I DON'T WANT A MATE!
Chapter 1: Cave In!
The dark tom groaned and writhed on the king size bed, twisting his bedding tightly around him. Though sleep was what he'd sought when he'd first gone to bed, his heat cycle kept his body from seeking it. His fevered dreams featured a strong, powerfully built, and oh so sexy tom covering his body and driving a steel hard cock into his wet and urgent core, proceeding to drive them both to a fiery and intense climax.
But that was only a dream, the reality was him writhing hopelessly with need and no completion in sight. Gods, how he loathed this biological imperative. Though only appearing twice a year, those times were the worst of his life. That overwhelming, fiery need demanded he mate but he staunchly refused, battling his instincts with grim determination and refusing to allow it to conquer him or force him to capitulate.
And, as always during this miserable time, when he could catch a break from the waves of intense desire and heat, he would call into work and tell his personal assistant, Sgt Fallon, that he would be indisposed. That word alone told Fallon what ailed the Commander as the dark tom never called in sick or, at least, very rarely did. On these occasions, Fallon would divert anyone from trying to see or call the tom.
Only an omega alert would force the Commander to his feet, temporarily replacing the mating heat with the urgency to protect his city from its enemies and when duty was done, retreating quickly home again before his rampant hormones took over once more.
As night passed into day, he woke with sweat beading his forehead, his body drained from its fight, and sunrise painting a rosy glow on his bedroom ceiling. Rolling to his side, he glared at the far wall, his thoughts a tangled and anguished mess. Kat's Alive! I want him sooo badly but no way would I be caught dead with that annoying tom, he cursed silently.
Ever since puberty at age thirteen, he'd had to endure this twice yearly torment. Fortunately, back then, it hadn't been more than a nuisance, requiring him to use a masking spray embarrassingly given to him by his equally mortified mother. It had been a serious shock to his parents to find out their son was dual sexed. It wasn't such happy news for him either once he realized what was causing him to fixate on males during those times.
Due to that dual sexuality, his mother and father had to teach him the rules for proper behavior for both sexes. His mother instructed him on the use of a masking spray that hid his heat scent and the avoidance of engaging sex at that time. Modern females could use a pill developed for this purpose but herms could not. His father taught him how to behave when he scented a female in heat...ignore it unless the she-kat in question invites one to play and even then, he needed to be certain the female truly wanted it and not because she was too overwhelmed by her condition to give consent. His father strongly warned him that it was Ulysses' responsibility to practice safe sex and he impressed upon his son the serious consequences of giving into temptation. He also reminded the young tom that it was a serious social gaffe to make mention or show interest when a female's heat pheromones filled the air and that behavior was supposed to extend to him too but because he was male, society did not always remember that.
With an unhappy frown Jessup Feral told his son that he had no advice he could give Ulysses if a male took offense at smelling a female and being confronted with a male. He would have to learn what to do on his own. And so, on those rare occasions when his heat cycle broke through the masking spray, he did indeed learn that he would have to fight off angry males and put up with their ridicule. Though the school officials tried to help by educating his classmates on herms, incidents still happened. His parents were anguished over this but besides sending him to self defense courses, all they really could do was provide love and support.
Their support and a change of high schools so he would be with students that didn't know him, helped Feral to make new friends and enjoy his high school years. It helped that he never told anyone at the new school about his difference. It was during this time that he first had sex but only with females. He'd already decided he would never use his female equipment.
When he entered the Enforcer Academy, only his doctors and the head of the school knew what he was and when he graduated and went into the Enforcers, he had already decided he wasn't marrying for some time and concerned himself with moving up the ranks. Squiring the occasional she-kat during that time satisfied him and gained him a reputation as a gentlemen. But when he reached the highest rank possible in the Enforcers, his life grew hectic, dangerous, and exhausting which meant very little time for socializing except when called upon by his position.
Then one day, a few years after he'd become Commander, his whole world turned upside down and was never the same again. On that day, a young, fresh faced new recruit stood at attention with his classmates waiting to receive his wings at the end of his training at the academy and Feral was the one required to pin those wings on.
He nearly stuck himself when his nose caught the sandy colored, tabby's scent. It struck him like a hammer, sending his heart rate jumping and causing both his sexual parts to stand up and take notice. It took all his training at keeping a stone face to not react with joy and sorrow at the sudden realization that this was his soul mate. He was able to show no sign of his internal turmoil as he pinned the silver wings on the proud chest.
After that fateful meeting, his heat cycle ramped up into a fiery demon that demanded it be satisfied. He had known it would be bad as his instincts had geared up for accepting his soul mate and couldn't understand why he wasn't taking care of it. Most Kats found their ideal partners in the usual way (work, mutual friends, childhood companions, etc). The truly lucky found their soul mate and bonded for life. Feral only felt cursed.
He never dreamed he would be fated to have a soul mate, being a very rare occurrence, let alone that it would be male. He always thought if he ever got married it would be to a female but now that option was forever denied him. Ignoring a soul bond is painful but due to their differing stations in life, he couldn't and wouldn't accept this special gift.
Thwarted that instinct to mate made him far harsher when dealing with Chance Furlong while the tom served under him, but he couldn't help it...he ached emotionally and physically whenever he was around the tabby. Things took a turn for the worse when the tabby committed an error that got him thrown off the force along with his partner. This caused Feral even more intense pain but he didn't show it as he booted the tom out and set his punishment.
That should have been the end of it but fate just wasn't having it. Not more than a few months after the two was relegated to the salvage yard, a pair of hotshot vigilantes appeared on the scene, trading barbs and beating off the omegas with seeming ease. When the self-styled SWAT Kats confronted him face to face on their third encounter, Feral was shocked but not really surprised to learn the arrogant, brawny tom was his soul mate, Chance. Now he had something more to worry about.
Being a SWAT Kat meant Chance being in danger all the time but that wasn't unexpected for someone who had a driving need to protect the weak and defenseless. And it was that side of Chance that made Feral so in love with him. The tabby was brave, sometimes foolhardy, compassionate, an incredible pilot and fighter, protector of the underdog, and possessing a hero streak miles long.
He also was arrogant and a serious pain in the tail, trading nasty jibs and thumbing his nose at Feral's authority every chance he got. This love/hate relationship was emotionally draining for Feral but he steadfastly held to his vow to never take Chance as his mate.
To make matters equally trying, Feral never confided in anyone; not his brother (his parents long since dead) nor his niece, Felina who had joined the Enforcers just a few years ago, that he'd found his soul mate. They would never have let up on him; telling him he was a fool keeping the tom at bay and denying himself something so rare as a soul bond, which was why he didn't tell them. Felina would have positively driven him crazy and, after finding out his mate was none other than T-Bone...a SWAT Kat, for crud sake...would laugh herself sick at the capriciousness of fate.
A particularly strong clenching of his vagina dragged his mind back to the present. He shuddered and moaned, an image of his mate flashing before his eyes making him groan even more needily. He would not submit to that arrogant tom...hell would freeze over first.
He had been fortunate over the past ten years to have avoided any contact with Chance when he was in heat. Even when his cycle caught him while on duty, he still managed to avoid that tom just by luck and fierce determination. If the tabby had even caught a whiff of his heat cycle it would trigger Chance's own instincts and no way did he want that to happen but fate had other ideas.
A few months later...
"We got him finally! That bastard isn't coming back except from the grave!" T-Bone snarled, his arms burning from the scratches he'd received from the creeplings and face covered in dust. Dark Kat had met his deserved fate under a ton of rock that had flattened him in his own volcano home.
The omega had burrowed one too many times in this particular mountain and when they battled with him after his brazen attack on city hall, the riddled and weakened walls of the deepest part of the mountain that contained his headquarters and weapons decided to give way just as the omega tried to crispy the SWAT Kats and the Enforcers with a new type of deadly laser.
They and the Enforcers were lucky enough to have escaped into the front section that held the black widow when the roof fell in on Dark Kat.
"Couldn't have happened to a more deserving Kat!" Razor agreed, his g-suit dirty and ripped. He wasn't the least bit remorseful that this particular enemy had met a nasty end considering how many people had lost their lives and the amount of property damage Dark Kat had left behind during this last rampage. They were well rid of this major pest.
Feral couldn't have agreed more though he didn't say that aloud. His attention was on his troops who were finishing the eradication of the few creeplings that had managed to escape with them. No way did they want to capture these things as there was no where to keep them, except perhaps the zoo. He certainly didn't want them in his jail.
As the last one died and Feral prepared to order the black widow flown out of there to allow his R&D Section to study it, a deep rumbling sound reached their ears and the ground began to shake hard. Everyone froze! Then rocks began to fall.
"EVERYONE...OUT...NOW!" Feral bellowed over the roar of the mountain beginning to collapse around them.
Felina had been about to enter the cave entrance from outside when she felt the ground shake and heard her uncle's bellowed command. She quickly got out of the way as the Enforcers quickly rushed out, Feral and the SWAT Kats close behind them.
Razor had been ahead of the other two and made it out of the cave but Feral and T-Bone were a bit further behind when the ceiling above them came thundering down, blocking the only way out. They were trapped in a pocket that was seconds away from being filled in by the rest of the ceiling. Looking around rapidly, T-Bone was the first to spot a way to save themselves...a lava tube to their right and a short hop up the wall.
Snatching at Feral's coat collar, he frantically pointed at their escape route. Without wasting words, the two toms threw themselves, one after the other, into the tube and began crawling frantically toward a light at the end.
They'd only gotten halfway through the tube when a roar and a rush of dust came pouring through the tube like a geyser. The two were forced to halt and cover their faces as they choked and gasped from the suddenly unbreathable air. Feral hid his face in his coat and breathed as shallowly as he could while T-Bone held his breath and fumbled hurriedly for his oxygen mask, slapping it in place and taking deep breaths, his eyes closed against the dust.
It seemed to take forever, but it was probably only five minutes when the dust storm finally ceased and they could dare to look again. Feral kept his mouth covered as he stared around the dust filled tube. Thankfully the end of the tube still held that glimmer of light. T-Bone in the lead, quickly began crawling toward it again. It was harder for Feral as he had to keep his mouth covered and his eyes were so grit filled it was hard to see. Finally, they came out into another tube, this one leading straight up to the sky.
It felt good to be able to stand up, but Feral was too miserable and coughing to care. Seeing his companion's distress, T-Bone quickly took a deep breath of air before passing over his oxygen mask to Feral's face. The tom startled then look relieved as he pressed the mask to his face and began taking deep breaths to clear his lungs. By the time T-Bone was looking rather blue, Feral was breathing more easily and hurriedly handed the mask back and covered his mouth with his coat again. At least now he wasn't choking and coughing so much, though his eyes still burned.
T-Bone breathed through the mask as he looked around their new prison. The dust was settling more now as long as they didn't stir it up so he was able to see where the light was coming from. A port hole of a sorts was open at the top of the tube. He could see the sky.
His ears had been stunned by the roar of the collapsing mountain so he hadn't heard his partner's frantic calls over his radio until just now as sound began to return slowly. Reaching up to tap his helmet, T-Bone answered.
Plumes of dust and debris chased the running and falling Enforcers plus one SWAT Kat down the hill before the shaking stopped. When they could get to their feet again and look back at the mountain, only then did they realize they were missing people.
"Where's T-Bone?" Razor demanded sharply, looking frantically around him.
"My uncle is missing too!" Felina shouted, fear in her voice as she realized where the pair had to be.
"They must have gotten caught in that," the smaller of the two SWAT Kats exclaimed then scrambled back up the hillside while calling over and over again into his helmet radio. "T-Bone do you copy?" There was no response. He immediately began to dig while continuing to call.
Felina used her radio to try and reach the Commander but got only a buzz indicating the other unit was destroyed or lost. Putting it away, she and the Enforcers joined Razor at the cave mouth and began to dig, pulling rocks away as fast as they could while praying the SWAT Kat got an answer.
Finally, to Razor's intense relief, his partner's voice came over the comm, rough and raspy sounding, "I hear you buddy!"
"Are you alright? Is Feral with you?" Razor asked. Though no one stopped digging, all ears were tuned to his conversation.
"Yeah, he's here. We managed to escape into a lava tube that led to a vent hole. We can see sky above. I'm going to see if it's big enough to get through. Talk at you again in a bit," T-Bone told his partner as he studied the small opening over his head.
Razor stopped digging and the rest did too. "They are both alright. T-Bone says they can see the sky. If they can get out, they're probably come out up there somewhere," he gestured to a portion of the mountain still intact. "If they can't, I'm sure he'll shoot a flare to show us where he is so let's wait and see."
"Good idea," Felina said, relived. The group walked down the hill a ways then all eyes kept watch on the peaks above them for a sign from the pair.
Feral studied the narrow opening and frowned. "It looks too narrow," he observed, unhappily.
"Yeah it does, but I won't know for certain until I get up there," T-Bone grunted.
He stepped to the center of the tube then fired a grappling line from his glovatrix out the hole. The hook caught and held. He immediately began to climb but as he got less than ten feet of the opening his shoulders began to wedge. No amount of shoving himself upward would break the hard walls of the tube which were like cement. Halting his progress, he hissed in frustration. They weren't getting out this way. Wiggling his shoulders, he worked his way back down.
Releasing the line and dropping to the floor, he gave Feral a grim look as he tapped his helmet and told his partner the bad news. "It's a no go buddy. The opening narrows too much, ten feet before the top and the walls are hard stone."
"Crap! Well that only leaves digging you out which we already started doing. Show us where you are so we can see how far we have to dig," his friend advised.
"Roger!" T-Bone chose something from his weapons on the glovatrix and aimed for the hole again. A flare lit up yellow in the sky.
"We see it. Just a sec..." Razor calculated the distance and moments later said, "okay we've pinpointed your location. It's going to take more than a couple of hours to get you two out. We're going to need heavier equipment and I don't have anything in the jet that wouldn't do further damage or bring more rock down on you."
"Let me speak to Felina." Feral interrupted, suddenly.
T-Bone glanced at him for a second. "Razor, give your helmet to Felina, Feral wants to talk to her." He pulled his helmet off and handed it over to Feral.
It was a tight fit but Feral managed it. "Felina, send for a cave rescue squad. They're better equipped for this kind of rescue. I could use an oxygen bottle and mask as the air is too dirty to breath. T-Bone might need a refill on his. Also, send down food, water, and a radio for me. Over!"
"Roger, Uncle. Please stay safe and we'll get you out of there as soon as we can," Felina said, briskly.
"We're not in any danger as the walls, like T-Bone said, are rock hard," Feralassured her then clicked off, handing the helmet back to other tom.
"Guess all we can do now is wait," T-Bone grunted, putting his helmet back on then looking around the cramped space. Feral didn't respond as he again covered his mouth with his coat.
T-Bone stepped backward until his back touched the wall behind him and remained standing, eyeing the opening as he waited for the oxygen bottles from his partner. It took only a few minutes because Razor used the Turbokat to hover over the hole while Felina winched down the supplies they needed.
It tightened his heart to see the jet take off without him as he handed a bottle and mask to Feral and kept one for himself and gave the tom a radio Felina had sent along as well. Feral sighed in relief as he fitted the mask to his face then took the radio and dropped it into a pocket of his coat. He went to a wall and sat down to rest. T-Bone, being too restless, chose to pace their tiny prison.
Feral peered through partly cracked eyelids at the tom pacing back and forth. His body heated at the sight making him shift around uncomfortably. Shock rippled through him as he realized why he was becoming rather agitated.
Oh, hell no! He thought, his mind rapidly running though some calculations before realizing that, yes, he was due his heat cycle. Crud! What lousy timing!
Gritting his teeth and pulling his arms tighter across his chest, he swallowed his trepidation at being trapped with his mate and going into heat. He prayed they would be rescued really soon before the worst effects of his condition became unbearable and the male before him learned of it from the dark tom's gradually increasing pheromone scent.
T-Bone was oblivious to Feral's sudden crisis. His own thoughts dwelled on the incredibly bad luck that had gotten him trapped with the stubborn and ill tempered tom. At least, the arrogant Enforcer wasn't making snide remarks or giving him a lecture, he thought. He glanced over at Feral occasionally, but the tom just continued to lean against the wall, eyes closed, breathing slowly into his oxygen mask.
The only good thing to come out of this sorry mess was Dark Kat being dead. Now maybe the city could catch a break, though they still had to contend with Dr. Viper and the Pastmaster. Hopefully, with DK dead, those two omegas might take a long hiatus and allow him and Razor a long deserved vacation. They were both mentally and physically exhausted after too many months of combat against their enemies. Being constantly on alert had also meant no time for sex as well.
He was soo uptight and tense at this point he would be perfectly willing to take anyone of either sex to relief his frustrations. Actually a herm might be the best answer to his needs. The last one he'd been with was a stunning she-he and very talented.
Maybe I should look her up, he mused. That is whenever we get out of here. He grimaced at that reminder when his attention was grabbed by the sudden shadow of a chopper overhead. A basket was being lowered.
Feral and he had to quickly turn their heads away as the chopper stirred up the dust and blinded them again. T-Bone felt the basket touch him. Blindly, he fumbled around until he could hold the basket under an arm then detach it from the rope then tugged that to signal the crew they could retract their line.
They waited until the air cleared again before opening their eyes and checking out what had been dropped down to them. The basket contained food and water in sealed containers.
They left them for now in the basket as the air was too clogged with dirt yet. About a half hour later, it was cleared enough to dare taking their masks off and eating a meal. It would have tasted better if the dust didn't get into it and make it taste gritty but neither complained. They ate in silence then put their trash back in the basket.
Feral called Felina on the radio and was informed the rescue crew had arrived and was checking out the area now and would let them know the best way extract them. Feral sighed, acknowledged her information and returned to waiting. A little later, some Kats dressed in rescue gear peered down at them from the hole. They asked some questions then disappeared again. By now, they'd been trapped at least an hour and a half. They could hear sounds of digging, voices shouting, heavy machinery and choppers flying through the blocked tube they'd come through.
Feral's discomfort rose as each passing minute went by. Discomfort was putting it mildly as that stage had since departed and the truly urgent need to mate began making him want to moan loudly. It didn't help having his mate less than four feet from him. The torment was awful. Only the oxygen mask helped him keep in control as it prevented him from scenting the tom but that too wouldn't be enough if he didn't get out of here very soon.
T-Bone had decided pacing was unproductive and boring so had remained seated when they'd eaten their meal. Bone tired, he sat opposite Feral and closed his eyes (though it was hard for Feral to tell through the mask). He stretched his legs out and crossed his arms over his chest and tried to nap but the mask annoyed him so he pushed it down to his neck. The air wasn't too bad. Sighing, he relaxed.
Opening his eyes a moment to rinse them with water, Feral heard the sigh and with his clearer vision, beheld a mouth-watering image. Swallowing hard, he quickly closed his eyes again but that brief look had made every part of him quiver with hot need. Kat's Alive! This is torture! He moaned mentally, clenching his teeth together to prevent any sound from escaping. That would be disastrous.
T-Bone was oblivious to Feral's rising distress. His mind was far away, daydreaming of the female herm he hoped to see when they got out of here. As the dream got more graphic, he could almost swear he smelled her sweet jasmine scent mixed with the faint odor of male musk in his nose.
But gradually, insidiously, another stronger scent began to impinge on the one he was dreaming about. As the scent grew stronger, male musk mixed with the rich loamy odor of a female in heat, the dream shattered and he woke feeling confused.
Where had that scent come from? It certainly wasn't the one he'd been dreaming of, he wondered. Frowning, he carefully sniffed the air which was a mistake as he took in a clot of dust that made him sneeze violently.
Feral startled, turning to stare at T-Bone in annoyance, his nerves jangling worse than what his heat cycle was doing. Growling at the tom, he turned back away and closed his eyes. Just being here in such close quarters with T-Bone was driving him crazy.
With his sinus' cleared, T-Bone sampled the air again, hunting for that odd scent. It slapped his nose strongly and it came from...Oh hell no! That delectable odor cannot be coming from him! T-Bone objected violently in his mind. But there was no denying the scent was real and there was only one other person in here with him so Feral had to be the origin of that stunning odor.
Totally taken aback, T-Bone carefully inhaled again. Nope, no way to deny that scent! Feral smells like a she-kat. That can't be right! He thought stubbornly. Feral could be wearing some kind of strange perfume that only made him smell like that, he thought, but I have to know for certain or it will drive me crazy
Getting up quietly, his movements covered by the noise the rescuers were making, he crept closer to the dark tom.
No matter how careful he tried to be some inner sense warned Feral who opened his eyes suddenly, saw the tabby creeping up on him and scrambled frantically to his feet, moving away. No way is he getting closer to me! He thought in panic and consternation.
Surprised at Feral's sudden retreat and panicky look, T-Bone halted and eyed the tom warily. "Why do you smell like a she-kat in heat?" He demanded.
Feral felt his face burn with humiliation and anger. "Didn't your mother or father ever teach you it isn't polite to notice that, much less remark on it?" He snapped, infuriated.
The SWAT Kat jerked back, face flaming. Feral's response told the tabby bluntly that yes Feral was a herm and yes he was in heat. Now I feel really stupid! I do know how to act around a female in heat. Just because the female in question is a male herm is no excuse for bad manners. My mother would be soo pissed if she was alive right now, he berated himself.
Swallowing his pride, he choked out an apology. "Of course, they did and I've never made that particular blunder since my teens. I'm very sorry. But in my defense, I was just shocked to learn you were a herm."
Feral stared at him in surprise. He hadn't really expected the arrogant tom to apologize much less be sincere about it. So he does have manners, he thought a bit inanely. "You're forgiven. Happens occasionally," he muttered, not wanting to talk about it further. He sat back down and turned away from the handsome tom, his emotions angry and afraid. Dammit, he's gotten my heat scent. Now he's never going to leave me alone until we mate or remain apart which means misery for us both. What do I do now?
Still a bit embarrassed, T-Bone returned to his part of the tube and sat down again but he couldn't take his eyes off the dark tom. His expression was one of puzzled fascination. Breathing in softly, he inhaled that intoxicating scent again. Oohhh...that smells sooo fine and tasty, he moaned silently then shook his head wild-eyed with shocked dismay.
Oh, hell no! He could not be thinking that! Feral might be a herm but he wasn't that hard up to be wanting to do him. But that tantalizing odor pressed against his nose and filled him with heat and hunger so intense, he was shocked anew. How could he be wanting that stubborn, stiff-necked, very male powerhouse? It wasn't like he hadn't learned how to keep himself in control when around a female in heat so why was Feral's pheromones making his rutting instincts sit up and demand satisfaction?
Totally bewildered by his body's urgent signals to mate, T-Bone eyed the Commander more closely. Licking his dry lips, he watched as Feral's body quivered with need which only made him even more of a temptation. It was obvious to his experienced eye, that Feral was getting desperate and seriously uncomfortable as he hadn't been able to sit still at all over the past thirty minutes.
Unbidden, an image of tasting that most secret place where all that wonderful aroma was coming from, made him nearly pant with need. Already his cock was hard as steel and trying its best to poke its way out of his g-suit. He adjusted himself but it didn't help.
Crud! Razor better hurry and get me out of here before I do something I will regret! He thought in a panic. He tried desperately to block his nose and breathe as shallowly as he could so as to not take in anymore of that delectable scent but it was really becoming difficult in the tight space.
Feral, meanwhile, was overwhelmed with visions of wrapping himself around that hard body and scent marking it all over. The imagery alone was enough to make him want to howl a mating call. He huddled even tighter against the wall, keeping his face buried in his arms.
Listening intently, T-Bone couldn't hear the rescue team getting any closer and being locked in here with Feral was becoming sheer torture. It was all he could do to stamp on his now raging hormones and not do something really stupid. But as time creeped by, desire overruled common sense and, without him realizing it, he was slowly edging his way closer to the dark tom whose back was still toward him.
Feral was not oblivious to T-Bone's approach. How could he be when the tom's rutting scent was pounding against his nose with unrelenting force despite the mask. He was panting and holding himself still as the SWAT Kat got closer and closer then he lost control completely and whirled around to pounce on the sneaky tabby. His heavier body slammed the tom to the rock floor, forcing the air from the tabby's lungs. The feel of that hard body beneath Feral drove him wild.
He moaned loudly and rubbed himself frantically against the other male. Though caught off guard, T-Bone was quick to take advantage of the situation by rubbing his cheek against Feral's face and caressing the broad back over him. "Really hot aren't you?" He crooned softly. This close to that incredibly sexy scent made T-Bone want to roll them both over and take the tom. To hell with the consequences.
But Feral came to his senses and wrenched himself violently away, retreating again to his side of their prison and huddling himself into a ball to keep from succumbing again to the lure and scent of his mate.
As for T-Bone, he huffed out a breath of stunned surprise and sat up slowly. He stared at the huddled form as he tried to recover from the heated exchange. His cock was still hard and aching but he made no move toward Feral. He realized what he almost would have done and was stunned.
They didn't move or speak again and he didn't know which of them was more relieved when the rescue squad finally broke through the lava tube and set them free some forty minutes later.