...well that was a rather extended absence, and I think we can all agree that the malicious implications of "May you live in interesting times," is very accurate.
It was a rough time...I'll just leave it at that.
Regardless, we are back!
In relation to the previous chapter, we received some requests for translations of the various languages that have been used for some of the characters and scenes,and while I prefer the unreliable narrator for this type of work, I can see why it would be frustrating for some. I'll be adding those to the end notes of this chapter, and I hope that it helps to better flesh out these characters.
Further to this, here's a brief breakdown of the languages used:
Celeste Whitefoot, Tahoma Jefferson, and Carol Latrans: Navajo
Dr. Dannika White: Croatian
The currently unknown wolves: Russian
Just a quick thank you to the, very patient, readers who took the time to leave a comment or review during our unintentional hiatus.
Hewhoislost: I'm glad that you appreciated the level of detail that has gone into this work, and a balance between detail and narrative can be tricky at times. Fortunately Steve has pulled my back in line if things go too technical.
Mike900: Hopefully the translations will help make things a bit clearer.
A_Worm: The wolves' motivations will become clear very shortly, and perhaps some insight into just what they are after.
CombatEngineer: Your welcome back may have been a bit premature...sorry about that.
xAndurielx: The dialogue for the end of the previous chapter is being appended to this one. Hopefully it will make things a bit more clear.
Hewhoreads: ...and it's a cliffhanger that lasted far longer than intended, but I hope it was worth the wait!
With that out of the way, we now bring you the next installment of Nicole and Julius
Chapter 16: Loose Lips Sink Ships
The day seemed to drag on for an eternity, and there was probably not going to be any respite in the foreseeable future.
Carol's ears were pinned back against her skull as she performed various drills on her own, switching from drilling paw to paw techniques, to knives and batons, while she waited for Dave to arrive. At any other time, she would have enjoyed the private workout routine, but today, this was not the case. Due to the attacks on Celeste and Allen, every ZPD mammal was working on the case, and as such the salle had been effectively deserted for the entire day.
The only escape from the doldrums at the Salle had been an even more boring status update from the bean counters over at ZAF Savannah Central Command.
The tedium didn't help matters, as it left her with little else to do except become further enraged at the mammals behind the attempted killings. The ambushes on their own were bad enough, but learning that the two had been specifically targeted had left her seething internally. A low growl escaped from her throat unbidden as she thought back to her brief visit with the young wolf earlier that day at Zootopia General.
Unfortunately, by the time she had arrived that morning, Celeste had already been taken into the OR, so that the doctors could start repairing the damage that the bullet had caused. Thinking about the injury that the younger coyote suffered, Carol subconsciously touched the scar on her shoulder while gazing towards the rear wall of the Salle. While she had avoided collecting trophies during her time in the military, she had made one exception while "decorating" her studio. A simple set of dog tags was hung amidst the normal equipment used during training.
In addition to the tags themselves, there was one other object threaded onto the steel chain that she had worn around her neck for what seemed an eternity at the time. A single rifle bullet, its tip deformed from when it had impacted a brick wall after slicing cleanly through her body. One of her squadmates had retrieved it for her after things had died down, and the sniper had been dealt with. She had kept it right against the fur over her heart for the remaining duration of her enlistment.
Dave had referred to it as a memento mori, the first time she had shown it to him. A reminder that their lives were all such fragile things, something to be treasured, but also the grave responsibility that they all had when it came to saving...and taking lives.
She gave her head a shake, and on a whim, drew her knife from its spinal sheath. The blackened blade was as familiar to her touch as her own paws; the two of them having seen parts of the world that most would gladly ignore. Those years were painful to think about at times, but they had shaped her more than she would ever admit to anyone save a few old paws in the ZAF, as well as the one mammal who had chosen to walk this path with her.
She wouldn't trade those accomplishments for anything.
It was foolish to ascribe any thought or personality to the always freshly honed steel, but over time, it was only natural to give the blade some form of informal identity. For now, the simple Ka-Bar rested comfortably in her right paw as she moved to the middle of the room and took up a loose stance.
She started out slowly, moving the blade in short precise attacks and parries. Knife fights were almost invariably a bloody affair, and the only constant was that you were going to get cut. Accepting that was a key part of training, and she had her own share of scars concealed under her fur that spoke to the truth of this painful fact.
As she sped up her movements, wider arcs were cut through the air, and she flipped the blade between hammer and ice pick grips as well as switching between her right and left paws, to better deal with the imaginary foes that surrounded her. Within a few minutes, she was moving at a blinding speed, her attacks on the edge of even her considerable level of control. This was the part of the dance that she lived for; finding that wall inside of herself and forcing her mind and body to break through.
She pushed herself to try and make her strikes a microsecond faster, for her aim to be just that little bit more precise, for her balance and movements to all be a fluid whole. She had only a vague concept of how she looked to an outside observer, and just as she finished a final combination of slashes that would have gouged the legs of some poor mammal before the finishing blow was struck. She thrust the knife where her opponent's mid-section would have been, and then wrenched the blade up to open the abdominal cavity.
Satisfied that her imaginary foes were mostly dead, she deftly flipped the knife in her paw so that she was holding it by the tip of the blade before making a 180-degree turn, and throwing the knife into one of the training dummies that were used on occasion. The blade sank deeply into the foam rubber, but Carol frowned, her breath coming out in a measured pant as she scrutinized where her throw had landed. She made her way over to the dummy and looked between the point where she had been aiming, and where the blade had actually hit the target.
"Almost five cm to the right," she estimated, as she pulled the knife free "something to work on at least."
For now however, she was struck by a sudden desire to engage in a little nostalgia. As she returned the blade to its sheath, she took up a formal stance in the middle of the room, and began working through the innumerable katas, hyungs, drills, and forms that had been part of her youth. Their use in combat was minimal, but they were still an excellent way to work on form and technique.
She allowed herself to become lost in the movements, and for an indeterminate period of time, all the worries and fear that the attacks had caused were held at bay. It was only when she heard the door to the Salle open that she stopped, and turned to greet her mate.
Her smile faded however when she saw that, while a wolf had entered into the Salle; it wasn't her David. The unfamiliar wolf's fur was the polar opposite of Dave's, where his coat was an unblemished white, this male's was as black as midnight. Trying to parse the situation, she quickly noticed that there were 3 other wolves following closely behind, and all were dressed in generic civilian clothes. Far from being particularly intimidating, they were all of average size and build...which also meant that they were all significantly larger and heavier than her lithe form.
Carol backed away warily, but she didn't allow any of her uncertainty to show on her face, and instead she simply crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head at the intruders.
"I think you boys might have made a wrong turn somewhere," she stated calmly, her mind already running through the potential outcomes of the unusual situation, and how to best deal with each. They clearly had access to a keycard, which in and of itself was a bad sign, but the fact that they were specifically here when she was alone, caused her hackles to stand on end.
The first male revealed a toothy grin; the white teeth stood out in sharp contrast with his dark coloration. He made his way further into the Salle; his eyes taking in the equipment along the walls, as he searched for something in particular.
"Oh, I think we're in just the right place, Пизда." he stated simply, in a heavily accented tone.
Carol's ears twitched in his direction as she worked to identify the source of the accent. "It's definitely Cyrillic," she thought as she looked between the four wolves, searching for other signs of where these mammals had come from. "It's not from the western republics, but this one's from the north for certain."
She had spent more time than she liked in that part of the world. The harsh scrubland that made up much of the landscape had produced an almost feudalistic culture run by oligarchs, but with the veneer of civilization to mask the fact that the mammals in charge were little more than the warlords from some backwater country with better tailored suits.
The derision in his tone was blatantly obvious to Carol's ears. "Now, are you going to be a good little cука and hand over the guns, or will we need to teach you a lesson so you start to see things our way?"
Carol couldn't help but give a snort of disdain while shaking her head at the male. From the way the four wolves were constantly looking around the room, she could already guess that they were looking for the, thankfully not present, firearms.
"What kind of idiot would think that any firearm would be left lying out in the open?" she mused to herself, rolling her eyes when the obvious answer came to her as the smallest of the four looked under the stack of towels by the door. "Actually, these are exactly the kinds of idiots that would leave a firearm laying around."
She took another look over the three subordinate wolves, easily determining the pecking order from their posture alone. The closest two were almost a mirror image of each other, with the white and grey patterns of their fur almost identical, with only the colors reversed. They were most likely siblings, and perhaps even twins. The final wolf was quite a bit younger than the rest, probably only in his late teens, and was also the smallest of the group. He shared the fur color of the first wolf. Unlike the other unwelcome guests, the young wolf's eyes darted around the Salle, and he was obviously nervous about what they were doing.
As she continued to glean any insight relating to her unwelcome visitors, she took in every detail about them while they moved around the Salle.
"They're not trying to surround me, or even making a real effort to block off the exit," she thought as she tried to work out how this situation would play out, "The first wolf moves like he's been in some fights, but the others are too heavy on their feet, which will slow them down."
She was thankful that it appeared that these mammals lacked the same level of training that she possessed...but there were still 4 of them, and those were not good odds even for someone like her. If this went sideways, she would need to get at least two of them out of the fight within a pawful of seconds.
Outwardly, she simply sighed and shook her head, before looking back at the leader of the pack, "Pup, we only have replicas here, not real firearms." She knew that it was the truth, but the odds of the wolves accepting that would be about zip unless she had completely misread the situation.
The black wolf gave a low growl, and took another step towards her, "You lying, Сука! We know you have guns stashed here," he stated and Carol saw a familiar glint in the wolf's eyes. Here was one of those mammals who enjoyed hurting others.
A cruel smile spread over his muzzle, as he drew a sizable knife from his belt. "I guess you'll be needing that lesson after all, girlie."
As soon as the leader drew his blade, the other 3 wolves did likewise, with only the younger wolf showing some hesitation.
The effect on Carol was instantaneous, as all emotion was scrubbed from her face as she allowed her war mask to slip in place. She hadn't needed its protection for years now, but it was always there in the back of her mind. It wrapped itself around the part of her that would crumble when faced with the violence that she knew was to come. Her gaze took on a cold, calculating look, utterly devoid of her usual enthusiasm and humor as she waited for the inevitable.
She looked over the 4 mammals with a new level of clarity, taking in all the details that she could, while surreptitiously palming her own knife, keeping it out of sight along her forearm.
"Oh, Pup," she said, only allowing a tiny bit of sorrow to color her words, "I really wish you hadn't done that."
The black wolf laughed as he advanced, making random slashing motions as he approached. None of the attacks were a threat, and they also showed that this opponent hadn't been formally trained. His grip was too tight, and he wasn't shifting his balance to add force to the strikes.
"I just bet you do, Блять," the black wolf said, mistaking the context of Carol's words as being spoken out of fear, as opposed to resignation. "You had your chance to do this the easy way, but now I get to have some fun. Maybe that traitor boyfriend of yours will be able to patch up your face, but I wouldn't bet on it."
The mere mention of Dave caused her calm veneer to crack, her expression darkening and her ears pinned back involuntarily. The fact that these wolves had information about the Salle and her was one thing, but bringing Dave into the narrative took this to a whole new level.
"Traitor boyfriend?" the words repeated in the back of her mind, but that was also where they would have to stay for now.
One of the twins' muzzle spread into a leering grin, as he tried to twirl his blade in his paw while making a show of grabbing his groin with the other.
"Не волнуйся, маленькая шлюха," the wolf said in what could have been a mocking tone. "Мы покажем вам, как настоящий волк лечит суку!"
She had no idea what the wolf was saying, but she knew all too well what he was planning to do with her.
The memories came unbidden, and although there was no change in her outward appearance, she was forced to live through the pain and humiliation once again. This time however, it wasn't the memory of what had been done to her that mattered, it was what she had done when she had finally reached her limit that guided her now.
She was standing over the broken form of a dingo dressed in standard army fatigues. The actual fight had been over in seconds, and while she was bleeding from a gash on her forehead, she knew that she had utterly destroyed her tormentor.
All four of his limbs had suffered broken bones, or dislocated joints. She had fractured his jaw and at least three of his ribs. Although she had never been able to confirm it, she had taken special pride in the fact that she was certain that she had completely crushed at least one of his overactive balls.
Even with all of his injuries, the dingo had struggled to meet her gaze. The instant he did so, he froze. Whatever he had seen in her eyes at that moment had conveyed a very simple truth:
"I will be your death!"
Grasping onto the memory, she looked away from the leader, and locked her gaze onto the leering twin. Her face could have been etched in stone, her eyes were a different tale. The instant she met the male's gaze, his paw fumbled the knife that he had been twirling, and he just barely managed to maintain his grip. Rather than taking another step towards her, both of his ears pinned back and he began backing away, looking fearfully at the lithe coyote.
His probable sibling looked over with a snort of amusement before speaking in an even more heavily accented voice. "I think you might need a урок in how to deal with this застрял, сука!"
The leader laughed at his colleague's words, but his focus remained fixed on Carol. It took all of Carol's control to not laugh when she saw the male proceed to lick his blade before brandishing it towards her.
"Seriously?" she thought, having rightly concluded that these wolves had no formal training. "They've seen too many action flicks." She didn't allow any of her thoughts to sneak their way onto her face, and even though she knew that the fight would begin in a pawful of heartbeats, she still hoped that these idiots would back down...but that was a fantasy that she knew wouldn't come to pass.
Looking over the assembled wolves, she could almost hear the voice of Sergeant Abram, one of her trainers in Ranger School, echoing through the Salle.
"Pack mammals are both the best, and worst when it comes to group tactics," Even after all these years, the lessons learned had resonated with her, and she kept her focus on the black wolf; the alpha of this pack. "If their social hierarchy is left intact, they are a straight up bitch to fight, but if you take out the leaders, almost all pack mammals stop working as a group, and this is where you can neutralize them quickly. Make sure the others see you do it, and then you'll get to see them fall apart."
As was Sergeant Abram's way, he always managed to summarize the formal lecture in a much more succinct way.
"Take the leader down like the little bitch he or she is, and then tear those fuckers apart!"
The black wolf's expression hadn't changed much, but Carol could see that the fight was inevitable at this stage. There was no fear in his expression, and only a sense of...excitement at what was to come.
Obviously not recognizing the danger he was in, the pack leader's grin widened as he made to close the final few steps between him and his prey.
"Well then," he began, giving his shoulders a shake. "Let's get the lesson started."
Even before he moved, Carol could see exactly what the black wolf's first attacks would involve. From the way he shifted his balance, he would open with a quick stab to close the distance, and then try to make contact with quick slashing motions.
This was actually fortunate, as slashing attacks tended to create large wounds, but they rarely had the depth to hit any of the major organs, and barring one of the major arteries or veins being hit, a wounded mammal could keep going for a long while.
Everything she was seeing told her that this male wanted to intimidate her, to dominate her, to have her submit to him as her alpha.
"That's not happening!" the coyote thought as she maintained a loose stance, shifting her weight slightly backwards to allow her to dodge the first and second strikes that she knew were coming.
Almost like the fight had been choreographed ahead of time, the black wolf lunged forward stabbing the blade in his right paw towards Carol's midsection. The coyote could already tell that the attack would fall short of its target, but she feinted jerking backwards, hoping that the wolf would be foolish enough to follow up.
Fortune favored her, and the black wolf took another step forward and slashed the blade to his right, trying to angle the blade to slash across Carol's neck. The attack had been expected however, and Carol simply took a half step backwards, and leaned away from the slash, the fur on her muzzle fluttering slightly as the blade passed cleanly in front of her.
This was the moment she had been waiting for.
The instant that the blade passed by, she sprang forward, covering the remaining distance between her and the wolf. Her left paw struck out, its digits ramrod straight, and angling up towards the larger male's eyes. As she had predicted, the wolf's gaze locked onto the oncoming paw, and he even leaned backwards slightly, predicting just how far the female's strike could reach.
She already knew that the blow wasn't going to land...but it was never supposed to. What it did do was block the wolf's view of her right paw, which had deftly flipped her knife into a hammer grip before she struck out with every ounce of force she could muster.
The honed steel slipped easily into the wolf's flesh. The blade angling upwards through the diaphragm, under the ribcage, and directly into the wolf's heart. The instant that she felt the quillion slam into the leader's chest, she jacked the blade right and left, before viciously twisting the knife and withdrawing it.
Not giving the mammal a chance to register what had happened, she leapt straight up, and struck at the wolf's groin with an aerial side kick. Even though the blow would cause some damage, Carol was more interested in using it to push away from the male, and create some distance between her and her opponent. She also used the maneuver to once again conceal the blade against her forearm, knowing that none of the other wolves would have been able to actually see the strike.
As she landed lightly on her paws just over two meters back from her opponent, she saw the black wolf stumble back a few paces. The male was unsteady on his feet, and he stared dumbly down at his chest, his left paw reaching up to touch the wound that had already killed him...it just took the brain a few moments to realize it.
The alpha wolf met Carol's eyes, and she could see the confusion that they held before they rolled back into his skull and he collapsed onto the Salle's mats.
The Salle was dead silent, and the three wolves stared in shock at their fallen leader. One of the twins gave himself a shake, and with a vicious snarl, pointed his knife at the coyote.
"What did you do to him you stupid bitch!" his words served to shock the other two wolves back into sensibility.
The second twin growled audibly at Carol, but he obviously still remembered the look that she had given him, and made no move to close the distance.
The younger wolf's reaction was not what she expected at all. The pup gave a high pitched whine and took a step forward. Not towards Carol, but to his fallen alpha.
Carol ignored the youth for now, and focused her attention on the speaking wolf.
She motioned towards their fallen leader, and shrugged, "I thought that was obvious; I killed him."
She kept her words utterly bland, not displaying any emotion at all, while she finally allowed her knife to flip down from where she had concealed it. As she did so, she saw that both twin's attentions were fixated on the blade.
Their eyes widened as they saw red drops gather on the tip of the blade before falling to the woven mats that made up the floor of the Salle. Neither one made a sound as they realized that they were watching their leader's heartsblood splatter onto the ground.
"Take out the leader!"
The words echoed in Carol's mind as she saw the effect of killing this pack's alpha. Both the speed with which she had dispatched the wolf, as well as her dismissive attitude towards them was having the desired effect.
"Умереть ты, гребаный дворняж!" the more aggressive twin spat and charged directly at her, already raising his knife above his head in an icepick grip. The instructor side of her wanted to laugh at the wolf's technique, but she knew that all it would take is for her to make a single mistake, and she'd be as dead as the alpha wolf.
Stealing a glance at the two other wolves, Carol saw that the second twin had apparently shaken off his apprehension, and was already heading towards her.
"I need to end this fast!" she thought as the first twin came within range, only slightly slowing his forward momentum, as he brought the knife down, aiming for her head.
Carol waited until the last possible moment before quickly tossing the knife to her left paw, and stepping slightly to the side while her right arm snapped up to redirect the momentum of the stab away from her.
As she felt her arm connect with the wolf's, it was accompanied by a sharp burning sensation. She did however, manage to redirect the blow, causing the wolf to stumble as his momentum carried him past the coyote...and also opened him up for her counter attack.
The pain in her arm told her that the wound was minor; probably only a superficial nick. She pushed the sensation away, while she stabbed her knife into the first twin's right kidney. As before she wrenched the blade back and forth before withdrawing it.
Kidney strikes were among the most painful injuries that you could inflict on a mammal, and the wolf again stumbled and involuntarily arched his back as his mind tried to process the agony that had overwhelmed his senses. Carol didn't give him a chance to recover, and stomped down on the wolf's extended calf muscle, causing him to fall to one knee.
The fur on the back of her neck stood on end, as she felt more than saw the second twins approach. Not wasting a moment, she flipped her blade into an icepick grip in her left paw before stabbing it through the side of the fallen wolf's throat. A strangled croak was the only sound that the wolf was able to make before Carol made to recover her knife. She lacked the leverage, or time to fully bisect her opponent's throat, but she applied as much forward force as she was able while she withdrew the knife.
Even though the cut was incomplete, the arterial spray that enveloped her, along with the choking gurgle that emerged from the first twin's muzzle told her that he wouldn't be a threat any longer.
"But that still leaves two." Carol thought as she used the momentum of her cut to help spin her towards the remaining twin, flipping the blade back into a hammer grip as she did so. Her eyes widened as she saw that her third opponent was even closer than she had realized, and he was just starting a horizontal slash towards her own throat.
There was no time to think, and Carol allowed herself to simply go boneless, as she dropped straight down to the ground. She fought the urge to yelp, as she felt the blade bite into her left ear, her attempts to pin them against her head, having been insufficient to fully get them out of harm's way.
As before, she pushed the wound out of her mind.
"No ear injury is going to be fatal," she mused as she took back control of her body, stopping her downward momentum, while she stabbed the wolf directly in the groin with an upward thrust, angling to blade to the right.
As the kidney strike had been devastating for his brother, so too was this blow on the second twin. A pained whine was just starting to form as he hunched forward in response to the agony he was experiencing. The wolf didn't suffer long, as Carol wrenched the blade free, a small part of her mind noticing the bright red spray that followed the knife, before straightening her body using every bit of strength she had, and slamming the knife up under the jaw of her opponent, as a savage growl finally broke her silence.
She heard his teeth clack together as the blade forced his jaws closed, and then the wolf stiffened as the knife broke through the upper palate, slid through his sinuses, and into his brain. He was already dead as he began to collapse forward, and Carol was forced to abandon her weapon as she rolled to the side, scooping up the first twin's blade as she went.
As she regained her footing, she flipped the blade in her paw, trying to get some sense of it in case it was needed. It was an ugly thing; heavy, poorly balanced, and built for form as opposed to function.
Looking over the Salle, she quickly appraised the situation. Two of her attackers were already dead, and the first twin was well on his way to the same destination. He was trying to staunch the bleeding with his paws, but it was a losing battle. Outside of a hospital, the wounds he had suffered weren't survivable, and judging by the growing pool of blood, he would be losing consciousness in a few seconds.
Her gaze locked onto the remaining wolf, who was staring dumbly at her as he knelt next to the pack's former alpha. He still clutched a knife in his right paw, but his whole frame trembled as he met her gaze for only a moment before looking away, and down at the weapon in his paws.
"Don't do it, Pup." Carol stated in an utterly flat monotone. The scent of blood was almost overpowering, but she could still detect the miasma of fear wafting from the young wolf.
The youth's eyes never left the knife in his paw, but with a shuddering breath, he allowed it to fall to the ground before he seemed to collapse into himself, and quietly wept.
Just outside the training facility, a female grey wolf sat in a featureless white van as she stared dumbly at the smartphone in her paws.
"Don't do it, Pup." she heard the female voice calmly state, and she shook her head in disbelief.
"This was supposed to be an easy job," she thought as the realization that this one mammal had just killed three of her packmates, in a matter of seconds, and that only Dimitri remained.
She had tried to stop Vlad from taking this job, as she had for almost every other task that involved this "purist" movement. Somehow, they had managed to twist the wolf she loved, into what she could only think of as a zealot. Even going so far as to use his own brother's age and full scholarship to ZU as a way to get into the city, posing as Dimitri's guardian.
A quiet whine came unbidden from her throat as she struggled to come to terms with what had happened.
Knowing that there was nothing that she could do, she put the van in gear, and left the facility. Any thoughts about her rescuing Dimitri were little more than a fantasy, and in many ways, this might be the best option for the pup. Like her, he had been brought into this mess unwillingly, but as a submissive wolf, he had been compelled to follow Vlad's orders.
"Well, that's not going to be an issue any more," she said to herself as she merged with the sparse traffic, and headed back towards her apartment in TundraTown. She knew that the van needed to be ditched, and that the smartphone she had been given needed to be destroyed. Fortunately, she hadn't had any contact with any of the other purist cells, and as such, she was banking on their dismissive attitude towards females keeping her out of their sights until she could take more permanent actions.
"Fucking Быдло," she cursed the foolishness that had now cost three lives. From the start, she had dreaded this possibility, and now that it had come to pass, she couldn't help but feel some resentment towards her mate. She couldn't help but feel the loss, and she looked into the rearview mirror as she tried to focus on the happy times that they had shared, while her paw came to rest on her abdomen.
"Милый мой, ты у меня в груди," she said as a single tear slipped from her eye and she set about forging a new path for herself.
Back in the Salle, Carol had made a quick assessment of her wounds. The one on her right arm had been even more superficial than she had first suspected, and a simple gauze bandage had been enough to staunch the bleeding.
The wound to her ear was going to require stitches, as the knife had cut almost a third of the way through the base of her left ear. She had made a quick field repair with some superglue, but something more professional was going to be needed if she wanted to maintain full mobility.
She was somewhat surprised to find another superficial cut on her head, probably originating from the same slash that had damaged her ear, along with a second small cut along her right chest. With the adrenalin flooding her system, she hadn't felt either wound.
As none of her injuries caused any real impairment, she had a duty to perform, and seeing that the youth hadn't moved from his spot on the floor, she made her way to the front of the Salle, and opened a wall mounted panel revealing nothing more than a phone. She picked up the receiver and entered in a long string of numbers. No one would confuse them with any regular phone number, and the sequence had been burned into her memory since she had first started up the training facility.
As she entered the final digit, there were a series of clicks over the line, and then a male voice could clearly be heard.
There was no greeting or salutation, instead the voice only stated a single word, "Authenticate!"
Just as the mammal on the other end of the line had forgone any kind of preamble, Carol responded in a similar fashion, "Spitfire, Alpha-Zulu-One-One-Zero-Four-Cheshire. We have a Flashover Event. I say again, a Flashover Event. Three sent to market, one in waiting. The natives will be restless by the light of the new moon."
"Confirm Flashover, Spitfire." the voice, while still calm and professional, did take on a more urgent tone. "Response team en-route. Standard containment protocols are in effect until CO arrives. ZPD will be inbound on your position in ten minutes."
"Roger, standard containment confirmed." The moment she acknowledged her orders, the line went dead, and she leaned against the wall while she waited for backup.
She saw that the surviving wolf was staring at her, his mouth agape.
Looking around the salle, "Who the fuck are you?"
Chief Bogo didn't want to micromanage the investigation, but a direct threat to his officers belied his 'I don't care' stoicism. As such, getting a call that Whitefoot had successfully gone through surgery was a considerable relief. Not that he was waiting after his official shift was over for word on her condition. Or that he was going to personally review the progress of the case. He did call the second shift watch commander, a Leopard named Jarvis, to join him.
There was a quiet knock on his door, and he looked up to see the feline officer enter, and briefly stand to attention before speaking, "Slaton warned me you'd still be here." Jarvis had been born in the city, but retained his family's Levant accent. That sub-species were also smaller than average for leopards.
The commander was actually not surprised to see him off shift. The Buffalo was notorious for personally working long hours, a trait he actually tried to discourage among those in his command. Getting a good night's rest and relief from the office should keep those in the action sharper, so he insisted. Bogo's face tightened a bit. "Was half-expecting the whole day shift to be here too."
Jarvis rumbled, "Well, lacking something new to work on in the case would mean simply fretting around the office. So Slaton 'suggested' that there were always old files waiting for data entry..."
Slaton, the day shift watch commander, was loath to leave as well, but understood the necessity of a break. When they got to the detective's office, they were a bit surprised to see Detective Post still on the clock, expecting to see the second shift team.
Post added, "I was getting Staple and Toss up to date, but they got called out on suspicious death related to a domestic." Post nodded to Jarvis, who then turned to Bogo and gave him a quick description. The two turned back to Post when he laid out files on a table for easy examination.
Bogo said, bringing out his glasses and going over the paperwork. "So, what do we have so far?" Picking up some paperwork, he continued, "I notice he hasn't requested a PD or otherwise gotten any representation."
Jarvis glanced to Bogo, "Yeah. I almost wonder if he's going to represent himself, go sovereign citizen, demanding some jurisdictional mumbo jumbo."
Post added, pointed at the file in Bogo's hoof. "There was a little bit of that kind of talk with the officers who brought him in after getting him checked out at the hospital, and some of the pain meds were still in his system." The three shared a look of annoyance. Various beasts would bring up any number of crackpot legalistic rationales for their actions. None were legitimate, but the requirements of due process meant a drawn out case, delaying the inevitable. "The guy invoked once he got here and hasn't said a word, but we have his ID confirmed, a Jason Pawterson, thirty four years old. No record beyond some minor juvenile acts years ago. Nothing in his current life, but some old interweb traffic related to 'pure blood' wolf topics something over a year ago."
"Seriously?" Bogo huffed.
"Intelligence has some little bits on what may or may not have been a group about keeping 'inferior blood', meaning coyotes, from crossing with wolves." Post made a particularly sour face. "The more obvious traffic on the open interweb stopped about a couple years ago, so there are suspicions that they got organized and went underground, or at least avoided more public venues."
"The dark web?"
Post shrugged, "Very likely. And using more coded language that won't flag. A big part of the problem is the sheer bulk of traffic, and most of it is just noise, simple ranting, trolls and 'bots."
"As for the gun, the fired brass from it matches that found in the SUV." Post held up a new piece of paper to add to the file.
"Any chance he's the shooter?" Bogo tried to be hopeful.
"No such luck. Physiometrics can't match him to the body cam images at all, but if it is the same group, and they used the same gun, it may mean that is the only one they have." Post made a little apologetic shrug. "That bit is still being formatted, so it isn't in the file yet."
"Or want to make a point about an interspecies couple killed with the same gun, had they succeeded." Bogo grumbled and Post nodded in agreement.
Post added, "The web Intel and psychodynamics teams have been really grinding on this, cops being targeted and all." ZPD headquarters had a substantial criminal investigation and analysis lab that included studying the more subtle aspects of possible evidence.
Post sighed and paced, "With what they now have on this group, we're getting a better profile to search for more members, based on their interweb habits. But it is still not specific enough nor provides probable cause to actually go after any potential suspects. Especially as the current level of search is still giving us hundreds of low probables and scores of high probables."
"What does intel think about actual membership?" Jarvis interjected.
"Best guess? To be honest, they don't want to guess. But suspect they might have several small cells to avoid risking the whole group. They've been pretty good about maintaining a level of discipline. So whoever is running it is either ex-professional or at least very smart. Possibly an academic background or very well-read."
Bogo snorted. "Or some gamer geek or history nerd. It seemed like all too many sources of trouble were wannabes coming out of their parent's basements."
"Moreover, the original shooters are still out there, unidentified." Post gritted his teeth. He didn't know Whitefoot, but to have a Coyote Girl shot hit him closer than he would like or would admit.
"And we can't run what we do know against the suspects." Jarvis grumbled.
"Yes, a DNA profile without any matches and a fraction of a second of body cam image isn't enough. We have more than a score or two potentials against the image, and no one wants to demand willy-nilly DNA collection." They all shared a look.
With the fall out of the Bellwether plot, everyone was still sensitive to anything that looked like species-specific targeting, especially pred minorities. The three pawed through the files again, hoping for some glimmer, some hint that might help. Then Post got a call. He made a face then hung up.
"That was Staple. He said they'd be out for half the night. The scene is a mess and there's a ton of potential perps and witnesses to sort out." Addressing Jarvis directly, "You'll want to talk to the on-site. Lots of overtime shaping up and spill over to the next shifts."
Jarvis grumbled and shared a look with Bogo. Like his chief, he was a cop first, but like Bogo, had an unfortunate talent of administration. Then his phone buzzed.
"'Ello?" Gesturing to Post and Bogo, "Just told- oh, sorry. What? When? Damn! Send Fields and Balock, full tactical loadout. If there's anyone else not on immediate task get them out there ASAP. I'll be down in just a sec."
Hanging up his phone, Jarvis then turned to the others. "That was the ZAF liaison. There was an assault at that workout site where we've been getting that advanced martial arts training. The instructor took out the suspects, wolves, all of them. Three dead, the last in custody."
Bogo tensed at that and turned to Post. "That would be Latrans, and yes, she's a coyote...a coyote whose mate's a wolf."
He gave a snort of anger, but quickly regained his composure, and pointed at Jarvis, "Wolford and Grizolli should still be in the building. I want both of them in the initial response. They know the layout and equipment present, as well as Latrans herself."
He shared a look with Post, who he could tell had already made the probable connection. "Plus, they're both wolves, and their insight might be important. I think we just found another cell."
Well things certainly have become a bit more serious, but at least some pieces are coming together.
My original plan was to go over some of the medical, and scientific elements of combat, but due to the lateness of this chapter, as well as the state of the world as a whole, I'm only going to briefly discuss the current pandemic we are all living through.
Right now, there is a lot of fear in the world, and unfortunately, there is some justification for this...but not as much as some sources may be pushing. Make no mistake, COVID-19 is serious, and complacency is not an option in regards to this.
This is a novel pathogen, and it represents a very real risk, particularly for the elderly, and those with complications from other conditions. Keep in mind that there are a lot of reasons to be hopeful.
While COVID-19 is more easily spread than the previous coronavirus outbreaks (SARS, MERS), the death rate is quite a bit less. Globally, the virus has about a 5% morbidity rate, but keep in mind that this is quite a bit LESS than previous outbreaks. During the SARS outbreak, it was closer to 9%, and MERS was a whopping 34%!
Compared to those outbreaks, the scientific and medical communities have made incredible progress in combating this virus. The new strain was only confirmed back in December, but within a month, we had the first whole genome sequence for the virus. Now there are hundreds of sequences in the major genome databases, representing samples and researchers from around the world.
By the end of March, researchers in Canada developed a means to culture the virus...and this is a huge step in terms of being able to learn everything we can about this pathogen, and hopefully have treatments and vaccines all the more quickly as a result.
On top of all this, we've also seen amazing work comparing COVID-19 to other viruses, and we now know what makes it different from other coronaviruses, but also the ways in which it evolved.
This type of work normally takes years to accomplish, but we have done it in months, and it truly has been a global effort.
We are not out of the woods just yet unfortunately, and I will just state that the media is touting a lot of possible treatments or outright cures, but none of these have actually been shown to work...let alone if they're safe.
There's a big difference between things being correlated, and them being causally associated, but that is what the scientific community is trying to determine as I type. Clinical trials on old medications, new vaccine candidates, and novel anti-viral treatments are ongoing...but they take time.
Until the evidence is there, don't buy into the hype. There is no magic cure, and drinking algicide is not going to help (many products contain chloroquine, but not in a form that's safe to ingest), and neither are most if not all of the various products being sold online.
Follow the directions of your local health authorities, wash your hands, maintain social distancing, if you feel ill, self isolate, but most importantly, do not forget that we are not out of the woods yet.
The truth is that we won't be for some time.
Everyone, please be safe, and I'll even pledge that the next chapter will be released before the first COVID-19 vaccine is through clinical trials.
Appendix 1: Chapter 15 End Scene Translated
The parking lot just outside the modern office building was almost empty. This wasn't a surprise, as the normal 9-5 wage slaves would have already departed for the day; either slinking back home to enjoy a few hours of freedom, or heading out to wash away their plight in any number of watering holes the district housed.
One vehicle bucked this trend however, as a white, featureless van turned into the lot, and backed into one of the spaces about halfway to the building itself. A female wolf sitting in the driver's seat, looked back towards her passengers, 4 male wolves. The largest of them possessed a pitch black fur that seemed to blend into the shadow of the van as he crouched at the rear of the vehicle, alongside two wolves who were nearly mirror images of each other, with the alternating patches of grey and brown fur showing a nearly impossible symmetry.
The last wolf did not share his packmate's excitement regarding the nights...entertainment. He was considerably younger than the other wolves, and was seated near the front of the van, obviously trying to keep as much distance between himself and the other males. She wasn't the only one to notice this, and the alpha bared his teeth in a wordless snarl, that caused the youth to whine, and drop his gaze to the floor of the van before crawling over to the others.
The driver shook her head at the display, but she knew that they were on a tight schedule.
"We're here," she said, and the largest of the wolves nodded as he opened the rear door, as he hopped out onto the asphalt, motioning for his packmates to exit with him.
As they did so, he focused his gaze on their driver, while directing the rest of the wolves to start heading towards the building with his free paw.
"Keep the engine running," he had a smirk on his muzzle and he chuckled quietly as he thought about the fun to come. "This won't take long."
After shutting the van's rear door, he made his way towards an opaque glass door with the letters AMCQC on its surface the only markings that could be seen.
As they approached the door, the pack scanned the building for any signs of life, their ears and noses twitching as they worked to identify any threats.
"Do you have it?" one of his wolves asked over his shoulder.
Rolling his eyes, the alpha reached into his jacket, retrieving a plain RFID card, and waved it at the twins, "Yes, right here."
The other twin smiled, and cracked his knuckles in anticipation, before cocking his head to the side as a thought occurred to him, "Are you sure that there will only be one mammal inside?"
It was his brother who laughed at the question, and he gave a snort of derision when he replied,
"Yes, only some coyote bitch who doesn't know her place. Nothing to worry about. We go in, get the weapons, and if there's time, we can play with her a little." and the three older wolves all joined in the laugh, with only the youth not sharing in the mirth.
The leader once again glared at the young wolf, but limited his chastisement to just that...for now, and motioned towards the door, allowing a cruel smile to form on his muzzle as he did so.
"Okay then, let's start having fun," he stated as he tapped the card on the sensor plate, and pulled the door open. "This bitch needs to be shown her place!"