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Familiar Fire: The Embers of the Past

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Chapter 24

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Passing over the border and into the United Mammal States, an unmarked car sailed down the motorway. It was completely unremarkable, just as its owners, the ZED,  intended it to be. Inside, Judy and Skye were seated, the bunny in the driver’s seat and the non-red red fox vixen in the passenger side.

The bunny couldn’t help but giggle as her companion opened the window and stuck her head out of it, her tongue lolling about as they went on.

Judy smirked a little. “Is this why you wanted me to drive?” she asked, though she knew that Skye didn’t have a license.

“Flubbufluvvfluvvaflubba…….”

The bunny couldn’t help but crack up a little, before taking some action. Their vehicle was a modern flashy 4X4 with all the mod-cons. It was sized for a use by a wolf or tiger but, like most government vehicles, a ‘size-flexible’ package had been ordered. Special seats were installed, the seat itself actually able to slide up the backrest to the right level. Once there, the seat surface behind the driver could be folded up at a variety of points, providing a full backrest. The cubby hole behind held a seatbelt which could be pulled out and strapped in on the opposite side, both at the lower level and at the correct height. There were presets for a number of size classes, and while it took a little time to sort itself out, it was easier than lugging a booster seat out and putting it in. Cooler too.

The pedals on the floor were locked out and a second, electronic, set came attached to the seat. Their spacing and distance down were, once again, adjustable and could automatically fit to the presets. Almost the entire cost of the ‘size-flexible’ package came from the specialist seats. Having power steering, the sensitivity of the wheel was tuned up for her, taking care of that. The only other thing that it came with was an I-Paw dock on the steering wheel. Put an appropriately sized device in and, once the app loaded up, it let her easily change the gears and control other functions, such as the wipers and lights.

One of the few things it didn’t control though was the windows, so Judy had to stretch over to the buttons on her door. She just about managed to clip her claw underneath the one that controlled Skye’s window, pulling it up.

A glance over, and the vixen was struggling to keep on leaning out. She tried to push her button, making the window go back down, but it was overruled. Sitting in an unadjusted seat, her head had only just about reached out of the window, and she was forced to pull it back in. “Hey….”

“Fun time’s over Skye,” she teased.

“Fine,” the vixen pouted, before looking forwards once more. Relaxing back, she settled down and watched the scenery pass, until she saw a nearby vehicle. “They’re doing it too!”

Judy glanced over, spotting a vehicle with a jackal pup nearby. His head was out and hitting the air too.

“He’s a pup.”

“He’s a canid, like me,” she pointed out with a shrug. “It’s a canid thing,” she explained casually, relaxing back a bit. Her legs were only just long enough to hang over the edge of the seat, but she pulled them up and slid them behind her and to the side a little for comfort.

Rolling her eyes, Judy looked over to her companion. “I guess so, but Fangmeyer asked us to be on our ‘best behaviour’ for this. Besides, don’t you get that thing whenever you fly?”

“Sort of,” Skye noted. “But doing it in a car is slightly different. Like… -Like the difference between a chicken sandwich made with chicken fried in batter, and a chicken sandwich with a bit of chicken that you breaded and fried!”

Judy chuckled a little, before turning her eye onto the road. It felt good driving, she didn’t tend to do it often, being able to fly or take the train to her parent’s place… -It wasn’t long ago that she’d drove for the first time in ages, what with not having to focus on catching Nick. While she’d heard about a lot of the changes at home, it had been quite something seeing them in person. That and catching up with everyone, meeting new brothers and sisters and nephews and nieces. She paused, sighing.

“That sounded very clouded.”

Judy turned to see Skye, who was looking up at her, concerned.

“Just thinking about my family,” she explained, turning back to the road. “Need to spend a lot more time visiting them… -catching up.” Looking around, she saw the open countryside around her and smiled. “I love Zootopia, but I grew up in the country. It would be nice to spend a lot of time out here again.”

“Do your family live near here?” Skye asked, curiously.

“No. This is Deerbrook, to the north. They live in Bunnyburrow, to the Southeast of the city. And about twice as far.”

“Nice,” she commented. She paused a bit, thinking about it. “I used to live in the countryside too. Don’t know where though. I moved to Zootopia and the ZED when I was still a kit.” She smiled. “It’ll be fun doing country stuff again.”

“If we get the time,” Judy said, smiling.

“Well, if we don’t, that’s what holidays are for!”

The bunny chuckled a little. “Maybe you could stay with me at the farm. I could show you all the places there and trails I used to walk along.”

Skye smiled, and Judy noticed her float a little in her seat. “Aaaawww. Thanks Judy!”

“You’re welcome.”

“And if I like that, maybe I could go hiking in the mountains or something the next time,” she said, dreamily. She paused, before looking over at Judy. “Or just go back to your place and drive more tractors.”

The bunny burst into a little giggle. “Really? Tractors?”

“Yeah,” Skye said. “Tractors.”

“Well, we have a ton of those, and a whole lot of old vehicles all around.”

“You could teach me to drive them,” Skye said, her ears pricking up in interest.

Judy nodded. “They’d be the right size for you too.”

There was a brief pause, and then a confused ‘huh’ from the vixen.

“Most bunnies buy old vehicles that are really one or two sizes too big for them,” she explained. “Helps with hauling around farm stuff and fitting in more kits, but you have to stretch a fair bit and can only just see about.” There was a pause, then a shake of her head. “It’s where all the ‘bad bunny driver’ stereotypes come from.”

“The more you know,” Skye noted, before looking at Judy’s set up. “Cars that can do that are cool,” she said, looking at the adjusted seat. “But I always prefer old fashioned things. Big engines and a big gear stick you push around. Hot rods and muscle cars and all…”

“Never knew you for a car lover,” Judy said, slightly surprised at the revelation.

Skye just chuckled, shaking her head slightly. “Never really looked into them given my powers,” she said. “But before I first flew I was so into cars! I had one of those little pedal car things, the red and yellow ones made of plastic with a roof over you, and my Dad helped me decorate it up like an old school roadster!”

“Awesome!”

“Yeah!” Skye boasted. “I wanted to put a BIG engine in it, though you couldn’t really get one in the commune where I was living.” She sighed a little. “My father said he’d try to get an electric motor for that, though it caused a lot of anger with…” She paused, shaking her head. “A lot of the other members were getting annoyed at him and, when I got my powers, he chose to move out with me.”

She trailed off, and Judy was quiet, thinking about what had been said. It sounded sad, and the emotion was felt through the vehicle.

“-Sorry.”

She paused, turning to see Skye fidgeting with the radio. The vixen looked up and smiled. “Made you all a bit cloudy there. Let’s have something fun instead.”

She tuned in to a pop channel and, soon enough, the girls were singing along. They carried on until they turned off the motorway, running down country roads as they approached their destination.

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It wasn’t long until they reached it. Driving along a hedgerow, they watched as it vanished, revealing the destination beyond. Past a simple fence a vast orchard of oak trees spread off into the distance, all the way down to a lazy meandering river, a small ribbon of forest on either bank. They paused as they approached a turn-off, a simple five-bar metal gate which was left open. Beyond it, two big coaches were parked up. One of them contained their client. Two mammals in outdoor clothing, security tags and stun-guns visible, walked out to meet them: a bear and an ibex. The former spoke first.

“You the enforcers?” he asked.

Judy, getting out of the vehicle, nodded. “Enforcer Hopps.”

“Enforcer Autumn,” Skye added.

The Ibex nodded. “This looks like them.” He held up a radio and called out. “Boss… -They’re here.”

He listened on a bit, before pointing at one of the coaches. “He’ll see you.”

They nodded and walked over. The door was open, they stepped in, and gasped.

The inside wasn’t a coach.

It was the ultimate motorhome instead.

They were inside a small lobby area, but no expense had been spared here, given that the floor seemed to be made out of marble. The walls were made of a rich wood, while the ceilings were white with gold inlays. The two girls looked around a bit, gasping slightly, before they brushed their feet and stepped up into the main vehicle proper. The front half contained a richly furnished lounge, dining area and a full-on granite topped kitchen, all merging into one-another. There was also a butler. A real-life full-on butler. The mammal, an armadillo, paused as he noticed them looking at him. He then stood up and addressed them. “Mr. Lanhoff is in his study,” he said, before leading them on. He knocked on a door and waited, before a mammal called out.

“Let them in, Howard.”

The butler waved them in and through the door they went. They stepped into a large mammal’s bedroom, with a bed at one side and a private bathroom at the back. On the other side stood a desk and a chair and, in it, sat a large deer in a suit. He looked up and, putting his book and glasses down, stepped over to meet them. “Hello,” he said.

The two enforcers replied likewise. Judy wasn’t so sure about what Skye thought, but she could hear an age in the mammal’s voice, and she guessed he was late to middle-aged. Indeed, she could see greying furs in his reddish-brown coat. She didn’t bring it up though, instead just introducing herself. “I’m enforcer Judy Hopps.”

“I’m enforcer Skye Autumn.”

“And my name is Edmund Lanhoff,” he introduced cordially. “You’ll be joining my guard entourage for this week, and it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you too,” Skye said, only to pause as she heard a strange rhythmic tapping. She looked to her right, and spotted Judy, looking down and beating her foot on the floor, deep in thought. “Uhhh… Judy?”

She looked up and stopped. “Sorry,” she said. “It’s just I swear I’ve heard that name before.”

“You may well have,” the deer noted, a tiny proud smile appearing on his lips. “I’ve had a long career and grown very rich from it,” he noted. “And made many mammals very rich as well.”

Judy nodded a little, before her eyes suddenly widened with realisation. “Lanhoff-Piper!” she gasped, sending Skye stepping back.

“Now that does ring a bell,” Skye noted, only to pause when she heard the deer chuckling.

“Mainly due to it being the partnership I’ve been in for the last twenty years,” he replied. “Though I assure you, I was already into the billions well before that.”

“I can imagine,” Judy replied, before turning towards a confused looking Skye. “He’s empowered,” she explained. “He has a detection ability and can use it to detect mineral deposits.”

“A bit more than that,” he noted, a little sternly. “It was a very weak detection power, unable to really pick out small things at any real distance. However, it does let me feel larger objects.” He paused, closing his eyes and smiling a bit as he did so. “When I was young, I could feel the water and ice in the clouds, or large murmurations of birds…” he trailed off a bit, before his eyes opened once more. “However, I quickly learned that my abilities could be very useful if turned below,” he said, looking down at the ground. “Minerals, oil, natural gas and other gasses, -much of the world’s pure helium deposits were found by me. Aquifers beneath deserts, deep geothermal fields and even large caves, sealed off and never before seen.” He smiled a little. “I used to drive around, locating them, and selling off the locations for a simple percentage of the revenue eventually produced. Or, at least, I did so.”

“And then Jeb Piper came along,” Judy filled in.

He paused. “Quite.”

“Who’s he?” Skye asked.

“A black footed ferret,” Judy explained, trailing off a bit. “They’re a very rare species. Used to be in the ‘500’ club for Zootopia and the states, and I think that the population is still barely above one-thousand. However, one of those families live in Bunnyburrow. I was about the same age as one of their kit’s. This boy named Travis.” She paused, snickering. “One day, he and his whole family turned up in a deluxe sportscar and in designer gear, and they were apparently going to build a mansion… -Which, for a small species like that, isn’t actually that expensive.” She paused, shrugging. “Turned out that one black footed ferret was a multi-billionaire and, one day, decided to give every living member of his species one-million bucks!”

Edmund nodded. “He is quite…. -spontaneous, like that,” he noted, his ears flicking back a bit as he talked.

Judy nodded. “I looked him up after that and remembered the name ‘Lanhoff-Piper’. I’m guessing that’s your company.”

“Our partnership, yes,” he agreed. “He has the ability to push forwards intense shockwaves.”

“Similar to my power?” Judy asked.

The buck nodded slightly. “Same family of powers, yes. However, his shockwaves are very small but intense, like a scalpel to your hammer. They’re not much larger than himself, but they are wedge shaped and can keep themselves going for several miles, even through rock. More specifically, at the height of his powers, the shockwave almost fuses the rock around the edges solid. Really drains him though, he often has to take a nap to rest after.”

“He can blast tunnels,” Skye stated.

“Yes,” Edmund replied. “They’re barely large enough to be used for rodent trains, so he has to go on all fours, and it’s too destructive for use in city tunnelling. However, his tunnels make very effective boreholes. That or the perfect place for explosives.” Pausing, he smiled slightly, nodding. “Ever heard of the Bradbird scheme?”

“That was in Terra Austrum, wasn’t it?” Skye stated, her eyes suddenly widening. “I watched a long documentary about it… -several times in fact.”

“Must have been a very interesting documentary,” the deer pondered, pausing as he saw Skye’s ears droop down.

“I was… -in hospital at the time,” she said, her voice wavering a little. “It was one of those mega-engineering programs that got played on the ‘ Mammalian Cartographers ’ channel, and I saw it come around a few times. Nothing much better on…” She paused, before forcing a smile and turning to Judy. “Anyway, the whole plan involved diverting some jungle rivers in the north east which just ran into the sea. One would be dammed and flow through a new canal into the top of another river, and that river would do the same thing further down, pouring lots of water into the third river. This would then be dammed, with water from a corner of the lake being pumped through a tunnel through the coastal mountains and into the rivers that flowed into the outback.”

“Indeed. The Bradbird scheme,” Edmund said, repeating himself. “His tunnel was a hundred and eighty kilometres long. One-hundred and ten miles. Would have cost a few billion to dig, but thanks to Mr. Piper it came to a fraction of that.”

Skye nodded before looking at Judy again. “Using normal mammals, it would be far too expensive, and even with dams you’d have to do a lot of pumping. This guy though could do something like five kilometres of little tunnel a day, though his accuracy was never pin-point. He’d blast it, rest, then walk to the end and blast a little shaft up to the surface in one go and be pulled out. The next day, he’d be lowered back down and start again. It took him forty days or so to cut through, digging a bit further to meet the interior river further down, so you didn’t need any pumps. He could go back through the tunnel, doing lots of little blasts to the side and down, always overlapping slightly so that the holes joined up. He’d do that for a day on one side, repeat it on the other, making a sort of triangle you see. The bit left would be blasted and carried away, and they were left with a perfect triangle tunnel! As his powers fused the rock and everything, it didn’t need reinforcing.” She paused slightly, catching her breath. “Anyway, it took him a year to do that bit, going from either tunnel end and a load of big shafts they’d dug in the middle. It took the diggers another year or so to fully blast and clear the rubble. By that time though the dams were ready, and the water started flowing.”

“Which, like with me, is where he made his money,” the deer pointed out, smiling a little. “While he got a hundred million, less than the costs of any tunnel bores that would be needed if they tried it the old way, the water sold makes about a billion a year and, before profits, he’s entitled to one percent. It pays him quite nicely, and that water helped to turn swathes of useless ‘grazing’ land into productive orchards and cash crop farms. More importantly, I learnt about him and made him a rather good offer.”

“Let me guess,” Judy pondered. “You find the oil, he drills it, and together you sell it.”

“Right thinking,” he complemented. “But not quite. With him and oil, there’s a serious blowout problem due to the pressure. Besides, with hybrid cars and biofuels and climate change and all that, it’s a dying industry. No. I wanted to be part of the future, and maybe give the old drillers a fair game too by going for something they could never afford to.”

“Geothermal fields,” Skye said confidently, stepping forwards as she did so. “That’s where I’ve heard of you before!”

“I can sense areas of boiling water trapped miles beneath the surface, he can go out and blast down to it. It then gets turned to electricity in our power stations and, as we each owned half of the initial stock, we get half the profits.” He crossed his arms slightly, a smug grin across his face. “Suffice to say, since we now produce a tenth of the world’s primary energy and have no intention of stopping, that is a lot of profit. Enough to hire you.”

“Fair enough,” Judy replied. She paused though, her nose twitching slightly. “I’m guessing you’re here to do that again, but I’m wondering why you hired us.”

He smiled slightly. “Actually, this site is quite unusual and interesting. We’re not here for traditional mineral deposits. Rather, there’s a report of buried treasure on this land…”

He was cut off as Skye burst out laughing. “No way! Seriously?”

An absolutely serious expression remained on his face. “My dear, I can sense it… -In fact two separate things, from here. It’s, something , for sure.”

“Woah.”

“Regardless of what it is,” he noted absently, looking away. “Given the fact that I’m only getting a ten-percent share, and the ludicrous cost of hiring you two out, I feel this won’t be one of my biggest earners.”

“But why did you hire us?” Judy repeated, a bit sterner this time.

“Manners, please,” he scolded. “I’m paying quite a lot to hire you.”

The bunny moved to speak, only to silence herself. Edmund seemed not to notice and carried on. “In any case, I’m hiring you because, as one of his eccentricities , Jeb chose to give a bodyguarding job to a very powerful empowered who, reportedly, just got out of a real life ‘fugitive’ situation. Now I’m…”

He trailed off, pausing as the two enforcers jaws seemed to drop to the floor. “Is… Anything… -the matter?” he asked tensely.

Judy broke off her gawking, but couldn’t help but stutter. “You… you… you…”

“I mean, I was surprised that such a thing existed,” he posited.

“But… -that… -that mammal!”

“I…” he began, before pausing, a sudden guilty look on his face. “Listen, I know I should trust him given what happened, and I applaud Jeb for helping. But can you blame me for being a bit nervous? It came as a surprise, and I’m just looking for a bit of extra security until I get to know this guy.” He paused, shaking his head. “I mean, I’m not going to go and break a signed contract or anything.”

“Okay, enforcers,” he began tensely. “You are beginning to worry me. What exactly-”

He was cut off as the door opened and an umkempt ferret in a white T-shirt, shorts, and a backwards facing baseball cap marched in. “Hey, Eddy!” he shouted, grinning slightly. “You tryin’ to upstage me or somethin’?”

He trailed off too as a perennial silence filled the room. Both he and Edmund looked at Judy and Skye, and then followed their eyes to a very worried looking red fox who’d come in with him.

The fox cleared his throat, turned one of his feet ever so slightly, and spoke. “Okay. I haven’t done anything, I swear! Besides, this is out of your jurisdiction anyway!”

“No worries,” Judy said, her voice quiet and shell-shocked.

Skye just blinked a few times before collapsing on the floor, thrashing around in a fit of laughs and giggles. Judy tried to keep her mouth shut, but she buckled over a bit, a wet raspberry beginning to escape.

“What on earth is going on!?” Edmund exclaimed.

Judy just about pointed at Nick, before turning up to the deer and speaking. “We know him! He’s a friend from work,” she managed to say, before bursting into laughter and joining Skye on the floor.