Chapter 09

MASA Mission Control. Eight hours before launch.

Despite of the time schedule that seem to stifle the utmost strength of the he and she-kats buzzing around the mission control platform, their launch director reminded that as long as they kept their wits about them it will be another successful launch. Among those present in the viewing window behind Mission Control were several delegates from various private and government sectors who have been the backbone of one of the most important events that will change the history of katkind forever. In the front row of seats closest to the window, Commander Feral were discussing some important matters with other of the top brass of the MegaKat Army, two admirals from the MegaKat Navy, and the MBI. Every now and then, a few food trolleys of coffee and pastries were sent to the top brass, knowing that this will be the longest day indeed.

Outside the viewing room, Flight Director Linda Purrsian, continued to answer numerous calls from the people and checking reports on preparations. Placing the small microphone attached to her headset near her lips, she calls in one of the people in charge of the neuro-connections.

"So when will the neuro-conduit be replaced. I hope we're not talking about delaying the launch."

The voice on the other line spoke. "We still have to wait for it to arrive from Young Enterprise. It's been onboard the plane about thirty minutes ago and ETA will be at least an hour. Once it arrives, it will take at least three hours to calibrate and install the necessary programs into it. I figure it won't make any unnecessary delays."

"Just notify me once you get that conduit." Linda ordered as she pulled the microphone away from her lips. Pressing the button on her transceiver attached to the waist of her skirt, she clears her throat and spoke.

"This is the first half, people. I want final reports on the conditions of the shuttle, reports from the weather people, and once the neuro-conduit arrives I want to run a test on the resiliency of its connectivity."

As if time returned to the people of MASA, everyone scrambled to their respective post and began their duties. Purrsian pulls out a small towel she was holding and wipes the sweat off her forehead. Despite of the climate-controlled Mission Control Center along with its air conditioning, it was the very pressure of her job that 'kept her blood boiling with excitement and anxiety'. Breathing out a long sigh, she knows that this must go according to plan and accidents like this would only meant that they should rather well invite catastrophe.

Seven hours and thirty minutes before launch.

Hidden within an abandoned apartment building in the MegaKat Slums, the she-kat known only as Sphinx faces the camera mounted on the computer. A small image display on the computer screen showed nothing but blackness. A dark scratchy voice came out from the speakers mounted above the monitors as if the darkness was speaking to her.

"The mission must not fail."

"I have taken everything into account, my lord. Something must happen to the good people of MegaKat City and I'm sure that it will pressure the mayor to speed up its project." Sphinx answered.

"And what will that measure be?"

"A scientist by the name of Elrod Purvis. Also known as Dr. Viper."

The voice in the computer speaker hissed.

"I do remember him, somehow. But that name disgusts me as I try to remember it."

"He will no longer be a problem once the Enforcers take care of him." Sphinx's lips broke into a wiry smile.

Manx Memorial Hospital. Six hours before launch.

Waiting near the visitors' lobby, Felina Feral checks her watch as she takes a sip from the coffee she got from the vending machine. Every time she takes a sip from the Styrofoam cup, her eyes strains from the strange aftertaste that seem to numb her taste buds. She seems to miss the usual black sludge being served in the officers' mess hall as she forces herself to swallow the black liquid down her throat.

Over an hour ago, Felina visited Callie in her room and acknowledged the presence of the two doctors inside the room. Felina, though, had a strange feeling around Alice Katzenkauf and the small talk between Alice and Felina were a little less friendly as it seems to be. Only an hour left before Chance reports to the launch bay of MASA she thought, at least he could have taken this time to see Jake one more time.

Just when she was about to entertain thoughts of returning home, a huge paw landed over Felina's slender shoulder as she turned her head slightly over it.

"Where's Jake's room?"

Back in Jake's room, the nurse stationed inside the Plexiglas booth was reading a fashion magazine and giggling to herself as if she was reading the humor pages of the magazine. Jake Clawson still lay rather motionless, though conscious enough to stare blankly at the ceiling as if trying to count the number of germs that could be inside the room. The memory of last night has been a recurring nightmare to him. Jake watches (and probably hallucinated) the trickle of warm blood that stained his weapon. He grinds his teeth and squeezes his eyelids shut.

The electronic door lock in the room began to beep as the nurse checks on the small monitor in her console as the two watches the door open. It was Felina who came in first.

"Hey Jake." Felina greets him as if they see each other everyday.

"Hey Felina. What brings you back again?"

"Well, actually, there's someone to see you."

As if on cue, the doors parted wide open, allowing the burly frame of Chance to go pass through the portal. Jake froze for a second, allowing Chance to observe him in his state of bafflement. He chuckles for a bit.

"The last time I remember seeing you like this is when you lost to me in our sparring match and almost twisting your shoulder off."

Felina shot a quick thrust of her elbow against Chance's ribs and shook her head slowly.

Jake returned to frown again at the ceiling as Chance approached Jake's bed. He pulls out a chair and turns the chair around as he sat down and rests his broad arms over the backrest.

"Is this part of the interrogation?" Jake spoke without looking at Chance.

Chance slightly shook his head. Felina walked at the other end of the room and rests her back against the wall.

"Nothing like that, pal. I'm just here to make a statement."

Jake turns his head away from Chance.

"As far as you're concerned, I do apologize for taking those plans of the experimental turbine, but I am not apologizing for doing my duty as an Enforcer. I guess it'll take a lot more of our nine lives for you to forgive me but I am proud to say that those thrusters you designed were the best that Puma-Dyne has ever seen."

"That's nice to hear." Jake answered. "I guess more planes can be made out of it."

"That's where you're wrong, old buddy. In about a few hours, that very turbine will be used to power the second launch for the second phase of the Kat's Eye. And you know what else?"

Chance paused in hopes that Jake would see him eye-to-eye. When he waited long enough, Chance continued.

"I'll be riding that shuttle. I guess that would also mean you don't have me to be angry at. I'll probably stay there for God-knows-when."

Jake finally turns to face Chance in the eye. His face froze as he takes in breath now understanding what Callie meant when she was talking about who were the pilots of today's launch.

"It's been a lifelong dream for you, right? I mean, you to be the first kat in space."

Chance nodded. "And I wouldn't be one without those plans."

Jake and Chance kept staring at each other, probably wondering how time managed to change their perspective on how they look at life, at reality. Pondering of whether they will see each other once again, it seems that only time and chance will have to decide on it. Felina tapped on Chance's shoulders then tapped on her wristwatch, signaling him that it's almost time to report to MASA for preparations.

"I guess this is it, old buddy." Chance said, yet his voice was low. Just before he could lift himself off the chair, Jake calls on him again. It was a name he longed to hear from him once again.

"T-Bone. There's one other thing. Go back to the hangar and press the code FIRE KAT on the vault. I think you should have it."

Felina looks at Chance, her gaze alive with worry. "I don't think we have time for this."

Chance turns around shot a stern look at Felina. "Send a chopper at the salvage yard to take us to MASA once I pick it up. This is important."

Salvage Yard. Five hours and twenty minutes before launch.

It's been awhile when Chance felt the acceleration of freefall as he descends through the secret shaft that leads to the underground hangar. Felina was with him, too, though for the first time she felt dizzy and thought that a fighter jet stalling felt more peaceful than this. The two landed after a few seconds and Chance walked ahead of Felina towards the long corridor towards the twenty-by-fifteen-foot vault door. The metal door that Chance used to remember how shiny it used to be now dulled by the dust and cobwebs as he brushes it off the control panel. He enters the code that Jake told him and the eight-inch blast doors parted away with hydraulic pressure. Inside, nine overhead lights flickered to life while the last one only flickered in vain as he passed through the numerous boxes of gadgets and weapons accumulated over a few short years. At the end of the room, a large glass casing as high as the room contained a suit that Chance has never seen before. It was closed with a simple lock and opened the doors. Tailor made for his body build, Chance could only stare at awe as he reached for it. Unaware of an electronic eye hidden behind the glass, Jake's voice echoed all around the room.

"I guess we all have our paths to take, and I chose to live a peaceful life now. Ever since the terrorist attack two years ago, I often blame myself for the needless death of so many people regardless if they're our enemy. I thought that designing non-lethal weapons were the only things that could help our cause, but in reality there will be evil that will take lives as well.

"I've always been jealous of your ability to fly, probably I could never live up to your standards. Being a brain, it taught me that there are people out there who could excel in other fields even though I wanted what was yours, the sky. Maybe I could have joined the Enforcers once again, but my hands are too stained with blood that I swore it off.

"This EVA suit can withstand the vastness of space and high temperatures. It took me a few years to develop it during our time when we were remembered as the SWAT Kats and now we know that we are not alone in the universe. There are more surprises, but this suit will be among the first. Cool design, huh?

"Hopefully this will take you to the stars and if you could, get one for me. I'm sorry for blaming you for the past months."

The voice recording ended and Chance stood in front of the suit. Looking at the rigid black plastic and Kevlar coverings and the helmet that resembled a dirt bike rider's helmet with an enclosed visor, Chance could only stare speechlessly at it. Yet deep in his mind, the true jealousy comes from Chance, Without Jake, nothing like this could have ever happened.

"So this is what Jake was cooking up." Felina entered the vault as she passed through the same boxes that Chance passed through a few minutes ago. Just as she nears the end of the vault, she stopped dead on her tracks and was about to pick up her gun tucked between the back of her jeans when she saw a huge dark figure standing behind the glass casings. But when she approached the figure more closely, she recognized the kind of design that she once saw as one of the SWAT Kats, this time with armor.

"Let's head back to MASA." Chance said as he carried the helmet tucked under his right arm.