Title: Fear of Loss
Author: Eric “Erico” Lawson
Warnings: Some profanity.
Disclaimers: “SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron” is copyright to their respective owners/creators.
S SWAT KATS: FEAR OF LOSS
By Eric “Erico” Lawson
One Week After the Events of “Katastrophe”
Considering how often his life was threatened by lunatics, Deputy Mayor Calico Briggs was beginning to wonder why Mayor Manx would have ever wanted to stay in the office. Or how he always seemed so unruffled the day after an assassination attempt. Maybe all the time he spent out on the golf course was just as much for relaxation as it was for building political connections and sucking in campaign funding. Since she hated golf, she had yet to find a calming technique for her own near-death occasions. And, Callie thought with a certain amount of fresh irritation, she’d had her life on the line more than he had.
If it weren’t for the SWAT Kats…
Callie shook her head and stepped back away from the full-sized, reinforced plate glass windows on the side of the mayor’s office. She didn’t even want to finish that thought. Just a week ago, she and the mayor had been held hostage by an alliance of Megakat City’s worst offenders as a lure to eliminate the SWAT Kats. Callie remembered how the world had seemed to stop when the Turbokat was blown out of the sky. Even when Dark Kat’s team of misanthropic supervillains had turned to kill them off, she’d barely noticed it. Her world didn’t start turning, her heart didn’t stop beating, until they had reappeared. With some timely help from Feral (who, until the last month or so, Callie had thought would be the one kat who would sooner chew off his own tail than render assistance), they had all gotten out of there alive. Chances were good that all of those villains had survived also, but Callie took the win for what it was.
It had come at a high price, though. The Turbokat had been sacrificed as a ruse. When the SWAT Kats had told the mayor that they’d need a jet until they rebuilt theirs, there’d been a lot of hemming and hawing on his part. If Callie had been the one in charge, she would have signed the check to give them an entire squadron of airplanes. But she wasn’t.
She just did the paperwork.
“Callie, are we certaiihn that we need to be givin’ those SWAT Kats a brand new jet?” Manx whined from his desk. “You know that Commander Feral’s not exactly too keen on the ideaaah…”
“Mayor, by my count, they’ve saved your life five times.” Callie whipped back on the mayor and glared at him with her burning emerald eyes. “And that leaves out all the times they’ve saved the city from being overrun by plants and monsters and aliens, or rendered bankrupt.”
“Well, that’s all true as may be, but…”
“Not to mention, Mayor, there’s the political consideration to be made.” Callie added with a fair amount of satisfied triumph. It was the one barb her boss could never ignore. “The latest Tailwind Poll indicated that public support for the SWAT Kats was at 76 percent. Not following through on the promise might cause friction for you in the next election.”
“Now, now, Callie, let’s not be steppin’ over ourselves here!” Manx backpedaled, puffing his sizable gut out against his vest. “You know, it’s very important to be listening to the average voter.”
The only thing you’re more scared of than dying is losing the election. Pompous windbag.
“So?” Callie asked, arching an eyebrow over her glasses.
Manx’s bravado ran out, and he hemmed and hawed, fiddling with his toupee as he did so, until he finally sighed and crumbled against her unyielding pressure.
“Fine, fine. Ah’ll authorize the expense. O’ course, the Enforcers’ll have to supply it. Feral’s not going to be happy about it one bit.”
Callie turned and looked back out the mayor’s window, staring over the landscape of Megakat City. No matter how many times this city gets torn apart, we keep rebuilding it. Some might have lost hope by now. But this town doesn’t. Even when their homes, the skyscrapers where they work get blown down, the kats of this city don’t give in. They don’t give up. The SWAT Kats give them that courage to walk forward.
And herself, Callie added on afterthought.
“The SWAT Kats deserve so much for what they’ve done.” Callie said, absently stroking the side of her neck with a paw. She thought of them, the tall and solidly built T-Bone, and the thinner Razor. Both of them forever out of reach, kats she felt safe around, trusted with her life. But kats she could never have a life with. And, of the two, it was Razor who she was the more drawn to. The quieter one. The one who’d come to her rescue during Viper’s skyscraper takeover, who had more scrappiness than muscle about him, and still came out swinging for the fences. T-Bone was raw force and fury, a bludgeoning instrument of destruction. Razor was, like his name, a slender and precise cutting tool. Always out of reach, the two kept their distance, stayed professional. To protect her, she imagined. Not like it saved her from constantly getting into trouble anyways.
Her hand dropped back down to her waist, and she shook her head.
“If we could give them more, Mayor, I would. But they need the Turbokat to keep fighting. Without it…they’re not enough.”
“Oh, pish. From what I hear, they’re still giving the Enforcers all sorts o’ grief, even without that jet of theirs.” Manx scoffed. “But, rest assured, Callie, we’ll get them a new one. It won’t have all the fancy bells and whistles, o’ course.”
“That’s all right.” Callie said, glancing back over her shoulder at the mayor with a soft smile. “They were probably going to rebuild it themselves afterwards anyways.”
Megakat City Streets
Most kats were either already in bed or getting ready for it, but T-Bone and Razor weren’t most kats. Neither were the tosspots they dealt with on a regular basis, and while the supervillain population might have gone back to the shadows to lick their wounds, the regular scum of Megakat City was back out and crawling in force. Without a Turbokat screaming through the night skies, they felt it was safe to get back to work.
They were wrong, though. The SWAT Kats may have been down a jet, but they weren’t out of the fight.
The double-seater Cyclotron, one of the many vehicles that the SWAT Kats had designed to fit in the bomb bay of the now-destroyed Turbokat, didn’t see as much action as Razor’s single seater, but they’d built it regardless, much like their delta packs and ejektor seats, for those rainy days. It was definitely raining now. Metaphorically. Megakat City hadn’t felt a drop in two weeks.
“Enforcer police band’s going nuts tonight.” Razor said, speaking into his helmet microphone. T-Bone may have only been a foot and a half away from him, but the headset speakers built into their brain bins helped them to stay in contact even with the wind and the low hum of the engines screaming around them. “A lot of small incidents.”
“Hate to say it, buddy, but leave the little fish for the Enforcers.” T-Bone replied, veering right. They both leaned into the turn, instinctively in synch even on their ground transportation. “We’ve got our own marlin to land. Just keep your ears open for any fire reports. I guarantee you Backdraft is going to start something tonight.”
Backdraft. No good, kat-killing, arsonist scuzzball. Razor ground his molars just thinking about the menace. A pathologic pyromaniac, Wilbur Greymane had graduated from abandoned buildings to more populated structures about four years ago, back when the Enforcers could still credit Jake Clawson and Chance Furlong as members of the force. The two tactical response officers had taken him down once, but not until after a 54 year old grandmother and a 3 year old grandkitten she’d been babysitting that night had died in an apartment fire. He’d only gone by the name Backdraft after he’d staged a daring escape from Megakat Penitentiary and upped his game. Jake and Chance had never forgiven themselves for letting that particular killer evade capture, and the restrictions slammed on their efforts to pursue and capture the crook had chafed at them. In some ways, it could be argued that the start of their dislike for the Enforcers’ bureaucracy had started there. So too, had the SWAT Kats’ informal motto; get the job done, save kats, get it done right, and screw the collateral damage.
Taking him down wasn’t just business as usual for the SWAT Kats: It was personal.
“Times like these I miss having the Enforcer computer network at our disposal.” Razor noted whimsically. “We could run a search pattern then, at least. Now, all we can do is react.”
“Don’t think about what we can’t do. Think about what we can.” T-Bone reminded him.
That seemed to settle Razor’s fur down, and he went back to the Cyclotron’s scanners, currently set to thermal sensors. If there was a fire, he’d find it.
The two-seater Cyclotron screamed past a pizza delivery car just pulling onto Siam Avenue, and Razor caught enough of a sidelong glance to see the kat in the driver’s seat jerk away from the window as they shot by. Just another surprised katizen, stuck in the pattern of living.
“Boy, do I miss the Turbokat right about now.” T-Bone muttered. “You made sure the Cyclotron’s got a full ammo load?”
“Mini slicer blades, mini cookie-cutter missiles, rear-firing grappler winch, and I switched out the vertical AA missile launcher with a new surprise.”
T-Bone chuckled, and Razor could picture the grin, even with his partner’s head pointed in the direction they were driving. “What’s this week’s surprise?”
“Something to make sure we rain on Backdraft’s parade once we find him.” Razor said enigmatically. “Hopefully, we can nail him this time before he gets away.”
“That jerk’s got too much of an ego. He has to stick around and watch things burn.” T-Bone insisted.
Razor was stopped from arguing the point when his scanner went haywire. “Woah! T-Bone, I’ve got a huge thermal disturbance northeast of here! Range, 200 meters!”
“I’m on it!” T-Bone swerved the Cyclotron hard around a corner, forcing both of them to lean hard into the turn, and then they rocketed off with a blast of the cycle’s emergency boosters. It took another two turns after that to bring them to the site of trouble Razor had picked up on.
To their surprise, the source of the blaze was a fire station.
“Unbelievable.” T-Bone said, shaking his head. “I suppose Backdraft thinks this is funny.”
“I must have missed the punchline.” Razor snapped. The weapons specialist nudged T-Bone in the back. “Hit the rear weapons toggle!”
T-Bone did so, and the housing which ordinarily held a vertical missile launcher lifted up from the rear chassis with a hiss of hydraulic pressure, revealing a launcher with a much larger, single bore. “What the heck is that thing?!”
“Smaller version of that foam bomb I came up with. Aim it at the heart of the blaze!”
T-Bone lined up the targeting reticule on the Cyclotron’s monitor, then fired. With a blast of highly pressurized air, a spherical mortar rocketed from the rear of the motorcycle and smashed through the side of the building. A moment later, it was rocked with a muffled explosion, and white foam splashed out through the broken windows of the station.
Razor grunted in satisfaction. “Bingo.”
“Geez, it really is a foam mortar round, isn’t it?” T-Bone mused.
“The aerial dispersal mechanism for the bomb version didn’t make any sense. I had to improvise. So, yeah. Kaboom.” While T-Bone kept his eye on the fire, Razor scanned the perimeter for witnesses. There were a couple peeking their heads out of their windows, but he was looking for one kat in particular, and spotted him hiding in the shadows away from the streetlights half a block off, sitting at the wheel of an idling car. “I’ve got eyes on Backdraft.”
“Then let’s bag that lowlife!” T-Bone hissed, revving up the Cyclotron’s engine.
Razor stopped him with a paw to the larger kat’s back. “Negative. I’ll get after him. You stay here with the Cyclotron and get this fire under control before it kills anyone.”
“Damnit, sureshot…” T-Bone complained, but he knew that the plan made sense. That was usually how it went, with T-Bone the first to jump in, and Razor the one always telling him to pull back and play it smart. “Fine. Get moving!”
“Already on it, partner.” Razor slipped on his Glovatrix and leapt off of the Cyclotron. He turned himself around with a half somersault, then fired off a grappling line at the nearest streetlight.
Backdraft finally noticed he’d been spotted and hit the gas to tear down the street. Razor was hot on his heels, and with a second well placed grapple swing, he landed on the roof of the car and dug his claws into the metal.
“Damn you, SWAT Kats!” Backdraft howled. Dressed in a yellow fireman’s coat, the grey-furred pyromaniac looked fit to be tied. He jerked the wheel on his car, trying to throw Razor off. “That fire was going to be perfect! Do you have any idea how long I spent preparing the incendiary charge? Figuring out how to sneak in there? Where to put it?! This was my masterpiece, and you’ve ruined it!”
“Guess we have different opinions about art, Backdraft!” Razor shouted back, gripping onto the roof of the vehicle for dear life. “But I’ll bet you look great in prison orange!”
“Never!” Backdraft snapped, and they veered onto a main road. Or careened onto it, really, with the fleeing pyromaniac bouncing them up and off of a curb. He even managed to take out a mailbox, scattering a flurry of letters and broken packages into the air.
Razor ducked the debris field, glad for his helmet as one rather solid cardboard box smacked the side of his head. He dug his free claw deeper into the car’s roof, then deployed a buzzsaw cutter from his Glovatrix. “Enough of this.” He muttered and set the rapidly spinning blade down against the roof. In a shower of sparks, he started to cut through the car’s shell.
Reacting to the attack, Backdraft slammed hard on the brakes. Razor was caught off his guard and was hurled bodily off of the vehicle. He felt his arm wrench hard in its socket as his dug in claws refused to let go until tremendous force was exerted, and heard a terrific pop. Fighting through the blinding pain, he somehow managed to tuck and roll as he hit the pavement, coming to a haphazard kneeling stop with his dislocated arm hanging limply from his side.
“T-Bone…could use your help.” Razor wheezed, speaking into his helmet microphone.
“Roger that, buddy. Fire crews just got started. It took me 2 more foam mortars to stabilize the fire.”
“Hurry…it up.” Razor panted. Staring through his mask, he saw that Backdraft was grinning wickedly at him from behind the wheel. “Oh, don’t you do it…”
Backdraft hit the accelerator and aimed his car straight for the injured SWAT Kat.
Razor didn’t waste time or energy trying to get out of the way, which he doubted he could have in his condition. Instead, he lifted up his Glovatrix, aimed it right at the front of the car and its engine block, and fired a pair of Mini-Baby Boomer missiles. It wasn’t often Razor went full lethal, but he was out of options. Or patience.
The explosive rounds burrowed into the front of the car and blasted the hood clean off. Backdraft lost control of the car as his front tires were shredded in the blast, and the car veered sharply to the left, skating past an unblinking Razor and crashing into the side of a home furnishings store, taking out a bedroom display in the front window before it came to a full halt. Backdraft himself lay slumped against a deflating airbag, unmoving, and a queen mattress was bent over sideways on top of the car’s torn roof.
“Lights out for you, Backdraft.” Razor coughed.
The store’s sprinkler system kicked on, dousing the wreckage with a spray of water and putting out the last of the engine fire.
Another ten seconds passed, and then T-Bone pulled up beside Razor on the Cyclotron. “Holy…you okay, Razor?”
“Been better.” Razor limped over beside the Cyclotron, cradling his dislocated arm. Razor stumbled over a bit of debris he hadn’t been watching out for, and in his dash to recover his balance, jostled his arm badly enough to yelp in pain T-Bone flinched in sympathy, and a dizzy Razor groaned as he hunched forward slightly. “Okay…really been better.” He added weakly. “He took me for a ride.”
“Is he alive?” T-Bone asked worriedly.
“He’s breathing.” Razor answered. The distant scream of Enforcer sirens broke up their conversation, and Razor slowly got back onto the Cyclotron, climbing onto the rear seat. “Come on, T-Bone. We’ve gotta get out of here.”
“We have to get you some help.”
“No way. Feral would love to haul us in while I was wounded.”
“…The Professor, then.” T-Bone stated firmly.
Razor slumped forward in his seat, surrendering to the plan.
“Fine. But drive slow.”
“Slow as we need to, buddy. Hang on.” T-Bone gunned the engine, but kept the acceleration at a much slower pace than usual.
“And no shortcuts.” Razor added hastily.
Commander Feral’s Office
The Next Day
Commander Ulysses Feral reviewed the paperwork from the capture of Wilbur Greymane with what was, unknown to him, unofficially labeled his ‘SWAT Kats face’ by the mid-level Enforcer officers. It involved a deep scowl, his left eye slanted lower than the right, pursed lips, and an overall bearing of someone who was in desperate need of a litterbox.
The arresting officer’s remarks were informative, to the point, and made note of the fact that the two vigilantes Feral could barely speak to on a good day were responsible not only for slowing the blaze at the 6th Precinct fire station until other fire units could get on the scene, but in stopping the villain known as Backdraft from escaping the scene. That their actions resulted in the total destruction of a store with damages in the amount of 200,000 dollars was left unspoken. No fatalities were at either location, though Backdraft was stuck in a neck brace with acute whiplash and an arm in a sling from a fractured collarbone.
“Damn vigilantes.” Feral groused to himself. With his longcoat hanging from a nearby coat rack, he still held an imposing figure in his white button-down shirt and worn shoulder holster. Feral was never seen in public without the outer garment, but in the confines of his office, he preferred shirtsleeves. Satisfied with the report, if not with the means by which the suspect was hauled in, he signed off on it and slammed the manila folder in his outbox. The next bit of paperwork on his desk was a requisitions form that had Feral grinding his teeth. Replacement F-14 was what was written on the tab. He knew who it was for, though.
A knock at his door stopped him from opening the file, which he was glad for. “Enter.” He said loudly.
A moment later, his staff sergeant swung open the door and stepped inside, snapping Feral a sharp salute that was quickly returned. “Commander Feral, your next appointment is here a little early.”
Feral almost grinned at that. Almost, but he caught himself in time. The quirking of his lip vanished, and he nodded quickly. “Very well, Sergeant. Send her in, and then close the door behind you.”
The sergeant vanished, and a younger, athletic lioness took his place. She was dressed in Enforcer Air Force dress whites, and wore gold lieutenant’s bars on her shoulders. Her hair, black with a white stripe, was trimmed short but still appealing to the eye, and she had an unwavering hard expression. She marched up to his desk, came to attention, and snapped off a salute even more to form than the sergeant’s had been.
“Lieutenant Feral, reporting as ordered.”
Feral returned the salute. “At ease, Lieutenant.” She went into parade rest, and Feral got up from his chair, walking around his desk so he could stand in front of her.
The two stared at each other for several seconds, either to gauge the other or perhaps to see who would blink first. In the end, it was the Commander who did so, finally allowing his jaw to unhinge enough for a wry smile.
“It’s good to see you, Felina.” He held out his paw, and she shook it for about half a second before pulling him in for a back-breaking hug.
“Good to see you too, uncle.”
He patted her back to mirror the gesture of affection, and she finally released him. Feral took a deep breath to restore the color in his cheeks before he stepped back and examined her.
“So. Fresh out of the Academy. I had some friends keep an eye on you while you were there. I’m heartily impressed, Felina. None of your instructors were told to take it easy on you, but you excelled in spite of everything that got tossed your way.”
“Nobody’s going to accuse me of advancing through ranks because of nepotism.” She countered fiercely.
Feral harrumphed, nodded once in acknowledgment, then returned to his chair and sat back down.
“Commensurate with your rank and experience, I’m assigning you command of the 6th Squadron, Lieutenant.”
Felina’s eyes lit up at the prospect. The 6th ‘Tactical Response’ Squadron was a non-dedicated unit of Enforcers, who were considered the troubleshooters in the corps of Megakat City’s protectors. They flew jets and choppers when it was required, but were just as comfortable on the beat patrol or running counterstrike operations. The only thing they didn’t train in was armored cavalry operations, which was exclusive to the tank corps. Feral had been made to see the value in having a group of his military able to adapt to a situation with increasing levels of escalation, but the unit had been drifting somewhat in the wind for the last few years. “I’m hoping you’ll be able to make something of them. They’ve had it easy for too long, and their performance reviews have been flagging.”
“I’ll get them back into shape, uncle.” Felina said confidently.
“See that you do, Lieutenant. In the meantime, I have a…more pressing matter that requires your attention.” The Commander said with a pause. “I take it you’re familiar with the fallout of Dark Kat’s hostage situation not long ago?”
“We had to postpone our graduation ceremony because of it. Yes, Commander, I am.” Felina said, reverting to a more formal tone. “You yourself took part in their rescue.”
Took part. The truth of it chafed at the Commander. He hadn’t orchestrated the rescue. He hadn’t led the effort, much as he publicly stated otherwise. No, the truth was that when the mayor and deputy mayor had been kidnapped as a ploy to rub the SWAT Kats out once and for all, he’d played second fiddle to those damned vigilantes. Again.
“Then you’re also aware that the mayor has decided to fund the purchase of an F-14 Tomkat, at cost, to make up for the loss of their jet?”
“The Turbokat. Yes, Commander.”
“According to instructions delivered to the deputy mayor’s office, I am not to be allowed on the premises of Shortclaw Air Base when the SWAT Kats retrieve their replacement jet. However, I’m not about to let such a valuable piece of technology wander off unattended. To that end, I’m making you my pilot on the scene to make sure the transfer goes smoothly.”
Felina raised an eyebrow. “Umm…All right. Permission to speak freely?”
“You seem to be taking the news of this awfully well.”
“I’m not, but I do plan on using it to my advantage.” The Commander harrumphed. “Somehow, they’ve always managed to scramble our radar tracking, so we never know where they are when they’re flying, save for visual identification. With this being a new jet we’re handing over to them, I’ve taken the liberty of instructing our engineering teams to add an additional part to the airplane before you fly it to the base for their delivery. When they fly off with it, we’ll have a homing beacon buried inside the belly of it, and we’ll be able to track those hotshots right to wherever they operate out of.”
“It’s a sting, in other words.” Lieutenant Feral blinked. “You’re going to capture them.”
“Those vigilantes have been a thorn in my side for too long. The defense of Megakat City is the responsibility of the Enforcers, who answer to our duly elected government officials. They answer to no one.”
“But they get the job done. And they’ve saved your life a few times now.” Felina argued.
Feral stared at her, letting that last remark linger in the air for several awkward moments.
“You have your orders, Lieutenant. Carry them out.”
“…Yes, Commander.” Felina averted her eyes up and straight ahead. “Will there be anything else?”
“Just one more thing, Felina. A friendly warning.” Feral went on, folding his paws together. “Leadership of the 6th Squadron has, in the past, been a corrupting influence. The ability to operate in multiple roles does not give you permission to act outside of the boundaries of your authority.”
Like Felina could forget the now famous cautionary tale. Nobody at the Academy ever could. She came to attention again. “Yes, Commander. Permission to be dismissed.”
“Dismissed, Lieutenant. And good luck out there. Megakat City’s a dangerous place.” Her uncle warned her.
Felina turned about on her heels and marched out of the office, glad to be free of the stifling air. She hadn’t quite made up her opinion on whether or not the SWAT Kats were a public menace or public heroes, but there was one detail she disagreed with her uncle on.
Megakat City was definitely safer when they were around. And it was more dangerous when they weren’t.
Professor Hackle’s Residence
“You really should learn to take better care of yourself, my boy.” The former Pumadyne genius smiled faintly as he balanced himself with one paw on his cane and the other on the bed. Lying in it laid the SWAT Kat known as Razor, his arm tucked in a recovery sling following the surgery. A miracle, Hackle had said in his soft-spoken way, concerning how much worse the damage could have been. As it was, the surgery had been relatively simple, with no peripheral neurological complications. There was swelling and inflammation, to be expected when one’s humerus was yanked forcibly out of the glenoid socket along with the insult of surgery, but nothing that required more than rest, recovery, and rehabilitation afterwards. “Kats weren’t meant to be thrown off of cars, you know.”
“Yeah, I know.” Razor nodded. Though his helmet and flight suit had been removed, he still wore his mask, something that they’d insisted on, and which Hackle had honored. “It wasn’t like I had much of a choice in the matter.”
“It would be easier if you were an Enforcer, yes?” Hackle prodded gently. Razor did his best not to tense up, but his eyes did flicker to the scientist’s face. “Just point a gun and shoot?”
“…we’re not the Enforcers.” Razor answered steadily. “We only kill when there isn’t a choice. And, usually, when they aren’t kats.”
“Ah. Like plant monsters? Alien bugs? Robots?” Hackle went on. Razor lifted his good hand up in a half shrug. “Just try to be more careful. I know how important you are to this city, Razor. Don’t take gambles with your life. God does not play dice. Neither should you.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Razor said. He looked around the converted workshop, now a medical wing. A pulse oximeter on his finger kept track of some of his vitals and an IV drip in his arm kept him hydrated. “So when can I get out of here?”
Hackle laughed a little at that. “The young. How you love to dash off. Tomorrow, I suppose. Give yourself one more day to get well before your friend T-Bone comes to pick you up. There is one benefit to staying here over the hospital, of course.”
“Not getting arrested by opportunistic Enforcers?” Razor countered dryly.
“Well, I suppose that as well.” Hackle laughed. He pushed himself away from the bed. “No, I meant the food. What would you like to eat?”
“Anything?” Razor asked.
“Anything.” Hackle reaffirmed.
“Tuna and anchovy pizza. Extra large.”
“Really?” Hackle raised an eyebrow above the rim of his glasses. “I’m not that hungry.”
“T-Bone said he’d swing by for a visit tonight.”
“Ah, yes. Good of him. I imagine he will have quite the appetite after working on cars all day.” Hackle agreed, keeping his expression carefully neutral as he watched Razor.
The SWAT Kat lay very still for a moment, leaving Hackle to wonder if he should have said nothing at all. Finally, when the silence was becoming intolerable, Razor reached his good hand up to his mask and pulled it off.
The hard eyes of Jake Clawson, disgraced ex-Enforcer and auto-mechanic at the Megakat Salvage Yard, didn’t blink. “How long?”
“Have I known?” Hackle mused. Jake offered one short nod. “I was only certain after Mac and Molly hijacked the giant space robots Pumadyne built without my approval. I knew that you and Chance were ex-Enforcers, and that you ran the salvage yard. To see them on the news, driving the hovercraft that had been left in your yard… And then, when Feral neutralized them, right after they begged leniency in exchange for your identities…”
Hackle gave his head a shake, tired white whiskers bouncing slightly. “It was just a matter of putting the pieces together, my boy. I was a very brilliant scientist before I grew tired of it all.”
Jake sighed and looked up at the ceiling. “So what now? Will you turn us in?”
“No.” Hackle said instantly. “This is my penance, for all the destruction caused by my hands. All the horrible things I’ve invented. You give kats hope, you and your friend. I only wish I could do more to thank you… but your secret is safe with me. I am only sorry you have to hide who you really are to do what is right. To wear that shame, and keep going. I cannot imagine it.”
Jake closed his eyes. “I read up on you also, Professor. Yes, you can.”
Hackle looked a little older after hearing that. How true that barb stung. In his own life, the former Pumadyne scientist was considered a pariah by his friends after his fiery self-imposed retirement. His wife had divorced him long ago; he was a non-entity in his children’s lives. For too long, he had been dedicated only to the job. Now in his twilight years, the cost of that dedication had caught up to him.
“I suppose I can.” Hackle admitted. “But it gets lonely, this life of yours, does it not?”
“Why would it matter?”
“You cannot focus only on the job, Jacob.” Hackle told him. “That is not a life. You need friends.”
“I have Chance.”
“You need love.” Hackle added insistently.
Jake actually laughed at that, a bitter little thing full of hidden pain. “Thought I had it. She left me as soon as we got kicked out.”
“Then she did not love you.” Hackle shrugged. “When you find a shekat who accepts you for who you are, your victories, your failures, your faults, your merits…then you will have love. Who knows? Maybe there is someone in your life already like that?”
“Are you fishing, Professor?” Jake snorted.
“No. I am trying to help you.”
“What, find a date?”
“…To not turn out like me.” Hackle whispered.
The two kats, young and old, looked at one another, and a measure of understanding passed between them. Both of them geniuses. Both of them dedicated. And if Jake could not change, even just a little, then there were the consequences of it staring him head-on.
In spite of himself, Jake thought of Callie. And it hurt. He swallowed down the lump and changed the subject. “You’ll order in the pizza?”
“Call your friend.” Hackle nodded, smiling again. “It should be here in forty minutes.”
Shortclaw Air Base (Enforcers Reserve Outpost)
54 Miles West of Megakat City
Shortclaw ATC had her on their monitors from the moment she cleared Megakat City airspace, and it was a short jaunt at 450 miles an hour. Lieutenant Feral hadn’t even had enough space to take the stripped down jet supersonic, which she would have loved to do.
Shortclaw didn’t see much traffic aside from use as a training station for Enforcers air squadrons and the biannual air show. The rest of the time, the sleepy little outpost was used to store extra airframes, most of which were in some state of disrepair or advanced age, but hadn’t yet been dragged off to the Boneyard at Megakat Salvage. Lieutenant Feral was surprised for a few moments to see additional vehicles parked out by the tarmac, but then common sense kicked in as she saw the logos on the sides of the brightly colored vans. Of course the news crews would want to cover this.
With ease, the newest officer of the Enforcers eased back on the throttle, bringing the Tomkat down onto the runway in a nose-up, steady downglide. Her touchdown was picture perfect, rear wheels first, then the nose two seconds later. Keeping enough power to the engines to taxi, she brought the fighter off of the runway and parked it on the tarmac. A ground crew raced out to meet her as the engines finally were allowed to fall silent, bringing a ladder alongside to help her get down safely.
Multiple cameras were pointed in her direction, though the press were kept back behind a cordon, to Felina’s relief. A blond-furred queen in a familiar pink power suit and heels walked up to greet her as she finished stepping down from the Tomkat.
“Deputy Mayor Calico Briggs?” Felina wagered. The lieutenant removed her flight helmet and tucked it under her left arm before offering her right hand. “Lieutenant Felina Feral. Your reputation precedes you.”
“That could mean several things.” Callie retorted, shaking the athletic lioness’s hand.
“All good things, I promise.” Felina assuaged the deputy mayor’s ruffled pride. “It’s good having a shekat in government who gets things done.”
Callie’s stern expression melted a bit at that. “As much as I can get done. So, I take it you’re related to the Commander?”
“He’s my uncle, but I earned my rank through my own efforts.” Felina insisted, adding a little heat to her voice.
Callie finally wore an honest smile. “Good. So did I.” She turned around, and the two females looked in the direction of the press. “We’ve got a big crowd here for this.”
“The SWAT Kats always seem to be big news. Having the city giving them a jet to replace the one they lost, bigger still.” Felina said easily.
“Tell me something, Lieutenant. What’s your opinion on the SWAT Kats?”
“That depends.” Felina said after some consideration. She turned around to face the Tomkat.
“On what, exactly?” Callie blinked.
“On whether you’re asking the Enforcer or the shekat under the uniform.” Felina glanced at Callie sideways. Neither one reacted, waiting to see if the other would flinch first. To Felina, this was just a part of how she sized someone up upon first meeting them. She was pleasantly surprised that Miss Briggs wasn’t a shrinking wallflower…but then, considering how many times the deputy mayor had stared down death, perhaps that should have been a given.
“Take the two opinions and give me something in the middle.” Callie advised the Enforcer.
Felina looked skywards for a bit, then shrugged. “I don’t want to shoot them. And depending on the situation, I’d give them a pass.” She turned her gaze back onto the deputy mayor. “Well? Happy with the answer?”
“You’re willing to at least think about it.” Callie folded her arms together and relaxed. “And today?”
“Hey, I’m just the delivery kat.” Felina held up her paws and chuckled. She looked around again. “I was right on time. Where are the SWAT Kats?”
“They should have been here by now…” Callie frowned and looked to the road that ran past the old air base. “You see any dust trails on the road?”
Felina turned her sharp pilot’s eyes to the base perimeter. There was nothing to see, at least on the ground. When she looked up again, though, a glint of movement in the sky did catch her attention.
In spite of herself, the Enforcer laughed. “They’re not coming on wheels.”
“Well, then how else would they get he…” Callie spun her head around, saw which direction Felina was looking, and cut herself off when she also saw what the lieutenant had.
A hang glider was drifting into Shortclaw’s airspace.
The news crews behind the press cordon reacted as well, with video cameras tilting upwards and shutters clicking furiously.
“I’ll say this for the SWAT Kats.” Felina mused. “They love to make an entrance.”
Callie took off her glasses, rubbed them with a cloth, and looked up again. “Yes…yes, they do.”
The glider came down and coasted beside the runway, revealing that it was T-Bone alone who had come. He hit the ground running and eventually came to a lurching stop, with the glider’s nose digging hard into the desert soil. The burly tom seemed a bit more sluggish than usual as he pulled himself out of the glider and swung a backpack that had been dangling from his front around to its more comfortable position over his shoulders. He glanced in the direction of the cameras and waved, then turned and marched for the jet.
Both Callie and Felina were there to greet him. The lieutenant stood back with her arms folded and her face a mask, while Callie walked up to T-Bone with a concerned look on her face.
“T-Bone? Where’s Razor? I thought he’d be here for this.”
“Ah, he’s busy taking care of something else, Miss Briggs.” The pilot soothed her worries. He cracked that wide, confident grin of his. “Besides, you only need one SWAT Kat to make a pick-up. I’m pretty sure there aren’t any emergencies going on right now.”
Callie shook her head. “For the moment, at least. But I’ll be glad when you and Razor get the Turbokat rebuilt. You’ve become a symbol for the city, and so has your jet.”
“Don’t worry, Miss Briggs. We’ll be back in the skies before you know it.” T-Bone looked past the deputy mayor and zeroed in on the female Enforcer. “Who’s your friend?”
The lieutenant stepped forward, sparing Callie the need to make an awkward introduction. “Lieutenant Felina Feral, 6th Squadron.”
Something seemed to pass over T-Bone at her news, but with his face already masked and his flight helmet in place, she couldn’t tell what. The unreadable shift came and went unidentified, and he was himself again. “I take it you’re related to the Commander? I didn’t think there was a shekat crazy enough to have a litter with him.”
“He’s my uncle.” Felina repeated, staring back at him, as if to demand that he say anything more. T-Bone wisely let the matter drop and moved on, walking past her to examine the jet.
His paw traced the contours of its wings reverently, and Felina followed close to him.
“Gotta love the Tomkat.” T-Bone finally said. “You fly it here?”
“Yes, I did.”
“How did it handle?” T-Bone asked casually.
“If I’d had more time, I would have gone to Mach and played with it a little.”
He chuckled at the admission and moved around to the back, examining the twin engines. “Hell. So would I. So. Any surprises I should know about?”
“It’s a stripped down model. No radar, no IF/F, no weapons or ammunition.” Felina told him. “Feral may have had to go along with this, but he didn’t enjoy it.”
“Old sourpuss? Only thing he enjoys is a good prune doughnut.”
“Hey.” Felina spun around in front of him and glared hotly. “You may not like him, but he’s my uncle. So can it. He does a thankless job protecting this city, and he’s even saved your necks once or twice!”
T-Bone held up his paws palms outward. “Okay, okay. Sheesh. Sorry.” Satisfied with his inspection of the jet’s rear, he moved back to its belly and pulled off his backpack. He unzipped the top and pulled out a modified Glovatrix, then slipped it on and powered it up. The forearm plate slid apart to reveal a screen, and he held it up towards the jet as it started to beep.
“What are you doing?” Felina watched him work with growing curiosity.
“He may be your uncle, but he’s still an Enforcer. And so are you.” T-Bone replied, keeping his tone civil. “I’m looking for tracers or bugs.”
Felina flinched. Hell, he’s going to find it anyways. “You’re going to find one, if that scanner of yours is any decent. He told me he was going to put one in the ventral compartments somewhere.”
The beeping on T-Bone’s Glovatrix scanner increased in tempo, finally coming to a rapid whine as he centered it under a small auxiliary wiring panel. “Hm. Yes, he did.” The Glovatrix sprouted a screwdriver, and a minute later, T-Bone pulled the unscrewed hatch open to stare inside. “Got it.” With a quick tug, he jerked a small Enforcers homing beacon out of the jet, dropped it to the ground, and smashed it to pieces under his foot. Felina winced; she wore combat boots, but both T-Bone and Razor preferred to go with bare fur and claws. It gave them an edge on agility, but at the cost of protection. Tough kat.
“There. You should be safe to fly it to wherever your base is now.” Felina said. “Happy?”
“No. Not yet.” T-Bone gave his helmeted head a shake and started up the scanner again. To Felina’s surprise, it kept beeping, gaining speed the closer he got towards the nose and the cockpit.
Climbing up the ladder, T-Bone looked inside of the Tomkat’s cockpit. He hunched over the RIO’s seat for a moment, fiddled with something, and then came up with a second homing transmitter. He glanced down at Felina and let one eye widen under his mask. “Now I’m happy.” He remarked, tossing the homing beacon out and away from the jet with a powerful overhand throw. His backpack was tossed into the rear seat, and he removed one final device, which Felina recognized as a radar scrambler. The kind that stealth jets used. No wonder we could never track the Turbokat on the Air Defense Network. Just where in the hell are they buying their tech from? An inside source at Pumadyme?
“You look surprised, lieutenant. Why?”
“…I didn’t know he’d put in a second one.”
“Maybe. Or maybe you just didn’t expect me to keep looking and find the second one.” T-Bone said curtly. Lieutenant Feral clenched her teeth, but didn’t look away. The two had a momentary staring contest before the SWAT Kat shrugged. “All right. You didn’t know about it. So maybe now, you’ll trust me when I tell you that Razor and I might know a little bit more about your dear old uncle than you do.” He plugged the radar scrambler into the pilot’s console via an auxiliary wire and mounted it over the radio system, securing it down with two strips of duct tape.
“I suppose you’ve been butting heads with him since you first put on those masks.” Felina exhaled. T-Bone clambered into the pilot’s seat, and Felina moved to the ladder so she could talk with him face to face. “But whatever your problems with him are, this city needs him. You need him. After all, you and your partner can’t put out all the little fires that happen. You can’t be everywhere all the time, can you?”
T-Bone paused in his examination of the cockpit, and Felina realized she’d managed to make a point he didn’t have a rebuttal for. It gave her the time to think back on their most recent past actions…and what she’d learned in the aftermath of it.
“Your partner’s not here.” She went on, quieter than before. “Razor. Backdraft was gloating, in spite of his injuries. Said he’d managed to wing one of the SWAT Kats in his failed escape. It didn’t get mentioned in the arrest report, but he started bragging about it when I interrogated him afterwards. You lied to the Deputy Mayor just now, didn’t you? Razor isn’t working on another project. He’s somewhere, recuperating.”
T-Bone turned his head in her direction, ever so slightly, and the whites of his eyes met hers again. “You aren’t your uncle.” He said with a soft growl. “You’ve got a brain.”
“I’m not too bad in the pilot’s seat, either.” Felina countered. “Maybe better than you.”
T-Bone grinned at that. “Heh. You’re confident, at least. That’s a good trait in a pilot. Let me ask you something, Lieutenant…when the next thing that threatens the city happens, are you going to help us, or get in the way?”
“If it helps save katizens and ends the trouble, I’ll do what it takes.” Felina stated. “That’s one thing I can agree with you on.”
“There may be hope for this city yet if the Enforcers have a gal like you in command.” T-Bone nodded and strapped himself in. “Keep your whiskers clean, Lieutenant. We’ll see you next time.”
“Count on it. And T-Bone?” Felina added. “I didn’t go looking for Razor in any of the hospitals. Kept that tidbit off of my uncle’s desk as well. You tell him to get better soon, all right?”
“Roger that, Lieutenant.” T-Bone began switching the Tomkat’s systems on. “Tell everyone to get clear. I don’t want to suck up any camera crews through the intakes.” The canopy started to lower, and Felina quickly climbed back down, getting all the unnecessary gear and kats away.
With the engines whining at low power, T-Bone guided the F-14 off to the runway. Ann Gora and the other Megakat City news teams sent out to witness the jet transfer kept the cameras rolling on the reporters, while Lieutenant Feral and Deputy Mayor Briggs lingered a convenient distance away from the press line.
“So, what did you and T-Bone talk about?” Callie asked, trying to sound casual as she kept one paw raised up to shield her eyes from the glare of the sun off of the jet. It taxied onto the runway and lined up at the center line, with the entire stretch of pavement ahead of it.
Felina shrugged. “I was just trying to get a feel for the kind of kat he was.”
“And?” Callie pressed.
“He’s got an ego to match his muscles.” Felina explained.
The two shekats went quiet and lifted their paws up to cover their ears as the Tomkat’s twin thrusters went to maximum power and started to take off.
Only when it lifted off of the ground and soared into the sky, wiggling its wings, did it get quiet enough again to chat.
“The SWAT Kats have never been short on confidence. Especially T-Bone.” Callie agreed. “It must be because of how big he is.”
“Nah.” Felina smirked, thinking of the SWAT Kats’ pilot. “He’s a fighter jock. That’s just how pilots are.”
“Like you, you mean?” Callie asked.
Felina blinked at that, and silently added another bit of information about the SWAT Kats to her personal dossier.
For a vigilante, T-Bone certainly acted like he’d been in jets all his life.
“Yeah.” Lieutenant Feral agreed, putting her flight helmet back on. “Like me.”
Megakat Salvage Yard
2 Days Later
Callie hated to admit it, but the long drive out of Megakat City out to the salvage yard where Chance and Jake ran their auto repair shop was quickly becoming routine. And not the bad kind of routine, where you do it just because it’s convenient, or expected, or monotonous. Driving her father’s vintage green Longclaw sedan out to the only two mechanics she trusted it with was the kind of routine she did on a Saturday morning because it helped to relax her.
No matter what was going on in the city, no matter how horrible her job was or what villain had been tear-assing downtown with a plan to mutate, blow up, burn down, or take over the metropolis, she knew that those two wrench turners would always be there for her. They’d have actual coffee percolating, black as her worst moods, a friendly smile, warm conversation, and on most occasions, flirting. Not Jake flirting with her, though. It was always Chance, the bigger tom who thought he was God’s gift to shekats the world over.
Routines. Chance would flirt with her. Callie would politely turn him down. Jake would try to stay professional, and then Callie would give him her favorite little smile and wave, and the slimmer tom would blush as bright as an Enforcer flare.
When she turned off of the highway and onto the dirt road which led to the junkyard, she turned the radio station to KCJZ-104, an FM station dedicated to Jazz music which had started up about the time that Megakat Towers had been finished for business—the first time. The smooth trumpet playing of Winton Marpawlis was just another subtle shift in the environment which helped her to shift out of deputy mayor mode… and into the shoes of a twenty-something shekat who had nothing on her plate for the day. Manx was off golfing, she was caught up on paperwork, and the Enforcers were, amazingly, handling the small crises.
Gone were the high heels and the pink power suit. In the place of what many people wondered was her only outfit were blue jeans and a pink sweatshirt. Her long blond hair was pulled back behind her head in a braid with a blue scrunchie, and, she thought with a smile, she wasn’t just bringing the boys more work to do. The box sitting in the passenger seat would certainly perk up their day. And they deserved it.
A minute later, she turned off the dirt road and passed through the gates that permitted entry into the maze of junked vehicles, appliances, and scrap metal. She knew her way through the junkyard to the main building by heart, and soon enough, with gravel crunching under the weight of the car’s tires, Callie brought the Longclaw to a stop outside of the auto shop. She could hear the sounds of tinkering inside, and not waiting for an invitation, she scooped up the box she’d brought with her and headed inside through the shop’s open garage door.
Chance’s legs were stuck out from underneath a vehicle jacked up. The mechanic grunted as he pulled at something. “Be right there.”
“Relax, Chance. It’s only me.”
“Callie?” The muscular tom jerked up at the sound of her voice, and the heavy thud of his head meeting the metal on the vehicle’s undercarriage made her both wince and smile. “Shiii…Uhh, ow?” He corrected himself hastily, pulling himself out from underneath and rubbing at his sore head through his backwards baseball cap. “Sorry you had to hear that.” He apologized, sitting on the dolly with his back to the car.
“If I had that much of a lump on my head, I’d probably swear as well.” Callie spun the box around and tilted it forward so Chance could read the logo on it. “My car’s fan belt has been squealing a little. I thought it’d soften the blow if I brought you two some doughnuts.”
Chance brightened up at that. “Tell me you’ve got jelly-filled in there.”
“And puff-filled. But there’s a chocolate glazed Bismarck you’re not to touch, understood?”
“Right.” Chance got up to his feet and laughed a little. “Don’t get between a shekat and her chocolate. Even I know that rule.” Callie opened the box, and Chance popped a claw to spear one of the jelly-filled doughnuts in the front row, one sprinkled with powdered sugar. “Thanks, Callie. It’ll be about an hour before I can start in on yours. I have another oil change to do after I finish this one.”
“Couldn’t Jake do it? It’s just a fanbelt replacement, nothing too fancy.” Callie offered.
Chance nibbled along the edge of his doughnut, keeping it balanced carefully on his foreclaw so it wouldn’t tumble to the messy floor. He offered a very small shake of his head. “Sorry, Callie, but Jake hurt his arm a couple of days ago, trying to lift more than he should have. Right now, I’m the only wrench turner in the shop.”
Callie went from curious to concerned in a heartbeat, closing the doughnut box. “No. Is he okay?”
“I think his pride’s hurt worse than his arm is right now, to be honest.” Chance reassured her with another smile. He motioned with his head off to the first floor office and living room that adjoined their garage. “Seeing you oughta perk him up a bit, though.”
“You two have my favorite coffee in there?”
“Well, I prefer a little cream in mine, but yeah.” Chance rolled his eyes. “He was brewing up a fresh pot when I came out to get started on the day’s work. Smelled strong enough to peel paint off of the walls. Just the way you and he like it. I swear, how can you drink that stuff and not end up jittery all day?”
“We’re not all kittens at heart, Chance.” Callie teased him, reaching up and dusting some powdered sugar off of his whiskers. “Some of us need the caffeine.”
“At this point, Jake probably bleeds coffee.” Chance pulled back with an uneasy chuckle. “Go on, deputy mayor. This dingy old car garage is no place for a lady like yourself.”
Callie gave him another one of her brilliant smiles, then turned and headed in.
She didn’t find Jake plopped down in the office when she looked, but a quick peek into the living room revealed movement from the attached kitchen. Stepping inside softly and keeping her box of doughnuts level, the blond-furred queen braced herself and went to peek inside.
There was Jake Clawson, his reddish-brown fur tousled and unshowered. The mechanic was in his usual blue worksuit, but his left arm was tucked into a sling. He gripped a mug of coffee with his right, and the smell of the strong black liquid permeated the air. He blinked as Callie froze, looking at him.
“Uh…” Jake stammered.
Callie saved him by hefting the box. “Morning, Jake. Doughnut?”
“…Sure. Thanks, Callie.” Jake set his coffee on the counter and reached for the box. “Let me get that for you.”
“No. Don’t strain yourself, Jake. I can take care of it.” Callie brushed off his offer. “Why don’t you go sit down and I’ll bring you one?” She placed the box down on the counter as well.
Jake frowned at that, and took a step towards her. “Callie, I’m not…” He stuttered to silence when her palm came up and rested against his chest, stopping him from going further. Her green eyes shimmered, capturing him.
“Please, Jake. Go sit down. For me.”
Against such a plea, the slim and injured tom had no argument. He swallowed, nodded, and when Callie pulled her hand back and moved to the side, he sidled past her and moved into the living room. Callie took in a breath, startled at what she’d done, and glanced at the counter.
He forgot his coffee.
When she came back out, she carried a plate with two whipped-cream filled doughnuts in one hand, and his mug of coffee and one for herself in the other. Jake was sitting on the far end of the couch, sitting up rigidly straight.
“You forgot your coffee.” Callie spoke up, setting it and the plate down in front of him.
Jake registered her voice, turned and looked at her. “Thanks. I…I guess I’m still a little shaken up.”
“Anyone would be, after hurting themselves like you did.” Callie reassured him, sitting down beside him on the couch. The tom flinched at that and gave her a strange look that unnerved Callie to a degree. He seemed shocked? Confused?
“Chance told me that you tried to lift more than you should have, ended up hurting yourself. What did you do, lift an engine block barehanded?”
“Oh.” The pensive look on Jake’s face drained away immediately after she spoke. “No. No, I’m not that crazy. Chance can, but he’s built like a firehouse. I just…I guess I was distracted.” He picked up his coffee and took a drink.
“Kind of like you are now.” Callie pointed out, lifting her own mug up and drinking from it as well. “Are you going to be all right?”
“I’ve been hurt worse.” Jake reassured her. “I’ll get through this just fine. I just need some rest.”
“Well, Chance seems to be taking care of you.” Callie agreed. She leaned back against the couch and sighed. “I suppose I’ll just have to wait around here for him to get done with the other cars before he gets around to fixing my fanbelt.”
“Heh. At least you know what’s wrong with your car.” Jake chortled. “Your dad taught you, right?”
Callie smiled warmly at the memories of her father, who had also been an auto mechanic. “Yes.”
Jake nodded, taking another sip of coffee. The break in the conversation stung her a little.
Whenever I bring up why I like coming out here so much, whenever we start to talk about family, or my dad, you just…Go quiet. Why, Jake? She suspected it had something to do with his own family, but Jake always steered the conversation away from the topic before she could get a peep out of him. All she knew was that he was from Katlanta. Beyond that…he was mum.
“So. How’s things been in the city?” Jake asked, predictably switching gears.
Callie reached for her Bismarck and took a small bite out of it. “Quiet. Well, at least for big problems.” She said. “I heard that the SWAT Kats caught a pretty nasty arsonist a while back. Not a peep out of any of Megakat City’s bigger villains, thankfully. And the Enforcers are keeping on top of regular crime.”
“Good. You probably get tired of putting out fires all of the time.” Jake said. Callie looked at him, and he smiled a little. “Yes, I know. Horrible pun.”
“Very horrible.” Callie agreed, although she did smile a bit after shaking her head. Well, at least he hadn’t lost his sense of humor. “But in spite of that, regular crime’s been…on the rise. Or it was until the arsonist. Maybe kats thought that without their jet, the SWAT Kats wouldn’t be able to stop them. Taking down Backdraft showed them otherwise.”
“Good. I personally wouldn’t mind things being quiet for a while.” Jake agreed. “Thanks for the doughnuts, by the way.”
“You’re welcome. But you’re not eating them.” Callie pointed out.
Jake shook his head. “I had an early breakfast. Don’t worry. I’ll have it for lunch.”
“Well, all right.” Callie closed her eyes for a moment, listening to the gentle hum of the room’s overhead fan, and the distant sounds of Chance working in the car garage. When she opened them again, Jake was up and halfway across the room, taking his now empty coffee mug with him. “So how’s business been?”
“Eh, about the same, I guess.” Jake called back over his shoulder. “We don’t get as much traffic as the places inside of the city, but we manage. We get some jobs running tow services for Triple A, and then we have a couple customers like you who come back because they trust our work.”
Callie waited as he poured himself another cup and came back into the living room before she spoke again. “So, there are others who bring you something to nibble on a Saturday morning?”
Jake smiled at that, and the warmth of his expression seemed to fill the room. “No. There’s nobody else quite like you.”
“Thank God for that.” They clinked their mugs together as he sat back down, and then he motioned to the TV. “Now that Chance has done his morning cartoons and is out working, I’ve got the run of the remote. Got anything you want to watch while you’re waiting for him to finish your car?”
Callie shrugged. “How about that one channel which does nothing but old movies?”
“You’ve got it, Miss Briggs.” Jake reached for the TV remote.
“Call me Callie.” The blond-furred queen said suddenly. Jake jerked a bit and looked over, trapped in a suddenly stern stare. Her face softened when she realized how she must have looked. “Jake, look. I go all week being called Miss Briggs, or Deputy Mayor, or ma’am by people who just see the position, who don’t know me. You’re not just my mechanic, you’re my friend, both Chance and you. So call me Callie.”
After a pause, Jake nodded. “Okay. Sorry, Callie.” He clicked the TV on and moved ahead until he found the channel he was looking for.
It was an old noir crime drama in black and white that was on, and the two kats fell into watching it. It was a show that, lacking special effects and a full orchestral soundtrack, made up for it with remarkable characters, great acting, and simplicity.
Once or twice, Callie caught movement out of the side of her eye. A flicker from Jake’s right arm as the recuperating mechanic lifted his paw up as though to ease it over the back of the couch, putting it dangerously close to her shoulder. The first time it happened, she wondered if she wanted him to do it. The second time, she did want him to try and pull her closer.
But he didn’t. Like always, just as there was a flicker of something that might be more intimate and less professional between them, some dark shadow passed over his face. His arm stilled, and his paw retreated.
For a few precious moments, Callie had daydreamed of what it would feel like for Jake to pull her close to him. What the fur along his neck would smell like, or what the warmth of his chest would feel like if she curled up against him. It was patently obvious that Jake had thought the same, or else he would have never even tried to start the attempt. Why he didn’t…confused her. Back when they’d first met, she would have appreciated the professional distancing. Now, though? Now that she used this place as a reminder of what home had once been, and thought of them as friends?
“I wonder why I really come here.” She mused softly.
“Hm? You say something, Callie?” Jake grunted, shifting his attention away from the movie.
Callie shook her head and reached for her coffee. “No. Just mumbling, is all.” She answered him. They both went quiet, drinking their coffee and watching the television for a few more minutes, until she got up.
“Going for a refill. You want another one, Jake?”
“No, I’m good. Thanks anyway, Callie.” Jake answered her with a smile that was friendly, but lacking in any deeper warmth.
When she reached the kitchen and started pouring out some more of her favorite elixir, Callie realized two things, and wondered why she’d had such insight into two such distinctly separate issues.
One; the SWAT Kats never called her by her given name either.
And two…what did Jake mean when he said that he’d been hurt worse?
“Hey, Callie!” Chance shouted in from the garage. “Want me to take a look at your suspension? Long as you’re here, I may as well take a peek.”
Shaken from her reverie, Callie cleared her head and picked up her mug. “Sure, Chance. Just don’t start any work without telling me, all right?”
“You’ve got it!” Came the reply from the burly striped tom.
Callie made it to the kitchen doorway before she realized she’d forgotten what she was just thinking about. She stood there, lingering just outside of the living room for about half a minute, trying to recall what it had been before she caught sight of Jake looking at her quizzically.
Ah, well. It probably wasn’t important anyways. She resolved. Smiling, she went back inside to finish watching the rest of the movie with Jake while Chance worked on her car.
The SWAT Kats had a new jet, even if it would take them who knew how long to get it tweaked to act as the new Turbokat. The Enforcers had a shekat on the force who knew how to take care of business and cared more about results than the process, and Megakat City would pick itself up, like it always did.
For now, though, it was a Saturday morning. And sitting there, drinking coffee and relaxing, Calico Briggs was right where she belonged.
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Disclaimer: SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron is copyright to Hanna-Barbera Cartoons Inc. All Rights Reserved. © 1995. All other characters and material within this page are the property of their respective creators.