Judy groaned internally to herself, looking over her shoulder. “Yes, Chief?”
Bogo leaned an arm on the wall of the cubicle. “Got another one.”
Not again. She swallowed hard, biting the inside of her cheek. “Isn’t there anyone else who can take it?”
“Not currently. Besides, the nurses asked for you.” One side of the buffalo’s mouth twitched. “Apparently they like how you handle the victims the best.”
A month ago, she would have told him that calling the ones who were attacked victims was wrong, that they should be called survivors so that they didn’t feel so powerless. But now, after a month of doing this same thing, all she could do was sigh and nod. “Alright. Let me just finish up this report--”
“No, now , Hopps.” Bogo gave her a stern look. “You have animals counting on you.”
Don’t you think I know that?! she screamed internally, though in reality she just nodded. “Where are they at?”
“Zootopia Central Hospital.” Bogo held out some keys to her. “Take Car 3. It should be small enough for you.”
Judy nodded, slipping off of her chair and going over to him to grab the keys before heading out.
As she made her way to the parking garage, all she could think about was how this was all her fault. If she had just kept her mouth shut at the press conference, if she had just accepted the fact that being a meter maid on her first day of work wasn’t a bad thing, if she had just stopped trying to be more than what society expected of her, if she had just become a carrot farmer...none of this would have happened. She believed in karma, and she knew that Frith punished those who thought they were more powerful than they actually were. So what if this was the universe’s way of punishing her for refusing to accept her role in life?
She shoved that out of her mind as she walked up to a car. She got in, buckling up and turning the engine on. Pulling out of the garage, she waited until she was on the main road to turn her lights and sirens on. Best to get this over with as soon as possible.
She made good time, arriving at the hospital in less than half an hour. Parking and turning off the engine, Judy did her best to set her face into a neutral expression. Bracing herself for what she knew was coming, she got out of the car.
Judy was swarmed by reporters almost immediately, at least ten microphones pushed into her face.
“Is it true that another attack has happened?”
“Is the victim going to make it?”
“Should predators be forced to have a curfew?”
“No comment,” she snapped at them, pushing past them and hurrying up the steps of the hospital. There were guards at the door who let quickly let her in before slamming the doors shut on the paparazzi.
“Fuckin’ vultures,” one of the guards, a warthog, grunted.
“Better you’re in here than out there,” the other guard, a moose, told her.
“Yeah, sure,” she muttered to herself as she made her way over to the main desk.
The nurses knew her very well by now, and one of them, a wallaby, gave her a sympathetic smile. “Officer Hopps. Always a pleasure, though of course I wish it was under better circumstances.”
“Hi, Molly.” Judy leaned her arms on a part of the desk that was meant for smaller animals. “Give it to me straight, how bad is it?”
“Not as bad as it could be,” the nurse assured her, leaning her elbows on the desk. “She’s going to make it, if that’s what you want to know.”
Judy let out a breath that she hadn’t known she had been holding in. Thank Frith. “What’s her name?”
“Kaya Zulu, an aardwolf. She came in for lacerations on her side and a broken arm.”
“Zulu, why does that name sound familiar?” Judy mused, her brow furrowing as she tried to think.
“Her parents own a shop next to the train station. They sell mostly flowers and produce?” Molly told her.
That was why the name sounded familiar, Judy regularly went there to get fresh tomatoes. Their daughter had been attacked? How many more animals that she knew were going to be hurt by all of this? “Where is she?”
Molly turned to her computer, typing something in before nodding at the elevator on the far side of the room. “She’s on floor two, Room 17.” The wallaby gave her another smile, pity in her eyes. “Be gentle with her, I think she’s still in shock.”
“Thanks, Molly.” Judy pushed herself off the desk and made her way over to the elevator. She pushed the up button and waited, her foot tapping on the floor. The ‘ding’ made her jump a little, and she hurried in, leaning up on her tip toes to press the button for the right floor. Then the doors closed and she was headed up.
She leaned back against the wall, her arms crossed tight over her chest. Truth be told, she wasn’t sure why the nurses thought she was so good at this. Clearly talking wasn’t her forte. She desperately wished she had a partner to do all of this for her.
You made sure that didn’t happen, huh?
Once again the ‘ding’ startled her out of her thoughts, and she stepped out of the elevator.
It was busy, as it had been since the press conference. It seemed like more predators were going savage every day, and more animals were getting hurt by them. There was no answer on why this was happening or what was causing it. The panic had also just gotten worse, with more riots and protests breaking out, some of which resulted in even more animals getting hurt. It pained her to see all of this happening. She’d never wanted this…
Judy blinked, turning her head to look at a deer doe in blue scrubs. “Ah, yes, sorry.”
“Are you here about Miss Zulu?” the nurse asked her.
“Yes,” Judy nodded.
The doe nodded back, gesturing down the hall. “Her room is down that way.”
“Yes, thank you.” Judy turned on her heel, heading down the hall. Dread settled in the pit of her stomach as she got closer, her feet feeling so heavy. It was always like this before she talked to an attack survivor. The door of the room was open, and she stopped outside of it to take a deep breath before knocking on the door frame, peeking her head in. “Hello?”
Three other animals were in the room. There were two older-looking aardwolves huddled in one corner, a male and a female. The female’s eyes were bloodshot, the fur on her cheeks wet, clearly having been crying. The male looked tense, his arm wrapped around his wife with his paw in a fist. It was Amahle and Mandla Zulu, the couple she had been buying her produce from since she had arrived in the city. They had always greeted her with kind words and warm smiles, but now they looked like they were barely holding it together. Her heart ached to see them like this.
The third animal in the room was a binturong male who sat by the hospital bed, his paw grasping the one of the animal in the bed. The fur on the top of his head was disheveled, his face scrunched up as though he was on the verge of breaking down. Yet he was still sitting up straight, his posture near perfect. From the way he held himself and the air he had about him, Judy would guess that he was a veteran of some sort.
And finally, in the bed, was her survivor. Kaya Zulu. The young aardwolf female was dressed in a white hospital gown, the bed propped up so that she was almost sitting up. Her left arm was in a cast and sling, and her gown was pulled back enough that Judy could see the bandages on her left side as well. Her ears were scratched and bloody, the right side of her face cut up and bruising. In short, she looked awful.
But at least she was alive.
Judy clasped her paws behind her back, not wanting any of them to see that they were trembling. “I’m Officer Hopps. May I come in?”
They all turned to Kaya, who nodded slowly.
Judy stepped into the room, hoping that none of them could hear her heart pounding against her ribcage. “How are you feeling, Kaya?”
Kaya cleared her throat, letting out a ragged cough before speaking, her voice so raspy that it was almost a whisper. “I’ve been better. How about you?”
“I would be better if this hadn’t happened to you,” Judy told the other female honestly. She saw no need to not be transparent with her. “Would it be alright if I asked you a few questions?”
Kaya nodded, then turned to the binturong in the chair. “Oli, would you mind moving?”
The male, Oli, gave a curt nod, kissing her paw before letting go and standing up, going to stand beside Kaya’s parents.
Slowly and cautiously, Judy made her way to the bed, taking a seat in the now-empty chair. She got out a small pad of paper and a pen before looking at her vic. “Can you tell me what happened?”
Kaya swallowed before speaking, voice still so soft yet so wispy. “I was walking home from Hog’s Accounting Firm. My boyfriend,” she paused, grimacing, “well, ex now, works there. I went to meet him for his lunch. He wanted to talk and, well, we broke up.” She said it so casually, as if it hadn’t really affected her that much. “As I passed the park, I heard a voice calling for help. I went over to this tree, and there was this little squirrel girl up there.” She stopped, suddenly looking frantic. “The girl, do you know if she’s okay??”
“The police said that she was okay,” Judy heard Mandla assure his daughter.
“You saved her, Kaya,” Amahle told her daughter, sounding like she was on the verge of tears. “You always put others before yourself--”
“Not now, Amahle,” Mandla said, soft yet firm.
“It’s okay,” Judy quickly reassured them, giving them a quick look over her shoulder before turning back to Kaya. “Go on, what happened next?”
The aardwolf closed her gray eyes, her lips trembling. “I asked her what she was doing up there, and she told me that a monster had chased her up there.” She sniffed, her good arm reaching up to wipe at her eyes. “That’s when I heard the growl. I turned around and there was a coyote behind me. He was on all fours, and his eyes…” A single tear fell down her face, and her eyes opened to stare at nothing.
Reflexively, Judy reached out to put her paw on top of Kaya’s. “It’s okay. You’re safe now.”
Kaya turned her paw over to grasp Judy’s, more tears falling. “It was like...he couldn’t see me. His eyes were so cold, unearthly. It was like he was looking right through me, like he couldn’t recognize that I’m real. Then he jumped on me. I lifted my arm,” she nodded to her arm in the sling, “to try to stop him, but he was so strong! He broke my arm, and I was in so much pain that I felt like I couldn't move. Then he got my side, and then he knocked me onto the ground. It all happened so fast…”
Frith, it was hard not to cry with her. The poor thing looked so lost right now, so scared. Judy had to swallow down the lump in her throat.
The aardwolf shook her head, letting go of Judy’s paw to wipe at her face. “The next thing I knew, his brains were splattered all over me. All I could do was scream and scream, I was just so frightened. Then there were two police officers there and they kept trying to calm me down and tell me not to move, but I just couldn’t stop screaming. All I could see and feel was pain. So much pain…” She let out a tiny sob.
Suddenly Oli was at Kaya’s side, his arms around her shoulders as he gently rocked her back and forth. “It’s okay now, it’s okay.”
Watching them sent a pang of longing and sorrow through Judy. If only she hadn’t messed up…
Kaya seemed to catch her breath, leaning back into the binturong. “I know, I’m sorry.”
“Hey, no, you have nothing to be sorry for,” Oli told the female fiercely, pulling away to put his paws on her shoulder. “Okay? This wasn’t your fault.”
Judy hated to interrupt their little moment, but she needed more answers. “What happened to the coyote?”
“I think one of the officers shot him, but I’m not sure.” Kaya shook her head, wiping at her face with her good paw again. “With how he was attacking me, they must have felt like they didn’t have a choice. He would have killed me, I’m sure.”
Judy jotted down a few notes, including a reminder to ask around to see if anyone knew who fired the shot. Then she stuffed the pad and pen back into her back pocket, turning back to Kaya. “Miss Zulu, on behalf of the Zootopia Police Department, I just want you to know that we are doing everything in our power to stop this epidemic before it escalates further.”
By now the words were almost robotic from how many times she’d had to repeat them. So many times...too many…
Kaya shook her head. “Please, it’s fine.”
Even though she knew that she should get going, Judy had one more question for the aardwolf. “You said that it was like he couldn’t see you.” She looked up into Kaya’s gray eyes, her own violet hues searching them. “What did you mean by that?”
The other female was quiet for a few moments, her eyes narrowed in concentration as her teeth nibbled on her bottom lip. Then, she answered, “It was like...like he wasn’t aware of what was going on. He looked so lost, like his soul was crying out to be seen but was being blocked by the body. He wasn’t just a monster.” Kaya looked at Judy, her brows drawn together. “He was an animal .”
“He was an animal!” Manchas’ words came to her, making the fur on the back of her neck stand up. The way Kaya had described it perfectly summed up what had happened that night a month ago. The jaguar hadn’t really seen her and Nick; he had only seen prey.
Judy blinked and looked at Kaya, the insides of her ears turning pink when she realized she had spaced out for a moment. “Did you say something?”
“I saw you,” Kaya told her, the aardwolf’s head tilted to the side.
Instantly Judy froze, thinking back to that horrible televised press conference. “Oh?”
Kaya nodded, a tiny smile lifting the side of her muzzle that wasn’t bruised. “About a month ago. Oli and I saw you driving down the road in that silly little car, with that fox. How is he doing through all of this?”
Frith. Judy just barely managed to keep it together, fiercely swallowing back tears. Never let them see that they get to you. “He’s, uh, good. He’s good.” Gods, she hoped he was.
“I’m glad.” Kaya leaned against Oli, her eyes fluttering closed. “I feel so sleepy, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s from the painkillers, Kaya,” Oli told the female, one of his paws stroking the fur on her head. He looked at Judy, expression guarded. “She should probably get some rest.”
“Of course.” Judy stood up, clasping her paws behind her again. “Thank you for everything, Miss Zulu.” She hesitated, knowing she wasn’t supposed to say it but... “And...I’m sorry.”
Kaya just slowly shook her head, shrugging her right shoulder. “It wasn’t your fault. You can’t predict when bad things are going to happen.”
Judy nodded tersely, turning to Mandla and Amahle. “I’ll send someone out here to keep guard so that the paparazzi don’t try to get to her.”
Amahle shook her head, wiping at her eyes. “The doctors said that she might be here for a few days. They want to keep an eye on her, to...to make sure that whatever this is isn’t spread through bites.”
“They treat her like she’s going to turn into a zombie.” Mandla shook his head, his mouth set in a firm line. “It’s because we’re predators.”
“We don’t know that,” Amahle protested, though it was weak.
Mandla just shook his head again, looking at Judy. “The way the doctors have treated us is insulting. We’re good animals, we make an honest living. We fled from South Afrikus to escape the conflict there, only to find more here.” He looked over his shoulder at his daughter, his paws in fists at his sides. “My son died in combat over a year ago. I already lost one child...I couldn’t bear to lose another.”
Amahle collapsed against her husband’s chest, sobbing quietly. “What if this does affect her? I can’t lose my daughter, I just can’t!”
Mandla wrapped his arms around his wife, holding her tight. “We’re not going to. We’ll make sure of it.” He looked at Judy, his amber eyes sharp. “You say you’re trying to get to the bottom of this? Then, please, get to it faster, before more animals are lost.”
Judy couldn’t speak, only nodding. It was a struggle to not sprint from the room, but she managed to walk calmly back to the elevator. She was able to keep everything in until she got back into the police cruiser, then she burst into tears.
This is all my fault. Frith forgive me, I never meant for any of this to happen. I’m so sorry, everyone. I’m so sorry, Nick...