A Triad Through Fire, Darkness and Death part 1 of 7
by Fur and Fantasy
NC-17 for friggen Everything
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file
T-Bone lay on the bed, naked but for his mask, trying to keep himself from throwing up. He wasn't sure how long he'd been lying there, but gathering the energy to stand just seemed to be beyond him. He didn't want to think about getting up, about leaving this hotel room, or about going back home. If he started thinking about things then he'd have to think about what had happened this evening, and then he really would throw up. The very thought of it, of the only thing inside him he had to bring up, set his stomach churning even more.
The big chocolate on gold tabby groaned and rolled out of the bed onto the floor, ignoring the ache under his tail as he moved. He stayed down on his hands and knees for a moment before struggling to his feet Slowly he made his way across the room to the fridge, grabbing one of the cans of cheap soft drink inside. The sweet liquid soothed his stomach and washed the taste of Feral out of his mouth as he gulped it down greedily.
Bile rose to the back of his throat at the thought and he coughed and spluttered around half a mouthful of cola, spraying most of it out across the carpet. Feral. No matter how much he tried to ignore it, he couldn't deny what had happened. Feral had forced himself into T-Bone's body, and the SWAT Kat had Feral's seed in his stomach and under his tail, more of it than he'd ever thought one Kat could produce. He finished the soft drink and tossed the can into the bin, staggering back across the room and through the door into the bathroom.
Chance stripped his T-Bone mask off as he stepped into the shower, throwing it next to the street clothes that lay neatly folded on the bench, and turned on a heavy stream of hot water. He stood, now completely naked, beneath the showerhead, trembling softly as he let the water run over his body. He hung his head and leaned against the frosted glass wall, unable to keep the thoughts of it at bay any longer. The urge to vomit had passed, but he wrapped his arms around his chest as he thought of himself bound and gagged on the floor in the bedroom, Feral's hands moving slowly and confidently across every inch of fur.
That hadn't been the worst thing, though. Nor had it been when he'd had to beg Feral to stop fucking him, or the way he'd gagged as he was forced to take the Kat's cock deeper and deeper into his throat. The worst thing, the most horrible thing, was that he had let it happen. Despite the struggling and the cursing and the time he'd actually managed to bite his former commander, there'd never been any real question that Feral would be getting what he wanted. After all, he had come here freely, even risking the possibility that the giant tom would tear his mask off and discover who the SWAT Kats really were.
"And what the fuck is up with that?" he asked himself, hating the thin wretched note in his voice.
His eyes fell on the small bottles of soap provided by the hotel and he unscrewed the tops of them, choosing the one with the strongest scent and rubbed it into his fur vigorously. There was absolutely no way he could go back home covered in Feral's scent. Although Jake had never come out and said anything about it, Chance knew his partner had a much better sense of smell than he did himself and could usually tell when Chance had been out rolling with some shekat. After the screaming argument they'd had this afternoon, Jake would be mad enough at him if he jumped to that conclusion, but if he somehow found out what had really happened . Chance didn't want to think about it.
His sheath pulsed hot with blood as his soap slick fingers moved between his legs. He snarled softly as he felt Feral's fingers reaching out of memory to tease him, though anger faded to a familiar sickening feeling in his stomach as his cock began to emerge from its sheath.
"No way," he growled, anger flaring again. "I am not getting off on this." He finished cleaning himself as quickly as possible, doing his best to ignore the erect flesh between his legs, and the way it twitched as he cleaned up under his tail. He dried himself quickly and thoroughly, suddenly anxious to leave this hotel and everything that had happened here behind him. His movements became more and more hurried as he dressed, jamming the T-Bone mask into the inner pocket of his jacket
He let out an exasperated growl as he was putting his second boot on, his foot uncomfortably scrunching something inside. He pulled out a small piece of paper bearing an e-mail address and the word 'Anytime' scrawled in Feral's unmistakable handwriting. Chance snarled and slid the paper into his pocket beside his mask as he hurried out of the room. He was going to throw it into one of the bins in the foyer.
"Jake!" Felina opened her apartment door as the sun set and quickly pulled the dejected-looking Kat in "You okay?"
"Physically, yah." He sniffed the air and backed towards to door "I'm sorry, I ...."
"Don't you dare ." The tall, dark shekat growled softly "Dinner can wait." She softened and pulled him close, catching a pungent nosefull of anger turned to despairing fear and tipped his chin up "What happened?"
"I'm sorry, Fel ...." He pulled away from her fingers and buried his face against her chest The tears he'd kept back for nearly three hours finally escaped his control "I'm so sorry ...."
She held him, doing her best to hold back the urge to interrogate the truth out of him, at least until he stopped sobbing She wasn't all that sure which disturbed her more; that he was crying, or that he'd encountered something that could cause him to.
Felina Feral lay in her bed; too disturbed to sleep, too concerned for the sleeping tom curled against her side to dare move, much less get up It had taken far too long to coax him to settle down to risk disturbing him.
Her mind drifted through possibilities and just as quickly discarded them.
Perhaps he'd broken the law and was afraid of how she'd take it -- but she was sure she would have heard about it already, and pretty sure he knew it wouldn't matter that much to her.
It could have been an accident His anger had turned to disturbed fear But again, she should have heard about it There was no way her 'friends' at HQ wouldn't jump at the opportunity to point out, yet again, that her choice in lovers was less than desirable.
An affair? A fling she hadn't agreed to? Surely he knew she wouldn't be that angry Not after all the squirming he did trying to tell her about him sleeping with Chance.
Or maybe it was that ... or at least something about Chance The tabby was one of the center points of Jake's life She'd heard them argue about the tabby's dating habits before Not that she could ever make much sense of the two toms' relationship, but it would hardly be the first time Chance had hurt Jake deeply, intentionally or not.
And, of course, there were always the other aspects to the toms' relationship -- being business partners, seeing each other nearly 24/7, having to work together under the shadow of the past, being the SWAT Kats and all that implied Despite extreme curiosity, she wasn't so sure she wanted to know how Jake did it How the SWAT Kats equipment came about and the pair managed to have a longer arrest list than any thirty Enforcers, despite not being law enforcement officers.
A slight shifting of the body of lean muscle next to her caught Felina's attention and she looked down to meet distressed amber eyes "Mind telling me what that was all about?"
"I'd rather not," he murmured, then took a deep breath and inched away from her "But I'm going to have to."
Felina narrowed her eyes at his resigned tone and pulled him against her, fur on fur She caressed his back, kneading hard muscles that were even more tense than usual She smiled as he relaxed fractionally, almost against his will "It can't be as bad as you think."
Jake closed his eyes and drew a deep breath before speaking, his voice nearly dead "I can't see you any more."
"What?" Felina froze completely "*Why*?"
"Felina I care for you ... too much." He bit his lip and met her wide brown eyes "I ... I'm to the point I'm not willing to keep secrets from you." He dropped his head to avoid her searching gaze "But my biggest secret isn't just mine And my ... partner ... refused to agree to me telling you."
"Your biggest secret?" Felina's brain raced, plotting at a speed that would make her Uncle proud She cocked her head and asked gently "You mean that you're Razor?"
It was Jake's turn to freeze in pure shock and scramble for answers "How ... how did you know?" He asked very quietly.
"It wasn't that hard to figure out." She kissed him tenderly "Between Chance's flying style and your gift for building things, plus the timing of when you missed a date, and a few other details."
"I get it." He relaxed with a whoosh of air and kissed her soundly "Thank you for being so smart, Fel."
"Thank me by making dinner." She chuckled, then got a wicked look in her eye and ran a hand from his hip to tickle his balls "Mmm, but first an appetizer."
"Anything you want, Fel." Jake rolled to his back as she tossed the covers back and raked a possessive gaze over him.
"I have what I want." The dark brown shekat purred deeply as she ran strong hands along his body, pushing his fur against the grain before settling both hands on his hips and brushing her cheek up his half-showing erection, thrilling in the feel of the rough bristle of the barbs against her skin.
"Fel ... please," Jake barely breathed, his eyes desperate and hungry as she looked up "Let me ...."
"Of course, lover." She purred playfully and rolled to her arms and knees, her crotch over his muzzle She shivered in anticipation as he grabbed her hips and sought the best position.
The first touch of his tongue brought a rumbling groan from her as the slick underside pushed through her labia He circled it just inside her body, bringing first the rough front of his tongue, then the silky backside against the slick muscular walls, happily drowning in her taste and the intoxicating whimpers and involuntary thrusting of her hips.
She let her head drop between his legs, nearly oblivious to everything but his tongue as he shifted his head just slightly to slide up the deep crease between swollen flesh to tease her glistening, erect clit with the lightest of touches.
"No ... more," Felina managed to groan when he rolled his tongue, rough side up, back to her throbbing opening.
A deep chuckle reverberated against her crotch and his casual obedience answered as she nearly screamed with the first rolling wave of an orgasm and thrust against his hard, sharp teeth The flicker of pain only made it better as she surrendered the last of her control to the pending storm of sensation he always brought.
She breathed deeply as the shuddering slowed, then leveled into a pleasant exhaustion She made no attempt to help or hinder him as Jake gently rolled her off him and twisted to rub his entire body against hers.
"Rest there, sweetheart." He kissed her deeply, letting her taste herself on him "I'll bring breakfast."
It was dark and silent at the Megacat City Salvage Yard when Chance returned, taking care to avoid all the detection mechanisms in place around the building. It didn't look like Jake was home, but if he was Chance wanted to be able to get in without him knowing. A quick look around once he was inside made it obvious that his partner definitely wasn't around, and Chance didn't need any clues to figure out where he'd gone or more importantly to whom he'd gone.
"No Jake," he grumbled to himself as he made his way into the hangar where the TurboKat rested, "Of course I don't mind that you're getting all lovey with Felina With a ranking Enforcer." He pulled the T-Bone mask from his inner jacket pocket and tossed it into the locker with the rest of the costume, giving it a quick sniff to make sure there was nothing of Feral still lingering about it.
"Of course I don't mind that you want to marry a woman whose uncle I hate more than anyone else in the world, whose uncle has just tied me up and tormented me for the last two and a half hours." Chance's bitter monologue continued as he headed back into the living room, flicking the light on now that he was sure he was alone. "Two Kats who would like nothing better than to see the two of us locked away for life." He shuddered at the thought of what could happen if he found himself locked in a cell and Ulysses Feral was the one holding the keys.
He reached into his jacket pocket again and pulled out a small scrap of paper, an e-mail address scrawled across it. He'd meant to get rid of it as he left the hotel, but he'd realized that it really didn't make any difference. The words written on it were firmly stamped on his mind. ENFR999@katmail.com. An anonymous account with one of the largest public e-mail providers on the net. And the word 'Anytime', as though it were some sort of invitation. Surely Feral couldn't be expecting him to actually send a message to the address. He couldn't possibly think that Chance had enjoyed it ... that he'd want to do it again. The Kat was twisted. If Chance hadn't known that before now, the events of tonight had certainly proved it for him.
"Too much thinking Chance," he murmured to himself as he stepped through into the kitchen, "But you've always known how to fix that." He opened one of the cupboards and reached a hand in, grabbing a bottle at random.
Rum. Black label, over-proof rum. Perfect.
He twisted the top off the bottle and lifted it to his lips, taking deep greedy swallows. The liquid burnt his throat as it went down, though it was a smooth silky burn that promised quick oblivion and a raging headache in the morning, rather than the rough sensation that so often proceeded a night of groggy haze and vomiting.
He sighed softly at the familiar, welcome sensation of the alcohol as its numb warmth began to spread through his body. He tossed his head back and lifted the bottle again, downing the rum almost as easily as he had the can of soft drink earlier. Let Jake do whatever the hell he wanted.
Chance walked back into the living room and threw himself down on the couch, taking another long swallow from the bottle of rum, reveling in the feeling of warmth as it spread throughout his body, the caress of a vice he'd long resisted. Jake thought Chance didn't know he was keeping spirits in the house, but Jake wasn't as smart as he sometimes thought he was. Obviously so, if he wanted to just spit out the secret of the SWAT Kats to the Enforcers. Of course Jake would probably do quite well out of it, with the way the Ferals had been so desperately trying to reproduce some of the weapons that Jake had designed. They'd be falling over themselves to get him into their R&D department, which was fine if you happened to be Jake Clawson.
The phone rang as Chance was taking another swig from the rapidly emptying bottle, and he grumbled softly as he crossed the room to pick it up.
"I don't really wanna hear it Jake," he murmured, taking one last swallow before he picked up the phone.
"What?" he asked, deciding the pleasantries were best ignored.
"Well," the voice on the other end replied, stretching the word out until it was almost a purr and sending shivers down Chance's spine. "If it isn't my new toy."
"Fuck you Feral," Chance spat back, amazed at the gall of the Kat that he'd call him here, and not even in private judging from the vague voices Chance could hear in the background.
"Oh no, I don't think so," the Enforcer chuckled "Even if you begged as sweetly as you did tonight, just like a naughty kitten caught in the act." Chance's mouth hung open slightly as he realized that the other voice he could hear coming down the telephone line was his own, the moans and pleas that Feral had wrung from him as he'd been bound and defenseless.
"You twisted asshole!" Chance snarled into the phone, only to have Feral's mocking laugh come back in the other direction.
"Oh you'll do well, very well indeed. I'm going to enjoy giving this little kitten what he deserves."
"Like hell you will! I don't know what game you're playing Feral, and you're damned lucky that I'd get nowhere reporting you, but I'm not going to be a part of it."
"Oh really now?" Feral's voice carried an amused note underneath the words. "We'll see about that; but a truly naughty kitten, a tough kitten, a street kitten, might learn to love the leash. I'll see you kneeling at my feet again." He hung up abruptly, leaving the phone buzzing in Chance's ear.
Chance slowly set the phone down, turning his eyes to the bottle. He took a quick swig and set it down on the coffee table by the couch as he passed by. He headed back into the kitchen and swung Jake's liquor cupboard open, quietly complimenting Jake's taste as he picked out bottles of his favorites, all the best quality. When he walked back into the living room he was carrying five bottles, which he put down beside the rum, and then set about emptying them into his belly, drowning thought, and memory in a warm, comforting darkness.
"What's wrong?" Lt. Feral kissed Jake softly as she readied her gear to go on shift.
"Probably nothing, Fel." He shied away from the question with a fiercely possessive kiss before backing off "Just a bad feeling."
She studied him intently, and then drew a breath "I can take the day off ...."
Jake stood stunned for a moment before shaking his head weakly "No need."
She cocked her head at him, trying to figure out the one piece of this puzzle she didn't have "Jake, when was the last time you were this upset?"
"Never," came far too easily from him before he grasped her hand and pulled her tight "A lot's happened in the last 24, I worry about you is all." He shifted to meet troubled brown eyes "I can't ask you to deny such an important part of yourself Just like you won't ask me to give up being Razor, I can't ask you to give up being an Enforcer, no matter how we worry or hurt."
"It's one of the things I love about you." She smiled tenderly "As much as it scares you, you understand I need this." She tapped her badge "I'll be careful."
Jake caressed her arm as she turned to double check her blaster "Give a call when you get off I'll have dinner ready."
"Hmm?" She cocked an eyebrow at him.
"I'd rather not deal with Chance for a while." A hint of the anger of the previous day flared up "Give him some time to think about not having me around."
"And you some time to decide if you're going to forgive him." Felina observed dryly.
"Yah That too." He looked away from her knowing gaze "I'm not so sure I can any more."
"Just because of me?" She arched an eyebrow at him and glanced at the wall clock.
"That was just the last straw." Jake shook his head quickly "There are ... a few other things."
"Jake." She caught his chin and forced him to look up at her "Just don't make a choice you'll regret because you're mad at him."
"I won't, love." He stretched up to kiss her lightly "Take care of yourself."
"I will." She smiled uneasily at him before turning to leave.
Jake waited until he was sure her car was well out of range before turning to do a little cleanup and let his mind wander to it's own conclusions as his body went on autopilot.
"Goddess, I'm glad I'd already moved most my stuff to my new apartment." Jake shivered at the cold knot in his gut as he rolled his motorcycle into the Hanger from one of the side passages and parked it on the far edge of the huge area "I'm going to miss this place, but at least I won't have to come back."
He stopped dead as the TurboKat came into view and the knot turned to pain.
"I'm sorry, Blackie." He patted the sleek jet's side "Take good care of T-Bone, he needs you more than I do right now I'll take care of you when he doesn't need you anymore Promise."
Jake turned away from the focus of most of his free time and thought for the last six years and spared a moment to find out how hard he'd have to sneak around to avoid Chance.
"What the hell?" Disbelief and disgust warred with each other and the wave of relief that washed over the lean tom as he saw his partner's state, and the obvious cause of it. He cocked his head and muttered "Well, I guess this ... might ... change things But what I came for first."
He moved with quiet grace though the building, more out of habit than any concern for waking the snoring tomkat on the battered couch With the long, heavy silver and black spiral-patterned jewelry box safely secured in the motorcycle's storage compartment he turned back, determined to not leave on a bitter note.
With the sun nearly at its zenith Jake sat on a small table near the couch and surveyed his morning's work The building was cleaner than usual, everything in its place; even the six empty liquor bottles were cleaned out and in the recycling bin Notes were laid out on how to do the tasks he'd always done, and the SWAT Kats gear was immaculate All that was left was to explain the one personal possession he intended to leave in this place.
"Well ... love ... when you're ready to come to me, I'll be here for you." He stood and shivered as he set a large silver jewelry box on the table with a note on top of it.
I'd be surprised if you have any idea how much this hurts me, and I'd be even more surprised if you cared right now.
I can smell the rage and hatred on you even now, and the sex and Feral of all Kats I don't care what happened that made you turn back to the bottles I got for you -- for the day I knew would come when you needed them more than you needed to stay away.
It wasn't always this way I still remember when you smiled most days I only turned to Felina when you turned away from me.
And I didn't tell her about our hobby, BTW I didn't have to She knew before I started seeing her Figured it out herself.
When you figure out what the thing in the box is here for, and if it means anything you want, come talk to me I doubt I'll be hard to find.
The lean cinnamon tomkat fingered the paper for a while, then picked up the box and opened it With trembling fingers he removed the thick gold engagement collar with an azure and crimson ying-yang He hesitated, then stepped up to the couch and draped the object along Chance's throat.
"I would kill to see you wear that because you wanted to, you know." Jake studied the strange image for a moment longer before returning the collar to its case and regarded his partner with a choked throat "No, you don't know I doubt you know I can kill I doubt you even begin to comprehend how much I love you Hell, I doubt you even know what you want these days."
He knelt next to the Kat that had been the center of his life for over seven years and brushed the worst of the hair from Chance's face "I hope you find what you need to get through this, because it's clearly not me, and I can't let you drag me down with you."
Then Jake stood returned to his bike, walking through the Hanger for the last time and tried not to stop at the TurboKat, the culmination of his lifetime's skill and experience And the kitten he assumed he'd never have in flesh and blood.
He chuckled to himself lightly as the bike started to roll out "Like Felina's any more likely to have a kitten with me than Chance is." Then his face fell and he looked back at his only true home "I'm sorry, but at least she wants me."
Chance gave a long, low moan and tried to roll over on the couch. It took him two tries. Once he'd been able to drink like he had last night and wake drunk enough that his hangover didn't bother him. Obviously those days were long gone. He reached up to grab a hold of the back of the couch and hauled himself up into a sitting position, rubbing at his face. Beginning to feel vaguely like himself again he cast his gaze around the room, wondering if it was worth the effort to drag himself into the kitchen. He blinked, just staring at the scene before him for a few seconds before it sunk through into his brain and he lowered his body back onto the couch.
Jake had cleaned.
That he had come and gone without bothering to let Chance know wasn't such a surprise, not with the condition he must have been in and the way that things had been between the two of them. But he'd cleaned, and he'd cleaned around Chance's drunken body. Even the bottles were gone. It was Jake's way, of course. Everything had to be clean and tidy and neat. He couldn't have left the place the way it was, looking lived in, he would have felt obligated. It was goodbye, and Chance knew that it was the big goodbye. The place looked like a show home. Chance sighed and dropped his head into his hands. He'd even left a note to explain, just in case Chance was too drunk or too thick to understand.
"It's okay Jake," he whispered softly, "I get the message. Loud and clear."
He sighed softly, rubbing at his forehead and trying to gather his thoughts. He glanced over towards the phone, wondering. Jake would be at Felina's, almost certainly, but he couldn't call there. Felina could be home, and he didn't want to talk with her, not since she'd almost certainly heard that Jake and he had argued. Jake was never very good at keeping things from her. The Ferals weren't exactly his favorite people at the moment.
He grabbed the phone and dialed the number for Jake's new apartment. He couldn't begin to guess when Jake might get any message he might leave, but he didn't suppose that it'd make any difference. The phone rang six seven eight times and Chance was just beginning to wonder if Jake had even attached an answering service when it picked up.
"Uhhhhh Jake it's me. Listen, please I I just " he trailed off as his eyes wandered around the room again. It was meticulously clean. It must have taken him almost all the morning if the whole house was like this, as Chance had no doubt it was. This wasn't something Jake had decided quickly. "Nothing. Don't worry about it. Goodbye Jake."
Chance wasn't sure what he'd expected to feel saying those words, but this wasn't it. He should be sad, to be breaking with Jake after so long, he should be beside himself, or relieved that the tense agonized circling around one another was finally over. He wasn't No more Jake. It wasn't something he'd ever thought would happen, but now it had and he was letting his friend slide away as though it hardly mattered, and as much as he wanted to he couldn't make himself care.
No more SWAT. Without Jake there couldn't be, at least not for him. Jake would be able to provide better weapons and equipment to the Enforcers and SWAT wouldn't be necessary, or maybe Jake and Felina would fly the TurboKat. No matter how it went, T-Bone wouldn't be a part of it anymore. There had been times when SWAT had been the only spark he had to warm himself around, and now he couldn't rouse himself to the effort of trying to keep it. Maybe he was still drunk, somehow.
That was a silly hope. Chance wished he was drunk, then he wouldn't have to wonder why he wasn't feeling anything. He sat silently, head in his hands, staring at the note that Jake had left sitting on top of the pretty silver box. He didn't really need to read it to know what it said. Goodbye, sorry, come see me when you've got your act together. All the things that Jake would say. Calm, sensible things. Find your own space, figure yourself out, deal with your problems.
Find your own space. And why not? There was nothing to keep him here.
Chance grabbed the phone and dialed.
"Falcon Lines, may I help you?" The shekat on the other end sounded professional and friendly.
"When is the next bus to the Freemantle area please?" Chance asked her.
"Not until Monday now, sir. It leaves at two in the afternoon."
"Could I book a ticket for that?"
"Certainly. Your name?"
"Chance Furlong," he murmured after a few moments wondering if he should call himself something else, and deciding that was too much.
"You're booked in Mr. Furlong, how will you be paying for the trip?"
"Ahhhhh, can I pay in cash when I get the ticket?"
"You can," she replied, the tone of her voice suggesting dubious things of the people who would want to do so, "But you'll need to collect it two hours before the trip, which would be noon."
"I won't forget, thank you very much."
He set the phone back down, not sure that he was doing the right thing but feeling a little better that he'd at least done something. Freemantle was a farming area, orchards and grain crops. There would always be someone looking for another pair of hands and a strong back to help out, especially with fruit picking seasons approaching. His touch keeping the machinery going might be even more appreciated. He might not be an engineering wizard like Jake, but he'd kept his share of things going long past the time they should have collapsed into a rusted heap. He was good enough.
He pulled out his wallet, setting aside money for the ticket, and looked at what he had left. More than enough to keep him happily drunk in MegaKat City over the weekend, maybe even for a couple of bottles to keep him pleasantly numb while he got set up on some farm. Hell, as long as he was leaving ....
Chance took the stairs two at a time up to his room, not questioning his impulses, just glad to have them again after his moment of blankness. He grabbed a bag and tossed clothes into it, enough for three or four days. He tossed the bag over his shoulder, glancing around the room for anything else he might want to take. It was no big surprise that there was nothing he couldn't do without, nor that he couldn't find anything down in the living room either. His eyes fell on the phone and he hesitated for a moment. He couldn't call Felina's, and he'd sound stupid leaving another message at Jake's. He grabbed up the phone and dialed, fishing his keys out of his pocket and tossing them down on the table beside Jake's box as it rang.
"Enforcers." This Kat was crisp and businesslike, and probably none too happy to be manning the phones.
"Lieutenant Felina Feral please." Chance asked, and waited while the other Kat checked his boards. For a long moment Chance worried that she might actually be in, but he released his breath when the Kat's voice returned.
"The Lieutenant is out on patrol at present, would you like to leave a message?"
"Please. Tell her that everything here's just as he left it, I haven't touched anything, and if they want anything then they should come down and get it because I won't be needing it."
"I see," the enforcer said slowly, trying but failing to conceal his irritation. "I'll just assume that all that makes some sort of sense to her then. Your name is ?"
"And would you like to leave a num "
Chance set the phone back in its cradle, cutting the Kat off. There wouldn't have been much point in leaving a contact number anyway. He had no way of knowing when the message would reach Felina, but it couldn't possibly be before the next time she radioed in to headquarters and as long as she didn't turn up in the next two minutes it really wouldn't matter.
He ran his eyes around the room one more time, checking one last time to make sure there wasn't anything he'd miss. He locked the front door on his way out, pulling his jacket close around him against the wind. It was a little colder than he'd expected, but no big problem. He walked out into the yard, his eyes running across pretty much everything. He stopped and looked at the bikes for a long moment before walking out towards the gate. If he took a bike, he wouldn't be able to drink.
Besides, it wasn't like he had anywhere to get to in a hurry.
Jake Clawson listened to his former mate's message with an aching heart and calm mind in the silence of his barely lived-in apartment With a soft sigh he dropped into a chair and flicked on his computer, then picked up the phone and dialed a sixteen-digit number by rote.
"Hi, Jake," a slightly harried but pleased female voice answered as his machine whirled to life, an ASCII 'BLACKNET' staying on the screen "Wa's up?"
"Hell and a break-up," he offered simply and typed a few keys with his left hand "Just giving you a heads-up I'll be around Cathedral pretty much full time soon, without Chance."
The silence on the other end lasted almost long enough to get him to hang up before she replied "Is this something I can help with, love?"
"Sorry, Pat Even you can't fix this mess." He closed his eyes against an errant tear "He just doesn't want me around any more As Razor or Jake."
Pakitra sighed "And when are you going to get to the part about why you aren't at the Salvage Yard changing his mind?"
"I just don't have the heart for it any more, Pat." Jake shook his head slightly and typed several more things that sent his computer searching "I want to live, be happy, more than I need to have him in my life."
"Pakitra!" he snarled, the hurt and strain clear in his tone "Can't you just be happy for me? I just ... I did what I needed to."
"Jake, Jake, I'm sorry I didn't mean it like that." She spoke quickly and softly "It's good you're doing what you need I am happy for you and Felina The timing's just bad for me and the squad, that's all." She took a breath "You're more important than any plan we had."
"I know the timing's bad," he whispered "I held out as long as I could."
"I know you did, love," Pakitra purred gently "Longer than was probably good for you." She hesitated at the small sound he made "Please, let me know if there's anything I can do."
Jake closed his eyes and shuddered "Could ... would you ... well, just have your friends keep an eye out for him, make sure he's okay? Just that he's not hurt or something."
"Of course." She managed not to sound very surprised "You didn't have to ask for that."
"Yeah, well, I guess I'm not that sure of a lot right now." He paused to glance at his computer, but didn't really see it.
"Give yourself whatever time and space you need, Jake And remember, you are loved I ..." Pakitra's voice was cut off by a loud crash and cursing in the background "Oh, hellfires!"
Jake managed to chuckle "Go take care of whatever that was, pretty I'll be fine Talk to you later."
"I'm counting on it." She breathed a grateful sigh as she hung up.
Lt. Comdr. Feral pulled off her helmet and shook her longish black hair out in the late evening air, more grateful than usual that it had been one of her rarely enjoyed quiet shifts Her pleased mood vanished as she passed the dutykat at the main desk on her way to her car and asked if there was anything for her.
"Yes, ma'am." He barely paused at her startled jerk and handed her the note "A Chance Furlong called."
"Thank you." She kept control of the cold knot of her stomach until she reached her SUV, three levels down and half a block away Then it couldn't be stopped as she read, and the contents sank in.
"Oh, guys." Felina closed her eyes and leaned back in her seat "What has gotten into you two?"
"Ja ..." Felina's voice trailed off as she opened her apartment door, full tote bag in one hand It barely looked like the same place Candles flicked as the only illumination, caressing soft lines and folds in draped, dark blue cloth that hid all hint of the room's actual shape or age The rarely used dining table was set for two, with simple white floating candles and a service set she hadn't seen before.
"Welcome home, Felina." Jake's voice was soft, but still betrayed his nervousness as he took her gym bag from loose fingers "I hope your day went well."
"Quiet, for once." She accepted his subtle urging to step inside so he could shut the door "What is all this?"
"A little something I still keep from my heritage." He rested a hand on the small of her back and looked up "I've laid out clothes for you, if you'd be so kind as to change and join me for dinner."
"Jake." She caught his other hand and turned to face the lean tom, unconsciously noting the slightly nicer than normal dress and the terrified excitement in his eyes "What is this about?"
He squirmed a little under her searching gaze before answering "I've got something important to ask you."
"Then spit it out." She straightened, then cringed internally at the hurt she saw so quickly concealed and offered what she considered a weak excuse "Chance left a message for you with the front desk for me He left everything as you left it."
"Oh." Jake closed his eyes and looked away.
"Jake, this is serious." She grabbed his shoulder "He ...."
"I know it's serious, Fel." Jake shook his head "But it's his life, and not part of mine any more."
"What happened?" She relaxed slightly into a stance she could hold comfortably for several hours.
"I just came to a decision about my life." He met her worried eyes and sighed "I still love him, but I want to be happy more I can't have him in my life like this, when he doesn't want me." Jake managed a half convincing shrug "I left him the SWAT Kats gear, and our place and what he means to me ... paid off the debit so he's free He can come look for me if he wants me I can't fight him any more."
"And this is because of that?" She shifted to sit down, pulling a chair away from the beautifully set table and motioned around the drastically changed room.
"No." Jake shook his head sharply and motioned around the room "This caused the last fight, but not the problem It's not why I left Refusing me ... when Chance decided he couldn't trust my own judgment and then ... it was the last straw."
"May I remind you that you were going to leave me until I said I already knew the big secret?" She leaned forward just inside his personal space; half angry, half bewildered.
"I ... I know." Jake looked away from her and flushed slightly, shame creeping into his scent "I've been with him longer, I usually prefer males We're the SWAT Kats How could I break that up? The city..." He shuddered and raised his face, candlelight flickering across teary eyes, more black than amber now "I could have killed him this morning He's sleeping with your uncle, but...."
"He's WHAT?" Felina was on her feet in a heartbeat.
Jake rose with her, his voice subdued and still a little angry "I smelled him on Chance, despite a good shower They had sex last night, a lot of it."
"My uncle ... and Chance?" Her disbelief shone clearly on her face "No way."
"Fel ... I don't want to get into this." Jake growled and sat back down "Chance doesn't want me, as Jake or Razor He's said it clearly enough I've accepted that It's over between Chance and me Everything between us is over."
"Felina, please." He stood and took her hands, then pulled her tightly against him in a desperate embrace "I wanted tonight to be special, not like this."
"Pat and friends are keeping an eye out for him, like they always do." He brushed her cheek with a thick thumb "He'll be okay until he gets himself together I can't let him drag me down with him this time."
"What, what is tonight about?" She kissed his thumb when it swept close to her lips.
Jake stayed silent for a long time, then turned to fetch a large black and silver spiral-patterned jewelry box "I wanted to do this with at least a little tradition, but it's fitting it didn't work out that way." He offered it to the tall female with a tight throat and whispered "I bought this about three months ago, for us, if you want it."
She forced her shocked mind into a semblance of action and nodded weakly as shaking fingers unwound the ribbon that held the box closed She stopped as it fell to the floor and met the maelstrom on Jake's face Her voice trembled as she spoke "Why do you want me like this?"
"I love you, Felina Feral," he offered hopelessly "I want a mate and family ... a home to return to and fight for Something permanent."
"Why didn't you...?"
"He said no." Jake cut her off, tears threatening again as anger rose in him "I was good enough to fuck and live with, but not to keep."
"I'm sure it wasn't like that." She set the box down and pulled Jake close, rubbing his back until he relaxed a little against her chest "Jake ... I really don't know what to say." She tipped his chin up so their eyes met "I'm not ready for marriage yet, but I'd like it to be with you when I am."
He sighed and buried his face between her breasts and hugged her tight "That's a yes, just not right now?"
"Yes, love." She relaxed slightly and picked up the box "Are you willing to not have a date set, even while we wear collars?"
"Yes." Jake shivered and purred "That is more than fair."
Nathan gunned the throttle on his new, red and black racing motorcycle, as he sped up the road toward the Salvage Yard, the place of broken machinery, which had become his home on this strange world Having been away from home for over two months he found himself anxious to get home He had been reluctant to attend the long conference, not wanting to be away so long, but Jake and Chance had convinced him that it was best for the team That memory brought to mind the image, of the chocolate on gold tabby and his smaller cinnamon partner, which he always kept near the front of his mind Though the thought warmed and calmed him, as it always did, he couldn't shake the feeling that something might be wrong He worried about having been absent for so long, worried that perhaps one of their small arguments might have gotten out of hand It was not the first time that he wished that he had had time for PsychMed training, in addition to his PhysMed and Psychometric training, but there are only so may hours in a day, and besides his empathic gifts weren't strong enough to be a PsychMed.
The beeping of a small device in his pocket drew him up from his reverie He pulled out the SecureScan to see what was up The display screen read "Full Security Active." He stopped just outside the Yard and looked around; despite the time of day there was no sign or sound of anyone around Nathan shook his head; the SWAT Kats must have been called out He punched the access code into the SecureScan pad, since, unlike the other two, he did not care to stealth around the security system just to see if he could He drove down the ramp into top level of the underground base, and nearly drove into the Turbokat's launch pit Nathan blinked in surprise; the platform should have been in the receive position, for when the jet returned A cold knot had begun to form in the pit of his stomach and he couldn't dispel it.
He drove the cycle onto the small vehicle lift, and rode down into the hanger / repair bay area As he feared, the Turbokat was sitting on the lift in pre-launch mode He parked his bike next to the cyclotrons, and walked over to check the Vehicle Inventory System; they must have need one of the other vehicles He took his black cycle helmet off, shook out his long red hair, and tied it back into the traditional Felsin Medic's braid As he walked across the quiet hanger, road dust fell from the black riding leathers, revealing the red striping along the sleeves and leggings.
As he passed a reflective surface, Nathan stopped to brush his unruly, red bangs out of his eyes To most on this world, it was his face, which caught their eyes, since he was not a Kat For a tom, he had a rather feminine face, with a layer of short red-brown fur covering it, but the body was unquestionably male, lightly muscled and a little taller than the local average In alliance terminology, feline anthronorm, based on one of the alliance races that seemed to be an average of most of the others Nathan had to think a moment before he remembered that the correct race name was 'Human' Not a terribly outstanding race in any given respect, but somehow they managed to turn their averageness into an advantage.
Nathan punched up the full inventory on the V.I.S. and asked for a list of vehicles currently out The cold knot came back, when the V.I.S. indicated that no vehicles were out Nathan's mind started spinning as he tried to make sense of what he knew so far; the Yard was silent and still, and all vehicles were in place and accounted for He decided against making a premature assessment, since it was possible, though unlikely that both his partners were asleep upstairs.
As he passed the lockers on his way upstairs, something cold and dark slammed at his psychometric senses Desperate to keep whatever it was away, he slammed up his shields as hard as he could The last time Nathan could recall encountering something so dark, was when he had encountered Dark Kat The thought scared him more than he cared to admit, and he ran out of the concealed base into the living areas of the Salvage Yard.
Nathan sat down on the couch, breathing heavily as he tried to regain his emotional footing As he practiced the centering exercises he had been taught by the PsychMeds, a sudden and frightening realization hit him The place was clean, clean as though no one lived there Jake was prone to cleaning, but this level of detail was disturbing The absence of the guys, the way all the SWAT Kat equipment was carefully put away, and now a cleaning that must have taken hours; Nathan couldn't be completely sure, but he had a growing feeling that something awful had happened recently.
Needing to find something that would demonstrate that he was jumping to errant conclusions, Nathan started wandering through the living quarters area of the garage What he saw, and felt only made his worry worse, especially since his shields should have kept the psychometric noise out Nathan discovered that Jake's meticulous cleaning, had included moving the rest of his stuff out, but yet there was something left behind. "Not left behind, abandoned." He said, leaning against one wall as if for support.
Nathan concentrated on calming himself again, but it was much harder this time Then it occurred to him, if it was a bad enough fight, Jake might have gone to Felina's Nathan relaxed a little, though Jake's growing relationship with Felina aggravated Chance, it wasn't an aggravation that couldn't be worked around Nathan smiled, relieved that he had panicked unnecessarily Nathan chuckled quietly "Wait till Chance sees the cleaning job that Jake did on the place Time to start putting things back together, but first I need to talk to Chance He's probably asleep, but no one needs to sleep this late."
As Nathan approached Chance's room, he noticed that the door was open He looked in to discover that Chance wasn't there, sleeping or otherwise Risking a quick psychometric peek, he opened a small window in his shields, and what he felt were the resonances of someone leaving a life behind.
With all the suddenness and impact of a Mach 5 shockwave, the reality of it all hit Nathan ... Jake and Chance were both gone, and neither planned on coming back The shock of the realization left Nathan reeling, both physically and mentally Breathing heavy, and feeling completely lost, he stumbled to his room He looked for something to hold onto, both physically and psychically, and came across a picture of the three of them in their SWAT Kat uniforms in front of the Turbokat Blinking to try and clear the tears that blurred his vision he picked up the picture He sat down on the bed; his whole body trembling and sweating, as he tried to regain control Nathan took one shaking finger and ran it gently across the picture trying to regain some self-control.
As he tried to come to terms with what had happened, the tremors in his hand combined with his sweat, caused the picture to slip from his fingers He tried desperately to catch it, but it crashed to the ground, the glass in the frame shattering For a moment, he stared unknowing at the shattered picture, and then he laughed, slightly hysterical "Art imitating life." The laughter quickly turned to tears, which became a torrent, as Nathan felt his life fall out from under him.
Marooned on a world so far from everything he knew, Nathan had built a new life around Jake and Chance, and in the beginning, only their friendship had kept desperate homesickness from overwhelming him When they invited him to join SWAT, the friendship had deepened into a partnership As the months passed, Nathan had come to a realization: the partnership was far stronger than some simple working relationship, the SWAT Kats had become his family on this world That thought shook Nathan from his all-consuming sorrow "What am I doing? I've fixed arguments between those two before, and while it may be more difficult this time; I'm not letting things end like this."
As Nathan pulled himself together he realized that something must have caused this collapse. There had to be some outside interference, which had no business messing with his friends Nathan realized, however, that he would have to find and neutralize the outside force, because his partners were probably in too much pain to help It was the only explanation he could think of, the only one that made sense to him He had seen the guys argue, but they'd never break up; they'd been together too long for that.
Nathan wasn't really trained as an investigator, which meant he would have to use his neglected psychometric abilities to compensate, with all the pain that that entailed Nathan looked around at the silent room feeling more alone that ever before "Everything has a price, and if pain is the cost to get my family back, I'll pay it." His grim determination all but dared the universe, or anyone else, to try and stop him.
Nathan pulled out a gold medallion from under his shirt On the one side was a silver leaf, on the reverse, a red starburst Nathan held the medallion tightly, and stared upward speaking quietly "Felsira, Mother of the Felsin people and sacred guardian of the Medic Corp, hear me please I beg your guidance in this time of trial and darkness, and aid me to heal the wounds suffered here in Keltin, Protector and Guard, spirit of warriors, grant me strength and courage in the battles to come. I am no warrior, yet I think that to undo the harm that has been done, I will need to be." He lowered his head for a time, but when he raised it there was a gleam in his bright green eyes, a gleam that said he would not give up, would not yield, and that he would put things right, no matter the cost.
Slowly, cautiously, Nathan lowered the shields that protected his psychometric senses The flood of emotional pain, confusion and loss where almost too much to bear, and not terribly informative to boot The old exercises and disciplines came back to him slowly, as he rarely needed them They allowed him to filter through the emotional storm until he could locate down the objects with the greatest emotional energy.
Having located two major focus points of the storm, the next step was to analyze each one The first object, a large silver jewelry box with a note on it, was nearby Nathan reached out his hand to touch the box, and the anguish radiating from it struck him, as an almost physical pain Bracing himself, he repeated one of the basic mantras of psychometry "Pain is an illusion My will is stronger than this illusion I will not let this illusion block my path." With his will buttressed by the mantra, the pain faded to an acceptable level.
Nathan picked up the box, and reluctantly opened his psychometric vision to look at it Images flashed across his sight at incredible speed, in the painfully chaotic way they always did With a monumental effort of will, he slowly focused on images and feelings that repeated ... Jake ... Chance ... loss ... resignation ... Felina? ... need ... future The swirling images and emotions became too much to bear, and he focused his shields to deflect them He took a couple measure deep breaths to refocus his psychic strength, before picking up the note As a trained psychometrist, he had always been scrupulous about the privacy of others, and was reluctant to read was most likely a very private letter He shook his head in resignation; the situation was spiraling out of control, and desperate measures might be required to fix things.
The letter was indeed private, and it said much, but combined with the knowledge he had gained from the scan; it told Nathan more than it probably told anyone else, even Jake The preliminary investigation was not terribly helpful He was aware of the developing relationship between Jake and Felina, and the problems the relationship was causing with Chance If Jake had been looking to hurt Chance, getting into a serious relationship with somebody by the last name of Feral, was a pretty good way to do it Nathan had met Felina, and actually liked her; much to his surprise after what he'd heard about Enforcers from Chance Based on the few encounters, Nathan felt pretty sure that Felina genuinely cared for Jake, so he doubted that she was the actual cause of the problem Besides, Nathan knew the guys might fight over one of them seeing someone else, but they'd never let that break them up.
Nathan reconsidered the letter, convinced that there was more to be learned His eye caught the line about Feral, and he almost laughed at the absurdity of it "Chance and Feral?! No way, Chance hates Feral way too much Jake, you've seriously misinterpreted something, bud." Nathan chuckled as he realized that he had started talking to himself, and then to someone who wasn't in the room Nathan wasn't much as empaths went, but he was good enough to tell that Chance's hatred for Feral was genuine.
Nathan realized there were two things to be considered: One, Jake had a phenomenally accurate sense of smell, so if he said he smelled sex and Feral, he did Two: Just because sex had happened didn't mean that it was voluntary, which would also explain the rage and hatred Jake smelled He smiled, Jake had been on the right track; but had jumped to the wrong conclusion Though this explanation fit the facts available, it didn't explain how Feral had overpowered Chance In a one-on-one encounter, Chance could certainly hold his own against the larger Enforcer, and possibly take him, if not completely surprised In any case, it certainly would be an awfully big gamble for Feral to take, just to have his way with the tabby.
Nathan was getting frustrated, there had to be some angle he was missing Feral might be many things, but stupid wasn't one of them Feral had a reputation for getting what he wanted, and less well-known reputation for not being picky about means Nathan shook his head, the obvious angle was blackmail; Feral must have discovered the identities of the SWAT Kats, and blackmailed Chance to get what he wanted Nathan knew Chance well enough to know the lengths he'd go to, to protect Jake; certain arguments aside Nathan also knew him well enough to realize that he'd hate himself after it was over; for not being strong enough to stop Feral Nathan sighed, thinking that all this would be bad enough, but Chance's pride would prevent him from telling anyone; he'd bottle it up inside and suffer alone.
Nathan began pacing and muttering, tail whipping angrily "The one time my limited psychic abilities might have been useful around here, and where was I? Off at some damn, fool conference that's where Why in Felsira's name did I let them talk me into going away for so long? They convinced me that the new medical techniques developed for field surgeons would make me more useful to the team." He kicked one wall in frustration, leaving the indentation from the toe of a leather riding boot "What team? Everything's gone to Void, and no one even bothered to tell me!"
As Nathan stormed about, he caught sight of his face in the mirror and laughed at a sudden realization "Just what we need here, more anger and rage I'm the only one close to rational about this, and if we're going to get back together, I'd better get control of myself."
Having blown off some emotional steam, Nathan realized that he had no evidence to support the blackmail line of reasoning, even though it made a great deal of sense He made two decisions: One, more investigation is required, and two, if Feral is doing that to Chance something will have to be done about it A decidedly vicious expression crossed Nathan's face, as he thought about what to do about it.
Nathan let go of that line of thought and turned his attention to the contents of the box, a gold collar Nathan had to think a moment to remember the significance, the collar was a local custom denoting a permanent bonding, similar to the medallions of joining back home As he held the collar, a rush of powerful, focused emotions washed over him, causing tears to fall from his eyes It was fairly clear to Nathan, that Jake wanted a permanent bond with Chance, and had gotten this collar to symbolize it It was also obvious that Chance had never seen it, didn't even know it existed.
Suddenly things began to make a certain amount of sense All of the psychic traces on the box, note and collar were from Jake, and Chance didn't even know Nathan sighed, as a sudden urge to put his arm around Jake struck him "No wonder Jake's having a problem; he's holding both sides of a conversation that should involve two kats He knows his side, and he's filling in Chance's based on conclusions from a very wounded psyche That gives me part of the problem, but not enough to fix it." Nathan chuckled, louder this time. "And here I am, talking to myself again."
At that point Nathan spotted Chance's keys on the table, which confirmed his earlier conclusion that Chance wasn't coming back He picked up the keys, hoping that he could get something off of them The keys carried strong emotions, but not the same tormented rush that he'd gotten from the box In fact, the primary emotion was an apathetic resignation that resonated all wrong As he thought about it he remembered that emotional overload generated very similar psychic patterns to apathy; it wasn't that Chance didn't care, but that his ability to care had become impaired.
Nathan tried various ways to get past the distraction of the overload, but felt something blocking him It was then that he remembered that alcohol; particularly strong alcohol generated a dampening field in a psychometric scan, the strength of the dampening correlated closely to the level of blood alcohol Given the level of dampening, Chance must have been drinking, and fairly seriously Nathan looked around for one of the bottles, thinking he might be able to get something off one.
For anyone else, the search would have been frustrating, but Nathan knew Jake's cleaning patterns quite well Fortunately, Jake had stuck to his routine "Thanks for being predictable, partner I'm gonna need all the breaks I can get." All the glass was sorted, as always into a box near the garage A little psychometric probing spotted the desired bottle, Nathan whistled at the label. "Black label, over-proof rum Nasty stuff, I didn't know Chance went for hard liquor Void, I didn't know there was any around here." The psychic impressions on the bottle didn't tell Nathan anything he hadn't already discovered Nathan concluded that, though the cause of Chance's turning to the alcohol was important, the alcohol itself was immaterial -- just an old, familiar coping method taken up again.
Nathan returned to the living room, very seriously frustrated; Chance's blood alcohol level had been enough to seriously mute the psychic traces he should have left Under the storm of emotions that Jake was lugging around, they were effectively invisible and Nathan needed to get impressions from Chance's side of things, because a problem like this had two sides At that point, Nathan remembered the impression that he had run into in the locker room He shuddered just thinking about it "Well, I faced the real Dark Kat once, how bad can some dark psychic imprints be?" He didn't feel nearly as confident, as he tried to sound.
The walk to the locker room seemed to take forever. As he entered the room, he was slammed again by the wave of cold, darkness, fear and anger He was able to find the center of the storm, by bracing his mental shields to deflect the worst of it; it was coming from Chance's locker Reluctantly he opened the locker, and was surprised to find the storm centered on Chance's T-bone mask.
Nathan prepared for what he was sure would be the worst of his limited psychic experience, and then he opened his shields to examine the mask Nathan gasped in surprise as the waves of psychic energy surged over, around and through him He was stunned by how badly he had underestimated the power of the impressions, and frightened During his psychic training he had heard stories of psychics who had lost themselves to psychic storms they had underestimated.
For a brief moment, Nathan considered reasserting his shields, but then he thought about Jake and Chance, and how this might be the only way to get the information he needed to get them back together He clung to the image of his partners, as a drowning man clings to a life preserver As the storm surged, he threw himself into the heart of it, ignoring the pain of the battering waves of psychic distress.
Despite the battering he was able to grab many of the missing pieces His suspicions about Feral were confirmed and worse ... for a brief, yet measurable span of time Chance's perceptions replaced Nathan's and Nathan was there when it happened And then all the rage, anger, and disgust came swirling through Chance's anger at Jake's involvement with Felina, another Feral, Chance's anger at himself for letting it happen, disgust at the thought he might have enjoyed it, and finally the despair, which led him to leave everything behind In the midst of the maelstrom, Nathan felt a new emotional current; rage, uncontrolled volcanic rage, which was feeding on the storm and growing more powerful by the moment.
Though at first confused, by the presence of an active emotion in a psychic storm, Nathan became terrified when he realized the source of the rage; himself At first he thought it impossible, a mistake made by a tired mind, since part of the Medic training was in avoiding rage, no matter the cause When he realized that it was no mistake, and that his shields were completely gone; he began to panic, seeking any possible way to break free from the storm. As he fought to break the psychic contact, he slammed his hand into the wall.
The physical pain was sufficient to shatter the link, and then he noticed that he had punched a hole in the concrete He also discovered that he was in the armory, holding a blaster, but had no idea how he got there The final shock came when he passed a reflective surface and saw himself, and yet it wasn't himself The face was fully feline, almost bestial, and the body was almost seven feet tall, heavily muscled with dark black fur, impressive claws, and yellow-green eyes instead of his emerald green Nathan was frightened by the rage he saw behind those eyes.
Nathan sank to the floor in shock as the realization of what had happened hit him Somehow, he had metamorphed to warbeast form, something he had always thought impossible As a Felsin Medic, the nature of the warbeast was completely opposed to his training and beliefs The warbeast was a powerful engine of destruction, barely held in check by the mind of the Felsin within No Medic would ever willingly take that form, and most couldn't As Nathan tried to reconcile a lifetime of belief to a moment of insane anger, he felt the metamorphosis reverse itself What could have happened frightened Nathan more than what had happened Nathan had seen warbeasts in combat, and had seen the damage they could do Nathan shuddered at the thought of that power, guided only by the rage he had been feeling.
As Nathan sat on the floor trying to calm himself, one fact crystallized suddenly in Nathan's mind: Chance was leaving Megakat City, and Jake wasn't, at least not immediately That meant his priority had to be keeping Chance from leaving, somehow Once he left, it would be far more difficult to get him to come back Given Chance's state of mind, he would probably continue drinking for some time This gave Nathan a way to find him, since a psyche in emotional overload tends to take the easiest path to whatever it is looking for Nathan figured if used that as a guide he should be able to find Chance, hopefully before the hurting tabby did anything too stupid Something else occurred to him as he got his bike from the hanger, Felina wasn't really the problem, but she might, perhaps, be part of the solution.
Once he had made sure Chance wouldn't be running away, he could then deal with Commander Feral Nathan sped out of the hanger, reactivating the security system as he left Using the map computer built into the racing bike, Nathan plotted the fastest route to what seemed like a likely section of Megakat City, given Chance's state of mind.
"Time to find the bottle you've decided to crawl into, buddy I may not have been here to prevent this mess, but by Felsira, I intend to fix it." Behind the helmet visor, Nathan's eyes shone a yellow-green as he sped toward an uncertain future.
Nathan looked over the bar There was nothing that really differentiated it from dozens of others in the city, but he had an instinctive feeling that this would be the right one "Felsira, who led us from our wandering in the Void, please guide me to my friend." He parked his cycle, and went in.
He scanned the interior of the bar, when he saw no sign of Chance he chose a seat facing the main entrance and sat down As he considered how long he should wait, the burly tan bartender came over "What can I get you?"
"Water, make it a double."
"You're joking, right." The bartender looked at him strangely.
Nathan put a single on the bar "Actually, I'm serious I'm waiting for someone."
He shrugged "Hey, no problem Who 'ya looking for? Maybe I've seen her."
Nathan smiled "Maybe, but its a him, to start with Old friend of mine." He pulled out a picture of Chance from his wallet "Seen him?"
The bartender looked the picture over "Not recently Used to come in often, but that was years ago."
"Hey, no problem."
Nathan sipped at the water, and tried to make himself inconspicuous, since he didn't really want company Unfortunately, racing leathers weren't exactly what one wore to be inconspicuous Tailored to minimize air resistance; they were also skin-tight, accenting his reasonably athletic build.
"Hey there, handsome Looking for some company?"
Nathan looked behind him to see a petite, reasonably attractive calico she-kat "No thank you, I'm waiting for someone." He said, hoping Chance would show soon He was relieved when she walked away, he just wasn't in the mood for dealing with most kats; he had too much on his mind.
Out of the corner of one eye Nathan noticed a splash of red, which turned out to be the leather outfit worn by a Brown Hyena fem Nathan thought she looked familiar, but couldn't place from where After a few minutes thought he remembered that she was a recruiter with Cathedral He noticed that she was talking to a black and white tomkat in his mid-20's "I hope he's pilot looking for work 'cause that just might keep her from moving in on Chance when he gets here I don't feel like trying to compete with a professional to talk to him." He jumped as the bartender tapped on his shoulder to point out the chocolate on gold tabby entering the bar carrying nothing but a small tote bag.
As Chance ordered a drink, Nathan considered his approach carefully Given all that had happened, the tabby was probably going to be a bit skittish, or at least standoffish He sighed, frustrated He hated having to plan how to talk to a close friend; it just seemed so phony Yet, it was necessary; there was too much at stake. "No time like the present, I suppose."
Chance didn't seem to notice as Nathan walked over, and sat down next to him "Hello, Chance."
The tabby paused for moment before recognition hit He stared at his drink; not wanting to see the questions he expected in the medic's eyes "Hi, Nathan."
Nathan didn't consider getting that terse a response a good sign He decided that a combination of sincerity and humor might help "Okay, Chance. I apologize."
Chance looked at him "Huh? What are you apologizing for?"
Nathan shrugged "Not sure, but I must've done something, given the cold reception I'm getting."
"Sorry, Nathan It's nothing you did Things happened." He sipped at his drink, not wanting to get into the whole mess with the overly perceptive medic.
"I can see that buddy." Nathan tapped a toe, against the tote bag "And I can see you don't want to talk about it, either But we we're friends, more than friends really, and I think we need to talk."
Chance shook his head, and turned away "Nathan, there's nothing to talk about."
"Chance, I think we're talking at angles here I realize that you don't want to talk about whatever happened between you and Jake, but what I was talking about was you and me My friendship with you isn't dependent on Jake's presence; at least I never thought it was."
"Didn't Jake tell you everything?" The tabby dodged the question again.
"Chance, I haven't spoken to Jake since I got back."
"I figured you would've gone to see him first."
Nathan sighed as he realized part of the problem; Chance assumed that he was taking Jake's side in this argument That was a misperception that had happened before, and which he had thought had been dealt with "Look, Chance I just got back after more than two months away from the two most important kats in my life, and I figured we'd hang out together; just the three of us, like always When I found everyone gone, I got worried I could only look for one of you at a time, and I could guess where Jake was If the three of us can't be together, then I was hoping I could find one of you, so we could talk But, thing is, I didn't feel like dealing with anyone named Feral today, so that made my decision, at least assuming I'm not totally off-base." Nathan sipped at his water, fatigued; this was harder than he had expected.
"So, Jake wasn't available, and I was the next best thing?" Chance sounded more than a little hurt.
Nathan turned to face Chance, and found the tabby looking at him "No, I didn't have a decision to make because Jake's with Felina As for next best, I hadn't decided which of you I wanted to find more; I just wanted to find one of you."
"But, if you could've chosen..."
Nathan was slightly annoyed; he thought they'd gotten beyond this game months before he left for the conference "Chance Furlong, I am not going to going play these hypothetical games now, anymore than I would before You and Jake are both my friends, and I don't have a ranking system."
Then Nathan noticed the tabby's expression, realized that he was scolding, and regretted it immediately He stared down at the bar, a weary expression on his face "Chance, please don't try to force me to pick one of you; I can't, and I won't I've been gone for almost three months, and I've missed you, more than you could possibly know Despite this sullen, untalkative mood of yours; I want you to know," He stood up, put his arms around Chance from behind, hugged him, and then sat back down "that I'm really glad to see you."
Chance hadn't figured on seeing Nathan before he left Megakat City He'd figured that Jake would've filled him in on things, and that would be that, since the two of them were really close With everything Nathan had said, and then the hug, Chance wasn't so sure he knew what to think That seemed about right, but he had a feeling Nathan wasn't going to just let things be; that wasn't his style.
Nathan watched Chance's face closely, looking for some sign that he'd gotten through So far he had been able to confirm his earlier assessment of emotional overload: Chance was barely reacting to anything, and his terse communications were forcing Nathan to say more than he wanted to The more he said, the bigger the risk of saying something wrong.
"Nathan, I'm sorry ... I didn't think ..." Chance floundered for words, not completely sure what he was trying to say He'd been so wrapped up with his arguments with Jake that he'd forgotten that there were three SWAT Kats now, instead of two They'd been two for so long; old habits were hard to break.
Nathan had never seen Chance so lost; but he had a good idea how much pain the tabby was in, so he wasn't completely surprised He put his hand on Chance's shoulder "Chance, buddy I can see you've made up your mind to leave, and I can't stop you; but before you do, I really think we need to talk, someplace quieter than a bar."
Chance nodded, Nathan was a good friend, and beside Chance didn't really have anywhere to go, literally. "I suppose, but where? I can't go back to the Yard."
Nathan let that one pass, deciding he'd deal with it later "I've got a small place not far from here, will that do?"
Chance looked surprised "I didn't know you had a place When did that happen?"
"Three or four months after I arrived I needed someplace quiet, because of my abilities I needed to be able to relax, and the Yard was always too noisy."
"I guess that'll be okay How far is it?"
"Near, as things are measured around here, but it's not important, I got transportation." Nathan thought a moment, then his face lit up "Hey! That's right, you haven't seen my new bike yet Come on!"
"New bike? This I gotta see." He wasn't sure why it mattered, but he thought it did, so he finished his drink, grabbed his bag, and followed Nathan out.
When Chance caught up with Nathan, the excited medic was standing next to a sleek black racer with red stripes; with an expression Chance usually associated with parents with new kits "Nice bike, Nathan When did you get it?"
Nathan's grin widened; he'd hoped the bike would get a reaction out of the pilot He threw on his helmet, and tossed the spare to Chance "Picked it up between conference sessions Coming?"
"You're driving?" Chance was incredulous.
"Hey! I know how, been driving these for a whole year."
Chance looked at him suspiciously, put on the helmet, and got on behind him He wasn't sure why but despite his usual reluctance to be a passenger, somehow letting Nathan drive made sense As the cycle took off, Chance was forced to hold onto Nathan tightly, since he was driving too fast, and doing things even Chance would have thought twice about "Hey! Where'd you learn to drive?"
"From you, of course." Nathan's tone was completely unrepentant, and clearly was enjoying himself He knew he was pushing the limits of his driving ability, but he was hoping that the combination of excitement and speed might draw Chance out some; preferably before he got them killed or the Enforcers spotted the misbehaving motorcycle Fortunately, he reached the parking garage attached to the apartment building he lived in, before anything unfortunate happened.
"Nice building." Chance commented as they walked through the halls, of the reasonably upscale complex He was a little amazed; he hadn't thought that Nathan had the resources for a place like this.
"Yeah, a co-worker at the hospital recommended it." Nathan said as he unlocked the door, and gestured Chance in.
"Nice place, Nathan The hospital must pay pretty good, buddy."
"It's good for part-time work, but they do pay premium for combat medics with surgical experience It'll be even better, once I get my M.D." Nathan said, leaving out just how frustrated he was with having to get a local certification "Just drop the bag anywhere, Chance." He headed toward the kitchen. "Care for a milk, bud?"
"Sure." He said, knowing Nathan wouldn't have anything stronger He dropped his tote near the door, and sat down on the couch Looking around, Chance decided that Nathan would have no problem making it outside of SWAT; like Jake he seemed to be in demand.
"Here 'ya go, cheers." Nathan said, as he handed Chance the can "Sorry I don't have anything stronger, but alcohol plays havoc with my psychic abilities."
"No problem, Nathan."
Nathan sat down in a chair opposite Chance There was a moment of awkward silence, as they sat there drinking Nathan got up, and looked out the window He had to say something, but he was afraid of saying the wrong thing; almost as much as he feared saying nothing.
After a moment, Chance got up, and walked over next to him "Something the matter, Nathan?"
Nathan turned and looked at him; the pain in his eyes obvious "Of course something's wrong, Chance; SWAT's breaking up and you're leaving."
"Jake will probably keep SWAT going, you know I was never that important to it."
Nathan looked at him, realizing that was part of the problem; Chance had concluded that Jake could keep SWAT going, with or without him "Chance, Jake has no more intention of returning to the Yard than you do." He said matter-of-factly.
"I thought you hadn't talked to him since you got back."
"I haven't, but there are other ways to find things out." Nathan reached up and tapped his head.
"Oh, I forgot The base told you, huh?"
"Yeah, something like that."
Nathan watched Chance for a moment as the tabby stared out the window He knew if he didn't say something, Chance would stick to his plan to leave "Chance, I understand that because of whatever happened while I was away; you feel you can't go back to the Yard, and that things aren't good between you and Jake right now I've been through enough pain myself to understand that sometimes all you want to do is get away from the pain; especially when it's fresh But I also know that in time the pain dulls, and then you need someone to talk to, and it helps to have someone you don't have to explain everything to What I'm trying to say is: please don't leave, Chance In time, I think you'll want someone to talk to, and besides ... I'll miss you, a lot."
Chance looked at the red-haired medic, not sure what to say, or do He'd lost Jake without being able to do anything about it, and he'd thought he'd lost Nathan at the same time; but now Nathan was trying to hold on to him, and he wasn't sure what to make of it Part of him still wanted to get away from everything, but now there was some part that wanted to stay He sat down, head in his hands "I don't know, Nathan I just don't know I can't go back, and I don't have the resources you guys do."
"Chance, why don't you stay here with me? I've got the space, and the company would be welcome."
"You sure? I thought you got this place to get away from everyone."
"Chance, having the quiet space was a luxury, one I've done without on many occasions But your friendship is something I don't want to lose, and I'm afraid that if you leave; I'll never see you again I don't think I could deal with that." Nathan said, trying desperately to try to keep all the anguish he felt from bursting out; knowing it wouldn't help.
"You'd still have Jake." Chance said, half-heartedly His resolve to leave was fading before the bluntly honest statement that Nathan was making.
"That doesn't change the fact that I don't want to lose you Chance, I can see that you think Jake means more to me than you do, but it isn't that simple While it is true that I've known Jake longer, that doesn't mean that your friendship means less to me I can't make you stay, but will you think about it? I don't think any of the bus runs leave until Monday, anyway."
Chance nodded, he'd forgotten that he'd need somewhere to stay until Monday "I'll think about it." He shook his head. "Kats, I've got one killer headache."
"Not surprising considering what you've been putting into your system in the last twenty-four hours."
"Got anything for a headache around here?"
Nathan smiled "Several things, actually But I really don't think you need to be adding any more chemicals to your system Fortunately, I happen to know a non-chemical method for relieving headaches." He stood up, and stretched his arms toward the ceiling "Remember the time you had that really bad landing in the reflex room?"
Chance winced He remembered; he'd pulled the muscles in his left leg badly, and the pain had been so intense, he'd been inventing new curses on the spot He also remembered that Medic had made the pain go away, using what he called therapeutic massage He looked dubiously at Nathan "That'll work on a headache?"
"Usually does, especially when there's stress and tension involved, which I'm pretty sure there is You'll need to lie down though, since headaches work on the muscles in the back of the neck, down into the back itself Better make it somewhere comfortable; since the odds are good that you'll fall asleep You look pretty beat, bud."
Chance looked suspicious "So this is an excuse for you to get me into bed, and get my clothes off, huh?"
Nathan chuckled, passing the suspicion off as humor "Ouch, I thought I was being clever and you saw right through me I was hoping you wouldn't figure it out till I had you in bed But seriously Chance, if that was really what I was after, I'd simply ask Besides, therapeutic massage is part of my medical training, and I never use my medical training for anything but healing; my oath to Felsira forbids it."
Chance head throbbed as he tried to deal with two conflicting thoughts: On the one hand, he was afraid to leave himself at all vulnerable, and the massage would have him lying flat on his stomach The last time he'd been in that position with another tom in the room ... Chance didn't want to think about that now On the other hand, he wanted the headache to go away and he knew that if Nathan said it would work, it would He dimly realized that he'd lumped Nathan, who'd put his life on the line for him before, with Feral Chance wasn't sure about a lot of things, but Nathan didn't deserve that More importantly, Nathan was trying to hold their friendship together, when Chance couldn't even figure out why.
Nathan sat on the couch watching Chance, when it hit him what the problem was: Chance's encounter with Feral Nathan realized that the massage he had suggested contained an element of vulnerability that probably hit close to home for the tabby He'd failed to even think of it; not surprising considering that it was inconceivable for a Felsin Medic to take advantage of someone they were healing.
He was more than a little relieved when he noticed that Chance had taken his shirt off Apparently the tabby pilot was still able to trust him Nathan hoped it also meant that he was seriously considering his offer to stay.
"Where do you need me to lie down?" Chance asked, anxious to get rid of the headache.
Nathan thought about it a moment "I don't have many appropriate surfaces, the guest bed will have to do This way." He took his riding jacket off, and hung it up before heading back to the bedroom.
Chance quashed a nagging doubt and followed The bedroom, like the main area, was sparsely appointed Though one featured made Chance curious "Two beds? You must have a lot of guests."
Nathan smiled. "No not really It was just in case."
Chance lay down on the smaller bed, face down He tried to squash the nervousness that kept coming back; he told himself that he didn't have anything to worry about; Nathan would never hurt him.
"Chance, just relax; if you tense up, it defeats the whole purpose of the massage." Nathan's calm, reassuring voice came from above him.
Nathan worked gently, kneading the sore muscles and applying light pressure as necessary to release built-up stress and tension Fortunately, massage had been part of his freshman internship in physical therapy, and he was considered quite talented His suspicion about the muscles was correct Chance had more knots than a rope in Maritime museum; no wonder he had a headache Nathan knew he'd finally gotten rid of Chance's headache when he heard the tabby purring He smiled, remembering how surprised he'd been the first time he'd heard Jake purr; despite their feline heritage, Felsin didn't purr.
"Can I take that to mean the headache is gone?"
"Oh yeah And here I was just looking for pain reliever Thanks." Chance replied, tired and sort of sleepy.
"My pleasure, Chance."
"Nathan, even if I was gonna stay, I'd just be a burden to you." Chance had figured out what he'd do out in the countryside, but around Megakat City; he wasn't so sure.
Nathan sat down on the edge of the bed, and put his hand on Chance's shoulder The tabby tensed a little, reflexively and then relaxed "Chance, when I first arrived in this world of yours; you and Jake looked after me until I got on my feet I'd be more than glad to return the favor Besides, you're not a burden; just a friend who's going through some tough times Friends help each other out, right?"
"Yeah, I'm just not used to letting others support me I've always carried my own weight."
Nathan smiled He'd been saying things like that to himself, back when he first went looking for someone to build the E-frame for him He understood the need to be an equal player, not a dependant Then he realized he might have a solution "Chance, you ever consider working as a test pilot? I've got a few connections who might be able to help, if you're interested."
Chance thought about it If it had wings, he could fly it; and while not as exciting as being T-bone, it would get him in the air "Hey, I can fly anything, but you know somebody who'll hire a pilot who got canned for recklessness, and hasn't officially flown in years?"
Nathan considered for a moment "Maybe I'll have to talk to a few people." He looked at the clock "But that'll have to wait till tomorrow, nobody would be available at this hour, I expect."
He stood up, turned around and discovered that Chance had fallen asleep Not surprising given the amount of fatigue Nathan had felt while working out the headache Nathan just hoped he'd be able to reach somebody at Cathedral on the weekend that handled recruitment of pilots He remembered seeing somewhere that Cathedral was always looking for good test pilots, and Chance was best pilot Nathan had ever known.
Nathan decided to see what contact info he had for Cathedral He thought it would be better to talk to somebody first; as opposed to just going up there in the morning, and seeing who was around; that wasn't very efficient and besides, he wasn't sure he was quite ready to leave Chance alone that long, yet.
Chance stirred briefly. "Nathan?" His voice was groggy and distant.
"Thanks for not letting go."
"That's what friends are for, bud."
He figured he should be able to find somebody with enough authority who'd be willing to help keep a talented pilot After all good pilots weren't easy to come by.
Worn out, physically and emotionally, Nathan undressed and climbed into bed Able to hear Chance's even breathing on the other side of the room, Nathan relaxed; things might not be getting better, but at least he'd stopped them from getting any worse Tomorrow, he'd go about giving Chance a reason to stay, other than the fact that Nathan had asked him to.
Nathan offered silent thanks to Caito, the trickster spirit and master of random happenings, for there being a twelve hour Scaredy Cat marathon on He didn't care one or the other about the show, but Chance enjoyed it, which gave him something to do while Nathan took care of things Nathan considered the laughter coming from the living room a good sign, since he took it to mean that Chance's emotional state had improved; at least a little.
He flipped through his contact directory, finally finding the one he was looking for: Cathedral Recruiting Nathan hadn't been sure where to start, but then he remembered the female recruiter from the night before He scanned the card for the number, and then dialed it.
The phone rang a few times, and then a polite, female voice answered "Cathedral recruiting May I help you?"
"I hope so I was talking to one of your recruiters last night, a Brown Hyena fem, and I was interested in continuing the conversation Any way you can put me in touch with her? Unfortunately, I didn't catch her name."
"A Brown Hyena? That must have been Brandy Ressa I can give you her beeper number."
"That'd be great Thanks."
Nathan copied down the number, thanked the receptionist again and hung up the phone He had expected it to be more difficult to pin down one recruiter, but then again maybe there weren't that many Brown Hyenas in recruiting He punched the beeper number into the phone, and waited for the call back.
A few minutes later the phone rang, and Nathan picked it up. "Good Morning, Nathan Solgardin speaking."
"Good morning My name is Brandy Ressa, I'm a recruiter with Cathedral Did somebody at this number call my beeper?"
"Yes, I did Thank you for returning the call so promptly Assuming that Cathedral is still looking for test pilots, I have one you might want to talk to."
"A pilot who's looking for work is someone I'll always want to talk to Where and when?"
"I'm willing to offer my place, if that's acceptable When would be good for you?"
"How about an hour from now?"
"Excellent, 9:30 at your place."
Nathan was pleased as he hung up, since things were going much easier, and faster, than expected He went back out into the livingroom Between the TV and Chance's loud laughter Nathan had to shout to get the tabby's attention.
"Yeah, Nathan?" His attention was still on the TV.
"You might want to get cleaned up There's a recruiter coming over."
Chance hit the mute on the remote. "A recruiter? On a Saturday?"
"Yeah, I was kind of surprised myself But the moment I said the words 'test pilot' she was on her way over."
Chance grinned "They're that desperate?"
"Nah, Just that big They never have enough test pilots for everything they have going."
"Nathan, does this company have a name?"
"Oops, I did forget that detail, didn't I? They're called Cathedral, you may have heard of them."
"One of PumaDyne's research and development centers, right?"
"Nothing so simple, but that's close enough."
"So what's your connection to them?"
Nathan had to think about it; he wasn't really ready to reveal the E-frame project, yet "I've worked with them part-time on some projects."
"So that's where you kept disappearing to?"
"Well, that and the hospital Just trying to keep my skills from getting rusty."
"Oh, that makes sense." Chance understood not wanting to get rusty It had been one of his big concerns when he and Jake had gotten busted down to the Salvage Yard.
"Well, you probably should get dressed Though I dare say you would make an impression on the recruiter as is." Nathan grinned Chance was lounging about without a shirt on, not having changed from the night before.
"Okay, okay What's this recruiter's name?" Chance asked as he got up and went into the bedroom to change.
"Her name is Brandy, and in case you're interested she's an Brown Hyena."
"You've seen her? Is she good looking?" Chance asked, half-interested.
"Yes, I've seen her And I guess so Not really my strong point, you know."
"Sorry, I forgot." Chance had forgotten that Nathan wasn't really interested in females, regardless of species.
Nathan busied himself cleaning up, while Chance finished up getting ready There wasn't really any mess, since Nathan had been gone for almost three months, but he felt a need to straighten up anyway Nathan was still puttering about when the doorbell rang Nathan opened the door to see the recruiter from the night before, only she was dressed more professionally.
"Nathan Solgardin?" She asked tentatively with a professionally warm smile for the vaguely familiar reddish Kat.
"Yes You must be Brandy Please come in."
"Thank you Now where's this pilot you thought I should meet?"
Nathan closed the door and led the way into the living room where Chance was watching the Scaredy Cat marathon Nathan cleared his throat, and the tabby turned to look He turned the television off and stood up.
"Brandy, this is Chance Furlong, the pilot I told you about Chance, this is Brandy, a recruiter with Cathedral."
"Nice to meet you, Brandy." Chance said He made an effort to sound more enthusiastic than he really was.
"My pleasure, Chance Nathan told me you're interested in working for Cathedral as a test pilot, is that still true?" She asked bluntly, already willing to bet her career that Chance was a pilot, and a damn good one.
"I'm interested in flying, and Nathan says you need pilots." At this point he didn't care much who for, he just wanted to keep flying Besides, if Nathan was willing to work for them they had to be halfway decent.
"True enough We can't get enough good pilots Would you be willing to do a test flight, to give us an idea how good you really are?" She made the pitch to deliberately sound like the challenge it was.
"Sure." Chance shifted uncertainly It'd been a long time since anyone had actually judged his flying The thought was a little unnerving, even though he had no doubts on his skill.
"Do you have a preference as far as aircraft?" Brandy arched an eyebrow.
"Lady, I can fly anything with wings." He met her gaze proudly "Give me any aircraft, and I'll show you what it's really capable of."
Nathan smiled as he heard what sounded like the real Chance, bravado and all, and gave the recruiter points for finding the one area Chance didn't have any doubts about: his skill as a pilot.
Brandy smiled broadly "I think that can be arranged Any time preferences? Please realize that the testing process will take two to three days, though we will provide room and board for it."
"Would starting tomorrow morning be asking too much?" Chance actually sounded a little hopeful "Anytime would work though I'm kind of at loose ends at the moment."
"Tomorrow's great." She patted Chance's shoulder "If you wouldn't mind filling out some paperwork, I can get everything set up for 9 am tomorrow."
"Umm, sure." He hesitated a moment before following her to the dining room table, where she set a fairly simple-looking one page form down.
"You wouldn't happen to have a photo ID, would you?" She sat down across from the tabby as Nathan hovered in the background.
"Of course." Chance actually looked a little surprised "I still have a small aircraft pilot's license too."
"Even better If I could see them while you fill out the form." She smiled in real delight as he handed them over and bent over the piece of paper with the pen she'd set next to it.
"This is all you want to know?" Chance looked up as she put the first of his IDs in a wallet-sized box and closed it, only to take it back out a moment later, to be replaced by his pilot's license.
"You're welcome to add more if you think it's of value for us to know, but Cathedral stands behind its policy that ability and potential are more important than the past Though it'll make things go smoother if you actually mention any violent felonies or spy/ espionage type crimes you've done."
"Well, nothing there." Chance sort of chuckled "Just canned for recklessness."
"By Feral?" Brandy arched a thick eyebrow at him "Trust me, that's hardly considered a detriment where you're going."
"Not a fan of the Commander?" Chance grinned at her, almost playfully.
"Well, I like him, but only because he makes my job so much easier." She chuckled lightly "He's put more good pilots on the street, and on my resume, than anything else."
"I suppose so." He handed the paper and pen to her and accepted his IDs back.
Brandy quickly glanced over his application before sliding it into her small briefcase and extended her hand to him "It's been a pleasure meeting you, Chance I'll be here to pick you up at 9 am tomorrow morning."
"Umm, what should I wear, bring ... what are you testing?" Chance asked hesitantly as he let her hand go, suddenly very nervous about this idea.
"Three days worth of clothes and other needs." She gently smiled at him and sat back down "Please, sit down I'll talk you though what will happen tomorrow, and when you are accepted."
"You sound oftly sure I'll get hired." The tabby's ears flicked down in suspicious doubt.
"Chance, just like you, I'm one of the best at what I do." She settled her jaw on interlaced fingers with her elbows on the table and stared him down with a sensual smile "The difference is in what we do; what we understand on that bare, instinctive level What you can just know by looking and aircraft, feeling how she responds, I know by looking at people, talking to them I know you're a top notch pilot, and I know because it's as integral part of what you are as a bird's aerodynamics are a part of it."
"How ..." The tabby leaned back, ears stiff in shock, mouth open and jaw loose.
"To someone like me, the fact that you're a good pilot is as obvious as that you're a Kat Just like I'm sure you know most of what an aircraft can do before you ever see specs or lay a hand on her." She relaxed the little bit of tension she had as Chance blinked at her and nodded "I'm sure Nathan here can tell you some wild stories about times he was over his head by training, but just knew what to do to save a life."
"Too many times." Nathan interjected from where he was leaning again the doorframe "And I've see you do it, Chance." He regarded the Brown Hyena with new respect, and determined to talk to her, in private, about what else she knew about him from just looking.
"I'm a Cathedral Recruiter, Chance." Brandy smiled at him with all the honestly and assurance she could muster "Ms Dyne trusts my assessments, it's why she hired me My word carries a lot of weight, especially when you prove my assessment true tomorrow."
"You're really that sure of me?" He looked at her with a mixture of disbelief and grateful awe.
"Yes, Chance." She nodded slightly and touched his hand "I'm staking my reputation on it; on your performance tomorrow."
"No pressure now, is there?" He managed to half-joke as his gut clenched.
"There shouldn't be." Brenda smiled brilliantly at him and settled back in her chair "You are that good."
Chance settled back as well, and swallowed "Okay, so what happens tomorrow?"
"I'll pick you up and take you to our Ameliorate base For security reasons, you won't be allowed into Cathedral itself until you're an actual employee."
"I understand." He nodded for her to continue.
"There's a basic physical, then a rather rough flight sim in your choice of aircraft That's it for day one, though trust me, it's plenty." She offered and encouraging smile when he fidgeted "I'll show you to your quarters for the night, and how to run the oddities there.
"Monday will be the actual flight tests, two of them The first is a day run with me, the second is at night with either Pakitra, Patrik or Sandy, depending on who's available." She counted the various items off on her fingers, pausing when she noticed an uncertain, concentrating look cross Chance's face "Something you want to know?"
"Sandy ... she wouldn't be Sandy Quin, would she?" Chance's voice was low, almost hesitant as he asked under the scrutiny of both of the room's occupants.
Bandy shook her head apologetically "Her name's Sandy Rilkell, goes by the call of SlipStream She's a fine pilot, one of our best You'll get a fair assessment, Chance."
"Oh Okay." Chance relaxed a little, even half smiled "After that?"
"Day three is orientation." Brandy grinned.
"Urr, okay." The burley tabby murmured.
"Yes?" She arched her eyebrow at him again.
"How can you get backgrounds and everything done so fast?"
Brandy chuckled in true amusement and shook her head "I honestly don't have a clue But they've never had a problem with three days before Admin is one department it pays to not piss off."
"They never are." Chance shook his head and stood, offering her his hand "I'll see you at 9?"
"Definitely." She shook his hand before turning to leave As she passed Nathan, she whispered. "If he's half as good as I think, I'll owe you one."
Nathan shook his head, and whispered back "If he's flying for Cathedral, he's staying That's payment in full." When Brandy looked questioningly at him, he said softly. "Its a long story, but not important for recruiting purposes."
She nodded, the people who did the background checks would find anything that was of interest to the company, and she didn't have to worry about personal issues if they didn't keep a pilot out of service For now, she just had to get things set up for the test flight, and get a few arguments ready in case the background check popped up something unpleasant This tabby was one worth bending the rules for; she'd take it up with Pakitra Dyne herself if need be.
After she left, Nathan turned to Chance. "I think that went well."
"I guess I wonder how thorough the background checks are, though."
"I don't know, but I managed to pass and I'm not even from this planet Don't worry about it, they're interested in good pilots, not some little accident you had years ago with the Enforcers, or what you've been up to since."
"I guess Did you have anything else planned for today?" He looked toward the TV.
"No I don't actually. " Nathan grinned "I've got an idea, why don't I order pizza, and we can watch the rest of that marathon?"
"Great idea! But I thought you didn't like Scaredy Cat?"
"I'm in strange mood today Go turn it on, I'll order."
"Hey, no complaints here."
Half and hour later with the pizzas on the coffee table, Nathan and Chance sat in front of the TV; Chance howling in laughter at Scaredy Cat, and Nathan just smiling, feeling that things were looking up Another day or so, and he might be able to start working on the rest of the problem.
Shortly after dark Nathan pulled up in front of the Salvage Yard, parked his bike and quickly went inside He worked quickly to pull together the things he was after; packing them carefully into a backpack Not being certain what lay ahead he packed his SWAT Kat outfit, including the glove-o-trix and the blaster he'd left behind previously He also picked up his religious gear from his room because he wasn't sure when he'd be back again, and he hated to be without it for too long.
Nathan returned to the living room and quickly checked the list he'd made before coming, to make sure he remembered everything When everything was checked he looked around to be sure and saw the box containing the engagement collar with the note that accompanied it "Better bring this along Chance isn't ready to deal with it yet, but when I think he can, I'll bring it out I expect he'll be difficult about facing it, but he's not the only stubborn one." Nathan smiled wistfully, wondering silently how long it would be.
He carefully placed the note and box in his pack, closed the pack up and left the Yard, remembering to lock up as he left He only looked back briefly before he got on his bike and headed to his apartment About half way back he realized that he still hadn't let Jake know he was back He'd been so busy worrying about Chance that he'd forgotten to, and he felt a bit guilty about that.
He pulled over and took out his cell phone It took a moment for him to remember the number for Jake's apartment He dialed, and after eight rings the answering service picked up.
"Hi Jake It's Nathan, just thought I'd let you know I got back from the conference earlier than expected I'd hoped to see you when I got in, but nobody was around and I'm not sure where to find you My beeper will be the easiest way to reach me for the next couple of days; there are a couple of things I have to take care of Don't worry about what time it is; just call whenever you want." He paused, gave his beeper number in case Jake didn't have it, and considered what else to say "Jake, I hope to see you soon but until I do ... take care of yourself I miss you, buddy."
Nathan wiped the tears from his eyes as he hung up He'd meant to keep the message simple and calm, but he hadn't realized just how deeply things were affecting him "I guess I was just lucky that Jake wasn't home If I couldn't stay calm talking to the answering machine; what luck would I have had talking to him?" Nathan realized that he was losing focus, which he couldn't afford to do Nathan resumed his trip back to the apartment, wanting more than anything to simply drop into bed and stop thinking for a while.
Jake woke slowly, comfortably, wrapped in the warmth and scent of one he loved He let a soft sigh of contentment escape as his bedmate shifted to embrace him.
"Afternoon sleepyhead." Felina's playful voice whispered in his ear as a strong hand ghosted down his body from chin to sheath "Ready to face the rest of the day?"
"Afternoon?" He blinked at the digital clock, brain eventually translating that it was nearly three in the afternoon "And you're still in bed? Aren't you on duty ..."
"Gone and back." She chuckled with a nip at his ear "You've been out nearly twenty-four hours." She traced a sharp claw around the edge of his filling sheath "And you seem to still be a little wound up."
"And this is a surprise to you?" Jake twisted his head to see her face and chuckled at her smirk "Tease."
"Not in the least." She purred back as her hand wondered up his hard abs and chest to scratch his jaw "Just waiting for you to be conscious enough to tell me something."
"And that would be?" He tensed slightly.
"What your greatest fantasy is."
"Honestly?" He rumbled as she played her silky tail over his hip and groin.
"It's the best policy." She chuckled.
"To ..." his breath caught in a low groan as she nipped the crook of his neck "To be between you and Chance Bound and fucked 'till I can't think or move any more."
"You're a bottom?" Surprise mingled with delight in her voice.
"Whenever I can." Jake glanced back "Not many ... it doesn't work very often."
"Why?" Felina rubbed her entire body along his back and purred in his ear.
"Because..." his voice mingled with a purring groan. "Because I have to trust so much, and I have to accept ... ummmm, ohhh yesss, accept him as my ... my better."
"You trust, respect me enough for that?" Felina maneuvered to put most of her mass over him as she continued to slide along his willing body, feeling and smelling the answer long before he said it.
"Yes." Jake met her eyes for an unguarded moment before he locked his soul away again "If you could."
"What's that supposed to mean?" She huffed, grazing sharp teeth along his exposed throat playfully.
Jake closed his eyes as his body shuddered under her increasingly dominating touch "How can ... ohhh, could you take me?"
"Oh, you just have no imagination, love." Felina grinned down at him, then turned deadly serious "Do you want to be bound and fucked in the ass by me?"
"Sweet Bastet, yes." His breath caught when she kissed him as possessively and passionately as any fantasy he'd managed during his more lonely years.
"Stay right there, handsome." She rumbled and slid off him and out of bed, returning a moment later with several lengths of white silk "Put your wrists where you want them." She couldn't keep the hungry note from her voice; the desire in his scent urged her on as much as the openness of how he held his body and the want on his face as he rolled to his knees and stretched his arms out, most of his weight resting on his forearms.
"You've done this before." Felina observed dryly, wrapping one silk tie around his wrist and then around the center bar of the headboard and around his other wrist, all while deftly avoiding his attempt to nuzzle her slick crotch.
A low whimper was his only reply as she moved away and selected a short strip With practiced care she covered his eyes, pausing at his sudden tension "You okay with this, love?"
"Ye-yes." He took a brief moment to control the surge of cold fear that ran through his body "Yes, I'm okay with you blinding me."
"Jake?" She touched his shoulder gently, feeling for the truth in his tension.
"I trust you." Jake felt something snap deep inside him, and accepted the distant joy of it as his body relaxed under his mate's touch With an uncertain purr that slowly grew stronger, he simply felt her move behind him to bind his knees to the headboard with long strips of silk He closed his eyes behind the blindfold and sighed softly in the rare comfort of not being able to do anything but kneel and accept the pleasures a trusted companion chose.
He felt the weight on the bed shift as she left it, then the scrape of a drawer opening and closing His own breathing and the rustle of soft cloth and something harder moving in the air and over fur was the only thing besides soft cloth under and around him as his world narrowed to touch, sound and smell Then the bed dipped near his head, bringing his attention to the right.
"Show me what you do for your toms." Her voice was softly commanding as strong fingers combed his hair and along his ears, guiding his muzzle forward just a little "Please me."
He relaxed almost completely on reflex to accept the enticingly familiar shape that pressed against his lips, hesitating only slightly before exploring with a relish he'd long given up on feeling He knew it was a dildo, it had to be, but it even tasted right The illusion was nearly perfect From a subtle unevenness in the barb-hairs that responded with just the right resistance and motion that dragged increasingly desperate whimpers from the Kat above him, to the slightly bittersweet musk that screamed 'Felina' to his delighted mind and body Only a very small corner of his mind didn't buy the idea that he was suckling on Felina's cock, bringing her closer and closer to the edge with every teasing motion.
But even with all this so close to his perceptions, his mind flicked between memories of two very different toms, both larger and thicker than what he was eagerly nursing Memories of their very different musks nearly overrode what he actually tasted That small corner of his mind that recognized this wasn't a real cock in his mouth also gave thanks that the dildo turned both whimpered names into indistinct groans.
"Ohhh, Jake ..." Felina barely managed to gasp out that much of a warning before the first shuddering contraction hit, curling her around his head and forcing his nose against the rougher fur of her crotch as her body took over, too desperate for its building climax to take much care in it's rocking thrusts.
Jake relaxed his throat and mouth by practiced ease and let the illusion melt as her movement became less and less masculine even as her orgasm-rich scent tugged his arousal higher He barely felt her claws draw blood from his scalp, and made little secret of the delight surging through him at her final howling thrust that pulled the strap-on from his mouth roughly as she collapsed on her side, gasping for breath between tremors.
He stretched sideways, following his ears and nose to nuzzle her hair, the only part of her body he could reach and asked quietly "did I do well?"
"Very well, love." She rumbled after a long moment to regain her composure She reached up to scratch the base of his ear until he purred and went nearly limp in the restraints "Well enough to be rewarded." She smiled when he didn't even react to the statement, too absorbed in what was happening under her fingers to listen She took her hand away, crooning comfortingly when he whimpered in distress "How do you want to come?"
"With you in me." He barely breathed enough to get the words out "As hard and deep as you can."
"Like it rough when you're receiving, do you?" She chuckled and shrugged off the lethargy she always felt after coming to retrieve the lube from her nightstand.
"Yes." He hissed in anticipation as she settled behind him with his legs between hers, and strong, slick fingers eased him open.
"My, my, you've been a busy tom." She laughed playfully as she withdrew her fingers, caressing the velvety fur of his balls and full sheath before leaning over his back, the tip of the dildo not even up to the first barb-hairs inside him "Ready?"
"Yes," Jake whispered as she bit his neck-ruff, pulled his head back and impaled him in one swift motion "Oh .... *yes*."
He shuddered as she did exactly as he'd asked, putting her greater weight and full strength behind each thrust Then she rested against his back, letting him carry both their weights to free her hands to play along his body, one crossing his chest to add more force to her thrusts by pulling him back into them, the other stroking his unsheathed cock until it pulsed with need.
Jake whimpered as he felt what little self-control he had left slip in response to the absolute domination and pleasure granted by his mate When the first wave hit he started to thrash, only his bonds and her skill keeping him from throwing her off In the end his body settled on a grunting scream as his balls emptied themselves on the cotton sheets and her hand.
Felina caught them both with the hand that had been milking his cock as he collapsed She pulled out of his too lax body, cutting the silk bonds with her claws in her haste to release him, then shook her head and laughed harder than she could remember doing before Her entire body trembled with her mirth as she lay down against his side and held him, waiting for unconsciousness to drift into regular sleep and mused at how much she was enjoying a not so lazy day in bed.
"Fel?" Jake slowly teased her awake.
"Umm?" She stretched and grinned lecherously at him despite the fact that he was dressed "What's up, besides you?"
"Very funny." He leaned forward to kiss her "I'm making breakfast ... food, not me," he waggled a finger at her, "and then I want to show you something."
"Breakfast in bed?" She crooned hopefully and pulled him in for another kiss.
Jake chuckled as he pulled back "I'll owe you one, okay?" He yanked the covers off her with smirk for her disgruntled glare "Shower, by yourself, then breakfast, then my news, then ..." the playfulness died from his expression, "then you can do anything you wish."
"Jake?" She rolled to sit on the edge of the bed and caught his arm before he could turn away.
He refused to meet her eyes "Remember I said I wasn't willing to keep secrets from you anymore?"
"I have secrets more ... dangerous ... than being Razor." He flicked a gaze at her concerned face before averting his eyes again "I don't intend to keep them from you either." He tugged his arm from her loose grip "Please, no questions on this until we get there This is hard enough as is."
"All right, Jake." She let him go reluctantly and tried to smile "Breakfast smells good."
He smiled weakly back and kissed her cheek "Good Now get ready I packed everything we'll need."
She resisted asking why they needed to pack anything and nodded before heading for the bathroom for a quick, and badly needed, shower.
"Can I ask a question?" Felina asked softly from the passenger seat after they'd been on the road over half an hour in her car.
"We're headed for ClawCrest Marina I have a small craft there we'll take to my sanctuary." He didn't even look at her, just kept staring at the road and traffic they still had a half hour of ahead of them.
"Oh." Felina looked out the window, trying to find something to occupy her mind She finally sighed and turned back to the stressed profile of her mate-to-be and lover "Do you want to know anything about me?"
"Hurr?" He shot her a startled glance before turning his attention back to the road "Is there something you want to tell me?"
Felina propped her head against her hand near the window and stared into space "Nothing I can think of, certainly nothing like whatever has you so worked up I just figured I'd offer For all the investigating your friends did on me, you still must have a question or two."
"My friends?" He shot her a suspicious look.
"Someone did a kick-tail investigation on me when we started seeing each other." She shrugged, purposefully ignoring his mood "You said a few things that you had to have gotten from there, 'cause I never said anything about it."
It took a moment for Jake to find his voice, but it was nearly normal when he asked, "what's your favorite book?"
"Hu?' She blinked at him a moment before blushing and ducked her head before answering, "Rifts."
The car nearly swerved out of its lane before Jake recovered control His voice was strained with shock as he stole another look at her flushed face "You role-play?"
"I try," she admitted, "I'm just not very good at it Not much time for it either You know the game?"
"A little It's a great source of ideas." He cocked a grin at her "I can't say I've played though Used to play an all-inclusive Car Wars with Pat That was fun."
"Figures you'd go for the demolition derby type." She chuckled "No, I bet you were more into the pre-game work."
He smiled honestly for a moment "Yes, but proving I was right was almost as good Pat's no easy opponent." He chuckled "Though I must admit I like the way it works as an adult better." His smile faded "Except for the injuries and dead."
"Yah," Felina sighed, "it's always hurts less as make believe."
The rest of the ride was in much more comfortable silence, if not completely at ease.
"Just what is this?" Felina regarded the strange, two person craft dubiously About the only reassuring thing about the deep blue and black, streamlined craft was that it definitely looked like one of Jake's creations It had thin, flat and slightly recurved wings and an oval body, reminiscent of a flying wing mated to a speedboat Instead of wheels it was sitting on a cushioned platform.
"Surface Effect Vehicle." He grinned for a moment and walked across the smooth cement floor inside it's small hanger-like building "First cousin of the hovercraft I built one years ago, still keep her in shape and lodged here Aryth as fine a craft as the TurboKat, in her own way."
"Somehow, I don't doubt it." Felina shook her head and climbed in the passenger seat without another word She relaxed and watched the spectacular view of the sun-drenched sea opening as the wide hanger-like doors opened wide as a clear canopy enclosed the craft The sea floored in as the floor lowered with them until Aryth floated on the rippling waves.
"It's only about twenty minutes from here." Jake offered as he gunned the water-jet engines to full thrust and pulled into the open ocean with a flair that would have made T-Bone jealous.
As it stood, it did earn him an amused look from his passenger and a low chuckle "I think you enjoy driving more than you let on."
"I love to drive, and fly I'm bloody good at it too." He snorted "You pilots just never ask if anyone else can handle the wheel."
"I'm sorry." Felina offered in a truly meek voice.
"It'so'kay." He mumbled with a soft look for her "I let you guys get away with it."
She nodded and let the silence settle between them again as all landmarks were lost to blue-green water Her tracking-trained eye caught the dot on the horizon as their destination long before Jake spoke of it, when it was discernable as a small, rocky island with little vegetation.
"This is where I can be myself, let the masks I hold up for the world fall." Jake spoke very quietly as he docked the Aryth against a piece of rock that fit it perfectly He stood as the canopy slid open and offered her a hand Haunted eyes met hers as he continued "I've hidden so much of myself over the years ... I'm tired, Felina I'm tired of living a lie I don't want to loose you, but I can't take lying to you anymore." He dropped his eyes and guided her across the lava rock beach.
"Jake," she stopped him as a section of rock outcropping not much taller than she was sank back, then slid to one side "You won't loose me Sometimes secrets are good to keep."
"I'm not asking you to tell me any of yours." He smiled painfully "I'm just not willing to live like I have been anymore I need this to come out, even if it's only to you ... and even if you never speak to me again for it."
"Jake, stop being fatalistic." She couldn't keep the sharp edge from her voice She shook her head sadly when he flinched "You're not acting very normal, you know."
"You don't know what normal is, for me." Jake closed his eyes and shivered as they entered a large, cozily appointed cavern "You've never seen it." He waved off her retort before it was voiced as he moved to the largest pile of pillows and blankets "Please, just look around Ask what comes to mind I'll answer you truthfully."
She gave him a quizzical glance before making a very slow, careful inspection of the personal effects scattered about the room A place, that for all its numerous personal touches that didn't seem to be from the Kat she knew, barely looked lived in.
"Do you spend much time here?" She tried to sound casual as she inspected the one item in the room that actually looked right to her; a sizable collection of trophies and ribbons, many with marksmanship motifs A clear and detailed public record of what she'd long known to be true; her mate-to-be was as skilled as his interests varied.
"No," he sighed, "as much as I'd like to."
She tried to ignore the almost fearful tightness in his voice as she moved on to a set of five simply framed, old black and white pictures hanging above the desk "Who are these?"
"Never let it be said that a Feral doesn't have a gift for finding the hardest question to ask first." Jake sighed as he rolled to his feet and walked over to her.
"Ummph?" She jerked in surprise and stared at him, then back at the photos "Something else ...."
"No." He smiled weakly and touched her arm "It'll get the worst over with first If you can still ... want me, after this ..." he shook his head to stop the denial on her tongue "I've never actually told anyone this Everyone else who knows found out the same way I learned the details, or was there when it was discovered and the subsequent investigation." He paused as he brushed light fingers over the glass covering a black and white photo of a graying female Martin in a well-decorated dress uniform "Do you know who any of them are?"
"Umm," Felina studied the pictures a little more closely She traced light claws over a decidedly proud, battle-scarred Cheetah tomkat in a sharply cut Third Fleet pilot's uniform with double bars on the collar "That's Admiral Itashar of the Third Fleet, back when he was a Captain, and still flying."
"The day of his promotion, actually." Jake smiled "Know of anyone else?"
"I think that's Hassur Tursidi VelKimm," she tapped the picture of the Martin "Tugythin's top sniper about forty years ago I don't think her record's been broken yet."
"Not officially, anyway." Jake nodded "Yes, that's her."
"I'm afraid I don't recognize the others." She turned her full attention to the shorter Kat "Who are they?"
Jake took a deep breath before nodding and pointed at the top left photo; an unremarkable looking brown and tan shekat in her mid twenties sitting in a chair "This is Samanthia Littlegreen She's not anyone to know, just the daughter of someone who was very involved in my ... existence Chosen because she was crippled, sterile and very important to her father, who had the power to choose."
Felina waited silently for him to gather his composure and continue, fighting down the questions she dared not interrupt him with just yet.
"This is Dr. Brandin Tinian," he moved to the top right photo, one of a sharp-eyed, classical black on tan Alsatian Kantin "He's a genetics specialist and from his notes, the most scientifically cold creature I've ever known." He shifted quickly over the bottom left photo of Tursidi to the center one; a slender, midnight black tomkat with the poise of a dancer, the face of a prince, and the eyes of an assassin.
Felina shivered in recognition; not of the kat in the picture, but of his qualities, and how she usually saw them used And of the traitorous thought that she knew those qualities in the tom next to her.
"Something wrong?" Jake made an aborted move to touch her.
"He reminds me of too many I've brought in." She shivered again at the cold acceptance and utter remorselessness of the murderer with that look she'd captured only a few months before "Who is he?"
"Damian Shadowclaws," his voice was very low, with almost a confessional tone in it.
"The ... the ...."
"Black Death." He finished for her, his head bowed and body trembling slightly in distress "Yes, the same."
"So, umm, who are these folks to you?" She looked again at the strange mix of characters to avoid the growing turmoil standing next to her.
Jake took a slow breath and let it out before answering His voice was level and sure when he finally spoke "They are my parents by blood."
"How?" Felina surprised even herself with how calm the question came out with her mind strugling with him having five parents, and of races that couldn't interbreed ...
"I was ... conceived in Dr. Tinian a laboratory His first, and to our knowledge, only, success." Jake didn't resist being lead to the nest he had been in before, or the protective embrace she wrapped him in "I didn't even start as a fertilized egg, you know I was literally pieced together on the genetic level." He shuddered and tried to bury himself in the accepting warmth embracing him "I don't even begin to understand how ... but I ... I know why."
"Jake," she interrupted gently as her fingers scratched his jaw in an instinctive act of comfort "Look at me."
The silence held for long moments as he trembled in her arms, fear and desperation in his scent magnifying with every breath When he finally looked up to meet soft brown eyes, he managed to speak before she did "I'm a Black Op, bred to kill."
"I know, love." She tipped his mussel for a kiss, ignoring his shocked lack of response.
"You ... can still ...."
"Remember what you said when I asked how you could love a Feral?" She interrupted the stammering denial.
"That heritage didn't matter."
"I love you," she made him meet her steady gaze "That your entire lineage isn't Kat, that you weren't born as I was, none of it matters to me It doesn't change who I love."
"But it changes what ..." he stopped, struggling for the right words With a hard swallow, he forced himself to continue with his face downcast, "but it does change what I can offer you ... as a mate."
"As a ... oh." She pulled his a little closer, trying to sooth his shame-filled trembling "Jake, I know kittens are something you want ... but there are other ways to raise a family."
"That's ... not it, Felina." He curled against her even more "I'm fertile, most of the time, just ... just not always ... " he took a steadying breath "Not always with the same race."
"Then there will be times we can have kittens." She growled at him "What's the big deal?"
"I'm a freak of science, Fel." Jake whispered as his body relaxed a little "Nothing important."
"How dare you." She gave into the rage that flashed to the surface of her soul and slammed him into the makeshift bed with her full weight over him "How dare you think so little of my choice of a lifemate?"
"Mmurrph?" He went completely limp under her; shock, surrender and fighting reflexes competing for control.
"Jake Clawson is the mate-to-be of a ranking Feral." Felina felt the rhetoric of her great-grandmother surge to the surface easily even after years of denial "We are one of the finest bloodlines in the world Only the best and brightest are allowed into our ranks Understand?"
"Yes, ma'am." He shivered before purring slightly as his limp body relaxed into compliant desire.
"Damn, you really are into subbing." She rocked up to rest on her heals and regarded him, still stranding his thighs "Tell me how your personality ended up a gunner You seem much better suited as a pilot."
"It's a long story." Jake murmured low in his throat as he stroked the inside of her thighs "But I am a gunner around everyone I don't take as my better I'm just a quiet leader."
Felina chuckled as she started to work his shirt off "You make yourself sound way too much like my uncle, 'cept for that 'quiet' part."
"I know." He groaned and arched up as she nipped an exposed nipple.
"You know," she purred with her throat against the nub of bare skin surrounded by luxuriant reddish fur "I always wondered by males had tits ...". She paused as her brain possessed his statement and raised her body to look him in the face "You know?"
"We know each other fairly well, though not as well as he thinks." He answered softly.
"I'm not the first Feral to sleep with you, am I?" Felina sighed and settled on his chest.
"No." He regarded her curiously "Does it matter much to you?"
"I guess not," she sighed softly "Just one more thing I uncle neglected to mention when I asked him."
"I'm not surprised, I drove him nuts half the time." Jake smiled slightly at the memory, then turned grim "And it hardly ended well I'm not on the list of conquests that went well."
"Explain." Her entire body went tense with a growl.
"We just weren't compatible in the long run." He shrugged "I like Uly in bed, it was the rest that didn't work well He's too controlling for me, and far too smug to have bedded me in the first place."
Felina scowled "Smug?"
Jake considered for a moment before responding "Maybe smug is the wrong word He never listed when he was wrong." Jake closed his eyes, "he never hurt me, but it wasn't what I wanted It was so close, though, we both felt it, and it hurt to leave." Jake met her considering brown eyes for a moment "It never really ended for him, and maybe not for me either."
"I'm going to have to hurt that Kat." She half sighed, half growled.
Struggling to assimilate the last couple hours as Jake slept restlessly, Felina wasn't sure what to make of the day, expect it was going very badly, and very strangely, even for her life and MKC For a ranking officer of defense in a gigopolis that got trashed by a supervillian or monster at least once a month, that was saying something.
She surprised herself with how easy it was to accept his heritage, even that The Black Death was his father, one of three, and that he had two mothers Even that he wasn't all one race didn't jar her as much as she expected, or as much as he'd so clearly feared.
The idea of kittens that train of thought brought shook her much more; most pointedly with the realization that she did want kittens of her own, Jake's kittens preferably Perhaps even sooner than later ... with only a month and a half to decide before her next heat ... and it wasn't just her decision anymore, either And he didn't seem to be in any condition to deal with being a father at the moment.
That brought her back to the first argument she ever developed against becoming a mother; what were the odds she'd see them grown, given her choice of careers? And with a father like Jake, there was next to no chance of both of them making it that long Razor may be good for the city, but as a father, he had a less than desirable life expectancy Even if his genetics were probably excellent to pass on, mix-breed or not.
Which was all the more reason to breed with him, and soon She could take time off and the city would survive It did well enough before she graduated; her uncle would just have to do without her for a few days.
She carefully worked away from Jake, intent on his restless form in case he noticed her departure in his dream world Once clear of the bed, she moved as silently as she could to the tunnel leading outside As private a place as she could think of to make the call The last thing she needed was to explain this to headquarters and Jake at the same time.
She breathed a sigh of relief when the door slid open quietly to reveal the evening sky and a stiff breeze. She settled against a slab of rock to protect her from the sharpest of the wind's bite, and pulled a small, hard-cased cellular phone from her pocket and tapped in the code to get her to the personnel office at headquarters.
"Personnel Office, Officer Featherfur speaking." Another breath of relief escaped Felina as the other shekat's familiar voice came through clearly.
"Hi, Sasha, it's Felina.
"Hi, Fel." The warmth on the other end was welcome.
"I'm just calling to tell you I won't be available short of full emergency for a few days, and maybe not even then."
"What's up?" Sasha's tone shifted to concern.
"Something important came up." She shied away from the question "Patch me through to my uncle, please."
"You're leave's on record." Sasha replied quietly.
"Thanks." She curled strong fingers around a rock and hurled it out to the waves, watching it skip before sinking into the blue-green water.
"Felina ... is there anything I can help with?" The concern in her voice was very clear "You've been a good friend to me ...."
"Thanks, Sasha, but this isn't anything ... it's just a mess that will take some time to clean up." Felina closed her eyes against bitter tears "You'd better transfer me."
"Just promise you'll ask if there's anything, okay?"
"I will Promise." She consciously let as much tension go as she could while she waited through the beeps of the transfer system.
"What's wrong?" Ulysses voice was all parental concern.
"Something serious has come up." She closed her eyes and steeled herself "I'm taking a few days off."
"Anything I can help with?" Generations of wealth and authority rang through that simple offer.
"I don't think so, uncle." She sighed "It's just going to take a little time to resolve."
"Let me know ...."
"I will, promise." She cut him off "I'll see you in a few days." She turned the phone off with a guilty look, but it wasn't like this wasn't a big deal, and she just didn't want to explain it all Then she grinned slightly at the small, black chunk of plastic and circuitry The blasted thing had cost almost a month's pay, but it was well worth it with a range and clarity none of the official gear could come close to She grinned to herself, wondering if the Free-Kat Cellular would want to use this in its adds.
'Crystal clear even from remote islands to Enforcer HQ!'
Her grin faded as she turned to deal with Jake again If this was the result of a single question, getting through the rest of his memories was going to be an entirely new kind of hell for both of them Never mind the future and what she wanted to ask him about her thoughts So many important questions, so little stress he could take in answering them.
"Up for a little more explaining?" Felina hugged Jake closer to her body, not sure what to make of his lack of arousal with both of them naked in the deep fur bed.
"I guess," he shrugged and snuggled in with a low purr "I own you enough of them."
"How did you get hooked up with Pakitra Dyne?" She scratched his jaw, grateful that he didn't tense up much.
"I was a gift to her." Jake sighed and scratched the spot between her breasts as Felina went rigid "It's not like that, really Pat was a very persuasive two year old with a love of small furry things, and I looked like a ball of fluff that might grow up to be one of the big cats, but definitely not a Kat."
"Her dad had just taken over EryssCorp, which along with it's more legitimate, and profitable, projects, had a less than legal and very unprofitable genetics lab."
"Where you were created." She supplied softly.
"Yes Jason shut down the lab, and when he was asked what to do with the only surviving test subject, he looked at me and decided I'd make a good plaything for Pat After all, baby big cats are kind of hard to come by, even when you have that kind of wealth."
"And involve a lot of red tape he wouldn't have to deal with, with you."
"Yes," Jake sighed as he absently started to play with her left breast, then stroke her side.
"So, umm, how you yet from there ..." her voice trailed off uncertainly.
He closed his eyes and nuzzled her before curling against her a little more, purring slightly in her protective embrace "I went everywhere with her, including to her tutors, and when she was playing with machines and in the library Pat's always been a voracious learner, and has a real teacher's bent She liked to read to me, pretend I could understand when she pointed to a word or object and said it, or explained how something worked.
"It took the better part of two months before I was strong enough, old enough, to follow her around on my own four feet I ... I didn't know ..." Jake swallowed hard and hugged Felina tightly, bringing an equally strong embrace from her "I didn't understand for years that I wasn't normal I thought I was a slow developer or something No one dissuaded me from that notion.
She was very excited when I wrote my name in her sandbox with my paws It was very frustrating for both of us that I was almost five before my paws developed into hands and could write I ... understanding language came pretty easy for me, reproducing it never has.
"I was never mute ... I could usually get a point across, but ... I ... not everyone I was expected to work with those years was so understanding Just after we celebrated my fourth birthday ..." Jake closed his eyes against swelling tears and tried to swallow the lump in his throat "I wasn't biped yet, no hands or real speech ... I ... one of my 'teachers' ... he didn't believe that I was intelligent I hated him ... he made me feel like I was back in that little cage ...."
Jake dug his claws almost unnoticed into Felina's side, his voice a heated snarl as he shook in the full grip of the memory "I'm not stupid I hated him so much, the first blood on my hands I can't take back what I did ... didn't regret ...."
"Shu, love." She shifted to her side, bringing their chests together and stroked his back as another set of sobs racked his body "You're brilliant and gifted and caring, and no one can take that away from you if you don't let them." She held him and crooned until he settled slightly.
"I killed him Fel." His voice was very quiet and deadly calm a long moment later "I wasn't even clean about it I didn't know how to fight; I just had instincts, sharp claws and fifty pounds of kitten muscle I can't even regret what I did."
"But it hurts you." She started to counter.
"It hurts remembering what he did to me." He shifted to look her in the face and pawed as much of the teary mess from his fur as he could "That I've spent my life constantly having to remind myself that he's wrong." He let a breath out and locked eyes with her "I can't say I regret anyone I've killed."
"What about the warehouse?" She countered with a raised eyebrow.
"Even if they had died, I didn't kill them, something I did did it." He sighed at her clearly unbelieving look "I can regret those who died or were injured because of my actions I can't make myself regret those I've killed Those I choose, by conscious thought or rage, to take the life of."
"Oh." She continued to stroke his back, waiting for him to continue.
Jake slowly settled down to her side again and sighed, his fingers playing through her fur He took a steadying breath before speaking "Felina, how can you stand to be around me after all I've told you?"
Her soothing touch froze for a second before continuing She stared at the ceiling as she answered "Most is nothing you can control The rest ... I can hardly hold against you what I'm just as guilty of."
"You've killed ... outside the line of duty?" He looked up, bewilderment and concern competing for control.
"I really don't want to talk about it." She shivered.
"Then don't." He squirmed to kiss her warmly "I never want to force anything between us." He tucked his muzzle against her neck, nuzzling her until she purred "I never want that in a relationship again."
"Good." Felina closed her eyes and surrendered to a wide yawn "I can't be tried."
Jake actually chuckled a little and caressed her face "Emotional stress can be as draining as physical, or even worse."
"At least it gets you to sleep." She blinked "Why'd you take my sleeping pills anyway?"
Jake sort of huffed "I'd just ... I did something I wasn't ready to face the consequences of."
"Have to do with Chance?"
"Yes." He tucked his head further down.
"Tell me when you're ready." She tried to soon him, combing his short hair with her fingers "For now," she slid her fingers further down, eventually caressing the inside of his empty sheath "I think we both need to burn some stress off."
"Mmmm, let me get that dildo." Jake rolled and started to get up.
"No, and I want regular sex; you actually inside me We hardly ever do it." She grinned at him, but it faded at his hurting eyes.
"I'd really rather not."
"Why?" She settled on her side again and draped an arm across his chest.
"I really don't care for it, honestly." Jake rolled his head to look at her "It's nothing to do with you I just ... it brings back bad memories."
"Of ..." she flattened her ears.
He looked up at the ceiling "Please don't be angry I ... Pat and I shared a first time, hers and mine It didn't go very well I've never ... I can't stop hearing her scream when I do it like that."
"Oh, goddess." Felina let herself collapse "I ... is there nothing in your life that went well?"
"You love me." He whispered very quietly "It's more than I ever dared hope for Please," he rolled to brace his chest against her side, "let me please you Let me do as I want."
Felina smiled sadly and pulled him forward into a long kiss "If it pleases you, my body is yours."
He lowered his head for another deep kiss "It does, and will."
Chance woke suddenly to something roaring nearby He wasn't sure what it was but it was large and decidedly unhappy A second roar told him that it was in the apartment somewhere As he looked around he realized that Nathan wasn't in the room but it appeared from the shredded sheets, that something with large claws had been.
Chance got up and cautiously moved toward the living room not wanting to be surprised by anything that might be lurking nearby He was a little relieved to see no blood or other signs of a struggle in the hallway As he approached the archway to the living room he heard a gentle female voice speaking.
"Hush kitten No need to wake everyone, I heard you the first time."
There was the rumbling meow of some large feline Chance cautiously peeked around the corner to see a golden-furred shekat standing next to a black on red-brown tiger When she looked up Chance realized that she was Felsin and had seen him He started to back away feeling that he was intruding when her eyes met his; she said nothing but something in her bright blue eyes told him that he wasn't intruding as long as he kept quiet.
She looked down at the tiger patiently "It's going to be difficult to talk, if you're going to stay in that form."
The tiger made a kind of frustrated meow.
"You got into that form, you should know how to get out." She said, shaking her head.
The tiger shook his head and sat down looking at the shekat patiently.
"What? Now how did you manage that, kitten?"
The tiger jumped on the sofa, placed his head on his paws rolled around a bit, and then fell of the couch He then stood back up, woofed quietly and looked at her expectantly.
She laughed quietly, and smiled gently at the tiger "Well, I guess I'll have to tell you how to change back then." There was a brief flow of golden light between the shekat and the tiger.
The tiger jumped back up on the sofa, sat down and flicked his ears forward as if staring at something There was a flash of light, and the tiger was gone It its place was Nathan; he sat there for a moment looking somewhat confused He was wearing his white and gold Medic Corp field jacket, and a pair of running shorts He absently pulled his hair back into its usual braid. "Thank you, mother I just don't know how that happened."
She smiled, walked over, and put her hand on his shoulder "It happened because you were confused and alone The primal form is a return to your origin, a kind of escape."
His head drooped a little "I'm not alone, mother."
"I know dear, but you are alone in the sense that you've claimed all these problems as your responsibility, and you've no one to share the burden That's not the way you were trained."
"I know, mother But the Corps is so far away, and the only family close enough..." He paused and took a deep breath.
"Yes, kitten Family problems are the most difficult kind, even when you have the support of the Corps You don't have them here, and you've made few friends here."
He shrugged "Even if I had more what difference would it make? You know I can't talk this through with just anyone; after all half the problem can't be shared with anyone."
"I know; you have to protect the secret you've become part of Be careful it doesn't consume what you seek to protect."
Nathan sighed, and drew a small triangular pendant from the pocket of his jacket It had side borders of copper, silver and gold with a crystal at the center "How long has it been mother? Back home, I mean."
She looked at the pendant, amazed that he still had it "Over a year, Nathan The period of mourning is over, but you continue to deny your heart." Her voice was sad and low.
Nathan's voice choked a little. "I know, mother But I can still feel the empty place where Rhymar always was, doesn't the pain ever stop?" He stood up, and walked over to the window looking out across the city.
She shook her head sadly "Kitten, love always leaves a mark especially when it is taken away before its time But part of your pain is guilt, not love: you haven't forgiven yourself for failing to save Rhymar, for failing to avenge him, and for almost not saving one who has become so important to you There is no blame in any of these, and yet you continue to berate yourself for them."
Tears fell down Nathan's face, and sobs made it difficult to talk for a little while "But I didn't even try, mother He died, and I did nothing." His hands dug into the window ledge as sobs wracked his body.
The shekat put her arms tightly around him "The poison had no antidote and you knew it, so did Rhymar Even in a full hospital you couldn't have saved him, much less with the field kit you had You did as your training taught you: You saved the patient you could But you forget that a medic must not let himself be haunted by the patients he couldn't save."
Nathan tried to shrug away "Those are classroom words, mother Easy words, spoken in sterile places where things are easy and safe They mean little, when the life you lose is as dear to you as your own."
"Easy words, but one of the most important tests a medic faces The alternative was trying to save the one and losing both; would that have been better?"
He hung his head. "Of course not, mother What scares me is that I almost did just that I almost forgot the medic's first rule Only you know how close I came to that, I'm grateful no one else does." He sighed and looked up at her "You're going to remind me that I gave up avenging Rhymar to protect my patient, aren't you? I came so close to failing there as well, I almost chose death over life."
"Kitten, you berate yourself for almost failing. But almost failing is success and you should remember that Despite your pain and need to avenge Rhymar's death you put those aside and brought Jake out alive That, Nathan is the true measure of a medic; to preserve life where death seeks to prevail."
He nodded; his pain subsided a little as his self-recrimination faded before Felsira's logic Nathan couldn't argue that he should've done otherwise, but in his heart he still felt he should have been able to save both "Mother, when I faced Dark Kat after Rhymar died I heard a voice telling me that I could choose the easy path of vengeance or the more difficult path of life Is all this part of that choice?" He asked, trying to make sense of things.
Felsira nodded "The voice was that of fate, and the path of life is always more difficult because death happens and is over while life goes on But the path of life is the only path the medic knows, isn't it?"
Nathan shook his head "The choice wasn't that simple For a moment, which seemed like an eternity I couldn't be sure which to chose Part of me wanted revenge even with the likelihood that my death would follow, because death would reunite me with Rhymar But the healer in me couldn't abandon a lifetime of ideals, and some part of me saw a fragment of Rhymar in Jake Does that make any sense, mother?"
She smiled "Part of being mortal is the uncertain choices you must make, and that was one of the hardest As to the last, Caito might know something about it After all, both of them are spirits like unto him though in different ways."
"There is something I don't understand When Rhymar was alive I could concentrate on our bond and see him in my mind; now that he's dead I shouldn't be able to but I still can But what is truly strange, is that if I concentrate on that bond I don't always see Rhymar..." He paused, a little uncertain.
"Who do you see, kitten?"
"Sometimes mother, I see Jake instead That doesn't make sense; we're not joined."
Felsira gently brushed his hair back with her hand "Kitten, when Rhymar died your bond shattered and there was no one there to help heal it When you used the linguistic transference, your injured psyche mistook Jake for Rhymar and tried to restore the shattered bond But the transference is too brief for that to work, so all that happened was an Impressing, nothing more You notice it because you have empathic gifts, one without them would not notice at all."
Nathan was somewhat bemused Felsira was brushing off an Impressing as if it were nothing; at home this would be somewhat embarrassing since Impressing was the step which preceded an Engagement, at least in bonds with an empath involved It wasn't something one did by accident "So he doesn't notice it?"
"I presume not dear, though I haven't checked I don't want to interfere too much personally until I clear things with Mother."
"Oh, is this her domain?"
"Of course You've forgotten the early part of the scriptures haven't you?" She chided mildly.
"Sorry, mother It's difficult to get a copy locally and the early part was never my strong suit."
Felsira laughed cheerfully. "Wouldn't help anyway, dear The name listed in the ancient texts isn't what they call this world now But this is the world of departure, the beginning of the exodus."
Nathan looked at Felsira started to say something then stopped and looked uncertainly at the morning sky.
"Nathan, you're allowed to ask anything; you know that don't you? I might not be able to answer, but you can always ask."
"Mother, I know the future is uncertain and no one can see it, but can you tell me about the present?"
"That would depend dear, on what of the present you want to know."
"Is Jake alright, I mean not injured or anything? I know where Chance is, but I can't be in two places at once It would ease my mind a great deal, at least for a little while." He looked at her hopefully.
She looked away her eyes seeming to focus on some distant point "Things are very cloudy dear, but I don't see any immediate danger." She smiled, and hugged him "I think you'll know before we do somehow, if you're needed Was that all you wanted, kitten?"
He shook his head "Actually, what I really wanted to ask was your intervention with Keltin and Caito I need something from both of them, but I'm not in their sphere save by their association with you."
Felsira nodded "In case you hadn't noticed you've moved more into Keltin's sphere recently and Caito, well, he thinks he owes you for screwing up things for you However, I will ask them What did you need?"
Nathan steadied himself and looked up squarely at her. " I need them to look after Chance for the next few days There are important things happening and I don't want anything to go wrong." He paused, feeling a little uncertain "Mother, I have this awful feeling that a lot depends on how well things go at Cathedral It's the only way to be sure he stays, and I can't take losing anyone else." He sat down on the coffee table, shoulders sagging.
Felsira sat down next to him and held him close "So that's what this is about A year has passed since Rhymar's death; the anniversary of that bonding is coming up; and now all the problems between those who are closer than friends to you But remember, no one is ill, injured or dying."
"But mother, no one knows the future, not even you And who knows what could happen I mean, they're not talking to each other and SWAT's broken up and they're going off in different directions And I think I'm the only one who gives a damn anymore what happens..." Nathan blustered, and then suddenly the tiger was pacing the floor tail whipping.
"Nathan! Get back to your real form right now You're becoming completely hysterical." Felsira ordered.
Chance, who had been watching in quiet confusion, was surprised by the sudden appearance of another Felsin This one was a broad-shouldered midnight blue-furred male with close cropped black hair His uniform was navy blue with gold piping, numerous medals and gold aviator wings Brightly polished black leather boots, a blaster and a saber completed the uniform.
His green eyes coolly surveyed the room He acknowledged Chance's presence with a nod. "Felsira, is there a problem?"
She shot him a look of frustration "Nathan is a hysterical tiger and you ask me if there's a problem? Of course, there's a problem, you fool tom."
The newcomer smiled "Fel, dear Have you considered having Chance talk to his distraught friend? It might help."
"Keltin please, I have one confused mortal to deal with at the moment I'd rather not make it two, if you don't mind." Felsira shot back as she kept both eyes on the tiger.
"It was just a suggestion."
"Try to find Caito, if you could This impromptu metamorphism is his gift."
Chance had almost decided to go in and try talking to Nathan-the-tiger, when a cheerfully mocking voice next to him spoke up.
"I wouldn't do that, if I were you." The voice belonged to a black on brown striped male Felsin, who was leaning casually against one wall The small tom was athletically built and wearing riding leathers, with earrings in both ears and bright green hair tied in a loose ponytail.
Chance looked at him "Wouldn't do what? And who are you?" A few hours ago there'd only been one Felsin on the planet, now there were four in this apartment.
"Name's Caito, and I wouldn't interfere unless asked, if I were you Felsira having a hard enough time trying to calm the kit down without any help."
Chance hadn't decided whether to pay the stranger any attention or not when Keltin walked past, grabbed Caito by the collar and dragged him into the living room.
Felsira spotted Caito "Do you think you could switch off this 'gift' of yours?"
Caito smiled mischievously "Sorry Fel You know that's not how the gifts work But let me try talking to the kit."
"I suppose it can't hurt But stay in your present form You make one move to look like any Kat, and I'll have Keltin ignore you for a month."
Caito winced "I should assume that means you'll ignore me too?"
"You play mean Fel I'll behave myself, but if I succeed I want Keltin for a week."
"Hey, don't I get a say in this?" Keltin interjected "I might not want him for a whole week."
"No." Felsira said, smirking.
"Besides Kel, you're subbing." Caito added.
"What?" Keltin objected.
"We'll discuss it later." Caito shot back, as he walked over and knelt by the agitated tiger.
Caito spoke quietly to Nathan "Okay kit, I know I'm probably not your favorite person right now..."
The tiger's ears went forward, and there was a low growl.
"Right But none of us set up what's happening here In fact, we don't have a lot of control here at all, because of Fel's mother Look Nathan, I admit that I've not done the greatest by you After all, every engineer you get involved with ends up hurting you."
There was a flash of light and Nathan appeared sitting on the floor next to Caito "They didn't do anything to hurt me, I'm the one who keeps messing up." Nathan said quietly.
Caito put his arm around Nathan "Kit, I don't think it's that simple But could you refrain from metamorphing for awhile, it upsets Fel."
Nathan shrugged "I'll try, but it's not like I'm doing it deliberately The meta-techs said I didn't even have the genetic markers for metamorphism, so how come I'm suddenly able to change without trying?"
"What the techs missed is that while you lack the active markers, you do have latent markers Those latent markers are being activated by the increased psychic and emotional stress in your life You're changing without trying, because you were never taught how to control the metamorphic ability."
Nathan chuckled "Lovely, just what I needed As if I don't have enough to worry about I have an emerging ability I don't know how to control I don't suppose you could give me some pointers."
"Of course I could I did put the latent markers there in the first place, and if you just concentrate you'll realize you do know how to control it, you've just never had to."
Caito whispered really quietly "Look, I meant what I said I owe you for all the trouble; so if you need my help, just ask You never know when an experienced prankster and shapeshifter might come in handy."
Nathan smiled "Thanks, Caito By the way, have fun with Keltin You really gonna make him sub for the whole week?"
Caito smiled wickedly "Maybe, maybe not I haven't decided."
Nathan stood up and faced Felsira "I'm sorry about that outburst, mother I should have better control than that."
Felsira walked over and hugged him "Nothing to apologize for Nathan, you're going through a lot, and this is the first chance you've really had to talk to anyone about it You're worrying too much, but that's normal for mortals Just remember, your friends are stronger than you think, they'll survive So will you, unless of course you do something colossally stupid."
"Thank you I guess I just better muddle through." Nathan said, mischievously.
"Much better, your sense of humor appears to have recovered Some advice: One: Sometimes one should not take the monster head on, two: A painting is more than the sum of its pigments, and three: Keep an eye on Caito."
Nathan looked puzzled. "Why?"
"He's got his eye on your tabby Of course, so do I."
"Mother!" Nathan growled, tail whipping in agitation "Please don't talk about Chance as if he was a pet He's my friend."
Felsira smiled "Just teasing, kitten But I'm pretty sure Caito likes him all the same." She studied him for a moment. "Becoming more your father's son all the time, kitten Consider his gifts before you reject them; they may come in handy Until later, Nathan." She disappeared in a golden glow, followed shortly by Keltin and Caito.
Nathan shook his head, wondering how he could possibly take religion seriously when he had encounters like this Feeling quite exhausted Nathan sat down on the couch, and then he noticed Chance standing in the doorway looking confused.
Chance walked over and sat down next to him "Nathan, who were all those people?"
"That, partner is not a simple question I'm gonna grab a milk, want one?" Nathan got up and headed to the kitchen.
"As long as you're up."
Nathan came back, handed the can to Chance and sat down. "So, you're wondering about the three visitors?"
"Actually, I'm wondering about a lot But that's a good place to start."
Nathan sighed; he wasn't prepared for where he figured this conversation was probably going to go "The female was Felsira, the blue one was Keltin and the little one was Caito."
"Nathan, those names sound really familiar."
Nathan took off the medallion he was wearing "See this, its the medal of the Medic Corp The one side is the sign of Felsira; patroness of healing and the other side is the symbol of Keltin, patron of warriors Together, they're the twin guardians of the Medic Corp Felsira's name I mention often because she's the one all my oaths as a Medic are to Keltin is the one I asked help from when you guys were demonstrating how little I knew about martial arts As for Caito; he started out as the trickster spirit, then he became the patron of invention, and in modern times he's consider the patron of engineers and is often invoked to ward off random machinery problems Caito's also associated with luck and gambling I often invoked him when I was trying to help with maintenance on the Turbokat." He stopped and took a drink; it had been quite a while since he'd tried to explain the Triad to anyone.
Chance stared in confusion "Nathan, are you saying those were gods?"
Nathan thought for a moment "I guess, but I don't quite think of them that way They've been appearing like that to me, for about as long as I can remember But no one else has ever seen me with them before."
"No, they always seemed to appear when no one was with me I guess they must have been unaware of you."
"Nathan, one of them spoke to me."
"What? Really? Which one?" Nathan was amazed.
"He said his name was Caito."
Nathan smiled, remembering what Felsira had said "I guess that figures, he doesn't have much use for rules."
"So they just show up? Is that normal where you're from?"
Nathan chuckled softly "No, it's not normal In fact my father said I was making it up, trying to get attention I learned to keep their visits to myself."
"So what's with the tiger routine? You never mentioned you were a shape shifter."
Nathan stared off into space "I never was one before This morning's the first time I've ever been a tiger." He didn't want to talk about the war beast; it still disturbed him to think about it.
"Is it safe?" Chance wasn't exactly sure about the large cat.
Nathan chuckled "Chance, the body changes not the mind It may be a 7-foot long predator on the outside, but it's still me inside If anything, you're probably safer with the tiger along After all, who's gonna mess with all the claws and teeth?"
Chance smiled "I know I'd think twice But seriously, you couldn't do that before?"
"No, I didn't have the ability Metamorphism is common enough among my people that all kits are tested for it at an early age; to make sure those with the ability get properly trained in controlling it I didn't have it which wasn't surprising considering that metamorphism is almost unheard of in my family."
"Strange that you get it now huh?"
"Caito thought it was stress triggered."
Chance nodded silently The conversation seemed to keep finding ways back toward what he didn't want to talk about He didn't think it was entirely accidental; Nathan probably wanted to talk about it, but was refraining.
An uneasy silence settled in Nathan wanted to, even needed to talk about Rhymar but that would invariably lead to talking about Jake, and Nathan knew that was a subject he had to keep his mouth shut about for now.
Chance looked at the uniform jacket Nathan was wearing; it was something he hadn't worn in a quite some time What got the tabby pilot's attention were the silver wings on the chest above the other insignia "Nathan, what are those silver wings for? They look like pilot's wings."
Nathan ran his hand across them "They are pilot's wings, bud I got them before I joined the Corp, but I never got the gold ones." He sighed, remembering old disappointments.
"I didn't know you were a pilot, why didn't you say something?"
"Partner, you're a pilot I just happen to have flight training; my flight instructor told me that real pilots are born, the rest of us just try to keep up Besides, I'm only trained for non-military jets The silver wings are for those who qualify on everything but the military hardware The real pilots wear gold wings, at least back home."
"So why don't you have the gold? I'll understand if you don't want to talk about it."
"Chance, it's okay To get the gold wings I would have had to graduate from one of the aerospace academies, and I flunked the g-force resistance entrance test Probably just as well, my father wouldn't have supported my going anyway." Nathan sighed remembering the many arguments.
"He didn't want you to be a pilot?" Chance was confused, most families were proud of their pilots.
"My father's family had been healers and artists for generations My father was the head of surgery at the Felsinor Institute of Medical Science, and as the oldest male kit I was supposed to be a healer as well My father was horrified, to put it mildly, that I had chosen a warrior's profession He ignored it as long as I was just playing around, which is what he called it when I got my bronze wings at 14 and my silver at 15 But when I applied to the Tygrenor Aerospace Academy, he put his foot down We didn't speak until the test results came through and I washed out; he tried to act supportive but I knew he was relieved."
"Didn't your mother say anything?"
"My mother died when I was little, and my step mom never liked me." Nathan shrugged.
Chance winced; he should've guessed there was a reason why Nathan hadn't mentioned his mother "Sorry, partner."
"It's okay, Chance I learned to live with it a long time ago." Nathan sighed; for a moment he thought about his biological father, the one he never told people about Ever since his first transformation he'd been thinking more about the dark-furred tom he knew only from the memories his mother had implanted in his mind when he was little.
"You don't have to say anymore, Nathan I didn't mean to pry."
"It's not that, buddy It's just that what I just said is only half the story; it's the half I've been telling ever since I was a kit But maybe its time I stopped running from the other half." He said tiredly; he'd wanted to tell someone but every time he'd thought about telling Jake something held him back, and this was the first time he could remember spending this much time with Chance without Jake.
"It's okay, Nathan We all have things we'd rather not talk about." Chance knew that all too well.
"No, it's not okay." He started to say something about not talking causing the current crisis, but stopped He needed to talk with Chance, not lecture him. "The father I was referring to was my adopted father I don't remember when he adopted me exactly, and no one ever talked about it much My biological father and mother died when I was maybe 4 or 5; I don't remember exactly My mother is the one I got my tiger colors from, as well as my healer gifts She was a healer as well as being a full telepath; I got the psychometrics from her as well But it was never her I had problems talking about because she fit into my world perfectly My biological father was another story entirely."
Chance was a little surprised, and began thinking that maybe he was the only one of three who had a 'normal' family At least he guessed Jake's probably wasn't; he couldn't remember ever hearing much.
Nathan sighed, settled back and concentrated; suddenly an image appeared on the television It was a large, black-furred male Felsin wearing a black uniform with a red arm patch with black crossed sabers on it "My biological father, Ebon Swiftclaw Commander of the elite NightBlades unit."
Chance wondered where the picture was coming from Despite the difference in size and coloration, the build was similar enough to Nathan's "I can see the resemblance, but why all the secrecy?" Then he noticed a worried expression on the medic's face "What's wrong? You are built similarly."
Nathan relaxed "Sorry, it's just that I've spent my life being so completely different from him...I misunderstood The NightBlades were a Felsin Special Forces unit, and I was raised in a family with a completely non-violent history and philosophy My adopted father was afraid I'd follow in my father's footsteps if I got a taste of the warrior's life It's the real reason he opposed my being a pilot I was supposed to follow him, and he tried very hard to see that I did From the day he adopted me, he went to great lengths to impress on me the family beliefs of peace and non-violence As far as he was concerned the military was a necessary evil; a concession to the fact that there were far too many beings who lacked the enlightenment to embrace peace and non-violence."
"Must have been rough, being the son of a soldier in a house like that."
Nathan sighed. "It was at first But I learned to see things their way, and spent a long time trying to forget Ebon Swiftclaw, ashamed of who I was and trying to pretend that Dr. Solgardin was my biological father Over the last year I thought I'd finally come to terms with being Ebon's son; until last night that is." Nathan paused remembering the nightmares that led to the tiger episode.
"What happened? I thought you were pretty restless last night." Chance said, remembering how loudly the medic had been talking in his sleep.
Nathan paused He wasn't sure how or what to say exactly since he was still coming to grips with it himself He needed someone to talk to, but he was worried that it might be more than Chance was up to handling right now "I'm not sure why but last night one of the memories my mother implanted 'woke up' There was a fair amount of info, but what really hit home was the fact that Ebon wasn't just a soldier, or even just Special Forces He was a black ops specialist and, according to the info I have, probably the deadliest assassin my world ever produced The info also suggests that he was never anything else; that he had always been black ops, which is almost unheard of Black ops recruit the elite of the other military forces; nobody starts there I think maybe this was what my adopted father was afraid of; if my father was, so to speak, born to black ops then I might be as well."
Chance was stunned; no wonder Nathan was having problems For someone as committed to saving lives as the medic was, being the son of a professional killer had to be rough He wanted say something, but couldn't figure out what.
Nathan looked up at tabby's face and thought maybe he had said too much "Chance, I don't expect you to say anything I just needed a friend to talk to, that's all I'm sure you've got enough on your mind already, don't worry about this." Nathan looked at the wall clock "By the way, don't you have an appointment this morning?"
"Kats! How'd it get so late?"
As Nathan watched Chance rush out of the room, he pondered what Felsira had said earlier He muttered quietly to himself. "My tabby, mother? Jake's tabby, if anyone's I have to fix things between them, which I haven't figured out how to do yet." Nathan thought for a moment "Guess I better go to Cathedral today I should check on the E-frame, and they should have the genetics equipment to let me see just what the Puzzleworks techs left behind, if anything It should give me some idea if the polymorphism is stable, 'cause I never heard of anybody having three forms."
He went into his office and started sketching out genetics notes, working out the basics on paper Nathan settled in to work, keeping one ear out for the door, since he wasn't going anywhere until Chance was on his way to the testing facility.
"Good morning, Mr. SolGardin." Brandy smiled at him across the threshold of his apartment "Is Chance ready?"
"Yes, ma'am." The freshly showered tabby answered from behind his friend, a tote bag slung over his shoulder "I'm ready." He grinned at her.
"Good," she gave him a sharp once over gaze before motioning for him to follow her with a warm smile and glanced at Nathan "Will you be coming?"
"No," he smiled at both of them "I have business I have to take care of, but I'll be by Ameliorate tonight And Chance," Nathan waited for the tabby to look at him "Knock'm dead."
"Will do, buddy." Chance gave a thumbs up with something very close to his old attitude, before following Brandy down the hall.
"Think of any more questions for me since yesterday?" She broke the silence as they road the elevator to the ground floor.
"Urr, well, I was kind of wondering what the pay was, and hours." He asked a little sheepishly as he followed her outside, then up the street.
"The hours are whenever you're needed to test a craft, plus at least 10 in the sims and 20 in the air each week." She smiled encouragingly "Pay stars at a two hundred and forty thousand a year and goes up based on the danger rating of your assignments, your skill ranking and seniority." She glanced over at a small choking sound to find him frozen on the sidewalk two paces back, staring at her with his jaw open and eyes wide. "Chance?"
"Two hundred thousand?" His voice trembled a little in raw shock.
"We pay what you're worth." Brandy nodded easily "A beginning test pilot is can expect about a hundred and seventy five a year plus perks in the open market As Cathedral standards are higher, and we dislike loosing good pilots, we pay starting at the middle range of experienced I expect you'll rank out around the high end of expert."
"Which means?" He asked weakly as he managed to get shaky legs moving to follow her into the parking lot nearby, where he promptly stopped again to stare dumbly at a sleek white aircraft with wings folded up against its sides, and not much bigger than the cars it was parked between.
She urged him to sit on the passenger side of the three person craft, only answering when he'd complied and she'd settled in the pilot's seat "Your base pay would be around four hundred thousand a year, plus room, board, medical, use of all Cathedral facilities, and three weeks of vacation a year."
"Oh." His voice was barely a whisper as the craft VTOLed over the buildings and Brandy set a southeastern course.
She spoke again when they'd reached a cursing altitude of two thousand feet "Can I hazard a guess that you haven't really considered being a test pilot for long?"
"Um, no I haven't." He consented with a slight nod.
"Just what kind of flying did you do, that you're so sure you can fly anything?" She prodded with a sideways glance before setting the autopilot and rotated her chair to face him.
"Umm, it's nothing official." He hedged, then shrugged "I did a lot of experimental craft flying for a ... friend, been caught in some of the fireworks over the city I've always had a good hand with aircraft, even when I was a kit I haven't met the bird I couldn't fly on the first try."
"That'll probably change." She studied him carefully, then shifted to a back seat "Take the pilot's chair, Chance."
"Umm, okay." He shot her an uncertain glance before working his body over.
"I suggest you pay attention to the controls," she grinned devilishly, "the autopilot's about to go off."
"Are you crazy?" He yelped and he grabbed the stick barely a heartbeat before the green light went off.
"Depends on who you ask." She chuckled at the tiny jerk the craft gave as Chance took over its guidance "Just keep us on course, no matter what."
"Okay." He didn't spare her a glance as his mind scrambled to take in the unfamiliar setup.
Chance had almost relaxed when he landed the small jet on a rap far too similar to the one leading to the Hanger for his comfort, especially as it ended in a bay like the one aboard the Aquarian's ship filled with similar craft to the one he was flying.
"Park it in bay 9." Brandy pointed to an open spot between craft "I'm impressed, I have to rescue most I do that to." She patted his shoulder and exited through the passenger side when they'd rolled to a stop "Come on."
"Yes, ma'am." He let a breath out he hadn't realized he was holding and followed her through the open bay.
"Hay, Brandy, who's the catch?" A buxom dark calico shekat waved at them, getting Brandy to shift her coarse slightly.
"Chance Furlong, Willa Tasser." She introduced them "Willa keeps the skimmer fleet fuelled and flight worthy Chance'll probably be the next Black Phoenix pilot."
"That good?" The calico raised an eyebrow at them both.
Brandy grinned widely "Yap, he took the flight in without help."
"Wow," Willa gave Chance another once over and thumped his shoulder as she walked past with a wink "Feel free to stop by my quarters tonight, if you have any energy left."
"Was she serious?" Chance shot Brandy a bewildered look as the well rounded shekat walked away, swaying her hips.
"Definitely." She turned a truly playful grin on him "If I wasn't recruiting you, I'd be asking you to bed too Want her room number?"
"Err, maybe later." He skitted around the flash of sick fear the thought brought up, and followed Brandy out of the hanger into hallways that couldn't help but remind him of the huge city-spaceship again.
"Because it's too soon, or you don't care for her looks?" The Brown Hyena bitch cocked an eyebrow at him.
"Urr, I'm really not ..." he sighed and let his shoulders slump, "I just got out of a long term relationship."
"I'm sorry it ended that hard." Brandy rubbed his upper arm "I'll see that you aren't bothered while you're with me We tend to be a flirty lot, but we all know loss."
"Please sit and relax, Chance." A heavily built Jaguar Xanith tomkat ushered them in "I'm Dr. Peter Jaykan Has Brandy informed you of what this exam actually covers?"
"Not really, sir." He settled in a comfortable chair on the short end on a sizable wooden desk "Just that it's a basic physical."
"Well, I guess that's one way to put it." He shot her a look before taking a seat at the desk and bringing out several pages of forms "Where Cathedral drops paperwork in the background department it more than makes up for here, especially for test pilots such as yourself."
Chance shrugged "I'm in good shape, no known allergies, can take 6.9 G's ..."
"That's a good start." Dr. Jaykin nodded with a slight smile "Would you say you're at a resting state right now, for heart rate, adrenaline, muscle tension and arousal?"
"Urr, I guess so." Chance gave him a curious look "I don't feel excited."
"Good." He rotated his chair to pick up several objects from the shelf behind him "Do you have any issues with needles or having blood drawn?"
Chance scrunched his face in distaste but shook his head as he extended his right arm "Don't like it, but it's not a problem."
Dr. Jaykan chuckled as he tied off the tabby's arm with a rubber tube and began searching for a large vein under thick fur "I can't say I've met anyone yet who likes having blood drawn."
"Just so long as you don't have to shave..."
That brought a reverberating laugh from the big Xanith "I haven't had to since I graduated med school."
"Have a seat, Chance." Brandy motioned him in front of the station in a small, computerized control room that was otherwise deserted after they'd eaten lunch "You may pick two of the six craft you will fly in the sim today from anything in the database And remember, this is not to judge what you know how to fly, but to see how well you can handle unknown craft and situations That's the true measure of a test pilot, because you will never fly a known."
"Okay," he started to skim through the aircraft names available, mentally taking note of the ones he'd like to have in bad conditions, if he wasn't in the Turbokat.
"And please choose a third that you know well." She added as he started looking though the 'C's "I'd like one craft you're comfortable for some of the emergency procedures runs."
"That easy, the A-52 Talon, Enforcer patrol variant I spent over two years in the fleet with them, and all of Academy." He shrugged, squelching the desire to say 'Turboat' with long practiced ease "Just about everything else I've flown hasn't exactly been a production model."
"What did you fly before for the Enforcers?" She asked with quiet ease, noting which craft caught his attention other than the ones he chose.
"Oh, mostly acrobatic and little one and two seaters My cousin's family's into the whole air show scene." He let a sad sigh out before returning to the list he was to choose from "I used to spend summers with them."
"Brandy, let me go up in a real aircraft." Chance's voice held all the desperate terror gathered in the past six and some hours of the worst performances of his life as he grabbed her shoulders "Please, I don't know what went wrong, but that was not what happens."
"You'll fly with us tomorrow." Her voice was soothing, as was her smile "The sim isn't the only judge, and you didn't do that badly."
"I have never flown that badly in my life Let me prove it now." He was shaking as he stared at her.
She hesitated a moment longer before nodding "Let me see what's available, but first we eat."
"Yes, ma'am." He let out a small breath of relief as his entire body sagged "Thank you It was like I couldn't feel anything in there All the signals I'm used to weren't there ... like flying blind, but worse."
"Really?" Brandy turned her full attention on him as she guided him to a cafeteria "Would you explain it in detail while we eat? This could be very important."
"Urr, okay." He nodded as his stomach made it well known that it hadn't been fed well in far too long "Umm, how will Nathan find me?"
Brandy chuckled as she served herself three slices of supreme pizza from the buffet line "That wristcom we all wear is tied into the central computer system All he has to do is ask Take whatever looks interesting, and as many returns trips as it takes to shut that up." She grinned and motioned to his middle before heading for the salad bar "We're in the set of booths at the end of the buffet." She made a general wave in that direction.
"So tell me why the sim is so different from flying a real aircraft." Brandy opened after they'd eaten most of their first plate.
"It's hard to describe, since I take it it's not like that for you ..."
"No," she shook her head in confirmation, "it's a rare day I can tell it's not very real But I've heard of cases like yours Most of the best of the best have problems in the sims So what's it like?"
Chance studied his plate for a long time, when he finally spoke there was a shadow of the terror that had gripped him less than an hour ago "It's like flying blind with half the equipment dead." He shook his head, trying to clear it of the memories "I've brought a bird down nearly bled to death and not felt so out of it."
"Wow," she shivered in sympathy.
"I'd rather not talk about it any more." Chance poked at his food before looking directly at her "I have to do that ten hours a week for this job?"
"Not if you're willing to make a medical report on what you experienced." She countered immediately "Though you'll have to do the time in the air instead."
"Lady, you have a deal." He managed a slightly green smile.
Nathan stopped his cycle on a lonely hill some miles outside the north-eastern limits of MegaKat City He estimated it would still take almost two hours to reach Cathedral, but he wasn't in that much of a hurry and there was something he needed to do He pulled the pocket-sized digital recorder from his jacket pocket, and turned it on.
"Personal Journal of Nathan SolGardin: Chance is headed off to the testing facility, and though I have no doubts as to the outcome, I can't see it as anything but a stopgap measure I've known Chance long enough to know that he's settling for being a test pilot because he'll be flying, but its a pale imitation of what he really wants He's one of those rare individuals who really lives for being a hero, 'one of the good kats' as he'd say It's why he became an Enforcer, until Feral took that away Being T-bone let him be the hero again, probably even better since he's got too much flair to be a 'by the book' type."
Nathan paused, stared at the empty sky and sighed deeply "But now he's lost that too and though Felsira knows I'd do anything for him; I can't give it back to him Between the two of us we could keep the Turbokat in the air, but it'd be obsolete in short order The technology changes too fast these days and part of what made the SWAT Kats possible was that we always had the edge But there's only one kat who keep the Turbokat on that leading edge and he's gone."
Nathan pulled the triangular medallion out from under his shirt and stared at it for a moment before putting it back "Somehow I have to get Jake back but I haven't a clue how The frustrating thing is I can't go to him, even though I've got a good guess where to look He's probably at Felina's since he wasn't at his place and I just can't deal with any Ferals right now, even if she is nicer than her uncle I don't know how well my temper would hold and besides if it wasn't for her he might not have run I just have to hope our friendship still means enough to Jake for him to call me back If not ... I can't think about that 'cause I don't know how or if I could deal with that."
Nathan turned off the recorder and put it away He looked back toward MegaKat City and pulled the medallion back out He gripped the medallion with such force that the pointed edges drew blood "Guys, somehow ... someway I will make things right again It can't end this way, I won't let it and though the Void may bar the way I will fix things The Medics first duty is the well being of the unit and right now that means healing the rift between you." He put the medallion back under his shirt, and resumed his drive to Cathedral.
Nathan hurried through the immense space that was Cathedral, barely noticing anyone or anything beyond avoiding collisions As always he noted the vague similarity between Cathedral and the Medic Orbital Station Gildenfire Both were large independent facilities in which a variety of races worked together more or less peacefully, though the large number of races was more unusual for a planetside facility like Cathedral than an orbital station like Gildenfire In some ways Cathedral felt more familiar than any other place on the planet, but unlike Gildenfire it wasn't home.
The thought of 'home' made Nathan sigh resignedly He wasn't sure what 'home' meant anymore The apartment wasn't home; it was a refuge of sorts, originally a place to find the solitude to relax his mental shields and now somewhere for Chance to stay while things sorted themselves out The Yard used to be home, but the last visit had felt a lot like his last visit to his adopted father's He had been gathering his things after his 'father' had disowned him, and the house had felt somewhat like a tomb, a memory of the past His musing was interrupted by the sharp impact of hitting something with his head.
He realized with some embarrassment that he had just walked into the frame of a door instead of walking through the door A tan shekat from medical who happened to be nearby was holding his arm apparently thinking he was going to fall down.
"Are you okay? That was quite a bump." She asked, in a professionally warm manner.
Nathan nodded "I'm fine I was just attempting to think and walk at the same time, bad idea apparently." He smiled, trying to deflect her concern.
"Any dizziness, blurry vision "
"No, and none of the other signs of a concussion either." Nathan grinned "I work part time as a trauma medic for MegaKat City General Hospital I feel fine, but I'll let medical know if that changes."
"Okay, but no ignoring the symptoms." She gave him a mock stern look knowing that medically trained personnel usually make the worst patients.
"Yes, ma'am." He cut a mock salute, with a distinct wise-ass grin.
"And no more thinking till you get where you're going." She laughed as she walked away.
Nathan chuckled and muttered under his breath "Probably not a bad suggestion at that."
Nathan had spent about half an hour examining the finished prototype Exo-Frame when a calm, older male voice interrupted his examination of the flight module.
"Hello Nathan, I thought you weren't due back until next week."
Nathan turned around to see Simon Thaelin, an older dark brown tom in charge of the project While Simon was in charge, it was Nathan who controlled things since he had written all the specs for the project and was the only person on the project to have worked with an operational Exo-Frame This arrangement suited Nathan just fine since he had no training in engineering, or the sciences involved in the project It also saved him from having to take care of any of the management details.
Nathan grinned "Good to see you too, Simon Actually the conference got out a week early 'cause the last presenter was taken to the hospital Besides looks like I came back at the right time 'cause the E-frame looks ready for field-testing."
Simon nodded "Ideally, I would prefer another week of laboratory testing However, given that it is a recreation of an existing system I see no real problem accelerating the testing schedule Have you had a chance to review the accumulated test data yet?"
"Not yet, Simon I figured I'd look over the suit first and then go up to my office to review the data Assuming there aren't any surprises in the test data I think we should be able to fit some of the base field tests in this afternoon."
"I suppose we could run some of the basic control and system test this afternoon But I think we should hold the more advanced tests till Monday."
"That's okay Simon, I was only planning on a half day here and then I have to run over to genetics for awhile, plus I have to be over at Ameliorate later this evening."
"Genetics? Expanding your research areas, Nathan?"
"Not really, Simon I've probably got more in-depth genetics training than most of the research staff, and advanced medical experience to back it up." Nathan smiled; Simon often forgot that Nathan was a medic not an engineer.
"Sorry my boy, you've provided so much technical data to this project I forget that its not really your field of expertise Going to try juggling two research projects at once, you'd have work here full-time to pull that off." Simon grinned
"Well Simon, I am seriously thinking about coming on full-time here if Medical has a position open But my project probably won't take more than four or five hours, maybe less."
The doctor looked dubious "What are you up to Nathan? No research project runs so short."
Nathan shook his head "No offense Doc, but its personal and medical If you don't mind I'd rather not talk about it."
"As you wish Nathan But if you need my help, I do hope you'll ask If you don't mind a little assistance I'll talk to Hathin for you, she and I are old friends Though I can't imagine her turning down a qualified physician, especially one with surgical and genetics background."
"Sure Simon, I'd appreciate it, and don't forget to mention my Xeno-medicine background; it can't hurt around this menagerie." Nathan smiled "Well, the suit looks fine so I'm going to go up and starting working through the data."
"I'll have the techs set things up so we can run field tests at 2:00pm, if you think that'll be enough time to review the data."
"Plenty of time, assuming there's nothing to out of the ordinary."
"And for once Nathan, don't forget to eat lunch You seem a bit stressed as it is."
"Yes, Sir." Nathan smirked; Simon was always reminding to him to eat lunch.
Nathan was busily running through two months of test data when there was a knock at his door He looked up from his graphics workstation to see Terry, one of the research assistants, standing there holding a tray Terry was a medium gray tom, a little shorter than average with a fairly slight build who also happened to hold degrees in mechanical engineering and materials engineering He had been Nathan's assistant for the duration of the project.
Nathan smiled "I take it this would be Simon's way of reminding me to eat lunch?"
Terry grinned a little sheepishly. "Yeah, he figured you'd forget otherwise."
"And let me guess, he also told you to make sure I actually eat this time." Nathan arched an eyebrow in a quizzical, yet somewhat comical fashion.
Terry cleared off one of the worktables, and set down the tray "He figured if you had company, you'd actually eat for a change He's really mothering you today Hope you don't mind me joining you."
Nathan shook his head resignedly "That he is indeed And since when have I ever minded your company, Terry?" He smiled and gestured absently across the office "Grab a chair, if you can find one that is."
"Mind if we talk business while we eat?" Terry asked, grabbing a sandwich off the tray.
"Not at all What's on your mind?"
"I was curious about the flight behavior of the suit Based on the models it seems to be thrust-based flight like a rocket, yet it has the large extensible wings I was wondering what function the wings serve."
Nathan turned to the large CAD workstation behind him and pulled up the Exo-Frame schematics "The wings serve two functions; the primary purpose is flight control: they provide additional stability at low speeds and increased air scooping at high speeds That's why they have the variable wing configuration, similar to variable wing configuration aircraft." Nathan explained while using keyboard commands to show the various configurations of the wings on the workstation monitor.
"The secondary function is that they can be used in a defensive fashion against weapons fire due to their armored construction, with training they can also be used in a strike mode again to due to the reinforced construction."
Terry leaned over Nathan's shoulder to look closer at the schematics "What's this armor modeled after? Are there winged Kats on your homeworld?"
Nathan smiled The younger tom was deeply curious about Felsinor and the two of them had talked for hours about it "No, actually the original version of the Exo-Frame was designed on a planet called Earth According to the historical data the original design was a combat suit modeled after an Earth native sentient known as a Gargoyle Very little is known about them; according to the sentient census data from Earth the gargoyles are both rare and reclusive In addition, historical reports indicate that the gargoyles have not always been welcome by the dominant sentient species, the humans."
"You said the original was a combat suit but there aren't any real weapons on the design we've been working from, why's that?"
Nathan sighed a little The truth was he'd left enough hardpoints open on the Exo-Frame to install weapons since he'd figured Jake would come up with better weapons than he would But now ... the last thing he wanted to talk about was his original plans for the suit It seemed like a lifetime ago, so he improvised "This is actually what's referred to as a Search and Rescue model The design purpose is to allow the Medic to locate and retrieve injured or endangered persons as quickly as possible Weapons are sacrificed for additional sensors, improved flight and improved armor The suit is equipped with a couple of non-lethal weapon options, just in case."
"Yeah, I noticed when I was working on the metal fiber formula that it'll probably stop small arms fire cold Pretty tough for paramedics gear."
Nathan reached up and bapped Terry gently upside the head "Not paramedics, 'ya silly kit. Medics, and we often operate in hot combat zones alongside the military so it's handy to be a least a little bulletproof."
Terry grinned broadly "Oops, my mistake So you see any problems in the test data or can we actually do some of the field tests this afternoon?"
Nathan turned to the PC that was displaying the test data "No, the data seems to be what I expected Performance is within expected parameters and all the safety checks passed It looks safe to field test Why don't you let Simon know, so he can get the telemetry set up?" Nathan sensed uncertainty from his assistant "Something bothering you Terry? You seem a little on edge."
Terry shook his head "Nothing important Just anxious to see how the suit performs." He started to open the door but Nathan interrupted him.
"Terry, not talking about something rarely makes it better." Nathan sighed "I've seen that all too clearly lately You should find someone you can trust to confide in I'm available if you if need someone to talk to."
Terry stared at the ground and absently shuffled his feet "Nathan, you're stressed already ... you don't need me dumping problems on you."
Nathan walked over and put his arm on the young tom's shoulder "Terry, I seriously doubt you have any problem which going to add any stress to mine And besides, helping people is what I do ... when I'm not designing armor suits." He chuckled quietly.
Terry slumped down in one of the office chairs "This one might."
Nathan pulled a chair over and sat down He carefully extended his limited empathic senses to get a better idea of what was bothering the usually cheerful Kat The pattern of tension and uncertainty seemed familiar "Terry, did you have another fight with your father?"
"No, things have been quiet on the family scene." He looked down, feeling kind of small He wanted and didn't want this conversation at the same time "Remember when I asked you about how to go about approaching somebody I was interested in?"
Nathan smiled That discussion had been the day before he left for the conference Terry had come to him looking for advice; Nathan had been uncertain what to say since his own dating experience was limited to Rhymar Before Rhymar, Nathan had always been focused on his next promotion, the next skill, the next assignment ... Rhymar had gotten him to actually see the day he was in and enjoy it The next promotion after they started dating had taken him longer but he enjoyed the time a lot more Of course, Rhymar had asked him out in the first place, so Nathan hadn't learned much on that front He also hadn't dated since because with Rhymar he didn't need anyone else, and after Rhymar died ... he was still learning to let that part of himself out again.
He saw Terry looking at him "Sorry, I was a little distracted, but yes I remember I don't know if I was much help though Still haven't talked to him yet, huh?"
"Not about that, no I'm afraid I'll lose him as a friend if I make a move on him." The gray tom's shoulders sagged a little.
Nathan put his hand on Terry's shoulder to reassure him "Terry, if he's really a friend it shouldn't affect that, as long as you can accept that he might not want to take the friendship to that level Do you know if he's interested in toms?"
Terry smiled weakly "Pretty sure."
"Do you know if he's already with someone?"
"I'm not sure Sometimes it sounds like he is, and other times not."
Nathan sighed He knew what that felt like "That can be a difficult situation, you might not want to get in the middle of it."
"I think something changed recently I'm pretty sure he's not with anyone anymore."
"That can tricky too, love on the rebound can be uncertain But I really think you need to talk to him, I really don't think you'd be risking anything." Nathan felt fairly certain about that Terry was smart, attractive and the only real friend Nathan had outside of SWAT Any tom who broke up a friendship with Terry over being approached was a damn fool.
Terry looked up and sighed "Nathan, what I've been trying to say is that it's you I'm interested in but I don't know if you see me as anything but a kit." Terry started to get up, his eyes beginning to tear "I'm sorry, Nathan I shouldn't have said anything but I thought maybe..."
Nathan reached over with his free hand to brush away the tear "Terry, I guess I should've figured this out sooner but I can be pretty blind about some things I've never seen you as just a kit For one thing, I'm not that much older than you Heck, I'm not even thirty yet."
Terry looked surprised "You're not? But you're a doctor, and all the engineering stuff plus I heard Simon saying you did genetics research too."
Nathan chuckled "Yeah, I know Makes me seem pretty ancient but embarrassing truth is I was one of those wiz-kit prodigy types you hear about The Medic Corps also has fairly intense training programs so I had an edge." He grinned He'd actually been a fast learner even by Corps standards "And the engineering isn't anything more than exceptionally accurate photographic memory, I just memorized blueprints that Rhymar was working on." Terry was the only Kat Nathan had told about Rhymar He had been able to tell Terry, because he was a friend who didn't know about any of the things that had happened back then.
Terry smiled slightly, then sighed "But there's something isn't there? Some reason you can't see me that way?"
Nathan shook his head tiredly This was going to be tough to explain and he didn't really feel up to it but Terry deserved the truth At least as much of the truth as Nathan could reveal "Terry, it isn't anything about you If my life were somewhat normal, I could see you as a partner You're attractive, smart and you're a good friend, which counts for a lot with me The problem is ... my personal life is pretty much a mess right now I've got two close friends fighting and I'm caught in the middle I've got one friend who's been through hell recently and is still recovering I've got another friend whose missing and I can't find him, which worries me And on top of that I've got a relationship that means everything to me which is having serious problems With all that going on I couldn't pay proper attention to having a partner Also there'd be a danger of you getting hurt by everything that's going on ... and I like you too much to let that happen The only thing I can really say now is that I can't give you an answer either way right now; until I know where my life is I can't in all fairness bring someone else into I hope you understand."
Terry looked up and smiled weakly "So it's not no, right?"
Nathan chuckled "No, it's ... can we discuss this later? I know it's not what you want, but it's all I have for now I honestly wish it were otherwise."
"It's better than I hoped I was afraid you'd be mad at me for bugging you with this now." Terry smiled "I guess I can wait, but you're risking me finding someone else, you know."
"If you find someone you think will make you happy, go for it Happiness doesn't come along that often You shouldn't pass it up waiting for what might be." Nathan sighed, wishing someone had given him this advice years ago.
"I won't, but I don't think there's much danger." Terry smiled somewhat impishly.
Nathan stood up to get something Terry stood quickly and wrapped his arms around him, hugging the older tom tightly for a moment before backing away.
"What was that for? Not that I minded." Nathan arched an eyebrow.
"You looked like you could use it I'll go let Simon know we're ready to run the tests."
"Thanks, Terry I think I did need it Tell him I'll be down in 15, and close the door on your way out I've got an important call to make."
"Sure thing, Nathan."
Nathan looked through his miscellaneous notes until he found the scrap of paper he was looking for On the paper were two things; a name 'Lance' and an internal phone number He dialed the number after a brief conversation he discovered that Lance was now working in the Genetics section.
Nathan chuckled "Better still Looks like arranging that med school recommendation for his sister may have been worth the effort after all." He grinned, thinking that actually he'd done it because the shekat seemed have some gift for medicine, but it looked this once it actually paid to do something nice for someone.
He dialed the number he had been given.
"Genetics Lab, Lance Morris speaking." A professional male voice answered.
"Hi Lance This is Nathan from Exo-Frame How's Alissa doing in Med School?" Nathan asked He wasn't in a mood for small talk but sometimes it was necessary.
"Sis? She's doing great. Said to thank you for arranging that recommendation."
"My pleasure Lance, I need your help with something." Nathan rubbed his eyes; the lack of sleep was beginning to catch up with him He focused on the biofeedback method for fatigue relief he had been taught at the Academy There was a brief rush of adrenaline and the fatigue retreated He wasn't sure how much longer it would work; he'd had only fragmentary bits of sleep since Thursday.
"If I can, what's up Nathan?" The tom asked curiously.
"I need access to the advanced genetics equipment, DNA profiling stuff Any lab space free soon?" Nathan was trying not to sound anxious.
Lance chuckled "Should be no problem, there are always open spots." He paused "I hate to ask, but what's your security clearance?"
Nathan sighed "Depends, I think Maybe you'd better run it past security just to be sure."
Lance was silent for a minute, the tapping of keys the only sound on the line "Looks like you're cleared, and then some. " He chuckled "You must have connections upstairs."
Nathan shook his head "Me? Have connections? That's not likely, not on this planet anyway." Nathan sighed; not connected was putting it lightly since he felt pretty much disconnected these days.
"Well, whatever the case lab 9 is yours after 16:00 How late you figure on staying?"
"Not too late, I have to go over to Ameliorate this evening."
"No problem, just make sure things are secure before you leave And no blowing anything up, that's only supposed to happen in the chemistry labs."
"No explosions, I think I can manage that Assuming, of course, that the equipment doesn't explode."
After he finished the minimal testing sequence for the Exo-Frame, Nathan headed to the Biological Sciences section He thought about his conversation with Terry and wondered how he could possibly be thinking about such things with everything that was going on. He sighed knowing that it was simply that Terry hadn't run away from him, or abandoned him and Nathan actually knew that Terry was interested in him In the chaos and uncertainty Nathan's life had become, Terry was something certain Nathan sighed again, knowing that the chaos and uncertainty meant he couldn't get involved with Terry now as much as part of him wanted to.
He walked around the genetics lab surveying the equipment and making notes The lab was acceptable, though there were a couple of pieces of equipment he would've liked He chuckled quietly The pieces in question were Puzzleworks special designs and he'd never seen them outside the AGDL.
"Will this do, Nathan?" A cheery male voice asked from the doorway.
Nathan turned to see Lance leaning against the doorframe The tall, thin black on tan tabby was wearing his usual lab coat that appeared to have lost a battle with a chemistry set Nathan smiled "Yeah Lance, this is perfect."
Lance walked over and leaned against one of the file cabinets "Look Nathan, if you need an assistant I'm not doing anything for the next few hours."
Nathan shook his head "Thanks, but I can handle things on my own To be honest, I need to handle them on my own." He had suspicions about what he was going to find and he didn't want anyone present if he was right.
"Okay, Nathan Just thought I'd offer See you 'round." He waved and strolled out.
Once the doors closed, Nathan pulled out the recorder "Medical Journal, Nathan SolGardin recording With the information provided in the memory crystals concerning my genetic heritage and my metamorphic slips I can no longer put off running a full DNA profile and genetic scan Fortunately, I know a few tricks to speed up analysis since I have to visit Chance at Ameliorate this evening Even if the G-series signs are negative I still have to know if the metamorphic genetic structures have become unstable If they have then I'll have to work up the stabilization agents so I can restabilize them."
Nathan watched the centrifuge spin the samples, and for a moment let his mind wander Suddenly he felt the 'click' that he'd learned to associate with a memory crystal activating Then he noticed the image of a tawny, athletic Felsin tom somewhat older than himself The figure was wearing the same black fatigues that his father wore in all the images Nathan had.
The figure spoke in a quiet, forceful voice "Hello, Nathan In case you don't remember I'm Cazimir Sunfire, or Cypher to use my handle Your folks had me handle this crystal since its mostly data which is my specialty If you're seeing this crystal it means you've become aware of the complexity of your heritage and are seeking answers I'll provide what information the three of us have, but I'm afraid it may only lead to more questions."
Cazimir's voice continued as an image of Ebon Swiftclaw appeared "This is your father, Ebon Swiftclaw in his 'center' form Unlike most Felsin his center form is the warbeast form Most often the center form simply went by the name 'Swiftclaw'."
The image changed to a picture of a powerfully built, black-furred Felsin Tom wearing the same uniform This tom was smaller than the first, being slightly less than six feet Cazimir's voice came in again "This is you father in his second form often known simply as Ebon This is a form he didn't use very often until after you were born, when he decided it was more appropriate to look this way at home."
Nathan smiled thinking of the few memories he had of home life with his parents Even with his special memory it was still difficult but worth the effort He attention was drawn back by the image changing again This time the image didn't look a Felsin at all, it looked like a Kat The shadow-gray tom was small, athletic and seemed very familiar to Nathan though he couldn't quite put his finger on why.
Cazimir's image appeared nearby He was smiling "This is your father in his third form Though this form's name was Ebon Darkblade, he was better known by his handle, BlackRazor This was how your father appeared when he and I first met, and it's the form I fell in love with."
Nathan gasped realizing why the image was so familiar The small gray tom bore a striking resemblance to Jake He chuckled to himself a bit at the coincidence "I've got to remember to tell Jake about this He's a dead ringer for my father, the world-class assassin If that isn't an ironic coincidence, I don't know what is." Nathan laughed to himself again thinking how bizarre that was; Jake, who worried about accidental missile casualties, being a dead ringer for an assassin The similarity in the handles was pretty darn strange too.
The image of Ebon disappeared leaving only Cazimir "You're probably wondering how your father could have three anthromorph forms when genetics only allows two, with the rare Felsin having a third feline form The truth is that it is possible because your father is a product of the G-series genetic creation program created by Puzzleworks, or the Advanced Genetic Design Laboratories, the ADGL, as they are publicly known Your father was part of the Generation 0, or G-0 project Generation 0 represented the fact that these creations had no predecessors, having been created from genetic information using advanced nanomanipulation techniques Each G-0 was created to exact specifications to satisfy certain mission requirements Your father was the most complex of the G-0's since he was designed to be the ultimate black ops specialist; an expert in infiltration and espionage as well as an assassin without peer The G-series succeed brilliantly in this regard creating eight individuals who formed a black ops unit with an unrivaled record of success: The NightBlades."
An image of eight Felsin wearing the same black fatigue uniform appeared All eight were male but aside from that there was little similarity "A secondary part of the G-0 project was mental conditioning to maintain discipline and loyalty This part of the project was only a partial success in that the artificially created loyalty didn't last Five years ago, the NightBlades left the service of the shadow government and attempted to retire, the SG has been hunting us ever since Since it was unknown what would happen if the G-0s were to reproduce they were genetically programmed and mentally conditioned to be interested only in other males Four years ago that conditioning broke on one G-0, your father, and that's where you come in."
The image hesitated for a moment "I guess I should be honest, I had a lot to do with that second conditioning break, after all I actually introduced your mother and father and talked them into this evening three-way I did it for kicks and to see if your father was really as not interested in fems as he claimed I had no idea it would result in a full-fledged bonding, and I sure didn't see kits coming out that one-nighter That'll teach me to play truth-or-dare with a black ops assassin.
"Okay, back to the facts Given that your father is one of the G-0s makes you a Generation 1, a G-1 Unfortunately, no one has any idea what that really means Your mother thinks that you have most, if not all, of your father's genetic enhancements though many are in latent form They may become active as you grow up, or they may never surface To date there's been no research on G-1s because ... there aren't supposed to be any, and officially there still aren't."
Nathan's head was spinning He'd been trained at the AGDL so he knew all about the G-0 project and had even worked on some of the early stages of G-0 matrix creation He'd read the scientific literature on the G-0s and the theoretical propagation of traits to G-1s but it was all theoretical because the G-0s had never successfully reproduced Yet Cazimir was telling him that he was a G-1 and the G-1 from the ultimate assassin to make matters worse.
Cazimir continued "Though most of your genetics are dominated by the genetically enhanced inheritance from your father, your mother's genetics can not be ignored Your mother was the latest in a long line of carefully planned marriages and breeding designed to maximize telepathic potential The Moonstone clan has for centuries been attempting to produce the ultimate Felsin telepath who would be the greatest healer ever and would also be capable of unlocking the 'lost' powers of our ancestors I don't believe most of the spiritual bit but there's no denying that your mother is the most gifted telepath I've ever met as well as being a healer of enormous talent Though you show no signs of telepathic ability at this time, not unusual considering four year olds normally don't, your mother thinks that you may have that as a latent ability as well."
Cazimir paced back and forth briefly "In my opinion it's this large pool of latent ability that makes you of such interest to the SG After all what could be more deadly than an assassin with powerful telepathic abilities That combination wasn't planned by anyone but I'm sure the SG is already finding ways to exploit it and you If you're seeing this message then you're still free of them but you should always be wary of them They never give up on a potentially useful tool; they may set it aside for years but they never forget it."
The rest of the memory crystal was intensive amounts of genetic data and research notes According to notes in the margins all the notes had been 'liberated' from AGDL by BlackRazor and Cypher Nathan noted with some interest that there was complete genetic data on his mother, father and Cazimir "Now why'd they include Cazimir's genetic data?" Nathan jumped as the computer beeped at him signaling that the profiling was done.
Nathan walked over and sat down at the terminal "Time to see what's going on with me G-1? I don't think so, Cazi I think somebody would've spotted that a long time ago Even assuming father was a G-0, the likelihood of a genetic pass that one-sided is virtually nil, genetics doesn't work that way."
Nathan pulled up the genetic profile data As he scanned through the data an inescapable conclusion began forming; Cazimir had been right The telltale signs of AGDL protocols were all over the place, along with some the trace signs of matrix creation Nathan was amazed those would remain visible a generation later but if his father had undergone Omega stabilization that might account for it.
He also noticed that a vast majority of genetic code was indeed from his father, with small amounts from his mother What really amazed him was the fact that he could trace certain genetic elements to Cazimir, because they were traits not expressed in either of his parents code and couldn't be accounted for by combination.
Nathan thought about what Cazi had said about the SG and useful tools, which made him wonder what had happened between when his parents died and when Dr. Solgardin adopted him He'd always been told he'd been adopted right afterwards but something about that story didn't feel right Most of his life before he was twelve were something of blur and always had been, but he'd always been told that it was nothing to worry about.
Nathan wandered about the lab trying to sort everything out, but the more he thought the less it made sense All the genetic data and what Cazi said as well suggested he was some sort genetically engineered super-assassin like his father but he'd spent his entire life saving lives He was beginning to think that maybe he was the ultimate hypocrisy; an assassin pretending to be a Medic He sat down in front of another workstation his body shaking as the thought crossed his mind that maybe the SG had gotten him at some point; maybe he was some sort of living sleeper weapon.
His train of self-doubt was interrupted by notations on a file sitting on the workstation next to him They looked like genetic engineering notations, which surprised him He was going to leave the file alone but curiosity got the better of him "If they left it out they must not care who reads it, as long as they have the right clearance." He rationalized as he started skimming the file for a distraction.
The first thing Nathan noticed was that there was no project identifying sheet at the front. As he read the file he became convinced that what he was reading was in fact a Beta-cycle creation project "They're still at Beta huh? I guess I may have to introduce G-series techniques, at least if my metamorphic sequences don't self-stabilize."
Further reading indicated that they had some kind of genetic instability problem, and that an earlier stabilization treatment was beginning to decay Nathan remembered reading that the Beta-cycle stabilization treatment contained a chaos function which meant it didn't always take The other problem he remembered was far more serious: the failure of Beta stabilization to hold could be a sign of chaos chain destabilization , a painful and unfailingly lethal condition.
Nathan thought a moment before remembering that the G-series stabilization protocols also corrected Beta-cycle chain chaos destabilization Nathan scanned through the report looking for several critical genetic scans "Where's the Randine-Herbst RNA scan? I don't even see a basic Catalan-Kryton Gene bias sample." He thought a moment, and chuckled quietly "What am I thinking? Those are both G-series protocols, and probably haven't even been developed yet."
Nathan typed up a full report on his analysis, added details on the missing protocols and the equipment required He had never enjoyed writing reports but he knew it was often the easiest way to get corporate types to take one seriously He finished the report reasonably quickly but realized he was still missing something: the patient The detection protocols couldn't be run unless he could obtain additional genetic samples.
Nathan finally reached the back of the report where he found the missing project sheet He scanned it looking for a name, ident number or something he could refer to the patient by He found a name field and rapidly typed it into his report Then he read the report and saw what he'd typed "Jake Clawson? Jake..." Nathan's hands shook, as he looked back at the report to be sure he hadn't made a mistake; he hadn't For a moment, his mind went into a panicked overdrive, as he remembered the time he'd seen a patient in the final stages of destabilization Then his professional mind took over, reminding him that the report suggested the possibility of destabilization but didn't mention any actual symptoms.
Nathan took a deep breath and forced himself to complete the report, and write the proper executive summary He wrote it taking into account that while Pakitra Dyne was very intelligent and highly educated, but was probably not a genetic engineer. He hesitated for a moment about going directly to the top, but realized that though he couldn't get a hold of Jake, she probably could.
He consider for a moment and then wrote a additional note, since he felt it necessary to explain why he was taking so much interest in a case that wasn't his, as far Cathedral knew Nathan was still SWAT's Medic, which made the health of the team members his responsibility Since Jake hadn't actually told him that he was leaving the team, officially he hadn't, therefore Nathan was still responsible for him.
Nathan sighed, it didn't matter what had officially happened; there was a possibility that Jake was in serious trouble and no matter what had happened Nathan couldn't ignore that He'd never forgive himself if something happened to Jake and he hadn't at least tried to help.
Nathan focused his mind into the purely rational, professional mode he'd been taught at the Academy It wasn't easy to do, or to hold, but it made it possible to write the professional sounding letter he needed He avoided mentioning the guys behaving like teenagers, he just left it at 'the unit was having communication difficulties on a personal level' He acknowledged the fact that he felt no need to worry about identities since he was sure Cathedral already knew He explained that his position as SWAT Medic made Jake's health his responsibility, but that he needed assistance in locating him.
Nathan very carefully considered the closing of the letter and then went with his full formal closure:
Colonel Nathan SolGardin, Medic 1st class
Alphard Sector Medical Commander
Galactic Alliance Medic Corps
(on detached duty as) Chief Medical Officer, SWAT
He smiled at the last one Though never used, it was, by Felsin definitions, true enough He was the ranking Medic attached to a unit, which made him Chief Medical Officer Not that he'd ever cared before, but it sounded good right now It was also his way of saying that SWAT's difficulties were temporary and would be overcome, even if only he understood the meaning of the word choice.
He transferred the files to a disk, placed it in a disk carrier and labeled it Priority Medical As he considered what the fastest way to get the files to Ms. Dyne would be, he absently placed the disk in his jacket pocket He started pacing as he considered options and wasn't happy with anything conventional since all were likely to be delayed until sometime Monday Even if Cathedral ran 24/7, its CO probably didn't That delay was unacceptable but the only other option was to deliver them personally, which made him concerned about whether he'd be taken seriously Suddenly, something inside him snapped and he was consumed by an overwhelming need to find Jake NOW!
He rushed out the door searching frantically, convinced that Jake was here somewhere but not sure where Nathan didn't even realize that he had morphed to tiger form and was, in fact, sprinting through the corridors.
The tiger ran through the corridors of Cathedral with all his senses searching for any sign or indication of where Jake might be In addition to the keen hunting senses of a tiger he also focused his empathic sense on his weak link to his missing friend The tiger didn't care where he was going; the only important thing was whether Jake was there or not.
Each time the tiger reached a place that seemed to have stronger the average feeling of Jake's presence he was disappointed by the fact that the trace was from past presence not current Each disappointment made the tiger more anxious than before, driving him on.
Given the number of alien species present in Cathedral, and given that there were shapeshifters among them it wasn't that big of a surprise for people to see a tiger running through the corridors It was somewhat unusual in that the tiger seemed somewhat frantic and yet deftly avoided colliding with anyone.
A bored Labrador Kantin security guard noticed the tiger during a random camera check He nudged his equally bored Doberman Kantin partner "Hey Joe, we got any tigers on staff?"
"I think there's a few shapeshifters who do tigers It have a wristcom?" The Doberman offered.
Sam brought up a still of the running cat "Yap."
Joe tapped a few keys and a batch of information rolled across a secondary screen "Well, looks like its one of the Exo-Frame R&D staff, Nathan SolGardin."
"He seemed pretty agitated about something Remember what happened last time ..." the Labrador Kantin let the sentence trail off, just pointing to the data on the screen.
"You have a point, Sam." Joe tagged a couple more keys.
"Sheir Kahn here." A strong female voice rumbled through the comm system's speaker in the control panel.
"Sorry to bother you, ma'am, but there seems to be a disturbed member of Exo-Frame R&D staff running around sector G-16A in a form he shouldn't be in." Sam explained "His name's Nathan SolGardin, and he looks to be a tiger, as in the four legged kind."
"I understand." Her perfectly calm voice resonated "Does he still have his wristcom?"
"I'll deal with it Begin the report." She ordered before cutting the connection.
"Damn shekat gives me the creeps." Sam muttered as he started the incident report protocol.
"It's a Jedi thing, is all." Joe chuckled and patted Sam's shoulder "They're all like that."
"Then they all give me the creeps." The Black Lab snorted.
After having run through many levels and areas of Cathedral looking for Jake, the tiger came to a large secure section that his wristcom's security level wasn't high enough for The tiger started to turn away, as he had at other places, but he felt Jake's presence stronger than anywhere he'd checked.
The tiger considered the security measures for a moment His eyes glowed with a warm golden light and then the security panel began to glow similarly The tiger's sensitive ears heard someone approaching, so he darted around a corner out of sight.
The tiger could hear voices talking around the corner He didn't care who they were, or what they were saying he just wanted them to leave He needed to get through that door to find out if Jake was inside or not The tiger lay down against the wall to wait for the voices to leave His eyes closed briefly as fatigue became almost overwhelming Then there was a flash of golden light and the tiger found himself on the other side of the door that had blocked him.
He didn't think anyone had seen him yet so he decided to look around As he passed a desk he noticed some notes that looked interesting A quick scan told him that he was inside the Black Phoenix project area He knew next to nothing about the project except that it involved advanced jets, which made sense If Jake worked for Cathedral they'd be foolish not to have him work on Black Phoenix, whatever it really was.
He thought for a moment and then decided that the place to look for Jake would be the main hangar area He moved quickly yet quietly through the project corridors till he reached the main hangar area, following Jake's psychic residue more than anything What he saw when he entered the hangar stopped him cold The tiger blinked repeatedly not believing that he was seeing multiple Turbokats, or jets modeled after the Turbokat.
He decided they must be corporate attempts at copying the Turbokat, but just to make sure he leapt on to the canopy of one of the jets Looking inside he realized they weren't copies, but were actually improved Turbokats ... far better than the one in the Yard's Hangar, and with a control configuration he couldn't make heads or tails of, except that it definitely wasn't standard.
He shook his head They couldn't be better because SWAT had the best aircraft engineer there was The tiger stared at the jets, examining their lines, electronics, psychic residue and anything else he could see looking for an explanation After minutes of staring he realized that only one Kat could have designed these planes; Jake Clawson His shock prevented him from noticing just how unusual the craft were to his psychic senses, or feel the light mental nudge of concern from several directions.
The tiger felt as if gravity was failing; it didn't make any sense that Jake would design better stuff for somebody else than he did for SWAT He searched his mind desperately for an explanation that made sense, and then from somewhere his empathic senses picked up a word floating in the 'air' : replacements.
Suddenly it all made horrible sense to Nathan There were enough jets here to form a squadron He knew that normally corporations don't built squadrons; they build single prototypes to demonstrate concepts to buyers Then he remembered the corporate law enforcement arrangements used on some of the Lupo belt colonies where corporations provided auxiliary support to local law enforcement.
He realized that having one independent jet providing assistance in crisis situations was a cost effective way to demonstrate the effectiveness of the idea Then when the real squadron was ready you dismantle the prototype unit to show how badly the city needs the help When the next crisis hits and local law enforcement can't handle it you pull out your squadron and bail them out Then you cut a big contract to handle future situations.
It explained why Cathedral had provided covert support to SWAT, which was a somewhat risky move for a corporate entity SWAT had been Cathedral's way of prototyping the idea and showing the city it was needed The tiger growled as he realized what this meant; Jake had been a Cathedral employee the entire time, just there to make sure the project proceeded according to plan.
The tiger also realized that Chance didn't know about it He hadn't been familiar with Cathedral before Nathan had introduced him to it He was sure about that much; Chance was too emotionally wounded to be hiding anything effectively That Jake was the only one that knew made a cold-hearted sort of sense; Cathedral didn't need the original pilot, they had resources to recruit all the pilots they needed They sure didn't need the team medic either, since they had plenty of medical staff, and it's not like he was there in the beginning either Which meant they just had to make sure the team broke up at the right time, to get rid of the surplus personnel They didn't even need to bother retrieving the original Turbokat, since they'd probably been letting it slowly fall behind the technology curve anyway Ideally, they'd want to bury the whole prototype project to keep it from leaking out that they'd set things up to prove the need for their services.
The tiger slumped on top of the jet, his head on his paws He couldn't believe, didn't want to believe but the evidence was all around him All the pieces that hadn't made sense fit together now Jake's involvement with Felina even made sense; she'd hardly be the first law enforcement officer to make the move into the more profitable world of consulting, and dating the technical genius behind the project made it that much easier to move into the corporate structure.
The room swam and the tiger felt as though he'd been kicked in the stomach repeatedly He couldn't believe he'd been so blind as to not see what was going on around him He'd never made a misjudgment this bad about anyone before; how could he have missed that Jake really cared nothing about SWAT ... that it was nothing but a corporate project to him.
The tiger rushed out of the room and suddenly found himself back in the corridor around the corner from the security door He was still stunned from what he had discovered It was bad enough that Jake had deceived him so completely but how could Jake do that to Chance; who he supposedly been friends with for years Nothing made sense to the tiger anymore, and the world began crashing down as he realized there was no hope of rebuilding SWAT now.
The tiger stood up, shook his head and roared The roar echoed through the corridors of Cathedral causing many to jump and several to drop things The roar was one of grief, anger and pain; though only one familiar with tigers would hear the subtleties underlying the anger To a psychic sensitive there were words in the telepathic currents of the roar The words were simple yet they carried the emotional resonance of a heart torn to pieces, a soul struck down by the one thing it could not face: betrayal It simply asked, "Jake, how could you?"
Go to Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7
A Triad Through Fire, Darkness and Death part 1 of 7
NC-17 for friggen Everything
Het Level is Low Slash Level is Slash Smut Level is Medium Femslash Level is None Herm Level is None
243 KB, Story is Closed-Unfinished, Series is Closed-Unfinished
Written April 1, 2001 by Rauhnee Ranshanka, Todd McCall, Vorex and Lailokos
Setting: Galactic Alliance, SWAT Kats
Primary Races: Darshar, Felsin, God, Kat
Contents: Furry. Het (M/F). Slash (M/M). Abuse, Betrayal, Death, Mpreg, Violence
Pairings: Nathan SwiftClaw/Jake Clawson/Patrik Celest and many others.
Notes: Part of the infamous STD set of stories that began the monster that is Fur and Fantasy. This was the first spin off, and second story we ever started.
Once upon a time, on a list called SWATKats_Adult, a conversation resulted in Vorex posting a snippet to the effect of 'Chance as requested; fucked, abused and a little confused' and invited me to add the Jake parts to the series that would become Secrets Too Deep.
Around pt 7 of that, a nut case going by Todd McCall joined the fray and created a divergent timeline with me, which became this beast, Variant B. Known elsewhere as 'Secrets Too Deep: SWAT Kats Three' and 'STDB', among others.
Now the six of us involved in writing various variants have taken over our own list for it, because we chatter too much.
Originally released in 41 parts, it's now compiled for archiving.
Blurb: With the third SWAT Kat away at a medical conference, all hell breaks loose at the Yard, and getting his partners back together are the very least of Nathan's concerns soon enough.
Disclaimer: All things taken directly from the sources listed under 'Fandoms' belong to the owners of those shows. No harm is intended and we're definitely not making any money. Now, the things we created are ours, and if you see 'Non-FanFic' up there, it's probably all ours.
Page Hit Count from February 25, 2005