I'll tell you what I told her: the Order as it stands today doesn't have the will to confront anyone, much less XSWAT. That doesn't mean someone couldn't be using the Order as a blind to do their dirty work. We may very well go up against Enochian resources on this investigation, but the hand guiding them will not be obvious." Elizabeth hesitated. "There is one thing I needed to talk to you about..."
The cool professional mask melted away to reveal a fragile young girl. "As you said before, this is off the record. Not as XSWAT, but as two people who..." She looked beseechingly at Mitch as she took a halting step towards him, pain evident in her face. "It's about Jama."
Mitch smiled sadly and closed the distance between them, placing a hand on her shoulder. He took a deep breath and asked, "Okay, what's she done now, Liz?"
Her fist met his face with a solid and meaty thud that rocked his head back.
Through the haze of pain, Mitch could see Elizabeth's face, now turned into an ebon-eyed mask of rage, and hear her words hissing from between shark-like pointed teeth.
"I care about Jama. A lot. She loves you very much and it's tearing her apart. What are you doing about it?"
Mitch took a moment to right himself. He had half a mind to strike back—but what was the point? Liz had no idea....
He stepped directly towards her again, and before he could stop himself, blurted out "I'm staying away, dammit! And if you care about her, you'll do the same."
Elizabeth's inhuman visage tilted as she studied Mitch's face intently. One harsh word escaped her twisted lips.
"That's between me and Jama! So, she wouldn't tell you anything, and you came over here to beat it outta me, right? Knock it off Liz—RIGHT NOW!" Mitch was enraged, his face not quite as contorted as hers, but she'd never seen him like this....
After a second more of inspection, Elizabeth made a small nod and stepped back, her face shifting back to normal as she raised her hands in a token of surrender.
"That's a good enough read. You really do love her."
Her mouth quirked into a rueful smile. "I needed to be certain so I had to get an honest reaction from you. You've got too good a poker face for me to read your emotions otherwise.
"You're right. What's going on between Jama and you is your own business. But I had to make sure that your feelings were real, that you weren't playing her. She's too important to me to let that happen."
Mitch struggled to regain his composure, but that 'poker face' Liz said was so good wouldn't be back anytime soon. "Damn right she's important, Liz... to a lot of people. So do us all a favor and keep quiet. You'd be better off not knowing, but now it's too late. So... not a word. Ever."
Elizabeth raised a mystified eyebrow. "Yes, sir."
He rubbed his chin and gave her an extremely dirty look. "Nice trick. You ever try that again, we're going to town... and you get to clean up the mess."
Elizabeth answered with a contrite smile. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry for punching you, Mitch."
The smile turned into a mischievous grin as she shook her hand.
"No, really. Your head's as hard as a rock, Sergeant."
This really was just too much. All he could do was stare at her incredulously. After a long moment he finally smirked, "Tame entity, my ass. Serves you right. Now get some rest, Liz—it's been a bad day. Squad meeting's tomorrow at 3 p.m., Epsilon HQ. Ah hell, it's already tomorrow... 3 p.m. today... you know what I mean."
"Yes, sir!" Elizabeth threw out a jaunty salute, then changed expression again to a more sober air.
"Can I ask you a favor, Sergeant?"
"The paperwork's still being put together, but since the new squad'll be meeting tomorrow..."
She took a calming breath then continued.
"I'm legally changing my last name. I... I think it would be better if you introduce me using it to avoid any confusion."
"My name's now Elizabeth Yasha."
A very slight grin appeared on Mitch Brogan's face, which gradually widened to an outright smile, until he simply lost it and erupted into a fit of howling laughter.
Liz suddenly remembered that Mitch knew some Japanese.
When he finally stopped, he looked at Liz, still smiling and shaking his head. "Oh shit, Liz. You're gonna be famous." He laughed again. "Fine, 'Officer Yasha' it is. Now get going! Get some sleep before you storm Omega Sector, Elizabeth Yasha. See you tomorrow."
Elizabeth stared at Mitch as if he'd grown a second head. After a pause, she said in a dubious tone. "Uh, yes, sir. Good night."
As she made her way out of Mitch's apartment, Elizabeth wondered, was insanity a leadership quality or just a side effect of the job?
After she'd gone, Mitch locked the door behind Liz and allowed himself to wince again at the pain in his jaw. He went into the closet-sized bathroom, took a couple of aspirin, and rubbed the spot where Liz had tagged him. Took two more for his hang-over, then closed the medicine cabinet, catching his reflection in the mirror as he did so.
Damn, you're a mess, Brogan. You think Jama's a little out of it? Take a look at yourself. You almost spilled your guts to a rookie! You've got a whole squad of XSWAT's newest, and most dangerous officers to lead now... you can't let them intimidate you like that—ever—or you're finished as a squad leader.
Mitch walked out to the 'sun room'—actually an oversized window-box with a view—and looked out across the squalor of Epsilon. In the distance, he could see the lights and towers of Sigma Sector thrusting into the sky over Angelus, and the Skyhook project above it all. We'll find him Jama... somehow.
After that, we should be ready...
He looked down at the dark, crowded streets of Epsilon Sector.
...for just about anything.