“That’s an interesting story, Felina,” Jake said as he led the group through the garage, eventually arriving at the corner of a messy kitchen. “Sorry that you had such a bad night.”
“Could’ve been worse,” Felina said, following along. “They could’ve killed me.”
“But they didn’t,” Chance said, and then shoved aside a low hanging light fixture that had partially detached from the ceiling. “Watch your head, Miss Briggs.”
“Thanks,” Callie said, ducking down.
Jake pulled a rug back to reveal a metal trapdoor in the floor. Felina quirked an eyebrow as the smaller of the two mechanics knelt down and spun a dial on a combination lock. It popped open, and he pulled upwards on a collapsible handle. Below, Felina could see sets of metal rungs embedded into a concrete wall that led down into darkness.
So, this is the secret lair of the SWAT Kats.
Her curiosity was piqued.
“You know, this really isn’t fair,” Jake said as he went down first, climbing down the rungs, using them as a ladder.
“How’s that?” Felina asked, following after.
“We spent years working on this place,” Jake said from below. “And now that we actually have guests, they don’t get to see it at its best.”
A golden light abruptly came on, apparently switched on by Jake who was standing on a dirty concrete floor. The light was coming from several construction lamps docked atop freestanding tripods. Felina reached the floor to stand beside him, and took in the sight before her.
It was a hangar, with rows of bays, duct work and a high ceiling with several support beams running in perpendicular patterns. In the middle was a large, circular dock.
A turntable? Or maybe it was an elevator?
Along the walls and floors there were scorched remains of machinery, and several piles of debris. Up above, the sun dimly shown down through the hole in the ceiling that led to the outside world. Despite the damage, it was an impressive structure, and though Felina was a stranger in this place, she could tell that something extra was wrong.
“Where’s the Turbokat?” Felina asked.
“Stolen,” said Chance, who was just now stepping off the ladder, Callie just in front of him.
“Oh wow,” Callie said as she took in the scene.
“Hey, why don’t I show you around, Miss Briggs,” Jake said as he lead the Deputy Mayor off to the side, leaving Chance and Felina alone.
“So, what’s in the letter?” Chance asked, sounding as though he was barely containing his irritation.
I guess I wouldn’t be happy either if I was in his shoes right now.
“See for yourself,” Felina said and handed it to him.
Chance took the already open envelope and withdrew the handwritten note it contained, carefully looking it over. Felina already knew what it said.
Sunday. Hangar 87. 1 p.m.
“Turmoil’s in town, but why do I get the feeling you knew that?” Felina asked.
“She paid us a personal visit two weeks ago,” Chance replied and then gestured to the surroundings. “Helped herself to all of this.”
“Even the Turbokat?” Felina asked.
“Used a Chinook and airlifted ‘er right on up,” Chance said as he pointed upwards at the hole in the ceiling that led to the outside world.
“Wow,” Felina said, looking up at the hole.
They stood in silence for a few moments before he spoke again.
“So, why the invite?” Chance asked.
“Not sure,” Felina said as she began to pace across the floor.
“You didn’t do anything to impress her, did you?” Chance asked, following along.
“I might have gotten involved in a fist-fight with one of her lackeys,” Felina said.
“Oh yeah?” Chance asked.
“I would’ve won, too, if it wasn’t for me getting stabbed in my arms earlier in the night,” Felina said. “I was doing fine until she jabbed me in a fresh wound.”
“I hate cheap shots,” Chance said, his tone sounding more amiable. “This lackey wouldn’t happen to have been wearing a red beret and a striped shirt, would she?”
“A Telnyashka,” Felina said.
“So, she’s a real Spetzkatz,” Chance sad, scratching his chin in thought. “Wonder what she’s doing hanging out with Turmoil.”
“Probably enjoying life as a hired gun,” Felina said. “Which brings me back to that invitation.”
“Turmoil likes to think she’s great at recognizing talent, and even greater at recruiting it,” Chance said. “That’s probably why she’s so bold in her declarations.”
“She really thinks I’d join her?” Felina asked.
“Would you?” Chance returned.
Felina was quiet, and didn’t reply, opting to stare at the floor. Chance sighed and shook his head.
“Look, I know you’ve had a rough year. Probably a lot of rough years. And Turmoil, well, she can probably smell the disgruntled employee scent on you from a mile away,” Chance said. “I’m not gonna lie and say that whatever offer she’s made you, or is about to make for you, is all bad. But-”
“But what?” Felina interrupted, looking up. “That I’m an Enforcer? That I’m supposed to be an agent of the law? That I’m supposed to work for a government that can’t even manage to tie its own shoelaces without getting into a debate? That I’m supposed to just shut up and tow the line? Remain supportive of an organization that’s been anything but toward me?”
Chance’s eyes narrowed. It was as if whatever ideas he’d had in his mind about her were suddenly discarded. He spoke in a firm tone.
“I never thought I’d be the one to say this, but yeah, you do have to play by certain rules,” he said.
“That’s rich coming from you,” Felina said with a laugh.
Chance nodded, and Felina could tell he was biting his tongue.
Gee, am I upsetting you?
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Chance asked.
“It means that I don’t need to be condescended to,” Felina said as she pointed her thumb at herself, and then pointed at him. “By an Enforcer reject who likes to wear a mask and play hero.”
Chance’s expression went sour, and Felina could tell she had struck a nerve.
“You know, I’ll bet you go through life thinking that the world is always against you,” Chance said as he stepped up to her. “But in reality, you’re the only constant that pushes people away.”
Felina frowned and stepped forward, getting directly in Chance’s face. Being about the same height, they stood eye-to-eye. Felina wasn’t sure why she was feeling so angry.
Maybe it was the pent up frustration from her demotion and reassignment. Maybe it was Sergeant Joe Daniels’s antagonistic attitude toward her. Maybe it was the lack of trust she witnessed in her peers when they accused her of lying about the traitor Captain Ritz. Maybe it was Callie Briggs’s inability to make things right. Maybe it was the fact she had lost a fight to Turmoil’s lackey, the so-called Captain Elizaveta. Maybe it was because Turmoil was right…
Another thought crept into the back of her mind.
Is that why I keep having those dreams? Is that my brain trying to make sense of all this somehow?
The thought did not last long, however, as other frustrations resurfaced.
What right does he have to say anything about me? This is the same guy who misled you about who he really was. He’s a liar, and he took advantage of your kindness.
“I just came here for the free drinks and to reminisce about some old times,” Chance had said at Shenanigan’s last year.
That was a lie.
Chance was not backing down, their steely gaze still focused on each other. In his eyes, she could see his own frustrations and anger, too.
“When I push people away,” Felina began. “They know it.”
With that, she shoved him in the chest with both hands, hard. Caught off-guard, Chance stumbled back, narrowly keeping from falling down. Out of the corner of her eye, Felina could see Jake and Callie on the opposite side of the hangar. Both with shocked expressions.
“Okay,” Chance said, as he collected himself.
He returned the shove.
Felina’s body still ached from the previous evening’s fight, and the impact had more effect than it normally would have. She stumbled back and fell to one knee.
“Guys, hey!” Jake called out as he ran up to both of them. “What’s going on?”
Callie was a short distance behind him.
“She started it,” Chance said.
“Yeah,” Felina said as she stood back up, and began to approach Chance anew. “And I’m gonna finish it, too.”
“Felina, whatever’s going on between you two, let’s not resort to violence,” Callie began as Jake rushed forward to get in-between the two.
“No, go on, let her, Jake,” Chance was nearly shouting. “She thinks she’s so much better than us, don’t you?”
“Better than some washout who gets kicked off the force and has to live on a junkyard?” Felina said, pointing a finger.
“It beats working as an over-glorified meter maid!” Chance replied.
“Enough!” Callie shouted.
The other three froze, Callie’s outburst catching them off-guard.
Felina had never heard the Deputy Mayor raise her voice like that before.
“I get it, okay? Callie said. “We’re all upset and frustrated. Some of us for more obvious reasons than others.”
Callie looked in Chance’s direction when she said that, which caused him to avert his gaze almost shamefully.
Just what were Jake and Callie talking about?
“But we need to move past all of that if we’re going to come up with a solution,” Callie continued. “Felina, as you’re no doubt aware by now Turmoil’s forces came here, stole the Turbokat, the SWAT Kats’s weapons, and burned what they couldn’t bring with them.”
Felina didn’t reply, keeping silent, her attention still focused on Chance. Her fists were clenched at her sides.
“Now, from what Jake’s told me, they have nothing left, not even a spare blue jumpsuit,” Callie said. “Which means that for all intents and purposes, the SWAT Kats are out of business.”
That was something that Felina hadn’t really had time to consider, and the consequences of all that made her pause.
“Out of business, huh?” Felina asked, glancing at Chance.
“For the time being,” Chance replied, still looking away.
“And we’ve got no leads on Turmoil,” Jake said from between the two, relaxing as the would be fighters had softened their stances.
“Don’t you guys have some kind of tracking system?” Felina asked.
“We did,” Jake said, gesturing to the end of the room where several large computer displays were smashed to pieces, decorated with what looked to be bullet holes. “But our equipment’s been destroyed.”
“Well, things seem pretty dire,” Felina dryly remarked, and pondered the possibilities.
Felina had witnessed first hand what things were like in Megakat City without the SWAT Kats. When they’d last disappeared, the Metallikats had run amok in the city, killing one of its representatives and kidnapping the Deputy Mayor. The Enforcers should have been able to handle the situation, but they didn’t. Miscommunication and what might as well have been labeled as poor leadership exacerbated the situation. Felina had to defy orders to enact a daring, and admittedly risky, rescue of Callie Briggs. It was another instance of insubordination that had been referenced in her court martial.
It was unfair that the universe seemed to dictate that the SWAT Kats were the only ones able to handle certain threats. But, as Felina was well aware, life wasn’t fair.
Megakat City needs these two. Even if one of them is being a jerk right now.
“Maybe…” Felina began. “Maybe there’s something I can do…”
The other three were quiet, all eyes on her.
“As I was starting to tell Chance, I think Turmoil is trying to recruit me,” Felina said. “After I fought her lackey, she showed up at my apartment, and left me that.”
Felina nodded toward the envelope still in Chance’s possession.
“I dunno, maybe I can accept the invitation and show up. Get an idea of what’s going on,” Felina said.
“Turmoil showed up in-person at your apartment?” Callie asked, sounding shocked. “Why would she do that?”
“According to her, to apologize,” Felina said.
“For you getting beat up?” Callie asked.
“No,” Felina said with a frown, not appreciating Callie’s inference. “For causing a traffic accident earlier in the day I responded to.”
In hindsight, Felina realized that had Turmoil apologized for her fight with Captain Elizaveta, Felina would not have listened as readily. The apology would have implied weakness on her part, and Felina’s pride wouldn’t have allowed it.
“You and I are kindred spirits,” Turmoil had said. Maybe she does know me after all.
“You know,” Jake spoke up. “I was wondering about that. What were they doing at the place on 50th Street?”
“Don’t know,” Felina said. “I glanced at the police report when I got back to my precinct. Some kind of microchip theft. A lot of them.”
Jake scratched his chin in thought but didn’t say anything more.
“It’s too dangerous,” Chance said, finally weighing in.
“Why is that?” Felina asked, crossing her arms, still feeling on edge toward the larger of the two mechanics.
“I’ll be honest with you. Jake and I thought that maybe you could help us out somehow. That’s what we were getting at back at the diner,” Chance said, his eyes narrowing. “But now, I’m not so sure you’re up to the job.”
“And you are?” Felina asked. “Just what’s your plan, anyway? Sit around in an empty, burned-out bunker, hoping your problems will just go away and fix themselves?”
“And holing up in an apartment that should be condemned and trying to drink yourself to death every night is a better plan?” Chance returned.
Felina’s blood boiled, and she shot a glance at Callie Briggs. Callie averted her gaze. She felt oddly upset at the amount of information the Deputy Mayor had shared about her with these two.
You make a great spy, Ms. Briggs.
“I don’t have to take this,” Felina said, and walked away, turning her back on the other three.
Felina had exited the SWAT Kats’s underground hangar by climbing up through the hole in the ceiling, a feat made easy due to several piles of debris acting more or less as stairs.
She now walked among the aged remains of gutted aircraft that sat in rows along the perimeter of the salvage yard. They were a silent air force of dead planes ranging in size and design. She approached one in particular, a T-38 Talon. Its long, dart-like fuselage was covered in rusty brown patches, the paint having long succumbed to a lifetime of abuse from the elements. Its canopy was missing, and several spiderwebs ran along the extended landing gear. The engine was stripped out, leaving a mess of old wires frayed outward like an open wound.
The Talon had always had a special place in Felina’s heart, as it was the first aircraft she had ever flown after passing her flight school exams at OCS. It was highly common for it to be used as a trainer jet.
Felina sighed and used a nearby wooden pallet as a step-ladder, and climbed up to take a seat on the Talon’s relatively short starboard wing. Somewhere above in the overcast skies the sun was getting lower on the horizon, and the shadows of the aircraft, while muted, became longer.
In the distance, past the chain-link fence, was Megakat Desert, where the horizon turned into an ominous expanse.
“It looks a little bit more lively in the spring,” the voice of Jake Clawson said from below.
Felina frowned and looked down to see the shorter of the two mechanics standing just underneath the wing of the Talon, not too far from where her legs were hanging over the side. He had somehow managed to silently approach. Felina hid her surprise.
You’re awfully sneaky, Jake. Or should I call you Razor?
“I can imagine,” Felina replied.
“Mind if I take a seat?” he asked.
“It’s your place,” Felina remarked.
Jake used the same pallet to climb up and took a seat next to Felina on the Talon’s wing. He didn’t say anything for awhile, and when he finally did speak up the topic of conversation caught Felina by surprise.
“You remember the finger?” Jake asked.
Felina involuntarily snickered, as old memories came flooding back to her.
“Yeah,” she replied.
The flight deck of Enforcer Headquarters was a hazardous environment, and the concept of safety procedure was regularly hammered into everyone’s mind. It didn’t matter if you were a pilot or a member of the deck personnel. You had to sit through Technical Sergeant Thurman’s longwinded lecture.
“Follow the rules and you get to go home in one piece,” Thurman had said while pacing in front of a seated group of about 50, including Felina. “Heed your safety observers, our guardian angels dressed in white.”
Thurman gestured to a few of the deck crew who wore white shirts.
“Because if you don’t…” Thurman said as he turned to a table behind him and withdrew an item and held it up high for all to see. “Then you might wind up like Lt. Steven Sanders.”
Felina had grimaced at the item, which turned out to be a mason jar filled with formaldehyde. Inside of it was a long, coiled, sterile looking tendril, at the end of which was a finger. Around the finger was a gold ring.
“This is all that’s left of the lieutenant,” Thurman said as he handed out the jar, which was passed among the seated audience. “He failed to follow procedure for removing all rings, watches and other unnecessaries.”
The jar had reached Felina, and she curiously looked it over, feeling a mixture of nausea and trepidation as she did.
“During a jump exercise from a C-130, his improperly packed shoot opened prematurely, and as he was pulled out his hand brushed past one of the hard points. The ring caught, and what’s in the jar you’re passing around is the result.”
Felina passed the jar to the next person, and questioned whether or not she’d be able to eat lunch that day. Or ever.
“Now, don’t think that just because you’re not parachuting that something similar can’t happen to you. We’ve got highly pressurized steam catapults that could just as easily catch a lose item and send your sorry butt plummeting a hundred stories,” Thurman continued. “And believe me, you’ll have plenty of time to make your peace if you do.”
“You think it was real?” Jake asked, a wry grin on his face, interrupting Felina’s reminiscing.
“Does it matter?” Felina asked back. “It did the job. I’ve never worn any jewelry since.”
Jake laughed, and once again the two sat in silence for a few more moments. This time Felina spoke up.
“I had a dream the other day,” Felina said.
“Oh?” Jake asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Well, not sure it was a dream, or a hallucination brought on by head trauma,” Felina continued.
“I’d imagine there’s little difference,” Jake said.
“I dreamed I was among the original Enforcers, centuries ago, aboard the Megakat Spirit, landing in dramatic fashion at the Great Hall of Nebelung, charging in, guns blazing, routing out the Chartreaux Pirates, and even fighting Sergey Balikirev himself,” Felina described, keeping her gaze fixed on the horizon.
Out of the corner of her eye she could see Jake nod, listening to every word.
“I even shouted out that famous line,” Felina continued.
“‘I’ll be the one who greets you in hell?'” Jake asked, a look of amusement on his face.
“Yeah, that’s the one,” Felina said, and couldn’t help but smile herself. “Thing is, after it was nearly all over, good old Sergey wasn’t there anymore.”
Felina’s smile disappeared, and was replaced with an expression of uncertainty.
“It was myself I was fighting,” Felina said. “And I didn’t hesitate to finish the job, either.”
“That’s quite a dream,” Jake said with a subdued whistle.
A few moments passed before Felina spoke again.
“I got angry with Chance back there, not because I disagreed with him,” Felina said. “It’s because I know he’s right. At least partially.”
“Thing is, maybe I do push people away, but a lot of times it’s for their own good,” Felina said. “Most times they’ll just slow me down, or worse, get hurt.”
“You know, if I may…” Jake began.
Felina glanced at Jake, and nodded.
“You sound just like Chance did when I first got to know him,” Jake said. “As much as both of you may not want to admit it, you’re a lot alike, and I’m not just talking about career paths.”
“Seems like I’m just like a lot of people lately,” she said.
“Chance has always been really gung-ho, the first one to volunteer for a dangerous job, always determined to get it done,” Jake continued. “Thing is, he’d always want to do it alone. I thought it was a pride thing at first, that he had to be the one.”
“You think I’m too prideful?” Felina asked.
“But, the more I got to know Chance, while he admittedly has an ego, his distance from others wasn’t about pride,” Jake said, ignoring the question. “So, I thought it must be trust issues. Maybe he didn’t trust other members of the team.”
“But, it wasn’t purely a trust issue, either,” Jake said. “Chance had trusted his life in others’ hands at times. It was the other way around that troubled him.”
Felina nodded, familiar with the leadership dilemma. Fortunately, she had never been put in a situation where she would have to order a subordinate into a dangerous situation that cost them their life. There had been close calls, but thus far she hadn’t had to take that kind of responsibility. It was a scenario she had rehearsed in her mind ever since she had been awarded her gold colored 2nd lieutenant rank insignia upon graduation from OCS.
Could I do it? Could I order someone into a situation where I know they’d die?
Felina sighed, knowing that the caricature of herself she’d imagined in her dream, spouting out bold declarations, wasn’t who she really was. Was it?
“So, you’re saying I can’t let myself take a higher level of responsibility, that’s why I push others away, do things myself, and will ultimate destroy myself?” Felina asked.
“I have no idea,” he said with a smile, though Felina suspected that he did.
“How did Chance get over this?” Felina asked.
“He’s still working on it,” Jake replied. “And, it’s been made more complicated by other factors…”
“Other factors?” Felina asked.
“Well, I was starting to explain to Callie how Turmoil knew who we were,” Jake said. “And, I don’t want to get into too much detail, but…”
“But?” Felina pressed.
“Chance and Turmoil had a relationship,” Jake said. “And, it didn’t end well.”
“Huh,” Felina said, not expecting that, but it did help to explain the situation somewhat. “So, she’s doing all of this just to hurt him?”
“That’s a very likely possibility,” Jake said.
“Well, regardless of the personal problems you guys have with her, I can’t just sit idly and do nothing,” Felina said. “Especially as I have a way in.”
“I know,” Jake said.
Felina slid forward and dropped off the wing of the Talon, landing on her feet.
“But, before you go,” Jake said as he withdrew an item from a pocket in his coveralls and tossed it down to her.
Felina caught it and looked it over. It was a familiar triangularly-shaped communicator, much like the one Callie Briggs possessed.
“Our tracking system is still down, but the encrypted network I use for communication still works,” Jake said.
“Thanks,” Felina said as she pocketed it. “And, thanks for listening.”
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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.