The two dropped down into a darkened hallway of some sort with a grilled floor and metallic walls. T-Bone landed first on both feet with a dull thud and Razor behind him with a softer sound. The duo poised for a moment to take in their surroundings before advancing slowly, T-Bone in the lead, their Glovatrixes raised. Ahead, they could see faint light. Around the corner to the right was more darkness, but to the left they could see the source of the illumination was coming from an adjacent room where the lights were actually on. The door was slightly ajar.
“I don’t like this,” whispered Razor.
“What’s to like?” said T-Bone as the two headed towards the door.
Opening it, he found a brightly-lit stairwell with numbers on the walls apparently indicating what floor they were on. The twenty-seventh. The stairs led down. There was a ladder to one side leading to a hatchway, but that seemingly just went back to the roof, where they’d just come from. Nowhere to go but down. Turning and nodding to his partner, T-Bone went down first, taking point. Apart from the soft, velvety sounds their padded feet made on the polished metallic surface of the steps, the stairwell was eerily devoid of any sounds beyond the all-encompassing hum of the engines.
“Can we talk?” asked T-Bone softly during their downward journey.
“About what?” asked Razor.
“I dunno,” said T-Bone. “About anything. This total silence is creepin’ me out.”
Razor shrugged. He would’ve preferred they keep totally silent, but he knew T-Bone got chatty when he was uneasy. Well, chattier than usual.
“So, how ’bout Feral’s offer?” the bigger cat inquired. “You think he meant it?”
“I guess,” said Razor with certainty. When T-Bone paused briefly and glanced questioningly back at him, the thin cat said, “C’mon, it’s Feral were talkin’ about, T-Bone. If there’s one positive thing I can say about the guy, it’s that he’s almost always honest. If he said he was gonna speak for us at the trial, he meant it.”
T-Bone grumbled and continued on. “Y’know, we could always not go to trial. As soon as we rescue Lieutenant Feral and blast this hunk of junk out of the sky, what’s stoppin’ us from just blowin’ this popsicle stand?”
“Feral has the Turbokat, for one thing,” Razor pointed out, feeling a little uneasy that T-Bone’s mind was once more turning to fleeing.
“Yeah, but who cares?” said T-Bone. “Let him keep it.”
This time, it was Razor who paused. Sensing that his partner had stopped moving, T-Bone also halted and turned to glance at him again.
“Who cares?” said Razor. “T-Bone, I never thought I’d hear you say that about the Turbokat.”
T-Bone shrugged and tried to look indifferent, but Razor could tell his friend wasn’t as entirely into the idea of just abandoning the Turbokat as he liked to pretend he was. “Yeah, well, if I had to choose between the Turbokat and goin’ to prison for the rest of my nine lives, I’d just as soon prefer to stay free. Feral can keep the stinkin’ thing.”
“You act like it’s a done deal,” said Razor, frowning.
“What do you mean?”
“What I mean is, T-Bone, we are not runnin’ out. And, that’s the other thing that’s stoppin’ us, at least as far as I’m concerned. Because if we run off, then everyone in Megakat City, including Callie, is gonna think we’re not only exactly the lowlife crooks Feral says we are… but cowards, too. No, T-Bone. We’re gonna face the music. Let Feral and that rotten D.A. put us on trial if they want. But, we are not running away like cowards, ya got that? ‘Cause that’s not who I am.”
Coming down to where T-Bone stood, Razor prodded the taller cat’s chest with his finger for emphasis. With a sigh, T-Bone nodded, knowing Razor was right. They’d honor the deal they’d made with Feral. Who knew? Maybe they’d even be found not guilty. Dropping the subject for now, the two continued on their descent.
They went down numerous floors and found a door on each. Every one opened onto an identical-looking hallway. Twice, they saw pairs of Creeplings walking around with the same type of miniature laser rifles the ones that had attacked them in the cell had. Apparently, they were on guard duty. Although the SWAT Kats knew that, armed with their Glovatrixes, they could easily take on the Creeplings, neither of them wanted to risk alerting Dark Kat to their presence until they were sure of where Felina was being held.
“We should try for the fourteenth floor,” said Razor. “Based on what I could see of the ship exterior, I’m fairly certain that’s the floor the control room is on.”
“Roger,” said T-Bone. “And, what’ll we do when we get there? This whole element of surprise gig is gonna be blown the second Dark Crud sees us. Which is kind of something we won’t be able to avoid.”
“Yeah,” said Razor. “Well, as usual, I guess we’ll just make it up as we go.”
“Fair enough,” said T-Bone. “It’s never steered us wrong before.”
He approached the door for the fourteenth floor as soon as they reached it and eased it open a bit. There were two Creeplings, one of which was relatively close with his back to the door. The second one was facing the door but hadn’t seen them yet. As the two tried to decide whether they should attack or wait for the Creeplings to move on, the farther of the Creeplings saw them and gave a sharp yap of surprise. Acting swiftly, T-Bone threw the door open completely. The first Creepling was starting to turn in response to its companion’s cry, but before it knew what was happening, the door hit it. T-Bone threw the door against the wall with a loud, metallic bang, crushing the small pink monster between them.
Even as T-Bone was taking care of the first Creepling, Razor leaped past him and tackled the second one. He knocked the small creature’s weapon aside and grabbed it by its winged arms and flung it like a ragdoll against the wall with a rather unpleasant crunching noise. Released, it fell limply to the floor with its neck broken. Razor turned to see T-Bone checking behind the door and grimacing at the results of the smushed Creepling. The Creeplings really were fragile, borderline useless creatures, and both SWAT Kats wondered why Dark Kat insisted on using them as minions. Probably because they didn’t need to be paid.
After taking a moment to prepare themselves for any further attacks, the SWAT Kats were relieved when no more Creeplings came. The hallway that they’d entered opened up into a larger antechamber adorned with demonic-looking statues to either side, flanked by enormous, ornate banners bearing Dark Kat’s symbol: a huge, blood-red stylized “D.”
“Dark Kat really ought to hire an interior decorator,” said T-Bone. “His taste stinks.”
Across the chamber were enormous doors that T-Bone guessed led to Dark Kat’s control room. One was slightly ajar. He readied himself and prepared to rush in. Razor grabbed his arm.
“Hang on, T-Bone,” he said. “First we scope the situation out more thoroughly. Remember, this is Dark Kat. His Creeplings may be borderline useless, even with their new and improved gear, but he isn’t. We’ve learned that time and time again in the past.”
“Right, buddy,” said T-Bone, who was once more reminded not only of just how deadly Dark Kat could be, but also that if it wasn’t for Razor’s cool head and rational thinking, he’d have been dead a long time ago.
Razor went first, and went to the door. Leaning his shoulder against the one that was closed, he peered through the open one. T-Bone came up and got behind him, looking over the top of his friend’s head. T-Bone’s instinct had been right, as had Razor’s theory about this floor. They looked into the massive, high-tech control room of the ship. Past banks of computers and various machines, they could see the impressive sight of Megakat City’s steadily approaching skyline through the room’s huge front windows.
The ship was run by Creeplings seated at every station, sitting in oversized chairs apparently intended for cats. However, they were being directed by a thin cat wearing a purple uniform sporting Dark Kat’s “D” on either bicep. There was no sign of Dark Kat himself, though.
“I’ll take the Creeplings,” whispered T-Bone. “You take that guy. We’ll pump ‘im for info about where the Lieutenant is.”
“Roger,” Razor whispered back.
Before either could move, though, they were startled as a Creepling at one of the foremost stations babbled something incoherent to get their overseer’s attention. The technician went over and looked at the instruments. He nodded.
“Good work,” he said to the Creepling, “we’re arriving in the city sooner than expected. I’ll go and tell Lord Dark Kat.”
He turned and walked to the left of the SWAT Kats’ view and out of their line of sight. This left only the Creeplings. They decided now it was time to act, while their enemies were still as yet unaware of their presence.
Kicking the door open, the vigilantes leaped inside and brought their Glovatrixes up. The Creeplings – five in all – reacted about the way Creeplings could be expected to act, by chittering and snarling in an agitated manner and flapping their wings. A few flew at them. Razor fired first, hitting two Creeplings that were crossing the room to him with his Mini-Cement Launchers. Both flew back and were stuck fast to the closest console. A third managed to avoid this barrage and landed on him, knocking him back. Razor fell over backwards and wrestled with the creature.
T-Bone, meanwhile, fired his Glovatrix’s arsenal of Mini-Octopus Missiles at the other two Creeplings, both of whom had been slower than their companions and hadn’t even left their stations. The first took an Octopus Missile in the face and was sent careening backwards. The second took one in the chest. Both ended up across the room, pinned viciously against the wall just underneath the viewing window. Turning, T-Bone first looked to see where the guy who’d been directing the Creeplings had gone to, and saw first what had to be Dark Kat’s huge – and currently unoccupied – throne, as well as a doorless archway of some sort through which the cat had apparently gone.
Out of the corner of his eye, T-Bone saw Razor’s predicament, lying on his back with the final Creepling biting and clawing him, and was in the middle of taking a couple of steps towards him to assist him when Razor took care of the last Creepling himself, shoving the Creepling off of himself. He seized it by the throat and throttled it, then tossed it aside and stood with some assistance from T-Bone.
“You okay, buddy?” asked T-Bone.
“Fine,” said Razor, “but I think my flight suit is ruined.” He glanced down at the partially shredded front of his outfit.
“Hey, we got spares,” T-Bone assured him. “Now, I think that guy went through that big archway over there. Let’s go and see if he gives guided tours.”
They approached the arch. They could hear indistinct voices. A moment later, the purple-uniformed technician returned, smiling slightly, but his smile vanished when he saw the two intruders. He was about to shout for help when T-Bone clamped a hand over his mouth. He dragged him away from the archway and flung him aside so he ended up sitting in the throne.
He aimed his Glovatrix at the technician’s startled face, keeping his hand firmly over his mouth. “Where’s Lieutenant Feral?” he growled. “Point, don’t talk.”
The technician raised a shaking hand and pointed in the direction he’d come from. Nodding to Razor, T-Bone punched the other cat and either knocked him unconscious or just stunned him. He didn’t remain to see which. Instead, he simply followed Razor through the archway and towards what he prayed was going to be the final showdown with the mortal enemy, the Dark Kat.
Down in the alchemical laboratory, a few moments prior, the twitching forms of Dark Kat’s creations were stirring inside their glass tubes, attended to by the chattering Creeplings. However, Dark Kat was not focusing on his soon to be born legion. They were in the back of his mind, but at the moment the hooded spectre was busy seeing to his “guest.” The now awake Felina Feral lay strapped to the large metal table Dark Kat had shown her earlier. She pulled uselessly against the restraints as the villain slid the helmet-like device over her black-haired head.
“What is this thing?” Felina demanded.
“An alternative to many tedious hours of fruitless interrogation, Lieutenant,” said Dark Kat, fitting the helmet snugly into place. Satisfied that it was on correctly, he stood back. “Since you’ve made it plain that you do not intend to willingly assist me, my brain-scanner will suck all the information right out of your head.”
Turning, he approached the controls of the strange machine and flicked a couple of switches, causing beeping and humming noises to come from it. A moment or so into his preparations, Zeckis appeared at the top of the stairs. Dark Kat glanced up at him.
“What is it?” he asked. “Are we nearing the city?”
“Moments from it, sir,” said Zeckis. “We’re arriving over it even now. I’ve instructed the Creeplings to fly in a holding pattern over the business district, as you ordered me to.”
“Good work, Number Three,” said Dark Kat, pleased. “Go and keep them on track. Until my new creations are ready, I must rely on them, and they get distracted so easily.”
Zeckis nodded and then left to return to his duties. Dark Kat hummed pleasantly to himself as he finished readying the mind-scanning machine. He turned and looked at Felina.
“We’re pressed for time, so this is, I confess, the option I would’ve chosen anyway,” he continued. “I stole this technology from Professor Hackle. It will copy your brain patterns onto a computer disk and allow me to read it, much like a text computer file. Unfortunately for you, Lieutenant, the process will leave you quite dead.”
Felina felt a cold horror creep over her. Not because she was afraid of dying, but because despite all of her efforts to resist Dark Kat, the fiend was going to learn all of the Enforcers’ defense secrets anyway! She renewed her struggles against her bonds as she thought of her uncle dying at Dark Kat’s hands. She’d give anything to get free and smash Dark Kat’s face in! However, nothing she did would break the cuffs attached to her wrists and ankles holding her against the table. She tried to shake her head, thinking she could knock the helmet-like contraption off. No go. It was fixed so firmly she could only wiggle her head slightly from side to side.
“Relax,” said Dark Kat as he stood with a clawed finger poised on the activation button. “The least I can do is assure you that the process is completely painless.”
Before he had a chance to press the button, he heard a voice coming from atop the staircase. “Hold it right there!” T-Bone.
“SWAT Kats!” Felina cried happily.
“Hi, Lieutenant,” said T-Bone, “sorry we’re late.” He moved down the steps a little. “Back away from her, Dark Crud.”
Dark Kat sighed and turned to face the SWAT Kats, but obeyed, moving away from the table. “Can’t you foolish SWAT Kats ever think of something else to call me?” he demanded, sounding annoyed.
“How about buttface?” T-Bone offered.
“I see childish insults are the height of your wit, T-Bone,” Dark Kat said, edging over towards where his cane sat leaning against the wall. “You’d do well to take a page from your friend. He at least has something resembling intelligence.”
He moved to grab the cane, but T-Bone fired a Mini-Match Head Missile. The cane and its concealed laser emitter were burned beyond use. Dark Kat snarled his fury. The two Creeplings who’d been assisting him whirled and snarled. They were poised to attack when their master held up a hand.
“Stop,” he commanded. The Creeplings stopped mid-leap and shrunk back, cowering, looking confused and disappointed. Turning back to his enemies, Dark Kat felt his crooked, fanged maw twist into a smile as he continued obeying T-Bone’s command to back away. If he couldn’t use his cane, he had something else in mind. “I shouldn’t be surprised… and yet you SWAT Kats continue to surpass all my expectations time and time again.”
T-Bone started down the steps, focusing entirely on Dark Kat and Felina, his gaze shifting back and forth between them. For the time being, everything else in the room was immaterial to him, so it was the more observant Razor who lingered where he was and noticed the glass cylinders containing the shadowy forms first. He swallowed, hesitating. Whatever was inside them, they were rather large.
“T-Bone,” he said, barely audible.
“Huh?” T-Bone responded, and then noticed the tubes, as well. “What in the world? Hey, Dark Kat, what the heck kinda freak show are you runnin’ here? What are these things?”
Dark Kat said nothing. He continued backing away until he felt the closest of the cylinders against his back. The panel controlling the opening and closing of the containment units was to his right. Before either SWAT Kat realized what was happening, one of the large purple cat’s fists slammed against the keypad. There was a mass beeping noise, and the tanks all drained simultaneously. T-Bone and Razor stood openmouthed as the lids rose up, giving them their first unobscured view of Dark Kat’s latest experiment.
“Behold my Mega-Creeplings!” Dark Kat beamed. “Or, as I think I’ll call them, my Stalkers!”
He approached the nearest one and patted it on its neck. They were all the same size as a fully-grown cat. Nowhere near as big as Dark Kat himself, but still impressively larger than the regular Creeplings. They had dark teal-blue skin and were finely muscled, but otherwise resembled little more than large-size versions of Creeplings. Nevertheless the “Stalkers” were huge and this was what counted.
“Kill them!” Dark Kat commanded, pointing at the two intruders. “Kill them and bring me their heads!”
The SWAT Kats both raised their Glovatrixes as the newly-released mutations all hissed and took a few shambling, uncertain steps forwards…
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