SWAT KATS: CLOSING REPORT

By Eric "Erico" Lawson

"The machine does not isolate man from the great problems of nature but plunges him more deeply into them." -Saint Expury, Wind, Sand, and Stars


4 Hours after Metal Urgency

Enforcers HQ, Interrogation

Downtown Megakat City

Protecting Megakat City was one crisis after another. Today's crisis; the Metallikats out on a joyride with enormous robots as big as buildings. The end result of it all still left a bitter, foul taste in Commander Feral's mouth. Now there was an enormous crater only seven blocks away from the HQ building, with gas lines, sewer mains, water lines, and electricity all smashed to hell. It would take Megakat Municipal Utilities days to clean up the mess and repair the damage, and the only reason the lights were still on was because Enforcers HQ had backup power generators running full bore in one section of the complex's basement, close to the underground patrol car garage. There had been flooding closer to the crater from the broken mains before MMU had gotten them shut off; any closer and the water could have gotten to their basement as well. Feral made a mental note to explore moving the backup generators up a few floors. The cynical boy scout in him said it was only a matter of time before the city was attacked by a magical hurricane or something else equally ridiculous, and when that happened, they would need to keep the HQ running.

At least the Enforcers inside of the HQ knew well enough to stay out of his way. He didn't think of himself as any grumpier than anyone else in the world, but days like this, there was no hiding his frustration. Reaching the door that one nervous staff officer had directed him to, Feral took a few moments to compose himself and draw in much needed oxygen before entering. Considering who was waiting for him behind the door, he needed to try and calm himself down.

To think that one old kat might be responsible for so much of the city's pain. It boggled the mind.

Ulysses Feral put his stoic face back on, turned the doorknob, and stepped inside.

An old, wizened rail thin tom in brown trousers and a lab coat sat inside the interrogation room, doing his best to stay comfortable in the small, unheated space. A lone blinking security camera in the corner of the ceiling had been his only company for hours. As Feral entered, he looked up and blinked through his glasses, taking a moment to focus in on his visitor.

"Professor Alfons Hackle." Feral said flatly, sitting down across from him.

The old tom smiled slightly, more on reflex than with genuine warmth. "Just Hackle will do. Very few kats bother with my first name these days. I was beginning to think you had forgotten about me, Commander."

"I hadn't. There's just a lot of cleanup to supervise, as well as making sure that there isn't any looting and rioting tonight." An excuse with a barb in it, Commander Feral watched the aging scientist's reaction. Hackle winced, and the small attempt at a smile drained away. "When the Metallikats were joyriding in those Pumadyne robots, you said that it was 'all your fault.' Also that you would explain later. Would you care to tell me about your involvement with the Metallikats?"

"Am I under arrest, Commander?" Hackle asked quietly.

The counter-question gave Feral exactly one second's worth of pause. He'd heard that line far too many times in his career. It was usually followed by a suspect lawyering up.

"No. I'm just trying to get to the bottom of this incident, and the Metallikats in general. We never could figure out how a couple of low-life hoods ended up as steel terrors."

"In that case, could we move to somewhere less intimidating?" Hackle asked. "Preferably somewhere with a bathroom? Or coffee?"

"Not used to being in a jail, are you?" Feral suggested.

A bit of steel came back into Hackle's spine, and the old tom reached for his forearm. He pulled the labcoat, and then his shirt sleeve back as well to reveal the thinning gray fur of his forearm to view.

The sight of tattooed numbers under fur that had never grown back correctly sucked the wind right out of Commander Feral.

"Not since I was a boy." Hackle said, standing up and reaching for his cane.


Enforcers HQ

Conference Room

The chairs were cozier, the room was air conditioned, and there were coffee and doughnuts. Because of how late it was, Feral even reached for one with frosting and sprinkles just to get something in his stomach.

Professor Hackle had a half-eaten pastry sitting in front of him, and paid Feral little attention as he added yet more creamer to his coffee. The distraction gave Feral a chance to set down a video camera at the far end of the mahogany table before taking a seat opposite of the eccentric scientist.

"So." He said, smoothing out his Enforcers uniform as he sat down. "Your name turned up in our records; not a criminal database, but our system files. You work for Pumadyne."

"Worked." Hackle said, stirring his coffee for the third time and giving it a test sip. Satisfied with the taste, he finally pushed the glass dispenser back to the rotating condiments island at the table's center. "I have been retired for six years. You can confirm that with Pumadyne's payroll and pension department."

"We will. Right now, they're being remarkably belligerent in getting back to us about those Macrobots; that was not a project the Enforcers commissioned."

"Does this surprise you?" Hackle asked. He reached for his doughnut again. "Pumadyne is your primary weapons supplier, but they are a company with broken morals and only one goal; profit."

Feral took the verbal riposte in stride. "Let's go back to you, then. You're retired now, an older kat sitting around at home. How did you create the Metallikats?"

"I have been researching robotics for years in my golden years. I considered it a more noble aspiration than the manufacture of weapons." Hackle chewed down the last bit of doughnut and licked his fingers. "I wanted to use my talents for the good of katkind. I had designed those Macrobots to be sturdy enough for deep space exploration. They were still just blueprints when I learned that Pumadyne wanted to make them into weapons. That ended up being the catalyst to making me quit. On my own, in my home, I tinkered, making smaller robots. That was when two kats, dying and broken, washed up on the shore by my house."

Feral's blood froze. No.

Hackle paused, lifting up his mug of coffee and staring into it for a few moments. "Had I known who they were, I would not have converted them into mechanical form."

"It would have been better to let them die." Feral agreed quickly, and with a bit more heat than he should have used. "How did you not know who they were? They were in prison uniforms!"

"She was wearing heels, Commander. And prison uniforms are either black and white striped, or solid orange." Hackle pointed out.

Except for Alkatraz...which uses gray only, Feral recalled bitterly. Another oversight to correct.

Hackle sat quietly and drank his coffee in slow, contemplative sips. "Did it work?" He finally asked.

Feral took a moment to sort out what the professor was referring to. "Your neutralizer. Yes. It did. They're offline."

Hackle closed his eyes. "Good."

"It doesn't make you any less responsible, you know."

"I am aware. They have taken lives, Commander." Hackle rasped. "Like everything else I have ever made with the best of intentions, they brought nothing but ruin. There is no statute on the books about being arrested for turning a dying kat into a robot to save their life, but I am marked nonetheless. The technology to download a kat's brain to a computer memory bank was meant to preserve the most brilliant minds of our time, to give future generations access to their wisdom. To give the promise of life to the terminally ill. All of it now must be discarded. What has happened once, I cannot allow to happen again. That Neural Neutralizer was not meant to fix everything. Merely to stop them once and for all."

Feral shook his head. "It seems you can make a very effective weapon."

"To my eternal regret." Hackle finished off his coffee. "It is late. You need sleep as much as I do, I think. Since I am not under arrest, I will go home."

"I'll have more questions for you later."

"I expected as much."

"Don't leave town."

"My dear Commander Feral. Where would I go?" Hackle mustered another grimacing smile. Without bothering to offer a farewell or a handshake, the old professor braced himself on his cane and headed for the exit. Feral watched him depart, stifling one last growl. Only after the doors were shut did he get up and move to the video camera to shut it off.


2 Days After Metal Urgency

The staff sergeant forever assigned to Commander Feral's office continued on with his report, and Feral was listening with about half of his attention to the ongoing list of damages and repairs.

"...and Pumadyne's lawyers have finally responded to the public outcry. They are claiming that Pumadyne cannot be held financially or legally responsible for the rampage caused by the Metallikats."

That finally stirred Feral from his thoughts. He bared his teeth. "Amazing. Did they have any opinion on the fact that it was their Macrobots which made the devastation so terrible?"

The sergeant reviewed his notes. "To sum it up; you don't arrest the owner of a stolen firearm when the thief uses it in a mugging." He glanced up at Feral, his face placid as ever. "And they have refused to explain who they were making them for; client privilege. The Attorney General's office has reviewed the situation and determined that there is no basis for prosecutors to move forward with a case against them."

And the weapon makers go unpunished. Feral found his thoughts turning back to Professor Hackle at that. Megakat City was full of mad scientists; finding one who had developed a conscience was unusual.

"Has the investigative bureau finished that dossier on Professor Hackle like I asked?"

"One moment, sir. Let me check here." The sergeant thumbed through the documents on his clipboard and nodded once. "The Agent in Charge estimates that they should have it wrapped up by tomorrow evening."

"I want it on my desk as soon as they finish it."

"Yes, sir." The sergeant quickly vocalized, but his stare lingered a fraction of a second longer than usual.

"Was there something else, sergeant?"

"Permission to ask a question, sir." When Feral gave a single short nod, the sergeant braced himself. "Are we throwing the book at him?"

"I haven't decided yet." Feral's eyes narrowed. "How many Enforcers know about his involvement in the Macrobot incident?"

"A few, sir. The ones who were with you when he gave you that anti-Metallikat gun. Two in processing. I've done my best to keep them from talking to others about it, knowing your concerns about gossip."

"Good job, sergeant. I want this kept quiet until I decide what to do."

"Yes, sir."

"Anything else?"

"No, sir. Am I dismissed?"

"You are, sergeant. Carry on."

The staff sergeant came to attention and saluted, and Feral returned a more casual one. After the sergeant was gone, Commander Feral got up from his desk and walked to his coat rack, suiting up to leave.

He had twenty minutes until he was due on patrol in his chopper. He prayed it would be a quiet one.


4 Days after Metal Urgency

There were holes in the dossier, but that was unsurprising. Professor Alfons Hackle's career within Pumadyne was something of a black hole, as the company had the habit of disguising the involvement of their key personnel behind innocuous job titles, and omitting their specific duties and achievements.

Sitting in his apartment, Feral allowed himself the rare pleasure of a triple scotch and relaxing in his casual clothes while he reviewed everything there was to know about the kat who had claimed responsibility for the creation of the Metallikats.

Hackle had emigrated to Megakat City's territory shortly after the end of Megawar II at the age of 17. Prior to being rescued by Allied soldiers from one of several work camps run by the Rexalian Imperial government, the details of his life were obscured by destroyed census records. There wasn't even a birth certificate to be found with his name on it.

His schooling was even more unusual. He'd apparently started in pre-medicine and done fairly well, but after two years of that, the immigrant had switched fields to engineering, of all things. He'd graduated the Megakat Technology Institute with honors, and had gotten involved with MASA during its earliest days of space exploration. Those records, more accessible than his work at Pumadyne, showed him to be an active and involved participant in the rocket development program, and a key staff member.

And then the switch, in the 70's: He went from being a MASA engineer to working for Pumadyne. Nailing down specific accomplishments was impossible, but given his fluctuating job titles, Hackle was a kat who had his claws in a lot of different pies.

Less carefully guarded were the details of his personal life. He lived out in Megakat Shores, a coastal community full of expensive beach houses well off the beaten path from Megakat City proper. He'd apparently bought into it long before the real estate developers realized the potential of selling 'escape homes' to the rich; his property stretched out for more than a kilometer in either direction along the coast from his home.

Alfons Hackle lived alone, though. Court records showed that while he'd gotten married right after graduation from MTI, his wife had divorced him after 13 years, shortly before his move to Pumadyne. They had three children, and she had been made the primary parent after the separation.

The dossier left far too many holes in it for a fully accurate assessment. Feral scowled and drained the last of his scotch down. Why the shift from medicine to engineering? Why the shift from MASA to the military industrial setting?

The only kat who could provide those answers was Hackle himself, especially since putting forward the evidence necessary for a search and seizure warrant at Pumadyne was risky on several fronts. If Hackle was to be believed, his fascination in robotics came near the end of his tenure at Pumadyne. And nobody else, so far as Feral knew, was anywhere close to making robots on the level that the Metallikats had been.

Feral got up and looked around his living room, and for one dark moment as his gaze alit on his service laser pistol hanging on its holster, one troubling thought presented itself; Would the knowledge end with him?

He shivered it off and took his empty glass into the kitchen, washing it out. After he'd set it rim side down on a towel to dry, he paced inside of his apartment until an unfamiliar ache in his back made itself known.

He was getting older, and the job wasn't getting any easier.

Ulysses Feral went to his phone and dialed up his staff sergeant's home number. Three rings, then an answer. "Sergeant. Clear my schedule tomorrow afternoon." Feral paused, listening to the response. "It can wait. I've got a personal appointment I can't put off." Another quick acknowledgement, and he hung up.

It had been 2 days since the staff sergeant had asked him what his plans for Professor Hackle were. To the credit of his Enforcers, everyone was mum on the topic of an old scientist who'd supplied the one weapon capable of stopping the metallic gangsters once and for all.

Things couldn't stay quiet forever. He looked out of his high-rise apartment window and down into the streets of the sprawling metropolis below; all light and noise and movement, with all the troubles that came along with it.

In Megakat City, not even the dead were quiet.


Megakat Shores

Professor Hackle's Home

5 Days after Metal Urgency

Early Afternoon

Within the confines of his own home, Professor Alfons Hackle seemed no less haunted than he had been in the interrogation room or even the conference room at Enforcers Headquarters. That did not seem to be reflected in a sense of apprehension or nervousness, but merely bland resignation. Under different circumstances, Commander Feral might have considered it to be sheer indifference brought on by the presence of only a single uniformed officer instead of two or more. Having met the kat once before, the head of the Enforcers knew that it was the old tom merely biding his time, waiting for the hammer to fall.

They were sitting out on the deck at the rear of the beach house, having skipped the adjoining, rather large garage structure beside it. Hackle was wearing the same clothes he'd been the night of the Macrobots incident, or at least another set of clothes exactly like them. Feral drank from the mug of coffee Hackle had offered him. The scientist's own went untouched. On the small table between their wooden deck chairs, a tape recorder slowly spooled cassette tape across the recording head, putting down the sounds of the waves and the surf and the tapping of Feral's claws on his armrest.

"You have questions." Hackle finally opened.

Feral stared at him, saying nothing. It was an old tactic, but an effective one. Stay silent and kats would talk without being prodded, perhaps even saying more than the cautious intended.

After fifteen seconds, Hackle looked over the shore. "All this was wilderness when I moved here. The roads weren't even paved then; that came with the land development. I had enough land that I was able to keep travelers well clear of my home. Then, I enjoyed the solitude. Now?" He shook his head. "I live in an empty house, at the end of an empty life."

"Hardly uneventful, however." Feral finally said. "The parts of your life we could find were very interesting. Perhaps you would care to fill in the blanks."

"Why?" Hackle asked. "Would it change what I have done?"

"No. But it would help to explain why." Feral clarified. "And in law enforcement, we are very interested in motive."

Hackle closed his eyes, letting the sound of the waves lapping up against Megakat Shores give him a moment of peace. "Where do we start?"

Feral shrugged. "Your schooling, after you emigrated to Megakat City; you were in medicine. Then you went into engineering; rocket science. Why the shift?"

"Medicine had been my mother's dream for me. My father was an automotive designer, a very brilliant one. It was what kept us as skilled labor instead of working twenty hour shifts in that Rexalian work camp; slave labor we may have been, but they needed his mind to build weapons of war." Hackle folded his paws together and rested them against his stomach. "But we were not well cared for. Illness took us all. My younger sister first, then my mother. My father was executed afterwards; they caught him attempting to sabotage his work. By the time the Federation closed in, I was the only one left. I tried to move on. Tried to be the healer my mother had wanted me to be. But…"

The old kat opened his eyes and looked to Feral with a sad smile. "We cannot change our stripes. There was too much of my father's talent and training in me. And to reach for the stars? I convinced myself it was a noble endeavor."

"It was." Feral nodded. "It still is. So why…"

"Why Pumadyne." Hackle finished, and somehow looked older in seconds. He reached for his cane, stood up, and trudged to the railing. "Could I ask you something, Commander?"

"Within reason, I suppose."

"What made you choose the Enforcers?"

"To serve and protect." Feral responded instantly, mechanically. Hackle looked back at him. "I was serious." Feral insisted.

"I believe you." Hackle nodded. "For me, I suppose...it was much the same. I had a wife and children, and more and more I was exactly like my father." He made a half turn, shifting his cane and setting his free hand on the deck rail. "I had been part of the team that had helped katkind reach the moon, and yet this world was still flawed. I saw dangers plague it."

"So you decided to build weapons then? To protect the world?"

"A weapon in the wrong hands can bring ruin. In the right ones, it can prevent it." Hackle sighed. "And behind it all, an irrational fear that if I did not, then the fate of my father would be mine as well...to watch as my family died, one after the other."

Feral tapped a claw against his knee. "I read you were divorced, and that she got the kids."

"She did. Back then, I was bitter. Now, I cannot blame her. I was never there for them." Hackle let out a soft chuff. "To try so hard to keep them safe, only to lose them anyways. So I kept working, this time to keep my house and to pay alimony. But after a time, making weapons takes something from you. What Pumadyne wanted and what I wanted, deviated. I reached out to my old friends at MASA. Tried to get a new project started that would help them. That was the Macrobots. Pumayne's board of directors flatly turned down my proposal, but then a month later, I heard that they were considering using 'giant robots' as the next great evolution in warfare. My work, twisted towards evil purposes. So I resigned."

"You're a smart kat, Hackle. I think you can guess what my next question will be."

Hackle pursed his lips. "Could anyone else make more robot menaces like the Metallikats?" Feral waved a hand at him impatiently, and Hackle shook his head. "I want to say no. I want to believe it. Yet...everyone has seen the Metallikats, and minds will begin to wonder. There is nobody else in the field I know of that has solved Artificial Intelligence yet. I can bury the technology to digitize a kat's brain and hope no one else reaches the same solution in our lifetimes. Their robotic forms, though?" The scientist inhaled slowly. "If Pumadyne built the Macrobots, it is only a matter of time before they start to design smaller. The smaller they get, the more easily they can be...misappropriated." He met Feral's stare. "If you are in earnest about preventing the rise of criminal robots, you should melt them down. Before you will regret not doing so."

"The Enforcers are not murderers." Feral growled.

"You already pulled a trigger once on them." Hackle pointed out. "Is tossing their corpses into molten fire any worse?" Feral seethed, and Hackle shook his head. "At least with that, I know do you not mean to kill me to silence the secret."

Feral twitched at the assertion, sickened by the thought of it.

"No. I have given this matter...quite a lot of thought. More than any case in the last 3 years." His claws popped out and flexed back in against his coat, and he stared down at the sun-beaten wood decking. "You have no idea just how badly this entire mess has screwed everything up. You might have an inkling. After so much devastation, so much damage to structures, loss of life, kats get angry. They need something or someone to get angry at. To blame for it. And yes, the Metallikats take the lion's share of it, but they're offline. I can't chase after Pumadyne, because the DA's office has been wrangling with their legal vultures to no avail. I am going after the SWAT Kats, because those hotshots are responsible for plowing a crater into downtown."

"And yet, without me, there would be no crater to begin with. No Macrobots for the Metallikats to hijack. And no Metallikats." Hackle mused.

"Do you want to go to jail?"

"No. But I am stating facts, because you are building up to something, and I have no patience for segues at my age. If I am not to be silenced, then it means you have decided I am to pay for my part in this."

Feral harrumphed. "Fine. The thing is; I can't arrest you." He glared at Hackle and waited for it to sink in. "The moment I do, it starts the race. Even if we confiscate all your technology here in your home, even if we try to bury it where no kat will ever find it, the secret gets out. Either Pumadyne or some other company sends some corporate espionage agent after it, or worse, a terrorist like Dark Kat decides to flat out steal it, or you, or both to further his own agenda. Not even Witness Protection would be enough. You aren't another scumbag kat who squealed on the mob. For what's in your head, there are governments who would go to war for it."

"So your solution is to make it so I am ignored, and that no one ever connects the dots between the Metallikats...and myself." Hackle brought a wiry arm up and removed his glasses, slowly wiping them off. "For a paramilitary law enforcement officer, you are quite skilled in diplomacy and Realpolitik. For the sake of preventing a worse tragedy, you hide the kat responsible for the nightmare's unintended origin."

"I have done more to conceal less." Feral murmured, and stepped away from Hackle and the deck railing. He reached for the tape recorder on the patio table and shut it off. With Professor Hackle watching in dawning realization, he removed the cassette tape from the device and crushed it in his paw. Then, from his pocket, he produced a videotape. The evidence from his first interview with Hackle, shortly after the Metallikats were put down. It too was destroyed by a similar application of force, and the entire mess was dropped into a lidded wastebasket nearby.

"There are terms for my lapse in memory."

Hackle slowly placed his glasses back on. "I expected as much."

"You are to cut off all contact with your former associates. Pumadyne, MASA, everyone. For this to work, your 'retirement' has to be complete. In return, your involvement in this matter will go no farther than the production of the Neural Neutralizer."

"And how will you manage that?"

"You have enough to deal with. Leave that to me." Feral said, ending the contemplation.

Hackle gave it approximately five second's worth of thought before nodding silently. "For what it is worth, again, I am sorry. I had only the best of intentions. In everything. I still believe that robots, my own or someone else's, may yet help katkind to find lasting peace."

"After everything you've been through, you still have hope?" Feral asked.

Hackle smiled a little bit at that. "Hope is not something you discard when it is inconvenient." He gave the Commander another nod and then turned to stare out over the waves coming into the shore. "I will keep my end of this devil's bargain, Commander. But please, think about what I have said. End the Metallikats, once and for all."

Stone faced, Feral refused to answer Hackle's plea as he departed. The drive back to Megakat City gave him plenty of time to think on it.


Enforcers Headquarters

Downtown Megakat City

7 Days after Metal Urgency

Commander Feral had handed two copies of the long-awaited document to his staff sergeant; the first was to be filed in Records, and the second down in the evidence lockup, along with the important items from the Metallikats/Pumadyne Macrobot case file. Not thinking anything of it, the sergeant in his crisp uniform had marched off to deliver the first, but the size of the document, some 80 pages long for one copy alone, did leave him wondering. The Commander rarely authored these documents himself, usually only rubber-stamping a seal of approval after some lower ranked officer did all the work of putting it together. This one had his name on it.

After putting the first file into its requisite folder in Records, his curiosity got the better of him, and after getting in the elevator and pushing the floor for evidence, he turned it over to read the cover.

The Pumadyne Macrobots Incident: Closing Report

There were the usual and expected items; A breakdown of the crisis from start to finish, troop deployments, casualty figures, damage estimates, and summaries of trooper and witness interviews. The sergeant gave them only a cursory examination in his search for what he was really after; Mention of Professor Hackle's involvement in the matter. Ever since Feral had grumblingly admitted that he had 'misplaced' the video recording of his interview with the scientist and been forced to scratch out his best recollection of what had been discussed, it had been eating away in the back of his subordinate's mind.

The elevator dinged right as he reached the section labeled 'Principal Persons of Interest', and the sergeant stepped off into the basement corridor before resuming his reading.

The Metallikats were listed. So were the SWAT Kats, whose own involvement was heavily criticized as leading to the incident's conclusion, but at a terrible cost in damages. The two villains got two pages, the SWAT Kats one.

Professor Hackle, the kat responsible for the creation of the Metallikats to begin with, and for the creation of their 'silver bullet' to use the phrase, was only mentioned in two paragraphs.

During the climax of the battle against the hijacked Macrobots, a retired Pumadyne engineer, Professor Alfons Hackle, arrived on the scene and met with Commander Feral. He provided the Enforcers with a lone prototype of what he called a "Neural Neutralizer", a device capable of generating a localized disabling electrical field.

After the Macrobots were destroyed following their plummet from Megakat Trade Towers, the Neural Neutralizer proved effective in putting the battered remains of the Metallikats offline permanently. The Neutralizer itself, however, malfunctioned afterwards,. In a followup examination, Professor Hackle declared that while the Neural Neutralizer had worked before destructing, the feasibility of recreating it was impossible due to a loss of his notes following a small, contained fire at his home. As the Metallikats are no longer a factor in future threat assessments, and the device itself is impractical for other applications, the Enforcers have no further interest in the former scientist and engineer.

The staff sergeant shook his head. No mention of Hackle's real involvement. The scientist's dossier was in Records; he had seen them along with Feral's handwritten interview notes when he'd put the first copy of the closing report in the case file folder.

Commander Feral had asked him to keep the matter quiet, to make sure the few Enforcers who were 'in the know' about Hackle didn't talk. The sergeant had asked his superior if Hackle was going to be charged with a crime. At the time, the Commander had said he hadn't decided. Apparently, one week's worth of quiet investigation and thought had allowed the head of the Enforcers to reach a decision. Even if the staff sergeant didn't agree with it, he'd served under Feral for years. When it came to reports, Feral left nothing to chance.

As he walked into evidence, he gave a wave and a quick greeting to Sergeant Smitty, the deskbound older Enforcer who was at eligible retirement age, but kept on serving in a minor capacity keeping an eye on the shelves upon shelves in evidence lockup. The old kat gave him a nod in return and turned his radio down; another swing band was playing a popular number from 40 years ago.

"Morning, Smitty."

"That it is. Need me to file that away?"

"No, I can do it. I remember where to look."

Smitty shrugged; it was a slight breach of protocol, but one he was willing to live with. "Okay. You can sign in the report when you get back." He went back to his crossword and turned the radio back up. Unseen, the staff sergeant rolled his eyes and walked back into the caged space.

Passing by one shelf after another, he made his way through the maze until he found the shelf in question. There sat the two mangled and battered heads of the Metallikats, Mac and Molly. Their electronic eyes, red when active, were black and lifeless. Two of the most feared gangsters had, for a time, been an even more terrible and unstoppable duo.

The sight of them as broken paperweights was unsettling. He shook it off and reached for the file box beside their metallic skulls, popping the lid off. Without looking, he reached in with the closing report to put the matter to rest, but the back of his fingers brushed up against something cold and metallic. He paused for two seconds before reaching in and pulling out the artifact. The Neural Neutralizer.

The staff sergeant glanced between the device and the heads of the criminals it had been designed for. Absentmindedly, he reached for the power toggle along the top side of the stock, right where the safety would be on an ordinary laser pistol. The thing whined to life.

The report had said that the Neural Neutralizer had malfunctioned. It was more than just a simple omission. Feral had lied. Unsettled, the sergeant traced the weapon with a thumb before shutting it back off and placing it in the box, laying it on top of the doctored closing report.

There had to be a very good reason for why Feral had left out so much, and changed other details. The head of the Enforcers had been looking haggard for days while the fallout from the Macrobots Incident had been ongoing.

Now, the staff sergeant had a good idea why. And he decided that the less he knew about the matter, the better he would sleep at night.

As he put the box back on the shelf, a soft, scrabbling sound caught on the edge of his hearing, and the sergeant froze. Rats, maybe? By the time he was listening in earnest, the noise was gone.

He dismissed the odd occurrence and gave the final resting place of the Metallikats one last look, then turned and walked back out. He left his questions and his doubts buried in the box. Megakat City, and its eternal struggle to stave off disaster from inside and out, beckoned. For the sake of peace, the dead could keep their secrets.

END