"You did good, Son." Malachi Brogan looked up at Mitch for a moment, then closed his eyes again and rested for a bit. Whatever part of him that remained human had been healed, but his cybernetics were still badly damaged, and being in an Enochian cathedral, of all places, was taking its toll on the Entity within him. His recovery promised to be complicated, at best.
Mitch looked around the ICU. "Thank you. Everyone. Now, I'd like a minute or two alone with my family." He looked at Jama coldly. "Yes, that includes you." He drew the partitions closed after everyone else had returned to the waiting room.
Chrysine watched the partition close with a twitch of her ears and a toss of her tail. Bowing her head slightly, she leaned on the long shaft of her kwan-do and sighed slightly. It had been a long day. Abruptly her ears flicked up and forward. She glanced at the at drawn partition, eyebrows raised, put one hand to her mouth, and then took a few steps back. Glancing at the rest of the room, a faint blush was apparent on her normally pale face. She then resumed her pose, pointedly turning her back to Malachi’s bed.
A few minutes later, Director Renuka emerged from the ICU, her face unreadable.
“Well done everyone.” She nodded to the assembled XSWAT officers. “Not in my wildest dreams and hopes would I ever have expected such results.” She paused and took a breath. “But at the same time we have cost the Yamaguchi-gumi a great deal of face and they will do... anything to regain it.” She paused again and looked to each member of the Crash Team in turn. “Anything. I need not remind you what the Yamaguchi-gumi is like but still... I want you to be careful out there. They may choose to strike in ways you’d never expect—and they have no scruples. They’ll think nothing of killing anyone they deem an obstacle, be it a rookie police officer or...” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, “The Director of XSWAT.”
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to arrange transport for Captain Brogan back to XSWAT headquarters.”
Then Mitch emerged and looked at his squad. "I really don't have the words. You've all done... far more than anyone could ask. Maybe we've done a little too much...” he smiled and shrugged, "...but we got the job done. I'll deal with the fallout tomorrow. The important thing is, everyone made it. That's what really matters."
"Don't keep us in suspense, El-Tee," Elizabeth spoke up. "Did the Knock-Knees...?" She completed the question by making a quick cross-shape gesture with her hand.
He replied in kind, making a small yet emphatic horizontal chopping motion with one hand, and silently mouthing the word "No."
The medtechs arrived then to take Captain Brogan upstairs. As they wheeled him through the waiting area, he saw the whole Crash Team for the first time. A hint of a smile crossed his ruined face as he glanced around, then looked up at Mitch. "This your squad? How do you keep these hellions under control, boy?"
Mitch looked down and shook his head. "First things first—I keep 'em alive. I'll figure out the rest later."
"It's a start." Then he winced in pain and looked at the medtechs. "Well, Madam Director's waiting! Get me outta here!"
The younger Brogan nodded at them. "Yes. Director Renuka will escort you back to HQ." He looked at Malachi again. "Jama knows what to do. Everything's going to be alright."
Mitch turned to follow them upstairs, and turned back to the Crash team for a moment. "I'll be in the cathedral for a bit, if anyone wants to talk."
After seeing his father on his way, Mitch took a seat on a pew near the cathedral's massive doors, and rested his chin over crossed arms on the pew in front of him, contemplating the altar, elaborate crucifix and ornate stained glass windows at the back of the darkened cathedral. It was evident from his posture and expression that he wasn't praying, but simply sitting and thinking. He glanced approvingly at each member of the Crash team as they filed past him towards the doors.
A voice spoke softly from behind him, "What now, El-Tee?"
Elizabeth stood one row back, her back stiff, her eyes darting around as if expecting an attack.
He spoke quietly, not moving from where he sat, or even looking at Liz as he answered her. "We get some rest. Tomorrow morning I'll have an interesting talk with Captain Gaines. Then we've still got four missing officers to find. Gaines may not like it, but now we know the Yakuza took them. That makes it official Crash Team business."
Nicodemus stopped at the entrance and watched Mitch settle himself on one of the pews. After a few moments of thought he stepped towards the young man and stood in the isle, looking straight ahead. "You know that this is not over Mister Brogan. This is only the beginning. The extent of which and what I cannot predict... yet."
He still didn't move. "Agreed, Mister Tsanthos. We're just getting started."
Nicodemus looked to Mitch, a bit of light scattering off of the black, round spectacle-style sunglasses he wore. “There was one... Entity in the first transport car, what about the other two? Were there more creatures that were not awakened during the transportation process that we are unaware of? I am concerned about these Yakuza trafficking with and in transporting these creatures. Who summoned them and why? This is by no means concluded Mitch, despite the reunion of your family. Any backlash that results from tonight's events will, I sense, be insignificant and inconsequential if we dally in getting to the bottom of this."
At this, Mitch turned to face Nicodemus. "Here's what we've got so far, Officer Tsanthos. We know the Yakuza's been inside Omega. We also know it's possible to capture an Entity. And if they could summon Entities, they'd hardly need to risk capturing them, or transporting them by train. I'm not about to slack off just because we found the Old Man—we'll follow up tomorrow. On everything."
Nicodemus leaned upon his staff and looked towards the altar. "That is understandable, however, I am uncertain if the Yakuza themselves are capable of summoning at will. Far more likely, that was one of the reasons why they were operating in the Omega Sector, and why they ambushed your father's team."
Mitch froze. "Didn't I just...?" He stood up and faced Nicodemus sternly. "That will be all, Officer Tsanthos. You're not here to belabor the obvious, or repeat back what I've just said, or least of all, to tell me my job. I suggest you get back to me when you have something new, something useful to contribute to this investigation."
Nicodemus' brow twitched, but he remained motionless. "That is exactly my point." He returned. His normally accentless and neutral voice dropping a few degrees. "My purpose here is to provide metaphysical expertise and experience. Both of which dictate that I ensure that you understand what we are dealing with. If that means that I may accidentally insult your intelligence or appear to be telling you how to do your job, then so be it.
"Now, before you exercise your powers as an officer" He said as he pulled his attention from the altar to look at Mitch, his face unreadable. "I ask that you take the facts as we have been given them into account:
"This so-called 'Crash Team' was organized due to our incorruptibility by the Yakuza, by your own description of it. Considering this, then it stands to reason that others are quite corruptible... or at the very least reachable by whatever methods the Yakuza may choose to use. That being established, then it is only logical to presume that tomorrow will be too late to render a proper investigation at all, as the Breaker and whatever resources he has at his leisure will have done their utmost to ensure that rendering a proper investigation tomorrow, or at any time, by normal or, at least acceptable means, all but impossible."
"You have a suggestion, then, Officer Tsanthos?,” Mitch snapped, “Alright, I'm waiting."
"Three actually." He replied, his voice returning to complete neutrality once again. "First, is depart the premises post haste and investigate, or assist in investigating the unopened container that landed in the city. I recall exactly where it landed, so finding it will be a non-issue. I would also suggest that the warehouses where we confronted the Yakuza be looked at, as well as the area where the second unopened container landed in the sea—either to recover it, or ensure it's destruction. The final station we landed at is also something that needs to be looked at as well. More specifically, the remaining contents, if any.
"Given the current status of events, I am loathe to suggest separating the squad if possible. So I advise that we choose one site and requisition the use of other XSWAT teams to investigate the other sites, or at the minimum lock those sites down until we can look through them."
Standing in the back of the room, Lorraine frowned. She diverted part of her attention to monitoring what Tsanthos was saying—she'd review it later—and began typing on her datapad as Nicodemus continued.
He took a long, deep breath, and suddenly, despite his efforts to hide his features with his uniform and cloak, suddenly seemed very old. "The second suggestion is that I do some investigating of my own. While it is not entirely hazardous, I may turn up little of immediate use. My manners would be deemed... questionable by most XSWAT standards and surely would not be permissible in a court of law given the lack of physical evidence, or would not hold much weight simply due to the fact that this would be the word of a 'rookie' officer."
"My last suggestion would be a combination of the two: we investigate a site... but on my own time, I commit to my own methods which I shall keep you appraised of the results."
A throaty chuckle emanated from Elizabeth's direction.
"News flash, handsome. You're not the only one in this squad with experience in 'questionable' methods.
"I didn't pick up any tangoes on the other two containers, but it was a bit busy up there, and they could have been napping, so checking them out is not a bad idea.
"But unless there's a specific thing you're looking for, I don't think having you go off on your lonesome would be the brightest thing to do.
"As El-Tee said and you so eloquently repeated, we're now on the top-ten in the Yak's shit-list. From that delicious shiver of fear coming from you when this Breaker guy's name is mentioned, I take it you've tangled with him before and got your ass kicked for it.
Elizabeth grinned, her teeth glowing in the gloom of the candle-lit cathedral. "After all, I'd hate to lose your sparkling company."
Nicodemus shifted his stance so that he could place both Mitch and Elizabeth in his field of vision. "You are only partially correct Ms. Yasha; I have had some... dealings with the Breaker and that encounter should have been terminal. However, my suggestion of committing to my own investigations would not involve me going anywhere alone; almost any location would suffice for my needs actually. It is simply that given the combination of my methods and the implied duties of XSWAT, I would much rather perform such matters in the sanctuary of my own home."
Chrysine followed the other members of her nascent squad into the cathedral, ears twitching. Her tail beat a slow time as she stared at the crucifix on the far wall, lost in thought.
“Sir?” She said at last, “Director Renuka said the Yakuza had suffered a loss of face and will do anything to regain it. Does this mean they will strike at us directly?”
Mitch looked up at Chrysine... and up. "Everyone on this squad is hard for the Yaks to influence. Their usual methods... bribery, extortion, whatever, won't work. So yes, Director Renuka's right—we'd best be careful; all of us."
The tall Clade turned, the light from the stained glass windows catching her white hair, producing an faint aura... or perhaps a halo. “Should we even return home then? Or, as Officer Tsanthos has suggested, should we remain together, seek safety in numbers, and avoid being taken alone and outnumbered by the Yamaguchi-gumi?”
Pausing, she then looked over to Nicodemus, “And who is ‘The Breaker’? I have never heard of him.”
The ambient light skittered over the black surface of Nicodemus' sunglasses as he turned his head to look to Chrysine. "To put it simply, The Breaker is a reasonably powerful lieutenant within the Yamaguchi-gumi. He answers to Ryuzo, most likely directly. He also acts as an interrogator, punisher and, as his pseudonym implies, a breaker. To imply that the man is dangerous is a grievous understatement to say the least. My dealings with him in particular were simply that I know things that either he and/or his masters wish to possess, and I refused to give it to them."
"And yet you still live." Chrysine's brows furrowed as she pondered that. "Why?"
Nicodemus looked to Chrysine, or, rather stared through her, as he did not shift the angle of his head upwards. "Because," he began, "I have a duty to perform and something as insignificant as death will not prevent me from completing it." His answer seemed to be sad, sarcastic, wry and rueful all at the same time without being directed at her or anybody else.
In the pause that followed, Lorraine stepped forward and raised her hand to attract Mitch's attention.
"Sir? I reported the cargo drops and spinner crash soon after we arrived at the mag-lev station. The most recent APD response indicates that Fire & Rescue have responded to the crash, and they've put up cordons around the other two cargo pods—they're keeping an eye on things until first light, when Ordinance is scheduled to arrive. That's in three-point-six hours, and I've forwarded the locations to your comm. Sir."
"That is good to know Ms. Hemelshot, but my concern, and the reason why I brought it to the attention of the Lieutenant, is that I do not think that the regular Police are trained and equipped for a proper investigation or. Nor do I think that they are above manipulation that would allow the Yakuza access to those areas so they can clean up the mess.
Nicodemus withdrew his finely crafted silver pocket-watch and checked the time for a moment. Closing the relic, he continued. "Compiling onto this conundrum is my lack of faith of other XSWAT units to be immune to Yakuza manipulations as well. While I feel that the XSWAT forces are more likely to resist any such actions, they are not wholly immune." He closed the device with a metallic click before returning it into the confines of his cloak. "My fear is not that we will find no useful evidence, rather that most of it will have been removed, manipulated or otherwise destroyed before we can get our hands on it."
"Y'know, Nico," Elizabeth purred as she slid past Tsanthos. "There is such a thing as being too paranoid.
"I've no doubt that the Yaks have their fingers in a number of official pockets, but if you start treating every officer as a potential enemy, well then, you've pretty much given up the fight."
She shrugged. "If we show up on the scene and find that someone has indeed been mucking with evidence, then we'll deal with it. Walking in with the assumption it's happened... well, that's just begging for trouble."
Her wicked smile shone once again as she turned to regard Mitch. "And there's no need to beg for what we're going to be getting in spades, right, El-Tee?"
Mitch looked impassively at Nicodemus. "Exactly. Look, Nic... we're not the only XSWAT unit in this fight, and the Crash Team isn't a 24/7 operation. We've gotta sleep sometime. If you want to work from home, telecommute, whatever... fine. Keep me posted. And be careful!"
Then he looked at Lorraine and nodded. "Thanks for the update, Officer Hemelshot. Excellent work. First thing in the morning, see if you can get us copies of the reports on those crash sites, and if anyone gives you any trouble, let me know."
"Officer Yasha...I rather doubt the Yakuza would risk putting two, let alone three Entities on that train, so I'll trust your judgement on that."
"Now it's time to leave. Our spinner is en route from HQ, to arrive in 4 minutes. Chrysine's right—going home might not be safe. Anyone doesn't want to risk that can come with me. I know a safe place to stay until morning."
"And where the heck is Didi?"
Nicodemus felt his brow twitch almost reflexively. "I see." He then took a deep breath and exhaled, the weight of fifteen millennia suddenly coming to rest upon his shoulders and drifting into his voice. "Neither of you get it." He began, his voice reflecting neither anger, nor irritation, only an intense weariness. "Ms. Yasha, what you call paranoia is, in fact a healthy amount of skepticism. The Yakuza exist due to their ability to use the law and those that enforce it, to suit their needs. This squad was formed due to our shown immunity to their methods, therefore everyone else has either been found wanting, or have not been thoroughly examined. Either way, it is safe to assume that even if they have not fallen to the Yakuza's influence, it is possible for such a thing to occur and be prepared for it.
"Lieutenant Brogan, you are correct that we all do need to sleep sometime. However to state that we are not Crash Team or XSWAT at all times is not only erroneous, but a deadly mistake. Our opponents will strike at us at whatever juncture in time benefits them. Whether we are on duty or not is completely irrelevant, they will not stay their hand simply because we punched off the clock for the day.
"I have not lived as long as I have, doing what it is that I do by taking anything for granted. While I do not spend my existence always looking over my shoulder, I have made it my business to know what is going on around me and taking as many factors into account as possible."
He paused then and looked to Mitch. "And to answer your question, I do not think Ms. Thornhollow has exited the area where she assisted in healing your father. I have not seen her emerge from that area yet."
"Oh, I 'get it' alright, Tsanthos. You're insane, and I've heard enough. I know damned well how dangerous the Yaks are. You're dismissed. Somebody go get Thornhallow." And with that, Lieutenant Brogan stalked outside to wait for their ride.
Lorraine took the opportunity to escape an uncomfortable situation, and ducked into where her teammate had last been seen.
Elizabeth smiled sweetly at Nicodemus, roguishly wagging her eyebrows. "Pleasant dreams, Nico."
She then turned to follow Lorraine down to where Didi had been.
She caught up with her teammate and brandished a marker she had pulled out of a uniform pocket. With a mischievous grin, she asked, "Hey, 'Raine. If she's out, wanna have some fun?"
* * * * *
The room lacked any human touch. The cybernetic surgery equipment that dominated the room sat cold and lifeless. The hum of the sterile florescent lights and the silent clicking of some machine were the only sounds. The only heat signature is a pulsating humanoid form hidden among some of the machinery. She steps around the wires and tubing, and sees Diedre slumped up against a cabinet. She looks exhausted, her hands are face up on the floor, and small rivulets of blood seem to be coming from the center of her hands.
Her head flops to one side as she notices Lorraine standing there. "Wot?"
Elizabeth's head popped from behind a console. "Oh, pooh. She's awake." Fixing a smile on her face, she addressed the prone officer.
"Rise and shine, sweetie. No lolligagging allowed on XSWAT, y'know. The bus is leaving and we gotta go."
Noticing the blood, Elizabeth stopped in surprise. "Oooh."
She squatted to take a closer look. "Stigmata. Now that's cool." Looking up at Didi, she continued in a cheerful tone while slightly bouncing on her haunches. "So, you mobile or do we carry you?"
"Dun' make me put a Daisy t'yer Edwards; me Dog's ain’t that Knackered." Diedre griped as she struggled to rise.
Lorraine knelt, put her arms around Didi and lifted, straining a bit to hoist her surprisingly solid teammate. Once standing Lorraine smiled, "I'll take that to mean, you're just fine, don't need help and are offended at the offer. Got it."
Gesturing for Liz to help, Lorraine continued talking in an only-slightly strained cheerfulness, "Come on—our ride's waiting outside and the LT said he was allowing us some sleep before we fight off the yak assassins tomorrow."
With a Cheshire-Cat grin, Elizabeth took up the weight of her teammate with no noticeable strain and followed Lorraine out.
"Gucci-goos ain't got nothin' on me." Diedre grumbled.
As the trio slowly made their way out of the cathedral, Lorraine's light mezzo-soprano mixed with Elizabeth's contralto and Diedre's low grumbles.