(Author's Note: The main character's original dimension does not have the SWAT Kats cartoon, so there is no reference point for her to fall back on in this story. *horrified gasp* I know, it's so sad. ;P)
Disclaimer: I do not own SWAT Kats; that franchise belongs to Hanna-Barbera. The OC's and the plot are mine.
By A Thread
*5 miles west of Carova Beach, North Carolina; ½ mile below the Department Of Energy relay station*
Everything was ready. The next set of experiments was set to begin.
Dr. Cameron Kane, the head of the operation, thought that today would turn out to be lucky. He couldn't say why, but he had a gut feeling that all of their hard work on the Temporal Dimensional Vortex Project, codenamed "Charybdis", would come to fruition. Dr. Kane and all of his coworkers had shed blood, sweat and tears over this project for the past year, and they were just counting the days until they saw success. The last experiment had failed very badly and had actually caused a power outage. As luck would have it, the higher ups were able to blame it on the storm that had been raging at the time. However, they had also seen significantly favorable readings. And to think, it was all due to a simple polarity change in one of the power couplings.
The teams had all made their own adjustments so that the conditions were similar to last time with a few tweaks, including a polarity change in another coupling so that it was all balanced out. Now it was time to test it out.
Dr. Kane looked to his control room officers and said, "Systems check." He wanted to make sure that everything was in perfect working order. One by one, the different stations sounded off.
"Power systems, check."
"Flux capacitor, check."
"Quantum wave amplifier, check."
"Iris generator, check."
"Cross-beam focusers, check."
Dr. Kane nodded and squared his shoulders as he looked out the window to the giant indoor testing area. They all waited on him to give the green light.
"Execute," he commanded.
The whole facility became a flurry of activity as the separate systems were activated. Soon, a lot of electricity started bursting through the testing area as the cross-beam focusers lined up with each other to meet in the middle of the target zone.
A man at one station announced, "Focus beam fusion in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1."
The four tendrils of electricity met in a blinding flash that rapidly coalesced into a swirling maelstrom of dark purple clouds. It made a vast growling, sucking noise like a tornado and a whirlpool combined into one which, for all intents and purposes, gave the same impression as the project's namesake, Charybdis; the famously gigantic sea monster from The Iliad that swallowed whole ships in its need to satisfy an endless hunger. It was at once the most exhilarating and the most forbidding thing that any member of the project had ever witnessed. Dr. Kane couldn't help but stare into that seemingly endless swirling depth.
At some point, he came back to himself and called out, "Confirm stability."
The control panel operators picked their jaws up off the floor long enough to scan their environmental output readings and answered, "All systems running at optimum. Environmental scanners are all green from here. Vortex stability is confirmed."
Dr. Kane reached for the intercom button and spoke into the microphone. "Attention, everyone. A stable vortex has been achieved! The project is a success!" There were whoops and shouts and cries of celebration all across the board as everyone went completely insane with euphoria. The control room was no different as everyone exchanged hugs and hi-fives. Dr. Kane could feel himself grinning like a fool, but he didn't care. After several setbacks, all their hard work had finally paid off. They had made history today.
Once some of the cheering had died down, one of his officers spoke up. "It's still reading as stable, Dr. Everything is holding steady. Sir, do you want to send one of the preliminary probes in to check it out?" Dr. Kane glanced at the younger man who had spoken, then his gaze went back to the vortex. Indeed, it was still the same as a moment ago to his mortal eye.
At first, he thought about saying no and calling it a day so everyone could pop open the champagne, so to speak.
But then he thought, Why not? What are the odds that we'll touch on this particular portal again? We might as well get as much data as we can while the opportunity still knocks. It will certainly give us a head-start on refining our targeting parameters.
Dr. Kane nodded, and said, "Alright, have one of the teams get a probe down there. We'll send it through and test the signal."
The officer nodded. His eyes were still bugging out from his head as he got on the intercom with the mechanical station. "Engineering Team 3," he called, "Engineering Team 3, suit up and get a probe prepped. We're going to test the signal." A tinny voice came through the speaker and acknowledged the command.
Within minutes, the five members of Engineering Team 3 were in environment suits as a precaution and were wheeling in a remote-control robot claw that was holding the data probe. Attached to the robot was a steel-wrapped fiber-optic cable with a remote-release hook. Engineer 2 punched in the activation codes for the probe while Engineer 1 attached the robot to a cable on an anchored winch they had placed at the back of the testing area. The others stood by while Engineers 4 and 5 ran a full systems check on the probe once it was on.
"Probe is fully functional, sir. We are ready to proceed," Engineer 4 announced over his headset radio.
The head scientist nodded and spoke into the microphone, "Very good. Begin data retrieval procedure."
The guy handling the remote control, Engineer 3, guided the robot towards the opening. It was quickly sucked in by the vortex's gravitational pull until the cable snapped taut. All five people in the room reflexively stepped back.
"Releasing probe," announced Engineer 3, "in 3...2...1." He pressed a button on the control, and a little light blipped. "Down the hatch," the man said. A few of those who heard him chuckled.
"Probe is through and has made impact," said Engineer 5 from her control panel. After a few minutes, they were able to determine that the probe's location had the same atmosphere and gravity as Earth. The temperature seemed to be slightly higher, but the difference was well within human tolerance.
Dr. Kane was beside himself. He couldn't believe their luck! Not only did they have a stable vortex, but they also had what could be an alternate Earth. "Well, I think we can call it day, people," he said. There wasn't much more to be done until they could get the funds necessary to purchase a fully-equipped rover like NASA was using for space missions. Of course, with today's results, Dr. Kane was confident that it wouldn't be difficult. He redirected his attention to the engineers on the floor. Activating the microphone again, he ordered, "Alright, we're packing in. Retract the robot and get ready to set the system to autopilot. Job well done, everybody."
There were some residual cheers as everyone got ready to transfer their stations to an automatic monitoring system. Engineering Team 3 got down to retrieving their robotic arm and flipped the switch on the winch. With a faint metallic groan, it began to rewind the cable.
Suddenly, a mechanical whine started up from the winch. The five engineers looked at it in concern until smoke began rising from it and the whine rose painfully in pitch. Engineer 3 ran over to try and shut it off. Just as he touched the handle, a loud bang and a shower of sparks erupted from the machine. The engineer tried to shield his face as the whole cable unwound like the reel of a fishing pole. When the cable finally ran out, it snapped taut with a resounding 'Whap!' The whole mounting bracket jerked forward a few inches with a metallic groan.
Everybody quickly stepped free and clear of the winch. A few seconds passed until there was almost total silence in the testing area. No one dared to get closer even though the bolts holding it in place were still holding fast. Hardly anybody drew breath for a moment.
Engineer 4 noticed Engineer 5 was peeking over the top of the control panel that monitored the probe. Shaking his head, he hissed, "Number 5, get out from behind there. It's fine."
The winch suddenly broke loose and flew towards the mouth of the vortex, spinning wildly as it swung to the side. Engineer 5 dove out from behind the control panel just as the renegade winch careened into it with the force of a wrecking ball.
However, her right foot couldn't escape the equally-wild cable. It snared her just below the ankle, knocking her to the floor and yanking her several feet towards the vortex. Everyone erupted into a panicked frenzy. Engineer 5's foot came loose after a second, but it was already too late. The vortex's gravitational field had caught her and quickly pulled her the rest of the way. The young woman screamed as the swirling walls of the dimensional tunnel swallowed her.
At the same time, the winch-turned-wrecking-ball had flown directly into one of the cross-beam focusers and smashed it to pieces. Alarms blared everywhere, but everyone's attention was already focused intently on the disaster before them. The mouth of the vortex seemed to warp before their eyes, bending into an irregular shape. The badly damaged winch somehow became wedged into the framework of the iris generator surrounding the vortex. Many crucial systems were now short-circuiting, and red lights were popping up all across the board.
Then, in the blink of an eye, everything shut down. All the power in the facility was abruptly cut off. With nothing to keep it there, the vortex rapidly constricted and disappeared from the testing area unseen.
The winch and its severed cable dropped to the ground with a metallic thunk as the facility's emergency lights came on. A stunned silence had overcome the entire building.
After a while, people went off to their respective areas to do damage control. Dr. Kane was soon left alone in the main control room. He continued to stare through the window at the far wall of the testing area even though he wasn't really looking at anything. His gaze was turned inward, going over every detail of what had just transpired. As Dr. Kane's mind caught up with the present, he realized that today's events would likely become one of many nails yet to be pounded into the project's coffin.
With that thought came a crushing despair. All of that time, and all of that hard work; gone. Just like that poor woman. The efforts of thousands of people reduced to ashes by a cable winch.
Someone cleared their throat behind him. Dr. Kane quickly brought his emotions to heel as he turned to face the person requesting his attention. It was one of his control officers, but the man also worked as an attaché to one of the local company representatives. "Sir, shall I start drawing up the report?"
The director's mind blanked for a second, then he replied, "Yes, get started on it. Also, make a note that we'll immediately begin conducting an investigation to make sure that winch was properly mounted. We need to figure out just where we went wrong with this. Someone had to have thought that a gravitational field could be a factor."
"Someone did, sir."
Dr. Kane calmly raised an eyebrow. "Who was it?"
The man's expression was ironic as he answered, "The engineer who fell into the vortex. She submitted a memo to one of the theoretical physics teams two weeks ago. She expressed concern over the possibility that the vortex could generate a gravitational force of its own."
"And what did they say?"
"Apparently they had a get-together with a couple other teams and came to the conclusion that it shouldn't be a cause for concern."
Dr. Kane couldn't help but snort derisively. "Judging by today, I'd say someone forgot to double-check their math," he said with a hint of anger. He turned his head back to the window and set his gaze on the far wall once again. A few seconds passed in silence before Dr. Kane asked levelly, "Who was she?"
The control officer/attaché brought up a folder on his tablet and found the answer after a minute. "Sarah Majkowski, 24, graduated 'magna cum laude' from Caltech two years ago."
A sigh of regret escaped Dr. Kane. "Damn shame," he said softly.
*Meanwhile, inside the vortex…*
Sarah was in unbelievable pain. Almost as soon as she entered the vortex, her skin had started itching. Within seconds, it had developed into a fierce burning sensation throughout her body. As she raced through the winding curves of the vortex's path, she could feel her muscles stretching in a way that was just not right. Sarah felt like her head was being split into pieces. Her extremities had become completely numb as she continued to thrash helplessly against the pain. She was just barely aware of her environment suit tearing away in places. Something was putting increasing pressure on her lower back as well.
Those agonizing few moments felt like hours to Sarah. The roar of the vortex tunnel seemed to completely inhabit her mind as its walls churned in a miasma of purple clouds. The air in the vortex, if it was indeed air, overpowered her nose with the sharp tang of ozone.
Abruptly, she was tossed out of the vortex and landed hard on something. There was the faintest sensation of something soft cushioning her, but Sarah was beyond any and all awareness except for the fact that the pain had stopped.
As the vortex closed behind her, Sarah succumbed willingly to the peaceful numbness that crept upon her now.
(Okay, here it is! Chapter 1 of my first fan fiction. I welcome any reviews and constructive criticism you may have. There is no need to be gentle, trust me. I can handle it. But if you like it, that would be nice to hear, too. Also, please let me know what you think of the title. Thanks!)