At the moment, Zyme was sitting in one of the ratty-looking armchairs in the main hollow, studying a checkerboard on the table in front of him. It was his move. Across from him was the mushroom monster, blinking stupidly. Although Zyme would've preferred chess, checkers was the next best thing, and he was winning hands-down. The television set suspended over by Viper's lab area, turned to the Kat's Eye News Channel, all news all the time, as the motto went.
All Ann Gora was more like it, Zyme thought as he finally moved his checker over the board.
"King me," he said, smiling.
"Blaaaarrrrgh?!" roared the mushroom-kat angrily, and he smacked the table aside, sending checkers flying everywhere.
"Throwing a temper tantrum can't help you," Zyme said.
Ignoring him, the monster turned his attention to the couch behind him and began to maul it. Zyme sighed, wishing Viper had taken the monster with him, but Viper left him behind because of how impulsively he'd acted the other day. Besides, Viper had reasoned, his growth formula would ensure more than enough protection in the form of the mutated plants in the building.
"This is Ann Gora, reporting live once again from the Megakat Tower, in the aftermath of what has been the closest call this city has had since Dark Kat's attempted bombing not long ago!"
Zyme turned, having caught that. Grabbing the remote, he turned the volume up. Aftermath? Close call? Could this mean Viper had failed? Rising, he walked over and stood beneath the TV, looking up at it as Ann Gora appeared on-screen, microphone in hand. Behind her was a flurry of activity, Enforcers and fire fighters running around willy-nilly at the base of the Megakat Tower. Or, at least, what appeared to be the Megakat Tower. It looked like it had been bombed!
"Earlier this morning, according to Deputy Mayor Briggs, the fiendish Dr. Viper seized control of the building with an army of mutated plant monsters!" Ann was saying.
Fiendish was right, Zyme thought.
"Viper planned to use what the Deputy Mayor referred to as a 'spore pod' to shower the city with the seeds of mutant plants, to transform it into a giant swamp."
Right then, Zyme knew that Viper had failed. He didn't know how he should feel. While he was glad for the rest of the city that Viper's plan had been thwarted, he began to worry about himself. When, and if, Viper returned home, he was going to be angry, and Zyme had no doubt he would vent his rage on him.
But what if Viper had been killed? Zyme hoped not. His... mixed feelings towards his former assistant aside, if Viper died, Zyme's changes of making it through the wilderness of the Dead Forest and Megakat Swamp died with him. It was the main reason he hadn't tried to escape the handful of times his captors had gone out. He simply didn't dare risk trudging through that vast, swampy wasteland on his own, lest he be eaten by alligators or sink into a bog.
On the TV, Mayor Manx went by in the background, wearing his hideously tacky golf clothes. Ann Gora turned and tried to talk to him, but he shoved the microphone away and grumbled, "No comment!"
She had better luck with Commander Feral. "Commander Feral," she said, "could you please give our viewers an update on what has transpired since your attempt to use weed killer against Dr. Viper's plant creatures?"
"Well," said Feral, "the SWAT Kats were able to use some kind of freezing agent against the creatures, but in the process they froze the whole building solid! Here, get a shot of it!" He grabbed the camera, and the view went all wobbly for a second.
"Hey!" Zyme heard Ann's cameraman complain.
After steadying, the view showed the full destruction of the Tower, a big, frozen mess slowly thawing in the mid-afternoon sun. Fire fighters were hosing it off with water in an apparent effort to speed up the melting of the ice.
Zyme smiled. It'd been his idea to make the Plantimals immune to weed killer. He'd gotten the idea from the way the giant bacteria had been immune to antibiotics, and Viper had been pleased with the idea, fortunately for Zyme, since it provided cover for his true agenda... engineering a completely different weakness into the creatures that the immunity to weed killer was only a cover for.
After learning that it was electricity that had killed the giant bacteria, effectively cooking them, Dr. Zyme, while slaving away helping his captor design the different kinds of Plantimals, had deliberately inserted a faulty gene into the plant monsters that made them particularly susceptible to cold the same way the bacteria monsters had been susceptible to the heat generated by electrical currents coursing through them, designing a fatal flaw in Dr. Viper's precious Plantimals right under the evil scientist's big black nose and disguising it by pretending to knuckle under to his new "master" with the idea for weed killer immunity.
If would mean painful punishment if Viper found out the weakness to cold had been intentional, and although Zyme was terrified of what Viper would do to him, he decided he didn't care anymore. He was ashamed of the role he'd played in the Megakat Tower plot, ashamed of the things he'd said and done to stay alive while sometimes literally in Dr. Viper's cruel coils. And he come what may, he was pleased that he'd atoned by providing the SWAT Kats the key to destroying the Plantimals and keeping Megakat City, and all of katkind, safe.
He figured the SWAT Kats must have used liquid nitrogen, perhaps in the form of super rocket coolant. Only something like that could flash-freeze a skyscraper like that. He shook his head. The SWAT Kats were needlessly destructive sometimes, but at least they'd used the key he'd secretly provided them with and stopped Dr. Viper and saved Megakat City.
Hearing footsteps, Zyme turned and gasped involuntarily as he saw Dr. Viper come up the stairs and enter the main chamber. As he had anticipated, Viper was glowering with fury.
"Purvis," he said. "Are you all right?"
Viper didn't respond. Throughout the entire interview on the TV, the mushroom monster had been obliviously tearing the couch apart. He'd been gnawing on a cushion as Viper came in, but stopped, wide-eyed, as Viper entered.
Viper's entire body ached all over. His lab coat hung in tatters off his body, half frozen and half singed. Ignoring Zyme's question, he stormed past him and went immediately to the lab table and stood in front of it, fists clenched, body twitching in barely-contained rage.
Those meddling SWAT Kats! This was the second time they had managed to surprise him by finding out a weakness in his monsters he had not known about, despite his careful planning! He hadn't minded when it came to the bacteria monsters previously. Those had only been created to help him steal Katalyst 99, and whether or not the SWAT Kats destroyed them once he acquired the chemical had been beside the point. Regardless, he had found it mildly annoying when they had discovered that they were killable through electricity, something he had not anticipated. And if he found that annoying, then them figuring out how to use cold against his Plantimals was positively infuriating!
"Curssse you, SWAT Katssss!" he snarled, and swept all of the beakers, test tubes and other apparatus off the tabletop, sending it crashing to the floor. "All thosssse months of planning ruined, all becaussse of one little oversssight!" He pounded his fists angrily on the table, making the remaining equipment rattle loudly.
Zyme took a step back and discovered the mushroom monster right behind him. The big mutant was shaking in fear, doing his best to conceal himself by crouching down behind the considerably smaller scientist.
Zyme turned back to Viper. "Purvis, it-it's not all that bad," he offered.
"Ssssilence!" Viper snarled, making him jump.
Fortunately for his prisoner, the evil mutant didn't suspect his former employer's treachery in the slightest, but that didn't stop him from turning Zyme into a convenient target for his rage. He grabbed an empty beaker and flung it in Zyme's direction. Zyme ducked, letting it hit the mushroom monster in the head harmlessly.
Zyme then ran and hid behind the overturned coffee table, the mushroom monster hilariously doing the same. They peered over the top, wide-eyed, as the snake-cat suddenly lifted the entire worktable up and threw it across the room. It crashed through the wall, ripping a gaping hole in the rotten wood of the tree's exterior, and then fell out of sight. They heard a distant splash. The news was still playing on the TV, so Viper grabbed a microscope from off the floor and hurled it at the TV, shattering the screen.
With nothing let to destroy, Viper simply stood there for a few moments, seething and panting, teeth gritted. Then, to Zyme's puzzlement, he took a step forward and staggered a bit and fell, catching himself with his hands. Was he injured? Zyme wondered. He had to be. He didn't look in any real condition to come after him if he decided to flee, so maybe this was Zyme's chance to make a break for it!
Despite his fears that he couldn't make it across the swamp without him, Zyme figured if he was careful, he could make it. But even as he was gathering his courage to get to his feet and make a run for it, he found that his compassion for the injured mutant was beginning to make him rethink his strategy.
Why did he care? He wasn't sure. If nothing else, he needed to ensure that Viper would survive before making his escape. He wanted his former assistant jailed, imprisoned in a lab somewhere, possibly, studied, possibly cured... not dead. Slowly coming out of hiding, he walked over and knelt down beside Viper, and gently placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Are you all right?" he asked again.
"Go away," Viper hissed, shoving Zyme away from himself.
Zyme frowned. Then he helped Viper to his feet and pulled his arm over his shoulder to help support him, and carried him from the main chamber. There was another flight of stairs at the far end of the hollow, leading up, Zyme knew, to Viper's private bedroom, and it was up these that Zyme helped Viper walk, the snake-kat grumbling all the way. Viper's bedroom was almost as large as the main chamber, and existed at the top of the tree in another hollow. At the top, Viper stumbled and Zyme was forced to lift him up, and he carried him into the bedroom and laid him on the bed which was quite large, big enough for three kats at the least.
He sighed as he looked down at the snake-kat who was already drifting off into fatigue-induced sleep. He then went back downstairs and directed the mushroom monster to get a dustpan and broom and help him clean up all the broken glass.
While the creature was thus occupied, Dr. Zyme grabbed a notepad from a shelf and searched around among the various things Viper kept around until he found a dull but usable pencil. After pondering for a moment, he quickly began writing...
Returning upstairs to Viper's bedroom, Zyme laid the hastily written note on the bed beside the green, striped kat's sleeping form. Hesitating a moment as Viper turned over onto his side, but otherwise didn't stir, Zyme turned and went back downstairs as quickly and quietly as he could. There was no sign of the mushroom monster. Evidently what little remained of Deemer's transformed mind was having difficulty locating the dustpan and broom.
Now was his chance!
He hurried down the stairs and out through the huge knothole serving as the main entrance into the tree interior, feeling his heart thudding in his chest. Clambering down the rickety ladder, he stood on the sagging and rotten wooden dock that was constructed alongside the base of the base of the tree. He looked around for a boat, but there was none. Oh well, he though, turning and glance out over the vastness of the Dead Forest portion of the swamp. He'd come in on foot and he'd leave on foot or he'd die trying.
Stepping off of the dock and into the mucky water, he started off in what he assumed was roughly the direction he, Viper and Deemer had come from after exiting the drain pipe...
Viper was well enough to get up and walk around later that night. In fact, upon awakening he felt good as new, as though he hadn't just lived through the near-destruction of a three-hundred story skyscraper.
One of the benefits of having regenerative mutagen for blood.
After sliding out of bed, he immediately took off his torn and burned lab coat and threw it carelessly aside, then went over to a large wardrobe and threw it open to reveal nothing but lab coats, lab coats, and more lab coats, swiped in bulk supply from the city. Grabbing one at random, he pulled it on, then, intending to turn and go downstairs in search of Zyme, he spotted the note on the bed.
Frowning, he slithered over and snatched it up, reading it. "Dear Dr. Viper," it began, written hastily in Newton Zyme's clean and neat, economical handwriting, "I have accepted that assistant, colleague and one-time 'friend' Dr. Elrod Purvis is no more."
Viper's initial confusion at finding the note turned to surprise at this. After insisting during his entire captivity on calling him by his old name, now the old fool was calling him Dr. Viper? He read on.
"He died the moment he lost consciousness in the stairwell at Megakat Labs after betraying me and trying to steal my life's work," the note continued, Viper's surprise slowly turning to irritation. "Despite his treachery, I very much regret his senseless demise, dying as he did attempting to profit from an ultimately flawed formula."
The hands holding the piece of paper began to shake with anger the more he read. He didn't like where this was going, but made himself continue.
"I will continue trying to perfect the Viper Mutagen in the hopes that it can still benefit katkind, the way I long envisioned. Perhaps I can even find a means of reversing what happened to you. You don't deserve to be what you are. But what you are is a monster. A pervsion of my life's work, a mockery of all my hopes and dreams for what Viper Mutagen 368 could do for katkind."
It was all Viper could do to prevent himself from ripping the note up, at least until he'd read the last few lines.
"Although I put you to bed and ensured that you would survive after your odeal following your failure at the Megakat Tower, it is my determination that I will no longer be your prisoner and slave, Dr. Viper." Viper's rage boiled over and he began pulling in opposite directions, a ripping sound filling the bedroom as the paper began to tear. "I have resolved to take my changes escaping through Megakat Swamp. If I die lost and forgotten in he slimy depths of its bogs and marshes or make it back to civilization, so be it. But if I make it back to Megakat City alive, it is my avowed intention to retire from working at Megakat Biochemical Labs for the forseeable future and work to perfect the Viper Mutagen in my own spare time, and, of course, to fight you in whatever way I can."
Snarling, Dr. Viper tore the paper entirely in half without bothering to read the signature, "Yours, N. Zyme." He crumpled the shredded pieces into a loose ball and flung the confetti-like paper detritus into the air and ran downstairs as fast as his atrophied legs would allow, stumbling occasionally, lab coat fluttering behind him, tail lashing angrily.
"No, no, nooooooo!" he snarled, upon finding the main room empty, save for his mushroom monster, who was busy trying to tidy up. The creature paused in its work, looking at its creator curiously, uncomprehending. Eyes aglow in fury, Viper ignored him and commenced a systemtic hunt for his prisoner, but could no turn up Dr. Newton Zyme anywhere.
He went to a window that was unbroken and threw it open. He looked out over the foggy wasteland of the Dead Forest and the more lush and verdant treeline of Megakat Swamp, the glittering skyline of Megakat City farther off in the distance, the sagging, blacked out outline of the wreck of Megakat Tower discernable from the rest of the skyscrapers. He hissed in fury, tongue darting in and out rapidly as he gripped the window frame.
"Curssse you, Zyme," he said softly. "Go, then. Die in the ssswamp. Or make it back to your preciousss Megakat City and retire in ignominy. Nothing will change. You'll never perfect the Viper Mutagen." His glowing eyes narrowed. "And I ssswear you'll never, ever transssform me back into that sssecond-rate ssscientist Elrod Purvisss! Megakat City will be mine, no matter what you do! Nothing can ssstop Dr. Viper!"
He slammed the window shut.