Chapter Four – Ambushed
- THE PRESENT –
Members of unit ten staggered into camp, eyes wild and guns empty. Blood dripped from the face of a zebra as she shouted orders to her troops.
"Spread out! Take cover! Hide!" She called, clicking the radio piece in her ear. "They're right behind us," she messaged. "Get to defense positions!"
"Affirmative Delia," the raccoon responded. "We see you and have your back."
The zebra nodded in relief and motioned with her hoof towards bushes and trees. "Go," she spoke to a pair of otters at her side. "Get a good sight and make your last shots count."
The otters, a married couple who'd been some of the first mammals to join the resistance, nodded and scurried on all fours into the darkness.
Nick and Judy watched the group disperse, crouched behind the radio shed to give cover to their comrade still inside. They were both breathing hard, hearts beating loud in their ears and turned to each other at the same time.
"Calm down," Judy said first, elbowing his side. "We've got this."
He nudged her back. "Same to you."
They shared a look and took a long inhale together, trying to slow their racing pulses.
"Hey," Nick whispered, catching Delia duck down by a cluster of young, spindly pines. The mud she had caked over herself to cover her vibrant stripes had dried and flaked away, and her bands of white stood out starkly in the shadows. "No more mothering me," he nudged her again. "I can take care of myself."
Judy gave him a solemn look. "It's my job newbie," her features smoothed in a small smile. "Plus, I like making you mad. You used to love doing it to me."
"I can tell," he faced forward, peering past the shack, searching for moving shapes. "But you—," he stopped talking, squinting as figures began to appear. "There's five…," his eyes sifted through the darkness, tallying them up. "No, eight coming in fast."
Judy lowered her ears, peeking out under his chin. "Wait, four more flanking from the left."
Nick nodded, bumping his bandaged jaw against her head. "This is just their scout wave."
One of the figures cupped a hairless hand over its snoutless mouth and imitated a howl.
Judy and Nick tensed, waiting and praying silently.
No genuine howl responded. The wolves in camp had all put in their ear plugs as ordered.
The form motioned with an arm, and the scouts fanned out, lifting assault rifles up. They had abandoned their usual armored head gear, no doubt needing as much range of sight as they could get with a night incursion. All still wore heavy, loud boots and camouflaged body armor that did little to hide them from keen animal senses. Red dots appeared in the darkness, sending streaks of laser light into the grass and trees. Predators crouched lower and prey stilled on their bellies, using latent instincts long forgotten to keep themselves invisible
The former ZPD officers both heard Bogo's voice in their earpieces. "Wait till they get closer," he said. "We want their main wave within range before we fire."
No one whispered 'aye sir', silently following the order and training weapons on targets as they advanced.
Judy signaled to Nick, showing with her hand she was going to go around to the building's other side.
He blanched and grabbed her wrist. "Stay here," he hissed. "We can cover the radio from this spot."
She shook her head slightly. "We're blind on that side," she whispered back. "Everyone's focused on these scouts, but they could have another group come from the south. You remember how they took the zero-six site?"
Nick didn't release her, engulfing her forearm in his grip. "Don't go."
"Now who's mothering?"
His fingers curled tighter. "Stay with me," his gaze implored, saying more than he meant to, but in no state to care.
Judy pulled her arm free. "I'll be close," she assured, rising from her knees and trotting low around the wooden side, disappearing save her round tail.
Dread flooded him, and Nick battled against its influence, trying not to go after her. This position was important to hold. The medic tent was behind him, and he knew Bellwether and Gazelle were not skilled marksmen. He settled deeper into his crouch and lifted his gun up, a pistol with nine available rounds, but only eight loaded. He would make every shot count.
The attack had come from space on a mild, autumn morning. A pleasant, but unremarkable Tuesday. The invaders had sent waves of missiles crashing into the planet's surface, targeting metropolitan areas the hardest, and followed the assault with low-flying, hovering ships, full of armed troops and eagerly-targeting cannons.
The residents of Zootopia and the surrounding cities never saw it coming. Tens of thousands of lives were snuffed out in the first day, mowed down by strange, bipedal creatures whose alien, armored exoskeleton made them look like some sort of overgrown insect.
The animal populace had quickly learned that the outside shell could be removed in pieces, and that it was made up of nonpermanent helmets and body plating. The skin-covered faces beneath them were soft and bare, like members of newborn litters, with small ears set below mops of fur that ranged in color from light to dark. Male invaders could grow fur on their faces, and females kept their mops long, bound in head-tails that didn't seem to help their balance as real tails would.
They called themselves humans and demanded the total surrender of every soul.
Zootopians fought back, unwilling to give up their home.