COMES THE PHOENIX

Chapter 1: A Shocking Secret

In the embattled and barricaded Enforcer Building, exhausted and dispirited Enforcer squadron leaders, the SWAT Kats and city officials met in a last ditch effort to come up with a way to defeat an overwhelming army built by the combined forces of their worse enemies: The Pastmaster, Dr. Viper, and Dark Kat.

During the past several hours, using a triple prong attack mode, the omega threesome had already laid waste to more than a quarter of the city. The defenders had been unable to cut down the army's heads due to the sneaky bastards remaining hidden behind their army's lines while they directed an army of dinosaurs, creeplings and plantimals to decimate the city's forces and cause the maximum amount of terror and damage. And the omegas were winning!

Despite many ideas being presented, none could work due to the insufficient supply of katpower and equipment. None bothered to mention it had been Mayor Manx's austerity program against the Enforcers that had caused this shortfall. But it didn't matter. The SWAT Kats found themselves woefully out gunned and even with the late addition of Professor Hackle's robot force they were failing to halt the enemies march on Megakat City and it's katizens.

~o~o~o~o~o~

Rubbing his face and listening to the gloomy group trying to brainstorm some way to save the city, T-Bone, sitting next to Razor at the huge conference table, felt utterly helpless. Taking a look around, his gaze was arrested by the golden stare of the Chief Enforcer. Inwardly he shuddered. He knew very well what that look foreboded and he wanted nothing to do with it. However, as their situation grew more dire, he knew in his heart there was no other choice.

Bleakly, his mind traveled back to that fateful day over a year ago when Feral revealed something very scary about himself.

One year earlier...

"How did Ringtail get his paws on that box again?" Razor snarled angrily as he prepared to try blasting the jester's bells off his hat which had defeated the omega in the past.

"I don't know buddy, but we'd better put him down fast before he can catch us all again. It's bad enough the creep already snatched Feral." T-Bone suddenly dipped the Turbokat into a fast plunge to avoid Mad Kat's giant card attack.

Pulling the jet around in a tight curve, he did manage to line up a target for his partner.

Seconds later, the jester screamed in anger as Razor succeeded in blasting the nearest bell off the gaudy hat but unfortunately, Mad Kat's aim was just as good. Suddenly, T-Bone was teleported right out of his seat, the jester vanishing with his prize in the blink of an eye.

Poor Razor had no time to fire off another shot as he was too busy snatching at his auxiliary controls, yanking on the yoke hard to keep the fast moving jet from slamming into the nearest building.

Angry, scared and upset at the loss of his partner, Razor veered the jet toward city hall hoping Mad Kat would reappear sooner rather than later so he could free both his friend and Feral.

Inside the strange capture box...

"Think your partner will get us free, SWAT Kat?" Feral growled, arms crossed and staring at the newest prisoner. He was definitely not happy to be caught again by that maniac.

"We'd better hope so or the city will be demolished or enslaved or whatever the hell that crazy Kat has in mind for it," T-Bone snarled, arms wrapped tightly across his chest, trying to hide his worry for his partner safety.

Looking around the strange, alien box, the tabby pilot saw no avenue for escape. Hunching in angry frustration, he returned his attention to the window-like surface that allowed them to see what was happening outside their prison.

Unfortunately, the only view, at the moment, was that of an eerie blue mist. Where the heck is this place? Does that crazy omega come here when he vanishes? T-Bone mused. As he stared, frowning in thought the blue mist was suddenly replaced with a view of a roof and the huge billboard sign for the Megakat Broadcasting company. The bastard must be watching Razor from here. If only I could warn him ...

Gritting his teeth in helpless frustration, T-Bone fumed and tried to figure out a way to escape, his gaze flicking restlessly about, halting when he caught the reflected image of Feral's gold eyes staring at him intently.

Surprise filled him when he beheld thoughtful consideration and worry in those eyes rather then the annoyance and disgust of being trapped with a SWAT Kat he normally garnered from the dark tom. The odd mix of emotions sent an inexplicable feeling of unease through him. Something wasn't right here. Turning toward Feral, T-Bone was about to demand why the tom was staring that way at him when the Commander spoke first.

"Ever heard of the legendary Phoenix, T-Bone?"

"Huh? What does a mythical bird have to do with us trying to get out this cage?" T-Bone demanded, blindsided by the weird question.

"Humor me … I've been here before, remember? There's no escape without help from here." Feral's expression was now flat, giving nothing of what he was thinking away.

Unnerved by Feral's odd behavior, T-Bone decided to play along. The tom was right, there was nothing else they could do.

"Uh … well … from what little I know about it, the Phoenix is supposed to be some kind of huge bird like critter … a mish mash of Kat and Gryphon, I think. It's said to be able to spit fire, live a long time and when it dies, it burns up then returns from its own ashes. But it's just a myth."

Feral seemed pleased by his answer but said nothing … just kept staring at him which made T-Bone want to squirm with unease but he refrained to do so. What was going on here?

~o~o~o~o~

From several years observation, Feral had watched this young tom grow into a hero the city believed in and trusted. T-Bone was the epitome of strength, honesty, bravery, and compassion. And more importantly, he possessed a strong and stubborn will. All qualities the dark tom required right now.

Still he was reluctant to make this dangerous decision. It meant giving up his long held freedom. However, if he wished to continue this present life, he would have to do just that. All the evidence he'd collected the last six months told him a major threat was building against Megakat City. It would strike very soon and they were not ready for it and would never be ready for it with what was available to paw. There was no time to reach the level their enemies had reached in time to defend themselves. So he must swallow his misgivings and do what was best to safe the life he'd built and the city he'd adopted as his home.

Time to clue the SWAT Kat in on a bit of ancient history. Their lives would change irrevocably after this moment. The tabby would have a choice to make when he was through speaking. But would he make the right one?

Feral sighed suddenly making the tabby jump in surprise.

"I'm going to give you a little history lesson. It's important so listen closely. At the beginning of time a creature was born from the heart of the world. A thing of fire and emotion. When Katkind appeared, it was depicted on cave walls as a fearsome thing that burned everything in its path just for sheer enjoyment. This was when it received the name 'The Destroyer of all Things.' Gradually, as centuries went by, Kats discovered magic and with this new skill, found a way to control the Phoenix … bend it to their will. One of their brightest and most evil wizard created a spell that locked the Phoenix in Kat form. The spell allowed the Phoenix to mingle among Kats and spy on them for its master, destroying when ordered to do so.

This slavery went on for years, the Phoenix never able to break the spell and be free again. Eventually, wizards began to disappear and with the death of the last, the Phoenix found itself permanently locked in Kat form. That was infuriating however, since that couldn't be changed, it resigned itself to its new existence. Toward that end, the Phoenix set about learning all the languages of the world and trained in many new skills as it wandered about. Gradually, the Phoenix began to enjoy this new life." Here Feral stopped, his gaze distant.

T-Bone eyed the tom with concern. Feral talked as if he knew the Phoenix personally and that was just crazy. What was the point of all this? "Seems interesting that you know so much about this mythological creature. One would say you think it's real. I don't care one way or another so what's this about really, Feral? And what does it have to do with this situation?"

Feral returned his attention back to the tom and sighed. "The Phoenix does exist and that fact has a lot to do with the situation now and one that's heading our way very soon."

Snorting in disbelieve, T-Bone shook his head. "How does it fit in? And what do you mean there's more trouble coming?"

"I've been watching your kind closely for centuries, young tom. I've seen far too many wars and conflicts, so I know when a major blowup is about to occur. One such event is heading for this city and will strike within months," Feral said blandly.

"Are you feeling alright?" T-Bone eyed the tom more closely. "You're trying to tell me you're this Phoenix? I gotta say, Commander … really bad timing to be losing your mind."

Feral snorted, an amused glint shone from his eyes for a moment before those same eyes suddenly took on a reddish glow followed by his body displaying a red nimbus of light. A wicked smile tugged at his lips where some unusually long fangs were now peeking. Though the spell froze his form, over the long centuries, it had weakened somewhat. This allowed him to manipulate his form in small ways, like glowing and showing fangs.

T-Bone immediately took a step back warily, fur rising as fear spiked at this weird sight. "Oookayy … so you've got some cool tricks going on there … still not sure that means you're some of bird thing."

Feral burst into amused laughter, displaying even more of those really long fangs. And to make T-Bone even more uncomfortable, he allowed smoke to drift from his mouth and nose before returning to his normal appearance.

The tabby swallowed and released a weak chuckle. "Oh yeah...real funny, Commander. I'll buy that you're different though still not so certain you're a Phoenix. Anyway, why tell me this? I'm the last person you'd tell something this important too."

Feral nodded as if T-Bone's response wasn't unexpected and didn't hurt his feelings. "Why you? Because you fit the criteria for an important role I need you to fill but before we discuss that I will answer your other question." His expression grimmer, he gave the SWAT Kat the low down on his recent observations.

"I'm sure it hasn't escaped your notice that the omegas seemed to be stepping up their aggression. My experience in these things has sent me digging deeper behind the scenes. What I've discovered is our enemies have formed an alliance. The last time this occurred it had been with Dark Kat, Viper, and the Metallikats but that failed because they couldn't work together. However, this time instead of the robots it's the Pastmaster who's been added to the first two and they've somehow managed to cooperate with each other. They are amassing an army as we speak."

"What? That can't be true! You must be wrong ..." But Feral only looked grimmer and since he wasn't given to fanciful thinking (at least not before this) he must believe what he's saying. Still T-Bone couldn't accept it … not yet anyway. "Sorry, but I have serious doubts on what you're telling me. However, I won't just toss it off. If we get out of this mess I'll give this a lot of thought. But if you're right, we're all screwed. We'd barely defeated that last alliance."

"I'm glad you understand the gravity of the situation facing us even if you don't believe it yet. I only ask that you decide and get back with me as soon as possible. Plans must be made to keep our city from being burned to the ground."

"What plans? I know Razor will do his best to develop more weapons but we may not be enough this time. And I know Manx has hamstrung you so badly that you'd never have enough to beat back the force you're suggesting is coming for us. Just what do you plan to do?"

"Give up my freedom."

T-Bone blinked in confusion. "Huh?"

Feral sighed. "Remember my little history lesson? My true form is locked in this body. To release it I must allow myself to be enslaved by another wizard."

"Hold it … hold it …" the tabby interrupted, raising a paw. "Say for the moment you are this Phoenix. Why would you give up your freedom and how would you do this without a wizard? We don't use magic nowadays, remember?"

"I do remember and since the death of the last wizard, I did a lot of research and discovered I don't need a true wizard just someone who is honest, moral, strong willed, and compassionate. Someone like you, T-Bone."

"Me?" T-Bone gaped at him. "You must be joking."

"No. I'm completely serious. The only other thing required is a spell and magic and those I have. I simply needed the right master."

"Oh no!" T-Bone made a push away gesture. "I'm nobodies master and have no desire to be one."

"I completely understand which is why it has to be you. I have no desire to be enslaved again as it means I will be enslaved for the rest of your natural life. But I will do it to save Megakat City."

T-Bone could only stand there and gape at the tom. He missed the part about "...to the end of his natural life." How could he do this? No way could I give up my freedom … or would I? If I was honest with myself, I'd do this if all I loved were in danger and this was the only way out. But …." He frowned and stared at Feral.

"Why?" Feral raised a questioning eyebrow. "Why would you do something so drastic for a species that isn't your own? You can leave and start again. You have the lifespan to do it. So why do this?"

"Because I've come to love this city and the life I live in it. You're right when you say I could leave and start again but, T-Bone, I've done that so many times it does get very tiring. And, yes, eventually I will have to move on since I do outlive all those alive now. But, for this period of time, I love what I have and have no desire to lose it. Having been a Kat so long, I've since identified with you and feel like one of you. My true self is alone and has no desire for others. But this construct ..." he pointed at himself, "does have feelings and desires learned over a long period being a Kat and I want to keep it no matter what it takes to accomplish that. So believe me when I say, the city is in grave danger and I'm the only thing that can save it."

T-Bone stared at him, absorbing the grim picture Feral had painted and the sacrifice he was willing to make. It made him feel small that he'd treated the Chief Enforcer so badly all these years and here he was willing to become enslaved to another just to save the city they both loved. Still, he couldn't shake his doubts. And especially not this idea that he would become a master of some kind of mythical creature just wouldn't sink in.

"I still have trouble believing all this, Feral. But say, for the sake of argument, I do take on this job. What does it entail?"

"You'll be in control of a being so powerful it can turn the world into ash if it was allowed its own head. I've had many masters … some cruel, some kind, but all looking out for their own interests, never mine. I was but a tool. With you, I know I will be allowed to live my life as I wish. And if the Phoenix is needed, you are strong enough to control it and keep the world safe."

T-Bone shook his head. "Dude. That is a lot of responsibility to lay on a simple Kat and, besides, you've never trusted me before this. You always said my partner and I were nothing more than a pair of out-of-control mavericks. What's changed about that?"

"That was the stance I had to take before my men and the public. I could not be seen condoning your behavior. But in the privacy of my own thoughts, I always had the greatest respect for you both." He smiled at T-Bone's open mouthed surprise. "There is nothing simple about you, T-Bone. You and your partner are smart, brave, and hold to the highest standards of moral conduct. What's not to trust? I've watched you handle countless dangers with bravery and skill learned over hundreds of combat missions. You've trained yourselves to survive as a single unit. The city considers you heroes and deservedly so. You work hard to protect this city. Now I'm asking you to do something even more dangerous and difficult … control a creature of flame and willful destruction. You must learn to guide this weapon to its target without allowing it to break your controls. I will not sugar coat this, T-Bone. This will be the hardest thing you've ever done in your life."

T-Bone swallowed, a shiver chased down his back. "You are scaring the pants off me, Commander. If I believe everything you're telling me, I'll be responsible for a nuclear missile that only I can control."

"That's a pretty good analogy."

The tabby rolled his eyes though Feral couldn't see them behind the mask. "Okay, this is just too much to take in right now. Let's just shelf this until I have a chance to absorb this. I'm not sure I can even discuss this with my partner. He's think I'd lost my mind."

"Don't sell Razor short, T-Bone. He might surprise you but that's your decision. I only ask that you don't take too long mulling this over. Our enemies are pressing close and I have a strong feeling they are going to launch an attack within months. However, I do understand this kind of decision can not be rushed either."

T-Bone nodded and frowned. "Did I hear correctly that this is going to be a long commitment? Not something that will end with our enemies defeat?"

"Yes you did. I said you and I will be tied for the rest of your natural lifetime."

"Damn." T-Bone's heart sank. Shaking his head, he moaned, "I ... I don't know if I can do this … I have so much on my plate as it is just being a SWAT Kat ..." he let the rest of his words trail off as he tried to absorb the enormity of what he was being asked to take on.

"You can do it. I have the utmost confidence in you."

"And that sounds just too weird coming from you. I never really thought of myself as a hero, not really. I just know I have to do what I do. And now your asking me to do something that goes against all I believe in. Being a master … that's just wrong. How do I get past that?"

"By knowing that if you don't the world as we know it won't exist any longer."

T-Bone scowled. "Thanks. That makes me feel soo much better … not!"

Feral shrugged. "I'm not doing this to make you feel better. I'm doing it to save a city and possibly a world from the worst criminals we know. And I'm willing to give up my freedom to do it."

"You make me feel like a heel when you say things like that." Huffing out a breath and squaring his shoulders, T-Bone prepared to tell Feral that he would have to wait for an answer when suddenly their current situation changed abruptly.

Their magical prison vanished leaving them to free-fall to the ground. Fortunately, they were only a couple of feet from the street in front of the building they had seen moments ago. Landing on their feet, they took in the situation quickly and relaxed. Lenny Ringtail lay unconscious, the Enforcers had the area cordoned off, and the jack-in-the-box was firmly in Razor's paws.

The smaller SWAT Kat was relieved to see them both. He stepped over Ringtail's body and handed over the magical box to Feral, who took it gravely into his paws.

"I suggest you guard this better, Commander. I don't think I could stand going more rounds with that particular omega," Razor said dryly.

"I'll see what I can do and I agree … I'm equally tired of being captured," Feral said in grim humor then walked off, bellowing orders to get the area cleaned up and Ringtail taken back to the asylum.

T-Bone used that moment to drag his partner off and escape the scene as fast as possible. Casting a final glance over his shoulder at Feral, he saw the tom had turned at the same moment to give him a significant look that said he'd allow T-Bone time to think about what they'd discussed but he'd want an answer very soon!

The tabby shuddered and turned away, leaping into the cockpit moments later. If he rushed his take off a bit, to his partner's shouted dismay, he ignored it as his mind was too filled with all that he'd learned and the decision he had to make.

Some days later...

Despite being extremely busy, Jake couldn't fail to notice his partner's distracted manner. He tried to get Chance to open up but no dice.

"No … thanks buddy. I have to solve this on my own." Then went off to work in the yard for most of the day.

Shaking his head, Jake left his friend alone and went back to his many projects. He was desperate to complete most of them. With their enemies getting bolder and more powerful, he was hard pressed to design better weapons to combat them. His heart was heavy with the knowledge that he was fighting a purely defensive war rather than an offensive one and they were losing ground.

A few nights later, Chance frowned with worry as he caught Jake asleep at his work bench yet again. He knew his friend was working himself to death trying to stem a tide that was getting harder and harder to hold back. Added to that concern was the fact he, himself, still hadn't been able to make a decision on Feral's request.

I guess I'm still kinda freaked about Feral being some kind of centuries old creature who's seen more battles than I've been alive. Yet that knowledge didn't seem to faze the Phoenix spell form who was willing to accept being enslaved to save a world. As if it was all in a days work. But that's not how it feels to me and I just don't know what to do. I need to talk to Jake about it but he's so involved with making weapons that I can't bring myself to interrupt him. Chance sighed and rubbed his temples trying to rub out an insipid headache.

It amazes me how Feral could keep his sanity and positive spirit after all these years especially after being in wars over and over again. Yet he somehow manages to make a life for himself and enjoy every moment of it he can between bouts of conflict. I don't think I could get used to that at all.

He stared down at his friend and chewed his lip in thought. I suppose, Feral would have to develop a thick skin or simply go mad but then he's not really a Kat is he. And I have no idea what a Phoenix thinks of our conflicts. Feral did say his alternate ego was all emotion, flames, and the joy of destruction. That made Chance shudder.

Okay, that was a really bad thought. I don't even want to know what it would be like to have something so powerful loose on the world. Right now, I just wished this decision hadn't come up at all but then we have no choice about our enemies and we can't let them destroy us either. I am so screwed!

Frankly, what he was being asked to do terrified him witless. He wished he could talk to his partner about this but even though Feral told him Jake would believe him, he just didn't want to burden his partner with even one more problem. No, this was his decision to make.

Wait! Perhaps he could ask Jake his opinion without giving too much away. It was worth a try to help him get past this deadlock his mind and heart was in. This was his opportunity while things were fairly calm at the moment. He gently woke his partner by shaking the small tom's shoulder.

Jake jerked awake and stared around hurriedly.

"Easy bud, you just fell asleep while working … again!"

"Oh, uh...thanks Chance," Jake said sheepishly, his face blushing at being caught unaware. "I didn't realized how tired I was. I just wanted to get this done so we have it to use against the next appearance of Dark Kat."

"Yeah, I know and that brings to mind something I'd like your opinion on," Chance began, glad Jake had given him the perfect opening.

"I thought you seemed a little preoccupied lately," Jake observed, giving his partner his full attention. "What's up, buddy?"

"Does it feel like we're losing the battle against the omegas? I mean it seems like every time we defeat and jail one, another is launching an attack before we make it back to the hangar," he asked, shaking his head in frustration.

"Yeah, I have to admit it does seem like the creeps are stepping up their determination to take over the city," his friend agreed, sighing. "However, it may only seem that way because we haven't had a break for a while and are just tired. It might not look so bleak if we could take a brief holiday to recharge."

"Oh yeah, like that's going to happen anytime soon," Chance muttered, sarcastically.

"Well what can I say here buddy. All we can do is keep doing our best and pray we don't falter due to exhaustion or being outgunned." Jake shrugged fatalistically, paws spread to show just how frustrated he was too.

Silence fell for several minutes as Jake studied his troubled partner. They really did need a break. Chance looked up from the floor he'd been staring at and sighed gloomily.

"What if there was a power out there somewhere that was greater than the threat arrayed against us but using it has its own dangers because it is far more deadlier than the worst omega we got? If it could be controlled, would it be right to use it even knowing one false step and it could end all life as we know it if it got free?" He asked cautiously.

Jake blinked at him in confusion. "What would be that powerful and controlled by who?"

"Just hypothetical, buddy. What if there was such a power and we controlled it. Would it be right to unleash such a deadly force just to defeat our enemies knowing that this force could do more harm than the bad guys together could?" He knew it was unfair to ask Jake to give him an answer with so little to go on, but he didn't have a choice.

Jake just stared at his partner, perplexed. What was Chance trying to say? What wasn't he telling me? He sighed. He must have a good reason for not explaining more fully. Hope he tells me or it will drive me buggy.

Turning away from Chance, he stared hard at the far wall analyzing the question for the best answer. Finally, he turned back to his friend. "I guess if the situation was so dire there was no other choice then this deadly force might be our only chance at survival."

Chance frowned for a long moment mulling over his friend's answer then sighed, nodding to himself. "Thanks Jake. That helps a little."

"Uh ... glad to be of some help even if you wont tell me what this is all about. Anything else I can do for you?"

"No. Thanks. I'll leave you to your work. I think I'll go up and finish that station wagon's tuneup. Want Chinese for dinner? I can order when I'm up there."

"Sure! Sounds good. Just holler when it's here," Jake smiled wanly, willing to let the strange discussion drop for now.

Chance nodded and went back up the ladder, his heart heavy.