Tyger had heard rumors of the Graveyard Shift (a name he’d heard Mitch Brogan use once, much to Jama’s obvious annoyance), some specialized squad of troubleshooters Jama had supposedly put together and answered only to the Director herself. He had also heard some of the stories and speculations about the group and its members as well. Admittedly, he found himself at a loss as to whether or not they had any basis of reality, much less truth. On one hand, any mention of any of these individuals either came from a hysterical witness or were quite a long way down the grapevine, meaning that these sources were unreliable. However, on the other hand, Tyger had seen enough of what Angelus, and XSWAT in particular, had to offer in regards to the supernatural, spiritual and just plain creepy to give it a pass.
Now, it was his turn to meet them; apparently it was part-and-parcel to the promotion to Deputy Director of Field Combat Operations. It became obvious to both Jama and Marcy that the rank of Captain was insufficient to keep him from doing what he did best when he set his mind to it. Being made a Major or Chief of any level or any location would give him just as much, if not more freedom to do what he wanted, so that option was completely off the table as well. Just forcing him to retire was also out of the question, he was too valuable to XSWAT and Angelus and he was just too dangerous to be left to his own devices.
The obvious solution was a promotion within XSWAT; rank with responsibilities that forced Tyger out of the field even during the most desperate incidents. A position that both let XSWAT make use of his unique skills and talents but also kept him on a very short leash; Deputy Director was that position.
Tyger took some solace in this. His activities had forced certain people and organizations to sit up and take notice. Hopefully they would get the message that he was not to be trifled with. However, his satisfaction was tempered by the trouble and worry that he brought to XSWAT as well as his friends and family.
“You’ve gotta be shitin’ me.” Tyger grumbled as he checked the time on his databand. Still no Brogan. First he tells me to make sure that I’m here on time, and now he’s the one that’s late. He withdrew a pack of ultra-generic cigarettes, the kind that only those who truly hated their lungs would smoke, chose one, lit up, took a drag, exhaled and began pacing around what he could only describe as an office lobby within some hitherto unknown floor in XSWAT Headquarters.
“Smoking is prohibited in this facility. Please extinguish your cigar/cigarette/pipe or other device immediately.” A disembodied voice helpfully reminded Tyger of his violation of the standard government regulations.
Tyger gave his usual disparaging reply, confident that it would be enough. Between some of the more advanced technologies in ventilation, fire prevention, and some of the various members of XSWAT who may cause a fire, it was deemed cheaper and more efficient to add Tyger to the list of exceptions to normal regulations rather than constantly have to replace voice modules, smoke detectors, and other sensors in the building.
Another two minutes passed. “Bloody hell Brogan! I got shit to do!” Tyger lit another cigarette. Then he heard something....
* * * * *
In the dark hours of the night, cyborg footfalls echoed long and loud in the empty corridors of XSWAT headquarters, making it impossible for Malachi Brogan to sneak up on anyone. But in the Department of Lost Weekends, there was nobody to sneak up on, anyway. I could just sit this one out and watch it on video. Brogan allowed himself a grim smile at the thought. That would go so well for everyone. He shook his head and continued on his way to the conference room.
As expected, Tyger heard his approach, and a good-natured stream of invective was already in full flow when Brogan walked into the room.
"...been waiting in this damn place since oh dark thirty, you sorry excuse for an oversized vibrator! You have any idea how fucking busy I am, Brogan?" Tyger's lit cigarette dangled from his lower lip, threatening to escape with each new curse.
Brogan stood in the doorway, and dimmed the lights a bit as he listened to Tyger's outraged verbiage. As usual, it got high marks for volume, sincerity, and creativity. Then he crossed his arms, smiled and nodded as he waited for Tyger to finish. His expression didn't change as he answered the fuming Clade. "Of course I do. Glad you could make it Tyger. Look behind you."
At this point, Tyger realized that there were, in fact, several other people in the room, one of whom was, indeed, standing directly behind him. He felt a chill as he tried to work out exactly how long they'd been there, and came up completely blank. Very slowly, he turned around, his ears going flat as he realized the chill wasn’t just apprehension, but a physical presence.
“…what the flying fuck?” Tyger muttered as he turned around. He knew the feeling of being watched all too well and he hated it. The only thing he hated more was being snuck up on and these people had done exactly that. Any further verbal protest was silenced upon turning around to face whatever raised his hackles like that.
Tyger knew that custom uniforms were allowed in XSWAT. There were enough magicians, priests, shamans, and whatnot to make it an understandable necessity. But he’d never seen anyone with a uniform that was so perfectly, so spotlessly, white. There wasn’t a hint of color to be had anywhere, not in the jacket, the shirt, the bodyglove, or even the skin…. For a moment Tyger glanced at the woman’s eyes, and immediately wished he hadn’t. Shadowed by the tangle of her night-black hair, he would later swear (loudly and repeatedly, to both Malachi and Marcie) that they glowed.
“Deputy Director Tyger,” the woman stood at attention and saluted, “Corporal Miyako Benedict, special operations.” Tyger wasn’t sure which was worse, the toneless voice or the fact her movements didn’t make even a hint of noise.
The salute was returned on sheer reflex alone. He had seen his fair share of creepy in his day, hell he’d even been knee deep in it more times than he’d care to remember, but this was a brand new flavor altogether. Brogan’s gotta be enjoying this. Tyger sent the cyborg a disparaging look that spoke volumes and consisted of little more than his favorite expletive. His attention returned to the officer in front of him. “…good to meet’cha,” was his informal reply.
Assuming an ‘at-ease’ stance, Benedict gestured to the room at large. “Major Brogan told us you would have questions.”
Tyger nursed his cigarette as he looked past Benedict to the other two officers present and then to Brogan. “Well… the first question I had was pretty well answered by you all standin’ here. Next question I got is what the fuck are you?”
“It’s as Corporal Benedict told you, we’re all part of XSWAT’s special operations.” The voice was a warm as Benedict’s was cold and belonged to a woman who wore a reassuringly normal-looking XSWAT uniform. Then she moved into the light and Tyger was forced to re-assess his initial impression.
She was tall, that’s for sure. Nearly as tall as he was, with a figure that not even the multiple layers of an XSWAT uniform could disguise. She was also, to be honest, quite a looker, with golden hair that fell to somewhere between her knees and the floor, and brilliant green eyes. In fact, her eyes were too brilliant and seemed to be lit from within. There was also an unpleasant twist in his gut as he tried to convince himself that no, she didn’t have vertical pupils.
“Deputy Director Tyger, it’s an honor to meet you.” The woman extended a hand and a smile. “It seems my father’s confidence in Alice Cadbury’s choices for the new 9th Squad were well-founded.”
As the woman made her approach, Tyger once again shot Brogan a look. What had he gotten himself into? For a moment, he had that same sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that he had gotten himself way in over his head. The fact that he had to mentally repeat the mantra ‘I am a married Clade’ several times to keep his eyes where they were supposed to be did not make matters much better.
The offered hand was taken and he offered one of his trademark ‘devil-may-care’ smiles. “Heh… well, mom did have a good head on her shoulders. But sayin’ yer part of Spec Ops doesn’t answer my question. That tells me what you do. I knew that…I asked what you lot were.”
What she was was strong. That much Tyger could tell from her handshake. Her grasp was firm and reminded him of shaking hands with Chrysine Winterfox, who could supposedly bench press a patrol skimmer.
"Are you sure you wish to know?" His voice a rich baritone, the speaker stepped away from the wall. Tyger's ears twitched as he realized the man made about as much noise moving as did Benedict. To make matters worse, his uniform was as black as Benedict's was white and trimmed in silver. There was no insignia either, other than a silver cross pinned to his jacket lapel. Tyger squinted, trying to get a good look at the face under its shadow of long black hair, then wondered if it was worth the effort. The man was hard to see properly, as if the light dimmed around him. "It has been said that ignorance can be bliss."
Tyger’s grin turned into a full smile. They don’t know me very well do they? “Look…” he began, taking a long pull from his cigarette and let the smoke drift past his lips as he spoke rather than exhaling. “…if I didn’t wanna know, I wouldn’t have asked. I’ve been around the block a couple of times and taken more field trips into and around Omega Sector than I care to count. I doubt the answers would be any worse than the crap I’ve been through already.” He paused and rethought his statement as he fished out another cigarette.
“Let me put it like this: I’ve heard some rumors about you lot. Now, in my experience such rumors tend to be about half underexaggeratin’ about half over exaggeratin’ and about half right on the money.”
“And what would those rumors be?” The black-clad man asked, returning Tyger’s grin. “Please, I am curious to hear what is said about us.”
Tyger shrugged his shoulders and lit the new cigarette. "Which ones? The ones that I think are bullshit, the ones that I think are true or all of the above?"
“Oh, please, all of the above.”
“And,” added the woman in blue, “please do not refer to use as ‘you lot’, we’re just as much as part of XSWAT as you are. And some of us have been here longer.”
He lifted a brow towards the woman and shrugged his shoulders. “Yup, and I’m talkin’ to you the same way I talk to everybody. If you have a better way to casually speak of or otherwise address any given group of people that a ground-pounder who spent more time on at sea than on land can easily wrap his head around, I’m all ears.”
His attention went to the man now. “As for the rumors, well, I’ve heard that you’re ghosts, demons, undead, mythological creatures, spirits… the occasional embodiment of justice, fear or hate. Also heard that you crawled out of hell… or Omega Sector and are somehow bound to Angelus.” He shrugged again, took a drag and exhaled. “That help your curiosity?”
The man in black leaned close, his eyes glittering where his hair shadowed his face. “And if I told you that Corporal Benedict was ghost? Would that matter to you? After all, she was killed in the line of duty and yet came back to see that same duty done.”
“And I,” said the woman in blue, “am my father’s daughter.”
“Jasad is correct,” Benedict broke in, although Tyger realized he preferred it when she didn’t speak. “Officers Ferrer, Stepffens, and myself discovered the remains of a human sacrifice ritual. Whatever it was the ritual summoned appeared and devoured all three of us... Alive.”
“So I guess you’re the only one still walkin’ around then? …sucks to be you.” His tone was rather sympathetic, even if his words did not sound like it. That sort of fate wasn’t something he would wish on his worst enemy.
“Yes...” Benedict turned her back to Tyger, her toneless voice becoming even more distant. “Ferrer and Stepffens are... lost.”
“And you?” Tyger pointed his cigarette at Jasad.
“That is between me and the Director.”
“Fair enough. We’ve all got our secrets.” He took a drag from his cigarette in a thoughtful silence. “…and, to answer your question about if it matters what you all are, my answer is ‘I don’t give a damn’. Kinda like to know what I’d be dealin’ with, but it really doesn’t matter at the end of the day. You’re XSWAT as far as I’m concerned and if mom an’ Jama trust you that’s good enough for me.”
“So glad to meet your approval,” Jasad stepped back and seemed to fade into the dim recesses of the room. Only the glint of the cross on his jacket told Tyger he was still there.
“Ahem...” the woman in blue glanced at Benedict and Jasad and then back at Tyger. “In all of the excitement I forgot to introduce myself. I am Amber Long.” She nodded to the shadows, “And that is Jasad.”
“Pleasure’s mine.” His trademark half-smile returned then. “Though I think it should be the other way around when it comes to approval and all that…” He let the thought hang for a moment before changing subjects.
"Thank you so much, Amber." Brogan's voice filled the room, invoking calm. "There's no need for all this sparring, people... everyone here has been vetted at the highest possible levels. And it's worth noting that Tyger has known the Director longer than anyone in this room. Let's just try not to start things off... acrimoniously." He glanced in Tyger's direction.
With an irritated nod, Tyger continued, “So, I guess you’re all high-speed low-drag troubleshooters for those special projects ain’t nobody supposed to know about.”
Amber shrugged in response, a motion Tyger found to be somewhat distracting. “Sort of. Corporal Benedict patrols Angelus... in her own way. Jasad tends to look after the tunnels under the city. And I....” She paused and thought for a moment. “You could call me an ambassador, working as an emissary between XSWAT and other forces around the world.”
A quick glance was sent towards the shadows where Tyger thought Jasad stood as he took a drag. "Makes sense. So are you three it or are there any others that couldn't make the meeting?"
“There are... others,” Amber stated with a touch of hesitation.
“But they owe their allegiance to the Defender,” Jasad added.
"...and I keep tabs on Omega Sector, if such a thing is possible." Brogan waited for that to sink in; it took a moment, with Tyger's attention focused on Amber. But after a few beats, he slowly turned towards Malachi, his ice-blue eyes narrowing in suspicion.
"What? You think I'm here to play errand-boy and introduce everyone? I've been part of this group for years, Tyger." He gave the new Deputy Director (Field Combat Operations) one of his infamous grins; the kind that made Tyger think of a hungry shark....
Tyger shook his head, his own smirk turning to a frown. “You think I didn’t know that? You think I’m that stupid Brogan?” A short pause was then immediately followed by a burst of rage that had been exhibited only once before and took a squad of orderlies and enough tranquilizers to kill a horse to get under control. “Ok, maybe not about all… well… this… but I knew you started goin’ more an’ more into Omega Sector… especially after the Entity Busters split up. Yeah, I knew you were up to somethin’ But….”
Tyger stopped himself in mid-tirade and just as quickly as the rage appeared, it vanished; only to be replaced with a deep-rooted pain caused by an intimate loss. “Fuck…. an’ here Jama says that I’m the one sufferin’ brain damage.” A long, pained sigh and glance to his cigarette. He looked like he would rather be someplace else. His hand twitched in anticipation. A drag taken from his cigarette accomplished nothing.
“I’m sorry…” He muttered under his breath, quickly whisking away the slight bit of blood that appeared under his nose.
Amber looked somewhat uncomfortable at the sudden display. Corporal Benedict, on the other hand, remained with her back to Tyger, while Jasad stood motionless, the pale points of his eyes never moving from the shadows. “Deputy Directory Tyger, do you need medical assistance?” Amber finally asked.
He looked to Amber and shook his head. “No… the docs’ve already put me here and there’s nothin’ else they can do.” He tried to smile with only marginal success. “Also… you can just call me Tyger… everyone else does.”
“I’ll try and remember that, Deputy Director Tyger.”
Long association had inured Brogan to his old friend's outbursts. "And I'm sorry I couldn't explain my... excursions... to you in more detail. Until now, Tyger. As the new Dep-Com, you officially have a 'need to know' about this group, its capabilities and activities, including mine. More importantly, as I'm sure you're aware, in the event the Director is unavailable, out of communication, or somehow incapacitated, chain of command falls to you. The 'Special Ops' group here is no exception. If the worst should happen, XSWAT will be counting on you... to lead us." All traces of Brogan's smile had vanished. He was putting Tyger on the spot here....
Tyger offered a bit of a smile to his old friend. “Honestly, I always got the impression you had a bit of a higher calling that went beyond XSWAT after we took down Big G… I figured the Entity Busters and the other stuff you went off and did on your own was part of that. I also know that sort of stuff needs a certain touch and understanding that I just don’t have…so I don’t blame you or any of the secrecy stuff.
“It’s just that… well, according to the docs’ I think I may have overdid it... a lot. They said I was killin’ myself or something. I dunno… didn’t pay much attention to ‘em after they said I should stop flying.” He winced and placed a hand on his temple, massaging the sudden migraine away. He knew Brogan was right, well, about everything. “Seems I have a lot to get used to…” He let the thought hang there for a moment “…but I’ll do my best. Or at least be as good as I know how to be.” That last was said with his trademark smile.
He looked to the others in the room, regaining, as much composure as a man could have that was also dealing with a splitting headache. “Look, I’m pretty sure you folks have your own chain of command, duties, ways of doin’ stuff and all that rot. I don’t intend on rockin’ the boat or try to do anything to change any of that… but I’d like to have an idea of what sort of group I’m workin’ with, what sort of results I should be expecting, reports, missions, the whole nine yards.” He paused and took a long pull from his cigarette. “Some goes for me too. If you all have any questions for me, I’ll try to answer ‘em as best I can.”
Brogan acknowledged this with a slow nod, cradling his chin. "I think we can all have a full report prepared for our next meeting, at your convenience... as you said, I know you have other things to do, and it's already after dark. I took the liberty of informing Marcie you'd be late, Tyger. Wouldn't want her getting angry."
“Sounds good.” He looked at his cigarette for a moment in thought “…yeah… you’re right. Marcy’s already been put through enough crap ‘cause of me.” Placing the cigarette in his mouth, he gave a glance to the people he had just met tonight. “Good meetin’ you, and I’m lookin’ forward to workin’ with you all.”
After checking his calendar, Brogan turned to address the others. "Let's say, in a week, location to be announced, everyone have a full report..." he looked around the room and paused,"...for the new DepCom..." but saw only Amber Long. "Oh hell, they did it again." Miyako and Jasad had silently vanished when nobody was looking. With a sigh he finished, "Meeting adjourned."
As the three of them left the conference room and headed down the corridor towards the elevators, Amber reminded him "They were not thrilled about your decision to hold the meeting on this floor, Major Brogan."
Brogan shrugged. "What's it matter? They're dead."
"Well… Corporal Benedict is… but Jasad isn't… exactly." Amber gave a slight shrug, "Still, they'd prefer we meet elsewhere."
Tyger growled and shot Brogan a look. "So were you, last time I checked!"
"That's a legal technicality... I'm on borrowed time; not the same thing at all."
"Oh, bullshit, Brogan." Tyger hit the "call" button, rolling his eyes.
Amber Long couldn't help but laugh as the three of them boarded the next available elevator. Once the doors shut and they were en route to the first floor, she was first to break the awkward silence. "So who wants to join me for breakfast?"
Tyger blinked and did a double take before he could stop himself. It's Friday night, and she's inviting BOTH OF US to breakfast? He was about to politely decline, (with regrets, but Marcy would kill him!) when Brogan replied.
"Actually, that sounds great, Amber. What did you have in mind?" He turned and smiled at her.
Tyger did another double take, this time nearly dropping his cigarette. Brogan... and... HER??! How in the hell....
Before Tyger could form a reply, Amber asked him again. "What about you Tyger?”
“Well, I’m so–“His response was interrupted by a deep cough that racked his entire body. One hand used the wall stabilize himself, the other covering his mouth. In all of Tyger’s years of being an expert chain-smoker, he had never once developed a smoker’s cough and there was absolutely no reason for him to start getting one now. If anything, it sounded like someone suffering from pneumonia would have rather than the dry hacking of a smoker.
Recovering, Tyger looked at his hand, closed it quickly and frowned. His mouth was quickly covered and wiped, the action poorly disguised as putting his cigarette back in his mouth. “Sorry about that.” There was no way he could hide what happened; the best he could hope to do was play it off like it was another day in XSWAT. “…been feeling a bit under the weather lately. Anyway, I appreciate the offer Amber, but Marcy’d skin me alive an’ use me as a rug if I was out too late… even with Brogan’s warning ahead of time.”
"It's okay, Tyger. I told her you might be a while." Brogan seemed awfully casual about this, but Tyger had NO intention of... never mind. Do not want!
Amber wasn't helping. Well, she was... but Tyger sincerely wished she wasn't. "Really, Deputy Director Tyger, I doubt your wife would object. You should get a decent a meal before going to work; it's likely to be a long day." The elevator doors slid open at the commissary level, and Tyger smelled the distinct odor of bacon and eggs. Morning light shone in through the skylights, from the east, and it dawned on Tyger that once again, things had somehow gone sideways on him at XSWAT HQ....
Tyger was about to say something, but the scents of the commissary ticked his senses and he looked at Brogan. Health problems or not, he looked like was ready and able to disassemble the cyborg with his bare hands. “What. The. FUCK?!? Malachi, for you sake you had BEST have told Marcy just how late I was going to be, otherwise I will send you to the scrap-heap. In little plastic bags. After YOU explain to my wife why I was gone for the ENTIRE FUCKING WEEKEND!!!”