"We've lost contact with Lieutenant Feral," Sergeant Brady said gravely.
Standing nearby, Chance and Jake exchanged worried glances which Feral caught ouf of the corner of one eye. If nothing else, for all their bluster, those two, much like himself, actually did care about the lives and well-being of others.
Feral slumped against the wall with one hand. A gigantic object of unknown origin was heading towards Megakat City. His niece and two others, sent to investigate what the Geological Society had thought was simply a volcano on the verge of eruption, had disappeared. Feral squeezed his eyes shut as he entertained the possibility that Felina might be dead.
It wasn't the first time. Feral had always assumed that as reckless as Felina was, he'd become desensitized to the constant dangers that often resulted in her apparent demise. It certainly would've fit with the sort of image the hulking Commander like to project.
But when it was your brother's only daughter... you never got desensitized to that. Especially if you had sent her on the mission that might've gotten her killed. He had never told his niece this, but despite his confidence in her abilities he always worried about her whenever she went out on a mission. And dreaded what he was going to say to Cassius if something should...
"Commander," a soft voice said, interrupting Feral's contemplating of what he was going to say to his brother if something had indeed befallen Felina.
It was Callie Briggs. She gingerly touched his shoulder but her jerked away and composed himself, adjusting the lapels of his overcoat and clearing his throat.
"I'm fine," he said. "Now, what it is you want, Miss Briggs? If you don't mind, make it quick. My Enforcers and I have a job to do."
Callie scowled. Her rebuffed sympathy was leaving her in a bad mood. "I have a suggestion to make. It regards the SWAT Kats."
Feral eyed her. He already knew what it was she intended to suggest. So did District Attorney Mills, who, looking horrified, glanced at Feral to see his reaction to the impending request. Feral did not look at him. He simply stared straight ahead at Callie without blinking. After a moment, he looked over at Chance and Jake.
Why did all of this have to happen when the SWAT Kats were in custody? Any sooner, and Feral could've let the two vigilantes deal with the problem like usual, and then arrest them.
He could do it. He knew their real names and identities. And so did everyone else in Megakat City, Feral realized, thanks to his little ill-advised stunt on TV earlier. It would be relatively easy - difficult, but not impossible - to arrest the SWAT Kats (or whatever you wanted to call the two grease monkeys) later. But it would tarnish Feral's reputation as a hardass who didn't deal with criminals. Especially vigilantes.
But the lives of Felina and possibly two more of his men were on the line. To say nothing of countless others, should that object reach Megakat City. As much as he liked to boast about how his Enforcers could handle anything, deep in his heart Feral realized they couldn't do it alone. Granted, he could teach his pilots to fly the Turbokat, but that would take time. Time he didn't have.
His mind was made up. With a great, heaving sigh, and even as Callie opened her mouth to resume speaking, Feral said, "All right, Miss Briggs. You have yourself a deal."
"What?" cried Mills.
"Shut up," Feral said, whirling to him. "You'll still get your day in court with these two clowns, so just pipe down and sit tight."
That shut the District Attorney up, and Mills turned and left. Turning the two unmasked vigilantes, Feral said, "In return for speaking favorably on your behalf at your trial, I'll allow you to go free for as long as it takes to... deal with this situation."
"'Speak favorably at our trial?'" replied Chance, face twisted into an expression of barely contained rage. "What kind of offer is that?"
"It's the only one we're likely to get right now, buddy," said Jake, attempting to calm his partner. "Remember, our duty was always to protect the city. So whaddaya say, T-Bone? You ready for one last ride?"
Chance mulled things over. One last ride. One last chance to show these jokers exactly why Megakat City needed them. The maybe they'd let them go. He nodded solemnly. "All right, buddy. Let's do it. Give 'em one last taste of what they're gonna be throwin' away when they stick us in the slammer."
Jake, who wasn't confident that their performance today would grant them their freedom, had other plans. Plans somewhat along the lines of Feral's ideas about reverse-engineering the Turbokat. If they were going to go to jail, he wanted Megakat City left in the hands of Enforcers who were better-equipped than they were now. But that was for later... if they returned from this last mission alive.
Seeing that both of them were in agreement, Feral said, "Sergeant Brady will show you to the flight deck and provide you with anything you need."
"Just a second, Feral," said Jake, holding a finger up.
"Now what?" asked the Commander.
"Yeah, what is it, Jake?" asked Chance.
"We've gotta think this through."
"I know that," said Chance, "but in case you haven't noticed, time isn't something we've got a heck of a lot of."
"For once, I agree with Furlong," grumbled Feral, who felt that any delay was a waste of time.
"You do?" Frowning and looking positively shocked, Chance eyed the Commander in surprise, and the look was returned.
Shaking his head, Jake moved to step in-between them so as to make his intentions clearer. One thing he hated was people not understanding him.
Jake said, "Remember, if Dark Kat was behind the assassination attempt, then he's probably behind this UFO thing, too. And as far as we know, he thinks we're dead, so we have an element of surprise. One which will be blown bigtime if we go charging in there in the Turbokat."
"He's right," said Feral, who was finding his constant agreeing with the SWAT Kats slightly disturbing.
"But I still wanna use the Turbokat. Uh, Sort of. It all depends on how well Chance remembers flying an Enforcer jet, and whether Commander Sourpuss here-"
"Hey!" growled Feral.
"Sorry. And whether Feral can learn how to fly the Turbokat in less than a couple of hours..."
The Fear Ship flew steadily but ponrderously across the bay towards Megakat City. Aboard, the Dark Kat led the way as a procession consisting of himself, Felina Feral and eleven Creeplings entered the control room. Each Creepling held a small laser rifle on the Enforcer lieutenant, who glowered angrily, her gaze burning into Dark Kat's back. He was aware but said nothing. Dark Kat's two technicians were so engrossed in their work they only barely glanced up at the group as they entered.
"Welcome to the nerve center of the entire Fear Ship!" announced Dark Kat thunderously. "From here, I can run the entire ship, and coordinate my armies."
"Your armies?" Felina repeated scornfully. There was a hint of sarcasm in her voice. She glanced around at the gun-toting Creeplings. "Forgive me, Dark Kat, but you may have armed your Creeplings with lasers and equipped them with the finest tactical gear in the world... but they're still Creeplings. Stupid, useless Creeplings."
Dark Kat turned toward her. To her surprise, he wasn't angry that she'd just insulted his long-suffering, faithful minions. On the contrary he was grinning broadly. She felt uneasy.
"Quite right, my dear," Dark Kat said. He walked over. "My Creeplings have indeed long since outlived their usefulness, and even with the advanced weaponry I've given them, the foolish little beasts can barely even deduce how to use them."
As if to punctuate its master's point, one Creepling, giggling, fired off a shot from its weapon because it squeezed the trigger too tightly. The laser bolt whizzed past Dark Kat and struck the wall. Growling, Dark Kat came over and swung his cane, swatting the offending little monster aside. It smacked into a control panel. Felina struggled not to laugh.
Turning back to her, Dark Kat's smile returned. "It is for this reason that I am working on a new breed of creature which will replace my Creeplings."
Felina didn't like the sound of that at all. Motioning, Dark Kat left the control room and proceeded down the stone steps into the alchemical laboratory that had been transplanted from Darkhaven. Felina was made to follow, prodded along by the overeager Creeplings, oblivious to their master's plans for them. In the lab, Felina stopped midway down the steps as she beheld what Dark Kat was talking about. Dozens of large glass cylinders filled with some kind of liquid lined the walls, and one was in the center of the room.
In each floated the form of a creature similar in appearance to a Creepling, but the size of a full-grown cat! Felina gasped. Dark Kat was engineering improved versions of his ghastly little monsters.
"Behold, my new, improved Mega-Creeplings!" Dark Kat boomed. "Twice the size of a normal Creepling, with triple the strengh! And more intelligent, as well. I've seen to that. Soon my army will awaken and with the help of my Fear Ship they will overrun Megakat City!"
Felina noticed a large, arcane-looking knife sitting on one of the wooden worktables. Dark Kat's back was to her. It would be easy, she thought, to run up and stab him before he had the opportunity to turn around. She was confident she could do it without the Creeplings managing to shoot her. But that would leave the problem of the Mega-Creeplings.
Probing for further information before making her move, Felina asked, "When will these things wake up?"
"In less than an hour," Dark Kat replied without turning around. He was staring intently into the nearest of the cylinders.
Felina grabbed the knife and charged at Dark Kat. As she predicted, the Creeplings, despite firing at her, missed, hitting the walls and ceiling instead. It was miracle they didn't hit any of the cylinders. But Dark Kat saw her reflection in the glass of the cylinder he was looking into and turned and batted her away one-handed. She flew over and thudded against the wall and slid down into semi-consciousness. Walking over, Dark Kat stood over her, glowering down at her.
"Such an unfortunate lack of vision you have, Lieutenant," he tsked. "All that talent and energy wasted. What a pity."
Bending down, he picked her up by one arm and hauled her to her feet as she struggled weakly.
"And now, Lieutenant, I think it's time we had a talk," Dark Kat said. "Although I could just use my Fear Ship to destroy it, I have my sights set on Enforcer Headquarters, rather than City Hall, as my new presidential palace once I have taken Megakat City. I'd like to take it as intact as possible. And to do this I need to learn the placements of all the defenses so I can destroy them, but leave the building itself intact."
"Never!" Felina snarled and kicked at him. Her blows landed dully against his leg without seeming to do anything.
"Oh, you'll talk," Dark Kat said. "You'll talk. Once I hook you up to my... little device."
Chuckling darkly, he pointed to a large metal table fitted with restraints with helmet-like device of some sort attached to the top, where the victim's head would go once they were strapped in. He was about to resume speaking when they heard footsteps and Marlow came running in, skidding to a halt at the top of the steps.
"Dark Kat!" he cried. "It's... It's..." He couldn't seem to choke it out.
"Oh, get it out!" Dark Kat grumbled.
"The SWAT Kats!" Marlow yelped.
"What?" Dark Kat roared and, letting go of Felina, ran up the steps at him. He seized the blonde-haired technician by the front of his uniform and threw him out the door, back into the control room. There was a muffled thud.
Felina attempted to rise but Dark Kat, again, anticipated her movement, and yelled for his Creeplings to restrain her. "Bring her!" he snarled. "Let her come and see the destruction of her precious SWAT Kats!"
Seven of the horrid things swarmed over Felina and held her firmly, and she half-walked and was half-dragged up into the control room. Marlow lay on the floor, dazed, and displayed on the big viewscreen was the Turbokat. Behind it was the surprising sight of an entire squadron of Enforcer jets! Several Creeplings at control stations of their own, directed by Zeckis, were hitting buttons randomly, firing every weapon the Fear Ship had at its disposal.
As Dark Kat and Felina watched, lasers flew wildly towards the approaching jets. A few of the Enforcer aircraft were struck and blown to molten chunks, but nothing seemed to be hitting the Turbokat.
Growling, Dark Kat said, "Forget about the Enforcers! Next to the SWAT Kats they're meaningless! Concentrate everything on the Turbokat!"
He turned towards Marlow, who had just recovered and risen to his knees, cowering before his master.
"I warned you not to fail me!" he yelled.
"It's not my fault they survived! Your Creeplings were the ones who failed, not me!" protested Marlow desperately.
Dark Kat flipped the top of his cane up and aimed it at the technician. A big bolt of electrical energy shot out and enveloped Marlow, who screamed as he was burned first to a skeleton, and then his skeleton crumbled into a pile of ashes on the floor. It happened so quickly that by the time Felina and Zeckis, engrossed in the battle happening onscreen, looked over, all they saw was the crumbling pile of smoking ashes.
"Someone always must pay the penalty for failure," said Dark Kat simply.
"Holy Kats!" cried Felina.
Paying what was left of Marlow no more mind, Dark Kat closed the top of his cane and turned back to the viewscreen. Finally a lucky beam struck the Turbokat. Felina whirled around again in time to witness this and cried out in surprise, watching as the SWAT Kats' jet, trailing smoke from the wing, flew down and out of the view of the Fear Ship's camera filming the battle.
She struggled fiercely against the Creeplings holding her, and managed to shake them loose and run and tackle Dark Kat, knocking him off balance. He threw her off and she landed hard against the floor and hit her head, blacking out completely.
The rest of the aerial battle went about the way Dark Kat anticipated. Deprived of the SWAT Kats, the Enforcers were quickly made into mincemeat by the Fear Ship's weapons. One jet in particular however gave the Creepling gunners more problems than the others. Its pilot was actually very skilled and dodged almost all of the lasers. Almost. One hit it and it, like the Turbokat, went into a spinning spiral and fell away past where it could be seen on camera.
The surviving Enforcer aircraft turned and flew away back towards Megakat City. Dark Kat chuckled, but did not celebrate. It was conceivable the SWAT Kats were still alive, however, as he perused the radar screen, he saw no sign of any other aircraft apart from the fleeing Enforcers. The Turbokat had disappeared. Either it had splashed down in Megakat Bay, or...
He spoke his thoughts aloud. "Either the SWAT Kats have finally been destroyed, or this is yet another one of their tricks. But I will remain on guard for the time being. And even if they're still alive, they'll be helpless against my Mega-Creeplings once they awaken. Besides, all of Megakat City has now seen the full power of my Fear Ship and only a fool would dare oppose me now."
Turning and looking at Felina lying on the floor out cold, Dark Kat said, "Take her back into the lab."
The Creeplings scurried to obey. They dragged Felina's limp form from the control room and down the steps into the alchemical laboratory. After a moment, Dark Kat remembered Zeckis and turned to him. The remaining technician stood trembling before his master.
"Ah, I almost forgot," he said. "It seems that by process of elimination, shall we say, you are in charge now. I trust you'll remember to do your very, very best."
With that, the huge purple feline turned and exited the room, leaving the cringing Zeckis to watch, sweating, as a Creepling used a small brush and a dustpan to sweep up the ashes of his former superior.
"Been a long time since I've been in an Enforcer jet," said T-Bone.
He and Razor were in the cockpit of one of the many two-seater Enforcer jets currently headed across Megakat Bay towards the approaching vessel from Anakata Island. In retrospect, he didn't miss it much. The jet was underpowered and too small for his tastes. He'd much rather be flying the Turbokat, and he told Razor as much.
"We need the Turbokat for a distraction," said Razor.
The Turbokat currently was in the lead with Feral flying. And it showed, thought T-Bone. Feral, used to the smaller Enforcer jets, was doing all right, but he was still flying pretty slowly. He wasn't putting the jet to its full potential.
"Remember," added Razor, "Dark Kat has to think it's us in that thing."
"Right, right," said T-Bone, grumbling.
All at once they heard Feral's voice on the radio. "Approaching Dark Kat's ship. Hope this plan of yours works, SWAT Kat!"
"Relax, Feral," said Razor. "Now, I recommend we open up on that thing as soon as we're in range. Without any parlay. I doubt Dark Kat would give us the same consideration, so I say we just let 'im have it."
"Just be careful," said Feral. "Don't hit anything vital. I don't want to destroy that thing. Yet."
"Don't worry," said T-Bone. "We aren't gonna blow that thing with Lieutenant Feral aboard."
"Right," said Razor.
Their plan was simple. Put Dark Kat on his toes again by using the Turbokat to reveal they were alive again. And while he was focused on the jet he thought contained them - when in fact it contained Commander Feral and Sergeant Brady - they, in an anonymous Enforcer jet, could slip in unnoticed and board Dark Kat's ship. It had taken a lot to convince Mills to let them attempt this, but in the end he'd agreed. One last hurrah, as T-Bone had put it. They'd gotten their masks, jumpsuits and gear back and returned to the hangar under Enforcer escort and gotten the Turbokat, and been well under way in less than an hour.
As the squadron of jets approached the Fear Ship, the Turbokat, with Sergeant Brady in Razor's place, fired the first volley of missiles, which hit the hull of the mammoth craft. Razor would've liked to have fired first, and indeed his finger itched, but he knew he had to control himself. As for T-Bone, Razor was amazed his partner had pushed the stick forwards and raced ahead of the other jets to attack recklessly head on yet. T-Bone's self-control so far was amazing.
The other jets, including T-Bone and Razor's, followed suit, and soon the Fear Ship was being pelted with laser fire. The bigger craft responded with artillery batteries and laser blasts of its own. The air was soon filled with explosions, flak and chunks of flying metal. In their lone, hopefully unnoticed jet, the SWAT Kats flew over the Fear Ship, towards the back.
As they flew past the Fear Ship, Razor observed from its sheer size and the amount of unmanned gun emplacements installed that Dark Kat put a lot of time and effort into this thing. It probably had enough firepower to destroy Megakat City all by itself, much less a few Enforcer jets. Even the Turbokat. Fortunately their plan wasn't to destroy it from the outside. Just to get in. And while certainly no match for Dark Kat's weapons, the Turbokat and the Enforcers were providing just the distraction the SWAT Kats needed.
During the battle, many Enforcer jets were destroyed. Razor had hoped the Enforcers would've backed off and retreated by now. They fought on relentlessly. Especially Feral. One laser blast nicked the Turbokat's wing, sending it flying out of control, but Feral managed to regain control as the jet nosedived towards the ocean. Watching it swoop off, trailing smoke, T-Bone grumbled.
"Feral's footin' our repair bill," he said. "That never would've happened without him flyin'."
But ultimately the Enforcers' bravery did not supersede their intelligence. Once the SWAT Kats were in the clear, and after the symbol of their defiance of Dark Kat, the Turbokat, was damaged and possibly almost destroyed, Feral gave the order for a retreat.
"Back to base. We'll prepare citywide defenses in case you SWAT Kats are unsuccessful."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Feral," said T-Bone.
"Just covering all my bases," said Feral. "Megakat City comes first."
"Right," said Razor, "and don't worry. Even if we can't stop Dark Kat from inside that thing, we'll definitely get Lieutenant Feral outta there. You've got my word on that."
There was no response from Feral but a grunt. Razor supposed that was as close to a thank you as they'd get in the meantime. Suddenly their world was thrown completely out of control. A lucky hit from one of the Fear Ship's defense batteries struck the Enforcer jet's tail, sending them into a spiral. Although T-Bone struggled he couldn't pull them out of the dive they were in.
"We're goners unless we bail, buddy!" T-Bone said as he watched the ocean rushing up to meet them.
Even as they were seconds from death Razor found this ironic. If they were in the Turbokat, T-Bone would've stubbornly tried to rescue the plane. But with them in an "expendable" Enforcer craft, he was, for once, the first to suggest bailing out. Fortunately, they'd always intended to do this. The canopy flew off and they ejected in their seats. The jet continued without them and became the latest addition to Megakat Bay's undersea graveyard of wrecked planes.
The SWAT Kats began to plummet after it, but did not deploy their ejector seats' chutes. Instead, they unbuckled themselves mid-fall and activated their jetpacks which they'd been wearing for the entire ride and which had made the already cramped cockpit more uncomfortable. They immediately rocketed up through the air, and headed off after the Fear Ship, which had passed over them during their descent.
As they caught up, T-Bone said, talking loudly above the wind, "I hope this works."
"It should," said Razor, also yelling. "We're a lot smaller than any jet so I doubt we'll show up on their radar."
"Unless Dark Kat is smart enough to program his computer to pick up anything as small as a bug. Then we're screwed."
"Well, we'll know soon enough," said Razor.
As they neared the rear of the ship, they felt the hot wind coming off the massive engines propelling it through the air. Razor led the way, having gotten a good look at the top of the thing as they'd flown over it, the pair zipping over the engines and over the top back portion. Disengaging their jetpacks, they thudded onto the hard metal. While it was certainly moving at impressive speed, the Fear Ship was considerably slower than a jet, allowing both vigilantes to stand atop it, the wind biting into them and making their jumpsuits and tails flap like flags, but not knock them down or even throw them off balance.
They approached a small utility hatch Razor had seen during their flyover a minute ago. He tried to turn the wheel to open it, grunting, but it seemed stuck. He was just about to employ the use of his Glovatrix when T-Bone tapped his shoulder. Razor looked at him.
"Allow me," said T-Bone, giving a regal bow.
"Be my guest," said Razor, stepping back.
Rubbing his hands together, T-Bone grabbed the wheel and turned it to no avail, then, blinking, tried it the opposite way. It gave and in seconds he'd spun it 'round and popped the hatch.
"Guess we were turnin' it the wrong way," he observed.
"After you," said Razor.
"Brains before beauty," said T-Bone.
"Real funny," replied the shorter SWAT Kat, and he then leaped down into the open hatchway and into the great unknown, T-Bone jumping down after him...