Resting comfortably on a park bench in front of XSWAT HQ, Claire savored a blueberry muffin. The fact it was raining didn't bother her too much; sometimes it was relaxing simply watching puddles gather water. However, beneath the cover of her umbrella, Claire's ears flicked occasionally. They weren't so enthused about the damp haze in the air.

Chewing on a mouthful of muffin, Claire let her gaze travel up the length of the XSWAT tower. It was roughly 100 stories in height, which made it over 1,000 feet in height (1,025 to be exact.) In keeping with the general theme of the grounds (as Chrysine had explained to her yesterday), the first 33 stories were pentagon-shaped, the next 33 where a square, and the last 33 a broad triangle. And up there, near the top, nestled in one corner of the triangle, was the office of Director Renuka, her new boss.

The pattern continued outwards as well. The grounds around the tower formed an immense hexagon, cross-crossed with access roads, parking lots, and walking trails. Supposedly they all formed a sigil of mystic importance, designed to keep not-nice spirits and other beings out. It also meant there was lot of paths to explore and it was easy to find a place to sit quietly—and enjoy a muffin.

Swallowing the last few bits of the aforementioned muffin, Claire carefully brushed a few crumbs from her jacket and checked the time. She was supposed to meet Angie Winterfox, Chrysine's daughter, over in forensics in about an hour. They’d tried to meet yesterday, when Claire had been given a short tour of HQ, but Angie had just left for home. Still, it had been a great deal of fun, and even if she’d missed meeting the Director (who was off at some meeting), she’d learned a lot about the history of XSWAT. Tales of the legendary 9th Squad and the exploits of Chrysine's own CRASH Team had positively wowed the young Clade. To Claire, joining XSWAT was akin to walking in the footsteps of giants. Sadly, after getting signed up for her necessary classes, they had to cut the tour short. Today, however, she'd get to see a bit more.

Glass doors slid silently to either side as she walked through the front entrance. Every surface of the extensive lobby caused some part of her brain to suddenly register 'shiny'. Especially the bald pate of the officer sitting at the information desk, who was kind enough to give Claire directions and was rewarded with a muffin for his trouble.

Just down the hallway to the left. Make the first left and then the right after that. That's where the cafeteria would be. She was supposed to wait for Angie by the elevator right there. It was also a good place to get a cup of coffee. That was a stained-glass 'Yay!' in Claire's book.

Heading off in that direction, Claire marveled at the displays of items and plaques that adorned the walls. Memorials for various officers of some import stood somberly down one hallway. This one told of Lieutenant Kurosawa, who was killed in action, while the big one in the middle listed officers who died or went MIA guarding the walls of the fabled Omega Sector some two decades ago. In the next hallway there was a large glass case set into the wall showing the numerous upgrades in maser technology, a pair of bonzai trees bringing life to the otherwise textbook display. It continued on like this all the way to the cafeteria.

Two sugars, a little bit of cream and a hot cup of goodness later, Claire stood out by the elevator, looking through a trophy case. A bowling trophy for Officer Quintana stood next to a plaque stating Chrysine was last year's billiards champ (and the year before that, and before that...). There was even a Second Place trophy for Beer Pong, whatever that was, with the initials M.B. written on it.

“Uhm… Officer Claire?”

Claire turned and found standing before her a young, dark-haired girl in a lab coat. The moment Claire saw the name tag, she smiled.

“Hi! I’m Angie Winterfox!” She stuck out a hand and grinned.

Claire took the offered hand, "Nice to meet you! I've heard a lot about you."

“You have?” Angie looked worried and glanced around the hallway. “Nothing bad I hope…” she suddenly leaned in close, “and who from?”

Claire had to giggle at that. "No, no, nothing bad. Your mom talked a bit about what you do here."

“Ohhh… that’s okay then.” Angie stepped back and wiped her hand across her brow. “Say… if you’re not in a hurry, you mind if we go get Tech Sergeant de Normandy? I’d promised her we’d do lunch today—this was before mom told me you were coming.” She paused, and placed the back of her hand against her forehead. “The life of a Captain's daughter is full of peril…” she shot Claire a wink, “or something like that. Anyway, wanna go see the server room?”

"Sure! That'd be cool!" Today was looking to be a great day indeed. Claire was making new friends left and right it seemed. While she was still technically only a cadet, being in XSWAT was much better than APD had been.

"Muffin?" Claire asked as she produced a blueberry muffin from her bag.

“Mmmmm…” Angie took a sniff as she punched the call button. “Mom said you could bake. Gimme a second.” Reaching into the pockets of her lab coat, the young intern glanced up at the ceiling in concentration as she fished around for a moment. “Aha!” Producing a clear plastic bag marked ‘Evidence’ she held it out. “Just drop it in there and I’ll save it for later.”

"Sure." Claire dropped the muffin into the baggie and poked at it as one does a goldfish in a bowl.

Returning the bag to her pocket, Angie made an elaborate ‘after you’ gesture to the open elevator door. “Our ride awaits!”

Claire gave a tip of the hat and a smile before entering the elevator. The silvery doors closed off the outside world as Angie pressed one of the myriad buttons. Claire's tail swished from side to side as their small world rose to the heavens. "This place is amazing! The lights don't flicker at all. It's not drafty. And best of all," she took a sip from her cup, "the coffee isn't a day old."

“Uhh… where were you before? Mom said you were APD but… were you stuck in the basement or something?”

Claire's tail drooped and her ears went flat against her head. "Umm... Yes."

Angie, who had a decade’s worth of experience with Clade body language, decided immediately to change the subject by dramatically throwing herself up against a wall. “Look at me, I suck at being a tour guide! I haven’t even told you where we’re going!” Pointing at the panel of buttons, she indicated the only one lit. “The forty-forth floor, home to XSWAT’s server racks and the kingdom of de Normandy.” Stepping back, she continued in a more sedate tone. “It’s where all of the precinct houses and databands connect too. Blogs, email, wikis, AARs, they’re all stored there—redundantly I may add. And Michael Erica de Normandy is their sysadmin.”

Claire's ears perked back up again. "Wow! That's a lot of stuff."

“Terabytes of it, on a system that can hold exabytes.” Pausing for a moment (which allowed Claire to take another sip of coffee) Angie gave a reflective look at the ceiling. “Hmmm… I should warn you, it’s kinda chilly in there… and dark too.”

The mere thought of 'chilly' caused Claire's mind to gravitate to the warm coffee in her hand. "It's dark in there? Why's it dark?"

“‘cause Tech Sergeant de Normandy was born with oculo… oculoooo… oculoooooo-forget it.” Angie stopped and started over. “Becaaauuuuse, Tech Sergeant de Normandy is a type 1 albino. That means she has near-white skin, white hair, and blue eyes. And she doesn’t like bright light much, so she wears sunglasses everywhere.” Angie paused to nudge Claire in the ribs with her elbow, “Even inside, can you believe it?”

"She wears sunglasses inside? That's... That's cool!"


“And we’re here!” Pressing the ‘open door’ button, Angie waved at the hall outside. “After you.”

Across from the elevator, a sign kindly pointed to the left with the words 'Server Room' engraved in bold white text. Exiting the elevator, Claire noticed a definite drop in temperature compared to the cafeteria below. She curled her tail around her legs and started to think how chilly the server room would be.

“They cool the whole floor,” Angie explained as they walked. “It’s like 68 out here and 64 where Michael is.” She paused and pointed out the window. “Hey, I can see my house from here.”

Claire peered in the direction of Angie’s finger. Roh Sector was over there, but that was miles away. “Really?”

“Nah, just kidding. But you can see all across Angelus from up near the roof. The view from Aunt Jama’s office is just amazing.”

Aunt Jama? The Director? She gets to call the Director 'Aunt Jama'? Claire was struck by an amazing impulse—I wanna do that.

“Hey, we’re here!” Angie stopped in front of a door marked ‘Extra Special Weapons And Tactics Server Farm: Authorized Personnel Only.’ She then pressed a button next to the intercom near the scanner panel for ID cards.


“Hey, Michael, it’s Angie. Ready for lunch?”

‘Yes, I’ll be right out.”

“She’s probably been coding again and forgot to eat. She does that.” Angie drew her coat closer around her shoulders. “I swear that woman must wear electric underwear to work in there like she does. She and the rest of them.” She shivered for emphasis.

Unnoticed by Angie, Claire looked down, contemplating what it'd be like to wear electric underwear. "Forgot to eat?" One ear cocked to the side, "How do you do that?"

“Got me.”

The door hissed open revealing a short, slightly built woman, who just as Angie said, had pale, nearly white skin, and a flowing fall of snow-white hair. Claire couldn’t tell if she had blue eyes, though, since a pair of dark wrap-around sunglasses hid them from view. Her uniform seemed a bit odd as well, consisting of a long-sleeved shirt and trousers, worn over what looked to be an insulated black bodyglove. “Hello Angie, I… oh, who’s your friend?”

Standing up straight, Angie indicated her companion with a flourish. “Technical Sergeant Michael Erica de Normandy, I’d like to introduce Cadet Claire… who… has no last name I guess.” She paused and gave the Clade a quizzical look. “Do you?”

Claire visibly blushed. "Uh... 404? It's the number of the maturation tube I was found in. It's the closest thing I have to a last name." What she didn't tell them was the infamous moniker Harris had gifted her with—the 'Clerical Error'.

“Well, welcome to XSWAT Claire 404.” Michael extended a hand and gave her a smile.

Claire smiled back and shook de Normandy's hand. "Pleased to meet you! Muffin?" Claire produced yet another muffin from her bag and presented it to the Tech Sergeant.

“Do you always keep a bakery in there?” Angie exclaimed as she looked Claire’s shoulder bag over. “‘cause I wanna learn that trick for sure.”

“Uhmmm…” Michael took the muffin and looked puzzled for a moment. “I’ll just put this on my….” *sniff* “Blueberry?” Without waiting for Claire to answer, she took a bite. “Mmmmmm… that’s really, really good. You make these yourself?”

Pleased with herself, Claire's smile got wider, "I make a few dozen every morning." After all, you never know who could use a muffin. Taking another sip from her coffee cup, she realized she had hit bottom. She turned the cup over and stared at it hoping some more would magically pour out. All gone. There'll be more down in the cafeteria, for sure. "Looks like I need more coffee."

“And I need food!” Standing between the two women, Angie pressed her hands against their backs. “Go! Go! To the elevator! Lunch awaits!”

“I bet you don’t treat your mother like this,” Michael chuckled. “And stop pushing, I can walk.”

Claire was seemingly oblivious to Angie propelling her down the hall, her feet sliding on the cold white tile. "Yeah, lunch sounds good. A nice warm lunch. With warm coffee. In the warm cafeteria."


“Trrrl?” Clare wasn’t sure but she thought that sounded like ‘this isn’t the cafeteria?’ The owner of the odd-sounding purr was possibly the largest cat she’d ever seen. A huge, fluffy, grayish-black mass of fur, with large paws and a long tail. He... she? it? sat in the center of the elevator, looking a tad confused, as if he’d expected to be somewhere else by now.

She blinked twice, her brain already preparing to 'squee'. "Oh. My. God! Ohmygod! Ohmygodhe'ssocute! How'd you get in here?" She knelt down and started to pet the ball of fluff on the head. "I'll bet you'd like a muffin." She pulled out yet another muffin, broke off a small piece and held it before the cat.

“Oh now you’ve done it,” Angie laughed as she pressed the button for the cafeteria. “You’ll never get rid of him now.”

“He’ll add you to his list of easy marks.” Michael leaned down to scratch at the cat’s ears, while he daintily devoured the chunk of muffin. “Won’t you Corporal Cadbury?”

“I bet Aunt Jama’s in a meeting and Cadbury’s hungry, isn’t that right?”

For his part, the huge cat simply shrugged, finished the offered bit of muffin, then rubbed himself against Claire’s legs, purring loud enough to rattle the walls, or so it seemed to her.

"Corporal Cadbury?" Claire sounded a bit confused. "They named him Corporal?"

“No,” Michael replied, “his name is just Cadbury. His rank is Corporal.”

“He’s an official member of XSWAT,” Angie explained. “And, uhhh… that means he out-ranks you and I.”

"So this cat has rank over a good portion of the people in this building?" Claire thought about that for a second. "I don't know what this cat does, but he must be really good at it."

“What Corporal Cadbury does,” Michael said as she picked the aforementioned cat up (with obvious effort), “is sucker people into giving him attention. And he’s really good at it.” Cadbury, for his part, simply grinned.


Exiting the elevator again, Claire found herself once more in front of the cafeteria. Much better! Not as chilly as the hallway outside the server room. And the aroma of food wafted through the general vicinity. Lunchtime! Settling for a couple of sandwiches and another cup of coffee, she found a table and had a seat. The cold plastic of the chair made her wrap her tail around her legs again. Angie, Michael, and Corporal Cadbury weren't far behind.

Claire gave a small prayer of thanks for the meal, and promptly dug in. Once she could talk without a mouthful of food—that's just plain rude—Claire then popped the question that had been on her mind since she walked into the lobby. "So I gotta know, what's it like here? You've got this super-awesome hundred story building, a ranking cat, and you treat the Director like family. Is it this cool all the time?"

There was a moment while Angie and Michael glanced at each other. Cadbury, on the other hand, ignored the question and busied himself with a plate of sushi (a sight no one around bothered to question.) “She gets to treat the Director like family,” Michael responded, indicating Angie with a jerk of her thumb (who stuck her tongue out in response—Claire had to giggle at that.) “Her mom served on Lieutenant Brogan’s CRASH Team back in the day and they’ve been close ever since. Me? I see the Director maybe one or twice a year, during inspections and the like.”

“I’ve known Aunt… uhmm… Director Renuka since I was like… eight or so.” Angie picked up the narrative. “Not to mention Uncle… err… Lieutenant Brogan (her husband), Technical Sergeant Cho, and a few other people. But I’m kinda unique. I’m the only person in Angelus with a Clade parent, after all. And… uhm… Director Renuka made me an intern herself, ‘cause of my… ahhh… unique abilities.”

Claire was visibly disappointed, her ears lowering just a smidgen. Before anyone could notice however they perked back up, her curiosity taking over. "Unique abilities?"

“I…” Angie stopped eating and actually looked around the cafeteria, as if worried someone might over hear her. Lowering her head, she leaned in close and whispered, “I can sometimes see and talk to the dead.”

The Clade's eyes widened a bit. "The d-dead? There's…." Her voice dropped to a whisper, "There's dead people? Here?"

“Well, yeah.” Angie sat back up and indicated her lab coat. “We have a morgue after all.”

“I don’t think that’s what she means, Angie” Michael replied, taking a bite of her salad. “Right, Claire?”

"Right. Like floaty, see-through-y, dead-but-not-dead dead people." Claire wiggled her fingers for emphasis. "You talk to those kinda dead people?"

“Oh, you mean like ghosts? Like Officer Benedict? Yeah, we get some of those, and yeah, I can talk to them. Some of them.”

At the mention of the name ‘Benedict,’ Cadbury sat up with an alarmed look, snatched the last of the sushi off of the plate in front of him, and vanished under the table. Michael, meanwhile, looked over at Angie with a quizzical expression. “We do? Here? In the tower?”

"O-Officer Benedict? Who's that?" Ghosty-types? Really? Here? Claire was beginning to think she didn't want to know, but at the same time would not-knowing be worse?

“I have no idea if Officer Benedict ever comes in the tower,” Angie said with a shrug. “All I know is what Aun-Director Renuka told me.” She closed her eyes and looked at the ceiling. “Ahem… ‘Officer Miyako Benedict died and came back, because her duty is not yet done,’ or something like that. And Uncle Dave says Lieutenant Brogan has met her, so she seems real enough.”

Sipping at her drink, Michael nodded. “I’ve heard of her as well. She’s supposed to haunt… uhm… wander around the steam tunnels and sewers looking for whatever it is a ghost looks for. Some officers swear they’ve met her and say she’s saved them from different things.”

“She’s supposed to be all white, even her clothes, with creepy red eyes,” Angie added. “Or so I’ve heard.”

Across the table from Angie, Claire was visibly shaking. She hugged her tail close, as her eyes darted around the room. What was once safe and normal mere moments before, now seemed very creepy. One of her ears tried to bury itself in her hair while the other decided to keep watch for this 'Miyako Benedict'. "S-she's n-not in the r-room n-now, i-is s-s-she?"

Angie and Michael exchanged glances and then both patted Claire’s hands. “No she isn’t,” Michael said in a soothing tone of voice. “From what I’ve heard, she’s pretty hard to miss.”

“Well, let’s change the subject shall we?” Angie sat up with a broad grin. “Is, uh... there anything else you want to know about?”

“I can bore you to tears with stories of database management,” Michael offered.

The Clade smiled politely and nodded, trying to calm herself. Pull yourself together Claire. Chrysine wouldn't be afraid of no ghosty story. Time to think of something a bit more positive. "S-so uh, so what's with the trophy case in the hallway? Do XSWAT officers do a lot of stuff after-hours?"

“You’ll have to ask her,” Michael answered, jabbing her fork at Angie. “She’s the one with a pool-shark for a mother.”

“She is not! She’s just really good, that’s all!”

“She’s won the service tournament three years running, and didn’t you tell me she’s gone overseas to compete?”

“Well, yeah… but that doesn’t make her a shark. Besides, it was Uncle Dave who taught her to play… he’s the shark.”

"Huh?" A shark? What does fish have to do with playing pool? Claire, you need to get out more.

“A pool shark is one who hustles their opponent out of money or drinks.” Michael saw Claire’s expression and continued. “I’m pretty sure Captain Chrysine has never done that, since she prefers competitive play (right Angie?), but I’m willing to bet Angie’s Uncle Dave has done it.”

“He has. Or he used to. It’s like this, Claire,” Angie explained. “A shark deliberately plays poorly in order to make his opponent think he’s not any good. Then the shark makes small bets, then larger ones, until he makes some expensive trick shot and wins a lot of money.”

"That's a very not-nice thing to do." Claire wasn't sure she liked this 'shark' concept.

“Anyway, ten years ago, before I met my mom, she was in Lieutenant Brogan’s CRASH Team, which the Director had formed in order to look into the disappearances of some XSWAT officers. Mom was really new to the force then, and still had a lot of her old Lace & Steel mindset. So she never did anything to unwind.” Angie paused to take a drink of soda. “So Lieutenant Brogan suggested she take up a hobby and ended up introducing her to Uncle Dave, who taught her to play pool.” She paused again and then gave the table a sly grin. “I think Uncle Dave has had the hots for my mom for years, ever since he saw her fight in Lace & Steel. Can you believe it?”

Claire's ears flicked twice. "Is that a good thing?" Hobby? Hots? So many new terms today. Furthermore, Chrysine really was in Lace & Steel. Maybe she didn't want to talk about it? Angie and Michael certainly were educational. And nice too.

“Aww… I dunno,” Angie blushed, much to Michael’s surprise. She’d long thought the young intern was beyond embarrassment. “I mean, this is my mom we’re talking about. It was bad enough when she picked me up at school that one time and a bunch of boys all started drooling.”

"Drooling? So this is a not-good thing, then?" This was definitely beyond Claire's understanding of human interactions. "Were they sick?"

Michael just blinked at that while Angie paused, her train of thought momentarily derailed. “Sick? Yes! They were sick with luuuuuuve. They were all like ‘your mom’s hot’ and ‘your mom’s stacked’ and I was like ‘shut up, that’s my mom you’re talkin’ about!’” She paused and sighed. “I bet Alice and Malachi don’t have to deal with crap like that.”

Sick with 'luuuuuuve'? Claire hoped that wasn't contagious. That could be awkward. This was getting almost as confusing as that one time Jenny had explained the thing with bees and birds and stuff. That didn't make much sense, mostly because sometimes birds ate bees.

Claire's tail swished from side to side, as she became more interested in what all of this meant. "So it's a not-good thing because it's your mom? If it wasn't your mom, would that make it a good thing? This is kinda confusing."

‘It’s confusing because Angie here won’t speak English.” Michael adjusted her sunglasses with one hand while she gestured with the other. “What our young intern is trying to say is that she felt uncomfortable with the idea of her schoolmates seeing her mother as a sex object. Am I right?”

“You don’t have to be so clinical about it.”

“I’m right.”

Claire had to giggle at that. "I think I understand that. Well... except the part about it being your mother. I have no idea how that would feel. Clades tend not to have those.” Her ears went off in two different directions again. "So, I guess I don't understand after all. I think?"

“Well…” Angie twiddled her fingers as she tried to come up with an answer to that.

“Is there someone you care about Claire?” Michael asked gently.

That was silly question. Of course there was. There was... um...? What about...? Or maybe... ? A sudden realization hit Claire. That question had never come up before, but now it was quite clear. Jennifer Woo was just about the only real friend she had. After a few moments of consideration, she replied, "Just Jenny," with a distinct sadness in her voice.

“Who’s Jenny,” Angie asked, once again trying to switch subjects before Claire became too upset.

"Officer Jennifer Woo." Claire beamed a little, like she was talking about the most impressive person ever. Ever. "She does dispatch back at Precinct 16. She's my friend. She taught me all kinds of stuff. Like how to cook, how to be polite, and even how to shoot. Uh, that is until I got better than she was." Claire blushed a little at that last part.

“Oh? How good are you? Mom sometimes talks about an old CRASH Teammate named Didi Thornhallow, who could apparently shoot the wings off of a fly. Or something like that.”

"How good?" Claire thought for a second. "Um... I won last year's shooting competition at the precinct's annual picnic. So, I guess that's pretty good." Remembering that whole event brought a smile to her face. "Mauser said I missed 'cuz there was only one hole in the target, but I put the whole magazine in the same spot. Jenny said I did good, and gave me a pair of old-timey pistols."

Both Angie and Michael dropped their forks. “You did what?” the sysadmin asked.

Somewhat abashed by the response, Claire's gaze drifted to her coffee cup. "I didn't want to mess up the target by putting too many holes in it."

“Uhm… wow,” Angie replied. “My mom’s good and I know Uncle Tyger’s danged good, and mom said Didi was amazing… but I never heard of any of them doing anything like that.”

The Clade's ears flicked once more. "Aww. It's not that amazing. It's basic math, really. If the position of the gun is a constant, instead of a variable, the resulting trajectory will invariably be equal. It's just like shooting around corners." Claire scratched at one ear, getting lost in thought. "Except that one requires more geometry. Like angles of departure, factoring in coefficients of restitution, drop rate, and of course wind resistance. Simple really."

Angie blinked and then glanced over at Michael. “She sounds like you.”

“I don’t shoot guns. Certainly not like that.”

“No, but I’ve watched you run strings of numbers through your head faster than I can punch them into my databand.”

Claire's eyes went to de Normandy. That must make her, (what was that not-nice term Harris used?) a math nerd. "Wow! You must be really good at what you do then."

“Well, yes.” Michael sounded pleased.

“It helps she’s an esper,” Angie added. “Low-grade, but still.”

"Wow! So you're an esper? That's awesome! Can you, like, read minds and stuff?" Having never met an esper before, Claire was impressed. This wasn't exactly what she had in mind when she'd first heard about them, though. She imagined they'd be more pink.

Pausing to glare at Angie (an effect ruined by her sunglasses), Michael shook her head. “No, I’m not that sort of esper. My abilities are very low key and seem to relate to the expanded mental processes most espers possess. As Angie said, I can run complex math problems in my head just fine, know that we have just 19 minutes of lunch left, north is that way (she pointed), can write just fine with either hand, and tend not to forget anything I read.”

“Which makes her a whiz sysadmin,” Angie forged ahead, ignoring Michael’s previous dirty look. “But if you want mind readers, you’d probably have to hit up IOTA.”

"That's coooool." Claire's eyes widened just a little bit. "I've got a good memory for books and stuff too. Wait. IOTA? Isn't that the school for espers that was founded by one of the people from XSWAT? Chrysine mentioned it, I think."

“Yes it was.” Michael smiled, apparently in her element. “It was created by Yiska Karuk, formerly of the 9th Squad. He served with the Director, during the Dark Times, when the city was invaded.” She paused and looked thoughtful. “I think he’d have been proud to see what IOTA has become. I’m a graduate myself, actually.”

"That's awesomtacular. There's prestigeness that comes with that, isn't there?" Claire put a hand to her chin and got that 'deep thinking' look that occasionally unnerved Jenny. "I wonder if there's ever been any Clade espers. That's a winning combination—like muffins and sprinkles."

“No it’s not.” When Claire gave her a quizzical look, Michael continued. “I understand its been tried. Or was, once, and… it didn’t end well.”

The last time Claire had heard the words 'it didn't end well,' they were used to describe a traffic collision. An officer had said the EMTs on the scene were using spatulas and garbage bags. Claire silently hoped this was nothing like that.

Claire's turn to change the subject to something more pleasant. "Speaking of the 9th Squad, are any of them still around? I know the Director was a member, but what happened to the rest of 'em?"

“Oh! I know, I know!” Angie broke in. “After it was all over, Jamadigni Renuka became Director—didja know she’s going to retire soon? She’s been Director for twenty years! Anyway, let me see… Malachi Brogan and Tyger are still on the force. Tyger made Captain before my mom did and works here in the tower most of the time, but I’m not sure what Brogan does these days. Yiska Karuk left XSWAT and founded IOTA, while Nathan Carpenter left XSWAT and joined up with the Order of Enoch. Uhm…” she paused for a moment, allowing Claire to catch her breath. One could get winded just hearing Angie talk. “Both of them are dead now. Carpenter died about ten years back, while Karuk died about six or seven years ago.” (“Eight” Michael corrected.)

“Ahem as I was saying,” Angie forged ahead, doing her best to ignore Michael’s mock exasperation. “Richard Hemelshot went to prison for a few years—I’m not sure why—and now runs a security consulting company.” She paused and regarded the ceiling, tapping a finger on her chin. “That just leaves... Graham Burton, who was killed in the line of duty. Oh!” Angie brightened, “My mom served with Elizabeth Carpenter and Lorrane Hemelshot on the CRASH Team—along with Lieutenant Mitch Brogan, the Director’s husband!”

Well, so much for autographs. On the plus side, the three members who had passed on should have some nifty looking tombs to visit and take pictures of. Claire produced a small notepad and pen from her jacket pocket. She quickly scribbled down some notes regarding the whereabouts of the 9th Squad personnel. "At least some of them are still around. I'd like to meet some of 'em someday."

“Once you join XSWAT you probably will.” Angie replied. “You’ll at least get to meet the Director and you’ve already met…” her voice trailed off as she looked around. “Say, where’d Cadbury go?”

Claire looked under the table for the cat in question, and then looked in her bag. "I think he liked the muffin. I seem to be missing one more."

“Told you,” Michael smiled. “You’re on his list for sure.”

"It's good to be appreciated, I guess" Claire giggled. "I should get going, myself. I need to see about a uniform and double check on a class or two." She stood up, picked up her bag and straightened out her tail. "It's been nice meeting you two! I hope we get the chance to do this again sometime!"

And with that, Claire headed for the door.

“Do you believe it?” Angie asked.

“Believe what?”

“She uses a notepad! Who uses paper these days? And where do you buy pads like that?”

Michael gave Angie a long look and just sighed. “Kids.”

* * * * *

Across the room, Claire was nearing the double-doors that would take her back to the lobby. XSWAT was already looking to be a better career. Nice building. Nice people. And to top it all off, she had already gotten herself on a Corporal's good side. It hadn't even been a full day yet and she was making all kinds of friends.

As she opened the doors, another officer was approaching. This one was somewhat short, nearly a head shorter than Claire, and possessed a dark, but warm, complexion. She was wearing what looked to be a standard uniform, except the coat extended to her wrists and ankles. Hmm... must be someone from one of the offices upstairs. Claire did the polite thing and held the door for the officer to walk through. The two of them exchanged smiles and nods as they passed. Claire noticed the other officer had a mark on her forehead. Claire thought the odd squiggle was kind of cute, actually. It somehow brought out the color of the lady's green eyes.

Yup, things were definitely looking up for Claire. Now to see about getting one of those cool-looking uniforms. And maybe one of these days she'd even get to meet the Director.