THE TINY BACTERIA – Part Two
C. L. Furlong
January 17, 2003
March 5, 2003
March 5, 2003
PG13 (some violence and gore)
Enhanced by genetic engineering, a pestilence with no parallel throughout katkind history is unleashed by one kat, and all will perish unless a cure is found… quickly!
SWAT Kats and anything related to the series is the property of Hanna-Barbera. No infringement is intended and no profit is gained with this fiction.
Second and final part of this story. Tired of Biology? Well, in this part you won't really get a rest, save due to its end, which somewhat resembles "Razor's Edge". Well, I really didn't have any idea how this story would develop. I just had the main concept and then threw in a few things that felt right when I wrote it. I think it all turned out quite satisfactory in the end. I hope you SK fans out there enjoy it.
My upfront apologies to KS Claw… I just *know* she won't approve what I did with our poor Viper…
My deepest gratitude once more to Helion, for his comments on this and many other of my works. They *were* precious, even though you might disagree here. BTW, perhaps *now* I can devote more time to that project (you know what I'm talking).
And, last but not least, thanks to all the anonymous readers and to those who had reviewed my previous fictions.
"I'm letting you help me... as a living test tube for my new bacteria strain!"
Dr. Viper in "The Giant Bacteria"
THE TINY BACTERIA – PART TWO
Jake woke up when the bedroom was illuminated by a great luminosity. He reluctantly opened his eyes and saw as a bright light filled the entire room. Turning his head towards the window, he saw that the luminosity was coming from outside. The strong light was almost blinding him. The strong coughing made the slim kat notice a dark form coming towards him, limping just a bit.
"Rise and shine, Sleeping Beauty!" - Chance's hoarse voice echoed in his ears. Jake yawned and stretched, sitting up on the bed. He felt a shiver running through his body.
"What time is it?" - the slim kat asked as he rubbed his still sleepy eyes.
"10 a.m.." - Chance informed as he sat on Jake's bed, by the slim kat's feet. Jake opened up his eyes suddenly, startled with Chance's info. Chance placed a paw on Jake's feet. - "Of a beautiful Saturday morning. The garage is closed." - Chance completed before coughing once more.
Jake powered down. With all of last night's excitement at the water tower, he had forgotten today was Saturday. He looked to the tabby. - " You gave me one heck of a headache last night! Couldn't you have blacked out up here?"
Chance blushed and looked down to his feet. - "I'm sorry... I don't know what happened..."
"But *I* know!" - Jake retorted - "You couldn't take the pain anymore. You've been trying to ignore it since we came out of that water tower. You were hiding your injuries from me and when you couldn't contain the pain anymore, you passed out."
Chance kept his eyes boring holes on the ground. He suppressed another cough. Jake embraced his own knees and rested his chin over his crossed arms.
"You were keeping your injuries from me... like you did with that bullet that almost *killed* you..." - Jake shook his head in a negative - "I can't see why can't you trust me on that. We're a team, for crying out loud. We're more than a team, we're friends, pals, buds!"
"Brothers..." - Chance thought.
"Why won't you let me help you?" - Jake continued - "Why do you always have to come with this stupid macho attitude to me? You know darn well I'm more macho than you'll ever be!" - Jake smiled as he uttered the last sentence.
"Oh, that's just what you wished!" - Chance said, smiling, after what he had to cough, unable to hold it any longer.
"That's the truth, you just don't want to see it." - Jake said as he gave Chance's back a friendly slap that made the tabby wince. - "Oops! Sorry, bud! How are you holdin' up?"
"I see I gave you more trouble than just carrying me from the hangar to my bed!" - Chance grinned, showing his bandaged paws and left foot. - "Not to mention that you had me all greased up as though I were in some bodybuilding contest!"
"You needed attention!" - Jake retorted.
"I know..." - Chance said, with a thankful look in his features - "I know, buddy... And I'm very grateful to you, Jake... I know I promised you I wouldn't hold back when I got injured... Fact is, I don't really know why I do that... Seems like I'm trying to prove something to me... I dunno..." - Chance laid a paw on Jake's arm - "But I *do* want you to know that I'm really thankful for you having taken care of me... Thanks for being here for me, Jake... Buddy..."
"Anytime, buddy..." - Jake responded as he patted Chance's paw on his arm - "Count on that..."
Both toms smiled to each other, mutually reassuring themselves. Chance took off his paw from Jake's arm and coughed again.
"So, how are *you* holdin' up?" - Chance asked.
"Well, so far so good but I think the fever has returned... I'm having chills all over my torso..." - the slim kat responded as he placed his palm over his forehead. It seemed a bit warm to Jake.
"That forced bath you took yesterday must be taking its toll on your cold... You weren't yet fully restored..." - Chance had to stop to cough again.
"Why are you coughing so much this morning? You barely cough at all!" - Jake wondered - "Are you okay?"
"I dunno. I guess your cold passed on to me… But don't worry! You know I don't fall for a simple cold." - Chance gave Jake his trademark grin when he finished - "As for you, you'd better stay in bed for today. Just in case..."
"You wished. It may be Saturday but there are two carburetors that need a thorough cleanse, three engines needing a tune-up and one silencer to be replaced waiting down there in the garage."
"I can handle it all by myself!" - Chance protested.
"Yeah, right! With your paws and foot like that and with your coughing, I'm sure you can handle it alone just fine. Just gimme a couple of minutes to get washed and dressed up, will you?"
Chance threw his arms up in a frustrated gesture, defeated. He knew there was no use trying to change Jake's opinion once he had made up his mind.
The day passed, warm, sunny and without story. It was well past six p.m. when Viper woke up from his sleep. After having eaten something, he headed for the stove, last night's fiasco already forgotten. A rush of adrenaline surged over his body, making him shiver in anticipation as he opened the stove's door and retrieved the Petri dishes from the warm inside.
He brought the Petri dishes to the hotte and, using aseptic technique, tested the fragments of DNA for the specific reaction he was looking for. Three Petri dishes later, he got the reaction he was waiting for. That was the DNA portion that made the blistering-flies produce their poisonous hemolymph. Now he just had to sequence it.
At the Salvage Yard, Jake and Chance were finishing their dinner. Having had made all the repairs the vehicles standing at the garage needed, they had the night off.
"Hey, buddy! Wanna go see a flick tonight?" - Chance asked after placing the used plates inside the kitchen sink.
"Sure! What's on?" - Jake responded.
"You're gonna like it! It's 'Revenge of the Mutant Space Bats from Exotron'!" - Chance stated out.
"Cool! Mutant space bats! Count me in! What's the session?"
"Relax. We've got plenty of time…"
"Guy, this is an awesome flick!" – Jake whispered as he fetched some more popcorn.
"Told you you'd like it." – Chance whispered back. Truth be told, he was getting sort of bored there. Well, at least they were bats and not some mutated space bugs like Hardshell… So Chance was more than pleased to see the "Intermission" sign show up on the large screen. He got up from his seat. – "Gonna get some more popcorn. Wanna come with me?"
"Nah. I think I'll just stay here."
"Okay, then." - Chance turned around and left the room. On his way out he lightly groped his throat. He was surprised he didn't cough anymore since he left the Salvage Yard, an hour ago.
He was about to leave the room, still thinking on it when it came. Cough after cough shot through the cavernous space in a fit like Chance had never had in his life. He had had to lean over his body against the wall to prevent from falling to the ground. Even covering his mouth with both paws in order to lower the noise, Chance was more than sure Jake was on his way down to meet him. Then, just as suddenly as the fit started, it ceased. Chance, still leaning against the wall tried to regain his breath. He saw the faces of the other kats that passed by him. Some were worried, others were annoyed and others yet were indifferent. None, however, stopped to ask him if he was okay or if he needed something.
Now that the cough had passed, he thought he should leave the room before Jake came down. He grabbed the doorknob and pushed it open, exiting the viewing room and heading to the snack-bar next to it. Swallowing a bit of saliva, which tasted somewhat metallic, he joined the line to the popcorn. Only seconds and some kats later, he saw Jake appearing at the door of the viewing room, dramatically holding it open. The slim kat came to him.
"Hey, Jake! Thought you wanted to stay put!" – Chance said in the most cheerful tone he managed.
"I did! Until I heard that fit of coughing! Are you alright?"
"Fit of coughing? It wasn't me! It was…"
"Cut the crap, Chance! I think I've been living with you for long enough now to know what your cough sounds like, don't you think?"
Chance blushed, just like a kitten caught red-handed doing something he shouldn't. Chance just sighed out lightly.
"Okay, it was I. I've just had this sudden tingling feeling in my throat and I just had to cough. I'm fine now!" – he explained. Jake crossed his arms over his chest.
"I'm definitely not liking those fits, you know?" – the slim kat said with a concerned look on his features. The picture would have been perfect, weren't it for the sneeze Jake gave out just a second later…
"I'm sure this is nothing. It's just a silly cold, that's all! Nothing to worry about! Besides, I'm not the only one with a cold around here… And I'd worry much more about yours than I would with mine…"
"I suppose… Well, let's get going. The flick is about to start again."
They reentered the room and sat down. Much to Chance's surprise, the quality of the movie increased and, in the end, it turned out to be reasonably enjoyable.
The next day, Jake got up before Chance. He was indeed starting to feel better, though the sneezes he still had and his clogged nostrils clearly told him he wasn't completely safe yet. Only when Jake had already finished washing the dishes used for his breakfast did Chance appear at the kitchen's door, leaning his back against it.
"Good morning, sleeping ugliness!" – Jake teased him. Chance's looks were terrible, as if he'd been awaken for months. Chance said nothing but an unintelligible grumble as he slowly walked from the kitchen door to the refrigerator.
"So, I see you've gotten worse since last night." – the slim kat asked Chance, cleaning his paws in a cloth. Again, nothing more than a grumble was heard from the tabby's mouth. He resurfaced from within the freezer with a bottle of orange juice in his paws.
"Breakfast of the champions…" – Jake commented. – "And you told me…"
"I remember perfectly what I told you, okay? Back off a while!" – Chance snarled as he rested the lid on the edge of the kitchen table and made it pop out with a short bump on top of the bottle. The slim kat just gave a step back and raised his arms in sign of defeat. Chance seemed more like a caged animal then a rational kat, Jake thought.
"So, changing the subject a bit. How are your bruises?"
"Much better, thanks. That medicine worked well. There's not even the slightest sign of them anymore." – the tabby stated after drinking a long draught of juice.
"I'm glad for that." – Jake said. He was about to turn around when he saw the strange round red bruise on the tabby's forearm. – "What about that bruise, there, on your arm? It should have disappeared by now, with the rest of the others, shouldn't it?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah, this one… I don't understand it either…" – Chance said as he guided his forefinger to poke on the reddish rounded mark. Just as soon as he touched it he practically dropped the bottle of orange juice. He clenched his teeth. The pain was hardly bearable. – "Cru-ud… It hurts like hell…"
"What? Lemme see that…" – Jake said as he went to his partner. He took Chance's arm in his paws and passed a finger over the red mark. Just as he passed his finger over it, Chance let out a short yelp of pain.
"Let it go, Jake! It hurts like hell! OUCH! ARE YOU THROUGH YET OR ARE YOU HAVING FUN?" – Chance bellowed as he retrieved his arm from Jake's paws.
"Come on, it can't hurt that much! I barely touched it!" – the slim kat said with a doubtful tinge on his words.
"You say that 'cause it's not you who's feeling…" – Chance complained.
"What a wimp… Making such a fuss just because of a simple bruise! And I thought I was a woos when I caught a flu…" – Jake said, waving a paw in the air as he stepped away to the garage. Chance just looked to him with a hurtful look in his eyes, just as well as in his forearm.
Three days went by, hot and sunny, like they should be in the summertime. The surf rolled gently towards the golden sandy shore of Megakat Beach, its soft rumbling sound echoing in the orange ferruginous sandstone cliff behind the small dune belt. However, the long beach seemed more like a coastal desert at the time than a summer attraction. There were but a few kats in the beach, soaking up the warmth of the sun. Never before had Megakat Beach seen so few kats in the middle of the summer. The idleness of the season was masking the horrible events that were taking course in Megakat City. An invisible enemy was spreading like fire across dry bush among the unsuspecting citizens of the great burg. The pestilence was already underway…
In the Salvage Yard, Jake was watching the evening news in the living room while he sipped a bit of cold milk from the can in his paws.
"Strange as it may seem…" – the newscaster was saying – "… an outbreak of what appears to be flu is ravaging our city. Yes, you've heard it correctly: influenza in the middle of the summer. Medical specialists have been contacted by MBC to comment on this quasi-absurd fact. They say that, apparently, an unknown reservoir of the influenza virus was kept hidden since perhaps last winter and was now brought to life. These scientists affirm that despite having been unable to isolate the virus, it may be of a new strain. So we'd better get some vitamin C pills off our medical kits and start taking them because it seems that flu came sooner this year."
"Yeah, I'll say…" – the slim kat acknowledged as he drank another draught of milk – "I've been quite sick with that darn virus a few days back…"
Suddenly, coughs shot through the air, coming from the kitchen. Jake got up from the sofa and peered at the kitchen. He saw Chance doubled over, his back in spasms as he coughed again and again.
"You're really sick, buddy." – Jake said as he approached the tabby. He placed a paw over Chance's shoulders. – "You ought to lie down, take some rest… I'm really getting worried with you, you know? I've never seen you like that!"
"That's because I've never been like this before…" – Chance answered in a raspy voice from the coughing. He swallowed some saliva and it tasted like pure blood. Chance had already coughed blood once or twice that day. That made him extremely uneasy. He looked to the palm of his right paw, the paw he used to cover his mouth during the recent coughing. There were a few red droplets on it. He quickly cleaned his paw at his overalls, unwilling to show it to Jake.
"Won't you lie down a little? I think you really need it, bud…" – Jake insisted. The slim kat placed a paw on the tabby's forehead and felt the fever burn his palm – "You're feverish!"
"I know…" – Chance tiredly recognized – "And my body hurts all over… I…" – the tabby never got the chance to end his sentence. A wave of nausea overwhelmed him causing a pressing feeling to vomit. He ran to the bathroom, followed by his slim friend. Chance shut the door closed and hardly had time to reach the toilet. What came from within the tabby scared the heck out of him. Instead of his lunch, only gobs after gobs of thick, pure, red blood came out, dyeing the white sanitary in dark red.
Chance regained enough composure to assess what was happening to him. He was vomiting blood for apparently no reason. It couldn't possibly be because of the flu. Flues don't cause kats to hurl blood, do they? But if it wasn't because of the cold, then for what reason was he vomiting blood? His thoughts were interrupted by Jake's knocking on the door. The slim kat was calling out for him and demanding to know if the tabby was okay. Chance flushed the toilet, ridding it from its reddish color and washed his lips in the sink. Only then he opened the door.
"What happened? Are you alright?" – Jake asked, concern spread all over his features. Chance's face was pale like a ghost's.
"I hurled my lunch… That's all…" – the tabby said as he leaned against the door frame. In doing so, he felt a sharp pain sting his arm.
"What was that?" – Jake asked as he grabbed Chance's arm, the one that had the rounded marking. When Jake touched Chance's arm, the tabby yelped again in pain and recoiled his arm. – "I didn't touch the bruise…"
"I know you didn't… But my whole arm is hurting like hell now…" – Chance said in a painful tone. Jake examined Chance's arm. It was reddish and somewhat swollen.
"I'm just gonna rest my palm slightly on your arm, okay?" – Jake warned.
"It's gonna hurt… AHH! It hurts… It hurts…" – Chance complained. Jake took his paw off Chance's arm. Just as he suspected, the arm was hot, hotter than the rest of the tabby's body. Whatever was happening, it was happening because of Chance's arm. Chance groped his shoulder, the only spot where the pain was bearable enough.
"What's happening, Chance? That's no flu you're carrying… It's something else…"
"Nonsense… I just need a bit of rest, that's all…" – Chance stated out as he passed by his friend.
Jake shook his head in a negative, in disappointment. Though all the evidence pointed that Chance was suffering terribly, he still refused to be helped…
"Damn pride, Chance… I'm your friend, not your enemy…" – the slim kat shot out, doing a frustrated gesture. His words made Chance stop dead in his tracks. The tabby lowered his head, as though the weight of Jake's words were too much to bear. Both toms stood there, in silence, for a few seconds, until Jake did a defeated gesture. – "Oh, just forget it…"
Jake turned around and was meaning to leave when Chance spoke, almost as if he was on the verge of tears. – "Help me, Jake… I dunno what's happening to me… Please…"
Jake turned around and looked down on Chance. Suddenly, the powerful tom seemed nothing more than a little kat, suffering from some terrible illness. He hated that image. He couldn't possibly know he was seeing almost nothing of the pestilence ravaging throughout Chance's body…
"Come on, let's sit down on the couch a little, okay?" – the slim kat asked and guided Chance downstairs, to the living room. They sat down in the sofa. – "Now, what really happened upstairs?"
"I…" – Chance never got to end his sentence since he started coughing again, even more violently than the other times. A few seconds later, the coughing ended. The tabby looked to the paw he used to cover his mouth and saw some red droplets on his palm. He showed it to Jake whose expression just acquired a frightened look. – "This is what happened upstairs… I vomited blood…"
"Blood… But why? Flues don't cause that, do they?" – Jake asked. His words mirrored the concern he felt inside.
"I dunno… Only if it develops into pneumonia, I guess… I dunno…" – Chance responded – "All I know is…"
"What? What is it, Chance?"
"I'm scared, Jake… Whenever I got sick in the past, I managed always to control my body so that I could cure myself… But now… Now I don't know what's happening to me… I can't control my body, I don't know what's happening inside me… And it's scaring the heck out of me, Jake…" – the tabby confessed.
"Calm down, buddy… We'll get through this, just like we did with so many things…" – Jake soothed the tabby – "Everything's gonna be alright, you'll see…"
"Influenza, hein?" – the reptilian scientist disdainfully said, turning off the radio – "What do those foolsss know about what'sss ravaging the city?" – Viper said as he went outside his lab, towards his balcony.
He stared into the distance, in the direction of Megakat City. His features bore a mix between confusion and pleasure. He didn't understand how his bacteria managed to spread out to the city but it didn't really matter. He easily recognized the initial symptoms of the disease. He had studied it for months now. There was no doubt in his mind that his bacteria were doing what they were designed for… And doing it very well… His lips spread apart into a smile.
"Those are my bacteria, alright… I don't know how have they gotten loosssse but it doesn't matter… They are doing what I wanted… And, when the gross of the population is dead, I will ssssstep in to command this foul sssssity… And finally fulfill my dream…" – Viper completed before breaking out in a dry laughter.
"You know I hate staying in bed, Jake…" – Chance complained as he lingered his back against the pillow.
"We've talked about this already, Chance. You're in no condition to be wandering around the Salvage Yard. So just stay put, mister!" – Jake ordered. Chance just sighed out.
"Good. Now that that's settled, I'll be gone to doc Konway's… It shouldn't take long so don't even think about leaving the bed, you hear me?"
"Loud and clear…" – Chance said as he watched Jake turn on his heels and leave their bedroom. The tabby uncovered his right arm and looked at it. It was somewhat swollen and red. There was a sunburn-like rash developing in the general area around the strange bruise. The brawny kat attempted to touch it. The pain shot up through his arm. He tried to ignore it. The spot felt tender, too tender, to be precise, as if the flesh was mashed in there.
"What the hell is going on?" – Chance thought, a tight knot forming on his stomach – "What's happening inside me?"
Meanwhile, Jake had gone to the hangar, suited up and flown off to Enforcer Headquarters in the TurboKat. In a few minutes, he reached the massive building and sneaked inside, making his way through the empty corridors down to the Biotech Lab.
"Dr. Konway, why won't you go home? It's already late!" – Spike Trentmoor, the gray tabby colleague of Konway said. The bearded orange-furred biotechnician turned to face is younger assistant.
"Why don't you go home, Trentmoor? I still have some experiments underway that'll take me a few hours. Go on, now. Your wife's waiting for you."
"Are you sure you don't need me anymore, Dr.?"
"I am. Now go on… I'll see you tomorrow."
The younger scientist undressed his lab coat and stepped out of the laboratory. Razor saw him leaving and waited a few minutes before entering himself into the lab. He grabbed one of the lab coats and put it on.
"Are you still here, Trentmoor?" – Konway asked without taking his eyes from the Petri dishes he was inoculating with some bacteria – "I told you I don't need your assistance anymore today. You can go home!"
"Good to see you too, Doc." – Razor said, catching Konway off guard and frightening the scientist.
"*Razor*! Don't you *ever* sneak up on me again… You scared the heck out of me…" – he looked to the agar in the Petri dish he was working on. The inoculating loop had perforated it, leaving a long carving behind. – "Ah, *rats*… What a waste of perfectly good medium and bacteria…"
"Um, I'm sorry if I scared you, Doc but I need your help…" – Razor apologized.
"It's okay." - Konway said as he threw the ruined Petri dish to a plastic bag destined to be autoclaved and placed the inoculating loop into a recipient full of disinfectant – "What's the problem?" - He turned off the Mecker burner and finally disinfected his workplace with 70% alcohol.
"It's… It's T-Bone… He's sick…"
"So why don't you take him to a doctor?" – Konway said as he cleaned his glasses on a paper tissue.
"I think this is beyond an average doctor's skills… He's suffering terribly…"
"I'm not a medical doctor, Razor! I'm a biotechnician! There's a long distance between the two professions…" – Konway explained.
"Please, doc… You're the only one I can count on…" – Razor pleaded.
"Very well… I'll see what I can do… You're right about one thing. I may be no doctor but I've seen most of the diseases in action… At a biochemical level, that is… What are the symptoms?"
"General malaise, fever, muscle pain, weakness…"
"Wait a minute, Razor… You're worrying about a common cold! Give T-Bone lots of fluids and some vitamin C, preferably…"
"Does influenza's symptoms comprise coughing and vomiting blood?" – Razor spat, already losing his temper. Konway was thrown with that.
"Vomiting blood? How pure was the blood?" – the scientist asked.
"Pure. Thick and dark red, according to T-Bone."
That made Konway cock both his eyebrows. No. Sure vomiting pure blood wasn't a flu symptom. – "How long is this going on?"
"Lemme see… For about five days now, I think." – Razor responded.
"Any other symptoms?"
"His right arm is somewhat swollen, hotter than the rest of his body and very, very sensitive. It hurts him a lot just touching the skin."
"Holy Kats… Do you have any idea what you're describing to me?" – Konway asked with an enthusiastic look on his face.
"Not really… It isn't ebola, is it?"
"Huh? Oh, no, no… If it were ebola your partner would've died already… No… What you're describing could probably be confused with pulmonary anthrax, which would explain the blood coughing but not the vomiting. No… What you're describing is, in a way, far more horrible than anthrax or ebola. You're describing a stroke of necrotizing fasciitis." – the bearded scientist explained.
"Necrotizing what?" – Razor asked, confused.
"Necrotizing fasciitis. Flesh-eating-bacteria disease. The name is a tad sensationalist but, essentially, the bacteria, generally streptococci, do 'eat flesh'. They attack the subcutaneous tissue which then becomes gangrenous."
"Gangrene?" – a frightened Razor asked, rhetorically.
"Precisely. The infection moves swiftly, usually under the skin, where it's not observable. Once tissue becomes necrotic, or dead, it has to be removed. If diagnosed very early, the tissue loss can be… well… relatively small and surgery would be less severe, with removal of flesh, subcutaneous tissue and fat only." – Konway proceeded.
"Surgery?" – Razor muttered, aghast.
"The flesh-eating bacteria generally don't attack muscle or bone but, in more advanced cases, major limb amputation may be required."
"Is there an echo in this room? Oh, well. Death from this condition is also not uncommon. Besides tissue decay, the flesh-eating bacteria causes the rest of the organism to go into systemic shock, which may result in respiratory failure, heart failure, low blood pressure and renal failure. Basically, every system of the body can fail as a result of the severe infection and toxicity of the system. If the bacteria are to enter in the bloodstream, septicemia may arise as well."
"But it can be cured… Can't it?"
"Surely. It's relatively easy to destroy the streptococci that cause the necrotizing fasciitis… If it's treated in time…"
"So there's still hope…" – Razor thought. He directed to the orange-furred scientist then. – "What is it exactly that you need to come up with a cure for T-Bone?"
"First of all, I'd require a few blood and tissue samples. I'd like to grow the bacteria that infected him so I could determine the most effective antibiotic for them."
"Tissue samples? How am I gonna do that?" – Razor asked himself – "I better bring him here…"
The slim SWAT Kat pressed the side of his helmet, activating the communicator. The seconds dragged and turned into minutes. Chance wasn't answering even though he'd left the communicator in his nightstand, right beside him.
"Something's wrong… T-Bone's not answering… Get everything ready, doc. I'm bringing T-Bone here." – and with that, Razor left the laboratory. Konway started selecting the material he required for the task at paw.
"Now that I'm at it, I might as well order my dinner. My, won't Ethel be mad at me… Again…"
The jet hadn't stopped completely yet and Razor had the canopy already open. He fired the grappling hook to the circular hole on the hangar's ground and reeled himself up. The platform with the TurboKat was still turning when Razor started climbing up the stairs. He had a feeling something was terribly wrong. He didn't care if someone saw him getting out of the hangar in his G-suit, nor climbing up the stairs to the first floor of the body shop and even less if someone saw him storming inside the bedroom to find Chance lying on the bed, motionless.
Razor went to the big tabby and shook him. It was as good as trying to wake up a dead tom. He placed a paw in his forehead. The tabby was feverish, even more than before. Razor uncovered Chance's arm and opened his mouth in shock and terror. His arm was even more swollen and some sort of rash had spread to his entire forearm. But even worse than that was its color. The brawny kat's arm was purple and the tips of his fingers were so purple they looked almost black.
"Gangrene!" – Razor thought, horrified – "He's developing gangrene already! I gotta take him to doc Konway at once… Hold on, big bro… Please, hold on…"
As he once carried Chance from the hangar to the bedroom, Razor now carried the tabby the opposite way. After having dressed Chance in his G-suit, he placed the tabby in the rear seat of the jet and strapped him in. Half an hour after having arrived at the Salvage Yard, Jake flew the TurboKat back to Megakat City and to the tarmac on top of Enforcer Headquarters. Minutes later, he was already in Konway's laboratory.
"So, where's T-Bone?" – the scientist inquired.
"T-Bone passed out. He's in the jet. You'd better bring him down in a stretcher or something." – Razor suggested.
The two kats went to the top of the massive building. Razor took T-Bone out of the TurboKat via bomb bay doors and helped the bearded scientist putting him into the stretcher. Konway covered the tabby with a sheet and entered the lifter, accompanied by the slim SWAT Kat.
"He seems to be in the brink of systemic shock… And the gangrene in his endings… It doesn't make sense… The timing isn't correct… Either I'm mistaken or this is a quite virulent strain of streps…" – the doctor reasoned. His thoughts were interrupted when the lifter stopped. A quick check to the panel to his right immediately told him they hadn't reached the Biotech Lab level yet. Someone must have pressed the button to enter the elevator.
"Someone's…" – Konway said but never got the time to finish his sentence. The doors opened and an enforcer entered.
"G' night, doc." – the enforcer said. He looked to the covered body on the stretcher. – "What's that, doc?"
"Um, some mutated creatures… From Viper… Commander Feral wanted them analyzed." – Konway blabbered.
"Really? Can I see it?"
"Um, I don't think that's such a good idea… They're really not a sight for sore eyes…"
"Oh… Well, I usually don't let those things get to me but I haven't quite been myself lately…" – the enforcer said, after what he irrupted in a burst of coughing. He used his left paw to cover his mouth. When he looked to it he saw it sprinkled with red droplets. – "Now how about that? It's been happening this to me since this afternoon… I dunno what damn cold is this but I'm seein' a doctor first thing in the morning! Oops! My floor! Been nice talkin' to you, doc. G' night."
"Good night…" – Konway said, almost sighing out in relief. The scientist looked around to see if he could find Razor but the slim SWAT Kat appeared to have vanished into thin air. – "Now where did that tom go?"
"Psst! Hey, doc! Up here!" – Razor called from above. Konway looked up and saw Razor pinned to the ceiling of the lifter with his claws. The slim SWAT Kat jumped down. – "Did you see that, doc? That enforcer was coughing blood too! That's the same symptom T-Bone had!"
"It may not be the same thing, Razor. Some times, similar syndromes might mean different illnesses. Ah, finally! My lab! Let's go!"
They got inside the Biotech Lab and Konway locked the doors. He quickly uncovered the big SWAT Kat and retrieved the necessary blood and tissue samples from the brawny kat. When Konway removed a small patch of skin of T-Bone's right forearm, blood along with a stinky reddish paste came out of the small wound. The orange-furred scientist collected both the skin and the paste before applying a disinfected compress on the small wound.
"Okay. You have the samples you required." – Razor stated out – "Now what?"
"Now I have to grow them, which may take a while… Maybe a few hours." – Konway explained as he disinfected his workbench with a mix of disinfectant and alcohol. He then ignited the Mecker burner and started working on the ascendant air cone created by the burner's flame.
Razor looked down on T-Bone with concern. - "I don't think he can hold that long…"
"Yes, I understand your concern… This is the worst case of necrotizing fasciitis I've ever seen… Not that I've seen many but, nonetheless… And, if that enforcer has the same thing your partner has… That means he somehow got infected by the same strain of bacteria… Which is fairly strange, since necrotizing fasciitis is not contagious…" – Konway reasoned as he poured some agar into several Petri dishes.
"I mean, you only have this disease by accident… Happenstance…" – the bearded orange-furred biotechnician said as he prepared the samples for inoculation on the nutritive medium he'd just made – "I've read of kats that have caught this disease after being submitted to surgery, after scratching a rash, from a scratch, after bumping a leg with a golf bag, after a friendly punch in the arm from a buddy or even from no known trauma at all! Infection by flesh-eating bacteria can virtually come out of nowhere! But it is *not* airborne, that's for sure!"
"Is there no way to prevent it?"
"Well, just like with many other bacterial and viral diseases…" – Konway answered as he moved the Petri dishes in circles, ensuring that the medium was already solid – "… most times cleanliness is the key. It never harms to wash your paws after sneezing or coughing. Did you know that it's easier to catch flu by shaking paws with someone with flu than if that person sneezed on you?"
Razor seemed surprised with that.
"That's true for flues and some more illnesses." – Konway said as he pipetted some blood on a few Petri dishes and spread it on the solid medium with an L-shaped glass spreader – "You see, the influenza virus is a quite resistant one. It can survive outside an organism for a whole hour, never losing its virulence. If you shake paws with someone that had sneezed less than an hour ago and if he or she has the virus in his or her paws and if you then rub your eyes, for instance, well, you can kiss your health goodbye…"
"So I guess I might as well buy a good supply of antibacterial soaps and antibiotics, right?"
"That would probably be one of your biggest mistakes, Razor. Most so-called 'antibacterial' soaps and detergents have only a very limited effectiveness. Some claim they are capable of wiping out 99% of household bacteria. That's a plain lie. We don't even know 1% of the total bacterial species that exist on this planet. Furthermore, the widespread use of antibiotics is dangerous. Just look at tuberculosis. That old foe has become resistant to antibiotics because they were so largely used to fight it." – Konway said with an exasperated tone.
"But antibiotics are vital to katkind…" – Razor retorted.
"Are they?" – Konway snapped – "Are they really essential to our life? I think your argument may have a tip of truth but it's not entirely accurate. You see, by our widespread application of antibiotics we have eradicated a few illnesses, yes… But, are they really eradicated or merely dormant? Every year antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria arise, bacteria that *we* mutated with our blind use of antibiotics. You have a small symptom and WHAM: you take an antibiotic. We want to avoid infection so WHAM-O again: disinfect with antibiotics. Our hospitals are a melting pot for the arising of new mutated antibiotic-resistant bacteria. We *must* limit our use of antibiotics… It's our future as a species that is at stake if we don't take some action now…"
"I see I struck a nerve…" – Razor muttered.
"Ask any microbiologist… They'll answer the same to you…" – Konway retorted as he closed the last Petri dish. He then stacked the rounded plastic boxes into three piles of six dishes each, fastening them with adhesive tape and putting them upside down inside the stove. – "There… Now all we have to do is wait…"
The night passed and Razor didn't leave T-Bone's side. From time to time he'd measure the tabby's temperature, as Konway required and each time, the temperature was higher than before. Another symptom developed. The tabby presented some dark boil-like blisters on his arm, which was entirely purple now. His paw was practically black due to the gangrene. The redness had now passed to the tabby's torso, as did the rash.
Razor had no doubt that his friend was dying in front of his terrified eyes…
"C'mon, buddy…" – Razor whispered as he took T-Bone's left paw in his – "Fight it! You *must* fight it! Don't die on me, you hear? Don't you dare to die!" – Heavy tears hung on the corners of the slim SWAT Kat's eyes. They still refused to obey gravity. All was not lost. He had to have faith in Konway. He'd find the right antibiotics to kill those tiny invaders…
"BLAST IT ALL!" – the bearded scientist bellowed as he rammed the stove's door shut. Razor didn't like his tone a single bit. A pit started opening under his stomach. There was something terribly wrong.
"Wh-what is it, doc?" – Razor asked, not really wanting to hear the answer.
"None of the cultures I made gave results… I don't understand it…"
"What does that mean?"
"I wish I knew, Razor… I… I know I have provided all the necessary nutrients for any streptococcus to grow and still, no Petri dish has any culture on it… It's as if… they weren't there!" – Konway babbled – "I… I don't know what to do…"
"No…" – Razor whispered. The tears hung no more to the corners of his eyes and dropped freely down his facial fur. All was lost now…
"Ahhh… Wonderful…" – Viper said as he contemplated the translucent liquids inside the vials he held – "At lassst… Months of planning will finally ssstart to pay off… These, together with my bacteria will sssoon make me the unquessstionable overlord of this foul city…"
The reptilian scientist headed further inside his living laboratory, to hidden quarters that only seldom have seen light of any source. Without a sound, a gap opened in the massive living wall and Viper stepped inside.
"Are you there, my pet?" – he asked to the darkness in front of him. His eyes glowed bright golden, scrutinizing the gloom. He could see the form in front of him, crouched in a corner. He walked towards it. – "My pet?"
A pair of bright green eyes glowed in the dark and headed towards the snake-kat.
"That'sss it… Come to me… Look what I have here for you…"
The creature sniffed the vials and let out a soft grunt.
"Come now. These are for your well-being… Drink them… Drink them all!"
It opened its mouth and Viper dropped the content of a vial first and then the other. He closed the creature's mouth and held it pressed until he was sure the liquids were swallowed. He smiled.
"I'll be back in a few hoursss, my pet, for another ride…" – he sibilated – "In the meantime, try to ressst…" – Viper concluded and left the room, chuckling dryly.
"My assumptions can't be wrong… This *is* necrotizing fasciitis, there's no doubt about that!" – Konway said out aloud, more to himself than for anyone else – "The symptoms are clear, there's no mistaking… What is odd is the timing… Whatever strain infected T-Bone must be an extremely virulent one… He's in the final stages of the disease already when he should be presenting only the intermediate ones…"
The bearded scientist walked from one side to the other of the laboratory, trying to make sense of all the data he gathered. Razor was beside the still form of his friend. T-Bone hadn't moved for hours on end now. Razor couldn't possibly conceive the fact he was losing his friend to some disease he never heard of. He always thought that, if one of them had to go down, it would be in the blaze of battle, struggling to defend their city against the enemy…
Now the enemy was so small, so insignificant… And yet, so powerful… They couldn't fight something so small as bacteria. And bacteria had the advantage of billions of years of evolution over them.
Crud, that was so unfair! He couldn't do anything to help Chance! If he could, he would help him but the million-dollar question was 'how?'… How could he, Razor, Jake Clawson, mechanic, electronics wizard, weapons officer, help his best friend defeat the disease ravaging inside him?
"What was the vector, Razor?" – Konway asked the slim SWAT Kat. Razor was so sunken in his own dark and desperate thoughts he didn't understand what he was asked.
"What was the vector of the disease? In other words, do you know if T-Bone had a recent trauma of any sort? A wound, a bruise, anything?"
It was a most welcome question. At least it would force Razor to think, distracting his mind from the depressing and horrifying sight of his dying friend.
"Let me see… We did cut the soles of our feet a few nights back, when he went to check up a silent alarm on the Manx Zoological Research Center…" – Razor said.
"Um, yes… A zoological research facility would be a good place to catch flesh-eating bacteria… But I'm afraid that's not the vector… If the bacteria had entered via the rips on his soles, the legs, not the arm would have been gangrenous… Anything else, Razor? Since his right arm was affected more seriously than the rest of his body, I imagine the vector must have used it…"
"Yes… I thought of that too…" – the slim SWAT Kat said, rubbing his chin pensively – "Wait… Maybe that atypical bruise…"
"What bruise?" – Konway asked, suddenly interested.
"There was a strange rounded and reddish bruise on his right forearm… It didn't disappear whereas all the other had…"
"How did he get it?" – Konway asked as he inspected the tabby's forearm. It was hard to see anything since the arm was very purple now.
"We went to check up something at a water tower… It turned out to be Doctor Viper attempting to drop something into the reservoir's water."
"Really?" – Konway asked, interested.
"Yeah. We managed to stop him but he got away. T-Bone rammed against him and they both rolled down the stairs from the top to the bottom of the tower. After that tumble, T-Bone was riddled with bruises. I took care of him but this one rounded bruise never disappeared…"
"I see it… It's very attenuated now but I can see a rounded marking…" – Konway said as he narrowed his eyes in order to have a better view of it – "Um, I have some news for you, Razor… I recognize this marking… It's no bruise, no sir…"
"So it isn't... Then what is it?"
"I'm afraid I know how your partner was infected… This is the mark of a vaccination pistol… The bacteria were injected into T-Bone's arm…"
"Viper!" – Razor growled, narrowing his eyes. Rage welled up in his chest. – "I'm gonna rip that wretched snake to *shreds*, I'll rip out his eyes, I'll…"
"That's enough, Razor! Getting mad now won't help T-Bone. So we know how he got infected. Unfortunately, I hoped it would tell us more than it did… I'm also afraid we might be dealing with a mutant, possibly antibiotic-resistant, if it came out of the clutches of Doctor Viper… That, however, doesn't explain why the bacteria haven't grown in my nutritive media…" – the bearded scientist let out a sigh – "If only I could isolate the bacteria and know exactly what strain it is I could try to come up with a suitable antibiotic… But that would require a pure culture and I can't make them grow…"
"Pure culture… You mean, a medium that only has that kind of bacteria, right?" – Razor asked. Konway confirmed with a nod of his head. – "Maybe that's the key! The barrel! We took the barrel Viper was planning to drop into the reservoir's water to the hangar!"
"Get it! Maybe he planned to drop these bacteria into the water… It's a long shot but what do we have to lose?"
"I'll be back in ten minutes!" – Razor said before he turned on his heels and bolted out of the laboratory. He ran into some enforcers in his way up to the tarmac but he didn't care. His friend's life was at stake. There was no time to think on anything else… He jumped aboard the black jet and darted off the runway, heading to the Salvage Yard.
"The barrel! How could have I been so utterly *stupid*? It's obvious what it contains. It has to have the same bacteria Viper injected into T-Bone. If I had remembered the barrel perhaps Konway would have already found out a suitable antibiotic for T-Bone… What a waste of time!" – he thought, teeth clenched, paws grabbing the control handle so tightly his knuckles turned white under his fur.
Seconds later, he went to Speed of Heat, piloting the jet for the first time in that mode.
"Interesting…" – Konway said as he peered at the small monitor attached to the electron microscope. Razor was sitting on a chair beside the still and unconscious form of his friend. When he handed the barrel to Konway a few hours before, his paws were still shaking slightly. Flying in Speed of Heat mode was innerving! He'd never piloted anything that went so fast. Sitting in the second row didn't give him the real feeling of flight at that speed. *Definitely* he was better WSO than pilot…
Konway had been working feverishly for the entire night. Outside the sun was already high. In order to avoid curious kats wandering around the lab, the bearded scientist ordered quarantine for the facility. No one was to get in—nor out—of the Biotechnology Laboratory. The orange-furred biotechnician had been tinkering for quite some time with some very small gold nets, as far as Razor could see. He'd begun his SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope) observation only a few minutes ago.
"Come see this, Razor… It's fascinating!" – Konway said. Razor got up and looked to the monitor. All he could see were some sausage-like shapes.
"What exactly am I looking at?" – Razor queried. It was in times like that he wished he had studied a bit more of Biology.
"Well, you're looking to some coliform bacterial cells." – Konway answered.
"And, what's the big deal? They look like the hot dogs I ate last week!"
"Oh, sorry… Well, we were supposed to be looking to bacteria that resemble beads on a string. Those resemble rods." – Konway explained. Razor just sighed.
"Go to the point, doc…"
"These aren't the bacteria we're looking for. The flesh-eating bacteria are streptococci. These are coliforms."
"And, what does that mean?"
"It may not mean anything… But it could also mean the key to all this mystery… I want to cultivate these bacteria… I have a hunch…"
"A hunch? And just what is a hunch any good to us?" – Razor growled.
"Don't underestimate the power of the sixth sense. Many important things in this world were accomplished based on a hunch…" – Konway retorted as he took some plastic vials from the shelves above his lab bench – "I'll require six more hours to prove my theory."
"What if T-Bone doesn't hold on six more hours?" – Razor questioned the bearded scientist.
"Let's pray that he does… 'Cause I still have no idea how to cure him…"
"The stove clock is ringing, doc!" – Razor warned the bearded biotechnician, who was leaning over the screen of a transmission electron microscope. One thing Konway had to give the Enforcers credit for: the Biotech lab was well equipped, even though the pieces resembled more museum artifacts than modern science instruments. Nevertheless, there weren't many laboratories that could claim to have two different electron microscopes.
"The six hours are over already? Oh, my… Time flies when we're having fun…" – Konway said as he got up from the chair and headed for the stove. Razor, however, was stupefied with Konway's words. He was having *fun*? He was having a good time while T-Bone was dying in there?
"This is it, Razor…" – Konway said as he opened the stove's door and retrieved three sets of Petri dishes from its interior – "The moment of truth…"
The scientist took the Petri dishes to the ascendant air cone created by the Mecker burner on his working bench. Razor went to the bench as well. The slim SWAT Kat watched as the biotechnician took off the adhesive tape from each of the three sets of rounded boxes. The ones on the left had a dark yellow medium inside. The ones in the center had a red medium in them and the ones on the right had a perfectly translucent medium inside. Konway opened the boxes with the dark yellow medium inside.
"Just as I expected… No bacteria grew on this highly nutritive medium…" – Konway mumbled.
"Just what he expected?" - Razor thought to himself, starting to lose his temper – "Just what he expected? To fail in growing these blasted bacteria?"
The remaining three Petri dishes of that set didn't present any colonies of bacteria growing on the rich medium. Konway turned his attention to the Petri dishes on the center. He opened them and a smile spread out in his lips. Razor noticed it and peered into the red medium inside the Petri dish Konway was holding in his paw. There were some beautiful small rounded spots with golden reflexes growing on the medium. Konway searched for an inoculation loop and snatched it. He gently scrubbed the tip of the instrument over one of the golden colonies, scrambling it. Under the colony there was a translucent spot on the agar. The biotechnician opened the remaining two Petri dishes of that set and the results were the same. In the last box there was a huge translucent blot on the medium with a large golden colony in the center of it.
"Just as I thought…" – Konway muttered. He then proceeded to open the last set of Petri dishes. In there, the medium was as translucent as water. On top of the agar, equally spaced from one another, there were six little discs of paper, not wider than five millimeters. Under some discs there was a red spot with the same width of the disc.
"Just as I feared…" – Konway mumbled.
"So, what's the conclusion, doc?" – Razor demanded impatiently.
"The bacteria that have been injected into your friend are from the widespread species Escherichia coli, have been mutated and must have an R-plasmid that makes them resistant to all known specific antibiotics…" – Konway stated out.
"T-Bone is going to die unless we come up with some damn bright idea…"
"Die?" – Razor thought to himself as he stared at the limp body of T-Bone. The dark blisters spread to his entire arm now and his torso was becoming purple. The tabby was fighting a battle he couldn't win… Not without help, at least… - "You're going to die? That's… impossible! Not you… Of all the kats in this world, with all the scum that's out there, why did it have to be my brother to die? Why didn't the Holy Kats pick me instead?"
Konway raised his eyes from the viewing screen of the TEM (Transmission Electron Microscope) and scrubbed them with his balled fists. The tiredness of the previous day and the sleepless night were claiming their price. He was hungry and thirsty too. His last meal had already been digested and assimilated twelve hours ago. He spun in his chair and looked to Razor. He had never seen the slim SWAT Kat so depressed. He watched as Razor took T-Bone's paw in his and raised it until it touched his forehead. He was surprised. It seemed that Razor was praying. Maybe that's what they all needed right now… A miracle… Suddenly, he heard Razor sneezing.
Yes… It was a miracle that they needed… A miracle or… a touch of extreme science!
"Are you growing a cold, Razor?" – the bearded scientist asked.
"Huh? No, I'm getting *out* of a cold. Guess I'm not as cured as I thought, though…"
"Really?" – Konway mumbled – "This could be the key to the whole puzzle… Razor, come here, please. I'd like you to see this."
Razor murmured something to his partner and then came to Konway's side. The bearded scientist showed him an unrecognizable image. There were two blurred black lines that shone out from the mass of black, gray and white dots under it.
"What am I looking at, doc? And, please, go to the point this time…" – Razor said in a tired tone.
"You're looking to the plasma membrane of the bacteria that infected T-Bone. You probably don't notice it but these bacteria have lost their mucilaginous capsule. Their cell wall is thick but it's mutated as well. You see those little spikes protruding from the outer membrane?" – Konway asked. Razor squinted over the monitor. Yes, there were some little spikes on the outer blurred black line but they were so small Razor almost couldn't see them.
"Barely, but yeah, I see them. What does that mean?" – Razor queried.
"That means we could be watching the key to T-Bone's recovery. Those small protrusions are receptors. Usually, normal, non-mutated E. coli cells don't have these receptors. But these mutants have. Whatever Dr. Viper did to scramble their DNA, I'm sure he didn't anticipate the formation of these receptors. Come here."
Konway guided Razor to the large bookshelf at one end of the lab. He retrieved a large and heavy volume of Bacteriology and rummaged through its pages. – "Here. Look at this micrograph. It shows a normal E. coli cell being attacked by hundreds of viruses called bacteriophages. It's a common procedure, they attach to the host's cell wall, perforate it and inject their DNA into the bacterium. Later, the DNA is either added to the bacterial DNA or it simply uses the bacterium's genetic machinery to make copies of it and to translate it into proteins, which are later combined to form new viruses. Now comes the important part."
The biotechnician turned the page of the book and showed a diagram to Razor. Konway pointed to the last drawing.
"Whatever the path, the result is always the same… When the new generation of bacteriophages is finally assembled, they burst out of the bacterial cell…"
"Destroying it!" – Razor concluded.
"My point exactly…"
"Hold it. Hold it. So, you mean that, to save T-Bone from certain death he has to catch a cold? Is that it?" – Razor asked.
"Actually…" – Konway said as he headed for a large white plastic container – "I was thinking we could use specific bacteria-eating viruses… Like these marine bacteriophages inside this container."
"Is it safe? I mean, won't T-Bone catch a disease from those bacterio… things?" – Razor asked, concerned.
"Tell me, Razor, have you ever swallowed seawater when you learned to swim?"
"Lots of it! It happened all the time until I learned it." – Razor confirmed.
"Well, then, let me tell you that each time you swallowed seawater back then you were swallowing along *trillions* of these phages. And still, you're with us till the present day, aren't you? Besides, marine viruses and bacteria can't survive much time in other environments than the ocean." – Konway concluded his train of thought with a smile on his lips.
"Well, since you put it that way… Then what are we waiting for?"
"One more thing. Remember the receptors on the mutated bacteria? Well, Viper really programmed his bacteria to kill. What he didn't know was that he'd programmed his bacteria to kill themselves as well! The receptors will release chemical signals that will draw the phages to them relentlessly. They will have no means to evade the parasites!"
"Then let's do it! If that's T-Bone's only chance of survival, then let's get on with it!" – Razor urged.
The black quietness of death slowly gave way to a disturbed deep sleep. Blurred flashes of light and multiple colors mingled briefly with darkness as the sleep became lighter. He stirred ever so lightly.
The dormant form beside T-Bone raised one eyebrow. Though asleep, Razor was awake enough to feel the weak shuddering of his friend. He raised his head up quickly, which caused a painful cervical lash. The short yelp of pain the slim SWAT Kat let out caught Konway's attention. The bearded scientist spun in his chair and went to the SWAT Kats.
"He moved." – Razor said as he scrubbed the back of his neck.
"He's waking up!" – Konway exclaimed – "At last, he's finally waking up!"
The bearded scientist headed for a communicator and sent for a medical team. By that time, Comdr. Feral had already been informed of what was happening in the Biotec Lab via a thorough report ordered by the Commander himself. He gave orders to the medical personnel to be on stand-by for any request. The tabby stirred some more and, seconds later, he slowly opened his eyes.
"Welcome back, buddy!" – Razor said, on the verge of tears, a smile spreading wide on his face.
"Razor?" – T-Bone asked, in a whisper – "What happened?"
"You were far away from us, lad." – Konway intervened – "Too far for too long… For a moment there, I thought you were gone for good…"
"I never lost my faith in you, brother!" – Razor said, taking the tabby's left paw in his – "I knew you wouldn't give up the fight…"
"It's not over yet, Razor. He still needs to go to surgery and get the dead pieces of tissue out. Only then can he be submitted to reconstruction." – Konway warned.
"Couldn't all this have been avoided if we'd just placed T-Bone inside the tube thing you used to recreate us?" – Razor queried.
"The viability of such procedure was too small to even be properly calculated. I could have put him inside the Regenerator and add some antibiotics to the liquid but they would have been useless. His arm would be reconstructed only to decay again. No. The disease had to be beaten first and the bacteria disposed of. Only then could the mending process start." – Konway explained – "The Regenerator can only reconstruct your severed tissues, it cannot heal diseases… Besides, you can't always use the Regenerator whenever you get injured. It could render your body's natural self-repair abilities useless. In case the machine would be destroyed, you wouldn't even be able to heal a scratch…"
"So, the tube has to be used with caution… or we'll end up being victims of it…" – Razor thought to himself. He stepped aside as a medical team stormed inside the lab and took over the situation, disconnecting the old ECG machine, wired up T-Bone to a state-of-the-art machine and started monitoring his vital signs. T-Bone showed a confused and frightened look at the sudden 'attack'. In the gap between two kats, he saw Razor. Reassured, the tabby smiled to Razor and gave him a thumb up. Razor smiled to T-Bone too and also gave him a similar sign before he watched the tabby be carried away to the surgery block.
His lips spread apart in a maniacal sneer of contentment as the reptilian scientist absorbed the latest news. Though the reception of his small radio set was considerably bad, he had heard something that much pleased him.
"Time is nigh for me to ssstep in as the nexssst ruler of this insssipid town… and to turn it into the gloriousss primitive ssswamp it once was…"
Separated by several kilometers, another kat had just received similar news via another media vehicle. His face also twitched, although not in a smile but rather in a grimace of profound grief.
T-Bone lay down on the bed of Feral's private infirmary, his eyes gazing at the TV screen implanted on the wall without really seeing.
It had passed five days since he was taken to surgery and placed inside the Regenerator. He'd just exited the tubular machine a few hours ago. As expected, everything had gone right.
T-Bone looked outside the window, to the darkening skies of Megakat City. The fading daylight matched his gloomy mood. He shook his head in a despondent negative.
If it weren't Razor to tell him what he had been through, he wouldn't have believed it. Viper injected the bacteria into his system back at the water tower, when they were fighting each other. Konway had explained to him that the strong disinfectant odor he suddenly felt in the middle of the brawl could only have come from a vaccination pistol.
"It is a security measure. Inoculation with vaccination pistols is a quick and effective procedure but it also has its risks, mainly to its manipulator. So, every vaccination pistol is designed to shoot a spray of disinfectant as it shoots the vaccine in order to protect the user." – Konway had said to him.
The walls of the infirmary gained life with the wavering light from the TV set and the moving shadows from the twilight. T-Bone wasn't paying attention to it for the time being. His world grew darker around him by the moment.
Just as radical as being injected with potentially deadly bacteria was Konway's plan to cure him. He could never have guessed, even in his wildest dreams, that he would be injected with massive doses of viruses. Konway proved once more to be right. The viruses hunted down all the bacteria that caused his illness. But they also did something Konway hadn't dismissed they'd do. They also attacked the usual bacterial "flora" that defended and aided T-Bone's organism in some of its tasks. As a result, the tabby was healed, yes, but the cure had left him very weak.
So the surgery procedure was a very cautious one. The doctors had removed most of the fat and connective tissue that comprised T-Bone's right arm and upper right chest. Just as Konway pointed out previously, the muscles and the bones were virtually undamaged. The bacteria had, however, started to spread to the bloodstream and T-Bone's blood had started to become septicemic, which meant they had to make a blood transfusion. It took quite some time but the tabby was finally rid of the bacteria and of the disease.
Still immersed in his anesthetic-induced sleep, the tabby was placed inside the Regenerator for nearly four days. His arm was completely regenerated now. He had felt thankful that Razor and Konway saved his life. He had thanked the Holy Kats the fact of still being alive. He'd smiled in happiness.
Then, when Konway, Feral, Felina and the resident doctor had left the infirmary, leaving only Razor inside, he'd turned on the television and heard the news. At first, he was merely shocked but then, when the connection was made…
"It's not your fault, Chance…" – Razor quietly tried to comfort his friend as he took off his mask.
Silence was his answer.
Jake looked at the tabby. He knew that expression, that stony look on his friend's face. The tabby was hurt, mortally injured. T-Bone slowly removed his mask, his face kept into the ever-darkening moonless skies.
Chance knew he had done something he would never forgive himself.
He had shed the blood of innocent…
He unsheathed his claws and pierced the sheets and the mattress with them.
"Again, thirty seven citizens fell dead to this ravaging disease. There is little information on the number of infected kats and the Health Department has already ordered the city quarantined. I'm here with Enforcer head-biotechnician, Dr. Conrad Konway, wh…" – the voice of Ann Gora boomed over the cubicle. Jake pressed the button on the remote and muted the TV set.
"I'm the index case, Jake… Viper intended to contaminate the water reserve on that tower. He failed in that. Instead, he infected me… Only I could have spread the disease throughout the city…"
A ripping sound was heard when Chance withdrew his arm, tearing up the sheets and the mattress.
"I *killed* those kats… I killed innocent people…" – Chance heaved out on the verge of tears. He closed his eyes. The remaining shreds of the twilight that still roamed inside the room faded out and gave way to darkness.
Jake approached the bed and placed his paw on Chance's forearm.
"You didn't kill anyone!"
"Yes, I did!" – Chance snapped back – "I was sick already when we went to that cinema. I must have spread the bacteria when I coughed. They must have got stuck to my paws and then, when I touched the doorknob… Many other kats touched that knob after me… Maybe they got infected too and then they spread the disease to their acquaintances and families… Kats alive! The kittens! Maybe they infected their kids too! Maybe I even killed kittens! Holy Kats!" – Chance stated out, horrified.
"Chance, *listen to me*!" – Jake said, clutching Chance's arms and giving the tabby a shake – "You're getting hysterical! Snap out of it! It's not your fault!"
"How can you say that? I knew I was sick and I willingly went to that cinema! I could have avoided this contamination; I could have avoided the spreading! I'm responsible for this plague! It just started because of me! People are dying because of me, because of my irresponsibility!"
Jake was thrown back with those statements. Yes, if Chance had stayed at home the spread of the disease might have been contained.
"But you couldn't know it wasn't just a cold! The initial symptoms are very alike!"
"Even a common cold is a potential killer. It was the flu the true winner of MegaWar Two…" – Chance stated out before his gaze went down to his chest.
Silence fell between the two friends like a heavy blanket. Moments later, Chance gave Jake his sterner look. Jake felt a chill running down his spine.
"I think you're better off without me, Jake. Next time, my irresponsibility can dead you in. I can't afford to take that chance. From this moment on, the SWAT Kats are reduced to one…"
A dumbstruck and speechless Jake watched as Chance put on his mask and went out of the window, climbing up to the tarmac on top of Enforcer Headquarters. Moments later, Razor followed his burly friend.
Jake watched Chance, slumped on the couch, from the garage. The tabby had flown them back to the hangar the previous night. He seemed a Sunday driver, flying the jet at such a low speed Razor feared they'd crash at any minute. But they had arrived safely.
The sun wasn't up yet and Chance had already woken up. Jake had gone to the window moments later and seen his burly partner climbing up a pile of metallic litter and sitting on top of it. Together, Jake from the bedroom's window and Chance from the salvage pile, both toms watched a red sun rise from the spiked horizon behind MegaKat City. The slim kat watched worriedly has Chance hung down his head while his ears drooped.
Later that day, clients started arriving to pick up their cars or having them repaired. Jake was the sole host for the customers. Chance had slumped down on the couch right after breakfast. It was closing time now and he still hadn't moved an inch from his start position.
The living room was immersed in a glimmering bluish light, radiating from the small television set. The room was silent, apart the murmur of the device.
"Five more deaths have been reported this afternoon, apparently the result of this tragic disease." – the omnipresent voice of Ann Gora faintly reached Jake's ears – "The macabre count reaches, now, its forty-eighth case and more reports of new deaths seem to be coming in every hour, however diligent the efforts of the Civil Protection Services may be in trying to vaccinate all infected citizens. In fact, it appears the disease is still uncontained and…"
Once more, Ann's voice was cut off in mid-sentence when Jake pressed the 'mute' button on the remote. He crouched in front of the tabby.
"You said this to me and now I think it's time to say it back to you: give it a rest, Chance!" – Jake said – "You, more than any other kat know this outbreak was *not* your fault!"
Chance merely sighed in despondency, closing his eyes.
"You don't get it, do you?" – Chance muttered mournfully.
"You think this is something similar to what you went through when you thought you injured that elderly couple, isn't it so?"
Jake cocked one eyebrow. He always felt as though he was naked whenever Chance seemed to be able to read what was on his mind with such clarity. It wasn't uncommon that they understood each other just by the way they looked to each other or acted but such deep insights of one another's feelings and thoughts were rare and mostly disturbing. The slim kat had no other choice but to admit Chance was right.
Chance just gave out a soft and brief chuckle.
"This is nothing like that time. Back then you though you injured a couple of kats. That feeling crushed you because you've only seldom hurt anybody seriously before. But this… this is different…"
Chance opened his eyes. Jake saw they were liquid, hurting with sorrow and grief.
"I can't say I fully understood your feelings back then. I didn't know how you were feeling. I thought you were making a lot of fuss over something small, almost petty." – Jake's jaw lowered a bit with such confession – "The reason for that was that I had already hurt many people during my adolescence, many seriously. I've beaten the crap out of many thugs in my life and during my time in the Enforcers I wasn't different. I've sent many kats to the infirmary, some of them with broken ribs or limbs. I woke up in E.R.'s myself many times too. I almost used to make a living out of that. Until you came along and started to change the way I was, teaching me to channel my rage into something useful."
Chance got up from the sofa and walked towards the window. He looked to the dark night outside, a grim expression spreading across his face.
"But I *never* crippled or killed anyone… That's something I don't know how to deal with, Jake. I never killed anyone and now, all of a sudden, I discover I killed almost fifty people single-handedly! How do you suppose I feel?"
"But you didn't, for crying out loud! Viper did it!"
"I WAS HIS INSTRUMENT! Damn it, Jake, is it so hard to see that Viper used me as a tool? I'm as guilty as Viper! He killed those kats through me. I'm just as responsible as he is!"
"Then what are you gonna do about that? Sit down and whine?" – Jake asked Chance, eyes nearly flashing, his face acquiring a grim expression similar to Chance's.
Chance didn't know how to answer that. He surely wasn't the kind of tom to just sit down and regret what he'd done without doing something about it. But, for the time being, the brawny tabby felt simply powerless and overpowered by a feeling of guiltiness. He raised his arms and let them down in a defeated gesture while sighing out audibly and shaking his head in a negative. He then headed for the hatch that granted access to the hangar.
"Where are you going?" – Jake asked, a mask of confusion replacing the determinate expression he bore moments ago.
"I'm going out for a ride. I'm taking the Thundertruck." – he said as he climbed down the ladder. Jake went down after Chance.
"I'm going with you!"
"No, you're not." – Chance retorted in an icy tone as he got rid of the overalls and opened the locker marked with a black paw-painted 'TB' – "I need to be alone for a while…"
"This is starting to sound like déjà vu, Chance."
The tabby paid little attention to what Jake was saying. His mind was made. He finished putting on his G-suit and passed by Jake on his way to the Thundertruck. Jake clasped T-Bone's arm tightly when he passed by.
"Promise me you won't do anything stupid." – Jake demanded.
"Like killing myself? Don't worry. Nothing I'll ever do will erase the fact I'm a killer." – T-Bone gazed down on his chest before proceeding in a low voice – "Perhaps T-Bone is on the wrong faction…"
"What if the SWAT Kats are needed in the meantime?"
"I already told you you're the only SWAT Kat now. I can't let my irresponsibility endanger any more lives than it already did…" – T-Bone said as he released his arm from Jake's tight grip with a push and climbed aboard the black vehicle.
"YOU'RE BEING IRRESPONSIBLE RIGHT NOW!" – Jake shouted at the departing Thundertruck but his voice was subdued by the roar of the off-road's thrusters.
"I can't do this SWAT Kat business without you, bud… It's like trying to applaud with only one paw…"
A few hours later, nearing dawn, in Megakat Swamp, Dr. Viper marveled at his latest creation outside his living laboratory.
"The time has arrived, my pet, to make our commission into Megakat Sssssity! My bacteria cleared the way for me." – the reptilian scientist said as he petted the creature's head. His eyes suddenly acquired a bright golden glow. - " It does not matter if the Enforcers found a way to dessstroy them! They have already opened the door to Megakat City's dessstruction! Now, me and you, my marvel of genetic engineering, will close it!"
With that, he jumped on top of the beast's back and silently commanded it to gain altitude. His vessel spread out its large membranous wings, creating whirlwinds that cleared the first dawn's miasma rising from the wetlands. With a hard flap of its wings, the beast conquered the skies as it gained enough altitude to dart over the mangroves and retorted trees that made up the swamp's canopy. Its course led both to another jungle, one made of cement, iron and glass.
An urban jungle named Megakat City.
T-Bone pulled over at the desert, raising a small cloud of dust around the black off-road. He leaned over the steering wheel, releasing a sad sigh. He stared to the dark indigo skies slowly lighting up ahead of him. It was nearly dawn and the tabby had driven non-stop the whole night. From the permanently traffic-filled streets of Megakat City to the sinuous and perilous Megakat Mountains' roads, from the highways to the desert's trails, T-Bone had rode on them all, sometimes irresponsibly recklessly, other times in a more safely fashion.
As usual, the movement and the speed calmed him down but only to let an envelope of sadness subdue him. How could he possibly live on with the feeling he helped killing almost half a hundred innocent civilians? And only the Holy Kats knew how many more would die because of his foolish actions?
No. He couldn't risk it any more. His SWAT Kat days were over. He knew that. At least, that's what he tried to tell his mind. That it would be better to retire.
But then, the other side of his conscience, his reckless side, kept telling him it wasn't over yet. There was much yet to be done, starting with his victims and then with Viper.
The final blow came a few hours ago. He'd tried to contact his father. He'd asked him if he could at least help vaccinating the affected citizens.
"I'm afraid I can't let you do it." – Feral had said to him.
"What?" – the brawny SWAT Kat had cried out incredulously – "B-but, I'm responsible for this outbreak! You can't deny me this chance to at least try to undo some of the evil I cast over this city!"
"I'm sorry but right now you're lacking the psychological abilities to undertake such a task. In your present condition, you might even reveal your secret. I will not allow you to help and I have instructed my Enforcers to arrest you – both my son or his alter ego – until this problem is dealt with."
"You can't do that!"
"I gave you an order! Stay put! Is that understood?"
"Yes, *sir*!" – the tabby had cynically responded before throwing the radio to the ground. He then had rode hard on the desert's trails for the rest of the night, trying to calm himself down. Once more, he realized the irresponsibility of such actions.
Now, that he was contemplating the rising of a red sun, he understood his double life was over. He engaged the first gear and slowly started driving home. He realized then that the ride back to the hangar inside the Thundertruck would be the last action he would ever perform as a SWAT Kat.
The blaring seemed loud enough to wake up the dead but Jake barely noticed it. Sunk in his own thoughts, he only realized there was trouble a few moments later. He then reacted as usual, running to the receiver, picking it up and contracting his vocal cords to utter a most usual and unimaginative…
"Yes, Miss Briggs?"
"Razor, Dr. Viper is attacking! He's thrashing the city with a giant winged beast!"
"Dr. Viper?" – Jake said in a low tone – "Again?"
"What was that, Razor?"
"Huh, nothing Miss Briggs. We're on to it. Over and out." – Jake said before hanging up the receiver. Still with his paw on it, the slim kat looked intensely to the com-link.
"What does he want this time?" – he thought, clenching his teeth – "Isn't it enough, what he already did? First he turned my friend into a giant mutated frog, then he arrested him, forcing me to do his dirty bidding and finally he infected him with deadly bacteria. Not happy with that, he managed to undermine Chance's self-confidence. He managed to kill T-Bone along with half a hundred innocent kats!"
His fist crashed against the wall beside the receiver with violence. Jake's eyes burned in fury as he clenched his teeth tighter.
"Weren't there enough deaths yet, you miserable scum-snake? WHAT ELSE DO YOU WANT?" – he screamed in rage. Then he headed for the underground hangar to suit up before climbing aboard the TurboKat and guiding the black fighter out of its underground resting place.
Next to the receiver, three small red smears paid tribute to the most recent of Jake's rare outbursts of rage.
In a question of minutes, Razor had reached the business heart of the city, the part that was under attack. At first, he didn't see anything but some buildings in ruins and a scared crowd running in every direction. He decreased the throttle and circled around the general area.
Nothing. No sign of Viper or of his winged beast.
Then, he saw them.
A gigantic form rushed upward like an arrow, nearly colliding with the jet fighter. It seemed to Razor the shadowy form took several seconds until it disappeared from sight once more. The slim SWAT Kat looked up and finally he saw his opponent.
"Oh, Good Holy Kats…"
Suddenly, the TurboKat was sent out of control towards the ground. Razor rapidly focused on the situation at hand.
"Wind shears. That thing caused them!" – Razor muttered in amazement as he desperately tried to regain control of the TurboKat – "C'mon, you can do this, Razor, baby! Piece a' cake! Remember that time with that Viperzilla thing!"
After five stressing seconds that looked like an eternity to the slim kat, he finally controlled the free fall and entered hover mode. He released a sigh of relief but when he looked to the altimeter he saw just how close he had been from kissing his life bye-bye.
He landed the TurboKat and opened the canopy, staring at the giant beast hovering tens of meters above him. Suddenly, the animal descended upon him. Razor immediately closed the canopy and braced himself for the impact. The beast, however, only swooped past the slick jet fighter and heaved itself up into the skies once more. The wind dislocation was so intense the entire jet rocked side to side so violently it appeared it would turn upside down.
Razor once more opened the canopy and took a good look at the beast, now hovering only ten meters above his head. He could finally discern the creature's form. It had an orange color and pincers at the tip of its limbs. Its neck seemed capable of extending and retracting at its will. Its tail bore a lethal-looking spike. It's jaws seemed capable of chewing through stone and steel. Weren't it for its huge membranous wings, Razor would have sworn he was looking at the adult agrecite scorpion he and T-Bone killed years ago by making the toxic substances inside it explode in the higher atmosphere.
"Like my new and improved agrecite-plated sssscorpion, SWAT Katssss?" – the foul voice of the reptilian scientist reached Razor's hears. So it really *was* one of Tiger Conklin's mutated rock scorpions.
"Viper must have gotten his paws on one and mutated it further. Well, I've crushed one of those bugs already. I can very well crush yours as well, Viper." – Razor thought. He reached for a missile launcher and quickly aimed it at the winged scorpion. – "Try this one on for size, lizard-breath!"
The missile hit the scorpion dead center, causing a considerable explosion to light the morning skies. When the smoke cleared enough, the horrified kats hidden in their precarious positions saw that the missile hadn't even made a dent on the agrecite plating of the winged scorpion.
"Fool of a noodle!" – Viper cackled – "Your puny misssssiles can't arm the thickessst agrecite armor in Nature!"
Viper looked to where the TurboKat was supposed to be but nothing was there. The jet had vanished.
"Where did they go?"
"Right behind you, snakepuss! Scrambler Missile… AWAY! Let's see if your metal-plated monster likes electricity!"
The Scrambler Missile hit the scorpion and released its electric sting. A mesh of electricity enveloped the winged scorpion for a few seconds as the creature screeched in agony.
"Wretched SWAT Kats! Let's ssssee you do that again! After them, my pet!"
Razor guided the jet away from the city. In just a few minutes, they were over Megakat Desert. There, Razor pulled the control handle towards him, leading the jet into a vertical climb. Viper was unimpressed with what he thought to be a poor stunt and the winged scorpion promptly followed the TurboKat in its ascension.
"That's it, guys… Come after me…" – Razor muttered with a malicious smile plastered on his snout – "Engaging Speed of Heat mode."
The jet rapidly converted to its sub-orbital form and jumped forward when the four auxiliary thrusters roared to life. With a barely noticeable but still harder flap of its large wings, the winged scorpion maintained its pace steadily behind the ascending jet fighter.
"Sssomething is wrong…" – Viper thought – "Why won't they attack? It almost seems as if they wanted me to follow them… But wh…"
Viper's thoughts were cut off when a gelid wind started enveloping him.
"COLD! You were very wise in luring me and my ssscorpion to the highest layers of the atmossssphere, SWAT Katssss. You know very well we can't fight you here. But your plan has failed! I need not to leave Megakat Ssssity to get back at you! I will be waiting down there, where it is warm. And, you'd better come back quickly, before I redusssse Megakat City to a huge pile of rubble! In the meantime, here's a little gift!"
The winged scorpions tail arched up and a volley of a translucent light green liquid spurted from the tip of the tail spike, directed at the Turbokat. The substance hit the tail wings of the jet fighter and started to dissolve the alloy of the jet.
Inside the cockpit, lights of warning flashed up, informing Razor of what was happening on the exterior of the jet – "Hull breach? How come? What's Viper doing? He's falling back! Oh, crud! He got my plan… Okay, Razor, you don't have your partner here to work the controls so you've got to be extra-careful now. Last time you went on your own you almost got yourself killed."
Razor pushed the control handle away from him and sent the jet in a vertical descent after the winged scorpion. Moments later he disengaged the Speed of Heat.
"Twin Scrambler Missiles…" – he muttered as the blinking sights on his visor chased the rocking form of Viper's vessel.
"… locked… " – Razor announced when the sights rested mutually on the slick form of the winged scorpion, changing from green to red.
"… deployed…" – He said, not without a small tremor of adrenaline running through his body. The missiles were launched. Razor could see the white trail of vapor and smoke as they rocketed from under the jet and towards their target.
"Impact in three seconds… two… one…"
The missiles hit the winged scorpion, enveloping the beast in a web of electricity. Again, Razor saw the beast heave up its head and roar out a painful sound.
"Bingo." – he gloomily said – "That ought to buy me some time to… WHAT?"
Something that Razor hadn't equated happened. The winged scorpion recovered faster this time, even though he had fired two Scrambler Missiles instead of one. The scorpion turned around in one smooth and swift move. The next second it rushed against the Turbokat, arched back its tail over its head and spurted another gob of acid, which hit the TurboKat's left wing. Razor was too stunned to react to that sudden change of events.
"It seems you liked my sssscorpion's enhanced formic acid, courtesy of the ant genes I've inssserted into its genome. You'll find it much more acidic than your average formic acid. Well, there's plenty of it for everybody, SWAT Katsssss!"
The scorpion threw more formic acid against the TurboKat. Razor, now fully aware, averted the shots not without some relative difficulty.
"Time for some real flying, snakepuss. Let's see if you can out-fly the TurboKat!" – Razor said between gritted teeth. He pushed the throttle entirely to the end, sending the jet hurtling towards the scorpion. The TurboKat passed by the beast and headed for City Hall. The scorpion immediately engaged the TurboKat and chased after it.
Razor maneuvered around the buildings as they were appearing in his field of sight, barely avoiding some of them. A quick look at the radar screen told him the winged scorpion remained after him at exactly the same pace as the TurboKat. That surprised him a bit. The animal was a skilful flyer. It would take all his fiber to shake that freaky dragon-like genetic aberration off his tail.
Viper was unimpressed with his creation's flying ability. He'd trained it since its wings first appeared. He still remembered how easy it was to command this beast with only his thoughts. The trip on the scorpion's back was always smooth, even when the mutant flown at impressive high speeds through the narrow vegetal corridors of the swamp. Now, here, in the urban jungle, it proved to be an equally skilled flyer as it was in the swamp. The SWAT Kats' days were surely numbered as long as he had this magnificent creature by his side.
"C'mon, Razor. You started this canyon tank game and now you gotta finish it! I didn't know this pile of scales could maneuver so swiftly!" – Razor thought to himself as he grabbed the control handle with both paws, twisting it to right or the left as new buildings kept appearing into his sight – "Maybe if I try that stunt… I'm not T-Bone but I gotta try…"
Razor banked the jet to the right and flew low over one of the main arteries of the burg, followed very close by the winged scorpion. The air dislocation the scorpion caused was so violent that even the unfortunate passer-by kats were knocked over and some of the lighter citizens were even tossed up into the air a few meters before falling like rocks onto the pavement.
"It's right over there…" – Razor thought. He suddenly banked the jet to the left in one of the lateral streets. The sight of a huge building blocking his way appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Razor didn't stop to think. Trying to remember how T-Bone had done it when the PastMaster threw them into the future, he cut off the rear engines, giving the front VTOL ones a burst, making the jet assume a vertical position. Immediately after that, he gunned the three rear engines, slamming the throttle to the end. A torrent of fire and hot air generated enough boost to propel the jet upwards. The hit was averted. Now, he just hoped Viper and his vessel wouldn't be so lucky.
In fact, the winged scorpion gracefully turned around the corner only to meet the same stonewall. Viper still ordered the scorpion to spread out its wings and stop, thing the beast promptly did. However, the air cushion its wings formed wasn't enough to prevent the hit and the scorpion smashed against the wall.
Razor saw that and engaged into a hail of self-appraisal that only took a few seconds, long enough for the slim SWAT Kat to realize that the scorpion hadn't really crashed into the wall but rather landed on it, using its pincers for support. With a jerk of its powerful hind legs, the winged scorpion leapt into the air and unfolded its wings, resuming the chase of the jet fighter.
"Nice try, SWAT Katssss, but no cigar!" – Viper gloated – "I think we'd better end this kat and mouse game and get on with the serious businessssss. Attack them, my pet! Rip that flying monstrosity to shreds!"
And so, with a harder flap of its huge wings, the scorpion started gaining on the TurboKat. In a few moments, an astonished Razor saw the huge beast easily outrun him and gracefully turn around and pounce at the defenseless jet fighter.
The impact was tremendous, shattering the glass of the canopy into a million pieces. The pincers made some rips on the fuselage but nothing more than that. The jet was going down out of control and at a hallucinating pace. Razor tried by all means to level the jet. The control handle seemed to have a life of its own. Razor had to use all his strength to tame it and control the rudders. Reluctantly, the jet stabilized but he was too low in altitude to regain flight.
Razor prepared an emergency landing. He decreased the throttle and unleashed the parachute while the landing gears were lowered. Still, the jet was going too fast for a safe landing. The jet touched the asphalt of the street and a jolt ran through its entire frame. The jet was still going too fast. The tires screeched and their rubber burned. Suddenly, the front landing gear bumped against something and cracked. The nose cone hit the ground and a shower of sparks came from the underside of the jet. Finally, after running loose for more than five hundred meters, the mangled TurboKat came to a halt.
Strapping out of the front seat, Razor groggily jumped out of the jet carcass, stumbling a few feet away from it, until he felt a strong wind flogging his body. When he looked up ahead, the most horrific vision haunted him. The winged scorpion had landed right in front of him and was ready to attack with the enhanced venom from the blistering-flies' genes inserted into its genome. Razor was frozen, unable to move a muscle. Soon, it would all be over.
Razor only felt being pushed aside by the powerful jolt of something wrapping around him. He then felt his body fall and roll on the ground but, somehow, it seemed somewhat cushioned. Moments later, he looked to where he was supposed to be and only a pool of yellowish crud was there. He looked behind him and saw what had hit him.
"T-Bone!" – he managed to utter in a surprised voice.
"I turn my back on you for five minutes and you already gotten yourself in trouble, huh?" – T-Bone said, easing his grip around Razor's torso.
"I thought you…"
"There's no time for that right now. We gotta deal with Wicked Jaws pronto."
Razor recollected himself and positioned beside his burly partner, assuming a fighting stand – "You're right. First things first."
"You puny SWAT Katsssss think you can defeat my ssscorpion?" – Viper gloated.
"It crossed our minds!" – both SWAT Kats said in perfect unison.
"Mini-Cement Launchers!" – Razor stated out. Both toms pointed their glovatrixes to the giant scorpion and fired a few slugs towards its face, covering it with cement.
"Now! Let's make a run for it!" – T-Bone proposed. Both vigilantes ran to the Thundertruck. T-Bone got behind the steering wheel and started the off-road while Razor jumped onto the back of the truck and powered up the laser rifle mounted on the black vehicle.
"Take your best shot, bud!" – T-Bone shouted over the roar of the engine.
"It won't do us any good. Not even the megalaser stopped that other agrecite scorpion. We need a plan!"
"Roger that!" – the brawny SWAT Kat agreed as he steered the black vehicle away from the battlefield.
"You can run, SWAT Katssss…" – Viper yelled at the departing Thundertruck as his giant scorpion's pincers cleared the dried out and rigid cement mask off its snout – "… but you can *not* evade me forever!"
The Thundertruck came to a halt a few blocks away from the battle site, inside a parking silo. T-Bone got out of the truck while Razor jumped to the ground.
"So, what's the plan?" – the burly tom asked.
"I'm afraid I don't have any…" – Razor responded, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning his head down.
"Why don't we just take the bug for a ride like we did with the other?"
"I tried that. It didn't work. They were on to my plan…" – Razor retorted.
"Well, then we're in trouble 'cause we can't stay here forever and we *have* to destroy that overgrown tin canned bug!"
"Let's try to analyze this rationally. What's our problem here?" – Razor questioned himself as he began to pace around the black vehicle.
"Duh! The problem's that big winged bug out there!"
"Simpleton's thought…" – Razor murmured before shaking his head, as if to dismiss that idea – "I know the problem is the scorpion, T-Bone. I meant why can't we take out that beast?"
"Because of its armor."
"Precisely my point!" – Razor snapped back at T-Bone – "Precisely! As long as the scorpion has that metallic plating, our missiles are useless against it."
"Too bad we can't melt its armor…" – T-Bone commented before chuckling – "Now there's a stupid idea…"
Razor suddenly stopped roaming around in circles and looked into the distance with a dumb look on his face.
"That's it!" – Razor said, turning around and pointing his index at T-Bone.
"What you just said: melt down its armor!" – the slim kat said as he walked to T-Bone, waving his index towards the burly kat as he spoke.
"Genius!" – Razor cut him off – "You're a genius, T-Bone!"
"You can't melt an exoskeleton! That's impossible!"
"Well, not really melt but rather *dissolve*… If we can open a gash on that exoskeleton, we'll have a clear way for our missiles. And then we'll WHAM-BANG that overgrown termite!"
"It's a very neat plan, Razor, but where are we gonna get the stuff to dissolve the hardest metal on Gaia?" – T-Bone queried.
"Yes, I know that's the biggest hole in my plan… But perhaps…Yeah… I think I have the answer…"
"Fast thinking…" – T-Bone taunted.
"The scorpion hit the tail wings of the TurboKat with its formic acid and dissolved them. If you recall, the frame of our jet is made of…"
"Agrecite-Beryllium-Aluminum mega-alloy! The strongest alloy there is!"
"Bingo! The scorpion will dead itself in…" – Razor concluded with a grin on his snout.
"So, we have to use its weapon against it… Talk about poetic justice…" – T-Bone said to himself before addressing Razor – "But there's another contingency that could turn out to be a huge liability to our plans… Viper! We've got to get him off his mounting…"
"That means going face to face with old snakepuss and his pet…" – Razor confirmed as he stroked his chin.
"Let's do it! I've been wanting some retribution for quite a long time now…" – T-Bone growled before he smacked his right fist into his left palm.
"You're sure you want to do this? It'll probably be very dangerous!" – Razor queried.
"It can't be more dangerous than the 'updates' you keep makin' on our gizmos…" – T-Bone said with his usual sardonic smile. He then opened the door of the driver seat and hopped inside the Thundertruck.
Razor smiled too. That answer wiped away all his fears. It meant T-Bone – the *real* T-Bone – was back, body and soul. The slim kat jumped onto the back of the truck and took his place at the laser rifle. Inside the Thundertruck, T-Bone started the engine and engaged the first gear.
"Let's burn some *serious* rubber, pal!" – he shouted before he slammed his foot on the throttle, making the off-road jump forward with screeching tires and leaving broad black rubber trails behind.
The Thundertruck stormed out of the parking silo, heading for the final reckoning. At the business heart of Megakat City, the giant winged scorpion thrashed building after building with its immeasurable viciousness.
"This mayhem stops *now*!" – Razor shouted as he aimed the laser rifle at the scorpion and fired some volleys of laser fire that hit the monster's face dead-center, catching both the beast's and its creator's attention.
"Ssso, you have returned!" – Viper said, ending the sentence with an audible hissing sound, narrowing his eyes – "You've sssealed your fates, then! Attack, my pet!"
The scorpion hit a final time the building he was destroying, causing a huge chunk of steel and concrete to dart over towards the Thundertruck. T-Bone immediately shifted the truck in reverse and rammed his foot on the throttle. The black vehicle bolted backward with screeching tires and barely avoided being crushed by the chunk.
The beast then engaged the fleeing vehicle and lunged towards it. Both toms saw the horrendous face of the scorpion coming down on them at full speed, its jaws open and ready to tear them apart. Knowing he could never outrun their flying adversary running in reverse, T-Bone quickly hit the brakes, stopping the vehicle and swiftly shifted it into first gear, putting then the pedal to the metal. The truck jumped forward and Razor had to duck to avoid both falling off the transport and colliding with the snout of the winged beast. Even so, the spiked tail and its pincers still managed to rip the hull of the off-road, bathing Razor in a shower of sparks. T-Bone then pulled the pawbrake as he kept the throttle pressed down and turned the steering wheel completely to the left, bringing the Thundertruck to a spinning halt. Hastily, Razor targeted the scorpion's face and fired blast after blast of laser fire. The blasts forced the beast to land and seemed to daze it a bit but were not enough to stop it…
"Keep firing!" – T-Bone shouted as he kicked the door open – "I'm going in!"
"Roger that!" – Razor responded before pressing the button on the side of his helmet, activating their com-link – "And, be careful!"
"Ain't I always?" - the tabby answered sardonically as he ran towards the giant winged beast – "Of all the foolish things I've ever done in my life this is probably the stupidest, running into the clutches of Death itself…" – he mumbled.
Bolts of laser fire poured over his head, giving him enough cover to reach his deadly target. Even so, a pincered arm came rushing towards him. A quick forward somersault and the brawny SWAT Kat managed to evade that threat, only to be immediately forced to duck to escape the other arm.
Between blasts, Razor saw his partner lunging at the scorpion's neck and, with feline gracefulness, heaving himself to the scorpion's back, where he had to face Doctor Viper himself.
"Missed me, Doc?" – T-Bone asked maliciously as he sat face to face with the reptilian scientist.
"What the…" – Viper still managed to utter before a fist came crashing down on his face, making him roll back over the dorsum of the scorpion. With the aid of his black claws, Viper managed to remain on the beast's back. Crawling his way up to a steady stance over the winged scorpion, the reptilian kat gave out a roar as his eyes acquired a bright golden glow.
T-Bone snarled back at the source of his pain and drew out his claws, readying himself to tackle Viper. However, before T-Bone could make his move, Viper spat a gob of his acidic saliva towards the vigilante. The tabby swept it away with a simple jerk of his right paw.
The tabby did exactly what Viper wanted. With that move, the vigilante had opened his guard. Viper took advantage of it and threw his tail towards T-Bone, wrapping it around the tabby's upper torso, binding T-Bone's arms against his body. The grip of Viper's tail was tight, real tight. It was getting harder for T-Bone to even breathe properly.
"What'sss the matter, SSSWAT Kat?" – Viper gloated – "Where's your arrogance now that your preciousss air isn't reaching your lungsss anymore?"
"Haveta… break… free…" – T-Bone thought with gritted teeth as he struggled to get rid of the iron embrace of Viper's tail – "He's… asphyxiating… me…"
"It'ssss of no use, SSSWAT Kat! My tail has the strongest musssscles in my body! No one can get rid of itsss deadly grip!" – Viper explained before leaning forward, his bifid tongue slithering out of his jaws momentarily as he heaved out an audible hiss – "Have you ever considered a plasssstic sssurgery, SWAT Kat?"
Viper unsheathed his black claws, which glistened briefly at the sunlight. He rested his right index's one on T-Bone's cheek.
"Where to ssstart? Decisionssss, decisionssss…" – the reptilian scientist oozed as he scratched T-Bone's face down to his chin, leaving a thin red trail behind – "I know! How about if I sssstart by your *carotids*?"
Viper drew back his arm, preparing to rip open T-Bone's throat with his claws. He was about to strike when T-Bone's foot came rushing into the snake kat's face, kicking him so hard that dark green blood spurted from Viper's nose. The kick was so powerful that Viper was sent back over the scorpion's dorsum, making the scientist lose the grip his tail held around the brawny vigilante.
"Wretched SWAT Kat…" – Viper said as he tried to regain his position over the scorpion's back, dark green blood oozing down his snout. Words were barely spoken and T-Bone's other foot came crashing down violently against Viper's snout, sending gobs of green blood flying through the air. Dazed with both strokes, Viper lost his stand over the dorsum of the winged beast and fell limply on the ground.
T-Bone breathed in the air greedily – "At last… A few more seconds and…"
The tabby never had the chance to finish his sentence. A jolt and a roar made him clutch the scorpion's hide tightly.
Without Viper's commands, the winged beast became confused and agitated. Its pincers snapped wildly in the air around the big tabby as he tried to keep his stand over the scorpion's back. Confused, the creature spread out its large membranous wings, gaining the skies with a simple flap of them. Soon, the large creature flew in tight circles and complex daredevil paths that would have made even T-Bone's look lame. The beast knew that something other than its creator was tightly pinned to its back and tried to get rid of it. When it realized whatever was attached to its back wouldn't be shaken off by mere complex flight patterns, the scorpion tried something else. It raised its spiked tail and tried either to wipe out the intruder or to stab it with its spike.
T-Bone did his best to avoid the deadly blows of the scorpion's spike. Seeing he had to do something fast before he would be turned into SWAT Kat splatter, T-Bone grabbed the spiked tail with both paws, his legs pressing in tightly around the scorpion's sides.
The beast then became enraged when it felt its most fearsome weapon blocked. It tried to burst free from its captor's clutches but that proved to be quite hard. The scorpion then finally decided to recur to its chemical weaponry. It squirted a gob of enhanced formic acid that barely missed both T-Bone and the scorpion itself.
"That's it!" – T-Bone grunted between clenched teeth as he tried to lower the scorpion's tail and point it to the beast's side – "C'mon, baby, one more time! Do it for old T-Bone!"
T-Bone's prayers were answered. The beast shot another squirt of acid that grazed its side, partially dissolving the thick metal plating and opening a small wound. The scorpion arched back its head and opened its jaws to let out a high-pitched squeal of agony. Enraged by the sudden rush of pain, the beast found enough strength to yank its tail off T-Bone's grip. The tail waved wildly around the SWAT Kat as he tried to grasp it again. But the scorpion was enraged and that task proved to be even more difficult than before. In fact, the beast tried once more to impale whatever was on its back in its tail spike, intent in which it partially succeeded as the spike dug deeply in the side of T-Bone's left leg, ripping a heart-rending scream of pain from the tabby.
Razor stopped tying up Viper for a moment to look up in the skies when T-Bone's scream reached his ears. A frightened look took over his features when he saw the red gush twinkle at the ascending morning sun.
"T-Bone…" – he murmured before hearing a hissing cackle.
"You may have defeated me, SWAT Kat, but my ssscorpion will destroy this foul sssity even without me to command it…"
Razor just looked to the snake kat with a grim expression in his eyes before he resumed tying up the reptilian scientist. He placed a foot on top of Viper's face and finished his task in a rough manner. Even so, he had to control himself not to kill the miserable snake right there. He then headed for the TurboKat and got behind the console of the rear seat. Punching up a few buttons, he activated the jet's upper missile launchers.
"C'mon, buddy! Hurry up and get outta there!"
In the sky, T-Bone had had to pin himself against the back of the scorpion with his arms again. His left leg had a nasty looking puncture and the vital fluid was oozing out from it and soaking the fabric of his G-suit's leg, turning it from blue to almost black. Trying to get to the upright position, he gritted his teeth and closed his eyes as he tried to suppress the pain. Grunting and yelping in pain, the tabby tried to focus his mind on the task at hand: open a gash on the scorpion's plating.
Once again, T-Bone tried to grab the waving tail of the winged scorpion and this time, he managed his intent. Again, the huge beast tried to burst free from T-Bone's grip and, once again, in realizing the task wouldn't be that easy, it prepared to shoot another load of acid. This time, however, T-Bone was prepared. He pulled the scorpion's tail down until it almost contacted the left side of the beast. When the scorpion ejected its potent formic acid for the last time, the squirt hit it's hide dead center, instantly dissolving a large portion of the beast's left side plating and opening a large bleeding wound.
The scorpion roared in pain as its entire body writhed in agony. Once again, T-Bone had to grab onto the dorsum of the beast to prevent falling off. Slamming the side of his helmet, T-Bone activated his com-link with Razor.
"NOW, RAZOR! NOW!" – he bellowed.
"Get out of there! You hear me, T-Bone? Get out of there!" – the voice of his slim friend rang in his ears with the familiar radio tone.
"*So* roger that, pal!" – the brawny kat said before he slipped off the scorpion and into the air.
In the TurboKat, the sights on Razor's visor rested on the writhing scorpion. The lock on tone sounded and Razor was about to press the trigger when something rather disturbing happened. In its agony, the scorpion grabbed T-Bone in its pincers. The grip was tight but, for whatever the reason, the scorpion did not snap the brawny SWAT Kat in two. Instead, it just inspected its founding.
"T-BONE!" – razor shouted in despair.
"FIRE THE MISSILES! DO IT NOW!" – T-Bone roared as the grip around his waist tightened.
Razor nearly flinched with T-Bone's command. The tabby could be quite intimidating when he wanted and Razor knew exactly that tone. For T-Bone, the matter was settled. A trembling thumb approached the trigger.
T-Bone was doomed, ready to accept his fate. It wouldn't matter if he died now or later: death was death.
But, somehow, in a corner of his mind, it wasn't quite like that… Once more, his reckless side surfaced and, once more, overpowered the tabby's thought. An idea was born out of sheer desperation. He struggled to get his right arm free.
Meanwhile, Razor's thumb gently pressed the trigger. From the upper missile launchers, two Baby Boomer Missiles rushed to their target.
The next events happened in less time than it takes to tell. T-Bone pointed his glovatrix at the face of the genetic monstrosity that held him and fired several Mini Tar-pedoes that covered the giant winged scorpion's face. Unable to see, the beast released T-Bone who just fell down, away from the monster. He was safe, he thought. But, in its lunatic agony, the scorpion's tail waved through the air and hit T-Bone with all its might, sending the vigilante away and bringing unconsciousness over to the tabby. The missiles finally met their target, digging in deep into the entrails of the mutated arachnid, where they blew up shortly after. The agrecite plating of the scorpion contained the blast of the explosion but the conflagration reduced its interior to a yellow-greenish pulp that burst from the opening on its side and its jaws, nostrils and eyes.
Viper watched with horror as his creation was blown up from the inside, falling down from the skies in the next moment like a rock. Razor, however, had other things to look and worry at. Like T-Bone, for instance. He had followed T-Bone's trajectory ever since he was hit by the scorpion's tail. He'd seen his friend make an arc and then fall like a stone. Enhancing the image with the help of his helmet's visor, Razor realized his partner was unconscious and unable to deploy his delta pack.
Seeing that T-Bone would crash if he didn't do anything, Razor put on his jetpack and maxed the boosters to their limit. Still, Razor realized he wouldn't be able to reach T-Bone in time. In a last resort maneuver, the slim kat engaged the afterburners at their full throttle. The jump forward nearly broke his neck but at least he got to T-Bone in time, clutching his arms around the tabby's torso. But that stunt had its price. The fuel of the jetpack was utterly spent and both toms started falling. Razor activated T-Bone's delta pack and although the violence of their fall was attenuated, they still hit the ground hard.
Razor let go of T-Bone and rolled on the ground for a couple of meters, twisting his ankle in the process. So it was a limping Razor that went over to T-Bone to try and wake him up.
"Ooooh… Wha… What happened?" – a groggy T-Bone asked – "Did we…"
"We did it, pal!" – Razor said as he patted T-Bone's shoulder – "We did it!"
"Where's Viper?" – T-Bone queried as he tried to get up. The sharp pain that knifed up his leg remembered him of his injury. He grimaced.
"Easy. Viper's a bit tied up at the moment. Let the Enforcers take care of him. Right now you need medical attention."
"We're not going to Konway again, are we?" – T-Bone whined – "Who knows what he'll inject in me this time!"
"Afraid of needles?" – Razor taunted – "That's a new development…"
"I'm not afraid of needles! It's what's inside the syringe that scares me…"
"He, he. Roger that… Let's get the Turbokat and the Thundertruck and head home. I think we both could use some vacations…"
Meanwhile, back at the business center of MegaKat City, the Enforcers had the perimeter of the zone finally surrounded and moved in to collect their prize. Two Enforcers carried away a frantic and seemingly crazed Doctor Viper.
"Feral! You mussst let me go! I can't go to jail!" – the reptilian kat begged Feral, who just gave him a disgusted look.
"Tell that to Warden Felson and your inmates at Alkatraz. Maybe *they* have some compassion for your words. Get this miserable excuse for a kat out of my sight…"
"No! *No*! You don't underssstand! You mussst let me go! YOU MUSSST LET ME GO! DON'T YOU KNOW HE'LL FIND ME? HE'LL FIND ME AND KILL ME! YOU MUSSST LET ME GOOOOOOOOOOOO!"
»»» Alkatraz Island «««
"This new prisoner is an important acquisition for this facility, Commander Feral." – Warden Felson said from behind his desk.
"I know. It's a long awaited victory for the Enforcers that Doctor Viper is finally behind bars."
The gray-furred tabby lifted from his chair and placed his paws over the desktop for support as he leaned forward.
"I heard the Enforcers owe this so-called victory to those outlaws, the SWAT Kats. Is that so, Commander?" – Felson asked, maliciously.
"They had a minor participation but yes, they helped capturing Doctor Viper." – the brawny brown-furred tom responded, crossing his arms over his chest. Feral didn't like the course the conversation was taking.
"I believe that is why you didn't press any charges against those criminals, isn't it so, Commander?"
Feral scowled – "That is correct. And this time, for a change, they barely made any damage at all. So, I had no reason to press any charges against them."
Felson got out from behind the desk and headed for the window of his office, which had a marvelous view over the ocean. In the distance, he could discern the buildings of Megakat City.
"Must I remind you, Commander, that, by our law, the simple *existence* of vigilantes is punishable?" – Felson said, still looking out the window. Feral scowled even more.
"I know full well our penal code, Warden." – Feral replied in an acid tone.
"You seem to have grown softer, then…"
"I always take good care of nuisances, Warden Felson… Always… Have a good day." – Feral said in a gelid tone before leaving Felson's office. The warden kept looking out the window.
"And a good day to you too, Commander… Enjoy it… While it lasts…"
Meanwhile, in a cell of the maximum-security wing of Alkatraz, a green form laid down in a ball in his cot with his tail wrapped tightly around his body as if to protect it from some unseen danger. Visible tremors ravaged his body and he looked with frightened eyes from one side to the other.
"I'm not sssafe here… I need my plantimalsss… I need protection… My lab was well guarded. This joint is unsssafe… I'm in danger here… He'll find me… He'll find me and kill me… He'll kill me… He'll kill me…" – Viper muttered.
"You can bet your life he will…" – someone said in a low tone, although there was no one in sight – "Your days are numbered…"
"No… NO! LET ME OUT OF HERE! I HAVE TO GET BACK TO MY LAB! LET ME OUT OF HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERE!
- The SWAT Kats' Final Resistance;
- Purpose is All;
- MadKat and Me.