TITLE:

NEMESIS - PART 1: MEMORIES STIRRING

AUTHOR:

Helion

BEGIN OF WRITING:

April 17, 2001

FINISHED WRITING:

July 21, 2001

FINAL CHECKING:

January 21, 2002

EMAIL:

RATING:

PG-13 for some violence / drama in overall story

SYNOPSIS:

His first meeting with Turmoil still a basis for dreadful nightmares, T-Bone fears things couldn't possibly get worse when Hard Drive helps Turmoil to escape from Alkatraz Island…

LEGAL NOTICE:

'SWAT Kats - The Radical Squadron' and the characters of the show are the property of Hanna-Barbera Cartoons.

AUTHOR'S NOTES:

In case you wonder, yes, this text exists in its written form for half a year now, and the whole story idea is even a year older. I've never come across a story idea that I both love and hate as intensely as this one; that's why I hesitated with posting it. So, please allow me to state some things first:
"Nemesis" is going to be a lengthy, considerably dark six-part story in which every part will be roughly as long as this one. (Yes, the complete story will definitely hold six parts; no more, no less.)
Should the prologue look familiar, it's because I formerly posted it under the title "Nightmare". My thanks to all of you who reviewed it.
Many thanks also to Kristen Sharpe for her diligent efforts at wiping out the mistakes I made in my texts, and for her encouraging me to write more. I don't think she expected a story like this, though.
My special, most humble thanks to C. L. Furlong - more than once victim of my writing - for offering me his suggestions and warnings, for sharing with me his thoughts and fears on my works. Thank you, my friend.
And, last but not least, my thanks to non-existing but ever-present Mary Sue for giving me the idea to this fic all along.
Of course, all mistakes in this text are mine, not theirs! Do let me know about your comments, please. No writer can evaluate the effect a story has on the reader without feedback.
And now, here's the story. Expect the unexpected!



PROLOGUE

Clank. Clank.

The reverberating sounds of his boots on the iron grids and base plates made him purr. It sounded great. Powerful. It described *him*.

T-Bone wasn't running; he was striding peacefully, more intent on displaying authority than on making haste. Yet, the corridor around him seemed to rush by. Never-ending walls forcing him to walk straight ahead the one moment shifted for crossings with four, six or eight corridors meeting in the next. He maintained his pace; in fact, he had no control over it, but that was something he didn't grasp. Speed wasn't necessary here.

The world shifted again, and the crossing was replaced by another corridor, similar to all the others. Alien. Deserted.

No, there was a difference. So slight it wasn't detectable at first. The light. It was brighter here, the pipes and cables on the walls shining with colors they could never take on in real life. Standard colors were swallowed by various shades he couldn't place, mixings of the primary colors so vivid it made him anxious. As if on command, the colors changed back to the TurboKat's red and blue he liked so much, switched mostly back to black and gray thereafter.

It was definitely getting brighter. That was something he could grasp; it meant he was nearing the aircraft's outer hull. He was nearing his destination.

Actually, the ship's outer hull was windowless. Even flying in the most wonderful sky, the light illuminating the corridors came from artificial lights, a constant intensity that flooded the whole ship. It *couldn't* get brighter. But, if T-Bone thought of the hull as window-framed, well then it was window-framed, and the first glass fields appeared at the walls, letting in the beauty of an azure sky.

Clank. Clank.

A phenomenal sound. T-Bone looked down to investigate the boots that caused such a mighty resonance. Their black outlines merged into his same-colored uniform perfectly. Moreover, they were spotless, shining a grand black for the sun to envy.

Black is caused by a surface that absorbs all the particles of the light. The boots can't shine themselves.

The thought was totally out-of-the-blue, and it caused the world to waver. More thoughts emerged like a bubble of reason.

This is a dream. I am dreaming.

Before the thoughts could lead to salvation, however, they were tugged away, stored in Chance's subconscious to come back in the real world on wakening. His name was gone as well. Chance was winked out of existence, and so was T-Bone. Only one name could describe him now: Flight Commander.

Clank.

His boots still made the only sounds on the ship, but he wasn't alone any longer. Another pair of black boots walked beside him, *floated* beside him with a grace as unnatural as the rest of Chance's dream. He looked up and to the side, staring at Turmoil's beautiful face. She fixed her eyes on his, smiled down at him. The Flight Commander smiled back and Turmoil vanished.

This wasn't about her. This dream was about him.

The corridor ended not from shifting this time, but from walking. In front, it connected with two other ones in a T, the corridor he had taken ending with a great airlock directly ahead. Not exactly as it has been in truth, but his whirled memories made it real.

He waited silently at the bend, arms crossed behind his back. For the first time, steps other than his own echoed through the ship, though they sounded muted, uneven. The footsteps of a kat on the run. A figure stumbled around the corner, and the Flight Commander let his voice boom out, daunting his vis-à-vis to stop dead in his track.

"You've made a big mistake coming here, Jake!"

The slender, caramel tomkat had to straighten to meet his eyes. He was so small; the mechanics coveralls he was wearing too large, as if their wearer had shrunk, and not the other way around. It was colored like a SWAT Kat's uniform, but, if it was meant to be a disguise, it made a poor job of it, helmet and mask absent.

Jake shivered visibly; nonetheless, he found the bravado to address him. It galled the Flight Commander.

"T-Bone. What… what's going on? And, what's with the outfit?"

"It's the uniform of the Flight Commander."

"T-Bone, you can't be serious. Let's…"

He tsked, and Jake became mute. "It's Flight Commander. And, I won't let you ruin the best opportunity of my life."

The airlock opened on a silent command. Jake didn't try to flee. There was no possibility of escaping his strong arms, anyway. He grabbed Jake's uniform at the neck, forced him toward the airlock easily. The wind was pressing against the opening, howling through the ship. *Mourning*.

"T-Bone, what are you doing?"

"Keeping your life short enough to get a grip on this unique chance."

Directly at the airlock, the Flight Commander had an exceptional view of MegaKat City beneath, a city that had once shattered his life. He had tried to protect it, and they had destroyed it as a reward. They would see who had the last laugh.

Limp in his grip, Jake was defeated. He looked at his captor with a sadness that would have killed him in real life. His last resistance was ripped from some other memory of T-Bone, without hope of touching the kat beneath the Flight Commander uniform.

"Sorry, buddy. You're just not yourself."

The Flight Commander grinned sardonically. "Consider our partnership DISSOLVED."

Jake walked the plank with a hard kick to his butt.

His former partner fell like a stone, flailing his arms about in desperate helplessness. "Chaaaaaanceeeeee!" he screamed on his way down.

The Flight Commander watched the form getting smaller and smaller, but his thoughts were somewhere else.

You're just not yourself.

Not yourself.

I'm the Flight Commander, he fought back.

Not yourself.

I am… - …not yourself.

He had lost sight of Jake's form. It was so tiny now, so close to the ground, that he had no way to know where he could find him again.

I… That's not me. It can't be me! I am…

Not yourself.

I am … CHANCE!

***

Chance woke with a start, his heart rattling like a machine gun. The darkness of his room didn't soothe him.

"Nooooooooooooooo…!"

Under the protection of his blanket, the big tabby started to sob.


NEMESIS - PART 1: MEMORIES STIRRING


"This puny prison won't keep us apart, T-Bone."

-- Turmoil in Cry Turmoil


"Bad is never good until worse happens."

-- Danish Proverb


WEDNESDAY, 8:15 A.M.

A white ray of pure energy raced across his vision, engulfed everything he saw and swallowed it as a black hole swallows the light.

He noticed himself stumbling, falling, sliding off the TurboKat's wing with the electric welder in his grip being a last, yet deadly sheet anchor and then he lost this grip too, as the power he had conjured took him off the jet. Blinded, he didn't know where the forces pulled him to, but the impact on the wall told him his position with surgical precision.

The wind was knocked out of him, and black spots danced mockingly on the white background that was his field of vision.

Well, any color besides white was an improvement. He hoped.

Chance lay motionless at the base of the wall, stunned, waiting for his sight to focus. Maybe he should feel lucky to still be alive, but somehow that thought didn't cheer him.

It was a streak of bad luck that was haunting him the whole morning, undeniably the progeny of his gruesome nightmare that still sent shivers down his spine.

Firstly, after his shower, he had slipped on the wet bathroom floor. His head still had the bump to prove that a sink wouldn't move an inch in a game of chicken.

Secondly, in the kitchen his glee to get the last can of milk turned to gloom as he spat out the first swallow of the sour content.

To top it all off, thirdly, he had almost electrocuted himself with the welder only a moment ago. If he hadn't lost the hold on it he would have for sure.

No doubt disaster number four was already underway.

The day was going to annoy him.

Someone was climbing down the ladder, Chance realized, and craned his neck to look in that direction. His sight returned slowly; he could make out the blurred features of his comrade, Jake, standing by the stairs.

"Didn't we agree to repair the TurboKat together?"

Jake's words triggered his guilt. They *had* agreed on that point.

Yesterday evening, a test flight with the TurboKat showed that the jet had difficulties in holding a stable course. The TurboKat tended to draw to the left whenever the joystick was in its neutral position. It could either be a problem with the stabilizers or a tear in a wing, so they decided to work on it today - together.

Yet, even without a dream to haunt him, Jake had woken earlier than Chance and left a note on the kitchen table that said he was in the salvage yard hunting for spare parts, while Chance needed something to get his mind off his bad luck, off his nightmare. He'd begun alone and found the problem fast: a loose metal in the left wing, hidden between layers of wiring, bolts and steel cables, that needed to be welded.

Still, he had broken the promise, and he felt miserable about it, especially today.

"Sorry, buddy. I just… sorry."

Jake sighed. "Well, did you find the problem?"

From his words, Chance could sense that Jake was still disappointed. "Yep," here he finally had to grin, "the hard way! I won't do anything single-handedly on the TurboKat again. I promise!" he held up his hand to emphasize the point. "I've already lost five of my nine lives today."

"OK. I truly hope you're *not* promising because you've banged your head on that wall and now talk out of a delirium."

Chance shook his head and stood up, his sight almost back to normal. "Nope. I mean it." The next question popped up out of nowhere. "Jake, why are you back already? Have you found something of interest in the yard?"

"It's the Enforcers. They've mobilized an armada of choppers and are sending them in the direction of MegaKat City bay. I think we better watch the news. There's big trouble going on."

"I'm coming!" Terrific, there's today's disaster no. 4, thought Chance pessimistically. He jumped into the TurboKat's cockpit and let his gaze sweep over the instruments. He found that two warning lamps had turned a nasty red.

Great… So much for my repair job! With my run of bad luck, whatever is occupying the Enforcers can only be my archenemy.

Silently cursing his misfortune, Chance shut down the jet's power and jumped out. He climbed the ladder, grabbed a can with a soft drink in the kitchen, and followed Jake to the living room.

He didn't know just how prophetic his words had been.


WEDNESDAY, 8:23 A.M.

Jake turned the TV on, then zapped through the channels until the familiar face of reporter Ann Gora appeared on the screen, rocking from side to side. Ann and her camerakat, Johnny, were filming out of a helicopter, and she had to shout over the noise.

"This is Ann Gora, Kats Eye News, live from mid-air over MegaKat City bay, where most dramatic events have taken place during the last hours of tonight."

The camera panned slowly to the helicopter's window and zoomed in on the landscape outside. Infinite waves, built up high by lashing winds, made up most of the picture. Some small strips of mainland could also be seen, like barriers to the left and right, barriers that fueled the swells' strength as the land on both sides of the bay kept coming closer toward the other, until it united in the distant background.

A tiny island was the center of attraction for Johnny. Situated far away from either coast of the mainland, it was at the mercy of the waves that persistently crashed onto its shore. But, it wasn't the waves that made this island special for the news, they were just one of the reasons for the island to become what it was.

Black fog rose from the remains of one side of the building on the island, obscuring the view of the fires beneath. A contingent of firefighters kept the flames at bay as well as extinguished the last sources of fire while another contingent of Enforcers secured and brought order to the area. Dozens of choppers were crisscrossing over the waters, probing every single spot with searchlights.

Chance recognized the island a split-second before Ann Gora continued her voice-over and the can in his hand began to slip as he broke out in a sweat.

"Alkatraz Island, the most secure prison in the world. Not a single prisoner has ever escaped the solitude of the two-centuries-old cells and found a way to conquer the sea and its tricky tide alive. Even Mac and Molly Mange, the only escapees so far, lost their biological bodies in their famous getaway. That they would arise from their corpses, like a phoenix from the ashes, to become the dreaded Metallikats, was pure chance.

But, every story ends. This night marks the end to the fame of 'invincible' Alkatraz Island. With help from outside, and a plan as daring as successful, 19 inmates have escaped their lifetime residence.

Although the Enforcers are tight on news, Kats Eye News has managed to get information on this group of prisoners.

It's Turmoil, with her most loyal crew."

Miles away from where Ann Gora was sending her report, a soft drink fell from a golden-furred hand to the carpet on the floor.

"As I said, the Enforcers are tight on news. Every question we asked concerning the accomplice has been turned down with the standard 'No comment!' phrase. But, the citizens of MegaKat City have the right to be informed about the danger they face, and Kats Eye News is not the news channel with the highest ratings because we back up. So, to inform the public, we have searched for an eyewitness report of the breakout. You will see it exclusively here and now."

***

The picture faded to black; the sounds the helicopter made vanished simultaneously. One moment later, an image returned, the grainy picture of an amateur's videotape.

It showed the beach promenade, beautifully bathed in the first rays of sunlight at early morning, with Alkatraz Island barely visible in the far waters and unmistakably out of focus. For the kat behind the camera had eyes only for the white-furred female in the foreground. She was leaning on a railing, wearing a dark blue or maybe a gray-black dress – it was difficult to judge with the diffuse twilight - and looked away from the camera, enchanted by the ocean.

"This is marvelous," she gasped.

"Not beside you, it isn't, Carol," a male voice behind the camera retorted.

Carol turned her head and smiled, a coy smile on a face of perhaps 18 or 19 years. "Toady," she said, although she evidently liked his words.

She turned back to the ocean. Her boyfriend made two steps to the left to change the filming angle, when suddenly a flicker rippled across the picture. An instant later, a flash dashed across the image, momentarily overriding the camera's brightness control. It shot away across the sea; so close above the water's surface it divided the breakers. The kat behind the camera monitored its wake by sheer reflex.

"What was that, Marc?" Carol asked, frightened.

"I don't know."

Marc ran to the railing and zoomed in with the camera to get as close as possible to the unnatural lightning that ran in a direct line toward Alkatraz Island. For a short moment, it could be seen on the island itself, then it just disappeared. Alkatraz Island looked deserted again, in a treacherous portrait of peace.

Carol apparently didn't feel safe either because she stated, " I don't like it, it's… it's creepy. Come on Marc, let's get home."

But, her friend had forgotten his 'marvel' in his curiosity. He kept the camera trained on the island, waiting for something spooky to happen.

He didn't have to wait long. From one second to another, several explosives detonated in rapid succession, leveling the mainland-facing side of the prison in a gigantic, orange fireball.

19 explosions, Chance would've wagered, his feet almost touching the dark circular spot of soft drink that was forming on the carpet.

Carol was screaming openly now, Marc's filming ability showed signs of shaking hands.

"Why didn't we hear the explosions?" he asked wonderingly, two seconds before the sound was transported to the shore, along with the explosive blast.

The concussion wave took Marc aback. The camera slipped from his hand. The pavement was getting larger and larger in its focus, then the picture turned to static on impact.

***

The scene changed back to Ann Gora in the blink on an eye. The news helicopter had landed on Alkatraz Island in the meantime; she had used the break to seize an Enforcer willing to be interviewed at the cordon.

"Lt. Commander Steele, the damage of the explosions is quite extensive. How many casualties have there been?"

"Less than could be expected, Ms. Gora. Nobody was killed, we only claim 10 casualties. Maybe half a dozen warders have been cut by sharp-edged debris, and I've heard of a broken wrist and two or three kats with cracked ribs and burst eardrums, but, all in all, nothing serious. Yes, the blast was enormous, but well aimed. If you wanted my opinion, I'd say that…"

"Steele! Didn't I order an absolute news blackout?"

The Lt. Commander, who had strutted about like a peacock during the interview, shriveled back to half his size and slumped out of the picture. He wouldn't have shaken off Commander Feral, but Ann Gora, seeing her chance for an interview, stepped in for him.

"Commander Feral, who was the electric accomplice of Turmoil? Your Enforcers have Hard Drive in custody, don't they?"

Feral's glower, aimed in the direction of Steele, vanished as he turned to the reporter, taken aback. "How do you know about Hard Drive?"

"We have our sources," Ann responded with the calmness of a professional. "You have Hard Drive in custody, do you not, Commander?"

Feral made a face, clearly disliking the course the interview had taken. He sighed. "I'm afraid Turmoil's accomplice is indeed Hard Drive. He escaped 8 days ago."

There were some seconds of surprised silence until Annie found her voice again.

"Your Enforcers let Hard Drive escape and you didn't warn the citizens of MegaKat City of the danger they were in? Can I assume then that the Enforcers are a bit guilty of his escape? Let's say, incapable of guarding criminals?"

Feral's head was turning a unique purple color. He needed some deep breaths before answering.

"NO COMMENT!" he snarled. "It's time for you to get off this island. You're only in the way. Lieutenants," he beckoned to two Enforcers to come. "Take the camera team back to their helicopter and make sure they leave Alkatraz Island."

Ann knew her protests about 'the freedom of the press' were in vain, so she grumbled them only half-heartedly on her way to the helicopter. Once they were inside, the pilot began his lift-off, and Ann motioned at Johnny to get a close-up on her face for her finishing speech.

"You've heard it all, fellow citizens. Thanks to the incapability of the Enforcers, Turmoil, one of the most aggressive and dangerous criminals of modern times, is loose again, now in company of Hard Drive, another high-level criminal.

Hard Drive and Turmoil, teamed up as the new force of evil. Will another team be able to stop them? Can the SWAT Kats keep us from a fate Turmoil promised would await us if we wouldn't follow her terms?

This is Ann Gora..."

At that instant, Chance was standing in the center of the sticky, sugary ring of liquid – and he still hadn't noticed.


WEDNESDAY, 7:55 P.M.

With sagging strength, T-Bone reached for the rope, using the forward momentum to swing over the dark, rectangular field of pyramid-shaped spikes beneath him. He landed on its other side, bringing up clouds of dust for the nth time this Wednesday after years of serenity. The closing gate would keep the dust imprisoned, whereas he escaped by jumping through the remaining gap and so left the reflex room.

After hours of training, the reopened exercise course had already turned to a dull monotony again, a great loop that kept repeating and repeating and repeating. He couldn't even make out the single obstacles any more.

How many times did I make the run? 6 times? 8 times? T-Bone asked himself in a moment of sudden awareness.

Yet, he couldn't answer his question. He hadn't taken count, and the first rounds' finishing seemed a long, long time ago.

Jake and Chance had closed the garage at noon, due to 'personal reasons' as a hand-written sign at the front stated. Unlikely that anyone would read it. There weren't *that* many customers waiting in line to get access to their famous tune-ups.

Yeah, most probably the words will only fade away in the wind and afternoon sun, unnoticed, T-Bone gloomily reflected.

Not two hours after the closure, they had finished their repair on the TurboKat. The jet was as good as new in the upcoming crisis. It had been two silent hours. The power unleashed in Chance's welding accident had melted several wires in the wing together. The additional time fixing had not lightened up the already gloomy atmosphere, and they had remained mostly quiet. Afterwards, they had separated. Jake had left for the salvage yard on a search for new weaponry, driven by what T-Bone assumed was anxiety about Turmoil's breakout…

He became conscious of what *he* was doing and smiled. His wrinkling skin gave the sweat on his brow the opportunity to invade his eyelids, and the stinging sensation underlined his conclusion the most brutal way.

While I… I'm training like a madkat, so I guess he's coping better with the situation than I am.

Despite the limb-numbing workout, the exercise course could do nothing to tranquilize his mind. Hours after the shocking news of Turmoil's escape it was all churned up, like a stormy sea, never to calm down.

It was Chance thinking, still Chance, even with his mask and flight suit put on. The T-Bone entering Level B of this dust-inundated course was just an empty shell, a valve to control his restlessness while the troubled part of him that, in fact, was Chance was fighting out the real - the psychological - battle.

Turmoil, Chance realized, affected him in a way no other villain did, and with realization came the knowledge that it had always been so. A ruined carpet in the living room was proof enough.

It wasn't love. Oh no, not love. Her criminal activity had seen to that. But, the undying wish with which she wanted his alter ego T-Bone to believe in her, to support her, had marked her different from the other villains. Marked her a kindred spirit.

A fast movement to his right interrupted his thoughts for the moment, but a professional throw with his boomerang nipped it in the bud.

The media hadn't gotten bored of prying at Turmoil and her crew after they'd been captured. They persistently kept inquiring for every tiny bit of information they could dig up about Turmoil's past, like hounds on a trail. All their efforts proved fruitless, however.

Nonetheless, Chance was sure that whatever had changed her into the criminal he'd seen was similar to his and Jake's fate.

So, her love, as he had first thought, wasn't directed at him, though it had seemed like that on her ship last year. It was simply directed at someone who was outside regular city laws, a fellow outlaw, if such a term existed. Someone who'd share her opinion that the city did her wrong. Someone to rely on.

Her wish for a partner could as easily have found Razor; only she didn't see him in action. She saw the TurboKat, its evasive movements, and her affection for piloting tipped the scales in its pilot's favor, in my direction.

I was the one she hoped in. The one who failed her. A traitor.

Once more, the flying V came back to his hand and T-Bone snatched it unconsciously.

There, he had closed in on the origin of his fears. His *betrayal* as Turmoil would see it. For all the other criminals, even DarkKat or Dr. Viper, he was just an obstacle in their way to bend MegaKat City to their wills. For Turmoil, he was a personal matter.

T-Bone and Turmoil weren't that different when it came to personal matters, therefore Chance could tell the consequences.

*It meant whatever happened wouldn't be pleasant*.

A head landed before his feet, not for the first time, but this time, he noticed. Right now, it was the head of DarkKat, but a pile of papier-mâché all around him, parts of criminals and innocents alike, told him he'd acted mechanically from the start.

He forced himself to stop. This was senseless; there was no reason in exercising more. It would only tire him out, and that was the last thing he needed. With a sigh, he turned toward the exit.

***

Six doors, three staircases and one ladder later, a filthy, sweating T-Bone found himself back in the hangar in front of his locker.

Even with every single one of its technical components lying astray all over the floor, with its partly Agracite-alloyed walls and its cathedral size, the hangar lacked one basic thing Chance needed at the moment: a shower.

Both he and Jake had wanted to install a shower down here right from the start of their SWAT Kat double lives, yet they never had had time to fulfill their wish. Always, the repair of a gadget, the TurboKat, or - in the most seldom cases - a customer's car had forced them to delay their plans.

They had a shower upstairs in the house, so the matter wasn't urgent, but it was annoying. If they didn't want to challenge their luck (and presently, Chance *really* didn't want to challenge it), they couldn't dare to walk into their house in the SWAT Kats' costumes. Therefore, to get a shower was an act of undressing and changing into the mechanics outfit in the hangar, only to undress upstairs yet again.

Usually, Chance would have vowed to himself to put the installation on top of his list of priorities. Not this time.

He stood frozen in his place, his costume in a pile on the ground beside him, and looked down at the beige box that had fallen out of the lowest compartment of his locker when he'd groped for his civilian cloths with clumsiness apt for the day.

The uniform!

Somehow fearful, as if the box contained a living bug hive, Chance lifted its lid and fetched the uniform.

The black textile looked gray with its dust covering, and moths had declared a sleeve a feast's main course for all their relatives, but it still was the Flight Commander uniform Turmoil had offered him, along with the corresponding rank, no doubt.

Chance blankly stared at the uniform, his soul lost in memories long past.

He had put it into this box more than a year ago, right after he'd come back from his clash with Turmoil. Even so, that day's events obsessed him, and, not a week afterwards, he had equipped his SWAT Kats uniforms' breast pockets with picklocks, in addition to the ones on the glovatrix, in case a fall from a ship like that would happen again.

No fall, I kicked him!

The moments when he had thrown Razor off Turmoil's ship caused him nightmares regularly. The *whole day* caused him nightmares. In these nightmares, he always turned sides for real, and then, Razor's look when he realized his treason, sometimes – like tonight - Jake's look, unmasked in the illogicality of a dream, his scream on his fall to meet his doom, the sickening…

It made him gasp for breath when he woke up, the scene so real he always believed it had in truth happened for some seconds of out-and-out torture.

"What does that city have to offer that can compare with me?"

He clenched the material into a ball, banishing the nightmares from his mind, only to recall the hour he'd spent with Turmoil, often had even agreed over things with her.

Most high-tech machinery development didn't go far beyond the drawing board stage. A shame! One could expect MegaKat City to spend millions in weapons research and defense, with all the criminals terrorizing the city. But, the funds were paid out for other things, for banal affairs like promotion tours or reelection parties, for … heck who knew what else!

So, the city put all its hope into the Enforcers. A preposterous hope in Chance's eyes.

But, instead, the citizens kept the faith with the Enforcers, sharing their view of the SWAT Kats being vigilantes every time they failed to bring some dork to justice right away.

A bridge destroyed – and they were a menace to society.

A threat stopped where the Enforcers stood by ineffectively – and the SWAT Kats were the city's heroes for the next twenty-four hours.

No wonder they had fallen for DarkKat and Hard Drive's quick-schemed plan to demolish their reputation so easily. They were a banner in the wind, changing with every breeze, as it benefited them best.

No, the city had *nothing* to offer. That was the one thing not contorted in his nightmare: the city had shattered his life. Well, not exactly shattered, but…

Oh heck, whom was he fooling? Yes they had shattered it. They *had* all shattered it. Shattered it completely.

He had tried to save it, and as a token of gratitude, he was now stranded on the salvage yard with a disreputable background and no chance whatsoever to have a well-ordered future.

And, the knowledge that this all wouldn't have happened had he followed one simple order - however stupid it had been - didn't quench the anger. On the contrary.

Only Jake kept him upright. Their friendship was exceptional, once-in-a-lifetime. If not for him…

Some resistance in his fisted hand called him to attention. Wondering, he searched the uniform, reached for the pocket and found the ignition remote and three palm-sized bombs, leftover 'gifts' from last year.

"You don't know the half of it, pal. I just showered her with gifts." - No, you don't know the half of it, Jake.

Even he himself had refused to acknowledge Turmoil's proposal had been more than tempting. It would've been a way out of his misery. If Chance hadn't had such a strong backing in his friend, or, if the wound of their Enforcer dismissal had just been fresher, Chance was sure he'd have taken her offer.

That's why he had stored the uniform away instantly. Some offers one had to jump at, whereas others had to be buried deep. Really deep.

But, that didn't include the detonators and the remote. Chance, with a last check that they were working properly, stored them in the breast pocket of his next clean SWAT Kat uniform. Most likely, they were only a pebble in comparison to the arsenal of detonators the uniform's thigh pockets held, but…

If I had all the world's weapons at my hand and she only the temper of the moment when she realized my betrayal, I'd still die for that pebble...

Oh help, what did I almost do?

"Turmoil, wait! Let me prove it. Lead me to that ex-partner of mine, and I'll toss him off the ship myself."

If he hadn't had such a strong backing in his friend…

The Flight Commander uniform went back into its solitary confinement, fast and final.

***

The remaining hours of the day grew unbearably long as Chance paced up and down the house after his shower, waiting for an emergency call that never came.

Jake returned from his rummage at around 9 P.M. The news that he'd found something to be used for a new kind of missile lighted up Chance's mood for some seconds before he realized that the development would take a month – minimum.

Sleep, the only thing that would have freed Chance from his worries, wouldn't come. He spent nearly four hours awake in his bed, his hyperactive thoughts fighting against his exhausted body's urge for rest and winning. When he at last drifted into an uneasy slumber at 3 A.M., he prayed I hope my bad luck's run out now.

His very last thought, however, fogged by fatigue that tore him down regardless of the abrupt terror it caused, was: Now … united … with Hard Drive. Forgot … about … Ha…


THURSDAY, 6:03 A.M.

A piercing sound made him stand upright in his sheet. At first Chance thought it came from his alarm clock, but a look at its face told him he'd slept through his 6 o'clock wake-up call undisturbed. Then, it hit him. With amazing swiftness, he jumped out of the bed. The klaxon silenced before his feet touched the ground. Chance ran to the door and almost collided with Jake, who hastened down the floor.

"It's Callie. There's a raid at Pumadyne. Seems it's Turmoil's gang."

"Then, we better hurry!"

That's it, the welcome for a crimefighter in the morning. No time for breakfast, for a shower or just for a quick teeth brushing. No one who's asking if the hero would like some more hours of sleep.

I never thought I'd prefer a cleaner's job in Feral's office, under his personal supervision, to my life. Chance swore under his breath while running toward the hangar alongside Jake. There's a first time for everything, I reckon.

Minutes later, on the edge of some forlorn desert afar from MegaKat City, between endless heaps of junk in a military salvage yard, a tennis court-sized part of the ground simply vanished, and a black-and-red fighter jet lifted off toward the skies, to what the media would later state as "the unpleasant incident that started the disaster."

This statement (false, however) would never make it into a headline. It would get lost somewhere in the middle of a paragraph, the newspapers bulging with information about the story of the century.

A story granting top ratings, its events a direct strike to the face of MegaKat City.

A story that filled all news reports for the next months to come.

A story about the SWAT Kats.

A sad story.

Needless to say, T-Bone didn't discern that their action would lead to failure. 'Superhero' is no synonym for 'clairvoyant', and he took the course to Pumadyne Research Facility at maximum thrust, with the grim satisfaction that his role in the play had just turned from a passive into an active one.

If he had foreseen the events, he indubitably would have changed things. But, for the better…? Or for worse…? Who can say?

***

Five minutes after their launch, the SWAT Kats were nearing their destination. The curvature of the planet's surface made it seem as if Pumadyne's complex of buildings rose from the very earth itself at the horizon. They looked state-of-the-art, as did the infrastructure around the complex.

What did ya expect? We belong to a high-tech military department. Here, the most efficient machinery and weapons in the world are developed. They literally drown us with funds. So, we're the best, finest-looking buildings and infrastructure you could expect, they seemed to scream at visitors.

Right, T-Bone answered in his mind, that's why you're the most-chosen target for raids besides Enforcer Headquarters. And, you're doing a damn poor job at protecting your inventions, regardless of all your money.

Speaking of protection: the Enforcers had missed the summons for help. Only Pumadyne's own defense systems stood up against the foes, without much success.

"T-Bone, the dimensional radar shows power fluctuations throughout the buildings. It's Hard Drive. I'll ignore tuna for a year if I'm wrong."

"I don't think you are."

The complex grew fast in size at their phenomenal speed. T-Bone could make out several small dots running to and fro between two heavy-armored freight planes and a building with a colossal explosion-made entrance where a wall must have been an hour ago.

He wished the dots to be creeplings, genuinely wished, but their size didn't fit. Creeplings were too small to be visible from that distance. Therefore, the dots had to be kats.

Turmoil's crew of she-kats. T-Bone concentrated on Hard Drive again. "What's he doin'?"

"He's beating Pumadyne with their own weapons. Pumadyne's defense systems are all connected to a central host from where countermeasures are initialized. He must've infiltrated one defense system, jumped to the central computer, and now he's happily leaping from one building to the next, deactivating each and every thread."

"So, his new friends can strip Pumadyne of its gadgets without the slightest resistance." T-Bone had to admit it was a cunning plan.

The TurboKat flew over Pumadyne. Turmoil's planes stood on a grand plaza, with 300 feet of space between them. For a second, T-Bone could see that the raid was in full progress, every kat lugging something toward the aircrafts. Barrels, boxes, crates, machinery, weapons – anything that could be transported. Then, the scene was gone beneath him, and he pulled the joystick to the left, performing an 180° arc that brought them back to their opponents.

"Well, we'll give them one hell of a resistance. Nail 'em sureshot!"

"Roger!" Razor responded after an unusual 2-second delay. He punched some buttons. "Missile… deployed!"

A low rumble went through the jet as a Plain Old Missile broke free from its clamps and shot away en route for its ground-based target. It crossed the distance in less then 10 seconds and exploded in mid-air when it hit an invisible barrier not 50 feet from the nearest cargo plane.

Crud, force fields, T-Bone grumbled and subsequently repeated it aloud.

"Maybe we'll have more luck if we add some extra charge," his partner responded. "Turn her around. I'll blast them sky-high!"

T-Bone did so, ignoring the additional g-forces that affected his body in the bend.

The she-kats hastened to get the load inside their planes. But, they wouldn't make it. T-Bone saw the missile materialize in front of his view screen at the same instant in which Razor announced, "Scrambler Missile, deployed!"

It cut through the air, followed a dozen seconds afterwards by another explosive missile. Razor hadn't waited to see if his Scrambler Missile would work. If it didn't, they could live without either of the two missiles. Both projectiles shot away toward the ship the SWAT Kats had spared the first time, the closest one at present.

The Scrambler Missile hit the force field and created a cobweb of lightning. All the she-kats nearby were on the run now, like startled chickens. They fled in the direction of the other aircraft. Some seconds later, the explosive missile reached the critical point where the force field was – and continued on.

The force field had disintegrated.

Now everything happened like a bat out of hell. The missile detonated at the rear end of the airplane, right at the open door of the cargo bay. A firewall rushed into the plane and ignited its explosive freight. The following chain-reaction blew the ship to shreds, a curtain of flames expanded 50 meters in every direction on the ground, almost catching up with the fleeing vigilantes.

The main blast, on the other hand, headed skywards, a mushroom cloud of pure heat and fire as high as a skyscraper.

A skyscraper in the direct path of the SWAT Kats' jet.

Damn, Razor, I didn't think you'd mean sky-high liter…

"Holy Kats!" T-Bone cried, startled when a piece of metal twice the size of his beloved TurboKat emerged out of the flames without prior warning. A tiny voice in the back of his mind identified it as the airplane's former hull, while his other senses were feverishly avoiding a collision.

He nose-dived the jet straight into the yellow fireball. This plunge made him miss the wreckage by inches as it *swooshed* over their heads.

Then, the fire swallowed them up. The temperature couldn't harm the jet - its Agracite alloy didn't even heat up. But, when they tore through the wall of heat and broke free of the inferno, heavy streams of smoke clawed onto the TurboKat like ivy onto gravestones. The smoke only dissolved gradually after T-Bone made another one-eighty degree turn to close in on the remaining freight plane.

"Closer… closer," Razor whispered in anticipation of his 'kill' - the moment when the regular chirps of his targeting system turned to a steady high-frenzy hum that told him his aim had just lost its game of cards.

At last, his cockpit was clear again, and, suddenly, T-Bone noticed something he'd missed before because of the thick smoke. While most she-kats were pulling objects *up* the ramp, to get them into the cargo bay, two of them were pulling something on wheels *down* the ramp, unloading it. Something that looked astonishingly like…

Like a portable Vertigo Beam, the tiny voice in his head had a re-appearance.

Yet, it was too late. The smoke had given them the extra time they needed, and one of the two she-kats activated the beam before T-Bone could even move a muscle.

A golden cone shot out through the air and encircled the TurboKat.

In a moment of eerie silence, T-Bone didn't realize he'd caught his breath, not until he heard Razor behind him exhale heavily in a replica of his own tension.

We both didn't pass out. It didn't work!

He was overjoyed for the micron of a second - the Vertigo Beam had malfunctioned. Then, he heard a 'click' as Razor set off his missile launcher with a push on his joystick's button.

Yet, no missile came forth.

His fear turned to horror as he became conscious that he had yanked the joystick hard to the right in a reflex to escape the beam. It was still locked in a position that would have forced the TurboKat to rotate around her own axis.

But, the jet hadn't altered its course.

It hadn't responded to his joystick's input – no, worse - it *didn't* respond to his joystick's input. T-Bone pushed and pulled furiously, without effect.

The TurboKat was out of control.

And, she was slowly descending!


THURSDAY, 6:24 A.M.

"T-Bone, we have to eject!"

Some warning sirens answered him, but no T-Bone.

"T-Bone!"

"I am *not* ejecting!" T-Bone gritted his teeth, exceeding the joystick's durability didn't create the wonder he hoped for.

"T-Bone, that beam turned our jet into a flying wreck of metal. My weapons are screwed, your controls are down, and all the other systems are influenced as well. They are currently shutting down one by one. I can't even imagine what they've hit us with.

We have to eject *now*, before the ejector seat or the canopy release mechanism is inoperative."

T-Bone's gaze swept over his control panel. Some lights had simply disappeared during the last minute; others had turned a malicious red. Warning lights.

Crud!

The bomb bay had blocked instantly the moment the beam had hit them; the dimensional radar was down, as was the Speed of Heat booster enhancement. In the next instant, the normal radar monitor started to flicker and went dead, too.

More warning lights lit up.

Oh, crud!

Still, he couldn't believe they had to sacrifice the TurboKat. The course they'd flown before the beam affected them had been almost parallel to the ground. Almost.

"We'll think of something. We have time. We're going down at a snail's pace!"

"This 'snail's pace' is another problem!"

What? How could this possibly be…? Surprised by Razor's words, T-Bone looked up and saw his partner was right.

'Crud' was converted into something nastier.

When the SWAT Kats had first arrived at Pumadyne, they had come from the direction of the city, passing over long, green fields beneath them that separated Pumadyne Research Facilities from the first urban dwellings in the distance. They had flown over Pumadyne's complex and turned around over the spot where a mountain had been up to the last year, a mountain Zed had obliterated in his path of destruction. From there, they had started their first, futile attack, turned again for the second, triumphant strike, and then once again for the last time.

Back – forth – back.

As a result, they were now heading back to the city. At a faster rate of descent, the TurboKat would smash onto the uninhabited fields if they couldn't save her, but at their recent angle she would leave the fields behind…

…And crash into the first block of houses at the city's perimeter. With 90% fuel left, at a time where the streets were crowded with citizens – workers, school kids, motorists, - a crash would be Armageddon for this part of MegaKat City.

In contrast, if they ejected, the canopy would stay open, and the jet would lose its stability because the wind that usually swept around the aerodynamic form unhindered would catch in the compartment. Within half a minute - more or less - this resistance would lug the TurboKat down onto the fields.

Collision or ejecting, these two were the lone alternatives. T-Bone loathed them both.

As the pilot, T-Bone had a special bond with the TurboKat. He loved her, loved her truly. For most Enforcers, a jet was just a flying vehicle, an instrument used for the job. Not for T-Bone. He wouldn't give his baby up to rescue himself, although he knew quite well this affection could kill him.

*But*, he would sacrifice her, even if the price was his broken heart, to save innocent casualties. He had already done so two years ago, when DarkKat, Dr. Viper and the Metallikats had sworn an alliance to bring MegaKat City to its knees. Mayor Manx and Callie's lives had been at stake on that day, and the total destruction of the TurboKat had been the only way to sneak into their hideout.

Therefore, under normal circumstances, he wouldn't have hesitated to reach forward and activate the mechanism that guaranteed their lives in exchange for the TurboKat's existence.

Except this time, the situation differed from routine - Turmoil fixated his way of thinking.

T-Bone could almost hear her laugh at him: Goodbye, dear T-Bone. Now, you will pay for your treachery. Or will you steal yourself away once more? Sacrifice someone else just to save that miserable tail of yours?

He clutched onto the joystick again – more vigorous than ever. Oh Turmoil, you're wrong if you think I'm hiding behind others.

Anger and despair mixed in T-Bone, and a sudden idea was born out of this combination. A chance, if a slim one. Essentially, the situation was similar to their first encounter with the Metallikats, when they had fired their Relentless Missile at the jet. What T-Bone meant to do was alike as well, just more radical.

More stupid. Utterly darn stupid.

"I am *not* ejecting!"

Razor's answer took some time. "Damn, bud, I hope you've got an ace up your sleeve. I *hate* dying!" He fell back into his seat.

No, I'm bluffing. And, I won't let you die for my foolishness, pal.

"You won't die," he yelled over the voice the slipstream made on the opening canopy when he activated Razor's ejector seat. "You're out of here, buddy."

He looked over his shoulder, saw Razor's shocked expression for a brief, but painful and intense moment.

"What? NO! T-Bo…"

Then, he was gone, his voice cut off abruptly by the untamed winds that would nonetheless bring him safely back to earth with his parachute-equipped seat.

T-Bone pushed a button and the canopy slid back into place, only it stopped short of closing completely, letting a forearm-wide gap remain. He knew what it meant, but looked at his control panel anyway, out of habit.

The internal lamp of the button had disappeared, now the system *really* was down, the canopy sled locked in a position that was neither helpful for his collusion or ejecting problem. Maybe the split would be a cause to misbalance the TurboKat enough to plummet before she reached the city. Most likely, it wouldn't.

And, if not, he would blow the canopy away with his glovatrix's missiles, well aware this action would kill him either by the explosion itself or by the following jet's crash! It was a terrible all-or-nothing gamble; with his live ended if he lost.

Loathe to think about it, or about the fact that Razor would be mad as hell at him if he should make it back in spite of his odds. He had crossed the point of no return. His straw of hope better work.

Drawing a deep breath, he shut down the TurboKat's engines, together with *all* her computer systems.


THURSDAY, 6:26 A.M.

Even to him, even now, the idea sounded foolish, like turning off a car's engines at 100 mph on a highway, forcing up a steering lock and throwing its keys out of the window.

And, it wouldn't work if this beam were some kind of computer virus, because his plan was simply to restart the computers and engines after some seconds of disuse and to pray to the Holy Kats they'd shaken off the poltergeist.

Computer viruses weren't beaten by a computer shutdown. So, he pushed the option of a virus from his mind.

Perhaps it was an electromagnetic impulse that caused his instruments to go haywire. But, would his plan work against an EMP?

The engines stuttered and went out behind him. The loss of thrust forced the TurboKat into a steeper falling angle. To his dismay, it wasn't steep enough.

This whole venture's crazy even without my streak of bad luck! But, right now, it's just straightforwardly useless. The TurboKat will still crash into that house block.

Let's see, I bet if I try to turn my instruments on again, I'll get no response at all.

He deliberately waited some seconds to let the computer systems and the engines go cold properly. Then, he pushed the restart buttons.

He would have won his bet. The monitors stayed black, the engines cold.

DAMN! Time was pressing, and that was the only reason no litany of curses followed. T-Bone guessed the collision was now one and a half minute away. That meant he would have approximately thirty seconds before he had to blow off the canopy, or a crash would be inevitable.

T-Bone started his countdown.

Thirty seconds and running. He tried the restart again, waited, got no reaction.

Twenty-three seconds. Another push on the buttons. And again, nothing.

The next try. While he leant forward to switch the systems on, he saw two rows of Enforcer choppers coming up over the green fields. Each row held seven or eight choppers flying side by side, and one single chopper led the way.

There's Feral and his cavalry. Late as usual, but just in time to see my exit, T-Bone thought wryly and rammed his thumb on the last button as if to push it right through into the TurboKat's nose. Fitting, really!

Eleven seconds. Nothing. Better try again!

Five seconds. This time, he didn't even have the spare seconds to wait if the restart worked. Hundreds of unaware citizens would die if he expanded his time-span.

His straw of hope had failed.

I'm sorry, Jake, I hope you can forgive me someday. I never told you I loved you like a brother, the little brother I never had. Maybe you know. Please, let it be so.

He aimed his glovatrix at the canopy above him. Its explosive could easily destroy a canopy – and cockpit, he was well aware – twice the size of the TurboKat. Thousands of images flashed through his mind, a torment so intense a single tear fell from his left eye.

His thirty seconds gone, he fired the explosive.

The glovatrix's missile was designed to wipe out the first thing it connected with. Razor's weapon creations almost never failed, and the explosive T-Bone shot off didn't fail either. It detonated on impact, incinerating everything within a sphere five meters in radius.


***To be continued - in "Nightmares"***