A Short Snippet of XSWAT's 9th Squad

"And how are you today?"

"Fine," Sergeant Richard Hemelshot replied, then paused, stylus held over the interactive screen and the partially filled-out report displayed on it. There was no one in his office other than himself, so who'd asked him a question?

"Good, good."

Glancing around, a look of puzzlement on his face, Hemelshot stood, turning to look out the window of his office. As near as he could tell, the squad room was empty. Burton was down in his lab, performing Mad Science, Tyger was still on suspension (and growing plants from all reports), and Carpenter getting some range time. That left...

"Well, let's get you cleaned up. I want you looking your best, you know."


Hemelshot quirked and eyebrow. What was 9th Squad's resident spirit-calling sorceress up to now? Perfecting spells to straighten her desk in an eye blink? New ways to wash spinners by calling down micro-rain showers? (That one had been funny to see, he had to admit.) Or was she making offerings to the spirit living in her terminal again? (According to Jama most everything had a resident spirit in it—animals, trees, water, air—even XSWAT HQ. Hemelshot had asked Carpenter's opinion, only to be told 'God is everywhere.')

Rising, he quietly made his way to the edge of his office and glanced around the corner. Jama was sitting in her cube, armored jacket hung on a wall hook, working at her amazingly cluttered desk. He could see some of her "shrine"—which apparently housed another spirit, who supposedly watched over the squad room—the edge of her computer's display, her equipment belt, and...

"Hmm.... you have a nick. When did that happen?"

Jama turned in her chair, holding up something to the overhead lights and looking at it with a critical eye. Hemelshot started slightly, thinking he'd been seen, then relaxed. Jama wasn't talking to him (or herself), but the kris she'd started carrying around a week or so ago. A family heirloom, it had been passed down from sorcerer to sorcerer in the Renuka family, acting as a badge of authority as well as an important component of certain spells. At least, according to what Jama had said when she'd first received it. There'd been more, but Hemelshot had gotten lost about the time 9th Squad's shortest officer had started to extol the virtues of the resident hantu, whatever that was.

Having produced a whetstone, Jama was now running it down the edges of the kris, continuing to carry on her one-sided conversation. "There, there, see? It's coming out. Give me a few moments, and no one will ever know." She paused and held the small blade up for a moment, giving Hemelshot an excellent view of the dagger's wicked curves and narrow point. He'd done a little research on kris soon after Jama had brought hers in. If his resources were correct, they were almost a standard dress accessory in Indonesia, sort of the southeast Asia's answer to the corporate power tie. Almost every man carried, or at least owned, one, and they held in the same sort of regard as the Japanese did the katana.

"Perfect." Jama placed the whetstone on her desk and picked up a scrap of cloth. "How's that?" she asked, running it down the blade.

Okay, so she was talking to her kris. No big deal. A lot of people talked to the inanimate. He'd known officers who'd talked to their guns, Tyger talked to his Blue Steel Special, and Carpenter talked to God (or something like that). On the other hand, he was fairly certain none of them expected an answer back (excepting Carpenter), and none of them had been pint-sized Indonesian spell-crafting sorceresses who could stop 12.5 mm cannon rounds with a sheet of paper they'd summoned up out of the ground. If Corporal Jamadagni Renuka wanted to hold conversations with her ceremonial blade of office, he wasn't going to tell her to stop.

Turning back to his desk, Hemelshot caught sight of Jama wiping the blade of the kris along the edge of a disposable coffee cup. His curiosity getting the better of him, he stopped to see what would happen next. The blade went in its sheath, and then she wrung out the polishing cloth over the same cup, and action that made little sense to Hemelshot. Her desk aside, Jama was fairly tidy, but this was verging on obsessive. Then she picked up the cup and tossed down the contents like it was a shot of hard liquor. Hemelshot felt his stomach churn slightly as he sat back down. Talking to her kris was one thing, but drinking the polishing oil? That was downright weird.