Title: Hide N’ Seeker Part 3: Revealing Memories
Authors: The Seeker and Kristen Sharpe E-Mail: email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: First completed: December 31, 1999 Final checking: January 3, 2000
A tremendous thanks goes out to Chaille, J Greenslug, Kitty G, and Sage for their help with this finale of Hide N’ Seeker. Kristen’s roommate Beth also gets a nice round of applause for various and sundry assistance including, but not limited to, psychologically analyzing characters, filling in some holes dealing with fighter squadrons, and for not offing Kristen before this tale’s completion. Many thanks also goes to “SWAT Team Delta” (“McFurland” included) for simply being themselves and inspiring the characters Kris based on them. You may never read this, but thanks, guys, for five years of great times in the SBC youth group! Thanks also to the world’s greatest proofreader – love you, Mom!
Now, before you get going, allow us to apologize firstly for the length of this monster and secondly for what seems to be excessive additional characters. Quite simply, this one got out of hand.
The next Seeker story, the finale of the trilogy, is also a sequel to Kristen Sharpe’s upcoming fanfic “Doubletake.”
Many, many more notes and jabberings can be found at the end.
“Dad?!” Steele repeated, still in a state of shock.
General Justin Steele eyed his son for a second before speaking, his face set in a deep scowl.
“Lieutenant Commander Johnathon Steele,” the general addressed him formally, stern frown berating the acting Enforcer commander for using the personal term.
Lieutenant Steele cringed, backing away from the general’s imposing figure.
“I hereby relieve you of command,” the general continued, his narrowed eyes meeting Lieutenant Steele’s. “I’ll be assuming command of the Enforcers.”
“Bu.. but…,” Steele stammered.
The general’s glare silenced him immediately. He then turned to the rest of the Enforcers.
“Form up. We’re moving out.” He shifted his gaze to McFurland. He smiled at the gray-furred officer’s obvious nervousness. “Lieutenant.” Mickey paled as the general approached him. The big kat grinned and extended a hand. “Well done,” he rumbled, shaking McFurland’s hesitantly offered hand.
Still stunned, McFurland just smiled numbly. As the general turned to leave he looked to Felina.
“D’ya suppose this means my job is safe?” he asked.
Catching his words, the general jumped in before Felina could open her mouth.
“We could use a few more officers like you, Lieutenant. Never fear – your job is safe while I’m in command.”
With that, he turned to issue orders to the remaining Enforcers, herding them from the sewer.
From the shadowed opening of a pipe once intended to stretch across the room, its metal hulk now rusting into dust, a pair of eyes watched the scene below.
“Very good, General… Your timing is perfect…,” the concealed kat murmured as he absently fiddled with the now useless remote control device in his hands. He paused, finding McFurland in the crowd and saluting him and his teammates. “Good game, my friend. Good game.” With the flash of a toothy grin, he was gone.
“They’re stabilized, Dr. Conway,” a slightly frazzled-looking doctor pronounced, appearing beside Conway.
The scientist was hunched over in a waiting room chair, a thoughtful, solitary figure in a room largely filled with anxious families and groups of friends. His head came up quickly with the words.
“Can I see them?”
The doctor paused.
“Normally, we’d only admit family…,” he started and quickly trailed off.
Conway made a vague hand gesture.
“I’d contact their families, but I have no idea who they are.”
The doctor nodded.
“In this case I think we can make an exception. Follow me.”
A few minutes later, Conway found himself again looking at the sleeping kats. After their ordeal, both seemed strangely peaceful.
Conway frowned as the doctor gave him a list of their injuries.
“There was some internal hemorrhaging, but we think that’s under control… Their blood pressures are back… in the clear at any rate. Not the normal 120 over 80 that I’d like to see, but we’re getting there. We’re still getting some very erratic brain activity. Nothing life-threatening, I assure you. The monitors are just picking up some rather abnormal signals… In fact, both kats’ brain waves appear identical. And, there are tiny, almost imperceptible blips – could be a malfunction actually. Never heard of anyone having an identical readout.”
Dr. Conway nodded; he’d expected that. He hoped no nightmares would greet him when the kats awakened. Removing his glasses to wipe them on his lab coat, he stared again at the two SWAT Kats, wishing he knew what was going on in the sheltered privacy of their minds. —————————————
T-Bone had long since lost track of when his own memories ended and Jake’s had begun. He’d lived years of Jake’s life it seemed. Years of his childhood. It was a life Chance’s soul ached for after those torturous years of his own. Yet, he knew it wasn’t his, could never be his. But, to see it – to see how a child *should* grow up… T-Bone swore he would never forget, never forget what he saw there.
Even as he promised himself, he could feel the world around him changing. Could feel his fragile contact with Jake weakening. The dream was breaking apart. It wasn’t like waking up, wasn’t that gradual fade back into reality. No, the gilt shards of dream memory were shattering into a thousand pieces. Breaking away, hurling him into the void again.
McFurland pulled off his kevlar vest wearily. He was bone-tired after the night’s events. With a deep sigh, he stripped off his uniform, dumping it unceremoniously in the floor as he struggled into his civvies. He yawned, setting off a chain reaction among the others in the locker room. His teammates glanced at him reproachfully, but held their silence. The tomkats’ locker room was jammed with other Enforcers recruited for the night’s fiasco and they were too tired to banter anyway.
At last fully clothed once more, Mickey reached down to pick up his uniform and stuff it in his locker. He paused, fingering the torn sleeve where he’d ripped off a patch of material for Felina’s bandage. He needed a new uniform now, His spare would do, but a replacement would have to be picked up.
Mickey froze in mid-thought, a tattered uniform the last thing on his mind. The way Felina had spoken to him after his stunt with the “spider”…
“Get a grip, Rob,” he snapped at himself, placing the uniform in his locker and closing the door. <It wouldn’t work,> he added mentally, waving to his comrades as he headed out the door.
His boots echoed down the empty corridors of Enforcer Headquarters as he plodded toward the nearest exit. He stepped outside into the curious half-light of dawn’s birth, still trying to push Felina from his thoughts. His feet mindlessly aiming for the Enforcer apartments he called home, the gray-furred officer at last relented, letting the image of the dark-haired captain come to mind. Mickey sighed. Yeah, that was a great thought to end… or begin, as the case may be, the day.
Conway’s head jerked up from its resting place against his chest as his body started to slip from the chair. Shaking his head in a vain effort to clear away his sleepiness, the orange-furred researcher sat up straighter and glanced over at the sleeping SWAT Kats. Trying to further wake himself, he rose from his chair and ambled over to eye the “erratic” monitors.
Seconds later, he realized a doubletake was in order. Removing his glasses and rubbing his eyes to clear them, Conway debated with himself if what he had seen was correct. Repositioning his glasses, he looked at the readouts again. They were different, as different as any two kats should be. No extra blips. Normal, in both cases. As normal as could be.
The bespectacled tomkat frowned, hoping that was a good sign as he let his gaze fall again to the two kats.
Darkness… It was cold and quiet in the void. T-Bone shuddered as he felt it start to lighten. Was there more with which his memories could torment him? No, no. Here his kittenhood brightened. It was a familiar place tinged with warm, happy memories that now began to claim him, to call him back. He yielded to the tug with a peaceful sigh, mind and body settling into drowsy relief.
Soundless in nothing but his bare pawpads, Chance padded past the rough-hewn boards at the back of the newsstand. His sensitive nostrils sniffed briefly at the odor of new lumber floating from the newly remodeled, rebuilt front of the stand, questing for something far different. Seconds later, he caught a whiff of a more delicate odor wafting past his nose. Chance took a deeper sniff, whiskers twitching, stomach rumbling eagerly. A smile spread across his small face as he recognized the smell. Donut. He could smell one a mile away. Creeping around the newsstand toward the source of the wonderful odor, Chance focused on two voices.
“Oh, c’mon – have one; won’t be the first diet you haven’t taken seriously,” a slim tomkat with iron fur urged, extending a box of donuts toward the newsstand’s owner.
The graying kat behind the counter shook his head.
“I’ve done told ya’ no, Carl – if I break this diet, Linda’ll kill me,” he declared emphatically.
“Ah, c’mon, Pop. Just one?” Carl urged, sitting the box of donuts on the newsstand’s counter and pushing it toward his friend.
Chance’s mouth watered as he stared at the box of donuts. As usual, he’d left his current foster home before the sun rose. It was now mid-morning and the slice of jellied toast that had served as breakfast was long gone. He eyed the donuts longingly from his crouch just out of the gray-furred kat’s view at the edge of the newsstand. But no, he wasn’t going to steal someone’s donuts. Despite the temptation, he wasn’t here to steal *anything* – just participate in a little borrowing… something like the library he’d always reasoned. Refocusing himself on his “mission,” Chance let his eyes move to the rows of neatly stacked comic books at the front of the newsstand. His ears pricked and his eyes lit as he found the familiar cover of his favorite comic – “Kat Kommandos”. It was new.
“Yes!” the yellow-furred kitten whispered to himself. He eyed up the iron-gray kat and the newsstand owner, debating. He could wait until the gray kat left… But, the gray kat might provide sufficient distraction for the sharp-eyed Pop…. The comics were only a few feet away on an extended shelf…
The gold kitten decided to risk it. This issue *was* supposed to be the continuation of the Kommando’s biggest battle ever. The fate of TerraKat City* was on the line!
The decision made, Chance tensed. His eyes narrowed, focusing on the comic book. The talking of the two adult kats faded into a distant drone.
“Well, I better be getting on to work,” Carl said to Pop, turning to leave. “I’ll see you….”
At that instant, a hurtling flurry of tabby fur slammed into him, almost sending him tumbling.
“What on…!” Carl gasped, trying to regain his balance.
Chance didn’t even hear his words. The comic book was clutched tightly in his hands. He spun away from the bigger kat and bolted.
He was jerked backward roughly as an iron grip fell on his collar.
“Lemme go!” the big kitten squalled, struggling to get free as he was hauled three feet off the ground.
Pop Perkins, who had come around to the front of the stand as Carl left, glared briefly at the kitten in his grasp. Then, the light-furred kat spun to face the newsstand, stalking to it in two quick strides. There, he released the churning bundle of fur, gently but forcefully herding the kitten into the corner formed where the stand met his display shelf.
Even as his feet hit the ground, Chance was desperately trying to conceive of a way out. On solid ground again, he whirled to face Pop, his eyes roving wildly. He needed an escape route.
Sizing him up, Carl, who had recovered and was now watching the spectacle, murmured a warning to Pop.
“Better let ‘im go, Pop – he’s half-wild.”
Pop snorted, placing his hands on his hips and assuming a firm stance, blocking Chance into the corner.
“Wild? He can read, obviously.”
Pop focused on Chance.
“What’s yer name, Kid?”
Chance’s face set into a sullen scowl.
“Hmm… well, if you’re gonna be that way, I can just call the Enforcers on ya’….” Pop commented placidly.
“Chance,” the golden kitten spat. “Like telling you will keep you from calling the Enforcers,” he added in a growled mumble.
“It will because I’m not,” Pop declared. “Chance, huh? I been lookin’ fer you for a while now. Y’see, I’ve noticed certain comic books disappearin’…” He paused, eyeing Chance shrewdly. “Funny thing is they always come back….”
“I don’t steal anything!” Chance snapped.
“Just borrowing, eh?” Pop asked, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “Hm… How’d you like to be able to *keep* a few of these?” He gestured toward the shelf reserved for comics before meeting the kitten’s wide eyes. The green ovals quickly narrowed to suspicious slits as Chance realized he was being watched.
“How?” the golden-furred kitten demanded.
“Well, I know a fellow down the street who could probably use a hand. He runs a mini-mart…,” Pop paused and eyed Chance up afresh. “Yeah, yer old enough to be useful… And, he’ll pay ya’ fair too.” The middle-aged kat waited, the offer hanging in the air.
Chance churned this startling development over in his mind. Paid? He could get paid? No, it was a trick… He snorted at his own suspicions. No, if this kat had wanted to be rid of him, he’d have called the Enforcers.
Eyes lighting in hope, the tiger-striped kitten pulled himself to his full height, his slightly pudgy belly protruding with the posture he assumed.
“I can command the Enforcers, Dad! Gimme another chance!” Steele pleaded earnestly, his voice a childish whine.
“Johnathon,…,” General Steele began with a deep sigh, rising to step down in front of the younger Steele rather than glower at him from above in the Commander’s imposing seat. “You could have gotten Commander Feral killed with that ill-planned stunt in the sewers… and there’s no telling how many of your men could have been killed had that fight gone differently!” Justin Steele’s voice rose with every word. “No, Johnathon, you had your chance and you made it into a royal fiasco. No more – I’m taking command until we find a way to rescue those hostages.”
“No, buts.” The general glowered at his son. “Now, I’m to understand that the Seeker devised this whole debacle for the sake of tormenting a pair of local vigilantes? The “SWAT Kats,” I believe?”
Sulking, his son ignored the question. Justin only gave him a withering glare before continuing as though he hadn’t truly needed an answer.
“Where are these SWAT Kats?”
The younger Steele shrugged.
“Johnathon,….” The tone was a warning.
“How should I know?” the shorter kat snarled. “They were with a Dr… Somebody down in the Bio-Tech Labs.”
“Then, I’d like to see them.” He quickly resumed his former non-personal demeanor. “You’re dismissed, Lieutenant Commander. It’s been a long night – you won’t need to report for duty until 1300 hours.” He paused. “I’d advise you spend that time resting… and *thinking*, Lieutenant.”
“Yes, Sir,” Lieutenant Steele spat, whirling away and stalking from the room.
Watching his son leave, General Steele sighed deeply, his face a blend of dismay and regret.
The narrow streets didn’t allow the view he needed. Eagerly, Chance scrambled up the familiar fire escape. Higher and higher, the fearless kitten climbed. Then, the fire escaped ended. Undauntable, Chance clambered to the top of the railing. His pause was momentary as he gauged the distance to the wall-mounted gutter. Practiced, the kitten flung himself across the gap, seventy-five feet above street level. The aluminum gutter squeaked in protest as it received his weight. Chance froze for an instant, ensuring the gutter would hold. Reassured, he inched upward. Seconds later found him pulling his growing frame over a ledge onto the rooftop.
Hitting the gravelled rooftop, Chance raced forward as the sound he’d followed, dulled in the streets below, grew steadily louder. Then, they were upon him. As the crescendo of sound peaked, the tiger-striped kitten spun and threw himself flat on the gravel, eyes searching above.
Sunlight glinted off the sleek forms of seven Enforcer jets as they streaked across the cloudless sky in perfect formation.
“Wow!” Chance murmured, riveted.
It was an instant’s glance and they were out of his field of vision. Hurriedly, Chance rolled over and jumped to his feet. He stood, one hand up to shield against the glare of the sun, and watched the squadron as long as he could. At last, even his sharp eyes could no longer discern the seven shapes in the hazy sky.
Later that evening, he was still starry-eyed as he related his newest career choice to Pop.
“I wanna be a pilot,” he told the gray kat as Pop accepted the youngster’s proffered dollar bill and passed him the most recent issue of “Kat Kommandos.”
“A pilot, eh?” Pop queried, raising a single bushy eyebrow. “In the Enforcers?”
Chance nodded as he idly flipped through his new comic book.
Pop wagged his head thoughtfully, studying the youngling.
“Gonna haveta’ make some good grades to do that,” he murmured at last.
Chance looked up at him worriedly. School wasn’t exactly one of his priorities in life. He gulped, thinking of the attendance record that forever had school administrators digging up the number of his current foster family and calling to rant over his excessive absences.
“Where does straight C’s put you?” the tiger-striped kitten asked.
Pop frowned and smiled kindly before explaining, “Well, straight C’s puts you barely passing middle school.”
Chance looked up at him in deep thought. If that was what it took…
“Mom, I know it’s late…,” John Steele began apologetically.
The voice on the other end of the phone was level and unruffled.
“Johnathon, this is the east coast. It’s early morning here.”
“So, I didn’t wake you?” Steele queried sweetly.
The female voice laughed lightly, a rich alto sound that somehow managed to keep an edge of stern control.
“You know I rise with the sun.” She paused. “You, however, enjoy your beauty sleep. What has you calling at this hour?”
Steele debated the best way to phrase his words.
“It’s Dad,” he began at length.
His mother’s voice darkened.
“What about your father?”
“Well, I finally got my shot at a real command position and then Dad shows up to relieve me of command! I’m the Lieutenant Commander of the Enforcers – I’m trained for this!”
“Tell me exactly what’s going on out there,” his mother demanded, cool anger in her voice.
Steele smiled at her tone and eagerly launched into the full list of his woes. This was going *exactly* as planned.
The cry reached him slowly, calling him back from one of his more elaborate daydreams – involving silver Enforcer jets. Chance paused, his shelf stocking put on hold as he swivelled his ears, seeking the source of the sound. Curious and a bit worried, he padded to the rear of the store as quietly as possible. Snickers and taunts joined the soft whimpers as he came around an aisle.
A tan-furred kitten stood in a fighting stance against a row of shelving, clearly trying not to cry. Blood trickled from his nose and his left eye was already growing puffy. A circle of smirking teenkats, several years his elders, surrounded him.
“You gonna try ta’ fight us again?” their apparent leader sneered.
Chance missed anything else that might have been said. Staring at the bloodied kitt, all he could see was himself… not so many years ago. He could feel a snarl bubbling in his chest as he made the comparison between the two cruelties. And, these teenkats hadn’t even the excuse of drunkenness to explain their casual torment.
“Lay another hand on ‘im and I’ll have the manager over here… *after* I slug ya’!” Chance snapped as the leader grabbed the kitt up by the front of his shirt.
The kat turned slowly. He was slim and tall. But, his height still topped out roughly six inches below Chance’s broad shoulders.
“Let ‘im go…,” Chance warned, stepping fully into the aisle, green eyes sparking.
Wordlessly, one of the first teen’s flunkies charged Chance, fist flying for the the striped one’s face. Chance met him with a fist in the nose and sent him sprawling back into the far shelf. Cans clattered to the floor as he hit, clawing at the shelf for balance. His effort was wasted as he, at last, stumbled to the floor, landing hard on his rear.
“Let’s go, man!” the second flunky yelped, dashing past Chance.
The leader glowered at the tabby, but dropped his victim and bolted as well. Chance let them and their staggering companion go with only a parting glare. It was a small convenience store and his boss would be investigating the ruckus soon enough. Chance knelt by the fallen kitten and tried to examine his wounds. The tan-furred kitt refused to look up at him and instead focused on a can of tuna, freed by the teenkat’s fall, that was leisurely rolling across the floor. Chance laid a gentle hand on the other’s shoulder.
“Kid, are you okay?”
The kitten jerked his head around to stare at Chance with wide eyes.
“Y… yes, Sir,” he sniffled.
“Good,” Chance returned gruffly, smiling. “Now, you better get home and get that looked at.”
The kitt nodded and scrambled to his feet. Chance rose as well and, giving the kitten a final glance, started to leave to head off his boss.
“Sir?” the kitten called after him.
Chance looked back over his shoulder.
Chance smiled again and muttered a gruff, “Welcome.”
<I didn’t realize ’til then,> the older T-Bone commented to himself in his mind. <‘Til that moment I just wanted to mimic my old heroes and pound the world’s bullies. Didn’t realize that beating up the world’s bullies was nothing compared to protecting those who needed it. But, I know now… I know now…>
General Justin Steele frowned as he recalled what Dr. Conway had told him about the SWAT Kats’ condition. Just what did these kats have to do with any of this? What did they have to do with the Seeker? His frown deepened and he refocused his attention on finding the entrance to MegaKat Memorial’s parking garage. Perhaps the answers awaited him here. Or would only more questions greet him?
Curious to see just what was so important to the Seeker that he’d all but appealed to the debt the general owed him to involve the broad-shouldered kat in this, Justin hurriedly parked his car and headed for the nearest entrance. Something important was tied up in this; Justin was certain. He knew Seeker – knew him as well as one could – and Seeker didn’t involve himself this deeply in anything just for the sake of one of his mad amusements.
His mind was still tracing possibilities as he approached the ICU he’d been directed to in his earlier call to Dr. Conway. He quickened his pace, seeing the tired-eyed scientist waiting for him outside the double doors ahead.
“C’mon, we’re gonna be late!” Rick Furlitz yelled as he bolted down the hallway. “Get it in gear, Chance!”
“Right behind ya’… Taking the lead actually,” Chance retorted as he flashed past his friend, backpack bouncing wildly as he ran.
“Ha! The day you can run faster’n me….!” Rick snapped, increasing his speed to catch up to Chance.
The two teenkats’ thundering feet echoed down the school hallways as they raced to their class. Running neck and neck, they skidded around a corner and right into the least favorite teacher in the whole school. Before they could react, the portly middle-aged she-kat was slammed onto her tail. Trying to maintain his balance, Chance awkwardly leapt over her, doubling his speed in a flash of terror.
“You hoodlums!” Mrs. Martin shrieked, searching the floor for her glasses.
“Faster, man – I don’t think she knows who it was,” Rick yelped, catching up to Chance after his extended recovery time.
“You better hope she doesn’t know who it was!” Chance shot back, skidding around a corner and bolting down the next hallway.
Rick grinned back wryly.
“Well, this is where we part company, Dude,” he announced as they reached the stairwell at the end of the hallway. “See ya’ this afternoon in practice!”
He and Chance exchanged an enthusiastic high five before Chance bounded into the stairwell as Rick raced out a doorway and toward the gym.
General Steele looked down on the sleeping figures of the two SWAT Kats curiously.
Justin didn’t turn his head to look back for the speaker. He merely nodded and waited for the massive kat to slip around and stand opposite him on the other side of the far bed. The tremendous gray feline succeeded in the effort without even ruffling the curtains that cordoned off the SWAT Kats’ section of the ICU. Justin glanced up to study the big kat. Something about him was subtly different.
“Which one are you?” the general asked quietly, already certain of the answer.
“Stryfe,” the tall kat murmured calmly as though the name were an assurance of some form.**
“And, where is your brother?”
Stryfe cocked his head to one side as though listening to sounds only he could hear.
“Close,” he affirmed at last. “It seems I wasn’t needed here – he’s already stepped in to help these two…” Stryfe smiled faintly. “Must have had his sense of honor pricked a bit…”
Justin could hold his questions no longer; they spilled forth in a torrent of confusion.
“Who are these kats? What do they have to do with Seeker? With anything?” he demanded.
Stryfe thought a long minute before replying.
“They are MegaKat City’s protectors. They are honest-hearted heroes who could have stepped from a fairy tale into reality. Their courage to match his challenge. Their skill pitted against his technological brilliance. Their good hearts against his evil.” Stryfe looked up to meet the general’s gaze levelly. “He’s here for the challenge. These two are the ones he’s chosen to fight… in his own form of honorable combat.”
Chance paused at the door to the apartment, looking around warily. The hall was as he remembered it; even twelve years couldn’t add to its shabbiness. It was the same threadbare brown carpet, perhaps once a much lighter color, the same dull gray electrical tape holding it together. The same false wood doors with their half-legible numbers lined the hallway in seemingly eternal silence.
The big teen squared his shoulders. But, he *wasn’t* the same scared kitten who had twice fled down this hallway. He was a star player with the MegaKat High Panther football team. He was a solid A/B student. Tomorrow, he would be a graduate. And, in his pocket was the letter that he’d spent eight years dreaming of. The one that admitted him to the Enforcer Academy.
Chance frowned as he raised one huge fist to knock on the door. And, he was a wide-shouldered bundle of trained muscle that wouldn’t take a beating quietly ever again.
His knock echoing in the still corridor, Chance waited. At last, staggered steps could be heard approaching the door. It was abruptly flung open. The same bloodshot yellow eyes from his nightmares stared up at Chance as the same voice, familiar even after years, rumbled, “Wha’ ya’ want?”
Chance was too surprised to speak. He hadn’t expected to find himself suddenly a full head taller than his childhood tormentor. He was still staring dumbly when recognition filtered through the ethanol fumes that fogged the other kat’s brain.
“You?!” the drunken feline roared. “D’ya know wha’ they di’ ta’ me when you ran off and said I mistreated you?!” He didn’t wait for an answer. “They lo’d me up! I spen’ a year in prison be’ca a’ you!”
With a growl, the intoxicated kat took a swing at Chance.
Chance was already waiting for him, the old anger rising within him.
“Not… this… *time*!” Chance ground through clenched teeth as he let one huge fist fly to thud heavily in his uncle’s stomach.
Stunned and gasping as the blow slammed into his diaphragm, the russet kat doubled over in pain. Raising his head to look at Chance, his pain-clouded yellow eyes met the younger tom’s hardened stare. Chance’s iron features suddenly softened in shock.
“Jake…?” he whispered, barely opening his mouth.
For an instant, Jake Clawson stood before him in pain, his fogged amber eyes pleading to know why the kat he trusted as his closest friend had struck him. Hurt and betrayal shone in those eyes.
Chance’s angry words caught in his throat, blotting any sound from passing his lips. Then, the image changed. Once more his uncle stood before him. The kat had changed, but not the look of hurt.
Chance regained control, shaking away the addition to his memory that had never been there in reality, and reached out to grab his uncle by the shirt collar. He gently pinned the smaller kat against the door frame.
“No,” he whispered softly, more to himself than the stupefied kat he held. “You’re not hurting me again….” He stared at his uncle for a long moment. The other kat was a wreck. His fur was dull and matted, his eyes almost permanently bloodshot with dark circles ringing them so that they stood out in his gaunt face. His tail hung limply, coated in the grime through which the forlorn kat had allowed it to drag.
Sympathy welled up in Chance’s heart. He couldn’t hurt this pathetic creature – this trembling remnant of a kat who had once been so kind, so gentle. Chance let his uncle go carefully and stepped back. He could sympathize, but he couldn’t forgive.
“I’ll be out of your life by tomorrow afternoon,” he whispered, voice gruff. “I’m graduating in the morning and then I’m going into the Enforcers. I’ll say my good-byes now in case you’re too drunk to show up for the ceremony. If the Enforcers accept me, I’ll send you what I can of the paycheck.”
With that, Chance spun on his heel and strode out of the doorway without a backward glance. The same doors flashed by in the quiet hall. The same carpeted floor shook under his angry steps. The same figure wavered in the doorway, comprehending little of what had happened.
General Steele had occupied the commander’s chair at Enforcer Headquarters for less than five minutes since the brief katnap in a motel room that had served as his rest when the phone rang. Praying it was a simple matter and not a furtherance of the disaster his son had created at headquarters, he reached for the receiver and brought it to his ear.
“Hello. This is General Steele.”
“I think I know the voice.”
Justin was stunned. His estranged wife was the last person he’d expected a call from, today or any other day.
“I should hope,” he managed at length.
“I’m coming out there…. today.”
Clearly, she wasn’t in a mood for pleasantries. In fact, she was cutting to the chase remarkably quickly.
“To what do I owe this joy, Honey?” Justin asked at last, the sweet tone in his voice laced with cool venom.
“I think you know.”
With that, there was a click, and the monotone sound of a dialtone hummed from the speaker.
Justin sighed deeply.
“Look at ’em, Chance! The finest fighters in MegaKat City….”
“I’d look, but some idjit is blocking the view,” Chance snapped, shouldering his way past Rick.
Seven silver jet fighters filled the airstrip of the Enforcer air base. Standing in front of them stood a line of eleven kats, dressed in full flight gear. But, Chance’s eyes were only for the jets.
“The Enforcer Rogue Sabres,” Chance murmured in awe. “Established ten years after MegaWar II, nine years after they established the Enforcers…”
“To further protect and defend MegaKat City as it has proven to be a weak point in the defenses of the western coast of the Republic of Kattainia….,” Rick finished in a bored, sing-song tone. “C’mon, man, enough with the history lesson – I wanna fly!”
“You think I don’t?!” Chance shot back. Then, he focused on the twelfth kat, who was coming forward to greet them.
The black kat stopped just before them and held a hand out in greeting.
“I’m Captain Eric Trestain.” Chance shook hands with him and he turned to Rick, continuing. “Welcome to the Rogue Sabres.”
“It’s an honor, Sir,” Chance murmured hoarsely.
Trestain grinned slyly.
“I’m sure you’re eager to get in the air, but first let me introduce you to the squadron.” The two followed him over to the assembled group as he made introductions down the line.
Chance listened with half an ear, the eleven faces passing in a blur. Except one.
“And, this is Lieutenant Brett Katz – our chief hothead who thinks his little stunts are cute far too often.” For once, Trestain’s tone seemed slightly reproachful.
Katz, in turn, leered at his commanding officer and merely tossed Chance and Rick an acknowledging glare.
Chance quickly forgot the encounter, however, as he and Rick were finally allowed to climb into a jet with the Rogue Sabre’s trademark design of two crossed black sabres splashed across the vertical fins. The big tabby looked over his instruments quickly to familiarize himself, confident as he saw that the jet was little different from the academy’s aircraft – though a wealth of improvements weren’t lost on him either.
“Ready?” he called to Rick as he methodically followed the proper startup sequence and waited for his cue to move the jet out for take-off.
“Been ready,” Rick returned.
Chance grinned. Rick was the last kat he’d expected to pick up again. His old high school friend’s decision to join the Enforcers had been almost overnight. The two had re-met in the academy and hadn’t been separated since. He’d never admit it, but Chance was glad to have his old companion accompanying him in the air. More than glad for the backup.
His thoughts were cut off as he received a clear for take-off. He taxied the jet down the runway and then….
“Awaaaaaay we go!” Chance screamed as the responsive craft rocketed into the sky, leaving the desert floor and the airbase far below.
Morning, and a nurse’s quiet nudge, came far too soon for Seymour Conway. Stifling a yawn, he thanked the middle-aged nurse and tried to unfold himself from a chair never intended to serve as a bed.
He rubbed his eyes to clear them and then fumbled in a breast pocket for his glasses. Donning them, he glanced toward the SWAT Kats. His gaze travelled first to them, and then to the monitors. The monitors were fine. Then, he glanced back at the two kats. Slowly, he staggered to his feet and made his way to the first bed, the big tabby’s. The big kat looked okay. His face was devoid of pain or any other expression. Hoping he wasn’t kidding himself, Conway honestly thought he could see a growing look of health about both kats.
Whether it was illusion or reality, there was nothing he could do at the moment. Still, he wasn’t willing to leave them. No, he would see this through. But, first… He needed to find some coffee badly.
Chance was half in his flight suit when the alarm went off. His head jerked up at the sound. After the power outage of a few minutes ago he half-expected someone to tell him the alarm was a malfunction. The message the intercom delivered instants later informed him that this was no malfunction.
“All members of VF-414*** report to the hangar immediately. All members of VF-414 report to the hangar immediately. This is a Code Red.”
“Yes, action!” Rick howled happily from two lockers down as he zipped up his own suit. “Better hurry, Chance, or you’ll be facing it in your boxers.”
“Ha!” Chance snorted, jerking the suit on. He secured his uniform and then snatched his helmet from his locker before turning to face his smirking partner. “Well, c’mon!”
The two made it to the hangar in record time. They found it a buzzing hive of activity. The plane crews were scrambling to ready the jets as Trestain assembled his men for a quick briefing. The two young kats quickly formed up and waited at attention. Katz, strolling into the hangar as though he were ambling in the park, was the last to arrive.
“Alright, men. Some psychopath calling himself Dark Kat just hit MegaKat Light and Power. Ground crews are already moving into position, but they’re not going to stand much of a chance against his airship without air support,” Trestain explained. “I warn you – according to eye witnesses, this airship is something new… It may have some unpleasant surprises…”
Trestain let the warning hang in the air a few seconds before ordering them out to their jets.
“Ready, Chance?” Rick asked as he strapped in, his eyes alight.
“Nah, I’d rather be watchin’ Scaredy Kat,” Chance returned sardonically, already secured and checking his instruments.
Talk ended as they taxied onto the runway and took off. Chance guided the jet into position and then let his mind wander to what might lay ahead. This was it. What he’d trained for, what he’d wanted – some *real* action. He could feel the familiar excitement and tension mounting within.
“Look alive, kats. This is the real thing – get ready for some action.” Trestain announced to his squadron.
Chance focused ahead to see that they were approaching the power plant.
“Bogey on my scope,” Katz muttered abruptly.
“I see him,” Trestain returned. “Squadron engage – fire at will.”
Chance looked from the blip on his scope to the wicked-looking assemblage closing on them. The red and black contrivance sported a pair of stubby wings and viciously curved stabilizers that stood up like spines across its uppermost half. Structurally, it looked like little more than a huge flying torpedo.
“What is that thing?!” he gaped.
“Ug-ly!” Rick declared.
“What indeed, Enforcers?” a deep voice suddenly purred as it commandeered all available radio frequencies. “Meet my Fear Ship. I think it will prove more than enough for your pathetic little fighters….” Then, the transmission ended, leaving the distinct feeling of an audible smirk hanging in the air.
Even as they neared it, the airship proved that its design was far from sloppy. As Trestain’s fighter closed on it, the evil-looking craft nimbly dodged away from the jet, diving and slipping *under* Trestain’s fighter.
The startled exclamations of the other pilots echoed through the cockpit as the airship plowed straight into their ranks. The Rogue Sabres, broke formation completely and scattered, getting clear. Chance was the last pilot to dodge.
“You are not getting away that easy!” he growled, banking his jet into a tight curve that took it down and clear of the incoming attacker. Levelling it out, the big pilot jerked the stick to turn his arc into a complete one-eighty and pursue the airship.
“Watch it, Furlong – this Dark Kat guy’s trouble,” Trestain’s warning voice cut into the melee as he righted his fighter and saw Chance and Rick closing on the flying hulk of the intruder’s airship.
“Roger that, Sir,” Chance returned, feeling his stomach twist in a half- pleasant rush of adrenaline and fear.
As Chance flipped off the open channel to his commanding office, Rick purred, “The Furballs are on the job.”
Chance smiled at the reminder of their nickname. He’d always hoped for his own personal callsign, but being one of the Rogue Sabres’ two “Furballs” wasn’t a bad title. Not in his opinion anyway. Feral, the Enforcer Commander, seemed to have issues with it, but Captain Trestain had few complaints on his performance, and it was his opinion that really mattered to the big tabby.
“C’mon…. A liiiiittle closer….,” Rick hissed from behind him as he waited for his targeting system to register a lock.
Chance heard the lock tone a split second before Rick’s whoop.
“I’ve got tone! Heads up, Chance,” Rick called. “I’m introducing us to our new friend. Missile deployed!”
The missile streaked toward the airship.
“Blow up the power plant on the Furballs shift, will ya’?” Rick muttered as he watched it.
Rick’s missile streaked from the jet as Chance rolled to the right, banking away from the bizarre craft that Dark Kat had referred to as his Fear Ship. Fear Ship? Talk about a weirdo, Chance thought to himself as he glanced back at the missile. He was just in time to see the missile detonate.
“Got ’em!” Rick crowed.
Chance didn’t have time to even guess at the damage they’d done when a barrage of laser fire strafed the aft portion of the jet. Warning sensors flashed madly at the dangerously high heat levels dancing across the fuselage.
“Crud! What kinda lasers does he have on that thing?!” the tawny pilot barked. He’d been out of range of any conventional weapons.
“I don’ know…,” Rick returned quietly. “Hey, man, I’m gettin’ some weird readouts back here…” He fiddled with the instrument panel for several minutes. “No go,” he murmured hoarsely. “I don’t know how he did it without sending us up in a fireball, Chance, but we’re losin’ fuel…. fast.”
“CRUD!!!” Chance growled. He switched on his microphone. “We’re hit, Captain, and losing fuel fast. We’re returning to base.”
“Roger that,” Trestain returned, looking worriedly after the lone fighter before calling to the remainder of his squadron to regroup.
Rick was studying the fuel gauge worriedly as Chance debated the best medium between the need for speed and the need to conserve fuel as long as possible.
The statement was quiet. Too quiet. It was laden with infinite dread and terror. Hearing that sound in his partner’s voice, Chance’s gaze went first to the clear sky around them, then to the fuel gauge. In no less than thirty seconds, it had bottomed out completely.
“We gotta eject!” Rick muttered hoarsely.
Chance looked around. They were flying directly over the outskirts of MegaKat City, a few hundred feet just above the office buildings and apartments that currently held who knew how many kats. He shook his head.
“No can do…. We eject and this thing takes out a building…. I’m not living with that on my conscience.”
“Chance!” Rick’s voice was desperate, terrified.
Distantly, Chance could hear the sound coming from the fighter’s single engine. It would flame out in seconds. For some reason, that wasn’t scaring him. Yes, it would flame out in a just a few seconds. He had to figure out how to bring it down safely, preferably without losing his and Rick’s, or anyone else’s, life in the process.
He focused his gaze straight ahead, hands tightening on the stick, and did something he hadn’t done since the day he’d fled his uncle’s apartment. He prayed, just like his mother had taught him. Remembering her, he briefly wished she could see him now.
The big tabby’s mind was suddenly as clear and focused as it had ever been. He could hear Rick behind him, calling from another world it seemed. He could hear the ominous warning sounds coming from the engine. And, he could see the waiting airstrip with its seemingly tiny cluster of buildings a tiny pinpoint of civilization in the desert ahead. The city proper had fallen away, just a few more miles across barren country. Cautiously, he eased up on the throttle, waiting… The engine shuddered, its flame staggered as there was suddenly precious little left to burn. Then, Chance opened the throttle all the way. The engine released a final burst of momentum… and died.
It didn’t matter; the jet was already close enough to the landing strip. Chance let it glide in… and had landed without incident before he was aware of the world around him once more.
Rick was silent behind him. The only sounds were those of a jet engine cooling, the crackle of damaged electronics and the shouts of the plane crew as they rushed out to meet the jet.
Chance was staggering out of the locker room when Trestain caught him by the door. It was three hours after the attack and Chance was drained physically and emotionally. The adrenaline that had powered him through the fight was long gone and now he just wanted to rest. Wanted to spend a few hours without it nagging on his mind that he’d been taken out early in his first dogfight and almost lost his jet. Wanted to be free of the knowledge that the freak who’d nearly killed him and his partner *had* killed two of the other Rogue Sabres. Wanted to forget that the same freak was still free. Seeing his commanding officer, he prayed Trestain hadn’t changed his mind about not faulting him for the day’s incident.
The black tom merely looked into the young pilot’s eyes and took a deep breath, his gaze regretful.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news, Lieutenant.”
“What?!” he asked quickly. He hated those words, hated that tone of voice. None of the memories either evoked were pleasant.
“Furlitz has made a request to be transferred from the squadron.”
“Rick! Why?! Why didn’t you tell me?!”
Chance had just caught Rick as the other was almost out the door and into the gathering twilight beyond.
“Chance, look…. I *can’t* okay! I just can’t do it! I can’t take the pressure – we could’ve died today!”
“Rick, you did fine – you’ve handled a lot a’ other tight situations!” There was no anger left in Chance’s voice. He didn’t have the strength to be angry. Only a plea rang in his voice.
“No, Chance – I can’t do this. I’m sorry. I just can’t.” Rick’s eyes pleaded for understanding.
Chance slumped against the wall, exhausted in body and soul, as Rick stepped away from him with a final sad smile.
“Call me sometime, okay? We’ll get together and goof off like old times…”
Senator Steele stepped down from the helicopter crisp in her creaseless dress suit. Her sculpted hair barely fluttered in the regular gusts from the chopper’s still-spinning rotors. Jaw set, icy blue eyes narrowed she strode away from the helicopter and across the roof to the waiting general.
“Hello, Justin,” she greeted General Steele curtly.
“Good morning, Lydia, – warm and charming as ever, I see,” the general returned with a small smile.
“I thought we’d dismiss the pleasantries and cut to the war you’ve declared, dear,” she returned, letting a glare intended for his eyes alone flash briefly across her composed features.
“I must need to read the treaty again – I had no idea that following my orders was an act of war,” General Justin Steele snipped, careless grin tightening into a tense, sardonic smirk as he led the way into the hangar that opened onto the roof.
“Impeding our son’s career – *again* – is,” the dark-haired she-kat snapped.
“Dearest, I do believe I’m *saving* it… and him,” the general growled as they reached the elevator back down to the main Enforcer building. Before she could reply, he punched the button marked with a downward arrow to call the elevator, adding, “Perhaps we could continue this in private?”
Senator Lydia Steele nodded an agreement and the couple waited for the elevator in stony silence.
By the time he reached the hangar, Chance was ready to punch someone. That someone was at his elbow, still taunting.
“Rumor has it the only wizzo they could find to replace Furlitz was some green kid straight out of flight school. Nobody else would fly with you,” Brett Katz leered.
“Katz, do you have a life?” Chance growled. “Do you not have any entertainment beyond making me want to knock that plug-ugly snout out the back of your head?”
“A few – but you’re the most fun I get in a day,” the tall kat sneered. “Oooo, look – he’s here waiting for you.” Katz pointed as he spoke.
Sure enough, a slim, orange-furred kat was standing by Chance’s jet, number 3. He was looking around curiously and alternating his inspection of the hangar with an inspection of the jet. At a distance it was clear his mouth was moving as he let a hand trail across the sleek alloy of the jet’s fuselage, but his words were lost in the incessant noise and bustle of the hangar.
“Good luck, Furball,” Katz cooed, spitting out the word “Furball” like an insult. For days he’d delighted in using the name to which Chance refused to respond to anymore.
“Get lost,” Chance snapped, stalking up to his jet. Inwardly, he was dreading this meeting. The last thing he wanted was a new weapons officer; he just wanted his old one back.
The other kat looked up as he approached and turned to greet him. “Hi, I’m your new weapons officer – Jake Clawson.” The slim kat extended a hand.
Chance ignored it, grunting an acknowledgement of the other tom’s words as he continued past to stalk toward his jet. It was several seconds later that he heard the orange-furred kat’s soft footfalls behind him. Chance kept his gaze focused ahead, the tip of his tail flicking in agitation. If his actions hadn’t clarified his attitude, his body language did.
He reached the jet and leapt to the boarding ladder, climbing it quickly and pulling himself into the cockpit. As he strapped in, he heard the other kat situating himself in the weapons officer’s seat just behind his.
Chance growled to himself and finally twisted around to face the other kat.
“Look, I sense I’d better make myself perfectly clear at the start here. I don’t know you and I don’t intend to get to know you. I never asked for a new partner, but I guess you get to be the unlucky kat to fill the job. Stay out of my way, leave me alone, do your job and we’ll get along just peachy. Am I clear?”
The smaller kat just nodded mutely.
Lieutenant Commander Johnathon Steele tried to be inconspicuous as he pressed his ear to the door of the Commander’s office. It was a near-impossible task, but he wasn’t about to miss a minute of this conversation.
“This is just like you, Justin! Johnathon needs to do things on his own. Why do you have to butt in everytime….!”
“I notice I’m not the only one “butting in”…..”
“Don’t take that tone with me, Justin!”
Steele leaned closer to hear his father’s quieter reply.
Several feet down the hallway, Felina Feral stifled a yawn as she strode purposefully toward the Commander’s office. All officers involved in last night’s fiasco had been given the day off, with the exception of Lieutenant Commander Steele, but that wasn’t why Felina was in Headquarters today.
<Alright think, Felina,> she told herself. <Casually ask the general if he knows what room the SWAT Kats were placed in.> She paused mid-thought to snarl a continuance of her earlier mental commentary on the secretary at MegaKat Memorial who had not only told her that the SWAT Kats weren’t there but had added that she thought Felina was a wacko. The dark-haired she-kat sighed. It made sense – covering up the fact that the SWAT Kats were there. Conway, true to his word, had probably made sure that only the paramedics and doctors immediately concerned knew about the two vigilantes. But, she still felt bad. She’d promised to guard them, to guard their identities. And then, she’d gotten caught up saving her uncle and abandoned them in their moment of need.
<You can’t have known they were in trouble,> she snapped at herself. <I still made a promise and broke it. Now, they’re in the hospital – who knows how many kats have had the chance to lift those masks, take DNA samples, anything! But, Uncle…>
All intelligent thought came to a full and immediate stop as she neared the office. There, one ear flattened to the door, eyes straining as though he could see through wood, was Lieutenant Steele.
“What are you doing?!” Felina barked before any thought of propriety could enter her head.
Steele jumped three feet in the air, his tail bushing out to twice its proper size.
“Captain Feral!” he blurted, returning to the ground. “You…,” he stammered. “You. You! YOU!” His tone gained vehemence with each ‘you!’
“Yes?” Felina raised on eyebrow. If he wanted to jump down her throat for her disobedience last night, she would have welcomed it. She’d always thought he was a spineless wuss. Now, she knew he was worse; he’d tried to kill her uncle last night, she had no doubts of that. And, now here he was… and here she was, fresh from no more than three hours of sleep. The tall she-kat’s pensive mood had shot straight to “kill mode” and Steele was about to become so much kitty litter.
Mercifully for Johnathon Steele, the Commander’s wide door swung open five seconds later.
“Lieutenant! Captain!” the General Steele snapped, ending further talk and saving Steele from certain verbal mauling.
“Sir!” Felina saluted quickly.
Steele mimicked her an instant later with considerably less formality and more panic.
“Sir! I was here to…. I….” He trailed off under his father’s menacing glare.
Felina leapt in before another word could be said.
“I was wondering if I could have a word with you, Sir,” she began.
“Certainly, Captain,” he paused. “Lieutenant, step inside and I’ll speak with you in a minute.” With that, he gestured to the open door at his back, stepping away to make room for Johnathon to enter.
The younger Steele started to speak, was silenced with a new glare, and sullenly trudged into the room.
Justin pulled the door closed after his son and then turned to Felina.
“Captain Feral, I believe?” he began.
“Yes, Sir…. I came to ask you about the SWAT Kats…,” she stopped, but, seeing the general make no move to interpose, continued. “Do you know where they are? I…. I was supposed to be watching them,” she finished lamely.
“So, you were the officer Conway’s assistants mentioned,” Justin murmured, rubbing his chin in thought.
“You talked to them? Do you know…?!” Felina started to blurt.
Justin cut her off with a wave of his hand.
“Yes, I know where they are. I just talked with Dr. Conway earlier this morning. He thinks their condition is improving.” He frowned. “What can you tell me about this ‘deal’ the Seeker made concerning them?”
“They told me all about it… But, Sir, could I see them first? I promised I’d…”
Again, Justin deftly silenced her.
“Don’t worry. Their secrets are safe with an old acquaintance of mine…,” he assured. “Now,…” He stopped to study Felina thoughtfully. “How’s about we trade what we know?” —————————————
Seymour Conway’s cooling coffee was halfway to his lips when the big tabby started mumbling. Conway froze in mid-sip. Neither kat had made a sound beyond a moan throughout the procedure. Praying it was a sign of their coming around, the orange-furred kat set his coffee aside and stepped up to T-Bone’s bed.
The big kat’s mouth moved soundlessly for several seconds. At last, a single coherent word escaped.
Jake reached up to set his boots on the shelf in his locker. As he did so, he heard the squeak of the door, echoing loudly in the empty locker room. It was followed by a dull thud as the door closed again. His boots contacting an obstacle in the path he intended for them drew his attention fully back to the task at hand.
Feeling silly as he realized the problem, he retracted his arm and set the boots on the floor of his locker. His mind had somehow registered them as his helmet which was already perched snugly on the shelf.
<How do I know this?>
Suddenly, he felt his shirt collar jerked back so harshly it tightened around his neck painfully. Before the slim kat could react, he was lifted off his feet and slammed into the open locker.
<I wasn’t there – that was Jake!>
It was several interminable seconds later that Jake’s whirling mind registered events properly. His entire face was starting to throb, particularly his sensitive nose, which was squished against the shelf in his locker. His eyes were squeezed shut as he tried to deal with the shooting pain in his head. A low chuckle behind him assured him of his attacker’s identity.
Jake grit his teeth and replied, “I see you haven’t forgotten your favorite high school hobbies, Katz.”
Katz smirked, chuckling.
“I’m a pro at geek squashing.”
Jake opened his eyes, forcing the room to steady as he ground out, “Too bad I’m not a geek!”
<Is this part of Jake’s memories again?>
With that, he twisted free of Katz’ grip and spun, planting a kick in Katz’ gut before whirling away. Unwilling to be caught in a fight, he lunged for the doorway to the locker room; the presence of officers and other kats in the hallway beyond would likely end Katz’ games. The orange-furred kat was startled to find another large figure looming in the doorway. He recognized the startled face quickly as he nearly bowled Chance over.
“Oh look, Clawson – yer Mommy’s here,” Katz purred, sneering at Chance.
Disoriented, the T-Bone of the present jerked spastically in his sleep as his dream-tempered memories switched perspectives. Once more, he was seeing with his own eyes and remembering only his own memories.
Chance pushed past Jake before the smaller kat could reply.
“I’m not his mommy, Katz, but I’m gonna send you crying for your’s.”
“Back off, Furlong – it’s not your fight,” Jake snapped. He didn’t want to fight, but he certainly didn’t want it said that he needed the burly pilot to defend him.
“Chill, Kiddo. This guy’s had it coming for a while anyway,” Chance warned, taking up a ready stance.
“You fight about as good as ya’ fly, Furball. Ya’ really want me ta’ lay ya’ out?” His eyes lit. “I’ll be happy to oblige.”
“Whenever you’re ready, Katz,” Chance returned.
“Readier than you’ll ever be, Furball!” Katz snapped, throwing a punch at Chance’s head.
The tiger-striped tom was gone before it could connect, leaving Katz’ fist sailing through dead space. Chance took the advantage of surprise and caught his opponent under the chin with a hard uppercut.
Katz reeled with the blow, seemingly stunned. Chance stepped forward to deliver another punch, hoping to end the fight early. Katz, however, had other ideas. His sweeping kick knocked Chance’s feet out from under him and sent the tabby down on his back.
Smirking, Katz regained his footing and prepared to slam one booted foot down on Chance’s exposed stomach before he could recover. His blow never connected as another slammed into his own mid-section.
“Learn to fight fair, Katz,” Jake growled, as he broke away from the tall pilot, leaving the other doubled over in pain from his kick. Still eyeing the brown-furred brute, Jake glanced down at Chance who was getting to his feet.
“I thought I told you I could take care of it?” Chance snapped.
“Sure, any time,” Jake returned sarcastically. “In case you didn’t notice, I just saved your tail.” With that, he turned to leave, wanting the whole affair done with.
Days of frustration, anger, and sadness exploded from Chance in a single sentence.
“Look! I don’t need help from some strung-out tech geek!” he blurted.
Jake wheeled around to face him, amber eyes wide with shock and anger.
“I have *never* been strung-out!” he hissed, eyes narrowing.
Chance realized abruptly that that one had hit way below the belt. But, there was no turning back now.
“That’s not what your file says,” Chance growled. Suddenly, he wanted to inflict as much pain as he could – to drive the other kat away from him once and for all. “I read it. Expelled from MegaKat U’s special technical-whatever Enforcer internship course for possession of a controlled substance,” the big kat paraphrased.
“The ‘nip wasn’t mine! That’s what they determined when they let me into the Enforcer Academy a year later!” Jake yelled, his temper rising.
Abruptly, Chance heard the voices, voices from another time, another place, another life.
“Just hold on to this for me, man… I’ll be right back for it.”
A package was shoved into his unwilling hands as the lanky figure dashed down the hallway, a single window showing the setting sun outside.
“Wait!” Jake’s voice calling from the body he seemed to occupy, the one whose eyes he saw through.
Then, the gathering dusk was suddenly full dark and a uniformed campus police officer stood over him.
“Possession of katnip is a federal crime and grounds for…” the officer quoted in a dull monotone.
“But, it’s not…!”
Then, Jake’s memory was gone and Chance was left with his own. The Chance of years gone by snorted in disgust.
“You got in cuz your bigshot doctor father sailed in to help,” he sneered.
That was the final straw. Jake’s careful efforts at checking his temper dissolved. With a growl, he rushed Chance.
The larger kat was caught by surprise. He’d received a painful kick in the gut, not unlike the one Katz was undoubtedly still nursing, and a blow to the face before he was prepared to react. But, when he did, he succeeded in landing one huge fist square in the orange-furred tom’s face. The other kat grunted as his head snapped back under the force of the blow.
“What is the meaning of this?!”
Chance staggered to his feet to find the angry gaze of Commander Feral himself staring him down. He could see Jake stumbling to a more dignified position, one hand clapped over his left eye, in his peripheral vision. Brett Katz was nowhere to be seen.
“Y’know, I gotta hand it to ya’ – ya’ gotta great kick,” Chance remarked, grunting at the pain from his stomach as he stood up to drag another bag of potatoes over to his self-proclaimed spot.
“Yeah, well,….you gotta great left hook,” Jake returned, massaging his throbbing left eye. He paused, turning over the potato in his hand and staring at it idly.
“I… uh…,” Chance searched for words. “That… uh… strung-out crack was a bit uncalled for…”
“Uncalled for?!” Jake snapped, eyes blazing.
“Okay, okay – that was a cheap shot, I admit it. I’m sorry…. For that… and for all these days I’ve been treating you like dirt… It’s nothing personal, okay?”
Jake stared at him for a long minute.
“Well… it…” Chance sighed deeply and studied his potato as though it held some deep insight; regrettably, it held only a load of starch. “I just… when Rick, my old partner, quit, it just messed me up bad, okay?”
Chance looked at him, realizing that the other kat’s gaze had softened a bit. Then, he ducked his head back to his work.
Silence reigned for several long minutes before Chance looked up to find Jake studying him again. Jake arched a brow and seemed to be pondering something deeply. Abruptly, he shoved his potato peeler into his left hand and stuck out his right.
“Yeah, anybody who can take the pounding I gave you and get in that many licks of his own – not ta’ mention still be standin’ – is fine in my book,” he returned, extending his right hand.
The two hands met and they shook firmly.
Johnathon Steele’s eyes locked on his father as the larger tom entered the office having finished trading information with Felina. Steele’s mouth opened, angry words over Felina’s insubordination the previous night already boiling up as the office door clicked shut and locked in its quiet electronic way.
“Sir, that officer is….!” he started.
“She’s thorough,” General Steele returned simply. “Now, I have work do and you have your own duties, Lieutenant.”
“Yes,” Lydia put in abruptly, laying a hand on her son’s shoulder to calm him. “And, I have a few of my own ‘duties’ to see to.” She traded a knowing look with Johnathon Steele, tossed a glare at her husband, and vanished out the door.
General Justin Steele stared at the door for a half-second before rounding on his son.
“You had to go behind my back and bring your mother into this again, didn’t you, Johnathon?” the general demanded quietly.
“Of course, I had to!” his son snapped back. “She’s the only one in the whole family who thinks I’m capable of anything!”
“The rest of us would think you were capable if you’d stop hiding behind your mother and do something for *yourself* once in a while!” Justin growled.
The twosome stared at each other for a brief eternity. Johnathon was breathing heavily, his face livid. Justin was calm but for his flashing eyes. At length, Johnathon Steele backed down.
“I believe you said I had duties to attend to,… *Sir*!” he snarled, fighting down his urge to pout or whine and succeeding in producing only a vaguely sulky tone. It was a first, and he was quite pleased with himself… in a vicious, angry way.
Justin Steele nodded curtly and his son was gone. The broad-shouldered kat sighed heavily in the silence that followed. —————————————
Seymour Conway mulled T-Bone’s single word over and over in his mind. Katz? He frowned, sipping his coffee as he resumed his seat. Hadn’t it been a “Brett Katz” who’d kidnapped the Deputy Mayor and the Enforcer Commander? His eyes lit; yes, that was it! Well, it made perfect sense for that to be on the big SWAT Kat’s mind. His own mind at ease, Conway leaned back to wait. Hopefully, all was well.
“C’mon, Sureshot! We’re late!” Chance bellowed, stuffing both feet into his pants almost simultaneously and jerking them upward.
“I’m workin’!” Jake returned. He was currently entangled in his own uniform. Courtesy his haste, his head was halfway through a *sleeve*, not the head opening.
“Jake!” Chance grabbed the offending garment and jerked it around so that Jake’s head popped out the proper opening.
“Watch it, Hotshot! You nearly broke my neck!” Jake growled as he adjusted his uniform. “And, go easy on my dress uniform!”
“Yeah, yeah! Let’s go!” Chance started to bolt for the door to the tomkats’ locker room and nearly fell on his face as his unsecured pants fell to his knees. “Argh!” The big tabby scrambled to regain his balance and pull his pants up.
“You want a fat lip, Sureshot?”
Jake laughed louder.
“I dare ya’ ta’ try it!” he snorted.
“Believe me, I will! Just as soon as we get this formal fiasco over!” Chance snapped back.
It was amazing; they’d been partners for two months and already there was a bond between them that neither could describe Chance mused. He even liked his new callsign, “Hotshot.” It had been created largely to match the name Jake had earned in only his first week of flying – “Sureshot.” Still, it fit perfectly.
“Now, we go!” the big kat announced, righting his pants and bounding for the door.
Jake was hot on his heels.
“Which way’s the conference hall for Enforcer Headquarters?” the slim kat asked suddenly.
The twosome skidded to an abrupt stop. The air base they knew like the back of their hands, but rarely were they required to be in Enforcer Headquarters and neither could navigate the large, ten-story complex. Dealing with the massive new Headquarters that was currently under construction across town was not a pleasant thought.
“Uhm…. This way!” Chance announced, guessing and pointing down a corridor to their right.
Jake was studying the signs on the wall.
“Actually, the arrows are pointing….,” he started.
“Nevermind those! I’m positive I remember taking this hall from the locker room,” Chance snapped.
“And, I’m positive the signs are right!” Jake returned.
“Fine, you go your way – I’ll go mine.”
“Last one there pays for an all-you-can-eat pizza night?” Jake tossed in, his amber eyes lighting.
Chance shoved his hand into Jake’s and they shook before dashing their separate ways.
Ten minutes later, they collided in the labyrinth of identical hallways.
“What?!” the two tomkats gasped simultaneously, staring at each other incredulously. “Oh, crud!”
And, the race was on anew.
“Hm…” Senator Lydia Steele pursed her lips as she perused the information marching across her computer’s monitor. “Fascinating people you get involved with, Justin,” she murmured. Hearing footsteps, she terminated her session with the Enforcer mainframe with a deft movement of the mouse.
Lydia turned to face her son.
“Are you still trying to…?” he started, looking distinctly uncomfortable.
“Yes, I’m going to fix your father’s mess here,” Lydia returned, intercepting his question. “I think I’ve finally found a way to force his hand.”
Johnathon Steele presented her with a perplexed face.
“Don’t worry.” The tall she-kat stood and patted her son on the shoulder. “I’m taking care of it.”
With that, Lydia Steele was gone.
Her son watched after her wonderingly. Perhaps this wasn’t what he wanted. His eyes narrowed. No, his father was right on one point. It was time he proved that he could do something on his own. And, while his parents were engaged in their own private war,… He knew what must be done now.
Spinning, spinning. Random thoughts batting about his brain. T-Bone could almost feel reality now. Like waking from a dream, it hovered just a touch beyond his reach. And, like an interested dreamer, he ignored it and burrowed back into the layers of memory. He wanted to see the end. There was something important back out there, something that hovered just out of sight, just within consciousness. But, he must finish the dream, finish the tale his memories led him through. Somehow, he knew. He must finish it. Though he didn’t know why.
“Is it me or do these things get more boring every time I see one?” Chance asked, yawning and shifting his weight to a hopefully more comfortable position.
“Shhh,” Jake insisted, trying to hear the kat speaking at the head of the large room.
“In a moment, we will demonstrate the effectiveness of this new technology. If the Mono-Sinclair Molecular Chain cannon proves cost-efficient enough, you kats will be receiving models before the year is out,” the speaker continued.
“Yeah, right. I know the city council’s gonna approve this doodad,” Chance muttered. “I pity the groundies who have to show up for these seminars all the time,” the big kat mumbled, using the pilot’s slang term for ground-based Enforcers. He paused. “Remind me why we’re here when we don’t haveta’ be, Sureshot.”
“Because I worked on this project in phase one of development,” Jake hissed in response.
“Oh.” Chance snorted suddenly, changing subjects. “Least we found the conference room better this time….”
Jake couldn’t resist releasing a quiet chuckle at the memory of their fiasco in finding the room just a few years ago. Then, he snapped back to the present, punching his partner’s shoulder to convince the big kat to do likewise, and refocused on the kat behind the podium. One kat, clad in an Enforcer uniform had emerged to stand to the speaker’s right. He was carrying a wide-barreled creation that resembled a smaller version of a blaster cannon.****
“Could we have a volunteer?” the kat at the podium asked. There wasn’t a hint of showmanship in his tone or manner. He was quite serious.
Several hands tentatively shot up throughout the crowded conference room. It was an odd request at a weapons demonstration. Usually anyone on the receiving end of a new weapon needed armor, at least.
“This is new…,” Chance drawled, still disinterested.
“Sssshhhh!” Jake hissed, silencing him.
All questions were answered quickly enough. A kat was chosen in short order and he curiously ascended the platform.
“Just stand here,” the speaker told him, pulling the volunteer into position. The chosen kat nodded stiffly and waited.
On cue, the Enforcer brandishing the big gun so reminiscent of a blaster cannon stepped forward, took aim, and squeezed the trigger. Yellow-white light leapt from the muzzle of the weapon to engulf the volunteer. Before he could react, the volunteer found his arms pinned to his sides by an unyielding band of energy.
“What in th’…?!” the kat started, struggling involuntarily against the inexorable grip.
The speaker stepped forward.
“As you can see, the Mono-Sinclair Molecular Chain cannon captures its target using this band of energy – in all actuality the stream of compressed molecules I explained earlier. This field will dissipate in roughly five minutes.”
He had hardly finished his statements when he was barraged with questions, not the least of which came from Commander Feral. Chance simply gawked at Jake, whose only response was a knowing smirk.
Lydia Steele presented Mayor Herbert Manx with her most charming smile. Frosty as a glacier when she chose, the slim female’s charm was a force with which her political opponents loathed having to reckon.
“Mayor Manx, I’m Senator Lydia Steele,” she introduced herself. “I phoned earlier.”
“Yes, yes. Please take a seat.” The portly politician indicated a well-padded chair just in front of his desk.
Lydia nodded and slid into the over-stuffed seat.
“Now, what was it you wanted to talk about?” Manx asked curiously, hiding his excitement poorly. A senator in his city! No truly important government officials had visited MegaKat City since his eighth term as mayor. Personally, Manx thought it was simply that they had no taste for the fine sport of golf.
“It was brought to my attention that there was a… ‘situation’ here involving some craziness with kidnappings, vigilantes… Quite a mess I was told. I thought I might could smooth some things out.”
“Yes,” Manx drawled. “There’s been the most awful commotion. Lost my deputy mayor and the Enforcer commander. Lieutenant Commander Steele – any relation by chance?”
Lydia’s smile grew.
“He’s my son.”
“Ah.” Manx kept his tone as quiet as possible. Her son?! Yes, yes – he’d known that. Precisely why he’d intervened to have the boy promoted. It seemed like a wise move. Perhaps it would pay off now. “Well, he’s assured me that all is in hand at Enforcer Headquarters.”
“It is,” Lydia assured. “However, there’s the matter of these… SWAT Kats…”
When Lydia strode into the Commander’s office with a triumphant smirk set on her face, Justin knew his troubles had tripled. The senator calmly made her way to the base of the desk, reaching upward to shove a paper at the general.
“Read it and weep, Justin,” she announced.
Eyeing her in a mixture of surprise and curiosity, Justin carefully picked up the document and read it. His eyes narrowed. Slowly, the burly tom lowered the document and fixed Lydia in a cold glare.
“You can’t do that,” he snarled.
Lydia’s smile tightened.
“I have the permission of the mayor and the City Council. I most certainly *can*.” She leaned forward over the desk. “You’ve lost this one, Justin. Relinquish command of the Enforcers to Johnathon in two hours or those masks come off!”
With that, she was gone, her heels clicking against the polished tile.
Justin Steele looked after her angrily. He couldn’t believe she would stoop to this! But, there it was on his desk. The identities of the SWAT Kats were to be made public “in the best interests of the citizens of MegaKat City” if he didn’t give Lydia what she wanted.
Justin sighed. He doubted even he could defy the MegaKat City Council. Not here. Not on their turf. They virtually ruled an entire city-state. Manx was a puppet, and everyone in the capitol knew it if no one in MegaKat did. Briggs and Feral alone stood between the Council and total control.
Justin froze in mid-thought.
Briggs and Feral! And, where were they now? Perilously close to being removed from the picture! Lydia’s scheme gave the Council the perfect opening to violate Seeker’s deal and possibly put the two captives’ lives in danger! Well, in their eyes anyway. Justin himself doubted Seeker would harm them; though one could never be positive with him…
A cold lump settled in the pit of the general’s stomach. He wasn’t so sure the City Council would give him two hours.
“I’m gonna need all the help I can get,” Justin hissed to himself, reaching for the phone.
It rang even as his hand was nearly upon the receiver. Justin snatched it up.
“Your wife isn’t a player *and* she’s cheating,” the voice on the other end chided.
Justin drew his breath in sharply before replying.
“I’ll get her outta this,” he muttered.
“Please do,” the Seeker returned before the line went dead.
General Steele sighed and put the phone down, looking toward the hidden drone he’d noted earlier.
“Remind your boss that she’s a difficult woman, okay?” he asked as he picked up the phone anew.
The drone jigged upward in a mimic of a startled jump before floating downward from its station in the dark recess of a corner near the ceiling.
“You SAW me?!” it shrieked in a metallic voice.
“Yes, I did…,” Justin squinted to read the number emblazoned across its frontal armor, “Number Six. Now, would you deliver that message?”
“Yes, yes,” the so-called Number Six returned as Justin brought the phone to his ear again. “Not that the boss listens to *me*,” it muttered. “Likely to have my hard drive reformatted for getting seen as it is.”
Justin didn’t hear the drone’s pity party as he set to work.
“Yes, could you find Dr. Conway for me?”
“Woohoo! Our best practice run yet!” Chance crowed, offering a four-fingered hand to his partner.
Jake met his gesture and the twosome exchanged a hearty high-four as they and the majority of the Rogue Sabres strode into the hangar area.
“Sure, test targets that don’t move are *just* like enemy aircraft,” Katz sneered as he bulled his way between the jubilant pair. “You two are real aces!”
“Shut up, Katz! You were six seconds behind our time and everybody knows it,” Chance growled. “Gripin’ at us ain’t speedin’ you up!”
Katz rounded on him.
“I’ve a good mind to pound you right here, Furball!” he spat.
“Katz,…!” Jake started, stepping up by Chance, his amber eyes narrowed dangerously.
A warning hand from Chance kept him at bay. The big tabby was asking him to stay out this time, not telling. Jake understood and stepped back. If Katz noted Jake’s words or the voiceless exchange, it didn’t show. Instead, he leaned forward and down to Chance’s level until the tips of their noses nearly touched.
“But, this is a bad time an’ all… Soooo… Meet me, Furball. Meet me tonight and we end this,” he hissed before spinning away and striding from the hangar.
Chance glowered in the direction of his retreating back and then glanced at Jake and the other pilots present. He shrugged to them and waved a dismissive hand after Katz before stomping toward the locker room. Jake’s eyes narrowed as he watched the pointed display. It was to allay their suspicions that Chance would take up the challenge and he knew it. He also knew when his partner was acting, no matter how good an act it was.
After making his phone calls, Justin set out to deter Lydia. Finding what hotel she was staying at was easily accomplished. Finding Lydia herself proved more difficult. Justin at last caught up with her outside City Hall. Seeing her familiar coif of blonde hair, he leapt from his borrowed cruiser and raced to bar her path.
“Lydia! Stay out of this!”
Lydia’s head jerked up sharply at his sudden appearance then dipped again as she pointedly ignored him and continued past to the glass doors of the building. Justin grabbed his wife by the shoulders and forced her to look him in the face.
“I mean it! You don’t know what you’re playing with here!”
Lydia met his gaze levelly.
“I’m not playing. I’m fixing the mess you made.”
“By bribing the mayor and destroying two kats’ lives just to help our son with yet another situation he should have handled on his own?!” Justin shook her harshly. “Lydia, think! Those SWAT Kats may have families somewhere and they’ve made quite a few enemies. Do you want some little kittens kidnapped by a vengeance- crazed psychopath?!”
Lydia’s gaze was cool, unflinching. Justin switched tactics.
“And, speaking of families, do you know what you could do to our’s? Do you even realize what the Seeker is capable of?! This is *his* game, Lydia! You weren’t invited to play!”
“Justin,… this is crazy!” The slim she-kat’s voice faltered. “Playing some mad kat’s *game*….!”
“It *is* crazy! And, I don’t want you hurt in it! Lydia,… GET OUT – *NOW*!”
Lydia studied her estranged husband for several minutes. Then, she shook her head.
“No, Justin, I’m *not* backing down!” With that, she swept past him and into the building.
General Steele swore softly as he looked away from her. Then, he darted back to the cruiser. If he couldn’t stop her,… he’d best help Conway stop whoever the Council sent. As he slid into the driver’s seat, a new thought occurred.
“Of course!” he whooped triumphantly. “If you want something sneaky pulled off,” his grin gained a devilish edge, “go to experts.”
Dr. Seymour Conway hurried along MegaKat Memorial’s endless corridors, fighting his way past everything from nurses’ carts to food carts. At last, he found the nurses’ station. Granted, he’d circled the square ward twice before making that discovery, but such things were below his notice now. Calming, he attracted a nurse’s attention and began his pre-planned, spiel, praying his charges were well in his absence.
Chance slipped quietly along the corridor leading to the hangar, wondering what to expect.
“Meet me, Furball. Meet me tonight and we end this,” Katz had said.
End it. Chance paused. He didn’t want this stupid rivalry destroying the career he’d worked for so hard. Katz was a jerk and everyone knew it. But who *was* better? No one knew that. Torn, Chance leaned against the doorway to the massive room, thinking.
“So, you’re here…”
Chance’s head jerked up, green eyes widening and searching the darkened hangar. Jets lined either wall, brought in for protection from a predicted sandstorm that had yet to materialize. At last, Chance’s searching gaze came to rest on a hulking silhouette several feet away.
“Katz!” Chance’s voice echoed across the empty hangar as he stepped forward.
Katz didn’t even turn around.
“Glad you could make it, Furball….,” he murmured. “I’da hated to’ve left without finishing things with you first…”
“Left?” Chance’s face contorted in confusion. “You’re quitting?”
Katz didn’t move.
“Do we finish it, Furball?” he demanded.
For an instant, his tone shook the future Chance. Something about that voice… But, he was chasing ghosts of thought.
“No,” Chance returned steadily. “I’m not losing everything because of you, Katz,” he snapped, turning to leave.
To his surprise, there was a figure standing in the doorway. Jake Clawson smiled at his partner’s surprised look.
“Well, I couldn’t let you go up without a wizzo, now could I?” the orange- furred kat murmured.
Chance grinned back at his partner, but the piercing wail of an alarm ended further conversation. The big tabby turned around sharply to find Katz.
Katz spun to meet Chance’s gaze, his smirk widening. For the first time, Chance realized that he was wearing an unusually large blaster of some form slung over his shoulder. Katz followed his gaze.
“Cool, isn’t it?” he asked, patting the weapon. “They call it a ‘Mono-Sinclair Molecular Chain Cannon’….”
Chance’s eyes widened.
“That’s that gadget they had the big hoopla over today!” he blurted.
“Wow! He does have a brain!” Katz chortled.
“What’re you doing with that?!” Jake demanded, shouldering his way past Chance.
“Stealing it, duh,” Katz retorted. “I don’t think it’s much of a weapon, but I’m being paid nicely to steal it, so who cares?” He paused to smirk at the two kats before him. “Half the base is checking out that little fire I planned by now,” he indicated the alarm with a sweep of his arm. “That leaves you guys… and me…”
With that, he brought the MSMC cannon to bear on the two young Enforcers. Before either could react, they were pinned together, caught in the powerful energy beam. Struggling, the twosome lost their balance and tumbled to the floor in a heap.
Smirking, Katz vaulted to the nearest jet, lunging onto its wing and climbing into the cockpit.
“That should disappear in a couple minutes. Meet me at the edge of the desert – in sight of the city – if you want a shot at taking me down,” he taunted as he closed the canopy.
Seconds later, the jet’s engines fired and it was gone, streaking out of the open hangar doors and blasting into the crystalline sky.
Chance snarled in impotent fury and thrashed wildly to get free. He winced, remembering his partner’s presence too late as one of his kicks met yielding flesh and solid bone.
“Easy, Hotshot,” Jake grunted, his leg likely smarting with Chance’s kick. “We’re not gettin’ out any faster than this energy field dissipates.”
“Sorry, Sureshot,” Chance mumbled.
Suddenly, he was free! Startled by the abrupt disappearance of the crushing pressure, Chance rolled away from Jake. He sucked in a great breath, realizing just how constricted his diaphragm had been.
“C’mon.” Jake appeared, standing near the larger tom. “We gotta report Katz.”
Chance lunged to his feet, striding to the nearest jet.
“No, we gotta *stop* Katz!” he hissed. “We wait, and he’s gone. He picks up a full force on his scope, and he’s gone. He’s waiting for me…”
“For *us*, you mean,” Jake snapped, following his friend’s logic. “Your aim sure isn’t takin’ ‘im down!” He was on his partner’s heels as Chance climbed into their jet’s cockpit.
The big kat tossed him a smirk as they strapped in.
“Well, I wasn’t asking you to lose your job with me,” Chance murmured as he ran through the fastest system check of his career.
“We’re partners, and you’re right – it’s our only chance to take ‘im down,” Jake returned. “Let’s do it,” he announced grimly, a tight smile playing on his lips.
“Let’s rock!” Chance screamed, firing the engines. Distantly, he could hear the faint shouts as other pilots spilled into the hangar seconds before he aimed the jet for open sky.
“Look, Ma’am – don’t make me ask this again. Where are the SWAT Kats?!” the Enforcer snapped, glaring down at the diminutive she-kat at the hospital reception desk.
The calico fixed him in an icy stare and responded slowly as though he were dense.
“I… don’t… know.”
“You can call ’em up in the computer, right?” the big kat snapped.
“Yes, Sir, I can. However, the computer has neither ‘SWAT Kats,’ ‘Mr. SWAT Kat,’ ‘Mr. T-Bone,’ or ‘Mr. Razor’ in its memory banks!” the frazzled female bawled.
The Enforcer was taken aback.
“Well,… they said they were here… See, the City Council sent me to…”
“Whatever they sent you for, there are no SWAT Kats here!”
The Enforcer scratched his head for a minute.
“Mebbe it *is* the wrong hospital.” Still shaking his head, he ambled off down the hallway.
The she-kat rubbed her temples as he departed.
“What a buffoon,” she commented, trying to hide the snicker in her voice.
“Captain,… can I come out now?” a small voice asked from the floor.
“Oh…” Reminded, the calico slid her chair back. “That one’s so slow are you *sure* I need all you clowns here?” she demanded of the decidedly squished Enforcer beneath the desk.
“Posilutely absitive,” McFurland squeaked, trying to unfold his tall frame from his hastily assumed hiding place.
“Do you need a crowbar to get out of there?” the out of uniform Captain Mazie Rackham queried, grinning.
She was in high spirits with her current assignment. Forget boring desk work; this promised to be fun. And, it was.
Not twenty minutes later, once McFurland had found a better post….
“I represent the City Council,” the immaculately dressed beanpole of a tomkat began. “We wish to know where the SWAT Kats are roomed?”
“One sec, Honey,” Mazie returned, purring in her best impression of a receptionist she’d encountered in a travel agency once. She punched the info into the computer. “Sorry, Hun, no matches for ‘SWAT Kats’… Know any other names?”
An hour later…
No less than five Enforcers, Senator Steele, and a councilman surrounded Mazie.
“Now,” the councilman began, “You are *sure* there are no SWAT Kats in this hospital?”
“Look, maybe they’re under their *real* names,” Mazie suggested, her consternation not entirely an act.
“Then, bring those up,” the councilman retorted.
“Sir,…,” Mazie cooed sweetly, “No one *knows* their real names!”
“Fine, then,” Lydia Steele growled. She whirled to face the Enforcers. “Search the hospital.”
“But, Ma’am,…,” one started.
“NOW!” she bellowed with the councilman adding his voice to her shrill command.
The blonde she-kat was still nearly breathing fire as the Enforcers hastily set out on their search. Quietly, she hissed under her breath.
“I’ll kill you, Johnathon… I’ll kill you!”
Felina shifted in the semi-comfortable vinyl chair uneasily. Ever since she’d received McFurland’s call that the hospital was being searched, she hadn’t been able to stop fidgeting. Granted, she knew she shouldn’t have argued with Major Harris about staying with the SWAT Kats. He not only outranked her, he was also far less recognizable; he’d never presented his badge and announced himself to three million kats via television.
“Still, I said *I’d* watch you guys,” she whispered to the still-unconscious SWAT Kats. “And, I mean to do it!”
“Okay, I’ll get this one.”
The voice from outside sent Felina bolt upright. They were coming! At least Conway wasn’t around to be a dead giveaway – he being stashed in whatever bizarre nook or cranny SWAT Team Delta had devised for him. Still, the Enforcers were sure to recognize her. Felina fished desperately for an idea as footsteps approached the door.
<Uhm…. Least I’m in my civvies!> she thought frantically. Then, it hit her.
Just as the doorknob turned, Felina released an anguished wail and threw herself over the nearest SWAT Kat’s bed.
“Don’t die on me, Fred! Don’t die! I swear! You can watch football all weekend! I don’t care! Just DON’T DIE, FRED!!!!”
The Enforcer in the doorway froze.
“Uh,… Ma’am,” he started.
Felina let loose yet another nerve-wracking sob followed by another session of blubbering. Embarrassed, the Enforcer beat a hasty retreat, closing the door after him.
Felina peeked at the door as he left before looking down at Razor.
“Sorry… Almost hope you aren’t anywhere near awake enough to have heard that,” she whispered to him before wailing some more to deter any more would-be searchers.
“What do you mean, there are no SWAT Kats in the hospital?!” Senator Steele practically screamed. “Of course, they’re there!”
The befuddled Enforcer was too exhausted to respond properly.
“There’s no record of them and we’ve searched every single ward! We’ve been chased by nurses, Wilson had a bedpan flung at his face, and somebody pulled a fire alarm and we’ve been having to open every single one of those fire doors as we go!”
Lydia glared at him.
“What’s the problem with opening a few doors?!”
“Ma’am,… there’s a fire door every ten feet in this place!” The big tomkat was clearly pleading for mercy.
“Fine… You’re dismissed,” Lydia hissed. As he left, she turned to the councilman at her side. “I’ll find them yet,” she assured him in a much more level tone.
“I’m sure you will,” the councilman returned smoothly, outwardly unruffled. “We’ll be in touch, Senator.”
Then, he made his way through the hospital lobby to the entrance with a curiously pleased smile.
Lydia was too incensed to notice it as she stalked toward a different set of doors closer to where her car waited. Walking into the uniformed bulk that suddenly barred her path snapped her back to alertness.
For the briefest of instants, General Steele thought that Lydia was debating bludgeoning him to death with her cell phone. Instead, she just fixed him in a withering gaze.
“I *know* you were behind all this, Justin. I don’t know how, but it positively reeks of your handiwork.”
Her cell phone rang before she truly began a verbal bludgeoning.
“Excuse me, I seem to have a call,” she hissed, stepping away from Justin.
Trying to hide his amusement at her reaction and his elation at success, the broad-shouldered general slipped back to his car. After the confrontation with the senator, he was more than assured that the plan had worked. To check now would only endanger the SWAT Kats and his fellow conspirators anyway.
Lydia pointedly ignored him as he departed, focusing on her call instead.
“You want information on the SWAT Kats whereabouts, right, Senator?” a nervous voice hissed in her ear. It continued before the slim she-kat could reply. “Look, I know where they are an’ all…” A pause. “But, I can’t tell ya’ here. Someone catches me an’ I’ll be in such trouble with that general… Meet me at the site of what’s left of MegaKat Litter Incorporated as soon as ya’ can an’ I’ll tell ya’.” Then, the line was dead.
Dr. Conway found himself slumped into a vinyl-covered chair, enjoying the luxury of stretching his legs after half a day spent in every tiny hole Lieutenant McFurland could find to hide him in. Tiredly, the bearded researcher watched the sun sink behind MegaKat City’s sky-straining buildings. Day Two was ending. Day Two on Seeker’s countdown. Day Five since this bizarre affair began. Assuming the SWAT Kats were coming out of their ordeal, two kats’ lives were all that hung in the balance as best he could see. Such infinitesimal worries compared to a city under siege or an alien invasion.
And yet… And yet, so much in this city depended on those two kats. So much depended on any two lives. Was it for the city that the two SWAT Kats fought now? Or the individuals? Or both?
At length, he gave up the debate. After nearly forty-eight waking hours, he was waxing far too philosophical.
“I’ve got ‘im on screen,” Jake announced.
“Roger that,” Chance returned. “I see him.” He felt himself growing rigid. Katz. He’d wanted to wipe that smirk off Katz’ face for two years. But, not like this. Not for these kind of stakes.
He refocused quickly. They were swiftly closing on Katz’ jet.
“He’s gonna move, he’s gonna move,” Jake muttered. “His course is perfectly straight, he’s almost in range – he’s *gotta* move! He’s a sittin’ duck!”
Chance’s ears twitched forward and then back toward Jake as the lock tone sounded.
“Missile away!” Jake announced.
No sooner were the words clear of his mouth than Katz’ fighter dove.
“I expected as much,” Jake hissed as his missiles started to vanish into the distance. “Detonating,” the slim weapons officer growled in disgust, keying in the command to detonate the missiles before they did any harm. As the two missiles lit the night with a distant fiery glow, Chance followed Katz into a dive.
“I’ll give ya’ another shot,” the big kat rumbled. “Just don’t go beddy-bye on me.”
“Ha!” Jake snorted. “From this? A washing machine pulls more G’s!”
Chance grinned. He knew his partner was having more trouble than he was letting on, but he also knew Jake’s tolerance level. So long as the slim kat was snapping off witty retorts he was fine.
The brawny tabby centered his attention back on his flying. The lights of MegaKat City gleamed ahead, marred by the one dark blot that was the other jet.
“We gotta catch ‘im outside the city. We can’t risk a firefight there,” Jake warned.
“I know! I know!” Chance growled, shoving the throttle forward.
The single-engined Enforcer jet accelerated, closing the gap between the twosome and their would-be prey.
General Justin Steele chuckled to himself as he collapsed onto the squeaking bed provided by the Marrikatt*****.
“That look on Lydia’s face… That was priceless,” he muttered before adding with a sigh, “Wish she’d learn to laugh some… Wish she’d…”
He was interrupted by the phone’s demanding ring.
“Wish these things would be quiet in a while,” Justin amended, reaching for the offending device and bringing it to his ear.
“I’m sorry, General… But, I’d advise you got to what remains of MegaKat Litter Incorporated as fast as you can….” the Seeker’s familiar voice murmured into the phone.
“What? What are you talking….?!” Justin started.
“Your wife is still very much in the game… and I can’t have that,” the voice on the other end returned simply and then only a dial tone rang in Justin’s ears.
“Lydia!” Justin slammed the receiver into its cradle. Leaping to his feet, he raced out the door.
Seymour Conway was sleeping peacefully, oblivious as the big tabby in the bed across the room began to toss in his sleep.
“CRUD!!!!” Jake snarled as Katz evaded yet another shot.
Chance simply growled savagely and swung the jet around to follow the mad twists and rolls Katz was forcing upon his own craft. MegaKat City was growing ever nearer as the two jets’ battle sent mile upon mile of desert fading into the distance. Then, the Tiger River was flashing by beneath the jet and beyond it the sprawling metropolis waited.
The brawny pilot jerked the throttle back, slowing the jet to subsonic speeds as Katz led them into the skyscrapers. Twisting and turning, the combatants began an aerial dance, around one building to flash down and around the next. Dodge, twist, watch, watch, watch. Buildings everywhere, powerlines stretched in spiderweb patterns over the streets, and everywhere innocent civilians to die in the crossfire.
The sound of a lightning rod scraping against the jet’s fuselage made Chance wince. Too close, simply too close. Then, he looked ahead and Katz was gone.
“What?!” the tabby yelped.
“He’s off radar – all I’m gettin’ is the buildings,” Jake called and his tone was beyond worried. Both of them knew; Katz wanted a fight, he hadn’t just run. “SHOOT!!! He’s behind us, Chance!” Jake screamed suddenly as he at last found the other jet.
Chance looked back as the telltale burst of light emanated from the other jet. There was no time for any action save one.
“Punch out!” Chance screamed as his hand found the release.
“Bizarre place for this,” Senator Steele muttered as she gingerly stepped over the tattered yellow and black plastic tape intended to keep the curious away from the devastated building. Delicately, she picked her way over the rubble and into the blasted out shell of the former factory.
“Hello?” Her voice echoed off the scorched cinderblock and cement walls.
Tentatively, Lydia stepped into the single clear area of the floor… and screamed as the wooden floor that had replaced the concrete of two steps earlier collapsed. She tumbled into the gaping hole, one hand clawing at the edge of the shattered floor for a hold.
Abruptly, she felt her groping hand grasped by a much larger one. Lydia looked up to find a gray-furred tomkat holding her tightly. A black mask hid his eyes and the top of his head. An equally sable flight suit covered his body, broken only by the dull, ruddy color of his harness and the muted shades of gray on his gloves and boots.
“Hang on, Senator Steele – I’ll pull you up,” he assured her calmly.
“Wh… who are you?!” she asked, her voice quivering as her body dangled twenty feet above anything solid.
“They call me Stryfe,” the kat returned. Effortlessly, he pulled her free of the hole and set her on her feet lightly. “Are you alright?” he asked softly.
Lydia didn’t have the breath to answer.
“Lydia!” The cry sent Lydia’s eyes flying to its source just in time to see Justin vault through one of the factory’s shattered windows and rush toward her. Oblivious to the massive feline at her side, the orange-furred tomkat grabbed his wife and held her tight.
“What were you doing here?!” he demanded hoarsely.
“I…,” she started. “I got a tip on the SWAT Kats…”
“Lydia, I told you to stay out of this! Seeker told you to stay out!”
“I… I know,” she relented at last. “I know…”
And, as she hugged him tight, Justin smiled just a tiny bit. It had been a long time since he’d felt her arms around him. Perhaps when this fiasco was over with he could seriously start trying to patch up the gaping hole he and Lydia had dug between themselves. He hoped with all his heart that something could fill that hole.
At last, Lydia released him and shied away from him as though remembering. Justin greeted the action with a rueful thought as to just how long it might take to mend this marriage. Then, he returned to business.
“Thank you,” he murmured to Stryfe, offering the huge tom a hand.
“You’re welcome, of course,” Stryfe returned, accepting the handshake. He started to walk away and paused. “He wanted me to know about this, you know… I rarely feel him *trying* to contact me… This time he was.”
Justin snorted softly.
“He *is* an honorable demon… in his own way,” he commented quietly.
Stryfe smiled faintly.
“Yes, he is.” And, the big kat stepped into the shadows… to vanish.
“Who was that?” Lydia started. “Who was trying to contact him? What..?”
“It’s a *looong* story,” Justin returned with a rueful shake of his head. “I’ll fill you in later. Now, we have other things to worry about….” He gave her a meaningful glare.
“Is Johnathon okay?”
Oh, she was quick. She knew; if she was being punished for interference, what of their son? Justin presented her with a grim face.
“I was trying to contact him or you all the way here. I’m afraid Johnathon has disappeared. I’d check further with the kats back at Headquarters, but, unfortunately, I think I know where he’s going…” Justin sighed deeply. “And, it’s all my fault.”
Seymour Conway awoke, blinking in surprise. Only a darkened hospital room greeted him. Dazed, he looked around. Something had woken him. Then, he saw the thrashing kat in the bed.
Awake?! Out of the coma?!
Conway rushed to the SWAT Kat’s side. —————————————
Chance stared at the flaming mess of twisted metal that lay in the street. His flight suit was a mess where he’d landed in the thick of the falling, flaming debris. In the distance, he could hear sirens blaring. The jet had started a few small fires that might need attention, but there was little a fire truck could do. This would require a cleanup crew.
Idly, Chance watched the smoke curl into the air beside City Hall. He wished he could say he’d planned it the way it had turned out. Wished he could say that he deliberately sacrificed the jet to save the building that would have been hit had he managed to evade the missile. But, he’d thought no such thing. He hadn’t even realized that it was City Hall looming before him. He had simply known that he could *not* evade the missile and reacted accordingly. Why, why for the first time in his life he had chosen to punch out rather than take his chances flying, which was his preference, he did not know. He knew only that Someone had meant for him and his partner to survive. Wearily, he wondered if the same Someone meant for him and Jake to have jobs tomorrow.
Beside him, Jake was as silent as he. There was nothing to say. Their ejector seats and chutes lay where they’d landed. Their jet was a mound of burning slag. And, Katz was free as a bird. He’d ditch the jet soon. Likely back in the desert where he could land with little trouble. Oh, the Enforcers would find it. Such was a foregone conclusion. They would find a jet out in that wasteland, but no pilot. Whoever paid Katz for the MSMC Cannon had undoubtably given him a meeting point and come to whisk the traitor away.
The thoughts, the memories played across T-Bone’s mind in the time it takes a heart to beat, in the lifespan of all dreams. They were gone by the time Conway reached his bedside, replaced by the dream that had woken him not long before this nightmare began.
“Report,” Feral ordered curtly as a wide-eyed young officer ran up behind him. The Commander’s eyes never left the two bedraggled figures before him, standing at a tense attention in their torn and singed flight suits.
“Sir,….. the jet… there’s hardly anything to even send to the salvage yard…. it’s a miracle…!” the officer stammered. Feral nodded.
“You might not have come so close to getting yourselves killed if you’d called in for backup earlier,” he began, yellow eyes narrowing as he studied the twosome. His voice dropped to a growl. “If you’d told someone what was going on!” He paused for a few seconds to let his words sink in. “Do you realize that by taking an Enforcer aircraft out without notifying your commanding officer you’re just as guilty as Katz?!” he demanded. “I should have you two court-marshaled!” Feral took a deep breath. “Still, your efforts to apprehend Katz are commendable.”
Katz…. What was it about Katz? Something he’d said…
“Wow! He does a brain!” Katz’ voice that night in the hangar.
“Yes, folks, you heard it here first! – T-Bone the SWAT Kat really *does* have a brain!” The same voice. The same voice! Six months ago. In a nuclear power plant…
“They’re both the same jerk!” T-Bone gasped, lunging into a sitting position, eyes wide, to meet Dr. Conway’s astonished stare.
<I *can* do this,> Lieutenant Commander Johnathon Steele reminded himself for the umpteenth time as he steadied his shaking hands to read the map they held. Reassured of his direction, he removed the tiny flashlight from his teeth and returned it to its home in a pocket. Then, he focused his high-powered torch ahead and continued through the stygian sewers. This time, he meant no harm to Feral. But, he *was* going to rescue the Commander and prove, to his father and everyone else, that he *could* do something right and do it on his own.
“That’s one way of putting it,” Razor commented in response to T-Bone’s loud announcement as he struggled free of his own bed, gingerly finding the floor and testing his legs.
T-Bone looked sheepishly between his partner and Conway.
“Uhm… sorry about that,” he mumbled. “Just… uhm… figured something out.”
Conway simply nodded, staring at the two suddenly healed tomkats in shock.
“Did it work, Doc?” Razor asked, pausing in his movements as he realized that several IV lines were still running into his arm.
Conway snapped out of it at the question.
“Let me get a nurse to unhook you both and we’ll see,” he returned, starting for the door.
T-Bone’s call froze him in his tracks.
“What day is it?”
Conway turned around and smiled.
“You have a whole day left.” With that, he was bustling out the door.
T-Bone sighed deeply and let himself flop back onto the waiting pillow. Unbidden, his eyelids started to drift downward. There was something more…
“What?” Razor asked suddenly.
But, T-Bone didn’t hear him, and Razor himself forgot what and why he was asking a few seconds later.
T-Bone found himself again spinning in the darkness, trying to tie the last few strands together. He knew now that Seeker and Brett Katz were one and the same. Wasn’t that the point of it all? No. No, it couldn’t be. He’d gone too far back in time for it to have had any bearing on Katz. So, what then? Why did he even think his feverish memory/dreams meant something anyway?
The last two questions he could not answer. He knew only that the answer to the first must lie in those oldest memories.
His uncle’s snarling face danced before him. Then, Feral. Feral? And his uncle? The two had nothing in common,… beyond he knew both. And, he’d borne a grudge against both for many years since they’d wronged him. And, he knew both weren’t all….
“Napping again? You’d think you’d gotten enough of that these last couple days…”
The voice shattered his fragile hold on the dream of earlier and T-Bone found himself flung back into reality. A nurse was at his side, removing his IV. Razor was sitting on his bed, apparently having been the first to receive her attentions as he was free of the entangling lines and grinning at his partner’s startled face.
“We’re cured, by the way,” he commented.
“Good,” T-Bone rumbled. “Then, we can get Callie and Feral outta wherever Seeker’s got ’em.”
“Affirmative,” Razor returned, sliding off the bed as the nurse finished with T-Bone and slipped out the door.
“And, you’d better hurry.”
The two SWAT Kats’ joint gaze swivelled to the doorway to find a wide- shouldered tomkat with orange fur and a non-Enforcer, military uniform in the doorway.
“Who are…?” Razor started.
“General Justin Steele,” the kat cut him off. “I’ve been managing Enforcer Headquarters in Feral’s absence… and keeping my wife and son out of this game.”
T-Bone eyed him strangely while Razor settled for merely quirking an eyebrow at this newcomer.
“I’m here because the Seeker called me in to referee – we go way back,” Justin added, sensing their mingled confusion and distrust. “There’s no time to explain more. Whichever of you is freeing Feral needs to go now.” He produced the two maps Seeker had given them a seeming eternity ago and offered them to the SWAT Kats.
Before Razor could speak or reach for a map, T-Bone intervened.
He struggled out of the bed and onto wobbly legs to take both maps, finding the sewer map and offering Razor the other. His partner said nothing. He simply gave T-Bone a quick nod and looked to General Steele.
“Hurry,” the general emphasized. “Your jet’s waiting on the roof.”
“How…?” Razor started anew.
“You left Lieutenant Feral the access code and she flew it here herself. She’s how I got those maps actually.”
“I sent her and came myself as soon as we got Conway’s call that you were awake.”
<Musta been dozing longer than I thought,> T-Bone mused, staring at the general. A thousand questions about the general, Seeker, and all that had transpired in the last few days were cavorting in his head. And, all he could say at last was, “Let’s go.”
“Finally!” Steele crowed triumphantly as he entered the circular cavern where he’d nearly been killed by the robotic spider. Not that he enjoyed being in the same room where he’d narrowly brushed death, but that he’d succeeded in finding it again – by himself.
“Now,…” he mumbled to himself, stepping cautiously toward the mound of rubble that buried his would-be killer. A blaster in one hand and his light in the other, he ascended the mound to flash his light into the passageway beyond. His courage grew as no new horrors appeared from the gloom and he proceeded.
It seemed he traveled forever along that dark tunnel before he found it – a steel door set across the passageway itself. This opened on no pre-created chamber. It was simply a room created by blocking off a portion of the tunnel.
The Lieutenant Commander approached the door cautiously, noting the smooth face of a palm-reader to one side. Tentatively, he reached a hand forward to feel for some other opening mechanism.
He never saw the bobbing light approaching from behind. Never heard the quick whisper of footsteps in the distance as the barefoot figure rushed to him. He felt only the sensation of something very large slamming into him and the sudden rush of air as he fell. Then, his chin struck hard rock and he knew no more.
T-Bone quickly checked the much smaller kat beneath him and assured himself that the Lieutenant Commander was simply unconscious. Then, he rose and paced slowly to the great steel door, his helmet’s light playing over its face. Finding the palm reader, the SWAT Kat touched the button on the side of his helmet that activated the radio.
“Razor, you ready?” he asked.
“Roger – been waiting on you to report in actually,” came the tinny response.
T-Bone grinned and raised his hand to let it hover over the smooth plate.
“You try getting through these sewers,” he grumbled good-naturedly. Then, his voice grew truly serious. “We do it on three,” he hissed into the radio’s receiver. At Razor’s affirmative, he began counting. “One,… two,… THREE!”
One two different sides of the city, two hands simultaneously touched identical palm readers, and two great doors rumbled open in tandem.
As the door opened, T-Bone rushed within and skidded to a stop as he was greeted by the sight of a very still Commander Feral lying at the feet of a smirking brown kat.
“Hello, Furball,” Katz greeted. “Remember me?”
“What did you do to him?!” T-Bone demanded, stepping forward.
“He’s alive.” Katz gave Feral a nudge with a single, booted foot. “The boss said ta’ sedate ‘im…” He stepped away from Feral as T-Bone came forward and knelt by the fallen Commander to check for himself.
“Boss nuthin’!” T-Bone snorted. “I know that’s just part of your act…” He raised his eyes to meet Katz’. “I do remember you…,” the tabby stated quietly as he struggled to his feet with one of Feral’s limp arms draped over his shoulder, supporting the dead weight. “I remember *both* of you…”
“Both?” the brown kat queried, his tone mocking. “You’re not Katz – you *were* once… when it suited your purposes.”
The tall kat’s voice and manner changed completely. His tense, fighting stance relaxed visibly, his guard wasn’t dropped, he’d just retained it with a different persona. His voice had become a smooth purr. A vaguely malicious, all-too-familiar smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. It was no longer Brett Katz who faced the SWAT Kat, but the tall, almost casual form, of the Seeker.
“You figured it out. I’d be impressed, but I already knew you could do *that*.”
Seeker calmly raised a gloved hand and pressed a finger to the back of the glove. Immediately, there was shimmer of light around him and the superficial features of Katz faded away to reveal the Seeker’s gray-brown fur and familiar black flight suit.
“I just love holograms, don’t you? You see, I *was* planning to tell you my little secret – didn’t exactly want to leave you waiting while I pulled a costume change,” he explained. He paused thoughtfully and studied T-Bone – a study he well remembered from their last encounter.
“I knew you could figure out my secret, but this….,” he gestured to the unconscious Feral T-Bone was supporting. “My dear Furlong, I wouldn’t have thought you had it in you…. I’m well aware how you feel about him… You’re sure you didn’t want to be the first thing the *deputy mayor* saw when she was rescued? That’s giving up quite a lot, you know…”
T-Bone flinched at the barbs, but they were bouncing off the rockhard defenses he’d already established. Distantly, he wondered if Seeker knew of his feelings for Callie.
“I had something else to care for…,” the burly SWAT Kat replied levelly.
“So I see.”
Wordleslly, Seeker spun on his heel and started to walk through the great doorway and into the sable cavern where he could vanish.
“So,… I take it, Razor and I passed?” T-Bone called after him.
Seeker paused and slowly looked over his shoulder.
“Yes, you two *will* make worthy opponents,” he said slowly. “I’ll look forward to next time.”
“Anytime,” T-Bone rumbled.
For an instant, he and T-Bone locked eyes. Then, Seeker broke away, striding out the door of the makeshift chamber, his black flight suit merging with the darkness beyond.
“You *have* to go? So soon?” General Justin Steele asked, unwilling to release Lydia even as he sensed her trying to pull free of his embrace.
“Yes, and, last I checked, someone else had a regular job to get back to as well,” she responded smugly.
“Do I *have* to?” Justin asked jokingly.
“Yes,” his wife returned. “Or I’ll retract my offer.”
Justin pretended to pale.
“You wouldn’t! Wait! You would! I know you!” He grinned. “Fine. I’ll go back to my normal job like I’m supposed to.”
Lydia smiled back at him and stepped toward her waiting helicopter, pausing to once more hug her son, who was wearing a vaguely distant, thoughtful face. Justin watched the tableau for several minutes. So perfectly suited for an ending that Hollywood might have devised it. Yet, as he still felt the warm glow from Lydia’s hug and as he noted his son’s calm attitude, he sensed it was far more beginning than end.
The last of the sun’s scarlet and lavender rays were being chased from the sky when the final participant of the last few days mad scenarios finally made her way home. Dr. Seymour Conway had long since sought a real bed, too tired even to hear the SWAT Kats’ earnest thank you’s. Captain Mazie Rackham, more well rested than any of the others, was off-duty and still snickering over the faces of many a bamboozled Enforcer and official. SWAT Team Delta, after much joking of their own, had left Headquarters to seek food and rest. Felina Feral alone was left trudging along the street slowly.
She felt curiously deflated now that it was all over. Her uncle was safe; he’d woken up in MegaKat Memorial a few hours ago, permitted a few uncommon displays of emotion from both of them, and was currently still yelling his head off that he was well enough to be released. The SWAT Kats were safe. So far, her promise to guard their identities seemed to have been well-kept. And, General Steele had assured her that “someone was looking into the matter carefully.”
So, why did she feel so down now? Maybe it was just the letdown at the end of nearly three full days of no nourishment beyond caffeine and raw adrenaline rush. She sighed, stuffed her hands in her pockets and continued onward. The steady rumble of vehicles on the street passed her oblivious ears as she walked. The sounds of voices calling her name, however, came to her after several minutes of hearing them and not comprehending. Felina glanced over her shoulder to find the bulk of SWAT Team Delta bounding toward her along the nearly empty sidewalk.
“Captain Feral!” Major Mark Harris was the first to reach her.
“Mickey wanted us to catch up with you and ask if you could wait here for a few minutes,” he stated, sliding to a stop.
“He has a surprise for you to see,” Mark Thacker added as he skidded to a stop behind Harris.
“Wouldn’t even tell *us* what it was!” Chadd Spangler added, reaching them. “And, we worked him over good,” Brad Pearson put in.
Felina was still staring at them unbelieving when the combined sounds of a honking horn and a growling engine reached her ears. She jerked her head to the street to see a vaguely familiar red Mustang with a very familiar driver heading their way. The vehicle pulled over to the sidewalk by her. Braking, McFurland brought the car to a stop and reached over to roll down the window.
“She cleans up nice, huh?” he asked.
Felina stared in disbelief.
“That’s the poor car we half-destroyed escaping from those mini-jets?!” she gaped.
(Authors’ Comment: Reference to Kristen Sharpe’s “Technical Difficulties.”)
“You bet. Found a coupla *incredible* mechanics,” McFurland returned with a grin. He paused, suddenly hesitant. “Wanna ride, Captain?” he asked at last, smiling at her, eyes pleading earnestly.
Feline hesitated for a minute.
“Oh,…sure,” she conceded, opening the passengers’ side door and sliding into the car.
Chadd gave McFurland a thumbs up.
“Pretty car always gets the girls,” he said with a sly grin.
“Why, you…!” Felina’s punch landed solidly on the closing door. She shot the whole of the grinning SWAT Team a dirty look as the Mustang pulled away from the curb before turning to McFurland to glare at him. “Don’t even think it!” she hissed. “I just have a thing for classic cars.”
“Yes, Sir!…Ma’am!” McFurland yelped quickly, saluting.
“Get your hands back on the wheel!” Felina demanded.
“Yes, Ma’am.” A smile tugged at the corners of McFurland’s mouth as he put his hands back on the steering wheel. “Wanna stop for something to eat?” he asked. He caught Felina’s icy glare. “It’ll give you a longer trip in the car,” he added.
Felina’s face softened.
And so, the tale ended there. All found their way home. Some to re-discover what they’d lost, others to find something new they’d never known. And, one… One to finish the journey he began. The adventure ended there, but, for Chance Furlong, one loose thread still dangled before him. And, he pursued it until he found what he sought.
Chance hesitantly stepped into the crowded grocery store, his eyes searching until they found the office off to the side. On quiet feet, he padded across the front of the store toward the door marked “Manager.”
Anthony Furris looked up as Chance entered. His smile of greeting slowly became a curious frown as he stared carefully at the other kat’s face.
Chance smiled encouragingly and planted his hands on the other’s desk, leaning forward to look him in the eyes. He remembered those eyes… So bloodshot they became almost orange when their owner was roaring drunk. A rather vibrant yellow when he was himself. The eyes that met Chance’s were a purest yellow, brilliant and clear, tired but unfogged.
“Do I know you?” Anthony whispered hoarsely, already knowing the truth.
“Yeah,” Chance returned. “Seems you changed your address and never gave me a forwarding address…. Took a while to find you…”
“And?” the russet-furred tomkat queried.
“I finally traced what I wanted to know to Pop Perkins and talked everything out of him,” Chance responded. He cocked his head. “I never knew. Never knew you caught up with me and asked him to keep in touch with you on what I was doing.”
The other shrugged hopelessly.
“I didn’t mean to spy on you,” he whispered in a voice barely audible. “I just wanted to know if you were okay…”
Chance studied him for a long moment, summoning infinitely more determination than it had taken to snatch the map to Feral’s prison from General Steele’s hand.
“I was wondering,” he started, “if you… wanted to talk…” Chance smiled hopefully.
Anthony at last smiled back.
So, now I know… Know the SWAT Kats’ identities… But, I’ll never tell. And, the knowledge of their true names and Enforcer past is nothing compared to what I now know of the soul of the SWAT Kat T-Bone. It’s strange – knowing so much of one I’ve never even met personally. Knowing things he would hardly tell a close friend, let alone a stranger. But, this too I will never tell. I will just leave a record to be unveiled when none can be hurt by the knowledge.
I wish my future self had left me more about *her*. But, I suppose one ought not know of one’s future… Her sole personal note was that I acknowledge her sincerest thanks to the son of Chance Furlong, Max******, without whom much of this tale would not have been told. So, I do so here… and wait for the futures mysteries to be unveiled in their time.
— Lt. Kristen Sharpe
* – TerraKat City is a borrowing from Harley Quinn’s “The Comic Book,” featuring the Kat Kommandos
** – Clarifications on Stryfe: He was first introduced in the epilogue to Kristen’s “Technical Difficulties” though the character originally appeared in the AOL SK RPG. Stryfe is the Seeker’s twin brother, and, yes, he *is* a good guy.
*** – The squadron number VF-414 was chosen randomly (actually, 414 is Kristen’s dorm room number) and is not intended to represent any actual fighter squadron.
**** – The reference to a “blaster cannon” would be implying something like Felina uses to fire on Zed when she and another Enforcer leap from their tank in “Unlikely Alloys.”
***** – Kudos to Strike for the term “Marrikatt.” It has simply been bummed from her fanfic “Afraid of the Dark.”
****** – For further information on Max Furlong, see Kristen Sharpe’s “Getting Out” and “Give Me My Wings”… and any other of her “Glimpses Beyond” series when they’re written.
Oh, and the appearance of “Number Six” is a cameo. He’s one of Kris’s several “weird” RPG characters ?
Follow Me – Track 8 on the “Always” soundtrack – Chance and Rick’s mad dash through the school corridors and Chance and Jake’s mad search for the conference hall. Inspired by, aka copied from, a moment in the “Wing Commander” cartoon series.
Cursom Perficio – by Enya from the CD “Watermark.”
For those interested in “Kristen’s MegaKat History Lesson,” (ie: the past Kristen engineered in her psychotic little mind for MegaKat City concerning the MegaWars, the formation of the Enforcers, and the “disappearance” of the Enforcer Rogue Sabres) more should be coming in a fanfic or three….
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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.