“The Megakat Workers Union won’t stand for any notions of salary or benefit cuts!” a loud voice resonated in front of city hall. It came from a middle-aged, working class looking guy wearing a hard hat, his words amplified by the bullhorn he spoke into.
Felina was walking down the sidewalk on Main Street, watching her step as several sleeping bags, tents and other impromptu campsites filled the path. The protesters had grown in number, several standing in random groups holding signs. One in particular had a caricature of Mayor Manx drawn on it, with the words “cut his salary” scribbled in bright red letters.
Felina smirked, appreciating the likeness as she continued on her way, heading in the direction of the bullhorn, occasionally brushing shoulders. She noted there had to be at least 500 individuals gathered just outside of City Hall. Several Enforcer police officers were on the scene, standing at various intervals, looking more bored than concerned. The crowd was loud, but they hadn’t been violent thus far. The officers didn’t notice Felina as she walked past them, heading up the steps to the main entrance of the building.
She wasn’t surprised they didn’t recognize her, as she was wearing a hooded sweater and well-worn denim jeans, along with a pair of white sneakers. The hood was pulled up and her hands were in the pockets of the sweater. The weather was warmer than it had been the previous day, but there was still a chill in the air.
“We’re here to let this administration know that they can’t just ignore us anymore!” the bullhorn declared.
“We should strike!” someone in the crowd shouted out.
“Recall the mayor!” another voice said.
Felina managed to get around the crowd and push her way into the revolving door that led into the lobby. She imagined at one point it must have looked rather decorative, but today it looked like a shadow of what it once was. A large mural depicting the history of the city dominated the far wall. Settlers from the era of Jonas Spangle were illustrated on one end, leading up through Megawar II. Its colors were faded, and the work was in need of a refinishing.
Kind of like the city as a whole.
A metal detector and guard stood between her and her destination: the elevators. Having made this trip several times now she was familiar with the procedure, and produced the form of ID that put her on the fast track.
“Officer Feral here to see the Deputy Mayor,” Felina said, holding up her badge.
“You again,” the security guard said distractedly, glancing down at a clipboard with a list of names. “Alright, metal items on the tray, then head on through.”
Felina placed her badge, phone and keys on the tray, and successfully went through the metal detector, collecting her items on the other side. With that done, she approached the elevator, pressed the button and waited.
The wait wasn’t long, as the conveyance dinged and the doors slid open. As she prepared to step inside she stopped in her tracks. A lone occupant disembarked, standing at six and a half feet tall, wearing a grey overcoat with blue highlights and patterned epaulettes on the shoulders. The knot of a black tie was just visible under his collar.
It was Commander Ulysses Feral. Her uncle. The man who had not spoken to her in over half-a-year.
Felina froze, a look of surprise on her face. For a moment, their eyes met, and she was tempted to say something, but didn’t. Ulysses Feral’s face was saying everything loud and clear.
His eyes turned forward and he strode out of the elevator car, walking past Felina. She frowned, and boarded the elevator before the doors closed.
“What happened to your face?” Callie asked, her voice filled with shock as she rose from her seat. The top of the Deputy Mayor’s desk resembled a fort with walls made from stacks of papers.
“Trust me, it’s a lot better now,” Felina said as she completed entering.
With the rows of filing cabinets, walls covered in maps and whiteboards, and bundles of hard copies filling various in and out boxes, Felina imagined the office of Callie Briggs to be the politician’s version of a war room.
“You didn’t, uh…” Callie asked, hesitating in her question.
“Start another fight at Shenanigan’s?” Felina asked. “No, I got this shiner on the job.”
“Oh,” Callie said. “Well, excuse the mess. I know you might not believe it, but it’s a lot more organized now thanks to Erin.”
“Erin?” Felina asked, and then recalled Callie’s words from yesterday. “Oh yeah, the intern slave.”
“She’s out at the moment running a few errands for me,” Callie said. “Maybe you’ll get a chance to meet her next time you stop by.”
Felina shrugged and walked over to the office’s window.
“Are you okay?” Callie asked.
Felina didn’t answer immediately as she peeked through the window. She could see the crowd of protesters below had grown in size, and despite being on the 65th floor, she could still faintly hear shouts and chants.
“I could ask you the same thing,” Felina said. “My black eye is visible, but I get the feeling yours isn’t.”
Callie sighed and joined Felina at the window, taking in the scene as well.
“This administration has survived terrorist attacks, giant monsters, super criminals, natural disasters, and tax hikes,” Callie said. “But in all of those circumstances we had the support of the people. Now, with this budget crisis, the failing economy, levels of unemployment at 17% and rising…”
Felina nodded, letting Callie continue.
“It hasn’t been this bad since I first became Deputy Mayor,” Callie admitted. “In fact, it may even be worse.”
“Does my uncle have something to do with that?” Felina asked.
“I suppose you saw him on the way here,” Callie guessed. “And, to answer your question… it’s complicated.”
“He’s still not letting you off the hook for rescuing the SWAT Kats, is he?” Felina asked.
“You may not know this, but Ulysses Feral is very good at playing politics,” Callie said with a small smirk. “That whole deal for providing the Enforcers with emergency funding cost me all the capital I had left.”
“So that he wouldn’t cause you and the Mayor’s Office problems for your little adventure with me?” Felina surmised.
“You’re catching on,” Callie said. “I can’t really hold it against him. It’s all in the game, as they say.”
“A game with rules that people make up as they go,” Felina muttered.
“Sometimes it’s better to be ignorant about how things really work in this city,” Callie said. “People enjoy hotdogs, but they don’t want to see how they’re made.”
“Not sure it’s the same thing,” Felina said. “Someone doesn’t lose their job because they learned how a hotdog was made.”
“I’m trying my hardest, Felina,” Callie said. “You can’t change the system from the outside. Others on the council would’ve given Commander Feral carte blanche at every opportunity, and this city would be in even worse economic shape. Don’t get me wrong, the Enforcers are important, but what’s the point of having a military defense force if there’s nothing left to defend?”
“Well, they don’t seem to be very appreciative at the moment,” Felina observed, gesturing with her thumb to the union boss below who was still speaking through a bullhorn.
“Oh, is Ross O’Reilly at it again?” Callie asked with a chuckle. “MK Union was a big supporter of ours during the last election, but they understandably don’t like the furloughs. What’s scary is they have enough members to put a serious dent in a petition to get a recall election started.”
“Why not just stop the furloughs?” Felina asked.
“Well, if you happen to have an extra $100 billion lying around maybe you could help with that,” Callie said with a smile.
“I’ll check under my sofa cushions,” Felina replied in kind, and then another thought came to mind. “If that happens, couldn’t you, you know, run yourself? For mayor, I mean.”
Callie Briggs smirked again, and Felina could tell she was impressed.
“Yes, I could,” Callie said as she turned away and walked over to her desk, retrieving her handbag.
“Well, are you?” Felina asked, following along.
“No,” Callie said. “As cynical as this business is, and despite my growing disagreements with the Mayor, I’ve always prided myself and others by one thing: loyalty.”
“Even if that loyalty pulls you into Manx’s metaphorical grave alongside him?” Felina asked.
“That won’t happen,” Callie said confidently. “Now, aren’t you and I supposed to get some lunch?”
“Yeah, I know a place,” Felina said.
“It’s a good burger,” Callie said in-between chews from the driver-side seat of her car. “But I’m not sure it was worth the drive.”
Felina was sitting in the passenger seat of Callie’s green sedan, sipping on a vanilla milkshake. The car was parked in a dirt lot adjacent to Rob’s Burger Shack. It was truth in advertising, as the building was barely large enough to house two workers. Aside from an outdoor picnic table, it offered no accommodations for guests. A large billboard stood next to the shack, with large words in bold lettering declaring LAST FOOD / GAS UNTIL MEGAKAT SPRINGS. They were the only patrons at the moment, and Felina imagined that the place was a lot busier in the summertime.
“It might not be,” Felina replied. “But we won’t know for sure until we go there.”
“Hmm?” Callie asked, sipping on her soda.
Rob’s Burger Shack was on the side of Highway 50, a two-lane road that served as a less used route to get to Megakat Springs ever since the completion of the freeway system several decades ago. It was a lonely road with little traffic.
But, ahead five miles was a place that Felina knew Callie was familiar with. Just barely within the confines of the city limits, was the Megakat City Salvage Yard.
“I shared a meal with them during my lunch break last night,” Felina said.
Callie stopped sipping.
“You’re right, it was weird watching them pretend to be someone else,” Felina said.
“I’m not scheduled for a tune-up or oil change for another two months…” Callie said.
“They seemed to know a lot about me,” Felina said, giving Callie a sidelong glance.
Callie smiled, knowing she had been caught, and held up her hands in a gesture of surrender.
“I may have asked them to stop by and see how you were doing,” Callie said. “Even if we didn’t know they were the SWAT Kats, Chance and Jake would still understand what you’ve been going through. I just thought that maybe if you had someone to talk to it’d…”
“It’d what?” Felina asked. “Cheer me up?”
“Maybe,” Callie said. “Or, maybe just let you know that you’re not alone.”
“Well, I appreciate the sentiment, but I don’t need cheering up,” Felina said, and sipped her milkshake again. It slurped loudly.
“Why do you think we should pay them a visit?” Callie asked. “Does it have to do with that black eye you’ve got?”
Felina frowned, and didn’t answer.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Callie said as she turned her key in the ignition, causing the car’s engine to rumble to life.
The sedan sped down Highway 50 doing about 65 miles per hour. Felina noted Callie was doing ten over the speed limit.
“I hope a traffic officer doesn’t catch me speeding,” Callie remarked humorously.
“I left my ticket-book at the office,” Felina replied.
On either side of the highway was a growing emptiness, the beginnings of Megakat Desert, sparsely populated by sagebrush and the occasional cactus. The cold of January and the lack of snow made everything look dead. In the rear-view mirror the skyline of the city could be seen growing smaller.
On the horizon, several shapes started to come into view. Felina could see, spread out over a hundred acres, contained behind a chain-link fence with razor-wire wound across the top, the remains of airplanes, parked in the desert. They were in various states of being gutted for parts. Felina recognized a Boeing 727 with the upper-half of its fuselage cut off, the bodies of C-130s missing their wings, a small squadron of Enforcer Sabres with their nose cones cut off and their engines removed. Several aircraft power-plants were stacked on pallets and lined up. Everything looked old and beaten by time.
It was the bone yard, where airplanes went to die.
“This place always has such a surreal quality to it,” Callie said.
The fence ran parallel to the highway, and as they progressed the type of scrap began to transition to vehicles, with large multistory stacks of crushed cars in rows that went on for hundreds of feet.
“A little known fact is that a section of this place is also leased to the city by the Enforcers to act as a traditional salvage yard, seeing as there was ample real-estate,” Callie said.
“Isn’t that like the city leasing to itself?” Felina asked.
“Well, it’s not technically a lease in the traditional sense…” Callie began, but stopped short as she slowed the sedan and made a left turn, passing through an open sliding gate.
Felina followed Callie’s gaze and saw what it was that had distracted her. Chance and Jake’s garage, the only real building on the property. It normally fit the worn down aesthetic of the salvage yard, but even by those standards it looked amiss.
Felina had only seen it once prior, but it was enough to know that something was wrong. Several windows looked broken and boarded up. Large cracks in the walls went from ground to roof. Most noticeable of all, the large, rectangular sign that greeted visitors with a “mechanic on duty” announcement was toppled over. Several crushed cars were lying about nearby, as if they’d been in a stack that had toppled over.
“What happened here-” Callie began, and then slammed the brakes.
Felina was unprepared for the abrupt stop, and what was left of her milkshake went flying out of her hand and onto the car’s dashboard.
“Crud, sorry about that,” Felina started to apologize, and then saw what had caused Callie to brake.
Just in front of them was a massive hole in the ground. Callie had stopped just short of driving into it.
Felina unbuckled her seat belt and opened the door, stepping outside, feeling the cool of the January air on her nose and ears. She walked towards the hole, her sneakers making gravely footsteps on the dirt path. Callie had exited the vehicle as well, and followed alongside Felina.
“That’s a big hole,” Felina said with a whistle, and turned to glance at Callie.
The Deputy Mayor’s face looked white with concern.
“Oh no, you don’t think they’re…” Callie apparently couldn’t finish her sentence.
Before Felina could reply the sound of a sectional door opening interrupted them. Felina saw Callie’s composure instantly change as soon as she saw the two mechanics wearing overalls and baseball caps exit the garage.
“Thank goodness,” Callie said and walked up to meet them, leaving Felina standing at the edge of the hole.
“Callie!” Chance Furlong said, the surprise apparent in his voice. “We didn’t know you were coming here.”
“Yeah, your tune-up isn’t for another four weeks,” Jake Clawson said. “The place is a bit of a mess at the moment.”
“No kidding,” Callie said. “What happened here?”
“Uh,” Jake said, rubbing the back of his head.
“Would you believe it was a sinkhole?” Chance asked, a hopeful look on his face.
Felina audibly scoffed.
“I’ve seen enough target remains at the range to know an impact zone when I see it,” Felina said as she turned away from the hole and approached the other three.
There’s no way out of this one, guys. Your secret’s up.
Chance and Jake exchanged a glance. They were no doubt having another wordless conversation.
“Burke and Murray bought that excuse,” Jake muttered with a shrug, breaking the silence. Chance rolled his eyes as his attention focused on Felina.
“Who did that to your face?” Chance asked, his tone more serious.
“I’m willing to bet it’s the same person responsible for redecorating your place,” Felina said as she held up the envelope that Turmoil had left in her apartment. “So, let’s end the B.S., T-Bone.”
His eyes narrowed, and any pretenses of subterfuge evaporated. Though he wasn’t wearing the mask, Felina could tell that it was no longer Chance Furlong standing in front of her. It was the SWAT Kat: T-Bone.
“Alright, but we can’t talk out here,” he 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.