The Waters of Atlantea - Chapter 4
Authors Notes: Wow that was quite a fight when their anger is turned on each other, but we all know even the best couples fight, and we had to have this confrontation as several of you insightful fans noted to make these characters more real. I'm glad you all enjoyed their little interludes, but there is no let up in the action. This chapter has a lot of T rated profanity and violence.
…2:30 AM the following morning. Joe Camel's Penthouse Suite…
Right after the Assembly Hall attack, Joe's apartment had been taped off as a crime scene over objections from the Acting CBS CEO and the camel's personal attorneys. The judge sided with ZPD since this was an overriding matter of conspiracy against the entire Zootopia government, and it appeared that Joe was at the center of it, and so preserving any evidence was essential.
A lone rat was nearly exhausted making his way up the internal water pipes for dozens of stories to the top of CBS tower where Joe's penthouse sat. The rat knew he reached the top because all the pipelines stopped. He used a silent electric drill to bore an opening to gain access to the camel's apartment to do the job he was assigned before ZPD found any evidence.
He got in with no problem. For a moment, he glanced around to gaze at the luxury of the penthouse beyond anything he had ever witnessed and was never likely to witness again. He wasn't there to steal, destroy, or erase computer files or paper evidence. There had been no further communication between Joe Camel and The Movement other than the snout-to-snout communication between Joe and Nemo in the underwater haven, and Duke's conversations with Joe had only been by cell phone. Any incriminating conversations between Joe and members of the Species Purity Society were his own problem.
The rat had one purpose only: get the key back.
He examined all the places where Joe might put valuables. Rather than scurry like his species was known to do, he was very deliberate in his movements. He took out a rat-sized can from a fabric pouch he carried, and sprayed mist everywhere he went in the apartment. He discovered quickly that ZPD had put up laser alarm triggers, but smiled when he noted that the lasers were aimed and sized for much bigger mammals. The laser beams were a foot or two above him. No one expected a robber to be a rodent. ZPD was well prepared for something to happen, he conceded, but not clever enough to consider all the alternatives.
If the key was here and not on Joe's cadaver, he now knew he'd get away with it.
Using an advanced remote metal concentration detector, basically a metal finder the size of a dime, it didn't take long to locate Joe's safe. He put the detector away into his bag of tricks, and reached for more electronic wizardry. He thought a moment that his employers were scientific geniuses. He reflected on how easy it was to enter the CBS tower and avoid security with the building entry code jammer and to get into the building's infrastructure with a 3D map of its utilities. But this was no time for reflection. He put a tiny electronic device on Joe's safe and twirled the tumblers until all the red lights on the device blinked green. He pulled the handle to the safe and it opened effortlessly. Another light blinked as the device jammed an alarm signal that the safe was opened.
"Perfect," the rat thought, but was soon disappointed has he rummaged through the contents of the safe.
Inside, what he sought was missing. There were some bars of gold, what appeared to be some illegal drugs, a couple of very expensive watches and cuff links, what looked to be a famous art piece that he knew was reported as stolen, stacks of CBS stock certificates, and some very compromising pictures of him with a stripper. He couldn't unseen it. He wondered where else the key might be, and went to the camel's master bedroom. It smelled of stale sex, cigars, and spilled booze. He searched the pockets of every suit, and finding nothing yet again, went through the camel's jewelry chest next.
The robber rat still found nothing and was beginning to get very nervous. He sighed, and started to look under the mattress.
A high-pitched squeaky voice called out of nowhere in the total darkness, "Not finding what you're looking for, rat?"
The thief jumped straight up, nearly triggering a laser alarm right over his head, and exclaimed, "What the frack? Who said that?"
The voice stated smugly, "It's your conscience. Telling you not to do this."
"No you're not, you bastard. Show yourself," the rat stated nervously, twirling around trying to locate the source. The voice seemed to be coming from everywhere in the room.
The voice continued calmly. "My happily married mom and dad would take issue with that, thief."
"I don't give a shit about your mom and dad. Stay out of my way, whoever you are. I have a job to do," replied the rat.
The body attached to the voice flashed a powerful LED penlight on the perpetrator, and he added, "Oh I am very sorry but I can't let you do that, rat, because I am Zootopia Police and you're under arrest for breaking and entering a crime scene."
He turned quickly to the light, assuming a defensive stance. The rat tried to look past the blinding pencil beam light by shielding his eyes, but the rat only saw what looked like a species of squirrel with really big eyes. The squirrel-like creature's tiny ZPD blue uniform and hat, with a blacked out badge to prevent any glint in the apartment, was unmistakable. In the Officer's other hand was a miniature taser about the size of the flashlight.
The rat actually laughed at the absurdity of a rat facing off against a cute little squirrel, "'Kind of small for ZPD, aren't you? You aren't arresting me, copper. Not with that."
The rat back up slowly and suddenly scurried toward the entrance he'd created to escape.
He found it totally blocked. The cop had silently moved around in the dark and capped the hole. The rat wondered how. Squirrels were not nocturnal and had no night vision, had poor upper body strength, and you could usually hear them skitter on their paws from a klick away. He realized he was trapped.
Asked skeptically, "What the hell kind of squirrel are you?"
The Officer replied confidently, "If you don't know, then I'm not telling you. Advantage: me."
The rat snarled at the audacity of his ZPD foe, pulled out a knife half his body length, and dared the Officer, "Knife trumps taser, squirrel."
"Think again," shouted the Officer, and shot his hand taser with pinpoint accuracy. A single blinding blue-white electrical bolt blasted out of the tiny taser, hitting the rat on the arm, electrifying the knife and paralyzed the rat's arm. The weapon flew across the floor, disappearing in the dark.
"Yiiii!" He screamed, "Shit. Damn you, cop."
Ignoring the epithets, the Officer shot for the rat's body to completely bring him down, but the rat jumped and missed. Sizing the rat up for the third attempt, he squeezed the taser trigger, but it sizzled and died.
The rat gave the diminutive ZPD Officer an evil grin, "Now the odds are even."
"Not quite, rat," the Officer noted and pulled out a miniature billy club.
The Officer leaped from his perch on top of Joe's dresser, tackled, and wrestled with the thief. The rat was shocked. This was one huge, strong squirrel. He seemed much bulkier than a normal squirrel. His tail was massive and he knew how to use it as a weapon. The rat was getting pummeled by both tail and club. The rat's skinny tail was useless as a weapon, and he fought off the cop's choke hold around his neck with that versatile tail. It was like two against one.
The rat had to get out of there somehow, before he lost consciousness. He was stunned to be outmatched in his own environment of the darkness by some kind of weird nocturnal squirrel. For a moment he thought the squirrel was one of The Movement's biogenetic creations turned traitor, but that was unthinkable. Loyalty to The Movement was bred into them.
Through sheer strength, the rat pushed his way out of the choke hold, and fled. The pair leaped, jumped, and fought up and over and around and through the penthouse. The cop chased the thief all over the furniture, drapes, carpets, and walls like squirrels playing in trees in the woods. This was no playtime, and was in fact a struggle to the death. The cop's pursuit and battle with the rat triggered several laser alarms back at ZPD headquarters.
Clawhauser was on a double shift as dispatcher because of the non-stop action, saw the alarms, and called for help, "Officer Darrell is in trouble! Get a unit over to Joe Camel's penthouse stakeout. Probable armed robbery."
There was an instant response by a nearby squad car but the battle raged on atop the CBS tower. The rat and Officer's fight had spilled into the penthouse elevator lobby. There was no cover to hide and they stood facing each other with only the glass doors of the elevator shaft and the lobby floor tile around them. The elevator car was not there - only the cables and the shaft to the dozens of floors below.
It was a deadly face off. The ZPD Officer was heaving deep breaths. The superior stamina of the rat was getting the upper hand, and the rodent had wrested control of the marsupial cop's billy club against him. The Officer's tail was forced against the glass doors. With any more pressure on the doors, they would pop open, and the policeman would fall to his death, which was what the rat wanted.
Holding the Officer at bay with the commandeered billy club, the rat discovered his knife had skidded to the tile floor near the elevator. He picked it up, and the rat pointed both weapons menacingly at his foe.
"Now I have you," the rat snarled, baring his fangs.
In defiance of the rat, the Officer snapped, "Don't count on it."
The rat leaped at the Officer for the final blow to stab him and push him into the bottomless elevator shaft, but with unexpected speed, the cop leaped aside, causing the rat to miss. The thief lunged with such force that he crashed into the glass elevator doors. Aided by the weight of the knife, he accidentally pushed the doors open and slipped through, falling instantly down the shaft. He tried to reach for the cables to stop himself, but screamed in pain with a paw full of steel splinters, and recoiled.
"Shiiiiiiit!" the rat yelled, tumbled wildly, and the knife and the billy club flew out of his hand as he accelerated. He was in total panic.
The ZPD Officer looked down the dark shaft seeing the rat fall out of control, and muttered, "Crap, I hate this."
He ripped his quick-release specialized uniform off, showing his true species identity - a Squirrel Glider - the largest species of a rare line of nocturnal marsupial mammals from the largest southern hemisphere island nation. His body had broad, thin folds of skin between his extremities so he could glide like a flying squirrel, though gliders were completely unrelated to squirrels. Some biologists would say that gliders had the ability to flap for limited true flight, but nothing like bats. Unlike the smaller gliders and flying squirrels Nick and Judy encountered at the park, he didn't strip bare, though all that was left was a highly flexible combination muscle shirt and blue thong that was tailored to cover his privates - crotch to shoulders - yet not interfere with his skin folds. His muscle shirt read: "I'd rather be flying".
The glider dove through the open elevator doors, sighted the wildly falling rat, put his head straight down with his ears flush against his head, and with his arms and legs flush against his body, maximized his dive speed to catch up with the falling rat. He used his tail like a rudder on an airplane to steer an intercept course toward the rat. He was very careful to steer clear of the metal elevator cables which could rip his skin folds to shreds, endangering his own life. Above all, the ZPD Squirrel Glider had to capture this perp to find out who sent him and what he was trying to steal. He had only seconds to act. The bottom of the shaft and top of the parked elevator on the ground floor was coming into distant view.
The two mammals collided at a faster closure speed than the glider wanted, but quickly the Officer grabbed the rat's sides with his rear paws, dug into the rat's fur tightly with his claws, and immediately spread his skin folds as broadly as he could. The air he caught sounded like the flap of a parachute unfurling, and the cop could hear a reassuring 'pop' as they began to slow down. He groaned under the extra weight of the captured rat in their rapid deceleration imparted by his own personal biological parachute. The rat yelled from the pain of the glider's dug in claws and the force of nearly 5 g's of deceleration.
Recovering, the rat shouted defiantly at the glider above him, "I told you, the cops aren't catching me."
He bent his long snout up and bit the glider on the ankles. The Officer screamed and reflexively let go.
"See you in hell, copper!" the rat snarled and tumbled out of control, resigned to his fate.
There wasn't time to make another rescue attempt, so the Squirrel Glider spread his fur folds as far as he could, and hoped he would not die or horribly injure himself in a hard impact. He groaned with the continued extreme deceleration, almost blacking out.
The glider cop saw the rat impact the top the inactive elevator car, smash through it, and he looked away from the horrible splatter on the floor of the car.
That didn't matter anymore. He had to save himself. The top of elevator car was coming up far too fast. Groaning turned to screaming as he strained with his skin flaps stretched beyond their normal flexible limits to maximize the aerial braking. He stopped just short of the top of the elevator car, and alighted standing up perfectly, which totally surprised him. His ankle was bleeding from the rat bite and hoped an EMT was on his way, and worried about some kind of infection. But because he was alive, he sighed in relief.
He hopped down through the jagged hole in the top of the elevator that the impact of the rat had made, and landed on the floor to confirm the rat's grisly death. He'd never cut a free fall that close before, and absolutely never had flown down the confines of an empty elevator shaft, nor ever attempted a rescue of an uncooperative victim. He examined a couple of gashes he didn't know he had from grazing a steel cable, touched one, winced, and pulled out an inch-long steel splinter. He knew that he would be sore for days because he overstretched his skin folds. One of the CBS tower security guards in the lobby screamed seeing the smashed rat body and the nearly naked glider.
Taking a step away from the rat body, nudging it one last time in a vain search for signs of life, he touched his miniature comm that was still firmly strapped to his head like a fighter pilot's helmet despite his vicious battle with the rat. He turned away from the gawking building security guards. One threw up on the tile lobby floor.
Officer Darrell called out, "Penthouse Watch One reporting. There was a fatal intrusion in the penthouse. PW1 had the perpetrator apprehended, but perp struggled free. Suspect committed suicide resisting arrest during a fall down the elevator shaft. PW1 is on the ground in the elevator lobby with the perp's body. Minor injuries to PW1."
Clawhauser's eyes got as big as saucers trying to fathom a free fall in an elevator shaft, but remained calm, "Dispatch sent a unit already, PW1. We registered the intruder alarms. State your condition, Officer Darrell."
Darrell explained, "The perp bit me and I have a couple of scrapes. Otherwise, I'm fine. I could use an EMT."
Clawhauser promised, "I'm sending an EMT unit to patch you up and for the deceased perp."
"Roger, Dispatch. Much obliged. PW1 out," Darrell replied. His injuries suddenly hurt more as he calmed down.
Looking out the open lobby elevator doors, Officer Darrell noticed the sirens and lights of the SUV pulling up at the lobby, disgorging backup unit Officers in a hurry.
To Officers Darrell and Clawhauser and their colleagues, this was a pattern far too familiar for any mammal associated with the ongoing waves of attacks after the Assembly Hall massacre. The criminals were sworn to never talk, to kill themselves, to fight to the death with any ZPD trying to apprehend them, and to murder anyone else in their Society to prevent being questioned.
The Species Purity Society was truly fanatical to a degree never before experienced by ZPD. It was almost like war. All the rules had changed.
Listening to the middle-of-the-night action, Lt. Henry started breathing again. The bravery of Officer Darrell, the first Squirrel Glider in ZPD, was beyond measure. He was going to make sure Bogo conducted a special commendation ceremony for the brave mammal. He was glad Officer Darrell was one of Zootopia's finest.
…JW Mammaliott. Nick and Judy's witness protection suite…
At 8:30 AM, the phone the suite phone rang.
Nick and Judy were still tangled together in the giant bed in just about the same position as they fell asleep after their lovemaking afterglow, which was typical of their normal nesting behavior.
"Uhhhh, hul-lo?" Nick mumbled.
"Officer Wilde?" the deep voice on the other end asked insistently.
Hearing Bogo's voice, the fox sat up promptly, awaking Judy fully, and he asked, "Chief?"
The rabbit rolled over against her husband's side to hear. It was hard for Nick to listen to Bogo with his nude spouse nestled up against him, but couldn't tear his eyes from her. She smiled. She knew his lingering gaze of admiration that always made her feel beautiful.
Bogo noted, "Put me on the speaker. This is for both of you to hear."
To Nick, the Chief sounded refreshed. He was as cranky as ever, with had a lot more energy. Nick guessed that he had a good night's sleep, but had no idea how re-energized he really was.
"I'm here too, Chief," Judy chimed in.
Bogo was quick to the point, "While you two were sleeping, we had an attempted robbery at Joe Camel's penthouse. A rat was searching for something."
"'Can't imagine what a rat would need with a camel's stuff," he joked, but Judy poked him.
Bogo continued, a little annoyed, "As I was saying, there was a fight in the penthouse. The perp fell through the glass elevator doors and fought Officer Darrell all the way down."
With great concern, Judy asked, "Omigosh… Is Officer Darrell all right, Chief?"
Darrell was one of the first of the new wave of smaller animals hired for specialty jobs in ZPD that included the bats. The Squirrel Glider was perfect to stand night watch in Joe's apartment, being nocturnal and so small he'd never accidentally trigger the intruder alarms. If a huge criminal had showed up, he would have triggered a silent alarm and the on-call large mammal unit would get him. As the original set of small mammals in ZPD, Nick and Judy made sure the new specialty recruits felt welcomed and supported. A number of them affectionately called Nick and Judy "Dad and Mom".
"He's sore and has a few scrapes, but he's otherwise, he's fine. Darrell rescued the suspect, but he purposely struggled loose. We're still scraping up what's left of the suspect off the elevator floor."
That brought a too-recent memory back to both the fox and rabbit, and Judy lamented, "Oh dear. Is there anything we can do?"
Bogo assured them, "It's over, mammals. At least until their next attempt. Someone really wanted something badly to send a rat up inside one of the tallest skyscrapers in town."
They all knew what the rat was after – what Judy wore secretly around her neck on Bogo's orders. On an open line, they didn't dare discuss it in case someone had their line tapped. Judy knew where the key was and that it was safe. She hoped that no long range camera had seen Joe give it to her, and that no one who was knowledgeable of what she possessed was not a turncoat. Nick almost said something, since they fought over the key and what it meant, but he remained true to his promise to Judy, and said nothing. Judy was very grateful.
Bogo changed the subject, "But that's not why I called. We have another problem. A bigger problem. I'm not going to argue with you this time. I want you to take the assignment. It's dangerous. That's why you'll love it."
Nick faked being skeptical, "I don't know, boss. We were just about to have room service bring up a couple of fruit salads with whipped cream, sir."
Judy jabbed him the ribs, "Shut up, fox."
Since she said it, Bogo didn't have to.
Nick rubbed his sore side and gave his wife a look, and he answered, "Sorry Chief. We had a momentary… um… disagreement. What is it, sir?"
He answered immediately, "Last night the river patrol discovered mammal remains and debris in the river, coming somewhere around the docks."
"Good grief," Nick noted.
"ZPD River Patrol seems to think they've located the source. There was a huge underwater door that covered some kind of flooded chamber under the docks, but it collapsed on itself. We need to look inside. There's only a small opening to get inside. We can't get the underwater drone to see what's behind the door. It seems stable inside. No one on the force is small enough to get it. Except you guys. I'm willing to waive your protected witness status again if you'll go do this."
"Get inside, sir?" Nick asked cautiously, and was skeptical of going inside a huge enclosed underwater space, especially one heavily damaged.
Judy, on the other hand, replied excitedly, "Sure we will, sir. We're certified divers. Plus, I was on the high school swim team. All Bunny Burrow honors."
Nick rolled his eyes. A certain water fight came to mind instantly with that claim.
"We can do this," she whispered the words to Nick with a confident smile.
He countered quietly, "We may be certified, but we surely are not experienced."
"Nick? Judy?" asked Bogo, hearing the disagreement.
"Just a minute boss, we'll get back to you," Nick stated. They put the phone on hold.
Nick questioned his partner, "What are you volunteering us for now, Carrots? There are way better professional police divers."
Judy pleaded, "Can you think of any way better small divers?"
He answered honestly, "Well… no. Not until we start recruiting otters and river dolphins. Or seals."
She gave her husband a disdainful look, and explained, "Consider this practice, Nick - for our scuba adventure at Atlantea. We have a dive in the Neverland Caverns."
"That's different, Carrots. We're not likely to die in those caverns."
"But it'll be such good practice diving in a closed space. The only difference is that I signed us up to do it naturally in Atlantea to get all the special features for honeymooners. We get to dive with the dolphins who will give us a much better guided tour if we 'go natural' because they'd prefer to not wear wet suits either."
Nick asked incredulously with a broad smirk, "We're going to see dolphins naked?"
Judy clearly understood Nick's double inference and scoffed, "Stay focused, fox. There's a private dry cove deep inside one of the underwater caves that they leave us completely alone for a lovers' picnic, and whatever else we want to do before the dolphins come back for us."
Nick's green eyes looked like they would pop out of his head in anticipation, "Wow! All right then, Carrots! Let me go in first today."
She teased, "We won't be nude for this dive, silly."
He realized he was way ahead of himself on this, but smirked and faked going back on his word, "Oh, yeah. Right. Darn. Hmmm. I don't know, Carrots."
The decision had clearly been made, and they hugged.
Nick snickered, releasing their embrace, "Besides. I learned my lesson arguing with you last night."
She winked at her husband and clicked the hotel speakerphone back on, "On our way, sir."
Bogo was pleased, only imagining what the pair had talked about to get agreement, knowing that whatever they had discussed, it had been complicated. He responded, "I thought so."
Taking a police SUV from the Mammaliott, Nick and Judy arrived at the river docks, got in a smaller runabout piloted by a River Patrol sailor, and cruised out the larger River Patrol boat fleet, now joined by a half dozen other vessels. They docked with a salvage ship that was controlling the underwater drone, called an Unmanned Undersea Vehicle (UUV), and clambered aboard.
"Welcome aboard, Officers Wilde," the River Patrol Captain invited.
Judy replied cheerily, "We're glad to be here. Let's get to work."
The Captain liked their attitude and legendary charm, and was looking forward to working with them for the first time, so he agreed, "Absolutely. We'll bring you up to speed on what we found so far."
Nick added, "Great. Thank you."
The pair educated themselves on the situation from briefings by the River Patrol Officers in the ship's ready room. They sat stoically through the gruesome video details of collecting the mammal remains. They also reviewed the video of the UUV and current dive crews that couldn't get into the tiny opening in the gigantic underwater door.
"What else do you need to see?" the Captain asked.
Like the detectives they were, Nick asked, "We need to directly examine what you found."
The Captain was a little surprised but didn't think like a detective so he agreed, "Uh, OK."
They went to the refrigerator deep in the ship's hold and the evidence room next to it.
Nick and Judy first looked at the physical evidence, especially the recovered broken blackboard that miraculously still had images and writing on it. It was jarring for the partners, because it had the VIP and honoree seating diagram with their names still written on it in something more permanent than chalk.
"Do you have all those names identified?"
"Most of them. Yes," came the answer from another River Patrol Officer.
Nick stood and studied the blackboard and one name in particular, "Hmm. 'Duke'. So that was the rhino's name."
"Yeah. And unfortunately, it's like Duke never existed. He's not in any criminal data base, or any civilian records of any kind," the Captain noted, "but when we checked with the investigation team at the Assembly Hall, Duke's name shows up as the chief steward of the group of assassins that posed as servers. He has no known address in Zootopia. All the names on this blackboard match the servers' names, though, and they are not false I.D.'s. These are real mammals' names. It seems like they thought they'd all get away with the attack and disappear back into society."
"So, we do have our culprits."
The River Patrol was proud of this, "Pretty much all are apprehended, and are being guarded in the hospitals or are in jail or the ZPD med center. Unfortunately, some are in the morgue now because of the hit squad attacks. Otherwise, the list on the blackboard and the food service workers team is completely checking out. The guys your buddies rounded up after Arnold ratted them out last night have all been arrested. The assassins' assassins are all working independently, however. They are not part of the original attack team. We don't know if we've stopped all of them yet. And there are other names we've recovered from debris about other members of their Society not involved in the attack. We think after the disaster at Assembly Hall, most of them fled here to regroup in this underwater refuge, and then something happened."
Nick noted, "I had to say this, but I'll bet the DNA analyses from what's in your ship's cold storage will probably match the listed names."
"Probably true, Officers. So what destroyed them and the secret underwater chamber?"
Judy was cautious, "It's hard to speculate. We need to see inside to find out. But first let's see their remains."
Nick and Judy donned surgical masks, plastic gloves, and examination smocks. The Captain opened the door to the walk in refrigerator and the stench was strong, despite the remains being preserved in cold water. The smell of raw flesh was disturbing for Judy. The odors stirred a faint echo of something different deep within Nick.
Using forceps and other medical examination instruments, they examined the mammal pieces, and Nick observed, "Wow. Not much left here."
The River Captain described what the pair already speculated, "When you have millions of gallons of rushing water, collapsing concrete walls, and heavy equipment being ripped loose from their foundations smashing against mammals' bodies, that's the effect you'll get."
"Yeah. 'Terrible way to go," Judy concurred.
Using forceps the two detectives picked a little at he remains. Due to the refrigerator chill, breaths from their mouths steamed, even hidden behind surgical masks.
The River Patrol crew looked anxiously at the detectives who were well trained in field forensics.
One of Judy's ears perked in time with an eyebrow, "Wait. What's this?"
She pulled up a soaked and bloodstained arm band. It had the symbol of the Species Purity Society.
"I think we found them," Nick stated.
Judy added, "Yeah. Now we know for sure the Species Preservation Society was gathered in some kind of secret hiding place and up to no good when the place caved in."
"But why?" the Captain asked.
"That's what we have to go in and find out," Nick said gravely.
The Captain cautioned, "Easier said than done, Detectives. Wait until you see the condition of the place where all this is drifting up to the surface. Come with me."
They removed their forensic gear and walked to the UUV control room where they watched the TV displays with great interest. It looked like a satellite control room.
"Hello Officers," the UUV operator glanced over his shoulder but didn't stray from his task.
"Don't let us interrupt," Nick urged.
"Tell us what you're seeing," Judy instructed with great interest in the video.
"We're down about 15-20 meters here against the shoreline, which is pretty deep for an inland river bottom, even one that's dredged for ship traffic. It goes down almost to 50 meters. Not surprisingly, nothing is really natural along the wharf anymore. You have to go far up and down river away from the city for that."
He panned the cameras for them, "Look here: mammal-made docks, flood walls, and that sort of thing. All normal stuff for dockside construction."
"Yeah. Got it, Officer," Nick commented, trying to orient himself.
The prairie dog deftly moved the controls and the underwater probe moved precisely as if the UUV was an extension of his own paws.
"Until you get to this…"
The UUV closed in on an unexpected object. It was huge underwater gate that was off its track and hinges. Its top and bottom clamshell halves were smashed and jammed against each other. The bottom gate was partially crushed from its upper twin's massive weight. The entire wreckage was slightly askew, creating the small opening on one side.
Judy exclaimed, "That thing is huge!"
The operator calmly noted as he guided the UUV along the length of the smashed gates, "It gets even more interesting. Where this gate is now should be a natural underwater cavern under the constructed part of the docks that were expanded about 30 years ago. Geological maps prove there was a cavern there back then, and the current official city records say that too. Someone falsified the records, and then they covered up the evidence of this gate to any casual diver. This gate had some kind of fake veneer on it to make it look like the rest of the concrete docks in the river channel. No one dives or swims down there, and no one would ever know the cave was gone, or ever there."
"This is very disturbing," Judy reflected rhetorically, thinking of the implications of this in the context of 'them' and 25 years ago when Michael had been abducted. Nick looked at Judy. Both realized that 'they' had been in Zootopia a long time.
Nick looked at the geological maps of the cavern the way it looked decades ago and compared it to their UUV's sonar and photo-mosaic composite photograph of what it looked like now, and observed, "Well that's no underwater grotto now. It's clearly mammal made. Someone completely converted the cave into some kind of underwater entrance and chamber. We need to know what's behind those doors."
He left unsaid that it was more important to find out who made it and why they were hiding it for so long. And who destroyed it. It was starting to be clearer that the answer to all the questions was: 'them'.
Judy was anxious to get to the underwater site, and she asked, "Is there any more to see?"
The Captain stated, "Detective, that's about all we can show you with the drone. To see more, a mammal diver has to go in that opening."
"Well then. Shall we go take a look?" Judy asked expectantly and cheerfully.
Nick was still a little unsure, but Judy had demonstrated more than once she was an excellent swimmer. He knew she 'aced' her scuba course at the Academy. There would be no stopping her, but he offered, "Maybe I should go in first. I'm stronger if there are debris."
She smiled at her mate's offer, "No, Nick. I'll go in, but thank you. You won't fit, Nick. You can be my first 'safety diver'."
Nick quickly agreed, "That sounds good, Judy."
That role would put him right at the entrance where he could control her safety rope and communications line, and for at least awhile could watch her progress into the interior of the chamber, and watch for any signs of trouble.
"Let's get you suited up then," the Captain replied and took them to get prepared.
Knowing both were husband and wife, the Captain gave them privacy in the ship's locker room. They undressed together in the small locker room and put on insulated and padded yellow high visibility wet suits. He couldn't help but be drawn to her beautiful shape. She took his breath away as usual but he dismissed any thoughts he had. Judy blushed knowing he was watching, and admired her husband a little too, but like him, knew this was not the time for any affection.
Once suited up, they got other divers' help with their breathing apparatus, weights, flippers and gloves, safety equipment, communications gear, and they checked their spot beams, which was absolutely essentially diving into the dark chamber void.
"Ready?" Nick asked.
"As ready as I'll ever be," Judy smiled.
Topside on the ship's aft deck, they sat on the diving well, and rolled into the water one by one, backwards, tank-first as they had trained. Several other River Patrol officers not in salvage gear accompanied them as additional safety divers.
It took a few minutes for Nick and Judy to get used to the heavier salvage scuba gear. They practiced working together as a team and playing out the safety and communications lines, supervised by the more experienced divers.
After about 10 minutes of practice, Judy said to Nick over the comm line, "I think I have the hang of this."
Nick agreed, "OK, let's go, partner."
The half dozen divers went deeper into the water and toward the huge door. The UUV operator could see them all clearly and kept the drone near to the group to provide video of the investigation. They all made their way down 20 meters and swam toward the gap in the giant clamshell gates. The water was clearer than they thought.
They got to the edge of the gap, and Judy pointed her spotlight and miniature helmet mounted camera inside the void. Vague details of something mammal-made inside came into view.
Nick hesitated to play out her safety line. She turned and they faced each other with masks only a few inches apart, "I need to go in Nick. I'll be fine. You're right here for me. Just like usual."
"I know. I'm still concerned."
"It wouldn't be right if you weren't concerned for a fellow officer," she said officially.
They puckered to kiss, but bumped masks, and laughed a little nervously.
"Did you know the camera on and ZPD is getting the view?" the Captain kidded them, getting the raw video from Judy's camera on the UUV control station.
"Oops… sorry about the PDA, everyone," Nick apologized.
Over the comm link, they heard quite a number of chuckles from their colleagues, and could imagine Bogo rolling his eyes at the direct video feed he had in his office. Which he did.
They both just wagged their helmets at each other in mock scolding, and Judy joked, "Way to go, Officer."
Nick gave Judy his signature shrug, but then instructed her, "Give me any sign of trouble, and I will haul you back pronto. Remember. Just give the word, Officer Wilde."
"Yes, sir, Office Wilde," she confirmed with her husband. He was intentionally overly cautious as the first safety diver, but Judy knew he meant well and it was standard procedure. That's what everyone was taught.
She carefully swam through the gap between the clamshell doors. The clearance for Judy was much smaller than she thought. She really was the only mammal small enough to fit through. All the fully trained ZPD rescue/salvage divers were Nick's size or larger. Drifting through she was very careful, with Nick's guidance, to make sure there was no jagged concrete or metal edges to tear her suit, comm line, or air hose. The bright flood lamp on her head and camera recorded everything. The water inside was actually really clear, but eerily, very still. She could feel the cold, even through the thermal lining of the salvage suit.
Or was it the cold of anxiety of discovering what was inside?
She entered further and gasped. It was truly cavernous inside the chamber.
"Are you guys getting all this?" she asked, her eyes wide with surprise.
"Yeah, Detective. We all need a dry cleaner up here," the Captain joked at the collective shock of the crew over the vastness of the chamber.
She narrated her journey as she went, "Main opening is about 300 meters long, 50 meters high. Minimum. There are banks and banks of dead lights in the ceiling. The walls are lined with pipes and cable runs, and pressure vessels. This whole area looks like some kind of berth. For something very big."
"Copy, diver," the UUV operator stated. He was officially in charge of this expedition, and was making sure every second of video and audio was logged.
"This place must have once hummed with life. It was right under the snouts of every mammal in Zootopia. And even more disturbingly, ZPD," she narrated. She knew she was a little more editorial on that observation, but it was actually true.
"Roger, diver," came the acknowledgement.
Everyone shared the same thought. The feed was coming through Bogo's desk at headquarters clearly. He was astounded, and like Judy and Nick, the only other ZPD Officer that knew this was not the work of the Society, but something much more elusive and nefarious. And obviously with vast resources. With a secret way of getting in and out of the city, infiltration across the city to the degree they had witnessed was easy.
Where Judy entered, she continued to describe what she was seeing, "This is definitely a berthing area for a huge vessel. There's gangplanks over there. You can see the Hauser lines floating about and davits. There's umbilical cables over there, and chocks everywhere. I think those are giant pumps along the wall to get the water out of here. This was a dry dock."
The ZPD officers were in complete shock at the extent of the subterranean construction and sophistication of the installed technology. The Zootopia Defense Force had nothing more advanced than a couple of frigates and a few armed patrol boats for its navy. It was a complete mystery what would come in here from underwater. Past the dry dock the scene changed. .
Judy exclaimed, "Wait. Now it's transitioning."
She drifted from the dry dock into a long, high ceiling hallway that opened into a much larger atrium. It was designed for mammals to move around work and meet.
"Wow! Look at this!"
She found clear evidence of blast marks left from explosions and fractures in the concrete that were forced, not failures. Everywhere there were bent and destroyed big pipes and hydraulic systems. Cables were severed and had scorch marks and melted insulation. For a moment she was worried that the power that surged through those high voltage cables might electrocute her, though her suit was specifically designed for isolation of the diver from electrified water.
As she carefully swam, taking big sweeping pans of the scene, she commented, "There must have been one helluva explosion to wipe this place out."
"It was one helluva place to begin with," officer Nick added seeing the vastness of the underground complex.
Judy floated into another area that was an athletic training area. She videoed racks of sharp weapons, anti-mixed species political posters, and the flag over the main gathering auditorium and stage. A wooden podium floated against the ceiling with its Species Purity Society logo, microphones, and speaker cables still attached. There were lots of dummies to practice against. But then she realized that some of the dummies were mammal bodies, and she gasped, and worse, she saw more body parts.
Judy realized, "Oh gracious. I'm in the midst of their lair. They met here. They trained here."
She saw movement in the walls and ceiling above were shifting. She heard creaking, cracking, ripping and tearing noises all around her.
Judy exclaimed, "Nick. The structure – it's moving. It's caving in more. The explosions weakened everything. It's all unstable in here. I'm getting out now."
"Carrots! Get out of there!" He shouted and pulled on her safety line.
Their realization was too late. A jagged piece of ceiling debris and tons of metal and natural rock above fell and permanently buried the riverine entrance to the underwater Society lair. The falling debris instantly severed her comm line and safety rope.
A sudden current of water, created as all that debris displaced the water inside the vast chamber, pushed Nick away from the tiny blocked entrance. Mud and silt swirled and obscured the view.
Nick realized with horror that he was only holding the cut end of the safety rope and the comm line link with her.
His helmet camera repeater display for Judy and earphones went to static.
"Noooo!" He screamed, "Captain! We have to get Judy out of here. Get a crane down here. Rip the door open."
The Captain, in panic, replied, "I can't. It'll take hours to get our salvage barge to move that door. Hours."
Nick knew Judy's air wouldn't last that long and she could be smashed under falling debris. "We don't have hours. We only have now. This place is falling apart."
Nick pounded on the tons of rock and metal. It didn't budge a bit, and in fact was followed by another cave in that forced him further away from the no-longer-existent entrance. Nick swam quickly away with the other safety divers so he wasn't crushed or buried. He felt absolutely helpless. There was nothing he could do to get inside to help his wife and partner.
"Carrots…" he moaned in true pain and worry with his mask against a large natural river boulder.