Author: Eric “Erico” Lawson
Warnings: Some profanity
Disclaimers: “SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron” is copyright to their respective owners/creators.
S SWAT KATS: TRANSITIONS
By Eric “Erico” Lawson
3 Weeks after “Reasons to Live”
Megakat Shores Coastal Highway
Jake Clawson could drive with the best of them. He was always the one who got launched in the single-seater Cyclotron, but he’d gone for so long with letting Chance take the wheel in their tow truck that when it came time for an afternoon drive in the countryside, he’d unconsciously strolled around to the passenger side door of Callie’s ‘loaner’ white sedan. That was what she called it, anyways; her car would always be that green ’64 Longclaw, but it was far from ready, even with all the work that he, Chance, and the girls had been putting into it. Of course, those moments were few and far between when there were still Enforcer patrols to fly, incidents to suit up for, speeches to write, and cars in need of a tow at the most ungodly hours.
He stuck his paw out of the open window, feeling the wind rip at his fur. Angling the side of it, he let the wind carry it up and then push it back down again, looking more like a kitten than a grown kat. He must have been smiling, because he heard Callie giggle in that little way she had whenever she caught him relaxing and not being so ‘stuffy’. Again, her words.
Sighing, Jake pulled his arm back inside, electing to rest his elbow out a little bit instead.
“Are you thinking up new gadgets, or just woolgathering?” The deputy mayor of Megakat City asked him teasingly.
Jake smiled a bit and contained a chuckle. “Can’t I be doing both?”
The blond queen that he’d fallen head over heels for slowed down a little as they started a long, sloping turn, hugging the side of the cliff the road was carved out of. “Not with that look. You weren’t pensive, or concentrating. You were drifting.”
He looked away from the window to take in the sight of her. She was beautiful. Even in blue jeans, her old MKU sweater, and her second least presentable set of glasses, she glowed with life and contentment.
“Just being thankful. And wondering how I got here.”
“Well, you said Professor Hackle called you. That’s how.”
Jake snorted a little at that, noting how she went from radiant to impish in a heartbeat. “No. Us. Here. Together. I know why, I’m just… marveling at it.”
Callie hummed in agreement. “And to think, all it took was me wrecking my dad’s car and you deciding to fix it as a farewell gift.”
“Heh.” Jake didn’t stop the grin he felt. “I guess I should have known you wouldn’t be so easily dismissed.”
“Years you’ve been watching me go toe to toe with supervillains, Commander Feral, and my boss, and you hadn’t figured that out yet?” She asked dryly, earning a laugh from the normally reserved tom.
Callie grinned again and focused on the road, bringing them around the curve. “I’ve been out to Megakat Shores before for social functions, but I didn’t think anyone lived out here. We’ve gone past the residential areas a couple of miles back.”
“The Professor likes his privacy.” Jake explained. He motioned to the rugged terrain, which steadily began to taper off as the highway veered back inland. Had time been of the essence, they would have taken that route instead of enjoying the scenery. “He bought up this land back when it was still just wilderness. It didn’t become the playground for the rich until the 70’s during the second rush for suburban living prompted a need to get away for more remote and exotic locales.”
“Just how much of this does he own, exactly?” Callie wondered.
Jake merely smiled and pointed to a county road that connected to the highway. “Turn in here.” Still puzzled, she did so. They crested a small rise, and as they started down the other side of the hill out of view of the main road, the gravel road smoothed out to carefully maintained cement.
“What the… Private driveway?”
“You could say that.” Jake replied. Callie slowed down to better take in the sights. A rather massive building dominated the edge of the cliff, looking like someone had smashed a beach loft together with a warehouse. Or a factory, minus the smokestacks. “You can see this place from the air, or if you’re sailing along the coast, but kats just driving by wouldn’t know this place was here. You can’t even see Alkatraz Island.”
“Good thing, too. I don’t think any kat would have wanted to build their getaway mansion if it wasn’t over the horizon.” Callie said. “You never know who’s going to wash up on shore.”
Jake’s eyes dimmed a little at the remark. He knew very well just how true that statement was. Like Mac and Molly Mange. The Professor had spent every day since then trying to find a way to make amends for his poor decision. The results of his final crusade were hit and miss, but he was still a good friend, and for Jake, both a cautionary tale and kindred spirit.
“Still… why would he want to see you and Chance?” Callie went on, pulling into the Professor’s driveway and coming to a stop outside of the large shuttered garage entrance.
“Hard to say.” Jake said. “He might have a new gizmo for us. Or maybe it’s a warning about the Metallikats.” He stuck his head out of his open window and looked up at the camera perched above the garage door, then waved at it as it turned to look at him. After a few seconds, the shutter started to rise, and Callie drove them in.
Professor Hackle was inside and waiting for them as they stepped out of the car, dressed in his usual brown trousers and white lab coat, and balancing on his cane. The old kat smiled as Jake approached.
“Well, this is a surprise.” He remarked.
Jake shook his paw in greeting. “Professor, this is Calico Briggs.”
“So I see.” Hackle adjusted his glasses as Callie walked up to the pair. “A friend? Or something more?”
Jake and Callie looked briefly at one another before he blushed and looked away, and Callie instead looked to the old professor with a warm smile. “We’re still figuring that out.”
“Well, let me say congratulations to the both of you.” The Professor chuckled. He took her paw and kissed the top of it. “It does my poor heart much good to see that you are a part of his life, my dear. He needed more in it than…” To this, he trailed off, and Jake quickly interceded.
“She knows, Professor. She’s the deputy mayor.”
“Ah, good.” The Professor exhaled in relief. “I had hoped she knew of your other career, but I did not want to assume and make a bungle of it.”
“So, Professor, why’d you call?” Jake went on, eager to get past the awkward moment. “Good news or bad this time?”
“You can relax, so far as I know, nothing is amiss.” The old kat turned about and motioned for the two younger kats to follow him. “Come with me; we have some business to discuss.” He plodded on to an elevator and waited until Jake and Callie had joined him before hitting the switch.
“So tell me, Miss Briggs, what has our friend Jacob told you about me?”
Callie took off her glasses to clean off a smudge. “Just that he’s friends with you. I’ve heard of you before. You had something to do with stopping the Metallikats after their rampage in those giant robots.”
The professor’s face darkened. “I provided the device to put them offline, yes. If only they had stayed that way.”
Callie glanced over to Jake, who shrugged. “It’s in the past.” He resolved.
“Many things are. Like the fact that, when I was younger, I created many terrible weapons. Missiles. Guns. Bombs. Tanks. Rockets.” The elevator came to a stop and opened up, and Professor Hackle stepped off, hobbling through another dimly lit workspace with tables buried under metal and offensive gear.
“I had helped at MASA after Mega War II, but left to work at Pumadyne, putting money over the sake of my ethics. The inventions I had made to help katkind reach for the stars were instead turned towards war and destruction. Even those two giant robots that the Metallikats hijacked. They had not been meant for use here on the planet, but on other worlds in outer space. And Pumadyne had constructed them against my wishes.” He spat the sentence out angrily, leaving Jake and Callie to trail after the rambling old fellow, wondering where he was going with his confession. “Such is my legacy, and it is something I struggle against. Perhaps I am cursed.”
The professor went through another door, and this time they emerged not in a workshop or a laboratory, but a very cozy living room with enormous reinforced plexiglass windows that stared out over the open ocean and the beach below. With a sigh, he sank into one of the reclining chairs and motioned for Jake and Callie to take a seat anywhere they wanted, be it on the adjoining couch, another seat, or even over by his gas-lit fireplace. Callie elected to move over by the fireplace, eager to fight off the chill she felt from the conversation. Jake sat by the Professor, propping one leg up over the other as he lounged back into the couch.
“In truth, the only good that my inventions have ever done have been in helping you, Jacob, and your friend.” The Professor admitted with a wan smile. “And that is why I asked you to come. I do not know how long I shall live. When I die, I do not want this place picked over by the crows. My children do not know me, or care to. My wife divorced me decades ago.” Professor Hackle reached to a small coffee table beside him and picked up a manila envelope lying there. He looked at it for a moment more, then handed it over. “So. I am giving it to you, and to your friend Chance.”
Taken aback at what the professor was saying, Jake undid the large envelop and pulled out the contents. “Bill of sale…” The junkyard kat stopped and looked back up at him. “You…”
“You and your friend deserve a hero’s reward for all you have done.” Professor Hackle leaned forward in his chair and propped his chin on the handle of his cane. “And if this city cannot give you that, then the least I can do is provide you a better place to live.” He gestured around the room. “In this place is all of my life’s work, both good and bad. When I die, I want it to go to someone deserving of it, who will put it to good ends. My children would only sell this place off, use my death as a windfall and pay no heed to the consequences of it. But you would not.”
“Professor, it’s… I can’t believe this.” Jake finally said. Callie went over and sat beside him, squeezing his hand. He looked at her, seeing her smiling again.
“Jake, this is… Wonderful.”
The slim tom started to smile when his ever analytical mind started to turn again, and reality crashed down on him with a vengeance. Crestfallen, he pushed the envelope back away.
“We can’t do it.” Jake said softly. “We can’t accept it, professor.”
The old engineer blinked rapidly. “I do not understand. Why not?”
“Because Chance and I don’t own anything.” Jake explained. Callie squeezed down on his paw again, and he looked up to see her looking curious and worried. He managed a weak smile. “Most of the money we make goes towards paying that stupid Enforcers repair bill. We only make enough to keep ourselves clothed and fed. Anything else beyond that and a very limited discretionary income gets taken out of our paychecks before we get to it. Wage garnishment, Commander Feral’s eternal dagger in the back. If we bought your house from you, or worse, inherited it, we’d be forced to sell it off immediately, and all the proceeds would go where the rest of our money has. I guarantee you Chance and I would make sure none of your gadgets and designs would see the light of day, but… it would be a useless gesture.” Jake bowed his head. He felt a bitterness that he couldn’t swallow, but Callie didn’t give him the time to wallow in self-pity. Before he knew what was happening, she had pulled his chin back up and devoured his mouth in a kiss that blasted every dark thought away. By the time he felt her weight settle into his lap, his paws were up and curled around her of their own volition.
Pulling back away breathlessly, Callie didn’t bother trying to hide the tears welling up in her eyes. “It is not a useless gesture.” She rested her forehead against his. “We’ll figure this out. He wants to give yo… us a life. I’m not letting you do the same thing you did with me.”
“What did I do with you?” Jake asked woozily.
Sniffling a bit, Callie shook her head. “You tried to walk away because you felt ashamed. And how did that work out for you?”
“Not well?” He mustered a sheepish guess.
“No. Once you let me in, though…”
“I’m sorry, Callie. I guess…”
She flicked his ear with a fingertip. “Sh.”
Their faces hovering close, Jake could smell the scent of her raspberry shampoo clinging to her fur.
Professor Hackle chuckled, which had the effect of snapping him out of his reverie before he could move in for another kiss. “You are a strong woman, Deputy Mayor Briggs. I can see why he fell in love with you.” Callie looked back at the professor for a moment before slowly disentangling herself and sitting back down beside Jake. Hackle rubbed at his chin for a moment. “So. I cannot give my land and my laboratory to you, Jacob. Perhaps I should give it to her instead.”
This time, Callie’s brain went clunk. The Professor only smiled wider. “Well? So far as I know, Deputy Mayor, your assets are not being garnished. Surely, nobody would raise too much of a fuss if an old eccentric like myself gave you a windfall. If anyone questioned it, I could simply say it was as thanks for you always attempting to do the right thing.”
“Well… I suppose that could work, but…”
Professor Hackle waved off her remarks before she could think of a polite way to weasel out of the offer. “It will take me time to have my lawyer draft up a new bill of sale so we can avoid the inheritance death tax. Why don’t you two have a walk along the beach? It has been many years since I was able to enjoy a stroll by the ocean. Use the time to think about it for a little while.”
“Well, that actually sounds kind of fun, Professor.” Jake got up from the couch. “Anything in particular you want to warn us about? Neighbors, that sort of thing?”
“Oh, no. I own this section of Megakat Shores, so you can walk a mile in either direction. And my beach does not connect to anyone else’s, I am afraid. Beyond my small section of beach, there are cliffs and caves that go into the bedrock, so be careful.”
“Okay.” Jake held a paw out to Callie and winked. “I didn’t bring a picnic basket, but… shall we?”
“Why not? It’s a perfect afternoon for it, and the city isn’t under attack for once.” Callie conceded to his playful request, taking the extended arm and pulling herself up.
“One last thing before you go.” Professor Hackle said, stopping them before they could leave out the sliding glass doors for the stairs that led down to the beach. “I had asked for both yourself and Chance, Jacob. Where is your friend?”
“Chance?” Callie said with a twinkle in her eye. “When we left him, he was getting the run around from Lieutenant Feral.”
SWAT Kats Base
Reflex Room Annex
I am training in the SWAT Kats’ secret underground base.
The Cyclotron’s engine hummed wildly, never screaming as loudly as an Enforcers motorcycle, as quiet as the high end import models, but made entirely from spare parts left lying around, or fabricated. Having finally been filled in on just how the two former co-captains had gotten their hands on such marvelous gadgets, she was more convinced than ever that Razor was a goddamned genius. And then there was T-Bone… Who whipped past her as they curved around the turn at over 120 miles per hour.
I am driving a Cyclotron. And I’m losing. This is both awesome, and unacceptable.
“What’s the matter, Lieutenant?” T-Bone goaded her over the radio frequency. “You like choking on my dust?”
“You just wait, Hotshot, you’ll be choking on mine!” Felina snarked back at him through her helmet microphone. She opened up the throttle on the single seater and felt inertia slam her backwards as a small booster on the back of the speed machine burned to life. The front tire rose up from the ground slightly, and she grunted, pushing it back down by throwing her weight forward. Thankfully, they were in a straightaway, so she had time to get the thundering beast back under control and pass by T-Bone. He let out a grunt of dismay and earned a laugh from her.
The SWAT Kats had several training facilities tucked away in and above the buried and forgotten Megawar II bunker. Felina had already seen the aboveground obstacle course, the Reflex Room proper, their sparring dojo, and the double-seater centrifuge. All of those would have been impressive enough, but somehow they’d even managed to rig up this Cyclotron annex as well. The end result was a course with more twists, turns, and jumps than would have been considered safe… but considering how often they had to ditch the Turbokat to operate in more confined spaces, it made a great deal of sense. What made it more impressive were the arrays of sensors they’d built into the course. As the Cyclotrons passed by, onboard IF/F tags registered with the inlaid Annex sensors and reported their times back to a central computer at the start/finish line. This, in turn, was relayed to the Cyclotron’s onboard monitors. This was how Felina knew she was outpacing Chance by nine-hundredths of a second.
The two slammed into the final leg of the course, now on their fifth and last lap. A brutal oopty-loop sent Felina’s stomach rattling up against her chest, but she ignored it and kept on driving. She’d made high-G turns that hurt worse, and while these things moved fast, there wasn’t a risk of gray-out or G-LOC.
No, no risk of the usual problems of jet flight. Just not reacting quick enough to make a turn, or worse, being turned to paste.
She was good. But, today, T-Bone was just a little bit better. Right after coming out of the corkscrew, Felina had to take a little bit longer to recover. He screamed past her, and had a full length on her for the rest of the course.
“Snooze you lose!” He taunted her as he passed over the green strip of LED lights that marked the finish line.
They went red after he passed, denying her the victory as she followed four-hundredths of a second later. The two pulled their Cyclotrons to a stop, and with a triumphant laugh, T-Bone removed his helmet, grinning from behind his mask.
“Nice try there, Felina. I thought you had me for a second there. You’ve got to watch out on that last corkscrew, though. It helps if you think of it as a long aileron roll. Or at least, that’s what I figured out after always losing to Jake.” He rubbed his knuckles against the front of his flight suit and grinned even wider. “Nice to know there’s someone worse than me.”
Felina pulled off her own helmet and stared down the brawny SWAT Kat with cold eyes. “Rematch.”
Behind the mask, T-Bone’s eyes twinkled with mischief. “Best two out of three?”
She didn’t get the chance to respond, as a klaxon went off nearby with two loud drones. T-Bone’s head jerked around to the sound and he scowled. “Next time, maybe.”
“Is that trouble? Callie’s communicator?”
“Nah.” T-Bone sighed, pulling off his mask. Now back to being just Chance Furlong in a blue and red flight suit, he rolled his eyes. “If it was Callie’s communicator, that thing wouldn’t shut up until I got to it. That means company’s coming into the salvage yard. Which means I’ve got to get up and see who’s coming in.”
“I thought you closed up the shop.”
“Yeah, the garage is closed for the day. Doesn’t mean we don’t get kats who come out here looking for scrap, or to drop it off. Personally, I’m hoping they came here to buy. Jake and I could use an influx of petty cash.” Chance walked the Cyclotron back to its bay and dropped the kickstand, then started up the drop ladder which connected to the main hangar above.
“What all do you sell as scrap?” Felina asked, parking her own bike and following him up.
“Nothing from the boneyard.” Chance said, allaying her most likely concerns. “Jake and I are kind of partial to hanging on to things we might need for the Turbokat. And what the Enforcers bean counters come out to keep an eye on about once a year for. Not like they check inside of the planes, just take one look at the rusting hulls and…”
“Easy there, Champ. You don’t have to complain to me.” Felina closed the hatch as his voice faded out and she spun around, doing a double take as she saw the burly yellow striped tom pulling his flight suit off. Underneath, he had only a sleeveless T-Shirt and boxer shorts on, which did nothing to hide his impressive physique. She couldn’t help but smirk and let her tail wag behind her as she took in the show. “All you’ve got to do is just stand there and let me look at you.”
Chance paused and gave her a funny look before he caught on to her leering, then grinned and flexed his pectorals at her. Just once. Then he reached for his blue mechanic’s jumpsuit and the moment was over.
Felina lingered inside the living quarters adjacent to the garage while Chance sauntered outside and strolled up towards the approaching truck. It was five years old, and the truckbed had seen some wear but was far from being rusted out enough for delivery to the yard. The driver left the engine idling as he stepped out and waved at Chance. He was maybe 25 pounds overweight, but in good shape, with some brawn in his arms and a little gray in his orange fur.
“Afternoon.” Chance called out. “What can I do for you? If it’s car troubles, the garage is closed today…”
“What? Oh, no. No, this old beauty’s running well enough.” The driver chuckled, patting the hood of the truck. “The name’s Garth Hansclaw. I’m an art professor at Megakat University, and I’m working on a metal sculpture. I was hoping you might be able to sell me some scrap at a decent price for the project.”
Chance rubbed at his chin. “Well, yeah. We’ve got plenty. Were you hoping for sheet metal? Old railroad ties? Some crunched up cars? I can think of a few piles that are less rusted than the others. Rust and welding don’t usually work well together.”
“Nah, don’t worry about that. I’ve got my hands on a dozen gallons of rust converter and one hell of a bathtub.”
Chance chuckled at that. “You’ve given this some thought. Okay. Let’s weigh your truck on the scale first, and then we’ll drive around, see what catches your eye. We usually charge 40 cents per pound in straight scrap pricing, but if you go over 600 pounds, I can discount it to 30.”
“That sounds like it would fit within my budget.” Professor Hansclaw nodded. “Where’s your scale?”
“Right over here.” Chance waved the art professor along to the side of the workshop and disappeared from view.
Felina smiled as Chance went about the business of his double life, then ducked into the kitchen to pour herself a cup of coffee. She had reached for the creamer when the phone started to ring.
“Let the machine get that.” Felina murmured.
After a few rings, the answering machine kicked on.
“You’ve reached Chance and Jake’s garage. We’re either out in the scrapyard or busy with another call, but leave your name, number, and message, and we’ll get back to you.” Felina chuckled at the formality of Jake’s message and kept stirring. After the machine beeped, the caller started to speak.
It was Callie. “Hey, Chance? If you and Felina are done trying to outdo each other, we’re…”
Felina picked up the phone and silenced the answering machine. “Hey, Callie. Chance is out in the yard with a customer right now.”
“Aha. So you didn’t wear him out completely after all then?” Callie asked teasingly.
Felina blushed a little and sputtered indignantly. “And what do you mean by that, Calico?”
“Oh, nothing. Nothing at all.”
Felina took the cordless out into the living room and sat down on the worn out couch with a sigh. “So. How’s the Professor?”
“He, uh… well… had an offer for the boys. Jake’s worried that they can’t accept it.”
“Oh, great. Another robot helper?”
“No. He wants to give them everything he owns.”
Felina blinked rapidly at that, and just barely managed to set her coffee mug down before she dropped it. “Say what?”
“I’m serious. His house, his lab, his land… everything. Jake’s afraid if they accept, your uncle will just force them to sell it to help pay off their bill, so…”
“Jake refused.” Felina drew a paw across her face. “That’s just crazy. I’ve never met Hackle myself, but… He’s really something else.”
“Well, we might be able to convince the boys to take it after all. Jake and I found something while we were taking a stroll along the beach here.”
“Can you and Chance come out? And Jake said to bring some spelunking gear, flashlights…”
“Yeah. I should be able to rustle up some ropes and stuff. I know where Chance leaves the Glovatrixes.” Felina stood up. “Anything else?”
“Maybe something to eat. I’m starting to get hungry.”
“Knowing Chance, it’ll be fast food.”
“I’m fine with that. Just hurry up, all right? We should probably do this while we still have some daylight. Later, Felina.”
“See you soon, Callie.” Lieutenant Feral disconnected the phone and leaned back against the couch.
Someone wanted to give Jake and Chance a house. Felina had always been satisfied with her apartment, not really having the time or the inclination to try for anything else. Her mother and father had a house, living up north in the country, and away from the bustle of Megakat City.
Houses meant domesticity. Making a new life, not only for yourself, but for…
A new life for Jake and Callie. And that also stirred up other thoughts that she’d never had before. She liked Chance, liked him a lot if she was honest. He was just as competitive as her, and they pushed each other to try harder. To do better.
What if he wanted more? She was an Enforcer first, just like he was a SWAT Kat. If he wanted a family… would she have to give up on her dreams of leadership higher up in the Enforcers? And would anyone accept her relationship with…
Stop. STOP. She closed her eyes and forced her whirlwind of thoughts to calm down. It was too much too soon, when they hadn’t even had a conversation more important than what movie to rent.
“Hey. You all right, beautiful?” And there was Chance, shaking her shoulder. How long had she been sitting there thinking?
Felina looked up at him, noting the concern on his face. “Relax, tiger. Just… thinking a little too much.” He didn’t seem convinced, so she switched gears on him. “Is that other fella gone?”
“Yup. Got a nice little extra paycheck out of that too. Might actually be able to take you out to a decent restaurant this month.” He grinned. Usually, his smile made her world brighten up, but just then, after what he said, it put knots in her stomach. “So. Rematch?”
“It’ll have to wait.” Felina stopped him before he could get too far into his competitive mood. “Callie called while you were out. She and Jake are at that Professor’s place; they wanted us to grab some cave-diving gear and go out to meet up with them.”
“Really? At Professor Hackle’s?” Chance lifted an eyebrow. “Yeah, okay. You go grab us three Glovatrixes. I’ll see what else I can rustle up. Did they say why?”
“Seems that your old friend is feeling charitable. I guess there’s something worth exploring on his property.” Felina stood up and pecked him on the cheek. “Come on. Let’s hurry up, before they get bored of waiting for us.” She headed back for the hidden entrance to the underground complex without another word.
Confused, but not too concerned, Chance shrugged and followed.
Downtown Megakat City
Commander Ulysses Feral had two parts of his belief system that everyone always knew was true, and they were both related to pride. He had pride in himself, and pride in that duly appointed, and trained, law enforcement was the key to safeguarding Megakat City. The quickest way to get under his skin was to imply that either his own skill was lacking, or even worse, that his Enforcers were not enough to police and protect the sprawling metropolis. Lately, the ongoing digs against his pride were starting to give him ulcers, which was the last thing he needed.
He had many things in his life which made him dyspeptic. Dark Kat and the other supervillains. The constant drain on Enforcers resources, especially in patrol helicopters, squad cars, and tanks, which the seemingly endless, almost once a week crises inflicted on them. He tried not to think of how much they lost on their jets alone. Then there were the perennial budget fights with the mayor and the city council, forever trying to keep his proud little army fueled and fight-capable.
The worst problem of all was the SWAT Kats. They were forever at loggerheads with him—personally. They were vigilantes, self-appointed servants of justice who flew and fought in a highly illegal, military grade aircraft (And the mayor had bought them that second F-14, even!) They flaunted the law whenever it suited them, interfered in every major Enforcers operation, and…
And they always get the job done. Worse, the city loved them. The official line out of City Hall and his own administration was that the SWAT Kats, however benevolent their actions and intent, were criminals. Just criminals that the current government had no plans to do anything about. Unofficially, Feral knew, but would never admit, that he needed them. God help him, he did.
It would have been unthinkable five years ago that he’d be in this position. Reliant on vigilantes. His own niece, a forever straight arrow somehow training with them. If he pushed her, threatened to drum her out of the corps on charges, and if she knew, he might learn their real identities. And in the process, he’d lose his best officer, and his family would never speak with him again.
So he’d stopped pushing as hard. He still grumbled and complained, but he no longer sought out court justices to issue arrest warrants. He’d rescinded standing orders to pursue and capture them on sight.
And now he found himself here, in the office, on a Saturday. A day where he’d ordinarily be at home or on patrols, save for what the city council and the mayor considered “urgent meetings” that couldn’t be seen to during the rest of the week. Manx didn’t often force Feral into too many of them, but here he was with five Aldermen, three district representatives, and eight katizens, listening to a proposal, trying desperately not to reach for his bottle of antacids.
“Commander Feral, the concept of neighborhood watch groups is hardly a new one.” Representative Bill Lyons argued.
Feral leaned on his fist even harder and tried to muster a disapproving look that was a few steps down from his ‘you’re lawbreaking scum and I would relish the opportunity to punch you repeatedly in the face’ glare. “Providing self-defense training equivalent to that given to the week 1 Enforcers rookie class IS, however.”
“We are not asking you to give them all pistols and a gun safety course.” One of the Aldermen said reassuringly. “Merely to give the well-meaning volunteer katizens of the city an added measure of insurance so that they can protect their homes, their families, their neighborhoods.”
“The SWAT Kats showed us all you don’t need to wear a badge to have the courage to do the right thing, sir.” One kat still in his foodservice apron said. He’d at least removed the paper hat from his delicatessen prior to the meeting-likely he’d been pressed for time. “I can understand why you’re so reluctant…”
“Can you?” Feral interrupted him. The coalition gathered in the conference room fell silent, and the reliable staff sergeant who kept Feral on schedule during his time in the office cleared his throat subtly; a warning to dial back the hostility. Feral closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths. Mention of the SWAT Kats always got his dander up.
“There is a very fine line between neighborhood vigilance and vigilantism.” Feral explained. “How long before it isn’t enough to stay watchful and to report? How long would it be before you all decided to start fights instead of merely defending yourself against them? Before you would carry weapons? Before you decided that it would be all right to take a life? Before you turned your neighborhood into a warzone?”
“You oughta spend more time out on the streets in my ‘hood, son.” One gravel-voiced Alderman rumbled warningly. He outstripped Feral by 20 years and carried a fresh scar under a milky eye. “Bad enough your squad cars don’t drive through the Projects too often. We got katnip dealers shooting places up and mobsters shaking places down. We in a warzone, and you don’t do nothing about it. Might as well shut up and let us take care of it ourselves.”
That sharp rebuke at the limits of Enforcer control was enough to make the corner of Feral’s mouth start to curl for a snarl.
“If I might.” Representative Lyons said. “Commander, you are concerned about creating a wave of copycat vigilantes. Why not ensure the volunteers for any possible neighborhood watch initiative meet with certain standards? Background checks, perhaps a psych evaluation? Such measures would be easy to include and weed out those you might consider at-risk candidates. But the fact is, we do want this to happen, and we have the votes and the support to make it pass by special referendum. We would rather do this with the Enforcers than without. At least then, there will be a measure of oversight and control in the process that I would frankly find comforting.”
The staff sergeant noted Feral’s hesitation in responding, and then made a point of tapping his watch in a very clear fashion in front of the others.
“I will consider it, but I have another appointment to get to.” Feral rose from his chair, towering over every other kat in the room in his trademark coat. “Representative Lyons, as you seem to be the leader of your coalition, would a response in two days to your proposal suffice?”
“That will be fine, Commander.” The district official stood as well, and then everyone else followed, signaling the end of the meeting. Feral didn’t waste time to do more than give a brief nod before walking out of the conference room, his staff sergeant on his heels.
Feral didn’t make a sound until they had reached the elevator and the doors were closed, and then he swore. Loudly. The staff sergeant, used to the minor blowups, didn’t flinch or voice his displeasure.
“Those kats are going to get themselves killed.” Feral muttered. “And those representatives want us to sponsor it.”
“We give them any training at all, they’re going to run out there, try to mimic those damned SWAT Kats, and we’ll be carting them by the wagonload to either the hospitals or the morgue.”
“Those SWAT Kats are a menace, and…”
“…I wasn’t finished yet, Sergeant.” Feral rumbled, and this time the older Enforcer did flinch a little.
Feral glowed at the tom in his tan uniform for a few moments more to let his glower sink in, then eased off the pressure. He exhaled, and allowed himself to look as tired as he felt. “What do you think, Sergeant?”
“Say what you need to.”
“Honestly, sir, they’re going to do it anyways. You’re right, the SWAT Kats are to blame.” The Sergeant went on, ignoring how it raised Feral’s ire. “Those two showed this city that if you had the power, you had to stand up and do something about it. They’ve fostered a lot of community pride and goodwill, considering how often they…” And at this, sensing he was about to cross a line that would lead to the Commander doing something very un-Commanderish, he let the sentence die. “And honestly, sir, if there are citizens who want to be a little better trained so they can stop shoplifters and the odd mugger or rapist… the better off we are. The safer this city is. The background checks are a good idea. Nobody gets trained that doesn’t meet a minimum of a clean record and no mental health issues. If they’re going to do it anyways, better off we sponsor it. That way, the Enforcers can make damn sure we’re not making even more vigilantes… just a better trained group of trouble watchers.”
The elevator came to a stop at the hangar deck, where the jets and helicopters flown by the Enforcers were stored, maintained, and launched.
“When the Enforcers were founded, we were Megakat City’s first and last line of defense.” Feral muttered, stepping off of the elevator. The sergeant followed two steps behind him at a respectful distance. “The colony’s defense against pirates, and then against the mother country when we, and the others on this continent declared independence. It is why we still survive, because whether through war or piracy or terrorism, everyone wants to take what we have here. We have gone from the largest, wealthiest colony to the largest, most sprawling metropolis. The kats of this city had faith in us. Believed in us.” He paused with another fifteen feet to go to his personal patrol helicopter, rebuilt for the fourth time in two years. “And now, the polls show that they trust the SWAT Kats… vigilantes… more than they trust us. All of our history, our centuries of service account for nothing.”
His hand clenched tightly, claws pricking out and digging into his own skin a little. “It was so much easier doing our jobs when we didn’t have insane supervillains trying to destroy everything. Six years ago, all we had was one terrorist and his Fear Ship. And now…”
Feral seemed to find whatever peace he needed inside of his head, because he shook it off and looked to the staff sergeant. “You’re dismissed. I’m going out on patrol. Get a rough draft of this… neighborhood watch proposal on my desk, with the background check idea.”
“Yes, sir.” The staff sergeant came to attention and fired off a salute as Feral stormed to his helicopter, which sat fueled and waiting.
After radioing the tower with a nondescript unit ID (Feral had long ago learned never to identify which specific chopper he was flying in while on patrol), he powered the engines up, and the rotors began to spin up with a growing whine.
One minute later, he was up in the air and soaring over the Megakat City skyline, doing the only job he’d ever wanted.
For the time being, it remained his job. No matter what anyone else thought about the SWAT Kats, or foolhardy citizen defense corps.
Professor Hackle’s Private Shoreline
“Okay, color me impressed.” Chance said.
He and Felina meandered along the beach, each carrying a packed duffel bag. Felina had filled him in about Hackle’s ‘donation’ on the drive over, and the pilot was still in a daze. Then again, Felina could recall the stories that Chance had told her about his old neighborhood. He was a Megakat City native, born and raised, a street punk whose biggest ambition in life was to fly jets like his father, but without the MIA tag. He’d grown up living in a small, dingy apartment in a small, dingy neighborhood, not like Felina whose parents had a house out in the country. Being told that Professor Hackle wanted to give him and Jake his house, his laboratory, and his surprisingly expansive parcel of land in picturesque Megakat Shores was like winning the lottery. No. It was exactly like winning the lottery, although Jake had apparently rained on the parade by being the voice of reason, according to Professor Hackle.
The old engineer was already drafting up a new proposal to pass it on to Callie instead. The Enforcers couldn’t target her with a crippling debt, after all. Felina still wasn’t entirely sold on the idea herself, and she was already drafting together a secondary solution in her mind which carried an added layer of anonymity.
“Ground control to Lieutenant Feral, come in, Lieutenant.” Chance intoned semi-seriously, jerking her back to the present. He chuckled as she turned on him in open confusion. “Caught you thinking. I swear, you’re turning into Jake.”
She threw a soft punch at his shoulder, which he ambled away from in the nick of time. “You’ve been on the outside too long, Chance. You don’t worry enough anymore.”
“Maybe. Or maybe you worry too much.” Chance looked on ahead and then raised a hand in a slow wave. “Doesn’t matter. Looks like we’re here.”
Felina turned to follow where he was staring, and saw Callie jogging along the shore towards them from the opposite direction. They picked up the pace a little bit and quickly met up with her.
Callie’s eyes were shining brightly, and she was only slightly out of breath when they met up. “There you two are. I was beginning to get worried that maybe Chance had decided to take one of his shortcuts.” She looked conspiratorially at Felina and winked. “Jake warned me. They’re not actually…”
“Why, that miserable…” Chance muttered with feigned insult.
The two ladies had a laugh at his expense, and then Callie turned and led them on.
“Jake’s waiting just around this next cliff outfacing. Did you bring some climbing gear with you?”
“Two bags full.” Felina nodded in agreement. “Just what did you find, exactly?”
“If I spoiled the surprise, I’m sure Jake would find some way to make me pay for it.” Callie smirked. “We’re about two minutes out.”
Around the bend, they found Jake standing on top of a large weatherbeaten rock on the shoreline, one hand shielding his face from the sun as he stared towards a gaping, slightly jagged hole in the cliff face, large and arched, and forty feet up from the water below. His ears twitched, and he turned around as they came near, giving them all a smile.
“There you are. Callie and I found a cave while we were out for a walk. I think we should take a look at it. You packed some Glovatrixes, right?”
“What do you think, Jake?” Chance set down his duffel bag and pulled out a very familiar looking crossover between a gauntlet and a glove. He tossed it up to his partner, and Jake slipped it on easily, locking it in place over his forearm. Chance put a larger one on for himself, then handed over one the same size as Jake’s to Felina. “Got one for you too, Lieutenant.”
“I’ve always wondered something.” Felina said, turning the Glovatrix over to scrutinize every inch of its surface. “Why did you give it a weird name? Why not a grapple gauntlet, or something else like that?”
“That would be my fault.” Jake said. “I get to name most of our gear. But sound it out. Glovatrix, or said slower, Glove…”
“Of tricks.” Felina finished, smacking her forehead. “Okay, now I get the joke.” Jake chuckled a little, and Chance joined in soon after. “Do you have one for Callie as well?”
“I don’t think that would be a good idea.” The deputy mayor folded her arms. “I’ll just zip along with Razor. Wouldn’t be the first time he’s carried two kats on that grappling line.”
“Nobody’s going cave diving without some protective gear.” Felina said firmly. “Helmets and pads, at the least. And you’re getting a climbing vest, Callie.”
It took them a couple of minutes to gear up, but soon they were all in molded hard hats, knee and shin guards, and climbing boots, with Callie’s clothes overlaid in a dedicated harness full of carabiners and extra rope.
Chance and Felina strolled to the edge of the shore and tried to peer up into the mouth of the cave entrance. “Not how I thought I’d be spending my Saturday.” Chance muttered.
“Hey, it was either spending time with you three or doing more special training with the 6th Squadron. And they’re still complaining about the last weekend of unpaid overtime they put in with me trying to pass on your lessons.”
“How is our old unit doing?” Jake asked, as he and Callie stepped up beside the other pair. “Any of the old guard still there?”
“The only kat you’d recognize is Sergeant Barnes.” Felina admitted with a wince. “Apparently everyone else was transferred out to other units after you two were… after you left.”
“I kind of figured.” Jake sighed.
“Still, Barnes?” Chance chuckled a little. “That guy was old even when we were still there. Must be ancient now.”
“Reminds us all every day how long he’s got until retirement.” Felina clipped dryly. “But he keeps the younger ones in line, especially on training days. Anyhow. You dragged us all out here for a reason, Jake. Why the sudden interest in a cave?”
“Just a hunch.” Jake said innocently, which didn’t fool anyone else around him. There was a bit of an eager gleam that indicated he was planning something. He pulled Callie close and looped his arm through her rigging, earning a squeak from her as his hand brushed up against her tail. “Follow us up, and stick close.” He aimed his Glovatrix and fired the small, but durable grapnel up at the entrance with a loud blast of compressed air. The grapnel fired a small mini-rocket motor after a quarter second in the air, speeding it up fast enough to allow for the metal point to dig into the rock of the cave ceiling. When the line pulled taut, Jake triggered the retract mechanism, pulling both himself and Callie up after it.
The Glovatrixes were one of Jake’s most impressive innovations. He’d made several different versions over their time as SWAT Kats, with one version even able to expand the outer casing into a Kevlar-infused, bullet resistant riot shield. Every one of them, however, was equipped with a spool of lightweight metal-weave cabling that quickly retracted when released, or when severed. The only limit was how many grapnels and grapnel gas charges each had left. Had his life been different, the patent on it alone would have earned him millions in government and civilian contracts and catapulted him to head of R&D at Pumadyne’s experimental weapons division.
He made do with being the most well-equipped vigilante, even if he was making their gear out of repurposed materials.
Chance and Felina came up right as Jake was setting Callie back down again, and they all triggered their flashlights; the embedded ones in the three Glovatrixes, and a regular halogen one for Callie. The tunnel was large, larger than they had expected just by looking at it on the outside.
“Geez. Pretty huge.” Chance said.
“Look at the floor.” Felina said, shining her light down on the cavern floor beneath them. “It’s almost perfectly flat, with only a little variation. Might have been an underground river at one point.”
“Take measurements.” Jake ordered, a far-off look in his eyes. “Callie, be sure you write everything down.”
“Uh, Jake, how are we supposed to take measurements? We didn’t exactly bring a…” Chance started, but went quiet when Felina handed him a measuring tape from her duffel bag, and then gave Callie her pen and a small Enforcers pocket notebook. “…never mind.” He took it and started to measure, while Callie flipped open the notebook to the first available empty page.
Jake took out a road flare from Felina’s fast-emptying duffel bag and ignited it, then started walking down the tunnel with careful steps. “To think Hackle had something like this sitting on his property. And nobody ever noticed it.” He muttered softly. He continued on down the cave tunnel, which was longer than any of them had believed possible, and eventually disappeared from view.
Ten minutes later, the others caught up with him in an impressive looking cavern. The smaller SWAT Kat was standing at its center, glancing up faintly at the stalactites dotting the domed ceiling, faintly visible from his own flare and a small trickle of light which seemed to come in through an angled opening far off to the side. The soft sound of running water drew Callie’s flashlight beam to a small underground stream, which flowed from a large tunnel just beneath the skylight into a small channel that ran under the cavern floor and likely continued on.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” Jake started off, not waiting for the others to speak. “That light source means that there’s an open hole to the cliff above us, which is good for ventilation. A natural running water source…probably all that’s left of that underground river you thought carved this out, Felina.”
“It’s very pretty, Jake. But you shouldn’t run off without us.” Callie reprimanded him lightly. “What if you’d fallen down a hole? Or broken your leg?”
“Unlikely.” Jake didn’t so much as look in her direction. “Did you write down the figures of that long tunnel we came through?”
“…Yes.” Callie pulled out the small notebook. “Did you want to see?”
“Yes.” Jake took it from her, set down his flare, and flipped it to the page with the data. His eyes scanned it for a moment before he nodded. “That’s what I thought. Good.”
“Okay, Sureshot. You dragged us all the way out here, we’re exploring, what are we doing all of this for?” Chance asked him.
“I was thinking we might take up Professor Hackle on his offer after all.” Jake explained, earning looks of surprise from Felina and Callie. “Or rather, Callie should. The professor had a good idea, keeping it out of our hands, legally anyways.”
“Well, that’s good, but… Jake, what made you change your mind?” Callie drew close to him and set her hand on his elbow. “You seemed so reluctant earlier.”
“This cave.” Jake patted her hand reassuringly before he pulled away, spinning with his arms wide. “It’d take some work, but we can convert it into a backup hangar for the Turbokat. Maybe even make it our primary base some day.”
Chance opened his mouth to speak, but paused and then clicked his teeth shut. “That’s why you wanted us to write down the numbers. You were figuring out if the tunnel was large enough to launch and land the Turbokat.”
“We’ll probably want to expand the cave mouth a little bit…maybe even rig up an extender we could key to the garage door opener so you’re not aiming a 400 kilometer per hour jet for an opening only a little larger than it.” Jake scratched the top of his head. “And then there’s the logistics of trying to put in a rotating lift. If we’re lucky, that underground channel will have hollowed out enough space underneath that we could eventually fit one in, maybe even a proper storage hangar. But it’s going to be harder. With the junkyard, we were lucky enough to find an existing bunker with an aircraft airlift platform. This time, we’d be doing it from scratch.”
“Hang on. Just… wait a second.” Felina said, not as enthused with the plan. “Why go to all the trouble? It’s never going to be as good as the base you two have now.”
Jake looked at her, a solemnity clinging to the shadows on his face that flashlight and flare couldn’t fully banish. “The junkyard isn’t safe. The Metallikats know about us. They have since they hijacked those enormous robots.”
“WHAT?” Callie whirled on Jake, her eyes wide in fear. “But that was… You mean, all this time, they…”
“Relax, Callie.” Chance reassured her. He sauntered over to the side of the cavern, looking up at the angled skylight. “They haven’t done anything to us since. And you told us yourself that when they offered to sell us out to Feral, the Commander refused on principle. So it’s not like they’d get a lot of traction with that information.”
“If they’re even still alive. They’ve been out of sight since the Zed incident.” Felina said. “Of course, it’s good to have a reprieve from your usual maniacs.”
Callie bit her lip. “Even so. Jake, you should have…”
“They want to kill you too. Remember?” Jake pointed out with a weak smile. “But they haven’t tried. Not since they were working with Dark Kat and Viper. I guess they’ve just had other priorities besides hanging on to grudges that don’t help make them any richer. They’re thugs… gangsters. Hasn’t changed just because they’ve got to worry about rust and servos instead of cholesterol and arthritis. But I’d still rather have a backup in place. Just in case.”
“Ah, what the hell.” Chance muttered. “Boy, if Hackle only knew how much he’s really helping us out, giving us a backup base on top of a decent home.”
“I think he did.” Jake sighed. When Chance looked at him curiously, the smaller tom gestured towards another corner of the cave, towards a stalagmite jutting up a good four feet. “Go and take a look.”
When Chance did so, he swore and then pulled up a broken flying machine, its radio antenna horribly bent. “A remote control model plane. Not a store model. Homemade.” He looked over to Jake and shook his head. “How in the hell did you know to look for it?”
“Easy.” Jake tucked his free hand into the pocket of his blue jeans and shrugged. “I had ten minutes ahead of you three to stop appreciating and start considering. Time enough to get suspicious.”
“So how is this going to work, exactly?” Chance asked. “Us… er, Callie, owning Hackle’s place. And here. And the rest of the land. I mean, we’ll still need to be at the junkyard. If we’re not there for a while, work could pile up. Folks might get suspicious.”
“Why not work it out as a timeshare?” Callie suggested. “You two can at least trade off having some relaxing weekends out here. And in case of a real emergency, just leave one of your bikes here for the time being so you two can meet up on the way to Megakat City. That way, one of you will always be at the yard to keep an eye on things.”
Jake and Chance exchanged a look, with Jake raising an eyebrow and Chance smiling and shrugging.
The slimmer tom nodded, relaxing a little. “I think we could work with that. The professor can look after himself, after all.”
“Okay, so you’ve got your plan.” Felina waved the flashlight of her borrowed Glovatrix around the cavern again. “Let’s finish taking the measurements of this place and then head back. I’d like to enjoy the rest of my Saturday before it disappears completely.”
Resolved on the situation, Chance and Felina got back to work, while Callie took back the notebook and pen from Jake. She noticed the squinted look and the tension in his shoulders and pressed her hand to the side of his face to jerk him away from his woolgathering again. He blinked at her in confusion, and she smiled, though with a tinge of worry.
“What aren’t you telling me this time, Jake?” She asked him softly.
“It’s nothing bad.” He said, not quite convincingly enough.
“Try again, handsome.” She ran her fingers through the side of his headfur. “It’s like you expect them to attack the salvage yard.”
“I always expect the worst, Callie.” Jake told her, giving her nose a gentle kiss that made her squirm from the tickling sensation. “It’s how Chance and I have lived this long. But do I think they’ll make a move on us? No, not really.”
“Well…” Callie paused to sneeze lightly and rubbed her nose after, “…if you’re sure.”
Jake took her hand in his and squeezed it once with a smile, then went over to join Chance and Felina with holding the measuring tape in place.
Callie opened up Felina’s notebook and flipped to another blank page, waiting for them to call out the new numbers, reassured that for once, everything really was going to be okay.
She trusted Jake, after all. He wouldn’t lie to her about something as important as his safety.
They had stayed in the cave for another two hours, with Jake and Chance eventually becoming more animated as they compared the dimensions that Callie had recorded with the figures that Jake had somehow memorized. It then got even crazier once they started talking about incorporating some of Professor Hackle’s ideas into the “Secondary Base”, with the two feeding off of one another like the friends they’d always been. Somehow, Jake still retained enough of himself to temper Chance’s crazier ideas. There was no sense in including a reflex room, as there wasn’t room for it, even assuming that they could burrow beneath the cavern floor without collapsing the entire structure. Lieutenant Feral could only watch them go at it and smile as she and Callie stood back, sharing a thermos of coffee and making idle small talk about how work was going, doing their best not to gossip about the men in their lives while the two were within earshot.
Somehow, Felina managed to keep her fears hidden from Callie, although she supposed that to be more a byproduct of the gruff Feral demeanor. Callie knew her almost as well as she knew Jake now, and the deputy mayor was becoming very adept at gleaning the hidden meaning behind each one of her boyfriend’s expressions and glances.
Eventually, the former Enforcer co-captains decided that they’d had enough, and they all departed the cave and made for Professor Hackle’s laboratory beach house. There, as Chance and Felina got to the business of making dinner for them all, Jake, Callie, and Professor Hackle finalized the agreement that would give Chance and Jake a taste of the life that had been denied to them. More importantly, after Jake had informed Hackle that they’d found his camera plane, the old engineer had laughed nervously and come clean about his ulterior motive of giving them another place to operate out of in case of an emergency. After finalizing the sale agreement, with Hackle retaining majority ownership until his death to keep Callie from suffering under a larger property tax, Jake and Hackle had spent the last thirty minutes before dinner continuing their plans.
Felina didn’t find Hackle’s presence at the dinner table to be awkward, or a distraction. In spite of his technical genius and age, there was a genuine warmth about him that she’d never observed in him at a distance. Maybe having friendly company around was reviving his youthful spirit, but he was much warmer to speak to than her own grandparents had been in her youth… warmer still than her father and her uncle, both of who had inherited the Feral solemnity. When the jokes started flying, Hackle even got her to laugh, laugh, with a long-winded story that had him devolving to Maustrian for the punchline.
Finally, though, the dinner ended and Felina excused herself and Chance, saying that ‘one of the fellas’ ought to get back to the yard, and that it might as well be Chance, since her own car was still parked out there. The unspoken line, of course, was that Callie and Jake might prefer to have some more alone time since the bulk of it had been swallowed up earlier in the day. The gratitude was clear in Callie’s eyes when they said their farewells for the evening, and if that hadn’t been proof enough, the warm hug afterwards left no doubt. Jake and Chance had settled for a handshake, and Chance telling Jake that he’d be running a few errands early in the morning, and not to worry if he was gone.
Then they were back on the road and driving for the salvage yard as the sun set slowly. Chance hummed along with the radio as he drove them along the major roads, and Felina finally let herself start to puzzle over the latest problem that turned knots in her stomach. Chance remained blissfully unaware of anything wrong, but then, he only tackled the problems that were right in front of him and self-evident. He wasn’t bothered by the quiet at all, and while she did catch him glancing in her direction every so often, it was only ever to smile.
The miles passed by her window, and they pulled back into the salvage yard, weaving their way through the piles until they got to her car parked outside of the shop. Chance shut off the engine and jingled the keys as he stepped out of the truck, and Felina followed half a heartbeat later.
“Heck of a day.” Chance breathed out slowly.
“Yes. It was. You look tired.” Felina said, adding the light poke at the end to keep things light. For a little while longer.
“Shoot. Thought I was better at pretending than that.” Chance stuck his tongue out at her, earning a light laugh. He rolled his shoulders to give him time to think. “I’m still having trouble believing that the Professor would do that for us. I mean, he gave us a robot once, but… Well. I never thought I’d have a house.” He chuckled. “Never thought that I’d be dating Feral’s niece, either. Guess I should just accept it.”
Felina chewed on her lower lip.
Chance finally came out of his own little world long enough to notice how quiet she was. How quiet she’d been. “Uh. Lina? You okay?”
“Chance, I…” She froze up, but shook herself out of it. Better to just blurt it out, and get it over with. Still, she closed her eyes. “I need to ask you something. And I need you to think about the question-carefully-before you answer it. All right?” She opened her eyes again, searching his face for comprehension. She saw confusion, and he scratched at his chin before nodding once. “What do you want out of life? Because I know what I want.”
The question was a hard one; it rocked the burly tom back momentarily. “Um. You wanted me to think about it carefully, right?”
“I believe that’s what I said.” She held herself rigid.
Chance made a face at that, as if he were walking a tightrope. And in a way, he probably felt he was. Maybe they both were, Felina thought.
“I guess I’d start with… What do you want out of life?”
“What I want, I have. I’ve got my badge, an oath, the respect of the Enforcers in my command. It’s not something I want to give up.”
“I can get behind that.” Chance agreed. He looked up at the darkening sky. “That’s what I wanted. It’s what I had. But… I don’t know. That life isn’t the one I have now.”
“…Are you happy?”
“If things were different, they’d be different.” Chance shrugged. “And it’s probably better that Jake and I aren’t in the Enforcers anymore. The most important parts about what I had were that I was protecting lives, and I could outfly anyone. With Jake as my CSO, we were unstoppable. I still have that now. In fact… I’ve still got that. Just without the red tape. Megakat City trusts us, the deputy mayor trusts us, and you trust us.”
“And what about… a family?” Felina choked on the word a little.
Chance blinked widely, realizing what she really meant. “Um. Uh. I… haven’t really thought about it.”
“Because you need to get one thing straight.” Felina jammed a finger in his chest. “My job’s important to me. I see myself getting promoted. Moving up in the world. Deputy Commander. Taking over for my uncle, when he eventually decides to retire or goes from a heart attack. And I’m not going to give that up, okay?”
“So don’t.” Chance told her plainly. The bluntness of his reply caught her off guard, and Chance moved his hands to her shoulders. “Lina… I can tell you’re pretty worried about this. Don’t be. You’re an Enforcer, and the job comes first. I know that. I don’t know where we’re going with… this. Right now, I’m happy just dating you. And if some day, you want more, then that’s all right with me. But I’m not going to ask you to give up your life, because you never asked me to stop being T-Bone. This city needs us. SWAT Kats and the Enforcers.”
Felina blinked several times, processing what he’d just said. It was just such a Chance response, tackling the problem head-on without any fluff or waffling. He spoke like he flew, head-on towards the danger, and recklessly honest.
“Um. Felina?” He’d been confident before, but it was fading because of her silence.
She finally smiled and shoved him back against the side of his truck, proceeding to kiss him stupid.
When she finally pulled away for air, she saw that he’d gone glassy-eyed. She giggled a little at the sight of the tough tom rendered insensate. It took him a few seconds to recover, and when he did, the look he set on her made her burn.
“Do you want to come inside?” He asked in a low purr.
Somehow, Felina managed not to give in to the urge. “No. I’d better be getting home. Besides, you need a shower. You smell like a wet cave.” Smirking, she sauntered for her car, leaving him hanging. He recovered enough to give her another raspberry as she pulled out of the yard, and she gave him a farewell wave in reply.
He was an interesting tom, a straightforward guardian who’d never stopped being a kitten at heart. And she wouldn’t a change a damn thing.
Megakat City, Queens District
Sergeant Courgry Barnes was too old and too set in his ways to change his routine, and one absolute pillar of his routine, at least since his last divorce eight years ago, was that he didn’t go to church on Sunday mornings. No Sunday clothes for him-a flannel overshirt and casual slacks were his preferred dress. He went to Leo’s Diner, ordered the bacon and scrambled eggs with a bottomless cup of coffee, and wasted his morning doing absolutely nothing aside from reading the paper and staring out the flat glass window from a booth that he’d claimed as his own for so long that it had his assprint in it. At least he’d stopped spiking his coffee with whiskey. It was either that or he lost his flight status, and Barnes would sooner die than give up the cockpit.
He reached for his coffee mug as he scanned the last paragraph of an Op-Ed. The latest thing folks were venting about was whether or not neighborhood watch groups were a good idea. Majority opinion said they were, but there were holdouts, and the article he finished up was solidly in the category that any watch groups were only two steps short of becoming SWAT Kats knockoffs themselves.
It was empty when he raised it up to his lips, and he grunted and frowned. Lacey should have been around to refill his mug. It wasn’t that busy this morning, he was a regular, and she’d been working here longer than he’d been coming here. He set his paper down and jerked his head towards the diner counter.
“Hey, Lace! Where’s my refill!” Barnes demanded.
A fresh mug of coffee was dropped hard on the table from a large tom who’d appeared next to his booth, splashing over on his newspaper a little and earning a curse from Barnes. “You moron, watch where you…”
The old Enforcer pilot’s voice stuttered to a stop as he took in the owner of the second mug fully, and his brain kicked to life and killed his mouth.
Chance Furlong, dishonorably discharged from the Enforcers, former co-captain of the 6th Tactical Response Squadron, sat down across from him with a thin smile on his face. He was dressed in casual garb, but there was no trace of a sedentary lifestyle on him. If anything, Chance looked even more menacing than he had when he was on the force.
“Well, that shut you up, Barnes.” Chance chuckled.
Barnes opened and closed his mouth a few times before he was finally able to bring his voice to bear. “…son of a bitch.”
Chance calmly lifted up his mug of coffee and took a drink, while Lacey came over, a pot of coffee in her hand. “Sorry, Sarge, had to brew a fresh pot. You drank it all.” She gave Chance a once-over and narrowed her eyes. “This fella giving you trouble?”
“No. No, he’s no trouble. He’s an old friend.” Barnes said quickly. Chance saluted him with his mug, and Lacey shrugged and poured Barnes a fresh cup.
“All right then. You want anything to eat, hon?” She asked the burly blond, brown-striped tom. Chance shook his head no. “All right, well, ya change your mind, you let me know. Best sticky buns in town.” She wandered off, satisfied that the newcomer wasn’t here to ruin their most reliable customer’s day.
After she was gone, Chance made a face and reached for the creamer and sugar. “Still can’t drink it straight.” Barnes just stared at him, an image of the past ripped from history and transplanted in the present. Chance stirred his coffee for a bit, waiting for Barnes to say something. When it became clear the old sergeant was still in too much shock to start the conversation, Chance led off. “You’re a creature of habit, Sarge.”
Barnes blinked, coming back to himself. “You look good, Captain.”
“I’m not a captain anymore, Barnes.” Chance pointed out sagely. “You can just call me Chance now.”
“No. No, I don’t think I will.” Barnes said. “You look good. Better than…”
“Better than you thought I’d look after 5 years of being stuck in the boneyard?” Chance took a long sip of his doctored coffee. “There’s no shortage of stuff out there to use for weightlifting. Not like I’m eating like a king either.”
“I guess.” Barnes nodded. “How’s… how’s…” He struggled on the name, not wanting to use it even now after his former co-captains were civilians.
“How’s Jake doing?” When Barnes nodded in response, Chance shrugged. “He’s all right.”
“I was worried about him. You joined the Enforcers because it was your dream. But it was just a stepping stone to him, and…” Barnes crumpled up a little. “I’m sorry, Captain. About what happened.”
“Nothing you could have done.” Chance reassured him. “I don’t miss the office politics one little bit, but the sentiment’s appreciated. Though I don’t imagine that our unit’s even still standing these days.”
“Well… yes, it is.” Barnes said awkwardly.
“You’re kidding. How are the guys holding up?”
“Everyone else either transferred or got moved out. I’m the only one left who flew with you two.”
“Stubborn, aren’t you?” Chance chuckled.
“More like I’m too old to switch to a new patrol. I’m retiring soon.”
“A year and a half… no, a little less now.”
“Must be nice.” The remark wasn’t intended as a dig, but Barnes flinched all the same, and Chance sighed and took notice. “Relax. There was nothing you could have done to change things.”
“Yeah. That’s what I keep telling myself.” Barnes lifted his mug up and took a small sip. “Maybe one of these days, I’ll believe it.” He stared out of the window after that, drifting.
“So what’s the TRS up to these days, then?”
“Things were pretty quiet for a while. We started getting less assignments, more routine patrols. Our training budget got cut. But that’s started to change around some since we got a new squad lead.”
“Yeah? He a hard charger?” Chance asked casually. Barnes was looking away at the time, so he missed the subtle twitch of a smile that Chance immediately smothered.
“Well… she is, yes.” Barnes turned around, in time to catch Chance lifting his eyebrows.
“Oh? She? Who’s your CO?”
“Well, try not to cringe. Lieutenant Felina Feral.” Chance blinked once, but motioned for Barnes to elaborate. “She’s not like her uncle, though. Doesn’t skate through on nepotism. Blasted through the Academy, works herself twice as hard as she expects anyone else to. Plenty of fire in her too; she’s been the one to lead the assault on every major incident lately. The swamp incident, the alien attack, you name it, she had us taking point. Lost some good troopers on those ops. We don’t blame her, though. Just… just the nature of the work.”
Chance looked down at the table. “We all knew the risks when we took the oath.” He agreed softly. “So how’s old sourpuss’s niece been changing things?”
“For one, way more mandatory training weekends. More than three times what the other units are required to do. In the last three weeks, she’s been putting more of an emphasis on hand to hand combat, special tactics, hostage rescue… rapid response…”
Barnes started to slow down in his explanation. One lightbulb after another started to light up in his brain as he looked to his former co-captain who sat in front of him, calmly drinking his heavily doctored cup of coffee.
He had just been about to say, Just like you two drilled into us. Chance had no outwards reaction, save that he met Barnes’ eyes and didn’t blink.
“Sounds like a lot of work. How are the rookies handling it, Sarge?”
Barnes swallowed a little. “They’re complaining a lot, but they’re getting better. Pretty soon, they’ll even be better at insertions and hostage rescues than I am. Right now, I’ve got enough experience that they all still listen to me when I shout out orders and box their ears. And the lieutenant’s been using me as her second in command, more than just for readiness reports and the other paperwork.”
“Your stubbornness has paid off. Well, they’ll be lucky to have you around, for as long as you’re still there before you retire. What are you going to do then?”
“With what I’m still shelling out for alimony payments?” Barnes snorted. “I’ll have to find something else to keep me from going broke. Maybe an ATC for Megakat International, or ground control. Only way I’d get back in the air after retiring would be in a jet that could fight, and nobody else is going to give me flight status at my age.”
“Yeah. I know that feeling.” Chance laughed softly, taking another sip of his java.
To Barnes, the whole reunion with his former co-captain seemed surreal. Someone he’s not seen in five years suddenly shows up out of the blue at his favorite diner on Sunday morning before the church crowd rolls in, drinking coffee with him and looking healthier and more dangerous than the day he was kicked off the force. He plays it off as just solid workouts in his dead-end job, hauling metal.
All this, about a month after he was grilled on his former co-captains by his current CO.
“Something wrong, Sarge?” Chance asked innocently.
“No. No, nothing’s wrong. Just… thinking, is all.”
“I tell Jake that too much thinking is dangerous.” Chance chuckled good-naturedly.
Barnes met Chance’s eyes. The large blond tom still hadn’t blinked since he’d started talking about Felina’s training. He remembered the last thing he’d told Felina, which was amazing in itself, given how spotty his short term memory had been lately.
Maybe if Feral had modeled the Enforcers after what the 6th did, we wouldn’t need a couple of hotdogging vigilantes to keep saving our asses.
“You know, there’s been some scuttlebutt I’ve been keeping quiet. Something that the Commander’s aide passed on to me.” Barnes ventured cautiously.
“Yeah?” Chance said, less of a question than it first sounded.
“She put in a request to have the 6th do some joint training with the SWAT Kats about three weeks back. It got shot down, of course.”
“Of course.” Chance nodded.
“But she’s still giving us some… remarkably hard training. Nothing like they taught her in the Academy.”
The two toms stared at one another, with Barnes finally matching Chance’s unblinking display.
It was impossible. Chance Furlong and Jake Clawson were dishonorably discharged. They were stuck in the salvage yard, overseeing rusted cars and rusting, aged military machines once flown by the Enforcers in wartime and peacetime.
All the little dots started to come together, and still, Sergeant Courgry Barnes had trouble believing it. He didn’t want to believe it. He couldn’t believe it.
But nothing else made quite as much sense.
“You know… there’s a betting pool at Enforcers HQ that Feral doesn’t know about?” Barnes ventured slowly.
“Is that right?” Chance mused, swirling his doctored coffee around in his mug seemingly without a care. But there was tension in his shoulders. “What for?”
“On who the SWAT Kats really are.” Barnes narrowed his eyes at Chance. “Lot of names on that list. Billionaires, former Air Force flying aces, or their kids.”
“Hm.” Chance hummed, a nonresponse. And he still hadn’t blinked.
Barnes swallowed. “Don’t think it’s something I’ll bother with. Don’t have enough money to be wasting it on something that stupid. And I guess it doesn’t matter, really. Who they are.”
Chance smiled then. Not a large one, just a glimmer of a grin at the edge of his lips. He raised up his coffee mug and drained the rest in one go. “No. I guess it doesn’t.” He agreed, and finally blinked.
Barnes let go of a breath he had forgotten he was holding. He watched as Chance set his empty mug down and dropped two crumpled dollar bills on the table to cover his tab.
“Well, it’s been good seeing you again, Sarge. But I’ve got grocery shopping to do yet today. Coupons expire tonight, after all. You take care of yourself, and you take care of your lieutenant now.”
“I will, sir.” Barnes nodded. “And you…” He paused, hesitating, then went for it. “…you be careful.”
“Worst that can happen to me is I cut myself on some rusty metal. But don’t worry, my tetanus shot’s current.” Chance gave him one last nod, then headed out the door. Once he was out on the streets, the burly tom tucked his hands in his pockets and strolled along without a care, and Barnes watched him go from his window.
Lacey came by and refilled his coffee. She said something, but Barnes didn’t pay enough attention to hear it. He watched Chance until his former captain vanished from sight, and only then reached for his discarded paper, wet corner and all.
“Son of a bitch.” Barnes muttered, hiding a broad smile from behind the Sunday edition. “You son of a bitch.”
To Be Continued In
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