Title: My Responsibility
Date: October 2012
Genre(s): Drama, Suspense, Horror, Sci-Fi
Rating: Rated T for depictions of violence, blood and "off-camera" nudity.
Words: 44,306 (117 pages)
Beta Reader: Kristen Sharpe
Notes: This is a loose sequel to Last Names and contains spoilers for that story.
Summary: Callie Briggs's support of the SWAT Kats is no secret, even though the masked duo's identities are to her. When the SWAT Kats disappear, trouble arises in Megakat City, and Callie must rely on a reluctant ally to help her discover what happened.
The hard protrusion into the small of her back was uncomfortable enough without the guy's forearm wrapped tightly around her front just between her neck and her chest, Deputy Mayor Calico Briggs thought to herself. The protrusion was no doubt the barrel of the gun the unidentified, masked robber had been waving in the air moments earlier.
Callie was at Megakat Savings and Loan to talk with its board members about opening a new line of credit for the city, a task she mildly dreaded as it essentially required her to get down on her hands and knees to beg for more money to hold the city over another fiscal quarter. The proposed interest rates were an insult, but she knew, as the board members knew, the city would agree to them out of desperation. They always did.
At least, that's what she would have been doing if she hadn't walked into the lobby moments before what seemed to be a textbook bank robbery began. At least, it was textbook until a random Enforcer officer had walked past the entrance. One of the bank robbers, apparently a little overzealous, had opened fire just as his accomplice had returned from their brief visit to the vault with the bank manager and his keys.
The gunshots were deafening in the decorative lobby, and the sound of breaking glass as the bullets narrowly missed their target startled the already afraid patrons who had been instructed to lay on the ground with their hands on their heads. Callie was one of those until she had been grabbed up by her forearms and into the position she was currently in: as an impromptu hostage and shield. The Enforcer officer had scrambled away and was out of sight, taking cover somewhere on the sidewalk.
"What did you do that for?" the one who was wearing a red bandana to cover his face just below the eyes shouted more than asked.
"There was a cop coming in here!" Callie's captor explained, his grip tightening. He smelled of cheap cologne, with more than a hint of desperation, Callie thought.
"Perfect…" Red Bandana said, his plan apparently not working out as he had hoped. He was weighted down by a large duffel bag. Callie didn't need to see the contents to guess what was inside of it.
"If you guys just take the money and leave you can get out of here," Callie suggested. "No one has to get hurt."
"Shut up!" Cheap Cologne ordered. "If I wanted your opinion I'd of asked for it!"
Red Bandana paused as Callie spoke, her voice triggering some distant memory. He stared at her briefly, and a look of horror crossed his face.
"Oh no, you're the Deputy Mayor, aren't you?" Red Bandana asked. Several squad car sirens could be heard in the distance now.
"What's it matter?" Cheap Cologne asked as he began to prod Callie forward, leading her toward the bank's now shattered entrance. "At least we have a hostage to get us out of here."
"No, you idiot. Let her go!" Red Bandana shouted as he followed after them. "She's the one the SWAT Kats always save!"
"The SWAT Kats?" Cheap Cologne considered, and looked down at Callie.
"It's true," Callie replied with as best of a shrug as she could manage. "Though, they are running a little bit late."
Cheap Cologne and Red Bandana briefly exchanged a glance, and were about to say something further, but they didn't get the chance as both of them tore away from her. Callie fell to the ground as a loud rocket noise blew past her, throwing her hair out of place and knocking her glasses off, distorting her view. This was followed by a loud crashing sound, and, as she fumbled with her finger tips to retrieve her glasses, a powerful hand reached down to meet hers.
"Sorry we're late, Ms. Briggs," the familiar voice of T-Bone said. He helped Callie to her feet, and in his other hand held out her glasses to her.
"Thanks," she replied, putting them back on. The world came into focus again, and she could see the two bank robbers were secured to the far wall of the bank, Red Bandana by his torso and Cheap Cologne by his head. Both were hopelessly struggling to break free.
"Don't struggle like that," Razor said, nearby the two as he scooped up a handbag from the floor. "Those Octopus Missiles of ours are rated for several tons of pressure. You'll just pull a muscle."
The two would be robbers both seemed to resign to their fate at that, just as several Enforcer SWAT Team members came rushing into the bank's worse for wear lobby, assault rifles at the ready.
"Don't worry guys," T-Bone explained, gesturing to the surroundings. "We just happened to be in the neighborhood and thought we'd make a deposit."
The other bank patrons cheered, getting up from their positions on the floor to rush over to the SWAT Kats. The Enforcer SWAT Team's composure relaxed as they realized the bank robbery had been halted.
"Uh, I think you dropped this," Razor said, handing the handbag over to Callie just before the thankful group got in-between them . Inside of it her communicator was blinking, and Callie discreetly turned it off. As soon as the bank robbers had ordered everyone on the ground she had activated the distress signal.
"I know a bank robbery might be a bit pedestrian for you guys, but I appreciate that you stopped by," Callie said to them.
"It's no problem, Callie," T-Bone said, slightly distracted by the autograph he was signing.
"Yeah, you know you can always count on us to watch your back," Razor said as he posed for a photo someone was taking with their cell phone's camera.
Callie smirked at the scene. Only the SWAT Kats could turn a scene that was once riddled with fear into one of celebration like that, she thought to herself.
The crowd instantly quieted down as another presence overtook the room.
"And, who do I make this one out to-," T-Bone began as he turned to face the all-too-familiar overcoat that was now in his face.
"You can make it out to the jail cell you two will be spending the night in," the boisterous voice of Commander Feral said. He had apparently entered unnoticed amid the crowd of victims turned fans.
And, only Commander Feral could turn that scene right back, Callie thought.
"Well, look who's here," T-Bone said as he crossed his arms. "Late as usual."
"You should find everything that was stolen in this," Razor said, approaching the two. He dropped the duffel bag full of money at Feral's feet. "And this time the money's all in one piece."
Commander Feral looked down at the money, glanced at the two restrained robbers whom the Enforcer SWAT Team was now attempting to free, and also at the faces of the crowd who all seemed on the verge of being upset once more.
"Mommy, why's that mean man want to arrest the SWAT Kats?" a child could be heard asking his mother. Several in the crowd giggled, and Feral's face softened ever so slightly.
"Yeah, why does the mean man want to arrest us?" T-Bone asked, a small smile creeping into his face.
"Commander Feral, the SWAT Kats just saved these people, not to mention myself, from those two criminals, and they even kept the bank from losing its money. I think you should just let them leave," Callie said, with little bit of authority added to her tone.
"Fine," Feral said, irritation creeping into his voice as he pointed a finger at the two SWAT Kats. "But next time I won't be so lenient. There's no room in Megakat City for reckless, hot shot vigilantes."
"Whatever you say, Commander," Razor replied as he moved through the crowd, T-Bone following close behind. The crowd followed with, leaving Commander Feral and Callie Briggs mostly alone in the lobby.
"One of these days those two are going to get into real trouble, and you're going to be the one who'll be responsible," Commander Feral said to Callie.
"Well, Commander," Callie began. "That's probably the only responsibility I look forward to."
The only responsibility I look forward to…
Callie Briggs awoke from the dream, staring up at the ceiling fan as it rotated high above her on the lowest setting. Her relatively spacious bedroom was bathed in the dim light of her laptop's screen saver. The portable computer was left open next to her formerly unconscious body. She sat up, her suit jacket sliding out from under her and onto the soft, off-white saxony carpet that was in need of a steam cleaning.
For what was probably the fourth time this week, she had fallen asleep in her clothes, with a pile of unfinished work at her side. Her alarm clock read 4:49 AM. She had beaten her alarm clock by 11 minutes.
In just a little under four hours she would be in a meeting with the city's commerce committee suggesting new ways to attract more business in the east side boroughs which had been experiencing a historic slump of activity in recent years.
She stretched, followed by a long and seemingly endless yawn that tempted her to just roll over and shut her eyes for just a few more minutes. But, that wasn't going to happen. Deputy Mayor Calico Briggs is a true professional, Callie thought to herself. No sleeping in, always punctual, always a star performer, dependable and a number of other adjectives that could fill a thesaurus.
Callie rolled, but instead of over, out of bed. Standing a bit clumsily on one leg she removed the hose on her legs as she walked over to her bathroom, closing the door behind herself out of habit even though no one else occupied the house. She disrobed and showered, the hot water steaming up the mirror and rectangular window that overlooked the modest backyard.
The property was closely wedged between two other homes in townhouse style, and she knew that others on the block were preparing for their morning commute as well. Mrs. Sanderson, her neighbor on the left, worked for the Post Office and would occasionally have something to say as Callie left in the mornings. Being the Deputy Mayor, one had to always give time to constituents, but she'd be lying if she said she never tried to avoid those delays on her way out the door.
After an all-too-brief time in the relaxing hot water, she turned the faucet off and wrapped one towel around her body and a second over her head, which did little to dry the now untamed mat of blonde that was her hair.
That dream again, Callie thought to herself as she opened her medicine cabinet and took out an electric toothbrush, applied some generic, almost flavorless toothpaste to it, and stuck it in her mouth on the lowest setting.
It was really more of a memory, as she had been in that exact situation nearly two years earlier. Some would-be bank robbers trying to get some easy money. For most people that would be a long-lasting, traumatic event in their lives. For Callie it had been just another day of the week, and, relatively speaking, it was a less dangerous situation than others she had been in.
She wiped the steam off of the mirror, her reflection blurred slightly. She wondered if she should get a new prescription as her eyesight seemed to be getting slightly worse. She leaned over and spat out the toothpaste, and turned the faucet of the sink to wash it away.
Callie took the towel off of her head and put her well used blowdryer to good use. After several minutes of this, she picked up a hair brush and went to work trying to tame the floofy mess atop her head. The anti-frizz conditioner she used in the shower did wonders, but not enough. She plugged in her hair straightener and began to press out lengths of her flowing blonde hair. Not too straight, with just enough bounce.
As she watched herself in the mirror, she couldn't stop thinking about what Commander Feral had told her that day.
One of these days those two are going to get into real trouble…
Callie sighed, knowing that dwelling on thoughts like these were just her way of distracting herself from the real problems she would rather not be thinking about. Aside from the city approaching new levels of debt, there was also the semi-frequent super criminal incidents that caused a whole mess of problems. One of the more recent ones had been a plot by Dark Kat and a retired Enforcer Captain to kill not only herself but Mayor Manx, Commander Feral and others. That investigation was still ongoing, and yet another item on her to-do list to check into.
The latest attempt on her life wasn't what concerned her the most, though it was always in the back of her mind. It was the fact that she had grown used to it. That certainly wasn't normal.
Callie finished her hair, and looking in the mirror, applied a light lipstick and some mascara. Nothing too noticeable, but just enough to maintain the image she had crafted for herself. Being a public official, one had to be presentable, especially when unscheduled television appearances could happen almost any time.
Callie exited the bathroom and tossed the towel into an overflowing hamper, and changed into a blouse and business skirt. She sat at the edge of the bed as she pulled on a new set of hose. Her alarm clock read 5:45 AM and she tapped the trackpad of her laptop. The screen blinked to show an overflowing inbox with 57 new messages.
"What I'd give for an assistant," she said with a sigh, and closed the lid of the computer.
A tighter budget meant less staff, which meant more jobs that Callie had to take over. She didn't like to brag, but she did the work of five people, including the Mayor at times, doing far more than any Deputy Mayor she knew of.
"And at a percent of the salary, too," she said out loud, glancing over at an open envelope on her nightstand. Her monthly mortgage statement was going to have to be paid from her savings again due to another round of furloughs. Of course, she didn't take the time off, as there wasn't really a choice. Her average 12 hour days were evidence of that.
It was a sacrifice she made for several reasons. Initially, when she had graduated from law school she wanted to get into politics purely for ambitious reasons. She had already been interning for Manx during his sixth term re-election campaign. Witnessing how things really worked behind the scenes, Callie knew it was a job she could do better than most, and by the time Manx was re-elected, she had gotten a position on his senior staff.
As fiscal crisis after fiscal crisis began to pile up, several on the staff deserted their positions, some even fleeing to the private sector, as paychecks became less guaranteed and Manx's re-election seemed impossible. Even the former Deputy Mayor, Alexander Steele, thought the situation was hopeless enough to warrant resigning, which gave Callie Briggs the opportunity she needed.
Callie had approached Manx with a solution, to position the deserting staff as a part of "Manx's Shakeup," a policy of cutbacks and de-regulation, where less government equaled less spending. This tested well with the populist sentiment in the city, and impressed Manx so much that he appointed her Deputy Mayor. It would've been more of an honor during good times, Callie thought, as she knew Manx was desperate and thought of her only as a gimmick. It worked, though narrowly.
Ever since then Callie had been working more than full time, trying to do everything she could to pull the city out of it's economic slump, and in the process show that she wasn't the air-headed bimbo the administration's opponents had often labeled her as.
Callie retrieved a blue tie from her closet and tucked it under the collar of her blouse, quickly tying a half Windsor without looking. She reached to the floor to pick up her suit jacket. Thankfully she hadn't spilled anything on it, and it was presentable enough to wear before another trip to the dry cleaners.
She put on the jacket, buttoning it up, and took a quick glance at herself in a nearby wall-mounted mirror.
"It's not a bad look for the future mayor of Megakat City," she said to herself.
Of course, being mayor was the future's goal. Today, she had more mundane tasks. Callie put on a pair of modest heels and gathered up her laptop and a few manilla folders off her bed, sliding them into her courier bag. There was an additional item, too.
A triangular device with a button in the center. The secret SWAT Kat communicator she had been given long ago. Though she wondered how "secret" it really was nowadays, as her relationship with the vigilantes was almost common knowledge. For better and for worse, the SWAT Kats had become an element of Manx's administration, and a key to his popularity. Callie had strongly advocated this, as they frequently tested well in polls.
But, there were other reasons outside of politically motivated ones that Callie had supported them. They'd saved her life, and aside that, she considered them friends. It was a strange concept, considering two outlaw pilots whose real names she didn't know to be friends. But, she had witnessed stranger things in Megakat City.
Callie picked up the communicator off of her nightstand and began to put it with the other items in her bag when it abruptly came to life, a loud shrieking sound coming out of it.
She gasped, dropping it. The communicator bounced harmlessly onto her bed, and the noise continued for a few brief seconds. It sounded like the feedback from a microphone that got too close to an amplifier. Just as soon as the noise had started, it was gone.
"What was that?" she asked, and picked up the communicator, looking it over. It didn't appear damaged, but then again electronics were not her speciality. She noticed her alarm clock read 6:15 AM, and Callie swore to herself.
"Great, no time for breakfast."
Callie stashed the communicator into her bag as she took it with her, making sure to grab her bridge Fast Pass and car keys off the hook that hung by her door. Living outside of the city in a two-bedroom suburban townhouse was affordable, but the morning commute always made an expensive downtown apartment seem tempting.
"Look, every year these events in the city get more expensive to provide law enforcement services to," Lt. Commander Steele said. "I'm simply suggesting that maybe you guys support this motion to collect more revenue on liquor licenses."
The shutters of several cameras could be heard intermittently in the large, circular room. City Hall's council chambers were sparsely decorated, the interior featuring a decades old Brutalist style filled with squared windows and concrete finishes that Callie assumed would make some people nostalgic for disco, roller skates and bellbottom pants.
It was an ugly, cubic room, with an equally ugly wood table that filled the middle in a half circle, with several council members sitting at it. Some had brass nameplates, while others had a triangularly folded piece of paper with their names written in permanent marker in front of them.
The city's financial management was embarrassing enough without council members having to write their names in Sharpie, Callie thought. In the middle of the half circle was a small podium with a microphone that didn't work, where Lt. Commander Steele was standing. He frequently represented the Enforcers during budgetary matters. On either side of him were bored looking photographers who occasionally snapped a photo, while at the back of the room a handful of reporters took notes in otherwise unoccupied seating.
"And risk doing more damage to an already fragile small business market?" Councilman Anderson asked at Callie's left.
"It won't be that damaging-" Steele began.
"You're proposing we raise the cost of liquor licenses by 150%," Anderson cut him off.
"They haven't been raised in over a decade," Steele replied. "And, with the way things have been going with the downtown renovations, these places are getting more popular, which means more patrons, which means more incidents."
"Incidents like Enforcers starting bar fights?" Anderson quipped back.
Though in this context the infamous Enforcer brawl at the Shenanigan's bar from two months ago was somewhat amusing, Callie didn't want to prolong this meeting anymore than necessary.
"Thank you, Lt. Commander Steele, we'll be taking your suggestion into account, though I have to agree that 150% might be too abrupt an increase," Callie said. "I would instead motion for a 25% increase."
"Seconded," Anderson said. "Though I would advise the Lt. Commander to tell his troops to try to do their part not to give extra cause to increase that."
Other council members snickered, and Steele was visibly irritated.
"We'll try our best, councilman," Steele replied.
The remaining council members voted six to four for the motion, much to Callie's relief. As deputy mayor, she was the president of the city council, but only had the power to vote when there was a tie. Due to the even number of members, this meant Callie had to do it fairly frequently, often costing much political capital in the process. She was eager to save as much of that for the upcoming budget proposal.
"Good," Callie said as she banged a gavel. "That wraps up everything on this meeting's agenda. I'll just deliver the motion to the Mayor who'll have it signed by the end of the day. Meeting adjourned."
Some council members were better than others at hiding their relief as they got up and left. Callie stood and prepared herself to answer any question from reporters, but noticed they were filing out as well. The topics of discussion were apparently too dry for follow-up.
Just as good, Callie thought to herself as she gathered her paperwork. Normally an assistant would convert the council's motion into a draft of an actual municipal ordinance that would be worked into the city's code upon approval by the Mayor. But, there was no assistant, and Callie would have to type it up herself.
Callie exited the council room and into the familiar lobby of City Hall. A mural depicting the city's history from settlement to Megawar II with elements of the present dominated most of the far wall, though it was deeply in need of a restoration. She walked past it, heading to the elevators and pressed the call button.
As soon as she did, a loud screeching noise once again began, startling her. It was coming from her bag, and she reached inside. The communicator was acting up again, and she held it out, away from her. As before, the noise stopped just as soon as it began.
"What is going on…" she asked no one in particular as she looked over the device. "I've heard of smoke detectors making a noise when the battery is low, but this is ridiculous."
"The only thing ridiculous is this," an all-too familiar authoritative voice said from behind her.
Callie frowned, and pocketed the communicator as she turned around.
"Commander Feral, what brings you to City Hall?" Callie asked, forcing a smile.
Commander Feral was an imposing figure, standing tall at near six and a half feet. When Callie had first met him she considered him a ruthless bully that was too used to getting his own way. Over the years Callie had found he was more nuanced than that, and knew that his devotion to keeping the city safe was genuine, but the culture of the Enforcers had still made him difficult to work with. Or, maybe it's just the culture of Feral, she mused.
"I've been looking over the budget proposal the Mayor's office has put together, and there are several things that I think need to be reconsidered," Feral said, holding up a thick stack of papers.
There were thousands of adjustments in that document, but Callie suspected there was only one the Commander cared about.
"Let me guess, the budget for the air force," Callie guessed.
Feral flipped the pages of the document, stopping at one with several highlighted lines.
"I could go into the specifics, but I doubt you'd care," Feral said. "There's over 200 billion dollars worth of cuts in this. We were already just barely breaking even by retrofitting Mi-4's and F-86s to cut costs. This will cut our defenses in half!"
"Trust me, I understand your frustration, Commander," Callie said. "There's belt tightening going on everywhere."
"I don't think that's what this is really about," Feral said, his eyes narrowing. "I think this is a blatant attempt by this administration to legitimize them."
Callie knew that them was the SWAT Kats, and that when Feral said this administration, she knew he meant her.
"To be honest, Commander, that $200 billion probably isn't enough of a cut," Callie said. "Our public schools are turning into a joke because our teachers have class sizes of up to 50 kids. Our streets are falling apart and our infrastructure is crumbling. We had to close Megakat Bridge last week due to federal safety violations. Half of the subway cars in town don't run because replacement parts no longer exist for them because they're too obsolete. Our taxes are among the highest in the country, and our business and population growth has been in steady decline. Our gross metropolitan product has fallen to $500 billion dollars."
Commander Feral crossed his arms, seemingly unimpressed with the figures.
"I'm not arguing with your summation, Deputy Mayor, but I would like to add that without my Enforcers keeping this city safe, there won't be an environment for schools, businesses, transit or a populace to exist in," Feral said.
"Well, that's where you and I might have some disagreement," Callie said. "I've found that there are other resources to rely upon outside of your Enforcers."
The elevator finally chimed and the door opened. Callie walked inside.
"You'll regret this decision, Ms. Briggs," Feral said calmly. "The SWAT Kats may have good intentions, and they may have helped in the past. But they work outside the law, and they can't be trusted with Megakat City's safety. We don't even know who they really are."
"The Mayor's Office will take your concerns into consideration," Callie said, her tone bordering on dismissive, as the elevator door closed shut.