The re-election had been a grueling affair, and Callie hadn’t gotten a full night’s rest in weeks. Manx’s campaign had won, though just barely. If only one more district had gone the other way, Callie would be typing up a new resume. For now, though, she sat back in her seat at the Kat Co. Coffee Brew House, a place near City Hall where one could get an overpriced latte 24/7.
Right now Callie was sipping on a White Mocha latte, with extra whipped cream to celebrate. It was 3:00 AM, and only hours earlier she’d put a few finishing touches on the Mayor’s acceptance speech. The rough draft with scribbled notes was still in her handbag.
The idea of being Deputy Mayor of Megakat City for a second term was both reassuring and ominous. Sure, she had always had political ambitions, but seeing something on paper and actually being it were different things. The onslaught of media interviews she had wrapped up less than 45 minutes ago were just the tip of the iceberg in her now much more public life.
But for now, things had quieted down, and she took the opportunity to just be still. She closed her eyes as she took another sip.
As a server was sweeping the floor, the door to the coffee house opened. A bell chimed, signaling the entry of new patrons, and Callie opened her eyes. At the same time the server looked up, freezing in place. Two men had entered, and both were wearing masks.
“Look, I don’t know the combination to the safe,” the server said, taking a step back.
One of the masked men looked at the other, expressing incredulity.
“What? Oh, the masks,” the larger of the two said.
“I told you we’d scare people with these,” the shorter of the two said, and then he reached into a pocket and took out a twenty dollar bill. “Just coffee, maybe a little bit of sugar in it.”
“I’ll take mine black,” the larger said, and walked past, continuing on in, taking a seat at the booth across from Callie’s.
“Uh, okay,” the server said, and took the money, setting the broom aside and walking around to the back of the counter to prepare the drinks.
The smaller masked individual joined his friend, sitting opposite.
Well, I guess that’s the 3:00 AM crowd, Callie thought to herself, not knowing what to make of the two.
“I feel kind of ridiculous in this,” the smaller one said. “And these colors don’t really go together.”
“I think red and blue work great together” the larger one said. “They look really cool, and the masks? They’re the icing on the cake.”
“I think you’ve read too many comic books,” the smaller said with a sigh.
“Just wait and see,” the larger one said. “Once we make our debut everyone will really dig the outfits.”
The server approached the two’s booth with their ordered beverages, change in hand.
“Hey, thanks,” the larger one said.
The server didn’t say anything in return, and went back to his sweeping.
Callie was tempted to get up and leave, but against her better judgement, she sat up and spoke to them.
“Alright, you’ve piqued my interested,” Callie said to them. “What are you two supposed to be? Circus performers?”
The larger of the two glanced at Callie, his expression momentarily frozen in place. Callie recognized the look. It was one she had seen on several occasions whenever men stopped to hold doors open for her. The smaller of the two nudged him, and he snapped back into composure.
“Uh, no, actually,” he said, changing his tone to sound more mysterious. “We’re masked crime fighters.”
“Oh really?” Callie said, a small smile creeping onto her face. “And what might be this ‘masked crime fighter’s’ name?”
“You can call me T-Bone,” the larger one said. “And this is my buddy, Razor.”
“Hi,” Razor said shyly.
Callie chuckled at the names.
“Well, you two sound pretty intimidating,” Callie said. “My name’s Callie.”
“Callie?” Razor asked. “As in Callie Briggs? The Deputy Mayor?”
“One and the same,” Callie said as she stood up. The two of them also stood.
“Wow, really?” T-Bone asked and shook her hand. “You look better in-person.”
Razor elbowed T-Bone in the side.
“Er, that is, I mean, you look really good on TV and even more so in person,” T-Bone said.
His fingerless-gloved hand felt strong, but not overpowering. Callie laughed at his remarks.
“I hear that a lot,” she said with good humor. “Well, T-Bone and Razor, it was nice to meet a pair of real crime-fighters.”
“You know, since you’re the Deputy Mayor, I bet you could help us out,” Razor said, and then he dug into his jumpsuit’s pocket and took something out, holding it out to her.
“Uh, I’m not sure that I-” Callie began, and then paused, looking at the device Razor was holding. It was a triangular gadget with a round button in the center.
“We’re total professionals, Ms. Briggs,” T-Bone said. “We’ve got military-grade training and our own super sonic jet.”
“I designed it myself,” Razor said proudly.
“And what is this?” Callie asked, taking the device from Razor, looking it over.
“It’s a high frequency communicator,” Razor explained. “It sends a multilateral encrypted signal that we can receive at anytime, from almost anywhere.”
“So if there’s ever a problem that comes up, you can get ahold of us and we’ll show up to handle it,” T-Bone said, punching his left fist into his right palm.
“My own personal SWAT Kats,” Callie said, amused.
“Hey, I like that,” Razor said.
“Yeah, me too,” T-Bone said. “Mind if we use that?”
“Be my guest,” Callie said, and put the communicator into her hand bag. She didn’t normally accept items from strangers, especially while being a public, governmental figure. Especially from individuals that wore masks and dressed strangely. But for reasons she couldn’t explain, the two seemed genuine, if a little cartoonish.
“Well, it’s been a really long day,” Callie said, and started to leave.
“Drive safely, Ms. Briggs,” T-Bone said. “And remember, you can always count on us.”
Callie smiled and left the Brew House, getting into her sedan that was parked out front on the street, the meter thankfully inoperable at this hour. As she got into the driver’s seat and prepared to turn her key in the ignition, she felt an intense vibration, soon followed by the roar of a jet engine.
Callie quirked an eyebrow, and leaned down to get a better look through her windshield. A black jet was lifting off from a nearby parking lot, taking off vertically into the air, illuminated by the night lit skyline, only to rocket forward and disappear from view. Callie’s mouth hung open in surprise for a moment, and she reached into her bag to hold out the communicator Razor had given her.
Who are these two?
Who are these two?
Callie awoke, her eyes opening slowly. The world failed to focus, the details of her surroundings blurred in what looked like fabric and sand.
The parachute’s on top of me, she thought to herself, quickly realizing that her earlier dream was just a distant memory, and this desert nightmare was reality.
She sat up, and with much effort pulled the parachute off herself like she would have an oversized blanket, and then squinted. Cloudless blue sky was above her, and the scorching heat of the sun could be felt in its full intensity.
Well, maybe not full intensity, Callie thought, noting it was closer to the horizon than she remembered. It’s probably nearing 5:00 PM.
She took off the helmet and set it down, taking a moment to pull her disordered hair back and out of her face. Her glasses had fallen off in the helmet, and she picked them up, noting they were relatively undamaged and put them on.
Her situation came into focus, and she saw that the jumpsuit she had been wearing was mostly in tatters. She unzipped it, and began to slide out of it.
As the jumpsuit came off, she winced in pain, and noticed that her jeans underneath were torn through in the shape of a hand where that creature had grabbed her. It throbbed in pain as she tried to move, traces of blood on the denim.
“That really hurts…” Callie said, and noticed her forehead beginning to sweat. The sun was making its presence known.
Unsteadily she rolled to her stomach, and began to get up, putting both hands down and getting to a knee on her good leg, and then with a painful hop coming to a stand.
From her full height she had a better perspective of her situation, which made her heart sink. Every direction she looked was the same: a flat, empty expanse with minimal dunes going far into the horizon. Absolutely empty, and absolutely quiet. She could hear her heartbeat in her temples.
“Okay…okay…don’t panic,” Callie said. “Just calm down and think.”
The Panthera Range was several hundred miles to the east, she knew. It was also the direction one would walk to get back to civilization. It was also the direction most likely to have water, too, Callie realized. Her throat was feeling dry and she coughed.
“First priority is water,” Callie said, and her morale dropped lower as she surveyed her surroundings again. She hadn’t seen any traces of liquid since they had entered the airspace above the Felidae Ergs.
“Think positive,” Callie said to herself, and placed a flattened hand over her eyes, trying to survey the surroundings again. A short distance away, no more than 100 feet, she saw something sticking out just above a short, 10 foot dune. It was glinting in the light.
“Well, it’s worth taking a look,” Callie said, and started to walk toward it. On her first step she almost fell over, as both of her hands reflexively went down to her injured thigh.
“One, step, at a time,” she said through gritted teeth, and began to limp across the sand. What would normally have taken her a few minutes at most took nearly fifteen, her leg fighting her with every step. The dune itself was no more than a few degrees of incline, but it felt like a mountain. As she neared the destination near the top, she collapsed, and started crawling forward.
“Please, please be worth this…” Callie begged, on the verge of tears.
The shiny object, she realized, was a bright orange ring of reflective tape, surrounding a large duffel bag half-buried in the sand.
“Thank you, lieutenant,” Callie said, and then cringed at her words, knowing that in all likelihood, Lt. Felina Feral had died in the crash. She bit her lip, but pressed forward, sliding up alongside the bag. With much effort, she unrolled it out of the sand and pulled on a zipper. Several of the contents immediately spilled out, the first of which was a white, plastic box with a red cross on it.
Callie opened up the white box and found it filled with military grade First-Aid. She dug through the contents, setting aside bandages, tourniquets and gauze until she came across a sheet the size of two postcards, labeled Wound Seal Kit. It looked like a giant, square sticker, and she noticed it contained a short set of typed instructions.
APPLY ADHESIVE STRIP TO WOUND, PAIN RELIEVING GEL SIDE AGAINST WOUND.
“Seems simple enough,” Callie said and then unbuttoned her jeans, carefully sliding her hurt leg out. The sand felt hot against her skin, but it was overshadowed by the pain and now visually unsettling exposed wound.
On her thigh was a dark, hand shaped bruise, and her skin was broken where the fingertips would have been. Callie peeled back the cover of the adhesive strip, and did as the instructions said, placing it on her thigh like a stamp to a piece of stationary. Almost instantly she felt a coolness as the strip adhered to her leg, completely sealing the injury.
She sighed with relief, and slid her leg back into her jeans, buttoning them back up. Among the contents that had spilled out of the duffel bag were several bottles of water, and she picked the nearest up, opened the cap and took a large swig. Despite being very warm, her throat rejoiced at the liquid’s rehydrating presence.
Callie savored that for a moment before turning her attention back to the bag. Within it were several boxes labeled MEAL, READY TO EAT, a few more bottles of water, several black, rectangular metal boxes with bullets packed into them, an assault rifle and a large tube.
“Must be the M16 and that rocket launcher,” Callie observed, recalling the lieutenant’s verbal list. “Not much good either of those will do me out here.”
A loud, modulated shrieking noise came from Callie’s pocket, and she screamed in surprise, before realizing what it was. She dug the triangular communicator out.
“Shut up!” Callie screamed and threw it away from herself.
It landed softly in the sand, the shrieking noise coming from it lasting longer than it ever had before. She pressed both palms against her ears, and after several seconds it stopped.
Callie cried, tears running down the side of her face. She felt frustrated, and stupid, wishing she had done things differently. I should have just gone to Commander Feral, she thought.
As she wiped her face with the back of her forearm, she froze in place. The shriek sounded again, only this time it wasn’t coming from her communicator. Callie slowly turned her head to the left, and gasped, covering her mouth. No more than a football field’s length away, was the white creature that had stowed away on the Sabre and caused it to crash.
Callie knew it was the same one. The arm it had grabbed at her with was severed, replaced by a pitch-black stump. It was walking awkwardly in her direction, it’s head bobbing back and forth as if sniffing the air with its noseless face. One of its legs dragged across the sand, leaving a winding trail as it moved forward.
Callie was on the verge of hyperventilating, and got up to try to run, but instantly fell to the ground, landing on her side. Her injured leg wasn’t going to allow her to go anywhere quickly.
The creature screeched, and seemed inspired to move faster in Callie’s direction, its unnaturally white, naked form standing out clearly in the sunshine of the desert. It was now no more than 50 yards away.
“I can’t outrun that thing,” Callie said, her desperation making her frantic, and she rolled and started crawling the short distance back to the duffel bag.
The creature snarled, now 40 yards away.
Callie reached the bag and started tearing out its contents, throwing aside plastic bags filled with rations.
The creature lurched forward, and fell on its chest, and began to crawl, using its one remaining arm to pulls itself forward. It’s chin was scooping through the sand, its mouth snapping open and closed.
Callie tore the black rifle out of the bag, falling back as she did so.
“Mags…magazine…” Callie said, remembering the lieutenant’s words as she got to one knee and scooped up one of the black, bullet-filled boxes. Her hands were shaking as she tried to stuff it into an opening on the underside of the gun.
On the third attempt to jam it into place it clicked, and Callie awkwardly aimed the barrel forward, pulling the trigger.
“Why won’t you fire!” Callie screamed, and looked at the weapon. There was a small, hardly noticeable handle on the top, behind what looked like the carrying handle on a lunchbox. Desperate, Callie pulled on it. The rifle made a familiar Ka-Click mechanical noise.
Callie pointed the rifle, holding it at her side, and pulled the trigger.
Three loud pops rang in Callie’s ears. The sand beside the creature kicked up, all the rounds widely missing.
It shrieked anew, and pulled itself forward faster, covering the distance, rearing up. For a moment it blocked out the sun, casting a shadow over Callie. She fell onto her back, and pulled the trigger one last time.
The creature fell down, landing beside her, knocking a small plume of sand in her direction.
Callie rolled aside, sat upright and scooted back several feet. For several minutes, she sat there, staring at the unmoving white mass of flesh, each breath she took a panicked gasp. She saw no signs of movement. No breathing. No noises.
It was dead.
As Callie’s heartbeat began to slow, she sighed with relief, only to be started once more as a hand came to rest on her shoulder.
“Don’t!” Callie shouted, and swung the rifle around. It was immediately caught in someone else’s grip.
“Hey, careful there,” Lt. Felina Feral said, and knelt down.
“Lieutenant!” Callie said in disbelief, letting go of the gun. “I thought you were…”
“Dead?” Felina said with a laugh, a red gash visible on her forehead. “Not me, though I can’t say the same for our friend over there.”
Callie looked again at the unmoving monster. She was just starting to realize how badly it reeked with a strange mixture of body odor and perspiration. It’s like the gym times a thousand, Callie thought.
“By the way, I think you dropped this,” Felina said, holding up the discarded communicator. It was still in working order, though for now it was being silent.
“Thanks,” Callie said, and began to stand up, struggling slightly.
“You okay?” Felina asked, and helped her get to her feet.
“It’s my leg,” Callie explained. “That thing grabbed me when we were still in the jet.”
“Let’s see if there’s anything else in the First-Aid kit to help out with that,” Felina said, and put Callie’s arm over her shoulders for support. The two shuffled over to get closer to the bag of items, but before they could make it, they both froze.
Their view of the dead creature had changed.
“Do you see what I see?” Felina asked.
“Uh-huh,” Callie said, frowning.
On the monster’s left foot was a tattooed barcode that neither of them could decipher, but what was next to it was unmistakable.
The Puma Dyne logo.
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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.