Several hours had passed and the once overpowering sun was now starting to set on the horizon, and the sporatic dunes were casting long waving shadows. Felina had changed Callie’s hastily applied bandage with a more appropriate mixture of antibiotics, gauze and wrapped bandages. Her leg was no longer throbbing.
“You should be able to walk halfway decently in the morning,” Felina said.
The lieutenant was organizing the supplies of the duffel bag, and had established a makeshift campsite. There was no fire, due to the lack of anything to burn, but a kerosene lamp was setup between them. Above in the darkening sky several stars were beginning to appear. Felina turned the knob of the lamp, and a warm light glimmered off the sand.
“Hungry?” Felina asked.
“I am, actually,” Callied replied, feeling her stomach rumble. It had been at least 10 hours since breakfast.
“Well, hope you like MREs,” Felina said, and rummaged through several plastic packs until reaching one in particular. “Spaghetti.”
“Uh, sure,” Callie said, and then was tossed the container.
“Just follow the directions on the box,” Felina said as she took a cross-legged seat on the sand opposite Callie, the lamp between them. She withdrew her own MRE and tore it open, mixing one bag with another.
Callie looked at her own, following the directions to apply the contents of one bag to another and let it sit.
“That’s really clever,” Callie said, noticing the chemical reaction causing the food to warm.
“Yeah, it’d be even more clever if it actually tasted like what it’s supposed to be,” Felina said as she scarfed down what may have been a packet of Salisbury Steak. “But, it beats starving.”
Callie opened the edge of her packet and looked inside. The spaghetti looked closer to vomit than food, and her nose wrinkled. She poked at it with a plastic fork, and closed her eyes as she took a bite.
“It’s not that bad,” Callie said in-between chews, forcing herself to swallow.
“What if I told you it was 2,000 calories?” Felina asked with a small smile.
Callie blinked and looked down at the MRE’s label, and frowned, noticing the calorie count.
“Uh, maybe I won’t eat all of it,” Callie said, and set the packet aside.
The two were quiet for a few moments, and the stars above became more numerous and brilliant.
“It’s been a really long time since I’ve seen the stars like this,” Callie said, looking up. “No light pollution to obscure things here.”
“Yeah, it’s real pretty,” Felina said without looking, apparently in the process of unloading the M16 and checking it over.
“In our rush to get things underway, I never really got a chance to say thanks,” Callie said, turning her attention forward.
“Yeah, well, I’m not helping out because of your power of persuasion,” Felina said as she put a magazine into the rifle and pulled back on what Callie learned was called the charging handle, causing it to make a loud clicking sound. “I’ve got my own reasons.”
“Oh?” Callie asked.
“Like I said, they’re my own reasons,” Felina reiterated, laying the rifle on its side on her lap.
“Okay…” Callie said, not wanting to press the matter further. “Then let’s talk about something else. How about work?”
“Oh, you know, I’m just another nine-to-fiver, sitting at a desk, trying to get ahead in the rat race,” Felina said, reclining back into a dune that was becoming a makeshift chair.
“I somehow doubt that,” Callie said. “Really, how did you get to be like you are?”
“Like I am?” Felina said, pointing to herself.
“You know, capable, confident, fearless, tough,” Callie said.
“I think there’s a less polite word you’re searching for,” Felina said with a laugh.
“Well, I wouldn’t go that far,” Callie replied.
“To be honest, I never really thought about it. It’s just who I am,” Felina said. “And, it has its downsides, too.”
“I think I might know about some of those,” Callie admitted.
“Oh yeah, I forgot you were in the process of running an investigation on Captain Ritz’s betrayal,” Felina said. “I bet you learned a lot about me.”
“Oh, nothing much,” Callie fibbed. In truth, she knew that the lieutenant had been reprimanded in writing on several occasions.
“Heh, yeah, I’ll bet,” Felina said.
“That investigation never went anywhere. The city’s failing economy and budget woes are all anyone cares about, and I suppose rightfully so,” Callie said with a sigh. “It probably seems like a petty thing to worry about, especially after having just survived a plane crash.”
“Just a little,” Felina said.
“I’m not the only one either,” Callie said. “Your uncle, I mean, the Commander, is equally concerned.”
“There’s a rumor going around that you were going to gut the Enforcer’s funding,” Felina said. “That’s probably why he’s concerned.”
“Gutting is a harsh term,” Callie said. “We’re all making sacrifices.”
“Is that why you’re out here?” Felina asked. “Feeling the need to make a sacrifice?”
“Not exactly,” Callie said, closing her eyes.
“Oh, I get it now,” Felina said.
“Get what?” Callie asked, opening her eyes again.
“You’re in love,” Felina said.
“Me? In love?” Callie asked, pointing at herself.
“It’s okay, I’m not judging or anything,” Felina said. “You don’t have to throw your pompoms at me.”
“Pompoms?” Callie said, raising an eyebrow.
“Uh, never mind,” Felina said, looking to change the subject.
“No,what did you mean by that?” Callie asked, her eyes narrowing.
“It’s nothing,” Felina said. “Just a nickname some guys at the force have for you.”
“What, that I’m some kind of stupid cheerleader?” Callie asked.
“I have not heard the word ‘stupid,’ no…” Felina said.
Callie rolled her eyes and leaned back, reclining into the sand. The pain in her leg was hardly noticeable at the moment.
“I guess I deserve that,” Callie said.
“Hey, it’s not a big deal,” Felina said reassuringly. “You should hear some of the names I get called.”
“Maybe I get carried away in my support of the SWAT Kats sometimes, but it doesn’t discount the fact that they’re needed,” Callie said. “I know they don’t do things by the book, and every action they take defies the very laws my administration is elected to uphold, but I support them because-”
“Because it’s the right thing to do?” Felina interjected.
“Yes,” Callie said.
“I can respect that,” Felina said, and then glanced out the corner of her eye in the direction of the white creature’s nearby carcass. It was easy to see in the starlight and glow of the lamp.
Callie followed her gaze, and the weight of the world was once again on her shoulders.
“I just hope that whatever that right thing is, that it’s not too late to do it,” Callie said. “I’m sorry for saying you were difficult to talk to.”
“Well, all it took was a near-death experience to loosen up the mood,” Felina said with a chuckle.
A few moments passed before Callie broke the silence.
“Are you going to get in a lot of trouble for all of this?” Callie asked.
“Oh yeah,” Felina said. “It was bad enough to deviate from a scheduled flight plan without reason. Crashing a Sabre and carrying an unauthorized passenger? I’ll be lucky if I’m not court martialed,” Felina said.
“I’m sorry,” Callie said.
“Don’t worry about it,” Felina said. “Just bring me a pizza when I’m in the brig.”
“I’ll try to remember that,” Callie said.
“You know, I’ve been meaning to ask who it was that set you up with that gadget of yours,” Felina said.
“It was Professor Hackle,” Callie said.
“Hackle?” Felina asked. “As in creator of the Metallikats Hackle?”
“The same,” Callie said.
“I was with a detachment that went to speak with him once,” Felina said. “He’s really not all there.”
Callie shrugged, and then another thought came to mind.
“When those creatures arrived at the monitoring station, all of the computer equipment inside lit up,” Callie said.
“Yeah, so?” Felina asked.
“When we got back in the air, it took us a good 45 minutes to get here,” Callie said. “Wouldn’t that have been enough time for you to have received some kind of warning being transmitted by the monitoring station?”
“Yeah. Those monitoring stations are supposed to be wired into our threat detection system that my Sabre also shared,” Felina said. “I didn’t see anything.”
“And you told me it was Puma Dyne who built those monitoring stations,” Callie said. “I’d be willing to bet they aren’t giving the Enforcers all of the data they collect.”
“But why?” Felina asked.
Both of them looked at the unmoving corpse once more, the eery tattoo on its foot just barely visible in the dim light of the lamp.
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