Chapter Eleven - The Bluff
A brief warning: this chapter contains gore.
It was nearly Christmas when Judy reclaimed her desk at the ZPD, a desk previously occupied by a scrappy intern—an ocelot, she guessed, though was never entirely certain when it came to cats—who asked for nothing more than a photo, an autograph, and fist bump before clearing his things. Judy didn't mind this much—it was nothing compared to being tackled into a two hundred pound cheetah-hug in the lobby that morning. After that, she was just glad to be alive and still the proud owner of her in-tact ribcage.
Bullpen received her with a standing ovation and a barbaric mix of howling, whistling, and table-drumming that made her ears rattle. She made her way between the desks, giving and receiving fist-bumps and mock salutes, until she found none other than Harvey. He was trying—and failing—to look casual as he leaned against one of the legs of the monstrous chair that once was hers.
He offered a welcoming smile, though riddled with sarcasm. "Aren't you popular," he said and uncrossed his arms to give her a high-five.
"Just wait until Wilde gets back," Judy snorted. "That'll be a party." She elbowed the chair that towered over them both—ears included. "You steal my seat?"
"Oh, this was yours?" He showed genuine concern. "My bad, I haven't exactly been an officer here for long and—well, now that I think of it, I'm sure the chair will fit us both, though only if you'd like, considering it's made for mammals much larger than…" he paused to find Judy snickering. "You're messing with me, aren't you."
"Yes and it's so easy, you're too damn easy Jamison," she socked him in the arm. "You really think I care where I sit?"
"Take a breath. You should worry more about getting sat on, that's the real danger here. Now c'mon." She leaped to the top of the chair. "Nick and I shared this seat all the time, it's perfectly large enough for both of us."
"You sure you don't mind?"
"Why would I?"
Though as she said it, she felt as if she were violating some unspoken agreement with her previous partner. It was her and Nick's seat, and though neither of them had ever acknowledged it, that's the way it had always been.
Temporary rearrangements never killed anybody, she thought. She hoped. He wouldn't mind anyway, given the circumstances.
The chief was welcomed with his usual chorus of hoots and pounds, only this time he didn't seem quite as annoyed by it as usual. Once behind the podium he called for silence, put on his reading glasses, and briefly met her eyes.
"Today, as I'm sure you all know, we have one of our officers joining us again. Officer Hopps—" he was cut off by another round of cheers. McHorn, sitting beside them, elbowed her chair in what was meant to be an amicable gesture, though nearly toppled the thing over. Bogo called for silence. "Her sabbatical was well needed, but we're all glad to have her back." Though said with a tone utterly lacking emotion, the chief's words made Judy's heart swell.
"Moving along. Today's assignments are as follows…"
Now officially declared temporary partners, Harvey and Judy were assigned to patrol a section of downtown named Flock Village, not far from Jumbeaux's Ice Cream Parlor. On their way out, Judy pulled Harvey into the hallway outside Bullpen and waited until the last officers had filed out.
"What's up?" Harvey asked, then was bombarded with a hug. "Where'd this come from?" he managed in her grip.
"Dude, I haven't seen you in like—"
"Yeah! And I'm totally psyched we're on patrol together. It's just so good to be back. And it's so good to see you. Ugh, I missed everyone here!" she shouted to the hallway.
He started to say something, stuttered, sighed, smiled, and returned her squeeze. For a long moment, they leaned into each other's warmth.
The two officers separated as if one had contracted the plague.
The chief was standing down the hallway, peering over his glasses. "I've dismissed you two, why aren't you at the motor pool?"
Harvey laughed timidly. "I'm just briefing Judy—Officer Hopps, I mean—on the latest developments around the precinct."
Judy nodded. "A lot can change in a month."
The chief stared. "Mm-hmm. You two can do all the briefing you want in your cruiser, just don't let it get in the way of the job."
They both looked away, flushing.
"We're off, then!" Judy said and hurried past the chief with Harvey in tow.
Patrol was largely uneventful, which left plenty of time for conversation. This was difficult, seeing as the two had kept in touch despite her sabbatical. Soon enough it was evening, and the two were returning to the precinct, where, when clocking out, they were scared out of their fur by a group of large animals jumping out from behind the bullpen door.
Harvey hopped so high he nearly hit the door frame.
Judy recovered, her instincts a blaring siren in her brain. "Wha…What's this?"
"You've been out for over a month!" Francine hollered. "You didn't suspect we'd throw a surprise celebration when you returned?"
"…No?" Judy said, her heart rate slowing. "Rhinowitz was gone all summer and he didn't get a…a cake?" Judy noticed the iced mammoth of a cake on a nearby desk. It was larger than her and Harvey combined and then some—three tiers of blue and gold icing.
"To be fair, no one notices Rhinowitz even when he is here," Wolfard commented.
"My sister," Francine said, "she's a baker at this little joint near the sound, Elefandue, you heard of 'em?"
"Yeah, well she whipped up this thing overnight, no problem. Chocolate, vanilla, and something called mystery flavor, I dunno, we'll have to find out."
"That's for me? That whole thing?"
"Hell no, that's why we're here," Snarlov said, already dishing himself a slice with a server large enough it would take both her and Harvey to lift.
"Wow, you guys, I—"
"Don't mention it," Fangmeyer said, though she seemed to be here more for the free cake than anything.
Judy received a Judy-sized piece of cake, and Harvey one not much larger, and they both sat on the table top surrounded by officers helping themselves to comically large portions.
"Weird third date," Judy noted. "Or is this the fourth? Do we count Snarlbucks?"
Harvey chuckled, but his voice was tight. "Let's go with fourth."
Judy sighed, setting her plate down and scooting closer to him. "Look, Harvey, I know you want to keep this on the down-low, but these are our co-workers. Why does it matter if they care?"
"It doesn't, but you and Wilde were pretty close partners," he said, looking down at his feet hanging off the table. "I just don't want to give anybody the wrong idea about me. I don't want to replace him, if you know what I mean."
Judy stared for a moment, then scoffed lightheartedly. "I love Nick, I really do, but we're just friends and that's…all it's ever been, alright?"
"You seem hesitant on that front."
"Harvey, I'm not lying to you. If there had ever been any chemistry between us we would've already realized it, so don't feel guilty. Besides, half of these guys probably already suspect you and I are together. Just look at the two of us, we're partners, we're roughly the same size, they'll assume you're just a tall rabbit unless you correct them. It won't be long before people start cat-calling, believe me, I've been through this with Nick. These guys don't let up."
"What was that, Judy?" Francine leaned into the conversation, looming over them both with an intrigued sparkle in her eye.
Harvey cleared his throat and grinned. "Oh, it was nothing, we're just—"
"I asked her, rabbit-boy."
"Told you," Judy whispered to him, then spoke up. "We're just catching up is all."
"Catching up, is that right?" she mused. "Good friends, methinks. Yes, yes, good friends indeed, judging by how close you're sitting together."
The two separated, having hardly noticed they closed the distance in the first place. Judy's smile had grown painfully wide. "Oh, no, we—"
"Nah-ah-ah, you can't hide the blossoming chemistry I'm seeing here, you guys are about as subtle as a hippo in skinny jeans."
"Francine, please," Harvey said.
"Oh, I see. So you two wanna keep this way down low." She guffawed, "Well you're off to one helluva start, leaning on each other and talking all quietly."
"We just want to avoid the drama is all," Judy said to her, looking at the group of chattering officers sitting not too far away.
"Alright, alright, I get it. My trunk is tied, that's a promise."
Judy gave her a look.
"I know I've got loose lips and I've sunk a number of ships in my years—it's genetic, you should hear my sister—but a promise is a promise, I promise. You two carry on now, I was never here." She loudly shuffled her chair away, returning to the other officers.
Not very subtle yourself, Francie, Judy thought and turned back to Harvey, who was looking more timid than usual.
He laughed pathetically to himself. "All hope is lost," he muttered, shaking his head.
"No it's not, don't be melodramatic," Judy sighed and scooted closer to him, maintaining a friendly distance. "Francine's sincere, you haven't known her as long."
"I just don't want a repeat of Precinct Twelve. Or high school, for that matter."
Harvey glanced around, then leaned closer. "Word got around about me and this other guy—he was an otter, we went through the academy together. Somebody heard us talking in the locker room when we thought we were alone. The next morning the rest of the guys knew and were either way too interested or all standoffish. It was like that until I came here—a fresh start, no labels or rumors—and I'd like to keep it that way. Does that make sense?"
"Of course, I can respect that. And besides, this is Savannah Central. The heart of Zootopia. It's not like other parts of the city. Not like Precinct Twelve—where's that, the Meadowlands?"
"Oh yeah, not like the docks. Even if these guys knew, it'd be no big deal, there have been bigger scandals in the past that would blow your mind, believe me."
"Alright," Harvey said, composing himself, then turning to the mostly untouched piece of cake. "This weekend we're going somewhere. This is not a date."
"Pssh, anywhere can be a date. A freaking rooftop beer can be a date."
"That actually sounds nice, but this is bullpen. We can do better than this. How does Friday night sound?"
Apparently when Harvey said "better than this," he meant the five-star French cuisine restaurant and winery near the tourist-trap called the Watering Hole. Formerly a coastal spring, the Watering Hole had been drained when the water table discovered beneath Savanna Central had been converted into the source of the region's tap water. Present day, an artificial waterfall fed the hole, which was hardly a pond, where nearly a millennium ago, two local tribes—a pride of lions and a herd of zebras—had met and made a treaty that, though it would be broken time and time again over the centuries, had been the starting point for mammalian coexistence as Zootopia saw it today. And around it was built City Center, including the winery.
From her seat next to the second-story window, she could see the weekend's surge of activity in the square. After perusing the entrees, Judy sighed and tossed the menu onto the table. "Is there anything on this menu less than twenty bucks?"
"Not unless you want an appetizer as an entree," Harvey said and shrugged, "but you don't need to worry about that because I've got the bill."
She laughed. "Haha, no. No way."
"Yes way, this was my idea and I'm covering the bill."
"Your meal alone will put you in debt—we have the same salary!" she cried, somewhere between amused and frustrated.
"I'll manage, this is a special occasion."
"You're back on the force, of course!" he guffawed, then quieter, to himself, "Ha, that rhymed."
She ignored this and ordered a house salad when the waitress came by. Only $14.99, not including the dressing. Harvey also bought a bottle of wine to go with their meal—Judy didn't dare look at the price, though she did accept a glass. And then another. This is amazing, she thought to herself as she sipped it. Having only grown up on backwoods homemade wine from the neighbors' farm several acres over, this was a more than subtle improvement. Oak, salt, a minuscule hint of cinnamon—which was never easy when using cinnamon in anything, it had a tendency to be overpowering—and whatever else had aged for no doubt many years in the wine came together into something she could only describe as liquefied winter. Cozy, warm, smoky, and not too strong.
Harvey thought otherwise—he sputtered upon taking his first sip. "Hmm!" he looked away and cleared his throat. "Wasn't ready for that."
"What, this?" Judy grinned. "This is too much for you?" She now couldn't help but imagine Harvey going drinking with her brother Jade, who known for his bottomless stomach, and couldn't help but laugh aloud.
"No, I just swallowed too much at once." He proceeded to take another cautious sip, slower this time, and if he didn't like the taste he masked his distaste.
Judy's eyes drifted out the window where, in the middle of the square, a Pred-Prey-Peace protest was being held amidst the Friday night bustle. The only commonality among the protesters was the same black shirt bearing the protest's label, three P's interlacing like a chain link. Other than that, mammals ranging from Little Rodentia's smallest to hulking elephants had gathered, some holding paws in large rings of mammals, others raising signs and approaching those passing by, handing out pamphlets and wristbands and the like.
"If there was ever a target for the syndicate, it's them," Harvey said, sipping his wine as he stared pensively out the window.
"I think they know that," Judy said into her glass. She looked harder and sure enough, she picked out the police from the crowd. They were scattered thin enough throughout the square to be somewhat hidden but she knew a protest patrol when she saw one.
"Do you think this will just…keep happening?" Harvey asked.
"No, the attacks." He set his glass down and cleared his throat. "I mean, the police haven't made any breakthroughs, Savage Containment hasn't figured out what originally poisoned the savages, only that it's likely through food, which isn't much help." He sighed, still staring down at the protest with a distant gaze. He pursed his lips. "What if this becomes normal?"
"It can't," Judy said firmly, though mostly because the thought scared her and she wasn't prepared to face that reality. "It won't, nothing like this ever keeps up for long."
"But Judy, Zootopia's never seen anything like this before. I mean Bellwether was one thing, but the police had leads to follow and you followed one right to the source! This is different, this is on a whole new scale."
"We're officers," Judy looked at Harvey, who wouldn't meet her eye. "This is our job. Just accepting that this is the new norm is…is cowardice."
"What are we supposed to do about it, then?"
Judy stammered. "We…keep looking, we have to."
"We've been looking, Judy. We traveled all the way to Bunnyburrow looking and what did we find? And the task force, and all the research at the lab, constantly searching for something to follow. We've been looking for a month now and there's nothing new. Nothing. We're at a dead end."
She was gripping her glass with an intensity that threatened to shatter it in her paw. "Then what? Give up?"
"No, that's not what I—"
"I'm pretty sure it was, what else do you mean by 'dead end?'"
"No, I…I'm not giving up, I just need…we need something. Anything at this point." He paused for a long while, and Judy thought he might be finished when he turned back to her. "But what if there is nothing? This isn't some movie where the villain is sure to fall eventually—in the real world, villains win. They kill the good guys and get away with it. They tear the city apart. They win."
"Harvey, shut up. You were the one just the other day telling me that it's not easy, that the world keeps spinning, that you believed in me. This isn't helping anything."
"Yeah, well neither are welcoming parties, or trips to the family farm, or standing out there in the square, waving signs like sitting ducks as if it's going to make a difference."
Judy slammed her fist on the table making the silver wear clatter. A million words. She had a whole dictionary-full of words she had to say to him right then, but not a single one passed her lips. The tables around them paused to watch if they weren't already. She only looked at her paws, gritting her teeth, wishing she had just gone home after her shift. Wishing she had gone home and gotten some sleep.
Slowly, the restaurant ambiance resumed, though not between her and Harvey. They were silent until the check came, and Harvey covered it without a word. Judy didn't stop him.
All she wanted was sleep that night. Respite from it all. Hopes that her dreams would be less problematic than her reality, or even better, no dreams at all. The void was easy—it never argued or presented problems. It was the lack of all these things, good and bad alike. She wanted the void more than ever that night.
So it figures that her phone would wring at three that morning, right as she was settling into a thankfully dreamless sleep. She groaned and rolled over, burying her head in her pillow to block out the phone's glaring light. Only after the fifth or sixth wring did she realize the nature of a call at three in the morning must be urgent, and she was out of bed before she could find her balance.
"Hello?" It was as if her brain was one of those old computers that took up entire rooms and needed several minutes to start up, the systems coming back online one at a time. Sure enough, she was sitting in her office chair, rocking slightly, shivering though not caring to find a blanket or coat.
There was no response, which was all the response she needed.
She looked around for some way to record the call, settling on a notepad and pen off her desk. But then she saw the pen—the carrot one—in the light of her phone. She slid the notepad to the side and set the phone and the pen on the desk beside each other, putting the call on speaker. She began recording, hoping the pen's recording capacity was long enough for the call.
For several minutes, a faint conversation between a few mammals would come in and out, interrupted by a scratchy static that reminded her of an old crank radio she used to have in her bedroom as a kit. Only there was no antenna for her to fish out the window in hopes of finding a better signal. She leaned as close to the speaker as her sensitive ears—even more sensitive from sleep—would allow, trying to discern what came through between the bouts of static.
"*PFFFFFFT*—way out here—*PFFT* *PFFT*—not like any of y—*PFFFFFFT*—ask him or anything—*PFFT*—paranoia, I bet—*PFFFFFFT*"
She tried to string together the bits and pieces she heard, though the static was too prevalent for any sentence to reach her whole. Though, after several minutes, the reception seemed to miraculously clear in an instant.
She could now make out voices, a wide variety of tones from different types of mammals. And she could hear every word they were saying. She went for the notepad, remembered her pen was recording, and stood up, staring at her phone in disbelief. She sat back down quickly and leaned in, listening like an adamant fan of a TV show who's final episode had just been released after long last.
"Going by this, all understand the conduct?" asked a strangely high and tinny voice—Judy recognized it immediately as a voice changer.
"Clear," said several voices.
"Remember," continued the tinny voice, who seemed to be conducting the conversation, "that I can only trust you as far as I can see you, and seeing as this camera greatly limits my field of vision, that is not very much."
"Clear," spoke the voices.
"You all understand the gravity of our talking? The penalty for those who do not respect the conduct?"
"Understood. We will begin with the proposals. Begin, proposal one."
"Clear," spoke only one voice, masculine, rather gruff. "The Soundfront Meadow Park, southern Sahara Square. The Unity Statue makes it a common tourist hot spot. Often populated by picnicking visitors and a number of food trucks in the warmer months, by which Golden Tickets could be distributed safely and precisely."
"Soundfront Meadow is within close proximity to Precinct Thirty-Nine's Station One, is it not?"
"I will consider the risk. Begin, proposal two."
"Clear," spoke yet another voice, this one higher in pitch, slightly nasally, as if fighting a cold. "The Goldentusk Building Observation Deck, the Rainforest District, near the Fruit Town Market. Known for the being one of the first skyscrapers in Zootopia, the building now prides itself on the diverse community which built it from the ground up. Photos on the deck show workers of all species sharing lunch at great heights while the building was under construction. The building prides itself on being one of the first public works that unified a diverse range of species for its construction. Golden Tickets could be sold from the gift shop on the building's roof."
"Intriguing. Is there heavy security in the building?"
"On the ground floor, there are armed guards at the metal detectors. Other than this, close to none on the roof. Guards assume that anyone who passes through the detectors and x-ray kiosks is safe to visit the deck without further notice."
"This sounds very promising, well done. Begin, proposal three."
A similar pattern continued all the way up to proposal twelve. Judy noted that each mammal, when giving the initial proposal, spoke as if they were reading off something. Their words were too carefully formed to be improvisation. Proposal nine appeared to be the closest in proximity to the phone calling Judy, close enough even to be on the mammal's person.
The conversation continued on after the twelfth and final proposal. "Tonight brings several promising proposals," spoke the tinny voice that appeared to be conducting the conference, "though none more so than proposal five."
Proposal five, Judy recalled, spoke of the Christmas Festival happening next week in the Sahara Square Plaza. It was one of Zootopia's largest public celebrations all year.
"This will undergo serious consideration. In the meantime, all will continue on schedule. Savage Containment should reach maximum capacity by next week's end, after Christmas."
Judy's ears were at full alert, though she remained quiet in fear that somehow, any noise she made might be picked up on the other end.
How could they know about Savage Containment? Isn't it a government secret? She leaned even closer to her phone.
"Yes, three?" the facilitating voice asked.
"What is to become of the inmates after reaching maximum capacity?"
"Savage Containment is constructing a new location in the Nocturnal District of massive proportions under the guise of a detention center."
"So, a prison then?" asked Three. Proposal Three, if Judy had to guess.
"No, a holding facility much like the one in Savanna Central, only larger."
"Clear," responded three.
The conversation wound down quickly, obviously not meant to last longer than it must.
"All of this has been noted," the facilitating voice said. "I thank you for your participation. Do not contact me for our next meeting, I will contact you. Clear?"
"Clear," said all.
For a moment there was the sound of scraping metal on concrete like chairs groaning and being moved. Then, the call ended abruptly, leaving Judy holding a breath she hadn't known she'd been holding. She remembered the pen and ended the recording.
The task force was her first thought. The morning would be too late. Tonight would have to do. Her first instinct was to call Harvey, though there was little he could to unite all the members of Bogo's Elites and Fulgen's subordinates. So she gritted her teeth and called the one other number she knew would take her seriously.
The chief answered after only a few wrings, though he didn't sound particularly happy about it. "Hopps," he murmured and exhaled loudly, slowly. "What is this?"
"I found it. The breakthrough or something, it's something. I found something, and I need the entire task force to meet ASAP."
There was a long silence on the other end. For a moment, Judy believed that he was going to hang up without a word in response, or even lecture her over the phone. He sighed, long and begrudging, then the sound of a mattress creaking. "Alright. I'll get Fulgens on the line. Hopps, please tell me this is worth my time."
"It is, sir. Well worth it, I assure you."
Only an hour later, the entire task force was gathered around a long table in one of Precinct One's many conference rooms, the carrot pen in the middle of it all. It was comically small in comparison to the table and surrounding mammals, though holding everyone's attention as if it were a live bomb. No one spoke a word until the recording ended. Despite this, the conversation held between all members at the table was loud and only spoken through their eyes. It was clear that everyone was just as hungry for answers as Judy had been, and now they all gorged themselves on the recording.
Harvey sat at Judy's right. Like everyone else, he said not a word, though the hare didn't meet Judy's eyes once, much less lift his gaze up from the table. Frankly, Judy was too fatigued to care much about the fallout she and Harvey had the night before. But is he really this upset? After stealing a glance, Judy saw more embarrassment in his downward-trained eyes than anger, and for a moment she didn't care about the recording. She just wanted to pull him aside, as he had in the hallway outside bullpen, and tell him that an argument this petty doesn't deserve any grief.
The recording ended and still, no one moved to speak. Bogo cleared his throat loud enough to make Cole Antlersen jump from where he sat nearby. He turned to Judy. "Hopps, when did you receive the call?"
"Just after 3:00 a.m., sir," she responded, now addressing the room. "I started recording only a couple of seconds after I picked up. I didn't miss much in that time, just more static. I've received two other calls of a similar nature in the past few weeks, but I never listened long and wrote them off as bad reception or someone butt-dialing me."
"We're going to need that pen," Fulgens said. "The audio will need to be recorded onto something compatible with the computer system at Containment, from there we can run vocal analysis and a number of other tests."
"The pen aside, who are these mammals? What are their motives?" Bogo asked the room, much like an English professor encouraging his students to delve deeper into the subject matter, to dissect with their minds and observe what they find.
"Whoever they are, the conversation didn't appear particularly hostile," Rhinowitz noted.
"We don't know that," Melody spoke up. "The conversation was too cryptic to gauge any immediate intentions, but the very fact that they're speaking so strangely might indicate something more to this. Not to mention the way they talked about security or the lack thereof in certain locations. The voice conducting the meeting made it clear there are strict rules about the whole ordeal. No names were given, everything said was in a very formal and straight to the point fashion, as if it were premeditated and planned. The anonymity, the selective language—there's obviously a lot more to this meeting than the recording conveys, and I don't think any of it is good."
"Notice the distortion of the leader's voice," said a black bear from Savage containment—Judy believed his name to be Crispin. "I don't think he or she is actually in the room. Why else would they need a voice distorter?"
"This must be the leader, then," Fangmeyer said from across the table. "This particular mammal's anonymity seems to be more crucial than the rest, which would only make sense if this mammal were a higher-up."
"Higher-up of what organization, though?" Crispin said.
"I think it's safe to assume this is the syndicate," said Judy, gaining the immediate attention of all in the room. The sudden shift of all eyes on her nearly threw her off, aided by her fatigue, but she continued. "Melody already pointed out how the secret nature of the meeting seems more hostile than anything else, but I think the real key is in the location of the proposals. I noticed that two of the proposals given—the Watering Hole and the Soundfront Meadow—had something very similar in common."
Judy had just been to the Watering Hole the previous night with Harvey, though the mention of the place alone wasn't enough for the pieces to fit together. It came to her on the train here, researching the aforementioned locations. Soundfront Meadow stood out immediately. The Meadow was a large public park bordering the seawall of the Zootopia Sound, a common attraction in Sahara Square for its towering sandstone sculptures, the largest of which was the Unity Statue. The statue was of a broad-maned lion and a water buffalo, hand in hand, dancing in mid-step. It was only after she had seen the statue on Zoogle images that she could see the commonality.
"You all know the legend behind the Watering Hole—the meeting of Lions and Zebras to share the largest source of freshwater in the region almost a thousand years ago. Compare that with the Unity Statue in Soundfront Meadow, the one of a lion and a buffalo dancing."
Wolfard was the first to latch on. "It's predators and prey."
Judy shot him finger guns. "Bingo. And I'm sure if you do the research on the other proposed locations and their history, you'll find they all are places of emphasized unity between predators and prey. I think it is very possible these proposals result in the attacks we see every day around the city—attacks which have been occurring in areas of predator-prey compatibility."
There was a hush as her words permeated the room. Only Bogo broke the silence.
"I think Hopps got it right." He shared a brief moment of eye contact with her, and in that moment Judy could detect a glimmer of respect and even pride. Pride that she worked under him. "I believe we've found our syndicate."
"More like they've found us," Harvey commented, all eyes on him now.
Bogo crossed his arms. "Care to explain, Jamison?"
"Well, Hopps did mention that she received the same calls before, so it's safe to assume that on at least two previous occasions, there had been meetings like this one. It is obvious someone at the meeting is calling secretly. Whether or not it's a member or someone listening in we cannot know, though one thing is clear. Somebody outside the ZPD and Savage Containment is trying to contact us. Somebody we might be able to consider an ally."
"He has a good point," Wolfard said, "after all, Hopps is one of the most prominent faces of the ZPD. If someone were wanting to contact us, she would be the main candidate next to the chief himself."
"Then why remain anonymous?" Fangmeyer said from beside Wolfard. "Can't the caller communicate with us outside these midnight calls?"
Wolfard considered this, scratching his muzzle. An idea seemed to click in his mind because his eyes brightened and he continued with a newfound enthusiasm. "Possibly because the caller is part of the syndicate. If this were true, talking to the ZPD directly might be too much of a risk."
"But why a risk?" Fangmeyer said. "There's always protective custody, not to mention several other safety precautions for those willing to drop a hint, especially on a case this mainstream."
"Maybe…" Judy said, drawing all attention to her. She paused, almost losing her words because of how outlandish and insane they would seem the moment they left her lips. "If it is too risky for the caller to contact the ZPD personally, then there must be a threat in the ZPD itself."
"What are you saying?" Bogo asked.
"What I mean is if the caller has to remain anonymous while contacting the ZPD, it must be because the syndicate is in the ZPD, or at least somehow affiliated."
A curious murmur broke out in the room, only silenced when Judy cleared her throat. She realized she now was holding the entire room on her every word.
"Think about it," she continued, "whoever was leading the conversation—the high-pitched voice—knew about Savage Containment. And when they mentioned the new location being built in the Nocturnal District, the rest seemed to understand like they already knew what Savage Containment is. I think it's pretty clear that somebody inside the ZPD or Savage Containment was at that meeting. If this is true, the caller can't speak to the police personally, because that somebody will know." A thick quiet fell over the room. No one dared to speak, as if that would immediately deem them a suspect. "All things considered, it could even be someone in this room."
"That seems a little dramatic," Fulgens said.
Bogo held up a hoof. "No, I think she has a valid point. It is obvious that somebody who has access to insider information involving Savage Containment is relaying that information to the syndicate. Is it true, doctor, that Savage Containment is opening a new location in the Nocturnal District?"
Fulgens gravely nodded his head. "The construction team is working double-time to have it finished before maximum capacity is reached. We simply can't handle the growing rate of savagery in this city."
"It's true, then," Bogo said, scanning the room very slowly and carefully. "Somebody, either at the ZPD or at Savage containment, is in cahoots with the syndicate." For the first time, the eyes of Bogo's elites and of Fulgen's subordinates crossed one another not in amiability, but in distrust and accusation. The chief sensed this. "However, this knowledge cannot divide us, after all this city is already being split down the middle. If we are divided too, what left is to remain whole? Granted, extra precautions will have to be made to ensure the privacy of this task force, but pointing fingers will only delay us. As Zootopia's main defense against this growing threat, we must put our suspicions aside and focus on the task at hand. Remember the leader of the syndicate seemed extra interested in the proposal at the Christmas Festival. That's in Savanna Central Plaza in four days, on Christmas Eve, and if we all have our wits about us, there will be several armed ZPD officers and the Savage Containment response team at the ready during that festival's entirety. Do you agree, doctor?"
Fulgens considered it. "…I will have to re-arrange my schedule."
"I think you'll survive," Bogo said.
Fulgens sighed and took a long while considering it. "We meet Christmas Eve morning. In the meantime," he turned to Bogo, "may I speak with you in private?"
Bogo nodded curtly, then turned back to the rest of the task force. "Thank you all for assembling on such short notice, tonight's progress was monumental. Before you are all dismissed, I must add one thing." His voice took on a colder tone, more often used in putting the pressure on hard to crack interrogees than on a room of his best officers. "Assuming anyone on this task force is in contact with the voices heard on Officer Hopps' recorder, then I strongly suggest they turn themselves in tonight, before matters get out of hand. That is all. You are dismissed."
Later that morning, in a chess club downtown…
The opponent was waiting calmly when Algernon stumbled into the room, out of breath.
"You said it was important," the opponent said, holding a fresh latte in both paws for warmth. "I came as fast as I could."
"I apologize for the short notice," Al panted.
"Don't worry about it, I'm a morning mammal by nature," the opponent said, his gaze falling on the window where dawn's light was beginning to work its way down the height of neighboring buildings and into the dark streets below. He went to advance a pawn.
"Don't," Algernon said. "There's no time, the game can wait."
His opponent stared for a moment, then withdrew his paw and shrugged. "If it's that pressing then, by all means, sit down and tell me."
"Someone leaked last night's meeting."
The opponent returned his gaze back to the window as he considered this. "To whom? The task force?"
"Yes, the task force, who else is there to worry about? They all know about Christmas Eve."
The opponent maintained an unreadable expression. His paws idly went to his latte for a sip. "What a shame. Ruined our holiday surprise."
"Not entirely, they don't know everything. Location and date, nothing else."
The opponent grunted at this as if it were a minor inconvenience—an untied shoe, or perhaps the loss of a pawn.
"Aren't you even a little concerned?" Al said, his voice strained by exhaustion.
"No," the opponent shrugged with his paws, "not really. They've got a foothold, I'll give them that much, but their knowledge is limited and can be easily warped. It's a simple fix, really."
The opponent took another long sip of his latte, nearly driving Al mad in doing so. He sighed, put the cup down, and spoke in a refreshed voice, renewed with determination. "They don't know that we know that they know."
Al blinked. "…Elaborate?"
"They think they've got our plans all figured out, that they've got the jump on us when in reality it's the other way around. Sure, one of our pawns went blabbing to the police, I can deal with them later, but the force doesn't know our hierarchy. They assume they've found someone on their side. They don't know that we—the kings and queens of the operation—know that they know."
"And in their ignorance, we have the upper hand."
"Good, now we're thinking alike." He took another sip and, feeling that urgency had now been demoted to mere inconvenience, advanced a pawn two spaces. "Any ideas on the talkative one? We can number it down to the twelve who were present plus the guards, can't we?"
"Yes, though I think reviewing security tapes of the building would be wise, in the case that there were any intruders." Al had relaxed somewhat as well, enough to hop his horse over his front line of pawns.
"And about the Task Force? How's our rabbit?"
Al's expression became grim very fast. "She's recovering quickly."
"Even after the trip to Bunnyburrow?"
"Let's just say she's found a new acquaintance for emotional support."
"Anyone to worry about?"
"Not as of yet."
"Keep tabs anyway, best to be safe. And as for Hopps," the opponent's bishop cut across the board, a move that took Al off guard and captured one of his pawns, "make sure she's there for the Christmas surprise. I don't like her confidence."
Christmas Eve, Savanna Square Plaza
Judy had never worn tactical gear before, but it was heavy and cumbersome and she didn't like it. Bulky dark grey body armor with pads at her shoulders, knees, and elbows. On her head was helmet similar to riot control gear, with a radio piece, a faceplate, and two nylon stockings on top designed specifically to enable the ears of leporine* wearers. It gave her the ninja-esque appearance of all black ears. Held in both her paws was the tranq gun she was to use on a savage. Fulgens' briefing in the precinct not long before the officers were deployed throughout the square still rang in her head, making the weapon feel heavier in her fingers.
"The most important action you'll make today is the simple adjusting of your weapon's potency. In this adjustment lies either the balance of the savage's life or your own, though preferably neither if you are cautious," he had instructed the Task Force from behind Bogo's podium. "There is a movable piece on the underside of the muzzle with four settings. The closest to the handle is the weak setting, used on all mammals under eighty pounds—that's weasels, otters, raccoons, foxes, etcetera. The second and third settings are relatively similar, ranging between eighty and two hundred fifty pounds, so adjust accordingly. The fourth setting, and listen very closely, is used for mammals exceeding two-hundred and fifty pounds. That's lions, bears, leopards, even elephants and rhinoceroses though I doubt it will come to that. If you miscalculate the setting and give a male adult lion the second or third dosage, the tranquilizer will slow, though not stop the savage. At setting one it will hardly feel a thing. If you miscalculate the setting and give, say, a fox the fourth, or even third setting, that mammal will go into cardiac arrest and will most likely be dead before it can reach the municipal. This weapon is lethal if used incorrectly, so please, don't be an idiot and ask for help if you don't understand how to work it."
She had the panda show her exactly how to use it after the briefing had ended, and even after the one-on-one the weapon still felt alien in her paws. She was more the taser type, and even that she considered a worst-case scenario.
Though the heaviest of all her gear was actually a small, lethal firearm concealed on her left hip. It was far smaller than the rifles and semi-automatics she had worked with at the academy, and for that she was thankful. It was a rabbit-sized gun, but even with its size, the bullets could pierce an elephant's hide—all else was practically tissue paper.
It felt hot holstered onto her waist. For most of the time she stood at her post near the plaza tram station, she tried to ignore it. Tried to think about less pressing matters, like how she must look like a very small elephant in all this gear, maybe even like a small Finnick Fox she knew, aka "Little Toot-Toot." At that thought, in spite of everything—the cold, the gear, the gun, her fatigue, the looming threat—she couldn't stifle her snickers.
Harvey glanced at her with only his eyes, confused, but said nothing. Fulgens had assigned them together, most-likely due to the similarity in size. Only then, after nearly half an hour of bitter cold and crowd ambiance, did he decide to talk.
"About yesterday," he paused, considering his words. Judy didn't fill in for him, only staring ahead, watching the parks and rec team tediously wrap lights around the massive tree in the Square's Center. He pushed back the faceplate on his helmet. "I was scared," he admitted, which was much more blatant than she expected. "And I'd be lying if I told you I'm over it."
"It's cold enough out here. Please don't make it worse."
He blinked and fumbled for his words. "Look, I didn't mean…I didn't…"
"What you did in Bunnyburrow wasn't a waste of time," he said, quickly, as if the sentence would fall apart if he didn't get it all out at once. "Whatever I said, it doesn't mean it was true. It wasn't, and you're a good cop, a better one than I'll ever be. So don't let some sad case like me bring you down."
Still hidden behind her faceplate, she didn't respond. The crowd was merry, walking with warm drinks while bundled in scarves and beanies. Smoke from a large bonfire on the other side of the square rose in a steady column as high as the surrounding skyscrapers. Despite all this, Judy felt very cold.
"You know I'm a coward, right?" he said and laughed. "Always have been, ever since a little kit, afraid of the farm equipment, afraid of my big brothers, of my parents, of predators, of the fucking full moon. And then I see the ZPD—the epitome of bravery and perseverance—and for a second I think I can be like them, like you." He sighed, his breath vaporizing. "So I take this job, trying to break out of my comfort zone, and I shatter it. Outside, I'm climbing the ranks, becoming stronger, breaking down barriers and making new friends. But inside, I'm," he chuckled, "I'm trembling all over, just managing not to scream, not to lose my mind. Like a savage, sort of, but not in the same way, because instead of going savage on others, it's my mind going savage on myself. Feral thoughts that rip me apart with fangs and claws that only I can feel." He stopped himself, looking very much like he could go on for another hour, squeezing out his brain until even a seasoned therapist would be begging for a vacation. His cheeks were red, most likely from the cold, but he also seemed embarrassed, like he wanted to shrink deeper within the armor and hide there.
"You may be a coward," Judy removed her faceplate, "but you're a coward that saved my life. And that seems a little contradictory, doesn't it?"
Harvey looked away, surely blushing now, not because of the icy wind. "Fair point. And I'm sorry."
"Well, I also lost my temper, so…fine. I'm sorry too." She spat into her palm and offered her paw.
Harvey grimaced. "You really had to do that."
"Aw, are you a germaphobe? That's cute."
"No, it's just not necessary. Shaking isn't necessary, I accepted your apology, you accepted mine."
"No apologies accepted until we shake on it, the Bunnyburrow way," Judy said, a small smile breaking on her lips.
"Damn you," he muttered although grinning. He spat and shook her paw firmly. "Now, enough of this. Don't forget we're under new management."
"Don't anger the panda, you're right," Judy said and scoffed. "New management, what's with that anyway? Bogo could have led the task force fine."
"Unlike Fulgens, Bogo has a whole precinct to run. The Task Force shouldn't be his first priority. Fulgens has the time and the resources to run everything, besides, he knows more about savagery."
The transfer of power had happened at the briefing that morning when all the members of the Task Force—Bogo's Elites and Fulgen's Response Team—in the usual conference room for what would surely be a big day. That is, if the voices in the recording were truly the syndicate and not those of elaborate pranksters. The team discussed the gear they'd all be wearing, though most of the elites were already familiar with riot gear, which was similar save for the riot shield. Then, each pair of officers were given a post around the square spaced out enough not to draw the public eye, while the Savage Response Team stayed in an obscure white van parked in an alley not far from the precinct**. Three code-words had also been established that morning: oddball, hunter, and reaper. Mammals acting strangely in public, not complete lunatic, but definitely not normal—these were oddballs. Hunters had graduated to a new level of lunacy—dilated pupils, not speaking or responding, growling, drooling, crawling primally on all fours—clearly savage. There had only been one reaper in Zootopia—a savage cougar who had killed three in a mall several weeks prior. That attack had sent Judy plummeting into the deep end and she wasn't sure if she could handle another plunge. "It's a reality we all must face," Fulgens had said,"if attacks continue at this rate the likelihood of another fatality is almost guaranteed." The Task Force had stiffened at this, though it also served as a blunt, if not necessary reminder of their job description.
Judy had silently come to the conclusion that if anyone was to die with savage fangs around their throat, it would be her before any civilian.
"I take it you and Fulgens don't mix well?" Harvey asked.
The thought of fangs on the soft skin of her neck had almost been enough to silence his voice, but she shook it away before she began imagining it too deeply. "We haven't reached chummy quite yet, let's just say that."
Harvey's laughter vaporized in the air, it still being morning. "Well, you're not alone. I don't think any of the officers were too thrilled about the shift."
Two squirrels approached them, tourists Judy guessed by the rolling suitcase and slight sparkle of awe in their eyes, asking for directions to the northbound train. To Judy's surprise, Harvey crouched down and gave step-by-step instructions including landmarks and oddly shaped buildings.
"If you see the feline fiddler—least that's what I've heard him called—you'll know you're in the right place. Then again, might be a little cold to fiddle, but keep an ear out for the Orange Blossom Special just as a failsafe. All else fails, most mammals are nice enough to point you in the right direction, just keep an eye out for big guys cause they don't always keep an eye out for you, one little fella to another. Right then, stay warm," he said, pointing them in the right direction. He hollered before they were out of earshot, "And welcome to Zootopia!"
It took him a moment to realize she was staring. "What?"
"Since when are you street-savvy?"
"I like to know my way around, especially in a new city."
"Don't you have a car?"
"Yes, but I've come to learn that cars aren't as convenient here as they are out in the sticks. So I memorized the train lines." When she continued to stare, he looked even more confused. "What? It's nice to know. Besides, it's fascinating once you get a map in your head. Gives the city a whole new light."
Not knowing what to say, Judy laughed.
He laughed too, though still taken aback. "What?" he cried, again, "Don't tell me I'm weird, I get that enough, that whole 'Jamison, you a strange sonovabitch, you know that?' Yeah, I get it. I know I've got my quirks. I also know they won't be laughing when they're lost in the concrete jungle with no mental map to follow."
"Harvey Jamison," Judy said, shaking her head and grinning. She didn't know quite what to say, but she knew what she felt. She pointed, "I'm gonna slip away to that coffee stand over there, you stay on guard. I'll bring you back something warm."
"You sure? I can cover—"
"Don't even try."
"Do you even know my order?"
"Green tea, you've gotten it everywhere we go."
He surrendered. "Right, then. But be quick about it."
Harvey watched her jog off in heavy gear. He smiled at the pavement, sticking his gloved paws into his pockets and let out something between a sigh, a laugh, and a whisper. Drink or not, he was feeling plenty warm now.
Everyone on the Task Force expected an attack. It was right there in the recording, after all, and the location made sense as to make a scene. No matter how quickly the savage was contained, the publicity was inevitable. ZNN would know as well, with their reports on every attack prior, they probably sensed the threat far before Judy received the call. Hell, maybe even some of the civilians knew. Judy had never seen Christmas in Zootopia, but she overheard some of the other seasoned officers talking over the com-system about how dead the festival was compared to previous years. To Judy, it looked busy enough, more packed than Savanna Square on an average day, but she guessed she couldn't yet sense when something was off in the city like the other officers could.
By noon, some of the officers began to discuss lunch over the coms. By one, all were in agreement for a quick snack, and by two agreement turned into grumbling to one-another about the strict nature of their new management. When three came, the griping actually subsided a bit. The real punch was at four. That was when the paranoia set in heavier than the hunger.
Finally, someone outright said it.
"If somebody doesn't go savage soon I think I will. Take one for the team and get this thing over with." It sounded like Johnson, the lion partnered with Fangmeyer near across the plaza near city hall.
"Shut up, Bob, that's nothing to joke about," said a feline voice that was definitely Fangmeyer's.
"C'mon, you can't blame me, you're feeling it too, just look around. They've stationed food stands all around us. This is cruel and inhumane torture!"
"Do you hear me bitching about it?"
"Ooo-hoo," chuckled a deep voice most likely belonging to Rhinowitz, "Bob that's your cue to can it."
"Oh piss off, Phillip, you could eat a whole food truck for an appetizer."
"Hey, howzaboutchya go fuck yourself."
"C'mon, Phil, you know you want to, don't deny it. A whole food truck all to yourself."
"I'll drop a whole food truck on your ass, Johnson, try me."
"Look, I know it's just one truck, but I'm sure we can find another round here somewhere."
"Jesus Christ," Fangmeyer muttered, "we're all hungry, but we're not deaf so let's keep one thing going for us."
"I second that, Fang," Judy said.
"Whoa, Hopps? You still alive over there?" came Johnson's voice. "Thought you'd just died or disappeared with that other long-eared friend o' yours."
"Just because I don't update the group on how badly I need to eat or piss every five minutes doesn't mean I'm dead, Bob."
Snickering from several lines.
"Right, right, I get it, I'm an ass, but seriously," said Johnson, taking on a tone still lingering with humor, but faded, just enough for the uneasiness underneath to show it's head for a split second,"it's nearly five in the fucking pm. Someone shoulda gone crazy hours ago."
"I don't think savagery keeps that strict a schedule," Judy said.
"Yeah, well maybe that recording was only a suggestion, ever thinka that? They never outright guaranteed it to happen here. They know about Savage Containment after all, maybe they learned about this operation and called the whole thing off and we're out here with ice sickles on our whiskers for a goddamn bluff."
"Johnson, cool it," said Fangmeyer, her voice colder than the skies above them.
"Oh I'm cool," he said with an exaggerated chuckle. "I'm cool."
The conversation tapered off from there. Judy occasionally shut her mic off so she could talk to Harvey alone, though the hours of cold and the festering hunger in their collective bellies didn't leave much room for comfort, much less conversation.
The skies were darkening. With gentle sleet descending down in a fleet of swirling precipitates a billion strong, sunset came hours earlier than predicted. Street lamps not on timers but on solar power activated early, accompanied by thousands of festive lights strung in an intricate web over the entire square.
But where's the spider? Judy wondered on occasion, feeling like it might descend on her at any moment in a dark mass of hairy legs and eyes and fangs. She wondered if they all felt like that, even Wolfard, who hadn't said a word over the coms the entire night. She wondered if even his fur was beginning to stand on his neck.
Snow. It was going to be a White Christmas. She watched individual flakes dance intricate swirls in the lamplight. Millions of them, each dancing something new. White Christmases in Bunnyburrow were a treasured rarity. She could remember a few, maybe one or two from her childhood when Jack Frost and Saint Nicholas both arrived at just the right time. Thought it had been years.
"All officers to the ZPD motor pool immediately!"
So sudden she hardly noticed, not while watching the snowflakes dance. Then she was running and Harvey was already ahead of her, gear clunking, legs stiff with cold. Snow stung her cheeks and nose. She remembered to close her faceplate. In her paws, she held the taser, her forefinger on the safety. Ready. Ready in an instant's notice. She'd fire and maybe she'd even kill, but she wouldn't let them take anyone tonight. Not on a White Christmas.
She, Harvey, and Wolfard were the first to the motor pool, though now that she thought of it, why the motor pool? Then she realized there had been no codeword given, no hunter, not even an oddball. She looked to Bogo with hopes of some explanation but he was busy shouting into his radio.
"Just because the precinct is in the square does not mean there are officers at the ready. Some should stay here, just to ensure—" A faint and inaudible voice holding the placidity of Fulgens' tone said something that made Bogo very red in the snout. "No, that is not how it works, especially when the threat was originally called on the square. It would be unwise—" Fulgens said something very short and final, as if telling a child "No, you aren't getting any ice cream. Now eat your veggies."
Bogo started to bark back, noticed something on his radio, and slammed it back into the holster on his hip. "Dammit."
The other officers had joined her and Harvey, some listening in on Bogo's beef with his radio. That was when she saw the van—no, vans. There were two of them, one just parking near where they gathered. Before she could process why, Bogo was dividing them, barking orders louder than she had ever seen him shout. Harvey was shoved towards her, an obvious pair even in the heat of the moment, and then they were being coerced into the back of the vans. She hadn't had time to notice if they were police vans or not, but why wouldn't they be?
But why would they be herding us like cattle? Where are we going? Why are we going?
The doors closed and the engine roared to life with a lurch. Judy nearly tumbled over in a heap of pads and guns, though Harvey found her forearm and righted her. He guided her to a bench on the wall where they sat.
She opened her faceplate, brushing away clinging snow.
"I'm not sure." He looked the other way, towards the driver, an officer she hadn't seen before, but Harvey couldn't get his attention over the roar of the engine and the roar of questions and the roaring in his own head. He turned back to her. "Just stay calm."
"Shouldn't I be the one telling you that? You're the self-professed coward."
He grinned and they hit a bump, then a sharp turn.
"I think that was a curb," said Harvey, and for some reason, this explained everything. What Bob had said over the coms about a bluff. The cold hours of inactivity. Bogo being somehow louder than normal. She realized he must have been covering fear—something she had serious doubts existed within the chief—by raising his voice to mask his unease. This coming from the physically and emotionally rock-solid cape buffalo who was her chief, it was downright terrifying.
"They know," she murmured, road noise drowning her voice. They must be speeding. She connected the dots.
They know that we knew.
So they tricked us.
They tricked us even tonight, right here in the square.
The Task Force is tight under wraps, even within the ZPD itself.
How did they know?
They must be…
They know because they are us.
The air that rushed at them when the van doors opened was somehow colder than the freezing hell in the square. Judy didn't understand how that could be until she noticed a nearby building, then another, then an overpass bridge—all of which were coated in snow and adorned in ice sickles.
"It would be Tundratown," Johnson grumbled, shuddering. Even he had been quiet on the drive. "They're trying to fuck with our heads, that's my theory, sending us here in the dead of winter."
And in the midst of a blizzard, Judy thought, observing how the dusting of snow in Savanna Central had transformed into a whitened void into which her fellow officers were disappearing. It wasn't long before it was her time to leave the haven of the van's interior, and when she did the wall of wind and pellets of snow charged her with enough force to topple her balance, gear and all. A paw caught her by the back of her vest before she could be swept away, if such a thing were possible in the middle of a city, and righted her. She looked up to see pointed ears and a snout protruding from the mask. She gave Wolfard a thankful thumbs up and trudged on in a line, blindly following the officer in front of her.
The line approached a strip center already surrounded by the flashing patrol cars of local police. The source of the flashing lights seemed to come from a local cafe called "The Overlook Brewery." They filed into the cafe one by one, tracking snow and dirt in with them, to find an atmosphere far too serene to contain a savage.
The cafe glowed with warm light, jazz humming over the wailing storm outside. Even through the mask, Judy could smell the earthy scent of fresh coffee grinds. Then she noticed a few upturned chairs and one table leaning on one side. She flipped up her mask to get a better look.
A thud. Silverware rattling. Someone swore in a hiss. More jazz.
In the far corner of the restaurant, several unfamiliar officers were gathered. When she got closer, she realized two of them were on the floor, pinning a no doubt savage lynx to the floor. One of the officers had a fresh slash in his pant leg that was just beginning to seep through with blood.
"You guys the specialists?" one of the unfamiliar officers, a polar bear, asked.
"No, but they should be right behind us," said Fangmeyer.
"Thank Christ, we've hardly been able to hold this fucker down," the bear said, watching the savage disdainfully. "He likes to squirm, almost got away when you came in. Musta startled 'em."
"Is he alright?" Judy asked, pointing to the scratched officer.
The polar bear assessed the bunny in tactical gear for a long moment, then responded, "Sure, he'll live. Long as it ain't contagious or nothing."
"It isn't," Wolfard said, and then the Response Team hurried in.
Melody took immediate charge, getting the officers who weren't pinning the savage to clear the area. Then, with the efficiency of a pit-stop crew, the Response Team took action. Cris, the black bear, traded places with the officers on top of the savage. Antlersen approached with a syringe. The savage snarled, snapping at his feet before Cris secured its head to the floor with one firm paw. Rem the ferret secured its arm and Antlersen gave the tranquilizer, all the while Harriet the kangaroo tended to the injured officer's leg at a distance. The savage became slow and eventually drooped, its tongue lolling, eyes upturned. Then Melody descended with a second syringe—the antihowler, no doubt—gave it into the crook of the savage's arm, and Cris got off him. Rem secured both the paws and feet of the savage and when a stretcher was provided, he and Cris carried the snoozing lynx off in a jog.
During all of this, Judy simply watched from near the overturned table. She took off her helmet and set it beside her, feeling like a kid who had finally mustered the strength to ride an infamously scary roller coaster, only to discover it was terribly boring. All this gear, all the waiting, all the cold—for what? To scare the syndicate? If savages could be contained this easily what use is the ZPD to the Task Force at all? The Response Team had already proven to be more than prepared at their one job. What were Bogo's Elites, then? Insurance?
When she snapped out of her inquisitive gaze at the floor, she realized Wolfard was watching her. "I'm guessing you feel it too?"
"That detective sense the academy drills it into you." He waved his paw in the air, searching for the correct words to portray what he knew she was sensing. "Like there's something missing, something gone awry that we haven't noticed. This is…anticlimactic."
This helped her pinpoint the source of her unease, for she had been sensing it too.
"Yeah," she nodded, "I think I can understand that. Just look around. Normal coffee shop, normal location, normal mammals for all I know. There's nothing different about this attack."
"What were you expecting, then?"
"First off, this isn't the right location. Tundratown isn't anywhere remotely near the plaza in Savanna."
"Remember the plaza was only one of twelve proposed locations on the recording," Wolfard said, kneeling to make the conversation easier. "Maybe they changed their minds. Why? I don't have a clue, but what's stopping them?"
"The Christmas Festival is open season for potential savages. There's enough predator-prey mingling to put it on the syndicate's radar, why wouldn't they take this opportunity? Remember the deep voice in the recording, the presumed leader?"
"He seemed in favor of the attack on Savanna Square, even outright said it sounds very promising. Not to mention I've listened to that tape more times than I can count since it was copied from my pen. This coffeehouse isn't one of the proposed locations."
Wolfard looked at her, though it was more like he looked through and beyond her, his focus retreating deep into his head where the light bulbs were proposing one idea after another. His gaze scanned the abandoned cafe. "Nothing about this place seems to promote predator-prey relations either."
"Normal coffee shop!" Judy cried. "Why here?" She could feel something deeper in this intentions of this attack. Something she wasn't seeing yet, but certainly was feeling, like the rumbling of an underwater river on the ground above. Something here. Must be here. Think. Dig. Figure it out.
Wolfard sighed, "Don't overthink it either. These are sinister, psychopathic animals, not buisnessmammals who follow a strict calendar."
"They can be both, you know." Or maybe…not here? "Or…"
"They could've tricked us."
Wolfard at first seemed amused, then those light bulbs flashed behind his eyes and he didn't seem so lighthearted. "How do you mean?"
"I've been thinking, and I think the plaza was a trick. They led us on to believe they'll attack at point A, then reveal point B, leaving us unprepared and arriving late to the scene."
Wolfard bit his lip. She was noticing he had a habit of rubbing his paw pads together while in deep thought. "But the cops here had the situation under control before we even arrived. No citizens injured. If the goal is to cause chaos and civilian casualties, wouldn't the Christmas Festival be a prime target? Even if we're monitoring the area, think of the publicity of an attack on the city's heart."
"It's the most wonderful time of the year, too," Judy mumbled.
"Exactly. It's the perfect opportunity. So why wouldn't they take it?"
Maybe not here. Maybe the answers are somewhere else. Maybe this is all just…
A light bulb behind her eyes.
Wolfard wrinkled his nose. "What?"
She looked up right as the chief stormed in. All heads up, all ears perked, all conversation dead with no time for silence.
"Back in the vans, all of you!"
No one argued. Judy grabbed her helmet in one paw and made for the door, Wolfard behind her. Outside, the storm waited to receive them with unparalleled ferocity. The wind was screaming. It was earsplitting to a rabbit.
"Judy?" Wolfard called over the storm. She wouldn't have heard it if it wasn't her first name. His look was still one of confusion, waiting for someone to fill him in. She had sensed the problem, he knew that, for he had too. But she had broken through sensing and now knew.
Nothing's stopping them.
"What is it?" he shouted, his voice one of a thousand howls.
They piled in the van and the back doors closed. She looked around and noticed Harvey was absent, though Wolfard was with her. There wasn't enough time to sit before the engine roared, tires spinning, desperate to find traction. They did, and Judy was slung into the back of the van, the back of her head connecting with the metal door. There was a resounding thud.
A kaleidoscope of dancing colors filled the van, osculating in wide circles, intertwining and folding in on themselves, then bursting out again in brilliant fireworks that danced all the more. All Judy could grasp at the moment was that fireworks didn't belong in a moving van and that somewhere else, something was very wrong.
There was a paw. It was grey. She took it. The paw found her seat and her seat was cold.
There was a voice. No, not just one voice but a whole chorus screaming in her ears. But there was also a singular voice, familiar and gentle, and it was asking if she was alright. Then it was asking if she could speak. Then it was asking for the first aid.
"Do you know what you're doing?" A new voice, motherly.
"I've had basic training."
"And I'm a doctor. May I see her?"
"No, I don't need that. I need a phone, does anyone have their phone on them?"
Another chorus of growling asphalt rose up to meet the screaming wind.
A white-hot pain reached first her eyes the penetrated further into her brain, exploding against the back of her skull and filling her entire head with searing light. She felt air escape her lungs.
"Judy, can you hold still? I need to see your eyes."
Gentle fingers opened her eyes further. More light. Less air.
She felt this voice in her throat, vibrating, then realized it must be her own. She realized she must be herself. Then she wondered why she was so panicked.
The white pain receded and a darker world formed. Transparent fireworks still blossomed and shrunk, blossomed and shrunk, though behind them was a face with patient eyes that watched her.
"Judy, can you see me? Do you know who I am?"
"What species am I?"
Her brain was squeezing. The outline of the motherly voice shifted and overlapped. She could make out two small ears, tan fur, and a long snout with herbivorous teeth so white it nearly hurt her eyes. "Deer?"
The motherly voice laughed, though it was tense and short. "I'll forgive that. Let me try again. How many fingers do you see?"
Three fingers appeared, but they grew and overlapped into four, then shrunk and folded into two.
The motherly voice sighed. The fingers became less.
"How about now."
"Good." The fingers were gone. "Do you remember where you are?"
"I'm…moving." The words moved like sludge. Slow and thick. Hard to get over her tongue.
"Moving where to?"
Another tightly-reigned chuckle. "Can you be specific?"
"Something bad." The words became thin and runny and warm. "Tastes like metal."
"That's normal, dear, you banged your head pretty hard. You've also bit your lip. Now tell me, what do you mean something bad?"
"There's another one…another…second…the second one…"
"Second what?" the motherly voice sounded even tenser.
"I don't know…a bad thing…a trick. Nothing's stopping them."
The motherly voice turned away to a gentle voice that she knew, this one masculine. "She's likely concussed."
"Should have been wearing that damn helmet."
"And where's your helmet, officer?"
"Can you stay in here with her?"
"Probably not. We wouldn't be driving so fast if there weren't a problem, and I'm the trauma specialist. I have a bad feeling I'll be needed."
"What kind of problem?"
"Do I look like I know any more than you? Containment, maybe. Honey could've been injured or god forbid a savage makes it out."
"I've been down there once, I've seen the fortifications. It couldn't be possible."
"Well, assuming the problem is at Containment, they wouldn't be calling us back if a savage hadn't escaped the security kiosk that guards the cells. If that's the case, it's an absolute worst scenario. Fulgens would've already set the entire facility on lockdown, even if there are employees still inside. I'm afraid that's where I could be needed."
Judy was staring at the painfully white vest the motherly voice was wearing because, even though it hurt, the longer she stared the more grounded she became.
Hospitals have white jackets, but hospitals don't move. Nurses can move—I'm in an ambulance.
Oh god, what happened?
No, it can't be an ambulance, there are too many others. Why are there so many others? Why is there a nurse? Why are we moving?
Because nothing's stopping them.
Nothing's stopping who? Who's them?
Something bad. We're moving because of something bad.
Something requires a nurse and many others, and we have to get to that something fast.
I must be an other, then. Others…
But why the nurse?
Because officers, because something bad, because nothing's stopping them—
Her bearings came rushing back so fast she nearly lost her seat.
The kangaroo from Savage Containment. Harry, I think.
Her thoughts vocalized.
Both she and the gentle voice—Wolfard!—turned to attention. Surprised, the kangaroo in the white jacket replied, "Harriet, actually, but Harry to my friends." Snapping out of her shock, she asked, "Now Judy, think hard for me. Do you remember where you are?"
Judy's voice was strained and she herself could hardly recognize it as her own, could hardly hear it over the unpleasant choruses battling for the loudest place. But she knew what she knew now, and when she said it there was no hesitation, even if looking at the kangaroo in the white jacket stung her mind.
"Nothing's stopping them from attacking twice."
In Harvey's van, trailing not far behind the one in which Judy came to the same shocking conclusion Bogo received over his radio while in Tundratown, the question as to where they were going and why had not yet been discovered. This aside, it didn't take detective training for Harvey to sense when something was wrong—something worse than before—and that it had something to do with the savage in the Tundratown cafe.
When the van began to slow, the helmets went on. Bogo, who happened to be riding with them, didn't have to call their attention—they were already watching, listening, waiting to be filled in.
"Are we close?" the chief shouted through the driver's window.
"Only a matter of blocks away."
"Right then," he turned back to the cabin of answer-hungry eyes, all ravenously trained on him. The cold night had infiltrated the van's cabin. All was dense and tight and silent, so silent for Christmas Eve in Animalia's largest city. "Officers, check now to ensure you're all carrying."
Harvey groped for the firearm, finding its handle. It felt so solid, so heavy in his palm, and he had yet even to draw it. His worst marks at the academy came from the shooting range, and then his hands hadn't been trembling.
He'd never shot anyone, and he didn't want to start tonight. Even though all cadets were warned at the academy to be prepared to use a gun to kill, he'd been ignorant enough to believe he could get by on his taser alone. That had only been months ago, before the savages, before tonight, before Judy—who he planned to find the moment the vans were unloaded. Quite honestly these were the longest two months of his life, and tonight would surely follow suit.
The driver of the van honked, snapping his mind back to his weapon.
"Keeping the business end pointed to the floor, arm your tranqs to the fourth setting."
The road noise became extra loud at this. More honking. Exchanging glances ranging from dread to determination, each officer changed the setting on their tranqs with four clicks—first, second, third, fourth.
In four clicks, every officer knew why they had left in such a hurry, and what they were about to do.
Bogo leaned into the driver's window. "Tell me we're close."
"I'm within sight of the square."
"Can't you go any faster?" the chief hissed.
"I would, sir, but I'm trying not to hit anyone." At this, the van slid to a stop, the driver laying on the horn harder.
Bogo sighed, or growled—it was hard to tell the difference—and turned back to the officers with a sentence that Harvey believed would follow him until he died.
"It's a reaper, be prepared."
The van made a hard left and slowed, the back end drifting on the ice for a moment before screeching to a halt.
"Same drill as planned. Everybody out," Bogo ordered. He himself had procured one of Fulgens' high-tech tangs. "I'll be behind you."
Doors opened to no snow. It appeared that while a blizzard was raging in Tundratown, in Savanna Square the snowfall had died out entirely. This, however, did not mean it was silent.
Distant at this point, Harvey could detect crowd noise, but not what he had grown used to from the city. A panicked crowd, and closer still, there were screams. Sparse, but cutting the frigid night air when they came. Raising Harvey's fur when they came. Animal shrieks.
Outside the van, the entire plaza was covered in thin snow, though there were tracks of every kind leading in all directions—the snow's retelling of whatever absolute hellscape had happened in this place moments before they arrived. Onlookers who dared to stay were perched at street corners nearest the square, the rest having fled.
Blood was easy to spot in the snow, and there were occasional trails of it leading off with the tracks. Some splats here and there. Others places where the bloodshed had been heavier it was smeared in with the snow, trampled underfoot, creating something more pink than crimson.
Paw prints in rapid succession. Larger divots where someone had fallen. Drag marks. More blood, stark against the white.
Harvey and the other officers in his van jogged to catch up with Judy's van, who had already marched into the snowy, desolate plaza. Harvey noted there weren't as many of them as he remembered, in fact, there were only six: Wolfard, Fangmeyer, Francine, Melody Spott the director of the response team, the black bear from the response team, and upon closer inspection, the meerkat Harvey remembered to be Rem, riding on the bear's shoulder.
Harvey turned around only to have Bogo nudge him forward. "Keep moving."
"I don't see Judy."
There was a momentary pause, a minuscule moment where the hardened chief turned soft, then something like rationality and bravado topped with several years as a Chief of Police overrode whatever concern he had. His eyes hardened, focused ahead. "She'll be fine."
"You don't know where she is, how do you know she's fine? She's not with the others."
"Keep moving, rookie, that's an order."
Not far from where the vans had parked, a body. The kangaroo from the response team was checking for a pulse, though it was painfully obvious that this had been the reason for code reaper. A caribou or a moose, though Harvey didn't know the difference. If not for the horns, Harvey wouldn't have been able to tell what the mammal even was because the entire front was in tatters beyond recognition. He only caught a glance as he shuffled past, though it was enough to cause his throat to constrict and his stomach to lurch dangerously. One look at the intestines—they were strewn about like macabre tinsel on this brisk Christmas Eve—threatened to empty his stomach.
He didn't know what mammal this had been, but it had been big. And it was opened like a pinata.
"Francine, Johnson, Wolfard, there are mammals treed near the fountain," Bogo pointed out as they moved steadily across the square. "Get them down and out of the square." The three split off towards the grove of trees near the fountain in the plaza's center.
From ahead, screaming. An accompanied growl that edged on a roar.
Harvey couldn't see the source from behind the larger officers. Everything was cold and heavy, especially the weapon in his arms.
Judy was all that was on his mind.
"Safety off!" Bogo ordered.
With the group now reduced to five other than himself, he could see the source of both the growl and the scream, and immediately wished he had stayed in the back. It came from near the base of the trolley station where he and Judy had been on watch earlier. A shaggy black wolf in a beanie had tried to escape onto the station's awning. The wolf had failed and now lay in the red snow with the largest brown bear Harvey had ever seen crouching over him. A she-bear, covered in the tatters of a waterproof, was feasting on seemingly everything below the wolf's head, for that was all Harvey could or had the stomach to see.
The wolf had well passed the point of screaming, now only whimpering, eyes too wide, still eager for an escape he would never make. In those eyes was also a silent and futile plea for help to the approaching officers, despite both parties knowing it was no use.
An urge unlike anything Harvey had ever known struck him, and now he did think he could kill a mammal. He could easily shoot this wolf in the head right then, if only it meant he stopped staring, stopped whimpering, stopped having to endure being devoured because oh god, how is he not dead. How can any mammal looking like that still be alive? How can he still stare at me?
Bogo, Rhinowitz, and Fangmeyer—seemingly all on one wavelength—opened fire into the bear with their tranquilizers. Three darts with bright yellow fins found their target in the heavy grey waterproof the savage was still wearing. There was another roar—definitely a roar this time—and the thing reared its wet jaws. It had black eyes nearly as wide as the wolf's were still.
"Hold!" Bogo called. "At the ready. We don't want to kill her, she's a victim just as much as the rest."
Harvey simply could not agree when locked on with those pitiless eyes, like wells that saw no bottom, no end. The Void. The madness plaguing the city like a bloodthirsty epidemic, all right there in those eyes, those pits in the skull.
"When will he go down, Chief?" Fangmeyer asked, panic creeping into her tone.
"At the ready," the chief repeated, he himself seeming suddenly uneasy.
The bear charged. Its limbs were as thick as tree trunks and when it lumbered, the entire plaza seemed to concave and rebound, concave and rebound, as if the savage was too heavy for the planet's crust to manage.
"Oh Christ!" shouted Rem. Then they fired.
They all fired. A fleet of silver and yellow descended on the bounding savage and they all knew it wouldn't be enough. The darts landed all over the bear's front and did not seem to catch the savage's attention, despite one of them sinking into the flesh below its right eye and another in its throat.
Harvey found his firearm, aimed and squeezed only to remember the safety was on, but by then the other officers had the same idea. Rhinowitz fired a bullet and hit a front paw. Bogo fired on the back hip. When Harvey squeezed the trigger, the gun lurched downward. The snow to the side of the bear erupted, followed by a sharp impact as it found the concrete below. Feeling like he was wrangling the weapon, he fired another time, this one missing the savage entirely and gliding into the snow several yards away. The third grazed its shoulder, taking off a scrap of the waterproof.
"Hold fire!" Bogo called. The bear had slowed to a trot that veered off into a groaning retreat. Only now it was facing the center of the plaza, where Wolfard, Johnson, and Francine were helping citizens down from the trees. There weren't many left up there, though once they got to the ground, the officers sent them running out of the square. The movement must have drawn the savage's attention, and with blood in its paw prints, it lurched with just as much vicious energy towards the fleeing citizens as before, as if the bullets were mere bee stings. Its eyes had found a new target—an escaping zebra with an elderly limp.
Even from afar, Harvey could see the point of meeting getting closer and closer—the zebra was simply too slow for this predator.
The officers at the trees opened fire with their tranquilizers, yet to receive the memo that stage four was entirely useless.
"Bullets!" Bogo shouted. "Shoot to disable!"
But he was too far off, the bear had nearly cleared the plaza by now, and the snow had begun to fall again.
The zebra, stealing glances over her shoulder to find a mammoth beast in tow, took a sweeping turn which wouldn't do much to distance herself, especially with the limp. She had begun to gallop, and even with the adrenaline, she'd obviously not run this fast or far in years.
"Ryan, stop!" It was Francine's voice, distant and desperate.
Wolfard had broken away from the trees and was piercing the snow in pursuit of the savage, his firearm drawn at his side.
"No," Harvey murmured as if the wolf would hear him and realize it was a bad idea. The somehow still dying wolf nearby, now attended by the kangaroo medic, served as a grim reminder what this savage could do. And the elk or moose or whatever it had been was almost twice as large as that. "He's going to get himself killed!" Harvey shouted at the chief as they ran toward the scene.
Bogo said nothing in response, only continued to charge into the snowfall with gritted teeth.
The wolf closed the distance faster than both the predator and the prey, though the latter and her pursuer were only mere feet apart now, the savage's strides becoming lunges as it tried to reach a leg. That's all it would take—a leg and the zebra would be gone. But the wolf was faster.
Just as the bear's steaming snorts could be felt on the zebra's hooves, Wolfard lunged, leaping and finding a hold on the bear's neck where, having lost his helmet long ago, he sunk his teeth into the savage's shoulder.
There was a baritone howl as the bear stumbled on its bleeding paws and collapsed in a rolling heap in the snow. In the explosion of white and the tumbling mass of bear, Wolfard could not be seen.
He's gone. There's no way, no fucking way. The wolf who had been Harvey's partner before Judy was lost in the snow. The zebra galloped away, as if still able to feel the savage's breath down her back, finding refuge across the street and out of the square, where a gathering crowd received her. There were crowds watching now from every street and alley leading to the square, though none dared cross into the square itself.
"Hold your fire!" Bogo shouted as they reached the cluster of trees where the two remaining officers stood, guns aimed at the ambiguous collapsed heap of brown fur and settling snow.
"Shit, he just—just charged and he was gone, I couldn't stop him. I almost went after him, but—" Johnson stammered, the ever-present humor in his voice no more.
"Stop talking and get the rest of these civilians out of here," Bogo said in all the authority of a hulking commander, though even he couldn't keep his gaze from the savage for too long.
"Chief? Chief!" Fangmeyer called. She had her gun trained on the savage, a good distance away in the snow, still groaning and rolling about. "What do we do?"
"Don't fire, there's not a good shot, you could hit either of them fatally."
"He'll die, sir," she cried.
"I'm not counting on it. He's strong."
Harvey noticed the bear and Rem standing a distance away from the others. Rem had revealed a syringe from his boot.
"Cris. A little help, please?" Rem called, and the Crispin placed the meerkat on his shoulder.
"You know what to do," Crispin said.
And the two were off into the snow, towards the focal point of seemingly the whole city.
"Look," Harvey pointed at the two.
Bogo stared for a moment, squinting, then muttered, "Well it's about fucking time."
When the bear stumbled and the snow rushed up to meet him, Wolfard was sure that was it. Rather unconscious or dead, he was riding a savage bear—surely this is where all the white went black. His shoulder hit first, then his back—elbows sinking through to the concrete beneath it—and he was rolling ass over teakettle until he was face down in the snow.
Tremendous pressure on his left arm made it clear he was very much still awake. The pressure was followed by a sudden warmth up to his shoulder that—even if the nerves themselves had yet to catch up—unnerved him. Opening clamped eyes, he blinked the snow away, finding himself pinned to the ground with his snout in the snow. On a speaker somewhere near, festive music full of sleigh-bells and swelling violins rang out across the vacant plaza.
Still blinking snow from his eyes, Wolfard turned to find not his arm but a bear. Oxygen forced itself down into his lungs where it gathered and swelled until he thought his innards might burst. And there it held. He awaited the inevitable bite.
A groan escaped from deep in the bear's throat, though nothing more.
Wolfard tried to move, though his arm was pinned in such a way that moving his shoulder anymore would break it, if it wasn't already broken. The savage, in all its hulking entirety, was on laying its back with his arm pinned underneath. Its eyes were closed. He saw his chance. Finding that his firearm was still clutched tightly in his right paw—a miracle I didn't shoot her, or even myself in the commotion—he twisted his free arm around and brought the barrel to the underside of the savage's jaw, knowing, just knowing it would go for his paw. With claws that large, it wouldn't take much to disarm, perhaps even dismember him.
The savage did not move. Another wet breath managed from between its jaws. Wolfard's finger was heavy on the trigger, so heavy a passing gust of wind or a stray car horn could provide the final hint of adrenaline needed to propel a bullet through the savage's skull.
All remained quiet. Wolfard's grip on the trigger loosened. He didn't dare move the weapon from where it was, but instant relief that he had not fired flooded warmer than the blood in his pinned arm. Now that he looked, his shoulder was obviously dislocated if he could lean up this far with it still pinned. The arm underneath probably broken in multiple places, maybe even crushed.
Is it possible to realize you're in shock when in shock? he thought, hoping that the inevitable agony would remain at bay if only for a few more moments, just long enough to assess this situation.
"Deep breaths," he made himself say. "That's right, you stay right there. Nice and still." He kept the gun trained at the soft spot beneath the jaw.
His arm was growing warm enough to be hot, hot enough for him to feel it through the numbing cold. He groaned, gritting his teeth, noticing there was fur in his mouth.
"I bit you, didn't I," he said to the savage conversationally, then chuckled despite himself. This thought permeated for a long moment, that he had bitten a savage. "Not that you didn't deserve it—you definitely had one coming." More breathing, panting, trying to ignore the heat radiating from his shoulder. "Nothing personal, just police business."
The savage growled something thick and guttural. The worst part was that Wolfard could feel it. Heavy snorts vaporized from its snout, becoming more frequent until it lifted its head. Dark eyes moved drunkenly about—the tranquilizers, the bullets, the cold—all of it finally seemed to be catching up. But not fast enough.
Dark eyes landed on him, pupils lost in a sea of swirling black rage. Another growl, deeper, and its lips parted to reveal a wet, toothy maw. There was blood on its teeth and in its drool.
Wolfard was about to scream for help—for anything really, perhaps just to scream to release the surging adrenaline at the sight of those teeth, or to delay the inevitable murder he would have to commit in the following seconds—when dark and heavy paws clamped the savage's jaw shut from behind and shoved its head into the snow. It was the bear from the response team, Crispin. He pinned the savage's head to the snow and nodded to someone out of view.
"You can put your gun down now, officer," he said.
The savage was squirming now, flopping about with his paw still pinned, singeing waves of hot pain coursing up Wolfard's arm. Crispin noticed this and gave Wolfard a look that told him to hang in there for only a bit longer.
"Can you keep 'er still?" said a voice from out of Wolfard's sight, small but hoarse.
Crispin used his elbow to pin the savage's arm while Rem appeared, crawling on top of the bear down to its elbow. He was holding a needle almost as large as himself that he wielded like a spear. The savage, seeming to realize this was its last chance, squirmed even harder, though Cris was unmoving and the needle found the crook of the arm. Squirms turned to twitches, then faded to light stirring, then nothing at all.
"God, man, she got your whole arm," Rem said, giving the empty syringe to Crispin and scampering over to inspect. He knelt right in front of where Wolfard's head was helplessly pinned. The ferret inhaled through his teeth then laughed. "That'll be real pretty. Got enough friends to sign your cast?"
Wolfard growled, which surprised both him and Rem. "Some medic you are."
"I ain't the medic," Rem cried like this offended him. "Besides, does it look like I can pull you outta there?"
"Then get someone who can."
"Remmy, leave him be. You would've been crushed to nothing if you were in his position." Crispin came into view, looking more like a savior than anyone Wolfard had ever seen. "I lift, you roll. Got it? Unless you can't—"
"No, I'll be fine."
The bear nodded. He crouched and heaved, lifting the savage—massive, even next to him—just enough for Wolfard to roll onto his back, pulling his arm free.
"Gah!" Wolfard seethed, both in pain and shock. Even beneath the coat and tactical gear, he could see his arm bend downward at the elbow. "That's not right."
"Coulda' been worse. That could be your whole fuckin' body, had she flopped over on ya," Rem noted offhand. "Hey, Harry! Get over 'ere, we've got a live one!"
"You're an asshole," Wolfard hissed. He was realizing that the pain and shock had made him almost aggressive, but even more shocking: more talkative.
"Understood. I'm reminded on the daily."
"Yeah, well maybe you should heed the reminder, wiseass," Wolfard muttered. "What do you even do, anyway?"
"I'm the tech-savvy one. Who do you think located tonight's second attack, 'cause it sure wasn't your chief, cadet."
"Rem, leave him alone, you're not helping." The kangaroo who Wolfard recognized from the van squatted at his side. "Nice seeing you again, officer," Harry said. She had a bag slung over her shoulder, inside which must be a painkiller somewhere. The heat had swollen in his shoulder and spread until it was icy cold fire lapping at his torso.
Harry gave him a once over, which was all it seemed to take. "I'm seeing two obvious breaks," she said as she knelt. "Hard to tell through the sleeves but there might be more."
Wolfard wanted to tell her it felt like countless breaks, that every bone felt like it was shattered into dust and shards, white-hot shards. Instead, he only nodded. "Definitely more. Got painkillers, doc?"
She dug through her bag and revealed a strip of capsules.
"Sure, but it might not do much but ease the pain. You'll have to wait until we get you to Municipal, they'll get you on morphine. Can you dry swallow?"
"Yeah, I can fucking dry swallow," he snapped.
Harry stared for a short moment, seeing something in the wolf she hadn't before. She wasn't scared, far from it, but her eyes gave off a matronly distaste, all from behind the blank professional stare. It made him feel small and his arm not worth her time.
"I'm…sorry," he said, swallowing to give him something else than his shoulder to focus on. "Just the shock."
She offered the painkiller, and he took it. "If it were shock, you wouldn't be asking for the aspirin."
He bit his lip, settling into the silence he knew from himself. A comfort zone he'd known well and severely missed.
"Don't apologize, the panic is natural. At least you didn't bite me."
"You've been bitten before?"
She stood up. "I'm getting you a stretcher." Then she was gone.
Nearby, Melody gave the savage a final injection to ensure it would remain a silent and motionless heap. Crispin had gotten Fangmeyer to help him roll the now heavily sedated and muzzled savage onto a stretcher of its own. Even with the combined force of black bear and tiger, the two shuffled through the snow at a snail's pace, grunting all the way.
Harry returned with Antlersen and a stretcher roughly wolf-sized.
When she knelt down with the stretcher, he asked, "How's Hopps?" He had nearly forgotten about the rabbit, though the more he thought about it, he was glad she hadn't been out on the field with the rest of them. She would've charged the bear long before he had, and his broken arm could have been her whole broken body.
"She nearly turned savage herself when I told her she couldn't leave the van, that is until I gave her something for her head. She settled down quickly after then. I've got her riding back to the Municipal for an evaluation."
"She's not going to be happy about this."
"Well I don't give a damn what she's happy about, she's got a grade two concussion. If she was in the field she'd shoot one of us or even a citizen god forbid. She'll need rest."
"You'll find out she's not so great at that."
Despite himself, Wolfard laughed. "You'll need restraints if you plan to keep her in a bed."
The night had become a series of pauses, skips, and overlaps resembling that of restless dreams. The ceiling of the van with its circular air-vents and metal rivets. Gusts of heat, bursts of cold. First there was a van, then there was a cart. The wheels squeaked like an old shopping basket. The sound twisted and ground itself into her ears. Moaning. Lights passed overhead.
Nick was all that was on her mind.
He had been there. She was too confused to rationalize the why or how, only that he walked beside her while the cart was being wheeled. Come to think of it, he was there in the van too, sitting on the bench beside where she lay. His orange fur glowed in the haze of everything else, and unlike all other glows this one did not require her to strain her eyes to see. Someone gave her an injection. Gentle paws held open her eyelids and a familiar feline face gazed in at her. She hardly noticed, still watching him watch her with a sad smile. He had been there, no one else mattered.
The first time she truly came to was in a dark concrete room smelling of cleaning product and flowery laundry detergent. For a long while she only floated, not fully grasping her consciousness until her eyes found something white hanging on one of four hooks on the opposite wall. The collar and buttons gave it away as a white jacket. She clung to this thought—white jacket, white collar, white cuffs, a doctor's jacket, an empty jacket.
Then she faded out again because focusing too hard on one object, especially one so blindingly white, squeezed her head tighter. Closing her eyes was her only respite from this squeezing pain, and sleep took her not moments later.
Then there was a voice.
"Officer Hopps? Can you hear me?"
When she opened her eyes the white jacket had materialized as a being in front of her. This terrified her straight out of her shallow sleep and into a sharper reality that wreaked of antiseptic and blinded her.
A paw found her shoulder. "Easy. It's just me."
She found faint amusement at this. "So you do remember me. Harry said you were worse off than you really are."
"Harriet, the nurse. She got caught up in the commotion in Tundratown and ended up riding in one of the ZPD's vans with you—thank god she did."
She tried to look around but her head was a lead weight. "Where am I now?"
"You're in Savage Containment. We have a small number of operating rooms just in case someone was injured by a patient. Can't exactly rush them upstairs, seeing as they aren't supposed to know what's down here. A suspicious injury from the sub level 'electrical rooms' would raise too many eyebrows."
Judy tried to raise up to get a better look around. Her head was heavy like her brain was made of lead, and she let it fall to the pillow. "Where's Nick?"
"Nick?" Melody tilted her head slightly. "Nicholas Wilde is still where he has been for a month now, in his cell."
She sunk. The orange had glowed too bright for reality after all.
"Don't worry about it, Hopps, he's in his final stages of recovery. He'll be upstairs in another week tops."
"That's good…can I see him then?"
"I don't see why not. He won't talk or remember you, but he'll be awake and docile."
"Will he ever remember me?"
She seemed shocked. "Well yes, of course. It just takes a little time for the memories and basic functions to return."
Judy allowed herself to sink into the pillow. The dark behind her eyelids numbed her lead-coated mind.
"On another note, do you remember anything from yesterday?"
"Yesterday?" she asked groggily. "What happened yesterday?"
"That answers that," Melody muttered. "You had an accident in a moving van. You hit your head."
She went on to explain everything that happened in the plaza that night, from the details she could pluck from her foggy recollection to the events she had not witnessed. Two mammals were dead in the square, a few more found injured in the surrounding streets, one critically. Wolfard's arm had been broken in three places. Savanna Central Plaza had been blockaded off from the public for the first time in Zootopian history. Shops surrounding the square were being investigated and witnesses were being interviewed. The mayor had declared a public state of emergency. Two savageries in one night. It was also Christmas.
Unsure what to grasp onto—because there was so much to grasp, to gawk at, to mourn, to pour over and scrutinize—she looked around for a window. There wasn't one. "What's the time?"
Melody stared for a moment until the question registered and she glanced at her wristwatch. "Eleven-thirty in the morning. Look, Hopps, don't be mad at yourself. There's nothing you could've done in your state. No one was fully prepared for last night's events, even Fulgens seems to feel guilty. It was his call, and he hasn't left his office all day."
Judy didn't respond. She found doing nothing hurt less, so she gladly took that avenue instead.
"I expected you'd be more worried than this."
"If I let this get to me, the syndicate gets what they want." She swatted her paw. "But I'll think about it when I'm not concussed. Thinking hurts."
"Then don't." Melody moved from where she had been perched at the side of her bed. "You've got a week's rest ahead of you. By then, you can go see Nicholas upstairs. For now, I'll leave you to your sleep."
"When can I see the real him?"
Melody stopped at the door. "Not long, now. Just get your rest." She switched off what little lighting there was and all the room became the back of Judy's eyelids. She slipped into shallow sleep no less restless than before.
*Leporine - (adj.) referring to rabbits
**Keep in mind ZPD's Precinct One, City Hall, the Natural History Museum, and the train station all surround Savanna Central Plaza with a grassy park full of trolley passages and a fountain in the middle. All of this is canon except for the ZMH (Zootopian Municipal Hospital) which is unique to this story and only a block away from the square, underneath which lies Savage Containment Headquarters.
A/N: With this chapter being longer than any other I've written thus far (just short of 18,500 words), I hope you can forgive me for the lack of updates. Between school and my personal life, this chapter took me three months to get down, coming in sudden bursts instead of the methodical writing schedule I strive for. Stephen King (and his tireless muse who writes 2,500 words a day) would be ashamed. Nonetheless, I've practically dropped a novella at your feet. Maybe it's a suffice repayment for my inactivity, maybe not, either way I hope you enjoyed this helluva chapter.
Until next time, all you lovely people.