Katareena was awakened at the ungodly hour of nine a.m. the next morning by the sound of the telephone. She moaned and pulled the pillow tight over her face. Another secession of shrills from the phone convinced her to crawl out of bed. She did and almost pulled the chord from the phone jack, then relented and picked up the receiver.
“Hmmm?” she mumbled.
“Get showered, get coffee, get dressed, and get over here!” the chirpy voice of Marma Lade, her new agent, ordered excitedly.
“Get real,” Reena returned, but didn’t hang up, she listened instead to Marma’s laughter.
In the same set of mind, Marma jokingly continued. “Get a move on!” She was always like this in the morning. She’d known Marma since she had signed on with Leo Vernes because she was his assistant. Reena knew that she wouldn’t have the same problems with Marma.
Katareena sighed and sat down. She weaved her fingers through the chord’s loops and closed her eyes. “Okay, what’s this about. If it’s not good, you’re fired.”
Marma laughed again. “Oh, it’s good. Wanna meet Commander Jun?”
Katareena sat up, her eyelids snapping open. “Why?” she asked in a level, bored tone.
“Big party tomorrow night; everyone’s going: the mayor, Deputy Mayor Briggs, Commander Feral, Commander Jun – you know, everybody. If we’re gonna get you a new dress you have to come on NOW!” ____________s_____________w_____________a_____________t____________
After a few hours of the Charity Ball, Katareena was just as bored as she always was with the things. She was yawning in the first hour. The only thing that kept her from leaving was the promise that she was going to meet Commander Jun. It was always wise to check out a potential opponent.
She was dangerously close to yawning in someone’s face when Commander Jun entered the ballroom. The older she-kat was wearing a dignified grey dress. Somehow, without ruining the effect of the outfit, Commander Jun had managed to make it look like an Enforcer’s dress uniform.
Katareena watched as unobtrusively as possible as the she-kat made her rounds. By the time she reached her, Reena was very close to showing impatience.
Deputy Mayor Briggs was by the commander’s side. “This is Katareena Perkins, Katareena, Commander Jun.” Commander Jun offered a warm smile and a paw. Katareena took it and the two smiled at each other.
They had just begun the small chit-chat such as: ‘when is your next movie’ and ‘are you enjoying your stay’ when Commander Jun turned her attention to the rest of the room. “The waiter and the cocktail waitress….something’s fishy about them…”
Katareena looked, a memory stirring but not quite arriving in her consciousness. “Yes…” The short kat and the tall she-kat moved with slight jerky movements, like robots. “Oh crud!” she exclaimed before the two ripped off the masks, brought out their weapons and released a barrage of artillery fire into the recently re-molded ceiling.
“All right yews, the Metalikats are crashing yer party!” Mac Mange declared. ____________s___________w___________a____________t__________________
Commander Jun and Katareena pressed themselves to the wall and gave each other side-long glances before slipping into the plastic foliage. As Reena made her way through, she tried not to make the branches move. The Metalikat’s motto seemed to be “shoot first, ask questions later”.
From her new vantage point, Katareena saw the Metalikats strip out of their disguises and leaving their metal bodies unclothed. Deputy Mayor Callie Briggs was behind a cloth-draped table on the com-link she had used that night on the bridge not too long ago. ‘This ought to be interesting…’ she thought before the harsh voice of Molly Mange drew her attention.
“You! You in the bushes, come out!”
She didn’t move. If they could see Commander Jun and not her, she might blow the only chance she had of getting out to get help.
“I SAID, get out now! C’mon movie star, we ain’t go all day!”
Katareena sighed and pushed her way though the plastic jungle, cursing every cent of the cost of the bright red dress. She stepped up to Molly, looking in the glowing red eyes of the ‘she-kat’.
“What do you want, Metalikats?” Commander Feral’s deep voice boomed across the length of the huge banquet hall.
Mac looked up at his wife. “Good question, Molly. What DO we want?”
“Deputy Mayor Briggs, Mayor Manx, a million dollars, and a helicopter, stupid!” Molly made as if to knock her husband over the head with the gun that was attached to her arm.
Mac looked over at Commander Feral and said, “Yeah, that’s what we want!”
As much as Katareena would have liked her to, Molly Mange hadn’t forgotten about her. “Hey, actress, c’mere.”
Reena did as she was told. There was no way she could see out of it. Molly grabbed her wrist, the metal hands cold and hard. Molly lowered her shiny head to bring them face to face. “Guess what role you get ta play tonight?” she asked softly.
“Bait!” Molly yelled, then laughed. ________________s____________w___________a____________t_____________
An urgent buzzer sounded inside the confines of the TurboKat, making one annoying buzz after another. T-Bone pushed a button and spoke. “Yes, Miss Briggs?”
“The Metalikats have crashed the Charity Ball! They’re here for the mayor again…”
The SWAT Kats made the same sound in the back of their throats – both knowing the Metalikats didn’t come just for Mayor Manx, they had come for Callie too. “We’re on our way!” T-Bone declared. _____________s_____________w_____________a_____________t___________
Katareena seethed and thought that it was very, very uncomfortable being hung out the window on the sixty-ninth floor of a skyscraper. Worse, when she had tried one desperate kat-rate chop to Mac Mange’s shoulder, she had severely bruised her paw.
She was the one who saw the TurboKat first. Now she was not only mad – she was furious. Reena had hoped to be on equal footing with T-Bone the next time she saw him. She had absolutely no footing in this situation – literally or figuratively.
Under her breath, she muttered, “Ooohh…when I lay my paws on you again Metalikats….!” _____________s_____________w_____________a_____________t___________
“Uh…T-Bone?” Razor asked.
“Hmm?” He was busy watching a monitor and guiding the jet.
“Where?” He looked up and scanned the roof, then his eyes were drawn to a red spot hanging from the side of the building. He looked closer and was horrified to realize it was ‘his’ Reena, hanging like some sort of modern virgin sacrifice to the sun or the sky.
“So…how are we going to do this?” Razor asked. _____________s_____________w_____________a_____________t___________
Katareena watched as the TurboKat approached slowly, then zoomed up above her angle of vision. She sucked in her breath and went pale under her fur. Her paws clenched into fists as she began her mantra.
“Please don’t let them land on the roof! Oh….please don’t let them land on the roof! Please, please, PLEASE don’t let them la-”
An explosion from above shuddered though the building and made her swing precariously on the ropes. “Crud…” she whispered, tears spilling from her blue eyes and falling sixty-nine stories below. ___________s_____________w____________a_____________t_______________
T-Bone pulled the TurboKat up a few stories preparing to land on the roof. They hadn’t even gotten close to landing when a she-kat burst from the roof doors. She waved her arms and motioned for them not to land. Razor popped the glass canopy.
“What is it, Commander Jun?” Razor asked, recognizing her finally.
“Don’t land! It’s booby-trapped!” The older she-kat ran up close to the hovering TurboKat.
“A trap, eh? C’mon in,” T-Bone said, offering an arm to the commander. She took it in a grip that was surprisingly strong and pulled herself up to the cock-pit.
“Maybe if you set it off you could land,” she suggested.
“Worth a try,” Razor said. He held on to Commander Jun as they rose above the roof and dropped a bomb. The trap exploded with the bomb. When the smoke and flame had cleared, T-Bone brought the TurboKat close.
Razor jumped down and examined the roof, then motioned that it was safe to land. When all three kats were safe on the roof, Commander Jun gave them each a searching look before nodding once and walking to the roof doors.
“Follow me,” she advised over her shoulder. The SWAT Kats shrugged and did as they were told.
They snuck down the stairwell and into the hallway next to the open doors of the ballroom. Mac and Molly Mange were in the center of the room, laughing in triumph. Katareena and Callie clutched at each other by the open window, their faces pale and tear streaks on their cheeks. Commander Feral stood over them, his face impassive and proud. Mayor Manx and the other party-goers stood against a wall, shocked into silence.
“Crud. I’d forgotten those in the inside would take it that you were dead,” Commander Jun muttered, to herself more than to them. T-Bone and Razor started forward, but she stopped them. “Not yet. We’ve got to formulate a plan of attack first.”
T-Bone wore a pained expression, his face on Katareena and Callie. “A plan? What about ‘go in, take out the Metalikats, and comfort Miss Perkins and Miss Briggs?’”
Commander Jun gave a hard smile and spoke. “No. A real plan. What’s a weak spot they have?”
“We’ve shorted them out by putting sand in their systems…we’ve blown them up…”
The commander shook her head. “No, sand they would be prepared for and blowing them up isn’t an option. What else?”
“I’ve got it! The new super sticky and gritty polymer I was working on!” Razor exclaimed in a whisper. To Commander Jun he explained, “It’s as fluid as water, gritty as sand, and sticky as glue. If it doesn’t work, I don’t know what will!”
She smiled. “Okay. We have our weapon. Now how do we get it in their gears?”
T-Bone took the capsule from Razor, keeping his eyes fixed on the Metalikats. “Leave that to me,” he said grimly.
“And we are to….?” Commander Jun asked him crisply.
“Get everyone out.” _______________s__________w_____________a___________t_______________
Katareena didn’t know how long she was alone in her misery out there, but she counted the minutes that she and Callie Briggs had to console each other and the Metalikats gloated.
Five minutes of listening to the metal kats congratulate each other on ‘offing’ the SWAT Kats. Instead of keeping her eyes downcast as Callie was doing, Katareena defiantly stared at the husband and wife team, daring them to do the same thing they had done to the SWAT Kats to her.
Six minutes of the torture of knowing the kat she loved was gone forever. She dug her nails into her paws – she couldn’t use them against the Metalikats. Not yet. Not ever, unfortunately.
Seven minutes before the first ray of hope entered her soul. It came in the form of a shadow. ‘Commander Jun?’ she dimly thought.
Eight minutes before she saw Commander Jun and another shadow start dragging some of the hostages into the plastic jungle that lined the walls. She lowered her eyes.
Nine minutes before she saw Callie’s head jerk up, Commander Feral’s mouth set into a hard line, and the Metalikats finally stop their laughing. She raised her blue eyes slowly…hope is not something you destroy quickly.
Ten minutes before T-Bone strode into the ballroom and threw tiny capsules at the Metalikats. The capsules hit the two and shattered, throwing small bits of what looked like sand all around. The Metalikats started frantically swatting at themselves, trying to get it off them. Molly raised her head and stared directly at T-Bone.
She opened her mouth
and ground out, “Sand? It’s only sand? Well that don’t work no mor-”
The red lights that made up her eyes blinked out the same time her husband’s did. Their heavy metal heads drooped forward to rest on their chests. Their arms fell to their sides.
Twelve minutes from the time she was dragged back inside to the time T-Bone rushed to her and pulled her into his strong arms. ______________s_____________w_____________a____________t____________
Reena allowed herself to rest her head on his shoulder for a second before pushing him away. “Don’t ever do that to me again!”
“I thought you were dead! Do you know how that made me feel?” She didn’t wait for his answer, she threw herself into his arms. “Do you *know* how that hurt?” she whispered, tears closing her throat.
T-Bone stroked her hair softly, pulling his arms tighter. “Yeah, I know exactly how that feels…” _____________s_____________w_____________a_____________t___________
Commander Jun watched the two hold each other silently. It was better than a week’s worth of her soaps. Razor joined her by her side only to be similarly ‘attacked’ by the deputy mayor. _____________s_____________w_____________a_____________t___________
Razor’s eyes grew huge as Callie hugged him hard. She stepped back with a watery smile.
“We’d thought we lost you back there…” she said hoarsely.
Razor paused a little before deciding joking was the best way to handle the situation. “Aw, shucks, Miss Briggs, you know us, can’t keep away from a party…” _____________s_____________w_____________a_____________t___________
Commander Jun saw trouble with a capital ‘T’ coming towards them. She neatly intercepted it by walking to meet Commander Feral.
“Commander,” she greeted him with equal tones of procedure and censure.
His black eyes left the scene of Razor and Deputy Mayor Briggs talking quietly, obviously secretly in love, and dropped them to her face. It wasn’t a far drop, for all he was tall, she nearly matched him. “Commander Jun.”
“I believe the SWAT Kats handled the situation nicely,” she remarked in official tones as she walked away from the SWAT Kats.
“Nicely? What if they had messed up? The deputy mayor, Miss Perkins, and the mayor plus all the other hostages would have-”
“And what if bread were buttered on the other side? Does it matter? What matters is they handled it right this time. They’ve always handled it right, if my sources are correct.”
It was a subtle warning that she supported the SWAT Kats, one that didn’t go unnoticed by Feral. He stood stock still, forcing her to stop also. She lifted her chin a little as she stared back at him, black eyes meeting black eyes in a silent battle. Finally, he nodded once and left the ballroom. She watched him leave, knowing she had made the right choice, even if it forced them even further apart…more apart than their fight twenty years before had made them. ______________s____________w____________a_______________t___________
>I write this as I ride in the limousine provided by the city. It is taking me to Enforcer HQ, again. Ulysses is as stubborn as always. It’s not a bad thing…really. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. I sigh and one of the city’s aides looks at me. I have to smile and act as if my heart isn’t breaking with each inch the car moves. I’m representing MY city and MY Enforcer style. That’s what I have to keep telling myself also. It’s hard…<
Commander Jun stopped typing into her lap top as they reached Megakat City’s Enforcer Headquarter’s parking garage. That was how she wanted it. She would not be part of the media circus every morning as she arrived.
When she was escorted to Commander Feral’s office she was greeted by the sound of Feral yelling at his niece, again. Ama had to hand it to Lt. Feral, she didn’t even flinch. Neither had she, of course, but it was even harder when you grow up respecting someone and then not flinch when their wrath was directed towards you.
Ama walked in without even knocking and dropped her purse heavily upon his desk. Both Ferals looked up at her in surprise. She smiled her usual hard smile. One she had perfected over the years. It drove Ulysess nuts.
“Good morning, you two.”
Lt. Feral grinned a welcome to her only because her uncle was too busy scowling at Ama to even remember her. “Good morning, Commander Jun. Good-bye Uncle.” The young she-kat rose from her seat and left the office.
Commander Feral couldn’t make his mind up whether to yell after his niece or continue giving Commander Jun the evil eye. He decided on option two since Lt. Feral was long gone by then. “Good morning, Commander Jun,” he mumbled grumpily.
A passing aide ducked his head into the room and warned that there was going to be a lot of noise that morning and would they like the door closed? Commander Jun accepted and the door was shut. She turned her slanted eyes upon the other commander and smiled.
“Off the record, Commander…how are things?”
Ulysess seemed surprised by the question and sat. She didn’t know why he would be. It had been two weeks since she had arrived and she hadn’t asked him the question yet; they hadn’t talked in almost a decade.
“Uh…the SWAT Kats made their appearance, Felina was made lieutenant, and she divorced me.” _______________s______________w____________a_____________t__________
Ama Lee lost all semblance of cool elegance and sat up. “What?” He didn’t need to say who ‘she’ was. He knew she knew who it was.
Ulysess seemed to want to take back his words, but must have seen her determination to have the truth on her face. “We’re divorced now. It’s been…awhile.”
She was shocked to say the least. It had seemed like the perfect match – even breaking up an engagement so they could be together. Ama Lee leaned back in the chair. “So…that’s the way of it.”
Ulysess nodded once, sharply. “Now for business-”
Ama Lee sat up quickly and held up one paw. “Oh, no you don’t! Not this time! Not again!” Anger colored her face and Ulysess actually looked sorry for trying to change the subject. “Not again,” she repeated, softly. He opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by the door being flung open by a white-faced young officer. The young kat snapped a salute to them, which they returned automatically. “What is it, private?”
“Delta force B, sir. A system malfunction in the test jets dropped four of the ten.”
“Survivors?” she asked tightly as she rose and grabbed her purse.
“None so far, ma’am.”
“Bring a vehicle around for us, dismissed,” Commander Feral ordered. The young kat left hurriedly.
“It’s not over, Ulysess. We’ll talk again soon.” She turned on one heel and left the room, forcing him to follow. _____________s_____________w_____________a_____________t___________
In all, six of the Delta B squadron were killed. Commander Jun felt like it was some type of omen. It must have been, for the rest of the week, she could not corner Ulysess for their talk.
He claimed it was because of official press releases and arrangements for an official Enforcer multiple funeral, but she knew that even he couldn’t make himself that busy. Ulysess was the master at using work to delay thinking about something. Ama supposed it was just as well. She didn’t think she could survive another round of heartbreak caused by Ulysess. Once was enough. ____________s______________w___________a______________t_____________
Ama Lee knew she didn’t have to attend the multiple funeral, but as a fellow Enforcer, she wanted to. She saw others there that were not Enforcers. Kats who it didn’t make sense for them to be there…like Katareena Perkins.
The young actress was pretty good with her disguise, but not good enough. An almost opaque veil hung over her eyes and nose; her blood red lips startling on her honey-gold face. She had dressed to be noticed, but not to be recognized. Ama Lee wondered why.
Commander Jun’s sharp eyes sought out the crowd again, her eyes alighting upon two young kats. They weren’t wearing uniforms, but she could tell the kats had at least been Enforcers – they had the stance of Enforcer pilots. The two stood apart from the other mourners – just like Katareena.
Again her eyes searched, waiting to rest on someone who looked out of place at the funeral. But, as she ranged the gathered kats, she found none that caught her attention. Deciding that it would be more prudent to figure out why the three she had spied before were here, she flicked her slanted eyes toward the section of the cemetery they had unconsciously grouped in.
Katareena was gone from her spot, but Ama Lee could see her moving carefully in her black heels over the bright green grass, passing the greying headstones to get to the paved drive. The actress was not acting as she pressed a handkerchief to her face, careful not to muss the fragile veil. Slowly, with her head down, Katareena made it to her red sports car and pulled quietly away from the funeral.
Ama Lee considered for a second, then looked towards the Enforcer-type kats. They, unlike the actress, where still there. Their heads were slightly bowed, their paws linked in front, and the ‘I’m a kat and can’t show any emotion’ look graced their earnest young faces. She moved closer, apparently not close enough to make them notice that she had moved.
Over the low drone of the funeral goers saying their last good-byes at the raised casket, Ama heard the taller kat whisper to his shorter and slimmer companion. “I wonder what happened *this* time…not the first, you know…”
The brown furred kat clenched his hands tightly for a second and nodded, just a fraction, but enough. “Yeah, Chance…sometimes I wonder if we had stayed what we could have learned.”
The one called Chance seemed confused, “But we knew everything when we left, Jake!”
“No, the conspiracies. We weren’t there long enough to know who was in what. You know as well as I do that deals went on…”
Chance let the subject drop with only a curt nod to let his friend know he understood. By a mute decision that came from being partners or friends for a long time, they moved forward to pay their last respects to the fallen Enforcers.
Ama Lee took a breath. ‘So…it is here too,’ she thought, the sensation of being sickened made her pale for a second. She closed her eyes and brought a paw to her lips. ‘It is here,’ she thought again, unconsciously echoing it verbally.
A heavy paw dropped to her shoulder and she turned her head and opened her eyes. Commander Feral looked down at her with a concerned look on his handsome face. “What’s here, Commander Jun?” he asked, almost formally in a low voice.
He backed away a half step, refusing to believe it, and maybe because she didn’t distance them with last names, she had used his first name. “In *my* station?” he asked, almost child-like in his confusion and dismay. Tourtured eyes met horrified ones as she nodded. “No,” he denied, “No!” he said stronger. He turned on his heel and left.
She watched him leave, lifting an arm, as if to call him back, but not even giving a half-hearted voice to it. Ama Lee kept her gaze down as she left the funeral. She climbed into her rental car, something she had insisted on for the funeral, and laid her head down on the steering wheel. She let the memories come and they came, marking their trail down her cheeks. _____________s_____________w_____________a_____________t___________
Katareena made it as far as her parking garage before she succumbed to the memories. She let out a sob and covered her face with her paws. _____________s_____________w_____________a_____________t___________
Chance and Jake stayed for the entire funeral, making sure the families and friends of the fallen Enforcers didn’t notice them. It wasn’t that they were afraid they wouldn’t fit anymore, it was because they didn’t want to find out if they did or not.
Out of the corner of his eye, Jake realized that a she-kat was watching them, but he didn’t give it much notice. It wasn’t the sort of noticing that seemed threatening. Then she moved closer and he shrugged it off again, continuing with his discussion with Chance. He and Chance were speaking low enough that he didn’t think the she-kat could hear them even if she were listening.
His anger at the deals and conspiracies made him almost forget the she-kat – almost. Jake and Chance moved forward at the same time when the main group of mourners had already said their final good-byes. As he stopped by each of the six caskets, he promised them, all of them, some type of vengeance. The two multi-jet crashes in five years was not something that reeked of coincidence. Expecially since they were of the same squadron name, number of jets, and Enforcer base. ______________s______________w___________a____________t_____________
Ama Lee took great gasps of air as she forced herself to calm down. It wasn’t really something to get so upset over…not really. But, then again, corruption in her own Enforcer station was what nearly ruined her.
**** She had met Ulysess all the way back in grade school. Ama Lee was barely a kitten when she decided she was in love with him and made an almost unheard of move by asking him to the Junior prom. He had agreed, almost seeming grateful that she had asked.
They made it half-way through college as a couple, even becoming engaged. Life was supposed to be so great, then *she* had come into the picture, making a triangle out of the relationship.
Ulysess was a very stubborn kat, and he was also very, very dedicated to his promises. He would have never dreamed of breaking the engagement to be with…*her*…but Ama Lee had seen the love in their eyes. She didn’t want to practically force Ulysess to marry her, then have them lose everything they used to have because he was still saving part of himself for…*her*. So she egged him into breaking the engagement. She couldn’t bring herself to do it herself. Ulysess had become enraged by her supposed affairs with other students and the rest was history.
It was just two months later that Ama Lee had gone home to her mother’s house, locking herself in her room and crying her eyes out. You just couldn’t sit in your dorm as calm and collected as she was styling herself as on your ex-fiancee’s wedding day. Ulysess had come during that weekend, without his new bride, to talk to her. By then she had already hardened herself to her own feelings, she would NOT be influenced by them again if she could help it. It was then that Ulysess got the first glimpse of her hard smile.
With something akin to fondness, Ama Lee re-lived the memory of when Ulysess had been so furious with her cool answers and hard smile, he had taken her by the shoulders and shaken her. She couldn’t bring herself to be in the slightest way annoyed with him – and how could you when someone gave you your first taste of your own power?
She had finished college and moved far away from her home ties, that included Megakat City. Nothing to remind her of her previous life. There, in that new city so far away, the Enforcer station was starting a pilot program – for she-kats to join. Remembering Ulysess’s last letter about joining the Enforcers at Megakat City, she leapt at the chance. She had to have *some* type of connection to her first love. Her only love.
Ama Lee had surprised everyone by moving though the ranks twice as fast as everyone else in the station. She was so good at her job, she must have scared some of the ‘old thinkers’. Rumors started about her sleeping with her instructors and superiors. That was their mistake, of course, bringing other kats into their little war with her. Those who had been linked with her joined her side and helped her investigate.
It was almost too late, however. One of the ‘old thinkers’ decided that the ‘new thinkers’ were getting too close to uncovering them and sabotaged her jet. Unfortuantly, the next time her jet was used, it wasn’t by her, it was by someone else. Ama Lee could never bring herself to get the name of the unfortunate kat or even how exactly he died, but she understood that it was a terrible way to go.
The kats who did the sabotage were soon after caught and severely punished, but the memories never left Ama Lee. Sometimes she woke up in a sweat, shivering from the terror of dreaming of the possible ways the kat could have died. ***
Ama Lee took another long, slow breath and let it out just as slowly. Then, by that instinct everyone used, she looked up to chase away the tears. “Damn him. Damn him and those old foggies from the city!” She punched the steering wheel hard enough to make the car shake in protest. ______________s_____________w____________a_______________t__________
Savagely, Katareena brushed away the tears and climbed out of the car. Then she walked slowly across the cement floor of the parking garage to the elevator. She was in no mood to fight gravity in her high heels.
As the elevator doors closed in front of her, temporarily trapping her inside, she got a flash back of the day she had ridden a different elevator.
**** It had been five years ago, almost to the day. Her two brothers Allie and Morris had been killed in what Megakat’s Enforcer Headquarters had labled an accident. She was still smarting from the rejection she had gotten the last time she had any direct involvement with the Enforcers, so the news that her brothers were dead because of an accident during a ‘regular Enforcer training run’ didn’t exactly land on a welcomed spot.
Katareena had stormed into the Headquarters looking to crack some heads together, preferably anyone who had made her brothers go on the training mission. She had stepped directly from the elevator into the arms of Mark ‘Salem’ Nealson, friend and partner to her oldest brother, Allie.
She’d had a crush on Salem since she’d met him. Katareena had suspected he knew for some time and was counting on him doing something about it when it was legally an option to do so. She was too young then.
Salem had taken her by the shoulders and pushed her back inside the elevator, joining her just before the doors had closed. “I know what you came for, Taree, but you’re not going to get it.”
She had shoved his hands from off her shoulders and glared at him. “I hate being called Taree and who are you to stop me from doing what I want?” Katareena had canceled an acting class to do this and no one, not even the kat she’d had a crush on since Allie had brought him home for the first weekend off of his Enforcer training was going to stop her.
He had looked down at her and smiled. Instead of melting her heart and her resolve, it had only maddened her to the point where fire nearly leapt from her eyes. “No one’s going to listen to you. Let me do the work.”
The elevator doors slid open and he lead her outside of the Enforcer headquarters. Katareena knew he was right, so she let him. When he patted her on the shoulder as a comforting good-bye, she had swung her fist at him and broken his nose. “That’s for being such a jerk,” she had said calmly, and walked away. ****
She had never seen him again. And she would never again. Mark ‘Salem’ Nealson died in the six jet crash. Katareena bit back another sob as the elevator doors opened again. Katareena bit back a scream of terror and forced back the feeling of de’ja’vu as she let her fist swing forward to connect with Salem’s jaw. ______________s_____________w____________a_____________t____________
“Ow! Do you do this with every kat you meet, or am I special?” Salem asked as he stepped back, rubbing his jaw.
“You’re dead,” she informed him, backing into the elevator.
He grinned. “Yeah, I know, isn’t it great? Your right punch has gotten more force behind it, by the way.”
Katareena’s mouth dropped open as she met the solid resistance of the back of the elevator. “No, you don’t understand…you’re DEAD!” She searched frantically for the down button, or any button that would shut the doors, her eyes never leaving his face.
Salem stepped inside the elevator with her, pushing the up button that she had had so much trouble finding. “Shhhh, Taree. Not so loud!” The elevator lurched up and Katareena grabbed frantically for the rails.
“You’re not dead…but..!” The discovery of Salem still being alive with the added bonus of re-living the week of her brothers’ deaths brought confused and angry tears to her blue eyes.
“You just went to my funeral. Yeah, I know, I was there. You look stunning in a black veil by the way.”
She closed her eyes and laid her head against the cool metal of the elevator wall. “Don’t laugh at me, Salem.” Katareena felt the air pressure grow and the temperature spike up as Salem moved closer.
‘He’s as silent as a shadow!’ she thought dimly, extremely conscious of his arm raising and pausing, as if he were weighing the pros and cons of touching her. ‘Touch me,’ she begged silently, then recoiled. Katareena opened her eyes and shifted away. ‘T-Bone!’ she almost cried in torn pain.
The expression in his eyes had changed into something not quite regret, but as alike it as two peas in a pod. She allowed herself a quick inventory of her brother’s friend.
Salem hadn’t changed much over five years. His body was still built like a gymnast and his eyes were still that green-grey and his dark grey fur still had the darker patches on the tips of his ears. But though his eyes she could see that everything had changed. He looked haunted.
“What happened then, Salem?”
A curtain descended over his eyes, hiding the look he had been giving her with one of bright green sparks twinkling with laughter. “I’m a ghost, Taree.”
“Damnit, Salem! Be serious!” Katareena made fists of her paws and raised one threateningly.
He laughed and rocked back, bringing his arms up in the universal, ‘I-give-up-don’t-hurt-me’ pose. “As far as everyone in the city is concerned, I am. I’m dead. Gone. Six-feet under and pushing up daises after I kicked the bucket and bought the farm!”
Katareena gave him one frustrated punch in the shoulder. “Ow!” He looked down at it balefully, then looked back up at her. “You keep up with this and I won’t have one un-bruised part of my body left – then everybody would think I really *did* rise from the dead!”
“Salem, I’m warning you!”
His eyes became all-serious then. “I’m in charge of investigating corruption in the station. Have been since that day you broke my nose.” He paused to grin at the memory. “The look on T- er…*his* face when I showed up with the broken nose!” The look on his face told her not to wonder exactly whose face wore that look, but she could just imagine. _______________s____________w____________a_____________t____________
The elevator stopped and he took her arm and pulled her from the enclosure. The whole roof was covered with big pieces of gravel. Katareena considered for a moment too long whether or not it would be worse following Salem on heels or bare-foot. He looked back at her and recognized her dilemma, then he wrapped an arm around her waist and started walking. She held herself very still and put her arms around him to keep her balance.
She waited until he had put her down before she raised an arm to threaten to hit him again. “I’m not helpless, you know!” she hissed, not sure if she were pleased by the attention or upset that he didn’t give her a choice.
“Oh no, Taree…you’re far from helpless.”
Katareena paused for a second and lowered her raised fist. “You’ve changed, Salem.”
“What? Am I more handsome? Debonaire? Smarter?” he asked with a grin.
She decided that he was all these things, but didn’t want to say it, so she ignored it. With cautious steps, she slinked over to the ledge and took a look at it. It looked solid and wide enough that she wouldn’t lose her balance easily, so she gingerly sat. “Okay…so that day you were assigned to look into corruption…and?”
Salem fell again into his business mode. “I’ve uncovered petty things: taking a company car out on a date, using seized katnip money to place bets – things like that. What I’m trying to get to are the kats who killed your brothers and all the other Enforcers. An informant said that the squadron was going down soon, and wouldn’t mind taking me with them, so I signed up for the practice run. Only, when my plane crashed, I wasn’t in it. But some of the pilots and/or co-pilots of jets we *didn’t* expect to go down did. I suspect they knew we knew which ones we were planning on hitting – the ones with computers controlling them. My jet was taken down by mistake, one of the ‘innocent’ planes crashed into it on the way down. I’m ‘dead’ until I can figure out who exactly is behind it.”
Katareena absorbed it all, processed it, then started asking questions. “Okay. I believe all this…but why tell me?”
“Because I need you, Taree.”
“Why?” she asked suspiciously.
“You have connections. The SWAT Kats, Commander Jun, Commander Feral, Deputy Mayor Briggs, and Mayor Manx.”
She smiled slightly. “Sure, Salem. ‘Oh Mr. Mayor, who exactly downed the Enforcer jets? Would you hold on while I get something to write with?’”
Salem grinned. “When you ask something like that, you *always* have a pen handy! But, seriously, if I feed you questions, you can subtly get the information we need. You’re an actress. And if it comes right down to it, you could protect yourself.”
Katareena tossed her head rebelliously. “What makes you think all that action-movie stuff is real? I *am* an actress, you know.”
Salem pointed to his jaw. “Because I’ve felt your right punch.”
“Okay, Salem. Whenever you need me, but not tonight. Tonight I’m going to sleep!” She started to slowly make her way across the graveled roof, leaving Salem to fend for himself.
Next Book: Spying
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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.