Title: Silent Pursuit
Author: Kristen Sharpe
Date: July 27, 1998 Finished: November 16, 1999
Disclaimer: “SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron,” its characters and concepts are copyright to Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc and are used without permission.
Searing bursts of red fire lit the night in a hellish glow. The fiery brilliance glinted in lightning flashes across the night-dark fuselage of the powerful fighter jet as it darted and swooped through the midnight sky. The fireblasts were as silent as though the dark expanse of sky were the infinite night of space. But the jet’s thunder belied the illusion, its powerful engines roaring, sending echoes into the night.
No moon lit the battlefield of the sky tonight. It was a carpet of the deepest navy. Only distant fuzzy glows in the abyss below penetrated the fog that blanketed the jagged mountain peaks that stood as the sole audience to the battle in the skies.
Savagely, the big tomkat piloting the sable jet jerked the stick toward his body and sent the sleek aircraft into a near-vertical climb. Engines roaring defiantly, the fighter fought the earthward tug of gravity. The tomkat, his face a surreal green in the light of the HUD before him, braced himself against the forces that fought to restrain any creature audacious enough to attempt such speed, such height. His pale golden fur barely masked the taut muscles that stretched across his tense face. Sweat-matted, the fur clung to his skin, damp and clammy in the hot air of the cockpit.
In the rear of the cockpit, the slim weapons officer grit his teeth and fought to hold onto his bucking stomach as the jet soared ever higher. He was needed now, perhaps more than ever. Doggedly, he refused to succumb to the g-forces, stubbornly clinging to consciousness as an even deeper night than that outside the cockpit began to blot out the fringes of his vision. He flinched as his dimming vision perceived another burst of red slashing past the cockpit glass, the reminder of the situation at hand helping to snap him from his stupor.
Their relentless pursuer was closing even as they thundered into insane altitudes. The orange-furred kat fingered the stick before him, gently pressing the top of the cap that sheltered the firing button. He let his fingers slid from it to squeeze the hand-contoured side of his stick. He had precious little use for that at the moment. Self defense wasn’t an option tonight – not yet anyway. As he reflected on the situation, the slim tomkat thrust the rising panic he felt back into the pit from which it had come. He was needed now, by his partner and friend if no one else.
“Razor, I’m goin’ ta’ Speed of Heat!” the burly pilot shouted back to him suddenly, his voice strained and gruff.
“Roger,” Razor forced out with some effort. He felt the incredible force slam into his chest, felt his body pinned to the padded seat at his back. Fighting the awesome force, Razor tried to focus on solving their dilemma. He glanced briefly at the soft glow that was the dimensional radar before him. The blurred green mass still hovered just behind the TurboKat. Razor growled softly, half cursing a system that could almost blind them to an enemy, half wishing to study it. Resigned that technology would be no help, he closed his eyes and tried to bring the image of the pursuing craft to mind.
He’d seen it only in flashes, spurts of fire that illuminated the night. He conjured a vague vision of a fighter reminiscent of the TurboKat in design. Sleek, pointed nose, multiple engines. But, that was only a half-educated guess. Mind churning, Razor struggled with the effort of thinking as the pressure on his chest increased. He was starting to breath heavily, taking gulping breathes of the unnatural air that his oxygen mask provided. He tried to collect his thoughts. He needed to see the other jet, needed to…
Razor suddenly felt the TurboKat level out. His stomach immediately took flight all on its own. He knew what was coming. Any second now they would plunge back downward, aiming at a trajectory that would take them far from their pursuer, far from the mountains, aiming at the miles of barren desert that stretched away from MegaKat City. Razor battled the urge to succumb to the blackness of unconsciousness. The temptation pressed him relentlessly. How much more pleasant to pass out now than to face the suffocating pressure he knew was to come?
“You still with me?” the voice cut through the fog numbing his brain. Razor’s eyes snapped open at the sound. With effort, he snorted derisively in response.
“I can handle just as many g’s as you, T-Bone!” he growled through his nausea.
T-Bone chuckled softly.
“Let’s see ya’ prove it tomorrow in the centrifuge, eh?” he retorted.
Razor grinned faintly at T-Bone’s cocky certainty.
“Hope yer ready for more,” T-Bone warned.
“Bring it on!” Razor snapped, setting his jaw and taking a tight grip on the handholds by his seat as the jet rolled to the right to plummet downward.
The solid reassurance of floor beneath him suddenly vanished and, for an instant, the orange-furred kat felt as though he were alone in free fall, nothing supporting him. Then, the TurboKat rematerialized around him, his seat beneath him. Razor began his fight with the g’s anew.
T-Bone, meanwhile, ignored the g-forces. The crushing force wasn’t pleasant, but his rock-like stomach stayed safely grounded. The big kat’s concentration was centered on his flying. His green eyes were dilated to their fullest and still he saw nothing through the canopy. He focused on the dimensional radar’s output and his other instruments for guidance. The altimeter’s needle was dropping at an incredible, but safe enough, rate. The dimensional radar, its image generator struggling to alter the incoming images at pace with the jet’s descent, indicated a fast-approaching mountain peak below. T-Bone grunted and angled the jet away from the peak and toward the expanse of flat grids the radar displayed to the left of the jagged peaks. It was taking all his strength to fight the inexorable force and keep the TurboKat on course.
His course corrected, T-Bone glanced at the altimeter again. One mile up. Just above the highest of the mountains. He looked through the laser-scarred glass to find a single fuzzy pinprick of light below. The only inhabited dot on this side of the mountain range, a ranger station or something of the sort if his and Razor’s assumptions were correct. Satisfied, he began to level the jet out.
Razor slowly returned from the foggy, half-conscious realm he’d entered as the TurboKat plunged from the sky. The radar’s green light greeted his night-conditioned eyes and he blinked.
“Hey, Razor, you there?” T-Bone called from the dimness ahead of him.
“Yeah, most of me anyway,” Razor returned, blinking again.
“Man, Razor, there was already so little of you,” T-Bone teased.
“Yeah, yeah,” Razor griped. Movement out of the corner of his eye quickly drew his attention to the dimensional radar screen. “Uh, oh, I think our friend has just realized where we are,” he murmured.
T-Bone looked up sharply to see the green shape, now only a speck on his dimensional radar scope, growing larger by the second as the craft homed in on them.
His head clearing, Razor remembered his thoughts from earlier.
“T-Bone, put us in hover mode and just wait,” he ordered suddenly.
T-Bone grunted an affirmative and did as Razor had told him before questioning his partner’s scheme. The VTOL engines were locked in position and holding the TurboKat steady before he gave in to his curiosity.
“So, what’s the plan?”
“First, I wanna see this guy,” Razor returned, amber eyes narrowing. “When he gets close enough, I’m gonna light up his life.”
“And, make ‘im see spots for his next seven lives,” T-Bone chuckled.
Razor grinned at the comment but quickly sobered, remembering the seriousness of their situation. His smile returned suddenly, a tight, grim quirk of his mouth that held a surprisingly generous spark of hope. “And, maybe I can give us an edge in the process. Get directly above him as fast as you can after the flash.”
“Whatever you say,” T-Bone agreed. Razor didn’t need his eyes to see the big tabby’s cocky grin. Live or die, this was how T-Bone would choose to do either – at his job, trying his hardest.
Razor had always appreciated T-Bone’s confidence in his abilities, but now his partner’s trust was shaking his own confidence. He didn’t like being responsible for both their lives. Needing reassurance of any plan he might devise, he started to ask his partner for an honest estimate of their chances. He stopped himself hurriedly, choking the words down. Why annihilate T-Bone’s half-jocular mood? It was his partner’s defense mechanism against the kind of fears that were churning about Razor’s own mind. No, it was unfair to ask it of his friend.
T-Bone, however, seemed to sense the unasked question.
“Think he was lyin’?” he asked Razor, voice soft but rumbling in his deeper registers.
“Loadin’ your jet with a homemade nuclear weapon just to chase us down,” Razor shook his head in utter frustration. “It’s crazy, but then, how many crazies have we fought in the last month?”
T-Bone nodded in agreement, either forgetting that his partner couldn’t see the movement or knowing that it wasn’t necessary.
“If it weren’t for that theft at MegaKat Nuclear Plant months ago…” Razor trailed off before mumbling another half-verbalized thought. “If he’s the one, he had enough uranium to make a bomb. A tiny one, but it’s still a nuclear weapon.” Razor fell silent and glanced at the rapidly growing mass steadily crossing the radar scope. Knowing the few possibilities – one of which would, must come – he felt a coldness settling in the pit of his stomach.
“Well, we’re alone now, so it’s him or us,” T-Bone growled abruptly, his voice now full volume and laced with anger.
‘Or both of us,’ Razor added silently in his mind.
Talk ended as each kat became lost in his own thoughts, waiting. Each tomkat’s muscles were taut. T-Bone gripped the stick one-handed, his other hand hovering by the throttle and the controls that would fire the rear engines and retract the VTOL engines. He would have seconds after Razor’s missile was away to move the jet; until that instant, they would be sitting ducks.
Razor squeezed his stick one-handed as always, his pointer finger resting at the edge of the firing cap. He had to gauge his timing perfectly. He needed optimum range for the flashbulb missile to give him the view of their attacker that he needed, but they couldn’t sit like this long once the other craft was within firing range.
Both kats waited; waited for the faceless demon that had pounced upon them in the skies above the nightlife of MegaKat City, their silent pursuer. The green blur on the radar scope was regaining its former proportions rapidly.
“That’s it, let’s get it over with,” T-Bone purred softly.
Razor tightened his grip on the stick, raising his other hand to flip down the visor in his helmet. As he did so, he thought of his partner.
“Lower your anti-glare visor,” the orange-furred kat hissed a reminder as he flipped the firing cap up. His flicking ears registered T-Bone’s response as he focused his attention on the radar scope. “Aaand,” the orange-furred SWAT Kat breathed, stretching the word as his targeting graphics appeared on the radar scope. The lock tone sounded. “Locked… AWAY!” Razor screamed the two words in one breath.
Razor’s eyes locked on his scope as the missile shot to its target. Closer and closer. His head jerked up, eyes straining into the night as blinding light burst upon the sable carpet of the night sky. The flash was echoed in the SWAT Kat’s field of vision as the cascade of light seared his retina. Razor gasped at the pain, the blast lashing across his sight even through the visor.
Even as his lids clamped down, the SWAT Kat smiled in some small triumph. He’d seen it. The other jet. A fighter. It was a fighter of some sort. Reminiscent of their own jet. Just as he’d thought. Though unlike any he’d ever seen. His mind racing a mile a minute in an effort to process the find, Razor missed the TurboKat’s sudden acceleration until T-Bone’s gruff bark snapped him back to reality.
“Razor! We’re almost in position over his jet! You only have a few more seconds!”
“That’s all I need,” Razor returned coolly, reaching for the button that would lower the TurboKat’s magnetic lock-on device.
As T-Bone matched speed with the other craft, Razor gauged the location of their pursuer’s jet. Closer, closer… There! His finger snapped down on the button. Razor waited. Then, a solid ‘thunk’ from below assured him that the magnet had locked on to the other fighter.
“Got ‘im!” he barked to T-Bone. The words were hardly from his mouth before he was struggling free of the restraints that kept him firmly strapped in and reaching for a cable beneath his seat.
“Good,” his partner grunted. “I’m settin’ ‘er down.” He paused, hearing Razor’s movement. “What’re you doing?!” the big kat demanded.
“If he really does have a bomb, maybe I can get to him before he can detonate it,” Razor returned, hitting the seat release at his side and thrusting off the floor with his feet. The motion sent his seat sliding backward even as a panel in the floor opened. Cold, damp air rushed into the hot cockpit, blowing Razor’s cheek fur as it drove stinging mist into the skin beneath. “At this point, could it hurt?”
T-Bone’s mouth opened to say, “Yes,” then abruptly snapped shut. Razor had a point. “Roger,” he grunted at last, deploying the TurboKat’s VTOL engines and sliding the throttle back to the point that the thrusters were nearly closed, banked but ready.
The slim kat in the rear of the jet checked his glovatrix for an instant and then reached a hand up to switch his visor from anti-glare to night vision mode. As his eyes adjusted to the visor’s green images, he snatched up the end of the cable, its other end now secured to the base of his seat. In seconds, Razor had secured the cable to the belt part of his suit’s harness. Prepared, he gauged the distance to the other jet.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes, bud,” Razor assured his partner, trying to mimic the big tabby’s cocky assurance. Then, he was gone, leaping from the jet into a few instants’ freefall.
T-Bone sighed deeply as he watched the suddenly diminutive figure touch down on the captured craft beneath their own. There were few things in the world he would trade for the thrill of controlling the awesome power of a fighter jet. One of them would be to take his partner’s place and face the risks the slim kat met so often while he kept the mighty jet aloft.
Razor quickly found footing on the flatter area just behind the cockpit, pausing only long enough to assure himself of his balance. He noted that their pursuer had shut down his engines. Whether that was a sign of defeat or a very, very bad sign Razor was uncertain. Quickly, knowing he had no idea what he would find within even as he did so, he reached around the side of the cockpit to find the release latch for the canopy. In one swift motion he had tripped the release. The canopy shot up, opening the cockpit to the damp night air.
With lightning swiftness, the nimble SWAT Kat fearlessly leapt into the cockpit, working around the canopy and aiming for the pilot’s seat. His aim was true. The solid, yet yielding, mass he met could only be a living creature. One that was now struggling wildly at the unexpected onslaught.
Razor focused on his “prey.” There was precious little room for a fight here, especially with his derriere almost hanging out of the jet. The thought was barely through his mind when Razor aimed a glovatrix-shielded fist at where he assumed the other kat’s face should be.
This time, his aim was off. There was a grunt of pain from his opponent and then a fist was slammed into the orange-furred kat’s sensitive nose.
Razor’s head snapped back with the blow as his center of gravity leaned dangerously toward the open air at his back.
“You SWAT Kats think you’re so great!” a rough voice snarled as Razor felt a massive hand grasp his windpipe, pinning him to the side of the cockpit and forcing him over backward, out of the jet. “But, I showed you tonight, didn’t I? Put your fancy jet in a run for its money, didn’t I?”
Razor’s response came not from his mouth, but his feet. He brought both up and into his attacker’s face, now dimly visible. The thrust flung the other as far back against the opposite side of the tiny cockpit as his harness would allow even as it sent Razor tumbling out of the jet and into the nothingness beyond.
The SWAT Kat hurtled into the void of blackness beneath the two jets, a mile above the desert floor below. Before the germ of fear could even blossom in his mind, he was pulled up short by a sharp jerk that tugged hard on his harness. Razor let himself just hang in the cable’s grip for a few seconds, collecting his thoughts. Then, his body registered discomfort where his harness, fighting against gravity’s pull on his body, was starting to dig into his flesh. The agile kat twisted violently, finding the cable attached just above his tail and grasping it tightly.
He had just started to pull himself upward when he heard the first shot. Razor froze, ears twisting in the confines of his helmet as he sought the shot’s direction. A second shot split the night. Razor grimaced, noting the lack of a laser’s glow. For all his jet and presumed bomb might be state of the art, the attacker was clearly using an old-fashioned slug thrower. Razor gasped soundlessly as a second thought tailed the heels of the first. And, as there was no sound of whistling bullets in his direction, the psychopath was shooting at the TurboKat! Aiming to find the fuel tanks! With renewed strength, the SWAT Kat hauled himself upward, praying his efforts to shield the fuel tanks and lines when the TurboKat was designed would pay off. Thankfully, the other kat hadn’t noticed his cable.
T-Bone meanwhile, was debating his options. The first shot had sent his heart to his knees. Razor didn’t carry a gun; for that matter, neither did he. And, nothing else quite made that distinct sound. Praying his partner was okay, he checked the fuel gauge for the millionth time. It was dropping rapidly. The TurboKat’s engines roaring with the effort to support two jets, he never realized the shots’ true direction. All he knew was that, gunshots aside, Razor was running out of time even as the TurboKat ran out of fuel.
Pulling himself hand over hand up the cable, Razor at last found himself inches beneath the pursuer’s jet as two more shots became audible through the sounds of the two jets. He reached a hand up to haul himself the last few feet and froze, debating his options. At length, a plan began to creep into his thought. Cautiously, the SWAT Kat reached out to search for a hand hold on the jet. Feeling only slick metal, he hefted himself upward a few more inches and found the start of the access ladder. His searching fingers quickly pulled the first rung from the fuselage, silently locking it in place.
Slowly, Razor began to climb the access stairs, body pressed close to the jet. Subconsciously, his claws slid out and gripped the metal as he stopped to listen. Another shot. This time there was something more. A sharp crackle of electric energy, so loud it was audible over the TurboKat’s roaring VTOL engines, tore through the night. Razor’s eyes widened at the implications of that deadly sound.
Above, warning lights and alarms ripped mercilessly across T-Bone’s already-barraged senses.
“What in th’—?!” T-Bone snarled, searching his instruments. “Power loss?” Then, it hit him. The shots he’d heard. “Crud!” T-Bone slammed a single huge fist into a bare space he’d long ago selected just for the purpose along the side of the cockpit.
“Grappling magnet power failure” flashed into being abruptly, the words blinking an angry crimson.
“Crud!” T-Bone gasped, the word more horror than epithet now. Large fingers flying and fumbling across the tiny keys of his controls, the brawny tom desperately tried to divert more power to the grappler, even if it cost him his guidance and weapons systems.
“Grappling magnet power failure” gained a new friend on the main systems screen. “Power failure eminent.”
T-Bone was beyond words now. A guttural snarl escaped his lips as he keyed the command for the auxiliary power.
“Don’t you dare let me down now, girl,” he growled to the jet. A sickening jolt from below answered him. The electromagnetic grappler was losing power. And, any minute it would send the other jet plummeting to the valley below.
The lights of T-Bone’s instruments flickered intermittently, seeking power that wasn’t there.
“Don’t let this happen, don’t let this happen,” T-Bone hissed through his teeth. It was no eloquent prayer, but it was heartfelt.
Abruptly, the “power failure imminent” notice vanished and the instrument lights stabilized, fainter than their full power versions, but steady.
“YEEEEESSSS!” T-Bone shrieked. Then, he stopped. “No,” he mouthed.
“Grappling magnet power failure.”
The figure in the other cockpit chuckled maliciously as he aimed his gun at the TurboKat anew. He never saw the figure that appeared even with him, hovering in space, until it was too late.
Somehow flinging his body forward without the aid of any impetus beyond pushing against dead air, Razor swung himself into the other kat. The pursuer’s gun vanished into the darkness below as the orange-furred kat’s kick sent it spinning into the oblivion. With the other kat momentarily stunned, Razor released the cable and let himself fall onto his opponent. The two met in an ugly tangle in the cockpit. But, not such a confusing one that the SWAT Kat couldn’t find his enemy’s face this time.
“That’s enough,” Razor hissed, shoving the triple barrel of his glovatrix into the other tom’s throat.
“Yes,” chortled his prisoner. “It is. Enough that I beat you. We can all die together now.”
“What?!” Razor demanded.
A new electric sizzle sent his eyes to the grappler magnet. It’s trunk was enveloped in sparks. Realization dawned on the slim kat’s face.
“You cut the power to the magnet? We’ll drop like a—!” Razor started.
And then, the sparks were gone.
T-Bone’s breath caught as the other jet suddenly dropped away. There was a final tug on the TurboKat as the magnet gripped the other craft in one final spastic pull before its power was gone. Then, the pursuer’s jet disappeared, vanishing into the abyss below without a sound. T-Bone waited for an explosion, for anything. The explosion came at last, not a nuclear blast, only the sound any craft might make when meeting its fate so abruptly. So, there was no nuclear bomb. Only a hoax. It didn’t matter now.
The SWAT Kat pilot bowed his head in to his chest and sat for several long minutes. It was more than sweat that rolled through the fur of his face now, but the tears came in utter silence. His shoulders did not shake, not a sob escaped his lips. Grief would come in time. When desolation had run its course.
Seconds slid into eternity as T-Bone dealt with the loss of his partner, the closest he had ever had to a brother. The needle of the TurboKat’s fuel gauge dipped lower, but such trivialities held little concern for the big SWAT Kat now.
At length, something knifed through his numbed senses. Light. The sable field beyond the cockpit had grown gray-pink.
Mopping away the sloppy wetness, T-Bone reached for the jet’s controls mechanically. Then, he froze as sound reached his ears, sound the TurboKat did not make. An irregular creaking moan was emanating from behind him.
Slowly, uncertainly, T-Bone fingered the clasp that released his harness and twisted in his seat. A cable trailed from where Razor’s seat sat slid back into a recess at the rear of the cockpit and out the opening in the floor where the slim kat had exited. The cable was taut and creaking as though under great stress.
T-Bone’s mouth moved in silence for several seconds before he finally stumbled over the words, “Glad one of us isn’t a moron.”
The thought hung in the air before, at last, the ability to move returned to the great tabby. Raising the canopy, he clambered half out of the cockpit and back into the rear, to grab the cable and haul it up. Whatever was on its end was surprisingly heavy. Too heavy for his small partner alone.
“He didn’t—” T-Bone mouthed, looking below. He could make out a large dark blob in the haze below. It was only minutes later that he found the two figures in the blob. The blue-clad figure was clinging tightly to the cable, the other figure locked in a death grip under his arm.
Hurriedly, T-Bone strained with all his might to heave both kats into the safety of the TurboKat. For some minutes, his sole focus was in pulling Razor to safety. Pull, pause, pull, pause. He quickly developed a rhythm. Lost in it, the big SWAT Kat was caught off-guard as Razor’s searching hand suddenly shot through the opening. Securing the cable in one hand, T-Bone lunged to grasp his friend’s arm with the other. Grabbing Razor just beyond the wrist, he paused to look into his partner’s face, green eyes penetrating the mask to find the other kat’s amber gaze. His earlier fears must have still been written on his face as he felt Razor give his arm a quick squeeze. And, those eyes… Was that laughter he saw?
“Thanks, bud,” Razor grunted, breaking the moment as he hefted their pursuer’s unconscious and dead weight into the narrow area beyond the opening before following himself. He paused, awkwardly standing over the inert figure of the pursuer and teetering just inches from the hole that dropped away into the fog-shrouded vacuum below. Then, he looked at T-Bone.
“Told ya’ I’d be back in a few minutes,” he commented, the smile on his face growing impish.
His burly partner made no reply beyond cuffing him playfully across the face.
“Sure, sure. Stow the nut in the cargo bay, and let’s get outta here before we run outta fuel,” he returned, his tone gruff, the green eyes behind his mask dancing in step to his partner’s infectious good humor.