Note: Yeah, yeah, I know I'm supposed to be working on "Hurricane", but some fics just scream to be written. After all, every author is entitled to one "how it all began" fic. And this is mine.

Disclaimer: Jake Clawson and Chance Furlong belong, not to me, but to some rich guy — probably the same guy who owns half of Montana. (Won't mention his name but his initials are T. T.) However: Robert, Sheryl, Zach, and Sheila Furlong, Tamara and Jocelyn Clawson, Zach's friend Scott, Sheryl's friend Emma, and Operation MidEastern Storm DO belong to me. So I own more than TED TURNER! (But only in this fic and my dreams)
Make an Author's Light Year — Read And Review!!!
End of pointless author's rambling.
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OMNINO REI UNITUS CONFERO (In All Things United Together)
— Latin Motto of the Airborne Enforcers

******
"Christian! Christian Michael Furlong!" The slim, gray-furred she-kat covered the phone receiver with one white paw. "Where *is* that boy?" Sighing, she gave up on her son for the moment and returned to the telephone call. "Sorry, Emma . . . Yes, the movers got everything here all right . . . hard to believe we finally own our own place . . ." She fell silent, listening to the caller's question.

"Me? I'm running around like a chicken with my head lopped off . . . Yes, I know. What with trying to get everything unpacked," She let her gaze sweep the stacks of half-open cardboard boxes, "Getting the boys' school situation straightened out — and Sheila's still colicky . . . ." She rolled her eyes as the she-kat on the other end of the line offered yet another folk remedy for a colicky kitten.

"Well, I'll try that. I don't know — neither of the boys were like this, but I guess it runs in Robert's family. I . . . what?"

"Oh, I just got a letter yesterday . . . he says he's fine. Tired of having sand in his fur and longing for a home-cooked meal, but other than that . . . yes, the reports from MidEastern Storm worry me, too, Emma — but there's nothing for it. I knew when I married him . . . you're right, of course, that's all we can do. Hope and pray . . ." She glanced out the window, distracted.

"The kids are doing fine, all things considered . . . but it's been an adjustment for them. First their father shipping out, and then moving — neither one of the boys have ever lived anywhere but an Enforcers base, you know. Christian's having the hardest time . . ." She frowned and pushed aside the kitchen curtains.

"Oh, you know Zach. He'll make friends anywhere. But Christian's not that social . . ." Out of the corner of her eye, the she-kat caught a sneaking blur of sand-colored fur. "Emma? I've got to go now, hon . . . all right . . . I'll call you next week . . .Take care."

The she-kat placed the receiver in its cradle and whirled on her son. "*Just* a moment, young kat."

The stocky, sandy-furred kitten froze. Glancing at his mother, he tried a sheepish I'm- too-cute-to-possibly-be-guilty grin. "Hi, mom."

"Did you hear me yelling 'Christian'?" The she-kat crossed her arms, white-tipped tail twitching.

"Yeah."

"Is your *name* Christian?"

"Um . . . yeah." The kitten shoved his paws in the pockets of his brown corduroys and snuck a quick glance at mom's face. *Uh-oh.*

"Then don't you think, maybe, that you should have come to see what I wanted?"

He shuffled his oversized feet on the linoleum. "Probably?"

"Probably so." She raised an eyebrow. "Do you have anything to say for yourself?"

"Ummm . . ." He gave her his best kitten-eyed glance. "I love you?"

Despite herself, Sheryl Furlong felt a grin pull at the corners of her mouth. Her second- born was definitely his father's son, from his tiger-striped fur to his sweet-talking ways. In fact, the only trait he had inherited from her were his bright-green eyes — a fact he often used to his advantage. "Scaredy-kat was on, I'm guessing?"

"Yeah." He grinned. "And I hadn't even *seen* that episode, either!"

"Amazing." She commented dryly. "Anyway, I wanted to tell you that I have to take Sheila to the pediatrician at eleven."

"M'kay." He shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

"And I asked Tamara from next door to keep an eye on you, since she takes Saturdays off." Sheryl continued, turning her attention to the nearest open cardboard box.

"Aw, Mo-om," He moaned. "I don't even know her!"

"Yes, you do. You met her at the housewarming party two days ago." She pulled a t-shirt from the box. "Is this yours or Zach's?"

"Zach's." He said. "Can't you *tell*?"

"Not as tall as you're getting." She smiled fondly. "All those Furlong genes at work — you're almost as tall as your brother."

"And he's three years older'n me!" He grinned. Then he snapped his fingers. "Hey, *Zach* could keep an eye on me!"

"Zach's going over to Scott's house." Sheryl replied. "Christian, why are all these t-shirts in the kitchen box?"

"Dunno, mom." He shuffled his feet again. "I *told* you, mom — call me Chance. Christian is a sissy name."

"Christian Michael Furlong," She replied, "I went through sixteen hours of labor to bring you into this world . . . ."

"I'll call ya what I want to while you're here." He finished.

"Precisely." She folded the armful of t-shirts and piled them in a nearby laundry basket. "Christian is a good name."

"It's a sissy name." He muttered under his breath. Everyone called him Chance — his dad, his brother, even his friends . . . well, if he'd *had* any friends in this neighborhood. It was pretty clear to everyone — especially himself — that Chance was just a better name. Only his mom persisted in calling him Christian — and it bugged him.

"Anyway," Sheryl said, shifting easily back to the starting topic of conversation, "Tamara was the tall lady with the orange fur. She brought the lasagna."

"Oh, yeah." Chance nodded. He liked lasagna.

"She's got a son, too — he's your age."

*Him* Chance remembered — a thin, wiry kitten with orange fur, who had spent most of the housewarming party watching the adult kats talk.

"Tamara was hoping you two could get to know each other." Sheryl hinted, glancing sideways at her son. "He'll be home this afternoon."

"Ah, *mom*," The kitten groaned, "He's a *civilian*. He probably doesn't even know what a VTOL is."

"No, not every seven-year-old in the state can have the vocabulary of a jet jock." His mother sighed. "And *you* are a civilian too, Christian."

"Only 'cause the Enforcer's don't recruit you until you're five foot five." Chance stuck his chin out. "I just got to grow a little more first."

"*Have* to, Christian. I just *have* to grow." Sheryl rolled her eyes. "Will you *please* try and be at least civil with Tamara's son?"

"Sure, mom. Whatever you say." Chance snuck a quick look out the open front door. Looked like Zach was out there on his skateboard — and if he was in a *really* good mood, which he had been since the move, he might even let Chance have a turn. "Goin' outside, mom. Love ya." And he bolted.

"Christian, don't slam the —" The sentence was punctuated by a metallic THWACK as the screen door slammed shut behind him. Sheryl sighed, shaking her head in fond exasperation.

"Robert Furlong, what *am* I going to do with your son?"

******

Zach grinned as his younger brother came bolting out the front door, letting the screen door slam behind him.

"Mom's gonna have your tail for a duster if ya don't quit slamming that door." The gray- furred kitten informed his brother.

Chance shrugged, eyeing his brother's skateboard as he gauged the other kitten's mood. "Hey, Zach? Y'know that trick you showed me last night?"

"A kickflip?" Zach said casually, leaning on his upright skateboard. "Sure."

"Show me again, willya?"

Zach had to grin. He resembled their mother as much as Chance resembled Dad — and while he resented the fact that he would someday be shorter than his little brother, right now his slim agility was a definite advantage over Chance's more stocky build.

"Sure." Letting the board drop to the sidewalk, the ten-year old launched into a series of kickflips, ollies, and other tricks — fairly amateur stuff, but more than enough to impress Chance.

"Wow." Chance's green eyes were wide with amazement and envy. "Wish I could do that."

"Don't worry about it, bro. Dad promised to get ya your own board when he got home." Zach picked the board up and slung it over his shoulder. "And then you can get a lot more practice. One of these day's you'll be better than me."

"Nobody'll ever be better than you." Chance said loyally.

Zach snorted. "Right."

Just then a red Katillac rolled up in front of the house, Scott Lewis's mother behind the wheel.

"Mom! My ride's here!" Zach hollered. "I'm goin' to Scott's!"

"Okay, sweetie." Sheryl's voice drifted from the open doorway. "Have a good time. Be back before supper."

"Right, Mom! Love ya!" Zach grinned and slapped Chance on the back. "Take it easy, little bro."

"See ya, Zach." Chance watched the Katillac drive off with a pang of regret. Other than talk with Zach, sneak up on the pigeons in the neighborhood park, or watch T.V., he could think of absolutely *nothing* to do — and one of his options had just departed.

He glanced over to the front yard of the house next door. The orange-furred kitten was stretched out under the big crab apple, his chin cradled in one paw as he read a book.

Chance sighed. He had nothing better to do . . . and even hanging out with a *civilian* was better than being bored.

******

The orange-furred boy looked up as Chance approached, using one claw to keep his place. "Hi."

Chance shuffled his feet. "Hi."

"You're the guy from next door, right?"

"Yeah." Groping for a topic of conversation, his eyes finally fell on the other kitten's book. "Whatcha reading?"

The other kitten grinned. "Treasure Island." He held it up. "You ever read it?"

"My dad read it to me once." Chance eyed the other kitten. "Bet I could beat you up."

The scrawny boy's amber eyes widened. "Do you *want* to?"

"Um . . . well . . ." Chance squirmed. "No. But I *could*." He concluded.

"Probably." The other kitten agreed. He smiled broadly. "You wanna see my treehouse?"

"Sure." Chance agreed.

"Okay." The orange-furred boy leapt to his feet and bolted in the direction of the house's backyard. "C'mon!"

******

The treehouse was high in the branches of an old oak tree which had probably been there long before the subdivision. The orange-furred kitten clambered up the rope ladder one-handed, Treasure Island held firmly under the other arm. Chance followed close behind.

Halfway up the ladder, the kitten paused and threw a glance back down at Chance. "I'm Jake."

"My name's Christian," Chance grimaced. "But I'd rather be called Chance."

Jake tilted his head and considered that for a second. "Chance is a lot cooler."

"Yeah, I know."

Jake grinned. "Okay." He returned to climbing the ladder. "C'mon, Chance. Last one up's a tuna breath!"

"Hey, no fair! You're higher up than me! Hey!"

Reaching the top of the ladder, Chance scrambled up onto the narrow platform of the treehouse's "porch". Jake already stood, waiting, at the door.

"Guess that makes you the tuna breath." He teased, but his friendly grin took any edge off of the words. Sliding back the simple latch, he swung the door inward. "Come on in."

As they entered, Jake hit the electric light switch and set Treasure Island on a bookshelf built from two-by-fours.

"Cool." Chance surveyed the room. In addition to electric lights, the one-room structure also had white-painted walls covered in posters, real glass windows, and a skylight with a telescope aimed through it. The tree trunk emerged from the center of the floor, then disappeared through the center of the roof. There were books — and comic books — scattered around the room, as well as an erector set and several model cars and planes in various stages of construction. Chance grinned widely. "Very cool."

"Thanks." Jake plopped down on a dilapidated loveseat that looked like it had been rescued from the Salvation Army. "My mom helped me build it."

"Your *mom*?" Chance tried — unsuccessfully — to picture his own mother building a treehouse. "I didn't think moms could build stuff."

"Most people don't think moms can be doctors, either, but my mom is." Jake folded his arms. "She's pretty cool — for a mother."

"I *guess*." Chance said in admiration, taking a seat in a beanbag chair. "So what does your dad do?"

Jake squirmed uncomfortably. "My dad's . . .not around. Mom doesn't like talking about him."

"Oh. Okay." Chance nodded his agreement.

Jake leaned forward. "So what does *your* mom do?"

Chance had to think about that one for a minute. "She cooks."

"And . . .?"

"And . . ." Chance shrugged. "I guess that's about it. She takes care of Sheila a lot. Sheila's my baby sister."

"Your sister's a kitten?" Jake grinned. "Boy, I bet she's better than *my* sister. Jocelyn's sixteen, and she thinks she knows *everything*." He rolled his eyes. "What about your dad?"

Jake had unknowingly hit upon Chance's favorite subject. "My dad's in the Enforcers. He's a pilot. 332nd Fighter Group. They call his squadron the Wildkats."

"Coool. Is he in the war?"

"Yeah. But dad says it's not really a war. It's a 'strategic military operation with the purpose of assisting a weak ally against a hostile force.'" Chance explained, glad he had memorized most of his father's most recent letters.

"Oh." Jake wrinkled his nose. "How is that different from a war?"

Chance shrugged. "I dunno." A thought suddenly occurred to him. "Do you know what a VTOL is?"

"Sure!" Jake leapt from the loveseat and picked up one of the model airplanes. "VTOL stands for vertical take-off and landing. That's where a jet has engines that let it hover above the ground — like a Harrier jump jet." He held up the model. "VTOL jets can take off and land without using a runway."

Chance grinned widely. *I could really get to like this guy . . .*

"Jake! Hey, JAKE!"A brash female voice broke in.

Jake moaned. "Ah, crud. It's Jocelyn."

"C'mon, mutant, are you up there or not?" His sister demanded.

Jake scrambled to the window and pushed it open. "Yeah, Jocelyn, I'm up here with Chance."

"Chance? Who's . . . oh, you mean the tiger-striped kid from next door?"

"Yeah." Jake checked to make sure he wasn't in his sister's line of vision, then stuck out his tongue. Chance grinned. "Mom *told* you not to call me a mutant!"

"She also told me to come and find you. It's *way* past lunchtime and she's been yelling for ten minutes. C'mon — I've got better things to do on a Saturday than watch your tail!"

"Like hang out with her tooom-kat." Jake mocked, rolling his eyes.

"I *heard* that, mutant!"

Jake stuck his tongue out again and grinned conspiratorially at Chance. "Okay, Jocelyn. Tell mom we're on our way."

Chance stood up as Jake closed the window and headed for the door. "You're right. Sheila is better — even if she does meow all the time."

"Yeah." Jake shrugged. "I kinda wish I'd had a brother instead, sometimes."

"You can share mine." Chance offered. "Or we could be best friends. That's sort of like brothers."

"Really?" Jake's eyes lit up. "Now *that* would be cool."

"Okay." Chance decided. "Best friends." He held out his paw. "We gonna shake on it?"

Jake placed his own orange paw firmly in Chance's tawny one. "Best friends forever." He agreed.

"Omnino rei united conferal." Chance intoned solemnly, unwittingly mispronouncing most of the Latin.

"Huh?"

"That's the motto of the Airborne Enforcers. It means, 'united in all things forever'."

"Oh." Jake nodded in understanding. "Best friends."

"Yeah."

"You sure know a lot about Enforcers." Jake said as he switched off the lights.

"I'm gonna be one someday." Chance announced proudly.

Jake looked thoughtful. "If we're gonna be best friends forever, I guess I'll haveta be an Enforcer, too. I *was* gonna be an inventor."

"Well, you can be both." Chance explained. "The Enforcers have all kinds of design and research programs and stuff."

Jake grinned as he followed Chance down the ladder. "So I could design planes and missiles and stuff, and you could use 'em."

"Or we could *both* use 'em." Chance added.

Jake got a faraway look in his eyes. "That would be cool."

"Yeah." Chance glanced down at the ground, then back up at Jake with pure mischief in his eyes. "Hey, Jake?"

"Uh-huh?"

"Last one down's a tuna breath!"

******
The Beginning . . . .

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