The Waters of Atlantea Chapter 37

Authors Notes: Thought you might want to conclude your celebration of Father's Day with the latest chapter! My Father's Day present was to be blessed by the family to have the time to finish and publish this weekend, though later than I would have liked.

…Daybreak, Mount Keinoi, "third crevasse on the right"…

Sunlight filtered into the opening the crevasse. With the dawn light breaking on his eyes, the Colonel awoke, yawned, looked around, and counted snouts and muzzles of his squad and their rag tag allies. He jostled the others awake.

"'Anyone seen McDonnell?" the big moose asked, and was answered with a chorus of slightly worried "I don't know"'s from the others.

"Up here, sir," came the familiar squeaky voice of the Major, a little sheepishly.

Everyone looked up and saw their vampire bat colleague hanging upside down from a stalactite perch nearly 30 meters above them. The avian mammal stretched and yawned, displaying a mouthful of needle-sharp teeth, causing an involuntary shudder in his commanding officer.

"What are you doing up there?" Milo shouted up to his new ally, dumbfounded.

The Major grinned, "Oh, come on, Milo, do I really have to explain it to you? I'm a bat. This is the best sleep I've had in weeks!"

The Zootopians laughed at Milo's expense and his apparent ignorance of instinctual bat behavior in the wild, especially inside a cave. Major McDonnell released his grip on the cave ceiling, entered a graceful glide, flapped hard once to break his speed, and settled down on the crevasse floor gently next to the others.

"'Fixin' to swoop down on us while we sleep for a little breakfast appetizer, eh, Major?" Sergeant York jabbed his colleague. McDonnell rolled his beady little eyes. These two regularly traded barbs about their species' former savage behaviors.

Ignoring the bat's and armadillo's banter, the rest of team shared a quick but satisfying high energy bar breakfast, swigged some water, and stared into the darkness beyond and below them.

Judy commented, "Well guys, it's time to go down 'the rabbit hole' don't you think? Who's coming with me?"

"That's a pretty big rabbit that made that hole," Nick interjected quickly, "What was that you were you telling me once about explorers discovering feral saber tooth rabbits still living in caves?"

The whole team shot the couple a concerned look.

Seeing the worry, Judy quickly replied, "'Kidding, guys! My ancestors have been extinct a gazillion years."

"But she does bite," Nick snorted.

"Shut up, fox," Judy scolded half-heartedly, her ears blushed a deep red, took her husband's paw in confidence, and started down the lava tube.

Nick looked back at the Colonel, and asked, "Do you guys mind if Judy and I 'take point'?"

The bull moose motioned them ahead with encouragement and commented, "Not at all. You two can lead. You guys are the only natural burrowers in this group, and I'm not entirely convinced Judy's explanation is true."

The squad laughed and gathered their things, and followed the fox and rabbit.

Daylight rapidly disappeared behind them, so they stopped and donned the squad's IR goggles, giving extra pairs to Nick, Judy, Milo, and Tony.

…The Bridge of the Nautilus…

Dr. Death appeared before Nemo, who was working with his tablet, examining details of their next operation, and tentatively asked, "Mr. Nemo, sir, may I interrupt?"

The elephant seal looked up, and held the computer tablet in his lap, and asked cheerfully, "Sure. What do you have for me? Is production going well?"

Dr. Death answered, but was anxious to cover another topic, "It is, sir, very well; but that's not what I'm here for."

That got Nemo's attention, and he placed the tablet completely aside on the arm of his Captain's chair, "Oh? I'm sorry. What did you really want to talk about, Doctor?

The twisted physician reminded his superior, "Sir, this morning you said that Zipporah confessed that she was pregnant?"

Nemo nodded and confirmed, "That's what she told me. Zipporah sure looked sick this morning."

Dr. Death explained further, "So… I tested her this morning. She resisted, but I got the sample anyway. And one hell of a bruise…"

Nemo chuckled, "Arguing seems to be normal for that one."

The geneticist frowned at his boss' lack of compassion for the painful wallop the young female elephant seal gave him, "She complained wasn't ready and she'd come to the clinic later. There was just something about her… um… demeanor. She looked more scared than sick. I didn't believe her."

Nemo gave his underling an evil smile, "You obviously have your reasons. After all, you are my wives' doctor."

The doctor confirmed, "Damn right I had my reasons. Looking sick and being sick are two different things. Remember, sir, she was an actress in one of the tourist cultural shows, and was a damn good one. She still is. I think you need to look at this, sir."

Dr. Death placed the lab tests in Nemo's flipper.

Nemo's eyes flew open wide as he carefully examined each line of the medical report presented to him, and exclaimed, "Well I'll be damned…!"

"And this," the doctor stated and with emphasis, and gave him another single sheet of paper.

Nemo rose up out of his chair with a terrible anger and bellowed loud enough to make every mammal staffing their station on the submarine's bridge flinch, "Sonuvabitch!"

…Orcandor underwater mansion. Guard Post #2…

An orcan sentry looked at his electronic sonar display with increasing alarm, not believing what he was seeing, made one final confirmation, and punched the intercom, "Captain! Incoming bogie. 1000 meters and closing fast… closure speed 50 kph!"

The Chief of Orcandor Security knew his sentry had no time to get out into the water to make a natural sonar sounding, so he asked quickly, "Can you identify the intruder?"

Looking at his display, the experienced security guard fiddled with some knobs, and he punched the IFF transponder, "It's a large pinniped, Cap'n."

The Chief gulped, but asked calmly, "What kind of pinniped, soldier?"

"It's an elephant seal, sir. A bull. A big one," the guard stated with great anxiety.

Everyone knew what kind of pinniped led the Movement, so the Captain inquired further, "Sweet freakin' Nature. How many pinnipeds are with him?"

The guard completely understood the importance of everything he was telling his boss, and couldn't dare be wrong, "I… I can't tell sir. It appears there's only one intruder."

The Chief demanded, "Shit! Get a fix on any others, soldier. There could be dozens more behind him with those freakin' new sonar jammers. Can you get outside and make a fix?"

The advanced jammers couldn't fool the biological orcan sonars, but the risk was the killer whales had to be very close to Movement intruders equipped with the devices to break through the jamming signals. And then it would probably be too late anyway.

"No sir, he's nearly right on top of me now. If there are lots of them, they'll overrun the gate!" he warned.

The Chief had heard enough. He punched the Emergency General Alarm across the entire compound, and he shouted into the PA system, which would be heard in every room and every corner of the mansion, "Red alert! This is not a drill. Brace for full invasion. Everyone to their battle stations!"

He thought as his huge heart pounded in his chest, "Shit… Here it comes: the final attack. Dammit that the boss lady and her husband are both gone!"

Underwater klaxons blared at every guard shack and in every hallway and room in the mansion. Doors slammed shut and were bolted and locked. Young orcans and other species' youth were locked into security escape pods by their parents. Guards rimmed the Sanctuary and cocked their weapons and aimed shaped charge grenades toward any intruder breaking through to prevent the threat of genocide. Each orcan guard was ready to sacrifice themselves to protect the hybrid future of mammalkind.

Three pods of defenders poured out of the security section of the mansion, with nearly 5 dozen heavily armed orcan defenders, dolphins, and small whales, that swiftly across the defense perimeters of the property. Several defenders concentrated on reaching Guard Post #2 before the initial frontal assault headed toward their colleague arrived.

Sitting nervously at the Command Center, the Captain watched the readings on the long range sonar net, underwater TVs, motion and heat sensors that didn't move a centimeter.

The Head of Orcandor Security was adamant requesting from all the other Guard Posts, "Report, mammals! Any other sightings?"

One by one, negative reports flashed over the speakers, "No sir, just the bogie headed for Guard Post #2."

The Chief still smelled a large scale deception, "Burn through those jammers, dammit; I don't want a hundred friggin' Movement bastards blowing up Kida's bedroom before you find out!"

"Yes sir!" came the desperate replies, but no one was seeing any signs of a large scale attack, but no one wanted to invent any kind of false alarm.

The lone bull elephant seal target bored in unerringly toward Guard Post #2. The sonar beeps got faster and louder as the pinniped closed the distance, just like the guard's heartbeat.

Still alone, even knowing reinforcements were only seconds' away, the orcan soldier stood his ground in his shack, with its defenses bristling, lights flashing, and sirens blaring into the water, and he screamed into an underwater megaphone system, "Stop! Stop right there or die!"

The bull elephant seal instantly obeyed, coming to a sudden halt. That shocked the guard. A determined attacker would not have stopped.

The pinniped shouted back across the watery expanse, shockingly duplicating the complicated whistles and squeaks of the orcans' millennia-old underwater language, "Don't shoot! I just want to talk!"

The totally surprised guard, still wondering where his colleagues were, and how the pinniped had mastered their complex underwater language, heard no threat in the voice of the pinniped. He took a risk, left the Guard Post and hastily swam out into the water. He confronted the intruder with his powerful weapons, and bared his huge teeth centimeters from the elephant seal's tusks. He could have easily bitten the pinniped's entire skull off – but could have just as easily been bitten by the elephants seal's teeth.

The guard returned a serious of squeaks and barks back at the pinniped, "So talk, dude. Put your flippers on your head, and then freeze, or you're frickin' dead."

"OK," the elephant seal said meekly, and raised his pectoral flippers on top of his head in submission, continuing to explain in the beeps and squeaks of the orcans, "I assure you that I mean you no harm. I'm alone."

With great skepticism, the guard snapped at the intruder with his own clicks and siren-like sounds, "We'll see about that!"

Six formidable orcan defenders joined their colleague sentry and surrounded the intruder. While some directed their mini-torpedo launchers at point blank range on the bull elephant seal, several others bound and blindfolded him.

The Guard Post #2 sentry ordered, "Search him for weapons… and explosives."

The second grim order resulted due to Orcandor's state of high alert. Everyone was prepared for any kind of attack on them. Even suicide bombers.

After a very thorough search, one of the Guard Post sentry's colleagues announced, "He's clean, Corporal."

The Guard confirmed, "OK, thanks, Private. You guys bring him to the brig for questioning by the Captain. Some of you stay with me to make sure he really is the only intruder out here."

The defender squad leader seized the bull pinniped, "You're coming with us. No 'funny stuff', or you'll lose a flipper!"

"Thank you," sighed the docile pinniped with relief toward his captors.

The six enormous orcans ignored the elephant seal, but thought that his behavior was very unusual.

To them, every pinniped was an enemy.

…Orcandor brig…

The bull elephant seal was secured uncomfortably in the main security area in a heavily barred dry cell in the heart of the main security area. In front of him was a pool of water. The Chief of Security popped his head out of the water, towered over the elephant seal, intimidating him, despite his own huge size, and demanded, "Who the hell are you, and why are you here? I could have ordered you killed a half klick out with an anti-mammal torpedo, and no one would have asked any questions."

The words choked out of the sea elephant's throat, "I'm grateful for your mercy."

The Captain put his fin under the pinniped's chin, and forced the prisoner to look into his eyes, and seethed, "I asked you for your name and why you risked coming here, not your gratitude."

Keeping the eye contact, the elephant seal stated calmly, "My name is Moses."

The Security Chief scoffed, "I might have known. Moses, eh? That's a classic Movement name, you bastard."

Moses replied, remaining calm, "I… I can assure you that I am not part of the Movement."

The Captain dismissed the claim, "They all take ancient names. It's all part of their damn manifesto. It lets them justify their evil by quoting millennia of single species 'historical' mumbo jumbo."

The bull elephant seal was insistent and his eyes burned into the Captain's, "You must understand me. My adoptive mother gave me the name 'Moses'. Elephant seals are the most ancient of all pinniped species. It's perfectly normal for parents to give pups ancient names because we are ancient."

Moses' logic and incredible conviction disoriented the Security Chief, so he leaned right up into his captive's snout, and noticed the stench of alcohol. It made sense. An elephant seal would have to be half-drunk to swim alone at full speed right into the teeth of the defenses of Orcandor.

The Captain spat, using his name like an epithet, "Then why the hell are you here if you don't want to destroy us, Moses?"

Without hesitation, he declared with complete conviction, "I want my fiancé back, sir. Nemo abducted my Zipporah six months ago for Nature knows what reasons. I want to join the Resistance. I'll fight to the death to get her back. I can't live another day without her."

And then the Moses broke down in front of his captor, burying his snout and tusks in his pectoral flippers with great heaving sobs.

The Chief of Orcandor Security staggered back in the pool, not knowing what to do or say next. He'd never seen an elephant seal cry.

…About an hour later. Xobar's research lab…

From a restless sleep, the fox/rabbit hybrid suddenly felt a towering presence hovering over his cot. He jumped to his feet, heart pounding and standing at a brace, "Mr. Nemo, sir!?"

Nemo was quite satisfied with his stealthy entry, and knew he could have slain the hybrid as he slept, "In the blubber, Xobar."

"To what do I owe this honor," Xobar stated, both respectfully and insultingly in the same breath.

Ignoring the slight, the leader of the Movement ordered, "Come with me, Xobar."

Xobar was suddenly very worried, "What's wrong, sir? You never let me out of my research cell."

Calmly, Nemo ordered, "I want to show you something."

The pair walked utterly silently through the access ways and habitats and living quarters of the Laboratory, drawing shocked stares at the paired movement of Xobar with Nemo. Xobar couldn't remember the last time he had walked the entire length of the Lab and the underwater secret berth of the Nautilus. He saw some new construction across from the Nautilus that had previously been only caverns. Now it was a chemical factory, with banks of tanks, piping, valves, and electronics. At the center of the factory was huge silvery bioreactor. It throbbed with power and sound of liquids flowing through it and around it in the surrounding piping. To Xobar's trained researcher's eyes, it looked very suspicious.

Breaking the long silence in their walk, Nemo finally asked the hybrid, "How's your progress, Xobar?"

Xobar shrugged and admitted, "I'm close to having a stable virus, but there is still nothing."

Nemo accused, "You're lying."

"No I'm not," Xobar answered.

Nemo chuckled, "Xobar, you're so good at lying that you actually do believe what you're saying is the truth. But the real truth is that you've found the sequence for a benign virus."

Xobar tried to deflect the discussion, "It depends on who and what you are to determine whether the virus is ibenign or not. But no, I haven't perfected the virus. It's still virulent to all species."

Nemo gave him a glare, "I don't think so, hybrid. Have you ever heard of Strain #23,271?"

Xobar stood and said nothing. He was totally taken aback. He had been so careful, so thorough to hide the results. And then to destroy them. Somehow Nemo had found the results.

Nemo saw the momentary shock of discovery in Xobar's eyes, and bored in, "Well, maybe you tried to hide it – and destroy all evidence of Strain #23,271 - but fortunately my surveillance is much better than you think. While you think you've destroyed the virus, I've perfected it."

Still reeling with the knowledge of being discovered, "What do you mean, Nemo?"

Nemo ignored Xobar's lack of honor to him and bragged, "The virus is already being produced in massive quantities - right here in front of you, Xobar. Behold the masterpiece of genetic engineering that you created. I built this biochemical factory over here by the Nautilus so you and your spies inside the Laboratory wouldn't find out about it. Once each batch of the virus is produced in enough quantity, I load it into our bio-weapon torpedoes, ready to be infused into the central fresh water systems of all the cities of the world with the biggest mixed species infestations - starting with Zootopia! The best thing about starting with Zootopia is that I get rid of all our enemies at the same time. Most of the city's leadership is mixed species and most of their spouses are pregnant. Too bad that frickin' Bogo has a water buffalo spouse."

Xobar was devastated at the extent of what he created - and tried to hide and destroy - had been so compromised and exploited. He could barely get the words out, "You won't succeed, Nemo!"

It was an idle threat, so Nemo responded, "Oh, but I think I will, Xobar. The Nautilus will travel secretly all around the world, and our agents will be able to poison all the cities' water supplies. Soon, civilization will be totally frightened, witnessing thousands of agonizing deaths of any kind of mixed couple and the tragic death of their offspring. With my well-oiled social media machine, we'll make sure everyone in the world sees this 'mixed species and hybrid plague' as Nature's revenge on diluting species purity. Maybe we'll call it 'Xobar's Plague' in your honor, hybrid. So everyone will know you created your own kind's demise. Wouldn't that be fitting?"

He laughed derisively at Xobar's expense.

Xobar deflected his captor's accusation, "You'll the one who'll be known as the greatest mass murderer in the history of the world. Not me."

Nemo countered, "You're so mistaken, Xobar. I'm the greatest liberator in the history of the world. They'll see that the Species Purity Society were heroes – far ahead of their time in calling the alarm - and trying to do something about it. Someday, Duke and Joe Camel will be worshiped as heroes - not murderers. In less than a year's time, there won't be one mixed couple – or their offspring - on the planet, and the world will finally see that mixes and hybrids are truly the abominations that they are. Things will go back to the way they should be. Species will only breed within their own species."

Xobar tried to appeal to the greater threat, and warned, "This is a dangerous game that you're playing Nemo. I may have invented that virus, but I don't know the full effects of it. I don't care what my results said. We don't really know if the virus is safe, especially in such quantities. It's not been tested thoroughly, and it will constantly mutate once it's freed in the world. I was just beginning those safety trials. You could be unleashing a universal plague on the entire world that could wipe every mammal off the face of the earth. It would be genocide on an unprecedented scale. Mammalkind will blame you. It might even kill you first, Nemo. Stop this madness now, Nemo, while you still can. Bury this factory and those torpedoes at the bottom of the trench today."

He was hoping the virus would kill the insane sea elephant first.

Nemo dismissed Xobar's warnings, "I don't think so. My bio warfare team has been working with it for some time with absolutely no ill effects. You're wrong to be so cautious, hybrid, since we've proven beyond a shadow of doubt that it's only deadly to your kind."

Xobar wondered how he was able to prove that, and who the unfortunate hybrids were that he experimented upon, but was resigned to the inevitable, and so he asked, "When do you start this madness?"

Nemo obliged Xobar with the truth, "The 'final solution' starts in less than a week, I'm proud to say. The torpedoes are filling up nicely thanks to the bioreactor producing overtime. We're already getting set to sail up the river to Zootopia."

Xobar asked, "This is all Dr. Death's handiwork, isn't it?"

Nemo gave the fox/rabbit hybrid a knowing smile, "You are one smart hybrid, Xobar."

Xobar sighed, "So why did you bring me here to see this? Just to gloat?"

Nemo replied coldly, "Yes. Exactly. So I could rub your muzzle in my victory before the end comes for all of you hybrids and your misguided mammal friends. Your end will come sooner than the others, I'm pleased to say."

"What?" responded Xobar, though he was not surprised.

"Your usefulness to me has ended, Xobar, and so have all the others," Nemo declared, "Thank you so much for giving me the 'formula' for your kind's extinction. Don't think your life wasn't appreciated. Your death deserves to be something spectacular. Your end can be such a great example to the others. So… I've decided that there will be no better way for you to 'go' than to be the first public victim of the virus, especially since you are the first hybrid. Then I can use the disease to eliminate the rest of the hybrids in the Lab to gather data on how it infects and kills. You're all re-breeding too much, eating too much food, breathing too much oxygen, and taking up too much space here in the Lab. We need to 'clean house' of all you hybrids. Fortunately, we have you all penned up together. Letting the virus take its course will be an easy job, and easy clean up."

Horrified, Xobar made a desperate plea to try to save the others, "Nemo, my life doesn't matter. Kill me now. You don't need to experiment on my friends."

Nemo denied Xobar's request for mercy for the hybrids, "Oh but I do, Xobar. Just killing you would be too simple, and it's too painless for you just to have me choke the life out of you. I'd get no real satisfaction with the pain you caused me: all the delays, the deceit and lies, the false trails, and somehow, even locked up here, you've managed to help the Resistance get the upper hand. So… I really need your public execution for the whole Lab to enjoy. You've done far too much damage to the Movement to have earned a simple death."

Given that he was already condemned, Xobar tried to ask with no emotion, "What kind of public execution do you have in mind? Another 'flush job'?"

That was the hybrids' euphemism for being blasted into the deep ocean from an airlock.

"No, Xobar. We've recently found out that doesn't work," Nemo confessed.

"What?" Xobar asked, admitting to another surprise, despite his attempt at self-control.

Nemo revealed, "Well… if you must know, hybrid. Noocvaeb somehow survived his drowning and is somewhere in Zootopia giving away all the Laboratory's secrets."

Xobar successfully stifled his feelings that his scheme for the beaver/coon's dramatic escape to the surface with assistance from the orcas had actually worked.

"We think he was helped. All signs point to you, Xobar," Nemo accused. Xobar never flinched.

"How could I possibly help? I'm nothing more than a lab rat," Xobar lied convincingly.

Lab rats did the most of the menial tasks for most mammal businesses, but they would work for next to nothing, and didn't take up a lot of living space or resources.

Nemo looked at his captive, and suggested, "I haven't figured out how you helped Noocvaeb survive, Xobar, but somehow you did. Why don't you tell me? I might just spare your life – or if you'd rather, I'll spare the lives of the hybrids. Simply tell me how he lived through that execution and where your friend is hiding in Zootopia."

Xobar was adamant in his defiance, "I don't know what you're talking about, Nemo, and since I've never been to Zootopia, I couldn't even guess. Admit it, Nemo: even if I did tell you, you won't spare my life or the others anyway."

Nemo knew that Xobar saw right through his deception, so he just shrugged, "You're right, Xobar, but I had to try. Besides, I like seeing you beg. Too bad that doesn't happen very much."

"Sorry to have disappointed you so much over the years, Nemo," Xobar snarled and bared his fangs in defiance to his captor that was more fox than rabbit. Despite their considerable size differences, and understanding how little real damage Xobar could do to the enormous pinniped, the latent ferocity of the fox/rabbit hybrid still startled Nemo.

Nemo tried to ignore the emotional victory Xobar had just scored against him, so he stated, "So, hybrid, we need an execution more fitting of your crimes than a simple drowning. You said we need to test the virus first. So we'll test it - on you!"

Xobar scoffed, "But it takes two dissimilar species actively having sex and exchanging genetic materials to activate the virus. You haven't ever let me have the pleasure of being with anyone else here."

Nemo smiled a kilometer wide, "I am so glad you suggested that, Xobar. Finally, you get to have your 'lucky day'."

Realizing he'd been led into a logic trap, Xobar tried to follow Nemo's twisted sense of justice, "You're going to make me have sex… in public… with an innocent victim?"

Nemo laughed, then expounded, "Yes. But not so innocent, Xobar. I've chosen to run the test with you and Zipporah, who's spurned my loving care and advances. She's betrayed my love for the last time."

Xobar was aghast, "You'd execute Zipporah for resisting sex with you? She's not really yours anyway. You and she have a sham marriage. She has another real love and you know it. You kidnapped her from Moses."

Nemo snorted, "Moses? That useless excuse of an elephant seal? What has he ever done that's important? I am the better lover and provider for her. And what does she do? She always resists and rebels against me. It's up to me to tame her, even if it means executing her to do so."

Xobar snapped back, "She's done nothing but be subservient to your every whim, Nemo."

Snidely, Nemo replied, "Oh really, Xobar? How about the fact that she's been treasonously disobedient by refusing to sire a pup with me? She's been taking anti-reproductive pills made by someone inside the Lab, Xobar."

The sea elephant gave his captive an accusatory look.

"Zipporah could get those from anyone, Nemo. Those things are as common as aspirin," Xobar noted, defending himself.

Nemo replied, "Not here and not these contraceptives. They were made from a supposedly untraceable biochemical formula, designed to be so similar to Zipporah's metabolism that neither I nor Dr. Death could discover it. But you must take us for idiots, because he found out it was you. Every biochemist has a signature style. Especially you, Xobar. You know contraceptives for my wives are prohibited. You prevented me from spreading my superior seed across the pinniped world. That's punishable by death, Xobar. You both know that."

Xobar remained defiant, and declared, "You stole her from her rightful mate. It's bad enough you're forcing yourself on her. I was only helping her until they can be reunited, without the burden – the curse – of bearing your pup."

Nemo wanted to snap Xobar's neck instantly with his insults, but controlled himself, and simply hurled his fury at Xobar's insubordination in words, seething at him, "Rescuing her from the Lab – or anyone else - will never happen. If I can't have her, no one can."

Nemo hit the hybrid hard, sending him to the metal floor of the Nautilus' berth. Reeling in pain, but recovering from the swing, Xobar screamed, "No! You can't do this to her! Sure, you can kill me at any time, but not Zipporah. She hasn't done anything. The virus, once active in her body, will kill her horribly if I have… relations… with her. The virus is the ultimate virulent mutation of toxic shock syndrome that kills the male as well as female and hybrids."

Nemo gloated, knowing all of this, "Watch me do it to you and to her. That's what I'm counting on, hybrid. I know how the virus works. You've told me before. And from what I hear from Dr. Death, your deaths won't be instantaneous. You'll have agonizing deaths. Your pain will be very satisfying to watch, just like the pain both of you have put me through - working behind my back for months – even years. Your executions will be a clear message to anyone who would dare defy me. I don't need you anymore – I've got plenty of smart scientists and I can pay off and I can threaten anyone I want to in the Institute to get the advanced technology I need."

Xobar bargained for time for Zipporah, and hopefully himself, "Name one Movement scientist smarter than me, Nemo. When I'm gone, who's going to invent the technology for your next evil plan? Dr. Death may be able to copy my work, but name one thing he's actually invented. You need me a lot more than you think."

Nemo was flustered, because he knew Xobar was right, so he changed the subject.

"You can dream all you want to about finding excuses to force me to let you live, but my mind is made up and no one is going to beat me to help you or save you," Nemo rationalized.

Xobar threatened the behemoth pinniped, "I don't know, Nemo. From what I've heard, the Resistance and others around the world have been beating the shit out of The Movement."

Nemo quelled his anger and stated smugly, "That may have been true in the past, hybrid, but the only two mammals who have been clever and lucky enough to momentarily interfere with our goals are dead, thanks to Bart. Well, their luck ran out. I killed them last night in their hotel room in Atlantea. The fox and rabbit cops from Zootopia are dead, Xobar, d-e-a-d, dead. Just as you will be, and any others here or anywhere else in the world who'd dare to take on The Movement."

The fox/rabbit realized his cryptic messages and Noocvaeb finally did get through to someone. His hopes were both buoyed and dashed at the very same time. He'd heard of the fox and rabbit cops and the enlightenment of Zootopia.

Resigned to the inevitable, Xobar despondently asked, "So… when is the execution?"

Nemo relished the thought and explained, "It's going to take awhile to get everyone organized for this. I'm going to be merciful and let the condemned mammal the right to choose. Today or tomorrow? You pick. But it can't be any longer. The Nautilus sails after that with biochemical torpedoes loaded and ready to go."

Xobar bargained for the most amount of time, and requested, "Bastard. You think you're so generous. So be it. Tomorrow at sundown, just like in the savage days."

That would give him time to think of some kind of way to at least save Zipporah, even though escape had alluded him for nearly 2 decades. There had to be some way to get the killer whales involved as they had before. If somehow he could cut off the Lab defenses.

Nemo granted the request, "So be it. So… if you'll come with me now, Xobar. I need to lock you up with the other hybrids. And join Zipporah. Nature only knows what kind of damage you could do if I let you stay in your lab another day. You might come up with a virus that only kills elephant seals."

"I could only wish that on you, Nemo," Xobar snarled.

Nemo seized Xobar roughly, subdued the hybrid's arms behind him, gagged him, and dragged him back forcefully through the access ways to the Lab, where guards joined Nemo and helped handle the captive.

"Where are we taking him, sir?" one asked Nemo.

"To the Hybrid Habitat," Nemo answered, "But I'm going with you, to make sure he doesn't get loose. This one is always trouble."

"Yes sir."

They arrived at the Hybrid Habitat with a couple of heavily armed guards flanking the entrance. The escorts unlocked the heavy door and threw Xobar into the overcrowded mass of hybrid mammals, who screamed and recoiled in fear, seeing that it was Nemo at the entrance to their prison.

With true satisfaction, Nemo scorned the hybrid, "So, Xobar, you're finally joining your own kind."

One of the guards sneered, "He's trash now, just like the rest. And trash deserves to be burned."

They slammed the door locked it, and returned to their sentry duties.

"Double the guard here. I don't trust Xobar for one second," Nemo demanded, whirled, and left.

"Yes sir," they answered.

As Nemo had said, Zipporah was already captured inside in the habitat, and seeing that Xobar had been caught and punished, she was tearful. She rushed to him and they steadied each other in their arms as friends.

She apologized, "What's happening, Xobar? I'm so sorry they found out. They forced me. Dr Death took a smear and made me talk. He found out I wasn't pregnant, and found the pills. I feel so awful."

"It's OK, Zipporah. It would have happened eventually," Xobar stated to try to calm her.

"What's going to happen to us, Xobar? I'm so worried about Moses too," she asked, "He's not safe from Nemo's thugs in the city."

"We need to talk, Zipporah," Xobar whispered.

"What's happening, Xobar?" asked Regil who made his way to them, "Locking us all up together can't be good."

"Time is short, my friend, for all of us," he whispered so none of the others except Zipporah could hear.

…Kida's Family Island. Underwater cave…

Dr. Sweet addressed Kida in the claustrophobic setting, "We have to stop meeting like this, friend. I've had two unexplained absences in the past week. For a Blue, it's not that easy sneaking out of your office mid day unnoticed and disappearing for a half a day."

"I had to tell you. Be ready tomorrow. By noon," Kida informed him urgently skipping any small talk.

Dr. Sweet tried to calm his young female friend, "Slow down, Kida. Your mind is racing. Be ready tomorrow at noon do to what?"

She explained in a rush, "To support a special operation to take down The Lab once and for all - an operation that is going to get the Resistance inside The Lab to free everyone."

"Get inside The Lab how?" the big blue whale puzzled.

"The fox and rabbit are part of a team that has found a way to get in secretly and safely," she told her elderly friend.

Joshua shook his head in disbelief, "I thought they were dead. The news is saying they were burned up in an explosion at their resort. But never mind that. How on Earth are they getting inside?"

Kida fretted, "Joshua. I can't tell you. I'm sorry. Just make a diversion outside The Lab tomorrow at noon."

"Any diversion might get us all killed," Dr. Sweet warned, "You know their defenses are specifically designed to take out deep diving cetaceans."

Kida gave the Institute Director a sad smile, and caressed his snout, "Joshua my dear old friend - friend of my father. Sooner or later they'll find a way to kill us. It might as well be now while we can do some real damage to them."

Joshua sighed, "Whatever you say. I am forever loyal to your Family. You know that."

"Any ideas?" she asked.

He shook his head, "Distracting the defenses of the stationary Lab is one thing. And we know one part of The Lab that can't be damaged no matter what the cops do there. Distracting an illegal nuclear attack sub that can out-swim the fastest cetacean, bristling with weapons designed to destroy aquatic mammals, the Institute, and Orcandor is quite another matter."

Kida lamented, "We don't have any choice, Joshua. Those are just places. We both know how to get our mammals to safety. We can build everything else again."

"I know, but it took so long to make the Institute what it is… if we have to rebuild after an attack…" he replied sadly, trailing off in despair.

Kida encouraged, "Look at it this way, Joshua, it'll be a brand new Institute with all the best new stuff. The only thing that matters is to keep the mammals safe."

He smiled grimly, "Kida, dear, now you sound just like your father. He always got me to agree to all his crazy schemes by promising me the 'shiny new toy' every time we worked together."

"Did it work this time?" she grinned.

"You'll know it when you see it, and it will happen at noon tomorrow as you asked… you have my word," he answered. She kissed her old mentor on the forehead and the both departed with a flip of their tail flukes.

…Deeper in the lava tube…

Judy noticed first, "Nick, look at that!"

Embedded in the lava rock floor of the lava tube were more or less undisturbed tracks from heavy construction equipment. They followed the tracks and discovered a large cluster of half-buried construction machinery. All of the trucks, cranes, and excavation equipment were crushed and mangled under the weight of millions of kilograms of rock and lava.

Disturbed by the rock tomb covering the machines, Tony suggested from behind them, "I think that cave-in was deliberate."

"I think you're right," Nick answered, and he and Judy approached the crushed vehicles closer, careful not to set off another round of cave-ins.

"Oh dear Nature!" Judy suddenly shouted.

There were skeletons of some pretty big, and long dead, mammals within each of the dozens of vehicles.

The Colonel sighed and observed grimly, "That's one way to keep a secret about a back way into the Lab a secret forever. Bury the equipment and murder the builders."

"Nemo – what a bastard," Milo cursed, shaking his snout and mane.

As they progressed deeper there were more carcasses of abandoned and sabotaged construction equipment and more grisly sightings of mammal bones.

"You wonder how long ago this happened - based on their conditions," Tony theorized.

Nick answered, "Decades, maybe. Hasn't Nemo been around awhile?"

Milo confirmed that with a simple nod.

Private Benjamin asked innocently, "How come no one has come here to investigate this crime?"

Judy knew the answer and explained, "If you have a terror organization strong enough to build something like the Laboratory and the Nautilus in total secrecy, then you have the ability to create tremendous fear in anyone outside the organization that you force to help you. If you are ordered to be quiet, you're going to obey and say and do nothing."

"Got that right, Carrots," Nick agreed, "Besides, you know that darn few mammals spelunk. No one would explore deep enough to discover this."

That caused the Colonel to reflect, "Come to think of it, I've never seen anyone but bats and bears in caving ads."

"Especially if the cave you're exploring is the lava tube of a volcano," noted Sergeant York.

"A long extinct volcano, though," Major McDonnell quickly added.

Milo recited a memory for the others, "When I was growing up, there were stories that this whole volcano was inhabited by bad spirits. We tend to be a little superstitious around here. Those stories could have been planted by The Movement to keep mammals out. And besides, 99% of the population lives in or on the water. There's no need to come up here. Except for a few immigrants, we aren't a society of mountain mammals."

"Good point," Judy replied.

They had lingered long enough, and the Colonel recommended, "Let's keep going, folks. Let these poor souls rest in peace for now."

As they quietly stepped by the long-ago scene of death, Judy instructed, "When this is all over Nick, you and I are going to have a little 'chat' with the Atlantea Security Force."

"Right with you, Carrots. We need to get some closure for their families. No matter how long they've been missing," Nick added.

The military mammals and their friends admired the compassion and sense of justice of their police friends. To the fox and rabbit, it was clear that a crime is a crime no matter how long ago it was committed.

…Deep in the lava tube…

The rag tag squad continued to work their way along meandering trail left by ancient lava flows, until they reached a cliff overlooking a deep drop whose bottom could not be seen even with IR goggles. It was huge gap, nearly 20 meters across. This looked like an insurmountable barrier

"Oh dear. This can't be the end of the line. We're getting so close," Judy exclaimed.

Tony, showing his tracking skills, pointed with his clawed upper paw, and told the others, "This was no accident. Someone dynamited a land bridge that was here. Look at the shear zones on either side of this cliff."

Nick knelt down to feel the blast edges on their side and was just as stymied as the others, "It's too bad the land bridge is at the bottom of this chasm. How are we going to get across?"

"I can't jump that far - even with a hopping start," Judy lamented.

The frightening specter of nearly being forced to leap through the window of Assembly Hall made her gasp involuntarily. It was a similar distance.

"Nor I, Judy," Cosgrove added, though the kangaroo had better hopping skills than Judy, especially over long distances.

"I'll fly across," McDonnell suggested.

Nick appreciated the idea commented, "Oh?" Like you can carry us across once you get there? Sorry my friend, but even your whole squadron couldn't even lift Judy or me, sorry to say."

McDonnell clarified his idea, "I won't have to carry you guys. I'll carry one of our climbing ropes across the span and tie it off on the other end. We'll all get across. It'll be a makeshift zip line!"

Private Benjamin unfortunately had to discourage him, "With this rope, sir? That's too far to span. That gap is 20 meters wide - minimum. Even our lightest climbing rope would be too heavy for you to carry, Major. We don't have any twine to attach as a leader. You'll get half way across and drop like a rock just from the sheer weight of the coil."

Sergeant York had been very quiet through this whole conversation, but had a very serious look, contemplating a solution. He finally spoke, "McDonnell was right, but with the wrong mammal for the job. How about this, guys? Why doesn't someone attach the rope to me and throw me across?"

"Say what, Sarge?" Private Benjamin replied in shock.

York explained further, "Private, raccoons have great throwing arms. Raccoons and otters have the most dexterous paws of any mammal. We're fresh out of otters on this team. So it's up to you, Ben. Besides - you're the pitcher on our soft paw ball team. You're perfect."

No one responded, still stunned at the suggestion.

It was clear to York that he had to convince his colleagues further, so he picked up a rope, and bit into the end of it. Mumbling slightly with the rope in his mouth, he elaborated, "Remember that armadillos have sharp teeth. And we're a natural paw ball."

The armadillo further demonstrated his idea by rolling up in a perfect armor plated ball shape with the long rope sticking out from his side. The sight was almost comical if the situation hadn't been so serious.

The spherical shape and rope attachment of Sergeant York reminded Nick of their "soap on a rope" hanging in Nick and Judy's shower back home.

"Judy?" he nudged and winked.

"Don't say it fox," but she knew what he meant, and bit her lip to stifle a laugh.

What are you waiting for? Just throw me over, Private," York requested, still muffled while all rolled up and clenching the rope, "Think of me as the soft paw ball, and that big rock pile on the other side as a batter."

"OK, Sarge…" the raccoon replied tentatively as he approached the living armored ball, and warned, "What if I miss? You're dead. Who knows how far down that chasm you'll fall before you… uh… you know, Sarge. Armadillos don't bounce."

Sergeant York was more insistent with the tentative raccoon, "If we don't try this, Private, we're not going anywhere. Besides, I'm tied to the rope. If I fall, then you can pull me up and keep trying until you do get me across."

"You'll be a living yo-yo," Nick commented, trying to put a lighter note on this grave situation. Judy gave her husband an eye roll.

"Exactly!" York emphasized, with no trepidation on using that analogy.

Milo was impressed with the ingenuity and sacrifice, and encouraged, "I say 'go for it', guys. You're a mighty brave armadillo, Sarge."

"I'm just a soldier with a job to do," noted the armadillo humbly.

"Colonel?" Ben asked his C.O. reluctant to commit to do something that could result in the death of one one of his superiors.

Colonel rubbed his chin with his hoof and stated, "Sarge, I think this will work, but I'm not going to order you to do something that is more likely than not to kill you. I'm not going to lose anyone else on this operation. We're already two down and need every skill we have left to fight the rest of our way into The Lab."

Sergeant York grew impatient with his commander, "Then I volunteer, Colonel. Do you have any better ideas, sir? Time's a-wastin'. We have a Lab and a whole lot of bad guys to take down."

The big moose knew his subordinate was right, so he agreed, and replied, "No. Proceed, Sarge."

Cosgrove and Benjamin arranged a long length of rope carefully, so it would play out with no resistance as it uncoiled during the throw.

Private Benjamin stood in his best soft paw ball pitching stance. He hefted the rolled up armadillo, who was considerably bigger and heavier than a standard paw ball.

With the armadillo firmly held by the raccoon in the pre-wind up position, Ben commented, "I…. still don't know about this."

Ben ground his rear paws deep into the powdery lava tube soil to get a better pawhold while holding his spherical colleague.

Sarge bit down hard on the rope, and encouraged, "You've got this, Private. You may throw when ready."

Benjamin went into his best windup, aimed for a rock pile on the other side of the gap that had a bit of a rim to it so that York would land and stay put on impact.

The Private threw hard, grunting, but his rear paw slipped, causing him to falter in his delivery, and he yelled, "Oh no!"

The living armored ball-on-a-rope wobbled weakly upward into the cavern and flew forward only a few meters past the lip of the cliff, then fell almost straight down. York seemed to fall forever, until the rope played out completely, twanged as it became taut, and then held steady. York swayed at the end of the rope some 20 plus meters below the cliff in total darkness.

"Pull him up!" ordered the Colonel instantly with great concern, and leaped to pull up the rope, "Don't let him fall!"

Everyone on the team jumped from their positions to join their leader, grabbed the rope, and quickly hauled up their colleague.

The Colonel held York in his hoof at eye level. The balled-up armadillo looked like a pendulum weight on the end of a cable. The Sergeant peeked an eye out from within his armor, and winked at his CO.

"Are you OK in there, Sarge?" the moose inquired with relief, seeing some movement.

York snickered, "No worse than any other living mammal yo-yo, sir."

Everyone laughed with nervous relief. Ben was very worried about his errant throw, and asked, "Are you sure, Sarge?"

York admitted with a laugh, "Umm. Well, I might need a couple of teeth reset after this operation is done."

The Colonel tried to stop the next try, "I'm not going to let you do this again. We'll think of something else."

York was adamant, There is no 'something else'. All I need is just one good pitch by Ben, and I'll be across in no time."

"I'm not sure if I can do that, Sarge," Benjamin fretted.

"Yes you can, Private. This time you'll make it. You were only getting used to it," York coached the young warrior.

"But Sarge…?" Ben still worried.

York growled deep within his armor, "Do I have to make this an order, soldier?"

"No, Sarge," Ben answered.

"Then suck it up soldier, and get it done. Pretend that we're the bottom of the 9th, bases are loaded, and there are two outs. Our team is ahead by a run. Strike the batter out and you win and walk off a hero – you'll be the Self Defense Force League champions!"

"No pressure, Sergeant," scoffed Tony, feeling helpless in this situation.

Nick and Judy applauded the young Private, the others joined them with whoops and cheers, and exclaimed, "We all know you can do this, Ben!"

The raccoon, buoyed by the support of his teammates, pursed his lips, and declared, "I can do this!"

This time, Ben put his rear paw against a rock like it was the pitching rubber on a mound, strained with the heft of the senior enlisted armadillo, took a very deep breath, narrowed his eyes, aimed, and threw York toward the chasm with all his might. He grunted hard with the heave.

It was a perfect throw. The Private threw the Sergeant straight and true, easily covering the 20 meters to the other side of the cliff. As soon as York hit the rocks, he bounced once, unrolled in mid-bounce, and with a continued firm bite on the rope, he spread his heavily clawed paws open to stop, stirring up a huge cloud of dust. The armadillo quickly secured the rope in his teeth around several enormous boulders, and tested it for strength. It twanged with a satisfyingly secure sound.

He stood proudly as he gestured at full installed rope bridge, "Lady and gentlemammals, your zip line awaits!"

The entire team jumped up and down and cheered York and his lightning fast reflexes, and hugged Ben, who was still shocked at what he accomplished.

"Damn!" Tony shouted with a raised eyebrow, still celebrating their colleagues' success.

Milo smiled and added, "My sentiments exactly."

The Colonel ordered immediately, "All you smaller mammals go first. Milo and I will be last. If that that zip line breaks or pulls out, it's gonna be on me."

"Colonel?" the others questioned.

"That's an order, mammals," he stated seriously.

Everyone responded with a committed, "Yes sir!"

One by one, each mammal shimmied easily across the gap and regrouped on the other side of the cliff. Soon, all were together on the far side of the cliff, and ready to continue, so the Colonel stated, "Sergeant York and Private Benjamin: remind me to ask the Mayor for a Commendation Medal for both of you when we get back."

"Yes sir. Thank you, sir," both stated simultaneously.

"And we'll recommend you guys for the Zootopia pro soft paw ball team! As a pitcher and a ball!" Nick kidded.

There was a chorus of laughter.

The Colonel noted more seriously, "You know we have to come back this way. Someone has to guard it. You need to keep The Movement from destroying it, and trapping us. We'll be easy targets exposed on this cliff."

"Plus, if The Movement tries to attack us from the rear, having someone stationed here, we can give you some kind of signal," noted the armadillo, and then raised his paw, "I'll stay, sir. I have natural armor. It'll take one hell of a lucky shot to take me down. No one gets through here but us."

It was a selfless, brave move, and no one could deny that he was right.

"I agree. You've got our 'six', Sarge," agreed the Colonel. They all shook paws, departed, and knew that establishing a defensive perimeter was the right thing to do.

Without incident for several kilometers, the team came to a huge rock pile totally blocking the lava tube from bottom to top.

"Uh oh," Judy fretted.

"This is a pretty big roadblock," Tony observed.

Judy was optimistic, "There's got to be a way through this. I'll bet there's an opening at the top. It thins out up there. Was this deliberate or an accident, Tony? You notice those kind of things."

The tiger smiled and analyzed the situation, "Thanks Judy, but this one wasn't on purpose. This looks like a natural cave. The lava is pretty soft rock, and it just gave way here."

The Colonel was more resigned to failure, "It doesn't matter. Blocked is blocked. Even if we were all elephants, there's no way through that rock pile."

"I'm going up. I'm going to find out," Judy declared, and nimbly hopped from rock to rock all the way up some 10 meters to the very top.

"I'm joining you," Nick added, and carefully moved among the rocks. The pair worked together as they always did, searching all over the rock pile face, being careful not to cause a landslide that would bury their colleagues below. McDonnell flew overhead looking for possible openings, using his squeaks of sonar to find cavities.

But the bat soon was frustrated, and stopped, "There's too much of a jumble, guys. All I'm getting is multiple echoes. They're reflecting off all the corners of this big rock pile."

"Not to worry Major. We're good," Judy stated, appreciating their colleague's help.

The rest of the team watched as Judy and Nick used the best of their own good tracking skills, sniffing and listening for the slight hiss of an air stream from behind the rocks.

Judy perked and shouted, "Nick! Over here! Come quickly."

He joined her, sniffed around several rocks, and replied, "Yeah. That smells different. There's definitely something here."

"Can we help?" the Colonel yelled up at them.

Nick answered,"Yeah form a line. We'll hand the rocks to you carefully and try not to create a disturbance."

It was a great idea. The team did as they said, spreading out across the rock pile face resembling a type of fire brigade. The smallest mammals were on the top, with the largest on the bottom.

Judy and Nick carefully enlarged the hole big enough for both of them to pass. Fresh air roared through, but it was still inky black on the other side.

Nick and Judy conferred, decided and suggested, "Colonel. I'm sorry, but we'll have to split up now, and go on alone from here. It could take days to make this hole big enough for you, Milo, and Tony."

The Colonel reluctantly concurred, "I hate to agree with you, but you're right. The original plan was for just the two of you to sneak in unnoticed. It was just a matter of time before we had to split up."

Milo noted, "We won't just play poker while you're gone. We'll get the hole big enough for all the hybrids to escape once you free them, then protect them from Movement attacks from behind. Pinniped soldiers are not going to have much traction on this lava tube."

That seemed like a really good idea to Nick and Judy and to the rest of the squad.

They said reluctant goodbyes to everyone, and the Colonel charged, "You're on your own now."

"For now, Colonel, this is our fight," Nick assured the moose.

Nick and Judy squeezed through the opening they created, and were gone.

The pair proceeded together and it was much quieter. This was indeed more like their original plan, but it was an entirely different way inside.

"How far?" Judy asked.

Nick answered, "Our GPS is useless. But my Pedometer estimates 9 klicks. We're almost all the way there. We have to be underwater by now. Look, the lava tube walls are damp –probably it's leakage from ocean above."

Judy touched the lava tube wall with her paw. It was cold, indicative of deeper water, and she tasted it. It had the slight taste of salt, but filtered through all the rock. She smacked her lips and agreed, "I think you're right, Nick."

"What time is it?" Nick asked.

She glanced at her watch for the first time all day, "Ugh. It's10 o'clock. We need a few hours nap to be rested for the final push tomorrow morning."

They rolled out one sleeping bag, and nestled together in each other's paws. They put aside their IR goggles. Even though they were fully dressed in uniforms, the feel of each other was irresistible in the darkness. For more than a day they had barely touched each other, and they knew they were totally alone now. Judy sighed and caressed Nick in the total darkness. The only sounds were their joint breathing and heartbeats.

Both knew this was the wrong time and the wrong place, but they desperately wanted each other.

She kissed him. He kissed her back. She returned his affection with a French kiss and moved her paw to his crotch underneath his uniform fabric. He responded instantly, but tried to resist.

"We shouldn't, Carrots," he cautioned, "We need to sleep."

"But right this very minute, we need each other more. I need you more. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? We might not have another chance," she urged.

"Don't say that. We have a whole bunch of pups to make after this is all over," Nick responded.

"You're sweet, but don't say no. Not now," she asked softly.

"OK…"

It was a quiet union, not the wild abandon of so many times before when they'd celebrate their oneness during their honeymoon. Tonight was borne of quiet desperation, and their deep love for each other. They shared soft kisses and caresses, and the gentle rocking motion of her husband's intimacy against her. They concluded with a gentle sigh and gasp, and that special, unmistakably sound and warmth of their finish. While it was a tender and quiet encounter, it was intense as ever for them, with no frame of visual reference but the feeling of them joined together.

While they slept, Nick's body rested as his reproductive organs return to their resting state. Judy's body, however, kept working. Deep within the rabbits reproductive parts of her body, she was still full from Nick's latest deposit of a very warm, pure white, milky liquid. The liquid was alive with literally millions of microscopic, wriggling vulpine sperm cells, none of whom cared that it was pitch dark. All they cared about was survival for the one purpose for which Nature designed them. None of the spermatozoa cared that their fellows around them were dying by the thousands, as Judy's protective antibodies attacked and killed these invasive little cells as they would an infection.

Despite all the death of their fellows, those that survived moved relentlessly onward, moving in one of two directions upward and outward into her body, defying gravity as they swam in the thick fluids they were deposited in. With no conscious thoughts, everything they did was totally instinctive. In the deep warm, damp darkness within Judy, hundreds finally traversed the distance to the end of her Fallopian tubes where they ran into one of 3 huge cells compared to them – but still nearly microscopic - spherical objects. As always, Judy's lagomorphic metabolism had spontaneously ovulated several eggs upon Nick and Judy's coupling. Every square micro-centimeter of the surface of her 3 eggs were covered by tens of thousands of Nick's sperm thousands that survived the short journey. Each one moved by feel, not sight. The mass of sperm moved along the surface of the egg, knocking others out of the way, probing, pushing, and drilling for a weakness in the egg cell wall.

Suddenly, one of Nick's sperm cells penetrated one of Judy's eggs. Instantly, a bio chemical change slammed the cell walls shut to any other suitor sperm cells.

All of the rest would die, and later, and so would the other two unfertilized eggs. But one sperm and one egg did not. And that's all that was needed.

Once inside the totally different environment of her egg, the head of the tiny vulpine sperm cell's outer shell split open, and spilled all its chromosome materials, all seeking matches within the egg cell and one by one found them and connected. Nick's sperm cell effectively died but with its demise, it delivered, as designed, the miracle of chromosomal connections readily with those of Judy's egg that made life what it was, a new life, a life unlike any before.

The process of fostering the growth of that new life began in earnest. The fertilized egg cell grew and split, and split again, and again - over and over. The egg moved slowly down her tubes and planted and anchored itself in her uterus, and protective chemicals and cells surrounded the egg that would become a placenta, already a zygote.

…The next morning…

Judy awoke to the preset alarm, and felt a little strange. A little dizzy. She wobbled as she sat up and turned on a real flashlight.

"Easy there, Carrots," Nick said as he steadied her, "Are you OK?"

"'Must be something in the volcano fresh water. Or maybe the rations were a little stale. I'm OK now, thanks to you," she smiled.

They rested a short time still nude, kissed, dressed, and stood hand in hand, ready to go with their IR goggles humming and showing the way ahead..

Judy squeezed her husband, "I'm glad we did that. 'Love you."

Nick agreed, "I love you too, Carrots. I'm glad too. Very glad."

"Let's move on then. It's 4 am. We want to be inside before they all wake up," Judy suggested.

"Yep. There's a big day ahead."

"Biggest day ever!" she emphasized.

The trail was uneventful for the first half klick, but then their lenses filled with huge tubular objects ahead, rising up from further below. They felt warmth from the tubes, but didn't touch them.

"What are these?" Judy puzzled.

They examined the giant endless cylinders, and noted that they were metal-encased round cables that were anchored a few centimeters above the lava floor securely with insulated metal brackets. A double-sized cable originated from the lava tube in the direction of The Lab. Here, there was a junction box. The big cable split into a "T" shape, with half of the cables – both smaller in circumference than the big one - going one direction down another lava tube toward the Institute, and half the other direction in a third tube toward Atlantea.

All of the cables hummed with power. Electrical power.

Inspecting the rock walls that the cables traversed off into the far distance. Nick observed, "These tunnels were bored. They aren't natural lava tubes."

Both did a quick sensor scan, looking for surveillance cameras.

Judy concluded, "There's no surveillance here. This is supposed to be unattended. No one should know this is really here."

They pulled off their IR goggles and put real flashlights on the cables.

They were enormous versions of standard metalized and insulated high voltage power cables. Both noticed rusted red and yellow high voltage warning signs. There were no paw prints of any kind around the giant junction boxes – the same kind one would see at any powerplant. This power cable station was old, but it was still functioning well.

The dawn of understanding forced Judy's eyebrows to the top her head, "Oh dear Nature, Nick. Is this what I think it is?"

Incredulously, Nick concluded the same thing, "Yes, Carrots. It is. It has to be."

Like solving any crime together, their minds raced with the shattering realization of the real secret of the relationship between The Movement, The Lab, the Institute, and the twin cities of Atlantea and Cetacea.

Judy spoke for both of them, "Now, I finally get it – why The Movement has such power over Atlantea. Why they can do anything they want any time they want."

Nick stated, "The fusion reactor at the Institute…"

Judy finished his sentence, "Its all just a sham. A fake."

"The real reactor?" Nick asked rhetorically, already knowing the answer.

Judy looked him dead in the eye, "It's in The Laboratory."

"'They' control everything," Nick declared.

"Oh sweet Nature," Judy lamented.

They hugged in desperation, but Judy got a look of determination that he had rarely seen on his mate.

"C'mon, Nick," she ordered, grabbing his paw in a death grip, "Not only do we have to free Michael and the other hybrids, but now we have to free two cities."