Quick note to all concerned…
Marcus Greene (Marc) was introduced in my last story (House of Cards). He’s the bookkeeper for the salvage yard, and is “in the know” about Jake and Chance’s “extracurricular activities,” but does not actually participate in any SwatKat missions.
“Thanks again, Tiny.”
Marc tucked the alternator under his arm and waved goodbye. While opening the door, he accidentally knocked down the HELP WANTED sign in the window. With a mumbled “oops – sorry”, Marc put it back where it had been and stepped out the door. Once outside, he strapped the box to the back of his motorcycle and put his helmet on. It was rare for Marc to have to visit Tiny’s Auto Parts – the store was actually south of the MegaKat City city limits – but no other shop in town had the part Chance needed. Not that Marc minded coming out this way. In fact, he sort of looked forward to it – a break from sitting in the office all day – so he was in no real hurry to get back. Mentally, Marc thought of several routes he could take home. Almost randomly, he decided to cut through an unfinished project on the south end of town. MegaKat City was building a bunch of rent-controlled units in that area, but only a very few had opened yet, so Marc figured there wouldn’t be much traffic to deal with out that way.
As he drove through the units, he evaluated the project. It looked almost ready to open, but the construction crews weren’t working today. They must get Saturdays off, thought Marc…unlike me.
While lost in this reverie, Marc failed to notice a kat that came running out of an alley. He was running so furiously, he just narrowly missed smacking into Marc’s motorcycle. The near-collision was enough to make Marc lose his balance, pitching him down on his side. The motorcycle slid a few feet further before coming to a rest.
Marc rolled into a sitting position and looked over this kat. He was dressed in a mismatched coat, shirt and pants, none of which was either new or clean, plus a stocking cap, despite the June heat. Marc surmised this guy was probably homeless and looking to live in one of the many unfinished units until they kicked him out. Looking closer, Marc noticed that the kat’s eyes were huge, and he was trembling. He’s probably worried that I’ll kick his tail, thought Marc…a ridiculous thought, since the kat had at least five inches on Marc.
Marc, however, tried to be kind. “So what’s the hurry?”
The homeless kat babbled incoherently.
Marc shook his head. “I’m sorry, what?”
Pointing back to the alley, the strange kat finally sputtered out, “They’re *there*!” He then ran down the street at top speed.
Marc watched him disappear around the corner, then turned his head towards the alley. He could make out a dumpster and a few boxes, but nothing else. Shrugging, he got to his feet, retrieved his motorcycle, and parked it along the curb. After shucking off his helmet, he walked over and peeked down the alley. It was very clean – probably because no one had moved into the area yet. Marc took one step into the alley, then stopped. This is what they always do in horror films, he thought. I’ll walk through the alley, my eyes’ll get really big, then I’m lying on a concrete slab while a coroner tries to put me back together.
Marc shook his head, then proceeded slowly down the alley. He couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary, but gradually, he started hearing a sound he couldn’t quite identify. It did sound vaguely familiar, though. Pausing to think, Marc racked his brain. What did that sound like? He finally gave up, and continued creeping along.
Once he got to the next street, he moved close to a building and peered out. His eyes *did* get really big, and he was about to make a run back down the alley. But then his eyes narrowed again, and Marc leaned against the building for almost five minutes, observing. Finally, just as his arms were about to really fall asleep, he turned around and quietly snuck back to his motorcycle. While tossing on his helmet, he mentally went through a map of the area, then headed for a shopping center about a mile away.
Marc pulled into a convenience store parking lot, and ran into a phone booth. He threw a quarter down the slot and pounded seven buttons. While the phone rang, he finally tore off his helmet.
“Jake & Chance’s Repair & Salvage,” he finally heard.
“T-Bone?” he asked quietly.
“Hold on,” he heard. Marc tapped his fingers waiting for Chance to pick the phone up again, which he finally did.
“We had someone up front. What’s up, Marc?”
“Ummm…” Suddenly, Marc couldn’t think of what to say. “Are you busy?”
“Sort of. What’s the problem?”
“There something down here you two might want to check out.”
“What is it?”
“Lizards, I think.”
There was a pause. “Lizards,” Chance finally said.
“I think,” emphasized Marc.
Chance paused again. “What about lizards?”
“They’re big,” said Marc. “Like two, two and a half meters long.”
“Four. There might have been more, but I couldn’t see any more from where I was standing.”
As Marc expected, there was another pause. “Four two-meter lizards. And what are they doing?”
Finally, Chance exploded. “Marc, you been out in the sun too long?”
“I don’t think so. Even if I had, I’m pretty sure what I saw was there.”
“Four huge lizards sleeping in the sun.”
“Three were sleeping in the sun. The last one was headbutting a truck.”
“Hold on.” Chance threw the phone down. Marc waited patiently until, as he expected, Jake picked up.
“Marc, what’s going on? Chance is babbling something about lizards.”
“Yeah, lizards. Or maybe they’re dinosaurs. I saw four of them.”
“The new housing project in the south part of town. They’re on…umm… Shingle Street, like, eleven blocks east of Balboa Parkway.”
“And what are they doing?”
“Three are sleeping, one’s headbutting a truck.”
“Headbutting a truck,” repeated Jake.
“Yeah. There’s no one *in* the truck…actually, there’s no one in this area at all right now.”
“So… why are you calling us again?”
Marc started to lose his temper. “Listen, I’m new at this. But when I see four two-meter lizards, I figure, you know, hey, that’s odd, maybe you guys should know about this. But maybe I should have called animal control.”
“No, that’s cool. We’re on it. Where’d you say they were again? Shingle Street?”
“Yeah, like 8000 South. But you might want to come down on Pollard Street. That’s one block west. There’s more room over there.”
“Got it. We’ll be there. Keep an eye on them ’til we get there.”
Marc was about to answer when he heard a click, and the phone was dead. He replaced the receiver and walked slowly back to his motorcycle. He got on and was strapping on his helmet when he suddenly stopped. And if they try to get away…? he asked himself. He shrugged and pulled onto the street, heading south.
Although it wasn’t necessary for him to do so, Marc waved the TurboKat to a landing in the middle of the deserted street. Razor jumped out first, followed quickly by T-Bone.
“Still there?” asked Razor.
“Still there,” Marc confirmed. He gestured and led them through the alley. Once they got to Shingle Street, Marc spread his arms out. “There. Lizards.”
‘Lizards’ might not be a completely accurate description of the creatures, but it was close enough. They were green-grey and scaly, with long bulky bodies ending in short stubby tails. Their legs were rather short, which kept them from moving very quickly. In fact, as Marc had said, three of them weren’t moving at all – they were lying on their stomachs in the street, eyes closed. The one that appeared to be awake sort of meandered up and down the street very slowly, carefully inspecting anything it came across – the curb, an empty can, whatever.
T-Bone, Razor and Marc watched without speaking for a minute or so, after which T-Bone said, “Not the most dangerous things we’ve met.”
“Yeah,” agreed Razor. “I guess there’s no reason to shoot them or anything.”
Marc said, “Maybe so, but what the heck *are* they?”
Razor shook his head. “No idea. But I intend to find out.” He turned to Marc. “First of all, you’d better head back. We don’t want anyone to link you to us.”
Marc tried to look pained. “You just don’t want to be seen with me.”
Razor smiled and nodded. “Well, yeah, exactly. We’ll catch up with you back at the salvage yard. Oh, and wait.” Marc, who had taken one step towards the alley, pulled up short. “Can you meet us for dinner tonight?”
Marc smirked. “Well, it’ll mean canceling my dinner date with David Litterbin, but hey, anything for a friend.”
“Cool. See ya.” Razor watched Marc disappear into the dark of the alley.
“What’s up for dinner?” asked T-Bone.
“Just an idea I had. Come on, let’s see if we can isolate these…” Razor wiggled his fingers at the creatures. “…things.”
T-Bone scanned the street. “Maybe we can run ’em in the alley, then block the entrances.”
Razor looked around, then nodded. “All right – let’s do it. I saw some concrete barricades down on Pollard. Why don’t you go ahead and block that side with them?”
“Roger.” T-Bone scrambled back to the TurboKat and took off. He picked up a barricade with the tow rope claw and positioned it next to the alley entrance. Then he radioed down. “Hey, Razor, is one gonna be enough to keep ’em in?”
“Ummm…better put three on. This one doesn’t look any worse after head-butting that truck.”
“Gotcha.” He placed another barricade directly behind the first, then placed a third crosswise on top. “All clear on this side. How’re you doing down there?”
“Lousy,” responded Razor. “These things aren’t budging. I tried shouting, kicking…you don’t have any lizard treats on you, do you?”
“Nope,” laughed T-Bone.
“Well, looks like I’ll have to zap them, then.” Razor walked around to the back of one of the sleeping creatures. He pulled on his taser gun and adjusted it so as to send out the minimum voltage possible. “Giddy-up,” commanded Razor, sending a jolt into the creature’s backside.
“Hrumph,” it responded, and slowly waddled forward. After several steps, Razor zapped it on its left side to get it to turn to the right. It was a much slower process than he had hoped, but eventually, with occasional zaps, Razor managed to get it into the alley.
“Now stay,” he commanded. “Stay! I’m going after your friends.”
A full hour after they had arrived, T-Bone and Razor had all four of the creatures sitting in the alley, with barricades on both sides, much to the delight of the small crowd of children who had discovered the goings-on from the surrounding area. T-Bone approached one of the older ones, a boy about ten years old.
“Hi. What’s your name?”
“Chris,” he said, eyes wide open.
“Hi, Chris. I’m T-Bone. Will you do my partner ‘n’ me a favor?”
Chris sputtered, “S-sure, Mr T-Bone.”
“We’re going to go find somewhere to take these things. We need you to sort of stand guard here, and make sure the other kids don’t jump into the alley there. We’re not sure if these things are dangerous or not. Can you do that for us?” Chris nodded. “Good. Now if these lizards start breakin’ out of here, you run home and call the Enforcers, OK?”
“Why can’t I call you?” asked Chris.
“We’re not in the phone book, Chris,” said T-Bone, smiling.
“Oh, OK. I can do that, then.”
“Great. Thanks a lot for helping us out.”
“Sure thing,” said Chris, smiling back.
T-Bone turned back to Razor. “OK, where to now?”
“Well, we’ve got to find a place to put these things…and I’ve got a few ideas about that.” They climbed back into the TurboKat and headed back north.
The pizza had been delivered, the drinks were on the table. Now Jake and Marc were waiting for T-Bone to return.
Marc was sprawled out on the sofa. “Mark this day on your calender, Jake. *Chance*…is late to dinner.”
Jake put his feet up on the table. “Hey, it’s happened before…” He scratched his head. “…I’m pretty sure.” Then he turned around at the sound of the TurboKat coming in. “He’s here…cool. We won’t have to reheat the pizza.”
Momentarily T-Bone came in, pulling off his gloves. “Mission accomplished. I took that last lizard down to Selinda. That gal seemed really happy to get him.” He went back in to change, and Marc got up to open the pizza boxes.
After a couple slices all around, Marc finally tried to turn the topic. “So what’s the deal, Jake? Not that I mind you buying me pizza.”
“Well, I’ve been thinking…”
“It doesn’t show.”
“Cute. No, really, I want to run some ideas by you guys. Chance, you and me have been running around as the SwatKats for some years now.” Chance nodded, his mouth full of pizza. “Let me ask some questions, and see if I’ve missed anything.” Jake took a sip of soda, then leaned forward. “Think back to when we were younger, and we were wanting to be Enforcers.” Chance nodded again. “What did the Enforcers do?”
Chance looked confused. “The same stuff they do now.”
Jake shook his head. “No, not quite. Yeah, it was close, but think back to ten, fifteen years ago. What was different?”
Chance shrugged, and Marc said, “It was about the same, right? I mean, sure, there weren’t all these monsters roaming around the city…”
Jake snapped his fingers and pointed at Marc. “Exactly. You hit it. All these monsters. And Dark Kat. And Dr Viper. And so on.”
Grabbing another piece of pizza, Marc asked, “What about them?”
“Where were they ten, fifteen years ago?”
Marc said, “I dunno. Studying how to be evil?”
“No, that’s not the point. Ten, fifteen years ago, the Enforcers were preparing for, you know, wars with other countries, policing the streets and so forth. Now they’re fighting three-story…whatevers. How come?”
Chance thought while chewing for a second, then hazarded a guess. “Um… they didn’t know how to make monsters back then?”
“And now *everybody* does?” countered Jake. “One maybe. But now Mega-Kat City is like…like a supervillian outlet store. One after the other.”
“And you smell a rat?” asked Marc.
“Yeah, I do. Think of this. Let’s divide the players into ‘good’ and ‘evil’. On the good side, we’ve got us.”
“And the Enforcers,” threw in Marc.
Jake made a face, then said, “OK, fine. Us and the Enforcers. But take away our planes and our weapons, strip off our uniforms, and what have you got?”
Chance peered over his soda. “A nudist colony.”
“Well, yeah. We’re just kats, after all. But take away Dark Kat’s imps and his weapons, yank of his cloak, and…well, whatever you got there, it ain’t just a kat.”
“So, we’ve got all these…these non-Kats…”
“…and ain’t *none* of them on our side,” finished Chance.
“Bingo, and I’m thinking this can’t be all coincidence.”
“Wait a minute,” interrupted Chance. “You can’t mean they’re all…what? Related? In cahoots with each other?”
Jake shrugged. “They might be. Sure, we haven’t seen Dr Viper eating lunch with DarkKat at the deli on the corner, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something up.” He looked at Chance, then at Marc. “You see a problem with this theory?”
“Besides it being utterly nuts, no,” said Chance.
“But then what’s going on? There’s a run on kats, or whatever, trying to take over MegaKat City. It seems more likely – at least to me – that there one kat behind it, and the rest are doing it for him.”
“Question,” said Marc. “If they’re all in cahoots, as Chance would say, why not attack all at once? I mean, if you’ve got an army in a war, you don’t send one soldier out a time to fight the enemy.”
Jake thought for a second. “Good point.” He furrowed his brow, then reached for his soda. “Maybe they’re just not as organized as all that.”
Marc shrugged. “It’s possible, but not very compelling.”
“OK, put that aside for a second. Let’s talk about those lizards you found. What do you make out of that?”
Marc waved his pizza crust. “They looked like mutants gone horribly wrong.”
“Or mutants not gone wrong enough,” added Chance.
Jake nodded. “My thoughts exactly. If this is Dr Viper’s work – and it certainly *seems* like it is – it certainly isn’t his best work.”
“Maybe it was s’posed to be a diversion,” suggested Chance.
Jake shrugged. “It could have been, but it stunk as one. Marc stumbled onto them by accident. If you wanted to create a diversion, I’m sure you’d do better than to put a few slow-moving, harmless lizards in a place where no one lives yet.” He reached for another piece of pizza. “Besides, nothing happened the rest of the day…at least, as far as we know.” He took a bite, then added, “So…what were they doing out there?”
Chance leaned back and looked thoughtful. “Maybe they escaped from their…pen…or whatever.”
“Yeah, that’s what I was sort of thinking. And, remember how slow those things move.”
Chance got excited. “So if they *did* escape from somewhere, they sure couldn’t have gotten very far.”
“…which means that housing project can’t be too far from where they escaped from,” finished Jake.
Marc stood up to collect the empty pizza boxes. “OK, so what are you proposing?”
Jake leaned back. “Well, I was going to ask you that.”
Marc stopped dead in his tracks. “*Me*? What for? You’re not hinting that I’m one of those non-kats, are you?”
Jake shook his head. “Nah. If you were, Chance and I woulda been dead long ago. But you remember how you figured Chance and me out?”
“What are the chances you can do the same for these other guys?”
“Hmm…I never thought of that.” He stood there for a few seconds. “If I can get a bunch of information of them…” He shrugged. “I don’t see why not. It’s worth a shot, anyhow.”
“Cool.” Jake got up to clear the drinks as Marc went outside with the boxes.
“Hey, Jake,” said Chance as he reluctantly got up as well. “What about those lizards?”
“What? Oh, right. I had you take three to the zoo just to get rid of them. But that woman in Selinda is supposedly the leading biogeneticist in the area. I figured I’d have her take a look at one of them.”
Chance didn’t look convinced. “What’re you thinkin’ she’ll find?”
“Heck, I dunno. Probably nothing. But I figure it couldn’t hurt to get as much info as we can get. I’m thinking every other time we’ve waited for them to attack first, but it would be great, just once, if we could strike first.”
Chance looked in on Marc, who was sitting at his desk. Well, he knew his desk was there, just because that’s where it normally was. But there were mounds of paper piled up on every part, on the floor in front, and on all the filing cabinets as well.
Marc looked up at Chance as he came in. “Shoot me,” he said weakly.
“That good, huh?” Chance said, sympathetically.
“You know, getting information on you guys was a breeze. There isn’t a magazine in the world who hasn’t run a story on the SwatKats. You’d think they’d give some press to the supervillians too.” Marc slammed down the file he was holding. “Heck, no wonder they’re so ticked at you – they almost take over the world, and they *still* can’t get any press.”
Chance leaned against the doorway. “C’mon, it can’t be all that bad.”
“No, I’m serious.” Marc looked around, then picked up a hefty file. “Did you know there was a death-rock band called Servants of Dark Kat?”
Chance sipped his soda and nodded. “Jake and I saw them play live last year, you know, just because. They stunk. If they *were* servants of Dark Kat, they wouldn’t be for long.”
“Probably so, but every time I look for information on Dark Kat, I end up with twelve times more on that band than on the guy who inspired them. They have a new album out, if you care.” Chance grimaced. “Didn’t think so.” Marc tossed the file back behind him and sighed. “There’s information here,” he continued, slapping the papers in front of him, “but weeding it out isn’t much fun.”
Chance was about to respond when Razor came up behind him. “You about ready?” he asked.
Indicating his clothes, Chance said, “Do I look ready?” He walked around Razor to change.
“How’s it going?” asked Razor.
“Ask me any question, Razor, except that one,” said Marc, leaning back and rubbing his eyes. “Where’re you off to?”
“Selinda. I’ve set up a meeting with Dr Vostoy. Apparently, she might have found something on that lizard of yours.”
Marc held up his hands in protest. “It ain’t *my* lizard, sir. Don’t you even *think* about bringing it back here.”
“Oh, and if Ed with Kats Eye News calls about the chopper, it won’t be ready until next week sometime.”
“I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to hear that.”
Razor smiled, and turned to go. “Don’t knock yourself out with that stuff.”
Marc put his head down on the files. “Too late,” was his muffled reply.
T-Bone set the TurboKat down near the abandoned farm north of Selinda, which they now referred to as “our Selinda parking spot”. Razor got out on the Cyclotron, and turned back to T-Bone.
“You’ll get me here in two hours, right?”
“Yeah,” said T-Bone. “But what am I s’posed to ’til then?”
“I don’t care,” said Razor, adjusting his helmet. “Practice your rolls. Go shopping. Fly through a fast food drive-thru.”
“You know, I *am* kinda hungry,” said T-Bone.
Razor smiled, shook his head, and took off down the dirt road. It took him just over a minute to get onto the highway. He settled into a fast but not overly dangerous speed in the leftmost lane. As expected, many drivers honked their horns and waved – although this happened every time he was out in public on the Cyclotron, Razor still wasn’t sure whether it was better to wave back or ignore them. Generally, like today, he just waved to the kids – they always got a kick out of it.
Razor knew precisely where Dr Vostoy had her offices – as it ended up, it was just a few blocks from his sister’s apartment.. He was sorely tempted to stop in at his Kate’s while he was down here. This was a major reason that he set himself a time limit with T-Bone – this way, he wouldn’t be able to squeeze in a visit.
The Institute parking lot was only about half-full, allowing Razor to find a spot that he hoped would be somewhat inconspicuous. Nevertheless, he made sure the security system on the Cyclotron was armed before entering the building. He checked the building directory, then entered Dr Vostoy’s office, ignoring all the stares he received.
“Dr Vostoy?” asked Razor. She nodded. “I’m Razor. I talked to you yesterday.”
“Certainly,” she responded coolly. “Won’t you please have a seat?” Razor closed the door and sat down across from her. He noticed that she had drawn the blinds, which he favored – he didn’t want anyone snooping in on this conversation if he could help it.
Razor took a second to gather his thoughts. It wasn’t often he had to meet with someone in the general public in this guise, and there was always the fear that he could say or do something to give himself away. Over the years, he had found that being extremely polite was a decent way to keep himself from saying anything that “Jake” would say.
“You mentioned on the phone that you might have found something,” he began.
Dr Vostoy nodded. “I believe so, although your partner was not very explicit as to what we were supposed to be looking for.”
“Honestly, Doctor, we really have no idea *what* to look for. Anything you might have found out could possibly be helpful to us.”
“I understand.” Dr Vostoy open the file in front of her. “The creature you brought in was, in essence, a garden salamander, probably no bigger than ten centimeters long in its original state. His mutated state was caused by a chemical mutagen into which he was immersed.”
Razor nodded, then said, “Listen. How difficult is it to come up with a chemical like that? Say I wanted you to make a salamander two meters long. How long would it take you to come up with one?”
Dr Vostoy looked severe. “That’s an extremely difficult question, and the answer is probably never. For one thing, I wouldn’t consider doing such a thing.”
Razor shook his head. “I’m sorry, you misunderstood. I’m certainly not interested in mutating anyone or anything. I’m just trying to get a general grasp on the situation.”
“Oh, of course. Forgive me.” Dr Vostoy leaned back in thought. “The more I ponder the problem, the more I think the original answer I gave you was correct. Most likely, I still could not come up with a suitable chemical solution. You see, most people think you toss a couple chemicals together and suddenly it mutates everything in sight. It’s not at all that simple -which is a good thing, otherwise kats would be mutating left and right.”
Razor smiled and said, “You know – I wondered why no insects and germs and so forth in the vicinity of these monsters weren’t huge as well.”
“Precisely. Mutagens must be created to fit a particular species. What works on salamanders won’t work on kats, and vice versa. That’s part of the reason why I probably wouldn’t be able to concoct you one. I could tell you that I’d probably use an alcohol or glycol base, and I’d need a radioactive component – plutonium, or a radioactive isotope of some sort – but then it’d be down to trial and error.”
“How about an antidote? If you have the mutagen, could you develop an antidote to it?”
Dr Vostoy shook her head. “No. It perhaps would be helpful to see what was originally in the mutagen, because often the radioactive component is the same in the antidote. Otherwise, it’s just a new problem. But instead of a salamander into a dinosaur problem, it’s a dinosaur into a salamander problem. One can’t simply ‘reverse’ this procedure or use ‘opposite’ chemicals. Chemistry and biology aren’t as cut and dried as all that.”
Razor looked puzzled for a second. “Wait a minute. I seem to recall a big fuss about Katalyst 100, though.”
Rolling her eyes, Dr Vostoy sighed. “That’s one thing I wish I’d never heard of. Apparently MegaKat BioChemical was working on a universal mutagen…still in the experimental stages, mind you. They had a few of us up there to help out. The experiments continued until they determined that it wasn’t producing the results they would like.”
Gesturing with her hands, Dr Vostoy said, “The more…universal the mutagen, the more unstable it became. Katalyst 100 was the closest they came to a universal mutagen. Unfortunately, someone leaked the story to the papers, and the next thing you know, the whole public was up in arms against this mutagen that was going to have every kat mutating before our eyes. Of course, Katalyst 100 was nowhere near that universal.”
“And how universal was it, exactly?”
“It affected several types of insects. It doubled their size, gave them extra set of wings, stuff like that.”
Razor sat back in his seat. “Hardly something which to terrorize the populace.”
“You need to keep in mind that terrorizing the populace wasn’t exactly foremost in the minds of the researchers.”
“Oh, no doubt. You mentioned that you wouldn’t be able to create a mutagen. Would that be due to…forgive me, I know I’m putting this poorly…would that be due to lack of experience in that area?”
“No, I understand completely, and yes, you’re entirely correct. Perhaps if I had devoted my life to such a puzzle, I might be able to concoct a mutagen. But if I tried today, I’d be starting at square one.”
“Would you know of someone who *would* be able to create such a mutagen? In your personal professional opinion, how many kats possess the…the wherewithal to do that?”
Dr Vostoy closed her eyes and sat silently for a minute. Her eyelids flicked open, and she answered. “Only two names come to mind – Doctor Viper and Doctor Chung.”
“Let’s not go into Dr Viper, if you please. I know more about him that I want to. But tell me about Doctor Chung. Does he work here?”
Dr Vostoy shook her head. “Not anymore. Dr Chung was one of the pioneers in mutant research, and he worked here for many years. He died last year, though – he was eighty-seven.”
“Ah,” Razor said non-commitally, and stood up. “Well, I won’t take any more of your time, Doctor. Thank you very much for all you’ve done. I wish I could pay you for your time…”
Dr Vostoy laughed. “Oh, please don’t worry about that. Our staff was very proud to help out the SwatKats.”
“I’m the one that’s honored. Thank you again.”
Razor left the office, pushed open the front door and looked around. He wasn’t too suprised to see a small crowd milling around near the door. Quite often he would find curious kats looking to get a peek at him when he spent a chunk of time in one place. Razor *was* suprised, however, to see one particular kat in the crowd.
Razor hadn’t seen his sister since coming to Selinda several months ago when his mother was in the hospital. He had talked to her on the phone once briefly since then, but that was it, and he very much regretted not calling her again. He was very close to his sister, despite the differences he had with other members of the family…at least, he *had* been close to her, until this dual identity thing had come between them.
Darnit, he thought, when did I let this whole SwatKat thing start running the rest of my life?
Razor suddenly took a detour, and pulled up right in front of Kate. He smiled slightly, leaned forward, put his lips right against her ear, and whispered, “Say hi to Ma for me.” He stood up straight, walked back to the Cyclotron and took off, leaving Kate staring after him with eyes wide open.
Marc looked up as Jake and Chance came in from the back of the shop. “Um, Jake, your sister called.”
Jake nodded. “I kinda figured she might.”
Confused, Marc asked, “How’s that?”
“Well, all right!” Marc high-fived a not-entirely-enthusiastic Jake. “You don’t seem very excited.”
Jake started to say something, then simply shook his head and sat down. He tried again. “I’m not entirely sure I did the right thing.”
Marc smiled sympathetically. “If it means anything, and hopefully it doesn’t, *I* think you did the right thing. I don’t know Kate really well, but…I dunno. It seems to me like she *deserves* to know.”
Jake weakly smiled back. “You’re probably right.” He reached over and dialed the phone. Marc started, “You want us to…?” but Jake held up his hand and shook his head. “Kate? Jake. Look, I’m sorry about that today…no, I’d rather not talk over the phone. Can you get up here to MegaKatCity anytime soon?…Tomorrow is cool. Lunch?…All right. See you then. Love ya.” He hung up the phone, then put his head down on the receiver. “How am I supposed to explain this all to her?” Jake shook his head to clear it. “Well, I’ll worry about that tomorrow.”
“How was Selinda?” asked Marc.
“The doctor was nice enough…told me everything I wanted to know.”
“Anything you can use?”
“Probably not. Any progress here?”
Marc nodded. “Yeah. Pull up a chair, Chance.” Chance drew a chair up next to Jake, across from Marc. “OK, first off – whoever the leader of this…this grand unification theory of Jake’s is…”
“Dark Kat,” said Jake and Chance at the same time.
Marc looked up. “You both seem awfully sure.”
Chance shrugged. “Who else could it be?”
Marc thought, then said, “Well, if it’s Dark Kat, why does he sometimes take you on himself, and other times he sends someone else to do his dirty work?”
“Heck, I dunno,” said Chance. “Maybe he’s feeling sick lazy days. Does it matter?”
Marc shrugged. “Well, let’s assume it’s him, and move on to the next bit – about those lizards we picked up. Think about that area of the city.” He paused, tapping his pencil on the desk. “What’s down in that area?”
Jake hazarded a guess. “The new stadium?”
“True. What else?”
Chance jumped in. “They’re thinking about building those outlets stores down that way.”
“And the old horse track’s down there.”
Chance added, “And the nuclear power plant.” He stopped and turned to face Jake, who had turned to face him.
Marc was smiling, bobbing his head. “Looks like you’re thinking the same way I was. Did the doctor say there might be some sort of radioactive component to those lizards?”
“Yeah,” confirmed Jake. “She said as far as they knew, all mutagens were radioactive. You’re thinking that that’s where Dr Viper’s getting his radioactive stuff?”
“Well, he certainly isn’t ordering it out of the MegaKat City Chemical catalog.”
“So where does that leave us?”
“In good shape. Looky here.” He pointed to a map he had spread out on the desk. “Here’s the MegaKatCity nuclear plant, and here’s where I found the lizards.” Marc put a pin into those two locations, then stuck a loop of string around the two pins. He stuck his pencil in the loop and drew an oval around the two locales. “Now, my guess is you’ll find…well, whatever it is you’re going to find in this area here.”
“Unless someone dropped those lizards there,” interjected Chance, flicking the northmost pin with his finger.
“Yeah, but no harm in assuming that isn’t the case,” said Jake. “Maybe you and I should do a flyby in that area and see if we can’t nose something up.” Turning back to Marc, he asked, “You got anything else?”
“Mmm, yeah, one more thing here.” Marc reached behind him for another file. “I’ve been digging through some other kats you two have taken on. So tell me about this…Hard Drive character.”
Chance smirked. “That freak. He pretty much turned most of the city against us for a time.”
“Yeah, I seem to remember all that. What’s he like?” asked Marc.
“A first-class bully. Real cocky as long as he had that surge coat on, but shut that stuff down and Boom!…he was a spineless little dweeb.”
Marc shuffled through some newspaper clippings. “Last thing I have on him says you landed him in jail.”
“Yeah, for life, with any luck,” Jake mused.
Nodding, Marc glanced down at the paper, then looked closer. “Wait a sec here. It says here that Dark Kat was tossed in as well.”
Chance smiled. “Oh, he was…like, for four days.”
Also smiling, Jake leaned back. “I slept really good those four nights.”
“He broke out, huh?”
“Yep – the Creeplings dug him out.” Chance shook his head, and added, “We warned them that might happen, but they don’t listen too good down there.”
“But this Hard Drive guy is still there?”
“Oh, yeah. His real name’s Vic…Vic something. He’s a little…not right…up here.” Chance tapped his forehead. “He was a bit too close to some of those explosions, I think.”
“Or a computer virus got to him,” mused Jake.
“Well, since you at least know where he is, maybe he’d be willing to talk.”
“…in exchange for a reduced sentence.” Jake snapped his fingers. “You know, you might just have something there. He was working with DarkKat for a while, and so maybe he saw how the whole setup worked.”
“Cool. Can you get in to see him?”
Chance growled, “We’d better. After all, aren’t we the ones that put him there?”
T-Bone and Razor entered the visiting room. “You’ve got fifteen minutes,” said the guard. They nodded, then watched the guard slam the door shut.
Vic, aka Hard Drive, sat on the floor in the corner, trembling. T-Bone and Razor exchanged glances. With him in this mental state, this wasn’t looking to be easy. Walking up next to him, T-Bone leaned down and bared his teeth.
“Hi-ya,” T-Bone boomed. “Remember us?”
Vic lifted his arms over his head. “Don’t you touch me,” he blurted out, then started babbling. “You can’t hurt me – I know my rights – don’t you touch me…”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake…” T-Bone picked him up (which made Vic yelp) by the arm and dragged him over to a chair. He then sat him down, then sat down in a chair next to him. “Look, we aren’t here to rough you up…at least, unless you give us a *reason* to rough you up.”
Razor leaned over the table towards Vic. “Listen, you were in league with Dark Kat.”
Vic began rocking himself back and forth, and babbled out an answer. “Not my idea, not my idea – *he* thought of it – I didn’t wanna do it…”
T-Bone got in Vic’s face. “Oh, you didn’t *want* to, huh? I seem to remember you rather enjoying yourself in the TurboKat.”
Vic shook his head vigorously. “No, no, no, no, no. All *his* idea. I just wanted to try the things out, make a little money, have some fun…”
T-Bone stood up. “Fun, huh? How’d you like *me* to have a little fun here?”
Vic threw his arms over his head again. “No, no, no, no,” he sobbed.
Razor said, “Calm down a bit, T-Bone. Listen, Vic, maybe you can tell us something about Dark Kat.”
Vic set his lip. “Uh-uh, I can’t, I can’t.”
T-Bone sat down and leaned close to Vic, who shrunk away. “What if it meant you might get out of here a bit early?”
For the first time that day, Vic seemed to grow almost lucid. “Out? Get me out of here?”
“Yep.” Tossing his foot on the table, T-Bone went on, “How’s jail treating you, bud? Makin’ a lot of friends?”
Lip quivering, Vic didn’t respond at first. When he did, he simply repeated, “Get me out of here?”
“Well, not today, old chum. But maybe we can talk the court into lettin’ you out a bit early – on good behavior, co-operating with the state, you know?”
“You feel like talking?” asked Razor. Vic hung his head, then nodded. “Good. First off, that cave where we captured you two. That wasn’t DarkKat’s base, was it?”
“Oh, no,” said Vic. “We just worked there. Not a base really. Just some equipment, some computers. I like computers.”
“Do you remember where his base is?”
“His base? His base…” Vic grasped his head with both hands. “His base? His base? I don’t remember…don’t remember…” Suddenly, he looked up, his eyes large. “I do! I do remember! It was south!”
T-Bone and Razor looked at each other, exasperated. “We *knew* that… where *exactly*?”
“Where? Where?” Again Vic put his hands to his head. “It was…it was…” Suddenly he banged his head down on the table, hard. “Don’t remember…don’t *remember*!!”
“Was it, by any chance, near that nuclear power plant?”
“Don’t know, don’t remember…NO!” He looked up. “No! Yes! It was near the power plant. I went through the power plant!”
T-Bone clicked his tongue. “One point for the black kat.”
Razor nodded, then turned back to Vic. “All right, then. You worked with Dark Kat to…”
“No, no. I didn’t work with him. He just ordered me around. Told me what to do.”
“OK, fine. So he was in charge.”
“Yeah, yeah. He said – do this, wear your suit, take the plane. I did. It was a good idea. But it didn’t work. And now I’m in jail.”
T-Bone and Razor exchanged glances. This really wasn’t going anywhere. Razor stood up and said, “Well, thanks for your help here. We’ll talk to the courts and see if we can get them to let you out a bit early – *if* you’re on your best behavior.”
“Oh, yes, yes,” said Vic. “I shouldn’t have taken orders from Dark Kat. That wasn’t right. I didn’t like taking orders from Dark Kat.”
T-Bone had just stepped into the doorway when Vic, head down on the table, mumbled quietly, “…and the guy who gave Dark Kat orders. I didn’t like him, either.”
T-Bone felt Razor’s hand on his shoulder. Looking back, T-Bone saw a really queer look in Razor’s eye. “What’s the matter?” he asked.
Razor didn’t move right away. He continued to look very confused. After about ten seconds, he turned around and sat down across from Vic again. T-Bone didn’t understand at all, but he turned to the guard in the doorway. “Give us a few more minutes here.” The guard nodded, then closed and locked the door. T-Bone stood behind Razor, arms crossed.
Razor slowly leaned towards Vic, getting only about a foot away from his face. Vic looked at him expectantly.
“W-what did you say?” Razor finally asked.
Vic nodded. “Oh, yes, I didn’t like working for Dark Kat. Not at all. It was wrong.”
“Yeah, I got that. You said something about someone giving orders to Dark Kat.”
Vic looked unsure. “Yes. The voice.”
“The voice,” encouraged Razor.
“He told Dark Kat what to do. He said Dark Kat should use the secrets I stole to help me fight the Enforcers. And it worked.”
“Whose voice?” asked Razor.
“The voice,” insisted Vic. “I heard it. It came from his computer. I like computers. It said we should use the secrets to help me fight the Enforcers. And it worked.”
Razor nodded. “I know. The voice came from Dark Kat’s computer? It told him what to do?” Vic nodded violently. “OK, was it a computer’s voice?”
Vic scrunched up his face in thought. “No, it was a guy. It was a guy talking. But he was talking through the computer. That’s where the voice came from. Dark Kat’s computer. I like computers. It told us what to do.”
Razor turned around and looked up at T-Bone. T-Bone thought for a second, then mouthed the words “Dr Viper” to Razor, who nodded. Turning back to Vic, Razor said, “Listen. The voice that told you what to do. Did it sound sort of…slithery? Did he lisp a bit?”
Putting his head down, Vic murmured, “The voice…the voice…the voice…” He pulled his head up and looked at Razor. “It was a guy’s voice. Just a guy, like a guy. That’s all. And he spoke out of the computer. I like computers.”
Razor rubbed his eyes and sighed. “Yeah, I know. Well, thanks. And we’ll see about getting you out of here a bit early.” Razor got up and followed T-Bone out the door.
“What d’ya make of that?” asked T-Bone, but Razor only shook his head.
There was no time to discuss anything. Jake and Chance were finishing changing clothes when Marc came to the back. “Kate’s here,” he said. Jake nodded and tossed on a black t-shirt. He led the way out, followed by Marc and Chance.
“Hey,” Jake said softly. Kate looked up and smiled uncertainly.
“Hey-a, Kate,” said Chance. Marc just nodded once.
“Are you set to go?” asked Jake. Kate nodded. Chance whistled quietly. When Jake turned around, Chance tossed him the keys to his truck. Jake half-saluted, then turned around and ushered Kate out.
He helper her into the passenger side of the cab, then got in his side and put on his seat belt. After putting the keys in the ignition, he paused and said, “So…where to?”
Kate furrowed her brow. “Does it really matter?”
“Yeah, actually, it does. I don’t want anyone listening in.” He thought. “How about we get some sandwiches, then head to the woods up north?” Kate shrugged.
A silence fell on them both, which lasted through the trip to the grocery store, the journey to the woods, and all while they set up a make-shift eating area in the bed of the pickup. It wasn’t until Jake had taken his first bite of his sandwich that he broke it.
“Kate, look, I’m sorry I didn’t say something earlier to you.”
Kate put her chips down. “So I guess it’s true. You and Chance are the SwatKats.” Jake looked down and nodded. “And Marc is…?”
“Oh. Well, I suppose you had your reasons for not telling me.”
“I had a ton of reasons for not telling you.” He took a sip of soda, then went on. “First of all…there’s…I mean, geez, Kate, how do you bring something like this up?”
Shaking her head, Kate said, “That won’t fly. You could have always just said ‘Hey, I have something to tell you’, you know.”
Jake hung his head. “You’re right.” Then he looked up. “But you can guess how much I don’t want *Dad* to know about this.”
“Are you thinking I’m going to go right out and tell him?”
“No, but the fewer people who know about this, the better.” He took another bite of his sandwich and chewed, lost in thought. “You know,” he finally said, “now that you know, I can’t think of a single reason why I shouldn’t have told you.”
“Figures. You know you should be able to tell me anything.” She ate a chip, then went on, “Now I’ve got, like, *tons* of questions for you.”
“I guessed as much.”
“First off, what the *heck* are you two thinking?!”
“Someone’s gotta do it.”
“Yeah, maybe, but you and *Chance*? Whose idea was this, anyway?”
Jake smiled a bit. “Mine.”
“Yeah, right, Jake. This had to be Chance’s idea.”
Jake put his sandwich down. “What’s *that* supposed to mean? I can’t come up with a good idea on my own?”
“No, but you *always* do what Chance wants. Anytime Chance has an idea, off you two go, no matter how stupid the idea is.”
“Oh, yeah? What about that ice cream incident?”
Jake tossed his wadded napkin at Kate. “*Geez*, Kate, I was, like, *eight*! Will you let that die already!?”
They laughed for a minute. Kate then said, “You know, Jake, this whole thing doesn’t seem quite so impossible anymore. You and Chance have always been…”
“I was going to say reckless, but whatever.” She sighed. “Now I’ll be up all night every night worrying about you two.”
“Don’t. We’ve survived this far.”
“Speaking of which, what happens to the SwatKats if, you know, something happens to one of you?”
Looking thoughtful, Jake said, “You know, I’ve never thought about it. I suppose we’d become the SwatKat instead of the SwatKats.”
“You wouldn’t pull Marc in to take your place?”
Jake scrunched up his face. “Marc? He’s not cut out to be a SwatKat, even assuming he’d want to, which I doubt.” Polishing off the last of his sandwich, he added, “Besides, with any luck, we’ll be…well, perhaps we’ll be altering this whole SwatKats thing soon.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I won’t go into details. Let’s just say Feral gave me this idea – no more bad guys, no more SwatKats, he said. So I figure, hey, let’s get rid of the bad guys, then Chance and I can go back to living, you know, like everyone else.”
Kate stared at Jake. “Take care of yourself, you two.”
“Relax,” Jake shot back. “I’m not eight anymore, you know.”
Marc was in the hangar as T-Bone set the TurboKat down. “Well?” he asked, as they both jumped out.
“Nothing,” said Razor. “And a lot of it.”
“A waste of fuel,” confirmed T-Bone. “It was rocks and sand and sand and rocks and sand and rocks.” He tore off his helmet in disgust. “Back to square one.”
Marc looked disappointed, but asked hopefully, “Did you get it on video?”
Razor reached up to the underside of the plane and emerged with a video tape. “You really want to sit through this?”
Marc shrugged. “I’ll slow it down and watch – maybe I’ll catch something you missed.”
T-Bone joked, “Did I mention the rocks?”
“You did, T-Bone. Thank you.” He took the tape and went out the door.
Razor watched him go, shaking his head. “I wonder what’s got into him.”
T-Bone started shucking off his flight suit. “He’s pig-headed. Won’t admit he’s wrong.”
“Really?” said Razor, smiling. “Which of us do you think he learned *that* from?”
“You callin’ me pig-headed?”
“You ever admit you’re wrong?” challenged Razor.
“Sure. If I ever end up being wrong, I’ll be the first to admit it.” He slammed his locker shut, and tossed on his t-shirt. “Feel like lunch yet?”
“Mmmm, better not – not with that Toyota still on the rack.”
“Oh, yeah, *that’s* why I keep you around – as my back-up conscience.”
The Toyota was finished, as was the Jeep, but Jake and Chance decided to wait until after lunch before tackling the helicopter. Their burgers were half-done when Marc came, bleary-eyed.
“Burger?” asked Jake, waving what was left of his.
Marc shook his head. “Could you two come take a look at this?”
Jake and Chance stared at each other, then got up to follow Marc into his office. He had a small color TV hooked up to a VCR on his desk, adding yet more clutter to the already cluttered office. He sat down heavily, then pointed to a spot on the TV screen. “Now have my eyes gone all funny, or is that what I think it is?”
Jake and Chance peered closely at the paused image. The resolution wasn’t great, and the item that Marc pointed out was difficult to make out.
Jake squinted. “It doesn’t look like much of anything.”
Chance looked closer, then opened his eyes wide. Turning to Marc, he asked, “That isn’t a creepling, is it?”
Marc rubbed his eyes. “You tell me. I’ve never actually seen one, except in photos.”
Chance said, “It certainly could be.”
“Well, heck, let’s take the VCR and hook it up to the big TV,” suggested Jake.
This took about four minutes. It would have taken less time, but when three kats try to do the work of one, these things tend to take longer. In the end, the image appeared on the big TV.
Even Jake was looking convinced. “Maybe it’s some other animal.”
“An animal that big? In the middle of nowhere?” Marc argued. “What the heck would it eat?”
“Hm.” Jake sat down on the couch, head in hands. “If it *is* a creepling, what’s it doing?”
Marc shrugged, but Chance, leaning against the wall, answered instead. “I bet it’s checking *us* out.”
Jake sat up. “Of course! We were zigzagging through that area, and it probably was sent out to make sure we weren’t about to bomb the place.”
Marc tapped the screen. “Can you pinpoint this location?”
“Sure,” said Chance. “if I can match up the time on the tape with the on-board computer.”
“Well, then,” Marc said, sitting down in the rickety wooden chair. “Now what?”
Chance looked incredulous. “What do you mean, ‘now what’?”
Jake waved him down. “No, he’s right. Let’s say that’s their base right there. What do we do now?”
Chance turned to Jake. “You gone nuts too? We go in and nuke the joint!”
Marc flipped the chair around and leaned forward against the back. “What if they’re not in there?”
Crossing his arms, Chance growled, “Then at least we’ve taken out their home base, right?”
“True,” said Marc, “but then you’ve blown your one chance at taking them off-guard.”
“Plus, what if there just happen to be civilians in that area, and we go in with our guns blazing?” added Jake.
“Mmmm, good point,” concurred Chance.
“So…what? Do you have to case the joint, as they say in gangster films?” asked Marc.
“Possibly,” said Jake thoughtfully. He leaned back and closed his eyes. “Is there any way to see who, if anyone, is down there?”
“Besides actually going down and looking?” asked Chance.
Jake buried his face in his hands for a second. “Well then, it looks like one of us is going in there.”
Marc put his head down on the chair back. “I suppose I should volunteer at this point.”
Chance laughed, not very kindly, while Jake asked, “You aren’t serious, are you?”
Marc shrugged. “I guess. I mean, if I go down, I’ve got you two to come get me out. If one of you goes down, you’ve got the other one…and, like, *maybe* me, to get you out. I’d much rather have you two backing me up than either of you and me…” Marc stopped, looking very confused. “I think I said that right.”
“Whatever,” said Chance. “I think I get what you’re trying to say. Still, you can’t be serious about wanting to go down there.”
Putting his chin down again, Marc paused, then said, “‘Want’ is sort of a strong word. Let’s just say of the three of us, I’d be the best choice to go do it.”
Jake put his feet on the table. “Marc, you’re not thinking about this. Believe me, I appreciate you trying to help us out, but I can’t send you down there. I wouldn’t send *anyone* up against Dark Kat, let alone Dark Kat, Dr Viper and whoever else might be down there.”
Marc shrugged. “All right, then. But the offer’s open.”
Jake smiled. “Thanks. I suppose that leaves you and me, Chance. Do we flip a coin?”
Chance shook his head. “Nah. I’ll do it.”
Jake opened his eyes wide. “You *both* have a death wish today?”
Shrugging, Chance said, “Unless you wanna do it.”
Jake raised his hands. “Look, let’s forget who’s going in the lion’s den for a minute. Whoever it is, we’re going to need a plan of attack.”
“Yeah,” agreed Marc. “Easy in, but not so easy out.”
“Hm…maybe one of us could go in civvies,” suggested Chance. “You know, peek inside. If they spot him, he’s a lost…backpacker, hunter, cross-country runner, whatever.”
Marc considered the idea. “Not bad…but who’s to say they won’t shoot everyone on sight anyhow?”
“Well, they didn’t have anything ready to shoot at us when we did the fly-by, did they?” countered Jake.
“Hm. Good point, sir.”
“OK,” continued Jake. “If by some miracle they don’t notice whoever goes in there, that kat’ll just make a real quick survey, then get out quick. Now what do we do if he *is* noticed?”
“Well, they certainly won’t just let him go, no matter who he claims to be,” said Marc.
“Yeah, which means we need someone right behind him, and he’d better be armed,” Chance mused.
“And that’s Jake’s area,” finished Marc, swinging around to face him.
Jake was about to argue, then shook his head instead. “All right, fine. Let’s put me in cover position. What else?”
Chance tentatively said, “Well, we may need to turbo out of there…”
“…which means Chance in the TurboKat.” Marc crossed his arms on the chair back. “Which means I’m back as the interloper.”
Jake and Chance stared at each other for a minute. “Well, Marc, if you’re game, let’s do it,” Jake said.
“When do we wanna do this?” asked Chance.
“No time like the present,” quoted Marc.
Jake looked over at him, then checked the clock. It was 2:30 – plenty of time. He nodded. “You’re right. Let’s rock, guys.”
Marc moved uncomfortably next to Razor. “Next time you’re thinking about adding something to the TurboKat…”
“Jump seats. Definitely jump seats.”
“It ain’t so bad when it’s Miss Briggs in here with us,” T-Bone remarked.
“Well, next time get Miss Briggs to be your spy, then.”
T-Bone set the TurboKat down on a small plateau, and Marc hopped out.
“You got all your stuff?” asked Razor.
Marc went over his mental checklist. “Backpack, canteen, cap, compass, walking stick. Got it all. You getting sound over the mike?” Marc patted the top of his cap.
“Loud and clear,” confirmed Razor. He leaned in and peered at a monitor in front of him. “Video’s coming in, too.”
“Nifty. That’s something else you can work on – making the camera in this cap a bit lighter.”
“Quit whining – it’s maybe two pounds.”
“You ever walk around with two pounds on your head? It’s not that fun.” He leaned down to tighten the laces on his hiking boots. “I can’t short circuit these gizmos by sweating too much, can I?”
Razor shook his head. “I tested them.”
“Good, cause I’m soaking already, and I haven’t started hiking yet.”
Razor leaned over the edge of the cockpit. “You know, you can still back out of this if you’re having second thoughts.”
“*Second* thoughts? I’m on forty-seventh thoughts by this point. But I’m sticking with it.”
“All right. You remember the way?”
“Yeah.” Shielding his eyes from the sun, he looked southwest. “I just need to follow this valley about a mile and a half until I run into that canyon.”
“Bingo. You’ll probably run into trouble by then.”
“Don’t remind me.” Marc adjusted his cap, then looked up at Razor once more. “You *are* buying me dinner tonight, right?”
“Thought so.” He walked off, quickly disappearing over the side of the plateau.
T-Bone stretched. “I wish we coulda dropped him off closer.”
“Yeah, but then we might have tipped them off that we were on to them. Besides, this way he’ll be all sweaty – and it’ll actually look like he’s been hiking.”
“Hm.” T-Bone sunk a bit deeper into his seat. “What d’ya think he’ll turn up down there?”
“No way to tell. We’ll just have to wait.”
“Yeah, but what do you *think* he’ll turn up?” T-Bone repeated.
Razor put his hands behind his head and thought. “All signs are pointing to Dark Kat being down here, anyway. My guess is that we’ll probably find him…or his place, anyway. Maybe he’s out shopping today.”
“That’d be great, but I don’t see it happenin’, Razor.”
“Me, neither. But a kat can dream.” He leaned back and began monitoring Marc’s progress through the badlands.
Marc used to go hiking on a regular basis, but that was several years ago. Already, he was aware that he was going to have some heavy-duty blisters come tomorrow morning. If I *have* a tomorrow morning, he thought. Upset, Marc kicked a small stone down into a ravine to his right. Come on, I promised myself I wasn’t going to think like that.
Stopping just before the entrance to the canyon, Marc took a large swig of water, then wiped the sweat from his eyes. “I’m going in,” he said quietly. “And, in case you were wondering, I’m scared to death.” Marc entered the canyon, slowly, cautiously, picking his steps carefully. He spotted the large cave entrance above which they had picked out the creepling – it was a few meters ahead, and not an easy climb. Taking a deep breath, he started his way over. There was a slight path heading to the entrance, but it wasn’t very wide. “How the heck does Dark Kat get *in*?” whispered Marc. After a few more steps, he added, in the same low tone, “Never mind. Figured it out.”
Once he reached the entrance, he leaned around the corner to peer inside. “No guards,” he whispered. “That’s odd…no it’s not. How often does someone try coming in this way?” He peered into the entrance in silence for about a minute. Slowly and deliberately, Marc backed up until he was outside the cavern. Once there, he scanned around the entrance. He shook his head at a few areas, then finally pulled himself up and to the right of the cavern. There was a small fissure there – big enough to slip into, but small enough to hide him from plain sight. He shucked off his backpack and shoved it in the crevasse, pausing to pick up a fist-sized rock.
Walking back in front of the entrance, Marc said, “Well, Jake, your plan works in the movies – let’s see if it works in real life.” He then heaved the rock deep into the chasm. The buzzing of the alarm was almost loud enough to send Marc reeling down into the canyon. Fortunately, he recovered himself enough to jump back up to the crevasse and shove himself inside.
It was roughly twenty seconds before three creeplings appeared at the cavern. They chattered amongst themselves for a moment, then spread out searching. After about a minute, they gave up and flew back inside.
Marc remained in his hiding place for another minute without moving. Finally he whispered, “They look a lot smaller in pictures.” Dragging himself out, he slid back down to the cavern entrance, rock in hand.
“Here’s number two,” he said. He tossed the rock into the cavern and again scurried up the slope to his hiding place. As before, three creeplings came out to look around, and returned after a cursory search.
It wasn’t until the fifth time, before which Marc had to wait a full ten minutes before the creeplings went back inside, that the alarm didn’t sound when Marc tossed a rock inside.
“All right,” he said quietly. “They’ve shut it off.”
Marc advanced cautiously down the corridor. T-Bone had told him to make sure to keep his head moving around so they could get a good look at the place, but Marc was quickly seeing that here, at least, there really wasn’t anything to see. To all appearances, it was just a cave. In addition, the light wasn’t very good, so even if there had been something to see, he doubted they would be able to see it on screen in the TurboKat.
A glimmer of light ahead caught Marc’s attention. “If you’re a praying kat…” he whispered, then crept along the side of the canyon in the light’s general direction. Way off in the distance, he heard the chattering noise of the creeplings, and, as he got closer, he thought he could make out voices.
The light was coming from a passageway running perpendicular to the cavern Marc was in. Unlike that one, this corridor was obviously kat-made. It was almost regular and lit with fluorescent bulbs along the top. The creeplings seemed to be primarily down the right passage, but the voices were coming from the left. “Let’s see who’s home.”
The corridor ended in a wide chamber with a high ceiling. There was, or at least had been, some sort of building going on here – there were wire spools and empty boxes and other items strewn about the sides. Marc hunkered down behind a 55-gallon drum and peered over. In the distance were three figures.
Dark Kat. Dr Viper. And…someone else. They were locked in a heated discussion, with Dark Kat and Dr Viper furthest away but turned towards Marc, and the other one closer but with his back to him. This one was dressed entirely in black – black cloak, black boots, black gloves, and a black hood over its head.
Whatever was being discussed, it wasn’t a pleasant discussion. Dr Viper and Dark Kat seemed upset by something the third individual was saying. Marc wasn’t too close to them – maybe twenty meters away – and the sheer size of the room made it difficult to hear anything. Marc contemplated getting closer, then decided against it – he was pretty much as close as he wanted to get. As he calmed down, he did catch a few phrases.
“I am no magician,” said Dark Kat. “I can’t simply *will* the weapon to work.”
“The serum hasn’t developed as I had thought,” slithered Dr Viper. “The mutants are unfortunately quite lethargic.”
Marc couldn’t catch the other one’s reply, but he just barely heard the voice. As Vic had said, it was a man’s voice…and just a man’s voice. Marc ducked down as the other one turned around and came down the corridor, but he stopped cold once he had done so. He had managed to get just a glimpse of this guy’s face…and it was made of metal.
The Metallikats?! thought Marc. How could *they* be running the show?
The third individual had stopped to pick up a small computer he had left on a table. “I had planned the attack for this weekend. The festival and extra day off mean more kats in the street, which mean more hostages, which mean a better chance of having the SwatKats and the Enforcers surrender without a fight.”
Marc, still ducked down behind the barrel, listened to the voice. The more he listened, the more he was confused. You know, he thought, Vic was dead on. It *is* just a man’s voice. There was no way to describe it. He sounds like the guy you hear when you call to get the correct time…genial, but lifeless.
“Give us four days,” whined Dr Viper.
“We don’t have four days,” he replied. “If we don’t proceed with this weekend, we must scuttle the plans for a future date.”
A sudden squeal behind him sent Marc jumping to his feet. True to their name, two creeplings had crept up behind him, giving him away. The other three had turned to face him as well. Marc took a good look at the mysterious individual. He didn’t appear to be a Metallikat. In fact, Marc would have sworn that this was no robot, but a kat wearing some sort of mask.
“What is your business here?” he asked coolly.
“Ummm…collecting for UNICEF?” Marc ventured hopefully.
“Take him!” commanded Dark Kat.
Marc spun around, swinging his walking stick at the creeplings. He caught one full on in the face, sending it into the other one. He then took off at a full run back down the corridor. “Prepare for pickup!” he yelled.
Marc got into the cavern just before the creeplings arrived from the other end of the corridor. Glancing back, he saw he was outpacing them. “Home free!” he yelled. Turning around, he blanched. Two metal doors were shutting near the entrance to the cavern. “No!” Marc yelled, but he wasn’t quite quick enough – the doors shut half a second before he reached them.
Ever so slowly, Marc turned away from the metal doors, and looked into the face of Dark Kat.
Grinning, Dark Kat leaned down and said, “Now, where were we?”
Coming up behind, the unknown kat in the metallic mask said, “We were ascertaining who this is…and what his business is here.”
Marc tried to sound blubbery, which didn’t take much work. “My name is Gary Thomasson,” he lied, “and, you know, I decided to take the day off from the plant and go hiking, what’s with the long weekend coming up, I figured, hey, why not get a head start, you know? Cause it’s really pretty up here in the badlands and all…”
“And what is your business here?” the unknown kat asked inexorably.
“Well, see, I saw this cave and I thought I heard some buzzing sound coming from here, and I said to myself, I said, Gary, who on earth could possibly be in there? And so I decided to come take a look-see and…”
Dark Kat turned and raised a hand to the creeplings. “Toss him off the cliff,” he stated. The creeplings began closing in on Marc.
“Wait!” shrieked Dr Viper. All eyes turned towards him. “I could find him…useful…” He rubbed his hands together. “The reagent I developed for amphibious characteristics in kats…I still need a test subject, you understand.”
Dark Kat dropped his hand. “Oh, very well. Take him to the good doctor’s laboratory.” Five creeplings grabbed Marc and began dragging him down the hallway.
“I’m a very rich man!” yelled Marc, futilely digging his claws into the ground. “I can make you all very wealthy!” Dr Viper began walking behind the creeplings, followed by Dark Kat and their leader. These two stopped in the corridor and watched Dr Viper follow the creeplings and Marc into a room off of the right wing.
“Undoubtably he was the one setting off the alarm,” stated the unknown kat.
“Yesss…,” responded Dark Kat slowly, “but why did my creeplings not see him out there?”
“A curious point,” said the unknown kat. The rest of his reply was drowned out by a large explosion at the end of the cavern. The point of impact was more than thirty meters from them, but was still powerful enough to knock them to the floor.
It took them both a few seconds to come to their senses, then they both started climbing to their feet. Before they had reached a standing position, however, they were knocked back down by a kat on a motorcycle skidding by them.
“Pardon me,” said Razor, turning sharply to the right. He drove down the corridor until he saw Marc jumping out of a door with Dr Viper and some creeplings on his tail. He skidded to a halt sideways, then turned the Cyclotron back the other way. Marc jumped on the back and was all set for Razor to take off, but instead Razor tossed a helmet back to him.
“Trust me – you’re gonna need this,” he said. Marc clamped it on his head, and Razor peeled out down the hallway. Marc was stuck trying to strap the thing on while Razor raised his wristgun and fired a warning shot towards Dark Kat and the unknown kat. They both jumped out of the way, and Razor turned left back down the cavern. Marc was looking at the fair amount of debris left by the missile, but Razor cut into his thoughts.
To his surprise, Razor started speeding up. Marc thought, he can’t honestly try jumping the canyon with *both* of us on here. Half a second later, he thought, well, maybe he can.
Razor jumped the Cyclotron off the edge of the cavern several meters towards the opposite plateau. “Roll!” he commanded, and Marc didn’t need to be told twice. He sprung from the cycle and balled himself up, landing roughly onto the plateau. Razor, meanwhile, had brought the cycle to a halt by landing it on its side and sliding the length of the plateau, stopping just shy of the opposite edge. Immediately, Razor jumped up and grabbed Marc – much to his surprise – and pushed him down the opposite side of the plateau, jumping down after him. As they slid towards the bottom of the canyon, Razor radioed into T-Bone.
“Now! Now!” he screamed.
T-Bone maneuvered the TurboKat back towards the cavern entrance, and let loose with a barrage of missiles. Razor and Marc lay at the base of the plateau, hands over their heads to protect them from the rocks that were being sent flying.
Thirty seconds later, all was quiet. Razor, and then Marc, sat up and looked around. Razor motioned Marc to stay put, then scrambled back up towards the top of the plateau. He jumped to a standing position, then let out a long quiet whistle. “Is it safe?” asked Marc. Razor nodded, so Marc began the trek back up as well.
T-Bone landed the TurboKat onto the plateau and leapt out. “Not bad, huh?” Razor just shook his head.
Marc finally managed to reach the other two. As he pulled himself up, he saw what they had – there was almost nothing left of the mountain. Now it was a large pile of rock and rubble. Except for a small bit of one of the metal doors, there was nothing to show that there had once been a cavern there at all.
Marc’s eyes were wide as he said, “Well, T-Bone, it looks like you just shot yourself out of a job.”
Razor mumbled, “UNICEF…” and smacked Marc lightly over the head.
T-Bone whooped. “Vacation, here I come!”
Razor put his hand on his shoulder. “We’d better search over there and make sure there aren’t any survivors.”
T-Bone’s face fell. “Survivors? Would you *look* over there? No one could have survived that!” Razor shook his head. “Still, just to make sure.”
Sighing, T-Bone said, “Well, if you insist…”
“I do.” Razor started walking over, with T-Bone reluctantly following. Marc was trying to decide if he should join in when he looked up in confusion. There was an odd whistling sound coming deep from that pile of rocks, and it was getting louder.
At the same moment, all three of them had dove to the ground as a craft of some sort shot out from the rubble. It was metallic in color, and perhaps six meters high and three meters wide – not very large. Unfortunately, they noticed, it *was* large enough to fit Dr Viper, Dark Kat, and their leader – as well as some creeplings and a few of Dr Viper’s more bizarre mutations.
Marc started scurrying towards the other side of the TurboKat, hoping to use it as shelter, but a glance upwards told him there was no need. The craft wasn’t turning to attack, but rather pointing northward, towards the city. Suddenly, the rockets behind came to life, and it scurried away.
Razor shot T-Bone a dirty look as they jumped back into the TurboKat. “Take the Cyclotron back,” yelled Razor as T-Bone fired up the thrusters.
Marc covered his eyes as the TurboKat shot off towards the north. Then he leapt to his feet and raced over to pick up the Cyclotron. Before he could get to it, though, he suddenly stopped and looked at his hands. They were shaking – really bad. He dropped to his knees, and then down onto his side. He lay there in near-fetal position, watching the vapor trails above him dissipate.
I’m *so* not cut out for this, he thought.
“That thing’s faster than it looks, Razor,” muttered T-Bone.
“Yeah, I’m noticing that.”
T-Bone slammed his fist into the side of the cockpit. “Darnit, Razor, we *had* them! How’d they escape?”
“Relax, buddy. Don’t forget, we’ve destroyed their base – and now we’ve got them on the run.”
“They could have some pretty big weapons on that thing.”
“I don’t think so. Otherwise, they woulda picked us off while we were standing there next to the TurboKat.”
“Hey, you’re right! I never thought of that.”
“So what do you say we go kick some tail?”
In response, T-Bone kicked in the afterburners, which cut their lead in half in less than twenty seconds. By this time, however, they were over downtown MegaKat City.
“They’re going down,” noted T-Bone.
“Yeah,” said Razor, checking his instruments. “Right onto…City Hall Annex?!”
“Looks that way. You think they’re gonna take it over?”
“Take over the annex? There’s no one there but bureaucrats – tax preparers and stuff.”
The City Hall Annex was six stories high, which made it the shortest building in a three block radius. However, it was big enough to take up the whole city block, with three of the sides facing some of the busiest streets in MegaKat City, the fourth facing an alley. Razor scanned the streets with a furrowed brow. It was getting on towards four o’clock, and with the long weekend about to start, many kats were taking off early from work. Traffic was already starting to build up.
“Watch for the civvies,” warned Razor.
“Gotcha.” T-Bone started pulling down toward the annex. The silver craft had already come to a landing on the northeast corner, and there seemed to be a flurry activity next to it.
“May as well keep them from getting away again,” Razor said, and sent a missile flying towards the center of the craft. But just shy of its target, the missile veered sharply to the right. “Woah!” yelled Razor, and pressed a button to remotely detonate the missile before it ran into a building.
“They’ve got some force field up or something,” said T-Bone, as he flew over.
Peering down, Razor said, “Yeah, you can kind of see it if you look close.”
A voice came over the radio. “SwatKats!” it intoned. T-Bone and Razor both groaned. “You’re putting the citizens of this city in danger with your maneuvers! Pull up and let the Enforcers handle this!”
Razor wasn’t in any mood to hear this speech again. He shot back, “Feral! You listen and listen good! We’ve just destroyed Dark Kat’s base, and now we’re after the kat himself.”
Razor didn’t wait to hear any more. “If the Enforcers can help out, great – but if you *dare* to get in our way, so help me, I’ll start shooting your guys down, too!”
T-Bone muttered through clenched teeth, “Ra-zor…”
“Are you threatening me, SwatKat?!” demanded Commander Feral.
“No, I’m just warning you. We’ve worked out tails off to get Dark Kat out of the way for good, and we’re not going to let anything get in our way this time. Now tell me – are you with us or against us here?”
There was no response for a while. T-Bone did a few more fly-bys, keeping his eyes on the activity inside the force field.
“My primary concern is with the safety of the citizens of this town,” Feral finally stated.
“Duly noted,” said Razor. “We’re going to set down and approach on foot – less chance of anyone getting caught in the crossfire. Can you get the Enforcers to block off the area?”
“They’re already on the job.”
“Good. Thanks.” He switched the radio off.
T-Bone looked around. “I’ll put her down on the north side of the Khanako building.” This was just north of the annex. “We should be out of firing range there.”
As T-Bone made his approach, he asked, “And were you kidding about letting the Enforcers help out?”
“No. And I wasn’t kidding about shooting them down either.”
“Hmph.” The landing was complete, and T-Bone and Razor jumped out, then started checking their armaments.
“What’s the plan?” T-Bone asked.
Razor checked his grappling hook. “Heck, I dunno. I’m making this up as I go along here.” He peeked down onto the annex, then pointed to the northwest corner of the building. “We may be able disrupt the force field with a little high voltage. What do you say?”
“Worth a try.”
“OK. They’re out of range, so we’ll have to relay down.” He shot his grappling hook down to the corner of the building, and they slid down. Coming to their feet, they spun to face the craft. It was getting harder to see them – apparently the force field was getting stronger. There wasn’t much in the way of cover on the roof – several ventilators, a couple stairwells on both the southwest and northeast corners, and a large elevator shaft right in the center. T-Bone and Razor scuttled over behind the elevator shaft. From there, Razor radioed back to Feral.
“Feral? We’re going to see if we can take down the force field. We’re coming in from the west side. You might want to try from the south.”
“I copy, SwatKat,” said Feral non-committally.
“Think he’ll do it?” asked T-Bone.
Razor shrugged. “C’mon.” He stepped out from behind the elevator shaft, with T-Bone at his heels. Three steps later, they pulled up short.
“What th’heck…” growled T-Bone.
Coming out from inside the forcefield came two…things. They were eight feet tall or so, four feet thick, and not quite see-through. T-Bone and Razor couldn’t make out if they were slithering towards them or walking, but they were approaching as fast as one would think something that size and consistency could.
“Looks like Viper’s been mixing his mutagens with the raspberry gelatin,” guessed Razor.
“Well, then, let’s just slice and serve,” smirked T-Bone. He raised his wristgun and shot into the heart of the first one. Either the shot went right through or it lodged into the creature partway. Whichever it was, the creature acted like it didn’t notice. Just to verify, Razor put a few shots into the other one, with similar results. After exchanging a quick glance, they turned around and scurried back behind the elevator shaft.
The sound of more gunfire in the distance made T-Bone peer around the other side of the shaft. “Looks like Feral took your advice,” he said. “The Enforcers are mixing it up with the creeplings.”
“Good. Now what about these ambrosia salads here?” asked Razor.
“Ummm…maybe electricity will knock them out?”
“Let’s give it a shot.” They leapt back out from the elevator shaft. The creatures were now not more than three meters away. T-Bone and Razor raised their tasers. “Zap ’em,” commanded T-Bone, and they gave the creatures all the voltage they had. The creatures, however, moved inexorably towards them. T-Bone and Razor dropped their arms and jogged around the elevator shaft once again, and then a bit further on, behind a ventilator.
“Scrap that plan,” said T-Bone bitterly, wiping his forehead. “What do you think’ll happen if they get on us?”
“Nothing good, I bet.”
“Next idea – your turn.”
“Hmm…how would I get rid of leftover gelatin? Hey, what do you say we heat them up?” suggested Razor.
T-Bone looked blank. “What are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking we get the TurboKat over here, and give them a taste of the afterburners.”
“…and they’ll melt into a puddle. Good idea.”
T-Bone jumped up and ran around the ventilator and elevator shaft the other way – since the creatures were closing in from the other direction. He shot his grappling hook back up to the Khanako building roof, and he and Razor started climbing back up.
About halfway up the rope, T-Bone peeked over his shoulder. He grinned as he saw that the creatures were standing dumbly at the edge of the roof. The battle between the Enforcers and the Creeplings didn’t seem to be going that well. Although several Creeplings were lying either dead or senseless on the roof, there were also a few Enforcers in that state – and it didn’t look like they had gotten anywhere on the force field. Just like us thought T-Bone.
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught one Enforcer pick up a gun meant for two and get a shot off. He also saw that that shell was going nowhere near the force field.
“Razor!” T-Bone swung up and grabbed him with his legs to keep him from going any further. The shell landed just to the left of where the grappling hook held onto the building – the ensuing explosion snapping T-Bone’s cable and sending both he and Razor hurtling downward.
In the time it took T-Bone to say that one word, the SwatKats’ training kicked in. Razor shot his grappling hook towards the roof of the Annex, and T-Bone encircled his arms around Razor. The hook caught and held, and the two described an arc down towards the annex, crashing into a second story window. As one, they flew across a desk, scattering papers, pens and coffee mugs across the office. Razor ended up lying face down on the desk, with T-Bone face-up on the floor.
“Nice save!” T-Bone said.
Razor sat up, and drew his hand across his cheek. A small piece of glass had gotten stuck there, and he yanked it out. “No more seconds on dessert for you.” He jumped to his feet and checked out his body and equipment for damage, and luckily found none.
“So,” said T-Bone, who was doing the same, “let’s get over to the TurboKat.”
Razor put his hand to his chin. “Why don’t you go on without me? As long as we’ve taken this detour, I’m thinking I might as well use it.”
“Did you notice the force field drop when those gelatins came out?”
“I’m pretty sure they did – and I’m thinking if I can approach from the other side of the building, I might be able to slip in next time they drop it down.”
“All right – be careful.”
“You’re one to talk about being careful,” Razor shot back as he ran down the hall.
T-Bone shook his head and ran down the stairs.
“This is an unexpected stroke of good fortune,” said the kat in the black robe. “I was not prepared to have the SwatKats so easily taken care of.”
“Jusst as well,” hissed Dr Viper, “we may as well be prepared for any contengency. Lower the forcce field.”
“What for?” demanded Dark Kat, looking up from the machinery he was working on.
“Perhapss it would be prudent to get a hosstage or two – to buy uss some extra time.”
“An admirable idea. See that you are not caught.” The kat in the black robe flipped a switch, and Dr Viper hopped out and scuttled down the nearby stairwell.
Razor had sunk two metal hooks into the wall near the sixth floor. While making the climb, he had noticed the force field, which extended slightly out past the edge of the building, go off then come back on. He cursed himself slightly for being a bit late to take advantage of that downtime, but he consoled himself by thinking it was bound to go off again soon. He cautiously reached his hand up and drew it across the edge of the force field. It wasn’t electric in nature – he felt no shock – but it was definitely solid. It wasn’t going to be easy to break through this, he thought. He sighed and tensed himself, waiting.
T-Bone slowly maneuvered the TurboKat to the southern part of the building. The Enforcers were now tangling it up with the creatures, if one can indeed tangle with raspberry gelatin.
“Lead ’em over this way, fellas,” said T-Bone, indicating the south- western corner of the building. A few Enforcers dodged around the ventilators and such to get to the indicated corner of the building, while the other scattered to other areas. Once they were in position, the Enforcers at the southwest corner dropped to their knees and started plugging the creatures full of bullets. It didn’t seem to slow them any, but they did turn around and start lumbering towards them.
“Get clear!” yelled T-Bone, and the Enforcers got up and scurried north. T-Bone lowered the TurboKat and fired the afterburners. T-Bone saw the triumphant looks on the Enforcers’ faces, which made him grin himself. Apparently the creatures were melting down as planned.
It was slow, but T-Bone saw the looks of jubilation turn into looks of disgust. He pulled up and spun around to take a look. The creatures were now basically non-moving blobs on the southwest corner of the building, with smoke or steam coming from them. Nothing that would turn the stomach of an Enforcer, he thought. He set the TurboKat down just north of there, and opened the cockpit…at which point in time he suddenly realized what was causing those looks – the smell. T-Bone lay across the instrument panel trying to calm his stomach down. It would look *real* good if I lost my lunch here, he thought.
“Not only do the SwatKats survive, but they have taken out our first line of defense,” noted the kat in the black robe, in his matter-of-fact voice.
“Perhaps I should send out the rest of the Creeplings,” said Dark Kat.
“Most likely a wise move.” He reached over and pulled the lever that took down the force field.
His hand had hardly left the control panel when Razor leapt up onto the roof. He ignored everything else and immediately began shooting the gadgets and machinery that were hooked up to the craft, as well as the lower half of the craft itself.
“Meddler!” cried Dark Kat, and jumped ahead. He grabbed Razor by the helmet and tossed him backwards against a ventilator eight meters away, where he lay momentarily stunned.
Dark Kat turned back to the equipment. “It’s ruined!” he bellowed.
“As is our craft, I’m afraid,” said the other. “I believe the time has come to make our last stand.”
“Hey, this area’s restricted,” said the Enforcer, holding up her hand.
Marc had an answer ready. “I’m here to drop off the SwatKat’s cycle,” he said, honestly enough. Well, he wasn’t sure he was going to return it exactly, but he had returned *with* it. Whatever the finer points, they didn’t matter, as the Enforcer let him through.
Marc pulled into the alley that ran along the back of the City Hall annex. He parked under the fire escape, looked up and sighed. He had hoped had finished all his climbing for the day. I guess not, he thought.
Dark Kat rummaged around the wreckage of the craft, and emerged with a large bazooka almost the size of himself. “The Enforcers are easy prey,” he stated. “So first, I’ll take out the SwatKats.” He swung it around and faced where he had thrown Razor, who was sitting up trying to clear his head. Razor opened his eyes wide, and leapt to the right, narrowly getting out of the way of the approaching shell.
Enforcers, under Commander Feral, had swarmed to the top of the building immediately east of the Annex, and now they took their places along the edge. They launched a barrage of gunfire towards DarkKat, as the kat in the black cloak ducked under what was left of their craft. The bullets apparently weren’t doing Dark Kat any serious harm, but he most certainly was feeling them, as he ducked around and spun around to face them.
“So, you wish to be first, after all!” he gloated, and raised the gun to his head.
“Fall back!” bellowed Feral, as a shell was launched in their direction. The shell knocked off a chunk of the building, but the Enforcers managed to escape unscathed.
T-Bone and Razor took advantage of this exchange to meet up behind the elevator shaft. “How you doing?” asked T-Bone.
“Between Dark Kat’s toss and that smell, not so good,” admitted Razor. “The sooner we wrap this up, the better.”
“You thinkin’ the nets?”
“We’ve caught him in them before, but the creeplings cut him free. If we can both him with the nets at the same time, that might keep him tied up long enough to take care of the creeplings, too.”
“Yeah, and then…you didn’t see Viper, did ya?” Razor shook his head. “Well, we took care of his creatures. We should be able to tackle him now…wherever he got to.”
As T-Bone peeked around the corner, Razor got on his radio. “Razor to Feral.”
“Commander Feral here,” boomed back.
“Listen, can you give us another round of ammo from up there? We need a diversion.”
“I’ll do what I can,” Feral said, and cut the connection.
“Thanks, Feral,” said Razor sarcastically. “Ready?” he asked T-Bone, who nodded. “OK – hand count from four, shoot on zero. Wave if you don’t have a clear shot. Got it?”
“Got it.” T-Bone scurried across the roof towards the southeast corner, picking off two of the few remaining creeplings with his wristgun. He then dove behind a ventilator, narrowly missing getting hit by another shell fired by Dark Kat.
A flurry of gunfire caught Razor’s attention. The Enforcers were standing near the crumbling edge of the building’s roof once more, giving Dark kat everything they had. Once more, the bullets seemed to cause minimal damage to him, but it did infuriate him enough to spin around and take another shot at the Enforcers.
Razor steadied himself on his left knee, and stuck his left arm behind him with all four fingers out. He stole a glance at T-Bone, who had all his concentration on aiming in on Dark Kat. Smiling, Razor did the same. He then bounced his arm up and down, with each bounce pulling in a finger. T-Bone saw Razor’s countdown out of the corner of his eye. On the fifth movement, he shot his net. His got there a hair before Razor’s, and the two of them effectively enveloped him and knocked him to the ground.
“All right!” yelled Razor and T-Bone together, and they bounded forward, shooting the two or three creeplings left who tried to come to Dark Kat’s aid. Once at his side, they shared a high-five, then turned to the kat in the black robe, who still sat nonchalantly under his craft.
“Next…” began T-Bone.
“Next, you will sstep away from him!” screamed Dr Viper. Turning around, they could make him out on the other side of the building. He was waving a gun at somebody that he had in his other arm.
“Miss Briggs,” whispered T-Bone.
“Firsst,” screamed Dr Viper from across the building, “you will all lay down your weaponss. Next, you will untie Dark Kat, and allow both he and our friend to join me over here. Finally, we will get in your plane here and head home, with no interferencce from anyone. Do I make mysself clear?!”
T-Bone and Razor exchanged a glance.
“Of coursse, if you would rather ssee the deputy mayor die, I quite undersstand.” He pointed the gun to Miss Briggs’ head. “Your weaponss, pleasse!”
“Don’t do it, guys!” yelled Miss Briggs.
Razor and T-Bone exchange another glance, then slowly, reluctantly, started removing their wristguns. T-Bone glanced up to make sure Dr Viper wasn’t going to try to take a potshot at them, and his eyes got wide. “Razor,” he whispered, glancing down again. Razor glanced up at T-Bone, then at Dr Viper.
Marc had tried to think of some way to get Miss Briggs out of danger, and now, in desperation, he simply lunged forward into Dr Viper, sending him stumbling forward about a meter. Miss Briggs immediately made a break for it, dashing behind the stairwell, and Marc, who had put himself off-balance with his lunge, slipped to his hands and knees in the goo left by Dr Viper’s creatures.
T-Bone and Razor didn’t let the opportunity go to waste. They both raised their guns and fired at Dr Viper. The shots found their mark, and Dr Viper flew backwards, dropping his gun. As he did so, however, he managed to get his tail around Marc’s neck, and they both slid along towards the fire escape. Another shot by T-Bone sent Dr Viper under the bannister of the fire escape, but, to T-Bone’s dismay, he still maintained his tail-grip on Marc’s neck. Marc raised his legs, and his knees rammed into the bannister, keeping him from falling off the building.
T-Bone ran up to them, slipping slightly on the goo, and began tugging on Dr Viper’s tail. Between T-Bone’s pulling and Marc’s pushing, they managed to get it somewhat loose, and Marc drew a big breath. Then, much to T-Bone’s surprise, Marc bit into Dr Viper’s tail with all his might. With a yelp, Dr Viper released his hold and plummeted to the street below.
Marc took several breaths, coughing a couple of times. Finally, he opened his eyes and turned them towards T-Bone. “Is he dead?” he mouthed to him.
T-Bone took a peek, and his eyes grew wide. “Oh, yeah, he’s dead, all right,” he said.
Marc closed his eyes again and shuddered. I am *so* not cut out for this, he thought again.
Miss Briggs came up behind T-Bone. “Is he all right?” she asked.
“Yeah, it looks like it,” he said.
She peered at Marc closely. “Wait a second. I think I know this guy.”
Razor yelled from the other side of the building. “Bad news, T-Bone!”
T-Bone stood up, and hurried over. “What’s the problem? Not Dark-Kat?”
“Nah – he’s still trussed up like a turkey. It’s the other guy – the one in the black robe.”
“What about him?”
“He’s not here. He disappeared.”
“Come on, let’s go, Matt,” urged Anne Gora.
Matt rummaged around the back of the news van for a new battery for his camera. “You don’t want this thing conking out halfway through, now, do you?” he asked. He finally found one, and clipped it into place. He then followed Anne as she ran into the City Hall Annex.
“The story of the month, and our newschopper *would* end up being in the shop!” she complained for the fourth time that day. “Those salvage guys are so slow!”
“Hey, I wouldn’t complain – after all, you managed to get us in here… I’m not sure how, though.” Matt held the door open to the stairway for Anne, then followed her up.
“It’s easy – that Enforcer on guard’s a friend of mine.”
“Oh, they’re all friends of yours,” Matt said cynically.
“Besides, they know how important it is for Katseye News to get a story like this, no matter wh…OH!”
Anne stopped in the middle of the stairway. Standing in front of her was a kat in a black robe, wearing a metallic mask.
T-Bone and Razor stood together as Commander Feral’s chopper came to a landing near the TurboKat.
“A job well done,” stated Commander Feral, stepping out of the helicopter.
“Almost,” amended Razor. “The head honcho got away.”
“Got away? How?”
Razor shrugged. “You got me, Feral. He was there before we started facing down Dr Viper. We turn around and he’s gone.”
“At least we got Dark Kat, and knocked off Dr Viper,” said T-Bone.
Razor shook his head. “Yeah, but that guy’s still at large…and he’s the one behind it all. That means we’ll probably have to go through this again…as soon as he gets a new team of bad guys together.”
“Does this belong to anyone?” yelled a voice. They all turned to face it. It was Matt, the cameraman, who had just come out of the stairwell with Anne Gora. He was carrying his camera in his left hand, and was holding someone by the scruff of the neck with his right.
The kat in the black cloak.
For a second, T-Bone, Razor and Commander Feral didn’t move. Then they all came running over. “Where the heck did you find him?” asked T-Bone.
“He was coming down the stairway and he tried to push Anne down the steps. That wasn’t very polite, now, was it?” he asked his captive.
Razor stood in front of him, sizing him up. “Well, there’s only one thing left to do.” He reached his hands forward, then stopped and turned around. “Any last guesses before the unveiling?” he asked.
No one said anything. Marc, who had gotten to his feet and limped over, started to speak, but then shook his head.
Razor said, “OK, then,” and turned back to the kat in the dark cloak. Reaching inside the hood, he fiddled around and removed the mask.
“Darnit, I wasn’t even close,” fumed Marc, turning away and limping back towards the TurboKat.
The rest of the kats just stood staring at the kat who was now unmasked, dumbstruck. Finally, Commander Feral strode forward, pushed Razor out of the way, and stood directly in front of him.
“Mayor Manx?” he said, unbelievingly.
Mayor Manx smiled. “Correct, Commander Feral,” he said in his thick accent. “It is I.”
“Whoa, whoa, hold on a minute,” said Razor, rubbing his face. “It was *you* who was in charge of this gang here.” Mayor Manx gave a small bow. “But…but they were trying to take over the city.”
“Correct, my boy.”
T-Bone butted in. “But you’re already top kat in this town.”
“I used to believe that, too, my lad.”
“Pardon me?” said Commander Feral.
“Oh, I had plans for this city, Feral. Big plans. So I entered the weird and wonderful world of politics. I found by smiling to the right folks, promising the right things, and – most importantly – playing it very very dumb, I could get elected to any position I wanted.”
Miss Briggs crossed her arms. “*Playing* dumb?”
Mayor Manx smiled a rather evil smile her way. “Had you all properly fooled, I did. Poor Mayor Manx – can’t get anything done without his able assistant, they all said.” He shrugged. “Oh, from time to time it would get to me – having them all think I was a little soft in the head. Ah, you have no idea how difficult it is to fake a real ineptitude for golf. It took many hours of practice to make the ball circle the cup every time.”
“Wait a second, I’m not getting this,” said T-Bone. “You mean you just *pretended* to be so clueless all these years? What th’heck *for*?”
“Ah, lad, you obviously know nothing of the ways of politics. The smartest politicians are the ones with the most enemies. As long as I played dumb, I hadn’t a single political enemy in the city. Oh, a few thought we needed someone a bit more capable in the top spot, but most figured I was harmless enough, and easy enough to manipulate.”
“All right, you faked it all those years,” said Razor. “Then why all *this*?”
“Because it wasn’t what I hoped. It wasn’t enough. I had hoped to completely take the city over within two months of my election. I figured with some behind-the-scene machinations, I could make it happen as mayor. But city politics is not so simple. The city council, the committees, the PAC’s. Honestly, it’s amazing anything gets done in this town.”
“So how’d you link up with Dark Kat?” pressed Razor.
“I didn’t ‘link up’ with him, my boy. I *created* him.”
Pretty much everyone within earshot of Mayor Manx exploded with an involuntary “What?!”
“Oh yes. I knew Dark Kat back when he was…well, perhaps I shouldn’t mention his previous name. He was just a small-time crook back then – strictly penny-ante. And even that wasn’t going to last – he had cancer, you see. Inoperable. But I knew some people, and they did some work on him…voila.” He nodded his head towards Dark Kat. “He’s a completely different kat.”
“Wait a second,” said Razor. “Dark Kat kidnapped you several months ago.”
“On my orders.”
“On *your* orders?”
“Oh, yes. To flush you out, you see. We knew you wouldn’t abandon the mayor and his aide to the tender mercies of Dark Kat. Unfortunately, by sacrificing your plane, and by the intercession of the good Commander here,” he bowed towards Feral, “the plan did not succeed. However, I helped trigger the explosion that enabled Dr Viper and Dark Kat to make their get away. That’s my motto – always have an escape plan.”
“You didn’t this time.” T-Bone was grinning.
“We were not prepared to do battle. No battle, no escape plan. We did have our craft there, but it did not work as well as we had hoped.”
“You seem to be taking this awfully well,” T-Bone said suspiciously.
Mayor Manx attempted to shrug, which was difficult with the hold Matt had on him. “I attempted a final plan with which to take the city over. Unfortunately, it proved necessary for me to go to our little home down south – Dark Kat and Dr Viper were being rather lax in their respective projects. And, again unfortunately, that proved to be the day you chose to honor us with a visit. Ah, well.” He sighed. “If nothing else, I am a good loser. I had my chance, and I failed.”
One of the Enforcers picked up the metallic mask that Razor had dropped. “So…this is your disguise.”
Another Enforcer came up next to her. “Let me see that a second, Lt Tinker.” She handed it over to him gently, and he peered inside. “Hey, there’s computer innards in here.”
“So, what do you think it’s for, Sergeant?”
“I think I know,” said T-Bone. He took the mask from Sgt Evans, and weighed it in his hand. “I bet this is what changed his voice. I mean, no matter what his disguise was, he’d give himself away if you used his regular voice.” The mayor simply smiled, which rather enraged Commander Feral.
“Get him away from me,” he growled, “before I cause some permanent damage to the *ex*-mayor.”
“Hey, that’s right!” said T-Bone, turning to Miss Briggs, as the Enforcers led the Mayor to the helicopter. “With Mayor Manx headed for jail, doesn’t that make you the new mayor?”
Callie started to speak, then stopped, pondering. “You know, you’re right.” She took a few steps away from everyone and stared off into the distance. “I don’t know if I’m ready for that.” She crossed her arms, as if she felt a sudden chill.
“You won’t be tacklin’ it alone, Miss Briggs,” said T-Bone, trying to sound positive. He put his hand on her shoulder and went on, “You got your friends and co-workers in City Hall. Heck, you got the best team in MegaKat City. You know they’ll always be there for ya.”
“And what about you?” Suddenly, she wheeled around and faced him, putting her hand in his. T-Bone stared at her with his mouth open. Razor looked flabbergasted as well. Commander Feral looked like he wanted to say something, but didn’t. Only Marc, from a far distance, responded at all…and even he only gave a weak whoop.
Callie tilted her head to the side, and gave an awkward smile. “Well?”
T-Bone tried speaking three times before he finally got any words out. “M-miss Briggs…you *sure* you want someone like *me* on your team?”
“What – you mean a hot dog pilot?”
T-Bone shook his head. “No.” He reached behind his head and untied his mask. “I mean a cruddy mechanic.”
Callie’s eyes got wider, and she reached up to embrace Chance. Razor stood watching them, a half-smile on his face. Well, he thought, as long as I’m in pain here, let’s do something even more painful. He turned and walked over to Commander Feral, untying his mask as he went.
“You two,” stated Feral. “I should have known.”
“Yeah, probably, but you didn’t,” said Jake. He took his wristgun off, then reached his right hand out. “Thanks…for helping us out. We probably couldn’t have done it without you guys.”
Feral looked at the hand, then reached down and shook it. “You…did well.”
“C’mon, Matt, we’re missing all the footage!” cried Anne. Matt picked up his camera, and they began recording. “This is Anne Gora, Kat’s Eye News,” she began, “coming at you from the roof of City Hall Annex.”
Marc blinked a few times, then started limping down the fire escape, studiously avoiding looking at the body of Dr Viper. He leapt to the ground, grimacing in pain as he landed. Marc stood for a second, looking down at himself and shaking his head. His jeans were torn to shreds, his shirt was soaked in the creature’s goo, and he ached from head to toe. Sitting himself down next to a dumpster, he untied and removed his hiking boots, leaving them against the wall. Then he crawled to his feet, sighed and started limping home in his stocking feet.
I wonder if Tiny’s still hiring, he thought.
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