It was best described as a manila jungle – folders, folders, thousands and millions of folders, in filing cabinets stacked ten feet high, on shelves that stood like brushcover as Derek Whitepaws slunk through in search of the darkest secret in Enforcerdom. The filing system had stood in subbasement 6 since the dawn of time, it seemed, judging by the dust and the pools of hard water on the ground. The halogen bulbs flickered – surely, someone knew they were fire hazards. Derek thumbed through the most highly classified stacks to no avail. There was nothing on his possessor.
It occurred to him to check by the day. There, finally, he found the reference he desired.
“October 22… theft at laboratory. Feral, Manx, Rogers called in. Matter resolved. XZ23-118-10/22.”
Derek’s ears pricked up at the sound. Sure enough, it was the sound of intruders. He could be caught! Carefully he slipped the folder back into its position, replacing the cobweb which had covered it.
‘XZ23-118-10/22.’ Case file coding. The letters indicated the row in which the file cabinet could be found, 23 the number in that row. Wonderful. 7 feet up. 118 meant the file classification, and 10/22 the date of filing. 118… Feral’s eyes only, potential security threat.
Derek’s thoughts were coherent enough to make him realize that the file he needed was not going to be easy to get. To get it, he would have to pass by the other Enforcers and the door out, and then manage to pick the lock on the cabinet seven feet in the air. He wasn’t quite that sure of himself, but the metallic voice of the Secret echoed in his head, and he knew what he had to do. An air duct behind him blasted wet air on the back of his neck, causing him to stiffen. He had to hide – they were headed his way!
* * *
Commander Feral sat at his desk with a sour expression on his face.
“A mole,” he said. “You’re certain.”
“Under the leadership of some unknown villain.”
“That’s what I think.”
“How long do you think this has been going on?”
“The mole is definitely a recent development. Definitely a smart guy, though, one who knows what he’s doing.”
Feral snorted and smirked sarcastically.
“You hear that, Felina? We have suspects! Let’s round up all the *smart guys* and interrogate them.”
“Commander Feral, what I saw down there was evidently done by some advanced technology. Besides, from what we recovered from the safe in that place, it was a veritable gold mine of stolen computer parts and information! I know that there was someone down there, and that he had our mole assassinate those kats. Commander-”
Jason’s speech was cut off by the sound of Feral’s intercom.
<Beep> “Commander Feral?” <click>
The commander leaned over and pressed a red button on his desktop.
He released the button.
<Beep> “Evidence wants to speak with Officer Whiskers, can I patch them through to your phone?” <click>
<Button press> “Go right ahead – but this better be good.” <release>
<Beep> “Thank you, Sir.” <click>
Feral’s phone rang, and Jason picked it up.
“Officer Whiskers, Evidence has collected everything from the basement floor, as per your request.”
“Well, they think you’d better have a look, Sir.”
“Then send them up.”
Felina frowned. What was this?
Jason put down the phone.
“Commander Feral, I instructed the technicians to scour the basement of the Ghetto Computers building for any evidence of weapon construction or materials that were removed. Apparently, they found something.”
Feral nodded. The tom had the makings of a fine detective.
“Why don’t you make the request you’ve been wanting to?” Feral asked.
“Intel files on Ghetto Computers, of course.”
“Sir, if that is possible, then I would like to see the files.”
“They are classified. However, should this ‘evidence’ allow me enough reason to show them to you, then by all means.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
Jason and Felina sat down, waiting for the E-kat to bring them the highly anticipated unknowns. This he did, but moments later.
The E-kat ran into the room, huffing and puffing and reeking of sewage. In his left paw he held a bevy of plastic bags, each of which contained a part of some kind.
“Officer… Commander… look!” the E-Kat gasped. He ran smack into the table and dropped the bags in front of Feral, who looked down at them, and then up at the red-faced, heavy-breathing E-kat.
The E-kat opened his eyes only to receive the full impact of a Feral glare. He jumped and shuddered, as Jason and Felina stood to lean over and investigate the bags.
“What in MegaKat…” Jason whispered.
Felina squinted down at the unfamiliar object. It was the second prototype of the device implanted in Derek.
Feral looked down at it, too. There was something familiar about it. The E-kat removed it from the bag. It had been rinsed off and was shining in the light. The metal prong at the one end was menacing.
The Secret had dropped it in his haste. How he would regret it – and at the same time, how he would rejoice.
Felina took the device from the E-kat.
“What the crud is this thing?” she demanded.
The E-kat scratched the back of his neck.
“Well, we don’t know, we were hoping that Officer Whiskers…”
Jason took the device.
“It’s an implant…” he said. “It has to be, look at the design.”
Feral now remembered where he had seen that thing before.
“Good lord…” he muttered, taking it from the silver detective.
“Commander? Do you know what this is?” Jason asked.
Feral shook off his surprised terror.
“Of course not,” he replied. “However, if this is what you say it is, then the implications would be-”
“World-shaking,” finished Felina.
“Exactly,” said Feral, grateful for the save.
The E-kat reached for another bag.
“In the rest of these there are assorted odds and ends – tool parts, very advanced, computer chips, pieces of agracite, you name it. If it wasn’t so foul down there, then I’d say that it was some villain’s workshop.”
“Fascinating,” said Feral. “Whiskers – you were right.”
Jason smiled, looking to Felina. She reached out a paw to pat him on the back.
“Evidence, you are dismissed.”
The flatness of the Commander’s tone marked that as a definite order.
The E-kat saluted and turned to leave. Feral caught a whiff of him.
“And in the future, Evidence – do not come in here smelling like you have just crawled out of the MegaKat waste treatment plant.”
The E-kat cringed, said “yes, Sir,” once again, and left.
Feral looked to Jason.
“You requested files for which you will need my access. Come.”
Feral, device in paw, led his two favorite subordinates out of his office and down to subbasement 6, where Derek Whitepaws was *not* prepared for the visit.
* * *
A black shadow, like that of a panther, slid through the narrow corridors of the filing basement, angry at the bright lights, angry at the high ceilings. He darted in through rows of metal trees, past the yellowing leaves of crimes gone by.
He would not be caught by these others.
He had to find that file!
“Felina, find me the files on all of our developers who have in the past ten years created some sort of implanting device. That’s right, all of them – you will need to search alphabetically, is that clear?”
The Commander of the Enforcers issued the order to his niece with an air that suggested mistrust. But it was the owner of the voice, and not the tone of it, that struck fear into Derek’s heart.
‘Commander Feral! I must get away!’
Felina Feral frowned deeply.
“With all due respect, uncle, this is my case, too.”
“And I asked you to get me the files, which you will then be able to read.”
She could say no more, and turned around to march briskly away.
Derek looked right, then left, then right again before looking up again to the ceiling, to the metal crossbeams. It was his last recourse. They wouldn’t find him up there. The ceiling was subdivided, and featured metal sheets at each filing row. Running the opposite way across were the crossbeams. If he could get up there, he could sit on one, and if he stayed still enough on the right one, he would not cast a shadow.
He decided to try. After all, his luck had of late been such that he had committed multiple atrocities without detection, so what was a little espionage? He placed his left foot on the shelving and his right paw on one much higher, and began to climb quickly and stealthily.
Perched on the crossbeam, he waited, surveying. The heat from the halogen lamp singed his fur, but he stayed perfectly still, watching the dark line that was his shadow, and praying subconsciously that it would remain that inconspicuous.
Commander Feral placed his massive paw on Officer Whiskers’s shoulder. He then led him in the opposite direction, toward the case files.
“I never thought this would happen, and quite frankly, I don’t know why I am allowing you this knowledge,” he said nearly inaudibly, in case his niece was not yet out of range.
Jason didn’t understand and was afraid that he didn’t want to.
“What’s going on? Why can’t Felina see?” he whispered back.
“Because she has a big mouth. We must remain quiet.”
“What have I found…” Jason said under his breath.
“I recognize what you have found. THAT is a mind-control device developed by Professor Hackle, which was stolen years ago.” He held the device under the officer’s nose as he said it, then drew it sharply back.
“You mean – it works?!”
“Of course it works. The problem is that the kat who stole it vanished. We ceased investigation after the detectives turned up dead.”
“After this I am taking the two of you off this case. Do you understand?”
“Good. However, you may work discreetly and unofficially, just try not to get yourself killed out there.”
“I’ll try, Sir. But Felina -”
“Had better follow orders for once in her nine lives or she’ll be looking at a desk job for the next three years. Here it is.”
Feral stopped at the file marked XZ23. He reached up – seven feet not being to great a height for him – and unlocked the drawer with his skeleton key. Then he reached in, pulled out folder 118. He thumbed through it, finally producing file 10/22.
“October 22. I received a telephone call stating that a mind-control device has been stolen from its developer. This is the file.”
Feral handed the paper to Jason, who took it eagerly. He looked at it, and his expression turned into one of extreme dismay.
“It’s blank,” he said, and handed it back.
“Uncle Ulysses!” shouted Felina. “How many files ARE there?”
Feral frowned. He pulled a pen from his pocket and scribbled something on a piece of paper, which he handed to Jason.
“At least thirty. Keep looking.”
Jason looked at the paper.
‘There is another copy. It belonged to Rogers.’
“I think I’ve got them then,” Felina yelled. “I’ll be there in a second!”
“Quick,” Feral hissed, shoving the folder into Jason’s paws, “put this back NOW!”
Jason did as instructed – and then some. For with the file, he also returned the paper telling where the real one was.
Feral slammed the cabinet shut and pulled out his key just as Felina came walking up.
“I have all the files. There appear to be about thirty developers, all of which have had virtually zero success with brain implants. However, they have some other varieties which you might be interested in,” she said.
Feral was too tired to pick up on the innuendo.
“I see. Well, put them back.”
Felina looked completely stunned.
“You had me search for these for… nothing?!”
“No, but that’s what you found.”
She looked as though hit by a truck.
“We’ll be in intel.”
Felina stormed off, and Feral led Jason down into another room, this one with restricted card-key access.
The back of Derek’s neck was on fire – almost literally. He winced as the pain rolled up and down his body in waves. He was sweating, and he could feel his grip on the crossbeam loosen. He clenched his teeth, and watched the ground. A she-kat was walking below him, looking up and down the rows of files.
“Where the hell did I find this,” she muttered to herself.
There was the sound of a door clicking shut, and Derek realized that the two were alone.
The she-kat was mumbling curses. Derek’s muscles began to shake from the strain of perpetual flex.
“And why the hell is it so DARK down here…” she said, and looked up.
Her eyes met the black smudge that was Officer Whitepaws, and she reached for her gun but too late. He pounced, and knocked her to the floor. She hit her head hard against the ground and blacked out. He drew her gun and leveled it at her, arm shaky. But he couldn’t pull the trigger. He dropped the firearm and ran.
He ducked past the door to the room containing Jason and Feral, and down to the corridor where they had stood earlier.
In his haste, the Commander had forgotten to lock the drawer.
Derek grabbed the file, spilling the contents on the floor. He scooped them up, careful to preserve their order, eyes darting about should that door open. He rummaged through the papers, only to find the blank file – and the accompanying note.
His eyes widened.
“The deputy mayor…?” he whispered.
“The DEPUTY MAYOR?!” the Secret roared through his tin voicebox. ‘He’s dead – and that means someone new is about to find out!’
There was only one thing on their combined mind.
They needed more time.
The new deputy mayor must die.
“These are the intel files,” said Commander Feral. “Intelligence is hoping to relocate them soon. It amazes me how much you have seen and done with so short a tenure. Most kats wait ten years to get here.”
Jason could only nod and let his eyes wander across the straight lines and sharp corners in the room.
“The file you are looking for, when viewed in conjunction with the knowledge you have, will show you how right you may be.”
“So you knew this all along?!”
“No. Here is what we knew.”
Feral took a file out from a shelf: a thin file, labeled 97B63D-1024. It was the file on Ghetto Computers.
Jason opened it and looked, surprise overcoming the normally chiseled lines of his features.
“These photographs… of unmarked trucks… delivering… but what is that?”
Jason pointed to a metal robot arm which was visible in the basement window in only one of the shots.
“Intelligence saw that too, and assumed that it was evidence only for arms smuggling. It, of course, was not enough. However, in light of what you found today, and considering the obviously robotic nature of that object – I’d say we have found him.”
“Found who?” asked Jason.
“The Secret. Our ‘invisible kat.’”
“The thief. The one who stole the device.”
“And evidently, not just a thief any more.”
Jason nodded, his lips a thin white line.
“You understand that this information is classified. You may not tell a soul. In the meantime, this case will be back-burnered. After all, tomorrow the mayor is announcing his running-mate for the fall elections. You and Felina, as well as most of your friends from the academy, are to be on call for the event.”
“I expect our mole will show himself there. If not, your search will be all the more dangerous. We may have to lead Felina on a wild goose chase to keep her from this. You will be careful.”
Feral grinned and patted Whiskers on the back.
“The next impressive thing you do, and you’ll be looking at a promotion. Just don’t screw up.”
“I won’t, Sir.”
Feral’s ears pricked up.
“That niece of mine should have been here already, pounding on the door. What could be keeping her…”
The commander and Jason suddenly realized at the same time what had happened. Their eyes locked, and their expressions mirrored.
The first thing they saw, running down the corridor towards the alphabetized corporate file listings, was a flutter of papers that trailed out from one file row into their path. Jason reached her first, skittering to a stop and stumbling in the turn to find her sprawled out on the ground, unconscious.
“Oh my god, Felina…” he said, kneeling down beside her.
“Who did this?!” Feral boomed.
Jason didn’t know how to answer. He pushed the hair back from Felina’s face and brushed her cheek with the back of his paw.
“Don’t just stand there, get help!” Feral growled.
“Yes, Sir!” said Jason, jumping to his feet and running to the elevator.
Feral dropped to the ground.
“So help me, Secret, I’ll have your head on a pike for this…” he muttered.
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