Grey clouds accompanied a lone figure as she strolled amidst myriad headstones. Intermittent drops of rain rolled off of the nanoweave fiber of her standard issue XSWAT longcoat, collecting in small puddles under her feet. In one hand, she clutched a tattered umbrella, ready to be used at a moment’s notice. Behind her, a long, striped tail swayed side to side, with an erratic, yet gentle motion.
On this dreary October morning, Patrol Officer Claire 404 was about to see something she had only read about, and the anticipation was killing her.
The lack of real estate in the city of Angelus often meant that the dead were cremated, instead of buried, and filed away in similar fashion to the records of such passings. Very few people were afforded the luxury of being buried or entombed. Usually the space was granted to the affluent, or those who were exceptionally special. Of the latter was Nathan Carpenter, one of the members of the legendary 9th Squad.
Claire had long been a fan of the 9th, hearing rumors and tales of their exploits from grizzled old vets of the APD and the occasional news article from days long past. Survivors of the Demonfall spun yarns about the gunfire at Rutger Bridge, the majesty of the Digital Angel, and the shining white light that struck down the Things from Beyond.
Now that she was a member of XSWAT and had been given special dispensation from the Director herself, Claire took the opportunity to read up on the case files and get a better understanding of what actually went on in those days. Needless to say, she wasn't disappointed. In fact, the truth seemed far stranger than half of the tales half-remembered by kindly old men who were well past their prime. Now, having the time to do a little sight-seeing, she decided it was as good a time as any to make the trip and pay homage to one of Angelus' Heroes.
The mausoleum stood silent in its ever-present vigil, barred off from visitors of questionable intent. If she had done her research right, magical wards also protected it from things of a less than natural origin. At the base of the stone structure flowers, trinkets and other tributes intermingled with dead leaves and other detritus from the nearby landscaping.
Claire took it upon herself to brush away some of the debris, carefully picking out several leaves and twigs from between the various gifts left by other visitors. She even took a small crucifix that had fallen over and placed it back in the center of the display. Once satisfied, she placed a single tiny muffin with a miniature paper umbrella stuck in its top among the assembled treasures.
The rain gave a brief respite as she stood and wiped away the mud and dampness that clung to the knees of her faded blue jeans. She took a step back to admire her handiwork.
Despite the bars and wards, there still seemed to be a warm, inviting air about the place. It was the same feeling Claire got from warm blankets, fresh from the dryer on a cool, rainy morning.
She brushed yet more leaves off of a short bench across from the mausoleum. Even the cold, damp marble was comforting in its own way. She produced another of this morning's batch of baked goods from her satchel and sat there, silently eating it in a way that the casual observer might interpret as quiet introspection.
Claire's sharp ears caught the rustle of leaves. She turned and saw a young woman standing a short distance away, wearing a simple blouse and skirt and carrying a bucket, brush, broom and dustpan. She looked as young as her friend Jenny but somehow gave off the air of someone older.
"Good morning," the woman said, her voice a pleasant mixture of surprise, curiosity and courtesy. "Can I help you with anything?"
"Yes! No. I mean... I-I was just... uh, sight seeing."
Claire’s ears lowered in embarrassment. She hadn't been expecting to see anyone here, and it took her a few seconds to recover. She extended a hand in greeting, only to glance at the dirt still on it and quickly wipe it away on her pants leg.
"Hi! My name is Claire. I was looking at the mausoleum." She offered the hand once more and smiled, trying to not make a further show of herself.
The woman smiled back encouragingly. Her eyes picked out Claire's coat and the smile grew warmer. She put down the cleaning supplies and took the offered hand, patting it reassuringly with her other hand.
"I'm Elizabeth, dear, and you're welcome to come visit any time."
Letting go, Elizabeth gestured towards the mausoleum. "I come by every morning to tidy up, although it looks like you've done a good start."
She noticed the muffin and arched an eyebrow. The smile shifted into an impish grin. "Yours?"
"Yup. That was me. I have more if you'd like one." Claire produced another muffin from her satchel, offering the baked good to the woman. She turned slightly to regard the monument. "I wanted to pay respects to Officer Carpenter. I-I'm a bit of a fan of the 9th. I read the files."
Elizabeth took the proffered muffin with a nod of thanks. She held it for a moment, a wisp of sadness crossing her eyes. "He did like muffins for breakfast," she said, in the tone of someone speaking private thoughts aloud.
She shook her head slightly as if to dispel a memory, and focused on Claire’s words.
"You've read the files?" she replied. "Hopefully with the Director's approval. I know she had a good number of them sealed and she gets very cross with people who snoop." The twinkle in her eyes belied the severity of her words.
The momentary shift in emotion was noted by the young clade. A keener mind might have raised an eyebrow.
"Yup. The Director herself recommended the files 'cuz there were similarities to a case I was on. A couple of the files were relevant but since I had access to all of 'em I figured I may as well read the whole thing just in case. And I think I may have said too much."
The tone was similar to one saying they forgot their car keys.
She nodded once more, sure in the belief that logic had won the day then paused as the gears in her brain slowly clicked into place. "Do you know the Director?"
A soft chuckle escaped Elizabeth's lips at Claire's explanation, but she sobered slightly at the closing question.
"She knew my father, and I've had the pleasure of meeting her when..." she paused, then motioned towards Claire's coat with a wave of her hand, "well, I used to be in XSWAT, too."
A wisp of the earlier sadness crept across her eyes again.
Claire's eyes followed the motion to her coat, but when she next met Elizabeth's gaze she slowly lowered her ears. "You were an officer too, huh? Was it, uh, not-happy?"
Elizabeth's eyes cast a faraway gaze. "I was... a different person then..."
She briefly closed her eyes then opened them to focus on the young clade with an amused look that dispelled the mood. "But you didn't come here to listen to my past escapades. Or just to sight-see. What does bring you here, Patrol Officer Claire? Are you maybe looking for something?"
An odd question. What had drawn her here? Inspiration? Direction? Comfort? What did she expect to find at the resting place of a fallen hero? It was a bit late to go looking for an autograph.
She blushed slightly in embarrassment. "I'm not really sure, now that I think about it. I thought maybe, well, you know, I'd figure that out once I got here."
Elizabeth gave Claire a sympathetic look then said with a glint in her eyes, "Tell you what. Let me put down this delicious-looking muffin right here on the bench and you can help me finish tidying up here. Afterward, I'll brew a pot of tea worthy of accompanying your treat that we can share. All the while, you can ask me any questions you may have and hopefully I'll have answers. How does that sound to you?"
"Tea would be nice. I'd like that a lot." Claire smiled and accepted the broom after placing her umbrella and satchel on the marble bench. She quickly set to work sweeping up debris.
She noticed Elizabeth carefully, almost reverentially, move each item off the mausoleum's mantel before cleaning the space, then placing them precisely back in the same positions. It somehow reminded her of a Japanese tea ceremony she had watched once on a vid.
It wasn't long before a question finally did pop in Claire’s head. "You've been here a while, haven't you? Do know what Mr. Carpenter was like when he was alive? I heard he was nice."
Elizabeth paused for a moment before speaking as she continued cleaning.
"He was very kind and loving, not just to his family and friends, but to all he met. He was a righteous man but able to forgive other people's faults. He... saw the best in everybody, and... helped them see it in themselves."
There was a noticeable catch in Elizabeth's voice, as if the words were difficult to form, but she had her face down so it was hard to tell the cause.
Claire stopped sweeping long enough to let that sink in. "Oh, is that true? I think I would have liked meeting him. That's very impote.. Importin... That's a very good quality to have." She turned her attention back to task at hand. "People need care and attention just like everything else does."
Elizabeth looked at the clade with new appreciation and smiled as she wiped her eyes. "That's very wise, Claire."
She paused and asked as her gaze grew speculative. "Excuse me for asking, but how long have you been in XSWAT?"
"A week." Claire scratched an ear and gave it a second thought. "Or a week and three months, depending on how space/time works. I don't know all the math behind it yet."
Elizabeth stared at her then chuckled, shaking her head. "Of course. It's XSWAT, after all."
She went back to studying the young officer, assessing. Just started out in the force, but had apparently already encountered something extraordinary enough to gain Jama's confidence, and she’s come here to this spot to seek some unknown insight. Oh yes, there was certainly a destiny waiting Patrol Officer Claire.
And the poor girl did not have a clue.
Elizabeth stood up, brushing the dirt off her skirt. "I think we've done enough. At least enough for me to deserve a tasty muffin and you a hot cup of tea. What do you say, dear?"
The young clade looked around her at a job well done. The place looked like it came right out of a real estate catalog. She shouldered the broom like a makeshift rifle, and gave a salute.
"We did good," she smiled. "I kinda wish Chrysine, er, um Captain Winterfox was here. She's good company for tea."
This time, Elizabeth stood stock-still before lowering her head and covering her face with a hand.
"You... know Chrysine?" she asked slowly.
"Of course. She's the one that recruited me. Her and Angie and me are gonna have lunch tomorrow." It was then that she noticed the reaction. She lowered her ears again, and placed a hand on Elizabeth's shoulder. In more sympathetic tones, she asked "Are you okay? Did you know her too?"
Elizabeth's shoulders shook as strangled sounds came from behind her hand, causing Claire's ears to lower even further in concern. She quickly realized Elizabeth was not sobbing as the young woman raised her head to let a peal of happy laughter ring in the small glade.
Elizabeth turned to glance back at the tomb, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes as she said in affectionate reproof, "Oh, Dad, you dork. You were so right. God is indeed an iron."
At Claire's blank look, she tried to explain. "A man who commits a felony is a felon. Someone who indulges in gluttony is a glutton. Therefore, God is an iron."
Seeing it didn't help, Elizabeth shook her head and said, patting Claire's hand reassuringly, "Never mind, dear. It's all right. Yes, I know Chrysine, and Angie too, and I'm sad to say I haven't seen them in a long while."
She sighed and straightened, like someone who’s dropped an previously unnoticed burden. "In fact, I was feeling rather sad about a number of things, and here you pop up, helping me remember things I shouldn't have forgotten."
Her eyes glinted with mischief as she grinned and said with a wink, "You could even say some higher power was involved in us meeting."
Acting much more like the age she appeared to be, Elizabeth took Claire's hand and began guiding her towards the small rectory behind the cathedral.
"But now we definitely need to sit down with some tea and have a nice long chat. I need to hear how my old friends have been doing and I'm sure you have a good list of questions boiling in that pretty head of yours."
It was true. If Claire didn't have any questions before, she certainly did now.
Caught somewhere between confusion and excitement, she let the first one fly. "Huh? Wait! 'Dad'?"