Alyssa couldn't stop thinking about what had happened in the sawmill even as her group reached the van and climbed inside. The white vixen entered the passenger seat in the front cabin, then heard the approaching sound of a speeding vehicle and grabbed Gabe's wrist just as he was about to start the engine. She put a finger to her lips and pointed to the road. Seconds later a black and white car sped past, heading back down the mountain.
"What was that?" Nick asked from the back.
"ZPD." Gabe said, eyes narrowing.
"It's okay, I don't think they saw us." Alyssa turned her head to look into the back, and saw that Nick and Finnick looked on the verge of peeing their pants. "Change of plans. We're taking you back to Honey's place."
"Fucking A!" Finnick said. "I'll take on some assholes but I'm not going up against whatever took out those razorbacks! That ain't right!"
"I agree, but I'm not going back to Honey's. I've put enough friends in danger." Nick said.
"They don't know she's involved, I told you." Alyssa replied. "Honey was damned careful when communicating with you at Wild Times. So far as the ZPD know your second accomplice was someone called Cass Tile."
"Don't you mean Castiel?" Gabe asked.
"No. Cass Tile." Alyssa's response was more biting than she'd intended. She couldn't stop thinking about that helmeted wolf with the bloodied blade, and Jack's harsh words after he saved her from her own stupidity.
"Alright." Gabe said with a shrug. "The city's not safe for them anymore, so we should drop them off at the Overlook. They can take the car and escape while we take the van back up the mountain."
Alyssa nodded, wishing she had a better idea.
She rest her chin on her paw, propped her elbow on the window and brooded as Gabe drove the van out of its hiding place and began the return journey down the twisting mountain road. When the van was completely on the mountain road he pulled cd case from the clove box. "Pardon me. I feel like I really could do with some tunes right now." With that he procured the Gazelle disk and slipped it into the player. A second later Gazelle's rendition of The Winner Takes It All filled the interior of the van.
"So you're an enforcer for Mr. Big?" Nick sounded wary as he addressed Gabe.
"I'm more a spy." Gabe replied. "My wife and I are freelance spies, and nearly a year ago a mission went bad. Mr. Big requested my services in exchange for protection, and I've been collecting intel on his enemies ever since."
"You assassinated anyone yet?" Finnick asked.
"I never said I was an assassin." Gabe said. "But Big did ask me to try and take out Koslov about a week ago."
"Did you succeed?" Nick asked.
Gabe shook his head. "I checked some intel before making the attempt. You know all that money you were paying him every week? Turns out he'd been putting it into giving his limo a serious upgrade after the last time someone tried for him. Armor plating in the doors, reinforced glass, everything they used for Mayor Swinton's car. Not even a fifty caliber will punch through first time."
"So he's still out there. Shit." Nick paused. "Sorry, that was a shitty thing to say. He's got a kid, after all."
"Yeah." Finnick said. "Isn't he turning five in a few months?"
"Yes." Nick sounded tense.
Alyssa didn't say anything. She hated that it was Gabe who came up with a new plan. This was her mission. She was supposed to be in control. Maybe the ZBI had made a mistake in giving her this assignment.
"You've been quiet." Gabe said matter-of-factly as the road took them past a cliff, nearly doing a full one-eighty as they reached a U-turn.
"So… you weren't hurt when those wolves attacked, right?" Gabe asked.
"No. Jack made sure of that."
"Agent Savage, ZIA. He's looking for Slothfeld for the same reason I am." Alyssa lightly bit the inside of her cheek. Right now even thinking of the rabbit was annoying her.
"So he's not from the Congressional Research Whatever after all. Does he know about me?"
Alyssa nodded. "Mm-hm. Sorry, I don't want to talk right now."
"Alyssa, you're not the only agent who froze up." Gabe said.
The vixen scowled. "Who said I froze up?"
"I heard someone chewing you out. That was him, wasn't it?"
Alyssa spun on the fox-cheetah. "Oh, so everyone in this van knows about my fucking screw up, do they?!"
"Yeah, but the mission isn't a bust just yet." Gabe held up a placating paw. "We'll still catch Slothfeld no matter even if you do freeze up again."
Alyssa's eyes narrowed. "Gee, thanks."
Gabe grimaced at his poor choice of words. "That's not what I meant. Look, you're one of the more inexperienced agents, but you'll learn. Mr. Bone, James Bone didn't turn into a super spy overnight."
That didn't make Alyssa feel better.
"Speaking of spies, how did you get into the spy business?" Alyssa asked. "Did you just have to fill in an application form, or were you interviewed through a holographic communicator?"
"Very funny." Gabe said. "The 'spy business' as you so eloquently called it, is all I've ever known. My parents so far as I know were both ZI6, way before you joined up, but they died when I was a kid."
"Both of them?"
"Yes. My dad got lucky. Died instantly in a car accident after I was born. My mom…" He took a deep breath. "Not so lucky. When I was eight, or maybe nine I was captured by some mad doctor and experimented on with a prototype collar. The experiment went bad and I almost got shocked to death. Mom started an investigation into the bastards responsible and was killed for it. After that I was pretty much on my own before I met Starlight."
"That's rough." Alyssa muttered. She didn't remember her parents at all. She turned her eyes to the rear view window and saw Nick and Finnick in the reflection. "Nick? Why are you looking at Gabe like that?"
"No reason." Nick blatantly lied. "So, did anyone get a chance to see what was in those boxes back there?"
"Nope." Gabe sounded even tenser.
Nick poked his head in between the seats. "Mossberg, I saw your face in there. What's in those boxes?"
Gabe's fists tightened around the steering wheel. "I don't know."
Alyssa turned her eyes to the road, and her nocturnal eyes caught a small shape staggering onto the road up ahead.
"That is bullshit, Moss-"
Gabe saw the figure and stomped on the brake. Nick and Finnick cursed loudly as the van skidded to a halt, splattering the mammal with mud and water as he collapsed.
"Shit!" Gabe was the second to leave the van, Alyssa leaping out first the instant she recognized the rabbit. Jack Savage was lying on his side in the muddy road, soaked and semi-conscious. Gabe quickly caught up and shone a flashlight on the rabbit.
"Oh shit!" Finnick came running up, Nick close behind, and cursed again when he saw Jack. "Fuck, ya didn't kill him, did ya?"
"No!" Gabe said firmly.
"Is that Carrots?" Nick stared at the limp rabbit.
"No, it's someone else." Alyssa wiped mud from Jack's short but slender neck and searched for a pulse.
"Oh God, is he dead?" Nick moaned.
"No, he's alive… but his pulse is unusually fast." Alyssa smelled blood on the rabbit. When she tried to turn him in search of wounds, he mumbled under his breath. He lifted his head and opened his large blue eyes for a moment, only to slip back into unconsciousness. He was breathing heavily, the sound making the vixen feel hot under the collar while at the same time unnerving her.
"What's wrong with him?" Finnick asked.
"I don't know, but he clearly needs attention." Alyssa said. Her ears caught a faint rustling sound nearby. If it was the wolves from the sawmill, she couldn't afford to put civilians in danger again. "Okay, we need to get out of here. Screw Overlook, we should drop him off at the nearest hospital."
"You're not serious." Finnick said.
"We can't just let him die!" Alyssa fired back. "You should be okay so long as you stay in the back and stay quiet, but we have to go now!"
Gabe had pulled out his pistol and a kukri by this point; he had sensed danger, too. Alyssa lifted the smaller mammal in her arms, becoming surprised by how heavy he was and how well tones his muscles felt through his clothing, and followed the others back to the van. This time she joined Nick and Finnick in the back, letting the bigger fox shut the doors as the van took off.
Alyssa saw the wound when she adjusted Jack in her arms; a long deep cut stretching diagonally from wrist to elbow. Beneath the torn sleeve his pale grey fur was soaked with blood. He'd been attacked, and almost certainly by the crazies from the sawmill. He coughed and started breathing heavier. Seeing him like this scared Alyssa more than the machete-swinging wolf had.
"Nick, help me out here."
"You didn't con your way into getting a medical license, did you? Get your arse over here, you wanker!"
"Oh, right!" Nick crawled over to the two mammals. "Jesus, did he get that cut when we hit him?"
"No, this is something else. I think he got attacked just like we did."
Nick gulped. "Hold him still while I check his vitals." He leaned over Jack and checked his pulse. "He's tachycardic."
"What the fuck does that mean?" Finnick stared at him. A bump in the road knocked him on his side.
"His pulse is rapid." Nick explained quickly. "Has anyone got a clean cloth?"
"I have supplies in my car." Gabe said from up front. "It has disinfectant and everything. You'll have to make do until we get there."
Nick made do with a pack of tissues, wiping at the cut as carefully as he could, then frowned at what he saw. "The cut's red around the edges."
"Infection?" Alyssa asked. Outside the trees began to thin, and she could see the lights of the distant city skyline through the windshield.
"I don't know. There's no dirt in the wound. He's burning up, but infection symptoms shouldn't set in so quickly." He stared at Jack for a moment, then cursed and grabbed the rabbit's head. Before Alyssa could ask what he was doing he turned Jack's head just in time for the vomit to spew out onto the floor of the van.
"Aw jeez!" Finnick groaned and edged away from them.
"What's wrong with him?" Alyssa cleaned Jack's mouth and turned him on his side.
Nick scratched his head, struggling to keep his cool. "S-seems like an anaphylactic reaction. Maybe he came into contact with a plant of some kind, but I can't think of any plant that can make a cut like that. It doesn't explain the other symptoms, though. Lipopolysaccharide, perhaps?"
"I literally don't have a frigging clue what you're talking about." Finnick said bluntly.
"I'm calling Honey!" Alyssa held Jack with one arm and tapped her headset. "Maybe she can get some info on Jack, see if he has any allergies."
The headset went flying when Jack's eyes flew open and a foot shot out, brushing her face. Nick leapt back with a shout as the rabbit thrashed in Alyssa's arms.
"DON'T TOUCH HER, RAMSES! DON'T YOU FUCKING TOUCH HER!
"He's hallucinating!" Alyssa struggled to regain control of Jack, barely avoiding a broken nose when a gloved fist shot out. Finnick pressed himself into a corner of the van. "What the hell is happening back there?" Gabe shouted.
"Hallucinating!" Alyssa shouted back. She eventually grabbed both wrists and pinned the rabbit to the floor, using her thighs to trap his legs. "Jack! Listen to me! Ramses isn't here! You've got to listen to me, you're hallucinating! Snap out of it, for God's sake!" Jack continued to struggle. Alyssa took several deep breaths as she held him there. He wouldn't calm down unless she did the same.
"Jack, listen to me." She said again, her voice softer. Her eyes locked onto the pair of furious blue eyes beneath her. "Whatever you're seeing isn't real. Ramses isn't here. You've been poisoned and it's causing a hallucination." She continued to tell him the same thing for several minutes, repeating herself over and over with tiny variations, until Jack finally believed her and relaxed.
"Where… what…" He looked around the van as if finally realizing where he was.
Alyssa deemed it safe to release him, and tried not to think about how she had straddled him like a prostitute. "We found you collapsed in middle of the road."
"And nearly ran over you in the process." Nick added.
That was all Jack seemed to hear before he passed out again.
"What the fuck just happened?" Finnick asked as Alyssa turned him on his side in case he vomited again.
"Hallucination." Nick said, nearly planting a paw in the puddle of sick as he propped himself up. "The fever must have set it off."
"He must have been poisoned." Alyssa said. "If Slothfeld's behind this, our intel on him may include a cure. Where is my com-link?"
She thanked Finnick when he found it for her and put it back on. "Honey! Honey, can you hear me?"
"Alyssa?" Honey responded.
"Honey, we've got a serious problem! Agent Savage has been poisoned!"
"It may have been something Slothfeld worked on before he disappeared! I need you to go through our intel and look for an antidote!"
"O-okay! Try and keep him stable, and I'll call you back in a fe-"
Alyssa froze, her finger still on the headset.
"What is it, Skyefall?" Gabe asked as he came to a stop at Zootopia Overlook.
Alyssa's flicked to the speaker built into her headset. She knew that voice. She knew that nickname.
"Cheryl?" She didn't dare believe it.
"What the…" Honey sounded just as stunned. "Radames? What the hell are you doing on this channel?!"
"Cheryl? Is Agent Radames on the line right now?!" Gabe turned in his seat. Nick and Finnick watched in shocked silence.
Alyssa nodded wordlessly. Then she heard the second voice again.
"Go home, Alice. Slothfeld is mine."
"Cheryl!" Alyssa found her voice with a spurt of anger. "What's going on? How did you escape from Slothfeld's facility? Where are you?"
"I'm fine. We all are. You need to go home before you get put in harm's way again."
"How do you know about that?" Alyssa demanded. A bout of coughing from Jack reminded her of a far more urgent matter. "Cheryl, a friend of mine has been poisoned. If you know something about that too, you've got to help me!"
"Let me guess, rabbit buck? Grey fur? Black stripes? Has the sexual orientation of a broken compass?"
"Yes! He could die, you've got to help me save him!"
"He's after the Vorpal Blade. He can't be trusted."
"What are you talking about? Please, he saved my life! I can't just let him die!" Alyssa could feel hot tears beading her eyes at this point.
There was a pause. Even Honey was silent.
"He saved you?" Cheryl asked.
"Yes! I can't return the favor until I know what's wrong with him! Please, help him!"
"Was it a cut? Inflamed around the edges? Tachycardia? Fever? Respiratory distress?"
"I know what he's been poisoned with. One of Slothfeld's imperfect chemical weapons. I'll get you the antidote, but after that you need to take your friends and leave. Listen carefully, Alice. A friend of Nick's is currently on his way to collect an important package and drop it off at the Arctic House. A shot of antidote will be included with the package. He will need to be taken to hospital to be treated for anaphylaxis afterward."
"Is that what's happening to him?"
"Partly. Slothfeld has yet to omit the symptoms unassociated with a fatal allergic reaction. This is important, Alice; the contents of the package must only be opened by Gabriel Mossberg. It will be a metal box the size of a suitcase, and password locked. The password is his mother's first name. The package must be held right-side up at all times and be handled very gently. It is also essential that the package be opened within six hours."
"What is inside the package? A bomb?"
"A little more volatile than that. Agent Savage must be given the antidote before you take him to a hospital, otherwise the anaphylaxis treatment will not work. I suggest you give it to him before he goes into full cardiac arrest."
"Cheryl, are you alright? Where are you? We've got a van, just tell us where you are!"
"It's too late for that. For any of us. Just do what I say, save your buck, and go. Goodbye, Alice."
After that, the headset fell silent. Alyssa stared at the metal side of the van with wide eyes. "Cheryl. Cheryl, wait!"
"It's no good, she hung up." She heard Honey's voice again. "What the hell was that about?"
"Hold up!" Finnick stood up. "Don't tell me that's the Cheryl Ransome who went AWOL when Wild Times got busted!"
"No, it's Radames. She's a ZI6 agent who went missing two years ago."
Nick shifted on his knees. "Let me guess, a tiger?"
Alyssa stared down at Jack, ears flat. "Yes. One of the best."
The male fox rubbed his chin. "She wouldn't happen to be any good at mimicking voices, do you?"
Alyssa stared at him. "That one of her most valuable skills. How did you know that?"
"Because that's how Cheryl Ransome managed to help us steal back a stuffed animal that could have busted our operation. She called Officer Hopps and disguised her voice as her mother's."
A heavy silence ensued, permeated by Jack's strained breathing.
"I'll get the medkit." Gabe got out the van.
Nick tapped his paw on his knee. "It never occurred to you that Radames and Ransome may be the same mammal?"
"Yes… I… of course I did!" Alyssa snapped. The van doors flew open and Gabe entered the back of the van with a box in paw. "But how was I supposed to know?! I never saw Ransome!"
Nick grimaced. "You got a picture?"
Alyssa shook her head.
"I've got one." Gabe tossed her his wallet as he knelt down beside the semi-conscious Jack. "Nick, take this kit and do what you can."
Alyssa glanced at Jack, who was still breathing heavily, then found the photo in Gabe's wallet. She felt her heart ache as she gazed upon Cheryl's face before showing it to Finnick.
The little fox gaped. "Holy crap, that's her!"
"It can't be!" Alyssa threw the wallet at the back of the driver's seat. "She can't have been posing at Ransome! She would have told us! Why didn't I see her?!"
"Woah, take it easy!" Honey scolded through the com-link.
"The one time you two were in the clinic, she hid in the storeroom." Nick said while cleaning Jack's cut. With most of the blood wiped away seeing how inflamed the injury was made the vixen feel even worse. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say she didn't want you to see her."
"Radames and Ransome even sound the same for fuck's sake!" Alyssa swung the side of her fist into the side of the van with a loud bang and gritted her teeth with pain and rage. "I thought it was a coincidence! If Cheryl had escaped, she would have contacted us as soon as possible! I don't understand!"
Her tirade stopped when Gabe reached out and squeezed her shoulder. "Let's calm down."
"How?!" Alyssa asked furiously. "I don't understand how she could do this!"
"Ask her when you find her!" Gabe fired back, and only then did Alyssa see the anger simmering in his own blue eyes. It was at least a little comfort to know she wasn't the only one upset by this revelation.
"Okay, that should stop the bleeding and keep out infection!" Nick breathed as he finished off dressing Jack's forearm. "Can we get out of here now?"
Alyssa nodded. Jack was breathing so heavily he was almost gasping. "Yeah. We're running out of time."
The van took off again, speeding down the road back to Zootopia.
"What's that in his belt?" Finnick pointed at Jack's hip.
Alyssa's jaw dropped when she finally saw the translucent blue plastic square poking out of one of Jack's pouches.
No… no way… She reached for the flat object and carefully slid it out the pouch. It couldn't be…
But it was. An unmarked disk in a translucent sapphire blue case, just like in the photograph.
So Jack had found the Data Disk before her. That must mean he'd found Slothfeld's facility, possibly even found the good doctor himself. And then something had gone wrong.
In any case, it was too risky leaving this disk with Jack when they got him to a hospital. Alyssa would have to hold onto it for the time being until she decided what to do. Would she give it back if he recovered? Should she? If she brought this disk back to Fengland, she just might become more than the seductive assassin ZI6 had raised her to be.
But Jack had found the disk first. He'd earned it fair and square. He was literally dying for it in her lap.
For now, Alyssa would hold onto it.
"Gabe, give me that Gazelle case. I want to see if this disk fits."
"Hold on, what is that disk anyway?" Nick asked.
Alyssa smiled. "This, Nick, is everything we need to clear your name."
Nick gaped. "Wait… it's that disk?" Alyssa nodded. Nick and Finnick burst out laughing.
Gabe was grinning himself as he passed Alyssa the case for his Gazelle cd. Alyssa breathed a sigh of satisfaction when the Data Disk proved to be a perfect fit.
"There we go." She tucked the disguised disk into her own pouch. Now the disk would look like a pirated cd to anyone who didn't know better.
"Good thinking." Gabe said. "Now lets go get that antidote."