"Tell me detective, do you know who Charles Boarwin was?"
Turning back to look at her rescuer in the form of the most wanted red fox in the city Judy blinked. She knew that name, she'd learned in school when she'd been a child. "He was a naturalist and philosopher in the… 16th century right? He proposed the Common Ancestor Theory of mammals. That somewhere in our genetic history we all share a common Ancestor."
Across from her Wilde nodded, a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth. "Correct. But what most schools don't teach is that Charles Boarwin proposed another famous idea; the two state theory of society."
A frown spread across Judy's face. "The what?"
Wilde chuckled. "The two state theory of society. In this theory Boarwin observed that society as we understand it in this world has two states; the natural state and the civilized state. In the Natural State, we are closer to animals. The strong survive and the weak either die or submit for protection. It's the kind of state you see in young societies, ones that have disproportionate distribution of wealth or resources. It's easier to enact but in the long run is much harder to maintain because of the resentments and anger it breeds. The second state is the civilized state, it's the state in which all modern society is built on and sees all mammals, both predator and prey working together as equals, sharing resources and wealth to ensure their collective survival. In the long run it ensures the survival of more people but is much harder to maintain."
Judy nodded in understanding. "Ok… is that… all you wanted to tell me?"
Wilde chuckled and shook his head. "No detective. I merely wished to give you a point of context. The story I'm going to tell you is how all of this got started, how predators came to be treated as second class citizens and a disposable work force. I'm going to guess you were a good student in school, so of course you learned about the Great War."
Again Judy nodded. "Of course. I learned about it multiple times in school."
Nick nodded. "But what if I told you in that entire time you were only told half the truth."
Judy cocked her head, frowning as she did so. "What do you mean? How can you teach a half truth?"
Nick chuckled. "By omitting key details and information. Some of what you learned is true; like how the war started when several cities refused to sign an international treaty that banned the consumption of mammalian meat and flesh."
Judy's nodded. This was all starting to come back to her, what she'd been taught in school when she'd been a child. "Yes. Those that agreed to sign became the Allied City States and those that refused became the Natural Axis Powers."
Again Wilde nodded. "Very good. But what you weren't taught in school were certain details about events that happened in the later years, as the war was drawing to a close. The NAP was losing and they knew it. They were outnumbered, outgunned and out spent by almost 6 to 1; and the ACS was gaining ground almost every day. So the NAP did like anyone faced with an insurmountable problem does; they looked for a creative solution. And unfortunately they found it, ready-made and easily available in nature." Wilde shifted a little in his seat as the SUV lurched slightly. "Have you ever heard of E99 detective?"
At this Judy shook her head. "No. What is it?"
Nick sighed softly. "It's a biological weapon. E99 is synthesized from certain naturally pest repellent flowers and reduces to a purplish blue jelly. In its weaponized form it's a purple gas that smells sickly sweet. But I'll bet you know it's nickname or at least part of it; NightHowler gas."
Judy's eyes widened. She knew the term 'NightHowler'. In school she'd been taught that during the war some predators lost their minds in the carnage of the battles and went savage. NightHowler was a term used to refer to such predators. "Yes I know that name."
Again Wilde nodded. "I'm sure you do. But what you probably didn't know is that NightHowler gas is what triggered that battlefield savagery in predators. When exposed to the gas the brain surges and suffers a kind of seizure like, storm of activity. In prey species this triggers feelings of intense fear and anxiety, it also causes headaches, nausea, and auditory and visual hallucinations for days after exposure. But in predators… the effects are much worse. The storm of activity in the brain causes a predator's adrenal gland to produce and dump massive amounts of adrenaline into their system. This in turn inhibits higher brain function, effectively trapping the predator in this cycle until they're reduced to little more than a savage beast that cannot stop itself and acts on pure instinct Needless to say, the NAP had found their solution to the war. The ACS's military was almost 60% predators; with this weapon the NAP didn't even have to risk their own soldiers. They just had to blanket the battlefields with the gas and the allied predators would tear their fellow soldiers apart."
He paused here for a moment, watching as the weight of this revaluation sank into the grey bunny across from him. He could remember when he'd first learned all this. It had been like some horrible awful thing being laid In front of him and now he couldn't look away or ignore it. After a few moments he continued. "So the ACS did what anyone faced with that situation would do. They hunkered down and regrouped, focusing their best scientists and researchers on the problem. Luckily it didn't take long for the ACS to develop a solution, and a rather elegant one at that. All predator soldiers would be outfitted with special collars. The moment E99 was used on the battlefield the predators would turn the collars on which would monitor for a heartbeat above a specific threshold. If the collar detected it, it would activate and use electro convulsive shocks to incapacitate and restrain the predator until they could be tranquilized or restrained conventionally; and thus the earliest model of the TAME collar was born."
Judy bit her lip, tensing as the SUV lurched and rocked over some debris in the river. "S-s-so what ha-happened then?"
Nick shrugged and smiled. "Liberation. As you learned in history, the Allies officially won the war on June 17th 1939. The last remaining holdouts of Axis soldiers were disarmed and the citizens that had been forced to live under their oppressive rule were liberated and freed." Wilde sighed sadly. "If only the war had continued, even for just a few months more. Maybe then the leaders would have realized the ticking time bombs amungst them."
Judy frowned. "What do you mean? What time bombs?"
Again Wilde sighed, looking at her sadly. "The allied scientists may have solved the NightHowler gas in a functional sense, but they neglected to understand what long term effects exposure to the gas caused. In prey the effects were short lived, and usually wore off after a day or so. In predators though, exposure to the drug had long lasting and severe side effects including; anxiety, paranoia, panic attacks, insomnia, auditory and visual hallucinations, night terrors, depression, sudden mood swings, outbursts of violence and a lack of impulse control. From the moment of exposure those predators lived turned into a living hell."
Judy felt her stomach churn sickening as Wilde listed off the side effects. When she'd first joined the police force she'd had issues with anxiety and 'twitchiness'. It had taken her months to get herself under control, but from what Wilde was saying… these predators had suffered for years after the war had ended. "S-so what happened to them?"
Nick looked at her sadly. "Nothing pretty detective. You know what happens to a predator's mind when it's pushed to its absolute breaking point detective."
She knew the answer and she also could tell that he knew that she knew. "They go savage."
Across from her, Wilde nodded. "Yes. Now imagine that kind of a condition affecting tens of thousands of returning veterans and nobody knows until it's too late."
Judy's eyes widened in horror as she tried to imagine it. Things had been bad enough when the City Central Mauler had been on the loose, and he had been just one predator, to have thousands afflicted in such a way. "W-what did they do?"
Nick's expression darkened. "The mammals in charge decided it was to dangerous to have predators mixing with prey. They passed a law called the 'resettlement and relocation act'. All predators were forced from the city and into a makeshift resettlement district outside the city walls called Pred-vill. The idea was to relocate the predstors now and then after a cure for the condition was found, they'd allow them back into the city. The government created a special science and medical consortium to work on it, made up of war-time scientists and private sector specialists and gave them the order to find a cure. And that's how things stayed… for 10 years, predators and prey living segregated for their own safety; with everyone thinking it was only temporary. Time has a funny affect on people though and overtime Pred-vill grew from a small temporary resettlement town to a lively miniature city; civilization in microcosm. They developed their own leadership, infrastructure, industries and even had their own sports team. But of course when one group succeeds at something, another group has to suffer. Predators stopped spending money in Zootopia and instead started spending it in Pred-Vill. As a result Zootopia's economy took a nose dive while Pred-Vill's rose. And of course when you have one group doing well and another struggling… that kind of environment breeds resentment and anger of the worst kind."
Judy sighed and nodded. She knew this, as sad as it was. Wilde continued. "The heads of Zootopia's industry leaders got together and did what they do best, they plotted and schemed and used their collective wealth to affect change. They got politicians elected, and those politicians began to enact laws on Pred-Vill; the Elifson laws made it illegal for banks to approve business or personal loans to predators without the presence of a prey guarantor. It also imposed steep taxes on items being imported to Pred-Vill and even steeper taxes on items being exported. They wanted to lift Zootopia back up, by pushing Pred-Vill down; which as you can imagine didn't work for the predators. Predators struck back with boycotts and walkouts of prey owned and run companies. There were protests and more than a few riots which put both cities on edge; some predators even started threatening to secede from Zootopia and become their own sovereign city. In the end both parties came to a compromise. Predators would be allowed back into the city and would reside in a special district build only for housing predators; what would come to be known as Happy Town. In exchange predators would have to wear modified versions of the collars that the military developed. These collars would be active at all times and would send out an alert if a predator showed signs of becoming savage. That signal would in turn prompt a response from the Tactical Aggravated Mammal Echelon.
Judy's eyes widened slightly as across from her Wilde noted her reaction and nodded. "Yes, that was the birth of TAME. And that was the new deal predators were given. They could live in the city but without a cure for their condition they were still too risky to be allowed to wander freely. So they tried to make the best of it, they worked jobs that were boring and mindless, the kind of jobs you can just turn off your brain and do without getting frustrated or upset. And over the following years the city evolved around them. No cure was ever found, and those industries that preds flocked to became reliant on that docile and enormous workforce."
Nick leaned forward in his seat, his green eyes connecting with Judy's purple ones. "That was 84 years ago detective. The average predator only lives to about 40 or so. Roughly two generations of predators have come and gone. The generation that lives in the city now has never been exposed to E99. They're as likely to go savage as predators were before the war; which for the record there have only been 9 confirmed cases of savagery since the medical condition was officially documented in the 1700s. Which means the current population has a less than .01% chance of going savage."
Judy bit her lip, looking at the red fox across from her. "But… there's still a chance right? I mean… even if it's a small one… are you saying prey shouldn't take any precautions at all to protect themselves?"
Nick shook his head, a faint smile playing at his mouth. "Not at all detective. By all means taken precautions. Buy a taser or a self-defense baton; that's your right as a free citizen. Hell get a gun if you feel it's necessary. What I'm saying is that it is wrong to assume a predator will go savage and attack you at some point based off the fact that they COULD. By that logic we should be locking EVERYONE up because there is a chance they could be born a psychopath or a serial killer. You cannot apply rules to people who haven't done anything wrong based off of what a small group have done in the past. And I'd also point out that prey aren't angels either. You're a cop, how many crimes have been committed by prey in your time on the force?"
Judy fell silent. Wilde had a point there. She'd been in the force for the last 17 or so years, and in that time she'd seen plenty of prey do horrible things with predators never being involved. "If what you're saying is true… then why haven't the laws been changed?"
Nick smiled. "Now you're starting to ask the right kind of questions detective. Allow me to answer you with another question, who in the city has the authority to change those laws?"
Judy blinked, the answer was basic social science. "Politicians?"
Nick nodded, the smile still covering his face. "And how do politicians get elected?"
Judy blinked again. "Uh… they campaign and get voted in?"
Again Wilde nodded, that same smile still covering his face. "And in order to campaign they need money right? To pay for signs and speeches and all those fancy suits they like to wear. And where do you think that money comes from?"
Judy shrugged. "I don't know, but you seem to."
Nick chuckled. "I do. Of the 100 politians elected to office prey, 80 of them made their wealth by setting up businesses that rely on cheap predator labor to function. The average predator makes $4.71 an hour where as a prey working the same job and hours makes $9.31. tell me detective, who would you rather hire if you were running a business?" Before she could respond Wilde continued on. "The remaining 19 members of our little club are heirs who inherited their money, which again comes from companies and industries that need predator workers to turn a profit." It was here that Wilde paused, the smile still on his face as he looked at her expectantly, clearly expecting her to ask about the last member of the 100.
"That's only 99 prey. What about the last?"
"That would be Dawn Bellwether, CEO of TAME Industries. She alone is the richest mammal in the city and one of the most politically active. She personally donated millions of dollars to the various politicians who would later win their elections, including the mayor. So you see detective, the very mammals that have the authority to repeal the laws that keep predators oppressed and downtrodden, are also making millions off companies that NEED a cheap and disposable labor force to remain profitable. How else do you think Zootopia became the mass production capital of the world? They did so by manipulating the social and economical system out from under predators. Did you know that roughly 94% of factory and assembly line workers are predators? 98% of all manufacturing jobs are held by predators and around 89% of construction jobs are held by predators. It's almost impossible for predators to find jobs outside of these industries, because the mammals in charge are making it that way."
Sitting back in her seat Judy exhaled slowly, allowing everything she'd learned to wash over her. Some of what he'd said made sense but too much of it just wasn't something she could verify at the moment, not without access to a computer or a smartphone. And there was still the little issue of his past with TAME. For everything he'd told her there was still the chance that this was all some elaborate scheme for revenge. "If… what your saying is true… and I'm not saying I believe you, but if it's true… why don't predators just leave? There's hundreds of towns and communities they could go to. Hell they could move to other mega-cities; Red-Rock-Tropolis is only a two day train ride away." As she spoke she looked at him with a curious expression.
Across from her Wilde shook his head. "It's not that simple detective. When you moved to Zootopia from bunnyburrow did you-"
"Hang on!" Judy's eyes widened, her voice becoming sharper. "how did you know I was from bunnyburrow?! I never told you that!"
Nick chuckled. "Wiretaps are such useful tools, detective. You can just turn them on and hear whatever is happening in a room. Like say an old record producer explaining his version of events to a curious police officer."
Judy's eyes widened again. "You were listening in? How?"
But her voice died down as Wilde waved his paw dismissively. "Wiretaps aren't hard to setup once you know how. Besides I'd say it was a good thing we were listening in. Otherwise you and I wouldn't have met and had a chance to talk. Instead you'd be on your way back to the ZPD thinking that fox in BelRev was really me. As for your original question, when you moved to Zootopia you were charged a species relocation tax, yes? How much was it?"
Judy shrugged. "Like 50 cents or someth-"
"50 CENTS?! ARE YOU SHITTING ME!?" The sudden loud outburst made Judy jump. She'd been so focused on Wilde and what he'd been telling her she'd forgotten she and he were not alone in the SUV but joined by Jasoer and Ed who sat in the driver and front passenger seat. At her words Jasoer had twisted around and was now staring at her with an expression of shock and anger. "THAT IS BULLSHIT! WHEN MY FAMILY MOVED JUST DOWN THE STREET WE HAD TO PAY OVER $2500!"
At Jasper's outburst Wilde nodded. "You see detective? Predators born in Zootopia are charged much higher taxes than those that move from outside the city to Zootopia. In effect the city has imprisoned predators born here, making it nearly impossible for them to leave the city."
Taking a deep breath Judy nodded. "Ok… yes… I get it. Predators have it unfairly difficult in Zootopia. And if what you're saying is true… then TAME has A LOT to answer for. You've proven that. But that doesn't explain why you're attacking the city and collaring prey. I mean what do you hope to accomplish with that?"
Wilde cocked his head curiously. "Why do you think I'm doing it detective?"
Judy shrugged, shaking her head. "I don't know? Revenge against TAME for killing your girlfriend?"
For the first time since she met him Wilde seemed surprised. His eyes widened slightly and the fur on his tail bristled slightly. But recovered a moment later, his calm demeanor returning. "TAME didn't kill Gazelle detective."
Judy frowned. "How can you be sure of that?"
Wilde was silent for a few moments before responding. "After her death… I acquired the collar she was wearing. I found someone with the necessary skills and knowledge to analyze the collar and they concluded that what had happened… was a freak accident. A result of the heartbeat threshold being set to low…" Wilde's voice trailed off into silence as if waiting for her to respond. Yet something told her not to, that the fox had more to say. Her hunch paid off as a few moments later Wilde spoke again, this time in a softer more personal tone as he looked at the shadowy murky water outside their vehicle. "Believe me detective, I wish TAME did have something to do with her death. I wish there was some shadowy conspiracy that had decided to snuff out her life as some kind of a message or threat. I wish that every day. Because then her death would have meant something." Wilde looked back at her. "But there wasn't. It was an accident. The same kind of accident that could happen to any predator. It just as easily could have been me, or our drummer, or one of the hundreds of predators in the crowd that night."
Frowning, Judy bit her lip, a question bouncing around her head, to which she needed an answer. "Where were you the night she died? Eddy said you were supposed to perform with her but you weren't there. So where were you?"
Wilde sighed. "What can change the nature of a mammal detective?"
Judy blinked. "What?"
Wilde repeated himself. "I asked what can change the nature of a mammal? Is it love, anger, jealousy, money, fame, power? Yes those all change people, but the change is short lived if you remove the catalyst. What can affect REAL change in a person detective? The kind of change that can completely and permanently change someone to the point where they don't recognize themself in the mirror anymore."
Slowly just shook her head. "I… I don't know."
Wilde looked at her sadly. "Regret. The kind of gnawing twisting painful regret the makes a mammal lay awake at night with tears in their eyes because they would give ANYTHING to undo it. It's regret that can change a mammal so profoundly. And it's regret that the system of Zootopia uses against those who stand up to it. Detective my greatest regret, the one I would give anything to undo is that on the night Gazelle died… she asked me to marry her; and I being the self centered, angry, self destructive fox that I was… threw it back in her face." Judy's heart clenched painfully. Wilde continued. "The last words I said to her, to the woman I loved… was that she was a spoiled brat who would never know the pain and suffering predators like me have to live with so long as there wasn't something around her neck controlling her life and telling her what she could and couldn't feel."
Judy winced involuntarily, her heart again clenching painfully in her chest at his words. "So… that's why you weren't there. You two had a fight and you left."
Wilde nodded. "I was so… so mad at her… so mad that she would throw her life and her talent away for some piece of gutter trash like me. I said those horrible words to try and make her see…" Wilde's voice cracked and waivered slightly, the first signs of genuine emotion he'd shown since she'd met him. "She'd have no future with me. She'd already lost nearly everything because of me. What little she had left would be taken too if she married me. She'd be even less than a predator to Zootopia. She'd be a disgusting predo and nothing else ever again. And I… I couldn't let her….so I tried to drive her away from me." Tears had formed in the corner of Wilde's eyes, which he wiped with the back of his paw. "But… she…" he took a long deep breath, the kind of breath a person struggles to take when they're emotional or upset; the kind of breath that brings them back under control through sheer force of will. "She was always braver than me. I don't know how she got the collar so fast, maybe she already had it. But when she put it on she did it as an act of defiance and protest. She showed more bravery in that one action that I had in my entire life." Wilde took another breath. "I should have been there with her. I should have said yes. But I didn't. And that regret has haunted me ever since, the one thing nothing can erase."
A slightly awkward silence filled the vehicle as Wilde fell silent. Judging from the express across Anthony's face Wilde hadn't told the Tigris brothers this story. Somehow that made it even more profound and painful, making it seem as if it was some secret private thing that only certain people go to know about. Sorta like…
Her eyes automatically darted to look at the floor before she caught herself and made herself look back up at the fox who sat across from her. "It was a few years ago… during the City Central Mauler case. I… I'd just made detective and the city was in a panic. Chief Bogo was breathing down everyone's necks and I knew… I KNEW it was that delivery bear. And when his latest victim… that teenage deer girl showed up, mangled and torn to shreds in that alleyway less than a mile from the precinct and I knew I had to get the son of a bitch no matter what. I went to arrest him and he was gone, not at his apartment, quit his job, ditched his cellphone. He'd basically vanished off the grid. TAME ignored my request for his tracking data. And then… then that little otter boy went missing. And the mayor started calling for a special unit to find the killer. Bogo was furious and… I remembered in past interviews with others I'd learned he was close with his elderly father. So I went to see him, to try and figure out if there was some place he would go t-to hide."
Pausing for a second Judy found that her heartbeat had sped up, making her feel oddly jittery and anxious; yet she forced herself to continue. "He kept saying he didn't know where his son was. That they hadn't spoken in years, which I knew was a lie. And…" her heart hammered in her chest, filling her with adrenaline that made her want to run and fight, yet she stayed rooted to the seat almost unable to move. "I just kept thinking about his victims. How the medical examiner had said they'd been alive when he'd started eating them. I kept thinking how scared they must have been and how anyone who could do that was a monster and now this scumbags own father was like to my face to protect him and… I lost it."
Wilde nodded. "What did you do detective?"
Taking a deep breath Judy forced herself to speak. "I triggered his collar so it shocked him… multiple times. He was old, he had a heart condition, and I knew it was dangerous but… I was desperate and I knew that he knew something so… I kept shocking him, even when he was begging me to stop. I just…. I wanted him to feel the fear his son's victims felt, I wanted him to feel like his life was in danger just like that little Otter's was. And I kept shocking him, over and over and over until he…. Broke and told me what I needed…" She felt silent for a few moments, her stomach churning sickening as the sound of his yelling and pleading echoed unwelcomely in her ears. "Afterwards… I couldn't… I…"
"You couldn't look at yourself could you?" She shook her head slowly while Wilde nodded. "Because you didn't recognize the person you saw anymore, did you." It was less a question and more a matter of fact, statement.
Taking a deep breath Judy nodded. "Y-y-yeah."
Across from her Wilde smiled weakly and sighed. "And that detective is TAME'S greatest trick, their greatest weapon. They weaponized that feeling of shame and have used it to trap everyone from the predators they oppress to their own employees."
As Wilde opened his mouth to say more Ed spoke up from the front of the vehicle. "Here's our turn off boss."
Tearing her gaze away from Wilde Judy looked out the front windshield and watched as the form of what looked to be a massive runoff pipe slowly looked out of the swirly cloudy waters of the river they were under. "Where does that lead?"
Wilde shrugged. "To Pred-Vill, it's part of the old sewage system."
Blinking something clicked and she turned to look back at Wilde. "Pred-Vill, that's where you're hiding isn't it?"
Wilde nodded. "Yes. No one would think to look for a battered half broken fox in an abandoned ghost of the past. Besides, it already has the infrastructure and means to enter the city undetected."
Biting her lip Judy couldn't help but squirm a little. There was something about the words Wilde chose that made her feel… uneasy. But she did her best to hide those feelings by speaking again as the vehicle jostled and rattled and began to slowly drive up into the exposed pipe. "Mr big, Koslov and Weaselton… did you kill them?"
Wilde sighed, another long deep sigh that he seemed to have mastered. "That… is a difficult question to answer."
From the front of the vehicle Jasper spoke up. "No it ain't. You didn't have anything to do with that. I'm the one who pulled the gun and shot those assholes."
Judys eyes widened slightly as she looked at the youngest brother who had turned around in his chair and was looking at her defiantly. "You?"
Jasper nodded, jabbing himself in the chest with his thumb. "ME. I was asked to be there by Koslav, as muscle; just in case. When I heard Wilde's plan… it all made sense, but the heads just laughed and then told me to shoot Wilde when he was done eating. They didn't want things to change cause then they'd lose power, they were just as responsible for keeping preds down as TAME was. S-so I shot them. And you bet your fluffy tail I'd do it again."
As Jasper finished Wilde shifting to look at the youngest brother. "While I thank you for your intervention, I regret that you had to dirty your paws because of me."
Jasper rolled his eyes. "They're already dirty, what's a little more blood matter?"
Wilde shook his head. "Enough mammals have died already, I'd prefer it if no more were added to that list."
A slightly pained silence filled the car, broken by a sound from the world outside the vehicle as they broke the surface of the water in the pipe and slowly trudged up the inclined ground before coming to a lurching stop. A moment later the sound of dumping water reached Judy while from the front of the vehicle Ed thumbed a button which Judy could only imagine dumped all the water they'd taken on to help them sink to the bottom of the river. After several long silent moments the SUV began to drive again, it's headlights illuminating a narrow but visible road that led up through the pipe and out into a large warehouse.
"So… what happens now?"
Wilde looked at her. "That's really up to you detective. You've heard what I have to say. Now you have to decide what to do with it. You're welcome to come with us, whether you choose to help us or merely be a tagalong is up to you. Then again TAME thinks you're dead, at least for now. So you could also run, make a new life in one of the other cities and never have to worry about any of this again. Or I suppose you could go back to the way things were; you are a cop after all and I am a criminal." As Wilde spoke the SUV slowly maneuvered through the warehouse before driving out an open bay door and emerging into the dinky lit light of the setting sun. "The choice is yours really, and I won't stop you."
It was there that the SUV stopped, giving her a chance to get out if she wanted too. Biting her lip Judy weighed her options. What Nick had said was true, she could easily walk away from the whole situation. She could go back to Bunnyburrow or to another city and never look back. Then again he'd also been tight when he'd said she was a cop, the badge she wore meant something to her. She'd worked her tail off for it, suffered for it; could she really turn her back on it? At the same time there was no doubt in her mind that TAME had tried to have her killed, which made her feel fairly confident that the other things they were accused of weren't just false allegations and slander. And then there was Wilde, despite his altruistic motives there was no denying the fact that the fox was dangerous and a threat to Zootopia. But if what he'd said was true…
"I think… I'll stay… for now."
Wilde smiled and gave her a small nod. "Very well then."
Groaning weakly, Swineheart downed another pill, washing it down a moment later with a mouthful of water before setting the glass down and closing her eyes. The dull ache in his skull was getting worse. It had started as just a dull throb, one she could ignore so long as she didn't think about it. But over the last several days it had grown into a red-hot pressure behind her eyes that made it painful to focus on things. Exactly the kind of ailment a mayor needed when their city was teetering on the brink of total chaos. Groaning again Swineheart leaned back in her chair, letting her head lay back while forcing herself to take several long slow breaths. That helped… a little, if only to give her a moment to center herself, though her migraine remained as painful as ever. 'This can't be happening.'
The sound of her office door opening made her open her eyes, blinking to clear the blurriness that had formed around the edges of her vision to find Dawn Bellwether walking into her office. "You heard?" The lamb's voice was as calm and collected as ever.
Nodding slowly Swineheart hissed as more pain lanced through her head. Yes she'd heard the news, it was impossible not to. A riot at BelRev Prison, 11 guards dead, dozens of inmates shot dead in their attempts to escape, and in the middle of it-
"I told you Wilde was dangerous mayor. I warned you that he shouldn't be brought out of solitary. I war-"
Her yellow echoed around the office, another stab of pain between her ears making her groan and slump in her chair while rubbing her temples. "I know Dawn. I should have listened but… Judy Hopps… helping him escape?"
Bellwether nodded slowly. "Yes… I'll admit I was shocked by that turn of events myself… but we both saw it and the camera footage doesn't lie. Judy Hopps betrayed this city and the ZPD by helping that fox escape, and now who knows where they are. They could be halfway to the Pride Lands by now, or plotting something even worse for the city."
Sighing dejectedly Swineheart nodded. "I know Dawn, I know… I just… what are we gonna d-"
Again Swineheart found herself cut off as again the door to her office opened. "Mayor Swineheart?"
District Attorney Lionheart stood in the doorway, an expression of concern and worry covering the lion's face, but flickered to surprise and embarrassment. "Oh, I didn't realize… I can come back another-"
She waved him in, gesturing for him to close the door behind him as he did so. "What?"
Lionheart looked from her to Bellwether before speaking. "I just… on the news… they're saying BelRev is under lockdown… that there's a riot going on?"
Bellwether nodded. "Yes, we already know. We were just discussing it actually."
Lionheart looked nervously at Swineheart. "But… they're saying it's Judy Hopps fault. That she orchestrated the riot to help a prisoner escape custody."
Swineheart nodded and again Bellwether spoke. "Yes, we know that as well. The mayor and I were both briefed by Warden Shackleford."
Lionheart shook his head. "But… I don't see how… how could one rabbit overpower the guards, grab a prisoner and-"
Again Bellwether spoke, her tone sharp and vaguely annoyed. "Question it as much as you like Lionheart. It doesn't change the facts. The mayor and I both saw the video from the prison security camera, Judy Hopps attacked the guards, overpowered them and escaped with inmate Wilde."
Again Lionheart shook his head. "But how? And why? An-"
"WHO CARES?!" Again Swineheart bellowed, the pain in her head making her shout louder than she'd expected. Turning her gaze to Lionheart she spoke, rubbing her temples as she did so. "What does it matter how or why? What matters now is how are we going to fix this? It was bad enough before, now that madmammal is loose on the streets; and he could be anywhere."
Lionheart shifted, his tail down as a sign of fear. "I know. I just… it doesn't make sense."
Sighing in agreement, Swineheart slumped back in her chair. It was true, Hopp's sudden reversal of allegiance had caught her by surprise. She may not have known the rabbit on a personal level, but she knew the name and reputation well enough; hard working, reliable, always willing to hear a theory even if it seemed crazy. Hopps had never displayed any extremist tendencies, except for maybe an extreme desire to get to the truth. But like Bellwether had said, they'd both seen the video from inside BelRev. They'd both watched as Hopps had knocked out two guards and shot a third before helping Wilde to escape in a mystery SUV. And what other explanation was there other than she'd betrayed the city? It was possible it was a setup, a double cross of some kind and that Hopps was still on their side… but the chances of that seemed slim to none at best.
"If I may mayor… I may have a way to solve this problem."
Blinking Swineheart turned her attention to Bellwether, while Lionheart did the same. "Really? How?"
Bellwether gestured to the window overlooking the city. "When dealing with extremists like this, the only way to get things back under control is to grab it by the neck. So to speak. I had hoped it wouldn't come to this. I had hoped Hopps might be able to get something useful out of Wilde, but not that events have unfolded I think it's time the city take a more proactive approach."
Lionheart cocked his head. "Proactive? The ZPD have been working night and say, as has the inter-city branches of the military. How mu-"
Bellwether cut him off. "Exactly; and yet they've found nothing. No leads, no evidence, they always arrive to late to stop the attacks and all they can do is clean up the aftermath."
This time it was Swineheart who cocked her head. "What are you saying Dawn?"
Bellwether looked at her. "What I'm saying mayor is that I don't think Hopps is working alone."
Lionheart's eyes widened while Swineheart raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean, just say what you have to say."
Bellwether smiled and nodded. "Simply put mayor… I find it hard to believe if not impossible that after five days in a city wide lockdown, these terrorists are somehow still able to come and go as they please without leaving a trace. I find it impossible that after 17 attacks in the city and over 2500 prey collared that there is ZERO evidence left behind about how these terrorists are. And I find it impossible that these mammals were able to get ahold of the technology and tactical gear they're currently using without the ZPD hearing about it. At best all this screams of utter incompetence and at worst… collusion."
That made Swineheart's eyes widen while Lionheart's tail lashed from side to side in agitation while his collar ticked to yellow for a moment before back to green. "You think their in on this?"
Bellwether remained silent for a moment, looking out the window. "Not all of them, no. It wouldn't be possible to keep something like this a secret if that were the case. But… a few of them… in key positions of influence and power… they could easily cover things up. Hell they could even have those under them helping unknowingly." Bellwether turned to look at the mayor. "I pray that I'm wrong, but… to many things had to happen for us to be in the situation we're currently in, and I find it impossible that NO ONE noticed anything."
A slightly stunned silence filled the office as each of them took a moment to digest what had been said. It was Lionheart who broke the silence first, shaking his head slowly at first but then gaining confidence. "No… no you're wrong. Thi-"
Bellwether spoke over him, turning to speak to the mayor. "Of course he, the only predator in the room refuses to see the truth. Maybe you wonder… doesn't it?" As she spoke Bellwether cast an accusing gaze at Lionheart, a gaze the mayor slowly began to watch.
"WHAT?!" Lionheart's collar beeped warningly, it's indicator light changing from green to yellow. "You thing I'm involved?!"
Bellwether Shifted, folding her arms In front of her. "I just find it odd that the district attorney the mammal in charge of prosecuting criminals in the city, is so resistant to a perfectly logical theory about the criminals terrorizing our cit-"
"ITS NOT LOGICAL AT ALL," Lionheart roared, his collar beeping again. "YOU'RE ACUCSING DOZENS OF MAMMALS WITH ZERO PROOF OF BEING PART OF A CRIMINAL CONSPIRACY AND FOR WHAT?" Lionheart looked to the mayor almost frantically. "Lion Christ Elizabeth think about what she's saying!"
Mayor Swineheart remained silent for several seconds, looking between the both of them. "I am Leo, I am listening to what she's saying. And… as much as I don't like it… I can't help but wonder… if what she's saying has SOME truth to it."
Lionheart's eyes bulged. "YOU CAN'T BE SER-ARRRRG!" Lionheart's words cut off as his collar activated, the powerful electroshock surging though his body making him jerk and tense where he stood for several seconds before ending and allowing him to relax again. Weakly she shifted, slumping against the wall while panting heavily. "Elizabeth… how long have we know each other… you can't honestly think…"
Mayor Swineheart sighed. "You're right Leo, we've known each other for 10 years… I know you'd never do anything to endanger this city. But I also can't help but wonder… if maybe… just maybe… you might be involved in some way… even unknowingly."
Bellwether nodded, a smile spreading across her face. "Exactly. We can't be to careful. Not with the safety of the entire city at stake."
"B-but… Elizabeth… you can't-RRRRGHHHHH!"
Again Lionheart jerked and twitched, his body tensing as his collar triggered again, shocking the large lion so violently that his claws came out reflexively, leaving several deep clawmarks in the wall.
"Enough of this." Digging into her desk Swineheart produced a collar fob and rushed to her friend, standing on her tippyhooves pressing the fob against his collar to override it's programming and shut it off for a time. "Leo… I'm sorry. But this… we're talking about the entire city. I have to be sure."
Lionheart groaned and grabbed at her sleeve weakly. "You…"
"You're dismissed as district attorney of Zootopia, effective immediately until this crisis has been dealt with." Turning to look at Bellwether Swineheart spoke. "Dawn, call my security detail, have them take him home so he can rest."
But Bellwether shook her head. "I'm afraid that would leave you under protected mayor. But I can have several TAME agents escort him home."
Rolling her eyes Swineheart nodded before turning her attention back to her friend. "Please understand Leo. When all this is done I'll make it up to you, I promise. I just… I have to get the city back to how it was."
Weakly he grabbed at her arm. "You can't… trust her…"
He patted his paw. "Hush now." As she spoke several suited TAME agents entered the office and moved to help pull Lionheart to his feet before hefting him and starting to drag him from the office. As the door closed behind them Swineheart turned back to Bellwether. "Now what?"
Bellwether smiled, "Now we can start to put this city back the way it should be."