A Tarnished Future
By BookwormDragon, Beta'ed by ulyferal
Disclaimer: Neither the SWAT Kats Universe nor any of the Characters in the SWAT Kats Universe belong to me. No profit is made from this story on my part. No copyright infringement is intended.
When T-Bone first saw Commander Feral in the swamp outside the futuristic MetalliKat City, he was stunned at how bad the big tom looked. His skin hung loosely on his large frame, his fur was patchy and dull-looking, most of his head fur was missing entirely, and, although he tried to hide it, his paws trembled so badly that T-Bone was surprised he didn't drop his blaster. He also looked exhausted and moved slowly whenever they weren't being actively pursued.
T-Bone was confused. None of the others looked nearly as bad. Yeah, they were a little ragged and a little older, but they all seemed to be in pretty good health, considering. He just didn't understand it.
It bothered him so much that, as they were working to repair the Turbokat, he took advantage of the close quarters to commit a social faux pas: he drew a deep breath in through his mouth and actively tasted the Commander's scent. What he discovered almost shocked him senseless. Feral reeked of the sickly-sweet odor of starvation, underlined with the sharp and bitter tang of a long-term illness.
What the hell?! How could Feral be starving to death? T-Bone had seen him eat earlier, and had been a bit surprised when the others had all augmented the tom's rations with some of their own - Feral had ended up with a much larger portion than anyone else. The others had done this without even thinking about it, which meant that it was probably SOP for them. How could he reek of starvation if he was regularly eating extra rations?
"What the Hell?" He blurted out before he could stop himself.
Feral glared at the SWAT Kat, then sighed tiredly, clearly guessing correctly at what had upset the big tabby.
"Radiation poisoning." He explained bluntly. "The robots don't have to be as careful as we kats do around nuclear reactors. They're rather careless about it, actually. Fortunately, my exposure was relatively mild. Instead of dying almost immediately from organ failure, I get to die very slowly of cancer as my body basically devours itself!"
"B-but, we have treatments for all but the most serious forms of radiation poisoning!" T-Bone stammered, horrified.
"No, we had treatments for radiation poisoning. Not anymore. These days, you're lucky if you can find a bottle of aspirin! The thrice-cursed robots don't waste resources on medicine for us non-metallics - we're basically cheap, expendable labor. If we die, it's no big deal - we aren't worth the cost of producing medicines!" Feral hissed bitterly.
"It's really that bad here?" T-Bone was shocked.
"Yes! No real medicine, few actual doctors, a limited diet... there are kittens back at our encampment who have never eaten prepared food or seen a doctor. Hell, most of them can barely read and have never slept in an actual house with running water and electricity! And we're the lucky ones! It's even worse in the city. At least out here, we can hunt and gather our own food, teach our kittens to read a bit when we have the time and behave like civilized kats. In the city, no one has time to teach what few kittens survive anything at all, never mind reading! Most of the city kittens are little more than illiterate savages, roaming in street gangs, sleeping in alleys, hiding from the 'Bots and scavenging what they can to survive. And food! Robots don't need food, you know, and don't bother to waste resources producing it. There's not a rat left in the city these days - they've all been eaten! There are rumors that cannibalism is becoming common - if not the actual killing of other kats for food, then at least the eating of the bodies after they've been 'terminated' by the 'Bots." Feral explained matter-of-factly.
T-Bone gagged reflexively at the very thought.
"Exactly," Feral agreed dryly. "Compared to that, we really are lucky. I may be dying of a disease that could have been cured with hardly a thought back in the Before Times, but at least I'm not reduced to eating my friends and watching my kittens become little more than animals while I slave for a bunch of over-grown tin cans!"
"We had no idea that it was this bad!" T-Bone breathed in horror. "I mean, yeah, we could see that things were pretty bad, but not like this! And all because we died! I never thought we were that important!"
"Get over yourself, SWAT Kat!" Feral growled sharply. "Yes, your deaths had an impact, but it took more than that for this to come about! The widespread use of Professor Hackle's robots, for one thing. We got stupid and lazy with all those robots to do our work and I curse the day they were created! Besides, the Pastmaster clearly meddled to make sure that this future came to pass. Without his interference, who knows what would have happened? The world doesn't revolve around a reckless pair of lawless vigilantes, so stop thinking that it does!"
"I -," T-Bone started, feeling embarrassed.
"If you want to do something about it, you go back to the past and make sure that this future never happens, you hear me?!" Feral snarled fiercely, overriding T-Bone's protests. "Whatever the cost, this future must not occur!"
"I hear you," The big SWAT Kat managed, a little surprised by Feral's passion. "I'll do my best, I swear. May Sekhmet Hunt me if I fail!"
"May Her Hunt be successful if you do!" Feral replied, calming down a bit. "Just see that you don't fail, SWAT Kat!"
"I won't," T-Bone promised firmly.
With that, they turned back to their work, both determined to ensure a better future, even if it meant that they had to work together to make it happen.
Chance was really, really glad to see his own MegaKat City once again but he couldn't quite put that other city - or that other Feral - out of his mind. His sleeping hours were populated with desperate kats from a future that would, hopefully, never occur. Feral was an especially frequent and depressing guest in his nightmares, his passion and desperation often following the tabby into the waking world. Chance tried everything - warm milk, exhausting exercise, counting mice - but Future Feral still plagued his dreams. Finally, he snapped.
With a little manipulation, it was easy enough to get close to the real Feral while in his T-Bone disguise. Close enough to boldly scent the big tom once again, much to the Commander's surprise and disgust.
"Kat's Alive, SWAT Kat! Were you raised in an alley? You can't just go around scenting kats in public like that, it's indecent!" Feral barked.
T-Bone merely grinned cheekily at him, pleased to discover no sickly-sweet odor of starvation and no bitter tang of illness. The big tom smelled of good health, surprise, and anger with a little fear underneath. Strangely, threaded throughout his scent was a tantalizing and enticing odor that he just couldn't place. It was exotic and compelling, and he almost leaned in to lick the Commander for a better taste, but, fortunately, Feral's threatening growl brought him back to himself before he did something foolish.
"Ooops, gotta run! See'ya later, Feral." With that, T-Bone dashed back toward Razor and the Turbokat, hoping that the Dream Feral would finally leave him in peace. He had a new mystery to solve now, anyway. Just why did Feral suddenly smell so good?
Author's Notes: I may have taken some artistic liberties with Radiation Poisoning and its symptoms and results.
Sekhmet is an Egyptian warrior goddess who takes the form of a lioness - the most successful and deadly hunter known to the Egyptians. She is also a protector (of the pharaohs, specifically) and a healer. She is known as the Avenger of Wrongs and as the Lady of Flame, among other titles. She is a fierce and relentless warrior who once nearly destroyed mankind in an attempt to quench her bloodlust. She also has a fondness for beer and parties. It is not unreasonable to believe that Kats would adopt the Kat version of her as the Patron Goddess of the Enforcers and other Warriors, and as the punisher of Oathbreakers. In Kat legend, to be Hunted by Sekhmet is to invite complete and total annihilation into your life. A successful Hunt results in your bloody and painful death, and in the destruction of everyone who ever knew you. It is a very serious matter to invoke Sekhmet to witness your oath - she punishes oathbreakers very harshly.