As you might have guessed, the young captain has his share of secrets, and more will be unearthed as we go. What has he gone through? What made him who he is? How does a seventeen year old liger get to be an Enforcer, let alone a captain inside of six months? All this and more, in later chapters. Enjoy this one in the meantime.
Disclaimer: I, Lord Genesis Shadow, do hereby state that I do not own the rights to SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron. I'm sad it was cancelled, but maybe someday it'll be back, better than ever, but hopefully with similar animation.
"Sir, we've got a problem." My operator said.
"Now's not a good time." I said. "I need to get this paperwork done."
"Sir, there's a jet from Megakat city fighting off our point defense pilots." He said. I looked at him, turning back in the chair. "We need you to take him out, now." I got up and followed him to the VR room. "If he gets a moment, he'll escape and blow our cover. We've thoroughly jammed his comm. system, but it's only a matter of time before he spots an opening. He's, good. In a twenty year old jet." I whistled as I opened the pod.
"Good enough to give me a run?" I asked.
"No one's that good, sir." He said. I got in and put on the interface helmet. "Good to go." He closed it and walked away when my radio pinged.
"Go for Mane." I said.
"Hey, hope you haven't forgotten about our date tonight." My second in command said.
"Not for all the points in the system." I said. She giggled shyly.
"You know, tonight…" She said softly. "I, want to kiss you… If you'll allow, Colonel Mane."
"Permission granted, Major Pepper." I said confidently. "I just need to shoot down a minor threat, and finish my paperwork. I'll meet you at the designated coordinates, with my brass polished." The screen lit up.
"Okay you two, enough sweet talk." Headmaster Arnold said. "Colonel Mane, take down the target, and we'll deal with him. Aim for the tail and knock him off balance. We'll go out and handle the rest." I activated the controls and took off in the jet, spotting the target instantly.
"He's slipped the net!" My operator said. I flew at an angle and fired at him, but missed. "What?" I followed as the others kept up, but couldn't pass him. As they shot, I fired where he was going, and hit the tail end, disabling the controls, and he spun out before crashing into the sand. "Great work as always, colonel." I did a flyby as the pilot didn't get out. "He'll be out for at least a few hours. Come on home, everyone. Mission complete." We flew back, and after landing and shutting everything down, I opened the door and stepped out to cheers, but as I waved, I raised and touched my watch.
"Gotta go." I said. "I've got paperwork to finish, and a girlfriend to romance this evening." They laughed as I spun in the middle of a jump and jogged to my room. 'Pepper, tonight, we're going to have a wonderful time, and maybe, one day, we'll be married…' I sighed as I sat down and focused on the paperwork, but just as I finished and set the pen down, someone covered my eyes.
"Guess who." She said sweetly. I pretended to be in thought.
"Sarah Jane?" I said. She giggled.
"Guess again." She said. I smiled.
"Katie Jones." I said. She laughed. "No, her voice doesn't sound like an angel singing." She smiled and I held my hand up, taking hers. "Major Holly Pepper." She moved around carefully to sit on my lap after letting me see.
"You win a prize for that little comment." She said sweetly. She moved in and hugged me, and I rubbed her back softly. As we held one another, she began purring softly. "You know, I've been thinking. I'm your second in command, and I'm also your girlfriend… If you had to have me in just one of those capacities?"
"I'd want you here, with me." I said. She laughed softly.
"That's not an answer." She said. "But I like the way you said it, and I'll assume you mean, girlfriend." I looked into her eyes as she moved back. "I'm being transferred to a new team that's coming in next week, after your birthday, in fact. I guess, we'll still see each other in the sky, just, not as often." I took her hand.
"In the sky or down here on earth, I just want to be by your side." I said. She smiled and leaned in, our foreheads touching lightly.
"Just for that, you get this early." She said softly, just as she kissed me. Our eyes closed and I held her, until I heard a familiar sound.
"Captain, report." Lieutenant Feral said. I calmed down and let out a breath as I looked at the room.
"Area clear." I said calmly. "Just some cobwebs and empty rooms." I put the letters away silently into my secondary pack.
"Sounds like you were distracted for a second." She said. "What was it?"
"Thought I saw something under one of the beds." I said. "Just ghosts and memories." I stepped out of the room after removing a picture from a frame and putting it in my shirt pocket, closing it and buttoning it. "This place smells like, old jet fuel and ghost breath." I walked down the hall toward the room with the pods, and she was standing at one with an omega symbol on it.
"What do you make of these?" She asked. I walked over and looked at the one she was standing by. "Looks like a detached cockpit. Think they were assembling the jets and were making these separate?"
"No, they've got wires hooked up." I said.
"Programming?" She suggested. I shrugged.
"Goes without saying." I said. "But is it to program systems, or to run them?" She nodded slowly. "Anything apart from the memories of whoever else was here?"
"Yeah, something strange." She said, holding out a paper to me. "Promotion orders for a woman named Major, or, after this, Lieutenant Colonel Pepper."
"Great work, Lieutenant Colonel Pepper." My voice said in an echoed tone in my mind.
"Signed by 'Headmaster' Jacob Arnold." She said.
"You are hereby promoted to General." His voice said in my mind, also echoed.
"Something's just not right here, and it's not just this." She said. "There's dried blood stains on the floor, shell casings without markings, but no bodies and no evidence of damage to the walls, like the kats that were here just, gave up and took the bullets as they came." I put my hand to my chin as sounds played in my head, gunfire that was muffled by the sound of missiles and encouraging words in a headset. "But this is by far the most interesting part. Look at the age on this promotion report." I looked at it as she handed it to me, and she pointed. "Lieutenant Colonel Pepper was only sixteen, three days to her birthday when she was promoted." I stared at the paper before turning it over. "I don't get it. What went on here?"
"I suspect the answers are above our pay grade." I said calmly. "Whatever went on here, it's over, but that mystery kat was here, revived an old fighter jet, and flew it back without the comm. systems working at all… Not even a cell phone."
"What?" She asked.
"No cell phone." I said. "Who, in this day and age, doesn't have a cell phone?"
"I, guess…" She started. "Well, he was flying a jet. Could you work a phone and pay attention to fly?" I shrugged and she laughed. "Okay, scratch that, you could. But how many other kats have that kind of skill?" I put the folder down on a table and we walked outside. "Something is wrong here. This place is littered with shell casings and blood, no physical damage at all to anything. Either the attackers fixed everything up but didn't police the brass, or every kat here just stood still and allowed themselves to be executed."
"If they didn't commit suicide at the time of the attack." I said. "Unmarked brass, maybe they had custom ammo made on-site, so they see trouble coming, and proceed to start emptying rounds into their own heads, or their friends so they don't have to burn in hell." I shrugged. "Not enough evidence to work with, and way too little information. We don't know who ran the place, who worked here, or even what they were doing." She nodded as we walked a ways. "But something's not right… I can feel it." Jenkins walked over and pointed at the motor pool.
"The jets have no cockpits, but there was something way stranger." He said. "There was a jet that was open, and there was a metal skeleton inside, like, a robot skeleton." We stared and followed him. "It's, a little dusty, but it's a kat skeleton made of metal, with pistons and servos and all kinds of circuits and wires hooked up to it." We walked in and he pointed, so we walked up to the jet and climbed up.
"Holy kats…" She said breathlessly. I looked the 'cockpit' over for a few moments. "Is this the pilot? Did they, make robots to fly them?" I thought about how to phrase it.
"Or…" I said. "Those, cockpits in that building." I turned. "What if they're exactly that? Cockpits. You climb in one of those, and it reads your movements inside, and when you activate a control, the robot in here mimics that." She blinked, but nodded. "That way, you could have a pilot, a couple of miles away, and have them safe and comfortable in a cockpit, but still have a fighter out there." I pointed out toward the desert.
"Then, if there were ten pods…" She said.
"This is a five square mile facility." Jenkins said. "Give or take. There could be dozens more, hundreds, in the other buildings… And the tanks."
"If the tanks are just like these, with robot skeletons, or something like it…" I said.
"Then, what?" She asked. I shrugged and dropped down with her. "Remote control fighters? Remote, tank drivers?"
"Why not?" I said. "It'd make sense, if I'm right about the 'cockpits' inside." Our radios beeped and she pressed the button on hers.
"This is Lieutenant Feral, what's going on?" She asked.
"We've got activity in the desert!" An Enforcer said quickly. "Strange silver jets just, came out of nowhere!"
"We've got strange silver fighters coming out of the desert!" A frantic voice echoed in my mind. "They just, they jus… Just came, out of nowhere, aaghh!"
"Impossible…" I said under my breath.
"It's like…" He started, but I pressed my comm. button.
"Bank left!" I said quickly. "Do it!" I heard the sound of a missile exploding and a relieved laugh.
"Thank you!" He said gratefully. "Thank you so much!" I looked at the building.
"How did you know which way he should have gone?" Jenkins asked.
"Lucky guess." I said. "Time to see if my theory is right."
"You don't think…" She started.
"We won't know if we don't try." I said. I ran to the building with them in tow as Maxwell caught up with us. The lieutenant filled him in while I slid by the pod with the omega on it. "Okay, uh…" Thoughts raced and I pressed a series of buttons. "Okay, password protected…" The pod opened. "Five, five, six, seven, six, two."
"How did you know that, it wasn't in the jacket I handed you!" The lieutenant called.
"Two rifle calibers, they're usually my go-to random guess for number codes." I said. I climbed in and saw that the pod was online. "Okay… Looks like they're, online… And linked. Try the helmets." I set mine down and picked up the one inside, and put it on.
"Hey, I see, like I'm outside." Jenkins said.
"Me too." Maxwell said.
"Good thing we all know how to fly…" I said. I closed the pod. "Shut the panels and get airborne… Hopefully we won't get shot at by our own side." I taxied the fighter out and saw the others. "This is a lot easier with a traffic controller." We flew down the runway before getting airborne, and we turned toward the fighting. "Comm. check, Mane. Anyone out there?"
"Feral, I read you loud and clear." She said.
"Jenkins, copy that." He said.
"Maxwell, I read everyone crystal clear." He said. "Strangely, clear… It's like however long they've sat here, collecting dust, they're still as good as when they were built. I'm… I can't believe it."
"Check your weapons." I said. "I'm seeing, Vulcan machine guns, and six missiles and two fifty shot rocket pods on each wing. Twelve and two hundred."
"Likewise." The lieutenant said. "Jenkins, patch us all through to the Enforcers and transmit our IFFs."
"I've been trying, ma'am." He said. "We don't have any."
"Great." I said. "Patch the communication system then. They can track that."
"They've tapped into our comm. system, sir." A voice echoed. "They might be able to…"
"Now, now, you know they can't." A calmer voice said. "We've taken every precaution, erected the force field to be invisible. We're entirely safe, all of our bases. We're just, fine."
"This is Feral, what's going on?" The commander said.
"Sir, we're engaging the enemy." Jenkins said.
"Negative, return to that facility!" The commander said angrily.
"Sir, all due respect, that's where we are." I said. "It's a long story, but the short version is the jets without cockpits have robotic skeletons inside that fly them in a simulated cockpit that seals seamlessly, and they're piloted by remote from inside another building. The four of us are taking four up. Lucky for us the pods we took were pre-linked to four fighters." He was silent.
"Unbelievable." He said after a moment. "Fine, but don't use them all if you can figure out how to fly more. Feral, out." We flew in and I let my reflexes take over, dodging fire from both sides until only the enemy was firing on us. They were far more advanced looking, with new weapons. We just had fire linked seven point six two millimeter machine guns, but they were decidedly armor piercing.
"Okay, here we go…" I said under my breath. "Just like any other jet."
"No kidding." The lieutenant said. "It's like we're actually inside the jets. These pods, react."
"I guess that means we get a more realistic experience and can tell through spatial awareness." I said. "If we get hit, we'll know when we're in trouble by feel." She laughed as I shot a few down in short order. "Do these look like, the one's we're in?"
"Yeah, they do." She said. "You don't think these are their hand-me-downs?" I was silent. "Mane?"
"It's as good a guess as I've got right now." I said. Without warning, the strange silver jets started backing off and leaving. "Where are they going?"
"Follow them." The commander said. "We're en route, so the four of you take after them…" There was a warning klaxon. "What's that?" I looked up as a red light flashed in the display.
"Damn." I said under my breath. "Sorry sir, no can do. We're low on power. Either the jets run on some kind of system instead of fuel, or the pods are about to die, or we're using up the last of the base's power source."
"Fall back." He said after a moment. "Land them. I don't want to lose these. They're too valuable for what we can learn." We turned back, save for the lieutenant. "Lieutenant, that's not an order. It's a request." She was silent. "Please, there's nothing to be gained at this point. You'll crash land and give them something instead of the other way around."
"Returning to base." She said after a moment. She flew toward us as I landed, slowing to a halt near the hangar. I shut the pod down and took the helmet off, getting out calmly. As I did, I put my own helmet back on and closed it. After they got out, I pointed outside.
"Jenkins, Maxwell, roll out the welcome mat for the cleaning crew." I said. "We'll see what we can get from the computers." They saluted and walked out quickly as the lieutenant walked up to me and suddenly put me against the pod. "Ma'am…"
"Shut up." She said. "What the hell was that?"
"What was what?" I asked, honestly confused.
"Five, five, six, seven, six, two." She said. "Your two favorite bullet calibers? Random picks? No one is that lucky." I thought for a moment and looked away, spotting what I needed. She followed and set me down. "No…" An LED screen reading the exact numbers written in paper below the screen and the words 'Pod Passwords for' with the date burned out. "Did you spot that?"
"On the way in." I said. "The numbers , not the 'pod password' part, but, I put two and two together. I said what I said for Jenkins and Maxwell, ma'am. There wasn't time to explain properly." She suddenly picked me up by my collar again. "Ma'am…"
"I couldn't find the weapon display." She said. "I looked at your fighter and figured out that I had the same loadout. It only made sense, but then, you figured out we could improvise a tracking system for the Enforcers using the comm. system. How did you know that would work?"
"I didn't." I said. "I figured, why not try? If all else failed, Commander Feral and the others would see that we were talking from the base."
"We weren't, the signal would have been routed to the plane, to hide the base." She said. "This place isn't on a map, we didn't know about it until the mystery pilot told us, so how did you know how to get around so fast? You didn't even look surprised when we saw the fighters, or the cockpits." I was silent until she set me down, and I fixed my jacket after she let go.
"Maybe I'm just not the type to get surprised about seeing 'ghosts'." I said. I walked over to a console and looked it over before typing in commands. "Maybe I saw this place in a dream, or maybe, just maybe, I watch too many mystery and science fiction shows on TV and this kind of thing just seems lackluster by comparison." I looked through the files carefully.
"You know, I wonder." She said. "You got in that pod, knew what buttons to press, to put on the helmet, and how to fly that jet like you'd done it before. I was barely keeping out of range of their shots, and you were flying that thing just like our jets, dodging missiles, rockets, and lasers, like everything was in slow motion."
"Adrenaline does that." I said. "I felt like, I was really in that jet. Once you learn to fly a fighter, you never forget." She was silent as she walked over to the terminal a few feet to my right as I looked through the files, and when one came up, it was corrupted, but salvageable. "I've got a corrupted file here. Might be able to get bits and pieces out of it… Might spread though."
"Keep it." She said. "We'll run it." I pulled out a memory unit and plugged it in as she did the same, and I put it in with some encryption standard to the system, filing it as the last one. "Unbelievable. I'm getting encrypted files left and right here… It'll take months to go through it all, with all of our tech teams working together day and night."
"This place must have been something special to someone." I said. "I'm done with the files on this one. I've still got some free space, but I need another flash drive." She tossed me one as I pulled the one out, and I shut the terminal down as the trucks came in. I moved to the one to my left and she made a sound.
"Let's keep the whole, pushing you against the pod thing, a secret, never happened…" She said.
"What?" I asked. "What never happened?"
"Exactly." She said.