The first hour passed without much conversation, as Callie pondered over Hackle’s description over their ultimate destination. What would the SWAT Kats be doing in such a place, she wondered. The outside world below had gradually changed from metropolitan, to rural, to the scorched emptiness of Megakat Desert: a large expanse far to the west of the city.
The Enforcer monitoring station, Callie knew, was in the Panthera Mountain Range that served as a natural divide to Megakat Desert and the region beyond where the Felidae Ergs awaited. She hoped the forest in those mountains wouldn’t upset her allergies too much. As she thought about it, the monitoring station seemed a bit peculiar, and Callie couldn’t put her finger on why.
“You know, I don’t recall seeing anything about monitoring stations being in the Enforcer’s budget proposal,” Callie said, breaking the silence.
“Probably because they aren’t technically the Enforcer’s,” Felina said. “They were built by Puma Dyne.”
“Puma Dyne?” Callie asked.
“Yeah. It’s a little arrangement we have. We run batteries to these things, and they let us tap into the data the stations collect,” Felina said. “It’s a pretty good deal. Extends our threat detection substantially.”
“Well, that’s awfully nice of them,” Callie said, but couldn’t help but wonder why. “And they have these things everywhere?”
“Not everywhere,” Felina said. “Mostly in a line along the Panthera Range.”
Callie frowned, wondering if it was only coincidence that Puma Dyne had these monitoring stations just outside of the Felidae Ergs where they were allegedly doing illegal weapons testing, if Hackle was to be believed. Why would there be a need for threat detection in such a remote area if they weren’t? What kind of threat were they supposed to detect?
Callie now regretted that she had been in such a hurry.
I should have tried to talk to someone at Puma Dyne first.
“So, do you know who they really are?” Felina asked.
“Who? Oh, the SWAT Kats,” Callie said. “No, I don’t”
“Really?” Felina asked. “I mean, you can tell me if you do.”
“No, I really don’t, lieutenant,” Callie said.
“Well, they sure seem to know you,” Felina said.
Callie couldn’t see Felina’s face from her position behind her, but imagined a wry grin was on her face.
“What are you insinuating?” Callie asked.
“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” Felina said. “They’re obviously crazy about you.”
Callie rolled her eyes.
“And, you’re obviously crazy about them,” Felina continued.
“My relationship with T-Bone and Razor is purely professional,” Callie said. “Well, as professional as a relationship between a city’s deputy mayor and a duo of masked vigilantes can be.”
“Uh-huh,” Felina said.
“Look, lieutenant, I don’t appreciate you taking amusement at this,” Callie said, growing irritated. “This is serious.”
“Yeah, it is,” Felina said. “So serious that you came in-person. You know, you could’ve handed that little device over to me and I could’ve gone by myself.”
“Maybe,” Callie said. “But I need to be present for this.”
Silence filled the cockpit as the two didn’t exchange words for some time.
“Just…” Felina said, breaking the silence, her tone more sympathetic. “Never mind.”
“What?” Callie pressed.
“Just don’t be disappointed,” Felina said. “In case you don’t like what we find.”
The two didn’t talk for the remainder of the flight, and as the hours passed, the scenery below changed from desert to forest as the mountains of the Panthera Range came into view. Large pine trees jutted into the sky, and in places, patches of white snow could be seen.
Felina banked the Sabre and pushed forward on the throttle, bringing them into a slow descent. The floor of the cockpit rumbled as the landing gear extended. Callie could see the small airstrip ahead. The forest had begun to encroach upon it along the edges, but it seemed like it still offered adequate landing space.
Felina brought the Sabre down, and it safely landed, the engines roaring as the thrust was reversed. Just like a commercial flight, Callie thought to herself.
“Well, we’re at the monitoring station,” Felina said, and began to taxi the jet around, bringing them to a stop just outside of a small concrete structure near the runway. It looked like some kind of old war bunker.
Felina flipped several switches off, and the jet’s engine came to a stop. The canopy opened, and Callie noted there wouldn’t be a ladder.
“How do we get out of this thing?” Callie asked as she unbuckled her restraints.
“Like this,” Felina said as she unbuckled, stood up and then put one leg and then a second over the edge of the cockpit and slid over, dropping down a good six feet and landing in a crouch. She stood and stretched, taking off her helmet.
“Smells like the woods,” Felina said, and set her helmet down on the ground. “You coming?”
Callie peered over the edge and sighed, awkwardly putting her legs over the side. She lost her grip and slid off, falling ungracefully and landing on her behind.
“Ouch!” she shouted in pain, slowly getting up.
“Anything broken?” Felina asked over her shoulder as she began walking to the building.
“Just my pride,” Callie said, rubbing her rear-end momentarily.
I guess this experience wouldn’t be complete if both ends of my body weren’t in pain.
Felina reached the large steel door to the bunker and slid a keycard through a reader. It chirped, and a small LED light glowed green.
Callie caught up to Felina just as she grabbed a handle with both hands and began to slide the large steel door open. The door groaned open along its guide tracks to reveal a mostly empty room with stacks of computer equipment inside. An empty palette mover was also within.
“It’s a closet,” Callie observed. “Doesn’t look very impressive.”
“Most of the sensors, dishes or whatever are out in the mountains. Lines run back to this place,” Felina said as she grabbed the palette mover’s handle and began to drag it outside. Its metal wheels ground loudly on the pavement.
“Do you need any help with that?” Callie asked, following along. Felina dragged the palette mover back to the parked Sabre and positioned it underneath.
“Nope,” Felina said, and then lifted a panel on the side of the Sabre’s fuselage, revealing a small set of controls. She pressed one of the buttons, and the bomb bay doors of the jet opened up, revealing the interior and its contents. Felina ducked down and then stood up, the upper half of her body inside the bomb bay.
Callie leaned down to watch as the lieutenant unsecured a large rectangular object that looked like a series of car batteries connected together, and lowered it down onto the awaiting palette mover. Callie noticed that aside from that cargo, there was another item stored in the bomb bay: a large, black duffel bag, with a bright orange ring of reflective tape wrapped around it.
“What’s in the bag?” Callie asked as Felina emerged and began dragging the loaded palette mover.
“Survival gear,” Felina said as she dragged. “Water, MREs, signal flares, transmitter, and my personal additions, a Colt M16A4 and lots of extra mags with plenty of five point five-six in it. Some detcord, and, maybe a SMAW.”
“Smaw?” Callie asked.
“Shoulder-launched multipurpose assault weapon,” Felina said. “A rocket launcher, in layman’s terms.”
“Is all of that standard issue equipment?” Callie asked as they reached the bunker’s entrance.
“Not exactly,” Felina said, pulling the palette mover inside. “But sometimes I’ve found that my Glock 17 isn’t enough if you’ve had to bail out over a hostile zone.”
“Wouldn’t all that stuff just get wrecked with the plane if you had to parachute out?” Callie asked.
“It’s tethered to a jettisoning panel. If the pilot or co-pilot ejects, it triggers all ejection systems. That bag would be waiting for me near wherever I’d land,” Felina said as she slid the battery pack off the palette mover and into position next to an identical looking one.
Callie stood back to let Felina do her work, and looked at several of the computer screens. They were displaying several series of numbers that were constantly changing.
“Any idea what any of this means?” Callie asked.
“Not a clue,” Felina said as she disconnected a thick plugged wire from the old battery pack and connected it to the new one. “There, job’s done.”
“Don’t you need to put the old one on the plane?” Callie asked.
“Later, on our return trip,” Felina said. “Now, it’s time to refuel-”
A high pitched screech interrupted Felina, distantly outside the bunker’s entrance, echoing from the nearby forest. Callie’s heart stopped, her blood chilling, feeling goosebumps on the back of her neck. It was the same noise that had been coming from her communicator.
“What was that?” Felina asked, and reached down with her right hand and unclasped the thigh holster that held the aforementioned Glock 17 at her side with her gloved thumb.
Before Callie could say anything, the bunker’s computers whirred loudly, and the displays started to flash red, the numbers that had been changing froze in place.
“We need to get out of here,” Callie said, almost frantically.
“We’re not leaving without a refuel,” Felina said, frowning at the computers. “C’mon, maybe I’ll need your help after all.”
Callie strained to drag the fuel line as fast as she could. It was the size of a fire hose and just as heavy. Felina was kneeling on the airstrip, reaching down and swiping her keycard again. Apparently, the fuel tanks were underground.
“Drag that end and drop it near the Sabre,” Felina said, and cursed. “This stupid card reader isn’t working.”
Callie dropped her end of the line near the Sabre, and upon hearing Felina’s lament, she reached into her pocket and pulled out the plastic wrapper from the sandwich she had eaten earlier.
“Here, let me try,” Callie said as she dashed back to Felina.
Felina quirked an eyebrow as Callie took the keycard from her and put it inside the plastic, and then kneeled down to swipe it through the card reader. It chirped and and a green LED lit up.
“Nice trick,” Felina said, and then connected the other end of the fuel line to the tank.
The screech in the distance sounded again, only this time it sounded closer.
“Okay, you get back in the jet while I run this,” Felina said as she dashed back to the Sabre, quickly connecting the fuel line to a port underneath the jet’s wing. Callie didn’t have to be told twice as she ran for the cockpit, but soon realized a dilemma. There was no ladder to climb up this time.
“Uh, lieutenant, how do we get back in this thing?” Callie asked, looking up. The screech repeated, and Callie turned to look toward the forest. Along a slope filled with trees and foliage, rustling could be seen not more than 300 yards away.
Callie gasped and pointed. Felina turned to look over her shoulder, seeing it too. She disconnected the fuel line and shoved it away.
“No time for a full tank,” Felina said and hurried over to Callie, grabbing her by the waist and hoisting her upward. Callie blinked at the ease with which she was lifted, but didn’t hesitate to reach up and grab the edge of the cockpit, pulling herself upward as Felina pushed her feet from underneath.
The screech echoed, and Callie tumbled into the rear seat. Before she could turn to ask the lieutenant how she was going to get in, Callie saw her pulling herself up into the front seat on her own, helmet already on.
“You’re going to have to strap yourself in, Deputy Mayor,” Felina said as she started flipping switches. The engine of the Sabre hummed to life and the canopy started to close. Callie did so, the buckles clicking in to place. Outside, she could see the rustling continuing, less than a football field’s length away. The hum of the engine turned into a dull roar as Felina began to taxi away from the bunker’s entrance, moving them down the airstrip. Once at the edge, the jet slowly turned 180 degrees, in takeoff position.
The foliage was no longer rustling, as the source of its movement began to come into view.
“What…what are those?” Callie asked, putting a hand to her mouth.
Emerging from the woods were people. Dozens of them. But they were naked and featureless, without a single hair on their bodies, their flesh a sickening white color, slicked in some kind of film that made them glisten in the late afternoon sun. Most disturbing, Callie noticed, was that where there should have been noses, eyes and ears, was nothing. Absolutely nothing, except for lipless mouths filled with jagged, triangular teeth.
They were moving forward in rough unison, walking in a jerking gate, arms outstretched, moving toward the Sabre that faced them. The one in the lead let out the familiar screech.
“Can we still take off?” Callie asked.
Felina didn’t respond, her gaze focused on the approaching creatures.
“Lieutenant!” Callie shouted.
“Right,” Felina said, snapping back to attention. She pushed forward on the throttle, and the jet began to race forward. Callie leaned back in her seat, this takeoff not as abrupt as the catapult launched one.
The Sabre quickly made it down the runway, and right when Callie thought they would collide with the creatures, the nose pulled up and they rose above them. A tearing sound reminiscent of nails on a chalkboard could be heard from underneath as they passed over.
“We must’ve been close enough for one of those things to scratch the fuselage,” Felina said, pressing a series of buttons. Callie felt the floor rumbled slightly as the landing gear was retracted.
“That screech they made,” Callie said, thinking out loud. “So it wasn’t interference.”
“What are you talking about?” Felina asked over her shoulder.
“The noises those things made,” Callie continued. “They’re the same noises I heard on my communicator.”
“Well, thanks for not sharing that with me sooner,” Felina said, turning her attention forward. Callie noticed they were banking to the right, heading back in the direction they came.
“What are you doing?” Callie asked.
“I’m taking us back to Megakat City,” Felina said.
Callie held up her communicator and looked at it. The destination icon was still blinking, reading 500 miles away from their current position.
“But…” Callie started.
“Look, Ms. Briggs, I was under the impression that this would be a quick flyover to find a couple of fighter pilots sitting around on vacation, or at worst, out of gas and in need of a pick up,” Felina said. “But those things, whatever they are, have made me think that there’s something you aren’t telling me.”
Callie sighed, feeling guilty for not being more forward.
“The Felidae Ergs might, and I stress might, be where a secret Puma Dyne proving ground was located,” Callie said.
“Proving ground?” Felina asked. “Like weapons testing?”
“That’s the theory,” Callie said. “Look, lieutenant, I’m sorry for not mentioning that earlier. Things were just moving so fast, and, well, you’re…”
“I’m what?” Felina asked.
“…Not that easy to talk to, to be honest,” Callie said, and folded her arms, looking out the canopy.
Felina didn’t say anything for several minutes, and then the jet abruptly banked, coming about.
“We have just enough fuel to make a pass over the destination site and then make it to Megakat Springs before we fall out of the sky,” Felina said.
Callie wasn’t sure what it was about the lieutenant’s words, but she thought that maybe just a hint of vulnerability had crept through. I wonder what nerve I hit, Callie thought, but decided not to press.
“Thank you,” Callie said.
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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.