The tightness of the duct made Callie feel like the budget proposal that was stuffed into her office’s inbox. Her shoulders were wedged on either side, both arms outstretched in front of her. Movement was difficult, as she could only scoot forward a few inches at a time. Fortunately, the lieutenant had given her the flashlight that was attached to that rifle she seemed so fond of, which she used to illuminate the course ahead. There wasn’t much to see, however; only a black void far from the reach of the light lay ahead with no exit in sight.
She breathed heavily, the odor of stale, musty air that likely hadn’t been disturbed in years filling her nostrils.
“Don’t think about claustrophobia,” Callie said out loud to herself.
She wasn’t sure how long she had been making this hazardous journey, but it felt like hours. One thing she knew for certain was that if she somehow managed to escape this place alive, she’d put the full legal authority of the city against Puma Dyne.
“I can’t believe a place like this exists,” Callie said, once again shimmying another few inches. “It’s like a bad sci-fi movie…”
As Callie moved forward, she noticed the pressure in her shoulders lessening, and breathed a sigh of relief. The duct was getting wider, which was starting to allow for easier travel. After moving forward a few more feet, she was able to crawl on her hands and knees.
A troubling thought occurred to her as the speed of her progress increased.
What if the duct had gotten narrower instead? What if I’d gotten stuck here, deep underground with no one to help? How long until the flashlight had gone out? How long until I’d taken my last breaths, essentially buried alive?
“Well, it didn’t get narrower,” Callie said, more determined now, and tried to force herself to think about something else. “I wonder what the lieutenant and T-Bone could be talking about right now…”
It was then that she saw it. Light. Just barely visible. Callie turned off the flashlight so she could see it better. Ahead, no more than 50 feet, there was light shining down on the duct’s floor, in the shape of a grate. Callie crawled faster, and in minutes she arrived.
Above her was a rectangular drain grate. As Callie reached up, she prayed it wasn’t welded into place. She pushed up with both hands.
It resisted at first, likely from the buildup of a decade’s worth of rust, but it popped open, and Callie shoved it aside.
Without hesitation Callie pulled herself upward and rolled onto her back on the floor of this new area. Only it wasn’t new. High above the dull glare of the stadium style lights shone down. To her left were rows of cylinders. To her right was the same.
She had emerged into the stadium sized room, which was now more active than before. Several of the Shriekmen could be seen moving about down the row, going in and out of the Cylinders. A subdued mechanical noise, along with the gushing of fluids through tubes, could be heard.
Callie rolled to her stomach and scooted across the floor, and sat with her back against the nearest cylinder, resisting the urge to scream as one of the monsters walked in its awkward gait towards her. From her position, there was nowhere to run, the rows of cylinders not interrupted for at least one hundred feet in either direction.
Maybe I can try to climb up and move along the tops of them.
Callie sprang to her feet, and jumped up, trying to find a hand or foothold. The cylinders were taller than a refrigerator, and packed tightly side-by-side, making squeezing through an impossibility. A few exposed hoses were all there were to grab, and Callie did so. They supported her weight, and after much effort, made more complicated by her still wounded leg, Callie pulled herself up and rolled over prone.
The monster walked past.
Callie realized she had been holding her breath, and she quietly exhaled, trying hard not to panic as the gravity of her situation came into focus.
There must be a thousand of these things in here, coming and going, just ready to grab me again with those disgusting hands.
From her perspective, Callie could see the small office complex in the center of the chamber. The lieutenant and T-Bone were both still there, captive in the makeshift cell that Dr. Viper had prepared.
Razor, she realized, was also here somewhere. Forced by the mutated mad scientist to do his bidding. Callie knew the SWAT Kat would be looking for any opportunity to either escape or foil Viper’s plans, whatever they were.
As the options ran through her mind, Callie saw movement in the distance, and was thankful that throughout this ordeal her glasses had remained intact. As she laid flush to the top of the cylinder on her stomach, minimizing her profile, she watched the green-skinned Dr. Viper exit the office building.
Trailing behind, two of his aptly named Shriekman carried someone in tow with them. The masked prisoner’s posture indicated he’d long since given up struggling, but he kept glancing about, as if exploring the possibilities in his head.
It was Razor.
Callie tensed, feeling a mixture of relief and dread, thankful to see him alive, but also fearful of what could be about to happen to him.
Dr. Viper paused once they were outside of the offices, stopping at a pile of assorted machinery. The Shriekmen shoved Razor forward, releasing him from their grasp. The SWAT Kat massaged one of his arms, and Callie could see him speaking, but was too far away to hear the words.
She judged the distance, and realized that, with some effort, she could army crawl atop the cylinders and bypass the assorted Shriekmen that were shuffling between the rows below her.
You can do it. This is nothing compared to that duct.
It took her nearly twenty minutes to do so, and in-between her movements Callie casted a glance in Dr. Viper and Razor’s direction. She could tell the two had been arguing, and it had something to do with the nearby machinery. Viper was growing impatient, and speaking just as much with his hands.
As Callie neared the center of the chamber, her safety dependent on her thus far unseen movement, she could start to hear their conversation. She was now just one ring of cylinders away from the central clearing where the office complex was. It’s utilitarian appearance seemed more appropriate for a construction foreman’s on-site location than here.
Callie ducked down, peering over her elevated edge, the two plainly in view, no more than one hundred feet away.
“…for the last time I’m not doing it,” Razor said, crossing his arms. “I don’t care if you kill me, I’m not going to finish it. I know my partner feels the same way.”
“Oh, I have no doubt in your sincerity, SSSSSWAT Kat,” Dr. Viper said, his reptilian lisp drawing out his words. “But, fortune has smiled on me once again.”
“What are you talking about?” Razor asked.
“Apparently, someone missed you two so much, that she showed up on my doorstep, practically gift wrapped,” Viper said. “Your precious Deputy Mayor, along with Feral’s niece.”
Razor’s posture visibly changed, his defiance obviously wavered by the news.
“Now, I’ll give you a moment to reconsider your stance on finishing my project,” Viper said with a chuckle.
“I don’t believe you,” Razor said. “You’ll say anything to get me to finish this dispersal system.”
Callie wondered what that could be, and she craned forward slightly, trying to hear better.
“Oh, don’t worry, I’ll give you your proof soon enough,” Viper said, his fanged teeth creating a gleeful smile that was more animal than person. “I just wanted to give your conscience enough time to absorb my words.”
With that, Dr. Viper turned and began to head back toward the office building, leaving Razor alone with two of the pale monsters at his side.
Callie quickly realized that Dr. Viper was likely headed back to the cell where the others were being held. Where she was supposed to be.
I don’t have much time. Once Viper finds out I’m not there, then I won’t have the element of surprise. It’s the only thing I’ve got…
Callie once again crawled forward, circumnavigating atop the cylinder row until she reached a gap that separated her from the closest ones to where Razor was being kept. It was at least a six foot distance.
Okay, you can do this…
Callie got up to a kneeling position, and then to two feet, keeping crouched to try and keep herself as invisible as possible. Nearby, several of the monsters were walking between the rows. She bit her lip, and started moving both arms, her elbows kept ninety degrees, trying to help generate some momentum as she prepared to spring forward. With one last glance in Razor’s direction, she could see the SWAT Kat’s masked eyes meet her own.
He looked confused, but did nothing to betray her existence, the two Shriekman beside him still oblivious.
Though it lasted only a fraction of a second, her jump seemed to take forever, the grated floor below seeming like the bottom of a distant canyon. And then, she was across, landing quietly atop another cylinder, and quickly falling to her stomach. Only Razor had seen her. The awkwardness of her leg had made the feat all the more challenging, but her mind was elsewhere. Had she wanted to, she could have reached down and been within reaching distance of the SWAT Kat. Frustratingly close, but the two still oblivious Shriekman made that impossible.
Razor was watching her, his expression filled with concern.
He’s right to be concerned. Now what am I going to do?
Below her, the cylinder churned, its contents gurgling. The noise reminded her of the various tubes that were strewn between them, and she leaned to the side, peering over the edge. A faded warning label attached near the rim still clearly shouted its message.
WARNING – NITROGEN -REFRIGERATED LIQUID – EXTREMELY COLD LIQUID AND GAS UNDER PRESSURE.
Razor seemed to notice what Callie had noticed, and as she turned to look at him, she could just barely detect the hint of a nod. Callie reached down, noting that if she disconnected the tube, its connection point would be pointed in the direction of the two pale, naked sentries. It was also pointed in Razor’s direction as well, but Callie trusted the SWAT Kat’s abilities.
Callie took a deep breath, and grabbed at the connection. It was a simple latch that kept the tube in place. She flicked it open, and then tugged at the hose. It gave way, the loud noise of escaping gasses filling her ears. She recoiled, landing on her back, still atop the cylinder. She cried in pain, the top of her hand feeling like it was burned and cold at the same time. She glanced at it. It was red, with a few blisters already starting to appear.
I’ll be okay. It’s just a little bit of liquid nitrogen, right?
Below, she had lost sight of Razor and the monsters, the nearby area awash in a sea of white gas. She placed her forearm over her nose and mouth as she stood up and started running across the top of the cylinders, no longer concerned with hiding, afraid the nitrogen would suffocate her.
As she made it a safe distance, she turned to look back. The gas had now dissipated, revealing the damage that had been done.
The two Shriekmen were frozen in place, in a position of surprise, their arms held up, mouths open, their pale skin glistening with frost. Razor was nowhere to be seen, and Callie started to fear the worst.
“Oh no, I killed him,” she said out loud.
“Not quite,” a familiar voice said from behind her, and she jumped, turning around, nearly falling off as her uninjured hand was grabbed.
“You’re okay!” Callie said as Razor steadied her.
“For the most part,” Razor said. Like T-Bone, his uniform was torn in places, and she could see several bruises. “But, we need to get moving.”
Already Callie could hear a number of shrieks echoing as the monsters were no long mulling about randomly, but headed in the direction of the commotion.
“I agree, but we need to get T-Bone and Lt. Feral out of there,” Callie said as she pointed to the office building.
Razor’s eyes narrowed as he continued to hold Callie’s hand. Callie wasn’t sure if she’d ever held it un-gloved before. It felt dry and coarse, as though he worked with his hands for a living.
Like a mechanic’s hand…
“Let’s go,” Razor said, interrupting Callie’s wandering thought.
The two headed for the building in the center of the chamber.
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Disclaimer: SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron is copyright to Hanna-Barbera Cartoons Inc. All Rights Reserved. © 1995. All other characters and material within this page are the property of their respective creators.