The harvest moon hung low in the sky. Dead leaves rode the crisp autumn wind that carried the husks of halcyon days. An anguished howl filled the air as the bright moonlight cast eerie shadows throughout the junkyard. It didn't take much imagination to see ghouls and monsters lurking about.
The flickering light and shadows on the office window told all who were interested what was going on inside. A large, muscular cat dressed in grimy mechanic's coveralls sat on a threadbare couch with his partner, who was similarly attired. Between them lay a huge bowl of buttered popcorn. They watched the small, battered, black-and-white television set on the shelf; its coat hanger antenna was twisted in grotesque angles.
A buxom queen cat in a black robe and a wide-brimmed pointed hat appeared on the screen. She said, "This is Mistress Macabre. Welcome to the 'Witching Hour'. For tonight's first feature, we have 'Attack of the Gadget Snatchers'. Keep your eyes on your things; you never know what piece of machinery might just take on a life of its own."
The larger cat groaned. "Are you serious, Jake? This has got to be cheesier than a rat trap!"
Jake, the thinner cat, shot back. "Admit it, Chance. You just have no appreciation for the classics."
As the opening credits began to roll, Chance muttered, "I can't believe you talked me into this."
"Hey," snapped Jake. "I won the coin toss fair and square."
"What do you mean, 'fair'?" Chance countered. "Everyone knows you have a two-headed coin!"
"Exactly! And you picked tails. Now quiet. This is where it gets good."
From the television, strains of oboe filled the air as dawn broke to the feline version of "The Morning Song". The scene on the screen started with an overhead view of a nondescript suburban neighborhood and descended to focus on the garage door on a tract house. The door swung up with an unexpected bass rumble. Inside, a car facing outward had its dome light on, revealing that there was no one inside. Chance chortled when the car came to life when, instead of the throaty roar of a piston engine, the whines of turbine engines filled the room.
Jake stared dumbfounded as the car raced out of the garage with the scream of a fighter jet.
An orange glow on the office wall tore their attention away from the movie. Leaping over the couch, they ran to the window. Their jaws dropped as they watched an unmistakable triangle of bright lights recede in the distance.
Jake looked over and asked, "You don't suppose . . ."
Chance shook his head. "Of course not! Stuff like that doesn't happen in real life. Let's see what's really going on."
The two walked into the workshop, away from prying eyes, locking the door behind them. They walked to a large first-aid kit mounted on a wall. Chance pressed on an edge and then pulled back, revealing a status panel and a closed-circuit television monitor. The lights were all green, indicating that none of the alarms had been tripped. However, the launch bay door indicator read "OPEN".
Jake said skeptically, "Maybe it's a malfunction?"
The two stared at the monitor, silently urging it to cycle faster. Scene after scene played, revealing nothing out of place — except for an open launch bay door and a conspicuously empty hangar.
Jake groaned. "This doesn't make any sense."
Chance pulled a pair of short-barreled MASER rifles from a hidden compartment and threw one to Jake. "Looks like we'll have to do this the hard way."
Quietly, the two entered the secret lair. One would dash to a safe point while the other provided cover. They would then switch roles, leapfrogging until they reached the interior hangar door. Once they were in position, they looked at each other and nodded. Chance kicked the door open and pulled back while Jake swept the room from the bottom of the doorframe. The muted howl of the crisp autumn wind was the only thing that greeted them.
Once they cleared the room, Chance closed the launch bay doors. He growled, "Who took it? Where did it go?"
Jake replied, "Let's peek in." The pair moved to an insulated room set in a corner of the hangar. Chance drummed his fingers as the monitors warmed up. Jake continued, "Cockpit view is on. Pilot view is on. Telemetry is on."
The pair looked in astonishment at the cockpit view revealed empty seats while stick and throttle moved as though they had minds of their own. Chance said, "Impossible! The Turbokat can't fly itself!"
Jake shrugged. "Maybe someone's made an invisibility suit. Let's see if they have anything to say." He flipped the switch to put cockpit audio on the speakers.
Over the muffled roar of jet engines, a gleeful feminine laugh could clearly be heard. With a Middle Eastern accent, she said, "Yes, this is what it means to fly!"
Puzzled, the S.W.A.T. Kats looked at each other. They then grabbed their masks to hide their identities. Jake, now Razor, took out a coin. "Do you want to flip for it?"
Chance, now T-Bone replied, "No way! You owe me for the movie!" Razor shrugged and returned the coin to his pocket.
T-Bone sat in front of the console and turned on the camera. In the Turbokat, his face now showed on the multi-function displays. He pressed the microphone button and said, "Lady, I don't know who you are or what you think you're doing, but you're bringing that plane back now!"
The voice said with amusement, "Well, hello there, Señor Luchador. Would you like me to show you my moves?"
"Can it, Lady! This is no joke!"
The voice sniffed. "Well, you're no fun. So, who do we have here?"
"This is T-Bone of the S.W.A.T. Kats."
The voice purred. "You do look tasty. Pity I'm busy at the moment."
Razor stuck his tongue out and pointed a forefinger at his mouth.
T-Bone continued, "This is no joke, lady. You come down now, or I swear, I'll bring you down!"
The voice said, "What's that? Very well, since you asked so nicely."
Razor's eyes widened as he looked at the pilot's view. Urgently, he nudged T-Bone from behind. Their mouths hung open as they saw their junkyard rapidly filling the screen. At the last second, the view pulled up and the hangar shook from the shock wave.
The voice continued. "Yes, I told you, you could do it." The voice cleared its throat. "Now, T-Bone of the S.W.A.T. Kats, where are my manners? You may call me Shabh."
T-Bone looked back. Razor shook his head. "Never heard of her."
With a hint of amusement Shabh said, "So, T-Bone of the S.W.A.T. Kats, why don't you let me see your girlfriend?"
Razor forced his way into the frame. "This is Razor of the S.W.A.T. Kats. What do you want with my plane?"
Shabh laughed. "Let me guess. You raided your piggybank for this one."
"No way. I built the Turbokat myself. Now answer my question; what are you doing?"
"I'm keeping you grounded tonight, in case you hadn't noticed. You two should go enjoy this beautiful full moon and let us be. These things are obviously beyond your understanding."
T-Bone snarled, "Who put you up to this? Dark Kat? Madkat? Dr. Viper?"
Shabh laughed gently. "It's a final request from a friend. Tell me, Razor of the S.W.A.T. Kats, did you really build this poor thing out of junk parts?"
"You better believe it." snapped Razor.
"Come, now. The Enforcers' fastest aircraft can barely get out of its own way. Do you have any idea what it means to travel at thrice the speed of sound?"
T-Bone snarled, "That's nothing for the Turbokat! We do it all the time!"
"And what of your poor baby, Razor of the S.W.A.T. Kats?"
T-Bone pulled Razor fully into the frame. Off camera, T-Bone said, "Keep her busy!" The larger cat squeezed into his flight suit and roared off on a spare Cyclotron.
T-Bone roared up to a decrepit hanger at an old airstrip on the outskirts of town. As he was about to knock on the door, it opened, revealing an old, balding cat in a lab coat. "Ah, T-Bone," he said. "What can I do for you?"
"No time to talk doc. I need to borrow that secret project we've been working on."
Professor Hackle raised an eyebrow. "Are things really that bad? You know it's never left the workshop before."
T-Bone nodded as he pushed past. "Someone stole the Turbokat. I've got to stop her."
The professor said, "I see. I must warn you, though, the warhead is live; Razor never got to install one of his special ones. Once you launch the missile, someone is sure to die."
Frustrated, T-Bone growled. "I'm out of options, doc."
Professor Hackle replied, "Good luck." He pushed the button to open the hangar door before going to push the motorcycle to cover. A moment later, a brand new, small, dart-shaped jet with stubby wings and a "T"-shaped tail roared off into the night with a single conformal missile strapped to its belly; a casual observer would think the set was more missile than aircraft. The Astrokat was about to be blooded.
At the console in the secret hanger, Razor turned a sickly shade of green as he struggled to hold onto his lunch. The aerobatics shown on the pilot's view monitor were wreaking havoc with his spatial perception. Although the moonlight made picking out detail difficult, the HUD data superimposed on the screen told the story quite clearly as the Turbokat danced above 50,000 feet.
Shabh laughed. "Come now, Razor. Did they really qualify a blind pilot? I'm in the front seat, large as life!" The pilot's view showed a quick barrel roll as a single point of light sped by. Shabh snorted. "That was not very sporting."
From the cockpit of the Astrokat, T-Bone swore as he overshot his target. He pulled into an Immelmann turn, quickly reversing direction. He scanned the skies, hoping for some sign of his quarry. However, trying to pick out a black target in the night sky proved to be an exercise in frustration. A tapping sound came over his headphones. "Huh?"
Shabh's gentle laugh greeted his ears. "Hey there, T-Bone of the S.W.A.T. Kats. You don't mind if I just call you T-Bone, do you?"
T-Bone growled, "Can it, lady! When I find you, I swear . . ."
"Try looking up."
T-Bone complied, in spite of himself. The Turbokat was just above him, inverted. In the cockpit, he could see an Egyptian Mau waving. She wore a leather flight jacket and a smile. While T-Bone's mouth hung open behind his oxygen mask, Shabh blew a kiss and pulled into a barrel roll. Instinctively, T-Bone did the same, trying to keep Shabh off his tail. Stick and rudder moved in perfect coordination as he kept his head on a swivel to track the Turbokat.
T-Bone grunted as he strained his neck muscles against the high-G maneuvers. Air bladders squeezed his legs and belly to keep his blood from pooling there. The rolling scissors continued in the vertical, the horizontal, and in between. Neither pilot could gain an advantage through the twists and turns. Sweat soaked his flight suit as the contest wore on. Suddenly, inspiration struck. T-Bone chopped his throttle and popped his air brakes. The Turbokat flashed ahead, inverted. T-Bone pressed the trigger.
No sane pilot could have survived that encounter. The forward thrust nozzle activated, forcing the nose down as the Turbokat went into a bone-crushing 12 G split-S. The missile raced away into empty space as its quarry vanished from view before it could acquire target lock. Desperately, T-Bone closed the brakes and firewalled his throttle. His engine coughed and sputtered.
A gentle laugh came over his headphones.
"Bingo fuel, T-Bone of the S.W.A.T. Kats. I do hope your deadstick technique is good."
The Astrokat's sole weapon was the experimental Ferret missile. Once it reached safe arming distance, its seeker initiated the loss of lock protocol. It now sought out the nearest target in all directions. There was something behind, falling. In a move no living cat could survive, it turned to pursue.
T-Bone swore under his breath as the ram air turbine deployed. He was now in the world's most expensive glider. His eyes grew wide at the bright shape that was getting progressively bigger. The world's most expensive glider had just become the world's most expensive aerial target, and T-Bone was the bullseye. He was out of fuel, out of speed, out of ideas, out of luck. "Crud."
Laser beams lanced past him, detonating the missile. Shrapnel struck with the rattle of gravel on a tin roof. A split second later, a dark shape roared past. He watched helplessly as the Turbokat soared like a homesick angel.
Razor watched as the altimeter showed the Turbokat zoom climbing to 100,000 feet. A melodic chime came over the speakers. Midnight.
Shabh's voice filled the air. "Well, gentlecats, it's been a pleasure. One last flight, one last fight, one last chance to be a hero." She sighed. "If only you could hear what I do, Razor. Your daughter is in agony. Duralumin was never meant to take the heat from trisonic flight. And if you don't make each turbine blade from a single crystal?" Shabh sighed. "We've given her everything she had longed for. All that's left now is to let go and say goodbye."
The Turbokat shuddered as a turbine blade shattered, sending shrapnel through the vulnerable interior. The now-unbalanced fan disc tore itself apart, its pieces indiscriminately shredding whatever was in their paths. The fireball that was the Turbokat could be seen for miles as the aircraft was blown to smithereens.
T-Bone touched down on silent wings, limping into the secret hangar. A grim-faced Razor helped him out of the cramped cockpit. T-Bone grumbled. "I can't believe it! I lost the dogfight and the Turbokat!"
Razor replied, "That could have been us up there."
T-Bone snorted. "Coincidence. At least we won't have to deal with that annoying pilot again."
"I wouldn't be so sure, T-Bone. I looked up the name, Shabh. It means 'ghost'". T-Bone's jaw dropped as an eerie howl echoed in the distance.
~ End ~