Cylinder after cylinder was passing on either side of her peripheral vision as Callie ran down the nearest row. Behind her, she could hear the echoing laughter and feel the ground rumble with each footstep that came behind her. The smashing and crunching of metallic objects was also in her wake, each of Viper’s footsteps crushing its way through machinery.
What am I going to do? He’s going to kill me!
Callie was hyperventilating now, the stress of terror combining with her physical exertion. She had all but forgotten about the pain in her leg, the adrenaline was coursing through her veins like wildfire. It was a very primal feeling, one that Callie thought was probably the same kind a mouse felt when it was cornered.
“Yes, keep running,” Viper said, his voice echoing above. “I’ve called off my Shriekmen so we can continue to have our little fun. So, what will it be? Crushed under my foot? Or perhaps you’d like your bones ground by my teeth?”
In that instant Viper swung his tail around again. It swept across the row of cylinders on Callie’s right and sent them tumbling past her in a deafeningly loud wave of steel, aluminum, rubber and liquids.
She skid to a stop as the destruction cut off the path in front of her.
“Or maybe I’ll eat you whole,” Viper said with a disturbing laugh. “I’ll feel you squirm and get digested within my stomach. A rather poetic end, don’t you think?”
The description made her feel ill, and all of a sudden her earlier thoughts of being trapped underground in a crawl space no longer seemed that bad.
The crawl space!
Callie looked down and saw that one of the grates had been disturbed open by Viper’s actions, and without hesitation she dove down, headfirst. She quickly realized it wasn’t completely open, and felt a gash tear into her shoulder. Below she collapsed onto the floor of a duct, and began to rapidly scoot away, trying desperately to put distance between herself and the only light that came from above, this time seeking solace in the darkness.
Her shoulder was now on fire, and she grasped it with her hand, wincing, holding back tears of pain.
“Now, where’d you go off to?” the voice of Viper said, sounding slightly more muffled and distant.
She could feel the duct shake as the monster above moved close to the open grate.
Keep moving and maybe he won’t be able to get you.
Callie’s sneakers squeaked on the metal of the duct with each frantic shove, with her shoulder leaving smears of blood within the narrow confines on every other push.
The light from where she had entered was now the size of a baseball, like an unmoving train at the end of the tunnel.
Callie realized she was out of breath, and she let herself fall onto her back as she grasped her shoulder. Her exhausted breathing was filling the duct with dull noise.
What am I going to do…
There was nothing to do, she realized, as feelings of utter hopelessness were starting to overcome her.
The SWAT Kats couldn’t beat Viper, and neither could the lieutenant. What could I do?
Her thoughts were interrupted as she felt, more than heard, the thud of something that entered the duct. The baseball sized light at the end of the tunnel was now flickering as if something was occasionally blocking it.
Callie’s eyes went wide as she realized what it was.
Rapidly thudding its way down the duct in a wet, wriggling motion, was a large tongue, forked at the end like a snake’s. It bumped the ceiling, sides and floor of the crawl space as it blindly searched for its prey.
WIth renewed energy, Callie turned to get on her stomach and began to crawl as fast as she could, her elbows and knees banging on the metal duct. She could feel it getting closer, the flickering of the tongue just brushing against the back of her ankle.
And there it was. New light, obscured by a 90 degree turn in the crawlspace. It was another grate, and Callie raced at it, getting to her feet and pushing her way upwards, the bars of light casting shadows on her face as she pushed with both hands.
It opened, and she pulled herself up, out of the hole and onto the floor, once again in the stadium sized chamber, but far away from where she had entered. Below, she heard and then saw the forked tongue writhe upwards, giving chase. Reflexively she slammed the grate back into place. In that instant, the tongue crested over the hole, and was just as immediately slammed down, held in place.
A loud screech that sounded like a combination of pain and anger echoed in the chamber, but the source of it was out of sight. The end of the tongue wriggled and was bleeding black, tar-like blood from where the grate was holding it in place.
Callie got up and viciously stomped on the grate, driving the wedge farther down. Within moments, the force of the action severed the end of the probing organ, and she could see what remained of it withdraw down below.
At her feet, the severed piece was still moving in spasms, and Callie kicked it away.
For a brief moment, Callie felt her fear dissolve away. It was replaced by something else: a sense of accomplishment, combined with a realization.
He can still be hurt.
As soon as the thought came, it was just as quickly replaced with doubt.
So what if he can be hurt? What can I do to hurt him?
Callie sighed a sigh of defeat, and squatted down to wrap her arms around her knees, lowering her head.
What have I accomplished by coming here? I’ve led the lieutenant to her death and did nothing to change the SWAT Kat’s fate. Now I’m going to die knowing that whatever Viper’s scheme was in using this place will go on undeterred. I really am just a useless cheerleader…
The thought of the lieutenant’s earlier admission about what the Enforcers had said about Callie behind her back had offended her. But, now she thought that maybe they were right.
I talk a good talk, but they’re right. At the end of the day I just expect others to fix my problems. But, that isn’t true. Is it? I mean, I am the Deputy Mayor. I do things. Important things. And I make sure that what I can’t do, others are in place who can do them.
For some reason her admissions she had made to T-Bone earlier about the city’s budget seemed to still weigh heavily on her, even after being tormented by a giant and heavily deformed Dr. Viper.
I relied on and supported the SWAT Kats because it was the right thing to do. Just like Felina Feral disobeying her uncle’s orders to save me from the Metallikats, and to also go with me on this private quest. These aren’t decisions made because they’re easy, or because they’re politically feasible, or because they’ll win friends.
Callie wondered if this was the sort of decision the SWAT Kats had made themselves at one point or another, and just as soon knew that it probably was.
“I have to make the hard choice,” Callie said as she stood up. “I have to stop Dr. Viper.”
As Callie’s fear was gradually being replaced with a worried determination, she took in her surroundings, and found them familiar. It was then that she saw it, resting on the floor where it had be left after being discovered by herself and the lieutenant when they’d first entered the stadium-sized chamber.
Is this some kind of providence, fate, or just plain luck?
Callie snatched the item up, and then checked her pocket. The triangular communicator was still there.
“I can do this,” Callie said, a plan forming in her mind. “I can win this one against the odds, because like any politician…”
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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.