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.
EPILOGUE – CHANCE FURLONG
"Okay, if you manage to follow the motions exactly how I wrote them out, you should have fifteen minutes," the voice of Razor came through clearly in T-Bone's helmet earpiece.
There was just a hint of annoyance in his voice, and T-Bone couldn't blame him.
He's already put up with so much already, and here I am testing his patience again.
"Copy that," T-Bone said, his eyes narrowing.
He was standing inside the Turbokat's bomb bay, hunched over in the narrow space. Razor was at the controls, leading them in a pass over what would hopefully be an unsuspecting target. He scratched at his shoulder. Though it had been over three months since he'd been shot, he still didn't feel 100% healed. He wondered if it was just his imagination at this point.
Probably just nervous.
He was about to make a high altitude jump from a speeding jet onto a small island in the middle of a large body of water. On that island was a prison, with several armed guards, a state-of-the-art surveillance systems, and a no tolerance policy for unauthorized visitors. It was Alkatraz, after all.
But, none of that was what made him nervous.
"Okay…set," Razor said.
T-Bone took one last glance at the gear he had strapped to himself.
"Ready," T-bone replied and gripped an internal hard point to steady himself.
Underneath, the doors slid open, revealing a black expanse far below. It was the middle of a moonless night, deliberately chosen for the level of darkness it provided. Wind gusted into the bay.
"In three…two…one…" Razor counted down. "Jump!"
T-Bone released his handholds and fell through the opening, feeling his stomach rise up into his chest. The wind gusts had quieted down slightly, and he could see the silhouette of the Turbokat streak away, its engines glowing behind it. It looked like a ghost in the green glow of the night vision his helmet's visor granted him.
Now he was falling downward, toward a lone target that was illuminated in the sea of black. Alkatraz Prison was somewhat of an anachronism, having been built over a century ago as a military fortress, featuring the architecture of a bygone era. Its large walls and remote location made it an ideal location to hold dangerous criminals. To T-Bone's knowledge, no one had ever escaped alive.
He forced his body to fall head-first, head down, accelerating his descent.
The island grew larger. The altimeter in the heads-up display of his helmet's visor ticked down. 5000 feet. 4000 feet. He would have to open his chute at just the right moment to avoid being seen by the numerous spotlights that were currently sweeping the interior and exterior of the prison, along with any other observers. But he couldn't wait too long, or risk becoming a smear on the ground.
2000 feet. 1000 feet.
He moved his arms to produce some drag to right his body.
The island now filled his vision as he pulled the ripcord. In an instant his harness tugged sharply on his body as his descent began to slow. He was still falling, and he yanked on the toggles. The ground rushed up at him, slightly angled, as his feet skidded into the dirt. He dropped and rolled, feeling the impact of a less-than-perfect landing.
He quickly got to his feet, tugging on the lines of his chute to bunch up the canopy as best as he could, shoving it against the seam where the ground met the wall. He'd landed where he expected to, on the east end outside the primary wall. A spotlight was sweeping toward his direction, and he pinned himself flush to the ground. It moved slowly, but passed just overhead.
He sighed, glad he'd had the foresight to use a black parachute.
He'd chosen this particular area of the island as his landing zone because it was one of the few security camera blind-spots. A narrow area next to the wall. Go too far to the left, right or toward the shore, and you'd be seen. But, if you came from above at just the right angle, you could slip in. Judging by the lack of alarms, he'd managed to do just that.
Alright, now for the hard part.
T-Bone adjusted the Glovatrix attached to his forearm and then pressed a button on his visor. The green glow of night vision was replaced with the red and blue hues of infrared. He craned his neck to find what he was looking for. Closed circuit cameras. The nearest one elevated on a mount just 20 feet away. He took aim with the Glovatrix and fired.
He heard the subdued puff of compressed air as his Glovatrix quietly fired a dart that impacted the camera like a two-pronged fork. The briefest of sparks could be seen as the item attached.
The darts were high tech prototypes developed by Razor. They carried some kind of hardware package that would loop the image the camera was displaying. T-Bone had no idea how they worked, even after Razor had explained it. All he knew was that any camera shot with a dart would not show what was in front of it.
He repeated the process, taking aim at other cameras. In moments, he had created a safe path, and he began to hastily jog across it, heading toward an access door. The door was adjacent to an office where a guard sat behind a desk, the large windows emphasizing observation making it easy to see.
Discreetly, T-Bone aimed his Glovatrix and fired his grappling hook. It attached to the wall above the office and quickly pulled him upward. In an instant, he landed quietly on his feet, standing on the roof. The movement had been fast enough that the guard had not spotted him. He crouched down, and leaned over the edge. He was right next to the door, and the guard's back was to him. He steadily flipped over, his muscles straining as he softly lowered himself. He fell noiseless into a crouch, now at the door. He had to hurry. If the guard so much as looked over his shoulder it'd all be over.
T-Bone raised his Glovatrix and deployed the lock-cracker, inserting the tip of it into the door. In moments there was just the softest click, and he bit his lip, hoping the guard hadn't heard it.
The guard didn't seem to notice, and leaned back in his seat, yawning.
T-Bone grabbed the door with both hands and opened it, side-stepping through it, and closed it behind himself. The lights of the interior were dim, allowing for shadows along the walls. He moved along them, using the enhanced vision his visor gave him to spot cameras. He disabled them one after another as he made his way deeper into the prison. He used his lock-cracker to get through several barred security doors. Every so often he had to take cover, once suspending himself on the ceiling to avoid the guards that patrolled the corridors.
It was a tedious process, and he began to feel the sweat build up on his brow. His mission clock read ten minutes, but it felt like an eternity.
And then, he was there. A large sign on the wall read CELL BLOCK DELTA. A section reserved for high risk inmates. Guards patrolled the perimeter constantly. As one in particular came around a corner, T-Bone dropped in silently behind him, crouched down low, keeping under his field of view. It was a difficult task, considering his build, but with great effort the large SWAT Kat managed to pull it off, staying just behind the guard until he arrived at one cell: D17. The entrance to the cell was a large reinforced door, with a 6 inch by 6 inch observation window and meal slot.
T-Bone flattened his back against the wall nearest the door as the guard continued on his way forward. One again, he lifted up his Glovatrix and let the lock-cracker do its work. The lock in the door clicked softly, and in one swift movement he swung the door open and let himself inside, closing it behind himself.
"You make it look easy," a familiar voice said.
T-Bone stood up from his crouch, and faced the occupant, flipping his visor up and viewing the dimly lit cell with his naked eyes.
Turmoil, wearing an orange jumpsuit, was leaning on the far wall of the cell, her arms crossed, her gaze looking out the three-inch wide slit window that overlooked the interior of the prison's courtyard. He could just barely see her in the low light.
"Well," T-Bone said, just now realizing that his pulse was racing, "it wasn't."
No, none of what he'd just done had made him nervous. It was who was in front of him now that did.
"So, T-Bone," Turmoil said as she sauntered forward, "what brings you here?"
T-Bone tensed as she approached as he started to experience a mixture of feelings he'd yet to fully sort out. His mind raced with the possibilities, and he discreetly swallowed, hoping that it wasn't too noticeable.
No, you're here to do one thing, and one thing only.
He crossed his arms, and lowered his voice, trying his best to sound intimidating.
"I came here to tell you that things between you and me," T-Bone said as he pointed a finger toward her and then himself, "are over."
He realized how absurd that statement sounded. The kind of declaration a normal person in a normal relationship might have made. It seemed so out of place now, especially considering he was making it to the woman who'd only three months earlier been minutes away from not only killing him but killing Callie, Commander Feral and the mayor.
He'd considered her name separately, because she occupied a special place in his mind. He wasn't sure what feelings he actually had toward her. Sure, there was an attraction he felt, he supposed. But it was strange. She reminded him way too much of himself, with all the stubbornness to match. She was also the reason he'd had to cross a line he'd hoped he wouldn't ever have to cross again.
Being on the Enforcer's Quick Reaction Force prior to qualifying as a pilot, he'd had his fair share of dangerous missions that involved the use of lethal force. They weren't incidents he liked to dwell on, and at the time others had been involved, so responsibility couldn't be purely pinned on any one individual. Still, he had no doubt that when he'd pulled the trigger alongside his team members in the past, his bullets had taken lives.
It was an aspect of crime fighting he'd always dreaded. One that he'd had a fairly good understanding of with Jake when they'd become vigilantes. SWAT Kats. It was a wordless understanding, shaped by their similar backgrounds. They wouldn't kill anyone. Not if they could avoid it. It was a policy that had maintained for years, and not counting any number of abnormal creatures, monsters or other artificial entities, the SWAT Kats had managed to keep a perfect record. Sure, there had been close calls. Some way too close for comfort, even. But at the end of the day, their hands were clean.
That had changed when Captain Elizaveta decided to pull that Stechkin on a defeated Felina Feral.
In truth, even after a 7.62×51mm round had gone through his shoulder, he could have still managed to escape from Turmoil after he'd been captured. But, in his condition and the situation he was placed in, he couldn't save Callie, or Feral, or the mayor, too. So, he waited, and bided his time. Hoping for an opportunity. Hoping that Felina had gotten to Jake.
What did happen was unexpected, and when he saw Felina marching down Main Street wearing her full dress blues, Mameluke sword in hand, he didn't know what to think. But, as the then former lieutenant issued her challenge, it all made sense.
Turmoil would fall for it.
T-Bone knew Turmoil's actions were all a front, masquerading as some kind of overly dramatic expression of honorable conquest. He knew the truth, though. Her ego would not allow the challenge to go unanswered.
As soon as the swords were drawn, he knew it was just a matter of time until whatever plan Jake had concocted would come into play. And, it did, though he was biting his lip near panic the entire time. He made himself feel every slash, every cut, every wound Felina was enduring, right before his eyes.
Right when it looked like it was going to be over, when Turmoil had that sword ready to thrust into her heart, he'd scrambled against his restraints, putting that escape-artistry advice Jake had given him years ago into play. He'd managed to free himself, and was about to go charging down the steps of Enforcer Headquarters when everything turned to chaos. Turmoil's Turbokats turned against her, neutralizing her forces.
And then, that damn red beret showed up again. Shot the remaining commandeered Turbokat out of the sky, effectively killing the advance, and leaving Felina exposed. They were a good 75 yards away. No way he could run the distance in time. Elizaveta had already drawn her sidearm and was taking aim.
Before he knew it, the rifle was in his hands. One of Turmoil's soldiers had lost it amid the confusion. It felt foreign in his grasp. The stock not as ergonomic as the M16A2s he'd been taught to use in BCT. But the fundamentals came back to him. Muscle memory he'd thought long lost returned in an instant.
Pull back charging handle. Fire select switched. Front sight aligned with rear sight. On target. Breathe…
The red beret filled the iron sights of the weapon. All the pain in his shoulder that had been protesting earlier was gone, his hold on the rifle perfectly steady.
Time had slowed. A last minute hesitation cropped up in his mind. Everything he'd strived for, what both he and Jake had strived for, was now at risk. He knew that if he went ahead with this, it'd be undoable.
He saw Elizaveta's thumb pull back on the hammer, switching it to single action. He knew it was the last step before an execution style shot would be taken.
If Felina dies, that's pretty undoable, too…
He pulled the trigger. Whether it was because of his injuries, the stress of the situation, or just his imagination, he didn't recall hearing the shot. All he'd seen was the tall and imposing Captain Elizaveta, the very skilled and very dangerous right hand of Turmoil, abruptly succumb to gravity and fall to the ground next to a surprised looking Felina Feral.
He hated that he'd done that. There was no team to share the action with this time. It was just him.
He hated that he'd allowed himself to get in that kind of situation. To him, it was the end result of a long series of bad decisions made ever since the woman standing in front of him had entered his life. A woman who he thought he had the potential to love.
But now, that was an impossibility. He supposed that if he were honest with himself, it had always been an impossibility.
Turmoil paused her advance, and her expression turned to that of amusement at T-Bone's statement.
"It's not so much the words, but the way you say them," Turmoil said with a smile.
T-Bone felt himself growing angry, and his hands turned to fists. He could feel his knuckles crack at the motion.
"Was it too much? Did I finally defeat the self-righteous SWAT Kat?" Turmoil asked, plainly trying to increase his ire.
"Maybe," T-Bone said through clenched teeth.
"It must be an exciting new world for you," Turmoil said. "Killing your enemies makes things so much simpler, wouldn't you agree?"
He lifted his hand and pointed a finger at her, keeping his voice down as best he could.
"It's not like that," he began.
"Though, I do regret and mourn the loss of Captain Elizaveta," Turmoil said, once again moving forward, her tone suggesting otherwise, "but, she was a soldier. She lived in a world free from regrets, without any of your precious, misguided moralities getting in the way. It's a world you've dipped your toes into. The water's fine, T-Bone. Why not jump the rest of the way in?"
She had reached him, and placed her hands on his shoulders.
Despite everything that had occurred, everything he felt, all the anger, frustrations and betrayals. Despite the fact that this woman had pointed a gun in his face, threatened to kill him, had him shot and used as a prop in an attempt to overthrow the city, threatened and nearly killed his friends, he still couldn't deny the way she made him feel. He felt warm at her presence as she leaned forward and kissed him.
He closed his eyes, and did not pull away for several minutes.
As the contact ended, he reached up and took Turmoil's hands off his shoulders, and delicately pushed them away. She frowned at the act, her earlier amusement disappearing.
"I'm not here to help you escape," T-Bone said.
"I see," Turmoil said, and took a step back.
She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath, as if preparing herself for some terrible thing.
"I'm not here to kill you, either," T-Bone said.
She opened her eyes, a look of what seemed to be disappointment on her face.
"Then why are you here?" she asked.
He crossed his arms again, trying to summon that anger he'd felt earlier, but he couldn't find it. Instead, he felt empty. And tired.
"Like I said," T-Bone repeated. "It's over between you and me."
"You delude yourself," Turmoil said. "You and I are far too perfect together."
"Maybe," T-Bone said. "But life isn't perfect, and around you, it has a habit of getting cut short."
Turmoil sighed and shook her head, the look of amusement once again on her face.
"I won't be in here forever," Turmoil said with a confidence that made him feel certain her words were true.
"I know," T-Bone said.
"And if we meet out there again, I won't be so kind," Turmoil said, her eyes narrowing.
"I know," T-Bone said. "And just so you know, I won't be, either."
Turmoil allowed T-Bone the last word as he turned away, quietly exiting the cell and locking it behind himself. He stealthily made his way carefully along the same path he had taken, avoiding the guards and taking advantage of the already disabled security cameras. The return trip was shorter, and he managed to make his way outside in seven minutes. The last door with the seated guard had been the most challenging obstacle, but he had managed to make it out undetected.
The salty breeze coming off the waters of Megakat Bay filled his nostrils, and in the dead silence of the night he could hear the waves lightly crash against the island's shores in the distance. Through the night vision filter of his visor the waves moved in and out in an eery green glow.
He walked away from the walls, keeping crouched down low, being careful to avoid the spotlights that swept back and forth. His footholds became less stable as the ground softened. He had reached the beach, and each step he took kicked up a bit of sand as he walked.
He glanced over his shoulder to see the high walls of Alkatraz a safe distance away. He sighed as he pressed a button on his Glovatrix. He knew it would send out a signal to the electronic darts, causing them to sizzle from the inside out, destroying their respective payloads. They'd turn to ash, leaving no evidence of intrusion, returning the cameras to normal. No one else would ever know he'd been there.
He pressed the transmit button on the side of his helmet as he spoke softly.
"Ready for pick up," he said.
"Roger that," Razor returned.
Around his feet he could feel the sand start to vibrate, and the area around him became awash in rapidly moving air. He looked up and saw the Turbokat swing down low, using its vertical thrusters to slow its descent into a brief hover. It would kill the jet's forward momentum just long enough for him to grab the grappling cable that was hanging out the bomb bay's open doors. The cable dragged along the sand, and he reached at it with both hands, gripping it tightly. In an instant he was yanked off the ground and pulled upwards.
Through his visor, T-Bone saw that the noise of the Turbokat's engines had attracted the attention of one of the guards along the wall, who was now shining the spotlight in the area he'd just been standing in. But it was too slow to have seen anything, as the Turbokat was now high in the sky.
The grappling cable retracted, pulling him back inside. The doors closed, cutting off the maelstrom of wind, allowing him to hear the steady rumble of the jet's engines from within. It was like a heartbeat, and from the sound of it, everything was running okay.
He reached upward and ascended, taking the sliding trapdoor that deposited him into the rear-seat of the Turbokat's cockpit. It was strange, he supposed, to be in Razor's seat.
"So?" Razor asked from the pilot's seat.
Never had so short a question deserved such a long response. There were a lot of things T-Bone wanted to say. But he knew that Razor, that Jake, already knew all of them.
Things had changed. Callie Briggs had learned their secret identities. So had Lieutenant Felina Feral. The SWAT Kats had been bested, thoroughly, and forced to rely on the help of others. One SWAT Kat in particular had even taken someone's life, and no matter now justified the circumstances, it set an uncomfortable precedent. Megakat City was on the verge of collapse, but it had been given a second chance. Its citizens, both large and small, public and private, had resisted an easy solution, and kept their souls in the process. But, as with all hard choices, the threat of consequence loomed.
Dark Kat was dead, Turmoil imprisoned, the city boosted with ill-gotten gold, and the leadership reaching some kind of understanding with the people. They were relatively good things, but how long it'd all last, T-Bone couldn't say for sure. He'd made choices he regretted, and he knew that he couldn't dwell on them. He had to keep looking forward. Keep moving ahead.
On that day he'd been kicked off the force and sent to work as a junkman he couldn't imagine things ever getting worse. He'd found that not to be true, as his life had continued in an uncertain spiral. Matters of life and death had almost become day-to-day affairs. But, that was the price of it. The price of the mask. The price of being a SWAT Kat.
And one of those prices was being paid now, as he glanced out the canopy at Alkatraz down far below, where the woman who'd had such a mysterious control over his heart was. Though, he wondered, maybe it wasn't her. Just the idea of her. That escape he'd never ever truly be able to take.
"So?" T-Bone repeated. "So, I need a drink, buddy."
"The lieutenant was offering to buy last I checked," Razor said.
The lieutenant. Felina Feral. Now there's a good drinking buddy.
He couldn't help but recall Turmoil's words in jest that evening they'd shared a meal before their assault on Dark Kat's island.
"You two would make a great couple," Turmoil had said in a mocking tone.
He entertained the notion in his mind, and decided that crazier things had happened.
"Well, let's not keep her waiting," T-Bone said as he leaned back in the seat. "And, try not to scratch the paint on the landing."
Special thanks to Kristen Sharpe for beta reading and for providing the story's summary.