Original SWAT Kats Story

Pandora’s Box

By Kevin Chow

  • 2 Chapters
  • 13,481 Words

A secret code-breaker is stolen from the Pumadyne labs… Who may have taken it, and what do they plan to do with it? Meanwhile, work at the Special Operations Intelligence begins to make its mark…

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Author's Notes:

Title:              1: Pandora’s Box

Author(s):            Kevin Chow
E-mail address:    Gopher@heatwave.co.uk
Date:             07-12-2002
Rating:          ‘G’ I guess – I keep within the cartoon’s confines
Warnings:     Well, none, other than this is quite long. But that’s just me.
Disclaimer:     “SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron,” its characters and concepts are copyright to Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, Inc and are used without permission. This script is copyright of Kevin Chow.

Summary:      A secret code-breaker is stolen from the Pumadyne labs…  Who may have taken it, and what do they plan to do with it? Meanwhile, work at the Special Operations Intelligence begins to make its mark…

Began: 26/09/2002

Initially Finished: 02/10/2002

Version 1.0, 04-10-2002

Note: This is part one of a two-part story  – I’ve partitioned it because I had a feeling it was getting too big.

Again I’ve taken a few liberties with this, now in the physics department… must be the engineer in me. For example, the louvers/grille bits on the sub-orbital mode (there is no physical reason, save for FOD which is overriden by the aerodynamic losses) and the existence of deep stalls, for which I’ve drawn on Falcon 4 experience and footage of the X-31 crash. Think I’m taking this too seriously? Yeah, you’re probably right, but it just won’t feel right to me otherwise. I’ve been reading too many military thrillers, and I guess they’ve rubbed off on me ?

Lastly, the reference in the middle of the story was written way before the Prestige tanker incident.

If you have any comment(s) whatsoever, negative, positive, (preferably not) defamatory comments or anything to say, feel free to drop me an email at gopher@heatwave.co.uk. Heck, spambots do, so why not eh?

Chapter 1

Pandora's Box

PART ONE

Pandora’s Box

 

Pumadyne Research Facility

Electronic Assembly Laboratories

02:24

Bradford watched the T.V. monitor as the remotely operated arm slowly lowered the subassembly into its seating on the small construction table. The small circuit-board slid neatly into the slot, with all contacts reporting perfect connections moments after.

From outside the picture, a thin nozzle appeared and began to spray a fine mist at the components which would eventually dry, giving the assembly an insulational protective coat. Eventually, after dispersing its contents the nozzle stopped and disappeared before a plastic case was lowered over the PCB and automatically screwed in by another robotic arm. As he glanced from the computer test telemetry back to the monitor, he heard the door open behind him.

“Evenin’ doc.”

Bradford didn’t turn his head but instead turned a small knob with his paw whilst watching the numbers in the telemetry change.

“Going to hit the sack are we?” Bradford asked.

“Yah. You ought to too. You work way too hard you know.”

“I don’t want to fall behind,” Bradford said, just nudging the knobs a touch. “I can’t fall behind.”

“Well, just take care of ya’self Doc. G’night.”

“Good night.”

The duty guard tipped his cap and left, turning off the lights as he went. Inside the office, Bradford sighed, pushing his glasses back up his muzzle before watching the unit assembly testing. An eerie silence had descended since Freddy had turned off his television outside and gone. The ticking of the clock pierced the constant low hum from the computers.

Bradford was beginning to settle into the rhythm of test, report, change, test, when his heightened sense of hearing caught the sound of a light footstep.

Always uneasy with late night shifts in an empty office where paranoia roamed freely, Bradford, startled by the intrusion, whipped around on his chair, catching two of the flip-switches on his elbow.

He realised his error when a bright light flooded the room as well as a warning beep. He cursed aloud when he saw the telemetry data showing all zeros – it had reset. He cursed several more times as he restarted the testing program from the beginning – he had just messed up almost a night’s work of testing and system calibration. He forced himself to calm down as he set back to the task of starting over, when a most faint, pleasant smell of what seemed like lemon wafted past his nose.

Confused by the unfamiliar smell, he looked up and then around. For some reason, his eyes didn’t seem to want to focus right and he quickly began to feel light-headed, suddenly feeling oddly euphoric.

Ut oh, this isn’t right! Bradford got up from his chair, only to feel the world spinning around him. He tried to put one foot in front of the other, but the exertion was too exhausting and difficult. The big red alarm button on the wall became second priority as he collapsed into a heap on the floor, deciding sleep was the more preferable option.

 

Not more than ten seconds later, a tile in the ceiling was lifted out and an orange-furred kat carrying an odd coat jumped down, blaster at the ready, observing for any signs of life. He disregarded the scientist on the floor as he pushed the chair aside.

Satisfied that all was as it should be, he pulled a paper from his pocket as a grin spread across his face. He could see clearly enough through the gas-mask, enough to work out which buttons to push from the note. Within seconds it was done and the hum of the computer was supplemented by a slightly higher-pitched whine as the assembly table rose from its seat several stories below, up and out of the picture. Thirty-five long, tense seconds later, a panel beside him opened up and the untested device popped out. He grabbed it and quickly shoved it into a bag before jumping back into the air-vent, safe in the knowledge that the closed-circuit TV cameras were programmed with old images and that there was no forensic evidence left behind. He would discard the gloves later.

He exited the building the same way he entered  -through the roof. Slowly, quietly, he put on his coat, feeling the throbbing electricity encompass him, the static charge making his fur stand on edge. He patted the small package for security before running towards an overhead power cable that led towards the rooftop transformer. With a single move, he merged into the stream of electrons and disappeared into the night.

 

 

Megakat City Scrap-yard

03:09

 

Chance had been in bed for what seemed like ages but for some reason he still felt too pumped up to sleep. He hadn’t drunk anything and the day had been pretty unspectacular. Maybe his kat-sense was waiting for something, waiting…

The alarm sounded, almost deafening him. He kicked away the sheets and leapt to the door. Whilst running down the hall he heard Jake just behind him.

“Couldn’t sleep either, huh?” Chance quipped as he quickly changed into his flight suit.

“Nah – looks like you’re as wired as I was too.”

“Got that right.” He put on his helmet. “C’mon, let’s go.”

With a running jump, T-Bone landed in the pilot’s seat, just like he had done a million times before. With the engines automatically spooling up to idle, he completed the quick pre-flight checklist in five seconds as the canopy lowered.

“Let’s roll.”

He rammed the throttle past the detent into full after-burn with his left paw and flicked off the parking brakes with his right. The acceleration shoved him back into his ejection seat as the Turbokat roared down the short runway. In moments they were clear and zooming skywards.

“Okay, T-Bone, I’m getting a situation report now.”

Razor began to read off the message as it appeared on the multifunction display. “There’s been a break-in at the Pumadyne research centre, the electronics assembly facility; I’ve punched in the co-ordinates.” In response, the Turbokat turned into a gentle roll to the left.

“Hmm. Sitrep says one injury, a scientist, only; duty guard is on scene. Signs of a sleeping agent have been detected in the office.”

“Oh great, sounds like another nonsense call,” T-Bone groaned.

“I dunno, but this one is labelled ‘Urgent’. Whaddya think?”

T-Bone thought for a moment.

“I say we get a ground-radar patch map and kat-scan, then case the place on the ground.”

“Sounds good to me. We’d better be quick – I don’t feel like running into Commander Feral tonight.”

“Me neither.” T-Bone levelled the Turbokat on the right heading.

“Radar coming on.”

The nose-mounted radar took several seconds to power up, align and complete a self-diagnosis. As soon as it did, Razor took a single scan using the ground mapping mode, the results showing up on the multifunction display as various green and grey coloured blips. He quickly identified the Pumadyne facility from the image and immediately selected a half-mile-square ‘patch-map’, commanding the radar to start scanning the area around the centre. This mode took six scans to produce a high-resolution ground map, showing the main building and the surrounding cars and lampposts. Razor saved the image to the data-block and then took an infra-red kat-scan before saving that too. He then commanded the radar to create a wider scan so he could find a suitable spot to land.

“How’s it comin’ Razor?” T-Bone asked offhandedly as he pulled off a bit of throttle.

“I’ve got the images; didn’t see anything out of the ordinary there,” Razor answered as he tapped several numbers into the up-front display; “and… here… are… your vectors.,” he concluded with a final tap of the enter key.

In the front seat, several new waypoints appeared on the MFD. As the heading caret suddenly skipped off the heading-tape on the top of the HUD, T-Bone hauled stick to bring the nose of the aircraft to the new heading.

“Hold yer’ tail, I’m taking her down.”

Not more than a minute later, they were out on the ground and jogging to the facility. Razor stopped short and knelt down, taking out a pair of military binoculars and looking through them while T-Bone ran straight in.

SwatKats!”

T-Bone turned as the guard took his paw off the blaster trigger.

“What happened in here?” T-Bone asked. “What’s that smell?”

“Sleeping gas I think. The main agents have dispersed but the smell is still there,” the guard said. “You’ll probably want to talk to the scientist, Doctor Bradford. I’ve taken a quick look around and I think that was the only office raided; here, follow me.” The guard started down the hall with T-Bone behind. He heard Razor running to catch up.

“Take it easy with Bradford,” the guard said as they approached the office; “He’s pretty shaken up.”

Doctor Bradford was lying against the wall outside his office, his head in his paws.

“Doctor Bradford?” T-Bone asked. The scientist didn’t respond right away.

“I need to get back to the front reception,” the guard said, excusing himself. T-Bone knelt down next to the scientist.

“My work…” Bradford said, sobbing quietly. “It’s gone… all gone…”

“What was it?” T-Bone asked lightly.

“I almost had it! Just another hour…” Doctor Bradford turned to T-Bone. “I was this close! Do you know what it’s like to have everything you worked for, gone, just like that?” The scientist snapped his paws.

The memories of his last day with the Enforcers came flooding back like a bad dream. T-Bone’s gaze was forced down by the shameful thoughts, but with that milestone came a new freedom, a new purpose and resolve.

“Listen to me,” T-Bone said, softly but firm. “What’s happened, you can’t change it – it’s too late for that. You gotta look past this, and if you help us, we can get you back on track faster.”

Bradford sat for a few moments trying to compose himself. “You… you’re right. Yeah.”

“What was this device you were working on?” Razor asked. Bradford took several seconds to formulate an answer.

“It’s a code-breaker, in the simplest terms, but an extremely powerful one, the result of years of research. It uses lots of algorithms, utilising intelligent heuristic codes to speed up the process. And then some.”

“I can imagine a lot of people wanting to get their hands on that,” T-Bone remarked.

“You’re not kidding. Doctor, can you tell us more about this code-breaker, something that might help us find it? Maybe it has some special electronic radiation?”

Doctor Bradford shook his head.

“It’s just a compact computer, a big number-cruncher. You plug in the power and plug it into a computer and tell it what you’re trying to get and it starts crunching. It’s just a black box with two jacks in it, nothing more. I would show you the schematics but they’ve gone too.”

T-Bone looked at Razor, only to find Razor staring grimly back at him.

“It uses a little more power than the average computer and has a re-circulating water cooling system.”

“Well, if it has water cooling, it has to have a hot heat-exchanger somewhere,” Razor commented with a shrug, and Bradford nodded.

“Yes, and I guess it does get a little hot after a while, but it’s a very concentrated hot-spot – it’s not a normal heat-exchanger, or else it wouldn’t be as portable.” Bradford sighed. “I’m afraid that’s all I can really tell you. I’m only the assembler and I don’t know the exact specifications for power consumption, crunching power and so-forth. If you wait around someone might arrive that can tell you more.”

“Thanks for the offer, but I think it’s high time that we went already,” T-Bone said. As he got up, the sound of rotor blades cutting through the air at high speed suddenly came within earshot. “Yeah, I think it’s time we left.”

“Thanks for your help Doctor. The Enforcers will be here pretty soon, so we’d better hightail it outta here.”

They shook hands before T-Bone started towards the exit.

“C’mon Razor, lets move.”

 

 

3:10

 

The phone rang loudly, interrupting his dreamless sleep. His eyes opened to a squint before it rang again; Groggily he reached out and picked up the phone before it deafened him again.

“Yeah?” His voice was rough as sandpaper.

“Good morning Glen, I’d like it if you could get to the office early this morning, okay?”

Glen squinted at the glow-in-the-dark clock – it was more or less past three in the morning. He groaned.

“I’ll see you there in an hour then. Goodbye!” Then the caller hung up.

Glen cursed under his breath, rubbing his eyes before getting out of bed. He drunk a healthy amount of water from the mug on the bedside table before freshening up – it was going to be a long day.

 

He arrived at the Office of Special Operations Intelligence shortly after three-thirty in the morning, sporting a pair of blue jeans, T-shirt and his worn, water-damaged sweater that had survived his one and only aircraft ejection. As he walked up the entry hall suddenly remembering something, a guard stepped up and stopped him.

“I’m sorry sir, this area is off-limits to civi…”

Glen cut him off.

“Look, I work here, I just can’t find my pass…”

“Look kat, just turn around and walk out that door and I won’t have to arrest you, okay?” The guard said condescendingly as Glen began turning his pockets inside-out. Deciding it wasn’t there, he tried to push his way past.

“Crud! Just let me in okay, I got code red…”

“Look pal, you’re under arrest for trespassing a government facility!”

The guard grabbed him by the shoulder when a voice rang out from across the hall.

“Glen!”
They both turned to see a smartly-uniformed officer approach. The guard instantly shot to attention.

“I’d hate to remind you about the uniform code, Glen, but I have to say this is about the fastest you’ve ever got here.”

“You can vouch for this kat?” the guard asked.

“Of course I can,” Alex Turcat replied.

“I’m going to have to log this…”

“Go right ahead.” To Glen; “Lost ID?”

Glen sighed in exasperation. “I guess so.”

“I know it’s early Glen, but you gotta remember protocol. This ain’t the air force anymore,” Alex warned. He dismissed the guard as they went into the complex. They sauntered down the brightly lit white halls for a little while before arriving at the open-plan emergency-response room. Glen took his seat at the computer and logged on before checking for e-mails.

“Morning Glen,” Someone greeted from across the office.

“Morning Kathy,” Glen answered with a yawn. “So, what’s so important that my katnap get’s interrupted?”

“Raid at Pumadyne. Turcat said he’s going to brief the crisis group in about ten minutes.”

“Okay.”

Glen opened up one of the e-mails and began to read. It was a preliminary situation report of the Pumadyne raid. it contained some basic background information before launching into the main report, much of which was gleaned through the SOI’s extensive electronic eavesdropping, line tapping and message interceptions. As usual, most was subject to conjecture.

Having read the bulk of the message, Glen was about to move onto the next when Alex Turcat, still in uniform, stepped into the office.

“Care to make your way to the conference room for a brief sitrep?” he asked before disappearing again. Glen shot a quick glance at Kathy, who shrugged back at him before they both logged off and made their way out.

“And I got up for this?” Glen remarked as they walked down the hall.

“Hey, don’t complain, least you don’t have the night-shift,” Kathy shot back.

“Well, I’m not a night-time kat like you.”

By the time they walked into the amphitheatre, it was already half-full. Alex stepped up to the front, straightening his jacket as he went. As Glen took his seat he noticed several other uniformed kats in front of him, making him feel rather uneasy with his casual clothes.

“Okay everyone. I’m sorry for getting you all up this early, but things have been moving pretty quickly, and, well, someone has to keep a tab on things.”

“Over the last two hours, the electronics assembly building in the Pumadyne complex was raided. It wasn’t a large-scale action but a small precision attack centred on a very specific target which I’ll come to later. Anyway, we’ve gleaned from our intelligence assets very little firm evidence as to who may have carried out the attack, but that’s probably going to change once the fog clears. I’ve circulated several e-mails within the past hour and I’ll be working with my teams to further press out some facts.”
“Now, the attack was centred on office 24-A,” Alex said, pressing a button on his slide-control which brought up a labelled schematic of the Pumadyne facility; “of which belongs to one Doctor Alliot Bradford.”

Another slide came up, this time showing two photos of Doctor Bradford at work and holding a glass of milk.

“For the last three years, Pumadyne has been conducting research with a special projects group on…”

Alex’s briefing was interrupted by the entry of a tall, stern figure dressed in a long trench-coat.

“Ah, Commander Feral. I’m glad you could make it.”

Commander Feral, not looking too pleased with the early call nodded in acknowledgement.

“Right. Anyway, this special projects group were researching advanced techniques of code-breaking using ‘intelligent’ methods. I know I know, it’s not the greatest sounding thing in the world, but as I’m sure you are well aware of, in the wrong hands, this could be quite the present the more scrupulous types have been waiting for.”

“This particular office is a remote assembly station which is used to command an automated manufacturing centre further underground in the assembly of electronic devices, one of which we know was stolen. The device, as far as we know, was a prototype machine which was to be used to further the development of the ‘ultimate code-breaker’.” Alex’s voice registered a fair amount of sarcasm. Several of the analysts in the front row smiled dimly.

“Now, the reason why I called all of you here, is, firstly, due to the nature of this device, I can imagine a lot of less reputable and dangerous figures wanting to get their hands on it. So, we need to trace it’s whereabouts from the second it left the office.”

“Secondly, I’m pretty sure Pumadyne want their Pandora’s Box back.”

“How will we be working on this sir, do we have to liaise with any third parties?” one of the analysts asked, the question directly aimed at the presence of Commander Feral.

“All of you will be working to standard procedures. You report to me, and don’t you forget it. Any liaison with other parties will be dealt by me personally. If I need your help, I’ll ask.”

“What do we know about the actual scene, forensics?” Kathy asked.

“Oh, yeah. So far, we haven’t had the chance to examine the area  -the Enforcers have only just arrived, so we’ll be getting an update when they get their teams into place, so it’s still early days. Keep your ears open and watch your inbox – it’s going to get pretty busy very quickly, and we have to be in a position to act as soon as possible. Anyway, I’ll be sending everyone another Sitrep and minutes once this briefing is over and I suggest you all take a good look at it. Now, before I wrap this up, anymore questions?”

Only two queries were fielded, both about organisational procedure, which Turcat quickly tied up. As he wound up the pep-talk, he called Glen and Kathy to stay back. Glen noticed that Commander Feral wasn’t leaving either. After they took seats at the front of the amphitheatre, Alex continued.

“Now, Commander Feral, I’m glad you could make it. I’m sure you remember Glen Catten; this is Kathy Kitson, one of our more ‘proactive’ analysts.” They all shook hands. “I’m sure you two are both wondering why you’re here. Well, we have more than enough pencil-pushers and brain-boxes at computers for the time being at SOI, so I need some people on the ground, which is what you two are going to be doing.”

“Commander Feral, you’ll be collaborating through me on this investigation. You, I understand will have control of the people at the scene?”

“Yes, and I can assure you that my people are more than adequate for this operation,” Feral said, definite annoyance in his voice.

“I’m sure that they are, but we still need feelers for this team. Please, I don’t mean to offend, but without fresh, first hand information, SOI may as-well not exist.”

“So I gather.”

“By remaining independent, we can work more efficiently in our intel gathering ops,” Alex said, trying to reassure the Commander, but Feral remained stone-faced. Alex let it drop. “Anyway, just make sure that your troops are aware of my two kats and that they get free access as far as possible, okay? We’ll be feeding our observations back to you, so this is beneficial to both of us.”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

“Well, I’d better wrap this up – we have a lot of ground to cover.”

Glen and Kathy got up to leave when Turcat put a hand on Glen’s shoulder.

“Don’t forget your ID next time Glen,” Turcat said in a low, warning voice; “and dress properly next time. I don’t want lax dress code bringing this organisation into disrepute.” When that, he dismissed Glen.

Catten had to  run up to catch up with Kathy, who was already some way ahead, her black-furred tail disappearing around the corner.

“So it looks like it’s me and you then,” Kathy said as Glen caught up.

“Yeah, seems so.”

“Feral didn’t look too happy back there.”

“Nah, he’s just annoyed at not having control of SOI. It’s better this way, and he probably knows that too.”

 

Glen didn’t know how close his jibe about control was. Feral had been fuming at not being able to direct an organisation that had used funds from his own force. If he had paid for it, why didn’t he get to use it? Still, he had to overcome his misgivings – there was more important work to be done.

He exited the entrance hall and stepped into the lift towards the ground floor – the main operations building was many floors underneath MegaKat city, though not underneath the Enforcer Headquarters – it was actually just across the road. The lift didn’t go right to the ground floor, however; it went to a corridor that ran underneath the road, into Enforcer HQ – SOI also had an entrance built to join it to the Enforcer building, and it was this entrance that now almost everyone used, though few outside knew of it. Feral passed through the security checkpoints before eventually emerging from a blind corner in one of the many less-travelled corridors in the building. From there, he made his way towards the sky-runway. It was about time he took control of the situation at Pumadyne before someone – and he could guess who – fouled things up.

 

 

04:23

 

“NO! It’s mine!”

Hard Drive snatched the device back and pulled his blaster on the prospecting kat. “You want this? You want this, then you you’re gonna have to start showin’ some collateral!”

Hard Drive stepped back, his Surge-coat suddenly shed a spark to the floor in a loud snap!

“Sounds like your coat needs to be seen to by a tailor,” the kat said dryly.

“Trust me, the only person who needs to see a tailor, is you!”

Raising a hand, electric sparks suddenly arced from his fingers to the kat facing him. The kat fell to the ground as the electricity overcame him, sending him to the floor in a voltage-induced seizure; the kat couldn’t control his maw to scream in pain as his coat began to burn and smoulder. Then, as suddenly as it started, Hard Drive raised a finger and the flow of electricity stopped.

“A shocking experience I’m sure you won’t forget,” Hard Drive quipped. “Next time, show up with some money, or else I’m going to let you… fry.”

With that, the kat, the code-breaker and the surge-coat disappeared.

 

 

Office of Special Investigations,

10:05

Day 1

 

Glen awoke with a start at the sound of the door slamming. He squinted several times before realising he was still in the office. He rubbed his eyes and massaged his aching back before nudging the mouse, taking the computer out of power-saving mode after a short spin-up whirr from the hard-disk.

“Ugh, crud…” Glen muttered as he begun reading through the new e-mails.

“You awake now then?”

Glen looked up to see Kathy grinning back at him.

“Is it morning yet?” he asked with a dry, husky voice.

“It’s six past ten. You’ve been conked out for five hours.”

“Why didn’t you wake me up?”

“You looked so happily content slumbering on your paperwork,” she answered sarcastically. “Anyway, I’d better fill you in – we’ve had a couple of breakthroughs since you nodded off.”

As Kathy Kitson began from the top, Glen couldn’t stop wondering how she stayed awake for so long.

 

 

 

Hard-Drive drove past the gates in an innocuously middle-range car. Not his of course – he had plenty of time until someone noticed that it was actually missing. The owner would probably be glad it was gone and cash in on the insurance – it wasn’t exactly the best performer he had ever driven.

The road tracked around the outer fence of the complex for some time – the facility was extremely large. Hard-drive, his patience already strained by having to go through the trouble of stealing a car – he didn’t want to use his coat just yet – decided that he could make his move here. He gently applied the brakes, bringing the car to a stop along with a slight burning smell into the car. Quickly he got out, taking a grey sports-bag with him. As he shut the door, the handle fell off; better get out of here before this thing blows up!

He jogged over to the fence, finding a small burrow at the base of one of the fence sections. It only took a little digging before it was big enough for him to crawl through.

Although the sun was up and casting long shadows which would undoubtedly be seen by a CCTV camera, Hard-Drive wasn’t concerned at this point. He knew that policing around this area was pretty lax, and he intended to take advantage of that. He only had a little while to go.

The sun was climbing higher into the sky, it’s bright rays beginning to heat the sandy ground beneath him. When he found what he came here to find, he was more than glad – it was starting to get extremely hot, even though it was several hours before noon.

The launch towers in the distance loomed.

He knelt down and brushed some of the dust away from the floor. It felt unusually warm and firm – metal. He had found one of many grounding plates used to divert electricity surges away from nearby underground transformers. How appropriate that an entrance was so openly displayed. Idiots.

Donning his surge-coat quickly, he took out the small boxy device from the sports bag and put it into his pocket before staring into the sky.

“And now for my entrance!”

A flash, and then nothing, save for the empty sports bag, lay behind.

 

 

MASA Space Centre

Ground Control Centre #2

10:08

 

Norton sat at his console, one of about ten kats at the ground control centres. There were no launches to watch over, so this particular room in the control centre was populated by only a skeleton crew of three. Still, his job was an important one, that of monitoring the orbits of several hundred satellites around the planet, ensuring that their paths didn’t cross at the same time and reviewing a fraction of their systems. He could call up any group of orbits onto his monitor and project their positions at any point in time. If any two crossed with the exact same time, there was probably going to be a messy, expensive collision, meaning that somewhere, a large group of kats would suddenly lose their TV transmission, have their phones go dead, or have some other major inconvenience happen. He wasn’t the only person doing the monitoring; another two personnel were tasked to this largely automated task – Jerrod, several seats to his right, and Carl, two rows back. Their task was to co-ordinate any response to any collision alert. It was boring, for the most part, so he came prepared with his deck of cards, one of few things he could get past the rigorous security checks at the entrance.

“Hey Norton, how about a game of poker? Five stud,” Carl called down.

“Yeah, sure, come right down. Jerrod, you in?”

“Nah, I’m workin’ on something right now. I’ll call if I see something.”

“Suit yourself. Carl, you got any chips?”

Carl stopped midway through the aisle when he heard the question.

“Ah crud, you got any spare change? All I got is plastic.”

“Uhhh… Ah, hold on, you know where all them business cards…?”

“Yeah, sure, hold on.”

Carl turned on a heel and began jogging back up the aisle when suddenly several lights exploded in a loud bang and great arcs of electricity seemed to stream out around the room from the wall sockets. As the room plunged into darkness and the smell of burning accompanied the sounds of glass raining down, Carl slowly got up from his curled position on the carpet, looking around in the dark. He staggered to his feet.

“Jerrod?”

Silence.

“Jerrod? Norton? Hey, you ka…”

Hard-Drive grabbed Carl’s shoulder, spun him around and then grabbed his maw.

“Well, I wasn’t expecting you to be up and about,” Hard-Drive said, towering over the technician. “Now, there’s no need to be afraid, as long as you sit tight and do what I want, when I want!” Hard-Drive threw Carl against the wall, from which he rebounded and landed in a heap on the floor.

“Now, for some light!”

Hard-Drive’s arm raised and electricity streamed out of his fingers and the few remaining lights suddenly snapped back on. Walking over to Carl, he picked up the dazed kat by the scruff of his neck and pushed him against the nearest console.

“Well done, Hard Drive.”

They both turned to the tall, dark hooded figure leave the shadows towards them from the far door. His cloak was as black as the shade around him, almost trailing along the floor.

“Well, we have a prisoner. My creeplings, tie him up.”

Several small winged creatures flew out from the corridor and surrounded Carl. Another clutching a thick rope began to encircle him amidst his terrified protests. Once bound, Hard-Drive picked him back up from the floor, bringing his nose within an inch of his own.

“I’m sure you’ll co-operate with me, unless you want something to happen…”

Enough! Sit him down, we may need him later.”

Hard-Drive shoved him into the nearest seat, almost hard enough to tip him back over onto the floor.

“Now, it is time to tell the world my demands,” Dark Kat said, stepping into the middle of the control centre. As he did, he signalled Hard-Drive to plug in the small black box.

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