Title: One Tiny Miracle is All I Ask
Author: Kristen Sharpe
Date Started: October 9, 2000
Original Draft Completed: October 14, 2000
Final Draft Completed: June 26, 2001
His claws clicked softly, arrhythmically, on the polished tile as the burly kat hurried through the sterile corridors. His pace was a limping trot, the fastest speed he could manage. A patch of blackened fabric high on his left hip bore testimony to the blaster bolt he'd narrowly evaded. Four, parallel slash marks ripped through the golden fur of his nose, stretching onto his right cheek. Scabbed over slightly, they still oozed a nasty ichor.
But, pain was a minor irritation at the moment. Something he must ignore. He had a rendezvous to make. A promise to keep.
Every other bank of fluorescent lighting was off as he stumbled down the final long hallway. A lone janitor shrank against the wall, clearing his path. The broad-shouldered one was a familiar face. Known to have a surly countenance when thus kept from the appointed hour.
Only twice had the big tom failed to make the rendezvous. Once had been a pitched battle with Dark Kat that left him too broken in body and spirit to do more than escape the Enforcers and well-meaning paramedics. The second he'd been a prisoner aboard an alien ship.
He still regretted both. He had promised. Every night. Every night until It happened.
"It would be a miracle," the eavesdropping researcher had hissed when he swore the oath that bound him.
Then, every night until the miracle happened.
Every night for a little over a year.
Doors marked "Authorized Personnel Only" yielded beneath his great shoulder. And, none dared question his presence. He came every night.
Then, the last door opened and his pace slowed. Quietly, wincing as his seared hip sent tendrils of pain lancing down his thigh, he padded to the glass wall.
The SWAT Kat T-Bone sighed heavily, sitting and leaning his broad back into the glass behind him. He slouched there for a minute, exhausted, before words came to him. Thickly, they rolled off his tongue, his voice hoarse.
"It's been one of those days, buddy," he muttered. "I just barely escaped this crazy she-kat..."
A soft murmur at his back encouraged him to continue.
"See, she flew in over the city in this huge airship. Shot down a commercial airliner with this ray of hers that caused the pilot to be so disoriented he couldn't control the plane. A real piece of work." His voice choked. "I was there." A single tear slid down his cheek. "I tried, buddy. I tried. But, it plummeted so fast I couldn't stop it. A hundred and seventy-five passengers." His eyes closed tightly, shoulders heaved. "No survivors."
Choking down the flood of emotions, he turned to face his friend.
The once kat was standing just behind where the big tabby had sat, his head cocked to one side.
Many would have found the five foot tall insect frightening. Body a dull orange-brown carapace covered in short, stiff hairs with huge insectoid green eyes dominating his face, Razor bore little resemblance to the kat T-Bone had known. The big tabby never flinched. He had seen this sight for the last year.
Stepping forward, the insect tapped a claw on the glass separating them.
T-Bone nodded to him sadly.
"Hardly the first time I've failed, huh?"
The ci-kat-a shook its head back and forth slowly.
T-Bone wasn't sure how to respond to that. Was Razor denying that he'd failed him? No. Razor wasn't that cognizant. He was putting kat gestures to a creature that no longer remembered them. Like assuming your pet understood your words because it responded with a gesture that looked feline.
Still, that was just the sort of thing Razor would have done. He never let T-Bone blame himself. The ghost of a smile played across T-Bone's lips.
Razor had improved. Even the scientists agreed.
His behavior was a far cry from when this nightmare started. A year ago. A year ago when the alien bugs came. A year ago when T-Bone landed outside the nuclear plant and went searching for his partner. Then, Razor had howled and swore as T-Bone pinned him and later brought him to the research facility in hopes of a cure.
But, T-Bone never blamed Razor. It wasn't him talking.
When his transformation into a ci-kat-a had ended, when his voice had become unintelligible, Razor had settled for ignoring his once partner.
Again, it wasn't Razor.
It was only in the last two months that the insect had started to pay attention. Whether he understood a word was debatable. But, it made no difference. T-Bone would never give up. Rename it and stubbornness was a virtue.
The ci-kat-a tapped the glass again, insistently.
The big kat patted the glass where Razor's claw was with another sigh and turned to leave. He'd seen this a million times. He didn't blame Razor for wanting out. But, it was always the insect that wanted to escape and then ignored him when he wouldn't open the door. It was never his friend.
It wasn't Razor.
The tapping continued, steady, rhythmic.
The big kat froze.
An ear flickered backward slowly, an old memory surfacing.
A rhythm. A code.
"Tap code," T-Bone whispered. He spun and flung himself at the glass, one hand pressing to it. "Are— are you...?" he started, unsure. He couldn't say it. Couldn't hope again.
The insect nodded.
Tap-tap. Tap-tap-tap. Pause. Tap. Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. Pause. Tap-tap-tap-tap. Tap-tap. Pause. Tap. Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap.
"Here," T-Bone mouthed.
The tapping continued, rapping out four more letters.
He looked into the multi-faceted eyes.
It had happened. His miracle.
He found his partner after twenty minutes of gut-wrenching fear and total radio silence. The moan lead him, an infeline sound, but unmistakably Razor's voice. It was the kind of sound that comes ripped from a raw throat, a half-sob, but T-Bone knew who it was. And, it scared him. Scared him to the depths of his soul.
Heart racing, he plunged after the sound, rounding a corner of the nuclear power plant and coming into a narrow crevice between two buildings. A kat's silhouette was outlined before him in the light pouring in from the opposite side of the dark interstice.
As T-Bone approached, Razor kept his back to his friend, his body rigid, shoulders quaking slightly.
"Razor, are you okay?" T-Bone called out, his steps slowing. Something was deathly wrong. So wrong he knew not to run to his partner as he would have under any other circumstances. Something held him back.
"T-Bone..." Razor's voice was strained, distorted. "Stay there."
"Razor!" T-Bone couldn't contain it any longer; he lunged forward.
"Chance, STOP!" Razor snarled, turning slowly.
T-Bone froze at the sound of his real name, his heart in his throat.
Face veiled in shadow, Razor studied his friend. Hesitantly, he took several steps forward, coming into the light from T-Bone's end of the aperture. Gaze locked on the big tabby, he reached up to slowly, deliberately remove his helmet.
"No," T-Bone whispered, realizing.
The mask followed.
T-Bone could only stare in horror at the multi-faceted green eyes that had replaced Jake's vibrant amber ones. His jaw hung slack, moving soundlessly.
The infected kat's lips moved.
It was the last word he ever uttered as Jake Clawson. His last word as the kat T-Bone had known.
The furious thudding from the containment room brought Dr. Sandy Katleider at a run. Not again. Not another one attempting to suicide by throwing itself into the wall. Not again. Not on her watch.
A low key stun blaster in one hand, she rushed into the room, her other hand groping for the switch to bring up the dimmed lights. She paused, catching sight of the movement in the familiar holding chamber. No! Not Razor!
"Razor!" she blurted, forgetting the lights and running on.
Razor's clawed foot stopped mid-kick and withdrew. Urgently, he looked up at the doctor.
Sandy slid to a halt as the insect met her eyes with his own. What was—? Then, she saw the large form slumped against the base of the glass wall.
With a gasp, Sandy rushed to T-Bone's side. He lay limp, head resting against the wall. A dark stain was spreading along the side of his flight suit.
"Oh my goodness." The dark-haired she-kat pressed a hand to T-Bone's neck. Yes, his heartbeat was steady, and the regular shudders rippling over his body accompanied each breath. Sandy sighed in relief. As she tugged her cell phone out of a coat pocket, the big SWAT Kat's eyelids fluttered. The researcher paused.
T-Bone's lips moved soundlessly before a word finally escaped.
"He's fine. He just saved your life," Sandy assured, eyes locked on the insect that had knelt by them on his side of the glass.
It was the last thing the big kat heard before his world once more spiralled into darkness.
The ci-kat-a drone that called itself both Jake Clawson and Razor - and was alone of its kind in naming itself - watched intently as paramedics strapped the burly form of his friend onto a collapsible gurney. A soft murmur rumbled from deep in his throat where the ci-kat-a's voicebox lay.
Sandy Katleider's ears twitched at the sound. When they had wheeled T-Bone out of sight, she at last turned to study Razor.
She was a short she-kat with uniformly beige fur that lightened to white at the tip of her tail. Her mop of brown hair was perpetually tied in a ponytail. It was easy to see how she could vanish into any crowd. Until you saw her eyes. They were a vibrant orange that seemed to shine behind her thin-rimmed glasses. By turns they glowed with the intensity of thought, the thrill of diving into a new project, and an unbounded capacity for empathy.
It was a mingling of each that now fell on Razor. "You were trying to get someone's attention because he was hurt, weren't you?" Sandy asked, not certain if she expected an answer or that familiar, blank stare.
Sandy's eyes widened. Was he that cognizant?
"You were trying to kill yourself?" she asked, testing.
Razor shook his head, his ears pinning back.
Sandy's jaw dropped at the feline expression of distaste. The ci-kat-as' feline ears and tails had earned them their common name, but they didn't use them as kats did. A colleague and partner in the project had devoted considerable time to studying the mutated kats and the few live ci-kat-as that had been captured. Their body language was identical. In fact, save that the infected kats seemed to maintain a vestige of their original coloring and the ci-kat-as were all a uniform, and ghastly, shade of purple, there was no noticeable difference between the two. The researcher had catalogued a variety of body language, but not once had a kat-like gesture from either set even vaguely appeared to carry the same meaning for which kats employed it.
Razor, however, was most assuredly responding with kat gestures in a kat-like way. His ears were pricked forward attentively. The tip of his tail was twitching in agitation.
Sandy paused to correct herself. She couldn't know it was agitation. Similar incidents had already sparked far too many premature hopes. But, as she stared into Razor's face, alien as it was, she knew. Knew that this time the miracle was real.
Her throat tightening, the young researcher started to ask upwards of three questions at once before realizing that Razor couldn't possible answer. At least not so that she could understand.
"Can you write?" Sandy managed at last.
Razor looked down at his three-clawed hands. After some minutes' study, he raised his head and nodded. He would try at any rate.
Sandy returned the nod and fled the room. Was this really happening? Her mind spun as she fumbled with the doorknob to her office.
For the last six months the once-kats had been in her care. She had volunteered for the project, offering her skills and training as a biologist. She'd stayed with it when others gave up. She had championed the project when funds were discussed. She had comforted family members uncertain whether to grieve or to despair or to hope.
Rummaging in the disaster area that was her desk, Sandy ruefully admitted that she had been serving more like a care-giver than a researcher more often than not. But, it called to her. All of the internships she had looked into during her final year of college paled in comparison to this project. Somehow none of them seemed as important. How could those studies in genetic engineering back east, however fantastical as well as profitable, compare to the plight of these kats who had been forcibly transformed into a completely different species? Their minds held captive in an insectoid hive mind?
And, the families of the victims had touched her heart almost as much as the victims themselves. T-Bone most of all.
Sandy tugged a yellow legal pad from a stack of folders and started to rip away the two pages of notes on top. The dark-haired she-kat paused. She could still see T-Bone on that day a year ago. Still see that tortured, hurting face.
The burly figure barred the doorway, an orange-furred kat half his size cradled in his arms.
"Help me," the imposing kat whispered hoarsely, at once as lost and helpless as a kitten, yet a tightening of his facial muscles hinted at far darker emotions roiling within. He needed help desperately. And, someone would help him or there would be Hell to pay.
The big kat set one foot forward, eyes searching the room. As he and his burden came into the light, someone gasped.
The near arm of the limp form the burly tabby carried hung free, a three-clawed hand protruding from the baggy sleeve. The claw was unmistakable.
"It's a ci-kat-a!"
The big feline, now clearly visible as a SWAT Kat, looked protectively over his charge at the room full of researchers, eyes narrowing. It was clear he could explode in a fury if any dared ask him to leave. It was clear that he wasn't thinking rationally. And, it was equally clear that he was in pain beyond rational thought. Pupils veiled, the agony behind his mask couldn't be hidden. His shrouded eyes were haunted. His fury was the final stage before exhaustion and despair.
"Help me," he whispered again.
Forcing herself back to the present, Sandy shivered. Like an afterimage, T-Bone's haunted face still hung in the air before her. She'd seen a replay of it more times than she dared ponder. But, maybe it was over now. Maybe. Hopefully.
Sandy tore the note pages free and clutched the legal pad to her chest. With her other hand she pulled a pen from the overflowing holder on the corner of the desk. Then, she was hurrying back to Razor.
She found him pacing the containment chamber restlessly. His head came up at her appearance, nodding as she smiled and held up the legal pad. Then, she was darting around to the door on the back of his chamber.
Sandy quickly keyed her access code so that the door to the transfer room slid away with a quiet swish of air. The dark-haired doctor laid down the pad and pen, noting her trembling hands with a researcher's detachment before stepping back. The movement triggered the door to close, sliding back into place as quietly as it had opened. Trying to force herself to calm, Sandy fingered the speaker by the door.
"Alright, you can open your side," one finger found the inner door release, "now."
Sandy waited as Razor collected the pad and pen and retreated once more into his confinement before returning to the glass-faced front of the chamber. Razor was already struggling through a message.
After some fumbling with the pen, he turned the pad to her.
"You're welcome," the she-kat breathed.
It was T-Bone's miracle. The one he'd waited for so earnestly. The one they'd all waited for.
Razor studied Sandy's face as the flash of emotions danced their way across her slightly rounded features and then looked beyond her. To the doors through which they'd wheeled his partner.
Sandy saw it.
"He'll be alright," she assured. "He has to be," she added softly.
A single drop of blood splashed against the metal deck of the airship. T-Bone watched it listlessly, half his face numb with pain.
"Answer me!" Turmoil grabbed his chin, her claws curling across his cheek to dig into the wound she'd already inflicted, and forced his head up to meet her gaze.
"What do I really think of you?" he hissed. The green eyes behind his mask narrowed to slits. "I think you're a murderer."
Turmoil threw her head back and laughed shortly before fixing a sneer on T-Bone, who was again staring disinterestedly at the floor. "You can't stop me, SWAT Kat."
At the words, T-Bone's head jerked up.
"You can't stop us, SWAT Kat," Turmoil repeated, her face contorting before him. As he watched, her large eyes, perhaps her most attractive feature, grew to oversized proportions, becoming the multifaceted eyes of a ci-kat-a. Her prominent cheekbones widened into a face so familiar, the hat atop her head flattening into a curving helmet. He turned around in surprise as his arms were abruptly free. The female troops at his back had disappeared, melding into expressionless gray concrete. He was at MegaKat Nuclear Plant once more. On that day.
Resigned, T-Bone faced the figure before him, now Razor. Razor as the ci-kat-a hive mind at last broke through his defenses and consumed him.
Razor's face below the huge eyes was just twisting in a snarl. "You can't stop us, SWAT Kat," he growled at his former partner, his voice hissing faintly.
T-Bone shook off his shock, forced to join in the never-ending replay. "I can save you," he shouted, snapping his right arm up and bringing his glovatrix into firing position.
Razor had backflipped away from him before the motion was complete. Landing lightly, the infected kat growled and fired his own glovatrix. His aim was as true as ever.
T-Bone leapt into the air to avoid the missile, twisting as he went. But, he was seconds too slow. The bolo snapped free of its metal housing instants before tightening around the big kat, the impact throwing him off-balance and down onto the hard concrete.
Desperate, T-Bone thrashed around, trying to get his glovatrix in a position to free himself with the buzzsaw blade. He had to free himself. He couldn't let Razor get away! He had to get him help! Had to...
The shriek of an alarm interrupted his thoughts. T-Bone rolled onto his side to look up. Patterns of light blared along the side of the nuclear plant's main building. The wail of a siren joined the alarm not minutes later. Fuzzy figures hurried from an exit several feet beyond his position, yelling, urgent. Their screams becoming one with the general melee.
T-Bone blinked. He was suddenly unable to comprehend it all, his vision blurring. "What?" the tabby whispered, dazed. The world seemed to be exploding around him and he felt disinterested.
Razor was only a dark figure in T-Bone's vision by the time he bent to pluck the tranquilizer dart from the back of the big kat's neck.
T-Bone moaned softly as the dream faded, reality greeting him with a myriad of aches and pains. He groaned louder at that realization and wondered what time it was. Dr. Katleider would be scolding him again. Falling asleep in the facility.
The big kat's eyes slit open at the voice. That wasn't Dr. Katleider.
Deputy Mayor Callie Briggs leaned over to peer at the SWAT Kat in the hospital bed, a cascade of golden hair spilling over her shoulder. "T-Bone?" she repeated. As his green eyes widened, the longtime SWAT Kat friend and supporter met them with her own and smiled. Anticipating his questions, she hardly gave him the chance to open his mouth before raising a hand to tick off the answers on her delicate fingers. "Your identity's safe, the doctors say you'll be fine, and," Callie's voice dropped to an excited whisper, "Razor's been asking about you. He sent this note."
T-Bone looked in stunned disbelief as Callie produced a manilla envelope, its bulge hinting at far more than a 'note.' So, they hadn't all been dreams. The miracle was real.
"It's very hard to write, so I'll stick to what I have to tell you," T-Bone read aloud from the veritable dissertation Razor had painfully scratched out for him. "S'alot he had to tell me," the big kat muttered, reaching to snatch a roll from the movable table situated across his bed. As the roll disappeared into his mouth, he took up Razor's missive yet again and resumed reading.
"First, I will always be your friend..."
T-Bone felt his eyes moisten slightly but had to chuckle softly at the next line.
"Stop sniffling before you embarrass yourself, you big softie!"
It was a bit surprising. Hearing Razor speak so candidly of what they'd never spoken aloud, what had always been an unspoken understanding. But, it might be his friend's last chance to voice it...
T-Bone shoved the thought aside forcefully and focused on his reading.
"It's hard to think of the last year. My thoughts were so confused. The ci-kat-as have a hive mind that suppresses most individual thought. Though they do allow... hunreh - their name for those they infect - access to learned knowledge. Thank goodness they've little interest in technology."
The alteration in the writing, an obvious darkening of the letters as Razor had clearly pressed harder, was the sole hint of his determination not to ponder how the ci-kat-as might have used his technical knowledge had they cared to. But, T-Bone saw it and it made him grimace. Thank goodness indeed. For Razor's sake and that of everyone else in the city as well. He ducked his head back to the darkened letters.
"The hive mind disintegrated when you killed the Queen. She was the power behind all our actions. She died, and the driving force behind the ci-kat-a invasion died with her. But, the idea remained in all of us. Our last orders. Infect the planet. Conquer."
"I can't explain or remember much after that point. I know only that, as time passed and the Queen's presence didn't return to my mind, I started to lose conscious thought. Drones are supposed to die without her, their minds slowly disintegrating."
"But, I couldn't. I couldn't give up and die. I didn't want to. I'd lost the majority of my memories. Or rather they were locked away, repressed. And, every night, you brought a part of them back. Whether I found a way to show it or not, I was listening. So are the others. I can sense it. Tell them. Tell the doctors, the visitors. We are listening. It does help. And, thank you."
Clambering out the hospital window with the envelope of Razor's writings tucked into the front of his flight suit successfully saved T-Bone from the flood of emotions. A warm breeze fluttered the trailing ends of his mask as he slowly rappelled down the side of the hospital with his glovatrix' grappling cable. His burned hip protested every movement, causing him to wince at the end of each downswing. He let his feet bounce as lightly as possible off the smooth concrete, but it still hurt.
"Might shoulda just taken the elevator after all," he commented to himself as a particularly searing stab of pain lanced down his hip.
Well, no out now. Best to finish the remaining five stories.
Painfully, T-Bone completed his descent, enjoying the freedom from his thoughts the physical activity brought. He was going to see Razor. No other thought was allowed to cross his mind.
Then, his bare pawpads were touching the ground. T-Bone sighed in relief, easing his weight to the ground so that the bulk of it rested on his undamaged hip.
"Fancy meeting you here."
T-Bone spun around at the familiar voice to find Callie Briggs leaning against the wall behind him, a grin on her lips. She straightened and stepped forward.
"Thought you might need a ride."
The big tabby smiled faintly. "You bet."
Five minutes later found the two in Callie's still-new red car heading for the research center. They travelled largely in silence as both debated what to say.
In the voiceless void, Callie could sense T-Bone's discomfort. Hesitantly, she attempted a conversation.
"So, if I may ask, what did Razor say?"
T-Bone straightened from his slump in the bucket seat beside her, surprised by the question. But, talking was better than the quiet. When it was quiet his mind pondered unpleasant memories and worries.
"He... just told me about how he's been remembering slowly." He thought. What else was okay to say? "And, how it helped that I came and talked to him."
Callie flashed him a warm smile before turning her attention to the road and following the directions of an orange detour sign. "They say that helps people in comas too."
"Yeah, I heard that."
Inwardly, T-Bone growled at himself. Two years of secretly admiring this she-kat, flirting with her under his true name, protecting her as his SWAT Kat persona and now he couldn't even manage a few minutes of small talk with her! Blast! But, it was all too much to handle right now.
He looked out at the road before them.
"Say, why're we takin' I-95? Highway 321's faster."
Callie glanced at him, something unreadable in her expression. "It's a detour," she said softly.
T-Bone ignored her hesitance and pursued the train of thought.
"Detour? Road construction again?"
MegaKat's official symbol should have been an orange road cone against a yellow "Caution" banner. Road construction was a never-ending job. Of course, so was construction. Not necessarily so much new buildings as repairing the old.
Callie glanced at the big kat before speaking. No, she couldn't evade this one.
"It's where they're cleaning up. After the plane crash," the blonde she-kat murmured.
The SWAT Kat shuddered at the words. His great frame shook. His shoulders slumped. Though it was not the first time she'd witnessed this rare glimpse of T-Bone's true emotion, it still surprised Callie. The tabby seemed suddenly small and vulnerable, deflated. The wall of bravado and gruff macho attitude was crumbling to show the hurting, lost kat behind the vigilante mystique.
It was only a momentary glimpse.
T-Bone quickly began to recover, glossing over the chinks in his armor.
Callie reached out to lay a hand on his near arm as he collected himself. This had to be said before he could completely wall her out.
"There was nothing anyone else could do either," she whispered gently. "Not you. Not the Enforcers. And, anybody who blames either of you isn't thinking clearly."
The tabby froze at her words, his muscles taut under her hand. It was so like something Razor would have said. So like it that he almost snapped back at her with an angry denial like he would have Razor.
Only Razor would have understood and forgiven him immediately. Forgiven him long before he started thinking clearly again and apologized.
Callie would not. At least, he didn't think she would.
She'd been a Godsend this last year, a steady force of calm in his turmoil. A friend who offered her presence and always seemed to know both when it was most needed and when it was not desired. She had done so much for him.
T-Bone sucked in a breath and pondered his words before speaking.
"Thank you," he managed at last as her hand slid from his arm.
Callie gave him a fresh smile.
She didn't blame him.
But, he blamed himself.
A sigh from Callie broke him from the start of another reverie, and T-Bone realized for the first time that the car had stopped. Looking ahead, he saw a winding line of cars.
"Guess everyone else took the same detour," the tabby muttered.
Inside, he wondered how to handle the wait. What could he say to Callie? He'd already fumbled through one conversation. Emotionally, he was teetering between elation at Razor's recovery and despair over his failure of the day before. Even he couldn't predict what he might say. His emotions were a storm of confusion.
Again, Callie saved him.
"So, you actually finish all that?"
The big kat blinked as Callie poked the bulge in the front of his flight suit.
"Oh," he mumbled. "No, I just wanted to get out and..." Again, he faltered.
"Well, we've got plenty of time right now."
T-Bone tried not to audibly sigh in relief. "You don't mind?"
Callie shook her head. "I'm gonna put in a couple calls if you don't mind."
T-Bone smiled as he freed the stack of papers and Callie produced her cell phone. The two settled into an easy, companionable silence.
"I'm not sure where to go from here," T-Bone read, almost hearing Razor's voice, the voice he hadn't heard in a year, speaking the words on the page. "The last year feels like a nightmare. Like trapped at the bottom of a deep, deep hole in my own mind.
I didn't go straight to the bottom at first. I— I'm not sure if I should tell you this. But, I want it written down for some reason. Want everyone to know what this is like. So they won't give up on the others. I— I know you remember that day at the power plant..."
Seeing a portion of the power plant's perimeter fence ripped away, Razor angled the Cyclotron for the opening. Ahead, he could see the unmistakable purple form of the Queen Ci-Kat-A. And, behind... Crud. That news van was still behind him. One more thing to...
Then, the sound hit him. A horrible piercing squeal.
Razor let out an involuntary scream of pain. His scream intensified to a yowl as the tinted glass shield curving over the front of the Cyclotron shattered and shards of glass whipped into his face. The SWAT Kat reflexively closed his eyes, the double pain numbing his senses.
Most of all that scream. It seemed to reach into his mind, deafening conscious thought. Only a piercing pain remained.
Razor came to his senses in time to throw himself from the Cyclotron before it careened into the side of the power plant. Rolling to break his fall, he finally stopped with his weight resting on one hip.
And, the Ci-Kat-A was directly in front of him.
Realizing, the slim kat snapped his glovatrix into a firing position. The insect responded by vomiting a torrent of yellow-green slime.
Razor found himself engulfed in what quickly proved to be a suffocating goo. When he closed his eyes, it slid under the lids. It penetrated his nose, drawn in with his first gasping breath. It entered his mouth as he gulped for air. More then seeped in around his clamped teeth when he tried to block it.
He couldn't breathe!
Desperate, Razor thrashed madly, clawing at his face to pull away the cloying ooze. The Ci-Kat-A was forgotten. He couldn't breathe! He opened his mouth and only drew in more slime, its taste acidic, burning.
A silent scream exploded from inside, drowned in the viscous ooze that was suffocating him.
Movement became harder and harder. His thoughts grew sluggish. Dully, Razor realized he was going to die. But, he was too numb to think of anything. No plan of escape presented itself. No eloquent last words came to him. Only that simple realization.
Then, the slimy cocoon was ripped away. Hardened, the plugs in Razor's mouth and nose pulled free with the rest of the shell over his face. Air poured in and he gulped it hungrily. Dizzily, the SWAT Kat forced his eyes open. Tears streamed through his fur as his eyes cleared away the last of the slime.
"T—T-Bone?" he croaked.
But, it wasn't T-Bone.
Razor screamed at the sight of the Ci-Kat-A's pincers not inches from his face. And, screamed again as they clamped around his neck, piercing fur and skin, plunging liquid fire into his veins.
His mind began to numb. But, not so that he couldn't feel the change in his face. Feel his eyes changing.
Razor hadn't realized he'd closed them until his eyes were forced open. And, he could not close them. He had no eyelids.
"No." The slim kat whispered the only word he could force across his lips.
But, no one heard.
The Ci-Kat-A was gone.
In his mind, Razor heard the voice. It promised power. It declared him special - one of few with a greater freedom. He was a servant. But, a servant over many lesser servants. Yet, there were still commands he must obey.
- None shall enter the structure. -
He staggered under the mental force of his Queen's command, standing instantly and involuntarily muttering, "Yes."
Mind reeling, the SWAT Kat stepped free of the cocoon's remains and headed for the nuclear plant. He knew now. Knew his orders. His mission.
As he took up position by the hole through which the Ci-Kat-A had entered, a familiar sound drew his attention to the sky. The TurboKat swooped across his newly altered vision.
And, Razor trembled.
"Chance," he rasped.
- Infect the kats. All of them. -
'Not... Chance... Can't...'
- All of them. -
Razor screamed, holding his head.
'I will not hurt my friend!'
Deep within the heart of the reactor, the Ci-Kat-A paused briefly as her pincers were biting deeply into a second nuclear fuel rod. Her body bathed in the radioactive glow of the reactor core, she was exulting in the rush of power it brought. But, the defiance in the kat's scream surprised her.
Had a queen before her ever met such force of will? And, what had they done? Would breaking him be an accomplishment? Something no other queen had ever conquered?
But, it wasn't worth it, she decided at last, continuing her interrupted meal. If her new servant - only the third one she'd personally infected - did not want the honor, she could easily make him just another drone.
And, she would she decided quickly. Her foremost levels of attention were focused on this meal of native ore and protecting herself during the feast. She was not going to spoil a good meal by wasting time on the pathetic creature.
So, she reached out with the inexorable control of a ci-kat-a queen. Driving into the kat's mind. To destroy it.
Razor's scream was pure agony this time. He knew. He could feel his mind growing numb again, his thoughts degenerating.
He knew what was happening. On some level below the pain, he knew. And, he stumbled away into a narrow alley beside the main reactor building, trying to hide. To escape. To escape the pain and to escape Chance. Once she controlled his body, she would order him to infect Chance. He refused to let her. It was his rallying point. The strength he leaned on to face her. To hold her off long enough. Long enough to apologize, to speak to Chance one last time.
And then, he became little more than the Queen's puppet, hissing over-used science fiction dialogue at his friend.
'But, it wasn't as bad as I thought,' Razor reminded himself. He was resting in a far corner of his cell, pretending to be asleep. Easily done when you didn't have eyelids. Who could tell? 'I couldn't infect him then anyway. The mutation wasn't far enough along for me to even have the toxin, let alone the pincers to inject it.'
Still, the thought made him shudder. To have doomed Chance to this too...
The door at the far end of the room burst open, ending further musing.
Razor lifted his head to see T-Bone barging in. The big kat slowed only when he reached the glass wall, a hand clutched against his side. The ci-kat-a noted the hand and quickly scribbled a note.
"U should have stayed in hospital."
"You know better," T-Bone returned.
"He rappelled down the side of the hospital," a second voice cut in.
Razor looked first to Callie and then back to T-Bone. As his mouth had lost the ability to form expression, he quickly jotted two eye dots and a frown on his paper and showed it to T-Bone. A wagging claw completed the gesture.
"I'm okay, Buddy," T-Bone returned easily, his grin threatening to consume his face.
This was Razor. Jake rather. It was true. His friend was back. The miracle had happened.
Then, he frowned.
"Why're you still in there?"
Razor started to write something, but paused and inclined his head.
T-Bone turned to see Dr. Katleider coming in. Seeing him, her mouth curled in the slightest hint of a smile even as her brows drew together. It was a curious contradiction. One her words quickly explained.
"He's still in there because he is a full ci-kat-a," she began softly, daring to hope that she could hold back the storm she saw brewing in T-Bone's eyes.
"Not where it counts!" T-Bone shouted, eyes narrowing. His tail twitched once with a slashing, angry motion. Close as she was, Sandy could see his burning green eyes. She recognized that look. The look that he had worn the day he first came to the research center. That dangerous look that covered the fire raging within.
Behind the big SWAT Kat, Razor was furiously writing a new note. He knew that look too. And, he didn't need to see T-Bone's face to know it was there.
Catching the motion out of the corner of her eye, Callie reached out to lay a hand on T-Bone's shoulder. The hulking tomkat spun to face her, eyes still blazing. Wordlessly, Callie pointed to Razor.
T-Bone's gaze swung to the glass wall to find Razor holding up a piece of paper. Slowly, the tabby drew in a breath. Relaxed. And, read, squinting at the hasty scrawl.
"I am ci-kat-a. Could hurt someone. Could go back."
T-Bone's face twisted. "But, you won't, Razor." His voice broke, becoming a throaty whisper as he reached to touch the glass. "You won't."
Razor just looked down.
T-Bone's shoulders slumped in defeat. His hand dropped back to his side.
Watching him, Callie sighed. Deflated again.
Beside the blonde, Sandy's face mirrored her sentiment. The big kat had been through so much. First the crash yesterday, now this news when he should have been able to , the green eyes sparked with new life.
"What about me?"
T-Bone's sudden question confused both she-kats. He clarified.
"Can I go in with him?"
The dark-haired researcher opened her mouth to answer but quickly snapped it shut, watching Razor shake his head over T-Bone's shoulder. Seeing her face, T-Bone looked back at his friend.
The ci-kat-a stopped further protests by raising a single claw.
The big kat blinked. "Wait?" His mouth parted slightly in confusion. But, he held his peace.
Razor nodded and quickly scratched out another note to show them.
"A week?!" T-Bone barked.
Razor only nodded. Firmly.
T-Bone sighed. "Alright, buddy. Alright."
Mid-week found Chance Furlong whistling a tune to himself as he opened the garage. Keeping it open without Jake had been almost harder than working as a SWAT Kat without Razor. At least he felt obligated to protect the city. Felt it was worthwhile. But, Jake wouldn't have wanted the garage to fall into disrepair or to see his friend living in squalor. And, the hope, the certainty, that Jake would come back had kept him going.
And now, his miracle had come.
Chance smiled and ran a mental check of the cars waiting to be repaired. As he did so, a sound reached his sharp ears. The tiger-striped tom twisted to find a car making its way to the garage. He studied it as it approached. Something about it was very familiar. Then, he saw the driver and smiled. Nothing like a little more sunshine to brighten a pretty day.
Callie Briggs watched as the garage came into sight. It had been six months since she had been out here. The blonde smiled a bit at that. Thank goodness she'd finally sold that old green clunker. Her new car hadn't needed a quarter of the work the old one had.
And, now... Her car did have a squeak. But, that wasn't why she'd come.
Callie's face sobered with that thought.
What to say? She had her suspicions, but nothing concrete. And, even with proof what then?
As the red car came to a stop, Chance moved to greet Callie. She watched as he came forward. There was a slight limp in his steps. A familiar limp. But, the smile was new. At least new for the past year. A far cry from her last visit a year ago. A year ago when his voice had shaken so badly as he told her that Jake was away with a terminally ill mother during her last few months. When he'd lied through his teeth to hide the secret she'd only recently come to realize.
"Haven't seen you in a while," the tabby commented, opening the door for her.
"Got a better car," the golden she-kat returned with a slightly smirking smile as she got out of the car.
"But, here you are anyway," Chance purred, leaning on the door lightly.
Callie smiled at his tone. Flirting again. Thank goodness. If she was right, he had been so close to falling to pieces.
"Squeak. Hope it's something small."
The big kat reached inside the car to pop the hood with a, "Well, we'll see." As he moved to start the engine, he added, "Help yourself to something from the fridge if you want."
Callie started to move and paused, studying the tabby as he started the car and moved around to the front of the vehicle to listen. Perhaps...
"Hope it's not like the old car. I bring it for a squeak and it needs a new transmission." She hesitated, but said it anyway. "I mean, the week's almost over. You're probably looking forward to the weekend."
There. She could have meant anything by that. Not necessarily...
But, there was something in her tone. Something that made Chance turn to look at her strangely, his mouth parting in an 'O' as he fumbled for words.
Suddenly feeling bold, Callie winked back. "I know that hotshot grin anywhere." Then, she ducked into the garage in a flurry of golden hair.
But, not before seeing Chance's eyes widen to twice their normal size. Yes, she had been right.
For a moment, Chance just stared at the spot where Callie had been.
Then, unexpectedly, he slowly let the old, wide grin creep across his face. What she knew was safe with her. And, the week was almost over.
Sandy Katleider had chewed her claws to the quick before she realized it. And now, they stung with each keystroke as she entered her access code to admit T-Bone to Razor's holding chamber.
It wasn't that she doubted Razor's sincerity. She was sure he wasn't faking his recovery. But, what if some remnant of the ci-kat-a hive mind lived on within him? Dormant until it had something more than four walls to work with? What if there were another queen out there? Waiting for one servant to be liberated so she could order him to infect more kats and begin again?
A thousand, mad "what if?"s plagued her, and Sandy had no answers.
The bespectacled she-kat glanced back at T-Bone quickly before hitting the final key. Standing beside a smiling but pensive Callie Briggs he looked so excited, so happy. Her jaw tightened. This had to work out right. For both of them. For all the other families hoping so earnestly.
T-Bone anxiously dug his claws into his balled fists as the door slid away before him. This was it. Reunited at last. That repeating endlessly in his head, he stepped forward into the transfer room. The door behind him closed. Then, the one facing him, a wall of steel, whooshed away.
And, he was face to face with Razor.
"Hey, bud," the big kat greeted softly.
The orange-brown ci-kat-a responded with a soft muttering. It was unintelligible. But, T-Bone understood. He couldn't read Razor's eyes as he once could, but he still knew. Still knew where to look to see the soul of his best friend.
And, he enfolded his old friend in a crushing bearhug.
Razor, hesitantly at first, then with certainty, returned the hug.
Sandy watched the reunion with glistening eyes. "No internship could compare to this," she whispered. "Nothing could."
Callie whispered an agreement so softly it was barely heard.
But, it didn't matter. Only one thing mattered at that moment in time.
The SWAT Kats were together again.
The miracle had happened.