TITLE: SECRETS AND LIES
AUTHORS: C. L. Furlong & Helion
BEGUN: 24th November, 2007
FINISHED: 21st March, 2008
LAST REVISION: 4th August, 2008
RATING/WARNINGS: T for some violence, gore and angst
SUMMARY: An innocent and relaxing stroll through Megakat Park stirs up bitter memories. Secrets will be revealed. Lies will be unwound. Life won’t ever be the same…
DISCLAIMER: SWAT Kats and anything related to the series is the property of Hanna-Barbera. No infringement is intended and no profit is gained with this fiction.
C. L. Furlong
::sighs contently:: At last, I was able to finish another SWAT Kats story after a very *long* and uninspired interregnum! It felt so nice to write about the guys again, despite the unusual nature of this story. I can surely say that, for the first time in a long time, I’ve felt again the thrill and exhilaration of writing a fictional piece. And I couldn’t have done it without my good co-author and friend Helion. I just hope you, reader, can enjoy this little piece of work at least as much as we enjoyed crafting it!
I never thought I’d write another SWAT Kats story. Then this Furlong character comes along and coaxes me into this co-authoring experiment…
It felt great to write about Chance and Jake again; like visiting long-lost friends and brushing up on the good ol’ times. I must thank C. L. for sharing this unexpected yet wonderful experience with me, and hope you, dear reader, will enjoy this rather unusual story too!
SECRETS AND LIES
“I can see it, dad. I can see it!”
The shrill youthful voice, somersaulting with excitement, cut through the cold, clean air of MegaKat City Park and drove a crow from its resting place in the crown of a large chestnut tree. The bird croaked down at the noisemaker reproachfully as it took to the air, but the young kat was oblivious to its complaints. He pulled his gloved hand from his father’s grip and ran in the direction of the statue that had caused his jubilant exclamation as fast as his short legs could carry him.
Leaves were rustling under his feet with his every bounding step. September had finally passed into October, and with it fall had sneaked up on the great metropolis. The trees were shedding their foliage and the sun was setting earlier every day. A fresh wind was blowing inland from the sea; together with the sudden plunge in temperature, it had prompted even the most hardened shekat to mothball her summer clothes.
“Raoul, please slow down a bit and be careful!” the father called after his son half exasperated, half amused, knowing fully well his advice would fall on deaf ears. “I don’t want you to stumble over a rock. There could be broken pieces of glass hidden beneath the leaves!”
But Raoul leapt on, heedless. He was sufficiently dressed for the season, wearing warm leather boots, dark brown corduroys, his favorite red woolen pullover beneath a long white (and admittedly rather grubby) winter coat, thick black mittens and a red-and-blue muffler. The last piece of clothing had definitely seen better days, frayed and faded as the material was from too many a washing, but woe to the kat who tried to separate the child from the heavy scarf, for it was one of his most treasured possessions. Soon he reached the large rectangular square at the northern edge of the park lake, where he skidded to an abrupt halt, drinking in the sight that was offered him.
Richard, who had increased his walking pace when his fears got the better of him, gained enough space on his son just in time to hear the stretched “woooooow” that broke from the small kat’s lips, and he would have been very sorry indeed if he had missed the utterance, for the amount of childish wonder it carried was imperial. Generation for generation, parents have taken their family to a baseball match or the zoo for but this very reason – to hear such a pure sound, to be rewarded with the unrestricted joy and awe that is unique to them still young and not yet disenchanted.
Raoul turned his head and doubled the immense gift he had just bestowed upon his father by sharing with him one of those thankful smiles no money in the world can buy, before he raced the last fifteen yards towards his goal.
His goal – that was a round marble socket four feet high and some ten feet in diameter. On it, a pair of alabaster statues evoked in those who had lived under their protection the memory of two of the greatest kats MegaKat City had ever known. For in the middle of the square stood Razor and T-Bone in all their glory.
T-Bone had his glovatrixed right arm raised victoriously above his head; his partner was crouched in a smooth combat stance, ready to either attack or defend. Their marble faces wore broad grins no less feral than they had been on the real kats. Their expressions conveyed both severity and reassurance; severity for the criminals terrorizing MegaKat City, reassurance for its citizens.
Richard forced his eyes away from the SWAT Kats, pushed aside the memories of times long past and focused solely on his son. Instead of running pell-mell around the statue, to gape at the kats he worshipped from every possible angle, Raoul surprised his father (and filled his paternal heart with not an insignificant amount of pride) by walking to the brass plate bolted to the marble socket. He began to read the inscription like only a first-grader does: silently mouthing every syllable, hesitating and starting over again whenever he encountered an especially difficult word.
Richard smiled and did the very thing he had expected his son to do. He circled the statue (always watching Raoul from the corner of his eyes) and eyed the two double-life-size forms above him intently.
It was clear just from a glance that the SWAT Kats were still very much revered by those who had known them. The claws on their toes were gone, eaten away by the many hands that had touched them in veneration. Half a dozen glass-protected candles stood on the socket, which at night would bath T-Bone’s feet and Razor’s lower torso in their flickering lights. Many bouquets of flowers surrounded the candles, weighed down with heavy stones so that the decorations couldn’t be blown away by the winds.
However, nothing in the world is universal, not even admiration. The further Richard walked toward the back of statue, the more it became a message board for the Graffiti culture. Some very few of the scribbles were highly original and intricate, and would have done honor to the artists if they hadn’t used a public monument as their canvas. But, most of them were mere trash – rude comments or crude signs smeared onto every square inch of white marble within the sprayers’ reach. For instance, a vivid red writing on T-Bone’s left buttock stated two things: that someone named Rachel was an “arrogant bitch” and that the author of this intellectual masterpiece was an illiterate lout.
The thirty-three-year-old tom shook his head with a sad sigh. He lifted his hand unconsciously, as if to wipe away the affronting graffiti, when a sob reached his ears.
He looked up just in time to see his son’s eyes fill with tears. Then Raoul noticed his father watching him, turned on the spot and ran off.
Richard sprinted after him and caught his son at the edge of the square. He put the struggling child down on the nearest park bench and sat down next to him. He kept his arm tightly around Raoul’s shoulder, lest he tried to take flight again.
“Hey, buddy. What’s wrong?”
“I hate them!” Raoul exclaimed with the same fathomless conviction that only minutes before had marked his reverence. He tugged fiercely at his T-Bone-and-Razor muffler, trying to pull it off.
“The SWAT Kats? But why?” Richard’s voice trailed off as his formerly good mood was suddenly dipped in icy water.
It couldn’t possibly be, could it?
About ten months ago, Raoul had practically steamrolled his father on the phone with his stories about the two vigilantes. He had seen one of their spectacular air fights on TV and instantly made them his heroes. Whenever he had called his father since, most of their talk had been “SWAT Kats this, SWAT Kats that”. How could he still not know?
Silently cursing Karen for her negligence to break this topic to their son, Richard asked the question he already knew the answer for.
“You didn’t know they were dead? Mom never told you?”
Raoul shook his head. He was crying unabashedly now, his face buried deep in the folds of his father’s winter coat.
Richard exhaled heavily, a low rumble full of sorrow and regret. He stood and picked the scarf up from the ground. Lifting his son into his arms, he carried him back toward the statue and waited until Raoul – against his own will – pulled his reddened eyes from the depths of the cloth. The child’s whole body was shaking as he looked at the two figures that had so thoroughly disappointed him. Richard took a deep breath and read the inscription to his son in a gentle, loving voice.
“Razor and T-Bone – The SWAT Kats
This monument is dedicated to the memory of the two unknown kats who repeatedly and selflessly risked their own lives for the citizens of MegaKat City.
They shouldered our burdens more times than any one kat ought to have and finally gave their lives on March 30, 2000 to protect our metropolis from the evil that threatened to destroy it.
We will always be indebted to you, whoever you were.”
“I hate them!” Raoul sobbed as he curled into a ball in his father’s embrace.
Richard nuzzled his son’s neck.
“No, you don’t, tiger. What you’re feeling is something else. It’s called ‘disappointment’.”
“Dis… a… point?”
Richard smiled. He carried Raoul back to the park bench and sat him up on his lap.
“Disappointment…” Richard said as he carefully enveloped the youngster’s neck with the scarf “… is what you feel when you want something badly and you’re quite sure you’re going to get it but, in the end, you don’t get it at all.”
The kitten sobbed again before he wiped the moisture from his eyes, “So, I don’t hate them?”
“No, youngster! That would be impossible!”
Richard could not help but jump at the booming voice. To his left stood a hulking form partially blocking the pale Autumnal sun.
“I apologize if I startled you,” the massive form stated. He briefly touched the edge of his hat as a way of greeting Richard and Raoul, “I could not help but overhear your conversation. May I be allowed to sit?”
“By all means,” Richard conceded, mistrust filling his voice.
He watched the newcomer closely. His most impressive feature was his massive frame. But, Richard’s eye caught some other pieces of information. The pale brown and somewhat weathered winter coat, the heavy dark brown leather boots, the black denims and equally black wool shirt and fine leather gloves told Richard about the stranger’s sobriety. The dark brown hat and the light gray scarf covered most of his face. The descending sun behind the kat’s head didn’t make it easy for Richard to discern his facial features, but he gathered that was not unintentional.
The mysterious tom settled down on the park bench. His sigh and the pops the articulations on his knees made gave away his advanced age. Though the tom did not appear to him as an elder, it was obvious to Richard that the newcomer was at least twice his own age.
The tom looked straight at the white statue, contemplating it as if seeing it for the first time. His gloved hands rested on the head of his wooden cane, a sphere that seemed made out of the purest gold. He shook his head slowly in a silent negative.
“That statue doesn’t do them justice… Not by a long shot…” the stranger said. There was a softer, slightly worn out undertone in that booming voice, as though he had done or witnessed things few other kats had.
“Did you know them, mister?”
Raoul’s young voice cut the aura of mistrust shrouding Richard and before he could reproach his son for talking to a stranger without his consent, he saw the tom’s toothy grin. But, it wasn’t a malicious or malevolent smile. It was rather warm and heartfelt. Some of Richard’s initial uneasiness faded away, but he would still be ready to protect his son if need be.
“You could say that…” the stranger evasively responded.
A frown. “Why what, little tom?”
“Why aren’t they here anymore? I thought they catched bad guys!”
“*Caught* bad guys,” Richard corrected, “You should say ‘caught’ instead of ‘catched’, tiger.”
Raoul acknowledged and was about to reformulate his phrasing when the stranger answered his question.
“They’re not here with us because they made the ultimate sacrifice for the inhabitants of this city. They died to save this city – and possibly the world – from a fate more cruel than death, not only for the living generations but for the forthcoming ones as well.
“I know. I was there, seven years ago, on that fateful Thursday morning when Megakat City was about to lose much more than just its vigilantes.
“I remember MegaTech Research Labs was in an uproar about their new discovery, about how they had surpassed the best brains in this country, the best brains of Pumadyne. The press conference they’d set up boasted their new discovery would revolutionize communications as we knew them.
“The fools. Even if the events hadn’t developed as they have, Pumadyne would have never allowed them to use the PDG for such common uses. Pumadyne wanted a weapon, a weapon capable of destroying a whole army in one fell swoop. And, the PDG was just what they were looking for.”
“What does this PDG do-icky do?” Raoul intervened.
“PDG stands for Photonic Displacement Generator and what it does is to create a quantum anomaly in the time-space fabric, a controlled black hole.”
Raoul didn’t understand a word. He stared at his father, his lips pursed in a mute plea for an explanation.
“A black hole is like a gigantic eddy in outer space that sucks everything into it,” Richard said.
“Like the drain in the bath tube when I pull the plug out?”
Richard grinned despite himself. “Just like that, tiger. But, a black hole swallows *everything*. Asteroids. Planets. Even light.”
“Yes, it’s a cool effect when you think of it.”
“Then that’s why Puma… dyne… wanted this PDG-thing? To catch the light?”
The stranger chuckled. “No, nothing that fancy, little tom. MegaTech Labs planned to use the PDG to revolutionize communications. Unfortunately, not everyone interested in that technology wanted to use it for such peaceful goals.”
The stranger’s tone became a bit sorrowful.
“There was one kat who wanted to use the technology for his own misguided dark intentions. The nightmare began when he blasted through the hall where the press conference was being held, making thirty nine kats hostage.”
“What was this kat’s name, mister?”
The stranger abated his head over his chest before he looked straight ahead to the statue.
“A name that inflicted terror on any kat who heard it. His name was… Dark Kat.”
“Dark Kat? What a dorky name…”
“Raoul!” his father admonished. Unlike his son, who had been raised in a time of peace, his generation had still felt the lacerating sting of Dark Kat, so he truly feared that name. He was surprised to hear the stranger laughing at his son’s remark.
“Don’t reproach your son, Mr. Richard. It *is* a dorky name. But, let’s return to the story. You don’t know yet why Dark Kat wanted MegaTech Research Lab’s PDG, little tom, or do you?”
Hesitantly, Raoul shook his head.
“You needn’t be ashamed. Your father and I just told you what it does, not what it was intended to be used for, or Dark Kat’s evil schemes for it. The PDG allows you to send data over long distances without any delay. Can you follow me?”
Raoul nodded vigorously. “Like an email,” he said.
“You know about emails?” the stranger asked him, surprised.
Raoul put up his chin defiantly. “I’m six!” he said with indignation.
The big kat’s chuckle sounded much like a sonic boom. “My mistake, Raoul. I’m old; sometimes I forget how adept you young ones are when it comes to new technologies. Emails, then. Your example is much better than any example I could come up with. Yes, the PDG works very much like an email account.
“However, the PDG has one big advantage over emails: you need the Internet to send or receive an email – a gigantic network of cables, satellites and computers. The PDG doesn’t need such things. With it you can send information anywhere. Even to some planet half a galaxy away, if we could produce the inconceivably huge amount of energy such a long-distance data transfer requires.
“That’s what MegaTech Research Labs had invented it for – interstellar communications in real-time. Pumadyne, on the other hand, theorized about jamming electronics over large distances with it, to render the vehicles, missiles and arms of any army metallic junk whenever they wanted. Now Dark Kat… Dark Kat had a more demonic vision.”
“What vision?” Raoul asked, mesmerized.
“It would take too long – and be too complicated anyway – to go into details, but the simple version is: he had invented an apparatus he wanted to attach to the PDG, so that it would send a signal of his own to everyone everywhere around the world. This ominous apparatus was nothing else than… a mind controller!”
Richard gasped. This bit of the story was new to him, too. Nobody knew what Dark Kat’s plans had been with the PDG, but even the wildest speculations about an uncontrolled black hole the media had concocted in the months following the tragedy were child’s play in comparison to the chilling variant this stranger was dishing up. If it was true, then…
Raoul was frowning. “A… mind controller?”
“Suppose you finish a puzzle and then glue a different puzzle on top of it. The original image is still there, but it is forever hidden beneath a new picture. The mind controller can do the same thing with a person. It allowed Dark Kat to superimpose a set of orders onto anyone’s mind. In itself, it was already a powerful machine, but connected to the PDG it became a doomsday device. Given enough power, Dark Kat would have been able to make everybody on the planet do his bidding with just the three concise orders his apparatus was set to send out: obey Dark Kat, love Dark Kat and fear Dark Kat.
“So it would really have worked? One transmission and the world population would have turned into a legion of mindless zombies?” Richard asked, appalled.
“That’s what Dark Kat thought in any case, though he would have used the term ‘devoted followers’ to describe his victims. He made a test run of the PDG-boosted mind controller on his thirty-nine hostages. One low-level short-range transmission and the persons they had been ceased to exist. Mayor Manx, the scientists and functionaries directly involved in the PDG project and the reporters, including Ann Gora and her camera crew – from that moment on they all lived only to serve Dark Kat.
“Now that he could leave them unattended, he concentrated on tapping into the City’s power lines. He was awaiting the SWAT Kats eagerly, and wanted to have everything ready for a worldwide transmission when they arrived.”
“But, that’s stupid!” Raoul interjected forcibly.
“You’re right, Raoul,” the stranger agreed before his father could once more administer critical remarks on the small tom’s lack of manners, “it was extremely stupid. Can you tell us why?”
“Because the SWAT Kats *always* catched – caught,” he corrected himself, “the bad guys. Dark Kat should have known. But, he waited for them. How stupid!”
“Your son has a valid point there, Mr. Furlong. Dark Kat has always been tremendously shortsighted when it came to the SWAT Kats. With the PDG in his hands, he could have worked his mind controller commands on them even while they were on the other side of the planet, but he waited for them to come, he *wanted* them near him!
“Many bad things can be said about Dark Kat, but he was without doubt a genius. It makes one wonder about his idiocy, doesn’t it? Why this trivial obsession with the two vigilantes? Why did he risk – and in the end gamble away – his precious plans? I doubt anybody but the SWAT Kats could understand his motives.
“You see, young tom, there was a special relationship between him and the SWAT Kats. He was their nemesis, and they in return were his nemeses.”
“Nen… nemem… What does it mean, dad?”
“Originally Nemesis was the name of an ancient goddess of vengeance, tiger. Now it means ‘archenemy’.”
“Yes, archenemy,” the stranger agreed. “Of all the criminals the SWAT Kats ever hunted down, Dark Kat was the one they hated the most, and also, it must be admitted, the one they feared the most. Every time they went after him, Razor reminded T-Bone that catching the ‘big ugly brute’ was a déjà vu – a repeat of the air chase that had destroyed their former existences.”
Richard gritted his teeth as he looked down towards the gravel covering the park’s pathways. Razor. All it ever boiled down to in the end was Razor!
“Dark Kat, for his part, despised the SWAT Kats no less, for they destroyed every one of his ingenious plans. Even before the transmutation that had turned him into a disfigured purple monster, few people had dared to cross him, and none of those who tried had ever managed, or lived to tell the tale. Dark Kat was rich, he was clever and he was ruthless. No one was even half the kat he was! And yet the SWAT Kats – those pathetic dimwitted pests, as he thought of them – bested him each and every time. Their triumphs galled him more than you can imagine, Raoul.
“He expected them at MegaTech. They would be confronted with a glimpse of his glorious future, realize that their battle was hopeless, and precisely at that moment – when they were fully aware of their defeat – he would fire off the PDG and conquer the world, and the SWAT Kats with it. He first thought about killing them, or letting them kill each other, but the sadistic idea that pleased him most of all was to let them live as his personal slaves, always aware of their miserable fates somewhere in the dim recesses of their minds… Nothing could go wrong, he thought.
“His arrogance was the first flaw in his plan. The second was that Deputy Mayor Callico Briggs, due to some unpredictable twist of fate, was still outside MegaTech Research Labs when Dark Kat raided the building. He didn’t know that the SWAT Kats had given her a communicator with which she could contact them in case of emergency. Thanks to her quick acting, they knew about Dark Kat’s activities some five minutes earlier than he had anticipated.
“When they arrived at MegaTech, the PDG wasn’t yet ready for its big-scale transmission. Dark Kat ordered his brainwashed supporters to attack them, but none among the thirty-nine was a fighter, and the SWAT Kats got past them and his creeplings fast and easily. Dark Kat was seething with anger. They were thwarting his plans once again! So, he changed tactics. He yanked the machine loose from the PDG, and, knowing that the mind imprinting process was infallible and irrevocable, aimed it at Razor and fired.
“But, T-Bone had guessed his intentions and tossed Razor out of the firing line. The ray intended for his younger buddy – his near-brother – hit him instead…”
At this time, the stranger had to stop. His hands were trembling slightly and he was crushing the ornamented head of his cane to the point that his knuckles were turning white under his fur, under his leather gloves. He released the grip and let out a soft sigh. Once more he looked straight ahead, towards the statue of the two heroes, as if asking for permission to continue.
“Anyway, I’m sure you don’t need to hear what happened next…” he started in a softer tone.
“Yes, I want to know!” Raoul’s enthusiastic voice was full of curiosity. He didn’t really notice that he had just cut off his father’s speech. “Please, tell us what happened to the SWAT Kats!”
The stranger looked askew to Richard. The tom still had his head abated, staring at the floor. “His near-brother,” the stranger’s words refused to die away inside his head. He didn’t need to hear anything else to finally understand how his brother and his friend were, at long last, defeated by their archenemy. Truth be told, he had always thought Jake had something to do with Chance’s death. He’d just had no idea how horribly involved the slim kat was in his brother’s death. It was no wonder that his marriage with Jake’s sister, Karen, had never really worked out.
Ignoring his silence, the stranger continued.
“Thus, the Machiavellian mind of Dark Kat had, in just a few tenths of seconds, laid down the most devious of plans. He decided to enchain the mind of *one* of them to do his evil bidding while the other one was forced to watch it. But, even his mind could not even begin to savor the delight of yet another miscalculation. He had intended to make T-Bone, the one SWAT Kat he hated the most, suffer agonizingly by turning his friend into his most devoted follower. Instead, he created a master warrior slave. How fitting that his most hated adversary would serve as his bodyguard, to fight and defend his master to the death. Without a mind of his own, T-Bone would finally become the killing machine he was bred to be.
“Razor’s expression was sheer horror as he witnessed the ethereal ray of light shot from that insidious machine hit his friend. He saw T-Bone’s face contort in a mask of pain as his mind was agonizingly warped beyond recognition, as every thought, every feeling, every memory was torn apart and ripped from the depths of his brain in the most painful of manners, only to be…”
“OKAY! We got the point!” Richard snapped, cutting off the stranger’s speech, who just shut up. Raoul looked around with a quizzical look on his young face. He knew something had put his father in a bad mood.
“My apologies, Mr. Furlong. I will try to keep to the simple narration of the facts.”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” Richard replied. The bitterness and contempt were plain in his voice.
He was looking straight ahead, towards the statue that depicted his brother, the tom he had ever tried to be. His mind raced back some twenty years, when he was but a young adolescent tom a little more than half the age of his older brother. Chance was already a fully matured, full-grown tom, teeming with the vitality of his twenty years. A portent in football. A ladies’ tom. Envied by his schoolmates and now undoubtedly envied by his mates at the Enforcers Academy. Heck, even Richard envied him. To Richard, he represented the good, the just rebel, one who’d see to it that the wicked would perish in their own slime but one who would go down to the bowels of hell to save the weak. Chance’s very own sense of justice had already caused him some trouble, being held back a couple of years in High School because of it.
But now, his big brother had enlisted in the Enforcers! He’d fight evil alongside the best of the best! Richard had vowed to join the Enforcers as soon as was of legal age to do so! And, he’d try hard to surpass his brother…
“As I was saying, the bolt meant for Razor hit T-Bone instead,” the stranger continued, “After the initial agony of the brainwashing effect, more grief was about to befall both SWAT Kats. Soon enough, T-Bone settled down. With the three Dark Commandments imprinted in his cerebral cortex, he positioned himself alongside his new master, awaiting Dark Kat’s instructions. It was there and then that Razor’s stare turned from profound grief to torrid hatred.”
Richard didn’t hear the stranger anymore, unlike Raoul who hungrily drank at the massive tom’s every word as though they were the sweetest of honeys. Richard’s mind remained in the park but not in the present time. It had flown back fifteen years now. He’d been eighteen and had just joined the Enforcers. Richard was beaming in his cadet uniform! Finally, he’d get to fight evil alongside his big brother… He remembered how Chance had given him one of his trademark bear hugs and how he’d bear hugged Chance in return: at age eighteen Richard was almost as brawny as Chance, if only a tad shorter. He remembered Chance’s kind words and the encouragement to be the best he could. Mom and dad were there too and they gave him similar incitement, but Chance, his big brother, was all he had eyes and ears for that day. He knew he could be as good as Chance. He knew he *would* be as good as Chance. Maybe even better.
Because Richard *respected* his brother and looked up to him. All his life, Chance had been Richard’s role model. Despite the age difference, they’d been the closest brothers anyone could find! That is, until *he* came along!
Chance had told him of this… Jake Clawson character. And, Richard had disliked him immediately. The tabby had told him how Jake had stood up for him and how he, together with Chance, had had to endure a severe punishment because of that. Chance had refused to obey a direct order from a superior because he’d deemed it unjust. Jake had backed him up on that, which only led both toms to the slammer, charged with insurrection. In prison, Chance had told Richard, they got to know each other better and he had discovered that Jake shared many of the ideals Chance held dear.
That was the beginning of the end of Richard and Chance’s relationship. From that point on, Chance started to hang out with Jake, talking and going out to the bar together. He spent much time with Jake, much more time than he had ever spent with Richard. Jealousy insidiously started to seep through Richard’s mind. After all, wasn’t he the younger brother? Wasn’t he the one who deserved the most of his big brother’s attention?
“Razor tried to pounce at Dark Kat, tried to cut his throat with his claws. And, he would have succeeded too if not for Dark Kat’s newly appointed bodyguard. Swift as lightning, T-Bone grasped the wrist of the smaller SWAT Kat in mid-flight and tossed him towards the opposite wall. The impact was tremendous. Razor left a bas-relief impression of his back on the wall before rebounding on it and falling helplessly to the ground. The impact would have probably broken the spine, or at least a few ribs, of any normal kat. But, not Razor’s! Even if his back had been broken, his limbs shattered and his lungs punctured with shards of bone, he still would have gotten himself up, shaken the dust off and lunged at Dark Kat again, only to be, once more, captured by Dark Kat’s brainwashed warrior and bodyguard.”
“Jake Clawson, a.k.a. Razor,” Richard thought as he eyed with contempt the figurine of the slim SWAT Kat, “It’s only fitting that he’d suffer at my brother’s hands, for there is no doubt in me that he was, in fact, the one true culprit of my brother’s downfall. Despite what my brother always told me, that it had been *his* fault, that *he* had disobeyed a direct order from that jerk Commander Feral on that fatidic day, I just *know* Jake was the real problem there! Why didn’t he blow Dark Crud’s ship out of the sky instead of just disabling his weapon systems? All Chance ever said when I asked this question was: ‘Priorities, Richard! Priorities!’ BULLSHIT!
*Jake* was the real cause for Chance’s expulsion from the Enforcers and the humiliation of servicing on the *Clawson family’s* salvage yard… Now there’s one thing my brother never knew!”
“And, when I say captured, I mean captured, literally. T-Bone anticipated Razor’s move. He fished him out of his leap in midair with a well-placed fist to the gut. Razor met the floor hard, and again he hit it with his back first. The force of impact drove the air out of him in a grunt of pain. T-Bone sat down astride on his chest and pinned his arms to his sides before he could recover. His right hand immediately closed around Razor’s throat.”
“But, he didn’t hurt him, did he?” Raoul piped up. Everything about him, from the tremor in his voice to the anger in his expression, clearly showed that he refused to believe that either of his heroes could do such a thing to the other.
He looked into the face of the elder expectantly, as if daring him to disagree. The stranger returned the gaze sternly. Raoul felt his fur stand up and quickly looked away.
“You cannot imagine what it is like to have your mind altered, Raoul,” the stranger answered. His voice, in contrast to his eyes, was as calm as ever, and his smile was sad but benign. Raoul, who risked a peek from the corner of his eyes, found the combination spooky. It certainly did not make his goose bumps disappear, nor did it entice his fled courage to return… “Nobody can conceive the true horror behind the atrocity that is mind controlling, except for those who were cursed enough to have experienced it firsthand. To have no free will of your own…”
His fading voice was snatched away by the howling wind. The stranger was as still as the park’s marble statue, except for the slow heaving of his breast. A minute passed in this fashion before he continued his narrative as if there had been no pause at all.
“Somewhere deep inside his mind, what was left of the old T-Bone struggled with all its might. The one person that meant the world to him was about to die at his hands, and the seasoned warrior tried to claw himself a way towards freedom, something his strength and versatility had always allowed him before. And yet, he failed. He could not, would not, lift his hand from Razor’s neck. One word from his new master, one word only, and he would have ended their unique companionship in the most horrid scenario imaginable.”
*”The one person that meant the world to him.”* Richard gulped. The embittered part of him waited for Dark Kat’s command, *wished* for it to fall. It was a good thing that his son was still twisting wildly in his lap. The commotion interrupted his dark thoughts from blossoming further.
“But no, T-Bone did not crush his friend’s windpipe, little one. Once again, Dark Kat stayed silent where he should have rid himself of one of his enemies. He savored the scene fate had granted him, for it surpassed even *his* sick imagination. Razor’s croaks of ‘T-Bone, it’s me; T-Bone!’ became increasingly pleading, and his mask failed to contain his disbelief and distress any longer. Dark Kat’s euphoria increased in direct relation to the slim SWAT Kat’s terror becoming palpable. He began to gloat. He sneered at the helpless tom, taunted him with how he had defeated them already. He told him about his mind-controlling device, about its powers, about its irreversibility…
“If Razor’s voice was raw from T-Bone’s vice-like grip, almost broken, his spirit certainly was not. He cursed his enemy as best he could. No matter how insecure he might have been on the inside, he named Dark Crud a liar for all the world to hear and called the bluff.
“Dark Kat was only too happy to oblige.”
Richard closed his eyes and balled his fists. This sort of reckless defiance was just like Jake. Another one of his questionable decisions, all the more so because it was not only his own life that was at stake.
“At least he got what was coming to him”, Richard thought not without satisfaction. “Now Dark Kat will command T-Bone to kill him.”
But, the stranger disappointed him with his next words. “He ordered T-Bone to remove his mask. Of course, T-Bone obeyed his new master without the slightest hesitation.
“It must have been a slap in the face to all the hopes Razor might have harbored in secret. The grip on his throat, however unnecessarily strong, might have been pretense on T-Bone’s part, something to lure Dark Kat into a false sense of security. But, there was no denying the fact that T-Bone would never – ever – reveal his true identity in an act of charade! Staring down at his former friend and partner, the unmasked T-Bone became witness to an unimaginably dreadful scene: he saw how Razor’s expression changed, how the quiet, hopeful and optimistic side that defined Razor flickered and died.
“Rage took over. Dark Kat had always thought the slim WSO weak, the runt of the litter. He never expected him to do what he did next. Razor bent his knees so that his legs formed an O, lifted his feet and sank his unsheathed claws so deep in T-Bone’s upper arms that the tabby uttered a suppressed cry of pain. How Razor must have flinched inwardly because of his action. He who couldn’t even stand inflicting minor injuries on innocent bystanders – he had just hurt his comrade severely enough to leave his body permanently scarred, even under the best of circumstances. It must have been…”
“ENOUGH!” Richard exploded. Raoul pressed his face into his father’s clothes at the sudden outburst and began to sob frightfully. Enraged, Richard was oblivious to his son’s upset. “Don’t give me this bullshit how that asshole couldn’t hurt a fly. Jake was one big selfish bastard who reveled in manipulating others. If not for him, Chance wouldn’t even have been in such a predicament! He’d still be with the Enforcers, with his family.
“Where he belonged.”
The stranger’s gaze rested on the SWAT Kats statue again. His eyes showed him things other kats could not see. “Yes,” he whispered at last, “Jake did have a lot of secrets. He never told Chance about the fortune he’d have inherited one day; that he could have gotten them out of their debts in the blink of an eye. He also neglected to tell him about the letter Pumadyne sent them about a week after they had been dumped at the salvage yard, and which offered them both extremely well paid jobs as test pilots.”
Richard gritted his teeth at the newest surprise. That miserable, two-faced son of a bitch!
“Who knows why he held these bits of information back. Chance was a kindred spirit who shared most of his views on life. Perhaps Jake just couldn’t stand the possibility of losing his best friend. Maybe he considered him the only worthy ally in his fight against crime. It is also possible that he wanted him close because his love for Chance went beyond that of a brother and a friend.”
A growl broke from the throat of the disgusted father. “Yes, that’d fit the sick bastard!”
The stranger smiled sadly, as if he had foreseen Richard’s reaction to the last word. “If so, he never let him know.” He fixed his eyes on Richard directly. “But, you’re wrong in thinking Chance was without choice in his fate. He never told anyone, not even his beloved little brother, that the MKC Tigers had offered him the quarterback position on their team only days before the incident that ended his Enforcer career. An offer that was renewed when Chance got out of the slammer! Yet he willingly refused.”
“Yes,” snarled Richard, “because of that deceitful low…”
“No, Richard. Because of himself! It was Chance’s decision to stay with Jake. His alone!”
The statement was uttered in a tone of such conviction that Richard was momentarily lost for words. Silence settled over them, a quiet so stark and oppressing that even Raoul’s snuffles seemed painfully loud. Richard lifted his son into his arms and tried to soothe him. He looked daggers at the other tom, although he was angry with himself.
“You should hear the rest of what I have to tell, Richard,” the stranger said somberly.
His voice… Suddenly, his voice sounded oddly familiar… Somehow, Richard found the strength to nod.
“Razor hurled T-Bone into the unprepared Dark Kat, who lost his mind controller as the tabby’s weight threw him off his feet and across the room. Razor jumped for it at once. He had it in his clutches just as Dark Kat bellowed ‘Kill him’. T-Bone instantly got up to execute the command, while Razor inspected the gun-like instrument in his hand, searching for a way to undo the nightmare Dark Kat had wrought.
“He targeted his partner and fired. The beam enveloped T-Bone, and for a fleeting second you could see hope springing up behind Razor’s mask. It was short-lived, however. T-Bone advanced as if nothing had happened, the same grim determination on his muzzle.
“In horror, Razor had to acknowledge that Dark Kat had spoken the truth, and nothing but the truth. T-Bone was lost; there simply was no going back!
“At this point, he gave in to his fate and made his final stand. I will never discern his true motives, but whatever his reasons, I know he couldn’t face a life without his friend at his side. Dark Kat had killed T-Bone, if not in body so at least in spirit, or so he thought, and the single drive still within Razor was to get even. He aimed the gun at the psycho mastermind and fired again. The beam reached Dark Kat, and then T-Bone reached Razor. And – despite the half-second he could have prepared to defend himself – the sureshot awaited him unmoving.
“T-Bone…” his voice broke. “T-Bone’s claws sliced through Razor’s throat as if it were butter, and he died gurgling on his own blood, and with tears streaming down his face.”
The stranger stared at his gloved hand, fingers held up, black claws unsheathed, piercing through the leather and glistening at the light of the streetlamps that, in the meantime, had flickered to life. Even now it seemed to him that they were tinted in the red tone of the blood of an innocent.
For brief moments, only the city’s sounds could be heard. Not even Raoul could speak but when he finally found the strength to, it was with a loud…
The child’s scream shot through the early night, again scaring away the crow that, annoyed at the insistent disruption of its quietude, flew away, croaking ominously in the night. He lunged at the stranger, his own little claws unsheathed. Richard had to hold his son back, and he had to use a great deal of strength to do it. Fortunately, he was almost as fit as he was in his twenties. As he turned his son to face him, Richard barely recognized Raoul. The youngster’s face was moist with tears, but they were tears of rage. He had seen that face in only one other kat: Jake.
“He’s lying, daddy! He has to be! Razor wouldn’t let himself be killed and T-Bone wouldn’t kill Razor! He’s lying! HE’S LYING!”
The outburst finally ended with Raoul burying his snout in his father’s chest and crying openly. He grabbed on to his father’s torso, and Richard was surprised to feel a pang whenever Raoul’s little sharp claws managed to find their way through the fabric of his shirt and bury into his skin. He withstood this soft form of torture without as much as a sigh out of love for his son.
“I-I didn’t mean to disturb Raoul this much,” – the stranger finally managed to say, looking down on the sobbing youngling. Richard noticed a small convulsion in his voice, as if the big tom was on the verge of crying.
Richard was confused, his mind, as well as his heart, in disarray. He hadn’t expected this last twist of fate. It didn’t fit the image he had of that two-faced good-for-nothing spoiled brat Jake Clawson. Why didn’t he even try to defend himself from T-Bone?
“Because he knew he didn’t stand a chance,” was the first thing Richard’s mind concocted. But, he could, couldn’t he? Even pinned down, he managed to rip Chance’s shoulders and send him away, off him, across the room and against Dark Kat, so he wasn’t defenseless. Why?
“Do you mind if I try to console Raoul a little?” the stranger asked, arms extended, palms up. Richard didn’t even detained himself for two seconds before handing Raoul to the stranger, who just hugged the shivering sobbing tom, holding him against his own chest. Curiously enough, Raoul didn’t object either.
“Why did he let Chance slit his throat without even defending himself? It doesn’t make sense! Unless…”
He looked back at the stranger. He’d been so lost in his thoughts he didn’t even notice the stranger had started to sing a lullaby, gently rocking the youngster in his arms as his warm baritone voice lulled the little tom to slumber. It took Richard another two seconds to recognize that song.
“Summertime, and the living is easy
Fish are jumping, the sun is high
Your dreams come true, just believe in them
So hush little one, don’t you cry.
One of these mornings, you’ll rise up
You’ll spread your wings and then you’ll fly
But till that morning, no one can harm you
As I sing you this lullaby”(1)
Soon enough, the little one was sleeping soundly in the stranger’s powerful arms. Gently, lovingly, he placed a kiss on the youngling’s head. It was only then that he looked back at Richard, who was surprised to see a stream of tears running down his face, although he made no sound. The stranger’s eyes softened and the shadow of a smile appeared on his lips. While holding Raoul with one hand, he removed the hat with the other and for the first time the streetlamps illuminated the golden facial fur on the stranger’s visage.
For Richard it was as if the world had come to an end and then had begun anew. He was about to make a move when a female voice called out his name from somewhere behind his back. Startled, he looked over his shoulder and saw Karen approaching, waving at him. He waved back, and, when he finally turned to pick up Raoul, he jumped and hastened to his feet.
The stranger was gone! As though he had never existed! In the exact spot where the hulking tom had been, lay the sleeping form of his son. On the young kat’s head was the hat the stranger was wearing, practically covering Raoul’s entire head.
“What are you doing? I thought I saw someone else here with you.”
Richard still looked around a couple of times but soon realized it was futile. If he wanted to disappear, no one, not even Richard would find him. He scooped Raoul in his strong arms, who just grunted in his sleep.
“Whose hat is this?”
Richard looked back at the statue of the two bygone heroes. “A friend’s.”
“Come on, I’ve got the car parked in second lane. I’ve got to take Raoul home.”
As he was handled to his mother, Raoul woke up and groggily asked his father where the lying mister had gone.
“I think you scared him away, tiger,” Richard answered as he ruffled the youngster’s head fur.
“Why did he make up those lies, daddy?”
“I don’t think he was lying, son. But, I also think he hasn’t told the complete truth, either.”
He stepped in closer and leaned towards his son’s face before talking to him in a warm and soothing tone.
“Heroes are made of flesh and bone, Raoul, but the ideals they stand for are made of stone and steel: they go on forever. And, *that’s* what’s important, tiger!”
Richard stood under the light from the streetlamp and watched Karen carry away their son, who waved goodbye at his father. A cold gust of wind brought Richard back to reality and he walked home in a fast pace.
When he arrived, he took off his coat and placed it in the coat-hanger. Heading for the bathroom, he took off his pullover and his shirt. Looking at himself in the mirror, he saw the small punctures his son’s claws had made in his back and sighed. He decided to take a shower to relax and, indeed, his mind was driven off the whole Jake affair as the tendrils of warm water caressed his muscles, taking away the soreness and the worries of the day.
He was coming out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist and another hanging from his shoulder when he noticed an envelope on the ground of the entrance hall, near the door. Curious, he went to pick it up.
“There’s no sender name. Must be some publicity.”
He turned it around and on the back was written “For your eyes only”. He shrugged and opened the envelope. Inside, unlike he had expected, was a letter written with a calligraphy he instantly recognized. He started to shake and his hand covered his mouth when his eyes instinctively looked down to the signature in the lower right corner. His eyes began to moisten. He started to read.
“Brother, I’m sorry I didn’t let you know I was alive sooner, but quite frankly, I only came to know who I am recently. Let me try to explain and then perhaps you can forgive me. And Jake.
“I will now finish the story I started in the park. Yes, I killed Jake although, at that time, I knew not what I was doing. But, unbeknownst to Jake, he saved me when he hit Dark Kat with the mind-controller. I don’t know if this is right or not, but it’s the only thing that makes some sense to me. This is far too ‘Einsteinian’ to me. Anyway, I think the fact that Dark Kat became a slave without a master helped me regain a little part of my senses. I can tell you it was like a slap in the face after having been fast asleep. My memory didn’t come back all at once when Dark Kat was zapped but that little small part of me finally found some strength to overpower the control of the Dark Commandments.
“I might have gone insane if my mind hadn’t been a partial blank when I realized I killed Jake…”
There was a noticeable smudge in the words that followed, so Richard couldn’t really make out what was written. He could see, however, that the smudge was made by a few teardrops.
“I remember staring up to Jake, his limp form hanging from my claws around his neck, his blood oozing from his muzzle and down my forearm. It was as though I was watching from very far away, emotionless and cold. I threw him away like garbage against Dark Kat. I don’t know why I did that, perhaps I was disgusted at the scene, I don’t know. I only know I threw Jake away so violently he and Dark Kat fell over the PDG’s power supply, destroying it.
I guess it turned out better that way because I would’ve killed myself there and then if my memory had come back all at once. Maybe I should have killed myself there and then. But, I didn’t; I wasn’t myself. So, instead I just walked away, leaving a vegetative Dark Kat and a dead brother behind. Or so I thought. I wasn’t counting on the explosion that followed. I was already out of that place, in a back alley, when it went up in flames. I guess the power supply must have short-circuited something and started the fire. Again, I watched that rather distantly, as though I was seeing it through someone else’s cold, insensitive, emotionless eyes.
“And, that’s practically that. It took me seven years to remember everything. I knew who I was, I had some fragmented recollections of my double life, I had a faint idea of who Jake was and but a shadow of a thought that I had a family. In these past seven years I tried to put all the pieces back together, but there are still a lot of holes in this puzzle. Your existence was one of the last ones to be filled.
“I never knew I had a nephew. Kats Above, Richard, he’s beautiful! He reminds me so much of Jake.
“Jake… I honestly wasn’t surprised to hear your contempt for my friend. It’s true: I practically gave myself to Jake, neglecting my little brother. But, don’t you think I forgot you, Richard! And, don’t think that Jake controlled me! You know I can be stubborn, you, better than most people, know that! It wasn’t Jake who turned me into a mindless zombie: If you recall, it was Dark Kat who did that!
“Jake was the sweetest, most gentle, most reliable kat I could find outside of my family. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in my career as a crime fighter either. We were the rocks that supported each other, the rocks on which each of us built our lives. Ultimately, the rocks that would crumble and destroy those very lives…
“This could probably be the last time you hear about me, brother. The mind-controller blasts had a nasty side effect I doubt even Dark Kat was aware of. I’m aging much faster than I should be, so I probably have just a few months, perhaps a couple of years left to live. I’ll probably die as some unknown beggar in the street. But, don’t you worry! This is my penance for murdering my best friend. I and I alone should have to bear it.
“Go back to Karen. She’s a good and honest she-kat and shouldn’t have to pay for her brother’s mistakes towards you. No matter how wronged you think you were, please take my word for it: Jake isn’t to blame but me.
“I end as I started: please, forgive me, brother. Know that I have always and always will love you, to my very last breath.
(1)adapted from “Summertime” © 1935 George Gershwin et al.
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