NEMESIS 6 - A MATTER OF TRUST
BEGIN OF WRITING:
December 01, 2001
July 27, 2002
July 28, 2002
RATING / WARNINGS:
PG-13 some violence / some drama in overall story
Chance prepares to continue the SWAT Kat business solo. But his plans don't get everybody's approval.
'SWAT Kats - The Radical Squadron' and the characters of the show are the property of Hanna-Barbera Cartoons.
I have at long last reached the end of this story. Ain't it just surprising how large a fic can actually grow? The size of "Nemesis" clearly surpassed my estimate by the factor three, and I still shortened some scenes and left out a few things I'd have liked to put into the text. Anyway - with my thanks once more going to all the reviewers on FF.N, and to C. L. Furlong and Kristen Sharpe for their tremendous help of reviewing and correcting my works respectively - here's the story's last part; I hope it's enjoyable!
NEMESIS - PART 6: A MATTER OF TRUST
Kill the kat you name your foe,
And strength you'll give him doing so.
Beat him, mock him, rout his fleets,
You think you'll break him with your deeds?
He'll rake the fire your corpse soon feeds!
But once you crush his glorious faith,
You cut a will that else would save.
For without hope, future bears doom,
And he will cry and moan in gloom.
Alone. Forgotten. Cold his tomb.
"What's said can't be unsaid."
"What's done can't be undone."
THURSDAY, 10:24 A.M.
It was a freight train. A never-ending freight train, rolling by far in the distance, its continuous reverberation a dull murmur to his ears. And, yet, it couldn't possibly be any kind of train…
Not even death was tranquil.
That was the greatest surprise, although it shouldn't have surprised him at all. Why should distress end with death? It'd be too good to be true.
Another thought struggled to the surface of his mind from the depths of nothingness. For some reason, it was funny, but before it could grow to become a chuckle, the reason for its springing in life was forgotten.
There was nothing. No light. No inner peace. Not anything… Just blackness, utter blackness, bearing a bone-chilling cold.
And, the endless wail of the freight train…
Something stepped into this nonbeing, crept its way past his senses, eluded identification. But, he hung on to it, as it was better than this numb void, better than nothingness. It was – a smell… Weird… A weird smell, a sharp odor. It reeked of scorched metal, and burned synthetics.
It stirred something from the yawning abyss that was his mind. Blackness wavered, making way for grey. And, if there was grey, then there was white.
The sound of the freight train cleared up, too. The sound intensified, and as he was slowly returning to consciousness, he noticed that it followed an unsystematic pattern. It sounded more like…
The wind howling around the TurboKat…
T-Bone opened his eyes, revived by the sounds and the cold. Downtown MegaKat City was a rapidly growing field that raced up upon him.
He wouldn't have many more seconds. Ten, maybe fifteen…
In a reflex, he pushed the ejector seat button.
The battered canopy slid back. A jolt shot through T-Bone as he was ejected, a second, sharper jolt hit him when his falling velocity was reduced abruptly by the seat's parachute. He cried aloud. Every muscle in his body seemed to be stiff and hurting.
But, however immense the pain, he was alive!
T-Bone sailed on the winds above MegaKat Park. A giant shadow plunged straight down to earth beneath him, and buried into the moist grass at the maximum rate of fall, splintering into thousands of pieces. Then, it exploded.
The TurboKat – annihilated.
A minute thereafter, T-Bone hit the ground, every bone aching.
Due to the jolt ejecting had caused, he managed to disentangle himself from the crust of cement that glued him to his seat, and he rolled into the mud, exhausted.
The sound of an explosion roared down from the sky. T-Bone's head snapped up with fear-stricken eyes, wildly searching.
A second burst split the silence before he realized that it was only thunder. Except for the storm, the sky was empty. He relaxed visibly. One thick drop of water splashed on his swollen nose, which had finally stopped bleeding. Within seconds, the drops were coming down in buckets.
T-Bone walked a step and winced. His thigh felt as if pricked by an army of blades where the Mini Scrambler Missile had buried into his flesh. With a cry not nearly describing his pain, he pulled it out.
He couldn't recover now!
Limping, he stepped into motion, even if not to get out of the rain. He had still one job to do.
And, he didn't like it a bit…!
THURSDAY, 11:38 A.M.
The bolt didn't move in the slightest. Chance shifted his position to get a better grip on the box end wrench. Shifting was a difficult task; there was simply not enough space in the SWAT Kat vehicles to move around freely. Some bolts were hard to get at, especially if the object of desire was located in the deepest, furthest corner, like this one was. Chance asked himself for the nth time how they'd managed to fasten their seats in the first place. There always seemed to be a lack of space…
But, that would change soon.
Once he had removed Razor's seats from all their vehicles!
He shifted a tad more and wriggled his hands toward the wrench until he could close his fingers around it. He pulled it with all his strength, puffing and panting. As a reward, the bolt loosened.
Chance started to grin when the wrench suddenly slipped. It lost the hold on the bolt and the wrench slammed against the metal frame of the rear seat with a din, his knuckles close to follow in the progress of meeting the hard metal. Pain, surprise and humiliation wound up and were voiced in a curse.
Still muttering under his breath, he dived his torso as far behind the seat as he could, retrieving the lost wrench. It was then that he heard the clamoring.
He paused, hoping for the moment that the sound was a figment of his imagination. But, he knew it wasn't…
"I wish you hadn't come," he called loud from behind the seat.
There was no answer except for another clamoring, as if the pile of now-obsolete parts of their vehicles that he had erected in his efforts was under attack by a lunatic.
Disorientation. Final phase, he thought.
A wave of guilt flooded through him but vanished as soon as it had come. His decision was long-made, irreversible. There was no other way, anyhow.
He at last got a grip on the wrench and attacked the bolt again, speaking besides.
"You should have stayed in bed, you're in no condition to walk around."
Once more, there was only silence; curiously accusative quietness.
Chance labored on. "You wonder at the pile I've erected." No question. "Yes, I will continue with the SWAT Kats business solo. I should have made this decision years ago!
I'm the best pilot MegaKat City's ever seen, Turmoil's been right about that. But, the creeps like DarkKat often get away, however hard I try. Why? It took me way too long to find an answer to that question."
The bolt was loose, and Chance centered his attention on the last one that attached the seat to the floor.
"A chain's just as strong as its weakest link… I couldn't really unfold my full talent up to now. For the media, it's always Razor and T-Bone…" He chuckled dryly. "Razor and T-Bone…
You know, it's always the SWAT Kats who fail – both of us.
Ironic, isn't it, that it took Turmoil to open my eyes? It never was my flying that failed, but the gadgets and missiles.
Razor is long gone, but only in these last days have I realized this completely. The way you looked at me, watched me with cold eyes…
In the last months, you've retreated to the yard more often than the puny things you discover there would justify. I don't know what your game is, but let me tell you that it failed! Crime fighting is my only true purpose, and I won't let you drag my achievements down. I won't let you destroy what I've labored so hard to build up."
The last bolt went off, and Chance straightened, grabbing the heavy seat, lifting it and throwing it down into the hangar, adding to the noise.
"I'm sorry for your suffering, but it's soon over. The poison works quite fast."
He stood up and jumped out of the TurboKat.
"I'm sorry, Ja…" He cut off.
The ragged, beaten, blood-clotted, cement-encrusted, soaking wet figure snarling in his face wasn't Jake.
"WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY BROTHER?"
The words reached Chance's ears a split-second before T-Bone's gloved fist reached his face.
THURSDAY, 11:40 A.M.
It was in the midst of his fight with the Flight Commander aboard Turmoil's ship that T-Bone had finally figured out what was truly going on.
All the missing details that had tormented his mind the last hours could be boiled down into one question: Why had he survived Razor's assassination attempts?
Jake's plans had gone awry *two times*. The TurboKat hadn't crashed at Pumadyne, which had led to 'Plan B': T-Bone's 'fall' from Turmoil's ship. Turmoil must have been certain that he would not survive the drop, *even* with his backpack on, or she would have taken it off, he was now sure.
So, what went wrong? Jake's plans seldom failed, and *never* twice in a row…
Some outer factor had forced his schemes to fail!
As he had lain on the metal grates, bleeding from Jake's hit to his nose, the answer had suddenly loomed up before T-Bone's inner eye clear as crystal. It was Chance's own actions that had come into play: his single-handedly work on the TurboKat yesterday, his incident with the electric welder.
He had *electrocuted* himself and the TurboKat. And, the dimensional radar could be allergic to high voltage sometimes. Anything that had been swept up by the electricity – the TurboKat, Chance, and the welder – had jumped dimensions, just as it had happened one year back, when he and Razor had faced their evil twins, the "Dark SWAT Kats".
But, this time, there had been one crucial difference…
In this alternative dimension, things had looked alike when compared to their own world, and events had still run somewhat parallel.
This parallelism had completed the illusion. When Chance had transported himself and the jet into another dimension, his other dimension's counterpart had welded his own TurboKat and had experienced the same phenomenon. Both Chances and their jets had *swapped* dimensions.
When T-Bone had at last become conscious of this, it had been almost too late. Only sheer luck, or perhaps fate, was the reason why he was back in his own dimension now.
After realizing, he had tried to save the TurboKat on board of Turmoil's ship, because her destruction would have bereft him of the only chance of ever getting back to normality again. But, the Flight Commander had been prepared, and, with the jet's controls disabled, it had been an easy task for him to cement T-Bone to his seat.
Since he hadn't been able to free himself from the hard cement coffin, T-Bone had shot the Mini-Scrambler Missile at his own thigh, hoping that the cement would crack up in his electroshock-caused spasms. That, however, hadn't worked as successfully as he had hoped. The cement had loosened *too late*, crossing his plan of removing the Mini-Scrambler Missile from his leg and lifting off. Instead, he had fainted from the pain only seconds later after his hand had broken free. The high energy had hit the detonator next to his foot, and the explosion had nearly destroyed the TurboKat.
Death had come close to catching him. He had saved Enforcer Headquarters from being obliterated, but it had been *so* close…
If his left hand hadn't cramped around the X-Ray Scope cable that he ripped off in his repairs…
His body had conducted the energy, and electricity had flown into the cable and from there throughout the ship. It had reached the dimensional radar just a few moments after the energy had leaped into the remote control and blew up the barrels with the explosive gel. The dimensional jump had been initialized in tandem with the flames being about to devour the TurboKat.
Unspeakable relief had embraced T-Bone on reawaking as he realized that only the storm loomed over MegaKat City, and not Turmoil's ship. He was back in his own dimension! He had thought he had his life back, with its own anomalous definition of ordinariness.
T-Bone had thought that it might be a shock for his twin to hear that he was in another dimension, and that his partner had tried to kill him in his stead. He hadn't really known how to tell his doppelganger the bad news.
What he had just heard from his own voice, from his mirror image, had truly shocked him instead.
He poisoned Jake…!
Ordinariness was fading again, threatened to be destroyed in spite of everything – after all he'd been going through!
Anger filled T-Bone. Anger so immense that it was beyond words. T-Bone started to roar as his unmasked self stumbled back from the blow he'd just received.
And, he emphasized every word with a punch.
Chance parried T-Bone's last strike, recovered from his surprised daze. Like his masked other ego earlier, he too was now bleeding from his nose. T-Bone's enraged first uppercut had seen to that.
But, already, Chance analyzed grimly, the strength was leaving T-Bone again.
T-Bone heavily lacked sleep; he had lastly slept well in the night preceding his nightmare, and that was two days past. The shock of Jake's treason had left him dispirited, and, primarily, he was injured, too worn out to fight. Anger had stirred up his spirits, but now his weak body was taking its toll.
In direct combat with an otherwise physically identical twin, Chance was in a better condition.
Gaining assurance in this fact, Chance charged his enemy. He quickly stepped forward and landed a punch of his own.
T-Bone tumbled back with a suppressed groan. He clutched at his face; when he withdrew his hand, its fur was glistering red. The nosebleed was back.
Chance struck a hard left hook to T-Bone's cheek.
T-Bone ducked just in time, and Chance's fist met only his helmet. The thrust of the blow made T-Bone go down on his knees, but the enemy's expected second strike failed to come. T-Bone looked up. Chance was clutching his hand, his face a livid, pain-contorted grimace.
Time for T-Bone to strike back!
He sprang up from his knees, and punched Chance in the stomach. Chance doubled over, gasping for air, and went down on the floor. Before T-Bone could set after him, however, he rolled back to his feet.
He massaged his stomach with his right hand, eyes fervent with rage looking on T-Bone. He started to laugh, a glacial laugh that never touched his eyes.
"If that's the best you can offer, then you're in serious trouble!" he coughed, spitting away a lump of blood that was pouring into his mouth from his nose.
"No, it isn't!" T-Bone snapped back, raising his glovatrix.
Chance did a forward roll. The Mini-Spider Missile flew low over his head but missed him as he rolled toward T-Bone. He came up to his feet and slammed into him with his right shoulder. Chance's impetus took T-Bone off his feet and both kats went down in an arc.
T-Bone landed flat on his stomach. He grunted as Chance tackled his ribs with his knee, and before he could do anything, Chance had positioned himself atop the backpack.
In his quest for getting home, T-Bone had after a long walk found a gas station, and refilled his backpack with enough gas to fly the rest of the way to the garage. Now, the heavy rucksack was to his disadvantage. Chance pressed him down with its additional weight, cautiously affixing T-Bone's arms to the side of his body with his feet.
"You better tell me what the heck is going on. Pronto!" Chance demanded with a sneer.
"What does it look like, you moron?" T-Bone retorted with a strained voice.
Chance put on a nasty scowl. "Wrong answer!"
T-Bone's helmet protected his skull as his forehead slammed onto the concrete floor from the blow to his back of his head.
"I won't repeat myself! What's going on?"
"You're not in your dimension. You came into our dimension when… When you wielded the TurboKat yesterday… A side effect of the dimensional radar… You…
YOU POISONED MY FRIEND, AND NOT THE JAKE YOU KNEW!" T-Bone screamed.
T-Bone struggled again, but to no avail.
"And, now you're telling me you want to avenge him," Chance spewed out in disbelief. Anger loomed in his eyes. "No, you don't! Nothing's gonna take away my SWAT Kat double life!"
T-Bone started to chuckle miserably, beaten by the absurdity of the whole state of affairs. He was pinned down; he knew he was defeated. He closed his eyes.
Above him, Chance straightened himself for the final strike.
T-Bone felt the air stir as something rushed down on him, like a fist nearing his face. Suddenly, Chance's weight was gone from his chest, and a loud clamor filled the hangar.
He opened his eyes again.
Chance lay in the pile of gadgets he'd erected, with a Mini-Spider Missile wrapped around his torso.
The masked vigilante yanked his head around.
Jake stood at the bottom of the stairs, clad only in a pair of pajamas. The glovatrix on his right arm was pointed sternly at Chance.
"What…" Chance struggled his way out of the missile's embrace and from the pile of gadgets strewn around him. His voice broke off as he saw Jake. "But…"
"Surprised to see me alive?" Jake's voice was faint, but steel. "I threw up breakfast, *Chance*!"
Keeping an eye on his acidly addressed doppelganger, T-Bone stood up.
The enemy force one kat up in number, Chance searched the room like a wild beast surrounded by predators. He started to run for the jet.
Jake fired another Mini-Spider Missile at Chance, but, strangely, missed him by yards.
Chance leaped into the TurboKat, pressed a button that started the platform hydraulics, initialized the jet's start-up sequence, and watched for the platform to lower to the runway level.
T-Bone turned to Jake for a second. He still stood unmoving at the stairs, too far away to be of help. T-Bone ran toward the circular hole in the ground. He saw the TurboKat vanish into semi-darkness. Chance had not closed the canopy yet!
Instinctively, T-Bone jumped down into the blackness. He landed in Razor's compartment of the jet right at the moment at which Chance pushed the canopy button and jerked the thrusters forward.
The TurboKat accelerated and shot out of her subterranean hide-out with two SWAT Kats aboard, just as always, and yet so much unlike normal circumstances.
Neither Chance nor T-Bone noticed Jake's collapse in the hangar, his slim body finally giving in to the cramps that had taken hold of him.
THURSDAY, 11:43 A.M.
Chance flew a curve, steering the jet away from MegaKat City, toward the vast barrenness called MegaKat Desert, where T-Bone and Razor tested their missiles in its sandy canyons. He pulled the joystick fiercely to his body. The TurboKat ascended rapidly.
Without a stable hold to clutch on to, T-Bone was tossed around in the empty space where Razor's seat had been. He fell down in a heap and toppled into a corner. His injured thigh hit against the cold metal, hard.
T-Bone screamed in agony.
In front of him, Chance chortled, but continued his climb.
"I'll get you for this," T-Bone shouted over the noise. But, his cocky remark was only reflex. He had no idea what to do. His jumping into the jet had been an impulsive action. How could he defeat Chance in his current state?
Chance obviously thought the same. "Really? Show me!" He brought the TurboKat into a vertical…
…then tipped the joystick to the side, performing a roll.
The TurboKat rotated around its longitudinal axis, and T-Bone was thrown against the canopy as she immediately flew upside-down. His helmet's frontage bumped against the Plexiglas with a loud gong reverberating in his skull.
For a split-second, T-Bone could see dark clouds all around them, and when lightning shot out near to the jet with deafening thunder in its tow, he feared that the canopy had been shattered by his impact.
Then, the TurboKat finished her 360°-roll, and T-Bone was flung back down to the co-pilot compartment's floor. Thankfully, he landed on his uninjured right side of his body. His scream of, "OOF," was more voiced in anger than in pain.
Chance laughed aloud.
T-Bone's eyes fell on the floor. Razor's compartment had been stripped naked of its instruments. Thus, all coverings hiding the internal wiring of the jet lay exposed.
Lightning… The dimensional radar!
So, you want to know what's going on, Chance?
He opened the base covering in a trained two-second procedure. Dozens of cables branched out before him. He searched for the one cable that connected the X-Ray Scope with the central unit. He spotted it amidst a bundle of cables, grabbed the whole bundle and groped for it.
Wind suddenly tugged at his cloths. The canopy was sliding back.
"IT'S TIME YOU GET OFF MY JET!"
Chance's doing! He had started another roll!
T-Bone frantically clutched at the bundle of cables with both hands.
After turning 180 degrees, Chance ended the rolling maneuver. The jet was now flying wrong-side-up. He held the shaking TurboKat in this position, despite the danger flying with an open canopy exposed her to. He waited for T-Bone to let go.
T-Bone clutched at the bundle for his very life. He knew that, even with his backpack on, he would be a sitting duck for Chance and the TurboKat if he fell from board. He was hanging over open space, the airstreams avidly yanking at his legs.
And, his arms were getting weaker.
Panicked, T-Bone let go of the cables with his left arm. His right shoulder protested about holding his complete weight. A bolt of pain shot through it that told him that his body thought doing so had not been such a good idea after all. T-Bone reached over to his glovatrix hand with his left. Despite that his hand shook from the strain, he managed to push a button on it.
Then, his grip slipped.
The canopy closed to his command just on time to stop his fall. T-Bone landed flat on the inside of the rotund Plexiglas structure and performed a roundhouse kick at Chance. He hit him at the back of his head.
Chance lost control of the jet. He jerked the joystick around hard. The TurboKat completed its roll.
T-Bone was thrown back to the ground, headfirst. He cushioned the fall with his arms, landing on his left side for a change. This time, his scream was pure anguish. Black dots crept into his vision.
Realizing that his senses were fading, T-Bone grabbed at the bundle of cables again, sought out the right one, and pulled hard. The cable snapped loose from the central unit. T-Bone held a two-meter cable in his hand.
In the compartment in front of him, the X-ray beam monitor went dark. Chance, on the other hand, shook off his wooziness.
T-Bone had just bitten off the plastic cable sheath that insulated the cable from its last few inches, and was tying a loop when he saw Chance reach forward to his controls.
"I ASKED YOU NICELY!" Chance screamed as he pushed the canopy release.
"WHY DON'T YOU JUST GET LOST!" T-Bone shouted back, throwing the tied end of the cable over Chance's head like a lasso.
Again, the canopy slid back. Chance, despite the cable that was cutting into his neck, performed another roll.
T-Bone fell out of the TurboKat…
…but, not before firing a Mini-Scrambler Missile at the bundle of cables in Razor's compartment.
T-Bone dived down toward earth, not daring to open his parachute. A slow fall would make him an easy target. Nonetheless, T-Bone had to watch in horror as the TurboKat starting a curve that ended in a collusion course.
Chance wouldn't simply let him go! He intended to take him out…
T-Bone realized that though he was falling fast, he would never be fast enough to escape a supersonic aircraft. He faced the jet and awaited the inevitable.
Blue rays of electricity erupted from the Scrambler Missile, spread out through the TurboKat's metallic intestines. High energy surged through the cable and into Chance's neck. His body started to convulse, but his hand cramped hard around the joystick, kept the jet on course.
The TurboKat was already bathed in a bright white when she neared T-Bone's position.
Then, the jet was gone.
Simply gone; sent back to its own dimension only meters before it would have reached him…
The compressed air tightened around T-Bone like a hammer, dragged the tabby along without mercy, clawed at his senses, but somehow he managed not to pass out. Finally, the airwave was gone, and T-Bone pushed the cord on his backpack. The parachute unfolded.
Minutes later, the SWAT Kat touched the ground of a desert canyon in a bit of a rough landing. With his last coherent action, T-Bone rolled next to a rock outcrop.
As the parachute settled down on T-Bone, he instantly fell into a comatose unconsciousness.
FRIDAY, 03:47 A.M.
Jake lay uncomfortably on two chairs standing side by side to miserably form a couch. The chairs stood so that he could face the window and the salvage yard outside. He was curled up under a blanket, fighting waves of chills that took turns with phases when his whole body seemed to burn, when he was soaked in sweat and nevertheless shivering.
The shivers and cramps had never left him this night.
His back hurt from the time he'd spent on the chairs, but even if he had been able to, he would not have dared to go to his bed, or to the sofa in the living room. He couldn't watch the salvage yard from either. He could only see the TurboKat in its landing approach to the hangar from his self-erected hard couch.
Each minute that passed by without any sign of the jet was more painful than his backache and cramps, anyway.
The last twenty-four hours were extremely fuzzy in his mind. The day before that, however, was all the more clear. It had been a nightmare.
Jake had woken early on Wednesday and searched the salvage yard for new technology to use for gadgets and weapons. He had roamed the piles of junk for hours, without much success. There was excruciatingly little of use to be found amidst the masses of garbage, and he had given up the search around noon with only two relays as booty.
Back at the house, he'd seen to his great astonishment that Chance had repaired the TurboKat single-handedly already. On the one hand, Jake had been very grateful for that. Having wasted half a day on the yard, repairing the TurboKat for the other half of the day had held little interest for the slender tom. On the other hand, he had felt let down. He and Chance always worked on the TurboKat together, regardless of how severe the problem was. It was an iron rule: they worked as a team, not solo.
He had stated his disappointment to Chance. And, though Chance had apologized for his single-handed work, the look Jake had received from him when he had said so had raised the hairs on his neck.
At that time, Jake had still thought that Chance must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.
It happened not very often that one of them was in a bad mood, but naturally, it happened at times. On these occasions, Jake was glad that they had separate rooms to retreat to until the shadow of nonspecific anger had dissolved again. More than once, he had locked himself in his room with a bad temper, so as not to abuse Chance as the target of his fury. Jake would never forgive himself if he were to unjustly accuse Chance in his wrath.
Sensing that Chance wanted some time on his own, Jake had driven to the city to buy a large amount of groceries, a shopping trip that they had pushed ahead of them for far too long.
As he had returned to the garage at about six in the evening, Chance was nowhere to be found, and Jake had guessed that he was probably jogging his bad temper away. So, he had prepared dinner.
When Chance had returned, Jake noticed that his mood still hadn't changed much. But, there was more to it. Somehow, Chance seemed reserved eating with Jake. Kind of evasive and even distant, Jake had thought, much to his own pain.
Soon after dinner, Jake had finally retreated to his room and gone to sleep early. Whatever was occupying Chance's mind had him firmly in its clutches. As a result, he appeared cold-hearted, and it hurt to see his friend like this, but he was unable to do anything about it. Chance had not been talkative about his torment.
On awakening, the world seemed normal again. Jake was woken by the thick aroma of breakfast being made by Chance on Thursday morning. Although the cloudy sky told about a storm coming, this was a sign that his friend's mood had changed, and therefore, weather was irrelevant.
That belief didn't hold long, though. Chance was humorous in the kitchen, yes, and he was more than willing to do idle conversation, but the eerie feeling Jake had experienced the day before hadn't left.
It had intensified.
It had all *looked* fine, all right. Chance had cooked eggs for breakfast, and appetizing ham, and he had even poured Jake a cup of fresh coffee. But, although the scene was totally normal, it had somehow had a surreal touch to it.
Hard was not near enough a word to describe the inner struggle Jake had to fight to admit to himself that Chance appeared to *act* like usual.
But the feeling was there, and when Chance had looked straight at him with a forced indifferent gaze when Jake had drunk his coffee, Jake had experienced a feeling he had never thought he'd come across in his life:
He'd been scared of Chance.
Scared to death.
By his best friend. By his brother.
Jake was still ashamed that he had had *to force himself* to smile back at Chance, thanking him for the meal. Chance had retorted that it was no problem at all, that he was sorry for yesterday and that he would do the dishes to make up for his behavior.
In that moment, Jake felt even more ashamed doubting his friend, but he had gone to the bathroom nevertheless, where he had put the finger to his throat and had thrown up breakfast again.
It had reduced the amount of poison to a non-lethal level. It had saved his life. And, yet, he still felt guilty for vomiting….
For mistrusting Chance.
Half an hour later, the cramps had begun and his memory began to get sketchy.
He had told Chance that he didn't feel that good, and watched his friend closely. His concern seemed to be sincere when he suggested that Jake should better lie down in his bed.
This was exactly what Jake had done, but not before he had retrieved a glovatrix from his locker.
Jake had lain in his bed and the shivers had attacked him with growing strength. He had sobbed between the convulsions. What had happened that he had to guard his sickbed with a glovatrix, that he suspected Chance to have poisoned him? There was no reasonable explanation for what was going on.
Why was he so uncomfortable with Chance around?
Jake couldn't envision a life without the bond of friendship between him and Chance, and therefore, his distrusting his friend hurt him more than the cramps. What was life worth anyway if the one true miracle supporting it was suddenly gone? Life meant nothing without his brother!
The next conscious thought Jake had had was him wondering about who had entered by the front door. It couldn't be Chance, as Jake had heard him lifting the access hatch and climbing down the ladder into the hangar.
He had risen from his bed, wobbly, and walked down, following the racket.
T-Bone fought with Chance. The sight had given him strength. The *why* still eluded him, but Jake would have bet his life on T-Bone being his partner – his friend and brother – and he had helped him with the glovatrix instantly.
After the two versions of Chance had left with the TurboKat, his last reserves of strength were spent. He had somehow managed to reach the bathroom toilet, but Jake couldn't tell for his life how he had gotten there.
The next hours had been hell. He had thrown up again and again, his stomach soon empty, so that no more than bile came forth, and not even bile thereafter. Only the retching reflex stayed, the urge to retch and retch overpowering his urge to breath at some time. The cramps and shivers didn't recline, and breathing had been almost impossible.
And, above all, Chance's – the *real* Chance's – unknown fate was ablaze at the back of his mind like a hot iron.
At 8 P.M., Jake had felt bloody awful. He had wished he would die from the bottom of his heart.
As Thursday turned into a rainy Friday night, his body's urge to retch had finally ceased, but his difficulties in breathing had increased slightly. Jake didn't know if he was through the worst, or if the toxin had started to attack his lungs.
Chance was still missing. Jake had crept from the bathroom to the hangar's access hatch, just to realize that he must have closed it somehow in his struggle to reach the toilet earlier. A tug on the cord showed he had the strength of a butterfly. The hatch hadn't moved an inch; he couldn't get into the hangar. That'd been the reason why he had used the last strength left in him to erect the couch of chairs under the window.
Jake waited for Chance to return.
For the last three hours, he had waited in vain.
Another intense wave of cramps hit him pitilessly, and every other thought in Jake's mind was forgotten for the moment as he was feebly struggling to fill his lungs with air.
Jake woke with a start from the nothingness the last fit had propelled him into. He had had a wonderful vision of the TurboKat returning. There had been the sweet sound of her engines in her landing approach. He endeavored to sit up. It took some effort, but he managed. His strength was slowly returning, and his breathing improving.
His body had finally battled down the poison.
He looked outside. Night had made way for day, and the salvage yard lay shrouded in white morning mists. But, there was no sign of the jet, and the world lay in silence, as if mourning.
An aching deep in his core, Jake slumped down again.
Chance, where are you…?
Jake's heart pulsed in pain. He had to search for him, but he feared what he might find. As the SWAT Kats, they were constantly together in danger. Jake had always thought that should they go down in a blaze of glory, they would do this together.
Now, Chance was fighting alone, and he could not help him.
What if he found him dead…? Jake couldn't imagine a life without Chance.
Don't you dare die on me, Chance! he thought furiously.
Angry not with Chance, but with himself, at his incapability to support his brother.
Carefully, he sat up again and wiped away the tear that rolled down his face. He tried to slowly put his weight on his shaking legs. As long as there was no proof, Chance was well. But, the more time that raced away without some good news, the more unlikely it would…
The rumbling came from the backside of the house.
A door was being opened…
Jake dropped back onto the chair and turned his head from the windows to the door.
"Chance?" His voice was a cough. He repeated his call.
For some dreadful seconds, Jake heard the footsteps growing louder, and the door was being opened. T-Bone stood in the doorframe.
"Jake?" T-Bone's voice sounded twice as shaken as his own.
"Chance…" he only managed to whisper in answer.
T-Bone stepped into the room, his step more a limp than a walk. He left the door ajar. His head hung low, as if the weight of the helmet would pull it down, Jake noticed.
He looked horrible. His uniform was nothing more than a rag, with holes and cuts all over it, the blue fabric covered with mud, sand and cement. It couldn't hide the parallel claw marks that showed on his torso and striped his arms with red. Dry blood from his nosebleed smeared its front all the way down to the knees, clotted all of what was visible of his facial fur around the bandana mask. But, above all, he looked dog-tired. Shattered.
T-Bone tiredly grabbed his helmet on walking and took it off. It fell to the ground with a muffled bang. When he reached the chairs, he had just taken off his bandana mask.
He sat down on the second chair and looked forlornly at Jake.
Jake had to twist his head around to hide his shock. Just a glimpse at Chance's face had told him without doubt that this was indeed his brother, but it had shown him more:
Chance had aged.
His face was still the same, except for a few two-day stubbles on his chin. Chance had not physically aged.
It was his eyes that were different. They radiated sadness; grief that had accumulated in merely two days, but more than enough to do for a lifetime of agony on a kat.
There were no words for what Chance had been going through, Jake read in these eyes.
He faced Chance again. With all his heart he wanted to embrace him, to share the pain. But, he couldn't. Something told him that it would make the situation even worse.
Somehow, Jake knew *he* was responsible for his friend's suffering.
Chance sat only a few feet away from him. What Jake had wished more than anything else in the world had become real. Yet, at the same time, he was further away then ever before.
Because of him!
A thousand questions and worries were on his mind, and nonetheless Jake fumbled for words.
On the inside, Jake wailed. He was doing awkwardly with words more often than not when it came to confessing how much he needed Chance, needed their friendship, but this surpassed every idiocy he'd ever uttered. Here sat his best friend, his brother, looking as if he had been beaten half to death, silent from some massive shock encounter….
AND, HE ASKED ABOUT THE STATUS OF THE JET!
Where the most important and easiest question would have been to ask if he was alright. If he could do anything for Chance….
The TurboKat…? Nothing else would come forth but these stupid words.
Jake started to add something more closely to his feelings when Chance sighed heavily beside him.
"…Is now a wreck in MegaKat Park. Chance escaped with the other," he simply stated.
That put Jake off guard again, and he choked on his words once more.
"I'm afraid I… don't understand. I…" he paused. "Chance…?"
Chance's eyes settled on Jake's.
"…Chance, what happened?"
Chance didn't answer right away. He just watched Jake a moment. He was judging him, Jake realized with a pang of sorrow.
Please! Jake begged silently, I can do nothing if you don't talk to me. I can't say anything, for I fear I would hurt you even more. Chance, please talk to me! Talk to me!
What can I do? What can I do to ease your soul?
"Pl… Please, Chance, tell me."
Chance looked out of the window with an empty stare.
"I… repaired the TurboKat. I thought it would distract me from something that was bothering me. I had… I had a little accident with the electric welder. I electrocuted the TurboKat and I was thrown to another dimension with her.
Only, I didn't notice…
I didn't notice…"
And, Jake could only listen in horror as Chance recounted the nightmare he had lived through the last days.
"The charge hit the dimensional radar and he was thrown back to his own dimension," Chance ended his report with a cracked voice.
"I… should have seen it earlier… That I was in another dimension… Should have realized much earlier why I survived with the TurboKat at Pumadyne…
Felina suggested that it was because Jake tried to double-cross Turmoil, but I was too angry with them then to see that it was not because of one of his mistakes that I survived.
It was the TurboKat. It was *our* jet that was shot at at Pumadyne. Not the one Jake prepared…" he trailed off.
"My other dimension's twin must have constructed the portable beam," Jake concluded for him in a tormented voice with his chin to his chest. "It would shut down the TurboKat's controls, but he needed some controls to stay operational to ensure he could eject and survive. The canopy mechanism and sled, his ejector seat, his ejector button… To achieve this, he must have fiddled with the TurboKat's electrics itself; the beam and the jet were attuned to one another.
Your shut-off of the engines and the restart worked out because the electrics weren't sabotaged on our TurboKat. That's why you were able to save yourself and her."
Chance simply nodded, his memories lost on the morning's events again. Turmoil's shoving him from board…
Jake was living through the same scene in his mind.
"We keep our backpacks in the TurboKat, and your rucksack changed dimension with her. That's why Jake's 'Plan B' failed as well. Even if he manipulated that other T-Bone's backpack, it lay in the TurboKat in this dimension, and you wore your own functioning one…"
He looked up, watched the tabby with moist eyes. Still, he didn't know what he could do to help his friend. What could he say to undo the things his other dimensional ego had done?
How could he give back what had been destroyed…?
Chance stood up slowly and looked down at Jake. "You… You knew about the picklocks in my uniforms, didn't you…?"
Jake could only nod in pain.
I knew about the nightmares Turmoil caused you…
Chance made a step toward the door.
Jake's voice brought him to a stop. He didn't turn but faced the door with closed eyes.
"Chance, I'm…. I'm here."
Jake watched Chance's head drop to his chest. Tears filled Jake's eyes as his friend limped out of the room.
I'll always be here for you, Chance! I'm here if you need me!
Chance vanished down the unlit corridor.
Jake heard his footsteps fading away, staring at the discarded object on the floor.
T-Bone's helmet; protecting shield and disguise of the most caring, courageous and bold kat Jake knew: Chance Furlong.
No one had ever penetrated and destroyed his cheerful, brave spirit. No one ever… But, he – Jake Clawson – had!
I couldn't bear to lose you! You're my best friend, you're my family. You always stood by my side when I needed your support. You were always there for me. I couldn't face this world without you!
I couldn't bear to lose you, Chance!
FRIDAY, 06:31 A.M.
For Chance, the hangar was a shelter. It was a wonderful place. Large and tranquil. Important. He would sit in the cockpit of the TurboKat just staring at the instruments sometimes when he needed a peaceful moment on his own. They had achieved so much down here.
He had tried to banish his nightmare here, too. And, what had he gotten instead…?
Chance limped through the room where it had all started almost exactly 48 hours ago…
When they still had had a TurboKat…
He looked at the pile of equipment next to the platform. A dozen gadgets and tools. Glovatrixes, the TurboKat's ejector seat, even some missiles.
Razor's soul, taken from their vehicles by the other Chance.
Chance walked on, searching for something specific.
He found it at last. It was a backpack, and, judging from the straps' size, it was one of his. He grabbed it with a sad chuckle.
Chance activated the jet boosters without putting the rucksack on. As expected, there was no response to his command. He threw it away. The loud echo of its bang ricocheted in the hangar. He sat down in Razor's removed TurboKat seat, exhausted.
It *has been* manipulated, so that no picklock would save its wearer. With this backpack, the other Chance should have died.
And, somehow, Chance wished he were dead!
No, actually, he wished that he had never even existed. The whole other dimension should have never existed.
His exhausted sigh filled the hangar.
I wish I'd never seen a glimpse of it!
It was true: he had trusted Jake more than he had trusted himself. Jake was the stabilizing element of the SWAT Kats, the calm rationale in their friendship. Without Jake, he would run berserk at least twice a day. And, he would have done some rash act at each unexpected encounter with Commander Feral. Acting without thinking, like his punching the Commander on top of Enforcer Headquarters.
Jake knew him good enough to prevent him from his missteps.
He was his thoughtful, gentle younger brother.
Chance closed his eyes and leaned his head against the seat's backrest.
Yesterday, the brother was suddenly gone, and a callous monster had taken his place. Razor's betrayal had felt like an execution.
And, however joyful the sudden realization of the truth had been, it had also come as a shock. Jake had never betrayed him. This was some other dimension's Jake, a kat with Jake's name, with his face and voice, but *not* Jake.
Chance felt sick. He had been blind all the time. Blinded by fear. Blinded by hatred. Blinded by pain. He might have been able to realize that Jake had reacted very peculiarly this morning and the day before, but, in addition, Turmoil's escape had fogged his mind. Because of this, the veil of unawareness had only lifted from his mind in his fight with the Flight Commander, and not before.
What all he had done and thought in the meantime…
He had falsely accused his true brother! On the Enforcer tarmac, confronted with the Enforcer pilots, with his own lost past, his anger had been focused on Jake, and on Jake alone! Feral's words about "better going down" with the old plane "instead of ejecting" should have make him wake up, but he had preferred it to let his anger sweep away his judgment, to believe in mistrust.
Not to mention the accusations he'd flung at Jake drugged with rage when he had stood face-to-face with the Flight Commander aboard Turmoil's ship…
Chance sighed. He had not told Jake everything. He had left out that Jake was a murderer in the other dimension, as well as the fact that his relationship to Turmoil was more than simply a business one.
Why had he left these details out? Was it to protect Jake from the shock it would give him? Or was it that he feared affairs might recur if Jake knew about his twin's love for Turmoil? This look-alike Jake had sincerely loved her; so would Jake…?
Chance covered his face with his hands. He rubbed his temples with his palms, trying to suppress the nascent accusing question. His right hand throbbed furiously. He looked at it and saw the blood-encrusted cut he'd gotten when he had climbed aboard Turmoil's ship again after his backpack had been empty of fuel. The wound had closed, but there would be a scar.
Unexpectedly, Chance realized that the other Chance wouldn't have this scar.
The *other* Chance.
"An egocentric wanna-be-an-immortal-hero pilot," Jake had called him. Perhaps he had been right with his characterization. Chance had not wanted Jake to "drag his achievements down". Not *their* achievements, no, *his*!
In his eyes, Jake was really no more than an assistant, a hindrance to his flying abilities.
If he saw the other Jake in his friend, was there not also a part of the other Chance within himself?
What had happened in that other dimension that Jake had sought his love with Turmoil, a she-kat he had never gotten more than a glimpse at on their first run-in? Which fatal events had occurred that had turned a young, optimistic, gifted mind into a desperate and exhausted criminal? What had made him a murderer?
None of this should have happened! If one of them required help as desperately as Jake did, shouldn't the other have been there for support, as an escort on the stony path of vulnerability, like a true friend, a true brother did?
Jake could turn to him for guidance, for help if he needed it… Could that other Jake have had the same faith in his 'brother', in a kat that referred to him as "the weakest link of the chain"?
Chance groaned. I never questioned my own part in the game, but there are always two sides of the story.
Jake couldn't have faith. The confidence in each other between him and the other Chance had evaporated. There was no telling what had caused this in the other dimension, or when it had started. Chance had not seen nearly enough to answer these questions. But, their downfall had started with the mutual passing away of trust.
Chance's throat was dry. He was alone, accompanied only by the pulsing of his blood in his ears; its constant beat burning in his injured nose and hand. For once, the silence of the hangar wasn't comforting.
He had gone through a lot these last days, gotten more than only surface wounds. Whenever he had gotten wounds before, Jake had been there to help him with the pain. They shared fates; they'd always been there for each other. It had taken merely one day without this support, and events that would otherwise have bounced off his hide without leaving a single scratch had maimed him.
Like it must have been with the other Jake and Chance…
He inspected his palm again. There was a scar the other Chance didn't have. A scar telling him that their fate could be different from their twins'. It was up to them to influence their destiny to the better…
Chance stood up and clenched his fist. He would bear the scar in his mind. He would never forget what he'd been going through; he'd always recall that he had taken the pain of a different Chance. He would remember his scar as a token of self-made fate!
It would save him from his uttermost fear, from his nemesis: The enemy he could be himself. The same kat on the outside, but no longer Chance Furlong within.
Staggering with tiredness, Chance headed for the ladder, seeking his way upstairs.
Jake needed his being there.