Title: Ten Twenty-Four
Date: June 26, 2013
Genre(s): Drama, Suspense, War
Story Warnings: Moderately descriptive violence, brief profanity
Words: 87,825 (236 pages)
Beta Reader: Kristen Sharpe
Notes: This is a sequel to My Responsibility and Last Names and contains spoilers for those stories. Summary written by Kristen Sharpe.
Summary: Busted down to traffic cop with her wings clipped, Felina Feral seems to have hit rock bottom. An unexpected offer too good to be true and too tempting to ignore might take her back to the skies. But, before she can decide what she wants, she has to realize who she is.
PROLOGUE – CHANCE FURLONG
The makeshift cell was filled with the echo of another dull thud as the bottom of Lt. Felina Feral's olive-colored, water-resistant, leather combat boot collided with the unwavering, steel-reinforced door that trapped the two occupants within.
Well, more-so the Lieutenant, Chance Furlong thought to himself, as both his wrists and ankles were chained, which had made the cell a formality until his two would-be rescuers had arrived. Deputy Mayor Callie Briggs and Enforcer Lieutenant Felina Feral had abruptly appeared before him. Admittedly, they were not the rescuers he'd expected to see.
Then again, who would I have expected to see? Probably Jake, using that genius intellect of his to come up with some kind of plan to get away from whatever Viper was having him do…
Chance had been stuck in this underground nightmare of Dr. Viper's for days. He and Jake had been lured into a trap that seemed obvious in hindsight, following a distress call while testing out some of the Turbokat's new weapon systems in the desolate and remote Felidae Ergs. The distress call was on the same encrypted frequency the two used for their communicators, which meant a possibility, though remote, that it was the Deputy Mayor in need of help. Despite being a thousand miles away from Megakat City, they had felt compelled to investigate. If there was one chance in a thousand it could have been Callie, they needed to act on it.
But, it hadn't been Ms. Briggs. It was Dr. Viper, who had reverse-engineered their signal, and lured them to the abandoned, underground Puma Dyne test location simply known as SITE B, which was now serving as a factory to make monsters.
Those monsters, which Viper had called Shriekmen, looked like hairless cadavers. They were completely featureless, aside from the rows of jagged, sharklike teeth that made up the gaping trap that was their mouths. Chance had briefly wondered how it was they viewed the world, as they lacked eyes. But, those thoughts had disappeared quickly as both he and Jake had been ambushed as soon as they stepped foot into the musty, out of place lobby near the entrance.
In an act of desperation, he had fired a 40 mm high explosive grenade from his Glovatrix at a group of the approaching monsters that were blocking the exit. It wasn't the type of anti-personnel weapon he'd normally choose, as whomever was on the receiving end wasn't likely to survive, let alone be found in one piece. The effect on the Shriekmen didn't result in anything different, as the grenade exploded amidst the group. It had sent a small shockwave of guts and body parts mixed with a black substance that reminded him of the cheap 10W-30 synthetic they frequently used for oil changes at the garage.
They would have been in the clear, if the grenade hadn't also jostled a large metal support in the ceiling, which had come crashing down on his head. Thankfully, it wasn't something as large as an I-beam, and just as thankfully he had been wearing his helmet. But it was enough to knock the two down. Just long enough to be swarmed and taken captive by the Shriekmen.
Another grunt of exertion interrupted Chance's own self-directed frustration as the Lieutenant's boot thunked the door again.
Chance suspected from her growing irritation that she felt the same way. Upon Lt. Feral's and Callie's arrival to save Chance, Dr. Viper was in cuffs. But, being the wily snake he was, Viper had managed to knock Felina to the floor, and then casually leave the room, locking the group inside. By the time the Lieutenant had regained her bearings, it was too late.
Chance adjusted his voice to sound more confident than he really felt. For whatever strange reason, Dr. Viper had left the mask, and to everyone else that made him T-Bone: the SWAT Kat.
T-Bone doesn't get scared in a crunch like this.
"I don't think it's going to give," T-Bone said.
The Lieutenant took a step away and then harshly drove her shoulder into the door. It did not budge. She sighed and leaned her back against it, sliding down to sit on the floor.
"I was starting to suspect that," Lt. Feral said, slightly out of breath. She brought up a forearm and wiped the sweat off her brow, being careful to avoid a small bandage that was there.
"We'll just have to wait for Callie to get around to the other side," T-Bone said.
The Deputy Mayor had already managed to squeeze her way out of a small drainage pipe that the Lieutenant couldn't fit through. That had been at least an hour ago, though, and with each passing minute his concern grew.
He realized he was tapping his foot impatiently, almost nervously, and he forced himself to stop.
"I shouldn't have let her go," Lt. Feral said, leaning her head back until it touched the wall. Her eyes were closed.
"If there's one thing I've learned about Callie, it's that she doesn't take too kindly to being told what to do," T-Bone said, trying his best to hide the worry nagging in his mind. "Sometimes, you have to know when to rely on others."
"You say that like it's some kind of motto," the Lieutenant said, opening her eyes.
"I didn't always think that way," T-Bone said. "I had a hard time trusting others, and I suppose I still do in some ways."
"Hence the mask," the Lieutenant observed.
"Yeah, there's that," he said with a mild chuckle.
"I guess we'll just have to trust the resolve of the Deputy Mayor," she said.
Worry was creeping forth again, seeping like a poison in his brain.
I hope she doesn't get stuck, or worse, run into more of those disgusting Shriekmen.
"Though, the only thing I can seem to trust her to do is to get me into trouble," the Lieutenant replied. "She convinced me to take her on this crazy adventure, after all."
"Sorry the rescue didn't go according to plan," he said.
"There wasn't much of a plan to speak of," Lt. Feral said as she stood up, grabbing the M16 that was leaning against the nearest wall.
"What is that, an A4?" T-Bone asked, looking to change the subject. He already knew the answer.
"Yeah," the Lieutenant replied distractedly as she took out the magazine and pulled back on the charging handle to eject the chambered round. She caught it midair in her left hand. T-Bone recognized that as a heavily practiced movement. She checked the weapon over.
"Not exactly standard issue…" he continued.
"No, it's not," the Lieutenant said, "Most Enforcer SWAT teams have M4s with 15-inch barrels and adjustable stocks."
"And you don't?" he asked.
"This is my personal rifle," she said. "I trained on the A2 in BCT, which is pretty much the same as the A4, except for the removable carrying handle. Adjustable stocks never felt quite right to me. The 20-inch barrel also improves accuracy."
The A2 was an older model of M16 the Enforcers used to use, and BCT was Basic Combat Training. T-Bone knew from personal experience.
"Let me guess," T-Bone said. "You've had one too many problems presenting your weapons card to the armorer, and decided to sneak in your A4 to avoid all the red tape associated with stowing a weapon?"
For the first time since he'd seen her arrive, the lieutenant cracked a smile.
"Something like that," she said.
"That violates Enforcer protocol," T-Bone said, returning the grin. "I'm sure the CAG would have you NJP'd if he knew you did that."
"Trust me, what the CAG doesn't know won't hurt him," the lieutenant said. "If it did, he'd have died a thousand times over by now."
"I know the feeling," T-Bone said.
"Oh really?" the Lieutenant asked with a suspicious expression. "And just how would you know?"
"I…uh, read things," he said, realizing that maybe he was getting a bit too familiar. In spite of the current circumstances, he did have a secret identity to uphold.
"Uh-huh," she said, her eyes narrowing.
Some time passed, and T-Bone considered making up something to alleviate any potential suspicions, but before he could the Lieutenant spoke up again.
"This is the second time this year I've wound up in a cell like this," she said.
"Oh?" T-Bone asked.
"A few months ago I was kidnapped by Dark Kat, and he left me to rot in this dungeon of his while he tried to kill my uncle, the deputy mayor, and others," she said. "It was just like this, feeling stuck and helpless."
The Lieutenant kicked her boot against the wall again.
"It's pathetic, really," she continued. "I even have another defeated stranger to exchange smalltalk with."
"I know what you mean," T-Bone said, resisting the urge to say more.
While attempting to track down some suspicious activity related to reclaimed Enforcer Jet parts at the Salvage Yard, he had tailed the Lieutenant as Chance Furlong, shared a few drinks and even gotten involved in a bar fight. During the series of events, he'd discovered Dark Kat's involvement, but was captured alongside Lt. Feral. Unbeknownst to her, the person who'd shared the adjacent cell then was the same one sharing it with her now.
"I'm glad you guys were able to rescue him," the Lieutenant said. "After I made my escape I had to get back to HQ to stop the assassination. Didn't have time to go back."
"I'm sure he understood," T-Bone said, and decided to push his luck. "His name was, uh, Furlong, right? Some kind of mechanic?"
"Yeah, he's a real grease monkey type," she said. "And a bit of a drinker."
"What, a guy can't enjoy a few every now and then?" T-Bone blurted.
"Well, I guess I'm not one to judge," the Lieutenant said, quirking an eyebrow. "I'm no lightweight myself."
"A real understatement," T-Bone said. "Or so I've heard."
"You hear a lot about me?" she asked.
"Only good things," T-Bone lied with a small grin.
"You're not a very good liar," the Lieutenant said.
Before he had an opportunity to come up with a clever reply, their conversation was interrupted.
Someone was on the other side of the door.
"Hey buddy, you in there?" the familiar voice of Razor called.
T-Bone smiled, doing his best to contain his relief.
"No, it's some other guy Viper chained up," T-Bone sarcastically called back.
The lieutenant reinserted the magazine into her M16 and stood next to the door, speaking into it.
"Razor, I've got some stuff in my bag out there that can get us out of here," the lieutenant said.
T-Bone recalled she had complained about leaving her rucksack just outside before her and Callie had entered his cell. An inaccessible backpack full of goodies that might as well have been a hundred miles away.
Something else that had no doubt been adding to the Lieutenant's frustration…
"I could use that SMAW, but I don't think you'd survive that, lieutenant," Razor called back.
T-Bone remembered that acronym well. It stood for Shoulder-launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon. A modern day bazooka. It was particularly useful against tanks or bunkers, and would make short work of the cell's door.
Along with everything and everyone in it…
"There's detcord in there," Felina continued. "Along with a detonator."
Now we're talking. For not having much of a plan you sure did pack the right stuff.
After a few moments came Razor's warning.
"Stay clear!" he shouted, followed by a succinct "Fire in the Hole!"
The Lieutenant darted back and to the left of the cell, crouched down and covered her ears with both hands. Unable to do the same, T-Bone gritted his teeth and closed his eyes.
His chest and stomach took the brunt of the force. It knocked the wind out of him, the air in the room seemingly imploding.
It made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, and tears seeped from the corners of his eyes as his kidneys rattled. The dust and debris smacked into him, and a heavy object clanged to the ground, inches away from his feet. It was the previously immovable door.
He coughed, the disturbed particles getting caught in his throat involuntarily. He cracked open his eyes slowly, and was just starting to notice a ringing in his ears. Everyone was shouting, and he couldn't quite make out what was being said. What little light there was made the disturbed air look like a polluted haze.
Before he knew what was happening, Razor was beside him, attaching something to the anchors in the floor and ceiling that held his chains. Several dulled pops were echoing in his head, and he realized they were gunshots. Soon after, he felt another thump on his body, and the chains fell down from above.
The muscles in his arms ached. They'd been kept elevated by the chains for days.
"We need to go!" Razor shouted, his voice breaking through the ringing.
In that moment, the world came into focus, and the ringing in T-Bone's ears stopped. There were no more gunshots. Just visible past Razor's freshly created opening was the lieutenant. She had attached a bayonet to the end of her rifle, and with textbook execution had lunged the blade into the chest of a Shriekman. Just as quickly she tore it out and hit another adjacent monster with the butt of the rifle, using skull-crushing force that caused it to collapse to the ground.
Memories of BCT came back to him. T-Bone recalled being screamed at by a drill instructor during a Pugil Stick exercise to swing and lunge the faux-weapon like he wanted to kill his opponent. T-Bone suspected the lieutenant hadn't had that problem.
Maybe that's why she doesn't prefer the collapsable stock. It'd make a horrible beating stick otherwise.
Now free, he ran forward. The aches in his muscles from being kept in such an awkward position so long disappeared as adrenaline overtook him. Exiting the cell, he found himself in a narrow hallway. A horde of Shriekmen was approaching from each direction. One of them let loose a terrible, shrill screech. It was comparable to nails on a chalkboard. T-Bone guessed it was likely the reason for their name.
Callie was also there. She was back-to-back with the Lieutenant, and had just thrown what looked to be an empty MP5 sub machine gun at the nearest approaching creature.
"That way!" T-Bone ordered, seeing an opening. Razor was right beside him, having already seen the adjacent door. He had no idea if it would lead to safety or not, but he knew what would happen if they stayed where they were.
As Razor ran past, T-Bone noticed the Lieutenant still had her sidearm in her holster, unclasped, as she slashed the bayonet across another Shriekman with a loud shout that was a mixture of anger and desperation.
Without a second thought he rushed up to her and grabbed the exposed grip of the gun, bringing the weapon up while placing his left hand over the right, tightening his hold. The white-dotted night sights on top of the Glock 17 lined up perfectly on the nearest advancing target. Once again, memories from the nameless Drill Instructor came flooding back.
Thumbs forward, thumbs up. The body aims, the sights confirm. Now, pull the trigger.
T-Bone pulled the trigger. A bright flash from the muzzle of the gun lit up the sallow creature, accompanied with an ear-rattling pop from the gunshot. The monster jerked slightly at the impact in its chest, and it just as quickly fell to the floor at his feet. Dead.
"Forget you had this?" T-Bone asked through gritted teeth as he repeated the process, killing several more of the monsters.
"Got caught up in the moment," the Lieutenant said just as she finished clobbering another monster in the head with the butt-stock of the M16. "You use one of those before, I take it?"
It seemed like an eternity had passed since he had stepped foot on the Jonas Spangle Memorial Target Range at the Enforcer Academy to take his qualification exam, scoring 254 out of 300 points. He still remembered it well, as he was just one point away from being deemed a sharpshooter.
"Just like riding a bicycle," T-Bone replied, no longer considering the consequences of his words as he shot two more of the Shriekmen.
Something isn't right…
It seemed strange to be thinking that thought, while surrounded on both sides by a small army of freakishly grotesque monsters ready to tear the flesh from his bones. But, it was a thought he still had.
Why doesn't Razor have that door open yet?
T-Bone fired several more times, taking just as many steps back.
"T-Bone!" the panicked voice of the Deputy Mayor screamed.
"Callie!" T-Bone shouted, turning his attention, just in time to see one of the monsters bite down on her shoulder, the sharklike smile of serrated teeth disappearing into the dirtied, white shirt she was wearing.
This isn't supposed to be happening…
"No!" Razor called out as he rushed toward her, only to be cut off by more of the monsters, causing T-Bone to lose sight of him. There was no longer any room to maneuver. The small hallway was completely overrun.
"Come on, get back!" T-Bone shouted, shooting one of the creatures point-blank in the face, as others grabbed onto his arms and shoulders.
He elbowed one of them in the midsection, and in doing so lost his grip on the handgun. It disappeared somewhere among the naked legs that were shuffling around. The combined force of the Shriekmen was overpowering. They forced him down to the ground.
He let out a scream of pain as one of them bit into his neck. The world was starting to grow foggy. He rolled to his back. Above him, he watched helplessly as the creatures' smiles descended upon him. The last thing he could hear was Callie's scream, as the world started to shake and fall apart around him.
Chance Furlong hit his head on the small table that served as a combination desk and nightstand as he fell out of his twin sized bed, entangled in a worn plaid comforter and well-used set of pillows that had once been white. The force of the impact knocked over the ten pound cylindrical sedan starter he had been tinkering with before he had fallen asleep. It teetered over and fell onto his outstretched hand.
Chance swore loudly, awash with pain as his fingers were smashed. The throbbing in his head and hand almost distracted him from the fact that the world was still shaking, seemingly in tandem with a thumping noise he could feel in his chest.
It was just a dream…a dream of a memory. We escaped that place. Callie's okay…
Those events had transpired about six months prior. Before he could allow himself that relief, there was a large impact, followed by what sounded like an explosion. In his room, illuminated by the dim light of a simple digital alarm clock, he could see the glass frame containing his Officer Candidate School group photo fall off the wall and shatter on the floor.
A klaxon sounded somewhere distantly.
"But this isn't a dream," he said through clenched teeth, certain that his smashed hand and bruised head were products of the conscious world.
He struggled to his feet, tearing the comforter off himself. He lunged forward through the darkness, grabbing the knob of his room's door and nearly ripping it off its hinges as he blew through it.
He almost collided with Jake in the small hallway that separated their apartment-style rooms.
Their living quarters were located in the second story that comprised Jake and Chance's Garage. To the outside world it was a humble auto shop that specialized in oil changes and preventative maintenance. Unbeknownst to that outside world, it was also where the SWAT Kats secret hangar was located. It was a fairly extensive underground base, and a project that had forever made Chance swear off the idea of working with concrete ever again.
"We're under attack!" Jake shouted.
"What?" Chance asked. The idea hadn't crossed his mind.
A spotlight abruptly lit up. It was visible out the sliding glass door that led to a makeshift balcony, where salvaged patio furniture that had seen better days rested. The light was coming from the sky.
Chance realized the thumping noise was the sound of helicopter rotors. Big ones.
"C'mon!" Jake shouted as he ran down the narrow stairwell that led to their combination waiting room and kitchen. Chance chased after him.
Maybe not so unbeknownst to the world after all…
As they reached the bottom of the stairs, the ground shook anew. The pantry doors of the kitchen jostled open, spilling plates and glasses that crashed loudly into pieces on the dirtied tile floor. The refrigerator door flung open as well, spilling a carton of milk. At the same time the small windows of the garage lit up, a large fireball briefly illuminating everything. Decades-old dust was freed from the crevasses of the building's supports. A small crack appeared, spreading from the floor, to the the wall, and up into the ceiling.
Once again, Chance was on the floor, and he groaned as he slowly got back to his feet. He could've sworn he'd felt the whole place shift.
Jake was also on the floor, and he slowly sat up, while placing a hand on his forehead. He was bleeding.
"Hey!" Chance shouted as he rushed over to him, helping him get to his feet. "You okay?"
"I'll be fine," Jake said, a look of annoyance on his face. "That was a bunker buster."
"No way," Chance said. "One of those would've leveled this place."
"It wasn't targeting the shop," Jake said as he walked over to the window, looking outside.
Chance joined him, and frowned at the scene.
Though the spotlight made it hard to see, he could tell the helicopter hovering above at about 30 feet was a twin-rotor CH-47. A Chinook. A military-grade transport helicopter. It's rear access ramp was down, and there were several individuals rappelling down over a smoldering hole in the salvage yard, about a hundred feet away from the garage.
Stacks of crushed cars had been knocked over, leaving the surrounding area a mess. But, that didn't concern Chance. What did was the hole. It was right above the hangar's underground runway.
Chance's fists clenched. He felt a strange sense of violation, combined with embarrassment. It didn't help that all the two were wearing were boxer shorts and A-shirts at the moment.
We've literally been caught with our pants down…
He could no longer feel the pain in his head and hand, as he reached down and grabbed the nearest blunt object he could find. Being an auto-mechanics garage, there were plenty, and he picked up a 25-inch pry bar.
He exchanged glances with Jake, wordlessly acknowledging the situation.
Now's not the time for questions. Think about the why and how later.
The two approached a lone corner of the kitchen where an inconspicuous rug lay. For a moment Chance regretted not keeping any weapons outside of the hangar. With the occasional unexpected visits from Burke and Murray, both he and Jake couldn't completely trust the whereabouts of suspicious items kept above ground.
Jake pulled the rug back, revealing a hardened steel trapdoor. It was secured with a combination padlock. With a well-practiced movement he spun the numbers into place.
Nine, Twelve, Twenty-Three.
The lock clicked open, and Jake pulled upward on a collapsible handle. The trapdoor opened with a metallic groan, hardly noticeable with the thumping of the helicopter rotors outside. Below, an orange and red light was flickering, as smoke rose up from the hole.
Somewhere, down there, was a fire.
Without a second thought, Chance climbed down the hole, his bare-feet making no noise as he descended the metal rungs embedded into concrete that served as a ladder. The normally calm air was replaced with a crisp breeze, confirming his fears that the Hangar was exposed to the outside world.
Jake followed, just steps above Chance. Neither made it to the bottom before the concrete wall exploded into craters that spewed out debris, followed by a deafening roar of automatic gunfire.
Without thinking, Chance let go of the ladder, grabbing Jake's ankle, and fell the remaining eight feet.
Chance landed ungracefully, banging his shoulder onto the edge of a step at the base of the ladder. He rapidly rolled to his stomach, keeping his head down. The pry bar he had been carrying had fallen from his grasp and clattered off somewhere loudly.
The gunfire continued, hitting a large series of computer displays behind him, sending pieces of broken plastic and glass raining down.
Chance covered his head with his hands as he looked to his right. Jake was taking cover behind a stainless steel workbench, also pinned down. Chance could recognize the report of the weapons fire. They were AK-47 variants, at least a half-dozen of them.
The assault rifle fire stopped, and he could hear several pings of spent brass hitting the concrete floor.
For a moment, everything was silent, though the thumping of helicopter rotors somewhere far above could still be felt.
Jake glanced at Chance, an expression of uncertainty on his face. Chance imagined it was the same expression he had, too.
The nearest accessible weapons were their Glovatrixes, which were stored in full size lockers alongside their SWAT Kat flight suits. Chance's locker, which had "T-Bone" scratched into the front of it, was only a few feet away. But, in order to reach it, he'd have to expose his head and much of his torso. It was already a miracle the small concrete step he was behind had managed to provided any cover at all.
As he tried to formulate a plan, his thoughts were interrupted by an unexpected sound.
He heard footsteps. They were clacking loudly on the concrete floor of the hangar, easily recognizable as heels.
"Why don't you come out of there," a female voice said with a sultry edge.
Chance recognized the voice, and from the look on Jake's face he could tell he did too.
"If you're worried about showing your face, there's no need," the slightly accented voice of Turmoil said. "We're friends here, after all, Chance."
Chance closed his eyes, feeling something he'd rarely felt. Panic. Here, in a place that was supposed to be safe and impenetrable, he was now facing a bad memory he'd hoped would never catch up with him. One of his worst fears he'd always tried to keep suppressed in the back of his mind was unfolding before him. His heart was racing, the pulse in his temples pounding.
Pull yourself together. Remember your training. Panic never helps any situation.
Chance sighed, forcing himself to calm down, and slowly rose to his feet, putting his hands up, palms facing forward. He opened his eyes, and saw Jake looking at him, confused.
If I survive this, I owe you an apology, buddy.
Chance looked forward, facing the familiar and complicated enemy that stood 15 feet in front of him.
"Dressed for the occasion, I see," Turmoil said, a small smile forming in the corner of her mouth.
She was wearing the same style uniform he'd last seen her in. It was a form-fitting, off-red outfit, complete with knee-high black heeled boots, a military-style peaked cap decorated in a scrambled egg pattern of red highlights, with a long vampiric cape and epaulettes on the shoulders. A belt with a holster rested slightly sideways on her hip, accentuating her feminine curves. It made her appear equally exotic and intimidating.
Or, maybe it's the other ones in the room doing the intimidating…
At either side of her, Chance could see two groups of three women, dressed in an assortment of black combat gear, including cross draw tactical vests full of various assault rifle magazines, sidearms and other devices of war. Each female soldier was aiming a rifle directly at him. As he had guessed, they were using AKs.
Behind the armed group were several other women, dressed similarly, who were going about the hangar, opening storage bays and taking equipment, loading items into duffel bags and rucksacks.
They're looting the place.
"I could say the same," Chance said, barely containing his anger.
The hangar was in disarray. Several small fires were smoldering where ducts and conduits had been breached. Large and small chunks of concrete were strewn about. A mild breeze was coming from above, and as Chance glanced upwards, he could see a large hole where the ceiling had been. The spotlight of the hovering Chinook occasionally passed through it, creating a distracting illumination that seemed to make the movements of the hangar's invaders appear in a strobe-like effect.
Behind Turmoil and the riflewomen was the Turbokat. It was the SWAT Kats jet: their greatest accomplishment and asset. The result of years of work, blood, sweat and tears, assembled from the excess parts in the salvage yard and Jake's engineering genius. Several of Turmoil's soldiers were climbing about it, attaching some kind of cabling to the jet's various hard points.
"You look surprised to see me," Turmoil said as she walked forward, closing the distance between herself and Chance.
Her armed escort kept the rifles aimed, leaving him no other option than to stand still with his arms raised. He couldn't see Jake anymore.
Whatever you do buddy, just keep your head down while I try to figure something out.
"You could say that," Chance said, following her with his eyes. "I heard they extradited you back to your homeland."
Turmoil walked with a confident poise, each step audible among the controlled chaos in the background.
"They did," Turmoil said as she walked behind Chance, out of sight. "Getting out of prison is so much easier when you have the home-field advantage."
He kept still, facing forward, determined not to give the shooters an excuse.
Maybe I can…
He didn't get to finish the thought, as he felt her gloved hand reach from behind and go across his exposed neck. Like a snake it caressed past his throat, her finger tips now moving across his cheek. He could hear the stretching of leather.
"Pondering a way out of this?" Turmoil asked as she leaned forward, her lips less than an inch from his ear.
He didn't reply, feeling the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. Despite what was transpiring before him, in the back of his mind he couldn't help but entertain impossible scenarios.
"I'll save you the trouble of worrying about what's going to happen," Turmoil said, and then pulled away, walking forward, keeping her back to him.
"Your associate, Mr. Clawson, can come forward if he likes," she said over her shoulder.
"I'll take my chances back here, Ma'am," Jake called out.
"Very well," Turmoil said. "First, to ease your concerns, I'm not going to kill either of you."
"Well, that's a relief," Chance muttered.
"Don't think it wasn't a tempting idea," Turmoil continued. "Playing on my emotions, betraying my trust, thwarting my plans and allowing me to be placed behind bars."
She turned toward him, holding up an index finger, wagging it back and forth.
"Tisk-tisk," she said with a frown. "If it were anyone other than you, we wouldn't be having this conversation right now."
"So, you still have feelings for me?" Chance asked, raising an eyebrow.
"I do," she said, her expression hardening. "But not in the way you're no doubt hoping."
"You took advantage of my kindness, and then took everything away, leaving me to bask in my own shame," Turmoil said.
Behind her, the cables the female soldiers had been attaching to the Turbokat became taut. The thumping of the Chinook's rotors intensified, and within moments the black jet was beginning to rise upward through the massive hole in the ceiling.
"I am returning the favor," she said.
Chance watched helplessly as his pride-and-joy was being taken away from him. The Turbokat cleared the opening and disappeared from sight.
"Don't look so sad now," Turmoil said as she started to walk away. "There will be plenty of time for that in the coming months."
Chance growled in frustration, as the gravity of the situation finally boiled over in his mind. He didn't care anymore if there were half-a-dozen rifles pointed at him. He didn't care if he got shot, maimed or killed. He just wanted to do something, anything, other than stand there like the fool she intended him to feel like.
He darted forward, trying to reach after her. He made it two steps before he found himself on the ground, stars filling his vision. There had been an additional shooter behind him he hadn't seen, and she had clunked the back of his head with the wood stock of the AK-47 she was carrying. This particular soldier, unlike the others, wore a red beret atop shortly cut blonde hair, her expression so cold and distinct Chance couldn't believe he'd missed her getting behind him.
"It's time to leave," Turmoil said to her subordinates.
Chance's vision blurred, his head once again throbbing, but he could see Turmoil reach up to grab a rappel line that was dangling from above.
"Take whatever else you can," Turmoil said. "And burn the rest."
The rappel line ascended upward, carrying Turmoil into the exposed night sky.
The scavengers in the hangar did the same, grabbing onto their own lines that led them up and away. The remaining soldiers lowered their rifles and wordlessly strode off, leaving Chance dazed on the floor. The soldier with the red beret was the last to leave, but not before she took out a pair of grenades from her tactical vest, and causally cast them into opposite corners.
They ignited, and Chance realized they were incendiary. Anything that wasn't already smoldering soon became fully engulfed in flames.
Chance struggled to get up, but could only get to one knee, as the soldiers grabbed their own rappel lines and were carried up through the hole, which was now obscured by smoke. Chance's eyes watered, and he began to cough uncontrollably.
"Chance!" Jake's voice shouted, sounding distorted through the ringing in Chance's ears.
He felt Jake's hands grab him by the shoulders, urging him to get up. Chance stumbled forward, his mind clouded with questions, worries and confusion. Reality was a vague and abstract notion at the moment.
She took everything. Everything's on fire. I can't breathe with all this smoke. Callie's in trouble. A Shriekman's eating her. The lieutenant's gonna kill the monsters with her bayonet. That's really badass…
The world once again turned to darkness.
"Caw!" a voice called out.
Chance's eyes slowly opened, and the first thing he saw was a black bird staring directly at him with empty, soulless eyes. It was a junkyard crow, perched on the hood of a crushed sports-car. From his current horizontal position, it was above him. It rustled its feathers.
"Caw!" it blurted out again, making Chance's head hurt.
"Shut up!" Chance said half-heartedly as he sat up, and realized he was half-naked and covered in dirt. The sky as overcast, and it was still cold. He shivered, crossing his arms.
The crow looked disinterested and fluttered away, leaving a few black feathers in its wake. He watched them fall to the ground. They drew his attention to a trail of drag marks in the dirt that ended where he sat.
"It wasn't a dream," Chance said, recent memory returning to him, followed by concern. "Jake!"
He got up and walked slowly, following the drag marks, meandering through toppled rows of crushed cars and assorted pieces of rusty parts and machinery. His body protested.
"Jake!" he shouted again, and in moments rounded a corner to find the garage in sight.
The building was intact, though their sign had been knocked over. It was laying in the driveway in pieces.
"Over here!" Jake called back. His voice was coming from a large hole in the ground adjacent to the shop.
Chance walked over to the gaping chasm, able to appreciate the damage in the daylight. A cross-section of destroyed concrete and rebar could be seen along the circumference of the hole, with several chunks strewn about. Jake was standing twenty feet below on what was once their secret runway. It now looked more like wreckage of a burned ship.
"From the level of damage, I'm guessing it was probably a laser-guided, hardened penetration bomb," Jake said, observing the damage. "Probably a GBU-10 or 15."
"Jake, I uh," Chance began.
"Though those earlier explosions were probably caused by a strafing run with an auto cannon, probably mounted on that Chinook or maybe a second gunship," Jake continued. "I saw a lot of spent 20 MM casings out there. I think they hit a gas line while trying to disable what they thought were defensive weapons platforms."
Chance closed his eyes.
"Joke's on them, I guess," Jake said. "We don't have any weapons platforms, just suspiciously tall stacks of junked cars."
"I'm sorry," Chance said as he opened his eyes.
Jake looked up at him and sighed. He climbed up a pile of debris that led him to the surface, and now stood next to Chance.
Jake had treated his forehead wound with a makeshift bandage.
"Well, I'm sorry I left you out in the cold," Jake said. "I'm still checking to make sure the building is safe to go back into."
"You're not listening to me," Chance reiterated. "This is all my fault…"
Chance was starting to realize the full consequences of what happened.
"I mean, what are we going to do?" Chance asked aloud. "All our gear, she took everything! She knows who we are, and she destroyed the hangar."
He gestured to the hole as another thought came to mind.
"There's no way we're going to be able to hide this," Chance continued. "We're S.O.L. Jake. Up a creek without a paddle, with holes in the canoe even. Feral's going to find out and throw us in jail."
"And that's not even the worst of it!" Chance was now shouting. "Turmoil has our stuff. She's got the Turbokat, Jake. She's going to do who knows what, using our weapons!"
He sat down, knees just under his chin as he placed the palms of his hands on his forehead.
"And it's all my fault," Chance said, the defeat in his voice more apparent than ever.
There was quiet for several minutes, neither saying a word.
"Did you love her?" Jake asked, his voice surprisingly calm.
"What?" Chance asked, caught off guard by the question, as he looked up to meet Jake's eyes from his seated vantage.
"Turmoil, I mean," Jake specified. "Did you love her?"
Chance didn't respond immediately, as memories of that day, years ago when he had been captured, came flooding back. Turmoil had bested him, but not before he'd had the opportunity to showoff as T-Bone in the Turbokat.
Expecting to be tortured and possibly killed, T-Bone was surprised by the flattery and the offer he was given. To join her.
She appreciated me. She recognized what I could do. I'd broken through whatever preconceived notions she had.
It was a strange feeling, admittedly one that appealed to his ego. But, it was more than that. Ever since he had been kicked off the force, there'd been an emptiness inside him. A hole just as large as the one currently in front of him he hadn't been able to fill. Like an expatriate exiled from his homeland, he'd felt like a stranger in his own life ever since Commander Feral had shouted in his face, blaming him for something that wasn't his fault. Every time he donned the mask, that feeling lessened, but it was still there in the back of his mind.
For some reason, on that day when he looked into Turmoil's eyes, that feeling, if only for an instant, had disappeared completely.
I belonged with her.
"I don't know, Jake," Chance said. "Maybe I just loved the idea of her."
"Well, I'm just trying to get the details straight," Jake said with a sigh. "I don't suppose I need to ask how it is she found out who you really are?"
"I could say that I only, uh, 'revealed myself' fully to her in order to gain her trust," Chance said. "But that'd only be half-true at best."
Jake smiled, ever so subtly.
"I can't blame you," Jake said. "If I were in your position, I don't know what I'd do."
"This has been a lonely life, buddy," Chance said. "Not that you aren't great company. But I don't think either of us thought we'd wind up as indentured servants paying off a wrongful debt in this dump."
Jake nodded, listening.
"When I was with Turmoil, I felt free," Chance admitted. "And, like I belonged to something that wanted me."
"As opposed to the begrudging acceptance the city expresses towards a SWAT Kat?" Jake asked. "Or the permanent banishment from our desired lives because of Feral?"
"Yeah," Chance said, worried he might have offended him.
"I understand," Jake said, and from his tone, Chance could tell he was being sincere.
"You're handling this whole mess a lot better than I am," Chance said as he stood up. "What's your secret?"
"Well, I've been conscious longer than you have today," Jake said, his tone less serious. "So, I've already had a few hours to vent my frustrations. It's let me to come to a realization."
"And that is?" Chance asked.
"Turmoil wants you, and I suppose by extension me, to suffer," Jake explained. "That's why she didn't kill us."
Chance remembered her sharp words before she had disappeared as dramatically as she had arrived.
Don't look so sad now. There will be plenty of time for that in the coming months.
"So, I decided that I wasn't going to give her the satisfaction," Jake said, sounding more upbeat.
"Is that the only thing keeping you from punching me in the face?" Chance asked.
"Pretty much," Jake said.
"Great," Chance said dryly.
"Let me just ask you one more thing," Jake said. "What was it that made you betray her? And don't just tell me it was because it was the right thing to do."
Chance gave his response some contemplation before he spoke again.
"I've lived my life by doing things the hard way, Jake," Chance said. "Running off with Turmoil then would've been the easy way out."
"Well, that's good to hear," Jake said as he turned his attention back to the mess before them. "Because there isn't going to be an easy solution to all of this."
"No, there isn't," Chance said, as his eyes drifted to one of the nearby crushed cars.
On its side, hardly noticeably, was the distorted logo of the Enforcers. The vehicle had been a squad car, commonly known as a cruiser. Likely retired after it encountered one of the extraordinary threats Megakat City was known for.
The yellow and black coloring was faded, but it's triangular "M" was still apparent. It was a symbol he had once worn with pride, that represented his childhood goal to be one of the good guys. But now, it only inspired bitter memories.
Well, maybe not all bitter.
He remembered seeing the emblem on the short sleeve of the white T-shirt that Lieutenant Felina Feral had been wearing as she stabbed a pale Shriekman square in the chest, back in that dark, cramped corridor filled with monsters.
He remembered the words he'd said just prior to their escape.
Sometimes, you have to know when to rely on others.
"I think we could use some help, buddy," Chance said.