The Angelus Zoo, like many things in the City of Tomorrow, is a marvel of the modern age. Spread out over 200 acres of Alpha and Beta Sectors, it’s noted for its collection of rare and endangered animals and for its highly successful breeding programs. Breeding programs, Lieutenant Chrysine muses, that were spun off from the very same technologies that produce Clades such as herself.
It is strange, she thinks, how one’s perceptions of technology depends on how it is used. Clades are—were—little more than slaves in Angelus, and still are in much of the world. But here, the same nanofactory processes are being used to rescue certain species of animals from the brink of extinction. And—if the rumors are true—may be used to replicate certain extinct species, bringing them back from beyond the grave.
Hands clasped behind her back, tail swishing gently with each step, Chrysine ponders the philosophical implications of this possible development as she trails behind her daughter Angie, who’s studiously examining the display signage and entering notes into her data pad.
Truth be told, it’s a beautiful day for a trip to the zoo, and Chrysine almost suspects the Director’s hand in the clear blue skies and bright sun. Then again, the Director of XSWAT has better things to do with her time than ensure that an XSWAT officer (and her daughter) have a nice outing. Even if said officer is a decorated veteran and the outing is for a school project.
“Mom! Mom!” Angie’s voice interrupts her thoughts. Ears tilting forward, Chrysine looks to the most important thing in her life these days.
Angie Winterfox is growing up tall, much like her adoptive mother. And like her mother she’s a fighter, who refuses to let anything hold her back for more than a moment. She also fully intends to join XSWAT when she’s old enough, both to honor Chrysine’s commitment to her and to repay a debt she owes to a certain Blue Lady.
“Mom, is this where your name comes from?”
Chrysine’s ears flick back and then forward as she gives the sign Angie is pointing to a glance. Chrysocyon Brachyurus, the South American Maned Wolf. There’s a certain degree of familiarity between herself and the so-called “Red Fox on stilts,” especially in the large ears and thick tail. Curious. Perhaps the animal’s DNA was used as part of her make-up. Perhaps she was simply modeled after the animal’s appearance. Perhaps her designers simply opted for exaggerated canid features. Or, perhaps not.
Chrysine looks from the holo on the sign to the real thing as it paces along a low ridge in its expansive enclosure. She studies the animal’s graceful lines, admiring its lean build and long legs. Without realizing it, her own ears and tail flick in time to the wolf’s, although her nose wrinkles at the pungent smell of urine drifting on the slight breeze.
“Woof! Woof! Woof!”
A small boy, no more than six years old, is leaping up and down near the enclosure’s fence while pretending to bark. Chrysine stares at him nonplussed, unsure what she should say—if anything. After all, there was no law against hopping up and down while barking, was there?
“Hey!” The boy catches sight of the tall Clade and stops his antics, only to stand and point. He seems utterly unintimidated by Chrysine’s 190 centimeters, possessed as he is by the fearlessness of youth.
“Dog-lady! Make the wolf come over here and do a trick!”
Ears twitching, Chrysine tries to decipher what she’s just heard. Did that child just call her ‘dog lady’? “Excuse me?”
“You heard me!” The boy seems to have only one mode—loud. He points over at the Maned Wolf’s enclosure. “C’mon! You can talk to it, right? Make it do a trick!”
Chrysine’s ears twitch as her tail curls protectively around her long legs. Nothing in her XSWAT (or arena) training has prepared her for something like this.
“My Mom Is Not A Dog!”
It’s a credit to her training that Chrysine doesn’t jump at this newest development. As it is she has a sudden sense of déjà vu. Of reading an AAR and coming across that most hated of witness statements: “all of a sudden....” And, truth be told, all of a sudden what had been a calm and peaceful outing to the zoo has turned into a Clade-rights argument in miniature.
Pulling herself up to her full height (which is considerable compared to the boy), Angie glares at the child. “My mom is not a dog,” she repeats, poking one finger into the boy’s chest for emphasis.
Chrysine gives an all-too-human roll of her eyes at the inventible result. The boy breaks down in tears and runs of crying for his mother, while Angie manages to look smug, as only a twelve-year old can. Ears flat, Chrysine sighs and wonders if the Director has to put up with this sort of thing from her children.
“Angie.” No other words are needed. As Angie turns she sees her mother’s expression and the way she’s standing. She lives in Rho (a.k.a. “Roar”) Sector and is well-acquainted with Clade body language. Chrysine has never laid a hand on her adoptive daughter—she’s afraid to, as she well knows how strong she is. What a regular human might consider a corrective slap, delivered with her Claude-augmented strength would be more than enough to lay Angie out on the ground. A solid spanking would put her in the emergency room. On the other hand, she has something human mothers don’t—highly expressive ears, and hers are flat against her skull, a sure sign of her displeasure.
Getting down on one knee, Chrysine looks her daughter in the eye. “Was that the proper thing to do?”
Angie’s response is first a sheepish look, followed by an almost defiant “But Mom! That kid was calling you a dog!” While Angie knows her mother’s job is to defend Angelus from all manner of paranormal and supernatural threats, she also knows she needs to defend her mother from all manner of civic and social threats, including small obnoxious boys.
“And I’ve been called worse before, and yet here I am.” Chrysine’s tone is calm and even, as she smoothes Angie’s hair and combs a few errant stands from her face. “Do you think me that defenseless?”
“What?” Angie seems shocked at the idea that her mother, the famous Winter Fox and a decorated member of XSWAT’s Crash Team, can’t take care of herself. “Not, it’s not that, it’s just...”
“Seeing the boy call me ‘dog-lady’ reminded you of the some of comments you heard when you first came to live with me, right?”
That had been a rough time for them both. While most residents of the Untervasser had been happy to see Angie, there had been a few who felt no human should ever intrude on the sanctity of Rhor Sector. They also felt a Clade adopting a human child was ‘wrong’ in some fashion. A case of the Clade ‘selling-out’ and trying to be human. There had never been any physical violence (no one had been that stupid), but plenty of verbal abuse from those who were highly vocal in expressing their displeasure.
“...maybe...” is the reply.
Gathering Angie in her arms, Chrysine holds her tight. “‘There is no more terrible sight than ignorance in action’,” she quotes. “If you want to be in XSWAT, you’ll have to be able to deal with adversity, in all its forms.”
“Is that one of your sayings from class?” Angie’s voice is small, but strong.
Unseen over her daughter’s head, Chrysine smiles. “Maybe.”
“There she is! That’s the one who hit me!”
The voice cuts through their moment like a knife. Chrysine looks up to find the child has returned, and he’s not alone. Behind him, bearing down in a manner Chrysine finds akin to an angry Entity is what can only be the boy’s mother. Although normally of an open mind (she has to be), Chrysine finds herself disliking the woman immediately, and they haven’t even spoken to each other yet. Perhaps it’s the boy’s previous behavior, or the woman’s expressions, which seems to indicate whoever touched her precious child was going to get it, regardless of the circumstances.
“Where’s your mother!”
It takes an effort of will to not fold her ears against her skull. Great, the woman is one of those who feels her darling Johnny (or Freddy, or Mikey, or Billy, or whatever) can do no wrong. She can tell, both from the tone of voice and body language. She’s seen it before, especially when trying to tell a parent their ‘perfect’ child was responsible for the deaths of nearly two dozen citizens of Angelus due to meddling in magical arts best left alone.
Standing, Chrysine rises to her full height, her tail flicking from side to side as she holds onto Angie’s hand. She almost starts as she realizes the woman has discounted her already. Obviously she can’t be the child’s mother. At best she’s a nanny. Granted, they have a unique relationship, but still, the woman’s query has rendered her invisible in one fell swoop.
Now she needs to suppress a grin as the woman halts suddenly and looks up... and up. At 190 centimeters, she’s easily 20 centimeters or more taller than the other woman, and a Clade to boot. The momentary expression of surprise becomes one of apprehension and then switches over to anger.
“Impossible.” Any further comment is cut off by Angie’s “She is too my mom!”
A quick squeeze of the hand is enough to tell Angie to quiet down. The woman seems shocked to be talked back to by a child but recovers quickly. “Well, she’s doing a poor job of it then, if she thinks its okay for you to go around starting fights.”
Another squeeze keeps Angie from replying, although Chrysine can feel the tension in her daughter’s hand and arm. “Angie did not start a fight.” Her voice is calm and even. It’s the one you use when talking to an upset victim or witness. “She simply felt the need to defend me.”
That line was a mistake as soon as she said it. She’s 190 (and a half) centimeters of Combat Class Clade... there’s no way she’s going to need anyone, much less a twelve year-old girl to defend her and the woman knows it. “Don’t give me that,” she sneers. “I should call the police on you! That’ll teach you a lesson.”
Chrysine’s not sure which ‘you’ the woman is referring to, but doesn’t spend a moment worrying about it. She’s been given an opening, and experience has shown her you exploit them as quickly as possible.
“I am the police.”
This seems to have the opposite effect. Instead of placating the woman, it only makes her more upset. “You lie! There’re are no Clades in the police!”
Actually there are. The APD has Clades, not a lot, even now, but they have them. But why tell her that? Allowing herself a slight smile, she slides her ID card out and flips it open. “There are in XSWAT.”
It’s like someone has thrown a switch. All of the bluster and anger is gone, replaced by fear. Even today, after everything the Crash Team went through, after literally making the world a better place, XSWAT still inspires a sense of dread in the average citizen of Angelus. Unfortunate, but true. Normally Chrysine would feel uncomfortable inspiring such as reaction, but not here, not now; not with her daughter’s well-being at stake. The threat may be a mild one, but it’s the principle of the thing.
“C’mon!” Grabbing the boy’s arm, and eliciting a squawk of pain and surprise, the woman virtually drags her child away. She doesn’t look back, doesn’t acknowledge she (or her child) might have been in the wrong, she simply shunts Chrysine away, ignoring her now as she had before. Chrysine’s ears flick slightly as she catches as brief snatch of the woman’s venting. “How many times have I told you...” Of course... the child can do no wrong unless it embarrasses the mother. Typical.
Glancing down, she notices that Angie seems rather pleased with herself. “So,” she asks slowly, giving a slight tug on her daughter's arm to get her attention. “What has this taught you?”
The answer is quick. “My mom can take their mom any day of the week?” A broad grin accompanies this proclamation.
Shaking her head, Chrsyine realizes she now knows how the Director must feel when dealing with certain XSWAT officers.