Officer Elizabeth Yasha stood in the precinct hall outside Captain Gaines's office. She took a deep calming breath.
Okay, Liz. You can do this. Just be cool, she fortified herself.
She'd already scoped the office out with her senses and noted that Gaines was alone and acceptably unstressed.
With a final assertive nod, she stepped up smartly to the open doorway and politely knocked on the doorframe.
"Captain, sir?" she asked. "Could I speak with you a moment?" She gave a significant pause. "Privately?"
"Enter!" came the reply—a slightly husky tenor—along with the sound of wood scraping against wood as a drawer was slid shut.
As Elizabeth entered the room, she took in the surroundings. Gaines's office was paneled in oak, presumably a remnant from the former principal of the high school-cum-police station. Several citations and awards were hung in frames along the walls, but the most impressive item was not decorative in the least.
Hung from a pair of iron hooks was a sword, a large single-handed blade seemingly forged out of tiger's-eye quartz, a plain black cross-hilt decorated with a single tiny symbol picked out in white—a Pentagram, torn in half.
Gaines himself appeared at ease, studying a holoscreen hovering over the desktop with one hand cupping his chin. His grey-on-grey eyes turned to regard the young officer in the door, and the creased corners of his mouth turned up slightly.
The older man rose, tiny chips with runic symbols clipped to his uniform rattling slightly with the motion.
"Yes? Officer Yasha, wasn't it?"
Elizabeth tore her eyes away from the sword to face her superior officer, standing straight at attention.
Easy, she admonished herself. Don't overdo the eager rookie bit. You want him to be relaxed, not dismissive.
Gaines chuckled at Elizabeth's obvious enthusiasm and extended a hand towards the empty seat. He remained standing, something entirely old-world in his stance and the level of attention he paid to her presence. Elizabeth could easily picture this man back in the 9th century, greeting queens and chambermaids alike with the same courtesy.
"What can I do for you today?" He inquired, one thickly-furred eyebrow arching slightly.
Elizabeth sidled over to sit down on the offered seat, her back straight, her clasped hands resting on her knees. She waited for Gaines to regain his seat, her mind abuzz with a number of retorts to the question, none even remotely appropriate to the situation. She bit her lip to still the mental images before continuing.
"Well, sir. It's about the conversation you overheard back in the briefing room."
She kept a cautious emotional feeler out, wary of triggering any magical defenses that the Captain might have active.
Gaines sat back, absently rubbing the tips of his fingers over his bearded chin.
"I'm listening," he answered, keeping his steel-grey gaze locked upon Elizabeth's eyes. The Captain's smile seemed to grow a millimeter upon hearing of the reason for her visit.
She felt her control evaporate under his gaze. "Well, um, I don't want Lt. Brogan to get in trouble, you see. And, er..."
She found it increasingly hard to focus. Her chest felt tight and an uneasy fluttering assailed her stomach.
Dammit, girl, keep it together. You're working here. Taking a breath to calm herself, she plunged in.
"I didn't quite understand exactly how you... you'd gotten the information of Entity activity at our ambush."
Gaines's chuckle was like rich chocolate—slightly dark and full-bodied.
"Ah, that," he replied, sitting back in his leather-covered chair. The Captain's teeth flashed in a smile as he turned his gaze towards the blade hung upon his wall.
"Hexbreaker is a very interesting weapon. It took me quite a while to adjust fully to an intelligent weapon, but the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks."
Gaines shrugged slightly. "My sword has something of a sense for when Entities are involved—generally in cases within the sector." One eyelid closed in a wink. "It's not exactly something I advertise. I only mentioned it when I overheard your commanding officer's... theory."
The shivers that had traveled down Liz's spine at hearing Gaines's laugh solidified into an icy chill as she was struck with the import of his words.
"oh," she said in a small voice. Hesitantly, she asked, "Um, just how, er, discerning is its sense? I mean, how much does it, ah, tell you?"
Gaines's smile faded slightly and his brows drew together. "Not very, more's the pity. Hexbreaker might be able to give more details to someone more skilled than I. Mostly she just tells me that an Entity's presence is detected."
The Captain's head tilted slightly as he regarded the young woman. "Aren't you and the others going out for some kind of party this weekend?"
Elizabeth felt the heat on her cheeks and was surprised to realize she was blushing.
"Ah, yes, sir. Chrys... I mean Officer Chrysine suggested it would be good for us to get to know each other to become a better team."
Her mouth opened and, with horror, she realized she was about to invite the Captain to join them. She choked back her breath and coughed to cover her discomfiture.
"Um, sir? About the Entity presence. I think there's something you should know."
"Oh?" Gaines blinked. "What's that?"
Elizabeth swallowed nervously. She realized her hands were damp with sweat and absently wiped them on her trousers.
"You see, sir, ten years ago, my parents were attacked by Entities, and, afterwards I discovered that I could do... things that I couldn't before."
The best lies are just incomplete truths, she assured herself. This should be a piece of cake.
So why is my heart pounding so hard?
"I got some training to learn how to control what I could do. One of the things I learned is that my... abilities resonate in the mystical plane the same way that Entity manifestations do.
"When we were ambushed by the Yakuza last week, I was forced to use some of those abilities to survive.
"That may be what your sword detected."
She sat still, her hands now pressed against her thighs and her eyes focused on the desktop in front of her. She held her breath, waiting for Gaines's reaction to her explanation.
The Captain pursed his lips and sat back, his broad shoulders relaxing fractionally. A deep breath in, released as a single syllable. "Ah."
Elizabeth was starting to feel light-headed from lack of oxygen, but she couldn't relax, not yet.
Gaines’s crooked smile reappeared in an instant. "I appreciate your candor, Officer Yasha. That couldn't have been easy to disclose." One finger tapped his desktop. "And it does explain a few things..."
Her throat loosened enough for her to stammer questioningly, "S-sir?"
Gaines chuckled again, lips quirking up at the corners. "Such as the Director's insistence on your admission to this special team, for example. Not to worry, Officer Yasha. Your secret is safe with me."
Elizabeth finally let her breath out in an embarrassed laugh. "Thank you, sir. I was afraid that, well, it would be a problem and I'd be kicked out, and Mitch, er, I mean, Lt. Brogan would be in trouble for covering for me and.."
Her voice died down as she realized she was babbling. Blushing furiously, she stared at the floor.
Finally, she managed to find her voice again. "Ah, um, that's what I wanted to talk to you about so, well, I can leave now, I suppose..."
Jesus Cluny Frog, get a serious grip on yourself, her mind scolded her furiously. What is the matter with you? Shut up!
She remained sitting, caught up in her internal debate.
Gaines nodded, and seemed about to say something else, one hand halfway lifted towards Elizabeth... when his commlink chimed. A holoscreen opened up atop the desk, and Liz could see through the grainy backside of the image another officer and the words "Investigation Division" writ backwards from her perspective.
"Captain, we've got more info on that Dim Mak killer."
Gaines glanced at the holo and muttered. "Acknowledged." He touched a key labeled 'mute' and half-smiled at Elizabeth. "My apologies, Officer Yasha, but my duties intrude. Come in again later if you'd like."
"Yessir," she mumbled quickly as she took her chance to escape.
She hurried out of the office and down the hall far enough to be out of earshot before she collapsed against the wall.
What in the seven circles of Hell happened back there? she ranted silently. That was pathetic; it's a fraggin' miracle I didn't just blurt out the whole deal.
She thought back to her talk with Gaines, His gray eyes staring so calmly, the crooked twist of his mouth when he smiled, the way his voice flowed like honey when he talked...
She shook her head angrily. Get a grip! What is going on?
The sword! That was it. It had probably manipulated her mind, making her lose control. That damn artifact had been playing her, her, somehow using her own tactics against her. Yeah, that would explain it. She'd have to be more careful around the blasted thing in the future.
Calming herself, she straightened and started walking back to the ready room. Hey, at least I got the job done. Gaines won't be suspicious if I he detects Entity activity around our team, so my secret is safe. I'll need to let Mitch know we're covered.
As she walked, her thoughts wandered back to Gaines's eyes, and she smiled slightly as her fingers played with a strand of her hair.