You know the drill: I don't own 'em, I just play with 'em. Maggie Blackclaw is mine. Matthew Blackclaw is mine. Hurricane Squadron is mine. M.K.D.S. is mine. Pretty much anything else that you don't recognize is mine. Anything you do recognize is someone else's, or else you're having de ja vu. Kay?
This is my first FF.Net post & I'm anxious to know what you think -- so please R'n'R!
Oh, *Ketsele* is a Yiddish word. It means "kitten"
"Look, Maggie, I'm sorry about this."
"I'll bet you are, Max."
Max Windham threw his paws in the air. "What am I supposed to do, huh? Your attitude's wrecking my business, Maggie, and I can't just let it slide. I gotta make a living." His shoulders slumped. "Crud, Maggie, you punched out a customer."
"He had it coming." Maggie said, narrowing inscrutable green eyes. "Nobody talks like that to me."
"Well, I'm sorry if he bruised your pride." Max said sarcastically. "But you broke the kat's nose. He's agreed not to sue me, but I'm afraid you've got to go."
"No problem." Maggie snapped. "I was getting tired of this grease pit anyway."
"Hey, look, Maggie . . . ." He frowned. "You're the best mechanic I've had in years. I'm sorry . . . ."
"Yeah, I know." She sighed. "No hard feelings, Max."
"Thanks, Maggie. Look, I've got a cousin downtown, he needs a clerk. I could put in the good word for ya . . . ."
"No thanks, Max. I'll be leaving town, soon as I fix the bike." She sighed. "Six months is a long time for me to stay in one place. The road's calling again."
Max held out his paw. "Best of luck, Maggie."
"Yeah," she said over her shoulder as she turned away, "Thanks."
Maggie Blackclaw pushed thick black bangs out of her eyes and squinted against the harsh desert sun. Ten jobs, in eight towns, in four years. And that didn't include all of the one or two-night singing engagements she'd taken while on the road, swapping her vocal talents for enough cash to keep her moving.
*Why can't you stay still?* The wind whispered sinuously. *What are you running from?*
*A bitter past and a hopeless future.* She thought cynically, finishing the repairs on her road bike. *A dead squadron and a misplaced blame, and a family name that I stained with shame.* She grinned half-heartedly. With a little work, that could be a verse in one of her songs. She hummed an experimental tune and stood up.
The hot desert wind blew through her thick black hair and kicked up dust devils to match her sand-colored fur. Slinging the last of her packs onto the bike, she tightened a strap and pulled on her helmet and gloves. "Well?" She asked the wind, "Where to now?"
As if in answer, the wind flung a tattered newspaper into her face with a thwack. She peeled it off her face and squinted through her helmet's visor. MEGAKAT CITY TIMES, the paper read. Maggie chuckled.
"Home again, home again, huh? Well, far be it from me to ignore a sign. Besides, I haven't seen uncle Matt in far too long." Tossing the paper over her shoulder, she mounted up and started her bike. Heading for the highway without a second glance, Maggie never caught the paper's headline: VIPER STRIKES AGAIN. SWAT KATS SAVE MKC FROM CERTAIN DOOM.
Megakat City hadn't changed much in the two years since Maggie had been there. She stopped at a small diner on the outskirts for some coffee and some information. The aging, motherly she-kat behind the counter was more than happy to tell her what she could -- yes, the job market was good, if you were willing to get your paws dirty; no, the housing wasn't so good, rent was high and apartments were few and far between; my, wasn't the weather warm, and had Maggie heard about that terrible Doctor Viper and his awful mutations?
"Oh, it was lucky for us that those Swat Kats were here!" The she-kat clucked. "We all would be in such trouble if it wasn't for those two. I don't care what the Enforcer chap says, they're heroes, pure and simple heroes. That's my opinion. More coffee, dear?"
Maggie listened with interest to everything but the weather chat, and decided two things. First of all, she wanted to know more about these Swat Kats. She'd heard stories, of course, but with the kind of company she kept it was hard to know what was true and what was hearsay. Second of all, she would worry about a job and a place to stay after she saw her uncle Matthew.
She took the old familiar streets that led to one of the poorer sections of town -- not the worst neighborhood in MKC, and certainly not one of the most crime-ridden, but still not the best the city had to offer. She stopped the bike in front of a tall old brownstone with a wheelchair lift in the front. Two kittens, a boy and a smaller girl, sat in front. The watched with wide eyes as she dismounted and pulled her helmet off. She smiled at the bigger of the two.
"Howdy. Does Matthew Blackclaw still live in this building?"
"Yeah. First floor."
The girl kitten smiled trustfully and cuddled her doll. "He's nice. He tells us stories. Shyler likes him." She held up the doll, indicating that it was Shyler.
"That's good." Maggie crouched so that she was on the same level as the kittens. "What's your name?"
"We're not supposed to talk to strange kats." The boy interrupted gruffly.
"That's true." Maggie agreed. "Tell you what -- I'm Maggie and I'm twenty-six years old and that," She pointed, "Is my bike, and I'm Matthew's niece. Am I still a stranger?"
"Maybe." The boy twitched his tail. "That's your bike?"
"Yep. And I have a very important job for someone. I need someone to watch my bike for me, but he -- or she -- has to be very brave and very tough. I'll probably need two people to watch it, since it's a big bike. Do you know any tough kats I could find to do that for me?"
"We could, Marcus." The girl said. "Couldn't we? We're brave."
"Yeah." The boy agreed. "I think we could watch it for you, Maggie. Me and Eppie. Eppie's my sister." He confided.
"Great!" Maggie exclaimed. "You two look like the kind of rough characters I need to watch my bike. I bet Doctor Viper himself wouldn't mess with you!"
"That's right!" The boy's chest swelled with kittenish pride. "I'm going to be a Swat Kat someday."
"Are you?" Maggie grinned. *When I was his age, we were going to be Enforcers someday.* "Well, I feel much better knowing that a future Swat Kat is on guard." She gave him a modified Enforcer salute, which he returned, and sprinted up the steps to the front door.
Maggie smiled as she stood at the door of 1-a. Uncle Matthew had lived in the same apartment building since she was a kitten; the sight of the familiar corridor brought back memories, from her fifth birthday, to the day she had graduated from the Enforcers Flight Academy, to the fateful days after the court-martial . . . .
*NO!* She shook her head stubbornly. *I'm not going to think about that today.* She knocked.
From inside, a familiar voice called, "Coming! Please hold on!" There was a scraping as the apartment's inhabitant reached the door. "Who is it?"
"FastKat delivery service." Maggie called, trying to disguise her voice.
There was silence on the other side of the door. "Maggie? Is that you?" Her uncle's deep, hearty laugh echoed as the chain bolt slid back.
Matthew Blackclaw wheeled backwards as he opened the door. "Behold, behold! The prodigal kitten returns at last!"
Maggie laughed, too. "I could never fool you with that voice thing, could I?"
"Of course not! I taught it to you!" He maneuvered himself out of the doorway. "Come in, *ketsele*, come in! You've been away too long!"
Matthew Blackclaw was a thin, wiry kat with charcoal grey fur and laughing blue eyes. Confined to a wheelchair due to a bout with polio in early kittenhood, he was her father's older brother -- and the only family that Maggie had left. Maggie watched him as he escorted her into the familiar living room. His fur was going white around his eyes and on the tips of his ears, and the goatee which had always been his distinguishing feature had turned white as well. Otherwise, he looked exactly as he had when she was a kitten.
"Sit, sit!" He commanded, waving a paw at an armchair. "Would you like coffee?" Without waiting for an answer, he hurried into the kitchen. "So," He called, "What brings my prodigal home again?"
She answered. " I decided to follow the road, remember? Well, all roads lead to MKC, I guess."
"Ah." Her uncle wheeled back into the living room, balancing a tray and two cups of coffee. "And are you here to stay?"
She accepted the coffee and shook her head sheepishly. "No . . . yes. I don't know. I still have a lot of things to deal with. A lot of bad memories, most of them connected with this town."
Her uncle's eyes narrowed sympathetically. "After all these years? Do you still have nightmares, *ketsele*?"
"Sometimes. Once in a while." Maggie rubbed the back of her neck. "It's getting better."
"Four years is a long time, Maggie, to carry that kind of guilt." He said.
"It's not guilt!" She protested. "It's . . . ." She sighed. "It's just -- I don't know. It's hard to forget that kind of thing, you know?"
"Let it go, Maggie." He said gently. "You carried no fault. The blame for their deaths lies with others -- not with you."
"I know." She took a drink of the coffee. "What burns me is that those hotshots at M.K.D.S. got away with it."
"Life isn't fair. It's just fairer than death, that's all." Matthew smiled. "What about a job?"
"I just got into town. The she-kat at the Koffee Kat said it wouldn't be too hard for me to find a job."
Matthew chuckled. "The she-kat at the Koffee Kat is sorely mistaken. There's no call for scientists, except at Pumadyne. Auto mechanic, cashier, musician -- unskilled work, that's the only kind of job you'll be finding."
"That's the only kind of job I'll be looking for, uncle Matthew." She held up her paw against her uncle's protest. "I don't want anything to do with Pumadyne, or anyplace like it. "
Matthew sighed and shook his head. "You're not the kind of person who should be living as a unskilled worker, Maggie. You're brilliant, we both know that. You could be a scientist, a designer of great things."
"I was a designer of great things, Uncle Matt, and it didn't bring me any happiness. All it brought me was death." She shrugged and grinned. "Besides, auto mechanics is not unskilled work. I'd like to see you fine-tune the engine on a '72 Nova."
Matthew laughed. "Like I told you when you left, ketsele, whatever brings you joy."
"Right." Anxious to change the subject, she asked, "So, what about these Swat Kats everyone's talking about?"
"You haven't heard of them?" He uncle looked flabbergasted.
"Uncle, one thing I've learned from life on the road is that you take everything you hear with a heaping helping of salt." She laughed. "Some kats I've talked to claim the Swat Kats can turn invisible. Others swear that their jet can fly faster than light. And speculations on their identities? If I had a dollar for every different theory, I could buy this building. News gets diluted, as far away as I've traveled. The only concrete facts I can pin down are that there's two of them, they have a jet, they turned up about the same time I left last time, nobody knows who they are, and they get a kick out of bashing bad kats and tormenting Feral."
"Well," Her uncle said, "That covers the basics, but the details are even better. Let me tell you about the stories I know."
"I know one thing." Chance said, slamming down the hood of a car. "We can stick a fork in this hunk of junk, because it is done."
Jake, flat on his back on a dolly, rolled out from under another vehicle. His fur was streaked with grease. Are you sure?"
"Oh yes." Chance kicked the car's tire in frustration. "Divine Intervention couldn't get this thing moving again. There's a crack in the engine block this wide." He held his paws up, about six inches apart.
"Aw, Chance." Jake sighed, wiping his forehead on the back of his least-greasy forearm, "That means we'll have to replace the whole engine."
"Yeah, tell me about it. That's on top of the six cars we've already got waiting for work, and the repairs we've gotta make on the Turbokat." He shook his head. "I gotta tell you, buddy, we're really getting backed up here."
"Yeah, I know." Jake pulled himself back under the Chevy. "But what are we . . ."
He was interrupted by the phone ringing. Chance grabbed it. "Jake and Chance's Garage. Yes, Miss Briggs? . . . The carburetor again? . . . I don't know, ma'am. We're awfully backed up here . . . I guess we could take a look at it. It'll probably have to wait until tomorrow . . . Okay." He sighed. "Bring it in. We'll see what we can do." He hung up with a resigned sigh.
"Not again!" Jake's voice rang from under the Chevy.
"Yes, again. The green monster needs carburetor work." Chance sighed and popped the hood on a Buick. "She really, really needs a new car."
"We could build her a new car with the parts we've put into that thing." Jake said sarcastically. "And in case you haven't noticed, we don't really have time to look at Callie's carburetor."
"I know that and you know that." Chance snapped. "What did you want me to tell her? 'Sorry, but we're just too busy'? Jake, she's about the only person up top who doesn't treat us like scum because we're mechanics. And she's the deputy mayor. And . . . ."
"Okay, okay, point taken." Jake said calmly, still entrenched under the car. "But we're never gonna have time to get the Turbokat fixed if this keeps up."
Chance sighed. "Let's put an announcement in the paper: 'Viper, Metallikats, and other assorted bad guys, please back off until we can get our work caught up. Sincerely, Razor and T- Bone.'"
Jake rolled backwards with one quick motion. "Chance, you're a genius."
"Thanks, I know." Chance stuck his head out from under the Buick's hood. "What did I say now?"
"We'll take out an ad!" Jake grinned, wiping his paws on a grease rag as he stood up.
"Whoa, whoa. Jake, I was kidding!" Chance exclaimed, holding up his paws. "I don't think Viper reads the Times."
"No, Chance, I mean a help wanted ad." Jake grabbed a notebook and a pen. "Wanted: one mechanic for immediate employment. Payment negotiable, living quarters available. Must have experience with all makes and models of car and be willing . . . ."
"To work with the Swat Kats." Chance finished. "Jake, you are nuts. Certifiably nuts. This will not work."
"What do you mean?" Jake asked, looking up. "There's two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs that we never use. With the housing market the way it is, anybody would take the job."
"HELLO? Megakat City to Jake, are you with us?" Chance waved a paw in front of his partner's face. "We're the SWAT KATS, remember? We can't just take out a want ad!"
Jake sighed. "Look, if we don't get the Turbokat fixed there aren't gonna be any Swat Kats around, anyway. It will not fly until I can replace those fused cables in the engine, and that's not going to happen if we're neck deep in busted cars."
"Okay, you've got a point there. But how are we supposed to keep the hangar hidden from an employee, let alone someone who lives here? How are we supposed to explain it when the alarm goes off? 'Oh, hang on, that's our other phone'?"
"I can rig the alarm so it'll be silent -- they won't hear it. And the hanger's well-hidden -- after all, we were the first ones to find it after MegaWar III, right? That was what, fifty years ago?" Jake set the notebook down. "C'mon, Chance, you're just jealous because I thought of it first."
"Are too, times infinity!"
The sun shone bright and hot on the tarmac under their boots, reflecting off the planes before them in a brilliant silver shimmer. *Those* planes, finer and faster than anything else the Enforcers had, newly built and never battle-tested -- until today. Being the first pilot to fly one of *those* planes was amazing, an honor, a thrill.
But they deserved it. After all, they were Hurricane Squadron, the best and brightest the Enforcers could offer. They were top guns, these six Majors: Scott Lewis, a gray-and-brown tabby with a chunk missing from one ear; Salena Fowler, a Siamese whose pretty exterior belied her tough-as-nails attitude; Felix DeLaHoya, who wore his black hair in a ponytail at the back of his neck; Tami Sherwood, Felix's wife, a slim she-kat with ginger colored fur and short black hair; Thomas Meowland, a strong, well-built brown tomkat.
And Maggie Blackclaw, leader of Hurricane Squadron and co-designer of *those* planes. Well, co-co-designer; she had contributed the designs of the engines. But she had pored over the rest of the designs as well, for a pilot had to know every bolt of her plane.
Which was why she knew what was wrong -- or, rather, that something was wrong, something important; she couldn't quite remember what. *What does it matter?* She thought, watching her squadron and watching those planes. *It'll probably come back to me when we land.*
Hurricane Squadron laughed and slapped paws before leaping into their cockpits. "All right!" Scott yelled, his love for a fight kicking in, "Let's go kick some Canine tail!"
Because that was the reason *those* planes had been built; a border war with the neighboring country of Canis, a conflict that needed to be won in a swift show of force. Nobody needed to remember how the previous war had dragged on, with Enforcer troops warring for a decade against the Viet Kat. This war needed to be over quickly and cleanly, the land that had been taken regained. That was the reason that those planes roared into battle over the Megakat Desert, although they hadn't been fully tested.
*The tests, the tests, it has something to do with the tests!* Maggie remembered. And then the bogies screamed in at ten o'clock high, and Maggie shouted orders to her squadron. "Use the Sideswipers, make this short and sweet!"
*The missiles the missiles the missiles, why can't I remember? The missiles, the tests . . . .*
And then Tom screamed. "The missiles won't deploy! I've got nothing, all weapons systems are flatlining!" And then there was a brilliant flash of blinding white light as Tom and his plane ceased to be.
*The weapons systems aren't fully tested!* Maggie remembered as she let out a scream of grief for her fallen comrade. "Hurricanes, pull out, we've got to get out of here!"
"I'm dead in the air!" Tami shouted frantically. "We couldn't shoot spit wads, how do we get them off our . . . ." Her sentence ended in a scream as the enemy missiles found their mark.
"TAMI!!!" Felix screamed. "You're gonna pay for that, you scumwads!" With that, Felix sent his plane spiraling into the enemy plane that had destroyed his wife. Both planes exploded in a shower of shrapnel.
"Felix, NO!" Maggie shouted, too late, and realization hit her like a fist. *That's what it was, the weapons systems, and now I'm going to watch them die . . . .*
And watch she did, helpless as Salena's plane became a fireball, as a Canine missile tore the tail off of Scott's plane and sent it spiraling to earth, where it burst into flames . . . .
All she could do was watch and scream as a missile detonated a foot from her wingtip, shrapnel shearing off the tip of her wing as her engine burst into flames, and with a heart that was sick with sadness she did what Scott, for some reason, had not done -- she ejected, watching helplessly as the last of *those* planes plummeted to earth, watching and hearing the death screams of her squadron echo in her ears . . . .
She woke up screaming.
(Dramatic swell of music)
Well, what d'ya think? You like, you love, you hate? You let me know, ok? Part 2 coming soon!