The Creeplings led Felina along a path in that cave that took them upwards, eventually depositing them to the outside world. She squinted as they exited the mouth of the cave, the sunlight harsh on her dilated eyes. To her surprise she recognized the location as Megakat Caverns State Park, a small tourist destination located just outside of the city. This particular cave was next to a ranger station, complete with a small dirt airstrip. Several signs were posted, reading CLOSED FOR THE SEASON. The perimeter was surrounded by an encroaching forest of Jeffrey Pine, nearly hiding a one-lane access road. She avoided stepping on several pine cones that littered the area.
It was a perfectly secluded spot, far from anyone, and Felina suspected the dirt airstrip was the main reason Dark Kat chose it. Next to the small ranger station, there was a vehicle covered in a tarp. It’s shape was unmistakeable to her. An Enforcer Sabre.
“Are the elements of my plan coming into focus for you?” Dark Kat asked from behind her. Felina nearly jumped out of her skin, causing the Creepling with the rifle to take aim anew.
“Careful, my pet,” Dark Kat said. “We wouldn’t want the lieutenant to expire prematurely.”
The Creepling relaxed slightly, and Felina regained her composure.
“Let me guess, you built your own Sabre out of parts from that junk yard that Ritz supplied you,” Felina said.
“Very good,” Dark Kat said. “I’ve underestimated your powers of deduction.”
Dark Kat snapped his fingers and several Creeplings exited from the ranger station. They worked together to quickly lift the tarp from the parked aircraft, revealing a two-seat Enforcer Sabre, looking almost brand new. The paint job glistened in the sunlight, allowing Felina to see it was a perfect copy of Commander Feral’s designated aircraft. The canopy slowly began to open.
“What I don’t understand is why,” Felina continued, glancing at the armed Creepling out of the corner of her eye. “Why would Ritz be helping you?”
“I suppose I should answer that,” a voice said from the cockpit of the Sabre.
Felina scowled, seeing it was Ritz.
Ritz stood up and climbed out the side, dropping to the ground. He was wearing his silver aviator sunglasses, an Enforcer T-shirt and black cargo pants. His normally clean black boots were covered in the dirt from the airstrip. His retirement gift was clearly visible in his shoulder holster, the Enforcer logo on the grips a clear giveaway.
“Your uncle and I go way back,” Ritz said. “We were both recruits at OCS at the same time. I’ve always tested better, and I’ve always performed better, yet somehow he managed to get ahead.”
“That’s what this is about?” she said, nearly dumbstruck. “Some kind of jealous rivalry with my uncle?”
“That’s how it started out,” Ritz continued. “But over the years, I realized there was much more at stake. Ulysses Feral is misguided. I’ve had to blindly follow his orders, and seen countless pilots get killed or injured. Because of the nepotism that seems to run the Enforcers, from the Ferals to the Steeles and the Manxs, I’d never have a chance of obtaining a top-level command, to try to reform things and keep my pilots safe.”
Felina briefly remembered Captain Jackson’s reassignment, the result of injuries sustained during air combat during a mission her uncle had planned. She shook her head.
“So you turned to him?” Felina nearly shouted, pointing toward Dark Kat, who merely stood by, seemingly enjoying the show.
“Yes, I did, because I want Feral to pay for his arrogance with his life, just like so many other Enforcers did,” Ritz said angrily. “And you, you’re just like him. Stubborn and pigheaded. You represent the inevitable future of the force, and that was the last straw.”
Felina couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She’d never liked Ritz all that much, and only gave him the bare minimum level of respect a superior deserved, but she had never imagined he would sink this low. She thought of the many names to call him, but the sound of a jet engine coming in low interrupted her retort.
“And, so my patsy arrives,” Dark Kat said, looking upward. A two-seater Enforcer Sabre was cruising in low, the landing gear extended. It came in low over the pine and touched down on the runway, kicking up a small plume of dust. The engines throttled back as the jet rolled to a stop in front of the group. For a brief second Felina had a hope that it was someone there to help, but that was quickly dashed as the canopy opened.
The fake Felina exited the cockpit, dropping to the ground. It was wearing her flight suit and helmet.
“And now, once again, we exchange the real for the fake,” Dark Kat said as the doppleganger strode past them, walking to the rebuilt jet. “We must move quickly. The lull in the radar signature will only last so long.”
Felina eyed her twin as it walked past, noting that the Sabre it had arrived in was the actual jet she would have flown her uncle in. It was standard procedure for a pilot to take a newly assigned aircraft for a test flight before using it in an official mission. The fake Felina had obviously managed to fool everyone at HQ already, and was now using the test flight as a way to discreetly exchange planes. Felina would routinely drop out of radar contact during her own personal test runs, often dropping in low through the nearby canyons and mountain ranges. No one would suspect a thing.
Another thought came to mind. Her suspension was now likely over, meaning that the air demonstration was soon.
“I honestly can’t tell the difference between them, other than the new one seems to follow orders,” Ritz said, giving Felina a smirk.
The fake boarded the rebuilt jet and powered up the engines. Within less than a minute the canopy closed and its afterburner came to life, sending it rocketing forward down the dirt airstrip and into the sky.
“One thing I haven’t figured out, why the rebuilt Sabre?” she said, once again glancing out of the corner of her eye at the Creepling with the rifle. It was apparently getting bored, and its attention seemed to be wandering as the jet took off.
“A little modification I made, seeing as how there will be no ordnance aboard the air demonstration fighters. I planted one hundred pounds of C4 inside the fuselage. Your Uncle will be taking an express trip to the Mayor’s box seat at Enforcer Headquarters upon landing. It’s extra insurance to make sure no one survives,” Dark Kat explained. “Routine aircraft checks would make doing it at any other point difficult to conceal.”
“And you’re okay with this?” Felina asked in disbelief, looking at Ritz.
“My pilots will be in the air. Frankly, I couldn’t care less if some bureaucrats like the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Lt. Commander are caught in the ‘accident,” he said. “With them out of the way, the city will have to look to those who have the right experience to act as a replacement.”
“Even the retired…” Felina said dismissively.
“I’m counting on it,” Ritz said as he reached to his shoulder holster and withdrew the chrome plated .45. “But now, it’s time to tie up some lose ends, starting with that nosy junkyard mechanic down in the cell.”
“A good idea, Ritz,” Dark Kat said as he turned away. “But first, I think you should take care of the lieutenant. We will need to substitute a corpse among the wreckage at some point, just to assure no inappropriate questions arise during the investigation.”
The Creepling with the rifle yawned, and in that instant Felina spun around and soccer-kicked it in the jaw, sending the pink creature flipping back and the rifle into the air. She caught it and spun around, taking aim at Ritz, who in that instant had managed to aim his sidearm at her.
“That was pretty quick,” Ritz said, aiming with both hands gripped tightly.
“I practice my quickdraw in front of a mirror,” Felina said, pulling the rifle butt tight into her shoulder, staring down the barrel of the gun. She felt her thumb on the fire selector, confirming by touch the weapon’s safety was off and ready to fire semi-automatically. Ritz’s face filled her iron-sights, and Felina regretted not pulling the trigger instantly, as she was now stuck in a standoff.
“Well, Ritz, it would seem you’re in quite the predicament,” Dark Kat said over his shoulder, seemingly unfazed as he continued on his way. A black limousine pulled up from behind the ranger station, obscured from view until now. The rear passenger door opened on its own as Dark Kat took a seat within. The window rolled down as the door shut.
“It’s fortunate you have me on your side,” Dark Kat said from within. “My pets will assist you.”
The window rolled back up and out of the corner of her eye Felina saw the limousine drive away. At the same moment a dozen Creeplings descended from above, landing in-between the two Enforcers, obscuring Felina’s aim at Ritz, who was now diving off to the side.
“Hold it!” she shouted, and pulled the trigger. The AK-47 opened up with a volley of fire, the gun digging into her shoulder. She wasn’t used to the larger round and firing it unexpectedly fully automatic caused her aim to be off. She completely missed Ritz and instead hit several Creeplings that got in the way. They dropped dead to the ground while the rest retreated into the air, heading in different directions. They’d apparently served their purpose, Felina thought, as Ritz was no nowhere to be seen.
“Stupid fire selector,” Felina said under her breath, now remembering that the AK-47 and all of its variants were set to fire fully-automatic in the default position, opposite most rifles. She clicked the fire selector again, switching to semi-automatic, ensuring more accurate shots as she quickly darted over to the ranger station to take cover near the door, back to the wall.
Now what? she thought. Ritz is still nearby, and he’s armed, and that robot is probably already back at HQ by now. Plus there’s the guy who’s still locked up in the cave. She sighed, her ears ringing slightly from her brief burst of loud automatic fire. She then glanced to her left, and saw the original Enforcer Sabre still parked with the canopy open.
I can use the radio and send out a warning.
Felina looked left and then right, not seeing Ritz. She began to slowly approach the parked jet, keeping the barrel of the rifle pointed out as she backed up to it. A crow cawed in the distance, but she heard nothing else.
Maybe he’s run away to fight another day…
Without a ladder she’d have to climb up the wing and over the fuselage, which would require both hands. She quickly slid the rifle on the wing, and then pulled herself up and over the top. It took a lot more effort than she expected, and realized over a day without food or adequate rest was starting to take its toll.
Once there, Felina took another glance at her surroundings, still seeing nothing. She edged forward, and slid ackwardly around the open canopy to crouch down into the cockpit. She set the rifle upright, there being no room to correctly hold it anyway as she picked up the flight mask and adjusted the frequency on the radio. Everything seemed to be in working order.
“Tower One, this is Lt. Feral,” she said into the mask’s microphone, holding it just in front of her face. “Do you copy, over?”
She heard nothing but static, likely interference from the terrain. As she contemplated flying the jet to get to a better altitude, she saw a reflection in the heads-up-display, and without thinking jumped out of the cockpit as the console in front of her exploded in a burst of sparks, followed by the loud and now echoing shot of Ritz’s .45.
“Just to be clear,” Ritz said from atop the jet, standing behind the cockpit. “I was aiming for the radio.”
Felina was now on the ground, disarmed, the rifle still in the cockpit. She scrambled, rolling to get underneath the wing as Ritz took aim and fired, several small holes cratering just behind her.
“Still haven’t broken this thing in yet,” Ritz said as he ejected a spent magazine that clattered down loudly onto the fuselage and fell to the ground next to where Felina was pressed behind the rear landing gear. “Maybe a small sight adjustment is in order.”
“It’s brand new,” Felina replied, slowly moving, crouched low, toward the opposite end. “You might need to get a gunsmith to lessen the trigger pull. Maybe half a pound.”
“That’s good advice,” Ritz said as he put a new magazine in, and released the slide, causing it to chamber loudly with a snap-click. He dropped down off the top of the plane and landed on the ground, instantly taking a knee and aiming under the jet. Felina was nowhere to be seen. Ritz frowned, and then looked up, just in time to see the bottom of a shoe rushing at his face.
Felina had managed to climb up over the wing on the opposite side of the Sabre just as Ritz had jumped down, and had now run across the wingspan to drop-kick him in the face.
Ritz flew backward, the pistol flying out of his grasp and sliding some distance away in the dirt. The impact had knocked the wind out of him, and broke his nose, blood dripping down his face as he slowly sat up, disoriented from the impact. The attack had hurt Felina almost as much, her body already protesting from the punishment it had already taken as she laid on her back, rolling to her side.
They both looked at each other, both noticing the gun was an equal distance of about five yards away from them.
“Alright, lieutenant, why don’t we just take a break,” he said, taking out a handkerchief and placing it against his nose. “There’s plenty of time to be dead later.”
“You’ve got a point,” Felina said, still slightly out of breath. They sat there silent, each keeping an eye on each other, both occasionally glancing at the gun. After some time, she spoke again.
“You’re really going to let Dark Kat get away with killing my uncle and who knows who else over a managerial disagreement?” she said, her heart rate finally slowing back to normal.
“I’d like to think it’s more complicated than that, but yes,” he replied. “It’s the same thing he and all the others do. Just look the other way.”
“You realize you’re just a tool for him,” Felina said. “Dark Kat will kill you too, when he’s done with you.”
“That’s definitely a risk,” Ritz replied. “That’s why I’ll have to kill him first.”
Felina chuckled, not doubting for an instant that Ritz wasn’t sincere in his intentions.
“I guess that’s some consolation, in all of this,” Felina said. “But I get the feeling you’re underestimating Dark Kat, and overestimating yourself.”
“How’s that?” Ritz asked.
“Because you’re not going to get a chance to kill Dark Kat,” she said, standing up. Ritz smiled, and did the same.
“You know, I never questioned your abilities,” he said as he took his eyes off her and now looked at the weapon. Even partially covered in dirt it glistened in the sunlight.
“Just my demeanor?” she said, not really asking.
“I’ll try to present your death in a positive light to your peers,” Ritz said, and then dashed forward.
Felina ran as well, but Ritz was slightly ahead of her as he baseball slid forward, grabbing the handle and then spinning around. He fired two shots that zinged just over Felina’s shoulder as she dove forward into him, landing on top. Now up close, she pushed the gun to the side with her left forearm as she punched him in the face with her right fist. Ritz screamed in pain, the hit amplified by his already broken nose.
He managed to kick her off and got up quickly, holding his nose with a free hand as he took aim with the other. His vision was blurred as he fired several more rounds, but all of them missed. Felina edged in close and managed kick Ritz in the side of the leg, causing him to drop to his knees. She took the opportunity to get behind him, wrapping one arm over his forehead and the other around his neck, and locking her legs around his torso, trapping him in a makeshift hold, cutting off his air supply.
They both fell backward onto the dirt, as Ritz tried to reach around with the gun to fire several more rounds. It was deafeningly close, and Felina shouted at him, but he missed each time as the slide locked back, the gun empty.
Ritz’s face turned red and his breathing became gasps as he dropped the now useless gun and was trying to use his hands to pry Felina’s arms off. But it was too little, too late as his struggling diminished, his face turning purple.
Felina tightened her grip, all the anger she’d had pent up being released. Ritz went limp, and after a moment Felina broke the hold and kicked him away. He was still breathing, but unconscious. She stood up, hurried over to him, and grabbed the last spare magazine from his shoulder holster. She scraped the .45 off the ground and quickly loaded it, taking aim at Ritz’s unmoving form.
It was tempting, to just finish it right then and there. His traitorous actions seemed to warrant it. She sighed, finally catching her breath.
“I don’t know if you can hear me, Ritz,” Felina said as she clicked the safety into place, tucking the pistol into the waist of her jeans at the small of her back. “But this is proof that I can follow the rules.”
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Disclaimer: SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron is copyright to Hanna-Barbera Cartoons Inc. All Rights Reserved. © 1995. All other characters and material within this page are the property of their respective creators.