Chapter 1: Hidden Memories
Title: Hide N’ Seeker Part 1: Hidden Memories
Authors: Kristen Sharpe and The Seeker
Date: July 1, 1997
Date Finished: June 30, 1998
Disclaimer: "SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron," its characters and concepts are copyright to Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc and are used without permission.
Three silver Enforcer jets shot through the sky over MegaKat City in hot pursuit of Dark Kat’s Fear Ship.
“Chance, Jake,” the squadron leader called to the jet closing on Dark Kat, “let ‘im go. It’s too dangerous.”
“Negative, we’re bringin’ Dark Kat in,” pilot Chance “Hotshot” Furlong returned into his headset firmly. “You guys get yourselves some doughnuts,” he teased. He focused his attention ahead to see Dark Kat’s ship roll to one side to squeeze between two neighboring skyscrapers. Chance followed without hesitation, rolling the jet in a mimic of Dark Kat’s move.
“You two are nuts. We’re breakin’ off pursuit,” announced the squadron leader, exasperated, as he and the jet beside him pulled up sharply, veering away from the narrow opening.
“Roger that. Leave it ta’ us. We’ll bring this psycho in if it kills us,” returned Chance, his voice grim and determined.
“Chance, he’s locking missiles on the new Enforcer building,” his partner, Jake, called urgently from the weapons officer’s seat behind him.
“Then, we gotta nail ‘im now, Jake,” Chance yelled back, gripping the stick before him tightly, half in tense anxiety, half in the thrill of near-victory. Abruptly, his face twisted spastically and he jerked the stick towards his body. The jet responded and shot upward into the sky. Controlling himself, Chance leveled it out above Dark Kat’s ship, now squeezing the stick so tightly that the whitening of his knuckles could be seen through his light fur.
“Chance! What’re you doin’? I can’t fire from here!” Jake called.
Chance barely heard him. An image was flashing across his mind. He had to do this… or it would happen all over again. Commander Feral’s growling voice crackling over the radio snapped him back to attention.
“Fall back, you two. I’m taking Dark Kat personally.”
Chance’s moment of clarity vanished, the voice bringing his fears to their peak. Feral. He was the key. It happened because of him. Chance searched for Feral’s jet desperately, craning his neck to see out of the cockpit. This was when “it” happened. He struggled to remember just what “it” was. The memory stubbornly refused to surface, the cold knot forming in his stomach the only indication of its existence.
Jake’s warning shout blended with the screech of tortured metal as their left wing slammed into the side of a skyscraper, wrenching it from the jet. The jet went into a spinning dive.
Chance watched as the world around him began to spin faster and faster. Desperately, he tried to control the jet, but he couldn’t seem to find his instruments. Jake’s voice came to him from somewhere far away, distorted and unintelligible beyond the condemnation in his voice. Then, the voice was gone, drowned in the roar of a jet plunging from the sky. Chance found himself spinning through a blur of color, the roar growing ever louder in his ears. He closed his eyes and prepared for impact.
The spinning sensation stopped abruptly. Chance opened his eyes to find himself sitting in a realm of black nothingness, looking up at a huge brown-furred kat who stood over him grinning with a form of wicked glee.
The kat stepped aside as two figures stepped out of the blackness behind him.
“Guess who your replacements are,” smirked Murray as he and Burke came into the light wearing Enforcer uniforms.
“I told you you were a loser,” the huge kat sneered, facing Chance again. “You even managed to get your partner killed this time.”
The kat’s words echoed as he burst into loud, evil laughter.
“Nooo!!!” Chance yelled as he flew up into a sitting position in his bed.
“Chance, you okay?” Jake called sleepily from the bed to his left.
Chance looked over at his friend dazedly as his breathing began to return to normal. Grasping the situation, he felt the dream world dissolving as reality focused in his blurred vision.
Chance could feel Jake’s intense gaze through the darkness.
“I just… had a nightmare,” he mumbled, his tone saying more than his words.
Jake said no more, respecting his friend’s privacy. Silence filled the room broken only by the sound of Jake rolling over and turning to face the opposite wall. Sighing, Chance flopped back onto his pillow. For several minutes he stared at the ceiling, thoughts and memories whirling through his head. Slowly, his eyelids drifted downward. Images flitted across his mind. The huge brown-furred kat reappeared, leering at him like he had that day.
“Report,” Feral ordered curtly as a wide-eyed young officer ran up behind him. The Commander’s eyes never left the two bedraggled figures before him, standing at a tense attention in their torn and singed flight suits.
“Sir, the jet— There’s hardly anything to even send to the salvage yard. It’s a miracle!” the officer stammered.
“You might not have come so close to getting yourselves killed if you’d called in for backup earlier,” he began, yellow eyes narrowing as he studied the twosome. His voice dropped to a growl. “If you’d told someone what was going on!” He paused for a few seconds to let his words sink in. “Do you realize that by taking an Enforcer aircraft out without notifying your commanding officer you’re just as guilty as Katz?!” he demanded. “I should have you two court-marshaled!” Feral took a deep breath. “Still, your efforts to apprehend Katz are commendable.”
Chance remembered the tense moments that followed. He had no memory of the Commander’s face at that moment. He’d been too shamed at his own actions, actions which could have cost not only himself his job, but the job of his friend as well, to even look at Feral’s face. Much as he disagreed with the Commander, Feral had been right. Chance could remember watching the Commander’s tail lash from side to side angrily, no doubt emphasizing the livid face that went with it. Then, Feral had turned away, tossing a single word over his shoulder.
“Commander?” Chance’s own hesitant query echoed in his ears.
“Consider yourselves on probation for a month. And, I’d better never have to deal with you two again!”
Feral’s words faded away as the memory images dimmed and Chance plunged into quiet, dreamless sleep.
“Morning,” Captain Felina Feral called cheerfully as she stopped beside an open office door and stuck her head in.
Her uncle, Commander Feral returned the greeting with a curt nod of his head before returning to scowling at the papers in his great hands.
“You’re so cheery in the morning,” Felina cooed before ducking back out into the sunny, window-lined hallway. “Watch it, boys. He’s in a rank mood this morning,” she announced to a group of Enforcers heading toward the office.
They grimaced and squared their shoulders.
“Well, I’m in a good mood!”
Felina spun at the sound of the familiar voice to come face to face with two huge smiling faces. The first tremendous grin was bounded by a ring of white fur fading to gray and a pink nose. Below it was a cartoony yellow smiley face, winking playfully.
“Nice shirt,” Felina said, grinning as she eyed up the gray-furred Enforcer clad in the smiling t-shirt.
“I just try to spread a little cheer,” Lieutenant Robert McFurland returned. Abruptly, he looked at his watch. “Uh, oh. I gotta be in uniform in six minutes. See ya’, Felina!” With that, he sprinted down the hallway.
Felina shook her head as she watched him bound around a corner. “Now, there goes a morning person,” she muttered. “He should get a promotion just for that,” she added, thoughtfully reflecting on she and McFurland’s recent promotions for their efforts in saving the city from Dark Kat and his computer virus.
Well, she could get to like being a captain she thought, walking to the windows to her left to lean against the sill and look out. She sighed, feeling the warm sunlight soak into her as a thoughtful sniff brought the aroma of fresh coffee to her appreciative nostrils. They being far more appreciative than her taste buds had ever been. It was mornings like this that she loved.
Her stomach rumbled unhappily. Well, she really loved them when she had had time for breakfast. She shrugged. A nice, refreshing can of carbonated, liquid caffeine would just have to do her until lunch.
Lost in her thoughts of the sun-drenched world beyond the glass and her secondary focus of a trip to the vending machines, Felina turned just in time to see a large shape before her as she walked into it.
“Excuse me,” the captain apologized as she backed away from the tall kat she’d just slammed into, his flight suit identifying him as a pilot.
“‘Scuse yerself, doll – watch where yer goin’!” the pilot snapped, brushing her aside roughly and hurrying past her in great, ground-eating strides.
“Doll!” Felina spat, eyes narrowing in fury as they followed him. With effort she slammed down on her anger and, squaring her shoulders, turned to take an alternate route to her intended destination, one where there wasn’t a chance of running into the tomkat again.
But, something about the tall Enforcer stopped her. She turned to take a longer look at the kat’s retreating back, trying to remember his facial features from that brief moment she’d seen them.
His lowered visor left only his nose and leering mouth visible. Just from his profile she could see that he was tall and well-muscled. The captain’s face tightened in thought as she worked to remember the face. His fur appeared to be a solid, dull brown. On the whole, he was a strangely nondescript kat. His one defining feature was a broad scar that ran from his left eye down to his chin. Normal enough. Still, there was something about that tomkat. Something she didn’t like. And, it was more than his attitude.
She didn’t have time to dwell on it.
A tremendous roar of sound suddenly rocked the building as the skyscraper beside Enforcer Headquarters exploded. Or rather, imploded, as perfect as any demolition crew could hope for.
Felina stared in horror at the collapsing building for an interminable split-second. Then, the force of the blast – all of which was clearly not directed inward – blew out the windows and threw Felina and several other kats in the hallway back onto the opposite wall in a spray of shattered glass.
Felina hit the wall hard before she dropped into the floor, numbed. She lay where she had fallen amid shards of glass for several seconds as the roar of sound died away, one arm thrown over her face to shield it.
“Felina, are you okay?”
The voice seemed far away, hard to hear above the ringing that buzzed in her ears. Shaking her head in an attempt to stop the ringing, Felina looked up to see her uncle bending over her, worry written clearly on his face.
“I’m fine,” she returned quickly, standing up and brushing off her uniform. She could feel the throbbing start of what would likely prove to be some rather colorful bruises, but she wasn’t about to admit to the injuries. “What was that?!” she asked her uncle, still stunned from the sudden explosion.
“That’s what I want to know,” Feral returned, yanking out his handset. “I want that building cordoned off as fast as you can get a team out there!” he bellowed into the communicator.
“Yes, Sir,” a voice returned shakily, clearly not quite recovered from the ordeal. “Sir, what just—?”
“Are the choppers damaged?” Feral demanded, interrupting the voice on the other end.
“I don’t think so, Sir. The blast seems to have mainly affected the lower levels of the building,”
“Good, I want a chopper ready for me in five minutes.”
“Now, to try to figure out what’s going on around here,” Feral growled as he turned to storm down the hallway.
“Not without me!” Felina shouted, running after him.
“Felina…” Feral whirled to face her. Seeing her set jaw, he growled and twisted back around to stomp toward the elevators with Felina following him, a pleased smile on her face.
The tall pilot Felina had bumped into was already on the roof, striding across the airstrip that dominated it. Enforcer pilots raced about inspecting damage and helping fallen companions to their feet. None paid any attention to the brown-furred tom.
Casually, he strode to the nearest helipad where a chopper was waiting, its rotors already turning. He started to climb into it and paused, looking toward the imploded building, still shrouded in settling dust. He eyed it with a raised brow, suspicion flitting between his narrowed yellow eyes. Then, he turned back to the helicopter and, with a huge step, climbed into the pilot’s seat.
“Hey, that’s my chopper,” announced the vehicle’s disgruntled pilot, returning from a hasty preflight check on the other side of the helicopter.
“The Commander wants to get over there pronto. I’m takin’ him,” the tall kat snapped, raising a hand to his visor. Briefly, he paused as if in thought and then slowly, deliberately flipped the visor up.
A look of sudden recognition flashed across the other pilot’s face.
“You—!” he gasped. The disbelief written across his face suddenly vanished as his features contorted in fury. “You miserable—!” he growled.
The other kat sneered down at him.
“Glad I’m remembered with so much fondness,” he rumbled, a cruel smile slipping across his scarred face as he reached quickly for the standard-issue blaster strapped at his side.
Some minutes later, Commander Feral strode out of the hangar that opened on the roof and strode up to the waiting helicopter, Felina just behind him.
“All set, Sir,” the brown-furred kat called above the roar of the spinning rotors as Feral approached him.
Felina suddenly had a thought and looked around for her assigned chopper. Finding it, she waved a hand in her uncle’s direction to indicate her intentions and hurried over to make sure her vehicle had survived the explosion intact. Feral scowled after Felina, but quickly put his thoughts aside and climbed into the helicopter before him.
As she approached her helicopter, Felina heard a faint sound. She paused as her ears pricked briefly and swivelled in the direction from which it seemed to have come. Her impatience to get in the air and find out what was going on quickly overrode her curiosity and she put the noise from her mind as she did a quick pre-flight check of her chopper. As she was rounding the chopper to climb in, Felina heard the sound again; this time it was disturbingly like a pained moan. Felina’s head jerked toward an open cargo chopper several feet from hers. Curious, she stepped over to peer in the open side door of the helicopter.
A kat clad in the familiar Enforcer slate and beige was curled in the center of the cargo bay, moaning faintly. Felina leapt into the chopper and hurried to the kat’s side. Groaning, he turned his head up the tiniest bit to find her face. Felina gasped as she recognized her superior, Major Trestain. Trestain moaned and clutched his stomach. Felina could just barely make out the fringe of black scorching that discolored the kevlar padding on the front of his flight suit.
“Major Trestain,” Felina murmured softly, reaching to move his hands so she could see the wound. She was hoping that the kevlar, standard on Enforcer flight suits, particularly those of chopper pilots who might be called into the line of fire on the ground at a moment’s notice, had taken the brunt of the blast, but she had to be certain.
A shudder passed through Trestain’s body and his eyes suddenly snapped open to their farthest extent, pupils dilated so much that they seemed to be no more than black pools.
“The Commander!” Trestain rasped urgently. “Don’ let him go up! The pilot—! The pilot— He’s no Enforcer!”
Felina gasped and leapt to her feet. Glancing back at Trestain worriedly, she hesitated an instant before bounding from the chopper and racing across the tarmac to where her uncle’s helicopter had been.
She never heard Trestain’s final rasps before he lost consciousness.
“He— he’s no Enforcer… Not… anymore….”
Felina reached the helipad seconds after the helicopter lifted off. Desperately, she flailed her arms in the air, trying to get her uncle’s attention.
Feral caught the movement below out of the corner of his eye.
“What is she doing?” Feral murmured, watching the captain. He turned to the pilot beside him and started to order him to land. The pilot interrupted him with a rumbling snarl.
“Nothin’ for you ta’ worry about, Commander,” he sneered, lifting one hand from the chopper’s handgrips, a slender remote control now visible in his tight grip. He squeezed a finger to the control’s single button before Feral could react.
The Enforcer Commander gasped as a plethora of metal cables shot from behind his seat and encircled him, jerking him back against the padded seat holding him in a crushing grip.
“What’s the meaning of this?!” Feral demanded, his voice strained as he fought against the constricting cables.
The pilot headed the chopper away from Enforcer Headquarters before turning to smile at Feral. Casually, he reached a hand up to raise the visor of his helmet.
“Remember me, Commander?” he asked turning his face so that Feral could see it full view.
Feral’s eyes, like Trestain before him, widened in stunned recognition before narrowing to thin yellow slits.
“You,” he snarled.
“Please, it’s getting old, Commander,” the brown kat growled, as he backhanded Feral across the face. He drew his arm back, dropping it to once more grip the steering controls as he glared at Feral with unconcealed contempt. His slow, cruel smile quickly replaced the former expression. “This’s the best job I’ve ever taken,” he sneered. “I get paid for rubbin’ you out!”
“Do your worst, you pathetic traitor,” Feral snarled in return.
“If my employer lets me, that’s exactly what I’ll do,” the brown kat assured as he reached for the handset.
Felina jumped as the radio in her helmet crackled to life.
“Attention all Enforcers!” an annoying imitation of a female voice cooed from vocal chords never intended for such a high key. The pitch suddenly slid downward, rumbling into a mid-range baritone. “Make no attempt to follow the Commander’s chopper I’ll shoot down anyone who comes after me. If you shoot me down, the Commander goes with me.”
Forgetting that the receiving microphone on her helmet was in position to catch her words, Felina screamed, “CRUD!!” balling her hands into fists.
“Say!” the sneer growling its threats across the Enforcer ban cooed. “Was that the Commander’s niece I just heard?” The voice became infuriatingly condescending as it added, “Don’t worry, Doll, I won’t hurt him… too much.” The voice dissolved into raucous laughter as Felina snarled.
Still chuckling, the brown-furred kat headed the helicopter away from Enforcer Headquarters with Feral’s growling threats and the confused babble of dozens of Enforcer commanding officers ringing in his ears.
Felina watched the retreating chopper with narrowed eyes. Her furious glower suddenly vanished as her dark eyes widened. The chopper wasn’t heading away from the city; it was swinging around, heading for City Hall.
Deputy Mayor Callie Briggs brushed the hair she’d been chewing on away from her mouth, reminding herself that she’d conquered that habit years ago. Besides, it didn’t exactly look good for the Deputy Mayor of MegaKat City to have a sticky clump of hair hanging around her face. Straightening, she refocused her attention on the monitor before her.
“It’s important to remember that MegaKat City has a long, rich history,” she mumbled, intent on the Mayor’s upcoming speech for the opening of the MegaKat Museum of History’s latest wing. A rhythmic thrumming drew her attention away from the bright document screen. Her emerald eyes grew huge as she saw an Enforcer helicopter barreling toward the bank of windows that opened on her office.
Gasping and uncertain as to what action to take, Callie ducked down beside her desk, snatching her purse up and dragging it after her. As the thrumming became a pulsing throb that vibrated the desk at her back, Callie tentatively started to crawl toward the door of her office. The phone on her desk rang, its electronic buzz almost lost in the roar of the helicopter. Callie ignored it, pausing at the corner of her desk and concentrating on a safe route to the door. She wanted to stay low and not in line with the windows lest the chopper open fire.
The chopper’s pulse abruptly changed its pitch, its volume holding steady. Callie froze as she heard the shattering of glass. Unable to see what was going on and shielded from view and falling debris, she stayed still, frozen on her knees.
A thud followed the tinkling of the last tiny shards. Callie held her breath as she heard glass crunch. The sound was incredibly loud, strangely loud when the helicopter’s thrum should have drowned all such lesser sounds. The crunching slowly approached the desk, its creator taking slow measured steps. Abruptly, the crunching stopped. The phone’s ringing stilled an instant later, the first time it had been silent since she’d heard it earlier Callie realized.
“I’m afraid the Deputy Mayor can’t come to the phone right now,” a rough voice announced, presumably into the receiver. “Say, Captain, you’re shrewd, y’know that?” the voice snarled.
Callie never heard the phone returned to its cradle. Instead, she found herself staring at a booted foot. She jerked her head upward to find a smiling scarred face looking down at her. The kat wore an Enforcer uniform, but the blond she-kat knew far better than to think he had any good intentions in mind.
“Hiya, Sweetheart,” the uniformed tomkat purred. His smile vanished as though it had never been. “Now, get up. I got places ta’ go and quickly!”
Callie slowly rose, pulling her purse strap over her shoulder. Impatient, the brown-furred kat grabbed her left arm and jerked her to her feet.
“You won’t be needing to pretty yourself up, Sweetie,” the tomkat growled, smiling cruelly as he jerked the purse away from Callie. “Or call for any SWAT Kat help,” he added. “That would get my pay docked and I’d really hate that,” he whispered, eyes narrowed dangerously. Tossing the purse aside, he ordered, “Let’s go,” pulling Callie roughly toward the window.
Now able to see the view above the desk, Callie faced the window. The helicopter she’d seen minutes ago was hovering just beyond the window-frame. As she was still grasping the situation, she felt a burly arm wrap around her waist. With a gasp, she was slung over the tomkat’s shoulder as he vaulted to the window sill. Now looking inward, Callie raised her head and cast a longing glance toward where she could see her purse lying on the floor, her triangular comlink safely tucked into a side pouch.
Chance propped himself against the grilled front of the round-nosed van and leaned over for a closer look at the engine. A regular squeaking was accompanying the engine’s already noisy rhythm. He rubbed a relatively clean hand across his eyes. Morning had come far too soon for his taste.
“Think it’s a belt,” he pronounced to Jake as his friend slid from the van’s driver’s seat and joined him under the hood.
“Hmmm,” Jake hummed, leaning over so his sensitive ears could better trace the source of the irritating noise.
Today, in place of the Enforcer ban and its incessant squawking, the two kats had opted for the simple pleasure of a good radio station. Well, “good” was in the ear of the listene. It was Chance’s turn to choose the station and Jake was desperately trying to ignore the hideous cacophony they called “Alternative.”
The speaker silent, neither heard the frenzy that had suddenly spilled over the Enforcer ban two hours ago. The squeaking of the burgundy van filling their ears and concentrations, the twosome almost missed the public announcement of the day’s kidnappings.
Jake was the first to notice that the music had ceased. He grinned to himself in some relief.
“Hey, that twenty in a row must be over,” he shouted to Chance over the hum, rattle, and squeak of the van. “By the way, what exactly is that stuff an alternative to? Music?”
From the other side of the engine Chance shot him a dirty, “just-can’t-appreciate-good-music” look.
“….special report….” a voice crackled over the radio.
The two key words shot across the room and into Jake’s pricked ears.
“Uh, oh,” he mumbled, turning from the van and hurrying to the radio to turn it up even while shouting, “Turn that thing off!” to Chance.
“This just in from the Kat’s Eye Newsroom,” the radio announcer said more audibly as Jake gave the volume knob a quick twist. “We’re receiving reports that Enforcer Commander Ulysses Feral has been kidnapped.”
The final word blared through the suddenly silent room as Chance cut the van’s engine. Distractedly, Jake jerked the volume knob back to its original position to stop the distortion the extreme volume was causing, sensing Chance slowly stepping up behind him.
“They’ll either kill ‘im fast or send ‘im back in an hour,” Chance predicted even as Jake shot him a disgusted look that contained a double message of his need to be both polite and silent.
“In a bizarre sequence of events the new corporate headquarters of CB&T being constructed alongside Enforcer Headquarters was imploded. On his way to survey the damage from the air, Enforcer Commander Ulysses Feral was apparently kidnapped by a tomkat disguised as an Enforcer. Captain Felina Feral reportedly witnessed the kidnapping along with an unidentified Enforcer who is said to be wounded and unconscious at the moment. The details are somewhat vague at this time, but Kat’s Eye News reporters are on the scene. We’ll keep you posted as more develops.”
“Man, somebody’s got it in for Feral,” Chance muttered.
Jake started to nod, suddenly pausing and frowning.
“Wait a minute, Callie should’ve heard of this before the news!”
Tail switching in agitation and worry, Jake bounded to the intercom mounted by the Enforcer ban speaker. Pushing the red button that activated it, he leaned to the speaker and urgently called, “Miss Briggs. Miss Briggs, are you there?”
Silence answered him.
Chance watched, his first twinge of worry growing into certainty with a sinking feeling that created the sensation of an empty hole within him. He clenched his fists together and waited for that familiar, welcome voice to answer Jake saying she’d left her purse on her desk while she went to the ladies’ room. To say something, anything.
The two kats waited in silence for an eternity of five minutes. Jake started to press the intercom button again to close the connection. Even as he thought of it, staticky noise hissed through the speaker. After several thumps and a considerable rustling a distant voice could be heard.
“Strangest pager I’ve ever seen.”
A voice even further from the speaker answered the first, but its words were unintelligible. The first abruptly returned, louder this time.
“Oh, alright.” The voice suddenly burst over the speaker, loud now, obviously at last near the speaker’s mouth. “Hello?” the female voice asked.
Hoping for answers, Jake answered the voice.
“Ah, hello, Ma’am – I’m looking for Deputy Mayor Briggs. It’s very important,” he responded.
“Well... the Deputy Mayor…,” the voice stammered. “Well, she’s gone. We can’t find her anywhere and the Mayor’s just stammering along like an idiot.” The she-kat suddenly stopped herself, realizing that she had no idea to whom she was talking and that she was possibly saying things she shouldn’t. “Uhm… Can you give me a number and let me have the Deputy Mayor call you back when we find her? This is the City Hall receptionist.”
“That’s okay, Ma’am,” Jake returned. “We’ll try back later.” With that, he punched the intercom button and turned to find Chance already bounding toward the hangar and their waiting jet. “City Hall, here we come,” he muttered grimly, dashing after his friend.
“Did you see anything, Mayor?” T-Bone demanded, towering over Mayor Manx as the plump yellow kat quivered behind his desk, whimpering pathetically. “We need ta’ know!”
“I— I… don’t know…,” Manx stammered.
“Go easy, T-Bone – you’re only makin’ it worse,” Razor interjected, laying a hand on his partner’s shoulder.
Knowing his friend was right, T-Bone backed away and left the questioning to Razor.
Razor calmly stepped up to the Mayor’s desk and studied Manx. Watching his friend out of the corner of his eye, T-Bone distractedly stared at an old black and white photograph of Manx’s great-grandfather, the Blue Manx, a famous MegaWar II ace.
Seeing the smaller, slim SWAT Kat, whose quiet manner he remembered from a rescue two years ago, Herbert Manx relaxed considerably. He hated this questioning, the SWAT Kats impromptu entrance through the window having done little for his already quaking nerves. He’d simply tell the reasonable SWAT Kat, Buzz or whatever his name was, what he figured the twosome wanted to hear. This was his strong point.
“Well, Buzz, is it?” Manx started hesitantly. Gaining a weak confidence, he plunged on without waiting for an answer. “Buzz, my boy, if I know the Deputy Mayor – ever so efficient and careful that Callie – she’s gone to Enforcer Headquarters to see to their… dilemma or perhaps to talk to Dr. Sinian at the museum about the speech she was writing for me. I’m sure she’s fine – frightfully dedicated and all – always hurrying off…”
Nodding an agreement and giving Manx his most encouraging smile, Razor cut off the jabbering politician.
“I’ll bet you’re right, Mayor. Say, the receptionist we spoke to a while ago said something had you worried. Anything you want us to check out?” He kept his voice lazily casual, trying to keep the Mayor at ease and talking in coherent sentences.
Impatient, T-Bone cast a scowling glance at Razor’s back and began to work his feet claws in a kneading motion in the plush carpet of the Mayor’s richly furnished office. In. Out. In. Out. Prickling muted pops sounded from the expensive weave as T-Bone shredded fibers. If Razor or the Mayor heard the sound, however, neither gave any indication of it.
Manx was visibly relaxing at Razor’s laid-back manner and, at last, sat up straight in his chair, leaning forward and replying casually.
“Well, my lad, early this morning I heard an Enforcer chopper passing by rather closely.” He paused, reaching for an ornate glass candy dish sitting at the corner of his desk and extending it to Razor. “Butterscotch, my boy?” As Razor graciously accepted the candy and started to suck on it contentedly, he lazily continued. “I was a bit worried that it was another of their aerial chases – quite common you know – so I took cover. Just safely away from the windows and all. It hovered around for a while, but went on off. Nothing anyone should worry about I’m sure.”
Razor nodded an agreement. “Well, glad everything’s okay, Mayor.” He heard T-Bone sputter an indignant, “WHAT?!” behind him, but continued unruffled. “We’ll just go and see if Miss Briggs is at the museum. Thank you for your time,” Razor purred as he headed for the window, pausing to grab T-Bone’s arm and drag his protesting partner after him.
T-Bone held his silence as they refitted the cables on which they’d lowered themselves to the mayor’s window to their glovatrixes and started the ascent to the roof. Once they were several floors above Manx’s office, however, he could hold it no longer.
“And, just what did you get from all that smooth-talking,” the brawny tomkat growled. “You know he was spouting crud. It’s what he does, and, besides, we saw Callie’s office before we went ta’ see that little weasel.”
“The helicopter,” Razor returned calmly. “We learned about the helicopter. Feral was taken in a chopper. Callie’s window was busted out and we now know a helicopter hovered around here for several minutes. I know Manx didn’t see it – kinda hard when you’re hiding under the desk – but he heard it. The long and short is: the helicopter clue tells us that we can pretty much figure that whoever took Feral took Callie.”
The two had reached the roof by now and quickly unhooked their grappling cables and headed toward the TurboKat.
“So, now we go the Enforcers and see if we can get any information there. If I know Lieutenant Steele, they’re probably so disorganized we shouldn’t have much trouble,” Razor continued, strapping into his seat in the rear of the jet.
“Yeah, yeah. Got all the answers don’t you, Buzz?” T-Bone growled, his playful grin belying his words.
“You’re just jealous because you didn’t get a butterscotch,” Razor returned, sticking his tongue out at T-Bone to display the golden candy sitting atop it.
The descent of the TurboKat to the airstrip atop Enforcer Headquarters caused no small stir among the already disgruntled Enforcers. Leaping from their jet, the two SWAT Kats found every eye focused on them.
“Hmm… Grrrreeeaaatttt welcoming committee,” T-Bone murmured to his partner’s ears. Turning to the Enforcers, he boldly demanded, “Who’s in charge here?”
“I’m commanding officer here,” a tall, calico she-kat announced, stepping forward to meet the vigilantes. The ivory tip of her tail twitched in an unreadable emotion as she extended a polite velvety hand to each kat.
“Well, Ma’am, we have good reason to believe that the Deputy Mayor has been kidnapped along with the Commander,” T-Bone returned.
“Crud,” the she-kat hissed under her breath, tail slashing across her legs in a fast jerking motion.
Before T-Bone could ask for details on the Commander’s kidnapping, the calico was studying him and Razor intently.
“This is strictly against regulations,” she started. “but I have to report this news downstairs anyway. I’ll inform Captain Feral that you’re here,” the she-kat stated curtly, spinning around and stalking away.
“I guess that means we get our info from Felina?” T-Bone ventured.
Razor nodded. “Uhm, hmmm.”
“I know who the kidnapper was,” a voice rasped to their left.
The SWAT Kats turned quickly to find a familiar-looking black kat approaching them. He moved slowly as though wounded.
Sudden recognition hit T-Bone as he studied the kat’s face. This was the commanding officer he remembered as Captain Trestain. Judging by his insignia, the black tom had had a promotion.
“It was Katz. Brett Katz,” Trestain stated, stopping before the twosome.
T-Bone stared at Trestain in shock, stupidly repeating the name. “Brett Katz?!”
As Trestain nodded, T-Bone’s mind whirled. His dream! Katz! His greatest rival in the Enforcers… his greatest enemy before the debacle was over.
Catching T-Bone’s stare, the dark tomkat locked him in a piercing gaze.
For the briefest of instants T-Bone forgot about Katz as he felt as though Trestain could see through the mask of T-Bone, the SWAT Kat, and into the face of Chance Furlong. He shook off the feeling as the Enforcer broke the contact with a shake of his head that was neither a denial of the suspicions T-Bone suspected him of having nor an act of shock at the confirmation of those suspicions.
“Brett Katz?” Razor asked slowly. T-Bone wondered if he’d had the same feeling and was trying to play dumb now.
Trestain nodded his head in another enigmatic gesture before replying.
“A former Enforcer. He turned traitor a little over three years ago. He escaped with an Enforcer jet and an experimental weapon when he went AWOL. Ask Captain Feral for the files if you want.” As an afterthought he added, “I warn you – he’s a mean shot with a blaster.” With that, Trestain turned and slowly started to walk away, pain shooting through his gut as each step pulled at the muscles and thusly the seared skin of his abdomen.
“Major!” T-Bone called after him.
Trestain stopped, keeping his back to the SWAT Kats, ears twitching expectantly.
“Get well soon… Sir.”
“Thanks,” Trestain returned, a smile forming on his lips. “Thanks… Lieutenants,” he mumbled the second word so softly it was almost inaudible, except to those ears expecting to hear it.
Razor tensed as the TurboKat hurtled through the canyon parallel to the rocky cliffs, its belly only a few scant feet from the rock walls. A craggy outcropping ahead suddenly grabbed his attention. He gasped and then quickly, with great effort, bit back the warning he’d been about to shout. The TurboKat lifted ever so slightly and easily cleared the rocks. Razor released the breath he’d been holding and glanced up at his partner’s ears in the seat ahead. They were rigidly erect in the narrow confines of his helmet’s ear holes. Still, they were pulling back toward the farthest extent of the holes. If the helmet had been off, Razor didn’t doubt that they would have been flat to T-Bone’s head. The knowledge wasn’t anything that T-Bone’s face, reflected back to him in a mirror before the pilot’s seat, couldn’t tell him.
T-Bone had made a very quiet, tight-lipped request that morning. Razor had agreed with no more than a curt nod of his head. Now, T-Bone was navigating the close quarters of their canyon training run and handling their practice drones solo. It was only two days after Callie and Feral’s abductions, but the silence coming from Katz had everyone, not least of all T-Bone, worried. They’d kept in touch with Felina ever since their talk two days ago. Realizing the ebony-haired she-kat already knew more than most about them, up to and including the deep secret of Callie’s comlink, he and T-Bone had entrusted her too with a comlink. Felina had been able to provide little news. Neither they nor the Enforcers had any leads. The combination of Callie’s kidnapping and the return of the kat who had almost killed them years ago in the Enforcers had taken its toll on T-Bone.
T-Bone had chosen the training course as his outlet for the churning emotions within him and Razor felt as though he was merely along for the ride. And, he sensed it would be quite a ride.
The orange-furred tomkat watched as a red beam shot past the canopy. He’d barely noted it when he was slammed violently back into his seat as the TurboKat shot into a climb. Abruptly, the jet broke out of the climb, banked, and plunged downward on the drone. Its sensors had hardly registered the jet when it was engulfed in a barrage of cement globs. The drone plummeted to the floor of the canyon, making a small explosion as it connected with the rock below.
A mini-squadron of drones suddenly launched from their hiding places in the rocky walls and flew toward the TurboKat. T-Bone held the jet’s course. Razor started to remind T-Bone of the stupidity of playing chicken with drones, but held himself again.
The drones scattered around the incoming TurboKat, regrouping to pursue the jet. T-Bone thrust the stick forward, diving and leading them down into the darkness of the canyon depths. Razor eyes grew wide as the jet plunged farther and farther, the bare canyon floor growing nearer by the second. T-Bone leveled off at the last second and the jet shot upward in a vertical climb that slammed Razor back into his seat so hard his teeth snapped together on the tip of his tongue. Razor yelped involuntarily at the pain.
“Sorry, buddy,” T-Bone muttered, shooting his partner a weak apologetic grin via the mirror before refocusing his attention on the drones. Thundering booms rocked the canyon as several of the drones collided with its floor, now far below them. “Yes!” T-Bone hissed between his teeth.
Razor smiled a little. Well, T-Bone wasn’t too uptight.
The next second made him retract the thought.
The remaining drones abruptly shot up from the canyon below directly in front of the TurboKat. One hurtled for the jet in a wild kamikaze attack, strafing the nose and canopy with a barrage of brilliant red beams. Razor threw his hands up to shield his eyes against the bright flashes of light. He’d forgotten about his latest additions to the course. Harmless enough with their low-key lasers, which had only a little more power behind them than those used in a grocery store to read bar codes, the “kamikaze drones” were startling and scary if one imagined an attack like that with real fire power.
T-Bone gasped at the furious “attack” also forgetting the new challenge. Without thinking, he sent the TurboKat into a roll to the right, hearing the drone, still barreling forward, scrape against the fuselage. As he righted the jet T-Bone stilled his pounding heart. He growled angrily as he saw the remaining drones coming toward him.
“Think you’re smart, do ya’?!” he snarled, slamming a fist to the weapons console before him.
Razor’s head jerked up and he twisted to see the weapons panel before his partner. He was just in time to see the reading – “Missile Armed” – as the lock tone sounded.
Hearing the tone, T-Bone jammed his thumb to the firing button, watching in satisfaction as a barrage of missiles – real missiles, not Razor’s trick missiles, – met the drones in a fireball.
Razor watched with mouth agape for a minute. Then, his face tightened. That was it; enough was enough. Target drones and missiles both took a lot of time and effort. Wasting them wasn’t something they could afford to do. And, they certainly couldn’t afford to waste his very limited supply of real missiles. The explosives were both hard to find - he knew of “channels”, but they weren’t the sort of kats with whom he and T-Bone wanted to associate – and dangerous to handle.
Shoving his musings aside, Razor let his worry finally spill out as he blurted his friend’s name.
“T-Bone!” Razor’s voice shattered the grim silence that had settled over the cockpit.
T-Bone’s warning didn’t fall on deaf ears, but it was time for something to be done.
“T-Bone, we can’t afford to waste equipment. Let alone our entire test area!” Razor announced sternly.
“Razor, we agreed...” The warning was stronger.
“I know there’s some stuff you need to work out here,” Razor persisted. “I understand that – maybe not the way you go about it, but I understand the need to do it. But, there are better ways to do it.” Razor’s voice was calm, but firm. “Use this to practice. Real practice. You can’t shoot like that in the city!”
T-Bone’s expression softened, relaxed as his friend spoke. His tense, grim scowl slid away, letting the strain and worry show through.
Razor continued. “Y’know Katz’ll take it into the city. He was no genius, but even he knows how hard it is for us in the city.”
A glimmer of T-Bone’s former scowl returned. It was always harder for them in the city. The bad kats didn’t care about innocent lives. Abruptly, he sighed. Razor was right; he should take out his anger practicing, not senselessly destroying everything in sight.
“Hey, guys, mind if I join the fun?”
The purring voice oozed from the radio so abruptly it startled both kats.
Razor quickly checked his systems. Nothing. He wasn’t surprised really, just a little annoyed. Quickly, he glanced anxiously at T-Bone. His partner was, if possible, tenser than ever.
“Not now!” T-Bone snarled through clenched teeth. “Not him NOW!!” His fist connected with the panel before him with a sharp crack.
“My, my – bad day?” the voice asked.
“Go. Away. Seeker!” T-Bone growled.
“You don’t really want me to leave, do you?” Seeker asked innocently as his black jet suddenly dissolved from the canyon’s depths and came up alongside the TurboKat.
Briefly, T-Bone felt a stab of admiration. The canyon was hardly wide enough for two jets to fly side by side. Seeker’s left wing tip could only be a foot away from the wall at the least. T-Bone’s admiration quickly became a white-hot determination to out-fly both Seeker and Katz.
“Come, come, I’ve got something that just might interest you greatly,” Seeker purred.
“You’re going to fly into the sun?” T-Bone snapped.
“Actually, it involves your two missing friends.”
“How’re you involved in this?!” T-Bone snarled, face contorting in pure hatred.
“Let’s just say I’m somewhere near the bottom.” Seeker’s jet shot ahead of the TurboKat, rocking the SWAT Kat’s jet in its wake. “Meet me tonight in the lobby of the building I imploded – it’s still intact I assure you – and I’ll explain everything. Toodles.” Seeker’s jet abruptly vanished.
“Off radar too,” Razor commented out loud.
“Well, of course.” Seeker’s voice returned. “The BlackFire has quite a few tricks. We’ll trade notes sometime. Ta-ta!”
“I’ll show ‘im some ‘tricks’,” T-Bone snarled. Abruptly, he fell silent. “Not like last time though, Razor,” he suddenly mumbled softly. “I learned my lesson. I won’t let him manipulate me again. And, if I do….” T-Bone let the words trail off, knowing they didn’t need to be said, the request didn’t need to be made.
“Well, we’ve got a few hours to plan for this one at least,” Razor returned, knowing what T-Bone had been about to say and knowing he had already agreed years ago.
The half moon shone with a pale blue light, giving a shadowy illumination to the shattered skyscraper that rose in jagged ruins before the two kats. Switching his helmet’s visor to night vision mode, Razor studied the level of the building before them. Clearly, Seeker had thought of everything. The building had imploded neatly, leaving Enforcer Headquarters relatively unharmed. Further, the explosion had taken place in the mid-range floors, toppling the upper levels and leaving the lowest floors relatively undamaged.
“How much ya’ wanna bet the door’s open,” T-Bone growled over his shoulder, having come to the same assessment as Razor.
Razor nodded and turned to his partner commenting, “Well, let’s not keep ‘im waiting,” before starting toward the door.
T-Bone trailed his partner, covering their backs with wary glances in every direction.
“S’open,” Razor called back to him, giving the door a gentle push that sent it slowly inward.
Green eyes darting suspiciously, T-Bone followed his partner into the building, half-backing through the doorway in his efforts to cover the rear. He backed into Razor who was standing just within.
“Gah! Razor! What’re you—?!” he started, quickly dropping his yell to a gruff whisper as he jumped back, regaining his balance.
“Shhh,” Razor hissed. “The visor picked up something just over there. A heat signature,” he whispered to T-Bone as the tabby stepped up beside him, his outstretched hand indicating an area somewhere beyond what appeared to be a stack of planks and paint cans.
A burst of red suddenly flashed before the two kats.
“Get down!” T-Bone screamed, pushing Razor to the floor as he dove after the smaller kat.
On all fours the SWAT Kats crawled for cover, finding precious little in the empty room. Fiery bursts shot down just above their heads, the brilliance blinding them time after time as their night vision visors amplified the light. They felt waves of heat washing across their skin. At last, they found shelter under a table made of a sheet of plywood stretched across two saw horses. Crouching in the tight space beneath it, the two tomkats searched for their assailant.
“Alright, where is he?” T-Bone growled.
“The blasts came from above,” Razor murmured. “It’s a flame thrower of some kind – not a laser – the signatures are too broad and too irregular.”
A throaty giggle echoed down from above, freezing the two kats in their spots. Both looked upward quickly, searching the unpaneled grid that cris-crossed the ceiling.
“Do you guys know how ridiculous you look cowering under that pathetic little shield?” the Seeker’s unwelcome voice snickered. Before either kat could react, the ceiling seemed to explode silently in white flame. With gasps of pain the SWAT Kats jerked away from the painful light, magnified to unbearable levels by their visors, the constant glare far more painful than the intermittent flashes of earlier.
Razor squeezed his eyes closed briefly, opening them quickly to try to find the Seeker. His visor, acting on its safety parameters, had reverted to its normal mode seconds after the lights had come to life, but vivid splashes of color still floated across his vision.
As his eyes finally adjusted, Razor realized that he and T-Bone were engulfed in a fuzzy green light. Disconcerted, he scanned the room for the Seeker, trying to determine what was creating the light. As his attempt to turn his head proved futile, Razor realized that he was paralyzed in the beam of light. A faint tingling prickled across his skin. Worried, he tensed and awaited further developments.
At last, the bright light of the beam vanished. T-Bone and Razor looked at each other in confusion.
“Hello, boys. Enjoy the light show?” the familiar purr crooned.
The SWAT Kats looked up to see the Seeker standing several feet from them, a long-barreled laser-like gun in his hands and a flame thrower pack strapped to his back.
“And that was supposed to…?” T-Bone asked, letting the question hang in the air as he and Razor got to their feet.
“You’ll learn soon enough,” Seeker returned with a smile.
Then, he casually tossed the gun into his left hand and flicked his right wrist in T-Bone’s direction, simultaneously spinning on his heel. As he did so a thin metal cable flew from some hidden compartment on his glove and wrapped around T-Bone’s right leg. The force of Seeker’s spin jerked the big SWAT Kat off his feet. He thudded to the floor heavily. Smirking as his twirl brought him back to face his opponents, Seeker took up a ready stance as the cable snapped back into his glove.
With a growl T-Bone leapt to his feet, hands balling into tight fists.
“Ah, fisticuffs. Well, old chap, shall we?” purred Seeker, pitching the gun aside and raising his own fists.
T-Bone held his ground, smiling his own dangerous smile back at the huge kat.
“Sometimes I’m a slow learner, but I’m not stupid,” the SWAT Kat muttered.
“It’s just a simple little thing I want to prove to you and you have to make it so difficult,” he groaned. “But, easier on you, I guess.”
Even as he finished the sentence Seeker whirled away from T-Bone, the whip-like cable flashing from his glove once more. This time it was lit with an electric glow. The lightning quick movement caught Razor off-guard. The cable slapped into him, the force of the slashing cable and the electric current humming through it flinging him several feet across the room.
T-Bone started to lunge at Seeker. Before the thought had hardly finished forming in his mind an agonizing pain shot through him. T-Bone screamed and collapsed to the floor. It was the most horrible thing he’d ever felt, nothing could compare. His entire body hurt. Moaning in an agony that sapped even the strength it took to scream, he curled himself into a fetal position on the floor.
Still reeling and numbed from the electric shock, Razor missed the initial jolt of pain that had hit T-Bone. Still, he never even felt his body connect with the floor. As the electric burning diminished the new pain racking his being drowned any other sensation. It felt as if every cell of his body was being torn apart. Razor moaned softly. Suddenly, Seeker’s booted foot came into his view, its sole level with Razor’s eyes.
“Now… what?” Razor asked shakily, lifting his head with incredible effort to look up at Seeker through pain-blurred vision.
Seeker seemed to ignore the question.
“T-Bone, if you would step – excuse me, crawl – over here near your partner, I think you’d find that the pain will subside,” he said calmly.
T-Bone said nothing. He just staggered to his feet and stumbled over to Razor. Once he was within two feet of his friend, the pain began to lessen to a dull ache and then vanished as if it had never been.
Razor too felt the agonizing pain disappear.
“What did you do to us?” he demanded, standing up unsteadily to glare up at Seeker.
“I merely mutated the cells in each of your bodies so that you can’t exist without the close – as in a scant few feet – presence of each other. If you separate, your body cells will die.”
“What?!” gasped Razor.
“And, what do you get from this? The fun of watching us suffer?” demanded T-Bone, clenching his fists.
“No. This is what I get.” Seeker whirled around and pointed his glove in the air. Two screens, mounted somewhere on the far wall, glowed to life. The left one dissolved from a glow of light to an image of Callie huddled in an empty metal-walled room.
“What’ve you done to her, you freak?!” T-Bone snarled even as the right screen cleared to show an almost identical image of Commander Feral.
“Nothing, I promise. For all that’s worth to you,” the gray-furred tom assured. “That would violate the ‘deal’ I mean to make with you. The start of your second test.”
“More of your stinkin’ tests!” T-Bone sputtered.
“Indeed.” The Seeker casually propped himself against the nearest wall to begin his spiel.
Before he could start, T-Bone cut him off. “Is this gonna give us a sense of deja vu?”
“Of course. That’s what I’m going for,” Seeker shrugged, continuing where he had broken off. “You see, that room Miss Briggs is in is currently sitting at a comfortable temperature of 64 degrees Fahrenheit. Over the next three days, that temperature will rise half a degree an hour. I’ve already done the math for you – that will put the room at a lovely 100 degrees. After your three days have expired, the temperature will undergo a more… dramatic increase directly to 200 degrees. No passing “Go”, no collecting 200 dollars. I’m not so cruel as to make anyone suffer long. The same will happen in Commander Feral’s accommodations. Now,” Seeker began to idly pace before the SWAT Kats, “Your handprints can open the doors to their rooms. You’ve but to press either of your hands against the plate I’ve prepared and the kat you’ve chosen will be free.”
“Wait a minute! What do you mean ‘chosen’?!” Razor demanded.
“Well, you see the only way to release both of my prisoners would be for two of you to touch the two plates simultaneously. Unfortunately, the two plates – and, incidentally, the two rooms – are at opposite ends of MegaKat City. And, well, the two of you wouldn’t even survive long enough to get that far apart.” The Seeker stopped in mid-stride and studied the SWAT Kats’ livid faces. “Oh, and should you get all self-sacrificing on me, the plates can tell the difference between a living and a dead kat.”
“So, you intend to force us to choose. To choose which kat lives and which dies?!” Razor shouted, his tail lashing furiously, ears as close to flat as his helmet would allow.
T-Bone’s fury was beyond words, a steady rumble his only sound as he eyed Seeker with narrowed eyes. His lips were slightly curled back, revealing his vicious incisors. His tail was still, save its tip, which twitched spastically as he fought the impulse to pounce on the Seeker and throttle him.
“Precisely,” Seeker answered Razor’s outburst. “I just love psychological torment, don’t you?”
“Miss Briggs is being held in the abandoned power plant on the east side of town. The one along the Tiger River. The Commander is in a remote portion of the sewer system. On the west side, of course,” Seeker explained, producing two folded sheets of paper from an invisible pocket on his night-dark suit. “Here are directions to the two locations,” he clarified, extending the papers to Razor. “I’d offer one to your partner there, but I’d hate to pull back a nub,” he commented as Razor snatched the papers away.
As T-Bone and Razor glanced over the papers, Seeker turned to go.
“Don’t take too long making your decisions,” he called gaily back to the two tomkats.
T-Bone’s head flew up from where he had been looking over Razor’s shoulder.
“We’ve made it, Seeker,” he growled slowly.
Seeker turned back to face them.
“We’re going to the Enforcers. We’re finding a way to undo what you’ve done to us and saving both of them,” T-Bone returned.
The gray tomkat seemed to consider this a minute, one hand placed thoughtfully under his chin. “A possibility,” he murmured. “But, you see, I’m very thorough. You might die during the process. Then, four kats would be dead when three could have lived.”
“There can be no choices of one life for another, Seeker. That’s not how we work,” Razor replied levelly, having calmed himself.
Seeker shrugged and spun around to walk away. “I’d hoped it wasn’t,” he whispered to himself as he slipped behind a thin partition at the end of the room.
T-Bone looked after him, knowing better than to go see where he had gone; it was too late, Seeker would have vanished as though he’d never been there.
“Ready to go to the Enforcers now?” he asked Razor.
“Yeah, hopefully Doc Konway’ll know something about this,” Razor answered.
“If we can get to him,” T-Bone grunted. “With Feral gone, you know who’s taken charge by now.”
Lieutenant Commander Jonathan Steele leaned back comfortably in the huge chair that sat behind Commander Feral’s massive wooden desk. He propped himself up on his elbows and surveyed Feral’s office. Imposing; he liked that. But there were a few “minor” changes he could think of that he would have to set someone on just as soon as the role of Enforcer Commander was officially his.
That Commander Feral might return had only briefly crossed the orange-furred kat’s mind. Steele smiled. How was Commander Feral going to return? Hostage situations could so easily go bad.
Thumping his feet up onto the top of the desk, he tilted his head back onto the padded backing of the chair and closed his eyes.
A sharp rap at the door brought him back to reality. His eyes snapped open and his efforts to get his feet back on the floor nearly sent the chair tumbling over backward. Finally organizing himself, Steele rested his elbows on the desk, assumed his best aura of collected calm, and shouted, “Enter,” to the knocker.
The familiar graying face of Sergeant Katmull appeared as the tan-furred kat stepped into the room.
“Lieutenant, the SWAT Kats are here asking to speak to Dr. Konway,” the Sergeant announced in his slow manner.
“What do they want?!” Steele yelped.
“I have no idea, Sir,” the Sergeant returned.
Steele debated. Finally, he decided that it was too much trouble to kick the vigilantes out. They never left quietly, certainly not that big- mouthed tabby.
“Keep an eye on them and let them speak to Dr. Whoever,” he said, waving a hand in a bored gesture that said Katmull was to leave now.
“Yes, Sir.” The Sergeant turned to go.
“Oh, and Sergeant,” Steele called after him, suddenly remembering something, “As I am the acting Commander, refer to me as Commander for as long as I hold this position.”
“Yes, Sir,” the Sergeant replied, the slightest hint of a growl in his voice as he disappeared through the doorway.
Steele heaved a contented sigh and returned to basking in his good fortune.
“Well, the results of my tests on your most unusual condition indicate that the effect should be reversible,” Dr. Konway announced, turning from his electron microscope to present T-Bone and Razor with a grave face.
The two SWAT Kats sat on the edges of the examining tables Dr. Konway had provided. Each was expressing his anxiety. T-Bone, hands splayed on either side of his body, was digging his claws in and out of the vinyl covering of the table. Razor was swinging his dangling legs so that they hit one of the table’s legs and bounced off to swing forward again.
“But, it’s not that easy, is it, Doc?” he asked, sensing the bearded scientist’s reserve.
“No, I’m afraid it’s not,” Konway returned, removing his glasses for a minute to wipe them on the front of his lab coat. “The Seeker has somehow managed to alter a single set of the alleles on your chromosomes. Now, as you may know, chromosomes contain your DNA as well. We’re discussing the most fundamental levels of your bodies’ genetics codes here.”
“So what exactly do these alleles do?” Felina asked, straightening from her slumped position against a rolling computer desk beside Razor.
When she’d first heard of the SWAT Kats’ arrival, she’d hurried to find them. Alongside the two kats, she had also found the mild sergeant in a surly mood she hadn’t thought him capable of. Wanting to stay with the kats anyway and learn what was going on, she had taken his job of watching the SWAT Kats hours ago. Her secondary job was to make sure no one beyond Konway’s team did any scans of the blood samples the SWAT Kats had provided. The vigilantes hadn’t asked it of her, but Felina knew the job needed doing. She abruptly broke from her thoughts to hear Konway’s explanation.
“Alleles shape certain traits. There are always two alleles for each trait a person might exhibit. Often more. One trait is dominant, one recessive. The dominant trait alone will manifest itself. Certain recessive alleles may go for generations without ever exerting their influence,” Konway explained. “Now, the Seeker has somehow managed to reverse the SWAT Kats’ alleles so that this one particular set of alleles has been altered. The dominant allele has become the recessive allele and vice versa.”
“Why would our genetic code include a trait that linked two kats together?” Razor asked, frowning thoughtfully.
Konway shrugged. “That I can’t answer. The answers to all the mysteries of genetics are still far beyond us. Perhaps that trait was highly useful at one point in our history for reasons we can’t even fathom now.”
“But, how did Seeker know that me and Razor would match or whatever?” T-Bone asked. His face twisted in confusion. “I don’t claim to know peanuts about this genetic stuff, but couldn’t just making this trait active have made me need to be near another kat? Another genetic code? Why’d it have to be Razor’s?”
Konway’s face took on an intense thoughtful air.
“An excellent question,” he announced, his eyes lighting a bit. “Perhaps the Seeker knows far more about genetics than one would imagine,” he murmured almost to himself.
“Even if you don’t understand it all, can you reverse it?” Razor asked, leaning forward and gripping the edge of the table beneath him.
“My area of expertise is mutations,” Konway began slowly. “Alleles are known for their mutational abilities.”
“So, you can do it?” Felina asked.
“Yeeess,” the somewhat round-bellied scientist drew the word out. “The mutagens I work with carry a strand of DNA within them. Their other components override the body’s previous DNA and allow the new strand to dominate. I already have samples of your DNA. I’ll need a few hours to add the normal dominant and recessive alleles to the strands and combine it with the necessary chemicals.”
“Then, let’s get cookin’, Doc,” T-Bone announced.
Dr. Konway turned to him gravely. “You realize that tampering with your genetic code could easily kill you?” he asked.
“We know the risks,” T-Bone assured him.
Konway nodded and turned to amble back to his workstation in the isolated lab area off the main examining room.
“Dr. Konway,” a voice echoed across the high-ceilinged room.
Konway, Felina, and the SWAT Kats turned to see the graying sergeant entering the room.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to suspend your research indefinitely,” he announced. “Lieu— Commander Steele has ordered the SWAT Kats be questioned on the kidnapping of Commander Feral and Deputy Mayor Briggs.”
“He what?!” Felina snarled.
“I’m sorry, Captain. I know,” the sergeant apologized, an angry scowl sitting on his face.
“That arrogant little—!” T-Bone started, jumping off the examining table.
Felina suddenly held up a hand to still the furious tomkat, her face flashing a look of sudden decision.
“Sergeant, can you hold them here while I have a little heart to heart with Steele?” she asked, setting her jaw.
“No problem, Captain,” the sergeant assured her.
“Great,” Felina returned. “Doctor, do I have your agreement that what the SWAT Kats say about their condition is true?” she demanded of Konway curtly, spinning to face him.
“Of course,” Konway returned. “I’ll get my written report,” he added, bustling off toward his office to fetch the papers.
“Good,” Felina smiled several minutes later as he laid them in her hands. She quickly ripped her handset off her belt and switched it on. “Lieutenant McFurland, please respond if you’re in the building,” she ordered into the receiving speaker even as she bounded toward the door out of the Bio-Tech labs. “I’ll be back, guys,” she called to the SWAT Kats.
“Give him one for me,” the sergeant called after her, a twinkle sparkling in his eyes.
Steele looked up as the door to his office was first opened and then slammed. Captain Felina Feral stalked across the tiled floor to the huge desk at the back of the room. Her jaw was set and her dark eyes flashed. The absence of her uncle’s nameplate and the new one labeled, “Steele,” sitting in its place at the corner of the desk was not lost on her.
‘I think it’s time she learned who’s in charge here,’ Steele thought to himself. ‘Her uncle isn’t here to let her get away with whatever she pleases now.’ With that thought, he pointedly ignored the she-kat, ducking his head and pretending to concentrate on the papers before him.
“Here’s Dr. Konway’s report, Sir,” Felina announced dropping several typed sheets onto the desk. For all her impressive height, she could still only just see over the top of the massive desk. “He’s verified what the SWAT Kats told us about their condition.” She paused before growling, “I presume you’re aware that he’s not the only one verifying this.”
“I’m well aware of the messages the Seeker has been broadcasting all morning,” Lieutenant Steele returned indifferently never raising his head. “And, in light of those, I believe that he and the SWAT Kats are working together in this little scheme. I’m having those two masked freaks held for questioning.”
Felina started to explode, but quickly controlled herself and held her cool. Throwing a temper tantrum wouldn’t help her case. Besides, there were much more effective ways of revealing one’s anger.
“Steele,” Felina ground out. “Might I remind you that two kats’ lives are at stake here?” She slowly began to walk around the high desk, pausing as she planted one foot on the first tiered stair leading to the chair Steele sat in. “I know you don’t care a lick whether either of them live or die,” she snarled, looking up at Steele before heaving herself onto the next tier.
Thoughts of calling the Captain down for her insubordination flitted through Steele’s mind as he stared wide-eyed at the suddenly possessed she-kat. The words came at last, but somehow they got stuck at his mouth, refusing to come forth as Felina moved slowly ever closer. Without thinking, Steele cringed back in his chair, huddling against the arm farthest from Felina.
“My uncle has the job you want and Deputy Mayor Briggs has the power and the will to throw you out of that job the minute you prove just how inept you are,” Felina continued, now standing beside Steele, he a pathetically small figure in Commander Feral’s tremendous chair, she a bristling dark-eyed apparition. “Steele, if anything happens to either of those kats, I’m holding you responsible. You don’t want that, Steele,” she hissed, her voice dropping to its absolute lowest registers as she laid a hand on the nearest arm of his chair, slowly releasing her claws and letting them dig into the yielding plush.
Steele inched further from her, practically hanging over the opposite arm of the chair.
“And, when it comes to the job of destroying you,” Felina continued, “Don’t think for a minute that the majority of this base is on your side. We don’t all accept bribes. And, some personalities are more hateful than all the money in the world can pay for,” she added with a genuine throaty growl.
At last, Steele found words.
“Captain Feral, maybe you should go down to the bio-tech labs and tell Dr. Konway to begin whatever it is he needed to do with those SWAT Kats,” Steele stammered.
Felina backed away from the recovering coward and snapped a smart salute.
Whirling away from Steele, the Captain practically flew from the room, trying desperately to hide the glowing smile on her face… and the gales of laughter that threatened to make her explode. Stepping out into the hallway, Felina closed the office door behind her and faced her co-conspirator.
“Phase One accomplished,” she reported with a snicker.
Lieutenant McFurland grinned back at her.
“Did you leave anything for me?” he asked before reaching out to knock on the door.
“Come in,” a shaky voice called from within the office.
Trading a grin with Felina, McFurland strode into the room.
“Sir, this is the SWAT Teams’ reports on that operation,” he started as he approached the desk where a visibly paled Steele was struggling his hardest to look collected.
“Fine. Lay them on the desk and leave me alone. I have work to do,” Steele snapped.
With a shrug, McFurland did as he was told. As he left the room, he paused in the doorway. “Sir, do you want the door closed?” he called back to the Lieutenant Commander.
“Yes!” Steele shouted.
McFurland nodded and pulled the door closed behind him, slithering through the doorway and stopping just outside with his back to the door. Free of Steele’s sight, he ducked into a crouch, pressing himself to the door and planting each hand on either side of the door frame in a wild, furtive gesture. With narrowed eyes he cast darting glances up and down the hallway. Seeing only Felina, he gave her a short businesslike nod and slipped his blaster from its holster, all the while searching the hall suspiciously. He set the blaster to its lowest power and “casually” slipped it around behind his back and tried to aim it at the door’s electronic lock.
“Will you stop poking around?!” Felina hissed, tired of his ridiculous antics. “There’s nobody in the hall!”
Grinning sheepishly, the gray-furred officer squeezed the trigger of the weapon and released a short, low-key blast directly into the lock mechanism. Satisfied with his work, McFurland turned back to face the door and knocked on it again, calling loudly.
“Sir, I need one of those papers back. It goes to—” he began.
“Come on in!” Steele bellowed, his tone more annoyed than ever.
Obligingly, McFurland tried to open the door. The electronic lock flashed a warning red light and beeped loudly as he tugged at the doorknob.
“Sir, the door won’t open,” McFurland called.
“Of course it will!”
“No, Sir. The lock is malfunctioning!”
“Don’t worry, Sir. I’ll get help!” McFurland shouted, bounding away down the hall. At the first corner, he stopped and turned to face Felina. Giggling inwardly so hard tears rolled through the short fur of her face Felina looked to see him flashing her two fingers before he disappeared around the corner.
Phase Two was complete.
“Steele shouldn’t be giving you any trouble for a while,” Felina assured T-Bone and Razor as the two kats sat anxiously on their padded examining tables in the area Konway had cordoned off for the procedure.
“Thanks, a lot, Lieu— er... Captain,” Razor replied with a smile.
“No problem,” she returned. She grinned. “It was fun.”
“Wish I’d seen Steele’s face when you came into the office!” T-Bone chortled.
“What?!” Felina pretended to growl. “Are you saying my looks scare people?! If you say no, you’re a dead kat,” she added with an evil grin.
Talk ended as Dr. Konway walked over to the group.
“The mutagen is ready,” he pronounced.
“Well, we are too. Bring it on!” T-Bone returned cockily.
Konway nodded and motioned to a white-coated she-kat who had magically appeared at his side. She stepped forward and set a tray down on a flat-topped metal cabinet between the two examining tables. She was followed by two other kats rolling tall poles with some form of machines attached to them.
“I want to monitor your vital signs throughout the process for any indications of unexpected complications,” Konway explained as the kats started hooking up the machines.
“Ah, man. I didn’t know ya’ had ta’ stick holes in me!” T-Bone whined as he watched the thin she-kat prepare a syringe from the tray she’d brought.
“See the big, tough tomkat whine like a kitten at the sight of a little needle,” Razor teased. “Yee-OW!” he yelped as a needle entered his arm.
Felina stepped up to the two kats as the lab-coated kats finished their work. “Captain, if anything happens to us, you have the maps to where the freak’s holding your uncle and Callie. I know you’ll do your best to save them,” T-Bone told her.
Felina nodded, stepping away as Konway approached them.
“The mutagen should have an anesthetizing effect,” Konway told them as he filled the first syringe with a thick, yellow-orange liquid. “Hopefully, when you wake up, this will all be over,” he added, squirting a stream of orange onto the tray the she-kat had used earlier as he checked for bubbles in the fluid.
“Can we sue if we come out of this with fur the color of a school bus?” T-Bone joked, eyeing the liquid.
Konway chuckled in response and reached out to take T-Bone’s arm in his hand. The big kat winched and squeezed his eyes tight as Konway moved the needle closer.
Some seconds later, both kats had been injected and were beginning to be noticeably groggy.
“I’ll keep an eye on things, guys. I promise,” Felina reassured.
Razor weakly gave her a thumbs up before giving in to the chemicals. T-Bone too succumbed, hearing the chattering voices of Konway’s research team grow far away, dimming into nothing but darkness…
Chapter 2: Unsought Memories
Warning: Contains implied child abuse and alcoholism.
Thanks to Rauhnee Ranshanka for beating over the opening scene to this thing and providing some much-needed advice when I posted it to the fanfiction mailing list. Thanks to Chaille, the real McFurland, and Felicia McFurry for the proofreading and opinions. And, thanks to Harley Quinn for the terrific e-mail chat that has provided some great ideas – both for this and future fanfics.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Title: Hide N’ Seeker Part 2: Unsought Memories
Authors: Kristen Sharpe and The Seeker
Date Completed: March 4, 1999
Disclaimer: "SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron," its characters and concepts are copyright to Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc and are used without permission.
The darkness that had closed over T-Bone’s head seemingly moments after Dr. Konway had slid the needle into his arm was lightening. Swirls of muted colors appeared in the void that had filled his vision, mingling, twisting, changing. Then, the empty space snapped from existence, blotted by the colors that now solidified into cloudy images. His fogged brain filled with the swirl of visions of the past that had plagued him nights ago.
Only these memories were different. These memories were those he thought he had banished long ago, those that were to have been buried so much deeper than even Katz’ leering face. Somehow liberated from their mental cage, they assumed free reign. Muted light filled his mind’s eye as a world now no more re-formed itself in his dreams.
Powerless to stop the process, T-Bone gave in to the memories. Whether brought by a queer twist of his subconscious, the chemicals coursing through his veins or the combination of both, the memories had become one with the big kat’s dreams and now he had to live them again.
Pain. There was supposed to be pain. His face was pressed onto the shabby, scarred linoleum. His nose was supposed to be throbbing, bleeding. His face stinging. He felt the wetness at his nose but not the pain. There was no pain this time… mercifully.
Fear. The fear was there though. He felt the old, the forgotten, terror welling within. Then, the harsh voice of his uncle cut through his whirling mind.
“Git offa the floor, boy! Yer neva gonna maker decsshent tomkat, you misherable little….” the voice trailed off into drunken slurs as Chance scrambled into a sitting position, clamping a small hand over his bleeding nose to stem the flow as he faced the wavering figure supporting itself against the tiny kitchen counter.
Anger. Deep within Chance’s clearing mind rose the familiar boiling anger. Its fires seethed under tight control within the small bundle of tawny fur. Anger. In Chance’s mind, young as he was, it was ever the companion of pain and fear. He wanted to lash back at the hateful tomkat sprawling against the counter. He knew it was useless though; it would just get him another, harder blow. Fighter though he was, Chance had learned when to be silent and still quickly.
His fury was both checked by reason and stilled by something far less tangible – love. The memory of the gentle kat who always returned, if only briefly and increasingly rarely, to soothe his hurts and comfort him kept the lash of the kitten’s anger, even mentally, at bay. But this kat… If he only had the power to destroy the feline demon before him without hurting the kat he loved hidden inside… Kitten though he was, he assured himself there would be no hesitation.
The short tomkat sneered at Chance, bloodshot eyes only half-focused on the kitten huddled before him. He lifted the bottle he clutched in one fist to his mouth, gulping its contents noisily. Shoving straggling russet fur from his eyes, he fixed the kitten in an evil glare.
“Don’ even know how yer mother talked me inta’ takin’ you in….,” he muttered. Several seconds slid by in a thick silence broken only by the soft plop of water in the sink. Sudden revelation seemed to come to the kat. “Oh, yeah, she died. That’s how I go’ stuck wi’ you. Wish yer Pa hadn’ alrea’y jumped th’ twig too… Co’a spared me a lotta trouble…” Giving Chance another contemptuous gaze, the stupefied tom dazedly staggered away from the counter, lurching from the room.
Chance watched the kat leave with wide, pain-clouded blue-gray eyes. His fury spent, he sat for several minutes in silence, hurt and despair welling within. Not even the faintest whimper escaping his tightly clamped lips as he squeezed his throbbing nose. A single tear formed in the corner of one eye and trickled down his fur, sliding down one long whisker to drip to the floor soundlessly. Chance watched it dully, squeezing back its counterparts as their wetness threatened to assault his already blurred vision.
Where was his normally gentle, friendly uncle?
His tiny body shook as a single choking sob at last escaped his lips. Ignoring the facts even a kitten of his few years knew, his mind screamed a wrenching plea into the unfathomable vastness beyond this world, lips unmoving. From the heart of his soul he screamed the age-old cry of children: “I want my Mommy!”
But, the beloved face did not magically appear as he knew it never could again. Still, the plea had had release, a release that helped free him of the racking sobs that had been threatening to shudder through his being. Blinking through the tears, Chance stared through the kitchen’s single, grimy window.
At last, sniffing, he forced back the tears and stood. Face setting in determination, he eyed the door that opened off the kitchen of the tiny apartment onto the hallway beyond. Wiping the sticky wetness from his face with the back of his hand, Chance made his decision with the conviction of a kat years his elder. He brushed the dried blood from his facial fur with the hand that he had held over his battered nose. Then, rubbing the stained hand against his threadbare shorts, he silently crept down the narrow hallway his uncle had taken. He paused briefly a few feet from the kitchen to glance at the bedraggled tomkat now sprawled across the lumpy shambles of a couch that dominated the tiny sitting area.
One arm dangled off the couch limply, the long-necked bottle lying on its side several inches away. A dark stain was slowly spreading across the carpet from its open mouth.
Chance turned away and hurried on to his tiny room. Reaching it, he quickly snatched up his backpack and began stuffing it with everything he thought he would need. He tossed in a pair of socks and his scuffed tennis shoes. He hated wearing both, but he had a vague idea that they might be needed.
The backpack meeting his approval, he crept back to the kitchen. There he stuffed a few cellophane-wrapped snack cakes into the pack as well.
Then, he turned to the door. Reaching back to grab the straps that wound under his arms, the tiger-striped kitten paused and took a deep breath.
His stomach seemed to become a hollow void as he realized the implications of what he was doing. The unknown lay before him and he was facing it alone. There could be no thoughts of turning back. Somehow he knew intuitively that to return of his own will meant he would never be free.
His mother’s voice seemed to drift to him from that time not so long ago. As she had taught him, he bowed his head and prayed silently, swiftly, stumbling through a well-rehearsed child’s prayer before adding his own words. He raised his head slowly as the last words slipped across the tiny opening between his lips.
Slowly, he paced to the door and reached a quivering hand up to turn the lock. It clicked softly and the hairs along Chance’s neck raised. Gently, he turned the knob and pushed it open. The door swung out into the hall with a prolonged creak.
Chance kept himself earthbound with only the greatest effort as every instinct screamed, “RUN!”. Steadying, he looked quickly over his shoulder, fearful.
The door’s alarm was answered only with silence.
The only sound from within the apartment was a steady plop-plop as tear- droplets of water fell from the faucet at the kitchen sink and plopped in the water that had pooled within the stacks of dirty dishes below.
Chance turned back to the door and slipped out the narrow crack he had created, closing the door slowly behind him. The light click of the door at his back was his signal. There was no pausing now, no second thoughts. The choice was made. The kitten bolted down the hallway, rounding a corner and vanishing into the shadows.
The self-proclaimed Commander of the Enforcers lounged at his procured desk, his mouth pulling downward in a full pout. His lips slowly pulled back away from his pointed incisors as his pout became an angry snarl.
Steele was humiliated. His entire force was secretly snickering behind his back. A single officer had waltzed into his office and ordered him around! Then, he had spent two hours locked in the office while the locksmith figured out that the electronics that controlled the lock were shot.
And, somehow it had all been engineered by Captain Feral. Her and those SWAT Kats.
Steele’s yellow eyes narrowed to thin slits. The Commander’s upstart niece would pay.
Cold, cold, cold. The deepest chill he’d ever felt. The gold-furred kitten huddled against the rough-hewn two-by-fours at his back, the boarded doorway with its slight overhang his sole shelter from the pouring rain.
Chance tried to sniff his nose, anything to relieve the pressure of his choked sinuses. If anything, the effort made his blocked nasal passageways close further. He shivered with the cold and wiggled his numbing toes within the sodden confines of his tennis shoes. Pain shot from his foot as his chapped pawpads scraped against the suddenly rough interior of the shoes. Chance shivered again, his small body shaking faintly for several minutes after the initial chill had passed. The sub-tropical city had never felt so frigid.
Some feet above him, held to the brick wall by a single rusting screw, a plastic-backed thermometer tugged at its pathetic mounting in the gusts of wind that swept along the alleyway. Its mercury, sluggish but yet responsive to the weather’s mood swings, hovered around the mark indicating seventy degrees Fahrenheit.
The adult T-Bone shuddered in his sleep as his dreams descended into the final darkest nightmare with which they could torment him.
“They doing okay?”
Dr. Seymour Konway looked up from his study of the monitors connected to the SWAT Kats. Seeing the familiar angular face amid its tangle of sable hair, he smiled.
“No real change so far, Captain,” he reported. “I expect the process to take perhaps well into the night. And, even then, they will need some rest to recuperate.”
Felina nodded. “I work late tonight,” she returned. “I knew putting in for night patrol would come in handy some day,” she added with a half- hearted grin before hurrying away to whatever it was she was supposed to be doing.
Konway watched her leave and then turned back to the two sleeping kats. As he watched, T-Bone’s face contorted in pain. Konway frowned and cast a quick glance at the monitors. Normal. Tugging distractedly at the short beard-like fur straggling from his chin, he wondered what dream prompted that. He sighed; heroes had private lives like any other kat. Who knew what nightmares plagued the big tabby? Whatever it might be, he silently wished both kats pleasant dreams.
Knocking. The bass thud of a heavy fist rapping demandingly on the false wood.
“Mr. Furris? Sir, this is the Enforcers. We have your nephew.”
Chance squirmed in the big kat’s firm grasp. No, no, NO! He didn’t want to come back. Why didn’t they understand?
The tall Enforcer tightened his grasp on Chance’s shoulder, letting his fingers slowly wrap around the straps of the backpack the kitten still wore. Feeling the kitten’s tensing muscles, the Enforcer bent down to look in Chance’s face. His eyes widened as they met the depthless orbs of the kitten’s terrified eyes.
“Hey, kid, easy. Nobody’s gonna hurt you.”
The words had hardly exited his mouth before the door they faced was flung wide and the familiar demon appeared, fur straggling wildly about his face, eyes livid. The nightmarish figure lunged past the first Enforcer, a wide-shouldered gray feline, to grab at Chance.
“What’ve you been doing, makin’ me worry, ya’ little—?!”
The kitten’s reflexes were an instant quicker as he wrenched himself free of his backpack and the Enforcer’s grasp bolting down the hallway.
Shouts rang in his ears. Sound, loud and painful. His own breathing, frantic. The echoing thud of his own heart.
He tripped over a lump of electrical tape intended to secure the ragged carpeting. With a yowling gasp, he tumbled to the floor and the world was sent into an all-too-familiar downward spiral.
“Trish!” Dr. Konway bellowed, spinning from the squealing monitors to find his assistant already at his side. The red-headed she-kat was already assessing the situation.
“Their blood pressures are dropping rapidly. Intensified neural activity…” She paused in puzzlement, but quickly ignored the irregularity in favor of more pressing matters. “There's no bleeding.”
“Internal,” Dr. Konway returned brusquely, hurrying toward his office. “I’ll get in touch with MegaKat Memorial. We’re going to need some help.”
Chance’s memories had degenerated into a confusing muddle of muzzy images and sounds. Voices circled him now. Distant and distorted, dancing around him. Now nearer, now fading away, they appeared and vanished. He strained to catch the distorted sentences. Slowly, dazedly, he realized that they were talking about him.
“He’s going to be okay.” The voice was soft and distant.
The world around him was small and close. He felt a softness beneath him, whatever it was made of was clammy even through his fur.
“Poor kid. What a life. People like that…”
“Yeah, I know. Sometimes, I wish we could just—” A snarl of fury laced the quiet words.
“He still look okay?” The words were said in a tone to soothe the fury of the speaker’s companion.
Vague murmurs whispered past his ears. Sounds flowed over him, bustling, echoing. The world had regrown to a wide space filled with the reverberations of hurried life. But it was foggy, wrapped in an uncomfortably warm darkness. He was floating in the fog, spinning, tossing, trying to free himself of the suffocating blanket of night.
A droning voice buzzed into his brain through what was seemingly his last remaining sense.
“The child isn’t seriously injured. It was more the fever he already had than the fall that’s troubling him now. He should be okay. It will be up to the court as to whether he stays that way.” The monotonous voice tinged with a warmth borne of both anger and compassion as it too at last faded away.
The world shrank from its tenuous existence. Chance again spun into darkness. Only now the spiral was upward, plunging through random layers of memory, driving free of the pit of his nightmares. A brief sentence brushed his consciousness like the remainder of a memory almost vanished.
“It is the decision of this court that the child Chance Alexander Furlong be given into the care of the State of MegaKat until such time as a proper foster home can be found.”
Then, the voice was gone, and the sensation of rushing through emptiness returned. This time though the darkness yielded to a flaming light in a burst of red fire. Chance felt a short stabbing pain and then there was only darkness. An unfamiliar cold darkness that drove icy needles through his fur. Then, the cold was gone, images filling his mind, one sense traded for another.
At last, Chance saw himself. For an instant’s flash the image was from outside his body, watching his figure as he might watch television. Then, the vision was gone and he was seeing the view through his own eyes once more. Chance stood uncertainly. He felt a strange tingling sensation. He felt somehow disconnected from the world. Disoriented, he took a halting step forward into the vacuous space. And, the void again met genesis. Nothing once more became something.
This time the leap from the nothingness was a driving rush. He was hurled into a solidity once more, gold-tinged memory again becoming his sole reality.
Chance tumbled backward in a sprawling heap. His first thought was to search for a blow to his face. His hand ignored the instinct and he remained locked in a sitting position, hands splayed behind him to support his weight. Dazedly, he looked up at the tiny ring of jeering faces. Kittens. A tight knot of kittens, the oldest only around eight, surrounded him.
The tiger-striped kitten’s anger boiled over. At last an outlet on which to release his earlier furies had appeared. But again, his body ignored his decisions, ignored his wish to lunge to his feet and tear into the miniature mob.
Confused, Chance looked down at himself. He gasped softly as he saw the soft orange fur of his bare arm. His hand at last heeding his desires, he raised it to his face to stare at it in astonishment.
A monitor released a piercing squeal.
The heads of both Konway and Trish jerked to stare at the black screen with its green lines.
“There’s no neural activity. Nothing.,” Trish stammered, staring at the screen that was wired to T-Bone wide-eyed.
“Heart rate and breathing check out fine. As fine as they were anyway,” Konway muttered, his voice whispering past her ear.
“But, he’s brain-dead.” Trish let the words slide across her lips, face paling beneath its mantle of soft orange fur.
“The other one’s okay though,” Konway added, hands shaking as he searched for what he should do. Had the kat’s heartbeat or breathing stopped, he would have applied his weak memory of CPR. But, there was nothing one could do for this.
“Aw, did the wuss break his hand?” cooed the nearest kitten, the eldest. He towered over Chance, almost menacing with his livid yellow eyes. He was distinctly overweight but large nonetheless, and naturally so; at his slimmest he would have been Chance’s equal in size at the same age.
Chance wanted to snap a fast retort, but another voice made him hold his tongue. As when he had held his silence before his enraged uncle, so he must now. The logic registered. Chance succumbed to the voice, strangely familiar in both its wisdom and its personality, if voice alone could convey that. Dazed, he settled in for the ride.
‘Wait,’ the voice said. ‘Wait.’ Fighting was an option, but only if it had to be.
“You want me ta’ fix the oth—?” the sneering eight year old started.
“What is this?!” a older female voice broke in, sending the hateful kitten and his companions several feet into the air before they scrambled frantically to run.
Slower than his companions, the ringleader was abruptly nabbed as a tall, white-furred she-kat snatched him up by his collar.
“Brandon! Did you punch Jake?!” the she-kat demanded.
“No, Mrs. Jones, I—” Brandon started to stammer.
“I’m fine, Mrs. Jones.”
T-Bone heard Jake’s voice coming, it seemed, from within himself. The sensation was so familiar. His mind sharing space with his friend’s mind. Hadn’t this happened not too long ago? Something about Dark Kat and Hard Drive….
Before his whirling mind could take it all in, the world around him shuddered, broke apart. It felt as though he was being torn apart. Chance screamed into the eternity of night that once more engulfed him.
The sound was echoed in another voice instants later. Jake’s voice.
It receded as though into the distance. Then, silence.
With a fast beep the flat-lining monitor came to life, startling Trish and Konway.
“I—it… That’s impossible,” Trish stuttered as the wave indicating T-Bone’s neural activity returned in a weak mimicry of its normal pattern. Even as she watched, the incandescent line strengthened, regaining its normalcy.
Dr. Konway slowly shook his head. Distractedly, he reached a hand up to push his glasses farther up his nose. They now perched midway between his eyes. Distantly, he heard the wail of sirens as the paramedics he’d called some minutes ago at last arrived. He turned to the shocked she-kat at his side.
“Trish, go meet the paramedics and show them the way, would you?” he mumbled.
The red-head nodded and swept from the room, her mind a maelstrom of spinning thoughts. Having a duty to fulfill, even one so simple, would be a relief, an opportunity to focus on something else.
Dr. Seymour Konway let himself slump against a nearby counter, emotionally drained. He took his glasses off slowly, sighing deeply and praying the worst was over.
The shadows in the room danced as the sole light source, a computer monitor, relentlessly relayed the images of all that transpired in the Bio-Tech Labs. The control room that had once been Dark Kat’s was as dark as its current tenant’s mood.
The great gray feline paced incessantly. Ground-eating strides carried him swiftly from one end of the room to the other. Nearing each wall, he paused for an instant before spinning on his heel and striding again towards the opposite wall.
The tip of his tail twitched unreadably. Long ago he’d trained it; it responded to his moods as any kat’s tail did, but it didn’t follow the usual patterns of response. The motions that indicated anxiety in any normal kat signaled glee for him. But now, the tail’s tip only jerked to and fro, signalling thought. Deep thought.
The Seeker frowned, glancing back at the display provided by the monitor drones he’d sent to Enforcer Headquarters hours ago. The SWAT Kats’ lives hung by a thread.
Abruptly, he froze in place. The huge kat stared at the far wall for a few minutes before nodding his head decisively. A smile slid across his face.
“Yes, why not mix business with pleasure?”
Steele ambled down the largely empty corridors of Enforcer Headquarters in a sour funk. His surly demeanor kept the few lower ranked officers and janitorial staff he passed from even venturing a glance in his direction. Steele glared at the janitorial kats briefly. Forget old Feral’s dumping ground for his dissenters at the city salvage yard. If anyone ever crossed Commander Jonathan Steele, they’d find themself waxing floors at Enforcer Headquarters for their next five lives under his perpetual sneer.
His wicked little thoughts were abruptly interrupted as a hulking figure filled the hallway before him. Steele glanced up, prepared to assert his rank and order the offending kat, whatever their size, from his pathway. His breath caught in his throat and he gasped hoarsely instead as he recognized the tremendous tomkat.
“Y— you!” he stammered, starting to back up. His feet took two steps backward and, throwing dignity to the winds, he attempted to spin around and run. The newly washed floor, however, made this move more difficult than the pointed-nosed feline had anticipated and his intended ignoble retreat became a clumsy tumble onto his behind.
Splayed arms and padded rear end taking the brunt of Steele’s abrupt mishap, the acting Commander of the Enforcers was left comically sitting on the floor before the massive apparition.
“Careful, it’s slippery when wet,” the darkened figure purred. “And, yes, I am the Seeker.” So saying, he stepped forward to bend down over Steele and look him in the eyes.
“Wha— wha— wha—!” Steele whimpered, ducking his head to stare at the floor for a second before squeezing his eyes shut.
“What do I want?” the huge kat finished the sentence for him. “Just to help you.” He extended a hand.
Glancing up, Steele cringed.
Sighing, Seeker let the piece of paper between his fingers slip free and flutter to the floor beside Steele.
“Read it,” he rumbled. “I think you’ll be pleased.”
Steele looked at the paper for several seconds. At last, he reached a tentative hand out to snatch it up.
“It’s a map,” he whispered in confusion, staring at the paper.
“Yes,” Seeker returned simply. “A map to where I’m hiding Commander Feral. Merry Christmas.”
“Bu— bu— but why?!”
“Ah good, you’re finishing you’re own stammers at last,” Seeker replied with a grin. “Why?” he asked, coming around to Steele’s question. “Because I’m getting a bit bored waiting on the SWAT Kats and the Commander is annoying in any case. Besides, if you interfere, it’s not like I’ve not broken my word.” He turned away from Steele. “Well, whatever, use it or don’t.”
When Steele’s wide eyes at last looked up to search for the black-suited feline, the hallway was empty. He stared back at the paper in his hands, still in wide-eyed astonishment. Then, slowly, an evil grin slipped across his wolfish features.
Brow furrowed in confusion, the broad-shouldered tomkat studied his computer screen in consternation. The insignia on his crisp military uniform identified him as a general. The shocked expression he next bestowed on the unresponding monitor identified him as one whose past has abruptly returned unexpectedly.
“…. I did think that this would interest you, old friend. Don’t worry about being chosen for the mission. I’ll see to it that the job is yours. I think you’ll find the endeavor mutually beneficial. Though, as you recall, the one with the debt unpaid is yourself.”
The general leaned back in his seat slowly, sighing.
“I suppose I do owe you, you fiend. I do indeed. If you just weren’t such an honorable demon, I wouldn’t have this problem.”
Mark Thacker had grudgingly left the cool water of the shower. Now, even as he made his way to his locker, clad only in a towel, he was starting to sweat beneath his damp fur. The humidity of the Enforcer locker room was almost solid. The slender brown-furred tomkat felt as if he were literally wading through the unbearably hot, moist air. Mark growled faintly to himself, wishing the miracle of a freak cold spell upon MegaKat City’s blistering spring weather. He refused to even ponder what he knew summer would bring.
Approaching the main locker area, raucous snickers reached his lazy ears. They pricked as he listened to the remainder of the Enforcer SWAT Team Delta enjoy themselves. He rolled his eyes at their hijinks, forcing down the half-smile he felt forming on his lips as he stepped around a row of lockers and into his companions’ view.
“Thacker!” a tall kat with a short crop of red hair announced at his arrival, momentarily throwing aside the formalities that came with his title of commanding officer of the team.
“Hey, he didn’t drown in there after all,” another commented, looking up from his current focus, which was holding Lieutenant McFurland in a tight headlock.
“Drown? Oh, ya’ mean when he fell asleep?” a third tomkat chimed in, turning from his locker.
“I can be tired if I want. Working an extra shift, handling a traffic jam of all the stupid—!” Thacker muttered, going to his locker and pulling out his civvies.
“Years of training, rigorously learning skills, surviving boot camp and all its horrors. And now – at last – we’re qualified to direct traffic!” the burly kat holding McFurland declared before breaking into gruff snickering.
“Raise your hand if you think Steele is a moron,” McFurland pitched in with a strangled voice.
Ever kat in the group threw a hand into the air with a hearty declaration of, “Moron!” McFurland took the opportunity to squirm free of the large tomkat’s grasp, clumsily stumbling over the bench that ran the length of the locker room as he hurried to get clear.
“Hey, I sense an ulterior motive in that suggestion,” the kat grumbled as McFurland, teetering dangerously for a minute, at last vaulted over the bench, slipping into an open area where he could run if need.
“You know not, Chadd,” McFurland returned with a sly grin as he bent down to tie a trailing shoe lace on his sneaker.
“So, do you think we’re gonna get the Commander back?” the red-haired tomkat queried, still maintaining the laidback tone in the room. He was close enough to and respected enough by the team to be able to drop and reassume his status as commanding officer with ease, whether it was wise to do so or not. He’d long since stopped debating the issue with himself.
“I hate to admit it, but we need him,” he added. At least, he knows how to organize this force.”
“Unfortunately, I agree with you,” he muttered. “We need the Commander, every irritating inch of him.”
The large kat who’d been holding McFurland released a deep chuckle.
“I hear Steele had a nice quiet time with himself in Feral’s office this morning.” He turned to wink at McFurland.
“What?” McFurland demanded innocently. “You think I had anything to do with it?” His grin belied his words.
“You and Captain Feral,” the kat who had held his silence until that point chimed in with a widening grin.
“Don’t start, Brad,” McFurland shot back, trying to hide his own smile.
“Whoa, Mickey, my man,” Chadd stepped up to McFurland and laid a brawny arm across his shoulders. “So, what’s up with you and Captain Feral?”
“Nuthin’ that I know of,” McFurland mumbled, slipping out from under his friend’s arm, a red flush creeping up his cheeks and an insuppressible grin sliding across his face.
“He’s blushin’,” Brad remarked, a silly grin still lighting his face.
“You got a thing for the Commander’s niece, Mickey?” the red-headed Major Mark Harris demanded, at last joining the fun as a broad smile that mimicked his mens’ evil grins filled his face.
“Well, she’s… niiice,” McFurland relented a hair as the entire SWAT Team surrounded him. Eyeing them with suspicion, the gray kat grinned and charged the nearest kat, Chadd.
A mock scuffle ensued with all but Harris and Thacker joining the fun. Harris watched the proceedings with a grin, sitting down on the bench to enjoy the show. Thacker leaned against a row of lockers with his arms crossed.
“You idiots,” he taunted playfully. He waited until the mock fight seemed to be dying down before throwing in his two cents worth on McFurland and Captain Feral.
“She is nice, Mickey,” he commented. “Beautiful… and a born commando.” He grinned. “Still, I gotta admit, Mickey, I think she likes you. Maybe she won’t blow you away. Not until after the second date or so anyway.”
“Date?! Me and the captain?! You guys are crazy! If I dated Feral’s niece, my career as an Enforcer would be over in a heartbeat!” McFurland yelped, smiling bigger than ever as he tried to downplay the accusation and his own actions. He quieted quickly. “Besides,” he shrugged, giving them all a confident smile, “why would I wanna date ‘Commando Girl’ anyway?”
The other tomkats snickered.
“Uh huh, suuure,” Harris purred.
“Yeah, yeah. Look, guys, I gotta head back to my apartment. If I don’t get at least a little sleep tonight, I’ll never survive whatever crazy Steele throws at us tomorrow,” McFurland pronounced, yawning as he headed toward the exit to the locker room.
“Sure thing. See ya’ in the morning, Romeo!” Brad called after him, his comment chorused by the rest of the team’s laughter.
McFurland pretended to stomp down the hall outside the locker room, twisting his face into a study in sourness for the benefit of his friends who weren’t present to appreciate one of his better acts.
“Me and Captain Feral,” he mumbled, dropping the facade to grin and shake his head as though the thought were ludicrous.
His efforts didn’t do much to hide the funny glow he could feel. He sighed, his genuine emotions at last escaping his facial facade. Well, a tomkat could dream, couldn’t he?
A familiar angry, whining voice interrupted his thoughts. Curious, McFurland’s ears pricked to catch the words. Their source was somewhere around the corner he was about to reach. The gray-furred Enforcer quickly slowed his steps and crept up to the edge of his particular section of hallway.
“Sir, most of—” Sergeant Katmull was starting to say.
‘Does that guy live here?’ McFurland thought to himself. He broke from his thoughts to hear what was unmistakably Lieutenant Steele cutting the graying kat off.
“Call in whoever you have to!” Steele snapped. “We’re going to rescue the Commander now. I’m not playing to that madkat’s whims!”
‘Suure that’s your real reason!’ McFurland growled inwardly.
“But, Sir—” Sergeant Katmull started a second time.
“Stop standing there arguing with me, Sergeant! I want a strike force organized and waiting on the roof by 2200 hours!” Steele barked before spinning on his heel and stalking away from the surprised – and angry – Sergeant.
‘2200! That’s in twenty minutes!’ McFurland did the math quickly in his head. He could hear the Sergeant’s footsteps fading into the distance of the adjacent hall.
Steele. He was going to get the Commander killed no doubt and there was nothing he could do about it. How was Felina going to take this? The thought skipped amid the random jumble of his mind, bringing back his earlier ponderings. Mickey shoved it aside. No. Now, there had to be something he could do about Steele.
“It would appear that you need some help.”
At the sound of the voice interrupting his thoughts, McFurland whirled to face the speaker. His yellow-green eyes widened at the sight of the black-clad tomkat leaning casually against the corridor wall.
The dark figure smiled amicably and stepped away from the wall.
“What? You think I’m afraid to come here?” the Seeker purred. “Steele and his entire force couldn’t catch me.” He chuckled darkly. “I dare say that every Enforcer in this building put together couldn’t capture me even on a good day.”
“What do you want?” McFurland asked softly, backing away from the massive figure ever so slightly as his right hand slowly curled into a fist.
“Hey, whoa! Chill, dude. I’m just here ta’ like help an’ stuff,” Seeker stammered quickly, his deep voice slipping up an octave and assuming a ridiculous stereotypical “surfer” accent.
McFurland’s head cocked to one side in total amazement. This was the guy who kidnapped the Commander and Miss Briggs? The infamous Seeker?
“Yo, dude. I’m like multi-talented,” Seeker assured him. He abruptly dropped the accent. “Now, if you’re interested, I believe I have a proposition for you. All you’ll need to do is keep Steele occupied for a few hours.”
McFurland nodded for him to continue, still ogling him in utter astonishment.
“All you have to do is cause a little confusion. It shouldn’t be too hard to keep Steele from even getting your force mobilized,” Seeker purred. “It’s only taken him eight hours to completely destroy the organizational structure of this force,” the gray-brown kat chuckled.
“He takes the term ‘scramble’ to new heights,” McFurland agreed, a tiny smile lighting his face.
Seeker paused and looked at him for a moment. He frowned slightly. “Don’t cut in on my act, Dude,” he rumbled half-playfully.
McFurland chuckled nervously and changed the subject. “What if we do manage to get mobilized?” McFurland asked at last, still trying to grasp the Seeker’s sudden offer to help.
“My… associate will handle things,” the Seeker responded, slipping backward into the unlit portion of the hall.
McFurland gaped, pupils dilating, eyes widening as he searched the shadows for the suddenly nonexistent figure.
A deep-throated chuckle rippled through the still air. “Be careful if you do. He has less of a sense of humor than I do.”
There was no sound in the hall, but McFurland could feel the waves of amusement peeling from the invisible kat. Then, nothing. The Seeker was gone.
McFurland pondered his options for a moment. Then, the germ of an idea formed in his head. Before any kind of hesitation could set in, he spun and bounded down the hallway.
The still-chortling SWAT Team was making its way down the hallway toward the back entrance of Enforcer Headquarters when McFurland caught them.
“GUYS!” he bellowed, charging up behind them.
The kats looked over their shoulders to see the panting tomkat barreling down on them. He skidded to stop just behind his buddies.
“We can’t go off duty yet, fellas,” the gray kat announced, catching his breath. He flung friendly arms across the shoulders of the two trailing kats, Thacker and Brad. “Steele needs a strike force to go save Commander Feral, and I volunteered us.”
They looked at him incredulously.
Mickey nodded to reassure them. “Yep, we’re gonna help Steele out of the sweet goodness of our hearts.”
His wicked grin said he had either pitched off the far side of sanity… or they were going to like this.
All was going according to his plan McFurland thought as he slithered back into his uniform, feeling the sweat-damp clamminess that still clung to it. The rest of his team were in varying stages of redressing as well, either passing quiet jokes or lost in private worries of the success of their planned venture. It was risky, the gray-furred kat had to admit. There was the possibility that they could all lose their jobs, knowing Steele’s temper.
A loud female voice interrupted his thoughts.
“McFurland, are you in there?”
“Whoa! Miiiic-key, your girl’s lookin’ for ya’!” Chadd cooed, his voice far too loud for McFurland’s tastes.
“Shhhh!” McFurland hissed, pulling his pants up quickly. He hurriedly secured them and rushed to the doorway. He flung it open to meet Felina’s quizzical and vaguely peevish face.
Loud snickers and catcalls resounded from the locker room behind him.
“Woo-hoo! Mickey and Captain—!”
McFurland quickly leapt out into the hallway, pushing Felina before him as he turned to hiss a final, “Can it!” back into the locker room before jerking his head clear and letting the door close. Regaining his composure, he faced Felina with a nervous laugh.
“Eh, heh hehheh… Aren’t they entertaining?” He could feel the blush creeping across his face and he knew Felina had to see it through his pale fur. He tried to ignore it and rambled on. “I thought you had night patrol?!” he asked.
“I did. I got called back. Of all things, the officer who called me said to speak to you!” she retorted. “What is going on around here?!”
McFurland cast a glance upward. “The Commander’s evil fairy godkat strikes again,” he murmured.
“What?!” she demanded in surprise.
“We gotta stop Steele,” he replied. “He’s gonna get your uncle killed. We gotta delay ‘im. Er... Seeker’s helpin’ us.”
“Yo, Mickey! Time to gooo! We need to get out of the locker room!” Mark Thacker hissed, pushing his head through the doorway.
“Oh right! 2200! C’mon,” McFurland grabbed Felina’s arm. “I’ll tell you everything on the way.”
“Where are we going?”
The gray-furred tomkat half-dragged Felina down the hallway.
“I can run by myself, thank you,” Felina growled.
“Fine. Just c’mon!” McFurland released her and opened up into a full sprint through the empty corridors. “You’re fallin’ behind, guys,” he added to his friends.
The hurrying SWAT team and Felina reached the roof well in time. Steele was nowhere in sight. An array of angry, bleary- eyed Enforcers, however, greeted them. Commanding officers were barking sharp orders right and left to quiet the malcontents. The steady wail of an ambulance’s siren could be heard faintly from the street far below.
“Fun, fun, fun,” Thacker murmured drily.
“Hear that?” Harris’ ears pricked to catch the siren’s wail. “Sounds like somebody’s already gotten violent.” He grinned faintly.
“Recruits for our cause,” McFurland announced as he looked over the angry Enforcers, a far too happy smile lighting his face.
“The cause of killing you?” Brad mumbled.
“No, the cause of humil— stopping Steele,” McFurland returned, clambering onto the wing of a nearby jet fighter. He paused for a moment and then stood. Cupping his hands, he shouted across the rooftop. “Hey!”
Every eye turned to him. The widest were those of his companions. Several commanding officers started to call him down. Anticipating their action, Felina hauled herself up on the jet’s wing with McFurland. At the sight of the Commander’s fiery niece, everyone held their peace. Felina was both respected and, well, feared. Debatably, the right words to her uncle could cost them their jobs. That, and she was quite an imposing personality in her own right.
Tossing the dark-eyed captain a grateful smile with a quick nod of his head, McFurland began his “speech.”
“I know you’re all a little upset,” he started. “Let me say first that I had nothing to do with this. I wanted to go home and have a good night’s sleep too. I was thinking about watching some TV and reading this new book I got by Max Lucado. It’s a really good book – you should read it – it’s called—”
The gray-furred Enforcer sensed the tension building in the air and broke off mid-sentence. “Oh yeah, anyway. We’re all here because Lieutenant Commander Steele plans to go out and rescue Commander Feral. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think Steele really has the Commander’s best interests at heart. I mean, think about it. If Feral dies because we interfere when the Seeker said not to, guess who our new commander will be.”
A murmur whispered through the cluster of Enforcers that now circled the slim Enforcer jet on which McFurland and Felina stood.
The calico she-kat who’d spoken to the SWAT Kats earlier that day stepped forward to belt out a strident question. “Don’t we ignore madkats’ threats all the time and go into situations that could be potentially dangerous to hostages?” she demanded.
“Well—” McFurland fumbled for a snappy reply.
“But, we usually intend to save the hostages,” Felina snapped, unconsciously stepping slightly in front of McFurland. “Do you think Steele intends to save the Commander?” She pointedly didn’t say, “to save my uncle.” She didn’t need to.
More whispers trickled from the conglomerate of officers.
The calico she-kat shook her head to force the few strands of black and caramel hair that had slipped free of the tight bundle in which she kept her hair out of her face and looked at Felina unobstructed. “No. I’ve seen the way Steele is. I know what he wants. And, I think everyone else here does too.”
The calico stepped up to the jet just below Felina and turned to face the crowd. “Well, decide,” she announced. “Yeah, the Commander can be a royal pain in the neck. No offense intended, Captain,” she flashed Felina an apologetic look. “But, he can run this force. He is a capable leader, and I don’t think there’s a one of us that would deny he’s got the right motives at heart. And, as for the Lieutenant Commander…” She took a deep breath before plunging into words that could easily get back to her current commanding officer. “He’s a self-promoting, spineless wuss who thinks he can pay off the world to let him have his own way. Do you want someone like that running this force?”
The she-kat dropped her gaze, indicating that her speech was over. For several interminable minutes, she, McFurland, Felina, and the members of SWAT team Delta waited in silence for the final word from the other Enforcers.
At last, a voice toward the rear of the group asked, “What do you want us to do?”
No other voice interposed a dissent. Clearly, the decision was unanimous.
As McFurland leapt into his own thoughts, joined quickly by Harris and the other high-ranking officers present, Felina drew back to speak to the calico she-kat who’d spoken up for them.
“Thanks,” she whispered. She paused before slipping away. “What’s your name?” she asked, curious.
“Captain Mazie Rackham,” the calico returned. “Pleased to meet you in person at last Captain Feral.” She grinned at the flash of surprise in Felina’s face. “You have quite a far-flung fame, Captain.”
Lieutenant Commander Steele smirked to himself, straightening his tie as the elevator to the rooftop hangar ascended. At long last…
Sergeant Katmull eyed him with only half-veiled hostility. Steele glanced at the graying kat, giving him a better view of his self-assured grin. The Sergeant looked away.
He’d served under Commander Feral for ten years and under his father, the former Commander for twenty years. And, if this irritating little sleaze had his way, he’d be serving under him. The Sergeant smiled briefly to himself. Like as not, he’d only serve under the half-sized weasel for two months. And, that was providing Steele was lucky. He frowned again quickly, debating the Commander’s chances. He knew Steele’s plans well enough, but there didn’t seem to be anything he could do about them.
A soft “ping” from the elevator told them that they had reached the proper floor. Still smirking, Steele stepped from the elevator first. And, into chaos.
Pilots and support crews scrambled wildly around the hangar. There was a clot of jets at the entrance, apparently caught in a disorganized traffic jam. Every member of the standing squadron of five that was permanently stationed at the headquarters appeared to be involved in the disaster. Peering under and around them, Steele could see that the scene on the rooftop was no better. Choppers, their pilots, and crews were trundling about in a mass of confusion.
Steele’s jaw had practically reached his knees before anger replaced disbelief. Jaw clenching, he strode to the nearest officer, the Sergeant following him with a look that mingled between confused and elated.
“What on Felinus is going on up here?!” Steele bellowed, his nasal voice more irritating than severe. “I didn’t order any jets be scrambled! We only need the choppers!”
“Sir.” The officer, a flustered-looking lieutenant, saluted quickly. “We’re preparing for the mission at 2300, Sir. We were told to prep as many jets as possi—”
“2300!” Steele shrieked, cutting him off. “My orders were for a force to be assembled by 2200!”
“And, they didn’t specify what vehicles you required,” Katmull murmured dryly just behind him.
Steele shot him a look that would have curdled milk still in the cow before turning back to glower at the lieutenant.
The lieutenant’s face blanched visibly beneath the muted vermillion fur of his face.
“Sir, I— I just got here! I was told 2300 by Major Richards,” he stammered.
Steele brushed him aside in a swiftly building fury. He stormed to the front of the hangar, yanking a megaphone from the hand of a crew chief.
“Attention!” he screamed into the megaphone.
Several heads turned in his direction, but, for the most part, the bustle of the busy troops continued unabated, heedless of either Steele’s presence or his amplified voice.
“Listen up!” Steele raged on, furious at being ignored. “This is your commanding officer!” Still no response. “I SAID ATTENTION!!!!”
His screams still unheeded, Steele began to shake with a scarcely controlled fury. His breathing had accelerated into a heavy panting snarl.
Sergeant Katmull stepped up to the incensed Lieutenant Commander and, noting his condition, dryly asked, “Do you need a paper bag, Sir?”
Steele whirled to face the graying kat with a full-throated growl. Teeth clenched, he at last found intelligible words.
“NO! I am not hyperventilating!” he snarled. Furious, he turned from the Sergeant and addressed his troops again.
After a few minutes more of their lieutenant commander’s screams and the funny looks and questions of the officers not in on “the plan”, the Enforcers could no longer ignore Steele. Gradually, the bustle slowed and heads began to turn in his direction.
Steele bellowed a bizarre intermingling of threats and orders for a good twenty minutes more before he realized that every eye was on him.
“AND, IF EVERY KAT IN THIS— room…!” Steele’s voice trailed off as he saw that he had the Enforcers attention at last. And, from their stance, he’d had it for some time. Not quite able to pin down just exactly what was going on, but bright enough to know that he was being the butt of some joke or scheme, Steele glared out at the assembled Enforcers. It was a few more interminable minutes before he found the proper words.
“I can’t begin to explain what was just going on,” he started slowly. “But, I sense a plot. My orders have been miscarried, misunderstood, mis—repeated, and disobeyed…”
“Ooo, I think he just created a word,” Thacker whispered just loud enough for his team, Felina, and the nearby Captain Rackham to hear.
They snickered collectively but sobered quickly at Steele’s quick glance in their direction.
“I sense a plot,” Steele repeated. “Someone wants this operation to fail.”
“Maybe it’s the Seeker!” a voice chimed in from the rear of the crowd.
Steele searched for the offender, finding several likely-looking kats, but no sure suspects.
“Maybe it is that deviant,” he allowed, “but, we’re the Enforcers, MegaKat City’s finest. No two-bit commando with a few high-tech gadgets can stop us!”
“Where does he get this stuff?!” Thacker mumbled.
“Too much TV?” McFurland volunteered.
“Does someone in the back there have a comment to add?” Steele growled, glaring directly at the little group.
“No, Sir. We just thought one of my men was having an asthma attack,” Harris quickly interposed as McFurland obligingly began to choke out a few hacks and wheezes.
Steele’s jaw tightened as a dangerous scarlet hue began to lap at the edges of the paler fur that rimmed his muzzle. “I want everyone on those choppers in one minute!” he shrieked, his fury peaking.
The little band of schemers exchanged glances. If they tried anything else at the moment every kat involved would risk losing their job. A few glances at the scowls of the uninvolved commanding officers warned them that it wasn’t just Steele they were fighting right now either.
Major Harris leaned toward Felina, simultaneously attracting the attention of his squad.
“I’ll see if I can get a few of the others in with us. I know a couple who are decent kats and at least one who isn’t but he’s no friend of Steele’s.” He raised a hand to silence McFurland, catching the eager look in the gray tom’s eyes. “Only I can do it. It won’t look odd for me to be talking to the other commanding officers. The rest of you get loaded on the chopper.” He glared at McFurland first and then the other likely dissidents in turn. “I mean it.” With that he hurried from the hangar and across the airstrip.
“Good idea. I’ll see what I can do too,” Captain Rackham added, also dashing away.
McFurland poked out his lower lip. “It’s my idea and I don’t get to have any of the fun,” he murmured, dropping his head in feigned sadness.
“Deal with it, Mickey,” Felina returned with a smirk.
The smirk had been replaced by a vicious scowl a few minutes later when Steele found Felina to personally relay an order.
“Your only duty is to drop your load of kats off at the assigned drop point. When you’ve done that, I expect you to get your chopper back to Headquarters,” he growled, glaring at her, though his eyes were only on a level with her squarish chin.
Felina narrowed her eyes, but she didn’t dare attempt her “fear tactics” on Steele in public. Finally, she snarled her response.
Satisfied, Steele turned and strode away with the air of one who has won an important battle.
Felina’s eyes followed him as a sneer befitting her last name played across her face.
“Alright, Corporal Klawner, you have your unit’s entry point?” Steele demanded. At the corporal’s nod, he turned to Harris. “Major Harris, I want your unit entering here.” Steele’s finger stretched to indicate a winding line on the wrinkled map he held one-handed in his right hand illumined by the powerful torch he was holding in his left.
The commanding officers he was speaking with nodded, responding with, “Yes, Sir,” before turning away to check their own copies.
They stood in huddled groups spread along unused portions of the airstrip, making last minute checks and receiving their final orders. There were to be only two strike forces actually entering the sewers. Steele had intended to send all the men he had in, but, thankfully, the intelligence of his commanding officers had won out. The remaining Enforcers were to stand ready as backups.
Harris trotted up to his team, who were milling about the chopper, keeping a safe distance from the steaming Felina. They straightened to face the red-headed tomkat as he approached.
“He’s actually laid out a decent plan,” he murmured to the waiting group of kats, motioning them and Felina into a huddle and presenting his copy of the map. “Gimme a light, Thacker,” he said shortly, waiting for Thacker to produce a flashlight and aim it at the paper before continuing.
“Cheer up, guys. We get to go in by the landlocked route,” he murmured before his voice settled into business mode. “We go in through a service entrance off the subway,” his finger stabbed a spot on the map. “Just beyond the Katalina station. The way I see it, if we head down this tunnel,” he indicated a thin line running away from the main access tunnels Steele had showed to him, “we can intercept the other squad. And, if they’re not with us,” he grinned, “we give ’em trouble.”
“Great plan,” Felina inserted shortly. “I don’t suppose you know anyone who isn’t doing anything and can fly?”
The assembled tomkats looked at her blankly.
“I can. Well, I could once. But, I don’t think I’m so rusty I can’t handle the leisurely flight you have in mind.”
Every head turned to face the speaker.
Sergeant Katmull had stepped up to the group, a smile playing across his usually blank features.
“I know exactly what the lieutenant has in mind and if you can pass me off as a member of your team, I should be able to tag along and get her chopper back to headquarters.” He raised a hand quickly. “However, if it comes to responding on the radio, I refuse imitate to a she-kat.”
A funny half-smile slid across Harris’ face. “However, then I’ll have one extra kat,” he returned.
“Five, six – Steele won’t know the difference,” Felina jumped in, her dark eyes sparking with mischief.
“She is a good shot, Sir,” McFurland inserted, feeling a red flush creeping into his face as he heard his partners’ stifled snickers. “We could use the help.”
“Alright,” Harris sighed, outnumbered.
Far too quickly for the Enforcers of “the plan,” the strike team was assembled and choppers were lifting off the roof of Enforcer Headquarters. There were a few sporadic efforts to slow it. One overeager young officer went so far as to fall out of a chopper, shrieking as though he were plunging to his death. It was quite a spectacle, but it only succeeded in irritating the “non-participants” and endangering the young kat’s job.
McFurland hunched forward to rest his head on his hands, elbows balanced on his knees as he felt the chopper ascend. Had he bought enough time? Was Seeker’s plan underway? And, for that matter, what was this plan anyway?
He sighed in frustration and confusion, passing a sideways glance at Felina. She averted her eyes from her piloting to grin at him. The gray-furred tomkat looked away. At least she was still smiling. He made a mental note to do extreme bodily harm to his friends and teammates as soon as this affair was over. He could still feel the heat in his cheeks from the moment they’d insisted he occupy the copilot’s seat. He could still feel the smirk Felina had treated him to as he’d boarded. Oh, they would pay!
A flash of light below caught his attention. The tall tomkat straightened in his seat to peer down at the street in front of Enforcer Headquarters. He could just make out the flashing red and white lights of what had to an ambulance. He frowned, wondering what the trouble was. At length, he shrugged. He already had enough on his mind.
“I need to continue to monitor them,” Konway was explaining to an unoccupied paramedic as his companions secured the two SWAT Kats to stretchers.
“Given the nature of your… procedure here… Well, we’ll deal with the bleeding and any other injuries,” the paramedic returned. “I’ll let you explain the details to whoever they’re assigned to.”
Konway nodded, checking the pocket of his lab coat for his car keys. He felt he could load all the necessary equipment in the tiny sedan. It shouldn’t be much; the monitors the hospital would insist upon would provide the basic life signs he needed.
As the EMT's wheeled the SWAT Kats from the room, Razor moaned softly. Konway and Trish glanced at him quickly. They exchanged a glance as the blue-suited figures disappeared through the doorway.
“The big one was the only one that acted like that before,” Trish whispered urgently, her amber eyes wide with shock and fear. “It couldn’t mean that he’s… in the other one, could it?”
“I’ll do what I can for them, Trish,” Dr. Konway replied, his voice gruff but gentle. “I know only time will tell if they’re… alright. I don’t think I’ll mention that particular little stunt to the doctors.” He sighed, letting a small smile slip free of his tightened facial features. “They wouldn’t believe me anyway. You get some rest. I’ll go with them.”
A tall EMT paused to look back at the two kats as his fellows hurried on down the hallway. He tossed a smile to Trish and Konway.
“They’ll be just fine,” he assured with a strange air of confidence.
Razor cringed within himself as he plunged through a nightmare world. It was surreal only in its memory coloring. Every other feature was starkly real. He felt warm winds in his fur, dirt beneath his bare feet, the stinging lash of pain. It was no dream. It was memory. Memory with the clarity that cannot come from the conscious mind. It was deeper than that, stronger than that.
Eyes fogged by pain, his head jerked up to face the russet tomkat’s cold glare for it seemed the millionth time. He shuddered, recognizing the kat, but not. Reliving the memory, but powerless to make his own actions within it.
‘Chance,’ he thought, wondering if his friend could hear, ‘how did you survive?’
The tall EMT who had spoken with Dr. Konway and Trish accompanied the two prone SWAT Kats to the door that lead outside, holding it open for the stretcher. He lingered at the doorway, watching the SWAT Kats.
Yes, they’d be fine. He was reassured; he’d made it fair again.
Satisfied, he turned to amble back into the building, vanishing into the dimly lit corridor.
“Yes, all taken care of. Now, it’s time for the fun.”
Lieutenant Commander Steele smiled in satisfaction as he watched the first chopper take off. Soon. He turned his gaze to the second chopper which Klawner’s team was still boarding.
No sooner was his back turned than a large hand clamped down on his shoulder.
“Shouldn’t you be going along?” a voice purred in his ear.
A stab of fear shot through Steele’s spine.
“You really should go,” the voice assured, pushing Steele toward the helicopter.
Klawner looked up as the wide-eyed lieutenant commander approached him, a large Enforcer pilot trailing slowly in his wake. “Sir?” he asked.
“I’ll be…,” Steele started, glancing back at his huge shadow, “...coming along, Corporal.” He straightened, eyes narrowing in what was obviously a show. “I’m making sure that this mission goes over flawlessly.”
Klawner arched a brow but said nothing. He simply nodded.
Steele waited until Klawner’s eyes had left his face before hazarding a glance at his tormentor. The kat was gone.
“Adios, bye-bye. Have a nice trip,” the gray feline called as he watched the helicopter carrying Steele and Klawner’s team lift off the roof and speed away across the city. “Have fun,” Seeker added. “I know I will.”
Everybody check your Porta-packs now,” Harris ordered his squad as they exited the helicopter in a hastily cordoned off section of the street.
“Quick! Peak in the Porta-John!” Chadd snickered, removing his blaster from its holster and checking its power charge.
His teammates chuckled appreciatively at the familiar joke as they checked their own blasters.
Paragon’s Portable Recharge Pack, called a Porta-pack, was handy in a pinch. Still, its recharging abilities weren’t infallible. Due to its tendency to fail Enforcers just when they needed it most, the gadget was given the “affectionate” name of Porta-John. The Enforcer ranks were rife with Porta-John jokes.
“Good luck,” the Sergeant called to the group as he prepared to head the chopper back to headquarters. “Captain,” he inclined his head to Felina, the last to leave the chopper. He paused, breaking off his intended words and simply nodding.
Felina returned the gesture with a smart salute before stepping away so he could take off. She watched the chopper make its way back toward headquarters for a few minutes before turning back toward the members of the SWAT team.
Harris caught her glance and beckoned toward the subway.
Only a few minutes later found Brad and Chadd muscling the rusty service door that led to the sewer open. A foul odor wafted from the opening.
“Phew!” Thacker muttered, crinkling his nose at the smell.
“Smells like Spangler’s socks,” Brad inserted, his face set in a scowl despite his teasing words.
“I keep them that way so I could use them as weapons,” Chadd Spangler returned with a smirk.
“Can it,” Harris ordered, stepping to the doorway. “Everyone on your guard, blasters at ready, mouths shut,” he ordered before stepping into the darkness.
Noses wrinkled in disgust, the members of the SWAT team, plus one stubborn she-kat, descended into the cavernous MegaKat City sewer system. Designed in 1910 when MegaKat was the sole shred of civilization clinging to the western coast and striving desperately to grow, the sewers were a meandering labyrinth. Few accurate maps of the entire serpentine network existed. The copy in Major Harris’ hands was based largely on those maps laid out by the besieged Kattainian forces during the Siamese occupation of MegaWar II. The Seeker’s choice of hiding place was brilliant.
‘And typical,’ Felina thought to herself. She let her eyes rove the too-close tunnel, wary. The black-haired captain fully believed McFurland’s words about the Seeker’s involvement in all of this. How else could Steele know where to find her uncle? She scowled. “Helping” or not, the Seeker was up to something and she didn’t trust him as far as she could throw his massive frame.
Felina let her gaze fall on McFurland, another taunt starting to form on her lips. The words vanished in an instant as she saw the nearly invisible red targeting beam wobbling indecisively along Mickey’s chest.
“Get down!” she screamed, lunging to throw McFurland to the damp floor of the tunnel.
The rest of the team went on the alert instantly. Blasters were jerked from holsters and ready stances assumed even before Major Harris bellowed, “Watch it!”
Harsh, deep laughter cut through the passageway as the Enforcers scrambled into alert.
“That’s touching, Captain. Just concern for one of your fellow officers? Or is that one special? Your kat, perhaps?”
The voice echoed down from somewhere above. Thacker quickly cut his flashlight’s beam toward the source of the sound. A hulking figure was just visible crouching in the narrow opening of an upper tunnel entrance.
“Hold it right there,” Harris warned, leveling his blaster on the figure’s chest.
“Fer once I’m on your side, Sir,” the deep voice sneered the term of respect into an insult. “You can take my help or leave it. It’s your choice,” the growling voice added.
“A guy who targets one of my officers sounds like a lot of help!” Harris growled. “Thacker!” he barked, “can you give us a better look at who we’re dealing with?”
Thacker quickly pushed his flashlight to its limits and flashed it across the tomkat’s face, revealing a familiar visage. Familiar to one of their company anyway.
“You! You sleazeball!” Felina snarled, leaping to her feet as her right hand scrabbled for her blaster.
“Easy, Captain,” Harris soothed. “I take it you know our… friend here?”
“The name’s Brett Katz.” Katz inclined his head toward Felina. “Sorry about your uncle, Babe.” He smiled broadly. “Too bad roughing him up got my pay docked a little.”
Felina growled and would have charged forward if not for McFurland placing a surprisingly strong arm around her waist. She almost punched him, but remained still as he whispered in her ear.
“Don’t. He’s just playing with your head. The SWAT Kats said they saw the Commander alive with the Seeker.”
“And, just who is your boss?” Harris demanded, noting that Felina was secured as he took a few steps closer to Katz.
“The Seeker. By the way, he sent me to help you keep the other Enforcers from finding the Commander.” Katz’ face contorted into a flash of disgust. “Stupid games a’ his. I’d a’ killed the jerk an’ been done with it. ” He shrugged abruptly and relaxed. “He’ll die soon enough. And, I’m gettin’ paid too good ta’ disobey orders.”
“Seeker! I knew it!” Felina yelled, pulling against McFurland’s grip. Seeing her temper at least in check, he heeded her wishes. Free, the captain stepped forward to stand by Harris, dark eyes flashing in the wavering uneven light as she continued. “He paid you to kidnap my uncle and Miss Briggs so he could have his little games with the SWAT Kats! Now, he’s bored, isn’t he? He started all this so he could see some action! He’s playing both sides!”
“It’s a rigged deck,” McFurland breathed behind her, “but if we don’t play along on our side…”
“Steele will end up with the royal flush,” Felina finished the sentence.
A high keening abruptly filled the air around them.
“Well, that’s my cue. Don’t have time for this crud anyway,” Katz snapped as the sound reached his ears.
The Enforcers heard the scuff of his boots against the stone flooring and they realized he was leaving.
His voice echoed back to them now within the confines of the upper tunnel. “I’ll be doing my job while you debate whether you should get in on the action and make sure I don’t have too much fun. See ya’ round, Doll,” he added to Felina. “Try not to get yer little mug blown off by Seeker’s insurance.”
“Insurance?” McFurland repeated in mounting apprehension as the distant whine grew louder, his comment half-masked by Felina’s furious snarl at Katz’ words.
Crimson light suddenly lit the tunnel as laser fire splashed around the Enforcers.
A shudder ran up Steele’s spine as his leg sank to the knees in the algae-clogged muck that filled stagnated pools along the edge of the waterfront. Harris’ comment that his men were fortunate for getting the landlocked entrance was well-founded. The second unit had to enter from the opposite side of Feral’s prison, the side that faced the bay.
Steele and his team were to enter the sewer through a massive drainage pipe that emptied run-off water into MegaKat Bay. Their transport had deposited them on the freeway nearest the drainage area, leaving them to clamber down the muddy embankment.
Tugging his coat around himself, the orange-furred kat watched his men struggle to pry free the grating that sealed the tunnelway. Water was inexorably seeping through his thick boots. Abruptly, the boots reached the end of their endurance and cold water gushed around his toes.
Steele’s patience ran out.
“Forget that! Burn it open!” he shouted to the kats working at the grate.
“But, Sir, we may need the power for our blasters later if there’s a firefi—” Klawner started.
“That’s why we carry recharge packs, Corporal. Get that grate open!” Steele shrieked.
The rusting metal was little match for the Enforcers’ lasers. Seeing the impeding bars reduced to lumps of smoking slag, Steele strode to the head of the group to lead them into the sewer.
“Follow me, men,” he called, awkwardly clambering into the pipe.
He’d hardly stepped forward when his yellow eyes caught movement in the gloom just ahead. Steele scrabbled to jerk his blaster from its holster as he heard something approaching. He gasped as the blaster hung in his large overcoat. The sound was getting closer. It was nearly upon him when he at last freed the weapon.
“Freeze!” the orange tomkat screamed, leveling the gun in the direction of the approaching noise.
A large rat skittered from the shadows seconds later.
“Sir?” Klawner asked, stepping up beside the faintly quaking figure of his commanding officer.
The pointy-nosed tomkat recovered.
“We’re wasting time! Let’s get this thing moving!” Steele ordered.
Klawner noted that the lieutenant commander didn’t offer to lead this time. He stepped to the front and signalled his men. The smile that curled his lips was the only indication of the mirth that threatened to explode within.
In a more hostile part of the sewer, Harris’ unit was just engaging their attackers.
“Take cover!” Harris ordered, feeling like an idiot; there was no cover to take in the narrow passageway.
As he pressed himself to the wall and drew his blaster, Thacker aimed his flashlight at their attackers. The beam illuminated a cluster of miniature flying saucers swarming down the tunnel.
“Fire at will!” Harris screamed, taking aim on the lead drone. His shot reduced it to a lump of flaming slag smoldering on the fungi-encrusted floor as his men followed his lead.
The red-haired tomkat ducked and jerked toward the wall, crushing his shoulder into the damp stone as another drone’s fire sliced through the air above his head. He heard a sharp intake of breath to his right.
“You hit?” he asked Felina, turning to find her clutching her right arm midway between elbow and hand.
“I’m fine,” she snapped, switching her blaster to her left hand and obliterating the offending drone. “Gotcha,” she purred.
Seeing their pathway clear, Harris rose to his feet, offering Felina a hand. She accepted it and he helped her to her feet, calling to his men as he stood.
“C’mon, we gotta catch up to Katz. I want the others stopped, but not permanently.” The red-head pulled the map free of his pocket and gave it a quick glance, reconfirming the outline already etched in his head. “This way.” Harris indicated a wider opening that branched off to the left.
His team followed him into the darkness. If the first main tunnel had been like descending into a cave, this was a black hole. The powerful flashlights the kats carried only penetrated a scant few feet ahead, the light being quickly lost in almost a century’s worth of stagnant air. The thick gloom seemed to press in on the Enforcers, increasing their sense of dread as they felt the floor beneath their feet sloping downward. Over a hundred feet of rock and concrete were now between them and daylight.
McFurland was oblivious to the dismal corridor as he hastily brushed past several of his teammates to get just behind Felina. The let him pass with conspirator’s smiles. At the moment, he was blind to those too, in more than a literal sense.
“Hey, lemme look at that,” the gray-furred tom asked, trying to shine his light on Felina’s wound.
She jerked the arm away.
“It’s just a burn,” she hissed, her ears laying back.
McFurland backed off, his crestfallen attitude discernible even in the pitch black gloom. It wasn’t necessary to see his face; hurt washed from him in a near-tangible wave.
Felina bit her lip, surprised at her own actions. Teasing him had been fun earlier. What was different now? Her pain, her frustration, her worry? Or was it Katz’ comment? She shoved the thoughts from her mind and forced herself to give Mickey a faint smile.
“I’ll be fine. Got anything I could wrap around it though? My sleeve’s rubbing on it something awful.”
He obliged and after a minute’s searching handed her a scrap of cloth before retreating at her obvious desire to secure it herself. McFurland slipped into the shadows behind her to fidget with something. As she was tying the makeshift bandage on, Felina noticed the familiar feel of the cloth. She rubbed it between her fingers experimentally. She was almost positive it was part of a uniform. The dark-eyed she-kat smiled to herself as she felt a curious warm glow filling her. She pushed it away, but still found herself fighting the urge to glance back at McFurland and confirm her suspicions. The sudden whine igniting the air told her there were more important things at hand. More drones. Another fight was in the workings. Felina grimaced. She wasn’t such a great shot with her left arm.
The little band was met with more drones every step of the way. Had anyone wished to track them into the bowels of MegaKat City’s subterranean realms, it wouldn’t have been hard; a trail of dismembered metal fragments littered the paths they’d taken.
Lieutenant Steele scowled as he felt the sewer’s dampness inexorably seeping through both fur and clothing. He hated sewers. He hated rats. He was beginning to hate his men. He’d caught snatches of whispered snickers ever since the rat incident. The orange-furred kat broke from his thoughts as he heard Klawner, several feet ahead, giving the order to stop.
“What’s going on?” Steele demanded, forcing his way through the other Enforcers to meet Klawner. His eyes could just make out the shape of a doorway in the flashlights’ bobbing beams before he stepped out into a cavernous room.
Hearing Steele bulling his way through the troops, Klawner turned to see the fox-faced feline approaching. He was careful to keep his flashlight’s beam low enough that it didn’t shine in Steele’s face. His own was lined with worry that showed through his considerable facial fur. He didn’t need the incompetent leader distracting or pulling rank on him at the moment.
“I thought we should pause here and consult the maps The tunnel branches in several diff—” he began.
“Yes, yes. Check the map and let’s get moving,” Steele snapped.
The corporal’s jaw tightened ever so slightly before he resumed what he had been saying. “The men I sent ahead to check tunnels claim to have heard something. We think it’s coming from there.” Klawner gestured toward a wide entrance on the opposite end of the circular room.
Steele unconsciously pricked his ears forward. A regular thudding was emanating from the gaping hole that Klawner had indicated. A cluster of kats was slowly advancing on the opening, blasters drawn.
“What’s that?” Steele demanded even as the steady thud drew nearer.
“Uhm, Sir?” the Enforcer standing nearest to the entranceway called over his shoulder, edging back toward the group.
“What?” Steele and Klawner both demanded.
Following the officer’s gaze, Steele yelped and leapt backward, nearly slamming into Klawner, who drew his breath in sharply.
A single metal leg stepped free of the shadows. The Enforcers jerked their blaster rifles into firing position with a collective gasp.
A second leg freed itself of its den of night and at last brought the monstrosity’s body into view. A simple rounded form, the body was its least frightening feature. Supported on eight thin metal legs the thing was disturbingly spider-like.
“Fire!” Steele shrieked, drawing his own blaster and spattering the smooth metal body with laser fire.
The troops paused, waiting for Klawner to verify the order.
“You heard him,” the corporal shouted. “Fire!”
The ruby beams scored the metal hide in over a dozen places. With a shudder, the metal form crumpled to the stone floor, its legs curling inward toward its body.
As it stilled, the lieutenant commander at last released the trigger of his blaster, hands still shaking. Slowly, trying to collect himself, he holstered the weapon and studied the bug-like apparition. At length, the orange-furred tomkat smiled and stepped forward to stand by the robotic corpse.
“Is that the best the Seeker can throw at us?” he demanded, a smirk sliding across his face as he faced his men. He paused, seeing that the other Enforcers didn’t seem to share his elation. In fact, their eyes were wide with horror. Sensing impending doom, Steele turned his head ever so slowly to look back at the titanium creature.
He was faced with a single giant eyeball, its cornea lit a faint yellow by hidden light sources. As his face contorted into a frozen scream of horror, the eye’s tiny pupil dilated, extending to a size roughly that of his own head, a black hole framed by a blood red iris. A deep-throated gasp rattled in Steele’s throat as the beast rose slowly, revealing a pair of titanium pincers. As Steele watched, seemingly rooted to the spot, a viscous green sputum dripped from the tip of one pincer to sizzle on the stone flagging.
A crisp beam of light energy striking the floor just inches from the toe of his boot at last snapped Steele from his stupor. With an undignified squall he leapt away even as the metal beast snapped at the air where his head had been with its vicious pincers.
“That woulda been a loss,” the burly Chadd chuckled as he and the rest of the team fanned out behind Harris and Felina, emerging from a tunnel opposite the other Enforcers.
Felina let a brief, wicked smile cross her face before she focused on shooting the monstrosity instead of the floor. Steele was just as lucky he hadn’t lost a toe as he was that his head was still atop his shoulders. Her aim was miserable shooting with her left hand and arm.
Meanwhile, Steele had scrambled back among his men, who, on Corporal Klawner’s orders, opened fire on the titanium beast. The fact that he was, at least temporarily ignored, was lost on their blonde commander as he turned a shocked and outraged glare on Felina.
“You shot at me!” he spat.
Felina paused in her efforts to destroy the spider, now lumbering towards Steele’s men, long enough to respond.
“And, if I hadn’t, you wouldn’t be here now,” she snapped.
“Waitaminute! You’re not even supposed to be here! I gave you a direct order!” Steele shrieked back, remembering his earlier words to her.
Felina ignored him. Blocking out any further words from Steele, the ebony-haired she-kat centered her blaster on the spider’s underbelly.
It was a dangerous firefight. The Enforcers were divided into two camps. In more ways than one Felina thought ruefully. With the spider in the middle of the camps, the Enforcers were shooting at each other as much as their real enemy.
Felina tried to take careful aim, switching her blaster to her right hand. Her arm throbbed as she raised it into a firing position. The she-kat grit her teeth and took aim. This time her aim was true. Sparks danced as the blast found a less armored area.
“YES!” Felina crowed as the steel monster’s progress slowed, its hindermost four legs growing sluggish and unresponsive. Quickly, the captain crouched low and readied herself to leap away when the creature charged her. In her experience as an Enforcer in MegaKat City even the dumbest robots had remarkable self-preservation programming.
The spider, however, remained oblivious to the damage, relentlessly pressing through the wall of fire the other Enforcers were laying down.
“What is it with that thing?!” McFurland bellowed, trying to copy Felina’s shot.
“Try to hit its underside! And, quick!” Harris screamed to his unit. “They’re gonna be outta power soon!” His next shot was a pink glow that lazily splashed the beast’s side. “Case in point,” Harris muttered between clenched teeth as he ripped the rechargeable power pack from his blaster and slapped in the spare he kept in his belt pouch.
“Did someone not go to the Porta-John before we left home?” Chadd snickered, trying to lighten the mood.
“Can the jokes, Spangler,” Harris shot back with a grin.
McFurland had just glanced down at the power meter on his blaster when he heard Steele’s yowl. The gray-furred tom’s eyes flew up from his examination to see the spider burst through the ranks of the other Enforcers and charge Steele. A sudden connection clicked in McFurland’s mind as he bolted toward his would-be commanding officer.
“Mickey, what are you doing?!” Felina screamed, catching the movement.
“McFurland!!” Harris bellowed, turning at Felina’s shout to see the tall tomkat slip around the spider, running close to the wall.
“Mickey, you moron, what are you doing?” Thacker murmured under his breath as he watched his friend.
Steele was firing wildly at the metal beast as it advanced on him, his frantic fire doing more harm to his own troops as it bounced off the creature’s armored “face” than to the spider itself. Unfortunately, Steele was paying no attention to his blaster’s power meter. Unheeded, his blaster’s fire was growing dimmer and dimmer. It was several seconds after even a pink haze had stopped to spout from his weapon’s muzzle that Steele at last stopped squeezing the trigger. His yellow eyes widened in terror as he hurled the blaster at the spider.
“Get away! Get back, you metal freak!” the terrified kat shrieked as he was backed into the wall.
The spider’s response was to step forward and open its green- flecked pincers menacingly. “Get your tails over here and help me!” Steele howled to the other Enforcers.
None of the battered and beleaguered kats were in a position to do anything, however. Their blasters were ineffectual at full power and all of them were running low; their auxiliary packs even at exhaustion. To make matters worse, the long-nosed feline had backed himself into a corner.
Steele continued to back away until he felt the cold stone wall at his back. He stared up at the spider in horror.
“Aaaaaaaa!!!!” McFurland bellowed a hoarse-throated war cry as he charged under the monster toward Steele. The beast’s response was seconds too slow as the gray-furred tomkat grabbed the front of Steele’s coat and dragged him to “safety” under the metal monstrosity.
Emerging on the other side, McFurland screamed to his fellows, “Don’t shoot ’til I give the signal!”
With that, he hauled Steele across the room toward the passage through which the creature had come. As he’d guessed, the spider followed, turning around as quickly as it could with its damaged legs.
“Wha… what are you doing?!” Steele squalled as he was tugged along in McFurland’s wake. “Stop! I order you—!”
McFurland skidded to a stop just within the passage. Unable to slow in time, Steele smacked into the taller kat.
“Ack! What’re you—?!” Steele yelped as Mickey spun him around to face the spider.
“Just sit tight,” the gray-furred kat whispered to him. “Your friend still wants to talk.” He smiled confidently at Steele’s back. The show of bravado was lost on Steele.
“What—?! You— You’re not serious!” Steele shrieked as he felt McFurland behind him clamping both of his arms in a vise-like grip. He mouth opened in a soundless scream as the metallic beast advanced.
“What is he doing?!” Harris demanded, not expecting anyone to answer.
“Giving us a chance,” Felina shot back, catching on to Mickey’s idea.
“Huh?!” Harris looked at her in surprise.
“Of course,” Klawner jumped in, coming up behind the two. “When he signals, order your men to shoot the top of the doorway, Major.”
Understanding, Harris nodded, hoping he wasn’t agreeing to both McFurland’s and Steele’s deaths. Felina’s drawn face said that she felt the same way.
The titanium monstrosity, dragging its damaged hindquarters, moved ever closer to the kats within the passageway. McFurland’s eyes narrowed, darting from the spider to the archway at the opening to the tunnel. He could feel Steele’s muscles tensing, becoming like steel rods beneath his grip. The terrified kat would bolt any minute and it was debatable if he would be able to hold him. He looked back at the spider. Close enough.
“NOW!!!” the tall tomkat screamed. “Shoot the arch!!!”
Harris and Klawner echoed his call, directing every bit of firepower their combined units had into the aging stone.
Shattered rock showered onto the spider as, with a mighty crack, the great stones began to break free.
“GO!!!” McFurland bellowed, shoving Steele forward.
The orange-furred kat hardly needed the impetus once he was released. He scrambled under the spider even as its pincers snapped futilely at the tip of his tail. Before it could raise the weapons again, McFurland dashed after Steele. He felt a rush of air just after his tail as the beast took a final swipe at him.
The stones of the arch at last gave way with a shudder, crashing onto the creature below even as the gray-furred officer appeared on the other side of the spider. Hearing the wave of sound, McFurland leapt forward. He yelped as he realized that his trajectory was heading him straight towards the fleeing Steele.
Mickey slammed into Steele, their combined momentums sending them tumbling across the stone floor. Behind them, the metal spider was buried under several tons of rock.
The other Enforcers rushed toward the two tangled felines. Felina reached them first.
“Mickey?!” she shouted.
“Huh?” His raised his head off the floor to meet her gaze. He smiled when he saw her.
She returned it for a minute, then scowled.
“You—,” she started.
“Moron,” Thacker finished, joining them.
Felina laughed. “Yes, you moron,” she chuckled, stepping back to let him stand.
“Thank you, thank you,” Mickey returned, getting to his feet and nodding to each of them in turn, a wry smile teasing the corners of his mouth. “And, for my next trick…”
“For your next trick you can turn in your badge, you idiot!” Steele snarled, struggling to his feet.
Harris, Klawner, and Felina leapt to protest even as a voice rang across the cavern.
“That’s enough. As of now, this mission is aborted.”
Every head turned to see the broad-shouldered tomkat who stood, flanked by a small force of troops in military uniforms, at the entrance through which they’d all come.
For an instant, Felina thought it was her uncle. Then, the figure stepped into the light, revealing an orange-furred feline.
The general surveyed the scene for a moment, his eyes at last coming to rest on Steele. “Dad?!” Steele gaped.
As this story went along, a lot of canon characters who were always addressed with only titles or last names received names and/or first names. These names are completely unofficial.
Max Lucado is a real author for the record. Look him up – he’s good.
Captain Mazie Rackham’s name is derived from Mazer Rackham of Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game”.
Sewer sequence inspiration music — music tracks from the games Descent I and II
This story is a work of fiction. Any relation to any persons living or dead is probably deliberate.
Chapter 3: Revealing Memories
A tremendous thanks goes out to Chaille, J Greenslug, Kitty G, and Sage for their help with this finale of Hide N’ Seeker. Kristen’s roommate Beth also gets a nice round of applause for various and sundry assistance including, but not limited to, psychologically analyzing characters, filling in some holes dealing with fighter squadrons, and for not offing Kristen before this tale’s completion. Many thanks also goes to “SWAT Team Delta” (“McFurland” included) for simply being themselves and inspiring the characters Kris based on them. You may never read this, but thanks, guys, for five years of great times in the SBC youth group! Thanks also to the world’s greatest proofreader – love you, Mom!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Title: Hide N’ Seeker Part 3: Revealing Memories
Authors: Kristen Sharpe and The Seeker
Date First completed: December 31, 1999
Final checking: January 3, 2000
Disclaimer: "SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron," its characters and concepts are copyright to Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc and are used without permission.
“Dad?!” Steele repeated, still in a state of shock.
General Justin Steele eyed his son for a second before speaking, his face set in a deep scowl.
“Lieutenant Commander Jonathan Steele,” the general addressed him formally, stern frown berating the acting Enforcer commander for using the personal term.
Lieutenant Steele cringed, backing away from the general’s imposing figure.
“I hereby relieve you of command,” the general continued, his narrowed eyes meeting Lieutenant Steele’s. “I’ll be assuming command of the Enforcers.”
“Bu— but—” Steele stammered.
The general’s glare silenced him immediately.
General Steele then turned to the rest of the Enforcers. “Form up. We’re moving out.” He shifted his gaze to McFurland. He smiled at the gray-furred officer’s obvious nervousness. “Lieutenant.”
Mickey paled as the general approached him.
The big kat grinned and extended a hand. “Well done,” he rumbled, shaking McFurland’s hesitantly offered hand.
Still stunned, McFurland just smiled numbly. As the general turned to leave, he looked to Felina. “D’ya suppose this means my job is safe?” he asked.
Catching his words, the general jumped in before Felina could open her mouth. “We could use a few more officers like you, Lieutenant. Never fear. Your job is safe while I’m in command.”
With that, he turned to issue orders to the remaining Enforcers, herding them from the sewer.
From the shadowed opening of a pipe once intended to stretch across the room, its metal hulk now rusting into dust, a pair of eyes watched the scene below.
“Very good, General. Your timing is perfect,” the concealed kat murmured as he absently fiddled with the now useless remote control device in his hands. He paused, finding McFurland in the crowd and saluting him and his teammates. “Good game, my friend. Good game.” With the flash of a toothy grin, he was gone.
“They’re stabilized, Dr. Konway,” a slightly frazzled-looking doctor pronounced, appearing beside Konway.
The scientist was hunched over in a waiting room chair, a thoughtful, solitary figure in a room largely filled with anxious families and groups of friends. His head came up quickly with the words.
“Can I see them?”
The doctor paused. “Normally, we’d only admit family,” he started and quickly trailed off.
Konway made a vague hand gesture. “I’d contact their families, but I have no idea who they are.”
The doctor nodded. “In this case I think we can make an exception. Follow me.”
A few minutes later, Konway found himself again looking at the sleeping kats. After their ordeal, both seemed strangely peaceful.
Konway frowned as the doctor gave him a list of their injuries.
“There was some internal hemorrhaging, but we think that’s under control,” the doctor began. “Their blood pressures are back within acceptable limits. Not quite where I’d like to see them, but we’re getting there. We’re still getting some very erratic brain activity. Nothing life-threatening, I assure you. The monitors are just picking up some rather abnormal signals.” He frowned a bit. “In fact, both kats’ brain waves appear identical. And, there are tiny, almost imperceptible blips.” The doctor shrugged. “Could be a malfunction actually. Never heard of anyone having an identical readout.”
Dr. Konway nodded; he’d expected that. He hoped no nightmares would greet him when the kats awakened. Removing his glasses to wipe them on his lab coat, he stared again at the two SWAT Kats, wishing he knew what was going on in the sheltered privacy of their minds.
T-Bone had long since lost track of when his own memories ended and Jake’s had begun. He’d lived years of Jake’s life it seemed. Years of his childhood. It was a life Chance’s soul ached for after those torturous years of his own. Yet, he knew it wasn’t his, could never be his. But, to see it – to see how a child should grow up… T-Bone swore he would never, never forget what he saw there.
Even as he promised himself, he could feel the world around him changing. Could feel his fragile contact with Jake weakening. The dream was breaking apart. It wasn’t like waking up, wasn’t that gradual fade back into reality. No, the gilt shards of dream memory were shattering into a thousand pieces. Breaking away, hurling him into the void again.
McFurland pulled off his kevlar vest wearily. He was bone-tired after the night’s events. With a deep sigh, he stripped off his uniform, dumping it unceremoniously in the floor as he struggled into his civvies. He yawned, setting off a chain reaction among the others in the locker room. His teammates glanced at him reproachfully, but held their silence. The tomkats’ locker room was jammed with other Enforcers recruited for the night’s fiasco and they were too tired to banter anyway.
At last fully clothed once more, Mickey reached down to pick up his uniform and stuff it in his locker. He paused, fingering the torn sleeve where he’d ripped off a patch of material for Felina’s bandage. He needed a new uniform now, His spare would do, but a replacement would have to be picked up.
Mickey froze in mid-thought, a tattered uniform the last thing on his mind. The way Felina had spoken to him after his stunt with the “spider”…
“Get a grip, Rob,” he snapped at himself, placing the uniform in his locker and closing the door. ‘It wouldn’t work,’ he added mentally, waving to his comrades as he headed out the door.
His boots echoed down the empty corridors of Enforcer Headquarters as he plodded toward the nearest exit. He stepped outside into the curious half-light of dawn’s birth, still trying to push Felina from his thoughts. His feet mindlessly aiming for the Enforcer apartments he called home, the gray-furred officer at last relented, letting the image of the dark-haired captain come to mind. Mickey sighed. Yeah, that was a great thought to end or begin, as the case may be, the day.
Konway’s head jerked up from its resting place against his chest as his body started to slip from the chair. Shaking his head in a vain effort to clear away his sleepiness, the orange-furred researcher sat up straighter and glanced over at the sleeping SWAT Kats. Trying to further wake himself, he rose from his chair and ambled over to eye the “erratic” monitors.
Seconds later, he realized a doubletake was in order. Removing his glasses and rubbing his eyes to clear them, Konway debated with himself if what he had seen was correct. Repositioning his glasses, he looked at the readouts again. They were different, as different as any two kats should be. No extra blips. Normal, in both cases. As normal as could be.
The bespectacled tomkat frowned, hoping that was a good sign as he let his gaze fall again to the two kats.
Darkness. It was cold and quiet in the void. T-Bone shuddered as he felt it start to lighten. Was there more with which his memories could torment him? No, no. Here his kittenhood brightened. It was a familiar place tinged with warm, happy memories that now began to claim him, to call him back. He yielded to the tug with a peaceful sigh, mind and body settling into drowsy relief.
Soundless in nothing but his bare pawpads, Chance padded past the rough-hewn boards at the back of the newsstand. His sensitive nostrils sniffed briefly at the odor of new lumber floating from the newly remodeled, rebuilt front of the stand, questing for something far different. Seconds later, he caught a whiff of a more delicate odor wafting past his nose. Chance took a deeper sniff, whiskers twitching, stomach rumbling eagerly. A smile spread across his small face as he recognized the smell. Donut. He could smell one a mile away. Creeping around the newsstand toward the source of the wonderful odor, Chance focused on two voices.
“Oh, c’mon. Have one! Won’t be the first diet you haven’t taken seriously,” a slim tomkat with iron fur urged, extending a box of donuts toward the newsstand’s owner.
The graying kat behind the counter shook his head.
“I’ve done told ya’ no, Carl. If I break this diet, Linda’ll kill me,” he declared emphatically.
“Ah, c’mon, Pop. Just one?” Carl urged, sitting the box of donuts on the newsstand’s counter and pushing it toward his friend.
Chance’s mouth watered as he stared at the box of donuts. As usual, he’d left his current foster home before the sun rose. It was now mid-morning and the slice of jellied toast that had served as breakfast was long gone. He eyed the donuts longingly from his crouch just out of the gray-furred kat’s view at the edge of the newsstand.
But, no, he wasn’t going to steal someone’s donuts. Despite the temptation, he wasn’t here to steal anything – just participate in a little borrowing. Something like the library he’d always reasoned.
Refocusing himself on his “mission,” Chance let his eyes move to the rows of neatly stacked comic books at the front of the newsstand. His ears pricked and his eyes lit as he found the familiar cover of his favorite comic, “Kat Kommandos”. It was new.
“Yes!” the yellow-furred kitten whispered to himself. He eyed up the iron-gray kat and the newsstand owner, debating. He could wait until the gray kat left. But, the gray kat might provide sufficient distraction for the sharp-eyed Pop. And, the comics were only a few feet away on an extended shelf.
The gold kitten decided to risk it. This issue was supposed to be the continuation of the Kommando’s biggest battle ever. The fate of TerraKat City* was on the line!
The decision made, Chance tensed. His eyes narrowed, focusing on the comic book. The talking of the two adult kats faded into a distant drone.
“Well, I better be getting on to work,” Carl said to Pop, turning to leave. “I’ll see you—”
At that instant, a hurtling flurry of tabby fur slammed into him, almost sending him tumbling.
“What on—!” Carl gasped, trying to regain his balance.
Chance didn’t even hear his words. The comic book was clutched tightly in his hands. He spun away from the bigger kat and bolted.
He was jerked backward roughly as an iron grip fell on his collar.
“Lemme go!” the big kitten squalled, struggling to get free as he was hauled three feet off the ground.
Pop Perkins, who had come around to the front of the stand as Carl left, glared briefly at the kitten in his grasp. Then, the light-furred kat spun to face the newsstand, stalking to it in two quick strides. There, he released the churning bundle of fur, gently but forcefully herding the kitten into the corner formed where the stand met his display shelf.
Even as his feet hit the ground, Chance was desperately trying to conceive of a way out. On solid ground again, he whirled to face Pop, his eyes roving wildly. He needed an escape route.
Sizing him up, Carl, who had recovered and was now watching the spectacle, murmured a warning to Pop.
“Better let ‘im go, Pop. He’s half-wild.”
Pop snorted, placing his hands on his hips and assuming a firm stance, blocking Chance into the corner.
“Wild? He can read, obviously.”
Pop focused on Chance. “What’s yer name, Kid?”
Chance’s face set into a sullen scowl.
“Hmm… Well, if you’re gonna be that way, I can just call the Enforcers on ya,” Pop commented placidly.
“Chance,” the golden kitten spat. “Like telling you will keep you from calling the Enforcers,” he added in a growled mumble.
“It will because I’m not,” Pop declared. “Chance, huh? I been lookin’ fer you for a while now. Y’see, I’ve noticed certain comic books disappearin’.” He paused, eyeing Chance shrewdly. “Funny thing is they always come back.”
“I don’t steal anything!” Chance snapped.
“Just borrowing, eh?” Pop asked, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “Hm… How’d you like to be able to keep a few of these?” He gestured toward the shelf reserved for comics before meeting the kitten’s wide eyes.
The green ovals quickly narrowed to suspicious slits as Chance realized he was being watched.
“How?” the golden-furred kitten demanded.
“Well, I know a fellow down the street who could probably use a hand. He runs a mini-mart,” Pop paused and eyed Chance up afresh. “Yeah, yer old enough to be useful. And, he’ll pay ya’ fair too.” The middle-aged kat waited, the offer hanging in the air.
Chance churned this startling development over in his mind. Paid? He could get paid? No, it was a trick… He snorted at his own suspicions. No, if this kat had wanted to be rid of him, he’d have called the Enforcers.
Eyes lighting in hope, the tiger-striped kitten pulled himself to his full height, his slightly pudgy belly protruding with the posture he assumed.
“I can command the Enforcers, Dad! Gimme another chance!” Steele pleaded earnestly, his voice a childish whine.
“Jonathan,” General Steele began with a deep sigh, rising to step down in front of the younger Steele rather than glower at him from above in the Commander’s imposing seat. “You could have gotten Commander Feral killed with that ill-planned stunt in the sewers. And, there’s no telling how many of your men could have been killed had that fight gone differently!” Justin Steele’s voice rose with every word. “No, Jonathan, you had your chance and you made it into a royal fiasco. No more. I’m taking command until we find a way to rescue those hostages.”
“No, buts.” The general glowered at his son. “Now, I’m to understand that the Seeker devised this whole debacle for the sake of tormenting a pair of local vigilantes? The “SWAT Kats,” I believe?”
Sulking, his son ignored the question. Justin only gave him a withering glare before continuing as though he hadn’t truly needed an answer.
“Where are these SWAT Kats?”
The younger Steele shrugged.
“Jonathan….” The tone was a warning.
“How should I know?” the shorter kat snarled. “They were with a Dr. Somebody down in the Bio-Tech Labs.”
Justin nodded. “Then, I’d like to see them.” He quickly resumed his former non-personal demeanor. “You’re dismissed, Lieutenant Commander. It’s been a long night. You won’t need to report for duty until 1300 hours.” He paused. “I’d advise you spend that time resting and thinking, Lieutenant Commander.”
“Yes, Sir,” Lieutenant Steele spat, whirling away and stalking from the room.
Watching his son leave, General Steele sighed deeply, his face a blend of dismay and regret.
The narrow streets didn’t allow the view he needed. Eagerly, Chance scrambled up the familiar fire escape. Higher and higher, the fearless kitten climbed. Then, the fire escaped ended. Undaunted, Chance clambered to the top of the railing. His pause was momentary as he gauged the distance to the wall-mounted gutter. Practiced, the kitten flung himself across the gap, seventy-five feet above street level. The aluminum gutter squeaked in protest as it received his weight. Chance froze for an instant, ensuring the gutter would hold. Reassured, he inched upward. Seconds later found him pulling his growing frame over a ledge onto the rooftop.
Hitting the gravelled rooftop, Chance raced forward as the sound he’d followed, dulled in the streets below, grew steadily louder. Then, they were upon him. As the crescendo of sound peaked, the tiger-striped kitten spun and threw himself flat on the gravel, eyes searching above.
Sunlight glinted off the sleek forms of seven Enforcer jets as they streaked across the cloudless sky in perfect formation.
“Wow!” Chance murmured, riveted.
It was an instant’s glance and they were out of his field of vision. Hurriedly, Chance rolled over and jumped to his feet. He stood, one hand up to shield against the glare of the sun, and watched the squadron as long as he could. At last, even his sharp eyes could no longer discern the seven shapes in the hazy sky.
Later that evening, he was still starry-eyed as he related his newest career choice to Pop.
“I wanna be a pilot,” he told the gray kat as Pop accepted the youngster’s proffered dollar bill and passed him the most recent issue of “Kat Kommandos.”
“A pilot, eh?” Pop queried, raising a single bushy eyebrow. “In the Enforcers?”
Chance nodded as he idly flipped through his new comic book.
Pop wagged his head thoughtfully, studying the youngling.
“Gonna haveta’ make some good grades to do that,” he murmured at last.
Chance looked up at him worriedly. School wasn’t exactly one of his priorities in life. He gulped, thinking of the attendance record that forever had school administrators digging up the number of his current foster family and calling to rant over his excessive absences.
“Where does straight C’s put you?” the tiger-striped kitten asked.
Pop frowned and smiled kindly before explaining, “Well, straight C’s puts you barely passing middle school.”
Chance looked up at him in deep thought. If that was what it took…
“Mom, I know it’s late—” John Steele began apologetically.
The voice on the other end of the phone was level and unruffled.
“Jonathan, this is the east coast. It’s early morning here.”
“So, I didn’t wake you?” Steele queried sweetly.
The female voice laughed lightly, a rich alto sound that somehow managed to keep an edge of stern control. “You know I rise with the sun.” She paused. “You, however, enjoy your beauty sleep. What has you calling at this hour?”
Steele debated the best way to phrase his words.
“It’s Dad,” he began at length.
His mother’s voice darkened.
“What about your father?”
“Well, I finally got my shot at a real command position and then Dad shows up to relieve me of command! I’m the Lieutenant Commander of the Enforcers. I’m trained for this!”
“Tell me exactly what’s going on out there,” his mother demanded, cool anger in her voice.
Steele smiled at her tone and eagerly launched into the full list of his woes. This was going exactly as planned.
The cry reached him slowly, calling him back from one of his more elaborate daydreams – involving silver Enforcer jets. Chance paused, his shelf stocking put on hold as he swivelled his ears, seeking the source of the sound. Curious and a bit worried, he padded to the rear of the store as quietly as possible. Snickers and taunts joined the soft whimpers as he came around an aisle.
A tan-furred kitten stood in a fighting stance against a row of shelving, clearly trying not to cry. Blood trickled from his nose and his left eye was already growing puffy. A circle of smirking teenkats, several years his elders, surrounded him.
“You gonna try ta’ fight us again?” their apparent leader sneered.
Chance missed anything else that might have been said. Staring at the bloodied kitt, all he could see was himself… not so many years ago. He could feel a snarl bubbling in his chest as he made the comparison between the two cruelties. And, these teenkats hadn’t even the excuse of drunkenness to explain their casual torment.
“Lay another hand on ‘im and I’ll have the manager over here. After I slug ya’!” Chance snapped as the leader grabbed the kitt up by the front of his shirt.
The kat turned slowly. He was slim and tall. But, his height still topped out roughly six inches below Chance’s broad shoulders.
“Let ‘im go,” Chance warned, stepping fully into the aisle, green eyes sparking.
Wordlessly, one of the first teen’s flunkies charged Chance, fist flying for the the striped one’s face. Chance met him with a fist in the nose and sent him sprawling back into the far shelf. Cans clattered to the floor as he hit, clawing at the shelf for balance. His effort was wasted as he, at last, stumbled to the floor, landing hard on his rear.
“Let’s go, man!” the second flunky yelped, dashing past Chance.
The leader glowered at the tabby, but dropped his victim and bolted as well.
Chance let them and their staggering companion go with only a parting glare. It was a small convenience store and his boss would be investigating the ruckus soon enough. Chance knelt by the fallen kitten and tried to examine his wounds. The tan-furred kitt refused to look up at him and instead focused on a can of tuna, freed by the teenkat’s fall, that was leisurely rolling across the floor. Chance laid a gentle hand on the other’s shoulder.
“Kid, are you okay?”
The kitten jerked his head around to stare at Chance with wide eyes.
“Y— yes, Sir,” he sniffled.
“Good,” Chance returned gruffly, smiling. “Now, you better get home and get that looked at.”
The kitt nodded and scrambled to his feet. Chance rose as well and, giving the kitten a final glance, started to leave to head off his boss.
“Sir?” the kitten called after him.
Chance looked back over his shoulder.
Chance smiled again and muttered a gruff, “Welcome.”
‘I didn’t realize ’til then,’ the older T-Bone commented to himself in his mind. ‘Til that moment I just wanted to mimic my old heroes and pound the world’s bullies. Didn’t realize that beating up the world’s bullies was nothing compared to protecting those who needed it. But, I know now. I know now.’
General Justin Steele frowned as he recalled what Dr. Konway had told him about the SWAT Kats’ condition. Just what did these kats have to do with any of this? What did they have to do with the Seeker? His frown deepened and he refocused his attention on finding the entrance to MegaKat Memorial’s parking garage. Perhaps the answers awaited him here. Or would only more questions greet him?
Curious to see just what was so important to the Seeker that he’d all but appealed to the debt the general owed him to involve the broad-shouldered kat in this, Justin hurriedly parked his car and headed for the nearest entrance. Something important was tied up in this; Justin was certain. He knew Seeker – knew him as well as one could – and Seeker didn’t involve himself this deeply in anything just for the sake of one of his mad amusements.
His mind was still tracing possibilities as he approached the ICU he’d been directed to in his earlier call to Dr. Konway. He quickened his pace, seeing the tired-eyed scientist waiting for him outside the double doors ahead.
“C’mon, we’re gonna be late!” Rick Furlitz yelled as he bolted down the hallway. “Get it in gear, Chance!”
“Right behind ya’. Taking the lead actually,” Chance retorted as he flashed past his friend, backpack bouncing wildly as he ran.
“Ha! The day you can run faster’n me—!” Rick snapped, increasing his speed to catch up to Chance.
The two teenkats’ thundering feet echoed down the school hallways as they raced to their class. Running neck and neck, they skidded around a corner and right into the least favorite teacher in the whole school. Before they could react, the portly middle-aged she-kat was slammed onto her tail. Trying to maintain his balance, Chance awkwardly leapt over her, doubling his speed in a flash of terror.
“You hoodlums!” Mrs. Martin shrieked, searching the floor for her glasses.
“Faster, man! I don’t think she knows who it was,” Rick yelped, catching up to Chance after his extended recovery time.
“You better hope she doesn’t know who it was!” Chance shot back, skidding around a corner and bolting down the next hallway.
Rick grinned back wryly.
“Well, this is where we part company, Dude,” he announced as they reached the stairwell at the end of the hallway. “See ya’ this afternoon in practice!”
He and Chance exchanged an enthusiastic high five before Chance bounded into the stairwell as Rick raced out a doorway and toward the gym.
General Steele looked down on the sleeping figures of the two SWAT Kats curiously.
Justin didn’t turn his head to look back for the speaker. He merely nodded and waited for the massive kat to slip around and stand opposite him on the other side of the far bed. The tremendous gray feline succeeded in the effort without even ruffling the curtains that cordoned off the SWAT Kats’ section of the ICU. Justin glanced up to study the big kat. Something about him was subtly different.
“Which one are you?” the general asked quietly, already certain of the answer.
“Stryfe,” the tall kat murmured calmly as though the name were an assurance of some form.**
Justin nodded. “And, where is your brother?”
Stryfe cocked his head to one side as though listening to sounds only he could hear.
“Close,” he affirmed at last. “It seems I wasn’t needed here. He’s already stepped in to help these two,” Stryfe smiled faintly. “Must have had his sense of honor pricked a bit.”
Justin could hold his questions no longer; they spilled forth in a torrent of confusion.
“Who are these kats? What do they have to do with Seeker? With anything?” he demanded.
Stryfe thought a long minute before replying.
“They are MegaKat City’s protectors. They are honest-hearted heroes who could have stepped from a fairy tale into reality. Their courage to match his challenge. Their skill pitted against his technological brilliance. Their good hearts against his evil.” Stryfe looked up to meet the general’s gaze levelly. “He’s here for the challenge. These two are the ones he’s chosen to fight in his own form of honorable combat.”
Chance paused at the door to the apartment, looking around warily. The hall was as he remembered it; even twelve years couldn’t add to its shabbiness. It was the same threadbare brown carpet, perhaps once a much lighter color, the same dull gray electrical tape holding it together. The same false wood doors with their half-legible numbers lined the hallway in seemingly eternal silence.
The big teen squared his shoulders. But, he wasn’t the same scared kitten who had twice fled down this hallway. He was a star player with the MegaKat High Panther football team. He was a solid A/B student. Tomorrow, he would be a graduate. And, in his pocket was the letter that he’d spent eight years dreaming of. The one that admitted him to the Enforcer Academy.
Chance frowned as he raised one huge fist to knock on the door. And, he was a wide-shouldered bundle of trained muscle that wouldn’t take a beating quietly ever again.
His knock echoing in the still corridor, Chance waited. At last, staggered steps could be heard approaching the door. It was abruptly flung open. The same bloodshot yellow eyes from his nightmares stared up at Chance as the same voice, familiar even after years, rumbled, “Wha’ ya’ want?”
Chance was too surprised to speak. He hadn’t expected to find himself suddenly a full head taller than his childhood tormentor. He was still staring dumbly when recognition filtered through the ethanol fumes that fogged the other kat’s brain.
“You?!” the drunken feline roared. “D’ya know wha’ they di’ ta’ me when you ran off and said I mistreated you?!” He didn’t wait for an answer. “They lo’d me up! I spen’ a year in prison be’ca a’ you!”
With a growl, the intoxicated kat took a swing at Chance.
Chance was already waiting for him, the old anger rising within him.
“Not. This. Time!” Chance ground through clenched teeth as he let one huge fist fly to thud heavily in his uncle’s stomach.
Stunned and gasping as the blow slammed into his diaphragm, the russet kat doubled over in pain. Raising his head to look at Chance, his pain-clouded yellow eyes met the younger tom’s hardened stare. Chance’s iron features suddenly softened in shock.
“Jake?” he whispered, barely opening his mouth.
For an instant, Jake Clawson stood before him in pain, his fogged amber eyes pleading to know why the kat he trusted as his closest friend had struck him. Hurt and betrayal shone in those eyes.
Chance’s angry words caught in his throat, blotting any sound from passing his lips. Then, the image changed. Once more his uncle stood before him. The kat had changed, but not the look of hurt.
Chance regained control, shaking away the addition to his memory that had never been there in reality, and reached out to grab his uncle by the shirt collar. He gently pinned the smaller kat against the door frame.
“No,” he whispered softly, more to himself than the stupefied kat he held. “You’re not hurting me again.”
He stared at his uncle for a long moment. The other kat was a wreck. His fur was dull and matted, his eyes almost permanently bloodshot with dark circles ringing them so that they stood out in his gaunt face. His tail hung limply, coated in the grime through which the forlorn kat had allowed it to drag.
Sympathy welled up in Chance’s heart. He couldn’t hurt this pathetic creature, this trembling remnant of a kat who had once been so kind, so gentle. Chance let his uncle go carefully and stepped back. He could sympathize, but he couldn’t forgive.
“I’ll be out of your life by tomorrow afternoon,” he whispered, voice gruff. “I’m graduating in the morning and then I’m going into the Enforcers. I’ll say my good-byes now in case you’re too drunk to show up for the ceremony. If the Enforcers accept me, I’ll send you what I can of the paycheck.”
With that, Chance spun on his heel and strode out of the doorway without a backward glance. The same doors flashed by in the quiet hall. The same carpeted floor shook under his angry steps. The same figure wavered in the doorway, comprehending little of what had happened.
General Steele had occupied the commander’s chair at Enforcer Headquarters for less than five minutes since the brief katnap in a motel room that had served as his rest when the phone rang. Praying it was a simple matter and not a furtherance of the disaster his son had created at headquarters, he reached for the receiver and brought it to his ear.
“Hello. This is General Steele.”
“I think I know the voice.”
Justin was stunned. His estranged wife was the last person he’d expected a call from, today or any other day.
“I should hope,” he managed at length.
“I’m coming out there. Today.”
Clearly, she wasn’t in a mood for pleasantries. In fact, she was cutting to the chase remarkably quickly.
“To what do I owe this joy, Honey?” Justin asked at last, the sweet tone in his voice laced with cool venom.
“I think you know.”
With that, there was a click, and the monotone sound of a dial tone hummed from the speaker.
Justin sighed deeply.
“Look at ’em, Chance! The finest fighters in MegaKat City.”
“I’d look, but some idjit is blocking the view,” Chance snapped, shouldering his way past Rick.
Seven silver jet fighters filled the airstrip of the Enforcer air base. Standing in front of them stood a line of eleven kats, dressed in full flight gear. But, Chance’s eyes were only for the jets.
“The Enforcer Rogue Sabres,” Chance murmured in awe. “Established ten years after MegaWar II, nine years after they established the Enforcers.”
“To further protect and defend MegaKat City as it has proven to be a weak point in the defenses of the western coast,” Rick finished in a bored, sing-song tone. “C’mon, man, enough with the history lesson. I wanna fly!”
“You think I don’t?!” Chance shot back. Then, he focused on the kat who was coming forward to greet them.
The black kat stopped just before them and held a hand out in greeting. “I’m Captain Eric Trestain.” Chance shook hands with him, and he turned to Rick, continuing. “Welcome to the Rogue Sabres.”
“It’s an honor, Sir,” Chance murmured hoarsely.
Trestain grinned slyly. “I’m sure you’re eager to get in the air, but first let me introduce you to the squadron.”
The two followed him over to the assembled group as he made introductions down the line.
Chance listened with half an ear, the eleven faces passing in a blur. Except one.
“And, this is Lieutenant Brett Katz, our chief hothead who thinks his little stunts are cute far too often.” For once, Trestain’s tone seemed slightly reproachful.
Katz, in turn, leered at his commanding officer and merely tossed Chance and Rick an acknowledging glare.
Chance quickly forgot the encounter, however, as he and Rick were finally allowed to climb into a jet with the Rogue Sabres’ trademark design of two crossed black sabres splashed across the vertical fins. The big tabby looked over his instruments quickly to familiarize himself, confident as he saw that the jet was little different from the academy’s aircraft. Though a wealth of improvements weren’t lost on him either.
“Ready?” he called to Rick as he methodically followed the proper startup sequence and waited for his cue to move the jet out for take-off.
“Been ready,” Rick returned.
Chance grinned. Rick was the last kat he’d expected to pick up again. His old high school friend’s decision to join the Enforcers had been almost overnight. The two had re-met in the academy and hadn’t been separated since. He’d never admit it, but Chance was glad to have his old companion accompanying him in the air. More than glad for the backup.
His thoughts were cut off as he received a clear for take-off. He taxied the jet down the runway and then….
“Awaaaaaay we go!” Chance screamed as the responsive craft rocketed into the sky, leaving the desert floor and the airbase far below.
Morning, and a nurse’s quiet nudge, came far too soon for Seymour Konway. Stifling a yawn, he thanked the middle-aged nurse and tried to unfold himself from a chair never intended to serve as a bed.
He rubbed his eyes to clear them and then fumbled in a breast pocket for his glasses. Donning them, he glanced toward the SWAT Kats. His gaze travelled first to them, and then to the monitors. The monitors were fine. Then, he glanced back at the two kats. Slowly, he staggered to his feet and made his way to the first bed, the big tabby’s. The big kat looked okay. His face was devoid of pain or any other expression. Hoping he wasn’t kidding himself, Konway honestly thought he could see a growing look of health about both kats.
Whether it was illusion or reality, there was nothing he could do at the moment. Still, he wasn’t willing to leave them. No, he would see this through. But, first, he needed to find some coffee badly.
Chance was half in his flight suit when the alarm went off. His head jerked up at the sound. After the power outage of a few minutes ago he half-expected someone to tell him the alarm was a malfunction. The message the intercom delivered instants later informed him that this was no malfunction.
“All members of VF-414*** report to the hangar immediately. All members of VF-414 report to the hangar immediately. This is a Code Red.”
“Yes, action!” Rick howled happily from two lockers down as he zipped up his own suit. “Better hurry, Chance, or you’ll be facing it in your boxers.”
“Ha!” Chance snorted, jerking the suit on. He secured his uniform and then snatched his helmet from his locker before turning to face his smirking partner. “Well, c’mon!”
The two made it to the hangar in record time. They found it a buzzing hive of activity. The plane crews were scrambling to ready the jets as Trestain assembled his men for a quick briefing. The two young kats quickly formed up and waited at attention. Katz, strolling into the hangar as though he were ambling in the park, was the last to arrive.
“Alright, men. Some psychopath calling himself Dark Kat just hit MegaKat Light and Power. Ground crews are already moving into position, but they’re not going to stand much of a chance against his airship without air support,” Trestain explained. “I warn you, according to eye witnesses, this airship is something new. It may have some unpleasant surprises.” Trestain let the warning hang in the air a few seconds before ordering them out to their jets.
“Ready, Chance?” Rick asked as he strapped in, his eyes alight.
“Nah, I’d rather be watchin’ Scaredy Kat,” Chance returned sardonically, already secured and checking his instruments.
Talk ended as they taxied onto the runway and took off. Chance guided the jet into position and then let his mind wander to what might lay ahead. This was it. What he’d trained for, what he’d wanted. Some real action. He could feel the familiar excitement and tension mounting within.
“Look alive, kats. This is the real thing. Get ready for some action.” Trestain announced to his squadron.
Chance focused ahead to see that they were approaching the power plant.
“Bogey on my scope,” Katz muttered abruptly.
“I see him,” Trestain returned. “Squadron engage. Fire at will.”
Chance looked from the blip on his scope to the wicked-looking assemblage closing on them. The red and black contrivance sported a pair of stubby wings and viciously curved stabilizers that stood up like spines across its uppermost half. Structurally, it looked like little more than a huge flying torpedo.
“What is that thing?!” he gaped.
“Ug-ly!” Rick declared.
“What indeed, Enforcers?” a deep voice suddenly purred as it commandeered all available radio frequencies. “Meet my Fear Ship. I think it will prove more than enough for your pathetic little fighters.” Then, the transmission ended, leaving the distinct feeling of an audible smirk hanging in the air.
Even as they neared it, the airship proved that its design was far from sloppy. As Trestain’s fighter closed on it, the evil-looking craft nimbly dodged away from the jet, diving and slipping under Trestain’s fighter.
The startled exclamations of the other pilots echoed through the cockpit as the airship plowed straight into their ranks. The Rogue Sabres, broke formation completely and scattered, getting clear.
Chance was the last pilot to dodge.
“You are not getting away that easy!” he growled, banking his jet into a tight curve that took it down and clear of the incoming attacker. Levelling it out, the big pilot jerked the stick to turn his arc into a complete one-eighty and pursue the airship.
“Watch it, Furlong. This Dark Kat guy’s trouble,” Trestain’s warning voice cut into the melee as he righted his fighter and saw Chance and Rick closing on the flying hulk of the intruder’s airship.
“Roger that, Sir,” Chance returned, feeling his stomach twist in a half- pleasant rush of adrenaline and fear.
As Chance flipped off the open channel to his commanding office, Rick purred, “The Furballs are on the job.”
Chance smiled at the reminder of their nickname. He’d always hoped for his own personal callsign, but being one of the Rogue Sabres’ two “Furballs” wasn’t a bad title. Not in his opinion anyway. Feral, the Enforcer Commander, seemed to have issues with it, but Captain Trestain had few complaints on his performance, and it was his opinion that really mattered to the big tabby.
“C’mon… A liiiiittle closer,” Rick hissed from behind him as he waited for his targeting system to register a lock.
Chance heard the lock tone a split second before Rick’s whoop.
“I’ve got tone! Heads up, Chance,” Rick called. “I’m introducing us to our new friend. Missile deployed!”
The missile streaked toward the airship.
“Blow up the power plant on the Furballs shift, will ya’?” Rick muttered as he watched it.
Rick’s missile streaked from the jet as Chance rolled to the right, banking away from the bizarre craft that Dark Kat had referred to as his Fear Ship. Fear Ship? Talk about a weirdo, Chance thought to himself as he glanced back at the missile. He was just in time to see the missile detonate.
“Got ’em!” Rick crowed.
Chance didn’t have time to even guess at the damage they’d done when a barrage of laser fire strafed the aft portion of the jet. Warning sensors flashed madly at the dangerously high heat levels dancing across the fuselage.
“Crud! What kinda lasers does he have on that thing?!” the tawny pilot barked. He’d been out of range of any conventional weapons.
“I don’ know,” Rick returned quietly. “Hey, man, I’m gettin’ some weird readouts back here.” He fiddled with the instrument panel for several minutes. “No go,” he murmured hoarsely. “I don’t know how he did it without sending us up in a fireball, Chance, but we’re losin’ fuel. Fast.”
“CRUD!!!” Chance growled. He switched on his microphone. “We’re hit, Captain, and losing fuel fast. We’re returning to base.”
“Roger that,” Trestain returned, looking worriedly after the lone fighter before calling to the remainder of his squadron to regroup.
Rick was studying the fuel gauge worriedly as Chance debated the best medium between the need for speed and the need to conserve fuel as long as possible.
The statement was quiet. Too quiet. It was laden with infinite dread and terror. Hearing that sound in his partner’s voice, Chance’s gaze went first to the clear sky around them, then to the fuel gauge. In no less than thirty seconds, it had bottomed out completely.
“We gotta eject!” Rick muttered hoarsely.
Chance looked around. They were flying directly over the outskirts of MegaKat City, a few hundred feet just above the office buildings and apartments that currently held who knew how many kats. He shook his head.
“No can do. We eject and this thing takes out a building. I’m not living with that on my conscience.”
“Chance!” Rick’s voice was desperate, terrified.
Distantly, Chance could hear the sound coming from the fighter’s single engine. It would flame out in seconds. For some reason, that wasn’t scaring him. Yes, it would flame out in a just a few seconds. He had to figure out how to bring it down safely, preferably without losing his, Rick’s, or anyone else’s life in the process.
He focused his gaze straight ahead, hands tightening on the stick, and did something he hadn’t done since the day he’d fled his uncle’s apartment. He prayed, just like his mother had taught him. Remembering her, he briefly wished she could see him now.
The big tabby’s mind was suddenly as clear and focused as it had ever been. He could hear Rick behind him, calling from another world it seemed. He could hear the ominous warning sounds coming from the engine. And, he could see the waiting airstrip with its seemingly tiny cluster of buildings a tiny pinpoint of civilization in the desert ahead. The city proper had fallen away, just a few more miles across barren country. Cautiously, he eased up on the throttle, waiting. The engine shuddered, its flame staggered as there was suddenly precious little left to burn. Then, Chance opened the throttle all the way. The engine released a final burst of momentum. And, died.
It didn’t matter; the jet was already close enough to the landing strip. Chance let it glide in and had landed without incident before he was aware of the world around him once more.
Rick was silent behind him. The only sounds were those of a jet engine cooling, the crackle of damaged electronics and the shouts of the plane crew as they rushed out to meet the jet.
Chance was staggering out of the locker room when Trestain caught him by the door. It was three hours after the attack and Chance was drained physically and emotionally. The adrenaline that had powered him through the fight was long gone, and now he just wanted to rest. Wanted to spend a few hours without it nagging on his mind that he’d been taken out early in his first dogfight and almost lost his jet. Wanted to be free of the knowledge that the freak who’d nearly killed him and his partner had killed two of the other Rogue Sabres. Wanted to forget that the same freak was still free. Seeing his commanding officer, he prayed Trestain hadn’t changed his mind about not faulting him for the day’s incident.
The black tom merely looked into the young pilot’s eyes and took a deep breath, his gaze regretful. “I’m afraid I have some bad news, Lieutenant.”
“What?!” he asked quickly. He hated those words, hated that tone of voice. None of the memories either evoked were pleasant.
“Furlitz has made a request to be transferred from the squadron.”
“Rick! Why?! Why didn’t you tell me?!”
Chance had just caught Rick as the other was almost out the door and into the gathering twilight beyond.
“Chance, look— I can’t okay! I just can’t do it! I can’t take the pressure. We could’ve died today!”
“Rick, you did fine. You’ve handled a lot a’ other tight situations!” There was no anger left in Chance’s voice. He didn’t have the strength to be angry. Only a plea rang in his voice.
“No, Chance. I can’t do this. I’m sorry. I just can’t.” Rick’s eyes pleaded for understanding.
Chance slumped against the wall, exhausted in body and soul, as Rick stepped away from him with a final sad smile.
“Call me sometime, okay? We’ll get together and goof off like old times.”
Senator Steele stepped down from the helicopter crisp in her creaseless dress suit. Her sculpted hair barely fluttered in the regular gusts from the chopper’s still-spinning rotors. Jaw set, icy blue eyes narrowed she strode away from the helicopter and across the roof to the waiting general.
“Hello, Justin,” she greeted General Steele curtly.
“Good morning, Lydia. Warm and charming as ever, I see,” the general returned with a small smile.
“I thought we’d dismiss the pleasantries and cut to the war you’ve declared, dear,” she returned, letting a glare intended for his eyes alone flash briefly across her composed features.
“I must need to read the treaty again. I had no idea that following my orders was an act of war,” General Justin Steele snipped, careless grin tightening into a tense, sardonic smirk as he led the way into the hangar that opened onto the roof.
“Impeding our son’s career – again – is,” the dark-haired she-kat snapped.
“Dearest, I do believe I’m saving it. And, our son,” the general growled as they reached the elevator back down to the main Enforcer building. Before she could reply, he punched the button marked with a downward arrow to call the elevator, adding, “Perhaps we could continue this in private?”
Senator Lydia Steele nodded an agreement and the couple waited for the elevator in stony silence.
By the time he reached the hangar, Chance was ready to punch someone. That someone was at his elbow, still taunting.
“Rumor has it the only wizzo they could find to replace Furlitz was some green kid straight out of flight school. Nobody else would fly with you,” Brett Katz leered.
“Katz, do you have a life?” Chance growled. “Do you not have any entertainment beyond making me want to knock that plug-ugly snout out the back of your head?”
“A few, but you’re the most fun I get in a day,” the tall kat sneered. “Oooo, look. He’s here waiting for you.” Katz pointed as he spoke.
Sure enough, a slim, orange-furred kat was standing by Chance’s jet, number 3. He was looking around curiously and alternating his inspection of the hangar with an inspection of the jet. At a distance it was clear his mouth was moving as he let a hand trail across the sleek alloy of the jet’s fuselage, but his words were lost in the incessant noise and bustle of the hangar.
“Good luck, Furball,” Katz cooed, spitting out the word “Furball” like an insult. For days he’d delighted in using the name to which Chance refused to respond to anymore.
“Get lost,” Chance snapped, stalking up to his jet. Inwardly, he was dreading this meeting. The last thing he wanted was a new weapons officer; he just wanted his old one back.
The other kat looked up as he approached and turned to greet him. “Hi, I’m your new weapons officer. Jake Clawson.” The slim kat extended a hand.
Chance ignored it, grunting an acknowledgement of the other tom’s words as he continued past to stalk toward his jet. It was several seconds later that he heard the orange-furred kat’s soft footfalls behind him. Chance kept his gaze focused ahead, the tip of his tail flicking in agitation. If his actions hadn’t clarified his attitude, his body language did.
He reached the jet and leapt to the boarding ladder, climbing it quickly and pulling himself into the cockpit. As he strapped in, he heard the other kat situating himself in the weapons officer’s seat just behind his.
Chance growled to himself and finally twisted around to face the other kat. “Look, I think I’d better make myself perfectly clear at the start here. I don’t know you, and I don’t intend to get to know you. I never asked for a new partner, but I guess you get to be the unlucky kat to fill the job. Stay out of my way, leave me alone, do your job and we’ll get along just peachy. Am I clear?”
The smaller kat just nodded mutely.
Lieutenant Commander Jonathan Steele tried to be inconspicuous as he pressed his ear to the door of the Commander’s office. It was a near-impossible task, but he wasn’t about to miss a minute of this conversation.
“This is just like you, Justin! Jonathan needs to do things on his own. Why do you have to butt in everytime—!”
“I notice I’m not the only one “butting in”…”
“Don’t take that tone with me, Justin!”
Steele leaned closer to hear his father’s quieter reply.
Several feet down the hallway, Felina Feral stifled a yawn as she strode purposefully toward the Commander’s office. All officers involved in last night’s fiasco had been given the day off, with the exception of Lieutenant Commander Steele, but that wasn’t why Felina was in Headquarters today.
‘Alright think, Felina,’ she told herself. ‘Casually ask the general if he knows what room the SWAT Kats were placed in.’
She paused mid-thought to snarl a continuance of her earlier mental commentary on the secretary at MegaKat Memorial who had not only told her that the SWAT Kats weren’t there but had added that she thought Felina was a wacko. Then, the dark-haired she-kat sighed. It made sense, covering up the fact that the SWAT Kats were there. Konway, true to his word, had probably made sure that only the paramedics and doctors immediately concerned knew about the two vigilantes.
But, she still felt bad. She’d promised to guard them, to guard their identities. And then, she’d gotten caught up saving her uncle and abandoned them in their moment of need.
‘You can’t have known they were in trouble,’ she snapped at herself. ‘I still made a promise and broke it. Now, they’re in the hospital . Who knows how many kats have had the chance to lift those masks, take DNA samples, anything! But, Uncle…’
All intelligent thought came to a full and immediate stop as she neared the office. There, one ear flattened to the door, eyes straining as though he could see through wood, was Lieutenant Steele.
“What are you doing?!” Felina barked before any thought of propriety could enter her head.
Steele jumped three feet in the air, his tail bushing out to twice its proper size.
“Captain Feral!” he blurted, returning to the ground. “You,” he stammered. “You. You! YOU!” His tone gained vehemence with each ‘you!’
“Yes?” Felina raised on eyebrow.
If he wanted to jump down her throat for her disobedience last night, she would have welcomed it. She’d always thought he was a spineless wuss. Now, she knew he was worse; he’d tried to kill her uncle last night, she had no doubts of that. And, now here he was… and here she was, fresh from no more than three hours of sleep. The tall she-kat’s pensive mood had shot straight to “kill mode” and Steele was about to become so much kitty litter.
Mercifully for Steele, the Commander’s wide door swung open five seconds later.
“Lieutenant! Captain!” the General Steele snapped, ending further talk and saving Steele from certain verbal mauling.
“Sir!” Felina saluted quickly.
Steele mimicked her an instant later with considerably less formality and more panic.
“Sir! I was here to— I—” He trailed off under his father’s menacing glare.
Felina leapt in before another word could be said. “I was wondering if I could have a word with you, Sir,” she began.
“Certainly, Captain,” he paused. “Lieutenant, step inside and I’ll speak with you in a minute.” With that, he gestured to the open door at his back, stepping away to make room for his son to enter.
The younger Steele started to speak, was silenced with a new glare, and sullenly trudged into the room.
Justin pulled the door closed after his son and then turned to Felina.
“Captain Feral, I believe?” he began.
“Yes, Sir. I came to ask you about the SWAT Kats...,” she stopped, but, seeing the general make no move to interpose, continued. “Do you know where they are? I— I was supposed to be watching them,” she finished lamely.
“So, you were the officer Konway’s assistants mentioned,” Justin murmured, rubbing his chin in thought.
“You talked to them? Do you know—?!” Felina started to blurt.
Justin cut her off with a wave of his hand. “Yes, I know where they are. I just talked with Dr. Konway earlier this morning. He thinks their condition is improving.” He frowned. “What can you tell me about this ‘deal’ the Seeker made concerning them?”
“They told me all about it. But, Sir, could I see them first? I promised I’d—”
Again, Justin deftly silenced her. “Don’t worry. Their secrets are safe with an old acquaintance of mine,” he assured. “Now,” he stopped to study Felina thoughtfully, “how about we trade what we know?”
Seymour Konway’s cooling coffee was halfway to his lips when the big tabby started mumbling. Konway froze in mid-sip. Neither kat had made a sound beyond a moan throughout the procedure. Praying it was a sign of their coming around, the orange-furred kat set his coffee aside and stepped up to T-Bone’s bed.
The big kat’s mouth moved soundlessly for several seconds. At last, a single coherent word escaped.
Jake reached up to set his boots on the shelf in his locker. As he did so, he heard the squeak of the door, echoing loudly in the empty locker room. It was followed by a dull thud as the door closed again. His boots contacting an obstacle in the path he intended for them drew his attention fully back to the task at hand.
Feeling silly as he realized the problem, he retracted his arm and set the boots on the floor of his locker. His mind had somehow registered them as his helmet which was already perched snugly on the shelf.
‘How do I know this?’
Suddenly, he felt his shirt collar jerked back so harshly it tightened around his neck painfully. Before the slim kat could react, he was lifted off his feet and slammed into the open locker.
‘I wasn’t there. That was Jake!’
It was several interminable seconds later that Jake’s whirling mind registered events properly. His entire face was starting to throb, particularly his sensitive nose, which was squished against the shelf in his locker. His eyes were squeezed shut as he tried to deal with the shooting pain in his head. A low chuckle behind him assured him of his attacker’s identity.
Jake grit his teeth and replied, “I see you haven’t forgotten your favorite high school hobbies, Katz.”
Katz smirked, chuckling. “I’m a pro at geek squashing.”
Jake opened his eyes, forcing the room to steady as he ground out, “Too bad I’m not a geek!”
‘Is this part of Jake’s memories again?’
With that, he twisted free of Katz’ grip and spun, planting a kick in Katz’ gut before whirling away. Unwilling to be caught in a fight, he lunged for the doorway to the locker room; the presence of officers and other kats in the hallway beyond would likely end Katz’ games. The orange-furred kat was startled to find another large figure looming in the doorway. He recognized the startled face quickly as he nearly bowled Chance over.
“Oh look, Clawson, yer Mommy’s here,” Katz purred, sneering at Chance.
Disoriented, the T-Bone of the present jerked spastically in his sleep as his dream-tempered memories switched perspectives. Once more, he was seeing with his own eyes and remembering only his own memories.
Chance pushed past Jake before the smaller kat could reply.
“I’m not his mommy, Katz, but I’m gonna send you crying for yours.”
“Back off, Furlong. It’s not your fight,” Jake snapped. He didn’t want to fight, but he certainly didn’t want it said that he needed the burly pilot to defend him.
“Chill, Kiddo. This guy’s had it coming for a while anyway,” Chance warned, taking up a ready stance.
“You fight about as good as ya’ fly, Furball. Ya’ really want me ta’ lay ya’ out?” His eyes lit. “I’ll be happy to oblige.”
“Whenever you’re ready, Katz,” Chance returned.
“Readier than you’ll ever be, Furball!” Katz snapped, throwing a punch at Chance’s head.
The tiger-striped tom was gone before it could connect, leaving Katz’ fist sailing through dead space. Chance took the advantage of surprise and caught his opponent under the chin with a hard uppercut.
Katz reeled with the blow, seemingly stunned. Chance stepped forward to deliver another punch, hoping to end the fight early. Katz, however, had other ideas. His sweeping kick knocked Chance’s feet out from under him and sent the tabby down on his back.
Smirking, Katz regained his footing and prepared to slam one booted foot down on Chance’s exposed stomach before he could recover. His blow never connected as another slammed into his own mid-section.
“Learn to fight fair, Katz,” Jake growled, as he broke away from the tall pilot, leaving the other doubled over in pain from his kick. Still eyeing the brown-furred brute, Jake glanced down at Chance who was getting to his feet.
“I thought I told you I could take care of it?” Chance snapped.
“Sure, any time,” Jake returned sarcastically. “In case you didn’t notice, I just saved your tail.” With that, he turned to leave, wanting the whole affair done with.
Days of frustration, anger, and sadness exploded from Chance in a single sentence.
“Look! I don’t need help from some strung-out tech geek!” he blurted.
Jake wheeled around to face him, amber eyes wide with shock and anger. “I have never been strung-out!” he hissed, eyes narrowing.
Chance realized abruptly that that one had hit way below the belt. But, there was no turning back now.
“That’s not what your file says,” Chance growled. Suddenly, he wanted to inflict as much pain as he could – to drive the other kat away from him once and for all. “I read it. Expelled from MegaKat U’s special technical-whatever Enforcer internship course for possession of a controlled substance,” the big kat paraphrased.
“The ‘nip wasn’t mine! That’s what they determined when they let me into the Enforcer Academy a year later!” Jake yelled, his temper rising.
Abruptly, Chance heard the voices, voices from another time, another place, another life.
“Just hold on to this for me, man. I’ll be right back for it.”
A package was shoved into his unwilling hands as the lanky figure dashed down the hallway, a single window showing the setting sun outside.
“Wait!” Jake’s voice calling from the body he seemed to occupy, the one whose eyes he saw through.
Then, the gathering dusk was suddenly full dark and a uniformed campus police officer stood over him.
“Possession of katnip is a federal crime and grounds for…” the officer quoted in a dull monotone.
“But, it’s not—!”
Then, Jake’s memory was gone, and Chance was left with his own. The Chance of years gone by snorted in disgust.
“You got in cuz your bigshot doctor father sailed in to help,” he sneered.
That was the final straw. Jake’s careful efforts at checking his temper dissolved. With a growl, he rushed Chance.
The larger kat was caught by surprise. He’d received a painful kick in the gut, not unlike the one Katz was undoubtedly still nursing, and a blow to the face before he was prepared to react. But, when he did, he succeeded in landing one huge fist square in the orange-furred tom’s face. The other kat grunted as his head snapped back under the force of the blow.
“What is the meaning of this?!”
Chance staggered to his feet to find the angry gaze of Commander Feral himself staring him down. He could see Jake stumbling to a more dignified position, one hand clapped over his left eye, in his peripheral vision. Brett Katz was nowhere to be seen.
“Y’know, I gotta hand it to ya’. Ya’ gotta great kick,” Chance remarked, grunting at the pain from his stomach as he stood up to drag another bag of potatoes over to his self-proclaimed spot.
“Yeah, well, .you gotta great left hook,” Jake returned, massaging his throbbing left eye. He paused, turning over the potato in his hand and staring at it idly.
“I… uh…,” Chance searched for words. “That… uh… strung-out crack was a bit uncalled for.”
“Uncalled for?!” Jake snapped, eyes blazing.
“Okay, okay. That was a cheap shot, I admit it. I’m sorry, For that and for all these days I’ve been treating you like dirt. It’s nothing personal, okay?”
Jake stared at him for a long minute.
“Well… it…” Chance sighed deeply and studied his potato as though it held some deep insight; regrettably, it held only a load of starch. “I just… when Rick, my old partner, quit, it just messed me up bad, okay?”
Chance looked at him, realizing that the other kat’s gaze had softened a bit. Then, he ducked his head back to his work.
Silence reigned for several long minutes before Chance looked up to find Jake studying him again. Jake arched a brow and seemed to be pondering something deeply. Abruptly, he shoved his potato peeler into his left hand and stuck out his right.
Chance grinned. “Yeah, anybody who can take the pounding I gave you and get in that many licks of his own – not ta’ mention still be standin’ – is fine in my book,” he returned, extending his right hand.
The two hands met and they shook firmly.
Jon Steele’s eyes locked on his father as the larger tom entered the office having finished trading information with Felina. Steele’s mouth opened, angry words over Felina’s insubordination the previous night already boiling up as the office door clicked shut and locked in its quiet electronic way.
“Sir, that officer is—!” he started.
“She’s thorough,” General Steele returned simply. “Now, I have work do and you have your own duties, Lieutenant Commander.”
“Yes,” Lydia put in abruptly, laying a hand on her son’s shoulder to calm him. “And, I have a few of my own ‘duties’ to see to.” She traded a knowing look with her son, tossed a glare at her husband, and vanished out the door.
General Justin Steele stared at the door for a half-second before rounding on his son.
“You had to go behind my back and bring your mother into this again, didn’t you, Jonathan?” the general demanded quietly.
“Of course, I had to!” his son snapped back. “She’s the only one in the whole family who thinks I’m capable of anything!”
“The rest of us would think you were capable if you’d stop hiding behind your mother and do something for yourself once in a while!” Justin growled.
The twosome stared at each other for a brief eternity. Jon was breathing heavily, his face livid. Justin was calm but for his flashing eyes. At length, the younger Steele backed down.
“I believe you said I had duties to attend to... Sir!” he snarled, fighting down his urge to pout or whine and succeeding in producing only a vaguely sulky tone. It was a first, and he was quite pleased with himself, in a vicious, angry way.
Justin Steele nodded curtly and his son was gone. The broad-shouldered kat sighed heavily in the silence that followed.
Seymour Konway mulled T-Bone’s single word over and over in his mind.
He frowned, sipping his coffee as he resumed his seat. Hadn’t it been a “Brett Katz” who’d kidnapped the Deputy Mayor and the Enforcer Commander? His eyes lit; yes, that was it! Well, it made perfect sense for that to be on the big SWAT Kat’s mind.
His own mind at ease, Konway leaned back to wait. Hopefully, all was well.
“C’mon, Sureshot! We’re late!” Chance bellowed, stuffing both feet into his pants almost simultaneously and jerking them upward.
“I’m workin’!” Jake returned. He was currently entangled in his own uniform. Courtesy his haste, his head was halfway through a sleeve, not the head opening.
“Jake!” Chance grabbed the offending garment and jerked it around so that Jake’s head popped out the proper opening.
“Watch it, Hotshot! You nearly broke my neck!” Jake growled as he adjusted his uniform. “And, go easy on my dress uniform!”
“Yeah, yeah! Let’s go!” Chance started to bolt for the door to the tomkats’ locker room and nearly fell on his face as his unsecured pants fell to his knees. “Argh!” The big tabby scrambled to regain his balance and pull his pants up.
“You want a fat lip, Sureshot?”
Jake laughed louder. “I dare ya’ ta’ try it!” he snorted.
“Believe me, I will! Just as soon as we get this formal fiasco over!” Chance snapped back.
It was amazing; they’d been partners for two months and already there was a bond between them that neither could describe Chance mused. He even liked his new callsign, “Hotshot.” It had been created largely to match the name Jake had earned in only his first week of flying – “Sureshot.” Still, it fit perfectly.
“Now, we go!” the big kat announced, righting his pants and bounding for the door.
Jake was hot on his heels.
“Which way’s the conference hall for Enforcer Headquarters?” the slim kat asked suddenly.
The twosome skidded to an abrupt stop. The air base they knew like the back of their hands, but rarely were they required to be in Enforcer Headquarters and neither could navigate the large, ten-story complex. Dealing with the massive new Headquarters that was currently under construction across town was not a pleasant thought.
“Uhm… This way!” Chance announced, guessing and pointing down a corridor to their right.
Jake was studying the signs on the wall.
“Actually, the arrows are pointing—” he started.
“Nevermind those! I’m positive I remember taking this hall from the locker room,” Chance snapped.
“And, I’m positive the signs are right!” Jake returned.
“Fine, you go your way. I’ll go mine.”
“Last one there pays for an all-you-can-eat pizza night?” Jake tossed in, his amber eyes lighting.
Chance shoved his hand into Jake’s and they shook before dashing their separate ways.
Ten minutes later, they collided in the labyrinth of identical hallways.
“What?!” the two tomkats gasped simultaneously, staring at each other incredulously. “Oh, crud!”
And, the race was on anew.
“Hmm…” Senator Lydia Steele pursed her lips as she perused the information marching across her computer’s monitor. “Fascinating people you get involved with, Justin,” she murmured. Hearing footsteps, she terminated her session with the Enforcer mainframe with a deft movement of the mouse.
Lydia turned to face her son. “Yes, Jonathan?”
“Are you still trying to—?” he started, looking distinctly uncomfortable.
“Yes, I’m going to fix your father’s mess here,” Lydia returned, intercepting his question. “I think I’ve finally found a way to force his hand.”
Steele presented her with a perplexed face.
“Don’t worry.” The tall she-kat stood and patted her son on the shoulder. “I’m taking care of it.”
With that, Lydia Steele was gone.
Her son watched after her wonderingly. Perhaps this wasn’t what he wanted. His eyes narrowed. No, his father was right on one point. It was time he proved that he could do something on his own. And, while his parents were engaged in their own private war, he knew what he needed to do.
Spinning, spinning. Random thoughts batting about his brain. T-Bone could almost feel reality now. Like waking from a dream, it hovered just a touch beyond his reach. And, like an interested dreamer, he ignored it and burrowed back into the layers of memory.He wanted to see the end. There was something important back out there, something that hovered just out of sight, just within consciousness. But, he had to finish the dream, finish the tale his memories led him through. Somehow, he knew. He must finish it. Though he didn’t know why.
“Is it me or do these things get more boring every time I see one?” Chance asked, yawning and shifting his weight to a hopefully more comfortable position.
“Shhh,” Jake insisted, trying to hear the kat speaking at the head of the large room.
“In a moment, we will demonstrate the effectiveness of this new technology. If the Mono-Sinclair Molecular Chain cannon proves cost-efficient enough, you kats will be receiving models before the year is out,” the speaker continued.
“Yeah, right. I know the city council’s gonna approve this doodad,” Chance muttered. “I pity the groundies who have to show up for these seminars all the time,” the big kat mumbled, using the pilot’s slang term for ground-based Enforcers. He paused. “Remind me why we’re here when we don’t haveta’ be, Sureshot.”
“Because I worked on this project in phase one of development,” Jake hissed in response.
“Oh.” Chance snorted suddenly, changing subjects. “Least we found the conference room better this time..”
Jake couldn’t resist releasing a quiet chuckle at the memory of their fiasco in finding the room just a few years ago. Then, he snapped back to the present, punching his partner’s shoulder to convince the big kat to do likewise, and refocused on the kat behind the podium.
One kat, clad in an Enforcer uniform had emerged to stand to the speaker’s right. He was carrying a wide-barreled creation that resembled a smaller version of a blaster cannon.
“Could we have a volunteer?” the kat at the podium asked. There wasn’t a hint of showmanship in his tone or manner. He was quite serious.
Several hands tentatively shot up throughout the crowded conference room. It was an odd request at a weapons demonstration. Usually anyone on the receiving end of a new weapon needed armor, at least.
“This is new,” Chance drawled, still disinterested.
“Sssshhhh!” Jake hissed, silencing him.
All questions were answered quickly enough. A kat was chosen in short order and he curiously ascended the platform.
“Just stand here,” the speaker told him, pulling the volunteer into position. The chosen kat nodded stiffly and waited.
On cue, the Enforcer brandishing the big gun so reminiscent of a blaster cannon stepped forward, took aim, and squeezed the trigger. Yellow-white light leapt from the muzzle of the weapon to engulf the volunteer. Before he could react, the volunteer found his arms pinned to his sides by an unyielding band of energy.
“What in th’—?!” the kat started, struggling involuntarily against the inexorable grip.
The speaker stepped forward.
“As you can see, the Mono-Sinclair Molecular Chain cannon captures its target using this band of energy. Which is, n all actuality, the stream of compressed molecules I explained earlier. This field will dissipate in roughly five minutes.”
He had hardly finished his statements when he was barraged with questions, not the least of which came from Commander Feral. Chance simply gawked at Jake, whose only response was a knowing smirk.
Lydia Steele presented Mayor Herbert Manx with her most charming smile. Frosty as a glacier when she chose, the slim female’s charm was a force with which her political opponents loathed having to reckon.
“Mayor Manx, I’m Senator Lydia Steele,” she introduced herself. “I phoned earlier.”
“Yes, yes. Please take a seat.” The portly politician indicated a well-padded chair just in front of his desk.
Lydia nodded and slid into the over-stuffed seat.
“Now, what was it you wanted to talk about?” Manx asked curiously, hiding his excitement poorly. A senator in his city! No truly important government officials had visited MegaKat City since his eighth term as mayor. Personally, Manx thought it was simply that they had no taste for the fine sport of golf.
“It was brought to my attention that there was a… ‘situation’ here involving some craziness with kidnappings, vigilantes. Quite a mess I was told. I thought I might could smooth some things out.”
“Yes,” Manx drawled. “There’s been the most awful commotion. Lost my deputy mayor and the Enforcer commander. Lieutenant Commander Steele – any relation by chance?”
Lydia’s smile grew. “He’s my son.”
“Ah.” Manx kept his tone as quiet as possible. Her son?! Yes, yes, he’d known that. Precisely why he’d intervened to have the boy promoted. It seemed like a wise move. Perhaps it would pay off now. “Well, he’s assured me that all is in hand at Enforcer Headquarters.”
“It is,” Lydia assured. “However, there’s the matter of these SWAT Kats.”
When Lydia strode into the Commander’s office with a triumphant smirk set on her face, Justin knew his troubles had tripled. The senator calmly made her way to the base of the desk, reaching upward to shove a paper at the general.
“Read it and weep, Justin,” she announced.
Eyeing her in a mixture of surprise and curiosity, Justin carefully picked up the document and read it. His eyes narrowed. Slowly, the burly tom lowered the document and fixed Lydia in a cold glare.
“You can’t do that,” he snarled.
Lydia’s smile tightened.
“I have the permission of the mayor and the City Council. I most certainly can.” She leaned forward over the desk. “You’ve lost this one, Justin. Relinquish command of the Enforcers to Jonathan in two hours or those masks come off!”
With that, she was gone, her heels clicking against the polished tile.
Justin Steele looked after her angrily. He couldn’t believe she would stoop to this! But, there it was on his desk. The identities of the SWAT Kats were to be made public “in the best interests of the citizens of MegaKat City” if he didn’t give Lydia what she wanted.
Justin sighed. He doubted even he could defy the MegaKat City Council. Not here. Not on their turf. They virtually ruled an entire city-state. Manx was a puppet, and everyone in the capitol knew it if no one in MegaKat did. Briggs and Feral alone stood between the Council and total control.
Justin froze in mid-thought.
Briggs and Feral! And, where were they now? Perilously close to being removed from the picture. Lydia’s scheme gave the Council the perfect opening to violate Seeker’s deal and possibly put the two captives’ lives in danger. Well, in their eyes anyway. Justin himself doubted Seeker would harm them; though one could never be positive with him.
A cold lump settled in the pit of the general’s stomach. He wasn’t so sure the City Council would give him two hours.
“I’m gonna need all the help I can get,” Justin hissed to himself, reaching for the phone.
It rang even as his hand was nearly upon the receiver. Justin snatched it up. “Yes?”
“Your wife isn’t a player and she’s cheating,” the voice on the other end chided.
Justin drew his breath in sharply before replying. “I’ll get her outta this,” he muttered.
“Please do,” the Seeker returned before the line went dead.
General Steele sighed and put the phone down, looking toward the hidden drone he’d noted earlier.
“Remind your boss that she’s a difficult woman, okay?” he asked as he picked up the phone anew.
The drone jigged upward in a mimic of a startled jump before floating downward from its station in the dark recess of a corner near the ceiling.
“You SAW me?!” it shrieked in a metallic voice.
“Yes, I did,” Justin squinted to read the number emblazoned across its frontal armor, “Number Six. Now, would you deliver that message?”
“Yes, yes,” the so-called Number Six returned as Justin brought the phone to his ear again. “Not that the boss listens to me,” it muttered. “Likely to have my hard drive reformatted for getting seen as it is.”
Justin didn’t hear the drone’s pity party as he set to work.
“Yes, could you find Dr. Konway for me?”
“Woohoo! Our best practice run yet!” Chance crowed, offering a four-fingered hand to his partner.
Jake met his gesture and the twosome exchanged a hearty high-four as they and the majority of the Rogue Sabres strode into the hangar area.
“Sure, test targets that don’t move are just like enemy aircraft,” Katz sneered as he bulled his way between the jubilant pair. “You two are real aces!”
“Shut up, Katz! You were six seconds behind our time and everybody knows it,” Chance growled. “Gripin’ at us ain’t speedin’ you up!”
Katz rounded on him.
“I’ve a good mind to pound you right here, Furball!” he spat.
“Katz—!” Jake started, stepping up by Chance, his amber eyes narrowed dangerously.
A warning hand from Chance kept him at bay. The big tabby was asking him to stay out this time, not telling. Jake understood and stepped back. If Katz noted Jake’s words or the voiceless exchange, it didn’t show. Instead, he leaned forward and down to Chance’s level until the tips of their noses nearly touched.
“But, this is a bad time an’ all. So, meet me, Furball. Meet me tonight and we end this,” he hissed before spinning away and striding from the hangar.
Chance glowered in the direction of his retreating back and then glanced at Jake and the other pilots present. He shrugged to them and waved a dismissive hand after Katz before stomping toward the locker room.
Jake’s eyes narrowed as he watched the pointed display. It was to allay their suspicions that Chance would take up the challenge, and he knew it. He also knew when his partner was acting, no matter how good an act it was.
After making his phone calls, Justin set out to deter Lydia. Finding what hotel she was staying at was easily accomplished. Finding Lydia herself proved more difficult. Justin at last caught up with her outside City Hall. Seeing her familiar coif of blonde hair, he leapt from his borrowed cruiser and raced to bar her path.
“Lydia! Stay out of this!”
Lydia’s head jerked up sharply at his sudden appearance then dipped again as she pointedly ignored him and continued past to the glass doors of the building. Justin grabbed his wife by the shoulders and forced her to look him in the face.
“I mean it! You don’t know what you’re playing with here!”
Lydia met his gaze levelly. “I’m not playing. I’m fixing the mess you made.”
“By bribing the mayor and destroying two kats’ lives just to help our son with yet another situation he should have handled on his own?!” Justin shook her harshly. “Lydia, think! Those SWAT Kats may have families somewhere, and they’ve made quite a few enemies. Do you want some little kittens kidnapped by a vengeance- crazed psychopath?!”
Lydia’s gaze was cool, unflinching. Justin switched tactics.
“And, speaking of families, do you know what you could do to our’s? Do you even realize what the Seeker is capable of?! This is his game, Lydia! You weren’t invited to play!”
“Justin, this is crazy!” The slim she-kat’s voice faltered. “Playing some mad kat’s game—!”
“It is crazy! And, I don’t want you hurt in it! Lydia, get out of it. Now.”
Lydia studied her estranged husband for several minutes. Then, she shook her head. “No, Justin, I’m not backing down!” With that, she swept past him and into the building.
General Steele swore softly as he looked away from her. Then, he darted back to the cruiser. If he couldn’t stop her, he’d best help Konway stop whoever the Council sent.
As he slid into the driver’s seat, a new thought occurred. “Of course!” he whooped triumphantly. “If you want something sneaky pulled off,” his grin gained a devilish edge, “go to experts.”
Dr. Seymour Konway hurried along MegaKat Memorial’s endless corridors, fighting his way past everything from nurses’ carts to food carts. At last, he found the nurses’ station. Granted, he’d circled the square ward twice before making that discovery, but such things were below his notice now. Calming, he attracted a nurse’s attention and began his pre-planned, spiel, praying his charges were well in his absence.
Chance slipped quietly along the corridor leading to the hangar, wondering what to expect.
“Meet me, Furball. Meet me tonight and we end this,” Katz had said.
End it. Chance paused. He didn’t want this stupid rivalry destroying the career he’d worked for so hard. Katz was a jerk and everyone knew it. But who was better? No one knew that. Torn, Chance leaned against the doorway to the massive room, thinking.
“So, you’re here.”
Chance’s head jerked up, green eyes widening and searching the darkened hangar. Jets lined either wall, brought in for protection from a predicted sandstorm that had yet to materialize. At last, Chance’s searching gaze came to rest on a hulking silhouette several feet away.
“Katz!” Chance’s voice echoed across the empty hangar as he stepped forward.
Katz didn’t even turn around. “Glad you could make it, Furball,” he murmured. “I’da hated to’ve left without finishing things with you first.”
“Left?” Chance’s face contorted in confusion. “You’re quitting?”
Katz didn’t move. “Do we finish it, Furball?” he demanded.
For an instant, his tone shook the future Chance. Something about that voice… But, he was chasing ghosts of thought.
“No,” Chance returned steadily. “I’m not losing everything because of you, Katz,” he snapped, turning to leave.
To his surprise, there was a figure standing in the doorway. Jake Clawson smiled at his partner’s surprised look.
“Well, I couldn’t let you go up without a wizzo, now could I?” the orange- furred kat murmured.
Chance grinned back at his partner, but the piercing wail of an alarm ended further conversation. The big tabby turned around sharply to find Katz.
Katz spun to meet Chance’s gaze, his smirk widening. For the first time, Chance realized that he was wearing an unusually large blaster of some form slung over his shoulder. Katz followed his gaze.
“Cool, isn’t it?” he asked, patting the weapon. “They call it a Mono-Sinclair Molecular Chain Cannon.”
Chance’s eyes widened.
“That’s that gadget they had the big hoopla over today!” he blurted.
“Wow! He does have a brain!” Katz chortled.
“What’re you doing with that?!” Jake demanded, shouldering his way past Chance.
“Stealing it, duh,” Katz retorted. “I don’t think it’s much of a weapon, but I’m being paid nicely to steal it, so who cares?” He paused to smirk at the two kats before him. “Half the base is checking out that little fire I planned by now,” he indicated the alarm with a sweep of his arm. “That leaves you guys… and me.”
With that, he brought the MSMC cannon to bear on the two young Enforcers. Before either could react, they were pinned together, caught in the powerful energy beam. Struggling, the twosome lost their balance and tumbled to the floor in a heap.
Smirking, Katz vaulted to the nearest jet, lunging onto its wing and climbing into the cockpit.
“That should disappear in a couple minutes. Meet me at the edge of the desert – in sight of the city – if you want a shot at taking me down,” he taunted as he closed the canopy.
Seconds later, the jet’s engines fired and it was gone, streaking out of the open hangar doors and blasting into the crystalline sky.
Chance snarled in impotent fury and thrashed wildly to get free. He winced, remembering his partner’s presence too late as one of his kicks met yielding flesh and solid bone.
“Easy, Hotshot,” Jake grunted, his leg likely smarting with Chance’s kick. “We’re not gettin’ out any faster than this energy field dissipates.”
“Sorry, Sureshot,” Chance mumbled.
Suddenly, he was free! Startled by the abrupt disappearance of the crushing pressure, Chance rolled away from Jake. He sucked in a great breath, realizing just how constricted his diaphragm had been.
“C’mon.” Jake appeared, standing near the larger tom. “We gotta report Katz.”
Chance lunged to his feet, striding to the nearest jet.
“No, we gotta stop Katz!” he hissed. “We wait, and he’s gone. He picks up a full force on his scope, and he’s gone. He’s waiting for me.”
“For us, you mean,” Jake snapped, following his friend’s logic. “Your aim sure isn’t takin’ ‘im down!” He was on his partner’s heels as Chance climbed into their jet’s cockpit.
The big kat tossed him a smirk as they strapped in. “Well, I wasn’t asking you to lose your job with me,” Chance murmured as he ran through the fastest system check of his career.
“We’re partners, and you’re right – it’s our only chance to take ‘im down,” Jake returned. “Let’s do it,” he announced grimly, a tight smile playing on his lips.
“Let’s rock!” Chance screamed, firing the engines. Distantly, he could hear the faint shouts as other pilots spilled into the hangar seconds before he aimed the jet for open sky.
“Look, Ma’am – don’t make me ask this again. Where are the SWAT Kats?!” the Enforcer snapped, glaring down at the diminutive she-kat at the hospital reception desk.
The calico fixed him in an icy stare and responded slowly as though he were dense.
“I. Don’t. Know.”
“You can call ’em up in the computer, right?” the big kat snapped.
“Yes, Sir, I can. However, the computer has neither ‘SWAT Kats,’ ‘Mr. SWAT Kat,’ ‘Mr. T-Bone,’ or ‘Mr. Razor’ in its memory banks!” the frazzled female bawled.
The Enforcer was taken aback.
“Well… they said they were here. See, the City Council sent me to—”
“Whatever they sent you for, there are no SWAT Kats here!”
The Enforcer scratched his head for a minute.
“Mebbe it is the wrong hospital.” Still shaking his head, he ambled off down the hallway.
The she-kat rubbed her temples as he departed. “What a buffoon,” she commented, trying to hide the snicker in her voice.
“Captain, can I come out now?” a small voice asked from the floor.
“Oh.” Reminded, the calico slid her chair back. “That one’s so slow are you sure I need all you clowns here?” she demanded of the decidedly squished Enforcer beneath the desk.
“Posilutely absitive,” McFurland squeaked, trying to unfold his tall frame from his hastily assumed hiding place.
“Do you need a crowbar to get out of there?” the out of uniform Captain Mazie Rackham queried, grinning.
She was in high spirits with her current assignment. Forget boring desk work; this promised to be fun. And, it was.
Not twenty minutes later, once McFurland had found a better post, they had more company.
“I represent the City Council,” the immaculately dressed beanpole of a tomkat began. “We wish to know where the SWAT Kats are roomed?”
“One sec, Honey,” Mazie returned, purring in her best impression of a receptionist she’d encountered in a travel agency once. She punched the info into the computer. “Sorry, Hun, no matches for ‘SWAT Kats’. Know any other names?”
An hour later, no less than five Enforcers, Senator Steele, and a councilman surrounded Mazie.
“Now,” the councilman began, “You are sure there are no SWAT Kats in this hospital?”
“Look, maybe they’re under their real names,” Mazie suggested, her consternation not entirely an act.
“Then, bring those up,” the councilman retorted.
“Sir,” Mazie cooed sweetly, “no one knows their real names!”
“Fine, then,” Lydia Steele growled. She whirled to face the Enforcers. “Search the hospital.”
“But, Ma’am—” one started.
“NOW!” she bellowed with the councilman adding his voice to her shrill command.
The blonde she-kat was still nearly breathing fire as the Enforcers hastily set out on their search. Quietly, she hissed under her breath.
“I’ll kill you, Justin. I’ll kill you!”
Felina shifted in the semi-comfortable vinyl chair uneasily. Ever since she’d received McFurland’s call that the hospital was being searched, she hadn’t been able to stop fidgeting. Granted, she knew she shouldn’t have argued with Major Harris about staying with the SWAT Kats. He not only outranked her, he was also far less recognizable. He’d never presented his badge and announced himself to three million kats via television.
“Still, I said I’d watch you guys,” she whispered to the still-unconscious SWAT Kats. “And, I mean to do it!”
“Okay, I’ll get this one.”
The voice from outside sent Felina bolt upright. They were coming! At least Konway wasn’t around to be a dead giveaway. He was stashed in whatever bizarre nook or cranny SWAT Team Delta had devised for him. Still, the Enforcers were sure to recognize her. Felina fished desperately for an idea as footsteps approached the door.
‘At least I’m in my civvies, but that won't help much!’ she thought frantically. Then, it hit her.
Just as the doorknob turned, Felina released an anguished wail and threw herself over the nearest SWAT Kat’s bed.
“Don’t die on me, Fred! Don’t die! I swear! You can watch football all weekend! I don’t care! Just DON’T DIE, FRED!!!!”
The Enforcer in the doorway froze.
“Uh, Ma’am,” he started.
Felina let loose yet another overwrought sob followed by more blubbering. Embarrassed, the Enforcer beat a hasty retreat, closing the door after him.
Felina peeked at the door as he left before looking down at Razor.
“Sorry. Almost hope you aren’t anywhere near awake enough to have heard that,” she whispered to him before wailing some more to deter any more would-be searchers.
“What do you mean, there are no SWAT Kats in the hospital?!” Senator Steele practically screamed. “Of course, they’re there!”
The befuddled Enforcer was too exhausted to respond properly.
“There’s no record of them, and we’ve searched every single ward! We’ve been chased by nurses, Wilson had a bedpan flung at his face, and somebody pulled a fire alarm. So, we’ve been having to open every single one of those fire doors as we go!”
Lydia glared at him. “What’s the problem with opening a few doors?!”
“Ma’am, there’s a fire door every ten feet in this place!” The big tomkat was clearly pleading for mercy.
“Fine. You’re dismissed,” Lydia hissed. As he left, she turned to the councilman at her side. “I’ll find them yet,” she assured him in a much more level tone.
“I’m sure you will,” the councilman returned smoothly, outwardly unruffled. “We’ll be in touch, Senator.”
Then, he made his way through the hospital lobby to the entrance with a curiously pleased smile.
Lydia was too incensed to notice it as she stalked toward a different set of doors closer to where her car waited. Walking into the uniformed bulk that suddenly barred her path snapped her back to alertness.
For the briefest of instants, General Steele thought that Lydia was debating bludgeoning him to death with her cell phone. Instead, she just fixed him with a withering gaze.
“I know you were behind all this, Justin. I don’t know how, but it positively reeks of your handiwork.”
Her cell phone rang before she truly began a verbal bludgeoning.
“Excuse me, I seem to have a call,” she hissed, stepping away from Justin.
Trying to hide his amusement at her reaction and his elation at success, the broad-shouldered general slipped back to his car. After the confrontation with the senator, he was more than assured that the plan had worked. To check now would only endanger the SWAT Kats and his fellow conspirators anyway.
Lydia pointedly ignored him as he departed, focusing on her call instead. “You want information on the SWAT Kats whereabouts, right, Senator?” a nervous voice hissed in her ear. It continued before the slim she-kat could reply. “Look, I know where they are an’ all…” A pause. “But, I can’t tell ya’ here. Someone catches me an’ I’ll be in such trouble with that general. Meet me at the site of what’s left of MegaKat Litter Incorporated as soon as ya’ can an’ I’ll tell ya’.”
Then, the line was dead.
Dr. Konway found himself slumped into a vinyl-covered chair, enjoying the luxury of stretching his legs after half a day spent in every tiny hole Lieutenant McFurland could find to hide him in. Tiredly, the bearded researcher watched the sun sink behind MegaKat City’s sky-straining buildings.
Day Two was ending. Day Two on Seeker’s countdown. Day Five since this bizarre affair began. Assuming the SWAT Kats were coming out of their ordeal, two kats’ lives were all that hung in the balance as best he could see. Such infinitesimal worries compared to a city under siege or an alien invasion.
And yet… And yet, so much in this city depended on those two kats. So much depended on any two lives. Was it for the city that the two SWAT Kats fought now? Or the individuals? Or both?
At length, he gave up the debate. After nearly forty-eight waking hours, he was waxing far too philosophical.
“I’ve got ‘im on screen,” Jake announced.
“Roger that,” Chance returned. “I see him.” He felt himself growing rigid. Katz. He’d wanted to wipe that smirk off Katz’ face for two years. But, not like this. Not for these kind of stakes.
He refocused quickly. They were swiftly closing on Katz’ jet.
“He’s gonna move, he’s gonna move,” Jake muttered. “His course is perfectly straight, he’s almost in range. He’s gotta move! He’s a sittin’ duck!”
Chance’s ears twitched forward and then back toward Jake as the lock tone sounded.
“Missile away!” Jake announced.
No sooner were the words clear of his mouth than Katz’ fighter dove.
“I expected as much,” Jake hissed as his missiles started to vanish into the distance. “Detonating,” the slim weapons officer growled in disgust, keying in the command to detonate the missiles before they did any harm. As the two missiles lit the night with a distant fiery glow, Chance followed Katz into a dive.
“I’ll give ya’ another shot,” the big kat rumbled. “Just don’t go beddy-bye on me.”
“Ha!” Jake snorted. “From this? A washing machine pulls more G’s!”
Chance grinned. He knew his partner was having more trouble than he was letting on, but he also knew Jake’s tolerance level. So long as the slim kat was snapping off witty retorts he was fine.
The brawny tabby centered his attention back on his flying. The lights of MegaKat City gleamed ahead, marred by the one dark blot that was the other jet.
“We gotta catch ‘im outside the city. We can’t risk a firefight there,” Jake warned.
“I know! I know!” Chance growled, shoving the throttle forward.
The single-engined Enforcer jet accelerated, closing the gap between the twosome and their would-be prey.
General Justin Steele chuckled to himself as he collapsed onto the squeaking bed provided by the Marrikatt.****
“That look on Lydia’s face… That was priceless,” he muttered before adding with a sigh, “Wish she’d learn to laugh some. Wish she’d—”
He was interrupted by the phone’s demanding ring.
“Wish these things would be quiet in a while,” Justin amended, reaching for the offending device and bringing it to his ear.
“I’m sorry, General. But, I’d advise you got to what remains of MegaKat Litter Incorporated as fast as you can,” the Seeker’s familiar voice murmured into the phone.
“What? What are you talking—?!” Justin started.
“Your wife is still very much in the game, and I can’t have that,” the voice on the other end returned simply and then only a dial tone rang in Justin’s ears.
“Lydia!” Justin slammed the receiver into its cradle. Leaping to his feet, he raced out the door.
Seymour Konway was sleeping peacefully, oblivious as the big tabby in the bed across the room began to toss in his sleep.
“CRUD!!!!” Jake snarled as Katz evaded yet another shot.
Chance simply growled savagely and swung the jet around to follow the mad twists and rolls Katz was forcing upon his own craft. MegaKat City was growing ever nearer as the two jets’ battle sent mile upon mile of desert fading into the distance. Then, the Tiger River was flashing by beneath the jet and beyond it the sprawling metropolis waited.
The brawny pilot jerked the throttle back, slowing the jet to subsonic speeds as Katz led them into the skyscrapers. Twisting and turning, the combatants began an aerial dance, around one building to flash down and around the next. Dodge, twist, watch, watch, watch. Buildings everywhere, powerlines stretched in spiderweb patterns over the streets, and everywhere innocent civilians to die in the crossfire.
The sound of a lightning rod scraping against the jet’s fuselage made Chance wince. Too close, simply too close. Then, he looked ahead and Katz was gone.
“What?!” the tabby yelped.
“He’s off radar. All I’m gettin’ is the buildings,” Jake called and his tone was beyond worried. Both of them knew; Katz wanted a fight, he hadn’t just run. “Crud! He’s behind us, Chance!” Jake screamed suddenly as he at last found the other jet.
Chance looked back as the telltale burst of light emanated from the other jet. There was no time for any action save one.
“Punch out!” Chance screamed as his hand found the release.
“Bizarre place for this,” Senator Steele muttered as she gingerly stepped over the tattered yellow and black plastic tape intended to keep the curious away from the devastated building. Delicately, she picked her way over the rubble and into the blasted out shell of the former factory.
“Hello?” Her voice echoed off the scorched cinderblock and cement walls.
Tentatively, Lydia stepped into the single clear area of the floor. And, screamed as the wooden floor that had replaced the concrete of two steps earlier collapsed. She tumbled into the gaping hole, one hand clawing at the edge of the shattered floor for a hold.
Abruptly, she felt her groping hand grasped by a much larger one. Lydia looked up to find a gray-furred tomkat holding her tightly. A black mask hid his eyes and the top of his head. An equally sable flight suit covered his body, broken only by the dull, ruddy color of his harness and the muted shades of gray on his gloves and boots.
“Hang on, Senator Steele. I’ll pull you up,” he assured her calmly.
“Wh— who are you?!” she asked, her voice quivering as her body dangled twenty feet above anything solid.
“They call me Stryfe,” the kat returned. Effortlessly, he pulled her free of the hole and set her on her feet lightly. “Are you alright?” he asked softly.
Lydia didn’t have the breath to answer.
The cry sent Lydia’s eyes flying to its source just in time to see Justin vault through one of the factory’s shattered windows and rush toward her. Oblivious to the massive feline at her side, the orange-furred tomkat grabbed his wife and held her tight.
“What were you doing here?!” he demanded hoarsely.
“I—” she started. “I got a tip on the SWAT Kats...”
“Lydia, I told you to stay out of this! Seeker told you to stay out!”
“I— I know,” she relented at last. “I know.”
And, as she hugged him tight, Justin smiled just a tiny bit. It had been a long time since he’d felt her arms around him. Perhaps when this fiasco was over with he could seriously start trying to patch up the gaping hole he and Lydia had dug between themselves. He hoped with all his heart that something could fill that hole.
At last, Lydia released him and shied away from him as though remembering. Justin greeted the action with a rueful thought as to just how long it might take to mend this marriage. Then, he returned to business.
“Thank you,” he murmured to Stryfe, offering the huge tom a hand.
“You’re welcome, of course,” Stryfe returned, accepting the handshake. He started to walk away and paused. “He wanted me to know about this, you know. I rarely feel him trying to contact me. This time he was.”
Justin snorted softly.
“He is an honorable demon… in his own way,” he commented quietly.
Stryfe smiled faintly.
“Yes, he is.” And, the big kat stepped into the shadows. And, vanished.
“Who was that?” Lydia started. “Who was trying to contact him? What—?”
“It’s a long story,” Justin returned with a rueful shake of his head. “I’ll fill you in later. Now, we have other things to worry about.” He gave her a meaningful glare.
Lydia gasped. “Is Jonathan okay?”
Oh, she was quick. She knew; if she was being punished for interference, what of their son?
Justin presented her with a grim face. “I was trying to contact him or you all the way here. I’m afraid Jonathan has disappeared. I’d check further with the kats back at Headquarters, but, unfortunately, I think I know where he’s going.” Justin sighed deeply. “And, it’s all my fault.”
Seymour Konway awoke, blinking in surprise. Only a darkened hospital room greeted him. Dazed, he looked around. Something had woken him. Then, he saw the thrashing kat in the bed.
Awake?! Out of the coma?!
Konway rushed to the SWAT Kat’s side.
Chance stared at the flaming mess of twisted metal that lay in the street. His flight suit was a mess where he’d landed in the thick of the falling, flaming debris. In the distance, he could hear sirens blaring. The jet had started a few small fires that might need attention, but there was little a fire truck could do. This would require a cleanup crew.
Idly, Chance watched the smoke curl into the air beside City Hall. He wished he could say he’d planned it the way it had turned out. Wished he could say that he deliberately sacrificed the jet to save the building that would have been hit had he managed to evade the missile. But, he’d thought no such thing. He hadn’t even realized that it was City Hall looming before him. He had simply known that he could not evade the missile and reacted accordingly. Why, why for the first time in his life he had chosen to punch out rather than take his chances flying, which was his preference, he did not know. He knew only that Someone had meant for him and his partner to survive. Wearily, he wondered if the same Someone meant for him and Jake to have jobs tomorrow.
Beside him, Jake was as silent as he. There was nothing to say. Their ejector seats and chutes lay where they’d landed. Their jet was a mound of burning slag. And, Katz was free as a bird. He’d ditch the jet soon. Likely back in the desert where he could land with little trouble. Oh, the Enforcers would find it. Such was a foregone conclusion. They would find a jet out in that wasteland, but no pilot. Whoever paid Katz for the MSMC Cannon had undoubtedly given him a meeting point and come to whisk the traitor away.
The thoughts, the memories played across T-Bone’s mind in the time it takes a heart to beat, in the life span of all dreams. They were gone by the time Konway reached his bedside, replaced by the dream that had woken him not long before this nightmare began.
“Report,” Feral ordered curtly as a wide-eyed young officer ran up behind him. The Commander’s eyes never left the two bedraggled figures before him, standing at a tense attention in their torn and singed flight suits.
“Sir, the jet— There’s hardly anything to even send to the salvage yard. It’s a miracle!” the officer stammered.
“You might not have come so close to getting yourselves killed if you’d called in for backup earlier,” he began, yellow eyes narrowing as he studied the twosome. His voice dropped to a growl. “If you’d told someone what was going on!” He paused for a few seconds to let his words sink in. “Do you realize that by taking an Enforcer aircraft out without notifying your commanding officer you’re just as guilty as Katz?!” he demanded. “I should have you two court-marshaled!” Feral took a deep breath. “Still, your efforts to apprehend Katz are commendable.”
Katz… What was it about Katz? Something he’d said…
“Wow! He does a brain!” Katz’ voice that night in the hangar.
“Yes, folks, you heard it here first! T-Bone the SWAT Kat really does have a brain!”
The same voice. The same voice! Six months ago. In a nuclear power plant.
“They’re both the same jerk!” T-Bone gasped, lunging into a sitting position, eyes wide, to meet Dr. Konway’s astonished stare.
‘I can do this,’ Lieutenant Commander Jonathan Steele reminded himself for the umpteenth time as he steadied his shaking hands to read the map they held. Reassured of his direction, he removed the tiny flashlight from his teeth and returned it to its home in a pocket. Then, he focused his high-powered torch ahead and continued through the stygian sewers. This time, he meant no harm to Feral. But, he was going to rescue the Commander and prove, to his father and everyone else, that he could do something right and do it on his own.
“That’s one way of putting it,” Razor commented in response to T-Bone’s loud announcement as he struggled free of his own bed, gingerly finding the floor and testing his legs.
T-Bone looked sheepishly between his partner and Konway.
“Sorry about that,” he mumbled. “Just… figured something out.”
Konway simply nodded, staring at the two suddenly healed tomkats in shock.
“Did it work, Doc?” Razor asked, pausing in his movements as he realized that several IV lines were still running into his arm.
Konway snapped out of it at the question. “Let me get a nurse to unhook you both and we’ll see,” he returned, starting for the door.
T-Bone’s call froze him in his tracks.
“What day is it?”
Konway turned around and smiled.
“You have a whole day left.” With that, he was bustling out the door.
T-Bone sighed deeply and let himself flop back onto the waiting pillow. Unbidden, his eyelids started to drift downward. There was something more.
“What?” Razor asked suddenly.
But, T-Bone didn’t hear him, and Razor himself forgot what and why he was asking a few seconds later.
T-Bone found himself again spinning in the darkness, trying to tie the last few strands together. He knew now that Seeker and Brett Katz were one and the same. Wasn’t that the point of it all? No. No, it couldn’t be. He’d gone too far back in time for it to have had any bearing on Katz. So, what then? Why did he even think his feverish memory/dreams meant something anyway?
The last two questions he could not answer. He knew only that the answer to the first must lie in those oldest memories.
His uncle’s snarling face danced before him. Then, Feral. Feral? And his uncle? They had nothing in common. Beyond he knew them both. And, he’d borne a grudge against both for many years since they’d wronged him. And, he knew both weren’t all….
“Napping again? You’d think you’d gotten enough of that these last couple days…”
The voice shattered his fragile hold on the dream of earlier, and T-Bone found himself flung back into reality. A nurse was at his side, removing his IV. Razor was sitting on his bed, apparently having been the first to receive her attentions as he was free of the entangling lines and grinning at his partner’s startled face.
“We’re cured, by the way,” he commented.
“Good,” T-Bone rumbled. “Then, we can get Callie and Feral outta wherever Seeker’s got ’em.”
“Affirmative,” Razor returned, sliding off the bed as the nurse finished with T-Bone and slipped out the door.
“And, you’d better hurry.”
The two SWAT Kats’ joint gaze swivelled to the doorway to find a wide-shouldered tomkat with orange fur and a non-Enforcer, military uniform in the doorway.
“Who are—?” Razor started.
“General Justin Steele,” the kat cut him off. “I’ve been managing Enforcer Headquarters in Feral’s absence. And, keeping my wife and son out of this game.”
T-Bone eyed him strangely while Razor settled for merely quirking an eyebrow at this newcomer.
“I’m here because the Seeker called me in to referee. We go way back,” Justin added, sensing their mingled confusion and distrust. “There’s no time to explain more. Whichever of you is freeing Feral needs to go now.” He produced the two maps Seeker had given them a seeming eternity ago and offered them to the SWAT Kats.
Before Razor could speak or reach for a map, T-Bone intervened. “Feral’s mine.”
He struggled out of the bed and onto wobbly legs to take both maps, finding the sewer map and offering Razor the other. His partner said nothing. He simply gave T-Bone a quick nod and looked to General Steele.
“Hurry,” the general emphasized. “Your jet’s waiting on the roof.”
“How—?” Razor started anew.
“You left Lieutenant Feral the access code, and she flew it here herself. She’s how I got those maps actually.”
“I sent her and came myself as soon as we got Konway’s call that you were awake.”
‘Musta been dozing longer than I thought,’ T-Bone mused, staring at the general. A thousand questions about the general, Seeker, and all that had transpired in the last few days were cavorting in his head. And, all he could say at last was, “Let’s go.”
“Finally!” Steele crowed triumphantly as he entered the circular cavern where he’d nearly been killed by the robotic spider. Not that he enjoyed being in the same room where he’d narrowly brushed death, but that he’d succeeded in finding it again. By himself.
“Now…” he mumbled to himself, stepping cautiously toward the mound of rubble that buried his would-be killer. A blaster in one hand and his light in the other, he ascended the mound to flash his light into the passageway beyond. His courage grew as no new horrors appeared from the gloom and he proceeded.
It seemed he traveled forever along that dark tunnel before he found it, a steel door set across the passageway itself. This opened on no pre-created chamber. It was simply a room created by blocking off a portion of the tunnel.
The Lieutenant Commander approached the door cautiously, noting the smooth face of a palm-reader to one side. Tentatively, he reached a hand forward to feel for some other opening mechanism.
He never saw the bobbing light approaching from behind. Never heard the quick whisper of footsteps in the distance as the barefoot figure rushed to him. He felt only the sensation of something very large slamming into him and the sudden rush of air as he fell. Then, his chin struck hard rock, and he knew no more.
T-Bone quickly checked the much smaller kat beneath him and assured himself that the Lieutenant Commander was simply unconscious. Then, he rose and paced slowly to the great steel door, his helmet’s light playing over its face. Finding the palm reader, the SWAT Kat touched the button on the side of his helmet that activated the radio.
“Razor, you ready?” he asked.
“Roger, been waiting on you to report in actually,” came the tinny response.
T-Bone grinned and raised his hand to let it hover over the smooth plate.
“You try getting through these sewers,” he grumbled good-naturedly. Then, his voice grew truly serious. “We do it on three,” he hissed into the radio’s receiver. At Razor’s affirmative, he began counting. “One… two… THREE!”
One two different sides of the city, two hands simultaneously touched identical palm readers, and two great doors rumbled open in tandem.
As the door opened, T-Bone rushed within and skidded to a stop as he was greeted by the sight of a very still Commander Feral lying at the feet of a smirking brown kat.
“Hello, Furball,” Katz greeted. “Remember me?”
“What did you do to him?!” T-Bone demanded, stepping forward.
“He’s alive.” Katz gave Feral a nudge with a single, booted foot. “The boss said ta’ sedate ‘im.” He stepped away from Feral as T-Bone came forward and knelt by the fallen Commander to check for himself.
“Boss nuthin’!” T-Bone snorted. “I know that’s just part of your act/” He raised his eyes to meet Katz’. “I do remember you,” the tabby stated quietly as he struggled to his feet with one of Feral’s limp arms draped over his shoulder, supporting the dead weight. “I remember both of you.”
“Both?” the brown kat queried, his tone mocking.
“You’re not Katz. Maybe you were… when it suited your purposes.”
The tall kat’s voice and manner changed completely. His tense, fighting stance relaxed visibly. His guard wasn’t dropped, he’d just retained it with a different persona. His voice had become a smooth purr. A vaguely malicious, all-too-familiar smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. It was no longer Brett Katz who faced the SWAT Kat, but the tall, almost casual form, of the Seeker.
“You figured it out. I’d be impressed, but I already knew you could do that.”
Seeker calmly raised a gloved hand and pressed a finger to the back of the glove. Immediately, there was shimmer of light around him and the superficial features of Katz faded away to reveal the Seeker’s gray-brown fur and familiar black flight suit.
“I just love holograms, don’t you? You see, I was planning to tell you my little secret. Didn’t exactly want to leave you waiting while I pulled a costume change,” he explained. He paused thoughtfully and studied T-Bone, a study he well remembered from their last encounter.
“I knew you could figure out my secret, but this…” he gestured to the unconscious Feral T-Bone was supporting. “My dear Furlong, I wouldn’t have thought you had it in you. I’m well aware how you feel about him. You’re sure you didn’t want to be the first thing the deputy mayor saw when she was rescued? That’s giving up quite a lot, you know.”
T-Bone flinched at the barbs, but they were bouncing off the rock hard defenses he’d already established. Distantly, he wondered if Seeker knew of his feelings for Callie.
“I had something else to care for,” the burly SWAT Kat replied levelly.
“So I see.”
Wordlessly, Seeker spun on his heel and started to walk through the great doorway and into the sable cavern where he could vanish.
“So, I take it, Razor and I passed?” T-Bone called after him.
Seeker paused and slowly looked over his shoulder.
“Yes, you two will make worthy opponents,” he said slowly. “I’ll look forward to next time.”
“Anytime,” T-Bone rumbled.
For an instant, he and T-Bone locked eyes. Then, Seeker broke away, striding out the door of the makeshift chamber, his black flight suit merging with the darkness beyond.
“You have to go? So soon?” General Justin Steele asked, unwilling to release Lydia even as he sensed her trying to pull free of his embrace.
“Yes, and, last I checked, someone else had a regular job to get back to as well,” she responded smugly.
“Do I have to?” Justin asked jokingly.
“Yes,” his wife returned. “Or I’ll retract my offer.”
Justin pretended to pale. “You wouldn’t! Wait! You would! I know you!” He grinned. “Fine. I’ll go back to my normal job like I’m supposed to.”
Lydia smiled back at him and stepped toward her waiting helicopter, pausing to once more hug her son, who was wearing a vaguely distant, thoughtful face. Justin watched the tableau for several minutes. So perfectly suited for an ending that Hollywood might have devised it. Yet, as he still felt the warm glow from Lydia’s hug and as he noted his son’s calm attitude, he sensed it was far more beginning than end.
The last of the sun’s scarlet and lavender rays were being chased from the sky when the final participant of the last few days mad scenarios finally made her way home. Dr. Seymour Konway had long since sought a real bed, too tired even to hear the SWAT Kats’ earnest thank you’s. Captain Mazie Rackham, more well rested than any of the others, was off-duty and still snickering over the faces of many a bamboozled Enforcer and official. SWAT Team Delta, after much joking of their own, had left Headquarters to seek food and rest. Felina Feral alone was left trudging along the street slowly.
She felt curiously deflated now that it was all over. Her uncle was safe; he’d woken up in MegaKat Memorial a few hours ago, permitted a few uncommon displays of emotion from both of them, and was currently still yelling his head off that he was well enough to be released. The SWAT Kats were safe. So far, her promise to guard their identities seemed to have been well-kept. And, General Steele had assured her that “someone was looking into the matter carefully.”
So, why did she feel so down now? Maybe it was just the letdown at the end of nearly three full days of no nourishment beyond caffeine and raw adrenaline rush. She sighed, stuffed her hands in her pockets and continued onward. The steady rumble of vehicles on the street passed her oblivious ears as she walked. The sounds of voices calling her name, however, came to her after several minutes of hearing them and not comprehending. Felina glanced over her shoulder to find the bulk of SWAT Team Delta bounding toward her along the nearly empty sidewalk.
“Captain Feral!” Major Mark Harris was the first to reach her.
“Mickey wanted us to catch up with you and ask if you could wait here for a few minutes,” he stated, sliding to a stop.
“He has a surprise for you to see,” Mark Thacker added as he skidded to a stop behind Harris.
“Wouldn’t even tell us what it was!” Chadd Spangler added, reaching them. “And, we worked him over good,” Brad Pearson put in.
Felina was still staring at them unbelieving when the combined sounds of a honking horn and a growling engine reached her ears. She jerked her head to the street to see a vaguely familiar red Mustang with a very familiar driver heading their way. The vehicle pulled over to the sidewalk by her. Braking, McFurland brought the car to a stop and reached over to roll down the window.
“She cleans up nice, huh?” he asked.
Felina stared in disbelief.
“That’s the poor car we half-destroyed escaping from those mini-jets?!” she gaped.
“You bet. Found a coupla incredible mechanics,” McFurland returned with a grin. He paused, suddenly hesitant. “Wanna ride, Captain?” he asked at last, smiling at her, eyes pleading earnestly.
Feline hesitated for a minute.
“I— Sure,” she conceded, opening the passengers’ side door and sliding into the car.
Chadd gave McFurland a thumbs up. “Pretty car always gets the girls,” he said with a sly grin.
“Why, you—!” Felina’s punch landed solidly on the closing door. She shot the whole of the grinning SWAT Team a dirty look as the Mustang pulled away from the curb before turning to McFurland to glare at him. “Don’t even think it!” she hissed. “I just have a thing for classic cars.”
“Yes, Sir! Ma’am!” McFurland yelped quickly, saluting.
“Get your hands back on the wheel!” Felina demanded.
“Yes, Ma’am.” A smile tugged at the corners of McFurland’s mouth as he put his hands back on the steering wheel. “Wanna stop for something to eat?” he asked. He caught Felina’s icy glare. “It’ll give you a longer trip in the car,” he added.
Felina’s face softened. “Okay.”
Chance hesitantly stepped into the crowded grocery store, his eyes searching until they found the office off to the side. On quiet feet, he padded across the front of the store toward the door marked “Manager.”
Anthony Furris looked up as Chance entered. His smile of greeting slowly became a curious frown as he stared carefully at the other kat’s face.
Chance smiled encouragingly and planted his hands on the other’s desk, leaning forward to look him in the eyes. He remembered those eyes. So bloodshot they became almost orange when their owner was roaring drunk. A rather vibrant yellow when he was himself. The eyes that met Chance’s were a purest yellow, brilliant and clear, tired but unfogged.
“Do I know you?” Anthony whispered hoarsely, already knowing the truth.
“Yeah,” Chance returned. “Seems you changed your address and never gave me a forwarding address. Took a while to find you.”
“And?” the russet-furred tomkat queried.
“I finally traced what I wanted to know to Pop Perkins and talked everything out of him,” Chance responded. He cocked his head. “I never knew. Never knew you caught up with me and asked him to keep in touch with you on what I was doing.”
The other shrugged hopelessly.
“I didn’t mean to spy on you,” he whispered in a voice barely audible. “I just wanted to know if you were okay.”
Chance studied him for a long moment, summoning infinitely more determination than it had taken to snatch the map to Feral’s prison from General Steele’s hand.
“I was wondering,” he started, “if you... wanted to talk.” Chance smiled hopefully.
Anthony at last smiled back. “Sure.”
* – TerraKat City is a borrowing from Harley Quinn’s “The Comic Book,” featuring the Kat Kommandos
** – Clarifications on Stryfe: He was first introduced in the epilogue to “Technical Difficulties” though the character originally appeared in the AOL SK RPG. Stryfe is the Seeker’s twin brother, and, yes, he is a good guy.
*** – The squadron number VF-414 was chosen randomly (actually, 414 was Kristen’s dorm room number) and is not intended to represent any actual fighter squadron.
**** – Kudos to Strike for the term “Marrikatt.” It was bummed from her fanfic “Afraid of the Dark.”
Follow Me – Track 8 on the “Always” soundtrack
Cursom Perficio – by Enya from the CD “Watermark”