Original SWAT Kats Story

The Tournament

By C.L. Furlong & Felicia McFurry

  • 4 Chapters
  • 64,533 Words

A failed battle with Dark Kat nearly drives T-Bone insane while Razor is toyed like a marionette in Dark Kat’s paws. Will they manage to survive this deadly gamble?

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Author's Notes:

TITLE: THE TOURNAMENT – PART ONE

AUTHORS: C. L. Furlong & Felicia McFurry

DATE: April 30, 2001

FINISHED: July 25, 2001

FINAL REVISION: July 28, 2001

E-MAILS: Chance_lizard_furlong@aeiou.ptRiochet@msn.mail.com

RATING: R for violent content and strong language

SUMMARY: A failed battle with Dark Kat nearly drives T-Bone insane while Razor is toyed like a marionette in Dark Kat’s paws. Will they manage to survive this deadly gamble?

DISCLAIMER: SWAT Kats and anything related to the series is property of Hanna-Barbera. No infringement is intended and no profit is gained with this fiction.

COMMENTS: Hello, SK fans! So… this is my first co-authored work. I must thank my co-author for having that excellent basal idea for this fic. Really, I wouldn’t have thought of something like this but right then when Felicia told me about it I knew the idea was… juicy… Well, here’s the juice of it. Most of it was written by me as you might notice by the style of writing although Felicia’s ideas proved crucial at some steps, since writer’s block affected me thoroughly during this part (writer’s blocks… don’t you just hate ’em?). Well, that’s it, really. I won’t keep you much longer. I hope this fic is enjoyable.

A little note: some scenes of this part are quite gory. If you’re really not fond of seeing (or reading about, for that matter) the vital fluid, then I would recommend reader discretion. Oh, I hope you don’t crucify me for the ending of this part (it was my idea, really, so spare poor Felicia, okay)… This fiction is, thus, unrelated to my regular “Final Resistance” series. C. U. all, SK fans!

(1)Very experienced master.

(2)Honored master.

Chapter 1

Razor ran towards the sandbag and delivered a flying kick to it. T-Bone was behind the sandbag, holding it in its place and absorbing part of Razor’s blow.

“C’mon, bud! Can’t you kick any harder than that?” – he teased.

“You asked for it…,” – Razor said as he stepped back a few meters.

He flexed his back muscles and ran towards the sandbag. He jumped into the air and screamed a high-pitched kat-rate cry. The impact of his foot against the sandbag was tremendous, but T-Bone held it tightly in place. Razor landed and looked a bit surprised.

T-Bone just grinned to his friend.

“Thought you’d throw me back with the sandbag like the last time, didn’t you?”

“It crossed my mind…,” – the slim kat admitted, grinning back to T-Bone.

Suddenly, the giant screen of their hangar flickered to life and the aging face of Prof. Hackle appeared.

“SWAT Kats! Come in! SWAT Kats!”

Both SWAT Kats ran to the screen. Prof. Hackle’s face seemed distressed.

“What’s up, Professor?” – Razor asked.

The image trembled and flickered off for a moment, coming back a second later.

“Dark Kat is attacking my laboratory…,” – the screen flickered again – “… shields on backup power…” – another burst of static – “… much more…”

The screen went black. T-Bone and Razor exchanged glances and ran towards the TurboKat. In a few seconds, the skies filled with the roar of the black jet fighter.

T-Bone set the course to Prof. Hackle’s lab, near the rocky shore off Megakat City.

“What do you think Dark Crud wants with the Professor, Razor?” – T-Bone asked as he engaged the afterburners.

“Beats me, buddy. But, if Dark Kat gets his paws on the Professor’s gizmos, there’s no telling what he can do with them!”

“Then, we better hurry! For what I got from the Professor’s message, his shields were growing weaker by the moment!”

“You got it, bud. Step on it!”

——————–S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——————–

“Keep moving! We’ve got him now!” – Dark Kat bellowed to his ninjas.

They kept blasting the invisible shield surrounding the lab with mortars. The barrier held the explosions, but it was growing weaker and thinner as the power generators were worn out.

“It was a good idea to break into Hackle’s lab. He might have something to help me out with the Tournament,” – Dark Kat thought as he grinned in anticipation.

Suddenly, he pricked his ears. A sound. That sound! He spun his head and saw the dark spot in the sky. He narrowed his eyes.

“The SWAT Kats!” – he hissed – “They’re always meddling with my plans! Will I never be rid of those infernal vigilantes?”

He turned to his ninjas and roared.

“HIDE AND AMBUSH!”

The black-dressed kats stopped the shooting and swiftly hid among the halophyte vegetation around the lab.

——————–S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——————–

T-Bone engaged the VTOL engines of the TurboKat and landed softly on the white sandy beach in front of the orange sandstone cliff that housed Prof. Hackle’s lab on its top. He popped the canopy and stared at the cliff for a while. Razor jumped down to the beach, followed by his burly partner.

“Seems pretty quiet!” – Razor said, looking around the beach.

There was nothing at sight. The only sound was that of the surf, rolling calmly over the shore. Razor’s ears spun around, trying to get some other sound but nothing broke the quietness of the landscape.

“Too quiet!” – T-Bone mumbled.

He kept looking at the cliff as if entranced by the orange rock outcrop. Something glistened among the foliage of the vegetation. Then, a hissing sound came to his ears. T-Bone widened his eyes and lunged to Razor, knocking the slim SWAT Kat on the sand. Behind him, the TurboKat exploded in flames as a rocket crashed into it. Searing shards of black metal flew off in every direction. Some of them met T-Bone’s back and legs, ripping through the clothes and muscles of the big SWAT Kat. He groaned as the hot pieces of metal crisscrossed his body.

He got away from Razor and stood on his feet. Razor stood up by his side, oblivious of the flaming jet fighter. He spotted the dark forms rushing towards them. They assumed fighting stances and prepared for battle, tensing every muscle fiber in their bodies.

Soon they were face to face with Dark Kat’s ninjas. The three black-dressed kats didn’t attack. They waited for Dark Kat to get to them. T-Bone and Razor tensed and hardened their faces when they saw Dark Kat approaching.

“He’s mine!” – T-Bone muttered to Razor. He ran to the ninjas and somersaulted over their heads, running to the purple kat.

Razor began attacking the ninjas as hard as he could. With a roundhouse kick he managed to make the three fall to the sand. He then sped away from them in the sand. They followed him.

“That’s it, guys… Come after me!” – he thought, a plan already forming in his mind.

T-Bone jumped towards Dark Kat and prepared a fly kick, but the purple kat was prepared and blocked the kick perfectly, grabbing T-Bone’s right leg. He dug his black claws into his thigh and dragged them down across the muscle, ripping it.

T-Bone roared in pain as gushes of blood spurted from his leg.

Razor heard T-Bone’s scream and looked behind. He saw the big tabby falling to the sand. Then, he saw Dark Kat deliver a blow to T-Bone’s head. He looked to his pursuers. His plan was working. They were in a line, the fastest in the front and the slowest behind. He suddenly spun around and kicked the first ninja, causing him to fall back. He then started running again.

T-Bone looked to Dark Kat but the blow the huge kat had given him opened a gash on his right eyebrow, from where blood came out over his eyelid, partially blinding him. He stood on his feet and tried to punch Dark Kat but his vision played tricks on him.

Dark Kat avoided his blows.

“Is this the best you can do, SWAT Kat?” – he taunted.

T-Bone growled and swept the blood off his eye. He threw a punch to Dark Kat’s gut and then another to his chest that drew all the air out of his lungs. The purple kat backhanded T-Bone’s face and his rings ripped the big tabby’s cheek.

Razor spun around and delivered another blow to the second ninja. He fell to the ground too, but the third ninja was too close for him to use the same strategy once again. The ninja fly-kicked Razor in his chest, sending him flying back and knocking him to the sand. Razor got rapidly to his feet and did a reverse kick with his right foot to the ninja’s gut. In the same fluid motion, he raised his left foot and kicked the ninja’s chin, flipping back and landing on his feet.

Dark Kat watched as his ninjas were easily defeated by the slim SWAT Kat. A smile came to his lips as an idea lit on his brain.

T-Bone aimed his glovatrix at Dark Kat.

“Deploy Mini Megatons…,” – he said as the little explosive head pricked on the middle barrel of his glovatrix.

Dark Kat saw it and kicked T-Bone’s arm when he shot. The explosive fired from the glovatrix in an arc into the sky.

The explosive hit the ground near Razor and blew up, sending him high into the air, flipping head over heels. He screamed in surprise and pain as shards of the missile riveted in his right leg.

T-Bone spun around and saw Razor flying through the air and landing hard in a lump on the sand. He wiped the blinding blood from his eyebrow and ran to his partner, the fight with Dark Kat already forgotten.

“RAZOR! NOOOOO!” – he shouted in despair.

Razor lay limply in the sand, not moving. His right leg was bleeding badly and soaking the sand around it.

“NO!” – T-Bone thought as he ran and limped as fast as his wounds allowed him towards his friend. – “He’s not moving! He’s… No! It can’t be true!”

He kept running and limping towards Razor, but he never reached him.

The three ninjas abruptly stood between T-Bone and Razor.

“OUTTA MY WAY!” – he bellowed as he charged against the threesome, but they held the barrier tightly.

One of them punched T-Bone in his ribs as another backhanded him in the face with his fist closed. T-Bone spurted some bloody saliva with the blows he received. Two of the ninjas took the chance and grabbed T-Bone’s arms from behind, completely exposing his body. The third ninja swooped his right foot against T-Bone’s cheek. In the same fluid motion, he punched the big tabby right below the midriff, making him double over himself as he gasped some blood. Continuing his deadly choreography, the ninja rammed his knee against the big SWAT Kat’s snout. Blood and saliva flew off T-Bone’s muzzle in an arc as his head jerked back.

T-Bone was rapidly loosing his senses. He couldn’t take much more of these blows. The ninja extended his claws and swished them across T-Bone’s face and chest, ripping his G-suit and his flesh, tearing big gashes from where the red vital fluid spurted. The ninja somersaulted back and delivered a powerful kick to T-Bone’s chin, making him bend his head back painfully.

The two ninjas released T-Bone from their grip, and the big tabby knelt on the sand, exhausted and in pain. They kicked T-Bone’s gut again and again. The sand around the big tabby’s head was dyed in red from the blood he vomited with each kick. He couldn’t take it anymore. With clouded eyes he looked to Razor, still a blue lump on the bloodred sand. He painfully extended his right arm towards his friend.

“Razor…,” – he said in a whisper. Then, his world turned darker and darker. T-Bone slowly gave in to the blessed darkness that invaded his mind.

——————–S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——————–

Razor woke up and shook his head to clear the dizziness from his mind. His vision was still clouded, and he didn’t pay much attention to the blue lump a few feet ahead of him. Only a few moments later did he recognize the unconscious form of his best friend lying in a mound of red sand.

“T-BONE!” – he shouted as he awkwardly got to his feet.

His right leg was badly injured. He could only limp towards T-Bone. Shock filled his face when he saw the sand around the burly SWAT Kat dyed in dark red. The ninjas spun their heads to face the slim SWAT Kat. but Razor didn’t pay attention to them. T-Bone was all that mattered to him now.

“He’s not moving!” – he thought – “I can’t see his chest moving! What did those butchers do to him?”

He was about to reach T-Bone when the three ninjas grabbed him and drug him away from his friend. Razor felt a wave of agony overwhelming him. There he was, so close to help his friend and yet so far away. He struggled to burst free from his attackers, but his strength was fading away as the blood exited through his wounds.

“NO! T-BONE! LET ME GO, YOU CREEPS!” – he shouted as he struggled, but the three ninjas held their grip tightly and dragged him away from T-Bone – “T-BONE! SPEAK TO ME! T-BOOOONE!”

Razor suddenly felt a bump and a sharp pain on the back of his skull. He began seeing the corners of his vision turn jet-black. In a few seconds, his body hung limply on the paws of his captors. T-Bone’s blood-covered body was the last image Razor’s brain registered.

——————–S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——————–

Cold. His body felt cold.

And wet. Cold and wet.

And salty. Cold, wet and salty.

T-Bone slowly regained his consciousness. He opened his eyes and saw something whitish come towards him. It slapped him in the face. He swallowed it and choked. He heaved his bulk and coughed, trying to clean the fluid from his lungs. The coldness and wetness enveloped him like a heavy blanket.

He looked around to get his bearings. He was in the surf zone. The tide had crept up the shore and the waves were bathing his injured body, causing his wounds to burn slightly.

He got up to his feet and staggered a few steps in the surf. He inspected the beach. It was deserted. There were no signs of life. The flaming remains of the TurboKat were the only alien objects in the sandy crescent.

“RAZOR!” – he shouted but his voice was hoarse. – “RAZOR!”

He walked a few uneasy steps over the wet sand, looking around, hoping to see his friend.

“RAZOR! HIT ME BACK!” – his voice was filled with despair. Razor was nowhere to be found.

He limped and staggered across the surf, which came back and forth in a dizzying parabolic movement. He lost his footing and knelt on the drenched sand. All of his body hurt and his wounds were still open, allowing the blood to escape from his arteries and into the environment.

A large breaker came rolling to the beach and dragged T-Bone with it. He fought to regain his footing, but his strength grew weaker by the minute. He choked again on the water and, with an almost superfeline effort, the big tabby managed to drag himself to shore, out of the reach of the raging breakers. He stood on all fours and coughed until his abs nearly ached.

He rolled and stood on his back, panting, his chest lifting and falling wildly, arms spread out wide. Suddenly, something warm and salty started rolling down his face. Teardrops. He clenched his eyes. He kept seeing Razor being thrown up into the air and landing in a mound of red sand in his mind.

“No…,” – he winced.

He sat up straight in the sand and got up to his feet. Again, he scanned the white sandy crescent, searching for his friend.

But, it was hopeless.

He dropped to his knees and clenched his fists and his teeth. Heavy tears streamed down his face.

“NO!” – he screamed in a despairing voice, smacking his closed fists on the sand. – “NO, NO, NO, *NO*!”

He stopped the beating and sobbed a bit while the hard realization seeped down in his mind.

“I… I… killed him…” – he sobbed.

He doubled over to his knees and stood on all fours, hanging his head. Tears ran down directly to the sand, soaking it.

“I killed my brother…”

——————–S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——————–

“T-Bone?” – a voice said from behind the big SWAT Kat. He felt a paw lying on his right shoulder – “Is everything alright with you?”

For a second, hope glimmered in T-Bone’s eyes. He suddenly looked up to his right.

“Razor?” – he said.

The sun was right behind the head of the kat, turning his features unrecognizable. He shielded his eyes from the sunlight with his right paw. He could discern a bit more of the kat’s features. The long fur on each side of his face made his heart thump stronger in his chest.

“Razor! It’s you!” – T-Bone said as he got to his feet.

Only then, did T-Bone notice the kat’s white lab coat. It wasn’t Razor after all.

“No, T-Bone. I’m not Razor,” – the aging kat informed him.

A shadow cast upon T-Bone’s face when he recognized Prof. Hackle. Behind him stood Cybertron, now already rebuilt and fully operational.

“Prof. Hackle…”

“What’s wrong, T-Bone? Where’s your partner?” – Prof. Hackle queried, looking around and inspecting the beach.

T-Bone winced and looked away from Prof. Hackle. Again, he saw Razor flipping through the air, blood gushing from his leg. T-Bone closed his eyes and a tear involuntarily trickled down his facial fur.

Prof. Hackle noticed it.

“Don’t tell me he’s…,” – the graying kat started.

T-Bone shuddered and knelt on the sand.

“Did Dark Kat…”

“No,” – T-Bone managed to say through clenched teeth – “It wasn’t Dark Kat…”

“Then who…”

“Me…”

Prof. Hackle opened his mouth in disbelief. Then, he shook his head and passed an arm over T-Bone’s shoulders.

“Calm down, T-Bone. I’m sure it wasn’t you…”

T-Bone slapped Prof. Hackle’s arm off his shoulders and looked intensely at the aging kat.

“Of course it was me! I killed him! It was all my fault!”

“Come now, T-Bone. I’m sure Razor isn’t dead…”

“Then where is he? TELL ME, WHERE IS HE?” – T-Bone shouted as tears streamed down his face. T-Bone cleaned the wetness off his face and walked away, limping as he went.

“T-Bone, where are you going? You’re in no condition to leave!” – Prof. Hackle said as he hurried to the big tabby.

“I’m fine. Razor, on the other paw, isn’t…” – T-Bone said as he went to the sea, towards the charred remains of the TurboKat.

“You’re not going anywhere unless it is to a stretcher to be healed.”

“Not until I find Razor’s body.”

“You’re delirious, T-Bone! Those wounds must already be infected!”

“Are you deaf, Hackle? I said I’m fine!” – T-Bone snapped back as he suddenly turned around to face Prof. Hackle. He just felt something stinging his left biceps. He looked down and saw a little dart riveted in the muscle. Abruptly, he felt his entire body numbing and, seconds later, passed out.

“I’m sorry, T-Bone, but this had to be done. Cybertron! Go get him before he drowns in the surf.”

The short metallic robot acknowledged and went to the surf zone, picking up T-Bone’s unconscious form. Together, kat and robot climbed up the steps carved in the orange rock outcrop, leading to Prof. Hackle’s laboratory.

——————–S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——————–

“You think you’re so good, SWAT Kat… but you’re not!” – Dark Kat said to T-Bone as he kicked the burly SWAT Kat’s stomach.

T-Bone rolled on the ground and quickly stood up to his feet. He ran to Dark Kat and flying-kicked him in the face. The purple kat fell over on his back.

“Get up, you slime ball!” – T-Bone roared as he jumped onto Dark Kat’s chest and punched his face.

Dark Kat’s already purple face was even more purple than usual, his black blood oozing from his nose, mouth and the cuts T-Bone’s claws and fists had opened in his forehead and cheeks.

“Where’s Razor?” – T-Bone snarled as he grabbed Dark Kat’s collar with both fists, shaking the purple kat’s head.

“H-he… He’s…,” – Dark Kat babbled.

“*Where*? – T-Bone asked, shoving his face to Dark Kat’s, their snouts almost touching.

“He’s… He’s…” – Dark Kat stuttered as he gasped some black blood.

“WHERE, DAMN YOU? – T-Bone roared.

“He’s… up your… tailhole…”

“Wrong answer,” – T-Bone responded as he drew his arm back and punched Dark Kat’s face again with all his might.

After a few more seconds of T-Bone’s facial massage, Dark Kat’s face was a complete mess. His jaw was broken, along with his nose. Black blood spurted from nearly everywhere in his face.

“You’re worthless, Dark Crud,” – T-Bone said as he got off Dark Kat. The big tabby stepped away from the huge lump in the ground – “You don’t deserve to keep living.”

T-Bone aimed his glovatrix at the purple kat, who was still lying in the ground.

“Goodbye, Dark Crud. Deploy Mini Baby Boomer Missiles.”

Nanoseconds later, an explosion lit up the place as it made its roar heard. T-Bone covered his face with his arm. When the debris stopped falling and the smoke and the dust settled down, he looked to where Dark Kat’s corpse was supposed to be.

He gasped as he widened his eyes. His mouth felt suddenly dry. His lower jaw moved and a word was articulated though no sound was heard.

“RAZOR!” – T-Bone screamed as he rushed to the dead body of his friend.

Razor was lying in a pool of his own blood. His G-suit was torn open in so many places it did a poor job covering the remains of the slim kat. His skull was visible in shreds on his battered head. His eyes were black and empty, with trails of blood trickling down from each eye socket.

T-Bone knelt beside Razor’s corpse, shaking his head in disbelief.

“Razor…,” – he whispered – “It can’t be you, bro, it can’t be you!”

He closed his eyes and clenched his fists and teeth.

“NOOOOOOOOO!”

T-Bone suddenly sat upright on the stretcher, eyes unfocused. He blinked a few times until he looked around to get his bearings. He was in some kind of laboratory. Then, it struck him. It had been a nightmare.

“Just a nightmare… It was just a nightmare…,” – T-Bone whispered. Only a few seconds later did he see Prof. Hackle a few feet away from his stretcher, looking down worriedly at him.

“Is everything okay, T-Bone?” – Prof. Hackle asked as he headed for the big tabby.

T-Bone shook his head yes. His breathing and heartbeat slowly returned to normal.

“I took the liberty of running a few tests on you while you were unconscious,” – the aging kat said – “I hope you don’t mind my intromission, but I thought…”

“It’s okay, professor…,” – T-Bone said and leaned back on the stretcher.

“I do hope you forgive my rather… violent… behavior down there…,” – the aging kat sheepishly said, eyes boring holes in the ground.

“If you mean the dart, forget about it, professor… I know I have…,” – T-Bone soothed.

“Well, you were banged up pretty bad, you know?” – Prof. Hackle said, changing the subject – “Some of your wounds *were* infected, but my robots have taken good care of you. Just don’t move too much in order not to break the stitches, will you?”

“What? I’m stitched?” – T-Bone asked, surprised.

“It had to be. Some of your wounds were just too deep. You also lost an appreciable amount of blood but nothing a few days of rest won’t…”

“Rest… HA! I’ll be having lots of that… Razor’s dead… The SWAT Kats are…,” – he couldn’t go on. He was fighting against his emotions.

“Don’t think of it anymore, T-Bone! It’s not good for you…”

“Can’t you see, professor? I *did* it! I *murdered* Razor!”

“No, you didn’t! You can’t possibly have done it! You two are like brothers…”

“That’s why it’s so unbearable, professor… To know that we were like brothers and even so I killed him…”

Prof. Hackle knew when he was beaten. He couldn’t argue against facts! Razor was missing and T-Bone had shot him.

“Just try to relax… Please… My robots will take care of you.” – With that, the aging kat turned on his heel and left the laboratory.

T-Bone saw two robots coming to him. One of them stuck the needle of a syringe in his right arm. Again, T-Bone fell asleep under the effects of the anesthetic.

“I’m sorry, Jake… I’m sorry… Please, forgive me, bro… Please, forgive me…” – T-Bone thought as he slowly gave in to the darkness that invaded his mind.

——————–S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——————–

Razor woke up with his face stuck to some oozy reddish-brown fluid, which streamed down his features. He shook his head in order to get rid of the sludge but his head started throbbing in pain.

“Oooooh… My head…,” – he complained – “Feels like a hydrogen bomb exploded inside my skull…”

He opened his eyes and scanned the obscurity surrounding him. He couldn’t see much, but there was nothing to be seen anyway. Just four solid walls surrounded him. Behind him and high in the wall was a narrow horizontal barred window with no glass. He could see the stars glittering in the dark skies.

“It’s night already… I wonder how long have I been out… And, where the heck I am…”

The image of T-Bone lying in the sand, bleeding to death stung his mind.

“Chance…,” – he whispered – “I can’t believe you’re…” – He didn’t want to say the word. Tears slid from his eyes and down his facial fur. He swiftly cleaned the wetness off his face.

“I gotta get outta here… Before Dark Kat kills me too… Like he did to you, Chance… I swear he’s gonna pay for that, big bro…”

Suddenly, his cell’s door opened and a burst of light invaded the exiguous room, blinding Razor temporarily. The slim SWAT Kat raised a paw and covered his eyes. He saw a bulky shadow at the door.

“I’m glad you woke up. I feared my kats had killed you,” – a rumbling voice boomed.

Razor could recognize that voice blind, deaf and dumb.

Dark Kat.

Razor roared and lunged towards Dark Kat. Suddenly, his body was stopped and jerked back. He collapsed to the ground with a muddy splash. He felt his left leg burning.

Dark Kat didn’t move a single muscle. Instead, he just grinned and started laughing.

“Honestly, SWAT Kat… You think I’d be *that* stupid so as to leave you unrestrained?” – he made a heartbroken face – “Sincerely, I *do* take offense to that!”

Dark Kat approached Razor and kicked his gut, sending the slim kat rolling to the opposite wall. Razor coughed and gasped some blood. He looked up to the purple kat and saw his eyes blazing bright orange, like two coals on fire in the gloom in which his body was bathed.

“I have a proposition for you, SWAT Kat,” – Dark Kat oozed.

Razor sat on the muddy ground and groped for his injured leg. He spat to Dark Kat’s feet.

“I’m not interested,” – he hissed.

Dark Kat just chuckled.

“Listen first and then you’ll decide. I saw the way you fought my ninjas today.”

“So?” – Razor asked as he inspected his right leg. His wounds were disinfected and dressed. He cocked one eyebrow under his mask.

“Dark Kat healed my wounds?” – he thought – “Why?”

“Every four years an underground event takes place in Megakat City.”

“What event?”

“It’s simply called ‘The Tournament’. Basically, it’s a fighting championship among every villain, punk and thug of this city. It is used to establish a hierarchy among the contestants. As in so many things in life, the winner takes it all, and that ‘all’ is the respect of all the other contestants. As you might imagine, I’ve won quite a few myself. That is how I conquered my reputation in this city,” – Dark Kat said as he smiled.

“As a hooded smooth-spoken wimp?” – Razor spat with a shade of a mocking grin in his lips.

Dark Kat’s eyes blazed, and the smile vanished from his face. However, he didn’t attack Razor for his comment.

“As the most brilliant and feared criminal mastermind of Megakat City… Probably of this entire planet!” – The purple kat corrected Razor.

“An ego the size of the galaxy, I see…,” – Razor muttered as he inspected his left leg, which was bound to the floor by means of a chain. He grabbed the chain and tugged it, testing its resistance.

Dark Kat just closed his eyes and chuckled softly while he shook his head.

“You have no respect for me, do you?” – he asked the slim SWAT Kat.

“Should I?” – Razor snapped – “After what you did to T-Bone?”

“He got what he deserved…”

Razor growled and showed his fangs in disgust.

“MURDERER!” – he shouted as he got to his feet – “YOU’RE NOTHING BUT A FILTHY MURDERER!”

May I learn the accusation impending over my head now?” – Dark Kat oozed.

Razor gritted his teeth.

“Don’t play stupid with me, you purple crud. You killed my partner back there on the beach,” – Razor snarled, clenching his fists and narrowing his eyes.

“What?” – the huge kat asked, confused – “I didn’t kill him! My ninjas just taught him a good lesson but didn’t kill him!”

“How can you say that? I saw the blood in the sand! I saw his chest immobile. YOU KILLED HIM!”

“I assure you your partner’s as alive as you or me,” – Dark Kat said, raising his right paw in the air and turning its palm to Razor.

“LIAR!” – Razor shouted.

“That’s enough.” – Dark Kat grabbed Razor by his chin and lifted him up in the air – “Just for your knowledge, you would be *dead* by now if I didn’t need you!”

“Need… me?…” – Razor managed to ask.

Dark Kat released Razor from his grip, and the SWAT Kat fell to the ground with a muddy splash, landing on his tail.

“Yes. I want you to fight under my flag in this year’s Tournament.”

“What?” – Razor asked in disbelief.

“Exactly what you heard. You’ll have the honor to fight some of the most dangerous criminals of this town for me.”

“You gotta be joking! No! You flipped! That’s it! You’re crazy!”

Dar Kat clenched his fists. For less than that he had already killed many kats. He closed his eyes and swallowed his anger. From somewhere inside his cloak, he retrieved a small test tube filled with a dark red fluid and shoved it into Razor’s snout.

“And, what’s just *that* supposed to be?” – Razor said, defiantly. Dark Kat just grinned.

“It’s a sample of your blood.”

“What?” – Razor hissed, narrowing his eyes.

“Now you have two choices, SWAT Kat. Either you choose to work for me or you choose to have your identity revealed to every ruffian in this city!”

Razor gulped. Dark Kat must have retrieved the blood when he was unconscious.

“Why didn’t you just take off my mask?”

“It wouldn’t be half the fun and the satisfaction that way!” – Dark Kat said. He closed his eyes and grinned, chuckling mischievously. – “To know I have you in my paws just because of a few drops of blood…”

“Give me that!” – Razor hissed as he tried to grab the vial from Dark Kat’s paw, but the chain restraining his leg stopped him again.

“Now…,” – Dark Kat leaned his head to the side as though in deep thought – “What would be the consequences if your identity was to be released? Let’s see… Oh, yes… Your life would be at stake!” – he oozed.

“I can live with that! I’m not working for you!” – Razor stated, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Aren’t you forgetting something? Like your family… Or even your partner… If the identity of one SWAT Kat were known, the other’s life would be at stake too! Imagine how simple it would be to snipe your partner knowing who he really is… Would you like to see the corpses of both your partner and your family just because you didn’t want to work for me? Could you bear to carry that burden for the rest of your life?”

Razor closed his eyes and clenched his fists and teeth.

“I have no escape…,” – he thought to himself – “I’m in his paws… I can’t risk my relatives’ lives… Nor Chance’s… CRUD!”

“So, SWAT Kat… What’s it gonna be? Either you work for me or everybody you know dies…,” – Dark Kat’s rumbling voice boomed in the tiny cubicle.

Razor sighed and dropped his head and arms in resigned defeat.

“I’ll do what you want… I’ll enter the Tournament for you…”

Dark Kat’s roar of laughter echoed along the entire mansion as it mingled with the distant roar of thunder from an approaching storm.

——————–S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——————–

“Your wounds will heal if you give them enough time, T-Bone,” – Prof. Hackle said to the big tabby, who was already up. It was six o’clock in the morning and both kats stared at the rising sun over due east.

“I’ve had worst injuries before, professor,” – he stated as he looked down the balcony of the lab, towards the remains of the black fighter jet. He shook his head and closed his eyes.

“I’ve lost everything…,” – he thought – “Jake, the TurboKat, the SWAT Kats, my health…,” – he sighed – “Now, I’m truly alone…”

He remained in silence for a while before cocking his head towards the rising sun.

“I wonder where his body is…,” – T-Bone asked rhetorically.

“Maybe the tide had carried him away. The tides are quite vigorous here, you know? Besides, this night’s storm didn’t help anything. The waves were breaking directly over the cliff,” – Prof. Hackle informed.

T-Bone just nodded.

“Then, he belongs to the sea now…” – he shook his head – “His family’s gonna kill me…”

“You’d rather I tell them? – Prof. Hackle proposed.

“No… It’s my duty…,” – the big tabby looked to the sea again – “I should be heading back. I’ve taken too much of your time already.”

“Sure you don’t want to stay a bit longer until your injuries are completely healed?” – the aging kat asked.

“I really can’t…”

“Well, you’re not walking back to the city. Wait a minute here,” – Prof. Hackle said as he disappeared inside his lab. The graying kat returned with a jetpack in his paws.

“I made this quite a while ago, but it still works perfectly,” – he panted, handing T-Bone the jetpack.

T-Bone slipped the jetpack onto his back and inspected it for a while.

“You know how to handle it?” – Prof. Hackle asked.

T-Bone nodded.

“I think so. The controls are very similar to our own jetpacks’. Thanks for everything, professor. I’ll be seeing you.”

T-Bone engaged the jets and flew away from Prof. Hackle’s laboratory.

The aging kat stared as the SWAT Kat disappeared from his sight.

“Cybertron!”

The short robot replied some electronic sounds in acknowledgement and went to Prof. Hackle.

“We’ve got work to do,” – the inventor said, looking to the charred and wave-battered remains of the black fighter jet still lying in the sandy crescent.

——————–S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——————–

Razor raised his head from his knees, which he was embracing. Bloodshot eyes looked outside the barred opening in the wall of his gaol to the clearing skies. He was sitting on the ground, in a place not too muddy. Last night’s storm formed a small cascade that streamed from the window and down the dark stony wall, turning the few dry patches of dirt into oozy mud. He felt a shiver and wondered how it was that he didn’t have pneumonia with his soaking wet G-suit on. His injuries on his right leg were throbbing in pain. He gripped his forehead and felt the fever burn his palm. He jerked his head towards the door when someone inserted and turned the key, opening the heavy wooden door.

“Good morning. Did you sleep?” – one of Dark Kat’s ninjas asked after taking two steps inside the cell.

Razor coughed twice and shook his head in a negative. The ninja smiled under his mask.

“You will tonight… I guarantee it… C’mon, we’ve got a lot to do,” – the ninja said. He went to Razor and opened the lock on the shackle that restrained Razor. He looked to the slim kat’s leg. – “How’s your leg today?”

“Burning,” – Razor answered while the ninja rolled up Razor’s trousers and inspected the compresses – “What’s your name?”

“I can’t tell. It’s against the code of ninjutsu,” – the ninja stated as he poked the compresses on Razor’s leg.

The slim kat winced.

“I understand,” – Razor said – “Then, what should I call you?”

“You don’t call me anything!” – the ninja shrugged – “I have no name for you. These are infected… Dark Kat shouldn’t have left you here while these wounds weren’t healed yet…”

“Well, actually Dark Crud isn’t the most sensitive kat in the world…,” – Razor said, sardonically. He watched the ninja closely. – “You’re the ninja that hit me yesterday!”

“Yeah, it’s me. Nice back flip you gave me. Where did you learn it?”

“Can’t tell…,” – Razor responded as a shadow cast over his eyes.

“Well, I can’t do much here. Come with me to the infirmary,” – the ninja ordered.

They went out of the cell and walked along a gloomy rock corridor before climbing up a few steps. Razor covered his face with his arm in order to protect his eyes from the luminosity that bathed the hall of the mansion. He looked to the ninja. The black-dressed kat didn’t seem disturbed by the light.

“Aren’t you afraid I might escape?” – Razor asked as he raised his paws – “You didn’t even cuff me!”

“Where would you go in your present condition? You wouldn’t last much time with your wounds infected.”

“Where are we?”

“In the countryside, several kilometers away from Megakat City.

“I see…”

The ninja stopped and opened a wooden door, motioning Razor inside.

“Sit in that stretcher. I’ll be back in a minute.”

Razor did so and waited for the ninja. He could have taken the chance to escape, but the ninja’s words came to his mind. He was right. He wouldn’t get far in his condition. He felt his wounds burning even more and pounding against the compresses as new red blots appeared over the brownish ones.

“Crud. This walk must’ve opened the wounds… How can I fight someone with my leg like this?”

“Okay. Here we go!” – the ninja said.

Razor widened his eyes in disbelief. The black-dressed kat now wore a white coat, white latex gloves and a green surgical mask in an attempt to hide his face.

“What the… You’re a doctor?” – Razor asked, incredulously.

“Surely you didn’t think being a ninja consumed all my time, did you?”

With only his green mask on, Razor could appreciate a bit more the kat’s features. His eyes were brown as his fur was. His fur had some gray tufts in it. Razor calculated the kat must have been in his forties now.

“Forty years old and he kicked me that hard?” – he thought – “And, here he stands as if nothing had hit him yesterday… Amazing!”

“Lie down, please,” – the ninja asked.

Razor blinked twice as he was brought back from his thoughts before complying. The ninja cut the leg of Razor’s trousers and removed the compresses. He peered at the wounds and poked them, making the slim kat wince. The wounds presented a purple color. Some of them were purulent and some drained a translucent fluid.

“How’s it looking?” – Razor asked.

“This might hurt a bit.”

Razor clenched his teeth and tensed every muscle when the ninja cleaned the first wound.

“Stand still.”

“You… got it… doc…,” – Razor responded through clenched teeth.

The ninja cleaned the remaining wounds of the purulent material and then turned to get some disinfectant.

“This *will* burn a bit,” – the ninja warned.

“Bring it on…”

After his wounds were disinfected, Razor felt many stings in his leg.

“What are you doing?” – he asked.

“Stand still, please,” – was his only answer.

Razor held his curiosity and the impulse to stand up and see what was being done.

“It’s probably better if I don’t know…,” – he thought.

“There. It’s done.” – the ninja turned to Razor – “Now you mustn’t move too much. Else, the stitches will break.”

“Stitches? What stitches?” – he couldn’t believe the ninja had stitched him without even a local anesthesia.

The ninja placed the lid on a pot of a bluish balm Razor hadn’t noticed before and placed it inside a drawer.

“What’s that?” – Razor asked.

“It’s a homemade medicine I use to prescribe to my patients. I make it myself. Your wounds will have healed by tomorrow morning. Now, please, try to relax a bit,” – the ninja said and walked out of the infirmary.

“Hey!” – Razor called him.

“Yes?” – he asked, placing his head inside the room.

“Thanks… kyoshi(1)…”

The ninja widened his eyes for a second before nodding once and closing the door.

——————–S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——————–

T-Bone reached the perimeter of the Salvage Yard and pressed a button on his glovatrix which opened the door to the underground tunnel. He penetrated the tunnel and flew through it until he reached the underground hangar.

He looked at the empty hangar. His imagination made him see Razor wherever he looked.

There he was, repairing the TurboKat. Or leaning over a magnifying glass in one of the workbenches, tampering with some missile or other weapon. Or even jumping into the air and delivering a flying kick to an invisible opponent, flipping forward and reverse kicking another, rolling over and applying a roundhouse kick to another one.

T-Bone sighed and headed for their lockers. He stared at the door marked with an ‘R’ painted with black ink. He passed his fingers over the letter softly. He suddenly punched the metallic door, making a dent on it.

“Damn it…,” – he said – “Damn it, *damn it*, DAMN IT!” – he shouted as he pounded his fist against the metal door. He took off his helmet and mask and dropped them to the floor.

“We haven’t returned safe and sound this time, buddy…”

He knelt on the cold concrete floor of the hangar in front of Razor’s locker.

“We talked about this so many times… What we should do if one of us ever got killed… But, those were just words… I never thought this day would come… Crud, we defied death so many times together…

Save the city…

Protect the innocent…

Heroes…

It all seems so vague and senseless now…

And, was it worth it? Was it worth your life, Jake? WAS IT WORTH YOUR LIFE?”

Chance looked up and closed his eyes. He clenched his teeth and his fists, his claws piercing through the gloves and his skin. Heavy tears streamed down his face as some blood drops trickled down his closed fists, dripping to the ground.

“And, the worst thing is… It was I… I killed you, Jake… I did it… I DAMN F*CK*NG DID IT, JAKE!

How could I… How could I be so clumsy… We had each other’s lives in our paws and I simply let yours drop from mine!

I was blind! I wanted so much to finish off Dark Kat I got myself blind! And, I paid dearly for that blindness… I killed you, Jake. You, Jake, my brother…

You, who were always here for me…

You, who always helped me out…

You, who always advised me…

You, who were always here to stop me from doing something wrong every time I lost my temper…

And, how did I repay it to you? I killed you… I… murdered… you…”

He looked down to his battered G-suit.

“And this… This thing… This thing all over me…”

He growled and ripped his G-suit off his body, tearing it apart.

“Get off! GET OFF!”

He stared at his shredded G-suit in his paws. He grimaced in disgust.

“You… You’re the one responsible for this…”

He tossed the shreds away and stared intensely at them, growling, eyes burning in a rage he couldn’t contain or fully comprehend.

“The SWAT Kats… The Radical Squadron…,” – he hissed. He closed his eyes shut and shuddered, trying to contain the rage. But, he couldn’t.

“MURDERER!” – he roared, opening his eyes – “Murderer… T-Bone is a murderer… T-Bone is no better than Dark Kat…”

He closed his eyes again and dropped his head over his chest.

Chance Furlong is no better than Dark Kat… Chance Furlong is… an assassin…”

——————–S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——————–

“What’s up, Chance? You’re so gloomy today!” – Callie asked as Chance handed her her car keys.

“It’s nothing…,” – he responded mournfully, turning his back on her and heading for the workbench.

“C’mon, I know you! There’s something bugging you! I just know it…”

“I said it’s nothing!” – Chance snapped back, turning suddenly on his heel to face Callie.

She winced. For a moment, she didn’t recognize Chance. She looked at his black eyes and saw sadness and rage simultaneously in them.

I… I’m sorry, Callie… I’m just… not in a good mood today…,” – Chance apologized – “Your car is ready. Sorry it’s taken this while…”

“It’s… It’s okay, Chance. How much do I owe you?”

“Consider it a courtesy on the house for my rudeness…”

Callie got inside the car and started the engine. She placed her head outside the window.

“Where’s Jake, anyway? I haven’t seen him yet!”

Chance gulped. He didn’t look at her when he answered.

“He’s out… To see his parents…”

“I see… Well, I’ll be seeing you. And, Chance…

“Yeah?”

She laid her left paw in his.

“I’m here for you too,” – she said softly and then drove out the body shop and the Salvage Yard.

Chance stared at the departing dark green car.

“Here for me…,” – he mumbled – “Jake was here for me… And I killed him…”

He shook his head and closed the garage door. His mood didn’t allow him to attend any more customers.

“Maybe a cold shower will get me out of this stupor…,” – he said as he opened his mechanic’s overalls and climbed up the stairs.

Once inside the shower area, he opened the cold water tap. The cold fluid ran down his features and his body, seeping through his fur until it stung his skin. He leaned against the wall, his paws supporting his torso. He dropped his head to his chest and let the jet of water hit his head and his back. Most kats would rapidly be broken by such treatment, but Chance wasn’t most kats. He used to be an Enforcer. He was a SWAT Kat. That wouldn’t break him.

He opened his eyes and stared down to the drain. He watched as the water was slurped by the black hole, circling clockwise before disappearing from view.

“Everything disappears… Everything is ephemeral… That’s the only fact of life…,” – he muttered.

Chance closed his eyes again. Again, he saw Razor flipping through the air, his blood splattering on the sand.

He shut his eyes even harder. Thick teardrops raced down his facial fur and mingled with the falling water.

He opened his eyes and looked at the drain again.

The water kept on its incessant clockwise movement. Clean, translucent water, circling until it disappeared.

Clean, translucent water…

Clean, translucent, red water…

Red water, circling until it disappeared…

Red water? The water should be crystalline!

Chance quickly inspected himself.

“No open wounds! Nothing! Where’s it coming…” – he mumbled.

Suddenly, he widened his eyes. He looked down again. The red water was coming from *behind* him. He slowly turned around, not taking his eyes from the thread of reddish water streaming along the floor of the shower area. Then, it wasn’t water anymore, but pure, thick blood that ran along the floor.

His eyes drew closer and closer to the source of the blood.

He saw two orange feet. The blood was trickling down them.

A drop of blood fell on the floor, running to join the mainstream.

Chance looked up. Through the torn blue fabric he saw the gashes in the legs, pulsating gobs of blood.

He looked up. He saw the paws covered in black leather gloves. Thick drops of blood dripped from the fingers.

He recognized the blue and red rags that barely covered the red-streaked caramel-colored fur on the torso in front of him as the remains of a flight suit.

Chance gulped when his eyes focused on the kat’s face.

The left side of the face was red and his skull was visible in small white patches under the pieces of flesh dangling in his face. His left eye socket was empty and black blood was oozing down from it. The right side of his face showed a white eye with no iris behind the remains of a black mask, a big bleeding wound carved across it and down his snout.

“J-Jake!” – Chance stuttered, eyes opened up wide, uncontrollable shivers running up his body.

“You… did this… to me…,” – the feline rag in front of him said in a voice that echoed in Chance’s mind. Slowly, Razor raised his right arm and pointed to Chance.

“You… did this… to me…,” – he repeated in exactly the same tone – “You… did this… to me…”

“NO!” – Chance shouted, closing his eyes tightly – “You’re not real! YOU’RE NOT REAL!”

He opened his eyes.

He wasn’t there anymore. Razor had disappeared.

“What… What the heck’s happening here?” – Chance asked as he leaned against the wall with his back.

His breathing was heavy, as if he had a weight in his chest. He turned off the water and drew in a few deep inhalations.

“What… What’s happening to me?” – he said – “It seemed so… so real!”

The water dripped from his fur to the floor of the shower area. He looked down to the floor.

“It was so real… As though Jake was here, standing right in front of me…”

He watched the drops of water spatter on the floor, invisible drops becoming tinier as they hit the ground and spread.

He felt a thick water drop hit him on top of his facial fur and start to trickle down his face.

The drop fell to the floor.

Chance widened his eyes.

It was red.

It was blood.

“No…,” – he said in a weak voice.

A few more red drops splattered on the floor.

Chance slowly turned his head up, not really wanting to do so. He saw him. Razor was there. In the ceiling. Razor was still there.

The nightmare wasn’t over yet. On the contrary…

It had just begun…

“You… did this… to me…,” – Razor said in exactly the same tone as before. – “You… did this… to me… You… will pay… with your life…”

Chance widened his eyes even more when Razor dropped from the ceiling, pouncing at him. He saw his dark claws unsheathing from his fingers. Razor’s claws glistened, and a shiny trail carved the air from Chance’s right, being replaced by a burst of blood that splattered against the wall on the opposite side. Chance saw his blood splashing against the wall to his right too. He saw his vital fluid oozing down Razor’s claws, down his paws and forearms and mingling with Razor’s blood.

“You… will pay… with your life…,” – Razor said before he swished his claws over Chance’s throat.

Another red burst splattered on the wall, oozing down it.

Chance fell to his knees, blood spurting from the gashes and running down his chest.

Razor dropped his arms down and looked to the fallen tabby with his only eye.

Chance saw Razor’s mouth moving but no words were heard.

Razor backed away.

Chance stared without seeing with his eyes open wide, his pupils so retracted they were nothing more than tiny spots.

Suddenly, he breathed in deeply. His pupils enlarged and returned to normal. He looked around him. The walls were clean.

He inspected his chest and groped at his throat, peering down at his paws. They were clean too.

“What is happening here?” – he muttered as he rose from the ground – “What’s happening to me?”

He stepped out of the shower area and wrapped a towel around his waist. Chance looked to his reflection in the bathroom’s mirror. He seemed pale but, beside those inflicted by Dark Kat, he didn’t have any wounds. The tabby looked to the shower area again, and again he saw that it was clean. There wasn’t any blood on the walls or on the floor. He covered his face with his paw, leaning over the basin.

“This time, you *really* took everything away from me, Dark Kat… My brother, my dreams, my health… and even my mental sanity…” – he said as a lonely tear dropped directly to the sink.

——————–S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——————–

The occasional chirp of a bird came to his ears. He pricked them. Slowly, Razor opened his eyes and peered around, sleepy. He was back in his cell, lying flat on his stomach on a cot. He sat up on the mattress and yawned.

“Looks like I had the right to a little remodeling…,” – he muttered, looking down to the cot – “It’s morning already… That means I lost at least an entire day…”

Razor looked down at his legs. He was unrestrained. He drew up his right leg and inspected it.

“What the… My wounds! They’re healed! How can…”

His comments were interrupted by a powerful scream. Razor sat upright on the cot. He heard the scream again and recognized it. It was a scream coming from the bottom of the midriff. He realized it was coming from many kats instead of only one.

He dragged the cot to the wall and jumped on top of it in order to peer outside the barred window. He gasped with what he saw.

A few tens of Dark Kat’s ninjas were practicing in the yard a few feet away from him. The kats were all dressed in white gi and their faces were uncovered. He looked around for some time, but he didn’t recognize any kat. Razor looked further to his right, towards the instructor, who was dressed in a black gi. His face was partially covered by a mask but, even so, Razor could distinguish his features well enough to recognize that kat.

“It’s him! Doc!” – he said, surprised – “He’s teachin’ ‘em!”

Suddenly, he saw the black-dressed ninja throwing something towards him, something which riveted in one of the window’s bars. A few sparks flew over to his face, and Razor drew his head back. He inspected the bar and saw a shuriken riveted in it.

“Glad to see you woke up already! I’ll be down there in a minute!” – the ninja bellowed and went to one of his students. The kat took his place, and the ninja ran towards the mansion. In a few minutes he was in the cell with Razor.

“So, how are you feeling today?” – the ninja asked.

“My injuries healed overnight! How’s that possible? It’s a miracle!”

“I think your praise should be directed to that blue balm I rubbed on them…”

“I don’t understand how a simple balm can have such a miraculous effect!”

“Don’t question Mother Nature, SWAT Kat. So, I see you’re fine already! You can start practicing right away,” – the ninja said, smiling under his mask.

“You’re really gonna teach me ninjutsu?”

“Not everything – we don’t have time for that! But a few basic techniques, why not? C’mon! We gotta lot to do! Dress in this. I’ll be waiting outside.”

Razor complied and dressed in the white gi, after which he followed the ninja out of the mansion and to the yard for his first day of practice as one of Dark Kat’s servants.

——————–S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——————–

A week had elapsed. Razor continued his practice under Dark Kat’s close surveillance. The ninja/doctor was impressed with Razor’s abilities. He was a fast learner, no doubt about it.

“Report,” – Dark Kat demanded to the ninja.

“The SWAT Kat is a very skillful fighter, your Excellency. In this week of close contact with him, I could see there’s not much I could teach him,” – the ninja said, bowing to the purple kat.

“I don’t care about that. Will he be able to win the Tournament?” – the huge kat boomed.

“I have no doubt in my mind that he will. He has overpowered some of my most gifted ninjas in individual combat.”

Dark Kat closed his eyes and chuckled.

“You are all a bunch of arrogant fools…,” – he said – “You wouldn’t stand a chance…”

“I beg your pardon, your Excellency but I think my kats have already proven…,” – the ninja started but Dark Kat’s growl stopped him in mid-sentence.

“AH! Your kats have proven they’re no match for a simple kat in a flight suit! That’s what they have proven to me. Even you, who stands here in front of me with those eyes full of pride…,” – the huge villain shook his head – “Sure, you defeated a kat. But what chances do you have against a flock of my creeplings?”

The little pink creatures stepped out of the darkness around both kats and surrounded the ninja.

The ninja looked from one side to the other nervously. Even he, who was used to seeing the invisible, was caught by surprise.

“Scared of a few tiny critters? I’m sure a tough and proud tom-kat like you isn’t afraid of a few creeplings…,” – Dark Kat taunted. He turned his back to the ninja and left.

The creeplings drew closer to the ninja, closing the siege. The ninja gulped. Sure he could take on a few creeplings. Five or six, maybe. With some luck, maybe even ten. But, not an entire flock of them. Not twenty, twenty-five creeplings attacking all at the same time. Okay, so the pink creatures were small and somewhat fragile, that’s fine. But, they had strong claws and teeth and attacked viciously. He knew what a flock of them could do to a tom.

“Not a pleasant thought…”

The first creepling attacked. The ninja grabbed his neck and broke it, purple blood spurting from the critter’s mouth. He turned to the other creeplings, who drew even closer to him. He gritted his teeth.

“You want a piece of me? Well, come and get it!”

The creeplings attacked. Not one by one. As a whole. A naturalist would have immediately thought what the ninja did.

“Pack behavior…”

——————–S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——————–

It was dark. So dark Chance wasn’t even sure he had his eyes open.

“Where am I?” – he asked to the pitch-dark surroundings. No answer came to him.

He looked down on himself, groping his body. He was wearing his G-suit instead of his mechanic’s overalls. Groping his face, he didn’t feel the fabric of the bandana, orhis helmet.

Suddenly, a dim light oozed from somewhere in front of him. He saw then that he was floating in the air.

“So, now I’m supposed to follow the light, right?” – he mumbled and ‘swam’ towards the tiny white spot, which enlarged as he got closer to it. – “The light at the end of the tunnel? What the heck is this place?”

He looked to the bright spot growing larger in front of him. He could see something on the other side. Something green.

All of a sudden, the spot enlarged so much that it engulfed Chance. The big tabby closed his eyes to protect them from the sudden increase in the light conditions and, when he opened them, he was looking at the yellow and green sky he knew so well.

He was lying on his back in the grass of a hill. The sunlight and a soft breeze caressed his facial fur. He sat up and looked around. The most peaceful bucolic scene greeted him. He saw a small mountain stream and endless green fields sprinkled by a multitude of colors. He saw kittens running trough the fields, giggling excitedly as they went. A few couples of adult kats were also present.

“I don’t have the slightest clue of my whereabouts… But, I’m definitely liking this place!” – he muttered and lay back again. He was feeling very well. For the first time in several days, he was feeling relieved.

But then, it all changed. He saw a flare, many times more powerful than that of the sun. He bolted upright. He saw a huge white hemisphere spreading rapidly over the fields, engulfing everything in its way.

“What the heck is…”

He didn’t have time to finish the sentence. The flare engulfed him too, and he raised his arms to protect his face. A few seconds later, he opened his eyes and lowered his arms. He gulped and widened his eyes with what he saw.

The sky and the sun were red like blood. The land was barren and also reddish. The stream was dry. The whole place was clicking hot.

“What… What happened here?”

He squinted down the hill and saw something that knotted his gut tightly.

He saw the skeletons of the people that were there first. Not even the kittens had escaped.

“No… No… What happened here?” – he said in a whisper as a gust of wind swept away a tear hanging in the corner of his eye.

Suddenly, the land started to tremble. Large cracks opened up in the ground, devouring the skeletons. Seconds later, giant fountains of molten lava spurted all along the cracks.

In the middle of the bursts of lava, he saw him. A form he would recognize anywhere.

Dark Kat.

The only difference was that he was at least twenty meters in height, dwarfing even the lava cascades breaking into the sky.

The purple kat raised his cane and threw it towards Chance. The huge stick buried itself in the ground right in front of him, missing the big tabby by only a few centimeters.

Chance fell to the ground on his back. He tried to get to his feet and sprint away from that behemoth, but Dark Kat leaned over him and grabbed the helpless kat with his huge paw.

The giant didn’t say a word. His paw was big enough to crush Chance, but the grasp wasn’t that tight. Just enough to prevent the big tabby from escaping. He saw the giant Dark Kat’s orange eyes inspecting his finding. Chance had to admit he had never felt so afraid in his life.

Then, Dark Kat lowered the big tabby to the ground again. He gasped at what he saw.

Razor was there. On a rock. Razor’s body was hanging on the gray boulder by means of a huge iron rod that was riveted in his chest. The rock behind him and the ground were dyed in dark red from his blood.

Dark Kat rubbed Chance’s face against the bloody torso of Razor, dyeing his facial fur in red too. Then, he released Chance and disappeared. The big tabby stared at the limp body of his partner.

Slowly, Razor lifted his head and said something inaudibly.

“What is it, bro? What are you trying to tell me?” – Chance asked as he came closer to the slim SWAT Kat.

Again, Razor mouthed some words but Chance didn’t get the message. He drew closer and closer to Razor. He was about to touch him when the slim kat’s body burst in flames. Chance fell back on his tail. He looked to Razor’s face. Flames were coming out of his mouth, nostrils and eyes. He still mouthed the same silent message until he arched his head back and howled in pain.

Suddenly, the giant Dark Kat’s head came from behind Razor, bursting through the boulder, opening his enormous mouth and devouring the slim SWAT Kat. Chance heard the sickening sound of bones being broken when Dark Kat closed his mouth. Now, the huge purple head was coming towards Chance, rushing to him and opening a huge furrow in the barren land. Chance got to his feet and ran, ran his tail off. The head was still coming and was gaining on him. He ran desperately, but it was useless. The huge mouth opened and prepared to engulf him.

“NO!” – he shouted, sitting upright on his bed as fast as a bolt. His body was bathed in perspiration and he was shivering. His pulse and heartbeat were extremely accelerated. He gasped a few times before his eyes focused enough to see that he was in his bedroom. It had just been a nightmare.

Bloodshot eyes looked to the alarm clock in the nightstand. 02:36 in the morning. He sank in the bed again. He knew he wouldn’t go back to sleep again. It’d been like that since the incident with Dark Kat. Every night he had the same nightmare. And, every time it was as terrifying as the first time he dreamt it. He had never slept more than half an hour since that fatidic day. He was literally losing his mind.

“What are you trying to tell me, bro… What are you trying to tell me?”

——————–S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——————–

“Where’s our master?” – Razor asked a group of ninjas.

“We don’t know. He hasn’t shown up today yet!” – one of them answered.

“I have to admit I think that’s strange,” – another ninja added.

“Yes. Our sensei(2) was always in the yard before all of us!” – some other ninja said.

“I’m here,” – said a voice from behind them.

They turned around and Razor saw relief mirrored in the faces of the ninjas. The doctor was there. But, he noticed he was limping. Upon a careful inspection of the ninja’s face, he saw some cuts on his eyebrows. Razor joined the other ninjas in the practice. A few hours later, when the practice was over, he followed the ninja.

“Hey, doc! Wait up!” – Razor called to the ninja.

“What do you want?”

“What happened to you? And, don’t lie to me. What are those cuts doing on your eyebrows? And, why are you limping?” – Razor asked.

“You ask too many questions. That’s not necessarily a good thing. Especially for a ninja,” – he said and turned his back on the slim SWAT Kat, walking away from him.

The ninja went to his quarters and closed the door. He took off his gi. Razor followed him and peered through the window. Then, he saw the bandages blotted in red wrapped around the ninja’s chest.

“What the… What happened to him?” – he thought. He decided to enter the ninja’s quarters.

“What… What are you doing here?” – the ninja queried, annoyed.

“What happened to you?”

“It’s none of your business.”

“You’re right, it’s not. But, I can’t turn my back on the only kat that has helped me here. Lemme see those…”

“GET OUT OF HERE! I DIDN’T ASK FOR YOUR HELP! YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO BE HERE!” – the ninja bellowed.

Razor stopped and dropped his head to his chest.

“You don’t have to be so proud. I’m not asking much! I just…”

Razor never finished his sentence. The ninja moved so swiftly the slim kat didn’t even notice him. The next second, Razor felt a powerful kick to his gut that sent him flying out the door. Razor was knocked flat with his back on the ground.

“Stay out of this… This isn’t your fight… This isn’t your war…,” – the ninja hissed and slammed the door shut.

Razor stood on the ground, unmoving.

“Incredible…” – he thought – “He’s injured and he still manages to kick me like this… And even more amazing is the fact that I can’t move… With what kind of blow did he strike me?” – Razor shook his head – “He has so much pride he won’t accept any help… Honestly, I don’t think he’ll ever have need for such thing… But, I’ve seen enough to know who did that to him… Creeplings…,” – he growled – “Dark Kat…”

——————–S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——————–

Another week elapsed. Razor continued his practice. The ‘Tournament’ was approaching with wide steps. It would take place in Dark Kat’s mansion in a week of time.

Meanwhile, Chance never recovered enough to reopen the garage again.

The big tabby was a mess. Since the day of the incident with Dark Kat, he never slept or ate anymore. His fur was hirsute and a two weeks’ beard was brewing on his face. Chance was wasting himself away with remorse and a feeling of guilt he couldn’t get over with. He was lying on the couch, watching the news and drinking his nth can of milk of the day.

“Today’s news. The Metallikats robbed Megakat Savings today, The Enforcers were helpless to stop the two cybernetic villains. The SWAT Kats didn’t appear to help the Enforcers as they usually do. Commander Feral had this to say.”

The image on the right upper corner enlarged so it occupied the entirety of the screen.

“Despite the diligent efforts of my Enforcers, the Metallikats managed to get away but it will be only a matter of time until we find them and place them in custody.” – Feral answered a reporter.

“What are your comments on the nonappearance of the SWAT Kats, Commander?” – another reporter asked.

“Efforts are being made in order to arrest those vigilantes. Thank you very much. No further comments.”

Chance snorted – “Don’t worry, Commander… One of them is already dead…,” – he said in a drunken voice. He looked to the cold metallic object beside him on the couch. – “And, soon they will be *both* dead…”

He picked the revolver up and inspected it. He caressed the barrel. He brought the muzzle to his head and rested it against his temple. He pressed the trigger. The revolver made a clicking sound.

“So easy…,” – he mumbled – “Soon I’ll join you, Jake…”

He reached for the single bullet lying inside a small cardboard box and looked at it intensely.

“Let’s try it again… This time even more difficult… We’ll try it with a bullet inside this time…”

He slipped the bullet inside one of the chambers and jerked the gun so that the cylinder would go to its place. Bloodshot empty eyes stared at the revolver, which glistened faintly at the cold glimmering flare emanating from the television set. The glistening gun seemed to taunt him, making the tabby think it was more alive than he had ever been for the past weeks. Again, he pressed the barrel against his right temple. He closed his eyes and involuntary tears slid down them.

——————–S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——————–

“The guys must be tired of my car,” – Callie said as she approached the salvage yard – “This crate seems to need a check-up every two weeks!”

She pulled the car over when she reached the closed garage door.

“What the… They’re closed? But they’ve never closed before!”

Suddenly, she heard a shot coming from inside the house and jumped in her seat.

“Oh, Good Heavens!”

She stayed there, staring at the closed garage door, unmoving. Then, something snapped inside her, and she woke up from her stupor. She picked up her cell phone and dialed to Enforcer Headquarters.

“Enforcer Headquarters. How can I help you?” – said a gruff voice from the other end.

“I’m in Megakat City Salvage Yard. I just heard a shot…,” – she said in agitation.

“We’ll send a unit right away. In the meantime, stay calm and do not interfere.”

She turned off the phone and once again stared at the closed door.

“Holy Kats… What’s happening with the guys?”

——————–S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——————–

TO BE CONTINUED…

——————–S———-W———-A———-T—————K———-a———-t———-s——————–

Musical inspirations:

Bomfunk MC’s Freestyler for the fighting sequences;

Era’s Sempire d’Amor for the inner conflict scenes of T-Bone/Chance;

Suite from the film Psycho by Bernard Herrman for Chance’s nightmares and the scene in the shower (yes, it resembles the scene from this movie a bit, though I just realized that after I wrote it).

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