A little time to unwind and reflect

Storm Chaser, the Syndicate's private jet landed and taxied into the underground hangar. Agent Zero grabbed up his gear then faced the team.

"All right, people. Great work on 0091. Take a well earned break for a few days. Those of you who want to leave Facility 47 for some R&R are free to do so. As always, make sure that I can reach you if I need to. Other than that, let's call it five days. I will keep you all abreast of any anomalies that may arise. Keep an eye on your messages. Dismissed for the next 5. Enjoy your time off."

The team exited the aircraft and went their separate ways. Zero grabbed a cup of coffee and headed to the Operations Center. He sat in the back, quietly observing the large screens that showed maps and activity of all kinds. The computer screens on the desks flashed and lit up as various events occurred as well.

He wasn't particularly interested in any of it, it was just where he felt most at home when he wasn't in the field. His mind didn't seem to have an "off duty" switch, but he was careful to make sure his people got their time off.

He occasionally pulled the bottom of his mask out slightly, taking a sip of his coffee.

His mind wandered a little. He thought about the time he had spent in combat. He rarely considered the specific things he had to do back then, except when it came to protecting his men both physically and mentally. He never seemed to endure the pain of war as some others did. He wasn't cold or callous. He didn't believe the enemy "deserved what they got" necessarily. It was just a job to him. And one he did well.

He thought about his time in an official U.S. intelligence agency. He didn't care much for it. He wasn't a data collection kind of guy. He was an action kind of guy. But he learned a lot about threats and their origin.

And when he considered the totality of the circumstances, he found himself thankful to be a part of a team that sought to do good.

He loved identifying, investigating, and yes, sometimes neutralizing anomalies. He loved learning about the things most people could never comprehend; spirits, aliens, monsters, ghost ships. It was immensely satisfying to him to consider other dimensions and existences.

He was lost in thought when there was a quick *beep* followed by the Ops Center door opening. He quickly lowered his mask, passing on another sip of coffee in exchange for continued anonymity.

"Thomas," he said cheerfully, acknowledging Special Civilian Authority Thomas Redhawk as he entered.

"Am I interrupting, Chief?"

"Not at all. Sit."

"Thanks," Redhawk said, nestling into a chair near his boss. "How was 0091?"

Zero turned his chair a little to face him.

"Fascinating. I was in a fire fight that wasn't. I met a pirate who wasn't there. I watched a massive sailing vessel vanish into thin air. Redhawk, this stuff is real."

Redhawk shot Zero a knowing grin.

"I knew you were skeptical when I got here. It's been a privilege to see you acknowledge and grow to understand things that a few years ago you dismissed out of hand."

"I'm a nuts and bolts guy, Redhawk. I work in the provable realm. The mission is accomplished or it isn't. The enemy is dead or he isn't. We've won the day or we haven't. It's been challenging to learn to accept that there are a million things that are real that most people don't understand."

"Indeed, Chief. Probably more than that. My People place great importance on spirits. Spirits of our ancestors, of animals and great beasts, the spirit of Mother Earth and the gifts she provides."

"But where the earth is concerned, her gifts are measurable."

"Are they?"

"Well yeah. Trees, plants, flowers, oxygen, animals, food, all the things we need."

"Certainly she provides the physical. But let me ask you, Chief. When you place a seed in the ground, and you provided nourishing soil and water and sunlight, can you tell me where the actual life of the plant comes from? What makes it 'alive?'"

"Mother Earth? I don't know, my friend."

"Yes, Chief. Yes. It is Mother Earth who breathes life into all things, including you and I."

"By giving us a soul."

"Your understanding is far deeper than you suggest."

"I guess it is. I love it," Zero said, showing a little more emotion than was his norm. "Redhawk, I helped Blackbeard -- freaking Blackbeard -- escape a ghost loop and go home. I mean, Charon did most of the heavy lifting, but it was incredible to be a part of that, and know that it actually happened."

"And now you're beginning to understand why Native peoples treat all things with such respect and reverence."

"As Christians say, 'Do unto others."

"Precisely. We hope that our souls will rest when it's time. But if not, we hope for a good soul to help us...just as you did Blackbeard."

"I get it. But there are so many souls who need our help, right? There's nothing I can do to even make a dent in that."

"You're familiar with the parable of the starfish?"

"I take your point, friend. And thank you."

"Chief, on behalf of the Captain of the Queen Anne's Revenge...thank YOU."

Zero leaned back in his chair a little, feeling satisfied on a deep level. He grinned behind his mask, hoping his team would find that feeling during their leave. He knew that if not they'd have another opportunity to help soon. Probably too soon.

A cat jumped onto the desk between the two men.

"He has a spirit," Redhawk smiled.

"At least one."

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