Long after midnight, somewhere beneath Rho sector, Mitch Brogan drifted half-way between sleeping and waking. Self-doubt came easily, especially when reinforced by others. Hell with them... stand by your decisions...nothing else left to do. Repeatedly finding himself in impossible situations was beginning to take its toll, he thought. I count at least three, and that's just in one day. Well, maybe tomorrow would be better. Then again....

Tomorrow, he'd most likely be back in Captain Gaines' office, explaining last night's fiasco. Somehow, that didn't worry him so much. After what the Crash Team had been through, an argument with Gaines didn't seem so bad. Then came the paperwork. The after-action reports from last-night would be... interesting, to say the least. And he'd have to get the ball rolling on whatever maritime resources they needed to recover the sunken cargo pod. Then they'd have to review reports from the first responders at the other incidents from last night's action.

And really, he had to have a talk with a couple of his squad members. Didi was an 'excessive force' complaint waiting to happen. And if Lorraine used her esper abilities inside an XSWAT vehicle... ugh! He wasn't sure which would be worse: finishing the paperwork, or cleaning up the fire-suppression foam. The one 'training exercise' he'd been through with it was bad enough—it took forever to get out of his hair! It'd be far worse for Lorraine, or Chrysine, god forbid....

Assuming that didn't take all day, they'd have to follow up all the incidents from last night. He had to admit, Nicodemus was right—by the time the Crash Team got there, it would probably be too late to find anything useful. Ordinarily, the best thing to do would have been to investigate all those sites immediately. But last night's priority had to been to find Captain Brogan, and he most likely would have died by the time they completed investigating all those sites. Screw it... we can't be everywhere at once. And by the time they left the Cathedral, all the sites were probably already compromised.

He wasn't optimistic. There were still four missing officers to be found, and the investigation looked like it was about to hit a dead end. But Mitch believed in being thorough, so they'd visit each one tomorrow anyway, starting at the beginning...the warehouse, the cargo pod that fell on the YMCA, and finally, the one at the train station: end of the line.

Except... it isn't, quite. The end of the line.

The thought occurred to him just at the edge of consciousness; he grabbed it and held on, pulling himself back to the waking world in desperation. He sat upright on his cot suddenly, softly hissing between clenched teeth.

"That's it!"

He'd been so damned worried about the (literal) fallout from last night's train wreck that it hadn't occurred to him to wonder—what was the original destination of those cargo pods?

The lights came on when he sat up, and Mitch realized with dismay that he'd woken Chrysine.

"Wha...." the Clade brushed snowy-white tresses from her eyes. "What is it sir?"

Mitch was wide awake now... he got up off the cot and padded over to the fridge to get a drink. "Sorry Chrysine. Got an idea. I'll kill the lights so you can go back to sleep. Unless you want to help... know anything about hacking?"

There was a moments pause and then a flick of ice-blue eyes to the long black case on the floor. "Hacking sir?"

Mitch grabbed another beer and walked over to a table, pulling the dust-cover off an old computer terminal as he sat down. He established a keyboard-only link with HAL, so Chrysine wouldn't be disturbed by their talking and went to work. Maybe he could get this investigation back on track... literally.

HAL, dim the lights here, and then put them on manual, please.

Done, Lieutenant Brogan. I presume you have something more urgent for me?

Mitch wondered, sometimes, if HAL was finally developing a sense of humor.

Yes, HAL. We're looking for a mag-lev shipment of cargo pods. The Yakuza don't want it found. And I don't want them to know I'm looking for it. Most records of its existence have most likely already been deleted.

They won't have found them all, Lieutenant Brogan.

That's what I'm counting on, HAL. Let's see what we can find.

It was, of course, child's play for the Yamaguchi-Gumi to hack into the Mag-lev scheduling and tracking systems (of which there were several) and retroactively remove all references to the shipment the Crash Team had attempted to seize. They had undoubtedly already done so, and most likely if anyone went looking for that shipment later, they'd know about it. But Mitch wasn't about to tip his hand so clumsily.

All of these systems, however, generated automated reports which got sent to a multitude of other computers, and that was where it got complicated. Most of them were at civilian agencies with run-of-the-mill security, and they weren't hard to trace. All shipments were reported to the Angelus Commerce Commission, the Angelus Trade Council, the Transport Safety Board, and the Rail and Track Regulatory and Commercial Executive (RaTRaCE), among others on a list of agencies as long as Mitch's arm.

Some of them didn't even make sense—the results of bureaucrats demanding ever more reports in the endless quest to expand their department and/or justify their budgets. Why in the world, Mitch wondered, did a report of all mag-lev shipments go out on a daily basis to the Fair Housing Committee? Or the Animal Control Department? Anyway, those were all accessible to the Yakuza's hackers, so consider them off-limits as well.

The real money was on the reports nobody knew about. The mag-lev system had been around for a long time, running on legacy systems originally programmed who-knows when? As such, there was still a lot of old code which still functioned long after it was strictly needed. In particular, a number of daily mag-lev shipment reports were generated for agencies which no longer existed. Mitch had a partial list of these—nobody had a complete list—mostly in Rho, Kappa, and Omicron sectors. But were any of the reports going out to these 'dead' agencies still in the system?

To his surprise, he found some of the reports on his list were already gone. It's you again, isn't it... the same psycho who hacked the mag-lev controls and tried to kill my whole squad! Thought that was real cute, didn't you... dropping cargo pods all over Hell's half-acre, leaving us to clean up the mess. And now here you are again... whoever you are. You're not gonna stop me this time... paybacks are a bitch!

The pay dirt was in a rather unlikely place—XSWAT itself. When Kappa Sector had to be abandoned, nearly a century ago, a good many government offices got shut down, and reports which should have been routed there had nowhere to go. Strangely enough, some of them still went through anyway. And even more strangely, auto-replies were received. There were many other reports of e-mails, blog entries, and entire sites originating within Omega, many of them extremely disturbing. Who, or What, could be responsible for computer activity in Omega Sector was just another unanswered question—but for decades, any e-traffic going into or out of Omega Sector was routed to a special mainframe at XSWAT for study. (IT personnel assigned to this project are usually considered a bit 'eccentric' even by XSWAT-IT standards, for obvious reasons.)

It was here that Mitch (with the help of HAL) found what he was looking for—an unedited listing of last night's maglev shipments in Epsilon Sector, originally meant for the old Kappa Sector Transit Authority. Something really didn't look right here, though... this didn't agree with Kimiko's information at all. They managed to dig up another report intended for a defunct sub-agency under the Omicron Chamber of Commerce (they were broke) and verified what he'd found. Everything matched. Damn.

Kimiko must have been mistaken. Either that, or the maglev was being routed stop-by-stop. She'd told the Crash team that the Yakuza had been shipping Entities into Gamma sector, but the coordinates Mitch found mapped onto a warehouse in Epsilon Sector—specifically, within the district known as Hannigan, a.k.a. The Grinder. Damn, again! This just wasn't going to be any fun.

But it was a new lead! And if they were lucky, the Yamaguchi-Gumi wouldn't know he'd found out about this site, so the Crash Team could arrange for surveillance, maybe a stake-out, and take the next shipment intact. (As opposed to getting it dumped all over the sector.) Regardless, pulling off a raid like that in the Grinder wouldn't be easy. There probably wouldn't be any backup available, for starters.

And if by some chance the Yaks actually knew they were coming, Mitch could hardly think of a worse place for the Crash Team to get ambushed.

He said good night to HAL, signed off and went back to his cot.

Mitch needed a good way to get the drop on them... what would be the last thing they'd expect? They loaded contraband on the cargo pods at one station, unloaded them at the next, and in between, they were 60 meters in the air, moving at high speed. The Yaks didn't really fill the pods up, though... they were huge, and the Yaks' contraband was high-value, low-volume stuff, so they could load it fast. That left lots of room to spare inside the pods. Enough for say, a spinner with the Crash Team on board, waiting to jump out and take down the Yamaguchi-Gumi thugs at the warehouse.

Mitch went to sleep wondering if he could fly a Maverick spinner into a moving cargo pod between stops without getting spotted... maybe this would be fun after all....