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The Fire Triangle

Part Two:


A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

Alexander Pope


Knowledge is power

Roger Bacon


Sometime you hit the lottery...and sometimes the lottery hits you.

There is no way…no WAY that rusty bucket of bolts should still be able to move; the odds must be something like a gajillion-to-one. And yet there she goes, rolling down the track with his assistants in hot pursuit.

A sickly-bittersweet odor fills the air; spilled creosote and the ozone tang of an overheating transformer. The screech of the wheels, steel moving against steel for maybe the first time in decades, is like feedback from an amplifier as big as a Stonehedge slab. Before the rogue sheep can cover his ears, the noise lowers to a deep, moaning rumble, and fades away into the dim red lights of a tunnel. Swirling dust and motes of rust sting his eyes like a thousand miniscule pinpricks. He forces them to stay open, trying to see what's happening at the far end of the abandoned Metro station. Jesse just might make it on board the train-car before it gets away; Woolter's chances are a bit more uncertain.

As for Doug, he knows that he's too far away to catch it…and so he just stands there, listening as the sound becomes a stillborn silence. He tries to reassure himself. Not to worry; this is only a minor setback. His enforcers will stop the train and get his laboratory back.

And when they do, the bunny who tried to jack it is going to have a very unpleasant encounter with a third rail.

But…who was she? In the brief glimpse he'd caught of her, she'd looked vaguely familiar. And had there been someone else on board with her? Doug could have sworn he's seen a…

"Never mind," he tells himself, at last wiping his eyes, "If there was someone with her, he'll be in for shock of his own when Jess and Woolter bring him back."

It's the sheep's own fault, of course; he should have made sure and disconnected that motor instead of merely assuming it wouldn't work after sitting idle for so long.

Or…maybe he's not quite that much to blame. The only practical way he could have disabled the train-car would have been to pull the plug altogether—and that had never been an option. The process by which he transformed Nighthowler blossoms into Nighthowler serum required a stink-load of electricity. (It was the reason he'd set up his lab down here in the first place.)

Doug's thoughts drift back to that bunny again. Wai-i-i-t a minute, now he remembers where he's seen her before; Judy Hopps, could that have been Judy Hopps? Maybe, but…didn't she quit the ZPD? And how the heck did she find out…?


The answer comes to him like flash of lightning—and makes him want to ram his head into somebody's midsection, Yes, of course, the weasel; that was how she'd known where to find his lab, "Sniveling little two-faced jerk, getting himself busted for trying to steal those Nighthowler bulbs, instead of buying them like I said. I should have darted him the minute he hit the streets again."

That, in fact, was what the rogue-sheep had wanted to do. But Dawn Bellwether had overruled him, saying it would arouse too much suspicion and besides...they might need the little jerk later on.

Bellwether…ohhhh dangit, she wasn't going to like this.

Wincing as if he'd accidentally stuck himself with a cactus needle, Doug pulls out his cell-phone and presses the appropriate speed-dial button. There is no answering burr, only silence; he gives it another second, still nothing.

He looks at his phone, no bars are showing; instead he sees a flashing message, 'No Service'

His brows jump upwards. What the HECK? He's never had that problem down here before. In fact, wasn't Woolter talking to Her Honor only a minute ago? All right, then why…?

He freezes in place. He can't hear or smell anything, but there's someone here with him. Wha…how did he not notice? He reaches instinctively for his trank-dart pistol…then remembers it's still on the train.

A deadpan voice speaks from over his shoulder.

"Don't even think about it, Ramsey."

Doug turns, and sees another pair of sheep. But he doesn't relax; they aren't his guys—or Bellwether's. Technically, they're not even his species. One of them is a bighorn ram and the other is a Marco-Polo sheep; hard, lean, muscular bodies and horns that wrap clear around their heads. They're dressed in what look like, long, black dusters, with tac-vests underneath. Even Jesse and Woolter wouldn't be a match for these two, much less him.

Someone grabs him by the shoulder, spinning him like a turnstile, and he whirls around to face…


His bleat is a mix of horror and terror; he's never met this wolverine, but he's heard about him.

He watches as the other animal raises a finger.

"Very foolish of you, Douglas, getting involved in Dawn Bellwether's little scheme. If only you'd kept a low profile, you might have succeeded in staying off our radar screens. Instead…."

The mini-lecture ends in a head shake that looks almost remorseful.

"Y-You know about that?" Doug asks, his fear giving way to disbelief.

The wolverine's eyebrow pulls upwards.

"Oh really Douglas," he sounds almost disappointed, "We, of all mammals, should recognize the effects of Nighthowler serum when we see it. From there, it was an easy connection to make." His lip curls upwards, showing a fang, "Especially with such resources as we possess." The lip goes up even further and now both fangs are on display. "A florist disappears, and when he's found, he's berserk with Nighhowler poisoning. And when does this happen? Less than a day after another flower shop is robbed of every bulb they have—of guess WHICH plant species? After that it was a simple matter of seeing to it that Duke Weaselton made bail, and putting a trace on him." The brow cocks upwards even further. "And where do you suppose he led us?"

Doug feels his jaw drop open. Disbelief is stepping aside, making way for sheer incredulity

"Y-You knew about the lab! Then why didn't you tell…?"

That's as far as he gets before the wolverine raises a paw with the claws fully extended; a paw covered in dirty-white fur.

Doug cringes as he lowers it again. "I'll ask the questions, if you don't mind." Whitepaugh waits for the sheep's nod and sounds almost genial when he speaks again. "I must say, for someone who was only supposed to provide security, you accumulated quite a fair amount of knowledge during your time in that bootleg pharma-lab."

Was that a question; does it require an answer? Doug can't tell, but he decides not to take any chances.

"Animals kept quitting without notice and whenever they did, I'd get sent in to pinch hit. I hated the heck out of it, but you never said 'no' to that sea-mink. He had me doing everything but clean the toilets."

"Hmmm, yes," Whitepaugh strokes his chin with a thoughtful finger, "I suppose an operation like that would have a high degree of absenteeism, wouldn't it? Does Mayor Bellwether know that you were formerly employed by The Company?"

The rogue sheep shrugs indifferently.

"Don't know; she never asked, and I wasn't about to volunteer." For once, he's able to meet Whitepaugh's gaze. It's a safe enough question.

What follows next is anything but.

"So, was that your lab we saw disappearing around the bend a moment ago?" It sounds innocuous enough, but the look on the wolverine's face is enough to bring tears to Doug's eyes. He knows now...he's not walking out of here alive.

"Y-Yes," he bleats, averting his gaze.

Whitepaugh nods solemnly.

"So…I guess that leaves you as our only source of information."

The terrified ram will never know what prompted his next move. Without warning, without thinking, he launches himself head-first at the wolverine.

It almost works; caught completely by surprise—and caught dead in the center of his chest—Whitepaugh tumbles over backwards.

But then he continues to tumble, pitching heels-over-head, and springing up again on the balls of his feet.

"All right Douglas, that wasn't foolish, it was just plain stupid." Whitepaugh brushes himself off with the back of his paw, looking only a little bit irritated.

And then he nods over the rogue-sheep's shoulder and Doug feels his hooves being swept out from under him. A half-second later, someone grabs his arms and he hears and feels the rasp of zip-ties being cinched around his wrists. A snarling voice growls, "Stand him up," and he finds himself hauled roughly to his feet. At once he begins to squirm and bleat. Now, ALL of the wolverine's teeth are showing.

"I've killed for less than that, Douglas," he informs his captive in a voice that's almost a purr. "Fortunately for you, you're too valuable to lose. In the course of your rather brief career with Ms. Bellwether you appear to have stumbled onto something that might be of extreme value to us." The fangs vanish into a rough smile, "so you won't be dead," and then they come back again, "but you're going to wish you were."

The grip on his arms tightens, and he watches as the wolverine's white-furred paw makes a vicious fast draw into the folds of his coat. Doug tries to struggle when he sees the dart-gun, a real beauty, a top of the line model, much nicer than the one he used to…

Whitepaugh pulls the trigger and shoots him; the pistol chuffs but doesn't buck. Doug feels an impact on collarbone, but there's barely any pain, no worse than an airsoft pellet. He braces himself, waiting for the world to go dark.

But that's not what happens; he remains completely conscious. There's no drowsiness, no dizziness, not even a hint of fatigue.

Instead he feels…he feels…

His mouth is drying up, and his vision seems to be narrowing. His heart is kicking into high gear, and his breath is coming in short gulps. A-And why is it getting so cold in here? He begins to shiver, and not just from the chills; he feels as if he's lost all control, a sensation of completely helplessness—and not just because of the zip-ties binding his wrists. His will has been sapped away, leaving him utterly at the mercy of this wolverine.

Wolverine? Right now his captor seems more like some kind of demonic entity than any living mammal.

Doug collapses to his knees, nearly pitching face-first onto the oil-stained stink of the floor before a harsh grip yanks him upright again. When he glances downward, he sees a splotch of neon-burgundy red on his...

A hard paw slaps his cheek, spinning his head around. When his vision clears, Whitepaugh's face is only inches away from his own. The wolverine's breath is pungent and steamy, emitting a stench like a rotting carcass.

"Only a mild dose, Douglas," he says, "I'd have given you a larger one, but we need you lucid—for now." The last two words come out as both silky and menacing.

Doug blinks—once, twice, then several times. Even through the enveloping veil of fear, it comes to him; a revelation, an epiphany. He KNOWS what he's been given, but...but that's impossible! Swallowing deeply to wet his throat, he tries to speak, but all that comes out is a wordless bleat. He tries again, and succeeds—just barely.

"You...Y-You shot me with...You shot…. Th-That was the Nighthowler antidote; you...you had it all along."

The faintest specter of a smile appears on Seth Whitepaugh's face.

"Yes…but not quite, Douglas. You see," he cocks a finger, "Nighthowler IS the antidote—and that's where you come in."