Later that same evening, the SWAT Kats returned to their secret hangar beneath the Megakat City Salvage Yard. After the Turbokat rose up into the main area of the base on its hydraulic platform, T-Bone popped the canopy, and both he and Razor hopped out, taking off their helmets. Neither of them was in a particularly celebratory mood.
“That didn’t go too well…” Razor said, depressed.
“Understatement of the year, right there,” T-Bone agreed.
Not only had Morbulus somehow managed to get away, he’d had the last laugh thanks to his empty jet crashing into and completely destroying the Megakat Refinery. It made Razor feel like crud, and he said so. They walked over to their lockers, tossing their helmets inside, and changed clothes from their flight suits to their mechanics’ coveralls, removing their black masks to become Chance Furlong and Jake Clawson.
“We destroyed half the city trying to catch this guy and he still gets away from us,” said Jake morosely.
He looked over at their wall of kill marks, wondering whether to add a stamp for Morbulus. Technically, they’d won, considering they had, after all, defeated him. The fact he’d gotten away and the refinery had still ended up getting destroyed didn’t undo this fact. Still, he thought, it would’ve been a little odd, and apparently Chance agreed with him, at least for the time being, because although the bigger kat walked over and picked up the rubber stamp and made as if he were going to add a mark for their latest outing, he hesitated, then, with a grimace, returned the stamp to the inkpad.
“C’mon, let’s head back up to the greasepit and get a couple cans of milk.”
They walked towards a ladder which led upwards, and climbed upward, opening the hatch at the top that accessed what could charitably be called the living room of the garage. Jake picked up the remote control for the TV but didn’t turn it on yet. It was an older set they’d purchased at some pawn shop or other, so old and junky that without Jake’s own modifications, which included the seemingly obligatory clothes hanger antenna, the thing would’ve been incapable of picking up any signals from the city.
“Gonna see what they have to say about it on the news,” he explained as Chance got a couple of milk cans out of the fridge, tossing one to him as he came over. Jake caught it. “Nothing good, probably. Personally, I’d give us a three outta ten…”
“Are you gonna mope like this all night?” Chance angrily demanded to know. “So that guy got away. Big deal. We at least kicked his tail and gave ‘im somethin’ to think about before he crawled off to hide under whatever rock he crawled out of!”
Jake noticed his partner’s confidence was returning. And, while it was ordinarily highly infectious, the thinner mechanic merely shook his head sadly and sighed, not replying. Chance chuckled and put a beefy arm around Jake’s narrow shoulders, hugging his buddy close.
“He’ll think twice before he tries tanglin’ with the SWAT Kats again, huh?”
“I guess you’re right,” Jake admitted after a moment. This seemed to satisfy Chance. “Anyway, let’s see what Kat’s Eye News has to say about it.”
He turned the TV on and flipped through the channels until he caught sight of Commander Feral. It was currently muted. The Kat’s Eye News logo was superimposed in the lower corner of the screen. In the background, crews of fire fighters could be seen attempting to douse the flames of the still-burning Megakat Refinery. Jake felt his guilt threatening to return, but then he saw the message “Recorded Earlier” blinking on and off. Good. It wasn’t live. The fire crews surely had the refinery put out by now, he hoped.
He hated causing unintentional damage. It made him feel sloppy and careless. And, worse, it got people hurt. He reminded himself these were early days for them in their new careers as vigilantes. They’d make less mistakes as time went on, and tonight’s embarrassment of an aerial showdown with Morbulus wouldn’t be repeated again.
“Hey, there’s Feral,” said Chance, pointing with the hand holding his still unopened can of milk. “And, he looks like he hasn’t hit the litterbox for a week!”
Jake shook his head, leaving that charming little observation uncommented upon, and turned the volume up with the remote. A short Kat’s Eye News’ reporter with orange hair was currently the one interviewing Feral. He faced the camera while Feral loomed behind him looking impatient and, yes, even a little constipated, Jake had to admit and found himself chuckling a little.
“I’m here with Commander Feral, who says that the so-called ‘refinery reign of terror’ is over at last,” the reporter was explaining to viewers who’d just tuned in. Turning, he held his microphone out for the Enforcer Commander to speak into.
“Yes,” said Feral. “The villain known as Morbulus was defeated by the SWAT Kats, but at great cost. They destroyed the Megakat Refinery and even caused structural damage to City Hall in the process!”
“And, what about Morbulus?” asked the reporter. “The question on everyone’s mind is do you have him in custody?”
“Ha!” Feral said, but it wasn’t a laugh. More of an exclamation of something like disgruntled amusement and resigned black humor, the sound of a kat who the universe dumped on regularly. Feral was probably the most cynical person living in Megakat City, Jake reasoned. “Due to the interference of the SWAT Kats, THIS is all we have of Morbulus at the moment!”
He held up Morbulus’ empty clothes for emphasis. So, he really had gotten away, Jake realized, feeling lousier than ever. Chance growled, squeezing his milk can. Beside him, Jake became mildly worried that his partner was going to give himself an aneurysm or something.
“Why, that lousy…”
“Chance, calm down,” Jake urged gently.
But, as if intent on continuing to provoke his former subordinate through the previously recorded footage, Feral’s rant continued unabated. “No one asked for their help, and they allowed a dangerous criminal to escape! Even if they mean well, surely they could be more careful! But, they’re aren’t! They’re reckless and irresponsible, and-”
He got no further because Chance suddenly hurled his can at the screen. The force of its impact shattered it. Jake, shocked, covered his eyes as sparks and little bits of glass flew everywhere. When he uncovered his eyes and looked, the TV sat there with a big hole where the screen used to be. Thin tendrils of smoke snaked up out of it, and the stench of burned rubber and wiring filled the room.
“Chance!” cried Jake, appalled at his friend’s temper. “What in the heck did you do that for?”
“Sorry about that, Jake…” Chance said, looking suddenly chastened. “I…” He struggled for words. “I just lost it there for a second. That jerk Feral really ticks me off sometimes.”
“Well, the feeling’s mutual, I’m sure,” Jake said, sighing and tossing the now useless remote aside. “Well, Morbulus is gone, and so’s the TV.”
“Aw, can’t you fix it?” Chance asked.
“I can try. No promises. But, it’ll take a while.” A smirk came over Jake’s features, as he knew just how to get Chance back for losing his temper like that and busting the TV. “Too bad,” he said with an air casual, feigned sadness. “There was gonna be an all-night Scaredy-Kat marathon on tonight. Darn shame.”
Chance looked stunned and extremely disappointed.
Morbulus, still in his underwear, had accompanied his “new friend” Dr. Viper through the sewers and into the depths of Megakat Swamp, into a particularly polluted and vile area known locally as the Dead Forest. He didn’t like it one bit, a name like that. The Dead Forest was a nasty, muddy, slimy, revolting place and stank to high heaven. Alligators, snakes, rats and other unpleasant creatures slithered around. He almost preferred the sewer to this fog-enshrouded wasteland. But, Morbulus’ host seemed right at home here.
Viper wasn’t exactly a font of conversation, and the two proceeded towards a gigantic, twisted tree in the middle of it all, with windows through which orange light could be seen shining. After entering, the two went into what could’ve only be the half kat, half snake biochemist’s secret lab.
“Welcome,” he said, “to my sssecret lab. It’sss quite the ‘eyeful,’ wouldn’t you sssay?”
Viper picked up a remote and turned on a TV set suspended above his worktable. The two stood side by side, watching the Kat’s Eye News report about Morbulus’ defeat. Onscreen, Commander Feral, with “Recorded Earlier” blinking on and off underneath him, was being interviewed by a reporter and was wringing his swagger stick as he talked.
“…and then when I finally get my hands on those two, I’m gonna-”
“Uh, sorry, Commander, but we’ve run out of time!” the reporter said hastily, as though suddenly desperate to end the Commander’s rant as quickly as possible. “From the Megakat Refinery, this is Tom Katz, Kat’s Eye News.”
The camera view wobbled a bit, and Feral, apparently not liking being cut off, pushed past Katz and took a few threatening steps towards whoever was filming. “Hey!” he yelled. “Come back here; I’m not done yet…!”
The image of Feral’s enormous hand reaching for the camera froze and pulled back to occupy the upper righthand corner of a news studio where a handsome male newscaster sat behind a desk. “Thanks, Tom,” the newscaster said. “That was recorded earlier at the scene of the Megakat Refinery, and as you can well imagine, the rest of our own Commander Feral’s rant against the SWAT Kats was… unfit for broadcast.”
Cackling, Viper clicked off the TV and set the remote down on the worktable. “It ssseems we agree with Commander Feral on one thing, don’t we, Morbulusss? Thossse SWAT Katsss are quite a bother, aren’t they?”
“Yeah,” said Morbulus, still a little uncomfortable being around this crazy-haired, snake-tailed weirdo, but warming up to him gradually as they found some common ground. “They made me a laughingstock today. I’d sure like to pound their smug faces in!”
He punched his fist into his open palm to illustrate. Viper didn’t say anything. So much for conversation, Morbulus thought, and then, after a short pause, his curiosity got the better of him and he looked over Viper’s worktable.
It was covered with a variety of beakers, flasks and retorts, all filled with various insidious concoctions, many bubbling over bunsen burners. Morbulus recognized some of the paraphernalia from his high school chemistry classes and picked up a flask from the table, examining it.
“Pretty impressive setup ya got here, Doc,” he observed, “Looks like you’ve got everything a mad scientist could ever need right here.”
He wondered if he’d spoken too soon, but surprisingly, Viper didn’t seem to take offense at being called a mad scientist. “Everything except for… Katalyssst 99!” he corrected his guest.
Morbulus had never heard of it. “Katalyst 99? What’s that?”
“A rare biochemical compound I require,” the scientist explained. “It can only be found in Megakat Biochemical Labsss.”
Now that place even Morbulus had heard of. A nigh-impregnable fortress of a facility that was supposed to be impossible to get into. Viper was crazy if he thought he was gettin’ in. Still holding the flask, Morbulus said, “Good luck. That place is supposed to be impenetrable.”
“Ah,” said Viper, walking over and grabbing the flask away from him, making him jump, “we sssee ‘eye to eye’, Morbulusss.”
Making a point of narrowing his rear set of eyes so that Viper couldn’t see that he didn’t appreciate the eye puns, Morbulus, suddenly interested, and remembering what Viper had said about alternative employment, said, “What? You got a plan for gettin’ in?”
Viper turned and walked back to his worktable. “You might sssay that.”
Setting the flask down, Viper picked up a small glass dish containing a purple liquid. Morbulus had noticed it before among the other items on the table, but it’d seemed of no more importance than anything else. Using an eyedropper, Viper sucked all of the purplish liquid up, then, smirking, he turned and walked back over to Morbulus. Morbulus frowned, taking a step back, suddenly not liking this one bit. He raised an arm as though to shove the scientist away if he needed to, only for Viper to use the eyedropper to put a drop of the purple stuff onto Morbulus’ bare forearm.
What the…? What was this crud? It stung! Morbulus blinked with his front set of eyes and watched, first in agitation and then shock as the drop of liquid fizzed up into a foaming mess that quickly covered his whole arm, and with it, the pain spread too. Instantly, his arm started to change underneath the foam, softening and becoming thick, purple and gooey.
“Nooooo!” Morbulus cried, backing up as the bubbling purple goo spread over his frame like a disease, and, in seconds, everything but his head had been changed, transformed into the purple vileness Viper had put on him. He winced, scrunching up both sets of eyes as his body was lit afire in pain.
“Yesss!” Viper hissed in what could only be described as a kind of sick pleasure.
“What did you do to me?!” Morbulus demanded.
“I’m sssimply turning you into my new mutant bacteria monssster!” Viper replied as if it were the most normal thing in the entire world.
Morbulus’ head began to change now too, becoming lumpy, and, as he felt the indescribably odd sensation of his rear eyeballs moving around the sides of his head to join the front ones in a row on his face, robbing him of his ability to see behind himself as he had since birth, his already thick body became even thicker, the churning purple slime swelling outwards to make him grow larger and larger, stretching and finally tearing his underwear apart at the seams.
Oh, no, why did I trust him? Morbulus’ panicked and increasingly fragmented mind wondered frantically. Now I’m done for! His thoughts became fuzzy and simpler as the ghastly transformation continued. His pain and terror, his anger at Viper for having done this terrible thing to him, were replaced by a new sensation. Hungry! he thought. I’m hungry. Must eat. Eat! MUST EAT! Food, food, foooooddd! Soon, that was all that occupied his increasingly less and less katlike mind. The single driving thought to FEED.
Viper rubbed his hands together in fiendish glee as he watched the hulking purple form that used to be Morbulus swelling in size, growing bigger and bigger, casting frightening and ever-changing shadows over him. He licked his lips.
“Yesss, my friend,” he cooed. “You look ssso much nicer thisss way! Everyone will in my Megassswamp City! I said I had big plansss for you, and I ssspoke true! ”
He walked up to the oozing, vaguely kat-shaped hulk. His new bacteria monster. “You’re hungry, aren’t you? I can tell! Well, don’t worry, I’ll feed you! Sssoon, yesss… very sssoon! With your help, I’ll sssoon have Katalyssst 99 in my coilsss and the power to permanently change thisss foul city into sssomething truly beautiful, and dessstroy the SWAT Katsss forever!”
Viper’s high-pitched, wicked laughter carried out over the Dead Forest…
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