On average it would take one nearly an hour to reach the reclusive Bayside Properties from City Hall. Callie had managed to drive there in half that time. Speeding tickets were not a concern at the moment, her entire focus on the disturbing noises she had heard.
Who was that? What was that? Where are T-Bone and Razor? Are they hurt? Are they…dead?
Callie’s throat tightened at the last thought, and she pushed her foot down on the accelerator harder. Her sedan kicked up some of the loose gravel, as she rounded a corner, the distant remnants of a sunset still casting fiery glows on the horizon. The road to the Bayside Properties was a narrow two lanes, with Jeffrey pine on a steep incline to the right and the serene waters of Megakat Bay to the left. To call it scenic would be an understatement.
Callie slowed to make a turn onto a barely noticeable private road that led to a beach-front property. An otherwise ominous looking gate was in the open position, revealing the rear side of a modern looking home’s back yard.
Or maybe it’s more of a courtyard, Callie thought, as she pulled within and parked just outside an open garage door. As Callie exited her sedan, communicator in hand, a lone individual emerged from the garage. With his unimposing demeanor and a cane-propped posture affected by age, not many would suspect Professor Hackle of having been one of Puma Dyne’s leading weapons designers. Then again, Callie thought, neither would Hackle, if his reasons for retiring were to be believed.
Callie had never fully reconciled how the accidental creator of the Metallikats could not have known that his inventions were being weaponized. But, there were few people she could turn to at the moment, and Hackle, she determined, was her best bet.
“Good evening Deputy Mayor, though like yourself I wonder how ‘good’ it really is,” Hackle said with a resigned sigh. “Your friends at the Enforcers already stopped by a short while ago.”
“I’m not here to talk to you about the Metallikats,” Callie said, resisting the urge to berate Hackle. “I have another problem that could use your expertise.”
“I see,” Hackle said, and motioned with his cane. “Step into my lab.”
Callie followed Hackle into the garage, and upon entering, noticed the word lab hardly did it justice. Various types of computer equipment, large wall-mounted monitors, test tubes, stainless steel tables, and shelves upon shelves of mechanical parts lined the interior. It would be the perfect set to any movie featuring a mad scientist.
On one of the monitors the MBC Evening News was playing, and Hackle turned the volume down.
“What can I help you with, Deputy Mayor Briggs?” Hackle asked.
“I have a certain…device,” Callie began, as she held up the now quiet communicator. “It lets me secretly contact certain friends.”
Hackle reached forward and took the communicator from Callie with his free hand, and held it close to his spectacled eyes, examining closely.
“The problem is, it hasn’t been working, I think,” Callie tried to explain. “It’s been making strange noises every so often.”
“I think you and I share the same friends,” Hackle said as he set Callie’s communicator down on the nearest table.
“Are you sure?” Callie asked, and then blinked as Hackle reached into his lab coat pocket and withdrew an identical triangular communicator, and set it down next to hers.
“Occasionally the SWAT Kats ask for my technological expertise with certain problems,” Hackle explained. “It’s the least I can do for them.”
“Great, that means I can get ahold of those two,” Callie said, and reached for Hackle’s communicator.
“That won’t help, I’m afraid,” Hackle said. “I attempted to contact them days ago, but to no avail.”
Callie frowned, her fears now cementing. She now knew her communicator wasn’t malfunctioning.
“Then, that means…” Callie began, her voice unsteady.
“It doesn’t have to mean anything,” Hackle said, attempting to be reassuring.
He walked over to a monitor with several complicated looking graphs and numbers running across. Hackle tapped a few commands into a control panel, and the image switched to a minimalistic map with a marker that Callie recognized was showing their current position at the Bayside Properties.
“When I first started noticing the audio anomalies coming from my communicator, I too thought it must have been malfunctioning,” Hackle explained. “After using my diagnostic equipment, I quickly determined it was in perfect working order.”
“So, after several failures to establish contact with the SWAT Kats, I decided to try something a little more proactive,” Hackle continued. “Though, I did so with great hesitation.”
“You traced their communication signal?” Callie asked. “Razor said that it was encrypted and bounced through several relays, or something. It sounded really complicated.”
“It was complicated,” Hackle said. “But, not impossible for someone like myself.”
Hackle tapped in another command, and the map changed in scale, expanding to show a greater distance. Callie watched as it kept expanding, going beyond the limits of Megakat City, until it stopped at what must have been a thousand miles west. A second marker appeared, blinking.
“That’s where they are?” Callie asked.
“That is where the signal that our communicators have been receiving is coming from,” Hackle confirmed, and pointed at the map. Callie frowned, not recognizing the location.
“This is in the middle of the Felidae Ergs,” Hackle said. “It’s an empty desert, with no population centers for hundreds of miles.”
“What would they be doing out there?” Callie asked.
“I cannot say for certain,” Hackle said. “But, that area was used for weapons testing in the past.”
“Weapons testing?” Callie asked. “Like military bombs and stuff?”
“Yes,” Hackle said, and paused before continuing. “Among other things.”
Callie tensed, her authority as Deputy Mayor taking over as she walked up to Hackle, patience running thin.
“I’d appreciate it if you would please be frank with me, Professor,” Callie said, her tone serious. “Someone is dead because the SWAT Kats were prevented from being here. I’m confident of that now. I don’t have time to take part in riddles.”
“I’m sorry,” he apologized. “It’s just that this topic brings back a lot of unpleasant memories of my days at Puma Dyne. You see, the Felidae Ergs were where a number of our inventions were tested. It wasn’t just a proving ground. It was a secret proving ground. The kind of place you do things that you don’t want anyone to know about.”
“Illegal things?” Callie pressed.
“…Yes,” Hackle confessed. “But, I cannot prove it. My involvement was limited only to the projects I partook in, which were enough to convince me to retire.”
“It’s too bad you couldn’t have decided to do that sooner,” Callie said, a bit more harshly than she had intended. Hackle said nothing, and Callie’s expression softened. Her head was starting to hurt again, and she reached into her pocket to withdraw the bottle of medication and took two of the pills dry.
“It’s my turn to apologize,” Callie said after a moment. “Even if the SWAT Kats weren’t missing, things still wouldn’t quite be okay.”
“Perhaps I can provide something to help you,” Hackle said as he turned back to the metal table and attached a small tablet computer to the back of Callie’s triangular communicator. After a few moments it came to life, showing a simplistic map display.
“This attachment reads the signal and decrypts it, translating it into directions,” Hackle explained, and held it to Callie.
“It’s not exactly like the GPS in my sedan,” Callie said as she looked it over, quickly determining how it worked. “But I guess it could work.”
“I was tempted to provide the Enforcers with this, but I didn’t know if that would have been the right thing to do,” Hackle said.
“No, you did the right thing by giving this to me,” Callie said quickly, and pocketed the now slightly larger communicator. “And, I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t tell anyone about this, at least not yet.”
With no SWAT Kats appearing to stop the Metallikats, and the media’s piqued interest, Callie didn’t want to proclaim the SWAT Kats missing in action. Megakat City had too many enemies who would already be licking their chops at the speculative news without the mayor’s office, or worse the Enforcers, making it official.
“If there’s anything else I can do,” Hackle began, and Callie waved her hand.
“No, not for this,” Callie said, her attention drifting back to the MBC News that was muted on the screen. File footage of the Metallikats was being shown. “But, I’d appreciate it if you could aid the Enforcers with them.”
“My efforts are already underway,” Hackle said, and then another thought occurred to him. “You’re not planning on venturing all the way out to the desert on your own, are you?”
Callie didn’t answer immediately, as she was contemplating that very idea. She knew that she couldn’t approach Commander Feral with this information. He would no doubt dispatch every resource at his disposal if he knew exactly where he could find the SWAT Kats. But, once he found them, Callie knew that Feral would have them arrested. He might even discover who they really were. This thought concerned Callie, as she knew there were probably good reasons why T-Bone and Razor wore masks.
No, I can’t go to Commander Feral, at least not yet. I have to try every other option first. But, I can’t do this alone. Who can I turn to?
The news footage on the screen transitioned to the high speed chase Callie had been unconsciously a part of. It was shot from a helicopter’s view, and it was currently zoomed in on the driver of the squad car who had rescued her. Lt. Felina Feral.
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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.