This isn’t SWATKats fanfic, strictly speaking … it’s based on an original character I play on the MUCKs who’s an Enforcer (more or less…) so folks who MUST have SWATKats probably won’t find this a huge thrill. Sorry. There will be many guest appearances of characters from the series who will play quite important roles in this really long story (projected 13 parts! This guy just doesn’t give up, does he …?) such as Prof. Hackle, Dr. Viper, Hard Drive, Ann Gora and especially the Enforcers, Lt. & Cmdr. Feral as well as Lt. Steele. Oh, and the SWATKats appear too, in various ways ? The first few parts are on the slow side, because a lot of things have to be established about new characters, so please bear with me ? Enjoy! (Hopefully …) Any comments etc. etc. are welcome!
Prologue: The King’s Gambit
0800 hours. Start of a new shift for the Enforcer Extreme Special Weapons and Tactics teams. In Enforcer Headquarters, the locker rooms were hives of activity as officers drifted in and out, some weary from the 8 hour shift before while others from a night which should have been better spent sleeping.
Above the noise a klaxon blared for attention. In the males’ locker room, it elicited an enthusiastic whoop from a large brown kat who had looked excessively bleary moments earlier, “Haw! That’s our cue, kid! C’mon!” Dane Marlow stumbled as he tried to stuff his massive 6’2″, 320-pound frame into a pair of uniformed pants apparently a couple of sizes too small for him.
Standing next to him, his smaller companion sighed and rolled his eyes, “What ever happened to your whopper of a hangover, pal?” At 5’8″ and a scrawny 130 pounds, Felix Decker was a stark contrast to his stout partner. Calmly doing up the cuffs on his uniform, he added, “Or do you just like having me dump you in a cold shower with your clothes on in the mornings?”
Dane guffawed with his deep, almost growling voice, “Nothin’ like a mornin’ cruise around da city ta crank ya right up!” Sucking in his belly, he jerked his pants upwards and secured them, grumbling, “Bleepin’ Enforcer tailors couldn’t make anythin’ bigger than this?!” Decker snickered and pointed out that Dane’s tail was still in his pants, causing Dane to curse in exasperation and strip them off again.
Decker chuckled at the thought of their superiors putting up with the two of them: They were the ultimate odd couple. Decker was the younger of the two, 20 compared to Dane’s 32, the youngest kat ever to graduate from Enforcer Academy and land himself a prestigious assignment with an ESWAT team. Somewhat timid and cerebral, he attributed much of his success to Dane’s support. With a pair of startling golden eyes much like Commander Feral’s and a unique coat of midnight-blue fur – due to his inability to metabolize certain salts, he had been told – he was a prime target for most of the hazing which went on in the Academy.
Dane was quite the opposite. Perpetually unshaven with a slightly mangy and thoroughly unkempt coat of murky brown fur, Dane looked every inch a cad and a scoundrel. Which he was. His clipped right ear and the small scar running down his cheek were testaments of the numerous bar brawls he had participated in – and probably just as often started. His prison record gave him a reputation even before he joined the Academy, yet he had taken a liking to Felix somehow, not in spite of but because of his intelligence, and they’ve remained inseparable partners since. Decker recalled the rumour that he was originally posted to Homicide and Dane to ESWAT, but Dane had gotten him the ESWAT assignment by threatening to quit unless they were partners. Someone in the Enforcer hierarchy sure wanted to keep Dane badly enough.
Dane’s paw landed with a heavy smack on Decker’s back, knocking the wind out of him and shaking him from his revelry.
“Quit yer dreamin’ and let’s go kick some tail while there’s some left fer us!”
Dane, at last decently attired, tossed his civvies into his locker and slammed it shut with one move. The motion swept some of the stench of soured milk and sweat from it to Decker, who wrinkled his nose and gagged.
“When are you ever going clean that out?!” Decker demanded.
Dane merely grunted and dragged him out into the hallway where numerous other ESWAT members were already scrambling. Decker grabbed a briefing slip from one of the administrators on their way to the hangars and summarized it for Dane, “They caught some nut messing around in the hangars and he rabbited in one of the jets. We’re supposed to take him down with a minimum amount of fuss – That means no stunts up there! Got it?”
Dane smirked roguishly at Decker and winked, “Sure thin’!”
———————————————————————— Decker groaned softly as the world turned upside down around him.
“Haw! Ya gotta keep yer eyes open if ya want ta enjoy da scenery, Felix!” came the bassy guffaw from the pilot’s seat in front of him.
“Stop it with the barrel rolls already, Dane!” Decker shot back, more than a little annoyed. The fact that his partner was very aware of his fear of heights didn’t help much; Dane Marlow wasn’t the type to let fear, his or anyone else’s, get in the way of having a little fun.
“Aww, da only way yer ever goin’ ta get over this is ta stare it right in da eye, kid!” As if to emphasize the point, Dane pulled the jet into a steep climb, slamming a rather nerve-wrecked Decker into the back of his seat.
Dane’s overabundant exuberance at helping him achieve that end was quite genuine, much to Decker’s dismay. Although Decker didn’t like to admit it, his airborne experiences with Dane *had* reduced his paralyzing fear of heights into something more manageable … everything seemed much tamer when compared to Dane’s lunatic antics in the air. His companion plunged the jet into a dive at that moment, seemingly determined to prove Decker right, before gently easing the jet back to its original course.
“WHAT DO THE TWO OF YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?!” a gruff and intensely irate voice demanded over the radio.
“Uh, we seem ta be encounterin’ a lotta of turbulence Commander …” Dane responded with a con’s smoothness and confidence which would have convinced most folks that it was the whole truth and nothing but.
Commander Feral didn’t buy it.
“MARLOW, THIS SITUATION HAD BETTER BE RESOLVED *QUICKLY* OR I’LL …”
“Sorry, Commander, we seem ta be losin’ yer signal …” Dane chuckled as he shut the radio off.
“Way to go, Dane, he’ll have our tails for sure this time.” Decker’s pessimistic remark only caused Dane to snort dismissively, “Relax, li’l bud’… I’ve got everythin’ covered!”
Decker sighed. Dane was probably right about that too. Even though the Commander probably hated their guts, he never really did much about it because they always got the job done with minimum amount of cost to the city. Dane was good at toeing the line – well, Dane was just *good*, which was probably why the city allowed him to trade in his hefty jail term for an Enforcer badge, an extraordinary occurrence to say the least – but Decker never quite got over the feeling that the commander was just waiting for them to slip up so that he could kick their tails out of the Enforcers for good.
“Enough grandstanding, big guy. Target dead ahead.”
“Gotcha,” Dane replied casually. Nothing fazed him much. Originally the best cargo smuggler in the whole of MegaKat City, Dane had pretty much handled everything the Enforcers and rival smugglers could throw at him … everything except a pair of hotshot Enforcers took him down some time back. His short stint in prison didn’t seem to affect his skills as a pilot much … or his rather unique outlook to life.
“Heads up!” Decker yelled as a pair of missiles streaked towards them from the stolen Enforcer jet ahead of them. Dane kicked in the afterburners and flew straight for them, rolling the jet ever so slightly so that it flew right between them, so close that Decker could feel the heat of their exhaust. Decker almost fainted.
“What was THAT for?!”
“Aww, light’n up, Felix. This guy’s a real *loser*. I don’t wanna crush his fightin’ spirit.” Decker could almost hear Dane smirking. Sighing loudly, he focused his attention back to his instrumentations. At least he could understand *those*.
“Let’s just take him down, okay?”
“Yer just no fun anymore …” Dane bemoaned, but he complied anyway, swinging the jet around in close pursuit of their quarry. Decker worked furiously, trying to keep up with all the target’s maneuvers, unwilling to fire until he was sure he had the perfect shot. The structural damage one stray missile could cause in an urban area like this worried him to no end. Dane seemed to enjoy the chase though, matching the other jet move for move; rolling sideways to fit between buildings, ducking under bridges … the fancier, the better. Decker was sure Dane could have just intercepted it, but probably liked the thrill too much. “Cut the hot-dogging, Dane … He’s making a break for the desert, you know what that means …”
The absence of a reply warned Decker that Dane had gotten some foolish notion in his head again, causing him to sigh in an annoyed manner. If making a shot in the city was hard, trying to make one in the canyons of the desert would be nigh impossible. Dane was probably just itching to match his skills against the obstacles of the canyon, which meant that it was up to him to take their target down before then …
“Missiles away!” Decker yelled as he finally got a positive target lock. The two missiles blazed towards the jet, neatly clipping its wings and sending it plummeting towards the river.
“Toast!” Decker mumbled in satisfaction as he saw a very surprised plane thief bail out from the smoking jet, snarling at him and cursing. Dane’s guffaw indicated he saw it too.
“Nice shot. He never saw it comin’ … like I said, whatta *loser*!”
Decker smiled at the compliment. He wasn’t a great shot like most of the other Enforcers, but he was good at predicting patterns and anticipating moves … still, he wasn’t about to correct his friend, compliments never came frequently from him, or anyone else he worked with for that matter.
Decker was still enjoying the soft glow of pride when he felt the lurch which indicated that they were diving steeply again.
“Aww, Dane, haven’t you had enough …?”
Dane swore loudly. Decker winced slightly at his partner’s creative construction of semi-coherent sentences using nothing but expletives before turning back to his instrumentations feeling exasperated … somehow that always helped take his mind off Dane’s insane stunts.
Decker gasped. All of his readings were frozen. None of them changed, not even the altimeter even though he was sure they were diving. Decker’s mind was working desperately, trying to figure out what could be wrong when Dane’s shouting broke his train of thought.
” … KID!!! LISTEN UP! THEY’RE AFTER YA! SHADOWKAT’S NOT WHAT IT-”
Dane’s deep, guttural ramblings were cut short by the explosive sound of the ejector seats being launched. Decker, already bewildered by Dane’s words, felt his heart skip a beat when the seats fired.
The canopy hadn’t been jettisoned.
Decker felt a sharp jolt of pain down his spine as the world exploded around him. For a single moment, he everything felt dreamy and vague, as if he was detached from his body. Looking down, he could see blood seeping through the spider web pattern of cracks on the canopy already smeared in crimson.
That was the last thing he thought of before the darkness and desolation engulfed him.
———————————————————————— Decker remembered feeling alone and miserable as he slunk through the Academy’s mess hall trying not to be noticed. For most of the other cadets, lunch time was a godsend, a small opportunity to recharge the body and relax the mind; to exchange gossip and lewd stories with comrades; to gripe about the indignities suffered under brutal superiors and, ever so often, to inflict them on someone else.
It was not a time he remembered with much fondness. But the sensation of rememberance faded into an odd feeling of deja vu then nothingness as he began to live the experience again.
Decker glanced furtively at a particularly loud group of blowhards as he passed them, glad to discover that their card game kept their attention focused away from him. A small part of his mind noted their audacity in disgust and couldn’t help but wonder how they could get away with it. But Decker was more than satisfied to let them be so long as they didn’t create any trouble – for him particularly – and he supposed that his weary instructors probably felt the same way. At any rate, maybe he could have a quiet lunch for once.
“Hey, what’re you looking at, Bluefreak?!”
Decker groaned inwardly. Maybe not.
“Uh … I see you’ve chosen the meatloaf! Excellent choice! Well, I guess I’ll be seeing you all-”
The sound of a heavy paw slapping the table and a deep-throated laugh startled him before he could finish his sentence and slip away. Smirking in amusement at his reply was a barrel-chested, brown kat whom most folks at the Academy had come to recognize as trouble.
“Haw! If ya like it that much I’ll let ya play me fer it!”
That said, Decker found himself on the receiving end of a hand of five cards and a verbal barrage of poker terms he couldn’t quite catch.
“… oh, and if I win, yer gonna be my personal stooge fer a week!” the roguish kat concluded with a feral grin. Decker groaned at the prospect and carefully weighed it against the certainty of immediate physical abuse and humiliation if he tried to back out now. The prospect of merely probable long-term seemed much preferable. Until he lost that is.
“HAW! Yer no card sharp ‘ats fer sure! How’s about double or nothin’ blue? Don’t say ol’ Dane Marlow never gave you a chance …”
Eight straight losses later, Decker found himself wishing someone would shoot him and put him out of the misery of spending his nine-lives in servitude to that malodorous lummox. Still, he was improving rapidly and beginning to find the mathematical possibilities of the game rather fascinating, particularly since he never thought the same card could appear twice from one shuffle. He might not have noticed it too if he hadn’t taken to memorizing all the cards played.
“Wasn’t the Jack of Hearts played two hands ag-” Decker finally inquired meekly by his tenth loss. “HEY, ya accusin’ me o’ cheatin’ or sumthin’?!” Dane roared intimidatingly and his gang joined in quickly. Decker gulped, managed an apologetic smile and played on. Well, if he insisted it was legal, Decker supposed he could try some of the moves he had observed Dane used …
Four hands later, he had won the lunch of everybody at the table and had the distinct feeling things were about to get very ugly for him. Dane stood up and towered ominously over him at that point to confirm his worse suspicions.
Decker considered groveling for a split-second as Dane’s fist descended on him.
Much to his surprise and considerable relief, Dane only reached down to scruffle his head roughly and was laughing heartily, “HAW! Had yer goin’ didn’t I, kid! I like ya, ya learn quick!” Decker chuckled politely, unsure of what he could possibly say, but noted with much unease that the large kat’s companions were looking on less than approvingly.
“What’s yer name, blue?” Dane more demanded than asked.
“Uh, Decker. Felix Decker,” he muttered in reply. Dane blinked for a moment, seemingly thrown off by it. Decker prayed that it was not because he had made the connection that Katherine Ann Decker, who was probably the most prominent and the highest ranked female Enforcer ever, was his mother. Being related to any high-ranking existing officer was an even better way to be marked for some serious hazing than having blue fur. Dane’s jocular expression returned, and he certainly didn’t seem bothered when he proclaimed, “As fer these losers’ lunches, enjoy!” Decker swallowed nervously as a disgruntled murmur passed through the group of Dane’s gang surrounding him, a murmur soon stopped dead by Dane’s loud challenge of “Anyone wanna make sumthin’ of it?!”
Decker remembered to breathe again as the troublemakers dispersed, some more reluctantly than others, the same ones who would eventually cause no end of trouble for the pair. Trouble they faced as partners.
Dane’s surprised expression lingered in Decker’s mind as the scene faded back into memory. It was important somehow … in a different time, a different place …
A different context.
Dane’s expression of shock as seen through a bloodied canopy flashed into Decker’s mind at the connection, but neither the vehemence nor the urgency of the image could overcome the inextricable need to deny it. No, it had to be something else … ————————————————————————
Decker recalled the uproariously incredulous look on Dane’s face the night he had shown him the pack of cards he had designed.
“Ya CAN’T be serious!” Dane had exclaimed when he tried to explain all the features of the deck to him. He had smiled sardonically at that; it was what *he* usually said when Dane came up with some half-baked idea or dumb stunt.
Again the colours and textures of the scene seeped from his recesses of his mind and resurrected the vividness of the moment. He was safe here. Raising a paw to silence Dane’s protests, he shuffled half the deck dexterously with the other. Using his thumb, he flicked two cards to Dane and motioned for him to check his hand.
“Huh! What’s so great about these?” Dane muttered skeptically as he examined the cards. Apart from being slightly heavier, and more springy when arched between his experienced fingers, the Jack of Spades and the Jack of Hearts in his paw seemed normal enough. They weren’t even marked as far as he could tell.
“Blackjack,” Decker stated as a matter of fact. Dane snorted derisively and was about to point out his mistake when he glanced at his cards again and did a double take. The Ace of Spades sat where the Jack of Hearts used to be.
“KATS ALIVE!!!” Dane swore as he stared at the cards, “How da hell didja pull that one off?!”
Decker smirked at him and made a big show of considering if he should spill his secret, a gesture he knew infuriated Dane to no end. He enjoyed knowing things others didn’t, especially in science – it gave him some sense of recompense knowing that everyone else putting him down all the time could never match him in at least one field of endeavour. Moments later, he merely nodded to the cards in Dane’s hand. The faces of the cards faded away right before Dane’s eyes and in their place, the Jacks of Spades and Hearts reappeared bearing Decker’s and Dane’s portraits respectively.
“Jack of *Hearts*? Awww, I never knew ya cared!” Dane snickered as he saw the portraits, “Still, ya can’t go wrong wit’ such a handsome mug!”
Decker rolled his eyes and explained, “The ones you saw earlier were holograms. The Jack of Hearts card projects them and they can be overlaid over any other card in the pack so long as you speak the command words audibly. I could have made the holograms more powerful, but that would have required more tinkering and …”
Dane guffawed and smacked Decker’s shoulder with his free paw, still looking at the cards in fascination, “There ya go gettin’ all techy on me again …”
Decker grinned sheepishly and stopped. Then his grin turned mischievous as he mumbled, “Charge.” The cards in Dane’s paw flared to life with the blue glow of electricity briefly and filled the room with the smell of singed fur. Dane swore profusely while shaking his smoking fingers. He turned to growl menacingly at Decker when the latter started pounding at the table from laughing too hard.
“And THAT would be useful fer …?!”
Decker tried to contain his laughter, “Aw, you know, just in case you need a diversion to get away when they catch on to your cheating! I thought of it after watching Madkat on the news. There’s a whole bunch of other things they can do-” Dane cut him off with a snort again, “What d’ya intend ta do, swindle yerself a fortune at Casino City?”
“If that’s what you want! This deck was made for you,” Decker smiled congratulatorily at Dane and plopped the rest of the deck into his open paw. Dane blinked in surprise and frowned slightly, as if slightly taken aback, “How long have ya been workin’ on this?”
“Oh, about the time you started complaining that I was stealing all your trade secrets …” Decker replied with an earnest smile and a shrug, “Hope this makes up for it. Think of it as a token to remind you of how this whole crazy friendship started!”
Dane never actually taught him any of his tricks alright, but he had always been a quick study, it never took him long to figure out just how Dane rigged the deck or switched a card or every other trick Dane had tried on him. And Dane had tried them all … which probably accounted for why they didn’t gamble much anymore.
But it didn’t seem like that was on Dane’s mind at the time as he frowned at Decker with a troubled, almost appraising look. Decker ventured an uncertain “What?” after an unusual period of silence from Dane that worried him. It worried him even more when Dane had that glint in his eye which meant that he had gotten some crazy idea in that thick head of his again.
“Ya know, I never figgered out why ya wanted to be an Enforcer … ya coulda been makin’ loads more dough workin’ fer one of those huge gizmo-makin’ firms …” Dane trailed off meaningfully, leaving Decker quite puzzled over his point.
Decker had kind of accepted the fact that he wasn’t really cut out to be an Enforcer. The Commander had made that abundantly clear on numerous occasions. Decker never liked admitting it though, there was just a stubborn streak in his nature which refused to give in. True, he was considerably more comfortable with anything technical in nature, and in that area he undoubtedly excelled. Being the son of one of the more prominent scientists on the Blue Manx project also couldn’t have hurt his aptitude for scientific work. Appropriately enough, it was his father who vehemently objected to his becoming an Enforcer. Decker felt a twinge of guilt at having done so in spite of that, but neither father nor son would admit their fault over the argument. The silence between them remained ever since. But after his mother died several years back “in the line of duty”, he had simply felt compelled to live up to her expectation that one day he too would be an integral part of the Enforcers. Although Decker never questioned the wisdom behind that, it felt like the right thing to do, and that was what he would continue to strive for, regardless of his father’s opinions.
Just what was Dane getting at?
“Accordin’ ta some of my old buddies, ShadowKat Enterprises is comin’ ta MegaKat city soon … I could always pull a few strings and land ya a job …” Dane’s broad smile hinted at the grand possibilities behind the idea, which made Decker even more skeptical. ShadowKat Enterprises was one of the largest R&D outfits in the world. Decker remembered hearing rumours about how the name stuck: it was a reference to some obscure mythological creature infamous for its cunning and stealth, always working from the shadows and always one step ahead of its prey.
Decker supposed the name apt enough; every project they executed was shrouded in secrecy until unveiled and almost without fail the technologies that they produced were fantastic, often advanced enough to crush anything the competition had. After all, they were the products of the *best* minds in every state they invested in, often at the expense of other smaller firms. Almost all the famous scientists Decker’s heard of had received grants from ShadowKat Enterprises at one point or another. Decker sighed as he thought of that. What chance did he have? The thought was appealing, to say the least, but it wasn’t a job you could *apply* for … if ShadowKat Enterprises thought you were good enough, you were *invited* to join them.
Nevertheless, Decker knew better than to argue with Dane once he got excited over some scheme of his. It had gotten them into trouble more often than he cared to keep track of, but it couldn’t hurt this one time, could it?
Sensing that he had more or less won Decker over with his idea, Dane quickly pushed on, “I gotta be going, contacts to meet and stuff, if I want to get you yer job.” Smirking encouragingly at Decker, he grabbed a shirt and rushed out, leaving a slightly puzzled Decker to pick up the cards he had dropped in his haste …
“SHADOWKAT’S NOT WHAT IT …” The words struck Decker like a bolt out of the blue. Where had he heard that? Decker shook his head to clear it, dismissing the phantom voice.
“… THEY’RE AFTER YA!”
Decker inhaled sharply at that. Something at the back of his mind stirred in recognition. What was it?
Decker suddenly remembered the blood. On the canopy. Seeping through the cracks. From Dane’s limp body.
Then Decker remembered the pain …
Decker groaned softly as he awoke to the stinging smell of antiseptic and the metallic tang of his dried blood. Forcing himself to sit up, he quickly assessed his surroundings. He was probably in MegaKat General Hospital. Night had fallen already, and the lights had been shut off; visiting hours must have been over which meant that it was quite late. The bandages around his chest and head itched. Considering he wasn’t on life support or an IV, it was probably just a bad concussion and the cuts on his chest and shoulders were probably from the shattering glass. Decker got up and walked around a little and found the discomfort and pain it caused quite manageable. Good. He’d need mobility.
Decker’s mind turned towards more problematic aspects of his predicament. Feral finally had the excuse he needed to boot his sorry tail out of the force. He couldn’t allow that. If Dane was right, he’d need the resources of the Enforcers to do something about it. Decker wondered when his review would take place. He’d need something prove that Dane wasn’t completely out of his mind. Was he? Where was he going to get something like that? And how? The torrent of questions stayed a jumbled mess in his throbbing head, frustrating him immensely.
The jet. It had to have been tampered with. Decker felt some small measure of triumph with that deduction. He glanced around for the time … If he guessed correctly, the remains of the jet were at the salvage yard by now and would be scrapped by tomorrow. He couldn’t afford to stay for the night, appealing though the thought was. Sneaking out into the corridor, Decker carefully avoided any of the hospital staff on night duty, feeling ridiculous stalking around in a hospital gown. Trust Dane to land him in another outrageous situation like this …
The thought left him with a bittersweet sensation as he cautiously slipped out of the hospital and began his trek towards the edge of town where the salvage yard was.
By the time Decker got to the salvage yard, the waxing moon was already high overhead and a particularly nasty gash on his chest had reopened, causing him to feel rather weak. His bare feet ached badly from the long trek too, which didn’t help as he climbed over the fence clumsily, making a huge racket as he tumbled down the other side. Wincing as he dusted himself off, Decker hoped no one heard that although he was really too pessimistic to believe it. Even more discouraging was the vast area he had to cover which lay cloaked in the darkness of the night. Sighing loudly, he picked a direction and started walking, feeling too tired and unstrung to do more than hope that he might just stumble upon the jet.
Stumble he did, right into the burly frame of one of the salvage yard’s custodians. Decker could have sworn it felt more like a brick wall as he bounced off and landed heavily on his tail. Decker wasn’t that far off. Towering above him was a heavyset kat with yellow fur and tiger-striped arms, looking very cranky at having been woken up in the dead of the night.
“What do you think you’re doing here?!”
“I’m on Enforcer business …” Decker mumbled as he tried to shield his eyes from the glare of the custodian’s torch light. Decker realized how absurd the claim must have sounded when the large kat rolled his eyes and groaned. Dressed in a light vest and a pair of boxers, it was obvious that the cold night air was doing absolutely nothing for his mood.
Decker gulped. Small and skinny, he barely passed for an Enforcer in most people’s minds in the best of times, and right then was hardly the best of times. Wounded, wearing a hospital gown, and a bit unsteady, he looked like someone who just broke out from a sanitarium. His startling golden eyes and peculiar coat of midnight-blue fur probably wasn’t helping his image any.
“Told you it wasn’t a raccoon, Chance,” another kat spoke from behind the larger one. Decker couldn’t quite make him out with the light in his eyes, but he looked about Decker’s size and had orange fur. Somehow the sight of the two of them together and the mention of the name “Chance” triggered something at the back of Decker’s mind. Shaking his head to clear the fogginess, he forced himself to speak clearly so that he wouldn’t seem like more of a loon than he already appeared.
“I know you … you’re Chance Furlong, and your companion must be Jake Clawson. I remember reading about you from my academy days …” Decker smirked slightly at this; his perfect memory was one of the few things about himself he was truly proud of. “The two of you were the best team in the air MegaKat City ever saw! Well, except for the SWATKats, of course … They’re *the* best.” Decker blushed abashedly at the last bit; he had planned to flatter the two of them into helping him, but somehow his admiration for the SWATKats just slipped out.
Chance didn’t seem to mind much though, he had an oddly smug grin on his face which Decker took to mean that his words had the desired effect. Maybe Chance thought it flattering to be compared to the best pilot in all of MegaKat City. In any case, Decker abandoned his idea of buttering up the two … Unlike Dane, he always felt awkward around others; dealing with people was a far greater challenge than resolving algorithms in his head.
“Uh … look, I need your help, did the remains of a crashed jet come in today? I need to find it …”
“Couldn’t this wait until tomorrow?” Chance asked, grumbling gruffly rather than admonishing or ridiculing. Decker quickly shook his head.
“No! I … it’s something I have to do *now* … my career’s on the line.” Decker muttered defensively.
“You know, the forensic techs have probably checked it out already-” Jake started, trying to calm Decker’s obviously frayed nerves only to be cut short irritably by him.
“They’re incompetent!” Decker hadn’t meant to sound quite so judgmental, but he was tired and hurting. Chance chuckled, obviously in agreement with his assessment. Sighing somewhat in resignation, he waved a hand towards a pile of junk right outside a garage.
“It’s over there … it’s pretty messed up tho-” Chance hadn’t finished his sentence when Decker broke out into an awkward trot towards it.
Decker felt his heart sink when he could make out the shape of the jet. Messed up was an understatement. Much of it was a mangled wreck and most of the nose of the jet was missing. Decker groaned as he drew close enough to assess the full extent of the damage. There was no way that the computer systems were still intact enough to determine if they had been tampered with. Ripping a charred panel off the side of the cockpit in frustration, Decker tore into the mutilated wiring desperately with his bare claws, clinging onto the shred of hope that he might find something … anything! Decker grimaced at the pain the sudden exertion caused and fell to his knees, leaning his head forward on the remains of the jet for support.
The dried blood stains on the shattered canopy filled his field of vision. Decker could smell the lingering odour of burnt fur and rubber wiring with his nose so close to the cockpit, bringing his mind back to that one last gory sight after he was ejected.
“I’m sorry, Dane … ” Decker choked on the words as the tears began flowing uncontrollably from his eyes. Behind him, the two mechanics looked at each other, both surprised and neither sure how to react. Jake frowned worriedly and silently prompted his partner to do something. Chance frowned back before venturing a cautious, “Uh … kid, are you …?” Decker shot back quickly, trying to steady his shaky voice unsuccessfully to cover up his tumultuous emotional state.
“Yeah. Just fine.” Decker wiped his face hastily as he said that and sniffed loudly. He knew he looked like a fool in front of two of the people he respected the most from his academy days, but he just couldn’t stop and the release felt good. Sitting back on his calves, Decker looked skyward and tried to steady himself by thinking pragmatically; crying like a little kitten certainly wasn’t going to solve anything.
A glint of something metallic in the moonlight caught his eye.
Strengthened with renewed hope, Decker reached in, blinking and sniffing repeatedly to clear his eyes and sinuses. It was the empty port which had held the black box of the jet. Decker frowned thoughtfully. The forensic techs probably had that … but something was still wrong … what?
Wiping the wetness from his face, Decker bulldozed his emotions aside, focusing his mind entirely on the vague notion of wrongness. The fogginess in his head was gone now, and there was an adrenaline induced clarity about everything. He could hear Jake and Chance approaching him from behind to find out what was happening. He could feel the crevices of the port under his fingers as he explored them carefully. He could …
The glint. What could survive the crash and fire and still shine? Certainly not the standard parts in Enforcer jets … Gripping the part in question firmly, he yanked it out into the beam of light from the approaching Chance’s torch light. It looked like a signal converter of some sort. Decker ran through the Enforcer jet blueprints he had memorized … no, whatever it was, it definitely was not supposed to be in his jet. Examining the unusually resilient device from, Decker searched for a manufacturer’s mark. Nothing. All that was printed on it was “e4e5-f4”. A serial number perhaps?
The King’s Gambit.
Decker frowned as he recalled the reference to a particular opening move in chess. The unorthodox way in which it was written threw him off a little, but that was undoubtedly the move. “White stakes a pawn by moving it to f4 for a dominating center, better development and a rapid attack on f7.” Decker could still remember the line from a veritable chess bible; he was by no means an avid chess player, but the game had provided an interesting distraction when he was younger.
Decker reeled slightly as his fatigue kicked back in with a vengeance. Maybe he was reading too deeply into an innocent serial number; it wasn’t implausible that it was just a coincidence. Decker slumped backwards onto the heap of junk as his he gave into his weariness and laughed triumphantly. He did it. It wasn’t much but …
Chance frowned at the unconscious kat lying on the heap of junk and wondered if he was nuts after all. Jake sighed and shrugged noncommittally beside him. Some days were just *that* much longer than they had to be …
Decker steeled himself for the worst as he entered the Commander’s office, feeling somewhat glad that he had been given time to recover from his injuries before the Commander gave him a heart attack. He had given his testimony, and handed the device he found over to the investigation committee. That was all he could do; whatever happened now was out of his hands. Taking long deep breaths to calm himself, he proceeded to take a seat in front of a seething Commander Feral.
“DID I SAY YOU COULD BE SEATED, OFFICER DECKER?!!” Feral bellowed furiously at him. Decker immediately leaped straight up at attention, almost surprised he didn’t go straight through the roof. Feral leaned forward, breathing right into his face contemptuously. An obviously terrified Decker reflexively leaned away from Feral’s towering form and gulped.
“YOU are the most sorry excuse for an Enforcer I have ever seen!” Feral continued, dropping his volume down to a growl of obvious self- restraint, “If it were up to me …” Feral didn’t bother to finish the sentence, leaving Decker to squirm uncomfortably at the thought of all the less than desirable punishments being hinted at. A loud thwap brought another startled jerk out of Decker as the Commander slammed the folder with the review committee’s recommendations into his desk with disgust.
“The technicians failed to accurately verify the nature of the “device” you found,” Feral proceeded, trying to keep his voice as level as possible although it was still thick with scorn, “and as such, your guilt in causing the wanton destruction of an Enforcer jet and the death of your partner is not beyond reasonable doubt.”
Decker was about to voice an defensive protest at the latter accusation when a harsh glare from the Commander convinced him otherwise. Feral went on with complete disregard for his presence, making him feel even more insignificant.
“The committee has recommended that you be transferred to Damage Control, where your obvious technical expertise may be of greater use now that you don’t have a flight partner.”
Decker stood stunned. A loud “DISMISSED!” from the Commander caused him to stumble backwards in shock, and he would have backed out of the room if he didn’t have to look into the Commander’s eyes which spoke volumes about how lenient he thought his decision was for an absolute miscreant like Decker. As he spun to scamper out of the office, the Commander’s stern voice stopped him. His tone was heavier, with less acrimony and the merest hint of being apologetic, “You might want to clean out that scoundrel’s locker, he has no next of kin we know of to pick up his things.” Then the harshness returned, “NOW.” Decker almost tripped on the carpet in his hurry to leave.
Decker leaned heavily against the wall once outside. Damage Control. That meant that his career in the Enforcers was essentially over. The assignment consisted of brutally pointless busywork: cordoning areas off, controlling the press, calling in salvage crew to clean up after ESWAT teams and processing paperwork for thrashed Enforcer property. *Lots* of paperwork. Occasionally the division handled various miscellaneous tasks the Enforcers were simply too shorthanded to do. The pay was poor and the opportunity for advancement was non-existent. As far as he was concerned, it was just one small step above being booted out entirely.
But he was still an Enforcer, and that meant that he still had the resources available to track down the psycho behind the whole mess. It was little comfort, but comfort it was. Even then, he had an odd nagging doubt at the back of his mind as to the Commander’s decision. It seemed uncharacteristically … charitable. He was certainly under no obligation to follow the committee’s recommendations and he his low tolerance of screw-ups was almost legendary. The example of Furlong and Clawson popped immediately into Decker’s mind. Feral could do pretty much anything he wanted and very few were willing to question his actions. So why did he …?
Decker bit on his claw as he left the offices and headed towards the locker room. That would have to wait, there were other problems demanding his attention. A passage from that chess tome floated to the forefront of his consciousness: “Black has four choices, he can: decline the gambit, which is safe, but unenterprising; accept the gambit and hold on to the pawn; accept the pawn and quickly return it for equality; gambit a pawn himself.”
But did the numbers he found mean anything at all? Could they mean anything? What? And why?
Frowning in silent contemplation, Decker walked towards Dane’s locker to clear his things out, oblivious of the activity around him and the vicious jeers being thrown at him. Bad news spreads fast and with Dane gone Decker was a target again. Somehow the stench of Dane’s old clothing didn’t seem so bad now. The pack of cards he had made for Dane was the last thing he removed and the sight of Dane’s empty locker next to his filled him with an inexplicable sense of loss. Gripping the cards tightly in his paw, Decker muttered a small vow to his friend, “Don’t worry, big guy, I’ll get to the bottom of this. I promise.”
0800 hours. A new day, a new shift. And amidst a sea of Enforcers changing shifts, Decker felt absolutely alone.
Up next … Chapter 1: The First Dance! The grand entrance of a major player! Introducing Sam O’malley and Leo Brickowski! Guest stars Ann Gora!
All chess references are taken from “Modern Chess Openings MCO-13” Copyright 1990 by Walter Korn
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.