Author: Eric “Erico” Lawson
Warnings: Some profanity, violence and mild suggestive content.
Disclaimers: “SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron” is copyright to their respective owners/creators.
S SWAT KATS: TRANSITIONS
By Eric “Erico” Lawson
TWO: DIGITAL DIVIDE
Downtown Megakat City
One Month after “Transitions”
The Megakat City Central Mail Office was in lockdown. Apparently, four or five of the mail sorters who had been laid off recently had ‘gone postal’ as the saying went, showing up to work with an assortment of weapons and explosives. They held an unspecified number of katizens hostage, with estimates ranging from 2 dozen to nearly 80, and one had already shot a security guard who’d apparently tried to wrestle a gun away from him.
It was a terrible situation. The city was on standstill, all eyes on the developing crisis. The normal Enforcers response would have failed and gotten every hostage killed.
Commander Feral stood behind a defensive line with a heavy line of Enforcers keeping the public out to a 2 block radius away from the facility and barked out commands on his megaphone. All of it, to the Commander’s chagrin, was just a showpiece for the real plan being spearheaded by ‘Feral the Younger’, as some referred to her. Lieutenant Felina Feral’s response to the crisis came in the form of the 6th “Tactical Response Squadron”, or TRS for short. Today, they weren’t soaring over the city skyline in Enforcer jets or patrolling the harbor in helicopters. They had boots on the ground, tactical gear in tow, and were planning for an insertion and takedown.
Feral tried to contain his growl as he listened to the hostage negotiator try to talk the gunmen down. It was stupid to try and negotiate with the scum inside of that building. Normal kats lost jobs all the time. It didn’t give them an excuse to go crazy and start hurting others. He scoffed and stared in the direction of the hastily erected tent out of sight of the Central Mail Office where his niece and the 6th Squadron were going over their plans. Felina had gotten in his face and outright yelled at him to let her team handle the mission so the Enforcers didn’t make a mess of it. He didn’t see how hiding away in a tent doing nothing got the hostages rescued any better than charging in.
His staff sergeant came up and saluted. “Commander, we have unconfirmed reports that the SWAT Kats are…”
“Don’t say it.” Feral cut his man off with a snarl. “The last thing I want to hear today is that they’re going to stick their noses in this mess.” He paused, then blinked. “Unconfirmed?” That was unusual. Usually everyone knew when the SWAT Kats were coming, a side effect of the loud roar of the Turbokat’s powerful engines.
The thundering growl of a very different kind of engine settled the argument as a blue and red truck tore around from behind a nearby high rise luxury apartment building and came to a screeching halt just short of the cordon and the gathered onlookers.
He shivered as the crowd of katizens let out a cheer that was even louder than the vigilante’s rarely used truck had been. Just looking at the vehicle put him on edge; a custom built monster truck with rocket boosters, a ramming sled on the nose, and a mounted cannon in the flatbed.
“Damn those SWAT Kats.” He hissed. To his utter shock, and then outrage, the two got out of their ground vehicle, waved to the crowd like a pair of rock stars, and then strutted through the Enforcers cordon to enter the planning tent where Felina and her squad were working.
Why hadn’t his Enforcers stopped them?
“Sergeant, extend the cordon back another block.” Feral shoved his megaphone into the staff sergeant’s chest and stormed for the tent. He was going to get some answers and then kick some tails.
Preferably the SWAT Kats’.
“Right now, I could give a fig for procedure.” Lieutenant Feral snapped at one of the younger, bright-eyed members of her squad. He was a decent chopper pilot and a crack shot, but he ran his mouth just as fast. The two SWAT Kats, T-Bone and Razor, stood near the entrance to the tent with T-Bone’s arms crossed in a defiant pose while Razor had a duffel bag slung over one shoulder. Half of her small squad of Enforcers seemed pleased with the offer of aid the SWAT Kats had made, while the other half were clearly of the mindset that this was one crisis the SWAT Kats had no business sticking their noses in. Sergeant Barnes, her right hand on the force, was wearing a bemused expression as he looked at the two. There was more good humor there than she would have expected, and she gave him two heartbeats of suspicious consideration before returning her focus on the irritated Enforcer. “These two have offered to help, and we’re short on troopers.”
“Lieutenant, they’re not trained Enforcers, they don’t know our procedures!” The pilot argued, sticking to his guns. “They’re going to put us all at risk!”
“Oh, I think these boys can handle themselves.” Barnes mused, doing a remarkable job of playing up the old and slightly lazy mentor. “I wouldn’t imagine it’s their first rodeo dealing with a bunch of gun-toting wackos.”
At the praise, T-Bone finally cracked a little of a smile, and Razor gave his larger partner an inquisitive glance which the burly pilot shrugged off.
“That being said, our main concern is the threat of explosives.” Lieutenant Feral pressed on, ending the argument by ignoring it. “From their initial demands, we’ve been told that they are in possession of several homemade explosive devices. Not sure what we’re looking at in payload, but based on the lack of time between when these five were laid off and now, and their backgrounds, it’s not likely to be a fertilizer bomb. Pipe bombs, probably. Not like shrapnel made out of screws and nails is any less deadly than processed nitrogen for a body count.”
“Any clues on the type of detonation trigger?” Razor asked. “Have you gotten any visuals on if these devices are linked to deadman triggers, or wired triggers, or a regular radio receiver?”
“None of the gunmen we’ve caught glimpses of had their hands on deadman switches. And no, no wires. We were able to tap into the security cameras for a while before they started destroying them, nothing like that inside.” Another officer of the 6th Squadron chimed in.
Both Razor and T-Bone visibly relaxed at the news.
“Then we’re in luck.” Razor said, setting his duffel bag down on the planning table. As everyone leaned in, he unzipped it and pulled out a heavily modified walkie-talkie, outlandishly styled with a copper coil around the antenna and extra batteries duct taped to the back. “This is a prototype radio jammer I’ve been working on. It’ll gum up every frequency from the police band to RC devices; it’ll even play hell with any ELF or UHF signals in a 2 kilometer radius.” He shrugged apologetically. “The downside is that without knowing what particular frequency their bombs are using, I’ll have to set it for broad spectrum denial.”
“Meaning that we’ll be unable to communicate with each other as well.” Lieutenant Feral surmised. “Not a great solution.”
“Oh, we should be able to work around that.” Sergeant Barnes mused. “When you can’t trust your radios, or who’s listening in… you go off of timing.” He chuckled a bit at that, which made all the younger troopers shiver a little, because the old sergeant rarely cracked a smile, much less laughed. “Old school tactics.”
The Lieutenant still didn’t commit to the idea, however, pensively chewing her lip.
“It’s your op, Lieutenant.” Razor said to reassure her. “We’re here to help, not do your job for you. You want us here, you just tell us where you want us and what we need to do.”
The tent flap was flung open, and a fuming Commander Feral stormed inside, staring at the assembled troopers and the two vigilantes.
“Would somebody mind telling me why these vigilantes are in the proximity of a briefing in progress?” He growled.
“Well, that’s easy, Feral.” T-Bone snarked back at him. “We’re here to help.”
“Like Hell you are.” Feral pointed a finger at them. “I want you two hotshots out of this tent and away from my damn crime scene.” He snapped.
Razor and T-Bone frowned and didn’t budge. Barnes wore an impassive mask and folded his arms.
And Felina scowled in turn and shook her head. “They’re not going anywhere. I asked them to stay.”
The Commander turned to her in surprise, and a little bit of irritation. “Lieutenant, you’re out of line.”
“Unc… Commander, no, I’m not. You are.” Lieutenant Feral countered, stammering for a moment as she settled on her relative’s rank to mark the difference in the encounter. “This is my operation, and until such a time as you care to relieve me of the responsibility, I have final say on when we move in, how we move in, and how many kats go in with me. I don’t give a damn that they don’t wear the badge. They’ve proven themselves, and I trust them with my life.”
“And do you trust them with the lives of those hostages inside, Felina?” Her uncle pressed on angrily. “Because if you do this, if you let these SWAT Kats interfere, then I will have to charge you with negligence for each and every death.”
The two Ferals stared each other down in the standoff, while the rest of the Enforcers of the 6th Tactical Response Squadron shifted uneasily, not sure which one to support. And T-Bone looked bound and determined to shoot his mouth off and make it worse. At least, until Razor set a hand on the burly tom’s arm, stopping him.
“You don’t want us on the mission, Commander? Fine. We will not be participating in the breach and rescue.” Razor said, narrowing his eyes behind his mask on the taller kat. “Satisfied?”
Feral readjusted his longcoat and nodded once. “Immensely.”
“Then get out, Commander. You’re interfering with my briefing.” Lieutenant Feral hissed.
The older Feral made a face, but did leave as requested, having gotten his way.
Felina sighed and rested her forehead against the palm of her hand. “Sorry my uncle’s such a…”
“Dick?” T-Bone chimed in, earning a couple of snickers and more than one dirty glance as well.
Felina’s face twitched for a moment, but she managed not to crack a smile. “I was going to say, hard case.”
“I can understand where he’s coming from. It’s a major liability issue having us on something like this.” Razor tried to downplay the standoff. “So, we’re not going to be on your breach teams.” He held up the radio jammer again and smiled. “I never said we wouldn’t still help, though.”
Felina’s frown shifted into a slow, steadily widening smile. “Razor, you’re devious.”
“Aw, shucks.” Razor said, earning chuckles from the gathered Enforcers.
“All right then.” Felina switched gears, and the mood in the room turned back to business. “So here’s the plan…”
2 Hours Later
Deputy Mayor Briggs had earned a few perks from her continued tenure as Manx’s right hand, and the proverbial power behind the throne. One of those was a television she kept on and turned to Kats’ Eye News whenever she was stuck doing paperwork. This afternoon, she found it very hard to concentrate on the mayor’s latest speech for some upcoming dinner later in the week because what was on the screen was much more interesting. She’d even turned the volume up. Naturally, it was Ann Gora with the microphone, wearing her famous blue blazer.
“…At the scene of a successful hostage rescue, where earlier today, four former postal employees returned to work with weapons and held thirty-four of their co-workers hostage. Thanks to the efforts of our city’s brave protectors, all of the gunmen were subdued without a single hostage being killed. Here to speak with us now about the successful operation is Commander Ulysses Feral, head of the Enforcers. Commander? You’ve had a very good day today.”
And there was the enormous, proud kat himself, looking very satisfied in his longcoat while activity still swarmed behind him. “I would like to say that Megakat City has had a very good day today. What could have been a tragedy of unfathomable depth was averted, thanks to my Enforcers… the true defenders of our metropolis.”
“It is my understanding that this hostage rescue was spearheaded by one Enforcers unit in particular. Can you elaborate?”
Feral paused for half a heartbeat before nodding. “The 6th Tactical Response Squadron had the lead on this operation.”
Ann Gora smiled, and so did Callie as she pressed the point. “That unit is commanded by Lieutenant Felina Feral, your niece, I understand?”
That made Feral’s face twitch finally. “That is correct. Lieutenant Feral is one of my most capable officers, and excelled in the Academy.”
“I’m sure. I did not mean to imply that nepotism was a factor in your staffing decisions, Commander. I merely wanted to point out that perhaps excellence in law enforcement runs in the family.” Ann Gora countered smoothly, settling his hackles back down again. Deputy Mayor Briggs couldn’t help but smile. Now that he’d relaxed a little, she would follow up with a hammerblow question. It was her style, what made her the top investigative reporter in Megakat City. “There are also reports that the SWAT Kats were involved in…”
“The SWAT Kats are vigilantes, Ann.” Feral cut her off. “It is Enforcers policy not to allow known vigilantes to participate in sensitive operations. They were not involved in the hostage rescue, and I had given orders to that effect.”
“That may be true, Commander, but we have eyewitness accounts and photographic and taped evidence that they arrived driving one of their specialized ground vehicles and were seen entering the command tent where Lieutenant Feral likely coordinated the attack with her squadron.”
“Ann. They were not a part of this operation. They may have been here today, but only as bystanders. Do not mistake me here. They act outside of the law, and I will not see them participate in operations where the lives of the katizens we are sworn to uphold are at risk. They took no oath, and they answer to no laws.”
“Nevertheless, the latest poll numbers indicate that they still edge out the Enforcers by 14 percentage points among registered voters for favorability and effectiveness. How do you plan to address this discrepancy?”
Feral was clearly grinding his teeth, and he ended up shaking his head. “A question for another day, Ann. Right now, we still have a crime scene to process and interviews to collect. Good day.” He nodded once at the camera and strolled off.
“And a good day to you, Commander.” Ann called after him cheerfully as she turned to face the camera. “There you have it, folks. Live and on the scene here in Downtown, this is Ann Gora, Kat’s Eye…”
The phone rang, and Callie pulled her attention from the broadcast. She pulled the black plastic receiver from the mount and cleared her throat. “Deputy Mayor Briggs.”
“Hey, Calico.” Callie relaxed as she recognized Felina’s voice. “How are you doing?”
“Just stuck in the office writing speeches. I saw that you had an interesting day.” Callie replied.
“That’s one way of putting it. I’m just glad things went off without a hitch. No casualties, civilian or Enforcer.”
“Did… Were the SWAT Kats there?”
“Yeah. My uncle didn’t want them involved, put his foot down. Still, Razor had a gadget which scrambled communications and kept them from detonating the bombs they had, so it all worked out.”
Callie grinned. “I’m glad you’re able to work together with them so well.”
“You have the house tonight, right?”
“Yeah. I was thinking of picking up some steaks for dinner.”
“Not really. He gets to cook them.” Callie said, and they both laughed. “I’m glad you’re all right, Felina. It wouldn’t surprise me if you get a commendation for today.”
“If I am, I haven’t heard about it. Hell, I’m still a lieutenant. Explain that one to me.” Felina complained. “Ah. Sorry, didn’t mean to make you feel bad. I’ll call you later, okay? Got an after-action report to write up.”
Callie hung up the phone and stared at the ceiling for a while. Things had been going very well for Felina and herself, both personally and professionally. It was almost…
No. She stopped herself right there and shook it off. She wasn’t going to even begin to think like that. There was enough trouble in Megakat City. No sense in tempting fate.
Professor Hackle’s Home
After finding the cavern inside of Megakat Shores that would serve as the Secondary Hangar, the next objectives had been to reinforce the cave for construction and to carve out a tunnel through the bedrock to make sure that it could be reached from Professor Hackle’s laboratory in short order. Finding the absolute best route to cut a tunnel through bedrock required the use of some highly advanced gear which even Professor Hackle didn’t have on hand; only by putting their talents together had the aging engineer and Jake managed to create a scanner with a powerful enough ground-penetrating radar to do the job. Once the route had been established, then the hard work of excavation had finally begun.
It didn’t make the actual work any easier, Jake Clawson mused. Stepping back out of the tunnel and into Hackle’s ground floor laboratory, he stripped his gravel dust-laden coveralls off and meandered into the irrigation shower. Different from a normal shower, it was designed to douse someone from head to toe in distilled water to cleanse them of chemical residue. Only after the spray of ice-cold water had hit him and he’d finished shivering did he rip off the rebreather which kept him from sucking harmful limestone into his lungs.
“This is gonna take forever.” He muttered aloud.
A door opened, and Jake tensed up for a moment before he remembered that it was just Hackle; the cadence of the old kat’s cane gave him away. He reached up and killed the downpour.
“Hello, Jacob. Done for the day?”
“We’re only three meters in.” Jake said, quickly lathering his fur up with body soap. “I’d work longer, but we still have a car garage to run.”
“Well, why don’t you get dressed? Your Miss Briggs should be here soon, and I believe she was bringing dinner.”
“Yeah, that sounds good.” Jake finished scrubbing himself and jerked on the shower handle again, resulting in a second chilly deluge. Shivering all over again, he shut off the water and reached for a towel. “Doc, if we’re gonna keep using this, you need to rig it up with some warmer water.”
“Perhaps we will need it far less than you think.” Hackle said, following the statement up with a somewhat worrying and very cryptic chuckle. “I have been working very diligently on something which should be of some use.”
“Yeah? You making a more efficient drilling apparatus?”
“In a way.” Hackle shrugged. “Finish getting cleaned up, and when you are ready, meet me in the house.
Used to dressing at rushed speeds for emergencies, Jake was dry and in a set of comfortable jeans and a blue button-down shirt in under four minutes. Entering the living quarters of the beachfront property, he stopped halfway to the kitchen when he spotted a very familiar small robot near the reclining professor.
Both the robot and Professor Hackle turned to look towards Jake, and the sound of whirring servos and an all too familiar digital chirping sealed it.
“Cybertron.” Jake said, taking in the sight of the tread-equipped mechanoid. It zoomed over and held out a metallic paw, which Jake quickly shook with an ear-splitting grin. “You finally rebuilt him?”
“As good as new. And even better.” Hackle smiled. “I have spent quite a few late nights redesigning his chassis and equipment. Luckily, Cybertron’s core data drives were intact, so he remembers everything. It was just the rest of him that was destroyed by those giant mummies.”
Cybertron let out another excited chirp and backed away, assuming a defensive pose.
“Relax, little guy.” Jake reassured him. “No trouble today. But it’s damn good to have you back.”
The elevator door opened again, and Callie stepped out, yawning. “Sorry I’m late, there was a line like you wouldn’t believe at…” The deputy mayor froze, looking at the robot as she slowly recognized him. “Oh, wow. Is that who I think it is?”
“Cybertron?” Jake laughed. “Yes. The Professor just got done patching him up.”
Callie came over and knelt down, beaming at the small robot’s optics. “Hey, little guy! I remember you. Do you remember me?”
With another chirp, Cybertron gave a nod of his head.
“I imagine that Cybertron will prove to be a large help to the SWAT Kats. Hopefully, his new chassis will be more damage resistant. I went with an Agracite polymer coating, which did not sacrifice his maneuverability.” Professor Hackle explained.
Razor went to hug Callie for a moment before addressing their live-in scientist. “That’s terrific, Doc. I think first off, he’ll be helping me with the access tunnel to the secondary base.”
“To be certain, he can, but Cybertron is not the only robot that can help you with that.” Hackle dug around in his pocket and pulled out a small remote, which caused a closet door to slide open and reveal another figure inside.
The joy Jake had been feeling melted off of his face immediately when a fully kat-sized robot with flat boot feet stepped out into the living room. Silver and chrome over the whole of its chassis, the robot looked around before nodding once to Professor Hackle and the other two kats in the room.
The professor was saying something, but Jake didn’t hear it, didn’t hear anything as an old memory replayed in his mind, until Callie shook him forcefully.
“What? Sorry, what?” He blinked and came to, letting go of Callie after he realized that he’d been squeezing her tightly.
“I said, you were hurting me!” She chastised him. “And you’re ignoring the professor.”
“He was likely daydreaming about my new katbot is all, Miss Briggs.” Hackle wheezed softly. “It is all right.” The old kat stepped up next to the tall silver and chrome katbot and stroked its arm. “For too long, my inventions have been used to destroy. But this katbot, and all the others that will follow, will be dedicated workers, serving katkind and doing jobs in the city to help people have easier lives. That time is far off in the future, I think, but for now, this first one will be helping you to clear the tunnels as well, Jacob.”
“…Great.” Jake said softly. He hadn’t moved an inch since releasing Callie. He just kept staring at the robot, even when it looked down at Hackle and then at him.
“Jake?” Callie’s paw came up to the side of his face and turned him away. He blinked several times as Callie forced him to focus on her concerned features. “Jake, are you all right? What’s wrong?”
The thinner mechanic and part-time vigilante shoved the dark memories deep inside of himself and managed a smile. “Yeah. Low blood sugar, I guess.”
“Good, I’ve got the solution for that.” Callie reached down and picked up the sack of groceries, then pulled out a package of fresh steaks. “You start the grill up. I’ll get the salads ready. And remember, I like my steak…”
“Rare. I know, Callie.” Jake reassured her. She didn’t seem entirely convinced, so Jake leaned in and kissed her cheek. “I’m fine.”
“If you say so.” She sighed and sauntered past him.
Jake stared after her for a moment, then blinked when he heard Hackle laugh softly. Caught ogling his girlfriend, Jake looked at the old scientist and narrowed an eyebrow.
“Nothing. Nothing.” Hackle said, stifling himself. “I am not yet done programming my katbot, but he will be ready to start excavating tomorrow. And with my steak, leave it on a little longer. I enjoyed mine medium rare, but my teeth are not as strong as they used to be. I am afraid well done will be what I require.” Hackle ordered the katbot to follow him back to his workshop, and Jake went out onto the open air deck.
Without meaning to, Professor Hackle’s steak was done well to the point of over-charring.
Jake had been too distracted to stop it.
Molly Metallikat had seen quite a bit of change in her life. Growing up in a rough neighborhood, she’d learned you either stomped over others or got stomped on yourself. So she put her lot in with Michael “Mac” Mange, and ended up rising to the top of the gang world with her husband. Then, Alkatraz. Then their escape, and the accident…
But somehow, they hadn’t died. And now, they were robots. She still thought like she used to, which was more than Mac ever did. He didn’t think even when he still had an actual brain. He was a thug; she was the one who kept her eyes open all the time. They’d been revived as a mockery of their former selves. Mac had been thrilled at the idea, but her? Less so, at first. She went along with Mac anyways, though. She always did. Especially then, when the alternative was having no one.
She was a robot. She couldn’t feel the warmth of a hand on her back, or the cold of the wind. She couldn’t taste food; she never felt thirst. So very little was left to make her feel alive. For all his many, many idiotic flaws, Mac was the only thing she had left that made her feel even a little bit like the kat she’d been. Only problem was, he wasn’t himself.
The Metallikat Express was lost; eaten by that repair robot ‘Zed’ months ago. So driving a beat up and stolen car, Molly drove back from a robbery at the local Radio Hut with a backseat full of wires and metal pieces. The Enforcers, overworked as always, only got there after she was long gone. There wasn’t enough heat for an electronics store break-in.
Pulling into the neighborhood and ignoring the poor homeless bastards huddled around trash can fires, Molly drove back around into a dark alley close to the apartment she and Mac were huddled out in. She turned the engine off, grabbed for the sack full of parts, and started to get out.
Her hearing worked better than ever, in spite of her other sensory deprivations. She heard the snikt of a knife blade snapping out from a hilt behind her.
“Hand over the goods, lady.” A gruff voice ordered. Molly slowly turned, still hidden in the confines of a long trenchcoat and fedora, registering the threat. Some poor half starved mook looking for an easy mugging. She didn’t have her gauntleted arm cannon, but that didn’t matter. She could break him in half in a second without it.
“Get outta here, youse moron.” Molly growled deeply. “I’ll break your freakin’ arm.”
His eyes were buggy and bloodshot. Too much of the wild juice, Mac’d say. Drugs. Something worse than katnip.
The idiot didn’t listen. He charged at her. Molly sidestepped the wild stab and snapped her hand out, grabbing hold of his forearm between elbow and wrist. And then she squeezed.
The bones crackled and snapped effortlessly, and he shrieked in pain as he dropped the knife. For good measure, Molly kicked him hard into the wall, knocking him unconscious. He might live if he woke up quick enough to get to a hospital. He might not. Didn’t matter. Only two lives mattered to Molly Metallikat. Her own, and a little after that, Mac’s. Anyone who’d seen the failed mugging had quickly made themselves scarce. She gave her head a shake and went to the old garage door beside the building, hinging it open and up with a quick jerk. After she’d stepped through, she slammed it back down again.
“Izzat you, Molly?” The voice of her husband came out of the hovel they called home, along with the gentle tink-tink-tinking of tiny metallic pincers.
“What do you think, bucket butt?” She snapped back. Her trenchcoat and hat were flung over the garage’s cluttered workbench haphazardly, and she took the bag into the dingy apartment with the flickering lights.
Mac was waiting for her in the kitchen, perched up on top of the counter on the tiny tripod legs that supported his head. His body had been lost to Zed completely, and he had a sour look as he glanced between her and a pitiful looking metal frame on the kitchen table; her ongoing attempt to make something to replace it. “About freakin’ time you got back. I’ve been sittin here going crazy, and there’s nothin’ but reruns on the TV.”
“Excuse me for living.” She slammed the bag hard on the table next to the makeshift robot body. “It ain’t easy casing a joint these days, or getting in and out without being seen.”
“Fine, whatever. You got the parts?”
“Yeah, I got the parts. Keep your shirt on.”
“Molly, I don’t got no freaking body right now, what the hell am I supposed to do with a shirt?” Mac countered. His head scuttled to the edge of the counter and made the short leap to the kitchen table, staring down at what Molly had spent too many long days working on. He still scowled over it. “Unbelievable. It looks like you used a damn Erector Set.”
“Well, what did you expect? We ain’t exactly mechanical geniuses, genius!” Harder than she needed to, she tore the bag apart to get to the wires and electronics she’d swiped. “Now keep your mouth shut and lemme work on this. Unless you prefer bein’ a talking head the rest of your life.”
Mac growled and cursed under his breath, but took the hint and jumped off the kitchen table to let her work. The precious silence Molly needed to try to cobble together a replacement body lasted for almost a full three hours, with Mac turning up right as she was making the final adjustments.
“Is it finished?” Mac demanded.
“Almost, bolt breath.” Molly groused softly. “It don’t got much for a battery, but it’ll get you moving again until we can get you something close to what you had before.”
“Great. Tell me when I can plug into it.”
Molly used a lead tester to check the power relays one last time, then stepped back. “Give it a try.”
Mac’s head hopped up onto the table and fitted itself over the stump of the neck, making the vital connections to the scrawny metal chassis. It twitched a few times as he sat up, and Mac was just starting to laugh when he swung his legs out to the side and tried to walk.
The thing shorted out, sparking and throwing off smoke, and the backpulse forced Mac to eject from it, screaming in pain. His body, the product of countless weeks of work by his wife, collapsed and fell apart into its composite parts.
“Oh, great job, Molly!” Mac snapped at her sarcastically. “The thing almost fried my circuits but good that time!”
Molly picked up the biggest piece of what was left of Mac’s replacement torso and hurled it into the wall with an angry scream. Angry at him, or the situation, she wasn’t sure which. Both, probably. Whatever it was, the scrap metal was embedded in the drywall after the impact.
“Like you could do any better.” Came her sullen response. “Guess I ain’t a mechanic after all.” I tried. I really did.
“Knew that when I married ya, Molly.” Mac snipped back. Underneath the sarcasm, there was still that trace of genuine warmth that the two had for each other. They spent all their lives with their walls up, and even as robots, they could hear the subtext beneath the insults. I know you tried your best.
Mac’s head looked up at her. “We gotta do something, though. We can’t exactly start a new crime spree if I’m nothin’ but a good looking face.”
“All right. The Professor?” Molly wagered. “I know neither of us are too keen on going back there, but the old geezer fixed us in the first place. He might have an extra robot body lying around.”
“Forget it.” Mac quickly dismissed the idea. “I ain’t getting nowhere near that codger, and neither are you. He’d probably have some way to neutralize us, and then he’d reprogram us. Not happening.” Mac and Molly thought quietly for a bit longer, and then he offered another dubious choice. “What about those two SWAT Kats? The grease monkeys? They might have somethin’ lying around I could use. Hell, they might’ve even grabbed the scraps of me out from under Feral’s nose.”
“Are you stupid or something?” Molly asked, and she waved him off before he could respond. “Don’t answer that, I know you are.”
“The last time we stumbled onto their base, they took us out even after we caught ’em with their pants down.” Molly reminded him. “This time around we won’t have that kind of surprise workin’ for us, and they’ve probably got better weapons ready and waiting for us to try again. And you’re useless in a fight. No. We’ve got enough trouble with those bastards when we’re on a job. There’s no way we’re walking back into that lion’s den.”
“All right then, what do you think we should do?” Mac questioned her. “Because we tried lyin’ low and building me a new body from scratch, and that was a waste of time.”
Molly, forever the smarter of the two, had another idea already waiting in the wings.
“You remember those giant kat robots we hijacked?”
“Sorta.” Mac grunted. “I remember they didn’t do us a lick of good.”
“How much you wanna bet that they’ve got something better lying around there we could use for youse?” Molly offered, and Mac slowly started to chuckle at the idea.
Molly grinned as well. “I think we oughta pay that Pumadyne place another visit.”
Commander Feral’s Office
The Next Day
Lieutenant Feral didn’t get called into her uncle’s office that often. The elder Feral preferred to avoid the appearance of either socializing with his niece or calling her to the carpet too often. It was a means of protecting her from gossip from the rest of the force, and himself from the gossips outside of it.
She had a feeling, as she passed by the staff sergeant who always guarded her uncle’s doorway, that this wasn’t going to be a very happy meeting. She got that vibe just by how the middle-aged tom in the tan uniform gave her the barest nod and waved her back. “He’s expecting you.”
“Thanks.” Felina had a fairly good idea what it was that had Commander Ulysses Feral’s dander up this morning, so she ran through the arguments that she’d made in her head after submitting her after-action report yesterday, took a deep breath, and swung the door open in her usual assertive style.
Her Uncle was sitting at his desk, calmly drinking a cup of coffee while examining the contents of a manila folder. “Come in.” He said out of habit, even though she had never knocked.
“What did you need, Commander?” Felina inquired. Until he turned down the pressure, she’d keep it professional.
“I was reviewing your report, Felina.” He responded, setting first his mug down, and then the report. Only after he’d accomplished that did he look up with a dark glower. “I have some questions regarding the flow of events. Specifically…”
“Specifically regarding the radio jammer provided to the 6th TRS by Razor.” Felina cut him off, easily identifying the problem. “Your orders were very specific, Uncle. The SWAT Kats did not participate in the operation. At no time did either of them move into the building. We merely made use of their technology as a means of preventing the criminals from detonating their explosives, communicating effectively, and turning the hostage situation into a tragedy.”
His eyes fairly brimmed with angry light. “Splitting the hairs rather finely, aren’t you, Lieutenant?”
“I don’t know what you mean, sir.” She replied stiffly.
Feral let out a growl and stood up, leaning over his desk with all the imposing presence he was famous for. It terrified the rookies and those who didn’t know him as well. Felina stared at him and recalled, briefly, the uncle who showed up at family gatherings and fidgeted in the sweaters knitted by her grandmother, forever uncomfortable but too awkwardly situated to say anything about it. She kept down the smile and stood straight, unimpressed by the power tactic.
“You’re getting far too comfortable with those two vigilantes.” He said. “Tell me, Felina, if I were to follow you around, would I find that you’ve been spending time with the SWAT Kats?”
“It was my understanding that who I spent time with off the clock was none of your damn business.” Lieutenant Feral quipped back. “You indicated as much the last time I was in this office.”
“A decision I am beginning to regret making. The media is constantly enamored by them. That’s their prerogative. Yesterday, Ann Gora all but made a fool of me in her interview because the actions of your team, and the involvement of the SWAT Kats were two different stories.”
“You should have said ‘No Comment’ and walked away from her then.”
“Were I in a less forgiving mood, I would accuse you of collaborating with the enemy.” He snapped. “As Enforcers, we need to walk a distinct line of separation.”
“You say that, but right now, we have the start of the city council approved citizen neighborhood defenders already beginning to take shape. Citizen defenders being trained. By us.” Felina pressed on, tired of her uncle always playing the righteous indignation card and conveniently forgetting it when the circumstances dictated more extreme intervention. “We need them.”
“We do not…”
“Who are you trying to convince? Me, or yourself?” Felina’s tail swished angrily behind her. “Let’s face it. They can’t be everywhere at once. That’s our job. But when the real trouble happens… Zed, Dark Kat, Viper, who do we end up relying on to save our tails? Them! I swear, Uncle, when it comes to the SWAT Kats, you’re such a hypo…”
“That is enough, lieutenant!” Feral almost shouted, slamming his fist down on his desk with enough force to make some coffee splash out of his mug and stain the corner. The two stood there fuming at one another, neither one backing down. The Feral stubbornness, out in plain view once more.
Feral finally pointed a shaking finger at her. “This is a direct order. Under no circumstances are you to incorporate either the SWAT Kats or their technology into the operations of the 6th Tactical Response Squadron. I will draft a memo and have it sent to your office so there will be no confusion as to my meaning or intent. Am I perfectly understood, Lieutenant Feral?”
“One more thing. Are you aware of their real identities?”
A pause of three heartbeats came while she somehow rose another few centimeters in height. “May I ask in which spirit you are asking this question?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, are you asking as the head of the Enforcers, or as a concerned uncle?” Felina countered.
“I see. I am going to say some things, and then I am going to give you the opportunity to retract that question.” Felina stood at parade rest. “First off, anyone who did know their secret identities would immediately become a target to the dozens of criminals and terrorists that they’ve put away over the years. Second, it is my personal opinion that the SWAT Kats are just as vital to the defense of Megakat City as we are. And that opinion isn’t exclusive among the Enforcers, not anymore. So if I did know, and you ordered me to tell you, I would have to turn in my badge. Finally, if I did know who they were, and you threatened me with prison to get me to tell you, what would you do with the information? Because I can guarantee you that the moment that the word gets out who they really are? The moment you arrest them and throw them behind bars for trying to stand up for this city against criminals and maniacs, the powderkeg in the streets below this ivory tower you live in is going to explode. The citizens will despise you for taking their heroes away, and every malignant waste of life will roll in because you’ve neutralized the one force that makes them think twice about trying anything.”
Felina hadn’t blinked at all. Feral’s shoulders rose and fell from slow, heavy breaths. She narrowed her gaze ever so slightly. “Now then. Do you really want to ask me that question?”
“…Get out.” He growled.
Felina turned sharply on her back heel and started for the door. She had her hand on the knob before he spoke again.
“You’re turning into a loose cannon, Lieutenant! Don’t think I won’t boot you off the force if you keep this up! I’ve done it before!”
Her blood was at full boil. She knew exactly who her uncle meant. Chance and Jake. The Staff Sergeant rose from his desk as she stormed out, staring at her with his mouth open a little bit. Like you didn’t see this coming?
“Then fire me!” She screamed, never breaking stride, ignoring the elevator and moving to the stairs. It took her longer to get to her unit’s offices, but she needed the time in the long stairwell to cool off.
And just as she’d expected, a memo arrived two hours later with the new ‘No SWAT Kats’ directive. Sergeant Barnes glanced at it once, chuckled a bit, and sauntered off to the water cooler, unconcerned.
As for being fired, nothing came of it.
Professor Hackle’s Laboratory
3 Days Later
“I’d strangle him, if I could get my paws around that thick neck of his.” Felina grumped.
Chance grunted through his filtration mask as he finished scooping the last pile of rubble into the waiting wheelbarrow. “Okay, take it out.” He told the waiting katbot. The robot nodded once at the order, then started the trip down the corridor that he, Jake, and their helpers had steadily been carving through solid bedrock. Without a stop order, the smaller tread-equipped robot Cybertron continued to burrow away at the tunnel. Felina was leaned up against one of the walls, and she handed him a water bottle. He lifted his mask up and rested it against his forehead.
After a swig, Chance set a boot on his shovel, leaned on it a little, and cleared his throat. “Ordinarily, Lina, it’s me or Jake who talks like that. Hearing it from you’s… different. What’s to say this isn’t your uncle just acting like he usually does?”
“It’s not; he’s just being a jackass.” Chance gave her a questioning look, and she retreated from the vitriol a shade. “Okay, maybe he was a little riled up from being blindsided in that interview by Ann Gora. But we got the job done, and I followed his stupid rules. You and Razor weren’t on the Op. Now we can’t even use your tech when you offer it. He needs to get it through that thick skull of his we’re better off working with you two than…” She cut herself off and sighed. “This fight was worse than the others.”
Chance resettled his breathing mask, went back to the tunnel wall and pulled up a deep ground penetrating radar scanner Hackle had let them borrow. It was the only way to make sure that the corridor they were burrowing between the laboratory and their in-progress Secondary Hangar didn’t run afoul of any problems. Excavation wasn’t the brawny tom’s forte, but Jake had run himself ragged studying up on the techniques through available textbooks on the process and by making subtle inquiries to construction crews in Megakat City. There weren’t going to be any cave-ins, not on their watch.
Satisfied with the course, he whistled to get Cybertron’s attention, who was still busily drilling away with a pair of new arm attachments. “Our course is still solid. How’s your batteries holding up, fella?”
The robot chirped an affirmative and nodded his head, and Chance chuckled. “All right. Keep at it, I’ve got rubble cleanup.”
The new katbot Hackle had designed came back down the hall again, the wheelbarrow empty. The robot turned it around and stood by, waiting for Chance to fill it back up again. He looked back up to Felina as he picked up the fallen chunks of gravel.
“You’re really shaken up about this.” Chance said, sounding much less easygoing than before. “What happened?”
“He asked me if I knew who you two were. Out of the masks.” Felina waited the requisite half a heartbeat for that to sink in and let Chance raise an eyebrow before she went on. “I told him why even thinking about going down that road was a bad idea. He didn’t take it well.” She looked miserable. “I was angry. I was… I shouldn’t have said what I did. I should have just lied. Told him no. Said that whenever I met with you two to train, like he already knows I do, that we always met somewhere out in the wilderness. How hard would that have been?”
“Hey, when I get angry, I don’t always think things through either.” Chance reassured her. “Did he ever make it an official order?”
“No. But I could tell he wanted to. Why can’t he just accept that this city needs you two as much as it does us?”
“Pride, I imagine.” Chance wagered, standing back up after setting down the last piece of rubble in the wheelbarrow. He cracked his back and nodded to the katbot. “Okay, haul it out of here.” The robot took off with his load again, and Chance examined the length of the tunnel, high and wide enough to stand up in three kats across. “Damn. We’ve made more progress with Cybertron and the katbot helping out than we did in a month of digging by ourselves.”
“Pride in the Enforcers, you mean. And how he feels like we should be able to handle everything that happens.”
“You’ve got it. But we’ve had this conversation before.” Chance reminded her. “That’s not what’s eating you. You’re worried about your career. I wouldn’t be, though. The 6th Squadron’s proving itself and getting results. He isn’t going to throw you under the bus.”
“Why not? He did it with you and Jake.”
“Yeah. But we aren’t related to him.” The wheelbarrow-toting katbot came back again, and Chance started scooping more shovelfuls of rocks up and into the cart. “Your Uncle always runs at simmer, and his full boil’s just a few clicks of the dial away. It’s part of his charm. He gets angry, and then he says and does things that he later retracts, if he can. If he hasn’t fired you by now, he isn’t going to. And you must have said something really convincing if you kept him from forcing the issue of our identities. A year ago, he might’ve swung the boom at you to get you to talk, family or no family. As much as I don’t like the guy, he is changing. Slowly. We just wish it’d come faster.”
“He works at one speed, Chance. Always has. I could tell you about three separate family reunions, and he’d say and do the same things in every one of them.”
“Oh, geez.” Chance tried to stifle his laugh as he pictured it. “Save that story for a day when I’m really down in the dumps, okay?”
“Right. Well, I’m not fired yet, and you’re not too worried, so let’s change gears.”
“Works for me.” Chance nodded to the katbot. “Haul it out, big fella. So, Felina, what do you want to talk about?”
“Jake’s got this place next weekend, right? Meaning you’ll be in charge of the junkyard?”
“Yup. The Professor said he was fine with us treating this place like a timeshare. Gives him something to look forward to. Gotta say, it’s nice seeing the domestic side of the old guy. Did you want to come over? No pressure or anything, not asking you to stay the night, but I was planning on doing some more work on Callie’s car, and I could use an extra set of hands.”
“So now I’m just free labor, Furlong?”
“Iiiii… um, no? Did I say that wrong?”
“Heh. Relax, just giving you a hard time. I’ve got a morning flight plan filed for that morning with my squadron, but I could come over later. I could bring dinner again?”
“Ooh, I like that idea. Pizza?”
“Chance. You could stand to eat a salad every once in a while.”
“I do eat salads. Cows eat the salads and then I eat the cows.”
“That doesn’t… ugh. Fine. I’m bringing dinner, and you don’t get to complain when something green shows up on your plate.”
“Better be olives then. Ow! I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Geez. I’ll eat the salad, leave my poor shoulder out of it.”
“Victory!” Felina beamed from ear to ear as Chance rubbed at where she’d punched him. “How much longer does Jake think it’ll be before this tunnel reaches the cave we found?”
“With Cybertron and Hackle’s katbot, it’s going faster. But he hasn’t gotten around to a new estimate yet. He’s been having trouble sleeping lately.”
“Nah. Something’s bothering him.”
“Any idea what it is?” Felina inquired.
Chance hesitated as the katbot returned with its empty wheelbarrow in tow. He didn’t look away from it as it returned to a ready posture, waiting for the next load. Thankfully, Felina was too preoccupied to notice how much he was focused in on the larger mechanoid sent to help them. “A hunch or two.”
Eastern Megakat City
Pumadyne East Research
The Following Friday, Rush Hour
Pumadyne Enterprises was the largest military research and development corporation in Megakat City, and perhaps the entire Federation, if one believed the company line. It had its fingers in many pies, and as a result, it required multiple facilities both in and around Megakat City to carry out its business.
Pumadyne East had been developed primarily for its close proximity to Megakat Harbor, which allowed both merchant and military vessels alike to bring product in and to send product back out again. The sprawling campus, built up from the ashes of a destroyed neighborhood after Megawar II, was fenced off with charged electrical cabling and black tar panels to hide the compound’s interior from view at street level. The main gates had tire shredders and an anti-vehicle post system installed. Once inside, a privately owned security force constantly patrolled the vast assembly of hangars, warehouses, and high-tech labs and production lines. Designed to be both accessible and yet heavily protected, the structures above and belowground gave Pumadyne East all the room and protection it needed for some of its most ambitious mechanical, non-explosive projects.
In the guard house at the center of the front entrance, two bored kat rent-a-cops had the tedious duty of checking personnel in and out of the compound. As every car approached, it triggered a pressure switch in the concrete along the road to the gate, automatically raising the anti-vehicle posts of five inch thick solid steel rods up to a one meter height. After confirming the Pumadyne worker, or workers for those who carpooled, the guards would hit a button that raised the boom barrier and lowered the steel posts back into the ground.
A semi hauling a trailer turned off of the main road beside the compound and started down the small road which connected Pumadyne East to the outside world. The guards both let out a groan as the truck started in. “Great, another idiot who didn’t read the damn sign about this not being a truck entrance.” The first guard commented. “It’s going to take him forever to back out of here.”
“Uh, Chet? He’s not slowin’ down.”
“Whaddya mean he’s not…” Chet the guard said, freezing up as his own eyes confirmed what his counterpart had already observed. “He isn’t slowing down.”
“That’s what I said.”
“Hit the lockout, Gary.” Chet ordered. The second guard quickly slammed his paw down on a giant red button set up for the purpose, and the tire shredders and vehicle posts both shot up into position. “We’d better call security, let them…”
“RUN!” Gary screamed, cutting Chet off right as he was picking up the phone. To their horror, not only had the truck not slowed down, but it was chipping up the four inch median in the middle of the road to the entrance, steering away from the tire shredders, the steel stop posts and the boom…for a direct, collision course with the guard tower.
Even with the hardened steel-wrapped concrete barrier in front of the shack, the guards inside had no desire to put it to the test. They scrambled out of their post and ran for cover, their screams drowned out by the roar of the semi’s diesel engine gaining another few hundred RPMs.
The collision was horrible on the ears, with concrete, steel, glass and plastic all crunching, shearing, and screeching against each other. The guardhouse barrier poles absorbed much of the impact before they snapped off completely, and the semi, with all of its weight behind it, plowed through the guardhouse. A figure was thrown out of the front windows of the semi at the moment of collision, and instead of flopping dead to the ground, landed in a roll and kept on running at an angle, moving to cover. With the semi halted, the trailer jackknifed against the gates and the fence, finally bringing the entire smoking heap to a stop.
The stricken guards were about to look up when the semi and its trailer went up in a fireball. The two pinned their ears down flat against their heads and hunkered for cover as blazing pieces of shrapnel flew in every direction; Chet managed to dive and not get hit, but the blast wave picked up his counterpart and threw him flat on his back.
“Holy mother of…” Chet wheezed, looking up after no additional explosions sounded off.
Gary, concussed from the force of the explosion, looked at his hands curiously. “Why are my hands red?”
“Oh, crud.” Chet muttered, quickly moving to the other guard’s side and mopping blood from a shallow cut on his forehead. “Hang on, you’ve got a concussion. You need to stay awake, okay?”
“That truck… you think we oughta sound the alarm or something?” Gary woozily asked.
The Pumadyne klaxons went off just before Gary finished asking his question.
“I think they know about it.” Chet said.
Neither one of them saw the metallic figure carrying a strange metal object run away from the burning truck or dive behind the building. The fireball, and the panic right after, had obscured its entry into the compound.
“And you say I’m a bad driver!” Mac snapped. Molly had his head tucked under her arm like a football, running away from the burning debris.
“It’s a distraction, bozo.” Molly answered back cattily. “They go lookin’ to put out the fire, and the truck’s blown up so nobody thinks that anyone’s alive.”
“A robot walkin’ away from a burning semi.” Mac grumbled. “Think I saw that in a movie once.”
“Hey, if it works, who cares?” Molly sped up for a bit and then dove behind a cargo container next to a building to avoid being spotted by an approaching truck full of armed security guards. She waited until they passed before taking off in a dead run again, her Multi-Weapon’s claws swinging out and away from her with every stride. “It took me forever to case this place. Had to climb up the side of a building to scope it out because of those fences, and they don’t exactly do guided tours for mooks who look like us.”
“Yeah, yeah. But you said you’d found something.”
“Nothin’ like those giant robots we stole a while back, but I saw some interestin’ lookin’ pieces. Maybe we’ll find something that works for you. Or, at least, we’ll find somethin’ we could use to bust outta here again.”
“Anything’s better than a blender.”
Three minutes later, while Pumadyne’s security forces were sending out the alarm for the MCFD to bring their fire engines out and securing the perimeter, Mac and Molly smashed through a rear wall of the hangar Molly had kept her eyes on all week. Alarms linked to the doors and windows stayed quiet; nobody had anticipated that someone would blast through an inch of solid steel.
“No alarms, most everyone’s gone because it’s a Friday night, and the roads are clogged, makin’ it harder for the fire crews and the Enforcers to get out here.” Molly rattled off the situation’s details proudly. “Maybe I oughta be in charge of more of these jobs after all, Mac.”
“Whaddya want, a medal?” Mac sniped back, sounding almost defensive about how well things were going. “Let’s just see what kinda toys they’ve got these days.”
The hangar that they wandered around inside was partitioned into several walled off sections. Molly stared through the windows of the various closed off sections, sizing up each piece of machinery being built inside.
“Hm. Some new kind of tank.”
“Getaway vehicle?” Mac suggested.
“Not if you’re driving.” She retorted. They moved on to another room, with what looked like a scaled up version of a model airplane. “Geez, how much money do you think they waste on this stuff?” Her optics glowed brighter as she zoomed in on a computer display beside the golf-cart sized plane. “A ‘camera drone’, huh?”
“Maybe they wanna save money on traffic helicopters.” Mac said, scuttling free of Molly and spidering down around a corner to another room. He hopped up to peek through the window, but found that unlike with the others, the blinds were drawn on this one. “Hey, Molly! I think there might be somethin’ here!”
She came around the bend and plucked his head up in her free hand, getting an irritated squawk from him for her troubles. “Whaddid I tell youse about running off, you mug?”
“Lay offa me, you ain’t my babysitter!”
“No kidding. I’m your wife, ya goon, and right now I’m in charge!”
“Well if you’re in charge, then bust through that door! I got a hunch something’s in here.”
Molly brought up her Multi-Weapon and engaged the laser chain gun, blasting the door clean off of its hinges. Their luck ran out as the security system inside of the hangar registered the anomaly and went off in a high pitched wail. Scowling, Molly blasted the nearest alarm horn to scrap.
“Well, they’re on to us now.”
“Who cares about that, Molly?” Mac exclaimed, a reverence in his voice. He forced his head out of her grasp and scurried into the room, coming to a stop at the foot of an impressive working of metal and wiring. “Just look at this thing!”
“Woah.” Molly stared at it. “Now that’s impressive. Not really travel sized, though.”
“Who cares? I’m takin’ it. Besides, we were going new car shoppin’ anyways.” Mac moved to the machine and examined it up from up close. “Cover me, Molly. I’m gonna get this thing running.”
“Same plan as always.” She griped back at him, raising her Multi-Weapon up and moving to cover the hangar’s entrances; the real one and the one she made. “You wing it and I have to cover your butt.”
Pumadyne facilities were considered enough of a ‘high value target’ for terrorism and crime that any time any sort of alarm went out, the Enforcers automatically diverted assets to investigate. With Megakat City still inundated by rush hour traffic, that meant the first responders who went in alongside the Megakat City Fire Department came not by Enforcer cruiser, but by one of their ubiquitous choppers.
“Unit C-34, Report position.” The squawk box didn’t bother the pilot’s flight line, as his co-pilot and gunner reached for the mike.
“Unit C-34 to base. C-34 is 10-17 to Pumadyne East. Please advise.”
“Unit C-34, MCFD units are 10-17, but not expected immediately. Pumadyne security reported semi rammed front entry gates and detonated from fuel tank rupture. Facility is in lockdown, but there was an internal security alarm in one of the testing hangars. Orders are to investigate, render assistance. Copy?”
“10-4, base.” The co-pilot hung the radio’s microphone back on its hook and glanced to the pilot. “Whoever’s behind this either has damned lucky timing or a lot of planning.”
“I doubt luck’s got anything to do with this. If we were lucky, they’d have killed themselves plowing that truck into the gates.” The pilot reminded him. “But it sounds like they used it as a distraction to get in to steal things.”
“Hard Drive, maybe?”
“Not his style.” The chopper pilot quickly dismissed the guess. “If it were him, there’d be a lot less noise. Whoever’s behind this one, we’ll find out soon enough. Thirty seconds out, Sergeant. Check the Gatlings.”
Sergeant Lobb quickly did a systems diagnostics. “Power cells are loaded and ready to roll. Safeties engaged. Go active?”
“Negative. Stay safe until we have confirmation of a threat.”
Some kats had the impression that the Enforcers were a bunch of gun-toting, testosterone raging lunatics just looking for an excuse to employ lethal force. Most would say that, while the image was overblown, there was a grain of truth to it. Every Enforcer from Day 1 in the Academy was taught to have a healthy sense of paranoia when out on patrol, because there were plenty of thugs, street criminals, and the like. They could handle killers, robbers, muggers, rapists, strung out maniacs. That, there was training for. But in Megakat City, there was a new kind of threat within the last ten years that the Enforcers Academy had been slow, too slow, to acknowledge.
Undead freaks who could summon hurricanes within thunderstorms and manifest creatures of prehistory and mythology. Mutated creatures and kats with faster reflexes and armored skin, nigh immune to conventional weaponry. Terrorists hellbent on destroying Megakat City and wiping out katkind, and mobsters turned into nightmares wrapped in steel. Against them, there were no half measures. Against such threats, there was only one effective response, and they weren’t Enforcers.
Against such threats, the only thing that kept you alive was staying on edge, knowing when to retreat, when to call in reinforcements, and most importantly… when it was a good time to fall back and run away with the civilians.
They prayed for the run of the mill threats and lawbreakers. As much as Commander Feral preferred to think otherwise, more than one Enforcer had quit or been forced out by poor psych evals after one, or several, of the more harrowing incidents.
Their lingering sense of imminent danger stayed with the two Enforcers, keeping adrenaline flowing through their bloodstream as their helicopter finally reached Pumadyne East. They saw fire engines still blocks away, trying desperately to weave through packed traffic just to reach the site. There was Pumadyne security, either racing to the fire with garden hoses and portable fire extinguishers, or to other buildings with their laser pistols at the ready.
“What the hell was that driver thinking?”
“Could have been he had a heart attack behind the wheel, lost control.”
“You really think that, or you just hoping?” The pilot snorted.
“…Yeah. Hoping. Hang on, I’m switching the radio over to Pumadyne’s security channel.” It was a turn of the knob and then an additional button press to match the proper encryption for Pumadyne’s security frequency.
“…cers chopper on approach, this is Pumadyne East security. Do you copy?”
The co-pilot reached for the radio. “Pumadyne security, Enforcers unit C-34, we read you. Please advise of situation, over.”
“We’re unable to stop the fire, managing to keep it contained. The big problem is someone got into Hangar 24, a Tech lab and testing facility. We haven’t been able to confirm who yet, but whoever they are, they’ve got the doors covered with heavy gunfire and they blew through an outer wall with some serious ordnance.”
“Copy that, Pumadyne.” The co-pilot let go of the squawk, sharing a look with his partner. “They’re not going to give us auth to use live rounds in that mess.”
“Tell ’em to back off from the front entrance. See if that draws the perps out.”
The co-pilot nodded and clicked the mike. “Have your men back off from the front entrance and out of the line of fire. When they move out, we’ll need a clear shot.”
“Try to limit damage to the building. We’re pulling back now.”
The security guards crowded around the most embattled looking hangar paused in their shooting for a bit to listen to the order, then fell back, keeping to cover.
The Enforcers helicopter stayed in a hover, its twin cannons pointed down at the entrance. “Safeties off.” The pilot ordered.
“Yes sir, Lieutenant.” The sergeant grabbed hold of his stick and switched the toggle on the side to Master Arm. “We’re hot. Do you want full control?”
“Negative. You have the guns. Hold fire until authorized.”
Tense, but feeling ready, the two chopper pilots waited for the perpetrators to try and make a run for it. They assumed that whoever was inside would come out lugging a briefcase or maybe driving a new tank prototype.
They weren’t disappointed. “Tank.” The main pilot called out, as an enormous brick on tank treads rolled out of the main hangar doors, busting them apart. He reached for the radio and adjusted it to the external speaker. “This is the Enforcers! Stand down and disembark from the stolen vehicle or we will open fire! You have two seconds to comply!”
Whoever was driving the tank didn’t listen, and it kept rolling along across the Pumadyne East compound.
“You have permission to fire, Airman.” The lieutenant growled.
“Yes, sir. Engaging target.” The co-pilot took aim and pulled the trigger, and the Gatlings spun up.
In a shrill cacophony of noise and light, the chopper riddled the tank with concussive laserfire, chewing through the tank’s thin upper turret plating with ease and disabling the treads. The tank lurched to a halt and started to put off smoke.
“That got him.” The co-pilot said smugly. Unfortunately for him, he’d developed tunnel vision.
The more experienced lieutenant saw a flicker of movement in his peripheral vision and jerked his head in the direction of the busted out hangar. “What the…!”
It looked like something out of a movie, a mechanized suit with an enclosed cockpit in the center of elongated robotic arms and legs. The arms bristled with weaponry, and worse, a triple-barreled launcher on its shoulder was…
“Going evasive!” The pilot screamed, pushing the stick in and dropping the chopper into a nosedive.
The mech’s shoulder-mounted launcher fired, and an RPG screamed up, closing the distance faster than the chopper could compensate for. In the last instant, the lieutenant swung the chopper around in a circle, exposing his side to the oncoming missile.
The blast wave killed the pilot instantly and engulfed the co-pilot in flames. The sergeant could do nothing but scream in agony as the chopper spun in to the ground and impacted with a heavy crunch. Somehow, he was spared a quick death by fireball; the chopper’s skids had taken the brunt of the impact, although the rotors squealed as they chipped against the concrete and broke off, pieces of metal flying in all directions.
Burned paws shaking as shock set in, he wrestled with his harness and finally got free, jerking himself out of the burning remains of the chopper on willpower alone. He dragged himself along the ground, teeth grinding as the adrenaline wore off and the seriousness of his burns and injuries became apparent. The Pumadyne security officers on the ground finally rushed over and pulled him up to his feet, forcing a scream out of him as they belatedly realized his left leg had been broken. Still, they got him clear right before the chopper exploded in the fireball that so many others of its make had done in the past.
“What the… hell was that?” The Enforcer sergeant got out through chattering teeth.
“That’s a prototype armored Mech suit!” One of the security guards answered over the noise. “I don’t know much about it, but…”
“Then find me someone who does!” Another Pumadyne security agent yelled at the first, who was clearly not as senior in rank. The senior agent quickly examined the Enforcer pilot. “This guy isn’t going to last long if we don’t get paramedics here quick. One of you, help me get this trooper to the infirmary.”
“Who… who was it…” The Enforcer sergeant wheezed, struggling to maintain consciousness. He could just barely make out the mechanized suit walking away from them, blasting away at another section of fencing while a smaller figure walked beside it. Strangely enough, both gleamed like silver in the light not blanked out by the darkness on the edges of his vision.
“Oh no. Not them.” One guard got out, choking on the words.
“Who? Who’s…” The senior Pumadyne security guard froze mid-sentence.
The Enforcer chopper co-pilot fought off the fuzziness in his vision and took a closer look at the retreating Mech and its partner.
Molly Metallikat looked back at them, sized them up as a non-threat, and kept on walking. And that meant Mac Metallikat was driving the Mech.
“I need a radio. Now.” The sergeant rasped. The senior Pumadyne guard handed him his personal one. The sergeant fiddled with the dial, cringing from the burns on his fingers. He finally got it on the Open Broadcast Enforcers channel, and squeezed the squawk.
“This is… Sergeant Lobb, Unit C-34… Officer down, repeat, Officer down at… Pumadyne East. I am 10-33, requesting immediate assistance and… and reinforcements! It’s…!”
The blood loss and shock finally caught up with him, and he slumped into unconsciousness, quickly grabbed and supported by the guards. The senior guard punched the radio’s talk button.
“We’ve got one dead pilot and the other’s fading fast. It’s the Metallikats. The Metallikats are back!”
Megakat Salvage Yard
“So Jake, doing anything different this weekend?” Chance asked, pushing himself out away from the belly of the car he’d just finished putting a new muffler in.
Jake was across the garage, putting the tools used during the day’s work back in order. “Aside from seeing how the tunnel excavation is going, not really. Might run some wind sprints along the beach. Unstable surface forces the muscles to work harder, and we don’t have an obstacle course out there yet.”
“You serious? All work and no play…”
Jake gave his counterpart a hard glare, and Chance brushed it off with the same ease he toweled the grease off of his paws. “Chance. Stop digging.”
“What, I can’t worry about you? Something’s been bothering you.”
“You know exactly what’s bothering me.”
“Jake, it’s not the same robot.”
“No it isn’t. Not yet. But it will be.”
“You know, I’m pretty sure that what we saw isn’t going to…”
“But what if it does?!” Jake snapped at him, and Chance was forced to recognize once more just how tired his friend looked. It was more than sleeplessness. It was worse than that now.
“Jake. We won’t let that happen. Ever. We’re changing things all the time.”
Jake’s eyes were on him, but the glaze in them meant he was staring at something else entirely. “Are you willing to bet your life on that?”
“We do it every time we suit up.”
“You willing to bet Felina’s life as well?” Jake asked, in an even softer voice.
Chance opened his mouth to answer, and choked on the automatic affirmative. Something held him back, and Jake saw it.
The klaxon going off in its loud drone saved them both from tackling the existential crisis any further. Jake and Chance looked at one another for half a heartbeat before Chance raced to the nearest emergency phone, shutting off the klaxon as he picked it up.
“Yes, Miss Briggs?” He said, slipping into the gruff persona of T-Bone.
“SWAT Kats, the Metallikats are tearing through Megakat City!”
“The Metallikats?” T-Bone lifted both eyebrows and looked back to Jake, noting how very cold his friend’s eyes got at his name drop. He reached over and hit the loudspeaker, putting the phone back on the cradle. “I don’t get it. We haven’t seen either of them since we shut down Zed.”
“I know. I was hoping that they’d been lost in the wreckage, but it’s not the case. Apparently, they hit one of Pumadyne’s facilities and made off with some new prototype mechanized warsuit. Now they’re rampaging through the streets, and it’s rush hour. I bailed out of my car and ducked out of sight before they could see me, but as jammed up as things are, more kats are going to end up dead because of them.”
“We’re on our way. Stay out of sight, and if you get hold of any Enforcers, tell them they need to start evacuating people.” Jake, speaking as Razor, added quickly. He was moving for their hidden hatch before Chance had even disconnected the call.
The two descended down into the hangar, quickly stripping off their coveralls and reaching for their SWAT Kat masks and G-Suits in their personal lockers.
“Turbokat still fueled?” Razor asked T-Bone, slipping his mask on.
“Affirmative. What are we packing?”
“Single seater Cyclotron, Cement Machine Gun, Turbo Blades, a five second charge on the Mega Laser; one pair each of the Matchhead, Mole, Scrambler, and Octopus, and one single shot of the Shark and Spider.”
“…Rainy day?” T-Bone guessed.
“It’s pouring, as far as we’re concerned.” Razor muttered. “I wish we had the time to stop by and pick up Cybertron. I really ought to install a remote recall function for him one of these days.”
“When would you find the time?” T-Bone finished, suiting up and slapped his friend on the shoulder. “Time to rock and roll, sureshot.”
“Right behind you, buddy.”
Their gamefaces on, T-Bone and Razor dashed for the Turbokat, sitting patiently on the rotating hydraulic turnstile lift. With the canopy pulled back, the pair leapt up, bouncing once off of the wing, and then landed in their seats. T-Bone started to bring the menacing black and red jet fighter to life, and the canopy slid over them, sealing the cockpit.
Down the lift went, spinning around to line the jet up with the exit ramp. Its engines whining loudly as the turbofans hit their stride, the Turbokat waited impatiently until the lift came to rest.
“Systems check finished.” Razor said, having finished the pre-launch diagnostics. “All green.”
“Full power!” T-Bone shoved the throttle forward, and the Turbokat began to rattle. With the brakes disengaged, the powerful jet fighter rolled forward, off of the lift, screaming down the launch tunnel.
In the hands of a novice pilot, the jet would have bucked and jumped wildly. The tunnel, like the rest of the underground hangar, had been constructed out of the well-preserved ruins of a Megawar II construction bunker, and was not originally designed to allow the launch or landing of a powerful jet fighter. To keep it on track, T-Bone had to give it periodic nudges to keep the jet from scraping the walls of the narrow corridor on either side, as well as forcing the nose down. By the time they were three quarters of the way out of the long tunnel once designed for trucks to haul shipments in and out, the Turbokat had enough speed to lift off, but no room to do so. It had been an unintended consequence of just how powerful they had made the Turbokat, and a death sentence to anyone who wasn’t used to its idiosyncrasies.
By the time they reached the end of the tunnel which sloped up sharply at the last, the Turbokat was screaming to be let loose. T-Bone pulled back ever so slightly on the stick, and it didn’t just fly. It soared.
High up in the air once more, the Turbokat leveled off at 1,500 meters and nosed towards Megakat City.
The SWAT Kats were on their way.
Sergeant Smitty in the basement level evidence lockup rarely saw anyone. Of course there were the detectives on the force who came by to drop off evidence to be tagged, filed, and stored. And then there were the attorneys who came to retrieve said evidence for court cases. All in all the evidence lockup had been a cushy job, until that disastrous occurrence shortly before Dark Kat and his terrorist trifecta kidnapped the mayor, where a hole had been burrowed up from underground and the Metallikats’ tagged skulls were stolen right out from under his nose. The result of that disastrous faux pas had resulted in a formal reprimand being put on the aging officer’s permanent record, his radio being confiscated, and the entire evidence locker getting a much needed makeover. Now, the enclosed space had a solid one inch of steel plating sandwiched between the cement of the floor and the walls to prevent any future break-ins, and a CCTV camera array that kept an eye on nearly every inch of the space within. The chastised desk sergeant had taken his lumps and moved on, and to the relief of his nerves, the evidence locker had been quiet ever since.
Until this evening.
He had just about been ready to close up and clock out for the evening when Lieutenant Felina Feral and her staff sergeant stormed off of the elevator and demanded he open it back up again. His evening got much worse when they reached the evidence shelves dedicated to the crimes committed by the Metallikats. In one section were pieces of their Metallikat Express, recovered from the wreckage of Zed. Another two boxes were marked from their last excursion at Pumadyne East, when they’d gone joyriding in a pair of Macrobots repurposed from space exploration into military weapons. There were empty spaces where their heads had once sat, but that hadn’t interested her. The boxes from the Macrobot incident had been brought down, rifled through, and then she’d gone from frantic, to fuming.
Smitty had thought Felina was cut from a different cloth than her uncle until that moment. As she stared him down, forcing him to stumble back and collapse in his chair, that same ferocity kept him pinned.
“You’re telling me that the neural neutralizer, the one thing guaranteed to shut down the Metallikats, isn’t here.” Her gloved hand clenched tightly into a fist. “That in spite of the fact that the Commander used it and then tossed it next to their pathetic skulls, and that it was tagged and stored, it somehow went missing.” She leaned in towards the old kat, narrowing her eyes to slits. “The question I have is; did it go missing when their heads were stolen and they were reactivated, or did it go missing afterwards?”
“I… I don’t rightly know, Lieutenant.” Smitty stammered.
Sergeant Barnes, Smitty’s younger by only six years, wasn’t impressed with the answer. “Stan, you’ve got one job. Keep track of all the crap down here. We’ve got the Metallikats tear-assing around town and putting lives at risk, and we need that neural neutralizer. Did it get misfiled? Did the Commander ever come down and collect it as some kind of a personal trophy?”
Smitty shook his head quickly. “No. It should be in that box. If it isn’t… I don’t know what happened to it.”
Lieutenant Feral growled lowly, then pulled back and stormed off. Barnes gave Smitty his best stare. “You’re past retirement age, aren’t ya, Stan?”
“This is my job.” Sergeant Smitty protested. “Courgry, I’m an Enforcer. Just because I got wounded on patrol and moved to desk duty…”
“Collect your pension and turn in your badge.” Barnes cut him off brusquely. “Backdate the letter of resignation to yesterday. The way tonight’s looking, there’s going to be a lot of dead bodies, and since we don’t have the right tool for the job, you’ll want to be long gone before folks start pointing fingers.”
Smitty sat in a daze, watching Sergeant Barnes step quickly to catch up to his lieutenant.
Out in the hallway and beside the elevator, Barnes took a slow breath and gauged Lieutenant Feral’s mood. “Wasn’t a bad idea.” He offered. “Why the hell didn’t our techs mass produce that damn thing when they had the chance?”
She looked ready to spit fire. “Nobody ever thought the Metallikats would be back after that. But apparently, scumbags don’t know when to give up and die.”
“So what’s the plan, Lieutenant? We scrambling the jets?”
“Negative. The SWAT Kats might be able to maneuver through skyscrapers, but we’d spend more time dodging buildings than attacking the Metallikats. We’re going with half choppers and half patrol cars, and I want the ground units equipped with bazookas. And if we can, try to get some more information out of those Pumadyne geeks. We need to know exactly just how much firepower we’re going up against here, and they’ve already shredded one chopper.” The elevator finally reached them, and dinged as the doors opened. She stepped aboard quickly, punching in their destination before Barnes had one foot inside.
“I heard your uncle sortied the Armored Division.” Sergeant Barnes mentioned. “That might slow those two down.”
“No, it won’t.” Felina quickly dismissed the idea. “Regardless of the armor that thing has, the reports are that it’s way more maneuverable than anybody was expecting. They’ll never land a shot.”
“You suppose they’ll show up?” Barnes inquired suggestively.
Lieutenant Feral stared at him as the doors finally closed. “I hope they do.”
Mac Metallikat had always liked his ‘old’ robot body. True, the ones he and Molly had been schlepping around in since Dark Kat roped them in as unwilling muscle had been a little sturdier, but they just never quite felt as right as the one that that crazy Professor Hackle had put them in to begin with.
His new ‘Mech Suit’ on the other hand was a full three meters tall, and half as wide. The enclosed cockpit was big enough that it felt ridiculously spacious just to hold his head, and Mac figured he was operating it better than any military punk ever could, because it moved the way he pictured it moving.
“You called it, Molly! This is definitely trading up!” Mac laughed, raising the suit’s right arm up and pointing at another patrol car. The troopers hiding behind it were unloading with everything they had, but the suit shrugged off shotgun blasts and even their low-grade laser fire. They stopped as soon as the suit’s arm came level, and dashed off for new cover. One round from his mounted arm cannon shredded the Enforcers vehicle as the gas tank exploded, actually lifting the car up and flipping it on its roof with a sickening crunch. Mac started laughing again, though he slowed a little when he saw Molly scowling at him. The facial cues were harder to read, but there was no mistaking her ‘teapot’ stance, with her free hand pressed against her hip. “What, did you wanna do that?”
“Mac, this ain’t no time to be joyriding!” She yelled at him. “That suit’s good, but it ain’t giant robot good. We oughta be gettin’ the heck out of here and layin’ low before the Enforcers wise up or the SWAT Kats get here.”
“Why? We can take those punks!” Mac felt his baseline level of irritation kick up a few notches. His natural reaction when Molly argued against one of his decisions. “The Enforcers are worthless, and those ‘SWAT Rats’ got lucky the last time.”
“Maybe I don’t wanna take that chance, you ever think of that?” Molly snarled back.
Their argument came to a screeching halt when the two felt low vibrations reach to them through the concrete, and they turned just in time to see a full dozen Enforcer tanks rolling towards them. Commander Feral was riding with his head stuck out of the hatch of one of the tanks at the rear of the pack. He screamed something, and all the tanks fired. Mac didn’t waste time arguing the point, he scooped up Molly with his free arm and ran, something that the mech suit seemed very good at. The laserbolts didn’t scream through the air like an artillery shell did, but they still made plenty of noise when they hit the ground, and tore up almost as much concrete.
“You can let go o’ me, you big lug.” Molly grumbled, punching the mech’s chest lightly. “See? The longer we stay around, the more we’ll have to deal with crap like this. We oughta bail.”
“Not yet.” Mac growled, staring at the tanks as they cycled to fire again. “They made me angry.” And they had. He wanted nothing more than to smash every last one of them. He wondered if the suit was even strong enough to hoist one of those things and upend it. Wouldn’t that be something.
Molly made a noise like she was rolling her eyes. “Fine. Keep ’em busy. I’ve got an idea.” She was running before he could answer her, and Mac instead chuckled a bit and primed his arm cannon again with a menacing ka-chunk.
The tanks sighted in on him again, and Mac took off like a shot. The tank gunners had a better bead on this time, enough that he wondered why his suit wasn’t running right until he realized that an explosion a little too close had lifted him off of the ground for half a second. Full-on irritated, he activated the suit’s shoulder-mounted rocket launcher and fired off another shot. The round arced in perfectly and struck the tank at its top, the least armored part. The thing shook under the impact before falling to pieces. Mac wasn’t sure how many Enforcers it took to drive and shoot one of those things. More than one. The thought made him happy.
Before the other tanks could get over the shock of it, he raced towards the line, jinking like a football player to keep them from drawing a line on him. And then he was on top of another one along the left flank. Two more shots from his arm cannon wrecked the tank treads on one side, and then he grabbed it, hearing the whine of the suit’s hydraulics as he actually pushed the damn tank up on its side and gave himself an armored barricade to duck behind.
Mac had never really had a problem with killing kats back when he’d still been flesh and blood. He was a gangster, it was part of the job. Every so often, you had to clean house: made kats who turned state’s witness, other gangs horning in on your turf, or just to make a statement when some uppity shopkeeper stopped paying protection money. You had to be selective about it, at least that was what Molly always nagged him with, but he never felt squeamish about it.
That was back then. Now that he was metal, he found he didn’t care as much. No. He kind of liked it now. Everyone else was so much weaker than he was, especially in this suit. Killing wasn’t even hard anymore; he could do it with his bare hands if he was bored enough. The only two people who mattered in the world anymore were himself and Molly. Pain in the ass that she was.
Everything else, Mac realized with a bitter laugh, really could burn for all he cared.
The tank he was standing behind started to rattle with heavy impacts. The soldiers inside must have bailed out and gotten clear; there was no way the Enforcers would shoot at their own to take down a bad guy. Mac popped out to the side a little ways and took aim at the tanks, popping off a few 20 mm rounds to keep them on their toes. The shots bounced off the thick front armor ineffectively, and he ducked back behind cover before their counterattack ventilated him.
Then he heard noises from the other side; not the tanks shooting, but shouts, screams, and the squeal of metal being torn apart. Mac poked his head around and saw Molly, who must have ambushed the tank group from a side street while they were busy shooting at him, breezily ripping the group apart one tank at a time, maneuvering so the others couldn’t get a shot off while she plowed through them.
“That’s my girl.” Mac grinned, and he opened up on the tanks with the lower-caliber laser chaingun, forcing the Enforcers to either duck back inside their tanks for cover or run flat-out to get clear of the firing zone. To drive the point home, he started walking up towards the tanks, who were so disoriented by being attacked on two fronts that they couldn’t counterattack either Metallikat effectively. And then he saw Feral, bellowing something into his hand radio. Boy, did he hate Feral.
The Commander saw him coming, and there was a moment of surprise while he reached for his laser pistol. It wasn’t enough. Mac was on him right as Feral fired a hasty shot that bounced off the side of the bubble cockpit, and then he was squeezing the furball’s wrist so tightly that Feral let out a grunt of pain and lost his grip on the weapon.
Chuckling darkly, Mac let go of his wrist and then snagged him by his coat, hoisting Feral up easily. Easy to lift. Easy to break. All these flesh and blood kats, worthless next to him.
“Ey there, Commander Feral. Long time, no shoot at.” Mac sneered, turning his head inside of the bubble cockpit so he could stare at Feral dead on. “How do you like my new body? Had to find it myself, since it’s not high on your priority list. And that makes me kinda angry.”
Feral bared his teeth at Mac. “Tell you what, criminal scum. You surrender and ship off to Alkatraz, and I’ll leave a personal note for the prison doctor to fix you up with some new legs. Or maybe I should get in touch with the junk shop instead.”
Mac brought his suit’s other hand up and squeezed Feral’s chest a few percentage points harder. The scream of agonizing pain he earned from cracking Feral’s ribs was sweet music to his ears. “See, it’s that kind of wiseass crack that gets people hurt.” Mac mocked him.
“Go ahead and… do it, Metallikat.” Feral wheezed, now having much more trouble breathing. “You’ll have… every Enforcer out for your… hydraulic fluid.”
“MAC!” Molly’s yell got his attention, and Mac jerked his head to the side to see Molly sticking her head up from the inside of one of the Enforcer tanks. “That’s enough, ya big goon! We gotta cheese it now. Drop that meat sack and follow me; we’re getting out of here!” She ducked back inside of the tank and started rolling down the avenue.
Mac turned his attention to the wheezing Feral and growled at him. He fired a full dozen laser blasts into the tank’s cabin he was standing on to wreck it, then hopped off and dropped Feral unceremoniously on the ground. “Looks like it’s your lucky day, copper. Seems I’ve got better things to do than mess around with youse.” Leaving the wounded Feral behind, Mac jogged off after Molly.
With his right wrist broken and the pain from his chest limiting him to shallow breaths, Feral’s shaky left hand grabbed for his radio and brought it up to his lips.
“This… is Feral. Bring me… chopper backup.” He audibly groaned. “And medivac.”
Megakat City Airspace
The Turbokat screamed as it soared around the skyscrapers of Megakat City’s beating heart. T-Bone kept his eyes bouncing between their surroundings and his own smaller radar display, taking note of the various Enforcer aircraft bumbling about. Then there were the more worrisome pillars of black and gray smoke, the kind that came from burning vehicles and gasoline and diesel.
“I’m seeing a lot of smoke up ahead.” T-Bone pointed out. “Metallikats must be having a field day.”
“I’d say it’s time we struck them out then.” Razor said, picking up on the sports metaphor. He had been fiddling with his console’s dials, fulfilling his role as the Turbokat’s RIO. “Hang on, I’m getting a lot of traffic on the Enforcers encrypt band. Patching it in.”
“All units, all units. Be advised. Mechanical warsuit stolen by the Metallikats has been positively identified by Pumadyne East researchers. Please stand by for briefing.”
“Oh, hell.” T-Bone swore. “You’d think that after the Metallikats walked off with those two enormous space robots, the security at that place would’ve wised up!”
“Cool it, T-Bone. We need to hear this.”
“Uh, so I just… talk into this? Right. My name’s Boze Ragwell. I’m the lead designer of the MAK Project. Listen, everyone, the Metallikats apparently walked off with our prototype X-104 Mechanically Augmented Kat warsuit. We had finished installing the weapons systems for a test out at the Sirocco Desert Weapons Range this Sunday. It’s packing a shoulder mounted missile launcher with three shots, a 20mm semi-automatic Vulcan cannon on the right forearm, and a pair of antipersonnel laser gatling guns in the wrists. The thing can run at a top speed of 25 miles per hour, and has a hydraulic lifting capacity of around 30 tons. The MAK suit’s baseline was designed for search and rescue operations, especially after earthquakes, but the military variant is… a little bit tougher. It’s made of a steel and Agracite composite that gives it near immunity against low to midgrade laser weaponry, and it can run for 10 hours in combat mode before it’ll need to recharge. We… We didn’t expect that it would get hijacked. Please. Stop it by whatever means necessary.”
“Holy kats, they built a monster.” Razor muttered.
“Would a Scrambler missile put a dent in that?”
“It might slow it down.” Razor shook his head. “The Megalaser might have some effect. We may only have a five second shot, but I put in a modification on the nosecone. It’s rigged up to the F-14’s old radar gimbal, so I can keep it on target even while you’re jinking a bit. If you go full evasive, though, the lock will have trouble keeping up with you.”
“What the hell are we supposed to throw at that thing?!” One Enforcer called out over the open band, a touch unprofessionally. “The Metallikats wiped out our tank battalion like it was nothing!”
“This is Lieutenant Feral of the 6th Tactical Response Squadron. My team and I are inbound. Keep the channel open and stay professional. That MAK suit has already fired two of its three RPG warshots. Just keep your flares ready and go for strafing runs.”
T-Bone chuckled. “Wow. That’s decent advice. Was she giving it to her own chopper pilots, or warning us?”
Razor twirled his radio knob to broadcast mode. “One way to find out, buddy. You’ve got a hot mike.”
“Sounds like some good advice, Lieutenant.” T-Bone called out. “That Vulcan gun’s going to be the big problem, though. One good hit with that could ventilate anything.”
“SWAT Kats. Was wondering if you were listening in.” Felina answered after a heartbeat. “Just wanted to remind you that we have standing orders not to cooperate with you or include you in Enforcer actions. My team will be on scene in exactly one minute.”
“Understood.” T-Bone waved over his shoulder, and Razor killed his mike. “In other words, we’ve got one minute to try and take that MAK suit out before Felina’s team rolls in.”
“Is that what she said?” Razor mused humorously, before a glint of movement below caught his eye. A vaguely katlike figure of metal, and beside it, a tank. “Hang on. Bank it around for another pass, I think I see them.”
“You got it!” The Turbokat turned onto its starboard wing as T-Bone sent them into a hard right bank. Positive G’s smashed the pair into their seats as their jet threaded a narrow path between the buildings of downtown Megakat City. Grunting against the thrust, Razor punched up their first offensive option, dropping down the targeting visor on his helmet.
“Megalaser online. Okay, T-Bone, try and keep us straight, we’ll only have one shot at this.”
T-Bone opened his eyes as he leveled the jet out at the start of their bombing run. The blue nosecone split open, and just as Razor had said, there was the Megalaser Mark 2, whirring on a reinforced gyro as it fought the shearing force of the air blowing past it. He put the jet into a slow dive after he sighted the very prominent silver metal mechsuit, riding on top of the hijacked Enforcer tank. It was difficult to make out, but the MAK seemed to turn towards them.
“He sees us, buddy.” T-Bone warned Razor, squeezing the control stick a little harder. “He starts shooting, I will go evasive.”
“A little more… juuust… FIRING!” Before Razor even finished the word, a brilliant beam streaked from the Titanium-Sapphire core of the solid state laser emitter, burning down at the literal speed of light. It struck the mechsuit dead center, and the thing flinched and raised its left arm up to defend itself. The MAK suit dove to get behind the tank and its armor plating, but the SWAT Kats had caught it flat out in the open, and Razor tracked the Megalaser after it. Before it got behind cover, Razor had the immense satisfaction of seeing the arm it had been using to protect its body melted into shining, red-hot slag that dripped pieces of itself with every arm swing. The tank took the rest of the Megalaser’s five second charge and lurched to a halt as the laser burned through and hit the treads underneath, spouting smoke and fire “Bingo!”
But as the Turbokat blazed by, Mac and his MAK stood up from behind the now crippled tank, lined up, and fired its last remaining missile up after them.
The inbound missile alert screaming, T-Bone swore and punched the Turbokat’s afterburners. “Flares!” He announced, even as the airspace in their wake became filled with a trail of phosphorus lights and highly reflective ribbons of metallic foil, punched out from one of the Turbokat’s rear compartments.
The three engines at the rear of the Turbokat blazed hot as the Turbokat rocketed into the sky. The missile, hot on its trail, was quickly closing the distance on the jet and its trail of antimissile defenses. At what seemed like the last moment, T-Bone jinked the jet hard and cut back on the thrust, and the missile stayed locked on to the flares as the jet bled off speed from the high-G turn.
The two thought they were in the clear as the missile exploded behind them, but they got a rude awakening when the Turbokat was rocked hard.
“Crud!” T-Bone braced his feet and struggled with both hands on the stick to bring the jet back to level. “Was that shrapnel?”
“Negative!” Razor had already been on a systems check after the rumble, and he didn’t like what he saw of the status reports. He glanced over for a visual confirmation and was stunned to see that they’d taken a serious enough hit that the left elevator, aileron and a chunk of the wing were torn off, with frayed sparking wires and jagged metal left behind. “Wasn’t the missile, our port wing’s shredded!”
“Those miserable creeps, they set us up!” T-Bone screamed. “They fired a missile just to nail us with a cannon slug!”
The cockpit was droning with warning alarms. “We’re losing hydraulic pressure and fuel, T-Bone! You’ve gotta put her down!”
“It ain’t gonna be easy, sureshot!” T-Bone grunted out. “The Turbokat’s… fighting me every step of the way. Crud, I need those control surfaces!”
“We need to eject, T-Bone!” Razor insisted.
“No! I am NOT ejecting!” T-Bone countered with the same vehemence he had every time Razor suggested that they had to bail out.
And just like before, Razor ground his teeth at his friend’s stubbornness.
Unlike before, though, T-Bone didn’t wait for the inevitable argument. He reached a shaky paw off of the stick and reached for the secondary weapons panel in front of him. A few button presses brought one of the Turbokat’s subsystems online, and the floor under Razor’s seat opened up.
“What are you doing?!” Razor demanded.
“I’m not ejecting, but you’re getting in that Cyclotron!” T-Bone answered him roughly, screaming to be heard over the wailing alarms.
“No! I’m not leaving you!”
“Oh yes you are! The Metallikats won’t stop until they’ve torn up this whole city, which means you have to stop them, because the Turbokat’s had it!” T-Bone looked back over his shoulder, locking his right eye with Razor. “I’ll put this baby down and catch up with you when I can, don’t worry!” With Razor looking fearful and T-Bone deadset on his course of action, they exchanged everything that ever went unsaid with a single shared nod.
“Don’t do crashing on me, T-Bone.” Razor said.
“Wouldn’t give you the satisfaction, buddy.”
Razor slipped down into the Turbokat’s weapons bay and clambered into the Cyclotron, bringing the systems online in four seconds with practiced motions. The wind shields closed up around him right as the bay doors opened, and with a clunk, the powerful magnetic clamps holding the motorcycle in place disengaged, dropping it out of the jet with all the grace of a falling bomb.
Aboard the Turbokat, T-Bone flew on through the wicked shimmy and gauged his options. “No empty streets. Not this time of day. Gotta be a rooftop landing. Ah, hairballs.” He hit his radio and transmitted over the Enforcers encrypt band. “This is T-Bone. The Turbokat’s hit, losing hydraulics and fuel. Mayday. Repeat, mayday.”
Trailing smoke as it struggled to stay in the air, the Turbokat limped away from the MAK and the Metallikats. On the streets below, the landed Cyclotron opened up and squealed to a stop. Razor looked up as his jet and his best friend vanished from view, and did his best not to stab his palms with his own claws. He tasted blood in his mouth, and that was enough to pull him out of it. He spared himself a moment to retrieve the spare Glovatrix stowed on board the vehicle and slipped the familiar device over his hand and wrist. After that, he was ready.
Razor spun the Cyclotron around, narrowed his eyes, armed the bike’s weapons, and then tore off in a cloud of burned rubber.
Molly was boiling mad. She climbed out of the now ruined tank and kicked the busted tread hard enough to dent it before ending her scream of frustration and whirling on the mechsuit. “You mug, you! I told you we shoulda hightailed it when we had the chance! Now lookit you, that arm’s melted to slag and you were this close to ending up just like it!”
“Ah, can it would you, Molly?” Mac snapped back at her from inside of the cockpit. He stared at the battered left arm, finally beginning to cool down. It was melted to a point that the joints were useless, and it was hardening into a lump that would eventually barely move. With a growl, he smashed the paralyzed left arm of the suit into the side of the tank until it squealed and finally bent into a position that would act somewhat like a shield. “Besides, you see how I smoked those SWAT Kats? Ha! Suckers were so busy dodging my missile, they never saw me takin’ aim at ’em with my arm cannon!”
“Oh, whoop de doo!” Molly jeered, putting a free hand to her hip. “You didn’t blast ’em, you clipped their wing. There’s no guarantee you wiped them out.”
“Yeah? Well we won’t be seein’ that jet again, at least!” Mac sputtered indignantly. “Geez, can’t you let me have a little moment of glory before you go rainin’ on my parade?”
“Oh, so it’s this again. If you had even a lick of common sense, you louse, I wouldn’t have to save your ass all the time! One of these days, you’re gonna push it too far, and those SWAT Kats or the Enforcers’ll get lucky enough to plug you. We’ve chewed through all of our nine lives, Mac! Look at us!” She gestured to him. “How many more robot bodies do you think you’re ever gonna get, huh?”
“Geez, fine! You made your dang point.” Mac muttered. “Okay, fine. Had my fun. Terrorized the Enforcers. Nailed the SWAT Kats. We can go.”
“About time you start listenin’ to me.” Molly started walking off, a little more triumphant sway in her hips than usual.
“Molly, no shekat talks as much as you do, you know that?”
“Bite me, buckethead.”
They made it a block and a half before the dull whine of a charging motorcycle got their attention. Molly glanced over her shoulder and groaned. “Unbelievable. These guys don’t quit, do they?”
Mac looked behind them and chuckled darkly. “Well, looky here. It’s the scrawny SWAT Kat on his precious little motorcycle. Guess he’s just a glutton for punishment.”
“Forget him, Mac! We need to get the heck out of here! There’s a storm drain access big enough to fit ya five blocks from here. We get underground, we can get back home and leave everyone in the dust.”
Mac angled himself so that the slagged left arm shielded him from a burst of sharpened metal projectiles that the Cyclotron fired off at him. “In a little bit, Molly. First off, I’m gonna finish this punk off.”
Molly cursed several times, but raised her Multi-Weapon and fired off a barrage of laserbolts, forcing the SWAT Kat on the bike to swerve and turn off a block early. “You’re such a pain in the neck.”
“You knew that when I married ya, Molly.” Mac laughed, running to a nearby city bus left idle and emptied of passengers. With a bit of work it he flipped it over to give themselves another makeshift barricade. “One last pest before we book it.”
Providence Insurance Building, Roof
Downtown Megakat City
Putting down the Turbokat in VTOL with a left wing full of shredded control surfaces was a challenge that T-Bone had faced to a degree already after the ZED incident, but it wasn’t any easier, or less demanding on his nerves. Having done it successfully, he climbed out of the powered down jet and slumped against a wheel strut, letting the fatigue that followed the loss of adrenaline run its course.
“That a girl.” He sighed, patting the underside of the jet. “You came through again. Don’t worry; we’ll get you fixed up.” The slight grin on his face faded as he recalled exactly where Razor was, and what he was doing. “But first, I’ve gotta help him out.”
He heard the incoming helicopter before he ever saw it, and he got an idea that was Razor-worthy from a rare flash of genius. “Boy, I hope they go for this…” Scrambling back to his feet, he reached for the recessed manual release lever of the bomb bay, popping the hydraulic doors open with a loud hiss as the pressure was released.
The Enforcers helicopter that flew up to the Providence building rooftop twenty seconds later circled it once before setting down opposite of the Turbokat, far enough away to not risk striking the jet with its rotors. Before the engines had even begun to whine down, Lieutenant Felina Feral had jumped off and was racing to check on the jet, and the lone visible SWAT Kat that stepped out from underneath it lugging one oddly designed missile over one shoulder.
“T-Bone!” Felina shouted to be heard over the noise of the rotors spinning down. “Are you okay? When we got your mayday, I thought…”
“That we’d be dead?” T-Bone finished, grunting as he hefted the missile off a sore spot on his shoulder. “The Metallikats aren’t that lucky. I had Razor launch in the Cyclotron to keep those two busy, but we need to catch up with him soon.” He noticed a second Enforcer coming up to join them, and assumed a stiffer tone. “We hit that MAK with our Megalaser and messed it up a little, but we had to bug out before Razor could launch these babies. Is there any way we can get these loaded up on your helo?”
Lieutenant Feral glanced at the missile, narrowed her eyes, and then looked back to her chopper. “Maybe. That looks like it’d fit in the forward missile launchers, and both chutes are empty. They’re stingy with payloads these days. Will it play nice with our systems?”
Very conscious of the fact that they weren’t alone, T-Bone mustered his best chuckle and shrugged. Razor had designed it out of Enforcer parts; it was compatible. Not that he could say it outright. “Probably. But what I do know is that that MAK could shrug off your laser gatlings all day long without too much grief. This baby, and its twin, are our best chance.”
Felina nodded, slower than the situation should have called for. “You know, there’s standing orders that the Enforcers aren’t supposed to play nice with the SWAT Kats, or use your gadgets.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m more interested in getting the job done.” T-Bone countered crisply, standing up taller still to look at her. “How about you?”
Lieutenant Feral and T-Bone stood staring at each other for one heartbeat longer than he felt comfortable with before she finally cracked a smile. “Officer Lowenthal. Help this SWAT Kat get his missiles off-loaded from his jet while I prep the Chopper.”
“Yes, ma’am!” The younger Enforcer, one of the rookies on the 6th TRS, gave a quick salute before moving to help T-Bone. He bent over a little from the weight of the missile, earning a snort from T-Bone as the SWAT Kat moved to retrieve the second of the red, yellow, and black missiles from the bomb bay.
Lieutenant Feral hopped back in her chopper and flipped the necessary switches that moved her weapons into Disarm/Maintenance mode, then toggled her radio. “Lieutenant Feral to 6th TRS, come in.”
“Sergeant Barnes here, ma’am.”
“Be advised, one SWAT Kat is still on scene and engaged with the Metallikats on motorcycle. Aerial units, I need eyes on the scene. Ground units are to form a perimeter, make sure they don’t escape. Copy?”
“We’re on it, ma’am. What’s your ETA?”
“…I’ll get there as soon as possible. Had to stop for a weapons check. Copy?”
Barnes paused on the other end of the line. He finally replied with a “Copy” and she suspected that he was smiling on the other end. Like he knew exactly what she was really doing. Of course, if anyone would, it would be Barnes. The old Enforcer was a lot cagier than anyone else knew.
T-Bone and the rookie Lowenthal appeared, each carrying a missile. With a sigh, she hopped out and moved to help them. Time wasn’t on their side, and she was going against standing orders to a degree that would probably get her court-martialed this time.
A problem for another day. Her friends were still alive, the Metallikats were still at large, and she had another Pumadyne inspired crisis to clean up. The mission came first.
The ground game wasn’t easy when the Metallikats had a clear advantage in both durability and firepower. It left Razor with the slim advantage of speed, and he clung to it with both paws. The Cyclotron screamed as he weaved around the corner to come in range of the two hiding behind the overturned city bus. The rear mounted launcher raised itself up and another salvo of rockets shot out to streak over the barricade. Teeth clenched in a permanent grimace, he waited for the explosions and prayed that one of them would land close enough to set off the overturned bus’s fuel tanks.
“Come on… come onnnn…”
Explosions and smoke and debris. No fireball. The Metallikats popped up from behind cover and started to fire back again, and Razor swerved wildly to avoid the crossfire, with one lucky shot pinging off of the chassis right above the rear wheel, charring it and warping the steel. Another hit like that, or one a little lower, and he’d end up with a blown out tire and a severe case of road rash. And death, probably.
Acting out of desperation, he swung his Glovatrix hand out and fired a grappling line towards the closest lamppost. The line caught, and he wrapped the line around the steering grip and slammed his hand down over it before the line drew taut. As much as Razor braced, it still made his arm and shoulder scream at him as the line jerked first on the Cyclotron’s steering column, and then himself. Centripetal force swung Razor and his ride sharply around the corner in a perfect semicircular arc, faster than even the Metallikats could track. Razor cut the line and raised up his Glovatrix as he passed around the barricade, dropping the both of them in his sights. He grinned sharply at the two before shifting his aim ever so slightly to the exposed fuel tank that Mac and his MAK were right beside.
“Bingo.” He rasped, and fired a single Mini Baby-Boomer missile. The lethal explosive projectile screamed out of its launching tube and streaked by the Metallikats to its real target, detonating on impact. Even streaking along as fast as he was, the ka-WHOOM of the bus going up in flames caught up to him in milliseconds, the padding of his helmet sparing his eardrums from the rupturing pressure. The windows in the buildings along the street were nowhere near as lucky, causing shards of black reflective glass to rain down around him.
The whup-whup-whup of nearby helicopters got his attention; the Enforcer choppers had formed a loose perimeter around the battleground, keeping both the Metallikats and himself under observation as the firefight had gone on. They were being careful to stay out of range; a reasonable precaution, given how many vehicles the pair had already destroyed.
His Cyclotron’s radio went off as a broadcast on the Enforcers Encrypt channel went off. “Lieutenant Feral to all TRS units. Close in on the Metallikats, but don’t expose yourselves. Try to keep them in the open.”
A reasonable enough order, yet very specific; it left Razor wondering exactly what she had planned. His focus went back to the fiery maelstrom behind him when the Metallikats reappeared, walking out of the black smoke and hellish blaze looking only a little scuffed. The knowledge that he’d demolished their cover was of only minor consolation when they started shooting at him again. Worse, having decided to stop turtling up, they started to chase after him.
While he was busy weaving through more laserfire, his radio went off again. “SWAT Kat, veer. Right. NOW!” The voice, directed at him, sent a chill down his back. He did as he was ordered though, turning off of the main avenue to one of Megakat City’s numbered blocks.
There, to his frantic relief, a cordon of 8 Enforcers were standing behind their squad cars with weapons up and at the ready. Not laser rifles; bazookas. That would put a dent in the Metallikats for sure. Razor glanced back behind him and waited for the metal maniacs to turn the corner, and the moment they did, he skidded sideways towards the cordon, lowering his height. Recognition hit the Metallikats a moment later, and they started to slow right as all eight of the anti-tank projectiles fired. The shots screamed over Razor’s heavily tilted Cyclotron, tracking towards them.
Somehow, he heard Molly scream right before the shots impacted. The MAK suit reacted quicker than the female Metallikat did, turning sideways and angling its mangled, melted arm directly in the path of the rockets. But when they hit beside, around, and into the Metallikats, that busted arm gave its last, and was sent flying into the air above the maelstrom.
Razor righted his Cyclotron and aimed his front wheel towards the impact zone, just waiting to unload the last salvo of rockets stowed in his rear launcher. But the Metallikats didn’t come charging out at them.
“Metallikats are falling back to Main Street! Great shot, ground teams!” The announcement from the hovering helicopters around the cordon had Razor exhaling the tension out again.
“Reload!” Came a sharp, barked command from an aged voice that tickled Razor’s memory. He turned his head around to confirm it, and there, looking a little older than his recollection was one Sergeant Courgry Barnes… the old trooper who’d served under himself and T-Bone back when they were still co-captains in the Enforcers. Unlike the rest of his team, he had a cap on instead of a helmet, but he was still in full riot gear.
Looking particularly proud of himself, Sergeant Barnes handed his empty bazooka off to another trooper and gave the SWAT Kat a salute. “Was beginning to think you wouldn’t be able to duck in time.”
“Hey, a few inches lower, your squad would have taken my head off.” Razor countered with a weak laugh. “Got a name?”
“Sergeant Barnes, 6th Tactical Response Squadron.” The old kat responded. “Scuttlebutt is your name’s Razor, right?”
“That’s affirmative.” Razor glanced at the other Enforcers, faceless behind their full combat helmets. “Strange combat tactics for a bunch of Enforcers, though. Not that I mind being a decoy if it gets the job done, but when did you start setting up ambushes like that?”
“Our LT’s a hell of a hard charger.” Sergeant Barnes snorted. “She might even be able to teach you and that big hotdogging lunatic buddy of yours a thing or two.” Razor looked at him as he spoke, a little confused, like there was a subtext he was missing out on. “I think we hurt ’em that time, but the job isn’t done. We’ve got the LT inbound on a helo with a heavy payload, but we need to keep the Metallikats on the main drag and in the open until then.”
Razor nodded, dismissing his suspicions for the time being. “You keep your guys on the side streets with as many RPGs as you can get your hands on. I’ll keep their attention centered on me, you turn them back if they get wise.”
“Hey, I was just about to tell you to do that, vigilante!”
“Who cares who ordered it, long as it gets the job done?” Razor countered. He spun the throttle to roaring new life, and took off after the fleeing Metallikats.
“That’s it. That is really freaking it, Mac! We’re getting out of here, now!” Molly yelled, the panic overtaking the anger in her voice. The two were at a dead run to get away from the Enforcers ambush that the skinny SWAT Kat had led them right into.
The stump of his MAK’s severed left arm sparking and leaking trace hydraulic fluid, Mac Metallikat growled inside of the suit’s cockpit. “Since when did the SWAT Kats and the Enforcers start playin’ nice with one another? It’s bad enough having to deal with both of ’em, but at least they never went after us at the same time!”
“Shut up! Just shut up!” Molly screamed louder than before, and Mac wisely did as she ‘gently’ suggested. As pissed off as she was, it finally began to sink into his chrome dome just how badly he’d screwed up. All that they could do now was make a run for it, with Molly taking point on the trek to the storm drain entrance she’d talked about. They had to make it underground. He was down an arm, out of missiles, out of metal cannon slugs, and the power cells of the MAK were running dry because of all the stunts he’d been pulling.
She’d be mad at him for weeks after this. He wasn’t sure how he’d even begin to apologize to her for messing up so badly.
“Keep up!” Molly snarled, moving to turn off into a side street. She took one step before howling and ducking for cover, and Mac, four steps behind her with lagging footfalls, pulled up short right as another Bazooka round streaked over her head, flying across the street and exploding as it hit a trash bin and lamppost. Mac quickly looked into the through street and saw two Enforcers behind their squad car, the first reloading his Bazooka and the second, equally armed, starting to take aim.
“The hell you are!” Mac screamed, lighting the pair up with laserfire from his sole remaining laser gatling. The shots impacted hard against their squad car, and the pair ducked down behind it to shield themselves. “Molly, get up!”
“Damn these bozos!” Molly swore, getting back on her feet. “They’re trying to cut us off!” Then the situation got worse when the familiar whine of the SWAT Kat’s armored motorcycle dialed up behind them. “Crap, crap, crap. Come on, Mac! Ain’t no stopping!”
The SWAT Kat following them unloaded with timed bursts of tiny cutting blades; too small to do any real damage, but they hit hard enough to stick into his armor, and occasionally, a lucky shot wedged itself into a join between the MAK’s armor plating good enough to slow him down until he knocked them loose. Every time Molly tried to lead them into another turn to get to the storm sewer’s entrance, another Enforcer team was waiting with bazookas, slowing them down. And the entire time, the beating whup-whup-whup of Enforcer Choppers lingered over everything, with laserfire keeping them from going too far, or ducking into a building. The whole thing was a giant setup that pushed his temper higher and higher, but Mac didn’t see the reason for it while they were in the thick of the danger.
Too pissed off at the SWAT Kat gumming up the back of his suit’s knees for the third time straight, he didn’t register that the beating of helicopter blades was getting louder, not until one dropped down to fifty feet in altitude less than an eighth of a mile ahead of them. And he only noticed it then because of the figure hanging out of the side door. The other SWAT Kat.
A SWAT Kat, riding in an Enforcers Chopper?
The Chopper fired. Not lasers, not like the others had from higher up. A pair of missiles that were colored all wrong, streaking right at him. He tried to get out of the way, jump, run, throw himself, but the sharpened cutter blades were still jammed in his suit’s legs, freezing him up. They’d got him. That freaking SWAT Kat had set him up, the Enforcers had boxed them in, and now the other one came riding in with the Enforcers in the air to finish the job.
He hadn’t seen the setup. Hadn’t seen the danger for what it was. But Molly had.
His mind thundering, he vaguely registered his wife screaming his name, and then saw a blur of silver and chrome as she jumped up and used herself as one last desperate shield.
The red, black, and yellow missiles meant for him hit her instead. They were bigger versions of the smaller ‘Shock’ missiles that the SWAT Kats had tried on them a long time ago. Big enough to short out a tank. Against a single robot, that much voltage, that many amps sent out arcs of electricity in every direction, a halo of death that stung just to look at.
She hit the ground screaming and writhing, smoking, exploding. Mac screamed too then, backhanding the missiles off of her to try and save her.
Too little, too late. The armor over her delicate circuitry was warped and blackened, and her head was stuck halfway from its detached position. She had tried to save herself before the missiles shorted out her systems completely, but you couldn’t outrace electricity. The tiny pincers designed to give her metallic skull mobility in the absence of all else were welded against the stump of her neck, and her glowing red eyes flickered wildly, off more than on.
“Molly…” Mac whispered, slumping down beside her dying body. “Molly, say something. Anything. Call me an idiot. Tell me your mother always hated me. Just talk to me. Please? Please!”
Her head turned towards him the servos grinding and sending up another puff of smoke from lubricant charred to uselessness. Her metallic mouth opened up, and her vocal processor, as fried as everything else. She tried to speak.
“R…rrrrrr….rrrruunnnnnn.” She got out one word before it went to static and silence.
The red glow from her eyes went dead. Everything went quiet. Mac stood up, the MAK’s right arm hanging uselessly beside him.
She was gone. She was gone, and he was alone.
He felt the impact of medium grade explosives slam against him. System warnings flared. Low power. Impeded systems. Low hydraulic pressure. No ammunition remaining.
Molly was gone. His fault. What had he…
Impact warning. Seek immediate repairs.
…What had they done…
Their fault. The Enforcers.
The SWAT Kats. The grease monkeys who played dress up.
He shunted all his remaining power to his mobility systems. He dropped radar tracking, the weapons systems, everything but movement and his visual and audio pickups. Resurgent, the MAK’s right arm clenched into a fist for a second, then he knocked the stuck in blades in his legs away and whirled around to face off against the SWAT Kat on the motorcycle, driving straight for him, still firing.
Mac Metallikat screamed and ran straight for him. The SWAT Kat realized what he was planning, tried to skid and turn around. Mac was burning out the last scraps of life left in the suit for this. The SWAT Kat was fast. The MAK was faster.
He got his hand around to the side of the back wheel and smacked it as hard as he could. Razor and the Cyclotron were flung into a large, broken out window in front of a sandwich shop. The SWAT Kat bailed out at the last second, slamming hard into the concrete and bouncing against the outer wall. His motorcycle was less fortunate, exploding after one too many bounces, sending debris back out into the street. He was still dazed and groaning when the MAK stopped in front of him, and the mech’s hand snapped down, jerking him up by the front of his flight suit. Razor grunted and flailed, all to no use.
“I’m gonna kill you, you lousy grease monkey.” Mac hissed, popping open the hatch of the MAK’s cockpit so he could stare at Razor face to face. He shook the SWAT Kat hard, keeping the woozy vigilante from trying anything. “I’m gonna kill you, and then I’m gonna go kill your partner. I’m gonna drop a car on top of him and listen for the pop when his chest caves in. After what youse did to Molly…”
Gasping, Razor tried to focus in on him, struggling to speak. Snarling, Mac slammed him down to the ground and rested one heavy mechanical foot over his chest, pinning him in place.
“Got any last words, meat?”
Head lolling to the side, barely able to draw a breath, Razor raised a finger and pointed down the street and behind them. “Might wanna… dodge.”
Mac blinked, trying his best not to turn around and look. It had to be a distraction.
He heard the roar of a car engine getting louder. Swore. Turned and looked. Not a distraction. An Enforcers patrol car was barreling right at him.
He heard a high pitched whine of a sawblade and felt the jittering vibrations as even more warnings flashed up from the MAK suit. There was Razor, cutting away at his foot with a cutting wheel inside of his glove weapon. The blade hit a wire, the suit shorted out with a pop of sparks, and Mac lost control. He felt the suit stumble back, releasing the pressure from Razor’s chest, and screamed in rage.
Then Razor was scrambling over the broken window glass, ducking into the ruined deli.
Mac felt the police cruiser slam into him.
Groaning and exhausted, Razor poked his head out and stared at the smoking wreck of the Enforcers sedan crunched hard into the brick wall of the building next door. The bulk of the MAK suit was wedged between the crumbling mortar and the warped metal, with pieces of both vehicles scattered along the road. The weapon hijacked by the Metallikats was stone silent.
“Oh, hell.” Razor whispered. He could make out a figure inside the driver’s seat of the car, its airbag deployed. As fast as his aching body allowed, he ran and jerked the door open.
Inside, a banged up, but still laughing Sergeant Barnes turned his head slowly to look at the SWAT Kat. “Heh. Got him.”
“Sergeant, that was…”
“Not the word I’d use.” Razor helped pull the old Enforcer out of the wrecked car, checking him over for injuries. “You’re gonna have some bruises after this, and you’ll need to get looked at for concussion. That was crazy.”
“So crazy, it had to work.” Barnes laughed a little, noticing a little too late how a faint dribble of blood was dripping from under his battered cap and down his face. He let himself slump against Razor as the two moved away from the car before the fuel tank could rupture and explode. “Kind of like you always did.” Razor jerked his eyes sharply to the side to stare at him, and Barnes just chuckled and winked. Or winced. “Ow. I’m seeing stars. Are airbags supposed to hurt that much?”
Letting out a little breath at that, Razor kept him up and awake as Enforcer reinforcements rolled into the combat zone. “I think your brain’s a little shaken up, Sarge.”
“Yeah.” Barnes exhaled, letting the matter drop. “Must be.”
Razor passed him off to another Enforcer and then set off in the direction of the landing lead helicopter. T-Bone and Lieutenant Feral both jumped off at the same time, with the burly tom racing to catch up to Razor. They clasped forearms, and then T-Bone stared at his bruised partner carefully. “You all right?”
“I’m actually kind of amazed we lived through that. And were those Scrambler missiles that your chopper launched, Lieutenant?” Razor glanced over to Felina, who did her best not to break out into a wild grin. The more private celebrations could come later.
“Your partner was very insistent we bring along the extra firepower. Good thing we did.” She said with a straight face. Sizing up the area, she shook her head. “Hell of a mess. Let’s hope this time they’re offline permanently. They killed good cops, terrorized the city. Hell. Even my uncle’s being shipped off by medivac.” She bit her lip after sharing the news, and T-Bone reached out, squeezing her shoulder supportively.
“Hey. He’ll make it.” T-Bone reassured her. “He’s too stubborn not to. Give him a week, he’ll be raising hell like always.” The confidence in T-Bone’s voice was mixed with only a trace of bitter irony, and she found herself smiling because of it. As much as they squared off with her Uncle Ulysses, they still cared. If only for her sake.
After she shoved down the warm feelings T-Bone had inspired, she cleared her throat. “You two good to make it home?”
“The jet’s banged up, but I’ve flown her with worse damage. Long as nobody starts shooting at us again, we should be fine.” T-Bone reassured her. “But I wouldn’t pass up a ride back to her. Walking all the way up to the Providence Building’s roof would take us all night.”
“Say no more. I’ve got to handle cleanup down here anyways.” Lieutenant Feral whistled to the chopper pilot and gestured to the SWAT Kats. “Give ’em a lift, Lowenthal!”
With one last mock salute, T-Bone and Razor climbed aboard the chopper, which took off and flew them out.
Lieutenant Feral watched the Chopper fade into the skyline for a while longer, then marched over to check on her wounded. Barnes was being given the standard concussion test by another Enforcer while others secured the perimeter, and she knelt down for a closer look at his blood-covered face. “Hell of a gamble you took there, Barnes, ramming that robot warsuit.” She accused him.
The old sergeant cackled a little. “Suppose so. But I figured putting that bastard down and saving a SWAT Kat was worth it.”
Felina looked over to the totaled cruiser and the mangled wreck under its chassis and behind the hood. “I suppose it was.” She conceded the point.
It would be another hour before they got the wreckage pulled apart, and discovered that Mac Metallikat’s head was nowhere to be found in the debris.
Professor Hackle’s Estate
Saturday Morning (The Next Day), 1 Hour before Sunrise
It was Jake’s weekend out at Hackle’s place, and under different circumstances, he could have—should have—been able to enjoy it. But he was still bruised and banged up, the adrenaline and the aftershocks of that mission still chewing away at him. As bone tired as he was, he found his constant reflecting on that mission to be a godsend. It spared him the nightmares, at least as long as he could stay up. He managed to keep both himself and Callie up until midnight making small talk and drinking fermented milk straight out of the can, and even after she’d forcibly dragged him into bed and got him thinking about something more pleasant for a good half hour, he still had trouble sleeping. So she was out like a light, covered up by the blanket, while he’d laid there in the darkness with the covers off of him, staring up at the ceiling. And replayed it over and over again. Sergeant Barnes. What Mac had said. He thought about Chance, back at the salvage yard. They’d landed it in a less-traveled corner of the lot and covered it up with a tarpaulin before calling Hackle to send Cybertron over to help with the repairs. Given how he’d been able to fix the Turbokat on the fly during the Katchu Picchu incident, Cybertron could probably help T-Bone do the repair in half the time. Certainly the Agracite coating.
But mostly, he thought about what that MAK mech armor out of Pumadyne meant for the SWAT Kats, for the Enforcers, for everything. The technology was catching up with them. As much as he begged for it, he wasn’t spared the horror that had eaten away at him every night since Hackle showed off his Katbot.
He’d been sleeping. Not for long, and certainly not restfully. He jarred awake with a shuddering gasp, fur matted down by sweat and his heart slamming against his sore rib cage. The suddenness of the motion was even felt by Callie, who stirred a little and mumbled a sleepy question. In spite of his own demons, Jake mustered a smile and stroked her arm to soothe her back to sleep. After her eyes had closed again and her breathing was slow and regular, Jake’s smile vanished instantly. He rose from the bed slowly to minimize the disturbance, slipped on his boxers, and went out to the kitchen. He sat at the serving island in its center, staring off blankly into space, then got up and moved almost mechanically to the coffee maker. He wasn’t getting back to sleep tonight. He might as well jump start the day with his caffeine.
She came out half an hour later wearing an old t-shirt, and rubbing at her eyes. Jake glanced in her direction and offered the thinnest smile he’d ever given out, then poured her a mug of her own. “I thought you’d still be sleeping in.”
“Not when I smell coffee and there isn’t a warm, cuddly body next to me.” She countered. After sitting down and picking up her mug, Callie caught him staring at her, and took a sip to mask her blush. “Stop it.”
“You ever considered getting contact lenses?” Jake asked her, leaning on a paw. “I mean, you’re beautiful. You always have been, but… Right now? Without your glasses?”
“This is where you say something about me having bedroom eyes.” She set the mug down and held up a hand to stop him from confirming it. “Jake. Why couldn’t you sleep?”
“I was. I just wake up early.”
“You’re lying to me.” She said in a low, emotionless tone that instantly had him wincing. She’d gotten a lot better at picking through his subterfuge. “Now tell me the truth.”
He sighed and closed his eyes, trying to buy some time. How could he even begin to tell her what was eating at him? She’d think he was crazy.
“A nightmare?” She guessed. “If those bags under your eyes were any bigger, you could go grocery shopping with them.”
“You… were older.” Jake started out. He set his coffee mug down and stared out the sliding deck patio doors, a wall of reinforced glass that let him stare out over the surf as the darkened sky was just beginning to brighten. “Still so beautiful, but worn down. It wasn’t just not having hot water, or clean clothes. And you looked at me. Like you were staring at a ghost. The light came back into your eyes again. It’s been eating at me on the edges ever since we started dating.”
He turned his gaze to meet hers, and stopped trying to hide the utter desperation, the worry that he felt. It stopped her cold. “Callie we could have been…” And he paused again, unable to finish the sentence. He swallowed the word down, tried to blink back his tears, and moved on. “I was dead. And you were dead inside.”
She reached out and stroked the top of his head. “It was just a dream. I’m right here. And you’re not going anywhere.”
“That’s just it.” Jake responded, leaning away from her hand. “It’s not… it’s not a nightmare. I mean, it was, but… it happened.” She stared at him dubiously, and he shook his head. “Remember that night the Pastmaster played king of the hill on Old Megakat Bridge? How he pulled us into a time vortex?”
Callie blinked, and when her brain finally hit the right gear, she went pale. “You… You mean, you two didn’t go backwards? You went forwards?”
Jake fingered the handle of his coffee mug and looked away from her again. If he looked at her, he’d never be able to get through it all. “Going to the future? I tried so hard not to think about it afterwards. Because we lost. Chance and I were dead. The salvage yard was a concentration camp. And you were… you were…”
He shut his eyes again. “I thought that it wasn’t going to happen. But now, I can’t shake it loose. And if I can stop that from happening, if we can stop that future… then I have to do it, Callie. It’s a chance to make things better.”
He felt her pull him in for a tight hug, and he let her. They sat there, leaning into one another, and he breathed in the scent of her to calm himself down. “How?” She asked him, after he’d just begun to feel sleepy again. “How did it happen? Was it Dark Kat?”
“No. The Metallikats. With the Pastmaster’s help, of course.” He answered softly. “There were robots all over. They hijacked them, turned them against the katizens. Made Megakat City a living hell, rounded up and either killed everyone or turned them into slave labor. The SWAT Kats were killed in the opening days of it. I’m not sure how many years later we appeared. Or how many years until that happens. The only thing I do know is that the robots that they used already exist.”
“What?” Callie squeaked. She pulled away from him and held him by his shoulders. “Where?”
Jake raised a finger, brought it around, and let it come to rest as he pointed towards the excavation tunnel to their work-in-progress secondary hangar.
“The first of them’s working in our access tunnel. It’s Hackle’s robots. It’s his katbots. The military models… Probably Pumadyne’s work. But the katbots, the ground troops used by the Metallikats, those are his.”
She sat back and let go of him, thinking about it. “And seeing it again… you keep thinking about it. Over, and over. It’s not a nightmare. It’s a memory.”
“Yeah.” Jake reached for his coffee and polished it off, as it had gone lukewarm. “I keep thinking about the best way to keep it from happening. I haven’t found a foolproof answer yet.”
“There aren’t any foolproof answers. Not with… future stuff.” Callie reminded him. “There’s just your best guess.”
“I suppose so.” Jake nodded slowly. “I’ll tell the Professor after he wakes up. He won’t like hearing it. He probably won’t believe me.”
“Yes he will.”
“Because it’s you telling him.” Callie said, earning one of Jake’s rare honest and sheepish smiles. She took another sip of coffee before pressing on. He still looked like he was carrying too much weight. “That would be enough to terrify anyone. But there’s something else.” His ears folded back, and she narrowed her eyes. “Something you’re not telling me.”
“…You don’t want to hear it.” He stood up and moved to the glass patio doors.
Callie moved slowly, slinking up behind him and wrapping her arms around his torso.
“Jake. Tell me.”
Trapped in her grip, and unwilling to free himself, he sighed. “It was something the future you told me. Right before you were taken by the Metallikat patrol. We rescued you; don’t worry… but you said that it had been destroyed. Our base.”
She hugged him a little tighter, pulling his back against her chest. “Did I say how?”
“No. Didn’t have the time.” He let off a sick little laugh. “I don’t even know which base you meant. The one in the junkyard? Or did you mean the one we’re building here?”
“We’ll figure it out.” She promised him. Jake took hold of one of her paws and brought it up to his mouth, kissing the back of it. “Were future you and future me dating?”
“I don’t know.” Jake replied, no shading or emotional inflection in the answer. “But is it right? If I’m going to end up dead, how’s that fair to you?”
“And what if you don’t end up dead?” Callie asked. “We had this argument before. You remember what happened?”
“Yeah. You lost big, buster.” She kissed the side of his face. “You’re just going to have to get used to the fact that I’m not going anywhere. And neither are you.”
“Not today.” Jake agreed.
Jake told Professor Hackle everything over breakfast. Callie had served thin omelets with fruit salad, and the old engineer had gotten about four bites down before the reality of what Jake had experienced, what the implications were, started to sink in. He put his fork down and listened. Callie nibbled on a few more pieces of cantaloupe, but soon, she was done eating as well. Jake laid out the fate of the katizens of Megakat City, if not all of katkind, and Callie could only watch as Hackle went from surprise, to incredulity, and finally, crushing despair.
By the time Jake finished with how they’d snuck in and severed the control helmet’s wires to put the katbot army offline, Hackle looked like someone had dropped a three hundred pound backpack over his shoulders.
“So.” Hackle croaked out. “I doom us all?”
“That’s just it, Professor. You don’t have to.” Jake reassured him. Callie reached over and laid her hand over his paw, squeezing their fingers together. “I think some good had to come from this. There was a reason Chance and I saw that. It was to keep it from happening. It starts with your Katbot. And never making another one.”
Hackle reached for his fork, and poked absently at the now cold omelet. “Of course, there is nothing that would stop anyone else from building them.”
“Yeah. I’ve thought of that, too. But they won’t be your robots.” Jake said. “You told me before you had already left Pumadyne before you started working on robots seriously. We’ll keep our eyes open. If we’re careful, if we’re lucky, that will never come to pass.”
Hackle shivered a little, set his fork down, and stood up. “I need my coat.” He announced. Jake went to retrieve it while Callie handed him his cane. The professor clipped his white lab coat over his clothes and adjusted his glasses, then started towards the excavation tunnel. The katbot was placed beside the hidden entrance, charging its batteries. It woke up when Hackle approached, staring at him noiselessly for instructions.
“Katbot X-1A.” Hackle ordered it. “Shut down all systems for maintenance and repair. Authorization Hackle-One-Omega.”
The katbot gave off a slight nod to acknowledge the command, and then slumped forward to a kneeling position as it powered down completely.
Hackle unplugged its recharging cord from the wall outlet and brought a screwdriver up to the plate in its chest cavity. With precision marred only slightly by the shakiness in his hands, he pulled out its power supply. Then came the control circuit boards.
He was methodical at first, thorough. But after three minutes of controlled solemnity, Professor Hackle just started tearing the thing’s guts out, one handful at a time. Wires snapped, delicate solenoids and silicon boards cut at his fingers, and he started grunting. Crying. It was when he started screaming, and they noticed the blood, that Jake and Callie grabbed hold of him and pulled him forcibly off of the ruined katbot.
He collapsed against Calico Briggs, letting his hands hang down uselessly beside him, and wept. Jake put a hand on the old kat’s shoulder.
“You couldn’t know.” He reassured him.
“Couldn’t I?” Hackle asked, looking to his young friend with a sad little grin. “When everything else I have ever made in my life has been turned into a weapon, why should my katbots be any different? Will Cybertron be the next thing to turn against me?”
Jake bit his lip. “You never mentioned Cybertron in the future, and I never saw anything that looked remotely like it. Not everything you touch is cursed, professor.”
“When you stop having nightmares, perhaps I will believe that.” Hackle sniffed. Callie let go of him, and the old kat looked at his hands. “For now… I believe I am in need of your assistance.”
“Always, Professor.” Jake said, leading him to the bathroom and its first aid kit. “Always.”
Megakat General Hospital
Commander Ulysses Feral was famous for hating hospitals. He was on record about complaining of the smell of disinfectant, the air’s antiseptic stink. On the rare occasions he made appearances to visit wounded Enforcers, his visits were brief. On the even rarer occasions he was admitted for injuries suffered himself, he checked out as soon as he was out of danger, and always with the signature on the form noting that he’d done so ‘Against Medical Advice.’
Thus, it came as no surprise to Lieutenant Felina Feral that, when she knocked on the door of her uncle’s hospital room, the head of the Enforcers was already sitting on the edge of his bed, straining to put his boots back on with one arm in a sling and his chest wrapped so thickly in bandages that they were visible through his Enforcers branded t-shirt. The man lived and breathed the career.
He glanced up at his visitor, nodded once, and then turned back to his boots. “I was wondering if you’d be coming in. You’re a little late. And out of uniform.” The remark addressed her outfit: blue jeans, sneakers, blouse, leather jacket.
“My shift ended at noon.” She told him flatly. “I heard from the shift nurses that you’d already badgered your doctor into letting you sign that discharge form.” She stepped inside, a bouquet of ‘get well’ flowers on hand, and sized up the room. Often, those that were in accidents or hazardous incidents got lots of gifts. Stuffed animals, flowers, candy. Cards, and balloons. The detritus of goodwill and charity from family and friends that typically littered a hospital room were remarkably absent. In fact, she could see only a single get well card on top of the television, signed ‘as dictated by Mayor Manx’, and a little stuffed kat wearing an Enforcers helmet and the gray flak suit. She smiled; that one, she knew for a fact, was from Callie, who’d asked if it would be an appropriate gift. She set the flowers down on the windowsill and picked up the plush figurine, playing with its stubby arms and legs. “You must not have gotten a lot of visitors.”
“Just a few. Most of them knew well enough not to bother bringing me junk.”
She rolled her eyes and dropped the Enforcers doll on the bed beside him. “Thanks. Next time I’ll save myself the twenty bucks. Go out to eat instead.”
He grunted at her, then grimaced as he reared back up and drew in a sharp breath. “Damn.”
“Oh, let me.” She muttered, kneeling down and sparing him the discomfort and frustration of lacing up his own boots. “You were probably going to waste fifteen minutes trying to do this yourself. There is a call button; I’m sure a nurse wouldn’t mind tying your shoes for you. It’s an easier assignment than messing around with bedpans.” She finished the laces just then, and stood back up.
“And let the word get out that I’m weaker than most people think?” Feral scoffed. “Please.”
Chance had been right. It was pride. Pride was what drove her Uncle Ulysses. Pride in the Enforcers. Pride in himself. Pride in the capabilities of both. And he let nothing else stand in the way of it.
“Besides.” He continued, “I’ve got nothing else to read, which means that the break’s over.” She frowned, wondering if he’d finally taken up reading novels in his spare time. Her unspoken question was answered when he pulled back the covers to reveal the after-action report from the Metallikats “MAK” incident the previous Friday. Her own team’s reports had been compiled with other Enforcer unit’s paperwork the night before. He must have gotten the copy this morning from that ever reliable staff sergeant of his.
The manila folder seemed small only in comparison to his hand, and it was still a half inch thick. “The final tally was sobering, to say the least. Approximately 38 dead and 146 wounded; Enforcers casualties noticeably higher than civilian, and civilian injuries largely caused by the stampede as they fled the combat zone. An entire tank unit wiped out. Several Enforcer patrol cruisers were damaged, one helicopter totaled, damage to Pumadyne East, civilian vehicles, and Megakat City proper. Total damage estimates for this incident are currently over 82 million dollars. Total cost of armaments used during operations were over 2 million more.”
“It could have been a lot worse.” Felina said diplomatically. “It could have gone easier too. Did you read my note about how the neural neutralizer somehow went missing out of a secure evidence lockup?”
“Yes, I did. I also received a letter of resignation from Sergeant Smitty.” Feral muttered. “We could have used it. And while Molly Metallikat has been put offline and captured, Mac Metallikat is still missing. Patrols haven’t found his wandering head yet, and I don’t expect they will at this point.”
“Damnit.” Felina scowled. “We should just melt Molly’s body down into scrap while we have the chance.”
“As much as I personally agree with the idea, we are not murderers.” Feral scowled, dropping the manila folder down on the hospital bed. “Besides, if the techs that got a look at her prior to her body being shipped to evidence lockup are right, she’s not going to be reactivating any time soon. She might actually be fried for good this time.” He dialed in his stare on his niece and narrowed his eyes. “Of course, how she was put offline is something worth examining. Disaster teams recovered a pair of unusual missiles beside her body; high electrical storage capacity and energy dispersal. Battered, and destroyed, but unmistakably not Enforcers technology.”
Her back went rigid. She was wondering how long it would take for him to get to this. Not long at all, apparently. Felina opened her mouth to speak, but he jerked his good hand sharply at her, cutting her off.
“Do you recall a conversation we had approximately two weeks ago?” The Commander asked her softly. There was danger in his low tone, and she didn’t give him an answer to explode off of; he was on a roll. “And the subsequent memo that I had sent to your desk not long after?”
Okay, now he was waiting for a response. “Yes.” Felina told him plainly. “Yes, I do.”
“Do you remember the penalties I mentioned if you went against that policy?”
“Good.” Feral grunted. “Now would you care to explain how a pair of missiles used by those damn vigilantes ended up in the launchers of your Chopper? Because there is nothing in your report that makes note of it, only a brief mention that you responded to the Turbokat’s mayday and provided transportation back to the Turbokat for both of them after the incident was resolved.”
Felina stared at him. “After recovering T-Bone, we found him unloading those missiles, which he called ‘Scrambler missiles’ just to clarify, and begging us to use them in the assault on the Metallikats and the MAK. So we loaded up the missiles with his help, and upon reaching the combat zone and finding Razor struggling for his life, we took advantage of his distraction and fired. Molly Metallikat jumped in front of both missiles at the last second, and took the full brunt of the shock, which electrocuted and shorted her systems out completely. The damaged MAK was finally disabled when Sergeant Barnes rammed the thing with his cruiser and buried it into a wall.”
“If I were to question your men, would I find that on top of utilizing their technology in clear violation of my directive, you also collaborated with the SWAT Kats and folded them into your operations?”
“Given how heavily the odds were stacked against us, I made a command level decision to ignore your memo. Getting the job done and saving lives were more important.” Felina answered back. She didn’t give an inch, and there wasn’t a trace of guilt or remorse in her voice. “It was the right call, memo or not. The cost of the Enforcer’s pride was already too high last Friday. I wasn’t about to let it get any higher.”
Feral growled loudly, or tried to, and fell off into wet, wheezy coughs as his broken ribs complained loudly at their mistreatment. A grimace passed over his face, and he turned away from Felina for a moment. Out of shame for his weakness, she realized.
“Damnit, Felina.” He said, his voice tightly controlled. “Yelling at you doesn’t do any good.”
“It’s not good for you right now, either.” Felina pointed out sympathetically. “Uncle, you got thrown around like a rag doll. You came after them with tanks, and they still outgunned you. The old way of doing things, going by the book? It isn’t working. We have to try something different. That’s all I did. We boxed them in, we nailed them with bazookas, we baited them into ambushes, and then when they had nowhere else to go, we lit them up with the only real killshots we had available.”
His shoulders rose up, meaning he was getting angry. She should have stopped. She didn’t. For once, she was going to let him have it. “Yeah, I violated your standing written orders. But it was a stupid order. You don’t like the SWAT Kats. I get it. Believe me, everybody in this city gets it. End of the day, we are here to serve and protect. If we let katizens or our fellow Enforcers die because we fail to adapt and follow an outdated playbook of tactics, then we. Have. Failed. So, fine. You want to throw the book at me? Go ahead. Take away my badge. No, the hell with it! I’ll draft up my own letter of resignation. I love this job, I love being an Enforcer, I love this city. But if I can’t do my job the way it needs to be done, it’s just an empty uniform!”
Feral stood with his back to her, and the two breathed hard, in and out. Felina shut her eyes and waited for him to drop the hammer.
“I have had both the mayor and the deputy mayor stop by while I was recovering.” Feral finally rasped. “The deputy mayor had the misfortune of being out in the middle of that mess, but she informed me that she stayed hidden away during the worst of it. She was very animated in her support for you and your squadron. And both she and the mayor were equally perturbed at the damages, especially in terms of vehicle replacement costs and loss of life.” He finally turned around, an utter weariness clinging to him as his shoulders fell. For a second, Felina saw the proud, unbreakable figure of her uncle laid low. The shock on her face must have given it away, because he straightened up afterwards. “As a result of this incident, Pumadyne is going to scrap the MAK project entirely, and I’ve had some scuttlebutt that they may close the Pumadyne East facility as well. The place has been a magnet for trouble, especially involving the Metallikats. That’s hundreds of millions to possibly billions in additional lost revenue. After I leave here, I have letters to write to grieving widows and parents for every Enforcer who fell in the line of duty, and a memorial ceremony to preside over later this week. I am the figurehead of an organization that is forced to get by with aging weapons and an air force that is constantly denied upgrade because every damn prototype we commission ends up being hijacked and used as a weapon against us. If you think I don’t care about the cost, Felina, you never really knew me at all.”
Her mouth twitched a little, and she did feel a slight pang of guilt. For a little bit. But she refocused quickly. “So what now?”
“Now?” Feral exhaled slowly. “Business as usual. We patrol. We train. We wait for the next crisis to happen.”
“And me? The 6th?”
“As of last Friday at noon… postdated… the order preventing you from utilizing the SWAT Kats’ weapons, or the vigilantes themselves, is rescinded.” Felina blinked at the suddenness of the reversal, and the timing of it. Did that mean…?
“This means you will not be brought up on court martial, or subject to imprisonment, fine, and dishonorable discharge.” Feral added, confirming what she had begun to dizzily hope for. He quickly tamped down on her elation. “But in general, don’t go making a habit of setting up one-two punches with those two. We’ll deal with them as needs must; not for the sake of convenience.”
“In other words, kind of what I told you a long time ago.” Felina smugly stated. “This is our city, and the Enforcers are the ones that keep it safe day to day. We work with the SWAT Kats when things get out of hand.”
Feral grimaced again, and this time it wasn’t from his cracked ribs. “Felina, you have no idea how much I hate chewing on that sentiment.”
“I kind of do.” She smiled at her uncle, and for the first time in a while, something akin to an armistice settled in on her perception of their relationship. “The only way that you’d hate it any worse was if I got a promotion out of this.”
“Um.” Feral awkwardly scratched at the side of his head, making a face. Felina’s went blank.
“The deputy mayor protested that someone as skilled and in charge of her own squadron had not been promoted to captain by now; something that she even got the mayor to agree with.” Feral sighed and started scooping up his meager belongings from the room into a sack. “It seems you’ve gotten quite good at understanding the game of politics. You’ve cultivated a particularly effective bond with the city’s leadership, but you lack nuance. I’d advise you to get better at politics if you’re gunning for the still vacant Lieutenant Commander position.”
“Forget Steele’s old post, I want your job.” Felina joked, defusing the moment and disguising her own elation. Captain Felina Feral. It was about time.
That won a snort from Feral that almost got him to smile. “Get a few more years under your belt, and we’ll talk.”
Felina helped him finish packing, then clasped a hand to his back. “Come on. I’ll take you out for ribs before you start on those letters.”
“I can pay for my own meals; I’m not some doddering old tom.” He grumbled, shuffling out and disregarding the nurse with the wheelchair right outside of his door.
Felina shrugged apologetically at the flustered nurse who was being denied the chance to execute hospital policy on discharges. “Never said you were. But I just got a pay raise. I thought I’d do something nice for my Uncle Ulysses.”
“That will be a welcome change.” He deadpanned.
This was hell. Mac Metallikat finally accepted it as fact. He was in hell. All alone, just a wandering head on spider’s legs, not a shred of warmth or comfort to be found. No Molly to call him names. She was gone.
They’d killed her. He would have wept if he still had the ability. It had been a narrow thing, his escape. If the MAK’s cockpit hadn’t been open, he would have been buried under that cruiser, or put offline completely. The impact had apparently been enough to jar him loose and send him flying. He’d rolled across cement pavement, bounced off of cars, and ended up fifteen feet from a destroyed storm drain, whose concrete was just chipped enough from his rampage that he could squeeze through it and get away from the SWAT Kats and the Enforcers.
He’d gotten lost. There weren’t maps to consult. He didn’t have a compass in his head telling him which way was north. He could only guess if he was going the right direction to get back to the run-down apartment in the slums that he and Molly had been using as their hideout, and it seemed he always guessed wrong. If it wasn’t for his digital clock, constantly ticking away in the background of his computer brain, he would have lost track of time completely. Instead, he knew for a fact he’d been wandering for 3 days straight, with no hope and no sign of getting out anytime soon. Worst of all, his battery was dying. The servos controlling his spiderlegs had been getting more sluggish for the past hour.
With a groan, Mac stopped his pointless walking. “Ah, Molly.” He moaned. “What do I do? What the hell am I supposed to do?” Of course nobody answered him.
But a minute later, as his power kept flagging, his auditory pickups did hear tiny scrabbling, scratching noises in the distance that started to grow louder. He perked up, listening carefully with a rising sense of panic. Had he stumbled into the territory of Dr. Viper? The maniac hadn’t been seen since the Megaswamp City incident, but he loved the underground.
When he heard chirping and squabbling, his panic grew worse. He knew that sound. If he’d been whole, it would have been annoying. But as just a head?
“Creeplings.” He tried to scramble backwards, get away by heading the direction he’d come from. But he bumped into something that stopped him. And suddenly he was being picked up, lifted off of the ground. “Hey! Leggo! Leggo a me, you pink fink chumps!” He snarled, and froze when a familiar pair of yellow eyes stared out from behind sunken purple fur and flesh.
“I am not my Creeplings.” The low rumbling bass of Dark Kat’s voice answered him.
“Uh. Yeah. Hey, uh, Dark Kat.” Mac stammered. “Listen, I didn’t come here lookin’ for trouble. I’ll go away, I’ll leave you alone. No harm, no foul, right?”
The original supervillain of Megakat City laughed darkly at Mac’s offer. “But, my dear Metallikat. I came looking for you.”
“Whatever you’re selling, I’m not buying it.” Mac muttered.
“A new body?” Dark Kat countered crisply. The noises of the Creeplings were louder now, and he yelled to silence them before continuing his negotiation. “Revenge on the ones who destroyed your partner? What would that be worth to you?”
Mac paused for half a heartbeat. “And who’s to say you’ll keep your end of the bargain? You didn’t exactly win an award for playing nice the last time we made the mistake of teaming up with you.”
“Nothing at all.” Dark Kat mused. “But I suspect, given how you’ve been wandering down here in the sewers for days, that you are on borrowed time. So it’s in your best interests to cooperate with me. Besides, do you see that snake Viper lingering around?”
Mac’s red eyes started to dim, and his systems sent him a more urgent low power warning. “Fine. Fine, whatever. But I gotta get plugged in now, Dark Kat. I’m almost out of juice.”
“Very well. Then I want you to tell me something.” The enormous villain thundered. “The secret identities of the SWAT Kats. It has come to my attention through a fortunately timed broadcast that you offered that information to Feral for your lives. I would like the same.”
Mac’s spidery legs twitched at Dark Kat’s demand. “It didn’t help us. How would it help you?”
“Because there is a clear difference between you and I. I am far worse than you… and I learn from my mistakes.” Dark Kat stared at him, his enormous clawed hand easily palming Mac’s head like a basketball.
No Molly. No backup. A promise of revenge, and fading power.
“Okay.” Mac whispered. “The SWAT Kats? They’re a couple of grease monkeys. They run the junkyard south of Megakat City. We stumbled into their underground base while we was grabbing our ride once. They didn’t expect us, but they still got the drop on us.”
“How very unfortunate. Thank you.” Dark Kat said placidly. He reached into his coat with his other hand and pulled out a very familiar looking device, somewhat similar to a gun but with a very different purpose. It took Mac a half second to recognize it.
“Wait, that’s… Wait! Ya don’t have to use that!”
“Of course I do.” Dark Kat depressed the trigger of the stolen neural neutralizer. The beam of light it emitted destabilized the electro-neural pathways of Mac Metallikat’s digital brain and put him offline instantly. Gloating, Dark Kat stared at the silent metallic skull. “Using you as even a pawn was a mistake I will never make again. And you know what they say; dead toms tell no tales.”
Pocketing the Neural Neutralizer, Dark Kat took Mac’s head and put it between his hands and squeezed, crushing it into a barely identifiable lump. He tossed it into the foul smelling water running beside him as an afterthought, and then strolled back into the darkness with his Creeplings on his heels.
To Be Continued In
The Family You Keep
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Disclaimer: SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron is copyright to Hanna-Barbera Cartoons Inc. All Rights Reserved. © 1995. All other characters and material within this page are the property of their respective creators.