Title: Have Yourself a Mad Little Christmas
Author: Kristen Sharpe
Date: December 18, 1997

Alright, this one's been in the works since *last* Christmas and
now I'm finally finishing it. Now, please bear in mind that this is a
*Christ*mas story, so if that would offend you, I've told you
what you're getting into.

Series Timeline:

Late 1994 -- the final show episode that I saw, "Unlikely Alloys" takes place
Early 1995 -- H2Oh, No!
1995 -- Nuke It - first of the Seeker Trilogy
Technical Difficulties Parts 1 and 2
Have Yourself a Mad Little Christmas

-------------------------------------

Prologue:

The small group stood in the middle of the street looking up at
the smoke billowing from the top of Enforcer Headquarters. Each had
a place to go, but the smoking building held their attention for a
few minutes more. Even the two SWAT Kats, known for their quick
exits following an exploit, remained, eyes on the smoke trailing from
the shattered remains of their jet, the TurboKat.

The SWAT Kat, T-Bone, still glowing from the warm look Callie
Briggs had given him and his partner for saving her life, felt
somewhat comforted in the loss of his jet. Further, he was thrilling
in his defeat of Mad Kat in their final confrontation. Mad Kat had
dubbed that fight a game. Well, T-Bone had won the game.

Mad Kat's jack-in-the-box, in which the evil ghost was now again
trapped and in which he had trapped his intended victims, was now
held tightly in the hands of T-Bone's partner, Razor. The escaped
asylum inmate, Lenny Ringtail, who had aided the creature and made
possible his plans, lay flat on his back nearby, out cold, his and
his evil cohort's plans ruined.

Commander Feral was scowling up the smoke cloud, darkly
wondering how long it would be before he had an airstrip again. To
one side of him Lieutenant Commander Steele sulked at the reprimand
he'd just received and remained silent, eyeing Feral with only
scantily concealed hatred. One Feral's other side Mayor Manx was
casually assuring Feral that he'd get the building repaired; it would
just require a mild raise in taxes. Callie had stepped up beside him
and was vainly trying to get in a word, concern for the MegaKat
citizens written across her face.

An aging oriental kat slowly walked out of the entrance to
Enforcer Headquarters and up to the small group, angling himself
toward the two SWAT Kats.

"Here, Sir, I believe this is yours," said Razor, offering him
the jack-in-the-box.

Accepting the box, the old kat murmured, "I'll return this to
its place," as he turned to go. Looking back over his shoulder, he
met T-Bone's eyes squarely and added, "But Mad Kat may not
be so easily stopped. The game may not yet be finished."

-------------------------------------

Chapter 1: Invitation

"Oww!" T-Bone jerked his leg away from the gentle touch that
felt like fire to his burned skin.

"Don't be such a baby, Chance. I had a kitten this morning with
a pavement burn this bad - didn't say a word," the orange kat bending
to look at T-Bone's leg scolded in his quiet, mild voice as
he firmly grabbed T-Bone's thrashing leg with his left hand. He
leaned closer to study the laser burn, adjusting his glasses
slightly. T-Bone watched from his vantage point atop the
white-sheeted examining table.

"This is worse than a *pavement* burn," he growled, gritting his
teeth. "Got 'em all the time when I was a kitten. I never said a
word either. About *those*..... This hurts like the dickens!"

"He's right - it's not *that* bad," Razor put in, standing up
from his chair. He walked up beside his friend, smirking at T-Bone's
pouting. Still, his brow furrowed a bit as he stared at the ugly
red welt running down T-Bone's leg. It was one of the most serious
laser burns he'd seen in a long time.

"And what exactly were you doing to get this?" the orange-furred
kat asked, straightening.

"Not movin' fast enough," T-Bone mumbled.

"Takin' care of a couple of thugs tryin' to rob the First
National Bank," Razor clarified.

"Since when do thugs like those carry laser rifles?" T-Bone
grumbled.

Razor shook his head. "You gotta have some pretty advanced
equipment to rob a bank in MegaKat City these days," he warned. "We
better be on our toes and stop thinkin' of these guys as
small time' just 'cause they're not tryin' ta' take over the world."
He eyed T-Bone's leg with a frown. "Or we'll get more of that."

T-Bone nodded his agreement before returning his attention to
the kat examining him.

"So, what's the prognosis, Doc?" he asked.

"Medicated salve is about all I can do," the doctor replied,
running a hand through his thatch of brown hair. "I'll get some with
a mild anesthetic for you," he added, walking to the cabinet over
the tiny examining room desk and opening it to remove a tube of
ointment.

"So, what'll we owe you for that?" Razor asked, a hint of
firmness creeping into his voice as his eyes followed the other kat
walking back across the room to T-Bone.

"Look at my car when you come out to the house Christmas
Eve....and eat everything your mother puts in front of you," the
orange kat replied with a smile.

"Aw, Dad,....I'll explode!" Razor moaned, clutching his stomach
melodramatically. "She only wants me ta' eat one of all her thousand
veggies! Then, there's the turkey,....oh,....and the pies,...and
cake...."

T-Bone licked his lips. "Send it my way," he pronounced, his
smile changing to a brief wince as Dr. Clawson gently rubbed the
salve on his burn with a soft cloth.

The three kats laughed.

"The amazing bottomless pit," Razor proclaimed, making a
sweeping hand gesture in T-Bone's direction.

"The "amazing bottomless pit" is feeling pretty bottomless right
now," T-Bone commented as he stood up, resting his weight on his
injured leg gingerly. "Let's head out and run by the Mega-Burger."

"Yeah, we better be going," Razor agreed as he took the tube of
salve his father extended to him.

"Alright," Dr. Clawson paused, grinning, "be careful, don't talk
to strangers,....try not to get shot at by strangers,.....y'know all
that other "parental stuff" I'm supposed to spout out."

"Right, Dad," Razor called back as he headed out the door behind
T-Bone. He paused to peer back around the door at his father, eyes
sparking with mischief. "We do good work," he said proudly, giving
his father a thumbs up.

"Five years it's been now?" Dr. Clawson asked casually, a smile
spreading across his face.

Razor nodded.

"Every year he says he's not comin'...."

"And every year...," Dr. Clawson continued the thought.

"The food gets him!" the two pronounced together, sharing
conspirator's broad grins before Razor disappeared after his partner.

-------------------------------------

Chapter 2: Outsider

Fire danced merrily in its stone fireplace. The sound of a log
popping mingled with the whistle and soft chug-chug of a tiny, green
steam engine. Light glowing brightly, smoke streamed from its stack
as it chugged around its track in front of the fireplace. The ears
of the small kitten watching it happily suddenly flicked and twitched
around.

"Uncle Jake!" he shouted, jumping up, eyes alight as he ran to
the window that looked out on the driveway. A few second's glance
confirmed what his sensitive ears already knew before he
bounded past the armchair where his mother sat and down the hall to
the front door. He yanked the door open, yelling joyfully. "Uncle
Jake! Uncle Chance!"

"Joey!" his Uncle Jake called happily as he stepped out of the
passenger's side of the tow truck, opening his arms to admit the
bundle of energy that leapt at him. "Okay, uncle from the uncle.
Ya' gotta let go or I won't be able to get yer presents out," said
Jake, laughingly as Joey finally released him to bound around to the
other side of the truck. "Watch out, Chance," Jake warned his
friend as he reached into the truck to pull out a stack of presents.
"He's headin' your way and he's gotta death grip."

"Gotcha!" yelled Chance, swooping Joey up into the air before
the kitten whirlwind could latch onto him. "Here ya' go," said
Chance as he plunked Joey down on his shoulders.

"Joey's not hangin' off you somewhere?" asked the red-haired
she-kat waiting at the door laughingly, opening the large, wooden
door to admit Jake and his load of presents.

"Unfortunately, favorite uncle status can change dependin' on
who's givin' rides," returned Jake, entering the house and heading
down the hall.

"I got the tiny terror, Sharon," called Chance as he stepped up
onto the porch with a load of presents and Joey perched atop him.

"I can see the top of your head from here, Mommy," called Joey
as Chance walked past his mother.

"I'm sure you can," she agreed, closing the door and following
Chance down the hallway into the den where Jake was already setting
down his load of presents.

"Hey, Mom," said Jake, turning from setting his load down by the
tree and opening his arms to hug his mother. "As always, I managed
to talk Chance inta' coming with me for Christmas. Or....your
cooking did anyway."

Chance opened his mouth to say something, but was cut off by
Mrs. Clawson.

"Good. And you're spending the night so you'll both be here
tomorrow on Christmas morning, right?" she asked.

"Aw, Mrs. Clawson, you don't want me here all night - ask Jake
how much I snore," protested Chance.

"We've got you here and you're staying - that's final,"
announced Mrs. Clawson. "There's two beds in Jake's old room and we
made sure long ago that the boys' room was at a safe distance from
ours."

"Okay, I give," said Chance, setting Joey down and flopping onto
the couch in defeat.

"Alright, supper's ready so let's eat."

With that, Mrs. Clawson hurried into the kitchen. Sharon
followed her. With a smile, Jake's father, Dr. Clawson, shook his
head at Mrs. Clawson's retreating back.

"You'll find it's very hard to talk her out of anything,
Chance," he warned, turning back to the two tomkats. Looking at
Chance he asked, "So, how's the leg?"

"Just fine," Chance returned. "Thanks to you, Doc."

Dr. Clawson shrugged.

"You two are my most frequent customers. Just don't tell Mrs.
Clawson," he added before turning and heading into the kitchen.

Jake started to follow, but suddenly found Joey clinging to his
hand and dragging him away toward the fireplace.

"See my train set, Uncle Jake?" he asked, releasing Jake's hand
and bounding over beside the train track.

"Yeah, - that the caboose you got for your birthday?" asked
Jake, bending over to better see the train and pointing to the shiny
red caboose.

"Uh, huh."

"Everything's working okay, I guess?" asked Jake, the hint of a
sneaky, suspicious sort of smile on his face.

Large, innocent blue-gray kitten eyes met his.

"Well, the other engine - my blue one - won't run. Could you
look at it, Uncle Jake?"

Perfect innocence in that face.

"I don' know, Chance, I think he's your nephew - you share a
sneaky side," said Jake, looking over his shoulder at Chance waiting
by the kitchen door. Turning back to Joey he added, "Right after
supper, okay, you imp?"

Joey beamed and scampered into the kitchen. Shaking his head as
he watched the little kitten, Jake stood up and headed into the
kitchen, Chance following him.

"Here, you go, Chance - you sit here by Jake," said Mrs.
Clawson, pulling out one of the kitchen table chairs for Chance to
sit in.

"Thanks, Mrs. Clawson," Chance replied with a smile, sliding
into the chair and promptly snatching up the fork by his plate. He
eyed the food spread across the table hungrily.

"You keep those big paws off that food until we're all seated
and it's blessed," Mrs. Clawson warned before heading toward the oven
to check her biscuits.

As she walked away Chance turned to Jake with a broad roguish
grin. "What happens if you eat unblessed food?"

"Heartburn," Jake returned dryly.

"Ooohhh," Chance nodded sagely.

-------------------------------------

Some time after supper found Chance and Jake standing on the
Clawson's back deck. Chance stared out at the distant MegaKat
Mountains, his tail swishing restlessly. Jake watched his friend.
He knew without it being said that Chance was ready to go. He left
every year after supper to go home to the garage and, well,....do
whatever it was he did in that quiet, lonely time. He'd never spoke
much of his kittenhood, but Jake knew that it had been markedly
different from his own. Chance finally broke him from his thoughts.

"Look, Jake - it's *your* family. I wish I'd had a real one,
but that can't be changed. I should just go - I'll think of some way
to explain it to your mother."

"Yes, it's my family," said Jake, "And they want you ta' feel
like it's yours too. That's sorta why we invite you every year."

"I know."

Silence ensued, broken only by the thump of Chance plopping
himself into one of the deck chairs. "Aw, c'mon, Jake - I don't fit
- I *can't* fit!" he finally burst out, rising from the chair so
quickly that it rocked back into the wall with a sharp crack.

"Only 'cause you won't let yourself."

Jake walked up beside his friend at the wooden deck railing and
leaned on it.

"Y'know Joe never had much time for me - he was ten years older
- he was always playing ball, with his friends...something....," said
Jake softly. "There were times when I didn't feel like I *had* a
brother. Then, all of a sudden I really didn't have one....but I do
now."

Chance was silent. In his and Jake's friendship difficult
situations like this were often left unspoken, voiced only in the
soundless communication the two shared.

"I'll stay," he finally muttered, but Jake knew that he still
felt left out, sitting on the outside with Jake as his only link to
the happy family group they could hear through the window.

-------------------------------------

Chapter 3: Disappearing Act

"Chance, Jake - we just decided to drive into the city and see
Rockefurrer Center," said Sharon as Chance and Jake entered the den
after their talk on the deck. "They have it lit up for Christmas you
know and I haven't seen it in years."

"Neither have I," added Mrs. Clawson.

"Well, I...," began Chance.

"Please come, Uncle Chance," pleaded Joey.

Chance melted. He nodded his head in agreement as Jake said,
"Cool, we'll take our truck since there isn't enough room for
everyone in your car."

"I wanna go with Uncle Jake and Uncle Chance," pleaded Joey,
looking up at his mother with those huge, eyes as she stopped on her
way out the door at the hall closet.

"Well,...," she began, reaching into the closet for hers and
Joey's coats, eyeing Chance.

"I'll drive, Sharon," said Jake as they walked out the front
door.

"Well, alright," she returned.

"Yesss!" yelled Joey, bounding along behind his uncles.

"Hold it!" shouted Sharon. "Take your coat Joey - it's chilly."

As Joey trotted back to his mother to get his coat, Chance
turned to Jake.

"What did you mean, you'd drive?" he asked sternly.

"I am," returned Jake calmly.

"No you're not - I've got that seat exactly where I want it."

"It's a truck seat, Chance, - it doesn't move."

"But,...but...that's *my* spot."

-------------------------------------

"Wow!" gasped Joey from his perch on Jake's shoulders as he took
in the breathtaking spectacle before him.

Towering above them was a huge pine tree covered in bright,
glowing lights. Smaller trees beside it glowed in their Christmas
finery as well. The sounds of "Joy to the World" echoed gently
from loudspeakers posted around the large, open square. The air was
unusually cold, causing shivers and runny noses among the crowd that
packed the square to see the magnificent sight on Christmas Eve.

Looking up at the magnificent tree, Chance felt a sense of awe
comparable to the kitten's. It was a magnificent sight. "First time
I ever came to see something like this," he thought. Looking
around at the Clawsons he added, "First time I almost felt like part
of a family." Then, he shook his head. It couldn't be that easy -
they couldn't just accept him like that.

Perched atop Jake, Joey shivered in the cold air. Sharon saw
it.

"He needs his coat," she told Jake.

Jake nodded.

"He left it in the truck. Mom wants to run over to this coffee
shop she's heard of for some hot chocolate while we're here. Me and
Chance'll take him over and get the coat outta the truck and then
we'll meet you guys at the shop."

-------------------------------------

Several minutes later, Jake was sliding the key into the lock on
the tow truck's door. Joey was beside him. Chance was in front of
the truck, fuming over a parking ticket they had gotten.

"You told me to park here," Jake defended himself before Chance
could blame anything on
him.

"S'a perfectly good place ta' park," Chance grumbled.

Suddenly, Jake heard Joey yelp. His eyes had been on the lock
not the kitten for only seconds. Swiftly looking to his right, he
saw Joey vanishing into a swirling pool of light that seemed
to float eerily several inches above the pavement.

Without hesitation, Jake leapt into the portal after Joey
shouting to Chance.

Chance's head jerked up, but all he saw was an empty street.

-------------------------------------

Chapter 4: In the Box

Jake, meanwhile, found himself suddenly surrounded by light.
Painfully bright, swirling colors flashed past his eyes as he hurtled
into the glowing abyss. Then, he saw an opening. With a thump
he landed on the ground beside Joey. Surrounding them was a surreal
amusement park painted in flaming orange and yellow with hints of
other psychedelic colors. Even the ground and sky sported
the same insane colors. In the distance, twisted carnival rides went
through their paces, the screams that emanated from them more terror
than the mix of fear and excited exhilaration usually heard in
an amusement park. Towering above it all was a bizarre fortress of
some sort from which all else seemed to radiate. The entire place
felt unnatural and strangely evil. Jake could feel it and an odd
sense of familiarity that only heightened his worry. This evil,
unnatural place reeked of a waking nightmare Jake didn't want to
think about.

"Wh... where are we, Uncle Jake?" asked Joey, his small voice
high and shaky as his wide eyes took in the unnatural landscape.

"I don' know, Joey," muttered Jake, looking around.

"Well, well, I seem to have more guests," an echoing voice
suddenly boomed, seeming to emanate from all around them.

Jake and Joey looked up in shock as a huge, grinning kat clad in
a garish orange and yellow jester's outfit appeared in front of them.
His grin faded a bit and his eyes narrowed at the sight of Jake.

"Mad Kat," murmured Jake under his breath, holding Joey tightly.

"You're not invited," snapped Mad Kat, pointing a finger at
Jake. "I suggest you show yourself out," he added, pointing to
Jake's left where another swirling portal suddenly appeared.

"Fine," returned Jake, standing up and taking Joey's hand.

No sooner had he set one foot forward than Mad Kat boomed, "Not
so fast. You're more than welcome to leave, but the little one has
to stay and play with me."

"I'm not leavin' without Joey," returned Jake, glaring at Mad
Kat.

"Well, then I guess you can stay, but we can't have you breaking
the rules," said Mad Kat as the portal disappeared. "Only kittens
allowed," he added, pointing a hand at Jake.

As he did so, Jake disappeared in a puff of smoke. Joey let go
of his hand and jumped back in terror. The smoke cleared in seconds,
revealing a ten-year-old kitten in Jake's place.

"Uncle Jake!" yelled Joey, running forward.

"It's okay, Joey," Jake assured, as Joey wrapped his arms around
his uncle's waist and buried his face in Jake's shirt. "It's gonna
be alright," Jake added, his voice high and kittenish, his face
showing a totally unkittenish hard, determined look as he glared at
Mad Kat.

"Well, time for some fun," announced Mad Kat, snapping his
fingers.

There was another puff of smoke and Jake and Joey suddenly found
themselves in a surreal, eerie funhouse. Unlike the flaming yellow
and orange of the bizarre landscape, the funhouse's bright colors
were somewhat muted, at once, brilliant and darkly threatening. Evil
laughter echoed from someplace far down the distorted hallways that
stretched in front of the two. Joey whimpered softly and clung to
Jake.

Without warning, Mad Kat appeared behind them.

"Go ahead, have fun," he said, pushing the two forward down the
nearest hallway.

The eerie hall gleamed with mirrors that lined not only the
walls, but the floor and ceiling as well. Jake's dragging feet had
barely touched the shiny mirrored floor when it dropped away
abruptly, slanting sharply downward into blackness.

With a yelp of surprise, Jake skidded down the incline, dragging
Joey, still clinging to his shirt, with him. The two plunged into
the near darkness. Mirrors glowed to life in eerie, fantastic
colors, revealing surreal images of Jake and Joey as they hurtled
deeper into the funhouse. Joey whimpered softly, crying and burying
his face deeper in Jake's shirt at the sight of the eerie images.
Jake himself felt cold chills at the sight of the contorted, mutated
reflections, thinking that, in this nightmare world, such images
could be real soon enough.

Light suddenly appeared ahead. Jake and Joey skidded out of the
tunnel into the unnatural light of the surreal amusement park again.
Beside the tunnel was the funhouse entrance, a replica of Mad Kat's
grinning face.

"It's okay, Joey," assured Jake, sitting up and using one hand
to force Joey's head up so he could see the kitten's tear-stained
face.

"I wanna go home," cried Joey.

"I'll get you home," returned Jake, his tone reassuring and
fierce at the same time.

-------------------------------------

Chapter 5: Kat out of the Bag - and the Box

"C'mon, Sharon, don't panic on me - I'm sure they're okay,"
Chance pleaded into the pay phone, recognizing the rising terror in
Sharon's voice even above the noise of last minute shoppers bustling
around him as he stood several feet from the service desk of the
crowded department store.

"Chance, how could they have just disappeared in the middle of a
city street?"

"I don't know, but I'll keep lookin', okay, Sharon?" asked
Chance. He missed her response as an announcement suddenly blared
over the store's PA system.

"Attention, Katmart shoppers, a shipment of Tickle Me, Elmers
has just arrived on aisle....."

Chance never finished hearing the announcement either as a mob
of screaming shoppers thundered past him in the general direction of
the toy department. He shook his head as he watched them, hoping the
kats stocking the shelves were safely out of the way. But then, he
figured they probably just shoved the unopened boxes out of the store
room with a long pole - rather like feeding the animals at the zoo.

"What was that, Sharon?" Chance bellowed into the phone.
"There's a little feeding frenzy going on in here."

"I said, maybe you should call the Enforcers."

"Sharon,...," Chance began but was stopped as the television
sets across the aisle suddenly flashed a Kat's Eye News' special
report logo.

"This is Ann Gora for Kat's Eye News," announced the newswoman
as her face appeared on the screen. "Reports of missing children are
pouring in from across MegaKat City. Parents say that their children
disappeared, in some cases in only a matter of fleeting seconds that
the parents' backs were turned. The Enforcers are investigating
these strange disappearances, but have no clues at this time.
Parents are advised to keep their children at home and under close
watch."

"Look, Sharon, I gotta go," said Chance quickly. "I'll do my
best."

With that, he hung up, a grim look on his face. He hurried out
of the store and into the adjacent alley where his tow truck waited.
Opening the door quickly, Chance glanced around and then pressed a
button on the lower part of the driver's seat. Instantly, a metal
drawer slid out. Chance scooped the blue flight suit out of it and
glanced around again.

"Some heroes get to dress in phone booths at superspeed.
Others of us get to dress in alleys with the danger of gettin' caught
in our boxers," he muttered.

Several minutes later, he was set. Standing on the roof of a
building above the alley, the SWAT Kat pressed a button on his
glovatrix.

"Hope the TurboKat gets here soon," T-Bone muttered, the grim
expression deepening.

-------------------------------------

Elsewhere, Mad Kat's surreal realm, Jake's face mirrored that
expression. He stood up and surveyed the unnatural amusement park, a
puzzled look on his face.

"Mad Kat can't of gotten out again," he muttered, letting his
eyes follow the walls of the evil funhouse upward. The "sky" above
was orange and yellow like everything else. Yet, it seemed more
like a ceiling than sky... "That's it!" Jake gasped. "Mad Kat's not
out, we're trapped in his box! And that's the lid," he added, eyeing
the sky thoughtfully.

"Well, somebody knows a lot, doesn't he?" boomed Mad Kat
suddenly behind them. Both kittens whirled around to face him, shock
and fear that bordered on terror reflected in their eyes.
"You wouldn't be thinking of trying to leave before you'd had some
more fun, would you?" he added threateningly. "Looks like I'm just
going to have my assistants keep an eye on you." With this, there
was a puff of red smoke to his right and group of ghastly, red-eyed
garish clown creatures appeared. "I'll leave it to you, boys," said
Mad Kat, disappearing in another poof of smoke.

The clowns started to surround Jake and Joey.

"Run!" yelled Jake, grabbing Joey's hand and running down the
narrow passageway that stretched between the funhouse and its
neighboring carnival tent.

The red-eyed clowns followed, wicked laughter trailing in their
wake.

As though suddenly changing his mind, Jake skidded a stop beside
the protruding ball-topped points of the fool's cap that topped the
grinning face at the entrance to the funhouse. Looking up at it, he
grabbed Joey awkwardly around the waist and lifted him with a grunt.

"Here - grab hold and start climbing," he told the kitten,
groaning with the effort as he boasted his nephew onto the
protrusion. "Man, this was easier when I was bigger."

Joey did as he was told and clambered onto the hat. Giving the
sinister clowns a quick glance, Jake followed him, jumping upward and
scrabbling with his claws to get a grip on the slick, plastic-like
surface of the hat. He scrambled up to the next protrusion where
Joey was working at clambering the last few feet to the top of the
funhouse.

"Keep going," Jake called as he began to heave himself up after
Joey. Feeling a tug at his ankle, he twisted his head around to meet
one of the evil clowns eye to eye. "Take that!" he growled, kicking
it in the face with his free foot.

The creature fell backward, colliding with one of his
companions. The two hit the ground with a thump and disappeared in a
cloud of red smoke. Jake's triumphant shout turned into a yelp
as another creature grabbed him by both ankles.

"Leggo of my uncle," shouted Joey, kicking the clown. "Go with
your friends."

As if complying with his wishes, the clown did indeed fall to
the ground and disappear like his fellows.

"Nice one, Joey," said Jake as he quickly climbed the rest of
the way to the top of the funhouse, joining Joey.

"What now, Uncle Jake?" the small kitten asked.

"If we're high enough, we just...push," said Jake reaching
upward, his hands contacting the solid lid to Mad Kat's
jack-in-the-box that he had hoped for. He pushed harder and a
portion of the "sky" above the funhouse raised upward, letting
different, more normal, light shine into the surreal world.

"Okay, Joey, climb up on my back and through the hole," said
Jake, his voice strained with the effort of supporting the lid.

He gritted his teeth as Joey clambered through the hole, the
double strain almost too much for his kittenish body. As Joey's tail
disappeared through the hole, Jake started to follow and suddenly
felt rough hands grabbing him from behind. The evil clowns had him
surrounded.

Joey found himself stepping out of the box to a long cluttered
table. He turned around and looked back in at his uncle.

"Back away from the hole," Jake shouted to Joey as several of
the clowns began to reach toward the kitten outside.

"But, Uncle Jake...." Joey protested, backing away just out of
range of the reaching hands.

"Go," yelled Jake. "Go get your Uncle Chance - he'll know what
to do."

With that Jake released the lid, which collapsed on the clowns
hands. Instantly, they disappeared. The remaining creatures grabbed
Jake roughly.

-------------------------------------

Joey stepped away from the horrible jack-in-the-box, shaking.
Looking away from it, the sight that met him was not much more
comforting. The room he found himself in was dark, the only
light was pale, emanating from a doorway to his left. Cluttered
masses of antiques and knick-knacks surrounded him. Strange statues
with twisted faces and eerie eyes stared at him.

With a whimper, Joey leapt off the table and fled through the
doorway only to find a room very much like the one he had just left.
Joey ran on until he reached the front of the store where there
was a door surrounded by two windows. Here, he stopped and
tentatively reached for the door knob. With a shaking hand, he
turned the lock and opened the door. He was outside and running down
the street in a flash, his one thought to find Chance, forgetting in
his fear and hurry that miles of dark and treacherous city streets
lay between him and even the outskirts of the quiet suburb where he
lived.

-------------------------------------

Within the jack-in-the-box world it seemed that Jake was in
even far greater danger than his young nephew.

"Well, well, my suspicions are confirmed," boomed Mad Kat,
looming over Jake who was held tightly by the evil clowns. "It's not
just any adult kat that managed to enter my domain, but a SWAT Kat,"
he added, pointing his finger at Jake, who was suddenly in his SWAT
Kat flight suit. "I never forget a face - or a taste for that
matter," he added.

"At least one kitten's escaped, you psycho," growled Jake,
shoving the adult-sized SWAT Kat helmet Mad Kat had put on him up and
out of his face so that he could look up at the grinning jester,
" and when T-Bone gets here you'll lose it all."

"Oh, I'm counting on your friend returning," replied Mad Kat,
reaching down and picking Jake up by the shoulder harness that went
around the back of his neck. Holding the kitten so that they
were eye to eye he added, "He and I didn't get to finish our little
game - I've decided to make it best two out of three. In fact,
getting him to come play with me was part of my entire reason for
taking all the little ones."

Jake gasped. Seeing his reaction, Mad Kat cackled evilly.

"Hopefully, your friend will be polite and get here on time. In
the meantime, you're going to the best accommodations Mad Kat Land
can offer." Mad Kat snapped his fingers together even as he finished
the sentence.

Jake suddenly found himself in the near darkness of a bare
cell-like room. One wall held a twisted dungeon-type door. The
opposite wall was indiscernible, veiled in a misty green glow.

"Hate to see the worst accommodations," muttered Jake, reaching
up to remove the over-sized helmet still sitting on his head.
Finding the mask beneath it to be equally unwieldy without the
helmet to hold it still, he jerked it off too. The faint glow of the
far wall caught his eye as he shook his head to loosen the fur matted
by the mask. Cautiously, he advanced toward it, dropping the
helmet to the floor. The glow brightened as he got closer and, with
a strangled yelp, Jake suddenly found himself swept into the wall,
almost flattened, not entirely painlessly, onto the wall itself.
From there he could see the dark interior of the room outside the
jack-in-the-box. Antiques and knick-knacks of all kinds cluttered
the walls and dominated the floor space. With an effort, Jake pulled
himself back. Panting from his ordeal, the SWAT Kat-kitten sat down
in the middle of the floor. There was nothing left to do but wait and
pray.

-------------------------------------

Chapter 6: Uncle T-Bone to the Rescue


"C'mon," growled T-Bone, slamming his fist onto the display
panel in front of him in the TurboKat. Stubbornly, the display
remained blank. "Jake's gotta have his communicator - why don't
you pick it up?" snapped the big kat. "Where could he and Joey be?"
he groaned, briefly resting his head in one of his huge hands. "They
were right there - I heard Jake yell my name...and then they were
gone."

Letting out a deep breath, he glanced out of the cockpit and
down at the darkened city streets below. Christmas lights twinkled
everywhere amid a rare spattering of snow flakes that sprinkled
down on the quiet city.

-------------------------------------

Joey shivered in the cold. Normally, he would have loved the
gentle snowfall, but Jake had never gotten his coat and the night was
bitterly cold for the subtropical MegaKat City.

Wiping his running nose with his shirt sleeve, he sniffled a
little and let a few tears fall. The dark and scary streets never
seemed to end.

Walking into the open, grass lot of a tiny baseball field, his
ears pricked at a distant roar. Looking up, wide green eyes found
the TurboKat silhouetted against the bright, full moon above.
The profile was unmistakable, a duplicate for the mental image he
knew by heart from his Uncle Jake's stories.

"Please let a SWAT Kat notice me," Joey pleaded, waving his
arms, desperately trying to draw attention to himself.

-------------------------------------

T-Bone struggled to hold tired eyelids open. Suddenly, snapping
awake, he looked around dazedly. Something urged him to glance out
of the cockpit and at the ground below. Far beneath him a tiny
figure waved frantically.

"What on...?" T-Bone muttered, turning the jet and punching a
button on his control panel. The dimensional radar sparked to life
in a green glow. Impatiently banking the jet and letting it
descend, T-Bone twisted a knob to zoom in on the figure below.
"That's Joey!" he exclaimed, swiftly cutting on the jet's VTOL
engines and landing.

No sooner had he jumped from the cockpit than he was met by the
kitten, talking fast and hysterically.

"Whoa, whoa - what happened?" T-Bone asked.

"Uncle Jake....in box....with the....," Joey babbled
hysterically.

"Whoa, now just calm down, Joey, okay?" said T-Bone gently,
bending down on one knee and reaching up to unstrap his helmet. He
held it in his left hand as his eyes quickly roved the empty
field, right hand hovering over the knot where his bandanna was tied
on. Seeing all was clear, he looked at the sniffling kitten, now
staring at him with wide, wet confused eyes. In one, swift motion
T-Bone jerked his mask off.

"Uncle Chance!" Joey gasped, flinging himself onto the big kat,
hugging him fiercely and burying his head into T-Bone's flight suit.

"It's okay, Joey, - tell me what happened," T-Bone murmured
softly.

-------------------------------------

Chapter 7: The Game

"Okay, Joey, - just stay here in the jet," admonished T-Bone,
standing on the TurboKat's wing and looking at the kitten huddled in
the rear seat, still firmly strapped in.

Joey nodded.

"I'll be back with Uncle Jake - don't worry," T-Bone assured
before he closed the canopy and jumped to the roof of the building
containing the antique store, feeling far less confident than he
sounded.

-------------------------------------

Jake sat on the floor of the eerie cell, hunched over with his
head on his knees. Abruptly, the glowing green wall before him
sparked with a curious sound. Looking up, Jake saw T-Bone hazily
through the glow.

"T-Bone!" he gasped.

-------------------------------------

T-Bone approached the jack-in-the-box softly, his pawpads
soundless on the tiled floor, his eyes narrowed; he was ready for
anything.

"Chance! Wait! It's a trap!" The voice rang out across the
room.

T-Bone stopped and looked in shock at the side of the box facing
him where Jake's face appeared, glowing with a green light in the
darkness.

"Razor, are you okay?" T-Bone asked, stunned.

"I'm fine. Look, T-Bone, it's you Mad Kat wants - he wants to
finish the game."

Suddenly, Mad Kat's face appeared, replacing Jake's.

"Mad Kat!" growled T-Bone. "If you hurt him or any of those
children, I'll..."

"Oh, they're all quite well - having the time of their lives in
my little amusement park," assured Mad Kat. "And if you want them to
stay that way and return to your safe, boring little world out
there, I suggest you finish the game with me."

"I finished it last time."

"Oh, but I'm calling it best two out of three. And, as I hold
all the cards, you'll just have to play it my way. Either beat me at
my game or prove one little fact to me."

"What would you like proved?" demanded T-Bone. He smiled
sardonically. "You want me ta' prove you're a psycho?"

"Ha! Not funny," Mad Kat snapped. "No, you'd have to prove
that *once* in my mortal life I got a Christmas present. And, I'll
tell you now - that's something I most certainly never received.
Nobody ever cared that much for me." Mad Kat's face was twisted in a
bitter, kittenish scowl. His tone was like a spoiled kitten's, but
edged with a soft, truthful sadness.

Briefly, not pity, but a vague sense of empathy filled T-Bone.
He knew what it felt like to be unloved and ignored. He shook it off
quickly, face settling into a scowl. There was no point in crying
over spilt milk or feelings hurt years ago.

"So, what will it be?" Mad Kat demanded.

"Let's play," T-Bone growled.

"Very well." With an evil cackle, Mad Kat disappeared and the
lid of the sinister jack-in-the-box opened.

Taking a deep breath, T-Bone walked forward. There was a flash
of light and he suddenly found himself in the middle of a crazily
colored baseball diamond.

"I thought we'd begin off with a little ball game," said Mad Kat
appearing behind him.

Whirling around T-Bone demanded, "How do two people play
baseball?"

"It's but a simple matter of multiplication," returned Mad Kat
with a wave of his hand.

Instantly, eight duplicates of T-Bone appeared behind him as did
eight duplicates of Mad Kat behind him.

"What...!" gasped T-Bone, whirling to face the other kats who,
in turn, gaped at each other and at him.

"There, we're ready to begin," announced Mad Kat. "Your team's
at bat."

T-Bone suddenly found himself in a dugout surrounded by seven of
the duplicates; the eighth was at bat. A Mad Kat duplicate posed as
catcher behind him. Mad Kat stood on the pitcher's mound, his fool's
cap converted into an odd version of a baseball cap.

Looking at the duplicate kats around him, T-Bone started to
mutter, "Hope you guys're on my side," only to find every one of the
duplicates saying his exact words simultaneously, eyeing each
other the way he supposed he was studying them.

"What are you guys? - Xerox copies of me?" he asked, again
simultaneously with the others.

All of them moaned and returned their gazes to the kat at bat,
who focused his attention on Mad Kat.

Mad Kat narrowed his eyes, studying his opponent. An orange and
yellow baseball appeared in his hand. Swiftly, he tossed it into the
air. Confusion flashed across the face of the duplicate T-Bone at
bat, mirrored by his fellows. As the ball plummeted downward, a
tennis racket appeared in Mad Kat's hand. Raising it, he slammed the
ball at the batter.

Recovering from his shock, the T-Bone gritted his teeth and
swung at the ball. It whistled past him and exploded on contact with
the catcher's mitt.

"What...!" gasped the T-Bones.

There was a collective cackle from the Mad Kats, including the
catcher who seemed unfazed by the explosion.

"Just spicing up the game," yelled Mad Kat. "Strike one," he
added, preparing for his next pitch.

The T-Bone at bat gripped the bat tighter and waited. The pitch
came fast. The duplicate waited until the last possible second and
swung the bat, simultaneously releasing it and bolting toward
first base. The bat and ball connected, triggering another
explosion. Somehow, part of the exploding ball flew toward the
outfield. One of the Mad Kat duplicates in outfield watching the
ball suddenly disappeared to reappear in the air, directly in the
path of the ball. Catching it neatly, he vanished and reappeared on
the field just as the T-Bone skidded into first base.

"You're out!" bellowed Mad Kat.

The duplicate T-Bone disappeared.

"That's not fair!" shouted the T-Bones.

"Who said this game was fair?" returned Mad Kat. "Next." Mad
Kat's evil grin widened as the next kat came to bat.

-------------------------------------

On shaky legs Joey clambered out of the TurboKat's cockpit and
onto the wing. Carefully, he slid to the gravel roof of the
building. He glanced around fearfully and then headed in the
direction he'd seen T-Bone take, to the square shed-like structure
that housed the stairs opening on the roof. On reaching it, he found
the door wide open, the concrete stairs illuminated faintly in the
moonlight. Slowly, he made his way downward, dreading again entering
the terrifying store.

"But I have to help Uncle Jake," he reminded himself in a
quaking voice.

A door met him only a few stairs down. Again, it was wide.
T-Bone hadn't been in a mood to cover his entrance.

Soundlessly, slowly Joey stepped out into the back of the
antique store. His heart thumped wildly, but he forced his feet to
keep moving, praying softly, quickly. A green glow drew his
attention to the jack-in-the-box.

Joey took a deep breath and stepped up to the box, eyes wide.

-------------------------------------

Jake's head jerked up as the eerie wall sparked again with its
curious, indescribable sound.

"Joey!" he gasped, seeing the kitten. Dreading it, he stepped
to the wall.

-------------------------------------

Joey yelped in terror as Jake's face appeared on the side of the
box.

"It's okay, Joey," Jake assured. "I'm fine. Look, you've gotta
go."

"I wanna help, Uncle Jake," Joey pleaded, eyes filling with
tears as he stepped closer to the box. "Uncle Chance left to help
and he....he didn't come back....yet..."

"Joey, there's nothing you can do now. Uncle Chance's gonna
have ta' handle this one alone," Jake finished softly.

"Please, Uncle Jake." Joey tentatively reached a tiny hand to
the glowing wall.

Seeing no harm in it, Jake grit his teeth and stretched out a
hand to meet Joey's. The wall flared up in green flame as their hands
"met". Jake felt the pulse of energy against his hand. Then,
it changed. He felt the soft, short fur of Joey's hand. With a gasp
the kitten was sucked through the wall and into Jake's arms.

-------------------------------------

T-Bone gripped the bat tightly, his claws sliding out
unconsciously to dig into the wood. Pointedly, he ignored Mad Kat's
grinning face directly in his line of sight at the pitcher's mound
and sought out the more-than-familiar faces of his teammates. The
other three T-Bones stared back at him from their respective bases,
tense and poised for flight. T-Bone scowled. The three were the
last of his duplicate teammates. The rest had been declared "out"
and vanished as quickly as they had appeared.

Finishing his brief inspection, T-Bone gave his full attention
to Mad Kat, grinning back at the garish clown insolently.

"Ready whenever you are, Chuckles," he shouted across the
diamond.

"If you say so," Mad Kat purred, winding up for the pitch.

The ball hurtled from his hand. T-Bone waited, copying his twin
who had discovered the trick to batting in this mad game. At the
last second he swung with all his strength, releasing the bat with
the swing and leaping into a run for first base.

Bat and ball meanwhile connected in a pyrotechnic frenzy. As
had happened throughout the game, the ball broke all laws of reality
and remained intact enough to hurtle over the field. The bat
splintered, a great chunk of it hurtling in Mad Kat's direction. The
evil jester's eyes widened in surprise for a split-second before he
disappeared in his trademark puff of orange smoke. He reappeared
just as quickly, eyes narrowed dangerously.

The T-Bone clone on third base was inches from home base as Mad
Kat focused on him, snapping his fingers maliciously. The clone
suddenly felt the dirt beneath his pawpads become a slick mud. With
a yowl of surprise he skidded away from the base, slamming into the
nearest support pole of the backstop. Even as he collided, he winked
out of existence. The duplicate behind him suffered the same fate,
unable to stop in time.

The final duplicate saw the fate of his teammates and made a
running leap from third base to home. His eyes lit triumphantly as
his leap brought him within a foot of the base. He slipped and
almost fell as he landed, regaining his balance to lunge for the
base. It moved away as though it had a mind of its own even as his
great hands reached for it. The clone slammed into the ground,
vanishing like his fellows.

T-Bone growled as the last of his teammates disappeared courtesy
of Mad Kat's trickery. He redoubled his speed, aiming straight from
second to home. The base loomed nearer and nearer, the sole focus of
his attention. Without warning, it was gone.

T-Bone was met with a tremendous brick wall. His quick thinking
lessened the blow, but nevertheless, he smacked into the wall with
enough force to throw him on his back, the wind knocked from his
lungs. Mad Kat's face filled his clouded vision as the clown bent
over him.

"You lose," Mad Kat pronounced, grinning from ear to ear.

T-Bone snarled in fury.

-------------------------------------

Chapter 8: Deadly Gambit

Joey trembled in his uncle's arms as the two sat in the floor of
Jake's prison. Jake rumpled the kitten's unruly thatch of hair,
humming softly.

It was some minutes later that he recognized the tune. Quietly,
he began to sing the words into Joey's flattened ears.

"Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright," he
whisper/sang under his breath as the quaking kitten responded, ears
flicking to the sound. "Round yon virgin, mother....and child....,"
Jake continued. He broke off abruptly as the words left his mouth,
letting the sound fade away.

"That's it," he murmured.

-------------------------------------

"Time for Round Three - the finale of our games," Mad Kat
announced as T-Bone dazedly stood up, rubbing his head.

"Joy," T-Bone ground out, glaring up at Mad Kat, who had
reassumed his giant size.

"I thought we'd go with a true test of skill and endurance...."
the jester continued.

"I have to redo the twelve labors of Hercules?" T-Bone suggested
dryly, raising an eyebrow.

"I thought I'd be more sporting," Mad Kat assured. "Besides, I
enjoy joining the competitions. We're going with a triathalon - you
know: swimming, biking,...ending with a nice jog."

As he finished, Mad Kat snapped his fingers. The baseball
diamond was gone in a flash. Stretching before the two kats was an
expanse of blue water, vanishing where it met the orange and
yellow sky. Looking back, T-Bone could see nothing; behind them the
ground disappeared, becoming a swirl of orange.

"Well, are we ready?"

T-Bone turned back to face Mad Kat. The clown had morphed into
a bizarre amphibious version of his usual shape. His feet were
flipper-like fins, his hands webbed. He flashed T-Bone a glowing
smile.

"Pardon my manners - I seem to have forgotten your "equipment"."
He waved a hand at T-Bone, shouting, "Onyourmark,getset,go!" and
leapt into the water.

T-Bone stared after him, stunned. Then, it was as though his
breath caught in his throat with a hoarse rattle. T-Bone choked and
gagged, gasping for air that he couldn't seem to find. Endless
seconds crept by as he stumbled to his knees. Vaguely, he became
aware of an urge. The water; he needed to reach the water. As all
his instincts, save that one, tiny voice, screamed against it,
T-Bone rolled into the water.

As he hit the water, he felt his lungs fill, the pain lessen.
Instinctively, he aimed for the light of the surface. Abruptly, he
stopped himself, again obeying the faint voice. He forced himself to
wait despite his fears of being under the water. He'd become a
tolerable swimmer and even liked it, but he *hated* to have his head
under for more than a few seconds. Still, he waited. As his rapid
heartbeat slowed to normal levels, his head cleared.

'What'd that psycho do ta' me?!' he screamed inwardly.

He looked down at himself. Like Mad Kat's, his feet were
webbed flippers. An examination of his hands revealed similar
flippers with less webbing that left his fingers separate and
identifiable. He could feel the weight of a large dorsal fin
sprouting from his back and the comfortable swish of water through
what he realized must be gills on his neck.

There was a rush of water above him.

"Slowpoke!" Mad Kat shouted as he swam past T-Bone, somehow
talking underwater.

Clenching his teeth, T-Bone gave chase.

-------------------------------------

"Joey." Jake patted his nephew on the back. "We gotta get out
of here. I know how ta' help Uncle Chance."

Joey's head remained buried in Jake's shirt as he whimpered
softly.

"C'mon, Joey, I need your help," Jake asked softly.

Joey looked up at him, the fur of his face damp and sticky with
tears.

"Really?" he mumbled, blue-gray eyes wide.

Jake nodded, standing up as Joey disentangled himself from his
arms.

"Hey," Joey suddenly piped up with a smile, for the first time
noticing Jake's flight suit. "You're a SWAT Kat too! So, that's
where you get all the good stories," he added in a conspirator's
tone.

"You got it," Jake agreed. He bent down to add in a stage
whisper. "Just don't tell your Mom or your Grandma."

"Promise," Joey announced, straightening up to his tallest and
crossing his heart.

"You'd better keep that promise now," Jake admonished.

Joey drew an imaginary zipper across his lips.

"Alright, now let's find a way outta here."

The twosome searched the room quickly. There wasn't much to
look at; the room was bare. Jake was thoughtfully examining the
heavy wooden door when Joey called out to him.

"Uncle Jake, look!"

Jake ran to where the kitten was down on his knees, peering
through a tiny hole at the base of the wall. Jake sat down beside
Joey and eyed the opening. It resembled a stereotypical mouse
hole with its smooth oval shape. Through the hole Jake could see the
wild colors of Mad Kat Land.

"But we'll never fit," he muttered out loud.

"Uh, huh, look," Joey announced, eyes bright as he stuck his
hand into the hole, pushing against its side. The hole widened
easily with his effort.

Jake's eyes lit as he plunged his own small hand into the hole
to help the kitten. The two pushed the opening wider and wider.
Finally, Jake's arms were at their widest extent. The opening
was easily big enough to admit both kittens' small forms.

"Okay, Joey, go now," he ordered. "I'll be right behind you
this time," he reassured, seeing the look of horror that flashed
across Joey's face as the kitten glanced up at him.

Joey slipped through the hole easily, stopping just beyond it to
wait for Jake. Jake followed him, holding the hole until he was
clear and then releasing it. He quickly looked back to see that he
and Joey had just emerged from under the fabric wall of a carnival
tent. The fabric drifted back to the ground in slow motion. Jake
watched it curiously and then turned his attention back to the
outlandish amusement park surrounding him.

"Now, where would Mad Kat and T-Bone be?" he murmured to
himself.

A flicker of green light drew his attention to a mirror mounted
on the wall of a small funhouse-type building several feet away. The
mirror glowed like the phantom wall of Jake's prison. It sparked and
suddenly cleared to show an underwater image.

Letting Joey trail behind him, Jake stepped toward the mirror,
frowning in thought. Abruptly, the image blurred in a flurry of
bubbles. As they cleared Jake made out two forms swimming.

"T-Bone!" he gasped, recognizing the trailing figure. It only
took him an instant to realize what was going on. "C'mon, buddy," he
urged. "You can beat 'im!"

-------------------------------------

T-Bone was paddling faster than he'd ever swam in his life. The
fins on his hands and feet helped his speed, but Mad Kat, it seemed,
naturally adapted to any of the forms he chose. He seemed to know
exactly how to use his new form. T-Bone, on the other hand, was
learning as he went.

"Finish line ahead!" Mad Kat announced, stretching out a webbed
hand to indicate a bright red line floating across their path just
ahead.

T-Bone tried to shout a retort but his words dissolved into
bubbles. Sullenly, he thought insults in the clown's direction as he
swam faster.

As the red line drew nearer T-Bone pulled ahead. Just beyond
the line he could make out a gentle slope in the sandy bottom that
rose to meet the light of the surface. With a couple of strong
kicks he powered his way past Mad Kat and through the line. T-Bone
repressed the urge to smirk at Mad Kat and continued toward the
"shore". Seconds later he was clambering his way up the slope.

Even as his head broke the surface, T-Bone knew he had problems.
He was still a kat/fish hybrid, and he still could only breath with
his gills. T-Bone dove back under the shallow water, digging his
webbed hands into the soft sand to keep himself from floating back to
the surface, which was only inches above his high dorsal fin.

There was a flurry of bubbles to his right. Turning his head,
he watched Mad Kat flash to the surface. Through the water he could
see a blurred image of Mad Kat transforming back into his
normal shape. The image moved away.

'So, I lose,' T-Bone thought bitterly. 'It's a rigged deck
anyway - what were my chances in the first place?' The baseball game
had already come close to taking his heart from the game. A game one
*couldn't* win was no fun. The unfairness of it dulled even his
competitive spirit. He'd only continued in the hope that he might be
able to save Jake and the kittens. That he'd failed them
made him burn with shame deep within.

Without warning, he felt a pull at his back. In a spray of
water, he was unceremoniously yanked from the "lake". T-Bone gasped,
thrashing his limbs in the air as he dangled by his shoulder
harness. He waited for the burning, the inability to breathe. It
never came.

"Well, what're you just hanging around there for? There's a
game to win!"

T-Bone twisted his head to see Mad Kat standing on the shore
with a fishing pole in his hand. The line from the pole stretched out
over his head. T-Bone realized that the hook was in his shoulder
harness. Glancing down at himself, he realized that he was also back
in his normal state.

Mad Kat calmly deposited T-Bone on the dry shore, thumping the
big SWAT Kat on the head with the pole, which disappeared as it
connected.

"Ow!" T-Bone growled, scowling up at Mad Kat. "What's the
point?!" he snarled. "You won't let me win! You control this world
- you control the game! Let's end it, Mad Kat!" His face grew
gravely serious. "I'll give you the game now - I'll stay and play
your stupid games forever....just let Razor and the kittens go."

"Now, now - that would be too simple," Mad Kat purred. T-Bone
let his head drop in something bordering on despair. "Let's say I
give you a more sporting chance," Mad Kat continued with a sweeping
hand gesture. T-Bone raised his head to see a tunnel stretching
before him. "Now, on your feet." Mad Kat snatched T-Bone up by his
shoulder harness again and plopped him onto a KMX stunt bike, similar
to those he'd seen on MSPN, that suddenly appeared beneath him.

T-Bone quickly put his feet down to keep the bike from falling
over. He looked back at Mad Kat.

"All you have to do is make it through," Mad Kat purred. "No
race.....just *survive*. Make it to the end and you and the little
ones - even your stubborn little friend - are free to go. You have
my word."

"Like that means anything," T-Bone muttered under his breath,
taking a firm grip on the handlebars of the bike and eyeing the
tunnel ahead fiercely. Taking a deep breath, he put his feet to
the pedals and started into the foreboding tunnel.

-------------------------------------

Jake turned from the mirror with a sinking heart. Mad Kat
wouldn't let T-Bone win. As he turned away the mirror sparked again
and its images faded.

"The bad clown's cheating," Joey voiced Jake's thoughts in his
own words as he looked up at his uncle.

"Yeah," Jake agreed, "which is why we've gotta get to 'im." He
looked back at the mirror as his face twisted in thought. "Joey,
stand back," he said suddenly, pushing the kitten behind him.
Joey backed away uncertainly. Jake faced the mirror and then leapt
forward, landing the most powerful kick his small body could give on
its smooth face. The mirror shattered into jagged shards. Jake bent
to pick up a sizable shard with less vicious points than some of its
fellows. He held it to his face. "Let's see if this still works,"
he murmured.

As though hearing him, the glass glowed to life. T-Bone
appeared through the misty green, angling the stunt bike down a steep
incline within the dark tunnel. In keeping with Mad Kat's unique
architectural style, the floor beneath T-Bone was tiled orange and
yellow. The walls were lined intermittently with mirrors.

"Now, if I just knew where he was....or where Mad Kat was," Jake
muttered as he watched T-Bone in the glass. He glanced upward,
searching for any clues. His eyes lit on the fortress-like structure
towering over even the twisted roller coaster tracks. "That's it,"
he whispered.

-------------------------------------

T-Bone reached the bottom of the treacherous incline.

"Okay, where's the death traps?" he asked, stopping and peering
down the tunnel. As though answering him, a great blade swung at his
head from the darkness above. Yelping, T-Bone ducked
just in time. "Alright, now we're cookin'," he announced, leaning
over the bike's handlebars and pedalling his hardest up the next
hill. Reaching its summit, T-Bone gasped in horror as he was met
with a gaping pit; it was too late to stop. Thinking quickly, the
SWAT Kat jerked up on the handlebars. The movement, coupled with
T-Bone's momentum, succeeded in sending the bike over the hole. Even
as he flew through the air, T-Bone searched the other side of the
hill. He gasped again. Another incline was flying up to meet him.

As the bike hit the side of the next hill, T-Bone released the
handlebars and reached for a hold, expecting the slick surface he'd
felt beneath his bike's tires throughout the entire trip. Instead,
his grasping hands plunged into a soft earth-like surface. Gripping
the bike tightly between his legs, he got firm hold in the shifting
orange earth. Scrabbling desperately, he clambered to the summit of
the hill, reaching back to snatch one of the foam-covered handlebars
in his right hand and haul the bike up after him.

"Ne-ext," he murmured as he stood and remounted the bike once
more on slick tiles, green eyes narrowing.

-------------------------------------

Jake and Joey stared with wide eyes up at the towering structure
that Jake assumed had to be Mad Kat's headquarters. The building was
similar to one of the funhouses, but at tremendous proportions.
Giant concave and convex mirrors covered its sides, glinting in the
false light. Any remaining portions of the walls were painted in the
garish psychedelic orange and yellow seen throughout Mad Kat Land.
The building was topped with a fool's cap like Mad Kat's.

Just before the two kittens rose a massive pair of wooden doors.
Without warning, the doors began to swing open ponderously with a
screeching creak.

"Over here," Jake hissed, grabbing Joey's arm and pulling the
kitten after him as he hurried behind the nearest of the opening
doors. The two peered through the crack made by the door's hinges
as they connected door and wall. A group of the hideous red-eyed
clowns poured out of the fortress, fanning out as though searching
for something.

"C'mon," Jake whispered as the clowns headed away from the door.
Soundlessly, the two kittens skirted around the door and dashed into
the fortress, quickly scooting out of the doorway to press their
backs to the wall. Jake carefully craned his neck to look back
through the opening for signs of pursuit. "All clear," he assured.
"Now, let's find Mad Kat."

The two set out down the long, mirror-lined corridor stretching
before them. Like the funhouse mirrors these lit with twisted images
of the two kittens as they passed. The images glowed forth in
freakish greens, blues, and purples.

Joey eyed the images fearfully, grabbing Jake's hand tightly in
his own.

"Don' worry, Joey - they can't hurt you," Jake assured.

An almost soundless sinister chuckle filled the corridor behind
them as, on cue, a distorted image of Jake stepped free of its mirror
glowing with red light. The creature paused and raised its arms over
its head in a lazy stretching motion. As it stretched it grew,
lengthening into an adult size. Smiling a smile Jake wasn't even
capable of, it advanced on the kittens from behind.

Jake's ears flicked back, hearing the soft footfalls. Gently,
he unwrapped his hand from Joey's. Whirling at lightning speed, he
kicked the creature just above its knees. He gasped as he saw its
face, backing away.

Unfazed by his kitten's kick the mirror creature kicked back,
catching Jake in the stomach. Jake was knocked back on the floor so
hard that the mirror shard he'd held tightly flew from his hand
to skid across the stone flagging. Jake looked up at the red image
as it stepped up to leer down at him, reaching a claw of a hand out
towards him.

Wordlessly, Joey appeared from nowhere, kicking the distorted
creature in the shin. Before he could back away, it had snatched him
up in its twisted claws, holding him high above the floor to glare
into his terrified face.

As Jake looked up at Joey's dangling feet an idea came to him.
He twisted his head to find the shard. It was several feet away out
of his reach. Quickly, he rolled toward it, grabbing it tightly.
He leapt to his feet, holding the piece of glass in front of his
body.

"Hey, Ugly! Over here!" he bellowed to the mirror creature.

Snarling, it dropped Joey and leapt for the larger kitten. Jake
quickly raised the shard to meet the creature. A startled look
flashed across the red image's face for an instant as it plunged
*into* the mirror fragment, disappearing.

Breathing heavily, Jake lowered the shard. His eyes found Joey
dazedly staggering to his feet. He rushed to the kitten.

"Are you okay?" he asked worriedly, bending beside his nephew.
He could already see a the discoloration that would become a large
bruise through the fur just above Joey's left eye.

"Yeah," the kitten muttered softly, trying to look brave.
"Let's find Uncle Chance and get outta here," he added in a quaking
voice.

"You said it," Jake agreed.

-------------------------------------

T-Bone plunged over the crest of a hill, twisting the bike
in midair to land sideways for a controlled skid down the near
vertical far slope. As he landed a giant, jagged spear of rock
suddenly shot from the ground nearly impaling him. T-Bone jerked the
bike to the left just in time to avoid it, still hearing his sleeve
tear as the rock sliced through the cloth.

The next few feet were frantic zigzagging around more spears
that ripped through the tiles, shattering them and leaving T-Bone a
scarred, rough surface to race across. The SWAT Kat cleared
the field still pedaling with all his strength, breathing heavily.
He powered himself up the next hill, wondering why there had to be so
many hills. Reaching the summit, he stopped in horror. Swinging
from the ceiling ahead and stretching into the darkness beyond his
eyes' reach were giant, spiked maces, sporting the familiar,
tasteless yellow and orange.

"Hey, Mad Kat, you realize if I'm impaled on one of these
things, my suit'll clash!" T-Bone shouted to the very air around him,
not caring if his statement made sense as he tightened his grip on
the handlebars. "Least it's more or less fair'," the big kat
growled, pushing off the top of the hill and hurtling down amid the
swinging maces. Once more he settled into the tense, deadly
zigzagging game. Suddenly, another pit loomed before him out of the
gloom, a great mace swinging over it vertically. T-Bone thought
fast. The pit was far too big to jump, especially since he'd finally
reached a flat stretch. He eyed the giant mace.

"Whatever works," he muttered, making his plan. "If I survive
this, I'm tryin' out for the X-Games." He watched the mace for
several seconds, gauging his time. Then, pedalling his hardest,
he aimed the bike straight at the tremendous mace, reaching the pit's
edge just as the mace swung back. Yanking upward on the handlebars,
T-Bone sent the bike flying through space. As his momentum died and
he felt gravity begin its work, the rush of air from the mace reached
his ears. T-Bone once more gripped bike between his legs and reached
forward, catching onto two of the vicious spikes lining the mace.
T-Bone held on with all his strength as the mace swung back, waiting
for it to reach its farthest point and letting go.

Kat and bike hurtled through the air, landing just past the edge
of the pit. Hitting the slick surface, T-Bone lost his grip on the
bike and slid down the corridor. His slide ended as he slammed
into one of the mirrors that lined the walls. The mirror didn't
shatter as the big SWAT Kat had expected. It seemed to become liquid
as he connected, letting him pass through easily. As his form
vanished into the liquid-like glass it returned to its original
state.

T-Bone gasped as he came through the other side only to be met
with a cliff. He hit the ground just before the cliff with a thud,
his right leg, twisted under his body, connecting first with an
audible crack. Still, reeling with the shock of pain T-Bone slid on
across the ground, which was like glass, and over the cliff.
Desperately, he twisted as he fell, catching onto the edge with both
hands, claws outstretched. He grit his teeth and scrabbled against
the cliff face with his left feet claws, his right leg hung limp and
useless, throbbing painfully. His searching claws couldn't find a
purchase; the rock too was as slick as glass.

-------------------------------------

Chapter 9: A Christmas Present

Mad Kat watched T-Bone's struggle through a full-length mirror
as he stood in the heart of his bizarre realm. Around him was a
throne-room of sorts, sparsely furnished, save the ever-present
mirrors. The room was tremendous, built to fit Mad Kat's preferred
giant size. The clown grinned as he watched the SWAT Kat slip
further over the edge.

"Looks like I'm about to win!" he shouted.

"Wait!"

The voice behind him made Mad Kat whirl around to see Jake
running into the room with Joey on his heels.

"You said he had to beat you...or prove you'd been given a
Christmas present. I can prove that," the SWAT Kat shouted
breathlessly.

"You couldn't possibly prove that!" snapped Mad Kat. "I *never*
received a Christmas present because somebody cared about me."

"Yes, you did. Get T-Bone outta there and I'll explain."

Mad Kat eyed Jake suspiciously, but nonetheless snapped his
fingers. T-Bone appeared with the snap, lying on the floor. He
quickly scrambled to his feet, his face contorting with the pain as
he tried to put his weight on his right leg. Finally, he propped
himself enough to be balanced and surveyed his surroundings, staring
first at Mad Kat then at Jake with wide eyes.

"What....?!" he gasped, sweat running through his damp fur.

"I got it covered, bud," Jake assured, stepping forward with
Joey hiding behind him.

T-Bone eyed his friend in confusion, for the first time noticing
Jake's kitten state. He started to ask but held his tongue. Jake
had that air about him that said he was in charge of situation, or as
in charge as anyone could be. T-Bone settled to watch and wait.

"Now, about this *proof* of yours?" Mad Kat pressed, eyeing Jake
who stood staring up at him confidently.

"You *have* gotten a Christmas present," Jake repeated. "Maybe,
it didn't come in a package, but it came - a tiny, little baby lying
in a manger." Jake held his hands in front of his body as though
cradling a baby as he said this. "The very meaning of Christmas
itself. A gift for you - for all of us," he continued. "Maybe you
just never accepted this particular gift." He held his hands out
slightly, gesturing as he spoke. As he did so, a glow started in his
open hands. Jake's eyes widened, but he held his hands steady. A
shimmering present coalesced atop his upturned palms. It was
wrapped in softly glowing gold paper and tied with a red bow. Jake
held it up toward the towering Mad Kat. "Here," he offered quietly.

Mad Kat bent to take the present in one huge hand. He held it
for several seconds just staring. Then, he looked down at the two
SWAT Kats and the kitten.

"Well, I guess you did prove it after all," he murmured. He
looked back at the present in his hand. Glancing back down suddenly,
he found them still there, watching him with wondering eyes.
"Well, what're you standing around for?" he demanded. "I'd like to be
alone with my thoughts if you don't mind! As promised, you and the
little ones are free to go." He flicked a hand out at them
absently, a brief smile flashing across his face.
-------------------------------------

Chapter 10: Family

The threesome found themselves back in the middle of Rockefurrer
Center, surrounded by hundreds of startled, crying kittens. The kats
who had been misplaced by their sudden appearance stared at them in
shock. With a strangled cry of joy a she-kat suddenly recognized a
dear, familiar face amid the mass of kittens and ran forward to
snatch up her kitten. She swept the tiny bundle of fur into her arms
and hugged him tightly, tears running do in the short fur of her
face. As though a dam had broken loose, other mothers followed suit,
rushing to find their children.

As he watched the scene T-Bone felt even the throbbing in his
leg diminish. Who could mind that amid this? The scene was joyful,
chaotic, ...but wonderful. A smile spread across his features
as he watched the reunions. He glanced over at Razor, who was once
more his full size and in his full SWAT Kat uniform, complete with
helmet and mask. His friend was watching the scene with a similar
smile, a hand on Joey's shoulder to keep him from getting lost in the
crush of kats.

"You're back to normal!" Joey proclaimed suddenly, looking up at
Razor.

Razor glanced down at himself.

"Hey!" he announced happily, turning to T-Bone. He immediately
snickered as he faced his friend.

"What?!" T-Bone demanded.

Razor merely pointed to the top of T-Bone's head. Joey followed
his uncle's hand and began to giggle himself. T-Bone quickly
reached up to his head to snatch off the red and blue fool's cap
that was perched atop his helmet. He scowled at it for a minute and
then smiled.

"Guess it does sorta fit," he pronounced, plopping it back on
his head so that it slid to one side, hanging off one ear cock-eyed.

Joey giggled harder. A sudden shout made him stop abruptly.

"Joey!" Sharon raced through the crowd to snatch the kitten into
her arms even as he turned to face her. The Clawsons were just
behind her. Sharon buried her face in Joey's shirt, hugging him
tightly. She glanced up at the SWAT Kats. "Thank you," she breathed.
The red-haired she-kat suddenly did a doubletake and looked around.
"Where's Jake?!" she asked, eyes searching the crowded streets before
they returned to Joey's face.

"I...." Joey glanced back at Razor. "I...don't know....he...."

"I'm sure he's around," Mrs. Clawson assured her, stepping up
to lay a hand on Sharon's shoulder. Briefly, she stared into
Razor's eyes. His eyes widened as his mouth formed into an "O"
shape.

Dr. Clawson stepped up beside his wife, his eyes suddenly flying
to T-Bone's leg.

"Looks like you've got a bad break there, Son," he commented.
"How's about you come with me to my office and we'll have a look at
that?"

T-Bone nodded gratefully, accepting Razor's supporting shoulder
as the two turned to follow Dr. Clawson back to his car. Sharon,
still carrying Joey, and Mrs. Clawson trailed behind them.

"But, Jake,....?" Sharon started.

"Well,...hmm....," Mrs. Clawson started uncertainly, looking at
Razor's retreating back.

He turned his head to look at the two she-kats.

"Yeah," he agreed, "Just wait a few minutes...."

Sharon looked back and forth between the two, confusion clear on
her face. Joey tugged on her shoulder-length hair.

"You'll see, Mommy," he whispered with bright eyes.

Behind them, the Enforcers were just arriving to organize the
scene. Parents and children alike were crying in joy. The quiet
spattering of flakes from earlier in the night had become a genuine
snowfall that floated gently down on all.

------------------------------------

"Feeling better?" Sharon asked Chance, who was now propped
comfortably on the couch, having taken over its entire length, save
the spot where Joey had curled up beside him and promptly
gone to sleep. His right leg was bound in a thick cast, which
already bore Joey's eager attentions, and resting on several pillows.

"Yeah, the doc's a wonder," Chance announced.

"You and Jake are wonders too," Sharon commented as she knelt
beside the couch to scruffle the thatch of fur atop his head.

"Thanks, we don't get told *that* too often."

"Yeah, we're usually just called 'hotshot jerks'," Jake chimed
in from his spot on the floor.

"Don't forget 'reckless hotshots'," Chance added.

"I don't care what anyone else says - you've always been wonders
to me," Mrs. Clawson pronounced. "Both of you," she added, looking
Chance in the eye before getting up to go check something in the
kitchen.

Sharon whispered another, 'thank you,' in the big kat's ear as
she stood and scooped Joey into her arms, carrying him off to his
room at the back of the house.

Chance looked around the room as she left. The Christmas tree
glowed in the dim lighting, Joey's train chugging around it on its
track. Dr. Clawson was sleeping lightly in the easy chair across
from him. The smell of something delicious was wafting from the
kitchen. He smiled. So, this was family. Yeah, he liked it.

Jake stirred on the floor before him, sitting up a bit from a
light doze and raising his head from its resting place against the
couch. He turned his head to look at Chance.

"Whadya s'pose happened ta' Mad Kat?" Chance asked.

Jake shrugged.

"No telling," he murmured. "Maybe he accepted the present." He
paused, his eyes growing fuzzy and distant for a moment. "What he
said.....never having been given a present....never having been cared
about.... That must be awful.... Guess I don't know how good I have
it, do I?"

Chance looked back at Jake and then at the room around him.

"Neither do I, Jake....neither do I."

-------------------------------------

Author's Long (and pointless) Comments:
----------------------------------------------------

Okay, I *will* admit that the Mad Kat Land idea came from a level of
the SWAT Kat SNES game I read about. I hope I made this different
enough and interesting enough that nobody cares.

Musical Inspirations:
----------------------------

"Carol of the Bells" - Mannheim Steamroller version
"God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" - Mannheim Steamroller version
"O Little Town of Bethelem" - Buryl Red arrangement
Track 7 of the Hunter/Hunted game music - the inspiration for the
scene with the mirror creature