A/N-Somewhat disappointed, no guesses on the meaning of last chapter's title...answer will be at the bottom of this one, so if you haven't yet you can always make a guess now!
In the meantime, we have some new friends to make...or maybe just a new headache to acquire.
Archangels and Overseers
Friends can come in many forms
Every size, shape, and color
They appear from the unlikeliest places
Their origins truly bizarre
So take care not to judge on appearances alone
Or the first impressions you receive
For sometimes the traits of your trusted few
Are buried beneath at first disturbing scenes
Appreciate those quirks they have as well
For know you have them too
After all, the weirder they are
The truer the friend they'll be to you
He knew the answer already and some of the reasons why, but due to some unexplained urge Harrison still found within himself the need to ask. "So, are you actually going to respond to her as our protocols demand? Or just ignore the message and wait for the fireworks to start shooting off?"
Jack looked up from the papers he was reading robotically over and sent the jaguar the flattest look Harrison thought he had ever seen. "I honestly haven't decided yet," the lapine replied neutrally, his left ear twitching ever so slightly as he spoke. "But, at this point I'm tending to lean toward the latter, despite the consequences. She's glossed over our reports and warnings so far as is obvious enough, so it's highly likely that she'd simply relegate the importance of any further information we try to give below critical again, and we'd just end up getting dragged along by the Gifteds despite it." Sharing a knowing glance with Rocky, he continued. "Trevahe is probably going to end up shuttling herself out here shortly anyway, as much trouble as she's making us give her over this, so we might as well just expedite the process while we're at it." Jerking his thumb then in the direction of the driver's seat, he added as a final note, "The sooner the Canistons finally give her the what-for, as it were, the better."
Harrison returned the explanation with a resigned shrug of acceptance and looked forward again. It was true, whether or not their agency authorized the international jump they were about to make everyone in the gang they'd amassed so far was going to head out anyway. At this point, the Director would have to deploy a literal army to keep them in place (and even then, with a wolf among the vans who could shut down their entire network with a swipe of his finger and four mammals at hand or on call that could bend the laws of physics, containment was an iffy notion). Of all the events about to take place, Trevahe winning the argument was certainly the most unlikely to occur.
The jaguar had to hope however that the situation might be able to be smoothed out before they all got on a plane. After all, their current group (split more comfortably now into three separate vehicles, with him, Jack, and Nick together with all three Gifteds in the lead van) was already an hour out past the Zootopia city limits proper and moving fast, heading for a hidden little airbase up in the coastal mountains that supposedly harbored the contingent of mammals they needed contact with in order to be able to follow the Primalists without being tracked. Unsurprisingly, both Rocky and Mack had seemed to already know exactly where the Canistons were taking them all, but most of the agents were still in the dark on the details. Since there was little else to hold conversation at the moment too, Harrison decided he'd take a shot at rooting out a little more info before they got there.
"So, this place obviously isn't entirely off the map," the big cat said casually in the general direction of the coyote and ocelot sitting up front, shifting to cross his legs the other direction. "Mallupe seemed able to pull up quite a few threads related to it before we left, but as far as I could gather I and the majority of our team, even Skye and Jack, haven't even heard of Overwatch. Any chance you'll be kind this time and let us know what we're walking into beforehand?"
His shoulders sagged when Embron and Scarlet both shared a look. He could practically taste the cruel humor those two wielded on a regular basis building in the car now, and was almost certain they'd stay mum just to screw with him. It did mean that there was nothing outright dangerous ahead, at least, but where a Caniston was concerned, 'not dangerous' usually entailed the possibility of a whole suite of otherwise unpleasant surprises. Didn't matter if it was a mammal with a disturbing side to their personality or just an elaborate practical joke, it was amusement to those two at everyone else's expenses.
Luckily for the jaguar though (and the others in the van who were also currently clueless), Embron and Scarlet were not the only ones in the know about their destination.
"According to the public, they're a local tourism operation," Rocky spoke up from the back, drawing a pair of disappointed scowls from the siblings up front (and he shot them a smirk of his own in turn, a small recompense for his early awakening the night before). "Chartered flights over the countryside and mountains, the city, yada yada yada. Lets them rake in more than enough cash flow to keep all sorts of planes around, and keep up a believably benign front to cover their actual purpose: helping mammals like us out."
"Aw, come on Rocky, we wanted it to be more of a surprise," Scarlet whined, balling up a piece of paper and throwing it at him.
Rocky caught the projectile with ease of course and tossed it back, equally unsurprised when it simply vaporized before it hit the cat in turn. "I know," he grinned. "It's fun to spoil your fun every now and then though. Especially when you drag me out of bed at three in the morning. Besides, it's not like it's a huge secret that I'm spilling at this point." He looked back over to Harrison, and shrugged. "I mean, you should have been able to deduce that much on your own. But, real long story short, the guys that got nicknamed the Archangels are a couple of the employees up here, and when you want to get somewhere quick and under the radar, they're the go-to."
"They have jets here then?" Jack asked curiously, turning back toward the Arctic fox.
Rocky nodded. "Uh uh. Skye's gonna skewer us too, for not introducing you two to them sooner," he added, shifting in his seat with an expectant chuckle. "Engineer that she is, she's gonna have a field day with Dax and all his toys." He turned his head then to look out the window, and gave a short whistle. "And we're getting close. Always a nice view around here."
The mountains to the northeast of Zootopia were not monstrous, nor were they jungle-cloaked like tropic ranges, but the high Sierras were wild enough to feel decently secluded as they drove up into their interior. Pines and birch trees covered the slopes, the summer dry weather tinting a few of them in yellow or brown but overall leaving them standing in a loose carpet of dull silvery green. From the coast one could sometimes see the snow-capped peaks of the tallest in the range, but once within the mountains themselves line of sight was restricted only to the particular canyon or valley one was presently driving through.
Nick's eyes were out the window like the others now, but his were wandering, absently mapping the route they drove down as he focused more on quelling the anxiety that apparently would now be a constant for him. Gaze flickering from tree to tree to tree, he sat and wondered subconsciously what it looked like were Judy was (and violently fighting back thoughts of underground steel cages and featureless walls, with muzzles hanging off every available adornment in the room).
When he'd awoken that afternoon, in some shock that he'd managed to actually sleep at all, he'd found out shortly before they'd all piled into the cars and taken off that Mack had managed to track the mystery jet to a remote airstrip in the heart of Pawpua New Guinea, where the (partially) unexplained cloak over the jet's controls had dropped away minutes later and he'd been able to tap into some of them, ground the craft until further notice. However, the red wolf had said that as far as the satellite imagery could see, no one had disembarked past that point. Rocky had been quick to conclude that if it was in fact Lotera holding the electronic cloak while the jet had been in motion, he'd probably dropped it to keep something more visually interfering around himself and Judy when they'd almost certainly gotten off. The Thylacine then would have had no problem heading off in any direction from that strip without leaving them any trace to follow, especially after the next rainstorm swept by the region.
If it weren't for the fact that it was his rabbit that had been made off with, Nick might have been able to laugh at the perfectly cliché scenario the Primalists had set up. Pawpua was one of the few places on the planet that was truly still wild, a mountainous tangle of jungle playing host to some of the few sentient animal groups that still lived tribally (the singing dogs, black cockatoos, and Pawpuan taipans to name a handful) and a myriad of non-sapient creatures that turned the region into a treacherous enigma, as if the landscape and its vegetation wasn't enough on its own. With only the air strip itself as a starting point and no directions to work off of, there would be thousands of square miles of inhospitable wilderness to comb through to even have a chance at finding Judy and shutting the Primalist faction down, unless another breakthrough occurred.
Nick would be particularly vulnerable in such a place too; as they searched the rainforest, the Primalists and whoever they'd conscripted to help them (not a chance in hell they were working just on their own) would be hunting for him, and it would be all too easy to get the group he was with separated in such terrain and single him out. There, they'd have the home field advantage as well. Even Embron, the coyote who claimed to thrive in the jungle and had been foremost in discouraging the fruitless notion of attempting to convince Nick to stay behind where he'd be more easily protected, had that very afternoon tried once more to ask the fox if there was any way he would reconsider going along.
Naturally, Nick's answer: "Sure, no problem. IF, you show me undeniable proof that they left Judy behind in this country somewhere, otherwise no deal."
"And there it is! Finally!" Scarlet suddenly announced, jolting Nick out of his musings. His ears perked up and he looked forward, rapidly locating first the sign proclaiming "Overwatch Air! Charters and Tours." Then, the broad development in the mountain valley ahead, just off to the right of the road, came into focus, and for the first time in 24 hours he felt a touch of actual positivity at the sight.
More than a dozen flat airstrips crossed the valley floor, bordered by almost as many massive hangars and a myriad of houses, office buildings, and what Nick could only guess were something akin to aeronautic tech and repair labs spread across several acres of well-tended wild meadow. How it was a place none of the agents were familiar with he'd never know, particularly when it came to Jack and Skye considering how privy those two seemed to be in particular to so many of the Canistons' secrets and connections.
The place was clearly running too, with cars lined up in the lot in front of what looked to be the main office just off the from the road, and a small two-seater plane was taking off from the third runway out.
Embron didn't head for the main office, which somehow came off as no shock at all to everyone else. Instead head turned the van down the nearest offset past it that was marked with 'Employees Only' signs, at the end of which several living quarters could be seen arranged along a connecting drive. A chain-link fence with an automatic gate sat in the way, and Nick was sure they were going to have to stop and wait for someone to let them in (if they were going to be permitted in; authorities as they were, they still weren't employees and they didn't have a warrant or forward notice.)
That was the point at which the tod remembered who his company was though. Embron soon demonstrated a strong interest in not waiting at all; as they drove up to the gate his right ear flicked pointedly off to one side and the signal light over the gate lock flashed from red to green, the gate rapidly sliding open in response and allowing them to drive straight in without stopping.
Unsurprisingly as well, the sudden intrusion of foreign vehicles almost immediately caught the attention of the local employ. A harried-looking middle aged white-tailed deer in a violet blouse and blue slacks came speed-walking out of one of the nearest houses and straight toward them, her face a paragon of frustration. Frantic waving of arms prompted Embron to oblige with the request this time and slow to a halt, rolling down his window and sticking his head out.
"What are you doing?!" the doe was yelling, her words now clear through the open window as she stomped up to them. "This is a private estate; tourists and authorities must stop by the visitation lobby! How did you even get the code to be let in here?!"
Other questions were clearly ready to fire on her lips, but she ground to a screeching halt about ten feet from the first van, her mouth working as her eyes dilated in budding recognition. Embron, similarly, had a grin growing across his muzzle. Nick knew the coyote was expecting an imminent win to this confrontation in short order.
Sure enough, the doe spluttered out a frazzled, "Embron?"
"Hey Lois," Embron greeted back, leaning his arm out in a lazy wave. "Long time no see."
"Y-yes, it's been at least a year and a half!" Lois sputtered. "Everyone's been waiting for at least a call or something!"
"Yeah, sorry about that. You know I'm not great about reaching out when I'm supposed to."
The banter was apparently enough for Lois to get over her surprise, and her frustration took in another breath as she crossed her arms in a disapproving glare. "Well, I understand a bit how introverts work at least," she huffed, hoofed fingers tapping against her arm. "But we've still got rules about sudden drop-ins and such. Call beforehand to organize something so we're ready for you, or go to the main lobby, especially if you've got…" she paused, leaning over to look through the window and spot Harrison and Jack first in the back seats, "…authorities and unknowns tagging along."
"Normally I would Lois," the coyote said apologetically, "but this is kind of an emergency call, and we're trying to keep off the tech lines as much as we can."
Crossed hooves didn't budge an inch. "Really. What kind of emergency?"
"The 'we found a Catalyst Pair and they're being hunted, and one of them has already been kidnapped' kind. So, we need to talk to Sam and Dax pronto."
The moment he dropped the word "Catalyst" Lois' demeanor flipped like a coin; Nick was starting to catch on to the fact that the label alone was also an engine for changed opinions and prerogatives. The deer's eyes flew open and her arms dropped, and despite herself she took another peek into the van behind Embron's head (Nick ducked his head back to avoid being spotted directly though). "Oh! Uh, I will radio them immediately then," she fumbled. "Is...is the other one here with you now?"
"Yeah," Embron confirmed, "the Zootopian cops Hopps and Wilde. Wilde's still here with us."
Lois nodded absently, still staring through the window, before she caught Embron's increasingly impatient stare and realized she was starting to tread a line that was more a threat to her well-being. Jerking back into the present, she gave him a sheepish smile and pulled a small handheld radio off her belt under the blouse. "Sorry," she mumbled again, before keying the mike. "Dax, Sam, we need you over at the living quarters right away. Embron's stopped by with an entourage."
Static replaced the words for a moment before an excited female voice crackled in, "Be right over!"
Lois nodded at the quick answer and stowed the radio away, letting out a long-suffering sigh and then pointing a hoof down the line of houses. "Guest building is at the end; if you need to set up or anything you can head down there and I'll send them your way when they show up."
Embron answered her with a mock salute and started to roll the window up as Lois moved out of the way back toward the house she'd exited earlier. Then the coyote turned the wheel to maneuver his van down the road with the other two cars in tow behind them.
"So, old girlfriend then?" Harrison spoke up, glancing between Embron and the retreating figure of Lois.
Scarlet burst out laughing, as did Rocky, as Embron's ears shot straight up before falling flat in irritation. "Uh, no," he said emphatically, turning to glare at the jaguar who was wearing a faux-innocent look. Then he shot an equally penetrating scowl at the ocelot and the Arctic fox. "And you two can hush. Lois is…no, she's the slightly naggy mother figure here who oversees everything, not to mention she's almost two decades my senior."
"So what you're saying is she's out of your league then," Harrison continued in the same false innocence as he'd started with, though now unable to hide his grin. Embron in turn swiveled fully around this time to shake a clawed finger at him.
"Hush! You're as bad as my sister."
"I will take that as a compliment then."
"Tsk, point for me!" Scarlet snickered, poking her brother with a claw. Embron, to his credit, finally decided that it wasn't an argument worth attempting to win, so he let out a breath between gritted teeth and looked forward to focus on the short drive.
The guest house wasn't anything grand, and if they were going to be staying in it alone Nick could tell it was also going to be cramped. When the vans pulled to a stop in its driveway and along the front sidewalk and he and everyone else piled out, it was painfully clear that there was no way all of them were getting individual rooms, or possibly even beds. If there were even enough rooms for each van to have its own a miracle might be claimed. Some of the others apparently had similar thoughts.
"Are we all staying in this one little house?" Mack queried with veiled concern, looking the place up and down as he readjusted his fedora. "If so, I'll just sleep in the van here."
"What, never participated in a sleepover?" Fangmeyer teased, though by her tone the prospect didn't actually thrill her much more than it did the red wolf.
Mack rolled his head back to stare flatly at her. "I have one sister and we lived way out in the middle of nowhere. Friends coming over wasn't exactly a common thing."
"Gee. No wonder you turned into a hermit then."
Embron tried and failed to stifle another snort at the tech nerd's expense, and Mack fixed a glare on him in turn.
Any further comebacks were halted though as a little red roadster with tinted windows came speeding around the corner toward the gated entrance to the living quarters. This one had to stop and wait a moment for the gate to be unlocked and opened, and then it too halted momentarily by where Lois had popped out again. The doe pointed whoever was inside toward Nick and company, and then disappeared inside once more as the little car squealed down their way. It screeched to a halt in a perfect maneuver behind the last van, parking not a foot away and barely slowing before it swung into a perfect parallel to the curb and halted. Naturally after such a display that energetic, all eyes were set warily on the little vehicle waiting to see who it was that popped out. And when the doors opened simultaneously, a stream of verbal sparring poured out.
"…told you it was gonna have to do with the agency!"
"Bullshit! I'm the one who said that; you thought it was going to be another under-wraps witness protection mission! And don't say they're the same thing, AOMISDOPS wasn't involved in the slightest last time."
"Not directly, but they picked up the tail end afterward. Besides, they've got that fox here with them. High profile law enforcement figure, gotta be some sort of protection deal! I'll bet he saw something he wasn't supposed to and now they've gotta clear it up before he can go back to work."
It was such an odd pair that it took Nick a moment to figure out what exactly he was even looking at. The driver was obviously some kind of mustelid, but the species he couldn't hope to pin down as the young male looked like he was halfway between some sort of otter and perhaps a ferret or mink. He was also decked out in such a brilliant set of orange and yellow shades in his fur that he look like he ought to have belonged in a cartoon somewhere (and somehow, it didn't look dyed either), and balancing on his forehead was a pair of classic style old aviator goggles. Beside the slender mammal, a female Scarlet Macaw with deep brown eyes and a fitted T-shirt bearing fang decals and the words "Bite Me!" kept pace. Both of them came to a halt in perfect synchronization in front of the others, gazes flickering over everyone before landing firmly on Embron and Scarlet.
"Alright, settle it," the macaw said bluntly. "It this a witness protection operation, or a 'hunt down the criminals' type of adventure?"
"Call it a bit of both, and neither," Scarlet replied, watching with a satisfied grin as both of the newcomers deflated.
"Dammit Scarlet, you're supposed to say I'm right!" the mustelid huffed, putting his hands on his hips.
"So sorry to disappoint you, Dax," the ocelot oozed back sarcastically. Then she swept her paw toward the two shorter animals, her eyes turning to the others who'd come in with her. "Everyone, Daxalaemon Highwater and Samantha Psitticoney, aka the Archangels. Also known colloquially as the Dual Migraines."
"Oh, yak it up," Samantha quipped, snapping her wing out to smack the cat. She missed as Scarlet sidestepped, but her point was apparently made well enough for her. So was Scarlet's.
"So, then what exactly are you all here for?" Dax piped up again, all but ignoring the introductions. He fixated on Nick too, unnerving the fox with the intensity of his stare.
Luckily, Rocky took point answering so that the other tod didn't have to. "Zootopian cops Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde turned out to be Catalysts," the Arctic mammal explained, gesturing to Nick. "Primalists found out before we did and went hunting for them, and they managed to capture Hopps last night, so we're trying to keep Wilde here safe while we go find Hopps and hopefully get rid of this faction that's popped up."
Dax nodded and wandered over to Nick, looking him up and down. "Guess you must be a handful too, otherwise they'd have you holed up somewhere under lock and key instead of here in the thick of it," he said. "How's Viv feel about this?"
"She was abducted as a ploy to get to us, and basically ended up traded for Judy, so not thrilled," Nick muttered back. "And that reminds me: how exactly did she come to know you, yet I've never heard of this place before?"
The mustelid hummed and looked off to the side, tapping his chin as if trying to recall some lost old memory (it probably was too). "Well, pretty sure we first met when I was just a kid," he mused, head tilting back toward Nick. "She and your father were a fair bit adventurous when they were younger, less so after they had you. My parents helped run this place in its early stages, the Wildes senior helped out a mammal or two in tight places every now and again, so…oh, and apparently she remembers 'troublemakers' so she calls them and keeps tabs, which I guess includes me. If she wasn't such a sweet soul I'd hate how cunning she can be."
"Sweet. Not always the term I'd use for her."
"Figures, you're her son." Dax then scowled and leaned over to glare at Scarlet. "Viv can be almost as bad as you, even."
"Well," Scarlet grinned, "then remind me to become good friends with Mrs. Wilde when this is all over. I must hear stories; anyone that can keep both you and Nick under watch has to be worth knowing."
"Aaanyway," Rocky cut back in, seeing the conversation starting to derail and trying to draw attention back to the present situation, "back to focus: we need to get to Pawpua New Guinea as rapidly as possible, and we need as many capable paws available as possible too. Are you two up for such a trip?"
"Duh," the two smaller animals replied in tandem. "Of course we're gonna take an out-of-country bid," Samantha continued. "And, haven't gotten to work directly with a Catalyst before; I wanna see what makes 'em so different."
Nick groaned and folded his arms. "Great," he muttered, "I've been relegated to a curiosity. Guess I don't get much say then; you two at least good fighters or something?"
"Yeah, or something," Dax replied sidelong, his eyes now more on a pad he had whipped out from somewhere and was now writing on. "Sam, you good to get the jet ready? I'll clock us out of rotation and snag supplies."
"'Course," the macaw affirmed, opening her wings and taking off. "Everything should be ready by morning!" she shouted as she vanished over the houses. "All you terrestrial folk better be ready by then too!"
Once fully out of sight, all attention focused on Dax, and more than one mammal found themselves a touch underwhelmed by the meeting with the "Archangels."
"We didn't even explain who all we were up against," Fangmeyer said in bewilderment. "And you guys just jump on in anyway?" Looking at Embron and then Jack, she added, "You sure you want characters like that?"
Dax sighed and snapped his little pad shut, tilting his head up to meet her uncertain gaze high above him. "Group of Primalists with at least a few members present tricky enough to go mano-a-mano with the Firefox and Phoenix," he drawled, smirking slightly at the eye rolls he got from the Canistons at the use of the aliases. "And they called in the obviously not-dead Arctic Fire to boot, so gotta be major. Not our first round in the ring ma'am, just another challenge in the works." He waved a hand as he turned away slightly, walking a short ways down the sidewalk. "Yeah, sure we come on rough, but you'll just have to get used to it; we don't change for anyone. But if ya haven't learned already that sometimes we've all got a couple of doors closed to the public, then I don't know what's gonna convince you to keep that mind of yours open."
"The Primalists include a guy who can bend physics like the siblings and that Arctic fox over there though."
"Ooohh!" Dax's eyes lit up and he turned around, curious for more info. "Extra excitement! Really, you're just selling us on the mission more miss."
The tiger continued to stare incredulously at him for a moment. Then she turned back toward the three Gifteds, jerking a thumb down at the slender mammal in question.
"Yeah, he's a bit of an adrenaline junkie," Embron admitted, though his smirk didn't lose any steam. "But it means no worries about him and Sam skipping out on a fight either."
"Okay, different question then," Wolfard ventured, stepping up next to Fangmeyer and looking at Dax with a different expression of curiosity. "What…exactly are you? It's gonna bother me until I know."
The look that crossed Dax's muzzle made it obvious he was planning on making them work for the answer that almost everyone was also wondering about. A moment later though a giggling snort from Scarlet's direction ruined his plans.
"He's a weaster!" the ocelot snickered out, managing to pass the contagious laughter onto her two fellow Gifteds (and just a second after, Nick as well as he figured out what she meant).
Wolfard remained confused though, especially as Dax's expression flipped from mischievous to exasperated. "Wait, what?" he blurted.
"Dammit Scarlet!" Dax snapped, waving a finger at her. "I'm an ottsel! Quit using that other stupid word!"
Scarlet clearly wasn't convinced. "Gee, I don't know Dax," she said, still giggling, "they both sound kind of ridiculous!"
"Yeah, have to agree with her," Nick mused.
Dax pouted. "Yeah, but at least ottsel sounds a little more dignified."
At this point some of the others had caught on. "So you're a hybrid then," Jack deduced, his own brows raising in curiosity.
"Uh huh," Dax affirmed dryly. "Mom was an Asian river otter, Dad's a pine marten, and lucky me they both had some hidden freaky color genes in them. Naturally, had to find a best friend who was brighter than me just so that folks don't stare my way the whole time."
"Well, then, perhaps you can count it a blessing you're still not the strangest one among us this time."
"Oh, I don't know about that," Mack drawled, looking up momentarily from the tablet he'd been holding. "The Canistons probably match him, personality-wise at least, but he and Sam fight worse than the most pretentious siblings. Everything else might be up for debate. However," he continued, turning the tablet off and holding it at his side as he looked between the others, "I'm failing a bit at seeing the benefit of all this banter in getting us across the Pawcific or figuring out who stayed behind to try and nab Wilde."
Skye nodded, pushing herself up and away from where she'd been leaning against one of the vans. "He's right," she agreed, "we're not staying in this house here for long, so just set up the bare minimum of what you need. And before I hear anyone ask again, yes we're sharing rooms, and I will assign you." On that, she paused, and pointed at Nick. "Just to make sure we're clear, you will be staying with Rocky and Embron, no arguments. Everything else in the cars will go to the jet straight off, wherever it is."
"And Vela, Pristovena, you two set up a watch with Dax," Jack added, turning back toward the mustelid. "I assume you have some sort of decent surveillance system already set up, so"-
A buzzing in the lapine's pocket cut him off, and he pulled out his phone. One glance at the screen had his ears falling like they'd had rocks tied to them too.
"It's the Director, isn't it?" Harrison ventured.
Jack gave a sigh and nodded tiredly, turning to walk away. "I'll try and handle this again," he muttered. "You all, get to work."
Rocky had been right. As soon as she'd finished helping delegate tasks Skye had headed straight for the hangar Dax had directed them all toward and spent the rest of the afternoon fangirling over the jet housed within. It was a custom-built machine, replete with tech the agent in her found worthy of appraisal and enough mechanical systems to keep her and Sam busy checking things out all afternoon. Most everyone else though was stuck helping Dax shuttle supplies into the craft; the only two exempt were Justin and Mack as they continued monitoring electronic sources from inside the guest house for anything they could scrounge up on the Primalists. Primarily, they were searching for any info about who was left in or around Zootopia, but they also continued sweeping over the region that Judy had been ferried off to, hoping to catch a stray signal somewhere. Unfortunately for all, internet and cell signal silence seemed to be the standard.
Preparation downtime thereby was leaving Nick to his own thoughts again, and the anxiety that had been quelled somewhat during the hustle and bustle earlier was surfacing thanks to it. There wasn't much that could be done about his situation either, but when his distraction nearly knocked over a rolling wall of tools Jack (who had after an hour of arguing over the phone simply ended the call with the director, having gotten fed up with her ideas about their situation) took him off to the side in an attempt to calm him down.
"Would it be better if you went and sat down with Matista and Mallupe?" the rabbit asked carefully, not being one used to dealing with unbalanced friends. He looked the fox over, hoping to pick up a cue on what to say exactly, but he didn't have enough practice in giving helpful advice to make situations like this better. However, he could see that much as Nick was trying to keep up with his standard mask, he was turning haggard. Plus it's difficult at best to pull off suave when you've nearly just run yourself into a wall.
Nick did actually take a moment to think the option over though, telling Jack he at least didn't ask the wrong question entirely. Nick wasn't going to be much good here in the hangar, the fox knew, if he was going to get lost in his worries and make a mess of things, though as of yet it was hard for him to gauge if the sloth and red wolf tech nerds would be engaging enough to keep him from having a panic attack while sitting there and doing nothing else either. At the least though, he finally reasoned, perhaps it would be an opportunity to actually have a hand in either pinpointing where Judy was, or where the animals responsible for her disappearance were. With that thought, the decision was made.
"I think I would rather try helping them out," the tod said with quiet finality, looking over at Jack.
Jack nodded, looking up and past Nick to signal someone. "Rocky!" he shouted. "Would you mind taking Nick back over to our temporary quarters and helping Matista and Mallupe with their tasks?"
The Arctic tod looked up from his hauling of a box of food toward the jet, and frowned. "You want to send me to deal with them?"
"Come on Rocky," Skye called from somewhere under the aircraft, "You know you just love high tech stuff!"
"You hush." He looked around, trying to locate his cousin, and then after spotting her and the grin she bore his shoulders dropped. "You know what? Fine," he relented, setting the box down and heading over to the other two males. "If it gets me away from her nagging it's perfect. Come on Nick."
As they walked out, they left Jack watching after them for a moment before he turned toward where his partner was wandering around under the jet. "Sam say how fast this thing is?" he asked offhand.
"Top speed it can hit Mach Three, supposedly," Skye said back, reaching a hand up and laying it on the belly. "I'm suspicious of that myself, but Mach One should be certainly doable."
"Good. If it takes much longer to get overseas I fear Wilde may suffer an aneurysm."
Skye paused at the comment and looked out the hangar door, in the direction where the other two foxes had just disappeared. "Well, I can't blame him," she reasoned, shrugging her shoulders. "But, it's not going to solve this issue just worrying about it ourselves either. Besides, I got the feeling earlier that we have another approaching headache to deal with anyway. What'd Trevahe bring up this round?"
The buck groaned, ears falling flat as he leaned his forehead against one of the jet's wheel legs and waved an exasperated paw around in the air beside him. "Another cease and desist until she can ascertain a proper assessment of the situation. Obvious at this point the big cat's completely forgotten some of those essential details concerning Primalists, their Empowered individuals, and the Gifteds."
"And let me guess," the vixen drawled, leaning against the leg next to him and looking down at the top of his head. "She's on her way right now, correct?"
"Unfortunately, but expected. She'll probably show up by sundown tonight; we never fully disabled the agency's capacity to track us, so she knows right where we are." He lifted his head up and turned around, slumping against the metal and looking across the hangar. "Embron and Scarlet already know of course, so hopefully the situation will be dealt with quickly this evening. The last thing we need is a full-blown enforcement attempt right before we take off; Trevahe could use those agents elsewhere, or better yet we could use them in on this too."
Skye nodded her agreement, but didn't say anything more. The whole situation was chaos, and she just hoped it could be dealt with without any bloodshed between supposed team members. There'd be enough blood later after all, she was sure of it.
Jack was entirely correct. At exactly ten minutes past the setting of the sun behind the mountains, another caravan of unmarked vehicles appeared on the road, riding in past the office building and heading straight for the cordoned off hangar. They did not have either the code or a willing Gifted to open the gates in the fence though, so to the slight satisfaction of Jack, Skye, and the other agents who knew who was in the vans they all had to stop outside the fence and wait for someone to permit them through.
Dax decided he'd be the one to do the greeting. He'd overheard enough of the griping from Jack to get the gist on feelings for their new arrivals, and had no problem being a substitute pain in the tail for a minute or two. Sauntering up to the gate and opening it just enough to slip through, he regarded the grumpy looking ibex at the wheel of the first van with something akin to entitled arrogance.
"Sorry, grounds are closed after 7 pm unless by special appointment. Last I checked the list, we didn't have any others for tonight. Tootles."
"We're not here for plane rides sir," the ibex said flatly, quite clearly already disliking this employee as he pulled out an ID badge and flashed it at Dax. "Is Agent Savage here?"
Dax barely glanced at the badge before looking over his shoulder leisurely. "Yeah, but he's got an appointment of sorts, very critical endeavor. Look, Maddie might still be in the main office if you want to try and schedule"-
"You look, you little weasel, we"-
Dax rolled his eyes in an exaggerated fashion and leaned up against the gate like he was bored and had better things to do. "I'm an ottsel," he enunciated, "only half weasel. Geez, get it right."
The ibex blinked at him, at a loss for a moment of what to say, before his glare recomposed in perfect fashion. "Fine, ottsel, it would be easier to simply gain direct permission that we may come in and speak with the other agents currently on these grounds, but if necessary I can provide you an order, in print, requiring access be granted otherwise federal action will be taken."
If he was expecting immediate compliance after this threat, then the ungulate would soon be sorely disappointed. Dax tilted his head back and let out a prolonged yawn, smacking his lips to finish off. "Yeah, but no you can't," he drawled again, shooting the ungulate a smug grin that would have put Nick on a run for his money. "Got a friend who clued us into this thing called Protocol 3058, and we applied, like, fifteen years ago. Grounds are on independent function."
This time the ibex did not have any good response. Instead, after gawking at Dax like a stranded perch, he disappeared momentarily inside the van, likely questioning the validity of this claim with someone more in the know. Dax knew there was an override for the protocol he'd mentioned of course, but it would take time to dredge that little detail up too, and he doubted the individuals present wanted to deal with that mess when simply asking would be a lot faster. After all, the ibex in the driver's seat had yet to even use the magic word.
Thirty seconds later the ungulate reappeared, his expression suddenly a great deal more contrite (surprise, surprise). "We…don't want to quarrel here," he began, "but I must insist that it is an urgent matter that we speak to Agent Savage and his team immediately. Would you please permit us to enter, so that the issue can be resolved quickly?"
There it was. "Well, well," Dax mused, slowly shaking a finger at the ibex as he continued to smirk. "When the little guy suddenly has some leverage, then he gets a respectful response." With a dramatic sight he rolled on his heels and thumbed the entry code into the keypad on the side of the gate. "Alright, I'll permit you through this time. They are expecting you all anyway, and I wanna be able to laugh when Embron and Scarlet hand your butts to you when this is done."
The indignant expression reappeared on the ibex's long muzzle again, his rectangular eyes flaring, but Dax didn't stick around to hear whatever his response might have been. Instead, he opened the gate, set it on automatic to close when all the vans were through, and then skittered off toward the hangar.
Jack and Skye joined him at the door, soon followed by Embron, Scarlet, Harrison, and Vela. They watched the vans approach with veiled irritation, Jack and Embron both tapping their fingers on their crossed arms in a (unintentionally) synchronized, measured rhythm. The vans pulled to a halt in front of the hangar doors and several mammals of various kinds spilled out, some of them fanning out to create a perimeter while others simply stood by with weapons holstered just under their paws (or hooves). There wasn't any question why: someone was preparing in case there was a fight.
Jack could only suppress a snort at that though. Embron alone could lay them all out flat before any of them could get a single shot off, so it was only more proof that Trevahe had, in fact, somehow completely blanked on the details concerning the mammals in play here.
The near passenger door of the first van swung open then, drawing those assembled in the hangar away from further wandering thoughts and fixing all eyes on the figure that stepped out.
"Director Trevahe," Skye said in a flat drawl. "Normally, a pleasure."
"Agent Wellinger," Trevahe returned equally curtly. "And Savage."
She was a lioness undoubtedly in her early sixties, gray as her fur was starting to turn, but every hair was in perfect place under her platinum-blue blouse and blazer as she carried herself with the air of power that came only with being a position of high authority for a great deal of time. Her height likely helped the image too though; she towered over the others around her at nearly seven feet tall.
"I'm somewhat surprised it took this long for you to make an appearance, adamant as you've been on being obstructive to this," Jack quipped. "I hope you aren't expecting much change now that you're"-
"With as many insubordinate actions as you and your team have committed in the past week I could take the capacity I have to strip you all of rank and badge here and now, Savage," Trevahe interrupted, pointing fiercely at him in warning. "And your hanging up on me a few hours ago makes that prospect extremely tempting. That you have such a rigorous track record otherwise is the only thing that is currently preventing me from doing so. Protocol and procedures are in place, you of all mammals should know this, for a reason, and that you've gone and enlisted now not only one but four Gifted individuals as well as engaged the help of multiple unauthorized civilians," she paused and looked past them, to where Wolfard and Fangmeyer were staying out of the way and continuing to load supplies, "on an intended international mission without prior authorization is enough to jail you for decades. Much as I sympathize with the situation, if procedures aren't kept we could ignite wars that no one can afford and it's among my prime responsibilities to prevent such actions."
"War has already begun, Alecia," Scarlet interjected. She stepped forward, making sure the lioness' full attention was on her as she jabbed her own finger accusingly up at the larger feline. "You seemed to have somehow completely missed what this mission surrounds: it's not the economic or socio-political elements of a nation or two at risk here, it's the possible wiring of all civilization as a whole being stripped. Protocols and procedures are all well and good, but how long has it been since you last worked anything in the field?"
Trevahe scowled. "A few years, but I never broke protocol during," she growled back. "Neither was there ever any great loss on our missions for it."
"And how many of those assignments dealt with Primalists, Gifteds, Empowered individuals, or the network we have in place to handle them? How many missions have you been on to quell the discovery of a rift, or the protection of a Catalyst?"
This time Trevahe balked; it was a known fact in the agency, at least among the higher ranks who actually knew about the Gifteds and such, that missions involving them were naturally few and far between. Consequently, even fewer dealt with special cases like Catalysts and rifts.
With Trevahe's pause Embron took his chance to run off Scarlet's point, somehow managing to make the lioness look smaller than him as he glared her down. "There is no room to wait for paperwork in the field, not with us," he stated firmly, "especially with situations as on the edge as this one. It's nice to have all the t's crossed and i's dotted, and I understand why you've tried to implement the authorization protocols that you have, to avoid all the red tape and such. But the other side doesn't wait and work papers, and if we do we're dead or worse. And yes, I know what I just said, and I mean it: there are worse options than death here." He shifted and crossed his arms again. "We need extra paws here and to get moving, and where your agency doesn't run fast enough you should have learned long ago that we have a dozen other routes to take, and we will take them, with or without your permission. Additionally, did you really come out here thinking you were going to prevent us from taking off?"
Trevahe started to speak again, but halted when Embron's paw came up, an ethereal swirl of bluish energy forming above his fingertips. In the almost completely lost light of the fading sun, it was all the more stark a point made.
"This isn't busting a drug cartel or rooting out a political terrorist," the coyote iterated, tilting his paw forward and throwing the energy band out around not only the lioness but the agents that had come with her. They all flinched away from the light glowing inches away from their faces, their ears pinning back or pointing directly at him. "This is a war where one wrong move doesn't leave you dodging bullets or media shitpainting, but pulling an assassin's knife out of your neck or skewered by the crystal spear an Empowered just yanked out of thin air and threw at you. Or maybe you're barbequed by a sudden firestorm or lightning bolt despite it raining or being a clear day, respectively. You"-
The lights all around them flickered in unison, cutting Embron off, and then they gave out entirely. A half second later, a sound like a cannon shot echoed across the airfield, emanating from the distant transformers for the airfield where a cloud of smoke was rising up from a ring of flames.
"Great; never mind telling you," Scarlet muttered, sparks starting to jump between her own claws as she crouched into a defensive position. "Pretty sure you're about to get a front row seat to an exposition."
A/N-So, what do you think of our newest dynamic duo? I take a bit of their personality from Ruff and Tuff in the How to Train Your Dragon universe, combined with (more prominently shown later) an extreme intelligence particularly where things engineering and aeronautic are concerned. I do have art for them, posted previously in several Facebook groups, and if you keep an eye out on my DA account (link in profile) when I finally reach the point of putting this story up I'll have it connected to this chapter.
Also, last chapter: the title roughly translates as "Origin." Fitting, I thought, for our finally learning some of Lotera's background.
As usual, let me know your thoughts, predictions, suggestions etc. in your reviews! This story's at over 70 followers and 40 favorites (numbers I hope I can keep boosting), but not even at 30 comments on it yet. We authors like to hear from you readers!
Until next time, HawkTooth out!