Author’s Notes, Disclaimer, and Other Pointless Babbles:
You know the drill: I don’t own ’em, I just play with ’em. Maggie Blackclaw is mine. Matthew Blackclaw is mine. Hurricane Squadron is mine. M.K.D.S. is mine. Pretty much anything else that you don’t recognize is mine. Anything you do recognize is someone else’s, or else you’re having de ja vu (all over again). I use the characters of SWAT KATS only for harmless fanfiction purposes, and I have yet to find a way to become obscenely rich by doing so — so don’t bother suing me.
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Read and review or you shall be set upon by Spot, the ruthless attack pool ball! You have been warned!!! ;-D
CHAPTER ONE ********************************************************************************
“Look, Maggie, I’m sorry about this.”
“I’ll bet you are, Max.”
Max Windham threw his paws in the air. “What am I supposed to do, huh? Your attitude’s wrecking my business, Maggie, and I can’t just let it slide. I gotta make a living.” His shoulders slumped. “Crud, Maggie, you punched out a customer.”
“He had it coming.” Maggie said, narrowing inscrutable green eyes. “Nobody talks like that to me.”
“Well, I’m sorry if he bruised your pride.” Max said sarcastically. “But you broke the kat’s nose. He’s agreed not to sue me — but I’m afraid you’ve got to go.”
“No problem.” Maggie snapped. “I was getting tired of this grease pit anyway.”
“Hey, look, Maggie. . . .” He frowned. “You’re the best mechanic I’ve had in years. I’m sorry. . . .”
“Yeah, I know.” She sighed. “No hard feelings, Max.”
“Thanks, Maggie. Look, I’ve got a cousin downtown, he needs a clerk. I could put in the good word for ya. . . .”
“No thanks, Max. I’ll be leaving town, soon as I fix the bike.” She sighed. “Six months is a long time for me to stay in one place. The road’s calling again.”
Max held out his paw. “Best of luck, Maggie.”
“Yeah,” she said over her shoulder as she turned away, “Thanks.”
Maggie Blackclaw pushed thick black bangs out of her eyes and squinted against the harsh desert sun. Ten jobs, in eight towns, in four years. And that didn’t include all of the one or two-night singing engagements she’d taken while on the road, swapping her vocal talents for enough cash to keep her moving.
*Why can’t you stay still? * The wind whispered sinuously. *What are you running from? *
*A bitter past and a hopeless future. * She thought cynically, finishing the repairs on her road bike. *A dead squadron and a misplaced blame, and a family name that I stained with shame. * She grinned half-heartedly. With a little work, that could be a verse in one of her songs. She hummed an experimental tune and stood up. The hot desert wind blew through her thick black hair and kicked up dust devils to match her sand-colored fur. Slinging the last of her packs onto the bike, she tightened a strap and pulled on her helmet and gloves. “Well?” She asked the wind, “Where to now?”
As if in answer, the wind flung a tattered newspaper into her face with a *thwack*. She peeled it off her face and squinted through her helmet’s visor. MEGAKAT CITY TIMES, the paper read. Maggie chuckled.
“Home again, home again, huh? Well, far be it from me to ignore a sign. Besides, I haven’t seen uncle Matt in far too long.” Tossing the paper over her shoulder, she mounted up and started her bike. Heading for the highway without a second glance, Maggie never caught the paper’s headline: VIPER STRIKES AGAIN. SWAT KATS SAVE MKC FROM CERTAIN DOOM.
Megakat City hadn’t changed much in the two years since Maggie had been there. She stopped at a small diner on the outskirts for some coffee and some information. The aging, motherly she-kat behind the counter was more than happy to tell her what she could — yes, the job market was good, if you were willing to get your paws dirty; no, the housing wasn’t so good, rent was high and apartments were few and far between; my, wasn’t the weather warm, and had Maggie heard about that terrible Doctor Viper and his awful mutations?
“Oh, it was lucky for us that those Swat Kats were here!” The she-kat clucked. “We all would be in such trouble if it wasn’t for those two. I don’t care what the Enforcer chap says, they’re heroes, pure and simple heroes. That’s my opinion. More coffee, dear?”
Maggie listened with interest to everything but the weather chat, and decided two things. First of all, she wanted to know more about these Swat Kats. She’d heard stories, of course, but with the kind of company she kept it was hard to know what was true and what was hearsay. Second of all, she would worry about a job and a place to stay after she saw her uncle Matthew.
She took the old familiar streets that led to one of the poorer sections of town — not the worst neighborhood in MKC, and certainly not one of the most crime-ridden, but still not the best the city had to offer. She stopped the bike in front of a tall old brownstone with a wheelchair lift in the front. Two kittens, a boy and a smaller girl, sat in front. The watched with wide eyes as she dismounted and pulled her helmet off. She smiled at the bigger of the two.
“Howdy. Does Matthew Blackclaw still live in this building?”
“Yeah. First floor.”
The girl kitten smiled trustfully and cuddled her doll. “He’s nice. He tells us stories. Shyler likes him.” She held up the doll, indicating that it was Shyler.
“That’s good.” Maggie crouched so that she was on the same level as the kittens. “What’s your name?”
“We’re not supposed to talk to strange kats.” The boy interrupted gruffly.
“That’s true.” Maggie agreed. “Tell you what — I’m Maggie and I’m twenty-six years old and that,” She pointed, “Is my bike, and I’m Matthew’s niece. Am I still a stranger?”
“Maybe.” The boy twitched his tail. “That’s your bike?”
“Yep. And I have a very important job for someone. I need someone to watch my bike for me, but he — or she — has to be very brave and very tough. I’ll probably need two people to watch it, since it’s a big bike. Do you know any tough kats I could find to do that for me?”
“We could, Marcus.” The girl said. “Couldn’t we? We’re brave.”
“Yeah.” The boy agreed. “I think we could watch it for you, Maggie. Me and Eppie. Eppie’s my sister.” He confided.
“Great!” Maggie exclaimed. “You two look like the kind of rough characters I need to watch my bike. I bet Doctor Viper himself wouldn’t mess with you!”
“That’s right!” The boy’s chest swelled with kittenish pride. “I’m going to be a Swat Kat someday.”
“Are you?” Maggie grinned. *When I was his age, we were going to be Enforcers someday. * “Well, I feel much better knowing that a future Swat Kat is on guard.” She gave him a modified Enforcer salute, which he returned, and sprinted up the steps to the front door.
*** Maggie smiled as she stood at the door of 1-a. Uncle Matthew had lived in the same apartment building since she was a kitten; the sight of the familiar corridor brought back memories, from her fifth birthday, to the day she had graduated from the Enforcers Flight Academy, to the fateful days after the court-martial. . . .
*NO! * She shook her head stubbornly. *I’m not going to think about that today. * She knocked.
From inside, a familiar voice called, “Coming! Please hold on!” There was a scraping as the apartment’s inhabitant reached the door. “Who is it?”
“FastKat delivery service.” Maggie called, trying to disguise her voice.
There was silence on the other side of the door. “Maggie? Is that you?” Her uncle’s deep, hearty laugh echoed as the chain bolt slid back.
Matthew Blackclaw wheeled backwards as he opened the door. “Behold, behold! The prodigal kitten returns at last!”
Maggie laughed, too. “I could never fool you with that voice thing, could I?”
“Of course not! I taught it to you!” He maneuvered himself out of the doorway. “Come in, ketsele, come in! You’ve been away too long!”
Matthew Blackclaw was a thin, wiry kat with charcoal grey fur and laughing blue eyes. Confined to a wheelchair due to a bout with polio in early kittenhood, he was her father’s older brother — and the only family that Maggie had left. Maggie watched him as he escorted her into the familiar living room. His fur was going white around his eyes and on the tips of his ears, and the goatee which had always been his distinguishing feature had turned white as well. Otherwise, he looked exactly as he had when she was a kitten.
“Sit, sit!” He commanded, waving a paw at an armchair. “Would you like coffee?” Without waiting for an answer, he hurried into the kitchen. “So,” He called, “What brings my prodigal home again?”
She answered. ” I decided to follow the road, remember? Well, all roads lead to MKC, I guess.”
“Ah.” Her uncle wheeled back into the living room, balancing a tray and two cups of coffee. “And are you here to stay?”
She accepted the coffee and shook her head sheepishly. “No . . . yes. I don’t know. I still have a lot of things to deal with. A lot of bad memories, most of them connected with this town.”
Her uncle’s eyes narrowed sympathetically. “After all these years? Do you still have nightmares, ketsele?”
“Sometimes. Once in a while.” Maggie rubbed the back of her neck. “It’s getting better.”
“Four years is a long time, Maggie, to carry that kind of guilt.” He said.
“It’s not guilt!” She protested. “. . . .” She sighed. “It’s just — I don’t know. It’s hard to forget that kind of thing, you know?”
“Let it go, Maggie.” He said gently. “You carried no fault. The blame for their deaths lies with others — not with you.”
“I know.” She took a drink of the coffee. “What burns me is that those hotshots at M.K.D.S. got away with it.”
“Life isn’t fair. It’s just fairer than death, that’s all.” Matthew smiled. “What about a job?”
“I just got into town. The she-kat at the Koffee Kat said it wouldn’t be too hard for me to find a job.”
Matthew chuckled. “The she-kat at the Koffee Kat is sorely mistaken. There’s no call for scientists, except at Pumadyne. Auto mechanic, cashier, musician — unskilled work, that’s the only kind of job you’ll be finding.”
“That’s the only kind of job I’ll be looking for, uncle Matthew.” She held up her paw against her uncle’s protest. “I don’t want anything to do with Pumadyne, or anyplace like it. ”
Matthew sighed and shook his head. “You’re not the kind of person who should be living as an unskilled worker, Maggie. You’re brilliant, we both know that. You could be a scientist, a designer of great things.”
“I was a designer of great things, Uncle Matt, and it didn’t bring me any happiness. All it brought me was death.” She shrugged and grinned. “Besides, auto mechanics is not unskilled work. I’d like to see *you* fine-tune the engine on a ‘72 Nova.”
Matthew laughed. “Like I told you when you left, ketsele, whatever brings you joy.”
“Right.” Anxious to change the subject, she asked, “So, what about these Swat Kats everyone’s talking about?”
“You haven’t heard of them?” Her uncle looked flabbergasted.
“Uncle, one thing I’ve learned from life on the road is that you take everything you hear with a heaping helping of salt.” She laughed. “Some kats I’ve talked to claim the Swat Kats can turn invisible. Others swear that their jet can fly faster than light. And speculations on their identities? If I had a dollar for every different theory, I could buy this building. News gets diluted, as far away as I’ve traveled. The only concrete facts I can pin down are that there’s two of them, they have a jet, they turned up about the same time I left last time, nobody knows who they are, and they get a kick out of bashing bad kats and tormenting Feral.”
“Well,” Her uncle said, “That covers the basics, but the details are even better. Let me tell you about the stories I know.”
“I know one thing.” Chance said, slamming down the hood of a car. “We can stick a fork in this hunk of junk, because it is *done*.”
Jake, flat on his back on a dolly, rolled out from under another vehicle. His fur was streaked with grease. “Are you sure?”
“Oh yes.” Chance kicked the car’s tire in frustration. “Divine Intervention couldn’t get this thing moving again. There’s a crack in the engine block this wide.” He held his paws up about six inches apart.
“Aw, Chance.” Jake sighed, wiping his forehead on the back of his least-greasy forearm, “That means we’ll have to replace the whole engine.”
“Yeah, tell me about it. That’s on top of the six cars we’ve already got waiting for work, *and* the repairs we’ve gotta make on the Turbokat.” He shook his head. “I gotta tell you, buddy, we’re really getting backed up here.”
“Yeah, I know.” Jake pulled himself back under the Chevy. “But what are we —”
He was interrupted by the phone ringing. Chance grabbed it. “Jake and Chance’s Garage. Yes, Miss Briggs? . . . The carburetor *again*? . . . I don’t know, ma’am. We’re awfully backed up here . . . I guess we could take a look at it. It’ll probably have to wait until tomorrow . . . Okay.” He sighed. “Bring it in. We’ll see what we can do.” He hung up with a resigned sigh.
“Not again!” Jake’s voice rang from under the Chevy.
“Yes, again. The green monster needs carburetor work.” Chance sighed and popped the hood on a Buick. “She really, really needs a new car.”
“We could build her a new car with the parts we’ve put into that thing.” Jake said sarcastically. “And in case you haven’t noticed, we don’t really have time to look at Callie’s carburetor.”
“I know that and you know that.” Chance snapped. “What did you want me to tell her? ‘Sorry, but we’re just too busy’? Jake, she’s about the only person up top who doesn’t treat us like scum because we’re mechanics. And she’s the deputy mayor. And. . . .”
“Okay, okay, point taken.” Jake said calmly, still entrenched under the car. “But we’re never gonna have time to get the Turbokat fixed if this keeps up.”
Chance sighed. “Let’s put an announcement in the paper: ‘Viper, Metallikats, and other assorted bad guys, please back off until we can get our work caught up. Sincerely, Razor and T- Bone.’”
Jake rolled backwards with one quick motion. “Chance, you’re a genius.”
“Thanks, I know.” Chance stuck his head out from under the Buick’s hood. “What did I say now?”
“We’ll take out an ad!” Jake grinned, wiping his paws on a grease rag as he stood up.
“Whoa, whoa. Jake, I was *kidding*!” Chance exclaimed, holding up his paws. “I don’t think Viper reads the Times.”
“No, Chance, I mean a help-wanted ad.” Jake grabbed a notebook and a pen. “Wanted: one mechanic for immediate employment. Payment negotiable, living quarters available. Must have experience with all makes and models of cars and be willing. . . .”
“To work with the Swat Kats.” Chance finished. “Jake, you are *nuts*. Certifiably nuts. This will not work.”
“What do you mean?” Jake asked, looking up. “There’s two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs that we never use. With the housing market the way it is, anybody would take the job.”
“HELLO? Megakat City to Jake, are you with us?” Chance waved a paw in front of his partner’s face. “We’re the SWAT KATS, remember? We can’t just take out a want ad!”
Jake sighed. “Look, if we don’t get the Turbokat fixed there aren’t gonna be any Swat Kats around, anyway. It will not fly until I can replace those fused cables in the engine, and that’s not going to happen if we’re neck deep in busted cars.”
“Okay, you’ve got a point there. But how are we supposed to keep the hangar hidden from an employee, let alone someone who lives here? How are we supposed to explain it when the alarm goes off? ‘Oh, hang on, that’s our other phone’?”
“I can rig the alarm so it’ll be silent — they won’t hear it. And the hanger’s well-hidden — after all, we were the first ones to find it after Mega War III, right? That was what, fifty years ago?” Jake set the notebook down. “C’mon, Chance, you’re just jealous because I thought of it first.”
“Are too, times infinity!”
The sun shone bright and hot on the tarmac under their boots, reflecting off the planes before them in a brilliant silver shimmer. *Those* planes, finer and faster than anything else the Enforcers had, newly built and never battle-tested — until today. Being the first pilot to fly one of those planes was amazing, an honor, a thrill.
But they deserved it. After all, they were Hurricane Squadron, the best and brightest the Enforcers could offer. They were top guns, these six Majors: Scott Lewis, a gray-and-brown tabby with a chunk missing from one ear; Salena Fowler, a Siamese whose pretty exterior belied her tough-as-nails attitude; Felix DeLaHoya, who wore his black hair in a ponytail at the back of his neck; Tami Sherwood, Felix’s wife, a slim she-kat with ginger colored fur and short black hair; Thomas Meowland, a strong, well-built brown tomkat.
And Maggie Blackclaw, leader of Hurricane Squadron and co-designer of those planes. Well, co-co-designer; she had contributed the designs of the engines. But she had pored over the rest of the designs as well, for a pilot had to know every bolt of her plane.
Which was why she knew what was wrong — or, rather, that something was wrong, something important; she couldn’t quite remember what. *What does it matter? * She thought, watching her squadron and watching those planes. *It’ll probably come back to me when we land. *
Hurricane Squadron laughed and slapped paws before leaping into their cockpits. “All right!” Scott yelled, his love for a fight kicking in, “Let’s go kick some Canine tail!”
Because that was the reason those planes had been built; a border war with the neighboring country of Canis, a conflict that needed to be won in a swift show of force. Nobody needed to remember how the previous war had dragged on, with Enforcer troops warring for a decade against the Viet Kat. This war needed to be over quickly and cleanly, the land that had been taken regained. That was the reason that those planes roared into battle over the Megakat Desert, although they hadn’t been fully tested.
*The tests, the tests, it has something to do with the tests! * Maggie remembered. And then the bogies screamed in at ten o’clock high, and Maggie shouted orders to her squadron. “Use the Sideswipers, make this short and sweet!”
*The missiles the missiles the missiles, why can’t I remember? The missiles, the tests . . . *
And then Tom screamed. “The missiles won’t deploy! I’ve got nothing, all weapons systems are flatlining!” There was a brilliant flash of blinding white light as Tom and his plane ceased to be.
*The weapons systems aren’t fully tested! * Maggie remembered as she let out a scream of grief for her fallen comrade. “Hurricanes, pull out, we’ve got to get out of here!”
“I’m dead in the air!” Tami shouted frantically. “We couldn’t shoot spit wads, how do we get them off our. . . .” Her sentence ended in a scream as the enemy missiles found their mark.
“TAMI!!!” Felix screamed. “You’re gonna pay for that, you scumwads!” With that, Felix sent his plane spiraling into the enemy plane that had destroyed his wife. Both planes exploded in a shower of shrapnel.
“Felix, NO!” Maggie shouted, too late, and realization hit her like a fist. *That’s what it was, the weapons systems, and now I’m going to watch them die . . . *
And watch she did, helpless as Salena’s plane became a fireball, as a Canine missile tore the tail off of Scott’s plane and sent it spiraling to earth, where it burst into flames. . . .
All she could do was watch and scream as a missile detonated a foot from her wingtip, shrapnel shearing off the tip of her wing as her engine burst into flames, and with a heart that was sick with sadness she did what Scott, for some reason, had not done — she ejected, watching helplessly as the last of those planes plummeted to earth, watching and hearing the death screams of her squadron echo in her ears. . . .
She woke up screaming.
******************************************************************************** CHAPTER TWO ********************************************************************************
Maggie sat at the old, scarred wooden table in her Uncle Matthew’s kitchen, staring listlessly into a cup of lukewarm instant coffee. The digital clock by the sink read 3:19 am in glaring red letters. She had been awake for almost an hour now.
At least Uncle Matt had — miraculously — not been awakened by her screaming. The kindly old kat would have no doubt struggled into his wheelchair and rushed to see what was wrong — and company, right now, was the last thing Maggie wanted. The nightmare turned itself over and over again in her mind, every accusing detail gnawing at her heart.
*If only . . . * Maggie shook the thought away, but it persisted. The list of “if only’s” went on for miles. If only she had examined the weapons schematics more closely; if only the Enforcers had been in less of a hurry to get the new planes in the air; if only the defense contractor hadn’t been so quick to comply, sacrificing safety for shoddy designs and engineering.
If only someone had known the truth about MegaKat Defense Systems. As soon as they had received payment for the planes, the company had quickly and silently disbanded. Even as Hurricane Squadron had been taking off for their fateful battle, the owners and CEOs of M.K.D.S. had been making tracks for any nation with no extradition treaty, leaving the Enforcers with their finest squadron dead — and no one to blame.
As for Maggie . . . she shuddered. The battle had been over Canine-occupied territory, and she had ejected right into the enemy’s lap. What had followed was seven weeks in the paws of the Canine Intelligence Agency, weeks when she had never been sure the next day wouldn’t see her shot for espionage. Heaven only knew how many hours of CIA questioning it had taken before they decided she wasn’t a spy.
And then, as quickly as it had begun, the war had been over. Fearing the greater numbers of the enemy, Canis had called a cease-fire and negotiated a truce. Maggie, no longer a prisoner- of-war, had returned home, relieved to be out of the frying pan.
She had, of course, jumped right into the fire.
The top brass at Enforcers HQ had made a grievous mistake by hiring M.K.D.S., and they had been left with no one to blame but themselves. Under intense scrutiny from the public and the media, they had cast about anxiously for someone — anyone — that they could use as a scapegoat.
*And I was who they found. * Maggie thought wryly, taking a drink of the now-cold coffee. She traced an aimless design on the tabletop with one claw. *At least my father wasn’t there to see it. *
She looked up, regretfully, at the row of photographs on the kitchen counter. There was her father on his first day as an Enforcer, proudly saluting the camera, his face serious but his eyes laughing. Next to that was her mother and father together, leaning against the classic Katillac that had been Daddy’s pride and joy. Her mother’s paws rested protectively on an obviously-pregnant stomach; her father’s paws rested protectively on her mother and the car. The third photograph was of her father and Uncle Matt, younger and not as gray, seated together at the same table where Maggie now sat. The fourth was of the three of them — she, her father, and Uncle Matthew, taken on her fifth birthday. Maggie’s own bright eyes stared back at her from the photo, eyes the same shade of green as the eyes of the mother she had never known.
The last photograph was Maggie on the day she had graduated from the Flight Academy — seven long years ago. Her pose mimicked that of her father — a smile in her eyes and a proud salute. The only difference was the insignia affixed to her collar. While her father had worked his way up from a recruit, earning the rank of Brigadier General after years of service, Maggie had gone through the Flight Academy, emerging as a fully-commissioned officer — a Second Lieutenant. At nineteen, she had been one of the youngest she-kats ever to hold the rank.
“It wasn’t surprising, was it, Daddy?” Maggie asked the photo of her father. “You raised me to love the sky.” *And part of me, * she added silently, *Always will. *
Her intense love of the air and aircraft had been nurtured from an early age by her father, who was delighted that his daughter shared his passion. When she had decided to enter the Flight Academy at seventeen, a year earlier than was customary, he had supported her wholeheartedly. And no one had been prouder when she had finished the three-year program in two years — amidst whispers that her father’s ties to the top brass had earned her rapid promotions. Maggie had ignored them. There wasn’t any truth in the rumors, anyway — her father had not been that kind of kat.
What he had been was a loving, proud, and devoted father, one whose death had come as a shock to everyone who knew him — one whom Maggie still missed terribly. *But at least, * she thought sadly, *At least he never saw how badly I disgraced his name. * Maggie stood up, trying to avoid the knowing gleam in the eyes of her father. *I’m sorry, Dad. * She thought. *Maybe I just wasn’t cut out to be an Enforcer, after all. *
She dumped her ice-cold coffee in the sink and went to try and go back to sleep.
****** TWO DAYS LATER ******
“This is going to work for sure.” Jake tightened yet another bolt in the Dodge’s engine, then stepped back. “Okay, try it now.”
Chance nodded and turned the key in the ignition. The engine coughed, turned over, spluttered to life — and then promptly died.
“Crud!” Jake thumped the hood angrily.
“Take it easy, buddy.” Chance said calmly. “Let’s try one more thing.”
“I’ve been trying ‘one more thing’ for two hours.” Jake grumbled. ” What the heck is wrong with this hunk of junk? It was purring like a kitten last night.”
“Bad starter?” Chance suggested.
“Tried it.” Jake said. Then he yawned.
“Brand new.” He rubbed the back of his neck in puzzlement. “What the heck is wrong?” He repeated.
Chance looked down at the car’s dash, frowned, and tapped an indicator light with one claw. “Jake?”
“Did you check the battery?”
Jake’s eyes widened and he slapped his forehead. “Aw, crud! I must have left the lights on when I quit working on it last night!”
Chance rolled his eyes. “That’d do it, all right.” He shot a concerned look at his partner as he stepped out of the car. “Jake, how late were you up last night?”
“We – ell . . .” Jake broke the word into two hesitant syllables, then muttered something incoherent.
“What was that?” Chance crossed his arms and glared at Jake, who looked sheepish.
“I said,” Jake admitted, “Until three-thirty.”
“What!?” Chance scowled. “You were up at six-thirty this morning!”
“Yeah, tell me about it.” Jake said, staring at the car. “I could have sworn I turned the lights off.”
“Well, three hours shouldn’t have been enough to kill the battery.” Chance glared. “And three hours of sleep isn’t enough for you to be running on.”
“Well, I actually only worked on this until about ten o’clock — then I went down to work on the Turbokat. I remember I replaced that smashed headlight before I headed for the hangar . . . I must have left the lights on after I checked it.” Jake forced a smile. “I got the Turbokat working again, though.”
Chance ignored the change of subject. “So tell me something, hotshot,” Chance said, leaning back against the car, “What if Viper shows up today?”
“Huh?” Jake looked puzzled.
“Viper. You know, *Doctor* Viper? Short green kat with fangs and a tail? Or how about the Metallikats? What if they decide to drop in?”
Jake frowned. “I told you, I got the Turbokat working again. We can handle it if anything comes up.”
“Can we?” Chance’s tail twitched in exasperation. “What if you’re so tired you can’t see the weapons display?”
“C’mon, Chance, it was only last night.” Jake said. “Don’t worry about it.”
“I *am* gonna worry about it.” Chance said, “And do you know why?”
Jake sighed. “I don’t know, Chance. Why?”
“Because with you it’s never ‘only last night’ or ‘just this once’. Whenever you’ve got work to do, you obsess over it until it gets done.”
Jake crossed his arms. “I do *not* obsess.”
Chance stared at him without saying anything.
“Okay, maybe I obsess a little.” Another glare. “Or a lot.”
“That’s better.” Chance sighed. “Okay, the truth. How many nights have you been staying up late?”
“Um. . . .” Jake stared at his feet. “Three?”
Chance threw up his paws. “I give up. I live with a workaholic, and that’s just the way it is.”
“Aw, Chance, cut it out.” Jake would have said more, but the sentence was cut off by an enormous yawn.
“Okay, that’s it.” Chance left the garage and headed for the kitchen.
“That’s what?” Jake followed him into the smaller room, where he found his friend rooting through the drawers. “What are you looking for?”
“It’s over on the counter — by the phone.”
Chance stopped rooting and looked up. “Oh.” He crossed the room and grabbed the book. “Where’s that notepad you were using on Saturday?”
“In the top drawer.” Jake yawned again. “Would you please tell me what you’re doing?”
Chance thumbed through the phone book. “I’m calling the Times.”
“Um . . . mind if I ask why?”
“Because,” Chance said, dialing, “We’re going to place that want ad you wrote.”
“It’s not that I don’t love this apartment, Uncle Matt.” Maggie explained. The Megakat City Times littered the kitchen table between them. “But I can’t live here.”
“And why not?” He spread his paws. “You would not be imposing.”
“Are you mad?” Mrs. Dayport, Matthew’s next-door neighbor and part-time caregiver, spoke up. “Two Blackclaws in one house? You’d drive me straight to the bottle, that’s for sure.” The brisk, portly she-kat gave the dish she was holding an extra-vigorous scrub. “Besides, Matthew, she’s no longer a kitten. Her own place and her own life are what she needs, not you always nagging her.”
“Me?” Matthew looked shocked. “Me, nagging? Tell me this, Valerie — which of us is always complaining when there’s dirty socks on the living room floor?”
“And which of us,” Valerie countered, “Is always the one throwing them there? If you didn’t drive me to the bottle, no doubt you’d drive Maggie off the wall. Cleanliness may be next to Godliness, Matthew, but for you, it’s next to impossible.”
“All right, you two, all right.” Maggie laughed. “Call a truce, please. I nearly flunked Negotiation Tactics, so I probably won’t be able to talk you out of strangling each other.”
Matthew laughed as well. “Whatever you say, ketsele. Come, then, and let us find you a job.”
“What about this one?” Valerie asked, drying her paws on a dishrag as she moved to the table. She pointed. “There. I read it in my husband’s copy of the paper this morning.”
WANTED: ONE MECHANIC FOR IMMEDIATE EMPLOYMENT. PAYMENT NEGOTIABLE, APARTMENT AVAILABLE. MUST HAVE EXPERIENCE WITH ALL MAKES AND MODELS OF CAR AND BE WILLING TO WORK AN UNUSUAL SCHEDULE. APPLY IN PERSON AT JAKE & CHANCE’S GARAGE.
“Looks promising to me.” Matthew said, as he finished reading it. “We could kill two birds with one stone, as they say.”
Maggie laughed. “A minute ago you couldn’t bear to part with me. Now you can’t wait for me to leave.”
“Oh, you know what I meant, ketsele!” He said. He reached out and put his paw on Maggie’s shoulder. “You will always be welcome in my home.”
Maggie smiled thankfully. “I know.” Then she looked back to the ad. “Well, this is as good a place to start as any. Where is this garage, anyway?”
“On the south side of town.” Valerie said. “Out on the very edge of the city limits.”
Maggie frowned. “The scrapyard? I thought Burke Lindsay and Murray O’Rourke ran that place for the Enforcers.”
“I don’t know about that,” Valerie replied, drying off a casserole dish, “A couple of kats named Jake Clawson and Chance Furlong run it now. Nice boys.” She smiled. “They fixed my Honda when it was making that awful chunking noise last year.”
“Clawson and Furlong?” Maggie repeated. “Are you sure?”
“Do you know them?” Valerie asked.
“Not exactly.” Maggie said, confused. “They were in the academy two years behind me. A real pair of hotshots, from what I remember. They would have graduated about a year before . . . well, before the Desert War. I would think they’d be pretty high in the ranks by now.”
“Well, they’re not.” Valerie said. “They’re mechanics, now days. I wonder what happened?”
Maggie shrugged and folded the paper. “I don’t know. But it sounds to me like I’m not the only kat in town who’s had a falling out with the Enforcers.” She grinned. “I’ve got a feeling I’m going to like these kats.”
“Are you going, then?” Matthew asked.
“Yep.” Maggie gave him a quick hug and headed for the door. “I’ll be back later.”
Matthew smiled at Valerie as the door closed. “Ah, for the days when she was still a kitten on my lap.”
Valerie sighed sentimentally. “Nothing lasts forever, Matthew.”
“I know.” He glanced for a moment at the photographs on the kitchen counter. “I had higher hopes for her that this — looking for a job as an auto mechanic. I thought she would be making a difference. . . .”
“Matthew!” Valerie chided. “Don’t you ever think that way about Maggie! That she’s happy is all that matters. She doesn’t have to be an Enforcer to make a difference.”
Matthew nodded and smiled. “You’re right, of course. Where would I be without you to keep me on track, Valerie?”
She smiled at her old friend. “Neck-deep in trouble, no doubt. Come on, help me finish these dishes.”
****** Chance wiped his forehead on the back of his arm and stepped back. “Well, one more down.” He remarked.
“Yeah, and only three more to go.” Jake commented from under the hood of a Buick.
“We’re doing better than we were a week ago.” Chance said. “Even with the two Enforcer cars we had to work on yesterday.”
“The ones that absolutely, positively, had to be done overnight.” Jake added. “Let’s hope that doesn’t happen again anytime soon.” The phone broke in on the conversation, and he groaned. “Please tell me that isn’t going to be Feral.”
“This isn’t going to be Feral.” Chance said, striding toward the phone. He picked up. “Jake and Chance’s garage.”
He listened intently for a while, then sighed. “Okay, bring them out.” Hanging up the phone, he returned to the side of the Buick. “Good news.”
Jake sighed and kept his head under the hood. “Please tell me that wasn’t Feral.”
“That wasn’t Feral.” Chance said, leaning against the car. “That was Rob O’Malley.”
“Oh.” Jake looked up. O’Malley was in charge of the Enforcers Street Division, the branch of Enforcers who served as traffic officers and beat cops. “Do I want to know?”
“Not really, but I’m going to tell you anyway.”
“Gee, thanks.” Jake said sarcastically.
“Three squad cars got involved in a traffic pileup on the expressway this morning. Two of ‘em just need some body work, but the third one. . . .”
“Let me guess.” Jake said. “They’re gonna send us the pieces in a dump truck and let us worry about figuring out what goes where.”
“Bingo.” Chance groaned. “Back to square one.”
Jake straightened up and closed the hood. “Remind me why we took this job?”
“Because we crashed a top-of-the-line aircraft and owe the government more money than either one of us has ever even seen.” Chance said.
“Oh, yeah. Right.”
From outside came the sound of a well-tuned engine as something approached the scrapyard. Chance and Jake exchanged puzzled looks as they watched a black-and-silver road cycle with a single rider pull up.
“You expecting company?”
“No,” Jake shook his head. “Are you?”
“Nope.” Chance headed for the open garage doors. “Guess we’d better see what’s up.”
The bike’s rider dismounted and pulled her helmet off as Jake followed Chance into the front yard.
A pretty, slender she-kat with sand-colored fur stood by the bike, long black hair tousled from the helmet. Dark, penetrating green eyes examined the scrapyard, the battered garage, and the two kats before her. She twitched her tail and grinned tentatively.
“Hi.” Maggie said. “Are you Jake and Chance?”
“Yeah.” Chance said. “I’m Chance and this,” he jerked his thumb at his partner, “Is Jake.”
“Hi.” Jake grinned, stepping forward. “Nice bike. You need some work done on it?”
Maggie recognized the lurking look of an inventor anxious to examine a new machine. “No, thanks. Any work on this baby is done by yours truly alone.”
“Oh.” Jake said. He looked the bike over. “Is it custom?”
“You bet.” Maggie beamed. “Put her together myself.”
Jake bent down to look at the exposed parts of the bike’s engine. “What kind of horsepower. . . .”
“Sorry to interrupt,” Chance cut him off before he became too involved in a discussion about engines. “But why are you here?”
“Oh.” Maggie set her helmet down on the seat and pulled a scrap of newspaper out of her pocket. “You guys still looking for a mechanic?”
Chance exchanged a glance with Jake. “Are you looking for a job?”
Maggie grinned and extended a paw to Chance, who shook it. “Maggie Blackclaw at your service. If katkind built it, I can fix it, and I’ll work anywhere at any time for anyone.”
Before either of them could reply, two badly dented squad cars rolled up, followed — as Jake had predicted — by a dump truck full of parts.
Chance and Jake glanced at the truck, then at Maggie, then at each other.
“When can you start?”
******************************************************************************** CHAPTER THREE ********************************************************************************
“And the bedrooms are up here.” Jake said, leading Maggie up the stairs. Chance was down in the garage, still arguing with the Enforcers about how long the repairs on the squad cars would take.
At the top of the stairs a hallway led off in two different directions. Jake pointed left. “Chance’s room is the first one on the left. Mine’s right next door, and then there’s a bathroom and a couple of old guest rooms we use for storage and stuff.” He turned to the right. “Over here there’s two more bedrooms and a full bathroom.” He grinned. “The kat who built this place after MegaWar III had three daughters. I guess he didn’t want to fight them for the bathroom every morning.”
“Smart kat.” Maggie commented, looking around. The hallway was wide and well-lit, although the floor did creak in places. She watched as the wiry ginger-colored kat swung open the first door in the hallway.
“Sorry about the dust.” He said apologetically.
Maggie shrugged as she surveyed the room. What looked like a dresser, nightstand, and twin bed were all covered with old sheets, thick with dust. Sunlight filtered into the room from the window by the dresser. An old lamp sat on the nightstand, the broken lampshade looking like an emaciated bat. A door in the wall to the right stood slightly ajar. “You weren’t kidding when you said you never used these rooms.”
“This is the worst of it.” Chance said from the doorway. “The bathroom and study are a lot better.”
Jake nodded, pulling the door that had been ajar open. “I used the study for a while, before I found a better room downstairs.” Chance shot him a warning look, which he ignored. “And the bathroom’s just a little grungy in the corners. Come on, I’ll show you the study.”
Maggie and Chance followed him through the connecting door to a slightly larger room with a huge window, which provided an excellent view of the scrapyard and the city beyond. Light flooded in, revealing a pair of empty bookcases, a well-worn couch, and a drafting desk near the window. Chance grinned. “Well, what do you think? You want the job?”
Maggie grinned back. “Sure.” Then she turned more serious. “But there’s things about me . . . well, the thing is,” She sighed. “I have a real hard time staying in one place for very long. I’ve lived in about eight different cities in the past four years. I think I’m going to stick around for a while this time, but . . . I don’t make any guarantees. Six months is all I can really promise you.”
Jake and Chance exchanged a wordless look. Then Jake shrugged. “Well, there’s some things you should know about us, too. See, we have this . . . deal . . . with the Enforcers.”
“It’s a long story,” Chance said, “But the short version is that we run this place to pay back a jumbo debt we owe the Enforcers. Private cars, we keep the cash. . . .”
“But Enforcer vehicles go toward paying the tab.” Maggie guessed.
“Right.” Jake nodded. “We won’t ask you to work for free — we’ll handle the Enforcer cars ourselves. The thing is, sometimes business is really nuts. But sometimes it slacks off, and we’ll have weeks with nothing to do except Enforcers tuneups.”
“I guess that’s what you meant when the ad said ‘unusual schedule.’” Maggie said. Jake and Chance nodded.
“Well,” She said, “If that happens I guess I’ll just help you with the Enforcer work.” She grinned. “So is there a kitchen in this place, or what?”
“So, that’s the tour.”Chance said, opening the fridge. “You want a milk?”
“Sure.” Maggie accepted the can. “That’s the whole place, huh?”
“Well, most of it.” Jake spoke up. “There are a few other rooms down that way,” he waved his paw toward the living room — and the hangar. “But they’re mostly just closets and stuff. There is a room where we keep old parts and tax records. That’s right behind the living room. And further down that hallway . . .” He paused. “Well, there’s an office and stuff. Some rooms that’re kind of private.”
“Say no more.” Maggie said, holding up one paw. “Curiosity killed the kat, after all. You don’t want me there — I don’t go there.”
Jake grinned at Chance, who grinned back. “So, you’ll move in tomorrow?” Chance asked. “We could come get your stuff in the tow truck.”
“Don’t bother.” Maggie said. “Everything I own, I can fit onto Sirocco.”
“Sirocco?” Jake asked.
Maggie smiled. “The bike. Right after I built it, my dad named it after a wind that blows in the Tabbiyan desert.”
“Tabbiya?” Chance asked. “My dad was stationed there during MidEastern Storm.”
“Really?” Maggie grinned. “We have something in common, then. Was he Air Troops or Ground?”
“Are you kidding?” Chance laughed. “He was practically born in a cockpit.”
Maggie grinned. “My dad was the same way. He used to say a life without flying was a life not worth living.”
“Sounds like I would have liked him.” Chance said.
“And it sounds like I’m gonna like it here.” Maggie replied. She lifted the can of milk. “Here’s to the beginning of a beautiful friendship!”
Jake grinned. “I’ll drink to that!”
“I don’t want you to move, Maggie.” Eppie Schultz said, watching as Maggie loaded the last of her packs onto the bike. “Shyler will miss you.”
“I’m only going across town, Eppie.” Maggie smiled.
“But I’m littler that you. Across town is a long, long ways!” Eppie pouted.
“I’ll be coming to visit all the time.” Maggie assured her.
“And you’ll take me and Shyler and Marcus for rides?” The kitten prompted. “And tell us stories about being on the road?”
Maggie laughed and caught the kitten up in her arms, spinning her around. “Absolutely, little one!”
“Maggie!” Eppie squealed in delight. “You’re making Shyler dizzy! Maggie!!”
“Better watch out, ketsele.” Matthew said in amusement from the top of the stoop. “Those kittens will grow on you. You may decide not to leave.”
“Nice try, uncle.” Maggie grinned breathlessly. She patted Eppie on the back as she brought the kitten back to earth. “Run on upstairs, kiddo, and help your Mama with that laundry.”
“Okay.” Eppie stuck her chin in the air proudly. “I’m good at laundry. I can measure the soap all by myself!” Then she bounded up the steps and disappeared into the building.
Maggie grinned as she watched her go. “Sweet kitten.”
“She adores you.” Matthew smiled. “Her brother, too, though he’ll never admit it. In only a week, you have become their hero.”
Maggie laughed softly. “Been a long time since I’ve been that.”
“No, ketsele.” Matthew said, using the wheelchair lift to lower himself to the ground. “You have always been my hero.” He smiled. “Come, now, give your old uncle a hug before you go.”
Maggie embraced him, only to feel a slim chain slipped around her neck. Pulling away, she glanced down at the medallion her uncle had placed on her. Then she shook her head and started to take it off. “Uncle Matt . . . .”
He stopped her. “Keep it, Maggie. I am too old to need a good-luck charm.”
She shook her head again. “I gave it to you for a reason.”
“And it is for a reason that I am giving it back.” He clasped her paw in his own. “It was given to me by someone very dear, someone I am very proud of. I am giving it to her because I hope, one day, she will be proud of herself again.”
Maggie looked down at the small gold emblem, one of six that she and her squadron had worn together — the only one that still existed. It was part of a past she wanted badly to forget . . . . but it was also a gift from the only kat who still believed in her. Nodding, she slipped the medallion under her shirt. “All right.” She smiled at Matthew. “You win.”
He smiled back. “Blackclaws always win.” He pulled her into another embrace. “Stay well, ketsele.”
“I will.” She turned reluctantly away, pulling on her gloves and helmet. “I’ll see you soon.”
“I’ll know where to find you if I don’t!” Matt replied, smiling. Then he turned more serious.
“Fair winds find you, ketsele.” He murmured as his niece and her bike pulled away. “I have a feeling that fate will make a hero of you yet — even if I’m not sure how.”
****** Continued in Part Two ******
Or is that part three? Part nine? Now I’m getting confused . . . . ;D Anyway, there’s part something-or-other! Cheers!! — SBD
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.