Callie could feel the warmth of the sun on her face, and she slowly opened her eyes to see it rising on the horizon. She awoke from dreamless sleep, and yawned briefly, trying her best to get the accumulated sand out of her hair.
Felina was already awake, gathering supplies into the duffel. She had discarded her flight jacket and was wearing her khaki cargo pants and boots, with a white tank top, over which she was now snapping into place some kind of tactical harness.
“Going to war?” Callie asked as she sat upright and stretched her arms.
“I did some more thinking about what you said last night,” Felina said, putting several of the rifle’s magazines into pouches on the harness.
“And?” Callie said as she stood up, wincing slightly. Her leg was in much better condition, but she wasn’t going to be running a marathon anytime soon.
“I think you’re right,” Felina said as she slung the M16 over her shoulder on a strap. “There’s something here, and I want to find it.”
Callie held up the triangular communicator. It was still showing which direction to go.
“Are you sure we should be doing that, and not trying to head in the direction of civilization?” Callie asked.
“It’d take us several days to even get close to the Panthera Range, and even if we did, those things are out there,” Felina said as she took out her Glock 17 and chambered a round, and then put it in her holster. “Besides, search and rescue won’t find us for days, if at all.”
“What about that emergency transmitter you said was in you bag of stuff?” Callie asked.
“It’s only got a range of a few hundred clicks,” Felina said. “We’re way outside of the area they’ll be looking in.”
Callie nodded, her own determination inspired by Felina’s.
“Well, good news is I can walk,” Callie said.
The two trudged across the sand, leaving a trail of footprints behind them that disappeared out of sight around a dune. It couldn’t be later than 9:00 AM, but the heat was already starting to feel intense. Callie wiped the sweat off of her brow with her forearm and took another sip of water from a canteen she unclipped from the waist of her pants. The lieutenant had packed a little bit of everything in that large duffel bag.
In front of her Felina was carrying substantially more gear in a rucksack, including the four and a half foot tube known as the SMAW strapped to her back. She carried the M16 in an at-ready position, and seemed to be faring much better in the heat than Callie was.
“Where’s that thing say to go now?” Felina asked over her shoulder.
Callie took a minute to look at the communicator, holding her free hand up to try to block the glare from the sun.
“It says to keep going in this direction,” Callie said.
The two marched ahead, making their way up a moderately sized sand dune, and stopped as they reached the top.
“Well, that’s different,” Felina said, looking down.
In a small valley between two dunes was a meshed, web canopy, the same color and texture of sand. It would’ve been next to impossible to have spotted from the air.
“That’s the direction this thing says to go in,” Callie said, holding up the communicator.
“Let’s take a look,” Felina said as she brought the M16 up and began to cautiously approach the canopy, sliding down the side of the dune.
Callie followed along, a little less gracefully as the two reached its edge. The canopy was about 100 feet in length, each direction, suspended ten feet in the air by ridged poles that ran from the four corners, leaving the space within open and uninterrupted.
It was important to note that, because in the center was something very out of place: a black jet with all of the unmistakable markings of the SWAT Kats. It was the Turbokat.
“It’s them!” Callie nearly screamed, and began to hurry forward, entering the shade of the canopy, with Felina following more cautiously behind.
“T-Bone! Razor!” Callied called out, reaching the Turbokat. Its canopy was slid back in the open position. She quickly noticed the bomb bay doors were also open underneath, and she peered down to take a closer look.
“Lieutenant, do you think you could give me a hand and-,” Callie began, but stopped as she realized Felina was pointing the barrel of the M16 in her direction. Before Callie could say another word, several loud pops of gunfire rang out.
The motionless body of another pale white creature fell down from above, landing at Callie’s feet, nearly colliding with her. It had been out of sight atop the Turbokat’s wing.
“Get back!” Felina ordered, and fired again, this time at another monster that was peering from around the rear landing gear.
Callie scrambled away from the jet, getting behind Felina. The creature she shot was hit, though apparently not fatally, and shuffled across the sand, diving into it and disappearing from sight.
“Wait here,” Felina said and ran forward, chasing after it, aiming the rifle down at the ground, and then sighed with frustration. “Great…”
“What is it?” Callie asked.
“I think I found our secret proving grounds. And, something else,” Felina said, and gestured for Callie to come take a look.
Callie walked over and stood next to Felina. Leading into the side of a dune, previously obscured from view, was a tunnel, reminiscent of a mine shaft, six feet by six feet. Sporadic drippings of black blood, what Callie assumed was the retreating creature’s, lead inside. But, that wasn’t the only thing. Near the entrance of the tunnel, discarded on the ground, was something Callie had seen worn by the SWAT Kats on many an occasion.
“That’s a Glovatrix,” Callie said, and reached down to pick it up.
It was heavier than it looked, a mesh gauntlet with a rectangular box attached to the top, with three forward facing barrels over where the fingers came out.
“Heh,” Felina said.
Callie frowned and looked at her.
“I just got that,” Felina said. “Glove-of-tricks. That’s cute.”
“This is hardly the time for amusement,” Callie said.
“Yeah, sorry about that,” Felina said with a sigh, and turned her attention back to the ominous tunnel in front of them. “It was just a nice, momentary distraction from that.”
Callie looked toward the tunnel as well. Though no audible noises were coming from it, she could imagine it speaking to her.
Your friends are in here. Why don’t you come and join them?
“They’re here,” Callie said, convinced.
“I don’t doubt that,” Felina said. “What I doubt is whether or not they’re still alive.”
This was the first time Callie heard Felina mention that possibility out loud, and she wondered if the lieutenant had ever expected to find them alive at all.
“There’s nothing wrong with this thing as far as I can tell,” Felina said from above in the front seat of the Turbokat. “Aside from some sand in the cockpit.”
“No signs of attack?” Callie asked, still on the ground, looking up, every so often casting a glance back at the tunnel’s entrance. It had been almost an hour since the last creature they had seen retreated in there.
“Nothing,” Felina said. “I’m going to try something.”
After a moment the Turbokat’s engines whirred to life with a dull rumble, the sand on the ground vibrating in response. What Callie assumed were the stabilizers and flaps moved on their hinges. Just as soon the rumble stopped and the engine noise gradually winded down. Felina climbed out of the cockpit and dropped down to the ground.
“Well?” Callie asked, following Felina, who was now walking around and underneath the jet, running a hand along the fuselage, inspecting it.
“Fuel’s at half capacity, but other than that, no damage,” Felina said, pausing at the bomb bay doors, leaning under and looking inside. “And, their carousel looks like it’s full of ordinance.”
“What does that mean?” Callie asked.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean anything,” Felina said, emerging from the bomb bay. “But, I would bet the SWAT Kats arrived here not expecting a fight, and were ambushed once they exited the Turbokat.”
“Ambushed?” Callie asked, and took another look at the Glovatrix she held in her hands.
“It’s just a guess,” Felina said, and picked up the M16 from where she had leaned it against the front landing gear.
“I don’t mean to sound rude, but, can you fly it?” Callie asked.
“This thing?” Felina said, jabbing a thumb in the direction of the Turbokat. “Easily. The control system is almost identical to the ones we use in the Enforcers.”
“Well, I suppose that gives us options, then,” Callie said, and turned to look at the tunnel again. The sunlight, already obscured by the canopy, didn’t illuminate the interior farther than ten feet, and beyond that it was pitch black.
After everything she had been through the past few days, it was tempting to cut losses and retreat back to Megakat City. There had been so many close calls already. But, Callie knew that wasn’t really an option. Megakat City’s safety was in jeopardy without the SWAT Kats. This was something she knew for a fact. It would only be a matter of time until either the Metallikats, or Dark Kat, or some other threat came up again.
But, there’s a more important reason. And, it’s not love, despite what the lieutenant thinks. I need to know what happened to them, and even if there’s just a slim chance they’re still alive, I have to act on that. Commander Feral was right. They’re my responsibility.
Callie noticed that Felina was looking at her, a pensive expression on her face.
“You’re wondering if it’s right to ask me to go with you in there, aren’t you?” Felina asked.
“The thought had crossed my mind,” Callie admitted.
“Well, you don’t have to ask,” Felina said and reached behind into her rucksack and pulled out a small flashlight and tossed it at Callie.
Callie caught it.
“Thank you, lieutenant,” Callie said.
Felina had attached a light to her M16 and was slowly moving forward. Callie, sticking closely behind her, was shining her own flashlight to their left and right. Behind them the entrance was a circle of light that was gradually getting smaller. The tunnel, both of them had realized, was artificial, and after about 40 feet the floor transitioned from sand to metal plating, with occasional steel support beams in place to prevent a cave-in. There were several light fixtures that ran along the ceiling, but none of them were on.
“An underground testing facility,” Felina commented, and then paused, pointing her rifle and its light straight ahead. “Look there.”
Not knowing how to use it or if it even still worked, Callie had left the found Glovatrix behind, and now shined her flashlight in the same direction. A large door, more like one would find in the vault of a bank, was in front of them. It was ajar on its hinges, allowing for about a foot of clearance if entering from the side.
A control panel was mounted to the wall next to it, but it was scorched with black marks as if it had experienced an overload.
“That would certainly keep unwanted visitors out,” Callie said.
“Or something else in,” Felina said, her eyes narrowing as she approached the door and shined the light. A well worn sign was visible in patches of red and white.
DANGER. DO NOT ENTER.
In the lower right corner of the sign was the Puma Dyne logo.
“I think we’re on the right track,” Callie said as she reached into her pocket and took out the modified communicator. Its display was easier to see in the darkness, and it was signaling for the direction ahead.
“That’s one way to put it,” Felina said, and began making her way through the narrow opening. Callie followed along.
On the other side, Callie was surprised to see, was what looked like an office lobby. She shined her flashlight around and could make out a reception desk, waiting benches and a row of elevator doors.
A free standing sign with white letters on black read WELC ME TO SITE A. The “O” had apparently fallen off.
“Looks a little like HQ,” Felina said, shining the light around, and then approached the reception desk. “Let’s see if we can get some light in here.”
Felina flipped a series of switches, and a brief hum of electricity filled the room. The lights came on, several of them flickering, giving full view of the lobby. It was old, but not ancient, and most of the panels where computers, phones or other fixtures would have been were torn out, showing exposed wires.
But, Callie quickly realized, there was something else. Several stains on the ground, leading in a patchy trail towards the elevators and a now visible stairwell that was adjacent to them.
“Blood,” Felina said, walking over to the nearest stain. “A lot of it.”
Callie turned off her flash light and looked at the communicator. It was pointing in the direction of the stairs.
“Let me guess,” Felina said. “Down those stairs?”
Callie nodded, and Felina sighed.
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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.