Chapter 5: Chasing Answers
Author: Kristen Sharpe
Date: February 9, 2003 (original version)
September 30, 2006 (edited/extended version)
Warnings: May contain slightly more than average violence for a children's cartoon.
Disclaimer: "SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron," its characters and concepts are copyright to Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc. and are used without permission.
Author's Note: This chapter has seen some edits since its last posting. To get where I needed to be with the storyline, I've gone back and altered the ending here, changing some parts and adding a page or two of new material. For those who have read it before, you won't need to re-read the entire chapter, but you will need to re-read starting at the scene where the Dark SWAT Kats discover the TurboKat following them. Sorry for the confusion, but this seemed to be the best way to handle things to get the story moving again.
Chapter 5: Chasing Answers
Callie Briggs' apartment had been dark when they'd flown past. Maybe she wasn't home after all, Razor mused. He punched up his glovatrix' time display. 11:00 pm. Her comm signal from earlier that evening had come from the apartment. But, she might have gone out...
"I think I heard something."
Razor looked up to find his larger partner leaning against the door to Callie's apartment. His right ear was pressed flat against the door's smooth surface.
"I don't think that's a good i--," the smaller SWAT Kat began.
The door opened.
And, arms flailing, T-Bone fell onto the slender figure just inside.
Razor hid his face in his hands.
Then, the slim SWAT Kat stooped to try and help T-Bone off Miss Briggs. An image of tomorrow's potential headlines darted through his mind. It wasn't any prettier than those he'd conjured at T-Bone's first idea of lowering themselves from the roof. This time it just involved "assault" instead of "peeping toms." Of course, the latter seemed more scandalous, but the former was probably...
A burst of pain exploded across his face as he bent over. The slim kat's head snapped back, his snout numb. Someone had slugged him in the nose!
"Hey, watch it, T-...!"
"Get away from me!"
The scream instantly paralyzed both toms. Razor froze with one hand just reaching for his throbbing nose. T-Bone halted mid-roll and mid-apology.
Seizing the opportunity, Callie Briggs hurriedly scrambled away from the larger SWAT Kat's immobile bulk, claws out and clutching at the carpet for a better purchase. Once clear, she stumbled to her feet. As she looked down on the prone tomkats, Callie's face contorted with a bizarre mix of emotions. Clearly, they were not what she'd thought at first. But, she didn't seem much happier once recognition came. Drawing in deep, ragged breathes, the petite she-kat struggled to sort the mixed signals her brain was sending.
The two SWAT Kats just returned the prolonged stare with looks of utter disbelief. Then, both began stammering apologies at the same time.
"Aw, gee, Miss Briggs, we're..."
"...sorry... Didn't mean to..."
Finally, the Deputy Mayor found her voice, cutting them off.
It was an angry growl of a voice.
Struggling to disentangle himself, T-Bone attempted to speak. "Miss Briggs, I'm sorry about... I... We just..."
"T-Bone." Razor was at his friend's arm quickly, tugging him to follow. "I think we should do as she says."
The big tabby switched his horrified gaze from the blonde she-kat to his partner.
"Now," Razor returned firmly, his eyes not on his friend but instead on the oddly silent Callie Briggs.
Bewildered, T-Bone let Razor help him up before turning to look at Callie again. Her face was blank. Then, her facial features twisted again. Something broke through the mask for just a moment.
"Please," she whispered suddenly.
Then, she was gone, closing the door quickly on T-Bone's still desperate face.
Razor pulled on his stupefied partner's arm again. "C'mon, I'll explain in the jet."
T-Bone looked at him. His green eyes narrowed in comprehension. "Alright."
Her back pressed to the door, Callie listened to the two SWAT Kats move down the hall. Slowly, she let herself slide to the floor. Her hands clutched at her head.
It seemed it hurt worse than ever now.
Commander Feral wasted no time for pointless dramatics in the wake of the SWAT Kats' escape. Instead, he hurried back into the hangar and up to the control tower where he was rewarded with the knowledge that the stolen jet's tracking beacon was still functional. The broad-shouldered commander spared only an instant to be grateful for insisting on its installation immediately upon delivery. Then, he rushed back down to the hangar level. He'd already lost one Blue Manx, and he didn't mean to lose another.
He found a drowsy Lieutenant Steele and a somewhat more awake Sergeant waiting for him at the base of the stairs. The Sergeant immediately addressed him.
"I'm going after them."
Feral didn't answer him directly.
The bark roused Steele more effectively than the blackest coffee ever brewed in Headquarters. The orange-furred kat jumped, his tail bushing out behind him. Recovering, he managed to snap a smart salute.
"Sir, yes, Sir!"
Feral was in too big a hurry to analyze whether Steele's efforts at enthusiasm were based on a change of heart since the last incident with the Seeker (1) or the sure knowledge that his job was again teetering dangerously on a thin line. Whichever the case, the Commander continued.
"I want you to take charge of things here. I expect this hangar and everything in it checked top to bottom for any nasty surprises the SWAT Kats might have left, and I want as many jets as you can scramble stationed for take-off as soon as possible." He paused, thoughtful. "Check them too. Thoroughly. I've had enough surprises for one night."
A grimace flashed over Steele's features as he responded with an affirmative.
Feral's attention was already back on the Sergeant.
"The tracker in the Mark II is still functional," he began. "I'll be following it in my squad car. Hopefully, we can catch them at their base once they land. Maybe we can recover the Blue Manx without sacrificing it or any of our other jets."
Feral's face tightened at that. The Blue Manx was more than capable of dealing with a squadron of his older jets. And, the SWAT Kats had more than once proved how deadly effective they could be against greater numbers. Those numbers had just never been his own.
Feral shoved the thoughts aside. He'd deal with that when he came to it.
Continuing, he turned to make sure Steele understood he was included in the statement as well. "But, if they attempt to cause anymore trouble en route, we'll have no choice but to engage them. Have those jets at the ready."
Steele started to fumble a response.
"Yesterday!" Feral bellowed, the sudden thrust of his hand in the general direction of the main hangar indicating Steele's need to get moving.
Steele correctly interpreted the gesture and scurried away quickly.
Alone with the sergeant, Feral added, "Have two SWAT Teams standing by. If things go like I'm hoping they will, I'll contact you once I identify their base."
"Yes, Sir," the Sergeant responded. He started to ask if the Commander needed someone to accompany him but stopped himself in time. The set of Feral's jaw said this was personal. The gray-furred kat watched his commanding officer stalk away toward the elevators, tail lashing. No doubt about it. The broad-shouldered Commander would definitely need the relatively safe trip to stew alone.
Some minutes later found Feral tapping one foot impatiently as the elevator descended. With any luck, this would go smoothly enough. But, he'd learned never to trust to luck a long time ago.
And, what on earth did this raid mean! The SWAT Kats hadn't stolen Puma-Dyne's jet, but they'd certainly stolen his Blue Manx. Were they part of some larger group? If so, why now? After all these years, why start open - open and inexcusable, even to the flippant public - criminal activities now?
Feral paused briefly as he stepped off the elevator. Half of him wanted to believe it. Wanted to believe he could finally freely focus his efforts on the SWAT Kats. The other half of him, the logical half of him, said it was too easy.
The Council had practically ordered him to focus all his attention on the SWAT Kats the same day the vigilantes had lost their biggest supporter. And, it was only after both events that the vigilantes had done anything... but he wasn't supposed to know that.
He hurried toward the parking deck.
"Are those little red hearts?"
The comment stopped Feral in his tracks. There, leaning casually against his squad car stood his niece. A small grin played on her lips as she straightened.
Slowly, the Commander looked down at himself. His long overcoat had come unbuttoned somewhere in the trip between the hangar and the garage, revealing the extent of his haste earlier. Quickly, he secured the coat once more.
"They were on sale," he returned blankly, grabbing at his fleeing dignity. Thank goodness that hadn't happened up in the hangar or he'd have been the butt of Enforcer jokes long after he retired.
Felina smothered a snicker with one hand. "Sorry... Sir. I was just..."
"...hoping to come along?" Feral rumbled. "Get in, Lieutenant." (2)
"Okay, Razor, I'm waiting."
The TurboKat was barely in the air, but the burly pilot couldn't hold it in any longer.
"Did you see Callie's face back there?" his partner returned.
"Yeah, I saw she was scared to death! Of us!"
"You fell on her."
T-Bone scowled fiercely at his partner's accusation, tossing a malevolent glare in his direction via the cockpit mirror. "I did," he allowed, "but, did you see her face when she recognized us!"
His smaller partner nodded. "And, did you see when she went all blank?"
T-Bone blinked. Yes, he'd seen that vacant look come over her. And, the way she'd seemed to be fighting something. Then, there was her voice on the comm earlier...
"Crud, she's been brainwashed or something!"
"Exactly. And, we've got to find out by who... and how."
"But, where do we even start?" T-Bone groaned.
"Well, it must have happened between last night when we rescued her after the earthquake and when she called us tonight," Razor reasoned, settling a hand under his chin thoughtfully. "We just need to find out what she was doing and where she was today. She's a public figure. It shouldn't be too hard to at least flesh out the major points."
T-Bone nodded and swung the jet around to head toward City Hall. "No time like the present."
He'd barely completed the move when something caught his eye. A flash of darkness flitted across the windows of a row of skyscrapers several blocks away. Like something passing by them. Something far too big for a bird. And, far too fast for an Enforcer patrol.
"What...?" The tabby frowned, green eyes narrowing. His gaze shifted to his Heads-Up Display. Nothing was registering. He doublechecked, averting his eyes down to his dimensional radar display. Still nothing. "Razor, you got anything on radar?"
"Huh?" Razor glanced at his partner in the mirror, then looked quickly over his instruments. "Nothing," he returned, but his hands were already keying in adjustments. "What did you see?"
"Looked like a jet flying by over there," T-Bone muttered.
This time, Razor frowned. "Hmm... Bingo! Tracking it on infrared," the slim weapons officer announced. He studied the glowing display, his face lit red in the dark cockpit. "It's staying subsonic, but barely, heading north out of the city."
"North?" T-Bone was puzzled. North was back toward the Salvage Yard and then on into the desert. Why would anyone be heading that way? "Some sorta test flight?" he thought aloud.
"Yeah, maybe. Maybe someone testing that stolen prototype," Razor mused. Remembering he'd switched it off in favor of conversation as they flew to Callie's apartment, he flipped on the Enforcer band.
A cacophony of static-laced voices ripped through the cockpit.
"...Repeat, all units, be on the lookout for the SWAT Kats flying in the Blue Manx. They are considered heavily armed and dangerous..."
"...calling for additional assistance at Headquarters..."
"...main hangar has been attacked. Repeat, we have had a security breach, main hangar has been attacked..."
The two SWAT Kats traded horrified glances.
"Holy kats, what is goin' on! We're bein' framed right and left!" T-Bone growled, pounding his fist against the side of the cockpit.
Recovering, Razor turned the volume down and looked back down at his infrared readout. The craft they'd seen was almost out of scanning range, but, its flickering profile was still visible. He studied it for a moment, comparing it against memory.
"That's it! That's the Blue Manx!" the slim kat blurted.
"That jet you saw. It's gotta be that stolen Blue Manx. It was coming from the direction of Headquarters."
"Good, maybe we can end this mess," T-Bone muttered as he banked the TurboKat to follow, right hand tensed to throw the throttle wide open.
"Easy, bud," Razor urged quickly. "Let's just follow them for now. Maybe we can find out who sent them... whoever they are."
T-Bone's jaw tightened as his hand released the throttle control. "Roger that."
Felina glanced at the tracking unit mounted on the dashboard of Feral's sedan. Nothing new to report. The stolen Blue Manx was still travelling in the same direction. Out to the middle of nowhere.
She glanced at her uncle. Maybe now was finally the time to ask. She searched for the best way to start.
"Uncle... What's going on?"
"I wish I knew. For the moment, I'm just trying to play along," Feral muttered, tossing her a quick glance before focusing on the road again.
Felina stared at him numbly. Rare was the day Ulysses Feral "played along". Rarer still was the day he openly admitted that he wasn't on top of any given situation. Even to her.
"What...?" Felina managed the word at last.
"There's more to this than just the SWAT Kats going on a rampage. A lot more."
Felina frowned. The hand she had kept clamped around the passenger's side door handle fiddled with a loose strip of vinyl. That made two shocks in one night. The SWAT Kats' "rampage" was still unbelievable. Still unreal. She'd never kidded herself into believing she knew the masked kats, but... She'd thought she knew them better than that.
"I'm not following you..."
Beside her, the stern-faced commander took a deep breath. He needed someone to confide in. Someone to help him pick over the scattered pieces of this bizarre puzzle. A puzzle which his gut feeling already said he would not relish seeing in its entirety. And, there was no one he could trust more. And, no better time.
With trembling fingers, the darker version of Razor lowered the top portion of the instrument panel he'd jimmied open. So close. So close to revenge at last.
"Tracker's on - Feral should be right behind us," he reported to his partner. The panel snapped closed with an air of finality.
"Good," T-Bone rumbled. He nudged the throttle forward eagerly. But, he restrained himself from slamming it to its maximum. They weren't out of the city just yet. And, their destination was just on the other side of the Tiger River. "Time to pay our goody-goody doubles a visit." His face split in a toothy grin. "We should have just enough time to have a little chat before Feral shows up and hauls them away."
Razor chuckled along with him. Everything was going just as planned. Then, a flutter on one of his scopes caught his attention. Bloodshot amber eyes flicked behind his mask as he studied the array of sensors before him.
No, not now!
"T-Bone... Someone's following us."
"Duh, Feral," T-Bone snapped. Then, he glanced at his Heads-Up Display. "Nothing's showin' up," he added irritably.
"They're using some sort of stealth capability, but I'm getting some faint readings."
His partner released a deep growl. "The Enforcers have that?"
If Feral engaged them too soon, there wouldn't be time to properly frame their twins. Blast it!
"No," the stubble-faced Razor muttered bluntly. No, he knew this jet. Knew the unmistakable signature it left on sensors. "It's the TurboKat." A snarl curled his lips back in a grimace. "Crud! This'll ruin everything!"
T-Bone swore and slammed a fist against the side of the cockpit.
Felina chewed her lip, mulling over the bizarre jumble of information her uncle had laid before her. Thus far, she could think of nothing new to offer him. She could only agree that the Deputy Mayor's sudden change of mind was prompted by something personal. No help there though. She knew nothing of Calico Briggs personally. Not really. All she had was the nagging feeling that this rang hollow compared to what she did know of the other she-kat.
As to the SWAT Kats... Frankly, she knew of only one way someone could be in two places at once. And, she was sure her uncle had also come to the simple, logical conclusion that there were now more than two SWAT Kats.
But, why... And, the kats back in the hanger... They looked just like the T-Bone and Razor I know. Why did they...!
Feral's tracker began to emit an urgent wail.
"What is--?" Felina focused her attention on the display.
Feral didn't need to look to know what it was. "They've found the tracker," he muttered darkly.
"What!" Felina read the display.
It was flashing the words, "No Signal".
"It's disabled," the dark Razor growled to his partner as he snapped the instrument panel back into place with considerably more force than last time. He snarled at the remains of the device now clutched in his hand.
"Good," said T-Bone. "Let's shake these other pests and get out of here."
They were now rushing above the flat expanse of the desert beyond the city.
"And, exactly how're we gonna lose 'em?" Razor demanded.
T-Bone's smile was an ugly sneer. "More'n one way to skin a SWAT Kat," he purred, adjusting the Blue Manx's course toward the twisting maze of jagged outcroppings that marked MegaKat Canyon.
The dark city streets and sky-reaching buildings of MegaKat City slid away into a glittering grid of lights as the TurboKat climbed into the night sky. Then, the electric brilliance vanished altogether as the jet hurtled into the lowest strata of an incoming stormfront.
Razor winced as the jet bucked, hitting a pocket of low pressure. Much as he'd trained and much as he loved flying, he'd never come to actually like that stomach-dropping sensation. "I think we're high enough," he called to his partner.
"Just usin' the cloud cover," T-Bone returned airily. "This won't be anything to worry about for a few hours yet."
"Roger that." Razor's voice was clipped. The tension bleeding off his partner was palpable, despite his easy words. The slim weapons officer was just waiting for the question he knew was sure to come.
Ah, there it was.
"Dark Kat tops my list, everyone else falls somewhere below them. Pretty much, all the usual suspects could be involved." Razor allowed himself a thin smile. "But, I'll keep you informed as these events unfold."
T-Bone snorted. "Thank you, Ann Gora."
"Well, I figured someone should stand in for her. Haven't seen her on the news the last couple days."
T-Bone's only response was a grunt.
"Where are they!" T-Bone's darker counterpart glared menacingly at his partner via the mirror.
"They fell back and climbed up into the clouds," his ragged-eared weapons officer snapped. "My sensors can't find anything with the cloud bank and all the stealth abilities on that jet." He glared over his shoulder where he imagined the other SWAT Kats to be. "They're still hangin' on our tail," he assured.
T-Bone growled. If the other SWAT Kats just followed from above, he wouldn't be able to lure them into the canyons and lose them. And, he had to lose them. Quickly. If the TurboKat was sighted with the Blue Manx tonight, they'd never be able to fully frame their twins.
"Huh..." T-Bone smirked suddenly. "Let's draw them out again."
The sudden fire of an explosion lit the desert night. The two SWAT Kats' control panels also lit with a flurry of warnings as the TurboKat's infrared detected the burst of heat.
"What're they shooting at, Razor!" T-Bone demanded.
"Beats me, buddy." Razor looked from the infrared to the dimensional radar scope. Neither offered any clue. The only thing out there was desert. The dimensional radar couldn't plot quite quickly enough to capture every detail of the explosion, but what it had plotted looked consistent with rock debris.
"Maybe it was a misfire," the weapons officer finally concluded. "Or a trap," he added cheerfully.
T-Bone scowled at him via the mirror. "Well, there's a fun thought." His scowl deepened. "I guess our only option is to check it out. But, keep your eyes peeled."
The other SWAT Kats watched with hungry smiles as the TurboKat's hazy profile ghosted onto their sensors. Slowly, it cleared the cloud bank and dropped lower, drawing closer to firing range.
Dark Razor gripped his firing control, fingers spasming in anticipation. Any second now and he'd have a lock. The plan had been to run after creating a distraction in the canyons, which were still looming on the horizon. But, the Blue Manx had rear lasers that the other kats probably didn't suspect. And, it was such a delicious chance. Even if he only destroyed the jet, it would be a devastating blow.
After several tense seconds, he realized that the TurboKat wasn't coming any closer. It was staying just out of firing range, matching the Blue Manx's speed.
Razor sneered. So, they were a little wary. Well, that was easy enough to fix.
"Drop us back!" he called to his partner.
For once, the larger kat complied without comment.
As their jet abruptly decelerated, the lock tone sounded almost immediately.
Razor squeezed the firing control.
"Crud!" T-Bone yelled as green light shot from the Blue Manx. He had realized the other pilot's intent seconds earlier when the Blue Manx had suddenly lost speed. But, the realization came too late to do anything about it.
The TurboKat was engulfed in verdant light. Immediately, the control panel in front of T-Bone went dark. Everything was gone. The radar, the Heads-Up Display. Everything was off-line.
For one terrible instant, he thought the jet had completely lost power.
Then, Razor's voice reached him. "It's the anti-weapons scrambler! T-Bone, pull up! Now!"
T-Bone reacted automatically, guiding the TurboKat up and away.
Unlike his counterpart, Razor's twin was confused. His sensors were detecting a hit but no explosion. Still, the TurboKat was banking away hard as though it had taken damage. He reached for the controls. He was sure he'd called up the lasers.
He was suddenly slammed back in his seat as the Blue Manx accelerated. For a moment, he was pinned against the seat, watching helplessly as the other jet's signature receded into the distance.
"What are you doing!" Razor screamed at his partner.
"Getting away like we planned," T-Bone snapped back. "Did you forget that part?" Either sensing Razor's fury or speaking for himself, he added, "We'll take care of them yet. After they've suffered for a while."
Razor was silent, his eyes watching the hazy image that was the TurboKat fading from his screen.
Please let me know if you feel like any part of the story is missing. FFN was acting very strangely when I uploaded this.
- (1) Reference to "Hide N' Seeker".
- (2) Yes, when I wrote the first chapters of this story, as well as my last several stories, Felina was a captain. Recently, I've become annoyed that I made that change in her rank since it's essentially pointless, so I've decided to edit that aspect of my fanfics and return Felina to her original rank as a lieutenant.
And, yes, Whiplash, I'm trying to get to the good stuff! Honest!
Inspirational music: "Jim Saves the Crew" by James Newton Howard from the soundtrack to Disney's "Treasure Planet"