It was the bodies he noticed most. Bodies and bits of bodies strewn across the streets, the sidewalks, the once-green open spaces, and the ramps to the bridge itself. He'd lost count of how many there were and could only guess at the true number. A thousand? Two?
He was surprised at the number of XSWAT uniforms he saw. They lay, here and there, among the other dead, their blue patrol coats unmistakable. He found he couldn't understand it. With XSWAT disbanded, Cadbury dismissed, what did they have to fight for? Yet he saw their corpses everywhere, armed with regulation masers, or the paramilitary weapons Cadbury had stockpiled for her coup, and such esoteric weapons as swords, spears, and who knew what all. He didn't understand these people.
He didn't understand the field of battle either. The intersection and access ramp before the bridge was devastated. The ground cracked and split, like the bottom of a mud puddle on a hot summer's day. Whole buildings were twisted and torn, as if a giant hand had pushed them aside. And the windows were gone. All of them—blown in from some unknown force. He simply didn't understand what he was looking at.
Hart, on the other hand, he could understand. Hart wanted to make Angelus better. He had a vision of Angelus as a city for humans by humans. A city free of mind-probing espers. A city where clades would know their place and stay where they belonged. He believed in that vision. He'd joined Sentinel Watch to help Hart's vision become a reality.
And yet he'd just watched a man Hart had declared an Enemy of the State walk away scott free. And his commanding officer had let him go.
"Lieutenant Sutton, sir? What happened here?"
Sutton looked at the rookie and shook his head. Like anyone told him anything? "Kid, I heard a bunch of X-SWAT troopers made a stand here today, and before you ask—no, I have no freaking idea why. It doesn't make sense. Just—look around you, and ask yourself: after he survived all this, you gonna take on a killer cyborg? With your sidearm? You lookin' for a Darwin award or what?"
Sutton turned to the rest of his squad. They were actually 'his' squad only for the duration of the emergency. He really wondered if somebody at dispatch had a sick sense of humor, throwing the six of them together like this.
The X-SWAT troopers acted as if maybe they knew something. They sure as hell recognized that cyborg, Brogan, but they hadn't said much about him. "Okay guys, what gives? Do you have any idea what's been going on here?"
The wounds that Sergeant Norman Greyson had suffered from the initial invasion had cleared up well enough, but his face bore more than a couple of scars from the incident. He still looked like hell warmed over, but that was caused less by his wounds and more from the stress and lack of actual rest over the past several days.
He had stood there, his right hand deep into his pocket, a subtle attempt to hide his arm from the Sentinel Watch and the regular police. He tried to remain uninterested about the exchange between Sutton and Cartwright. Especially the disagreement about Brogan. He tried to make himself look as inconspicuous as possible.
And then Sutton asked the question. It was not the question that got him though. But it was the exposition of what answering that question would require. It was a question that after all of this, would inevitably be asked, but he was not prepared to answer. He really didn't think anyone would really be ready to answer it.
"Well..." he began slowly. "...you see all of that burning over there?" Greyson indicated the direction that the invading Entities had come from with a nod. The path between where they stood on Rutger Bridge and skyline was littered with stubborn fires still burning, or those that had given up, and yet were still belching their sickening smoke into the air. "Over there is Kappa Sector."
Here it goes. I hope it's the right thing.
"You all have been told that what happened over there was the result of some terrorist. Some twit got ahold of a small yield neutron bomb or something like that. It went off and wiped everyone out, but left the buildings." Greyson paused, his rugged features staring hard at Cartwright. "That didn't happen."
Before anyone could protest or inquire about it, Greyson picked up again, pacing slowly towards the direction of the flames, his boots kicking at the ground, as if he were hoping to overturn a stone or something.
"I don't know what happened exactly," he said, turning to face the squad. "What I do know is that these things... these monsters starting coming out of the woodwork and we had to fight 'em. No clue what they were, where they came from or what they wanted. Kappa got walled off and the government set up one hell of a spin to put a lid on it. XSWAT was set up to fight these things... but also make sure nobody found out."
Greyson stared bitterly at a pile of bodies, all wearing blue patrol coats, clamshell armored vests, or long flowing cloaks. Somehow those uniforms seemed to stand out in stark contrast to the death and ruin that those bodies were in.
"I don't know what happened here today. I was elsewhere dealing with a bunch of gibbering whack-jobs who had just got their first eye-full of Entity, and their bellies full of the sickness that comes with 'em. Poor bastards. Most of 'em will end up dead, in loony bins or worse. The ones that died got off lucky."
"What I do know, is that these kids made a stand. They gave their lives for this city... and for you." Greyson stepped back towards the squad slowly. "That answer your question sir?"
Sutton looked at the X-SWAT trooper, no longer sure what, or who, to believe. Then he looked at the carnage around him again. "No."
"Entities, huh? And these people here didn't kill a single one? There's not a carcass in sight, Greyson! You expect me to believe this shit? None of this makes any sense—none of it."
"And speaking of twits with neutron bombs—a couple of weeks ago I heard a similar story about your friend Brogan."
Greyson took his hand out of his pocket, the rune-encrusted mechanical limb now on display as he massaged his temple. "That's where you're wrong. I am willing to bet each and every one of these men and women here gave at least as good as they got... if not better.
"As far as Entities go, whatever those things are, they don't belong here. When they are alive and moving, they are able to stay here, or keep their shape. After they are killed, they dissolve into some black sludge-like mess. Don't believe me? Take a look at that guy over there"
The grizzled XSWAT officer pointed, again with his mechanical limb, towards a small pile of bodies. Among them were several dead. Their deaths were gruesome no doubt horrible and painful to say the least. "What in the hell do you think caused that? Sure as shit wasn't a pissed off clade or mecha, that's for dammed sure!" He shot a glance to the other XSWAT officer, hoping for some manner of backup from his comrade.
"Brogan..." Greyson grinned. "Yeah, he had a nuke. But where in the hell do you think he got it from? Apparently you forgot about the invasion that happened almost two weeks ago. I'd trust a nuke with Brogan any day of the week over a madman like Masada."
"Masada?" Cartwright glanced at the two XSWAT officers—Greyson with his bizarre cyberarm, and his taller quieter companion, who's non-regulation dark blue hair fell into his face and then to the APD officers, who it seemed , were content to keep out of it. "The guy with all the clades? Hart said Brogan and the rest were working with him to take over the city."
"Hart says a lot of things," the blue-haired man spoke. "Very little of it true. It is as Greyson says, Entities did this. Monstrous things from outside time and space. They made Omega what is today." He paused and then looked over to Cartwright. "Ask First Sergant Jamadigni Renuka if you want to know more."
"I an't talking to no witch," Cartwright sneered in response.
"Eh? Fuck you, Sentinel boy!" One of the Angelus Police stood up, while his partner tugged at his arm. "You say one more word about her like that and I'll bust your right in your smart-assed mouth!"
He looked to his partner, "Giddoff my arm, Frank," and then back. "I was there after the riots, when we were all in Angelus Central waitin' to be looked at, when she opened up the candy machines and just started passing stuff out. Didn't care who we were, or nothin', just wanted to make sure we had something to eat and drink. And mama McAdoo's little boy don't forget things like that, ya hear?"
Greyson frowned at the 'Witch' comment. "Who's a Witch? Renuka? That make me a witch too then? Are you that frikkin' stupid? Take a look around you man!" He shook his head and shoved his hand back into his pocket.
"I'm willing to put money that you think espers should be registered with little exploding collars around their necks and clades should be put into chains. Anyone who disagrees gets drug out into the street and shot. That about right for you Sentinel Watch guys, isn't it? Well, maybe you all should shut your mouths and open your eyes and ears for a minute.
"I heard that during the invasion that Brogan one-shotted Masada so he couldn't set off that nuke he brought with him. Renuka? No 'caster I know of could do even half of what she's done. If it weren't for her, we'd all be pushing up daisies right about now. Mark my words."
Sutton held up both hands and raised his voice, just slightly. This was getting out of hand. "Alright, everybody just calm down. Right. Now. We've got a job to do here, and we're not gonna settle this tonight."
He turned towards Cartwright. "It's a safe bet we don't have the whole story here—about anything. Nothing's adding up on this one. Personally, I don't care what you believe about clades, espers, or mages. Just remember you don't speak for everybody in Sentinel Watch."
"The rest of you; go easy on the kid. He's got a lot to learn. What I want to know is, why did Brogan's squad leave him here alone? What happened to the rest of them? It's true, they're on the Watch list, but it says they operate as a group. What gives?"
"My name is Calderon," the man with the blue hair said by way of answer. "I don't pretend to know the ways of 13th Precinct's 9th Squad, just as I don't pretend they know my squad. But I know this—they are well-regarded in Director Cadbury's eyes, and at times she commands them directly.
"I have heard some of what happened here, and fear they have spread themselves too thin. Regardless of what Hart may say, in my heart I know the men... and woman, of the 9th Squad have always fought for this city. And they do so now. Their commander, I hear, is at XSWAT HQ, organizing what is left of us to continue the fight against the Entities, and continuing the efforts to save the people of this city. Their esper... is with the espers. He works to save them. Their paladin... I know not, except rumors... and I fear them. Their clade, their mage? I know not there, but I suspect they have their own duties.
"What do you wish of them, Sutton? They are only six. One had to stay, so they selected the one most capable of staying and meeting the enemy."
"Either that, or he just drew the short straw." Sutton shook his head. Having seen Brogan up close, he didn't want to know if there was an enemy that... thing... couldn't meet head on.
"I don't know if half of what I've heard about the rest of his squad is true, but I'll tell you the one thing I know about Brogan, Cartwright. He stood watch here alone, and made sure none of these people got hurt. That sound like an 'enemy of the state' to you?"
He gave Cartwright a point-blank stare, as if daring the rookie to say something stupid.
For his part Cartwrght spent some time staring at the toes of his boots. "Then why did Coordinator Hart declare them all traitors? Why did he disband XSWAT? He must have had a good reason. I can't imagine Hart doing something like that without one."
Grayson shrugged his shoulders. "Because Hart is a politician. He is a bigot and a fool. He fears what he doesn't understand, and he hates what isn't like him."
"XSWAT has always been full of people who are different. If it's only because they can get 'borged out or pilot armor... or if they are an esper or mage. They're different from anyone else in Angelus. 'Because they're different' is as good a reason as any. And if you need a target, why not pick the most prominent of the creep-factory?"
"So now what?" Cartwright looked over to Grayson. "Are you going to stay? Go? Fight Hart? What?"
Greyson smirked at the question. He pulled his rune-inscribed bionic hand from his pocket and held it up just slightly, some of the runes glowing as if a living power was seething along the finely etched lines. "I'm going to do what I've always done: defend Angelus. If that means I stay with XSWAT, fine with me. If that also means I have to fight Hart... then so be it. But enough about me. The real question is what are you going to do Cartwright? You going to continue to walk around with the blinders on? Or are you going to open your eyes to what's been going on all around you?"
"Who says I have blinders on? How do you know Coordinator Hart's not doing the right thing?" Cartwright's tone was petulant, almost as if was a child being punished for something he didn't do.
Greyson's eye twitched. "Why are you asking me that? Like I said, you should be looking around and asking yourself those questions."
He took a long, deep breath and exhaled. His mechanical arm hummed as he tightened his hand into a fist and then relaxed slowly. "But I'll make it easy on you. I'll as you some questions, and then you can answer them. Based on your own answers, you should be able to draw your own conclusions about Hart and what he's been doing.
"XSWAT was created to defend Angelus against Entity incursions. To the public, XSWAT was also set up to act as a Self-Defense force whose job it is to support the local police when they get into spots they can't deal with as well as repel those that would try to invade our shores. But you knew all that right? Good. So let me ask you this: Why would somebody disband an established self-defense force that works? Does that sound like doing 'the right thing' to you?"
Greyson was pacing now, his mechanical arm opening and closing with irritation. How could someone be that dense? How could they want to follow someone like Hart when the evidence was right there in front of them that he screwed up? Greyson continued asking his questions to the young Sentinel officer.
"Just before disbanding XSWAT, Hart labeled 9th Squad as Enemies of the State. Now, I don't know about you, but I actually paid attention to some of what 9th Squad's been up to. Would an 'Enemy of the State' take a trip into quite possibly the most dangerous place on this planet to try and find some answers about all this madness, not once... but twice? Even if their trips into Omega Sector were not announced or televised, the fact is, that they did it.
"How about stopping another Van Goren Incident? They did that too you know. Director Cadbury sent them to Rio to stop a bunch of nutjobs from making the same mistakes that Van Goren did. And then there's the orbital satellite! Don't tell me you forgot how James Masada hijacked all of the communications points in the city to broadcast his threat to "Purge Angelus of all Sin". Funny thing about that, is that the 9th did just that... but they took the battle to him, and knocked his satellite out of the sky. Does taking a rickety old rocket up into space to face off against one of the most powerful espers in the world in his base somehow sound at all like how 'Enemies of the State' would act? Sorry kid, but for me, their prior record speaks a whole lot louder than anything Hart and his spin-doctors can come up with."
Greyson paused and lifted a single finger as a thought just came to him. "But now... here is a real question for you. Racism, is wrong. We all learned that in history class, or at least I did, about the Holocaust, the American Civil War, the Atrocities of Darfur. All of that. Would a man, who had every intent of 'doing the right thing' take an obvious bigot and racist as Roger Davies under his belt? Would someone who was the leader of the largest multicultural center in the world, meaning that all sorts of people from all walks of life, allow himself to associate with someone who was the exact opposite of the tolerance and understanding that draw people to Angelus if they were 'doing the right thing'? You're kidding yourself if you think otherwise. After all, the way Hart and Davies were getting ready to set up Sentinel Watch seemed a whole lot like the Nazi's Schutzstaffel... only instead of rounding up Jews and Gypsies, they were going to start rounding up clades and espers."
Greyson narrowed his eyes at Cartwright, his voice dropping a couple of octaves. "Does THAT sound like 'doing the right thing' to you?"
For a few moments Cartwright just stood there, looking as if he was going to out- and-out punch Greyson. Finally he took a step back, swallowed, and seemed to relax, if only a bit. "I find it funny that you tell me all of these great things the 9th Squad has done, when I've never heard about any of them. Going into Omega? If you say so. Taking a rocket up to fight some satellite? Never saw anything about that on the 'vids. And Hart shut down XSWAT 'cause he couldn't trust them. I mean, just look at you, look at the way you're talking to me and the Lieutenant. Like we're idiots, hell, you're even calling us Nazis! And Hart's right! The espers can't be trusted! They read our minds! And the clades? They're not even human, they're mostly animals! And were made to serve humans!"
Lieutenant Sutton put a hand firmly on Cartwright's shoulder. "That's enough, rookie. Nobody's calling you a Nazi. And there's obviously lots of things you haven't heard about, Cartwright. I'm just finding out about a lot of it myself. But that doesn't mean it didn't happen. Hell, you think the government never lies to us? You think just because Hart's in charge he's some kind of saint? Or that he never makes a mistake?"
He pulled Cartwright away from the X-SWAT officers and turned him around to face the carnage surrounding them. "This happened on Hart's watch—you expect him to admit he screwed up this bad? Or try to blame someone else? That's what politicians do, so he's pointing fingers at everyone—espers, clades, X-SWAT, you name it. You want the truth, you'll have to find it yourself. Talk to people who actually know something. Like these guys." He hooked a thumb towards the rest of their squad. "But right now, I need you to shut the hell up and do your job."
Greyson slapped his left hand to his face with a groan of frustration. He looked like he was about to say something, but as Sutton pulled the young Sentinel Watch officer aside and made him look around, he bit back the worst of his thoughts. "Look kid..." he began, after taking a long, deep breath. "It's kind of hard to miss something as widely publicized as their shuttle landing. Everyone and their grandmother was there with a camera. And people do not get the Golden Sun of Angelus for looking pretty either. Surprised you missed that on the news too. That's when Coordinator Hunter was assassinated by that tooled out 'borg.
Greyson sighed and shook his head slowly. "I'm done talking about this for now. You'd best listen to the Lieutenant though, if you want to talk about this more, come see me later."
Cartwright shook his head. "Why? So you can smirk at me some more and call me kid? Fuck that. I'm done talkin' to you people. No wonder Hart couldn't stand you people, the way you treat the rest of us."
He looked back to Sutton, "Lieutenant, no offense, but I ain't workin' with them. They're acting like a buncha high-and-might pricks."
Sutton lowered his voice, so the rest of the squad wouldn't hear it hissing out between his clenched teeth. He didn't have time to beat any sense into this snot-nosed twerp tonight, and besides that, he was too tired. He'd have to settle for keeping him separated from the X-SWAT troopers as much as possible, and keeping a sharp eye on him.
"Wrong, Cartwright. Three times over. One: you are going to work with them. Two: they aren't the only ones acting 'high and mighty' here. And three: you offended ME when you elected yourself spokesman for the rest of Sentinel Watch. Not all of us feel the same way you do, and you're making the rest of us look bad. Now.... You're on liaison duty with the EMT's--go see if they need anything, then report back to me, asap."
Then Sutton turned to the rest of his squad and began getting organized. They might not see eye-to-eye on most things, but they had one dislike in common, already. It was a start.
Greyson had stopped in his tracks. To Sutton and everyone else, the grizzled XSWAT officer looked like he was about six inches from turning Cartwright into a punching bag. He was livid. Fortunately Lieutenant Sutton got to the rookie before he did.
He did not hear what the officer told Cartwright. He really did not care either. The young Sentinel Watch officer left, and he took his bigotry with him. When Cartwright had left earshot, Greyson stepped over to Sutton and extended his hand. "Look, I don't have a problem with you guys. To me, you're cops just like I am. You guys aren't any different than anybody else who takes up the badge. I don't like his attitude, or how he just slammed me and those that died here today, as if he knew what was really going on. But for what it is worth sir, you're alright with me."