Title: Ten Twenty-Four
Date: June 26, 2013
Genre(s): Drama, Suspense, War
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.
CHAPTER 1 – FELINA FERAL
Felina Feral's eyes shot open, the raps on the door startling her awake. She sat upright, the nearly empty 750 milliliter bottle that had been resting on her chest rolling down into her lap and then onto the floor. It clunked loudly on the hardwood, stopped by the leg of a cluttered coffee table. The remaining brown liquid inside pooled within, enough Bourbon left for maybe half-a-shot.
I fell asleep on the couch…and in my clothes…again.
Felina got up, the tight, cotton-blend trousers she wore clinging to her legs. They were dark blue, almost black, with the end of the legs tucking into the black, nearly-knee-high boots she was still wearing.
Well, almost tucked in.
One of them had become untucked and was bunched up in a disheveled fashion.
At least I remembered to take off my duty-belt this time.
The belt, complete with holster, handcuffs, a radio and other assorted police gear was resting on an empty pizza box atop the other assorted junk her coffee table had collected. One item in particular she retrieved as she stood up. A black, polymer pistol.
It was a newer Glock 17. She had been issued it after returning to active-duty. She had lost the previous one during the incident at SITE B.
Just another item on the laundry list of charges they brought against me.
Felina was officially irritated now as she quickly closed the distance to her apartment's front door, snapping open the deadbolt to the unlocked position.
"I hope for your sake the building's on fire!" she shouted as she swung the door open, keeping the gun in her right hand lowered, but visible.
On the other side was Deputy Mayor Callie Briggs. Her hand was raised just in front of where the door had been, about to knock.
"Felina," Callie said, eyes wide behind her glasses as she lowered her hand. "Sorry, I tried calling but your phone wasn't…"
Callie stopped mid-sentence as she sniffed the air.
"Is that…whiskey?" Callie asked
Felina frowned, and then looked down at herself. The light blue blouse of her uniform, of which several buttons were undone causing her badge to hang awkwardly around her bust-line, was also covered in a large stain.
"Ugh, it better be," Felina said as she turned away, leaving the door open.
Callie cautiously followed, stepping foot inside Felina's modest living quarters, closing the door behind herself.
Felina walked toward the single bedroom of her apartment, returning the gun to the coffee table as she passed by it, unbuttoning the blouse and sliding her arms out of it, and then removed the badge. She tossed the garment over her shoulder, nearly hitting Callie with it as she rummaged around the floor, picking through unfolded laundry that looked like it had never seen the inside of a closet.
"As always, you're the pinnacle of modesty," Callie said.
And you're no doubt being modest and averting your eyes.
"I pick my battles," Felina said as she found another blouse, and took a moment to sniff it for any detectable odors.
"You know, if you're too busy to take care of things, I can recommend a dry cleaning service…" Callie began.
"Why are you here?" Felina interrupted bluntly as she put on the shirt, buttoning it up as she spoke. "We're not supposed to have lunch 'til tomorrow."
The shirt was almost as tight and uncomfortable as the pants she was tucking it into.
"Well," Callie said, seemingly unperturbed by Felina's abruptness. "I just wanted to stop by and drop something off in-person."
Felina turned around to see Callie holding a pink box with a white bow on top of it.
"That's really touching," Felina said dryly, her expression muted as she reached forward and took the gift.
"I assume you already started celebrating last night?" Callie asked, referring to the bottle on the floor she nearly tripped over.
Celebration wasn't a word that Felina would apply to what she had been doing, and in truth, she had forgotten what today was.
"I had to fill in for someone's shift last night," Felina said as she opened the box, dodging the question. Inside was a single cupcake with a lone unlit candle sticking out of the top. It was one of those ornate, and more than likely overpriced, confections that several of the downtown specialty bakeries made. The sweetness of chocolate and frosting replaced the scents that had been filling her nostrils.
"Happy birthday," Callie said as she took out a box of matches from her handbag. She lit one, and used it to ignite the candle to the cupcake that was still being held by Felina.
"You're serious?" Felina asked, quirking an eyebrow.
"I won't sing, if that's what you're worried about," Callie said as she put out the match. "Well, make your wish and blow the darn thing out."
Felina's stomach rumbled, and she realized that maybe this was just the thing she needed at the moment. Rolling her eyes, she leaned forward and blew out the candle. Before the smoke had a chance to fully dissipate, Felina jammed the cupcake into her mouth, causing half of it to disappear.
"So, the big three-oh, huh?" Callie said as she turned away, looking about the sparsely decorated living room, likely trying to withhold any disgust she might have felt.
It's my birthday. I'll eat this thing the way I want to.
"Yeah," Felina said, in-between chewing and swallowing, quickly realizing that she was going to need something to wash it down with. "You thirsty?"
Felina walked over to the cramped and poorly lit kitchen that made up the farthest corner of the apartment. She opened the refrigerator door, only to find the interior empty.
"No thanks," Callie said as she looked at several stacked cardboard boxes that occupied the area next to the couch. "Are you planning on moving?"
Felina retrieved a glass that seemed mostly clean from the sink and poured water from the tap into it. She gulped it down.
"Not exactly," Felina said. "Just looking over some old stuff."
"Feeling nostalgic?" Callie asked as she picked up a framed photo.
It was Felina's OCS graduation photo. She was in the top row, third from the left.
Never thought I'd get out of there.
"Just trying to remind myself why I'm here, I guess," Felina said as she walked back into the living room.
Callie sighed and put the framed photo back in the box.
"I'm doing what I can, Felina," Callie said. "But, with this being an election year, I have to pick my battles, too."
Seven months earlier, Deputy Mayor Callie Briggs had approached Felina asking for help. The SWAT Kats were missing, and apparently in Callie's mind, the then Lieutenant was the only one who could help. The incident had involved Felina losing an Enforcer Sabre during a deviation from a flight plan while carrying an unauthorized passenger. And not just any passenger, but the Deputy Mayor of the city, technically meaning she had endangered her life.
At least that's how it was viewed during my court martial.
Upon her return she had been NJP'd, and did 15 days in the stockade. Afterward, she was temporarily assigned to artillery duty, manning Enforcer HQ's defensive canons. It was unpleasant, to put it mildly, but what happened afterward was significantly more degrading.
The efforts of Callie Briggs to bring charges against the Puma Dyne corporation, which had indirectly been involved in the affair, had gone nowhere, due to a combination of lack of evidence and the involvement of Dr. Viper.
"We can't be held responsible for what a well-known felon and madman does at an alleged facility," one of their representatives had said.
Felina soon found out the hard way, for political reasons she hardly cared to understand, that her involvement with Callie would pose a problem for the Enforcers.
After the Deputy Mayor's failed attempt to bring charges against Puma Dyne, which was met with much public apathy, Felina had been brought before a summary court martial, administered by Lt. Commander Steele himself. Her immediate superiors were also present. The CAG, Felina's commanding officer, Captain Gorman, and Commander Feral himself attended the proceedings. Her uncle had remained silent for the duration.
In hindsight, Felina supposed she should have expected something like that to occur, but at the time it had been surprising.
Due to what she had been told was an "ongoing behavior of insubordination" and conduct not becoming of an officer, Felina's commission was revoked, and she was stripped of her First Lieutenant rank.
They could have discharged her right then and there, but Captain Gorman, who she had ongoing difficulties with, had made testimony that allowed her to finish out her current service tenure.
Felina was confident Gorman did this not out of sympathy, but to humiliate her, as she was reassigned to the policing unit. Specifically, the traffic division.
They cut my wings.
She could have quit, but doing so would have been a premature end to her commitment. It would have resulted in a less than honorable discharge at best, forever scarring her record, making employment elsewhere a difficult prospect. Any future job involving her expertise as a pilot would have been forever denied.
So, she had bit her tongue, thanked the tribunal for its leniency through clenched teeth and gone on to carry out her new duties.
Writing speeding tickets is what I do now.
Unsurprisingly, her shifts were the most undesirable, and "coincidentally" all the cars were unavailable whenever she needed them, forcing her to use a decades-old Kawasaki KZ1000P Police motorcycle that had seen better days. As it was the middle of winter, she frequently found herself exposed to the cold winds the city was reputed for.
It wasn't what Felina had spent years in training to do, a fact that crossed her mind on an almost minutely basis.
The empty bottle of Jim Beam Callie had nearly tripped over was not the first of the past few days, nor would it be the last.
"Yeah, I know you're doing your best," Felina said, her voice mostly empty.
In truth she didn't really care if the Deputy Mayor helped her or not. In Felina's mind, the damage was already done.
"Look, Felina, I know to you these are just words from a politician, but the risks you took to help me out have earned you a friend for life," Callie said. "I don't forget my friends, and once all these problems I have with the budget and Manx's re-election are taken care of, I'll be better able to sort this mess out."
Callie reached forward and placed a hand on Felina's shoulder.
"And I know this might sound a little presumptuous, but Manx isn't going to be the Mayor forever," Callie said knowingly. "Just stick with it, and try not to drink yourself under the table, okay?"
"I'll see what I can do," Felina said, her expression blank, not meeting Callie's eyes.
Callie pulled her hand back, and in a not so subtle attempt to change the subject she pointed at another item that rested beside the cardboard boxes.
"Is that real?" Callie asked as she walked over to it.
The item in question was a sheathed Mameluke sword.
"It is," Felina said.
Callie picked it up, looking it over, paying attention to the exposed ivory cross-hilt and the shiny gold highlights at the top and bottom of the scabbard.
"At Anderson's funeral several in the honor guard had these," Callie said.
"Commissioned officers are issued a sword for ceremonial purposes," Felina said as she walked over to Callie and reached for the hilt with her right hand.
In a brisk motion Felina drew the sword, pulling it free from the scabbard still in Callie's grasp, and held it sticking straight up at her side, standing at formal attention. The sword's full detail could be seen in the light of the apartment. Its slightly curved silver blade shown brightly, Felina able to see hers and Callie's reflection in it.
"Yeah, that's how they looked," Callie said. "Though, it seems a bit archaic. But, I guess that's the point, isn't it?"
"Ceremony and tradition are important," Felina said half-heartedly as she took the scabbard from Callie and re-sheathed the sword. "Though I'd imagine the only use these things get are for cutting cakes at weddings."
"That's quite a bit different from their original purpose," Callie mused. "How did these swords get adopted again? Something about an Enforcer officer receiving this type of sword from a prince as a gift of thanks for military aid to some far away country hundreds of years ago?"
"Something like that," Felina said, not interested in discussing the history of the Enforcers, as she rested the sheathed sword against the stack of boxes.
"Well, I'm glad they let you keep it," Callie said.
"Technically, they didn't," Felina said as she reached down to pick up the leather duty belt from the coffee table. "But, I'm not giving it back."
In a way, that sword is the only thing I have left to show for all those years of work. They took everything else.
"Well, your secret's safe with me," Callie said. "And, speaking of secrets…"
By the change of tone in Callie's voice, Felina knew what she was going to say next.
"Yeah, about that…" Felina began, scratching the back of her head with her free hand distractedly.
During the course of their adventure the prior summer to track down the missing SWAT Kats, they had managed to figure out the secret identities of the masked vigilantes. Much to Felina's chagrin, T-Bone turned out to be Chance Furlong, the same auto-mechanic and former Enforcer who'd approached her at Shenanigans bar nine months ago. She had mixed feelings about the revelation.
On the one hand, she felt duped. Furlong had deliberately misled her about his involvement as a SWAT Kat and what he knew about the traitorous former Enforcer Captain Ritz.
He could have saved me a lot of trouble chasing down Ritz if he'd have just told me who he was back then.
On the other hand, Felina had some level of understanding. Both Furlong and his partner Jake Clawson, who could be none other than the SWAT Kat Razor, had been in a situation like the one she was facing. Every member of the Air Division knew about the incident where Furlong and Clawson had disobeyed orders and wound up wrecking the incomplete Enforcer HQ building a decade ago. Felina recalled they were used as examples in cautionary tales or the butt of jokes when she was still a recruit at OCS.
Felina had always suspected there was more to that story than her peers told her, particularly as her uncle was involved.
"Have you talked to either of them since?" Callie asked.
"No," Felina said. "I haven't."
"I stopped by for an oil change a few months ago," Callie said. "It was so strange, knowing who they were, and them just continuing this act they put on for everyone."
"You haven't told them you figured out who they really are yet?" Felina asked.
"I don't know that I should," Callie said. "Things are already complicated enough. I'm not sure what would happen if I did."
"Well, my shift is gonna start soon," Felina said as she buckled her duty belt around her waist.
"I should be going, too," Callie said. "The new assistant can only do so much in my absence."
"I thought the Mayor's Office was too bankrupt to hire new staff," Felina said.
"It is," Callie said. "But, what we can't offer in cash we can offer in college credits for an internship."
"Sounds like slave labor," Felina replied.
"Sometimes an experience is more valuable than money," Callie said. "At least, that's what I hope she'll keep on thinking. This budget crisis has gotten out of hand, and with the protesters outside City Hall I can barely make my way into the building. It's making for some rather long hours."
"And yet you make the time to see a washed-up Enforcer on her birthday," Felina said, sounding more sorry for herself than she intended to.
"Hang in there," Callie said with a smile. "I promise things will get better."
"Well, they certainly can't get any worse," Felina said as she picked up the Glock 17 from the coffee table and slid it into her holster.