"Nick, if you won't say it, I will."
They were trying to keep quiet. Their cloaks were working well, the repurposed fabric shielding them from view. After a close call early on – the murmur of two mammals talking – it made sense to stay silent.
But Judy just couldn't.
"Say what?" Nick's voice was low, coming from somewhere behind her. It was bad enough she couldn't see her own body, but it was worse not seeing Nick. She had grown used to watching him, trying to pick up the little cues he'd never say aloud. He needed that. Especially now.
"Bellwether is dead."
They sailed in silence. When Nick didn't reply, Judy pressed on. Or tried to.
"Back when Bogo first told us, I didn't believe it. I just assumed it was a trick, which... I was right, but not completely, and..."
"...She's dead. She's really dead."
She bit her lip, trying to order her thoughts.
"I mean, I know it's good news – or it's at least not bad news. It's... She... Even from prison, she was plotting to hurt us. And now she can't. So that's – y'know. But..."
"Am I crazy? I... I don't feel relieved or happy or, or, vindicated. It's just starting to sink in. Bellwether's dead."
There were a few more seconds of silence. Judy wished Nick would say something. She had no more words left.
Finally, his voice floated by.
"I don't know what to tell you..." His tone darkened. "Other than you'll have to figure it out on your own time. We're here."
Judy looked up. He was right.
Cliffside Asylum jutted against the sunset like a skeletal finger. As the dark tower got closer, so did the constant roar of the waterfall. Judy remembered exactly how tall that waterfall was from that time she had fallen down it. It wasn't an experience she intended to repeat.
"Okay. Time to land."
Nick just grunted. It pained Judy that he was so... wordless, so lacking his usual unstoppable wit. But pointing that out would just make him feel worse.
With subtle movements of their only oar, Judy nudged their canoe into the bank. They were still a distance from the asylum, since they couldn't risk getting seen early.
"Alright..." murmured Judy. "You ready?"
"Yes," said Nick. Judy heard the eager buzz of Carmelita's pistol somewhere beside her.
She took a breath. "Okay. Let's go."
They went. Judy listened carefully for Nick's footsteps – he was right behind her.
Before long, they made it to Cliffside's main entrance. After Lionheart's arrest, the ZPD had locked the building down. But as months passed, the new security had eroded, constantly tested by teenagers eager to explore the abandoned asylum that had made headlines. At first, the only changes Judy noticed was a sharp drop in wolves and a sharp rise in crass graffiti.
But then she noticed something else, small and black and barely visible. Perched over the front doors, keeping watch.
"Cameras," she whispered. "Someone's put up little spy cameras to watch the door. Penelope really is here!"
"Like I said." Nick's voice was low. "Don't slow down. The cloaks work on cameras too."
She heard him overtake her, heading for the door. Penelope had taken the time to install cameras, but not bolt the entrance shut. Judy saw the door creak open very slowly, just enough to fit a fox. She waited one second, then followed.
Cliffside was dark.
Once her vision adjusted, Judy noted that the main lobby was still empty. But there were strange tracks through the dust coating the floor. Recent.
Nick's eyes suddenly appeared, floating in mid-air. The sight took Judy off guard for a moment, but she realised he had adjusted his cloak and sunglasses intentionally.
We go to the top, said his glance upwards. She's probably there, said his glare.
Judy nodded, knowing he could see her despite the cloak. He nodded back, and his eyes disappeared.
She followed his footsteps up the stairs. To the highest floor.
Moving through silence and empty corridors, it was easy to make out a distant sound coming from above. They took every flight of stairs, passing floor after floor of cracked windows, until there were no more stairs left. Then they crept down the hallway, following the sound to an old security room. The door hanging open.
Police instincts made Judy take cover against the doorframe. Even invisible, she moved cautiously. She thought she was prepared for facing the mastermind behind the Phantasm. But once she glanced inside, she stopped short.
The room itself was unremarkable – old furniture shoved to the walls, one desk reclaimed as a workbench, cluttered with tools and spare mechanical parts. Even the dour grey bricks, so claustrophobic and dark, had faded to background noise. What had shocked Judy was the occupant.
It could only be Penelope. Donned in a dark yellow jumpsuit and thick gloves and heavy boots, face obscured by a industrial welding mask – all topped off, incongruously, with a fun red bandanna.
She was almost five feet tall.
What the heck?! said Judy's eyes. Sly said she was a mouse! How is she taller than you?!
Nick said nothing.
Penelope was at the desk, idly tinkering with her tools. Next to her sat a pastel pink laptop, connected to a set of pastel pink speakers. The source of the noise.
"...joining us, this is Katherine Cougric reporting live from the Museum of Natural History. The massive police presence in the plaza is finally being withdrawn, but the ZPD has still made no comment to the press as to the purpose of the blockade. This comes amid continuing public concern for the city's own Officers Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde, missing since Saturday morning. More devel–"
Penelope reached over and turned off the speaker. She chuckled lightly. "Where oh where could little Nick be?" She switched tabs on the laptop, watching a small green dot weave through a map of Zootopia. "Let's see... Rainforest District. Probably about to leave the city, I guess. Smart fox."
Judy watched Carmelita's pistol materialise from thin air next to her. And then Nick stepped out and shot Penelope in the back.
The force of the blast threw Penelope from her seat. She flew over the table, taking the laptop and speakers and half the mechanical pieces with her, before crashing against a stone wall with a terrible clatter.
She lay on the floor, motionless. Nick and Judy approached, cautious.
Then she sat up. "Oh. Okay then. Dumb fox." Her mask turned to face them. "Hi."
Nick shot again and Penelope just raised her hand and caught it. The fingers of her gloves dug into the electricity.
"She's–" Judy backed up a step. "She's got the same gadget Wolf had on the ship."
"Huh? Oh, yeah," said Penelope. "Gave him a prototype to play with."
The blast of electricity hadn't dispersed. It vibrated in her grasp, struggling like a trapped animal, becoming more and more unstable–
"But this one's more advanced."
She flung the blast back at them. They went to dodge, but the electricity dissipated like smoke, spreading and thinning, until it was a thin mist passing over them with nothing more unpleasant than a tingle in their teeth.
Penelope stood. "Oh, by the way, speaking of prototypes..."
Their cloaks fizzled, electricity licking along the edges. Suddenly, Judy could see Nick again. She could see herself again. Just black fabric.
"Smart of you to use my own tech against me." Penelope sounded genuine. "But as we all now know, an electric current totally disables the polymer. Thanks for the field test, Nick, I'll work on that."
Nick literally tore off his cloak, pulling the fabric hard and letting it rip against his shoulder. His sunglasses were locked on Penelope's mask.
She just scoffed. "Wow. Nice outfit, dork. Black shirt and black pants? Bloodgunn called, he wants his pyjamas back."
Nick said nothing. Judy frowned. "What...?"
"Y'know, Bloodgunn! The really edgy character? Epitomises everything wrong with the comics industry in the Nineties?" She sighed. "My wit is wasted on you normies. See, after the success of–"
"Shut up," snarled Nick. Judy glanced over, worry in her eyes, before snapping back to Penelope. "Just surrender," he continued. "This ends here."
"You're right about that," she said. "If you got here without me noticing, that means you've bypassed my tracer. If you bypassed my tracer but didn't flee the city, that means you're really serious about stopping me. Ergo, only one of us can walk out of here." She shrugged. "Not what I would've done, but hey. Your funeral."
"Nick's right!" said Judy. "You're alone out here."
"Probably because you murder your partners," spat Nick.
"Y-...yeah. So don't kid yourself. It's two against one."
Penelope chuckled, one hand on her hip. The light glinted on her visor. "...You sure about that?"
With a explosion of masonry, a wall shattered.
They stared – and had sudden flashbacks to Springtrap. But this wasn't the work of some deranged hobbyist, a shambling concoction just about able to stand. This was professional. It was hulking, decked from top to bottom in thick black armour. It was deliberate, moving slowly but nowhere near slow enough not to be a threat. And it was armed, hefting a huge axe with both arms.
"Ohdear," said Judy.
The robot swung its axe and they fell back. Penelope was laughing.
"Did you seriously fall for the same trick twice?" she crowed. "Why'd you think I stood there talking? Not everybody is as chatty as Sly." She reached for her toolbox. "Honestly. A life-or-death situation, and I start explaining comic book history? Is that really so normal for you that you didn't question it?"
The axe swung again and again, pushing them out the door and back down the hallway. Penelope's voice followed.
"This is the Black Knight. Got tired the character – not my best work – so I replaced the manual controls with a rudimentary AI. Now he's my home security system!"
Nick was firing at the Knight's helmet, but as with the prototype Phantasm, the shots just fizzled. They kept losing ground.
Penelope appeared in the doorframe, watched them for a second, and ran the other way. Her laptop – the evidence – was under her arm.
Nick growled. "She'll escape!"
"No." Judy struggled out of her useless cloak, bunching it in her arms – she needed the full mobility of her uniform. "You're gonna catch her."
He glanced over. "Hopps?"
Judy smirked. "C'mon, Slick, slaying giants is my speciality. I've got this."
The axe came down inches away, kicking up sparks, and they both stumbled back. Nick hesitated.
Judy's expression turned serious. I'll be fine. Go.
I'll be back for you.
Judy threw the cloak, covering the Knight's helmet. It paused, lifting a huge hand to remove the obstruction to its internal cameras – and Nick scrabbled between its legs and down the corridor.
Judy watched her partner disappear. Then she took a breath, rolled her shoulders, and tried to work out how to kill a robot.
Nick followed the sound of Penelope's footsteps, eyes hard. He found her in the only other accessible room on the floor. It was large but cluttered, evidently used for storage. Mechanical debris littered the space, and stocky metal barrels slightly taller than Nick stood in groups of two or three throughout.
Penelope whirled around as he entered, the light catching her visor.
Nick raised the pistol. "You aren't going anywhere."
"Obviously," she said. She nodded to her laptop, sitting on a barrel. "I was just moving my stuff so you wouldn't mess with it. You do realize I can't let you live, right?"
He just fired.
This time she didn't even move. The blasts caught against her jumpsuit, slowly fizzling out. "Yeah, still immune to electric shocks. Clearly you've been spending too long around Carmelita."
He watched the blasts dissipate. She watched him.
"That thing is symbolic of her, isn't it? Sure, it's impressive. Packs a real punch. But it's childish, too. It's childish to think you can just zap your opponents and lock them up somewhere. Me, on the other hand... I go for more permanent solutions."
She raised her hand, and Nick was moving to dodge even before he put words to the object.
oh my god real gun
Shots rang out, tearing through the space he had just been. Nick had managed to throw himself behind nearby barrels. The motion was too violent for his sunglasses, and they clattered to the floor. They lay on there, defenceless.
"Really?" called Nick, pressed low against the barrel. "Just a gun? I was expecting a freeze ray or something."
She chuckled. "I'm an engineer, Nick. We look for efficient solutions. And nothing's more efficient than a metal slug tearing through you at supersonic speed."
He heard her boots moving. He crept silently, trying to keep cover between them.
"Of course, I'm also a trained boxer and not too shabby with a sword, so I could kill you a couple different ways if you pinky-swear to hold still. But I think you've earned the quickest method."
Nick squinted into empty air. This sounded like a former friend of Sly's, alright.
These people were exhausting.
Judy was definitely starting to wonder about Penelope Earhart.
There were dozens of ways a genius of her skill could incapacitate or even kill Judy. A sonic blast would be the obvious choice, given rabbits' sensitive hearing, but Judy would be just as vulnerable to blinding lights or neurotoxin or a set of automated turrets. Or a net.
But no. Judy was fighting a big, black robot swinging a big, black axe. Now she understood what Bentley had said about 'a flair for the dramatic'.
The Knight had followed her down a corridor, back towards the stairs. The stairwell was dominated by a huge glass window. The glass was cracked, unstable, wind whistling angrily through the weaknesses. Grey clouds still choked the sky, but the setting sun was punching through a few dim red rays.
Judy glanced behind – and yelped, leaping to one side. The axe slammed into the floor, barely missing her. She sprinted to the stairs, and then, slowed to a stop.
Maybe the Knight wouldn't follow her down. But then what? This was only the access to this floor. There was no point descending.
She was wasting time. Nick needed her.
Judy turned, glaring at it. "This is unfair! You aren't supposed to hurt people! Isn't that the First Law of Robotics or something?"
The Knight stomped toward her. Impassive. Axe ready.
Judy shook her head, trying to clear it. She had to stay focused. But for some ungodly reason – probably Penelope's weird tangent about comics – all her brain was giving her was a half-remembered summary of the classical laws of robotics. A robot shouldn't harm mammals, or allow mammals to be endangered, or endanger...
She looked up. She ran some very, very quick calculations, comparing the speed of a huge axe against the speed of a rabbit cop.
It would work. It would probably work. She smirked.
Judy slid over to one huge foot and waited. The Knight watched her, lined up its swing, and struck. When she jumped clear, the axe slammed into the robot's own shin. It bounced off.
Judy examined the blow. "The armour's stronger than the axe..." Her smirk strengthened. "But you still proved my point. No fear means no self-preservation instinct."
She backed up, closer to the stairs. The broken glass, the rush of wind, the distant roar of water.
"See, us mammals, we feel fear for a reason. It's a useful warning."
She cast a glance down the hall as the robot lumbered closer.
"The only problem is when you start feeling too much..."
Judy returned her focus to the Knight, preparing herself. Her smirk grew into a grin.
"Or, in my case – not nearly enough."
The Knight brought its axe down and she slipped aside, then ducked under its legs. The Knight turned in place, but Judy was ready. She leapt up to its elbow and grabbed on, then swung to the other side, coiling her legs against its metal arm and jumping even higher.
Until she was clinging to its face.
The Knight's internal cameras struggled for a moment to focus on something so close. But it recognized its target. It neatly rotated the axe. And it swung.
All Judy had to do was drop. The Knight hit itself full force. For a moment, it stayed upright. But the call of gravity was too strong, too close, and slowly, slowly, it tipped backwards. It clattered down the stairs, the noise loud and ghastly. By the time it reached the window, it was unstoppable. The brittle glass cracked around it, giving way, and with a crash it fell through.
Judy watched it plummet down the tower and into the waterfall. There was a distant boom as it hit the water and disappeared.
She smirked. "Lawbreaker."
With that, she hurried back to Nick.
Nick stayed low. And he stayed alive.
He was outgunned. Even if Carmelita's pistol worked, it couldn't match a ballistic firearm on speed or lethality. He could blast Penelope a thousand times and her gadget might still protect her. If she got in one good shot, it was over.
So he stayed low. It felt humiliating to skulk around. He had come this far, just to cower for his life. And she wouldn't shut up.
"What's the matter, pal?" Penelope's boots echoed through the room. "Don't tell me you came all this way without an actual plan..."
Nick saw her reach his sunglasses, still lying on the floor. She paused over them, looking down for a moment. And then, with an abrupt motion, she crushed them. The hard plastic broke under her boot, shattering instantly.
Penelope resumed walking, turning her head slowly. "Listen, Nick. I bet you're expecting me to monologue, to call you a fool or an insignificant trash-eater or whatever. I won't. You and me, we're pretty similar."
"Ah. So you're opting for that cliché instead."
"Seriously, we are! We're both smart. We're both capable. And both of us know Sly Cooper as the self-obsessed scum he is."
She looked around. Not for the first time in Nick's life, back-talking had been a mistake. Penelope now had a better idea of where he was.
"You played this all wrong. If you brought me Sly, I could end this. Clear your name in an instant. What's it to me? Dawn's dead. It's not like she cares." The pistol was steady in her grip. One step after another. "You know where he is right now, don't you?
Nick said nothing.
His grip tightened around Carmelita's pistol. What would she do? If her best weapon was rendered useless, how would she adapt?
It wasn't much of a thought experiment. He had seen it first-hand back on the Tamatoa. When Wolf was immune to her pistol, she just beat him with it instead. It was reliable. Blunt.
Penelope was advancing on his position. Nick took a silent breath, steadied himself, and threw his only weapon across the floor. The pistol skidded into a pile of drone parts, arriving with a crash.
Penelope stopped, her head rotating toward the noise. Nick watched as she changed direction.
"Seriously." A note of pity entered her voice. "It's not worth it. Sure, he's smooth, and handsome, and charming. He wins you over fast. But then what? You're following his lead, doing what he wants. Forever." She shook her head, passing him by. "You shoulda walked away, Nick. Don't waste your life doing Sly's busywork."
She passed Nick without seeing him and he pounced.
He elbowed her mask, doing no damage but managing to startle her, and seized the chance to grab her pistol. They wrestled for a second – how was her grip so strong?! – but Nick's police training won out.
Judy returned just in time to see Nick push Penelope back. He had the gun.
"This isn't for Sly," he snarled. "I'm doing this for me."
Without an ounce of hesitation, he aimed for Penelope.
Judy froze. "Nick, no–!"
He shot her six times in the chest.