Hearts have been hard, our hands have been clenched in a fist too long
Our sons will never be soldiers, our daughters will never need guns
These are the years between
These are the years that were hard fought and won
Now the contract's torn at the edges, old signatures stained with tears
Seasons of war and peace, these should not be forgotten years
Still it aches like tetanus, it reeks of politics
How many dreams remain? This is a feeling too strong to contain
The hardest years, the darkest years, the roarin' years, the fallen years
These should not be forgotten years
The hardest years, the wildest years, the desperate and divided years
We will remember, these should not be forgotten years
The Forgotten Years
Sixteen year-old Angie Winterfox sits at the bar, sipping a club soda and taking notes on her datapad as she watches her mother shoot pool. It’s a weekly ritual that been going on for years—six, at least. Every Friday night, Chrysine Winterfox (she added the last name when she adopted Angie) has brought her daughter down to McGuire’s for dinner and then an evening of practicing pocket billiards. In the years since David Cho first taught her how to play nine ball, she’s had a table installed in the townhouse she calls home these days, but the Friday night bonding-ritual continues.
The initial forays to McGuire’s were a tad uncomfortable. People weren’t sure what to make of a six-foot plus Combat Class Clade shooting pool, much less one with a ten year-old daughter in tow. But as her mother’s skill increased, and Angie grew older, the other patrons stopped commenting and accepted them as just another part of the local color. Of course, it didn’t hurt that back then her mother was often accompanied by Uncle Dave and Uncle Mitch. Who’d be dumb enough to argue with the husband of the Director of XSWAT? (A lot of people actually, the world will never see the end of drunken fools.)
These days both Dave and Mitch know better than to challenge her mom to a game of pool. Heck, they don’t even like to practice with her. Having taken to cue sports with the same drive and determination Chrysine applies to most anything she takes interest in, Angie notes her mother is now one of the top-ranked pool players in the city, and has even gone overseas to compete. Aunt Jama (the aforementioned Director of XSWAT) even created an official XSWAT pool team (mainly as a PR move, but still.)
So Angie sits and watches her mother practice. It’s almost relaxing in a way. Chrysine steps carefully around the table, walking slowly and with deliberation, her gaze never leaving the table and the balls scattered there on. Then she’ll pause, ears flicking back and forth, and either take a shot or move on.
It’s her mother’s ears (and her tail) that interests Angie right now. You see, ever since she first came into Chrysine’s life Angie has known exactly what she’s going to do when she “grows up.” She’s going to join XSWAT. She’s going to follow in her mother’s footsteps and fulfill her obligation to the Blue Lady, who gave her own life so Angie, and several of her fellow orphans, could live. So to prepare, she’s taking an Honors psych class and is writing a paper on Clade body language, with the subject being, of course, her mother. Not that Chrysine knows this, she’s self-conscious enough (even after eight years) of her roles as a Clade, XSWAT officer, and parent, without feeling like she’s under the microscope just because her daughter wants to get an A in class.
Still, it’s fascinating watching her mother play pool. As she circles the table her long ears are normally flat—a sure sign she’s thinking (at least in this case). Once she sees a possible shot, they come up and forward, and there’s usually a flick once she settles on her next play. The tail follows suit. There’s the slow thoughtful lashes that suddenly still when she sees an opening. Chrysine also has a tendency to raise her tail up behind her when she leans over to make a shot. Angie’s not sure, but she thinks it’s a side effect of her human/animal DNA mix. She raises her tail to balance her body—a useless gesture when you’re six foot-two and weigh 180 or so.
All of this is why her mother’s a terrible poker player. She can’t help but broadcast her hand to everyone at the table though a series of visual “tells.” Of course, that’s the problem with most Clades. Heck, Uncle Tyger is worse, as he’ll not only clue you in as to how bad his hand is with his ears and tail, he’ll often cut to the chase and verbally tell you. But not with pool, however. All you know is that Lieutenant Chrysine Winterfox has seen her shot and she’s going to take it, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Tara, the bartender places a black-and-tan in front of the empty stool next to Angie. "You need anything, sweetie?"
Angie nods towards the beer. "One of those?"
Tara smiles and refills her club soda. "You can have one on the house, soon as you're eighteen."
"So... who's that one for?"
"Dave's not here."
"Sure he is." Tara nods towards Chrysine's table. Sure enough, while they've been talking, he has walked in and headed straight into the billiards area to talk to Chrysine. But Tara would've had to start making his drink BEFORE he walked in.... Angie wonders if maybe bartenders take Honors psychology classes, too. Nothing ever gets past Tara.
Presently, Uncle Dave lets Chrysine return to practicing billiards, comes over and sits down at the bar. He thanks Tara, takes an appreciative sip, then turns to Angie. “Heya, squirt, what’s up?”
“Watching my mom’s tail, you?”
Dave's beer very nearly comes back up through his nose as he stifles a laugh, considering and discarding half-a-dozen responses as inappropriate when discussing a sixteen-year-old's mother—even if the sixteen-year-old in question is deliberately trying to (and succeeding in!) discomforting him and desperately deserves a superbly snide answer.
"Ah... about to order dinner. And probably get my butt kicked at 8-ball. I can't beat her at 9-ball, but she's not invincible." Finally, he simply can't resist. "And if you get tired of watching her tail, just let me know and I'll take over."
That's right; Angie's suspected for a while now that Uncle Dave has a 'thing' for her mom. Uncle Mitch had said something about Dave being a big fan of her mother back in her Lace & Steel days, a subject Chrysine says little about. She's tried to imagine the two together (hey, what do you expect after a course in human sexuality?) and failed utterly. But then, no one was able to actually picture their parents 'doing it.' If it didn't send one off into gales of laughter, it resulted in a sort of green-about-the-gills reaction. Yeah, it didn't do to picture one's parents naked. Although... Angie's pretty sure there are quite a few male students at her school who do just that about her mom. It's not like every pupil has a parent genetically-engineered to be physically perfect—or as close as you can get, anyway.
"Well... mom placed pretty high in that tournament in Vegas, you know. So you might be in for a rude surprise." She debates telling him about what she's learned about Clade body language and pocket billiards, but decides against it. She thinks Dave already knows and... it wouldn't do him any good anyway. But it'll be interesting to see if anything changes in real competition. "Say... is it true what I heard? About Aunt Jama?"
"What? C'mon, Angie, you've heard enough rumors about Mama Jama to know most of 'em are wrong. Except when they're true, of course." He grins like he knows something, but she never can tell with him. (She still wonders about Aunt Jama and Uncle Mitch's second honeymoon—'wardrobe malfunction.' Yeah, sure.)
"So she's not going to retire?"
Dave shrugs. "I didn't say that. Jama's entitled to give up all the excitement of running XSWAT and live a quiet normal life if she wants to."
...which doesn't exactly confirm the rumor, either, Angie notes. Getting the Real Story out of Dave is going to take a little more work.
Taking a sip of her club soda, Angie glances over to where her mother is setting up the table for another round. The routine is pretty simple: try for a good hard break, see where everything ends up, select the best shot, wash, rinse, repeat. Her mom’s not much for fancy tricks and showing off; she apparently plays nine ball much like she fought in L&S, direct and to the point. Which may be one reason she’s so good at it.
“I heard mom’s gonna get promoted. To Captain.”
This gets a stern look from Uncle Dave. "You open all your Christmas presents early, too, kiddo?" Then he lightens up. "Chrysine's been ahead of the curve since she signed up. Normally, it'd be another year before she made the Captains' List, but yeah, she's technically eligible. So I'm betting the Powers That Be take note of that fact." Angie notices the tone of Dave's voice when he said 'Powers That Be.' When he means the 'real' powers behind XSWAT, he calls them by name—Director Renuka and her allies. But when it comes to the bureaucracy that handles the day-to-day decisions which affect the lives of XSWAT's officers, he simply says 'Powers That Be', and he doesn't always approve. In this case, he obviously expects they'd do the right thing, but he isn't certain. And if they don't....
"Well... Aunt Liz told me that one." Angie spends a moment writing in her data pad. Her mom's doing that 'maintain balance with her tail' thing again. She decides to redirect (and short-circuit) Uncle Dave's attention by vocally observing said fact. "I think there's something to those genetic memory theories they talk about. You ever notice my mom lifts her tail when she leans over? It's like she's trying to counterbalance her upper body, y'know?" She glances over and raises and eyebrow, waiting to see if Dave takes the bait.
She's still at it... sweet little sixteen wants to play head-games? Okay, then. Too bad my wing-man isn't here. Oh well, Mitch's loss.
He considers Chrysine's stance for a moment, and continues to watch as he replies, speaking to Angie without looking directly at her. "Sure, she's got a fox-tail, but Chrysine's mostly human—look at her stance: she's got her feet planted the same as anyone else who shoots pool. But the important thing to remember is that tail was engineered—so it might have been designed to do that. "
Angie turns to look at him, and starts to reply, but Dave isn't finished yet. "The only way to be really sure would be a controlled study with Clades and baseline humans. You'd have to figure out how to monitor the vestigial tail muscles and coccyx bones in the baseline humans. Electrodes are too intrusive—maybe a functional MRI scan would work. You should write up a proposal; I bet you'd get a grant. Maybe even a full-paid scholarship."
In a moment of desperation, Angie decides to try and score a point, since it's obvious her ploy has not only failed, she's taking on water and about to sink, fast. "Can I use you as one of the control subjects then? Or maybe as my research assistant? Sounds like you've given this some thought."
"Research assistant? That sounds like fun." It'd give me an excuse to watch Chrysine's tail. Assuming she goes along with it. "Just send a memorandum to Mama Jama about borrowing her number-one mechanic for a while. I'm sure she won't mind."
“I’m sure she wouldn’t.” Angie gives Dave a smirk. “I’ve heard her say what a bad influence you are on Uncle Mitch.”
"Hmmm... guilty as charged. But Mitch needs a bad influence like me. And Jama would agree that you certainly don't, young lady." Dave knows how much Angie hates being called 'young lady.' She isn't about to let him get away with that!
“Oh, good point. Tara? Can you have this man removed? He’s annoying me.”
Tara regards Dave and Angie with amusement. Dave looks worried now that Angie has called in reinforcements, and for good reason. "Sweetie, he's been annoying ME for years, and I still can't get rid of him." Rather than encourage the two of them, Tara decides to change the subject and distract them. "So is it just the three of you tonight, or will any other 'Aunts' or 'Uncles' be stopping by?"
“Dunno.” Angie shrugs and powers off her datapad. She’s not getting anything done for her project, not any more. “Ask Uncle Annoying.”
"Tara, I'm shocked that you'd say that about your best customer, especially when I bring such interesting people in here. 'Mrs. and Mr. XSWAT' will be joining us later this evening. They'd be here sooner, but someone was too busy to baby-sit for them," He glances at Angie, "...because she had to watch her Mom's tail." Which should be my job, anyway!
Behind the bar, Tara chuckles and goes to get Dave another black-and-tan. "We'll save 'em a seat, Dave. Go easy on the girl, okay?"
Angie is having none of it. “And how many years have mom and I come here on Fridays? Someone should have known better.” Slipping her datapad into its case, she looks back at Dave. “Err... Aunt Jama’s coming here? Tonight? No one told me...” she glances out to where the pool tables are lined up. “...or mom. I mean, we’re not even dressed right!”
Dave rolls his eyes at the girl's histrionics. "Relax, Angie. Mama Jama's coming to see you, not your clothes. Same thing goes for Chrysine. And maybe for me." He really needs to calm Angie down. "It's just a casual dinner... and Jama might not even be here until afterwards. Now what's got you so worried?"
“Oh, nothing,” she replies. “Just my mom’s boss, the Director and Defender, is coming over for dinner and no one told us. I mean, usually this stuff gets set up in advance, y’know?”
"Yeah, I know. But to some of us she's just 'Jama' and she occasionally likes to get together without checking her calendar, or more likely, having an aide check it and tell her she's already booked. So cut her a little slack, okay? And I'm sorry I forgot to tell you."
Having already made a good run for the title of ‘drama queen’ Angie decides to go all the way. Standing up from her stool, she leans against the bar and places the back on one hand dramatically against her forehead. “Oh... woe is me... to have my career in XSWAT cut short before it even begins. Director Renuka will take one look and reject me out of hand, saying I’m obviously unsuitable for service.” She pauses and glances over to where Uncle Dave stares at her little display. “Then again, she hired you.”
He smirks to stifle a laugh. "I had good references. And so do you, for the time being. Now have a seat, Angie, you're making a scene in front of all these nice people."
Angie complies, but not without sticking out her tongue at him for a moment. Behind him, Dave hears Tara snort at the mention of 'nice people.' She knows exactly what her customers do when they aren't at McGuire's, and for most of them, it isn't law enforcement.
Then he realizes what she said. "So you're serious about joining XSWAT?"
“Yes,” Angie replies without hesitation. “I made a promise.”
Where have I heard that before? Dave wonders to himself. "Well in that case, I won't try to talk you out of it. You plan on getting... wired?" He almost says 'augmented' but that word carries entirely different connotations —some of Angie's classmates have parents with more money than brains, and the start of the current school year was quite a shock for her. At least she's not trying to keep up with those idiots!
“Dunno...” Angie shakes her head. “Mom’s not... but then she’s a Combat-Class Clade, y’know? Also....” she looks over at Tara and then glances around the room. “Can you keep a secret? I mean, for real?”
"Are you kidding? I keep the Director's secrets... goes with the job. So yeah."
“I think I can talk to dead people.”
Dave shrugs. "Uh, that's not so weird. Wait... do they talk back?"
He pales a bit. "Well that should open up some... career options for you." Dave takes a long drink. "Could work in homicide. Or the morgue, if you'd rather be 'in the rear with the gear' like me. Either way, do you know what you're in for?"
Angie shrugs. She's seen a lot in the past eight years, both in the orphanage and in Roar Sector. "Can't be any worse than the Bogeyman."
Dave tries to hide his discomfort. "I heard about that. Look... " He leans closer and lowers his voice. "These dead people you talk to... have any of them been murder victims?"
Leaning over as well, Angie touches her forehead to Dave's. "Some. I think the Blue Lady has told them about me. How I helped her and she us. I think she wants me to help others, too...."
He sighs heavily. "That's good. I mean it. But... Angie, you're gonna have to deal with whatever happened to those people. And the victims in XSWAT cases tend to die in ways you couldn't imagine... until you see them. Or talk to them."
Aye, there's the rub. Angie knows her mom is strong, but she still suffers from the shakes some times. Chrysine's days with the CRASH team affected her deeply, in more ways than one, and it shows from time to time. What'd it do to her? "Have you seen them?"
Dave looks over at Chrysine—it looks like she's sweeping the table again. Is she nearly done, or will she set up another rack? Woman's never gonna forgive me for this. "Angie, you should talk to your friend, the Blue Lady—Officer McElroy. Ask what happened to her... and the rest of her squad. You keep asking until she tells you. After that, if you still want to join XSWAT, I'll back you up all the way."
“You didn’t answer my question, Uncle Dave.” Angie sits back and thinks about the Blue Lady and how she’s never actually said how she died. “Have you seen one? I mean, you just told me you’re back with the gear.”
He pauses for a long time. "Yeah. The patrol cars record everything, Angie. And sometimes, the only witness to an officer's murder is the camera. The ones I saw weren't just murder victims off the street—they were our own people, fully armed and ready, and all I could do was watch, because they were already dead when I got the files. Everyone in XSWAT gets the horror-show, even if we're just hiding in the garage."
Speaking of which. “Dave,” she asks, all traces of banter gone. “Is it true? What you guys say. About the officer who died... and came back. Is she real?”
"I've never seen her. But Mitch says he's met her, so yeah, I guess she's real."
“Is who real?”
"Hello Chrysine." I hate it when she does that! Chrysine has approached them unawares, moving in total silence without realizing what she was doing. "Your daughter is wondering about urban myths. You ever seen Corporal Benedict?"
The tall Clade’s ears twitch as she considers Dave’s question. “I am not sure,” she replies slowly. “I have heard of her, and Lieutenant Brogan has mentioned her... but I can not say if I have ever met her.” She pauses and then looks at the two of them. “Why? Is she here?”
"Ah... no. Can't think of a reason she would be. Ghosts hanging around in bars would be weird, even for Angelus."
“Unhunh,” Angie gives her opinion of that idea with a shake of her head. “Nothing’s too weird for Angelus. I mean, look at the three of us? A Clade, her amazingly brilliant daughter, and... a grease monkey.” She then turns to Tara. “I guess they can’t all be winners.”
Tara laughs and hands them some menus. She knows the routine; when Chrysine is done practicing, they're ready to eat. "Careful, sweetie. Picking the winners isn't always easy."
Dave raises an eyebrow. "You taking driver's ed this year, Angie?"
“Maybe,” she glances at her mother. “If I get the okay.”
Chrysine, displaying a wisdom far unlike that of some Clades Dave knew, simply looks her menu over. “Spinach salad with chicken, please” she says to Tara, before turning to her daughter. “‘The measure of a man is what he does with power’,” she quotes. “I think I should sign the release form and see what happens. Perhaps your Uncle Dave will help you get ready."
"Yes, perhaps he will." Dave pretends to look over the menu, already knowing what he wants. "Unless you don't want a lowly grease-monkey who just happens to have the spare keys to Mama Jama's Stozwind helping you...." He looks up and grins at Tara. "The usual, my dear."
“And how exactly will the key’s to ‘Mama Jama’s Stozwind’ help Miss Angie Winterfox, hmmm?”
Dave stops grinning at the sound of Jama's voice. Oh dear God, I am so very DEAD! He turns around and tries not to look like a little boy with his hand in the cookie jar, failing miserably. "To provide, uh... proper motivation, Madam Director Renuka!" Okay, good answer, now quick, change the subject! "Where's Mitch?"
“Parking ‘Mama Jama’s’ Stozwind.”
Madame Director Renuka stands a mere 5’4”—shorter then Angie, and far shorter than Chrysine—but still manages to dominate them all. Even her mother, who Angie is certain fears nothing, goes from relaxed to attentive in an eye-blink. As for herself... she’s not 100% sure what all the fuss is about. She’s known “Aunt” Jama for years now, and has never known her to be anything but open, friendly, and kind. However, at this moment, she’s giving Uncle Dave (the Troublemaker) that look. The one her mother used to give her when she’d been up to no good and Chrysine knew it. “Busted,” she whispers, hoping Dave will start laughing and end up flailing about madly trying to make himself not look like a goof (and failing.)
Dave momentarily gives Angie his best you're not helping look, (which nearly makes her crack up) then turns to Jama. "That's good, I'm glad he's here 'cause I really need to talk to him."
“He’ll be here in a few moments,” Jama glanced around the bar. “I’m supposed to get us a table.”
"Say no more, Madame Director. I'll take care of it. Table for five, or have you invited anyone else to sneak up on me this evening?"
Jamadigni Renuka has known David Cho for nearly twenty years and almost understands how he thinks. With that in mind, she places an index finger against her lips and stares thoughtfully at the ceiling. “I knew there was something I forgot to do.”
Dave laughs nervously, and signals to Tara. "We'll need a table for five... I think."
Tara gives him an odd look, then shows them to a high round table surrounded by bar-stools. Mitch arrives shortly afterwards, and goes to the bar prior to joining his party. He finally comes to the table with Jama's usual as well as his own, kisses his wife and sits down. "Nice to see you Chrysine, Angie. Still hanging out with this gear-head?" He gestures towards Dave, who nods Yes they are! "Well, the gang's all here and everybody's been served... so what's the big occasion?"
Chrysine’s ears flick back and forth, a sure sign of nervousness. “I am not sure, sir. This is somewhat of a surprise. Unless,” she glances down at Angie. “Did you?”
“Oh no, mom, I had nothing to do with this.” Angie has no intention of getting blamed for this, not that she expects there to be any blame, but as she said she had nothing to do with it. “Ask Uncle Annoying over there.”
This time Dave really does look innocent. "Hey, I just come over to shoot pool and have a bite to eat with my favorite XSWAT officer. And to annoy her darling child." He ignores Angie's dirty look (mission accomplished) and turns on Mitch. "But my boss's social secretary—yeah, that's you, flyboy—says to reserve a table. So I thought you knew."
Mitch shrugs. It's impossible to tell, actually, if he's in the dark or just playing dumb. In either case, that only leaves one culprit; Angie, Chrysine, Dave and Mitch simultaneously turn and look expectantly at Jama. "Do you have a prepared announcement, my love? Will you finally be putting Cadbury in charge of Internal Affairs?" Mitch gives everyone a knowing look. "She's secretly been wanting to do that for years."
“Not a bad idea, dear, I’ll ask him tomorrow morning when he can start.” Jama takes a sip of her drink and thinks for a moment, finger resting on her chin. Right now she’s holding court, even if it’s in McGuire’s bar, and she won’t be rushed. “I was also thinking that since Technical Sergeant David Cho will be busy helping our own Angelina Winterfox learn how to drive, that he might not find time to complete his regular duties.” She looks over at her husband, her expression one of total innocence. “You can fill in for him, can’t you?”
Mitch finds this amusing enough to grant her an exaggerated "Yes, of course, dear." He ignores Dave and Angie as they both smirk at him; he wonders where this is going. "And while I'm doing that, who exactly is going to be driving your limo?"
“Oh, that.” Jama’s brow furrows for a moment and then she looks over at Dave. “I hear on the job training is best. Do you think Angie will be up to it?”
At this Mitch throws up his hands in mock exasperation. "Oh that's it, I've had it. Can't take another day of this." He gives Angie a serious look. "When can you start?"
“Ahhhh...” Angie decides to draw this out for all it’s worth. “I’d have to ask my mom. She’s kinda strict about this sort of—”
“Tomorrow.” Chrysine’s ears flick as she calmly drinks her beer. “I would say tonight, but you certainly cannot be seen in public dressed as you are. And certainly not behind the wheel of the Director’s personal transport.”
The entire table is stunned—Chrysine never kids around. It's not that she doesn't have a sense of humor; she can appreciate other people's jokes and on rare occasions smiles at them. But for her part, she's never been anything less than completely serious.
Until now. Mitch responds in the same deadpan tone. "So, Lieutenant Chrysine, it's your opinion that this recruit..." he nods toward Angie, who looks quite alarmed at the word recruit, "...is fully prepared for the rigors of duty in Madam Director's office?"
"She will also, of course, have to maintain Madam Director's calendar, feed Cadbury and change his litter, make the tea exactly as Madam Director likes it, deal with constant requests for unscheduled appointments, fight off reporters, monitor the rumor-mill, learn to imitate Madam Director's signature, as well as keep tabs on a certain half-crazy cyborg. The XSWAT bureaucracy sends Madam Director three meters of paperwork daily, which must be kept below the one-point-five meter mark to prevent losing sight of Madam Director...."
Mitch holds up a hand at the appropriate height for emphasis, where his wife can just see over it. She's glaring at him, while trying not to let one corner of her mouth turn up in amusement. Mostly, she's succeeding. He lowers his hand and winks at her.
"Well," there is no way Angie can let herself be upstaged by her mom and Uncle Mitch. Especially her mom. She raises one hand and starts to tick items off. "It can't be that hard to keep the calendar straight; I get along great with Corporal Cadbury; I make tea for mom; I'm in high school, so I know all about crazy questions and requests; I'll just send any reporters to talk to Uncle Tyger; at school I am the rumor mill; I've been signing stuff in mom's name for years; and I know mom and Uncle Tyger can handle any crazy cyborgs.." She pauses to take a breath. "And as for paper work... isn't that what Cadbury and the paper shredder are for?"
There's a pause, in which Chrysine turns to look at her grinning daughter. "You what?"
"Kidding, mom. There's no way I can imitate your signature... and boy, have I tried!" Angie's 'I'm innocent' look fails mainly because she can't keep a straight face.
Mitch listens impassively to Angie's litany, hoping the way she turned Chrysine's joke around on her (if she's joking—he's still not sure) won't discourage her mother's newfound sense of humor. In point of fact, Uncle Tyger answers to the crazy cyborg in question, so Angie's mistaken on that point. As for the rest... "What do you think, Dave?"
Dave looks at Mitch and nods knowingly. "Sounds like a typical recruit to me."
"Yeah—overconfident little know-it-alls, every one of 'em. Trigger-happy, too. Did we really start out like that?"
"Well, I wasn't trigger-happy, but yeah we did. It's a miracle we survived."
“Some of us,” Jama interjects as she sips from her glass, “had excellent commanding officers to set a proper example. Besides, didn’t you two start in the APD?”
"My first CO was a paper-pushing slave-driver. I believe you met him once, my dear." Mitch says this without rancor, sounding almost nostalgic. "And yes, Dave and I went through our rookie year in the APD. From what I've seen, rookies are rookies, Chief."
He finishes his scotch and continues. "But that's neither here nor there. We're discussing Ms. Winterfox's training now."
“Of course.” Jama looks over to where Angie sits. Angie thinks she should feel nervous, but this is Aunt Jama after all. She’s never seen her get, y’know, angry or anything. “So, Ms. Winterfox, it sounds like you need to be at XSWAT Headquarters at 9 AM sharp Monday. And in your dress uniform.”
“Uhh...” Wait, this is getting a little weird for a joke. “I don’t have a dress uniform.”
“Oh, right.” Jama gives her a warm smile and turns to her mother. “Lieutenant Chrysine Winterfox? You need to be at XSWAT Headquarters at 9 AM sharp Monday morning. And as I said, in your dress uniform.”
“And...” now Jama turns back to her. “I think you should be there as well.”
“But... uhm... school?”
“I’ll write you a note.” Jama says with a dismissive wave of the hand. “I mean, it’s not every day you see your mother make Captain.”
Mitch finally allows himself a grin of satisfaction. He's obviously been helping Jama plot this little surprise from the outset. "I'd propose a toast, but I need another round, here." Dave signals for Tara to join them asap. "So while we're waiting, it's my honor to be the first Lieutenant to salute you." He can't help noticing Chrysine looks more than a little embarrassed about out-ranking her former CO as he does so. "Congratulations, Captain Chrysine."
“Thank you, sir.” Her attempt to return the salute is interrupted by Angie’s hug. “See!” she exclaims to Dave, “I told you! Aunt Liz wouldn’t lie to me!”
Mitch turns to Jama for a moment, one eyebrow raised, his voice low. "There's been a leak at the office." He's warned her before that Liz talks too much....
"That's not the only leak our little Winterfox has heard," she replies. "Angie," her voice is louder, and causes the teen to turn. "You know that other rumor you heard?"
Angie blinks. How did Aunt Jama know that she'd heard that? "Uhm... the one about..."
"Yes, that one." Jama tilts her head slightly. "It's true. My twentieth anniversary is in six months or so, and I think it's getting close to retirement."
Dave is helping Tara with the next round of everyone's drinks. "So I guess you'll be leaving too, Mitch?" He looks serious for once.
"Apparently they've already found my replacement." He nods at Angie, who gives him her best oh get real look. "But seriously. The twins are starting junior high next year, Jama's still the Defender... I'll be busy as ever. When Jama leaves, the next Director can find a new driver."
"And another mechanic." Everyone looks at Dave now. "Hey, I've been on the force almost as long as Jama—longer if you count the APD years. It just... won't be the same without you two around."
“No...” Chrysine looks from Mitch to Jama and back. “It will not. I shall never forget my time on the CRASH team and how you helped a rookie officer through such troubled times. I am proud to say I served with you, sir.”
"As I recall it, we pulled each other through. We were all of us troubled in those times, Chrysine." Mitch looks around the table for a moment and remembers, then stops himself—this is supposed to be a celebration. He's got a full glass now, as does everyone else. "A toast... to XSWAT."
“To XSWAT,” the table replies on unison.
* * * * *
Jama sits and watches as Chrysine, Dave, and Mitch shoot pool. Or, based on her limited understanding of the game, as Chrysine destroys them. It’s funny. Mitch had Dave teach Chrysine how to play as a way of getting her to relax. And now she can defeat them almost at will. Still, they’re having fun, and in XSWAT, even these days, such times are precious.
“Hello, Angie,” she says as Chrysine’s daughter perches beside her on a barstool.
“Hey, Aunt Jama. I, um.... I’m sorry about spreading rumors. I don’t think Uncle Dave was too happy.”
Jama gives her a gentle smile. “If you join XSWAT—”
“—when you join XSWAT, you’ll hear plenty of rumors. And some of them will be far worse than whatever people think I’m up to.”
“Like the ones about the ghost cop and stuff?”
“Yes. And as Dave told you, some of those rumors might just be true.” She puts an arm around Angei’s shoulders and draws her in close. “Officer Miyako Benedict died in the line of duty and came back, because she feels her duty is not yet done. However,” and here she looks eye-to-eye with Angie, “while she might scare you, she won’t hurt you.”
Angie mulls this over. “Easy for you to say, Aunt Jama, you’re her boss.”
“Point.” Jama sighs slightly. “Still, Officer Benedict and those like her serve not just me, but XSWAT as a whole. They know their duty.”
These’s a quiet moment as the pair watch the pool game in progress. Then....
“I’m going to send you a release form,” Jama says suddenly.
“What?” Angie sits up. “What for?”
“Because I think you should be earning some extra credit as an intern at XSWAT HQ.” Jama looks over knowingly. “Not only will it give you a head start over your XSWAT Academy classmates, it’ll let us examine your unique talents and how to best use them.”
“Oh, aces! That’s great!” Angie jumps up from her stool. “I gotta go tell my mom!” She dashes off as Jama waves indulgently.
Her rush to the pool table is cut short with the realization that someone is standing at the corner of the bar. Someone dressed in the blue of an XSWAT uniform. Angie comes to a sudden halt and stares, sparing a quick glance back at Jama, who seems to be engrossed with the pool game in progress. It’s then she realizes the figure standing at the bar is somewhat translucent—she can see the ceiling lights shining through the body.
The Blue Lady looks squarely at her, smiles and gives an approving nod. Angie goes to wave, then catches herself, and after a second quick glance about, returns the nod. A quick look shows Jama hasn’t apparently noticed the exchange, which is all the time Officer McElroy needs to vanish from sight.
No one but me saw that. Angie feels a little giddy at the realization. She starts to make her way over to her mother, bursting to tell her the good news, when a sudden thought stops her cold. How did Jama know about the rumors I’d heard? Followed by a second, somewhat more frightening one. And what other “officers like Officer Benedict”?