“Uuuuugh! Finally!” the rabbit groaned, rolling her head from side to side as she stretched her limbs to get all the kinks out. “It’s so good to actually be able to see the sun again. If I spent another minute cooped up in that crummy motel room, I swear I’d have completely lost my mind.”
“And I believe you one hundred percent when you say that, Fluff,” Nick said with a stretch and a yawn. “You seriously looked like you were about to kick a hole in the wall.”
“Yeah, well...I don't handle confinement well...Need to be able to jump around, get those muscles moving,” Judy explained lightly bouncing on her feet. “How long has it been, anyway?”
“About four days,” Nick answered.
“Really?” Judy shook her head in near-disbelief. “Wow...it felt so much longer…”
“Yeah...laying low can really suck,” Nick agreed. “But hey, at least you’ve developed a newfound appreciation for Finn’s stories.”
“Whoa now, I’ll admit they went a long way towards helping with the boredom,” the rabbit conceded. “But that doesn't mean I want to hear any more of them. I mean bucking broccoli, some of those stories were way too vivid! That was way more than I ever needed to know about mammal anatomy, let alone wanted to!”
The doe shuddered briefly as some of Finnick’s more...detailed...accounts flashed through her memory. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at a pretzel the same way again…”
“Hey, at least you got some nice laughs out of it. Besides, you'll forget all about those sordid details once Marian gets us to Henosia and the real work starts," the fox pointed out as they finally reached the docks. "But best look alive for now, lest we get trampled before we even meet up with her."
The docks were a chaotic flurry of ships, mammals, and machinery of all types and sizes heading in every direction. It had been somewhat busy when they first limped into the docks several days earlier, but this was something else entirely. It was probably as busy as that street Nick had chased Judy through when they first arrived, but with even less space to move around. Above all of the chaos, they could see Finnick standing on top of a pile crates, his large ears twitching as he looked back and forth, surveying the area.
“Don’t tell me you lost her, Gramps,” Nick called out to the older fox.
“Don’t be an ass, of course I didn’t lose her,” Finnick shot back. “Just trying to figure out the best way through this mess without getting flattened by some asshole who isn't paying attention.”
The old fox looked around for another minute or so before he jumped down from the boxes, certain he'd found the best path to take. He started moving through the controlled chaos before him, calling for Nick and Judy to follow. “Over this way, and watch your step, most of these guys won't notice or care if you're in their way."
"You're exaggerating, right?" Judy asked uncertainly. "There's no way the mammals out here would be that callous."
"Oh, sweet, innocent little bunny," Nick laughed as he walked ahead. "How little you know about the world."
"Just be careful," Finnick cautioned. "We'd hardly be the first mammals around here to wind up being scraped off the bottom of some megafauna's foot."
There was a sudden high pitched squeak from behind, both foxes turning to see Judy narrowly dodge out of the way of a rhino dock worker carrying a massive wooden crate. The rhino merely looked back at the bunny and gave her a dismissive snort as she scampered away.
“What did I just say, bunny?” Finnick chuckled.
“Better be careful, Fluff, dreams are hardly the only thing to be crushed out here,” Nick smugly grinned.
“Glad to see you both find this so funny,” Judy said, shooting them both a withering glare.
Nick just shook his head with a light laugh, “Well, just try not to get stepped on for a little bit longer, we’re nearly there.”
It was an arduous task to navigate the crowds safely, but Finnick made sure to steer clear of the larger mammals, or at the very least, the ones who weren't watching their step. Eventually, they managed to reach the edge of the docks where there was far less frantic activity going on. A number of seaplanes were moored to their pier with small teams of mammals tending to the maintenance and preparation of some of them.
“There she is!” Finnick announced.
“Where?” the rabbit asked, looking around in confusion. There were a number of other mammals; pilots, mechanics, dockworkers, and the like, but none of them were female.
“Right there,” Finnick pointed at an old twin-engined Gurrmam G-21 Goose seaplane sitting at the edge of one of the piers. It looked pretty beaten up from years of operation but was clearly well maintained. It was painted a metallic white with red trim on the wings, engines, nose, and windows. Far more interesting, though, was the image painted on the side of the fuselage right between the nose and the cockpit. It was of a rather sultry looking grey-furred vixen sporting a red one piece and a smile that could be best described as somewhere between mischevious and flirtatious. She was leaning slightly back with a Hoophson submachine gun held upward in her right paw. To the right of her was a single word painted on the fuselage: 'Marian.'
“Oh…” Judy said, her head tilting to the side.
Finnick's ears dipped a bit in disappointment at seeing the bunny's less than excited response. “Not what you were expecting, huh? Guess she is getting pretty up there in years now.”
“What? Oh no, it’s not that, it’s fine, really!” Judy anxiously tried to correct, shaking her head with worry that she might have offended the desert fox.
“Don’t bother trying to coddle me, bunny, I’ve seen that look enough times to know what it means. You're hardly the first gal who didn't like the first impression,” Finnick said, a cocky grin curling up his muzzle. “But don't worry, I always manage to get 'em to come around in the end.”
“Oh geez, no more stories, please, that’s now what I meant!” Judy almost shrieked, wrapping her ears around her face in an attempt to hide the pink glow beneath her fur. “When Nick called her your sweetheart, I thought he meant we were meeting a vixen or something.”
“Oh she’s one hell of a vixen, believe me,” Finnick remarked, banging his paw against the metal to emphasise his point. “She may not look like much, but trust me, the old girl’s got it where it counts. Will be a couple of days, but she’ll get us to Henosia, no problem.”
The diminutive fox walked over to a two-part hatch, pulling both halves open. “Come on,” he waved the other two over. “Waste too much time out here and we're likely to be spotted by some Coastline asshole, wouldn’t put it past ‘em to have teams watching most of the docks in the region.”
The three of them stepped through the hatch and into the plane itself, setting their gear and supplies down in the back. The interior was pretty barebones, a dull grey frame with lined metal and a few rigid seats with very basic padding. It wasn’t going to be a comfortable flight, but it would suit their purposes just fine.
Nick and Judy got their gear and supplies strapped in place at the back while Finnick went over the pre-flight checks and prepared for takeoff. As Nick finished and made his way to the cockpit, he noticed the smaller fox had ceased his activity and was just staring out the window.
“What’s up, Gramps?”
“Those two, over there,” Finnick answered, his gaze fixed on a pair of mammals outside. “They’ve been staring at Marian ever since we got here.”
Nick looked out the window at the pair Finnick had pointed out. The mammals in question were an oryx and a pronghorn wearing shorts and t-shirts. The oryx wore a blue shirt while the pronghorn wore a red one. Despite what Finnick had said, neither of them was looking their way. If anything it looked like they were having an argument as each took it in turn to shove the other. Unable to hear what they were saying, Nick moved to the hatch and popped the top half open to listen in.
“-ou shut up!”
“You shut up!”
“You shut up!”
“Alright, think I’ve heard just about enough of that,” Nick concluded as he pulled the hatch shut and dusted off his paws. “Not an issue, just some idiot tourists by the looks of it. Jeez, you’d think they were an old married couple or something, the way they were going at it.”
“You don’t think they’re Coastline?” Finnick asked. "I'll admit, they don't exactly seem like they have it together..."
“I may not be much of an expert on spying,” Judy added. “But I’d think even Coastline would be more subtle than those guys.” She jerked a thumb out the window back at the two mammals who had since moved on from shoving to clumsily locking horns.
“I dunno,” Finnick said hesitatingly, watching the two prey as their fight quickly took a turn for the embarrassing once they realized they were caught on each other's horns and began awkwardly trying to pry each other loose. “Why else would they be eyeballing Marian like that?”
“Come on, Gramps, with the kind of shit you like to paint on this plane, it’s a miracle every mammal in the docks isn’t staring at us right now,” Nick smirked.
“Not my fault they can’t appreciate quality art,” Finnick shrugged.
“Yeah, yeah, only the best for your baby,” Nick rolled his eyes, strapping into the co-pilot seat. “Buckle up, Carrots, I think it’s about time we headed on out of here.”
"Uhh, what about those two?" Judy asked. Pointing back at the two mammals still struggling to separate themselves. "Should we lend a paw or something before this spat of theirs draws the wrong kind of attention?"
"Nah, they look like they've got it under control," Nick said with a chuckle as the oryx pulled a bit too hard and finally managed to break free, only to go tumbling over the edge of the dock and splash into the murky water below. It took a moment for the pronghorn to realize what had just happened before rushing over in alarm. He tried to pull the oryx back up, only to wind up tumbling into the water along with his friend/enemy...they couldn't quite figure out which one they were.
Seeing that the situation had sorted itself out, Judy shrugged and strapped herself into one of the side seats behind the cockpit while Nick looked over the coordinates they had acquired from the temple and pinpointed their location on the map for Finnick.
“Should take us about a day or two to get out there, made sure we have enough fuel in the back for the return trip, too, so shouldn't wind up crashing into the ocean if all things go as planned. Now come on, time to get your tails in gear and watch this girl in action.” Finnick flipped several switches and hit the ignition. The propellers began to spin as the engines started firing up and built to a nice consistent roar. This lasted for all of a few seconds before they started sputtering and choking, finally dying down to an awkward silence.
“Uhhh...is it supposed to do that?” Judy asked in a concerned tone.
“I think Marian might’ve finally had it, Gramps.”
“Nah, she’s fine,” Finnick dismissed, reaching for a wrench. “She just needs a little love tap to get going is all.” He opened the side window and swung the wrench hard against the engine, a harsh clanging of metal against metal ringing throughout the plane. It seemed to do the trick though as the engines started sputtering and fired up again, the propellers spinning up until they were back at a consistent roar.
“See?” Finnick laughed in triumph. “What did I tell you?”
“That...should not have worked…” Judy muttered in disbelief.
“And yet it did, Fluff,” Nick called back. “You really need to learn not to question the good things."
"The last time I didn't question the 'good thing,' it ended with Coastline trying to kill us," Judy snapped back.
"Oh right...it did...but hey, we survived didn't we?" Nick awkwardly tried to justify, with the rabbit only staring in relatively tense silence, or at least as silent as it could be with a pair of engines roaring in the background.
“...I'm just gonna go ahead and get us out of here before you say something even dumber, Kid,” Finnick grumbled.
"Yeah...probably a good idea..." Nick winced, his ears and tail dipping slightly in embarrassment.
Shaking his head, Finnick started to guide the plane away from the dock and got into position for takeoff. Once he was properly lined up, Finnick began accelerating the seaplane forward, the whine of the engines increasing in pitch as the plane continued to gain speed until it finally lifted off from the sea and became airborne. Looking down, the three of them saw the ships and docks, they all looked so small against the wide expanse of the ocean, and only shrunk further as the plane gained altitude.
“Look out at all of that, Carrots” Nick called out, staring down at the endless blue of the ocean as it practically glittered under the sun. "Tell me this isn't the kind of thing you become an adventurer for!"
“It's so amazing from up here,” Judy gasped, staring down in awe at the sight below her.
“And it'll only get even more amazing from here on out,” Nick boasted. “Now get ready Henosia, we're on our way!”
Two Days Later
“We’re on the trail of Sir Francis Wilde's final expedition and it has led us here, to this small island chain all the way out in the middle of the Dakashi Ocean,” Judy narrated for her camera, facing it towards the approaching chain of islands partially obscured by low hanging clouds.
“Let’s get a closer look,” Nick suggested, turning to face the camera as the rabbit pointed it at him. "Just hope we're the first ones here."
“We better be,” Finnick growled, keeping his gaze focused ahead even as Judy panned the camera over to him. “If those idiots turned out to be Coastline after all and Marian gets shot up because of it, I'm gonna bite your tail off."
“Whats this? A threat to bite off something other than my face?” Nick smirked. “Nice work, Gramps, way to get those creative juices flowing and show some real originality.”
“Guess I can edit that part out,” Judy quietly chuckled to herself before turning the Pandasonic camera on herself and continuing the narration. “Will we discover the lost ruins of an ancient civilization predating the stone age and a fortune in forgotten treasure? Or do the islands have darker secrets in store for us?”
“There we go,” the rabbit said as she shut off the camera. “That should keep them hanging on for more.”
“You know, you’re pretty good at the upsell, Fluff,” Nick remarked. “I bet you’d make quite the hustler if you put your mind to it.”
“Thanks, but I think I’m doing just fine where I am,” Judy responded. “I’m looking to actually make a difference in the world, not swindle mammals out of their money.”
“Yeah, never been big on that sort of thing either,” the fox agreed. “Had the potential, probably would’ve been quite good at it had things gone a different way. No big loss though, I’d rather be out in the jungle or jumping around old ruins searching for treasure than on the street hustling some poor saps for a quick buck any day of the week.”
“You know, if you ever did decide to hustle, I could imagine you and Finn doing some sort of father/son routine,” Judy suggested. “Have Finnick dress up in a costume, give him a pacifier, it’d be perfect!”
Given the low growls and angry looks Finnick was throwing in their direction, it was obvious he didn't approve. But Nick decided to keep prodding anyways. “Might need to dye over the grey in his fur, but yeah, I think he'd do great in a little elephant costume.”
Judy burst out laughing at that image. “I can see it now, sweet little ol’ Finnny, wants to be an elephant when he grows up! You’d hear the awww’s from a block away.”
“What do you say to that, Gramps?” Nick mockingly asked. “I think you’d make a great elephant!”
“How about this?" Finnick answered, scowling menacingly at both of them. "If you two don’t shut up right now, then I'm gonna set Marian down early make you both swim the rest of the way! How does that sound?"
“Alright, alright, point taken, we’ll leave the grumpy old fox alone,” Nick relented. “Come on Carrots, let's go back and check the supplies.”
The fox and rabbit left the cockpit and took a quick stock of their supplies, confirming there was enough to last for a few days on the island as well as the return trip. Since they still had some time before Finnick would land the plane, they decided to sit down on a set of passenger seats and stare out one of the side windows at the approaching island chain.
Nick focused his gaze on the largest island, looking for any sign of ruins in the distance. With Judy being silent and no other noise besides the constant roar of the engines and the rushing of wind as it whipped past the plane, Nick found himself lost in thought as he stared out at their destination.
So this is the supposed resting place of Henosia, original Zootopia and pinnacle of a pre-stone age society. What was it you and the Blackhorn Empire were looking for out here, Wilde? Treasure? Knowledge? Something else, entirely? And why keep the expedition a secret? What was so important that you couldn’t let anybody else know about this place?
“So what’s so special about that ring?” the rabbit asked, snapping him out of his thoughts.
“The ring,” Judy repeated, nodding at the round piece of metal tied around the fox’s neck. “The one you’re always holding. That somebody special?”
Nick looked down, finally noticing the ring he'd been rubbing with his thumb. He had been so lost in his thoughts that he hadn't even realized he'd been doing it until the reporter pointed it out.
“Oh...ya...I guess that’s one way of putting it…” he finally answered.
“Huh…” Judy muttered in thought. “Guess it’s true what they say about foxes mating for life.”
“Be sure to tell Gramps that,” Nick chuckled. “He seems to have missed the memo.”
Finnick just took one look back at Nick and Judy with a brief glare before shaking his head and turning his attention back to the cockpit.
“No, this was Francis Wilde’s ring,” Nick explained. “I guess you could say I…'inherited’ it.”
“‘Inherited,’ huh?” Judy noted curiously. “I bet there’s quite the story behind that.”
“Oh there is, Carrots, believe me,” Nick responded. “Maybe I’ll even tell you someday if you decide to stick around.”
“I guess we’ll just have to wait and see,” the reporter said with a sly smile as she leaned over and grabbed the ring out of Nick's paw, pulling it towards her.
“Ack!” the fox gagged as he was pulled along for the ride. “Easy there, bunny, I’ve still got this thing tied around my neck! You've walloped me enough times already, I don't need you adding strangling to the list!”
“Oh don’t be such a baby,” Judy teased. “I just want to take a closer look.”
The doe peered closely at the ring, looking over every bit of its silver inlay design. One particular thing that caught her attention was the phrase inscribed on the outside, she narrowed her eyes as she focused on it, reading every word out loud.
“‘Greatness from small beginnings,’” Nick translated, beaming as he did. “That was his motto.”
“Seems like a rather fitting motto for a fox thief to live by,” the reporter grinned. “Puts a nice positive spin on what you do.”
“Treasure hunter, Fluff,” Nick corrected. “Though I can't blame you for mixing up the two. The differences are subtle, easy to confuse.”
Judy rolled her eyes. “Very subtle, in fact, one’d probably be forgiven for saying there aren’t any.”
“Ouch,” the fox gasped in mock sadness, placing a paw over his heart. “Why do you always have to go after my integrity like that?”
“Just trying to keep that ego of yours in check,” Judy smirked as she took a closer look at the ring, feeling it with her fingers until she noticed something. “Hey, what’s with the markings on the inside?”
“Those? Oh nothing important,” Nick answered as with a sly grin. “Just a little cipher used to translate all of Wilde’s notes.”
“Really? No kidding…” the reporter mumbled to herself. “I was wondering if it was just your ego talking when you said Dante wouldn’t have been able to figure out Wilde’s notes without you. But then I tried reading them back at the motel and it all looked like a bunch of gibberish. But if those notes were in code...”
“Then Dante wouldn’t have been able to figure it out,” Nick finished for the rabbit, grabbing the ring back and holding it up in his paw. “Not without this little beauty.”
“See, Wilde was always one to play his cards close to the chest. Probably why he wrote his notes in code to begin with. Wanted to make sure nobody else could make use of it without him knowing," the fox explained. "He probably knew that wherever this expedition took him, it would lead to something big. And with the Blackhorn Empire hot on his tail, he couldn’t risk letting his research fall into the wrong paws. Probably had his notes and ring sent away, made sure to keep them out of reach of the wrong mammals but still leave a trail of clues behind just in case.”
“For someone clever enough to figure it out,” Judy gathered. “Somebody like a certain sly fox.”
“Ah gee, Carrots, you’re gonna make me blush,” Nick smiled. “I didn’t know you thought so highly of me.”
“Oh no, I was talking about Finnick,” Judy answered with a smug smile of her own, barely containing her laughter as she saw the unimpressed look Nick was giving her now. “But then, you're pretty sly too, Slick Nick.”
“Oh wow, 'Slick Nick', how very clever of you," Nick jabbed sarcastically. "Really putting that wit of yours to good use."
He took a moment to look back down at the ring in his paw before turning his attention back to Judy.
"You know, that saying wouldn’t be such a bad motto for you either,” he suggested.
“Really?” Judy asked, her head tilted to the side.
“Sure, farmer’s daughter from the sticks, teaches herself bun fu or whatever and sets out to makes one of the greatest discoveries in mammalian history while beating a bunch of Coastline idiots senseless along the way? If that doesn’t have ‘Sic Parvis Magna’ written all over it, then I don’t know what does.”
Judy couldn't help but giggle at the fox's rather succinct summary of her life. “Sounds like a made for TV movie right there, that’s for sure. Just one mistake though, I didn’t teach myself how to fight, not entirely, anyway.”
“Oh? Can’t say I’m surprised. You seem like you know your way out around a brawl or two, but I had a hard time imagining a farmer's daughter turned reporter learning that sort of thing on her own,” Nick pondered as he flicked his tail against the seat. “Where’d you learn to fight like that, then? Kickboxing ring? Martial arts studio?”
“Police academy, actually,” the bunny answered.
Nick's ears flicked in surprise. “Police academy?”
“I wasn’t always a reporter,” she explained. “I actually used to be a cop in Zootopia.”
“Really? You, a cop?” Nick asked. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
“Always wanted to be one, ever since I could remember,” Judy said, a touch of nostalgia in her voice. “Just wanted to help mammals and make the world a better place.”
“Huh, well how about that..." Nick mused, trying to imagine her in a police uniform. "I don’t mean to prod, but given how you’re out here in the middle of the ocean searching for a lost city instead of chasing perps on the streets of Zootopia, I’m guessing things didn’t work out.”
Judy's ears drooped behind her and there was a look of mild sadness in her eyes. Nick couldn't help but wonder if maybe he'd just opened some old wounds of hers.
“That’s one way of putting it,” she answered sadly. “Did manage to achieve my dream...for two days…”
“Yikes, and I thought I’d make a lousy cop,” Nick winced.
“I was hired right after graduation, top of my class” the reporter started to explain. “But it was obvious the chief didn’t want me, stuck me on parking duty right off the bat and made it clear I was never going to go anywhere else.”
“Wait, they made you a meter maid?” Nick asked with a chuckle. “What, with the little hat and the vest and everything?”
The idea of the bunny in a vest and hat zipping around the streets of Zootopia struggling to jump high enough to jam tickets on car windshields was too much for the treasure hunter and he burst out laughing, much to the reporter's chagrin.
“Oh mam, that must’ve been precious,” he snickered. “You must’ve looked so cu-” he stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the deadly glare Judy was now pointing his way.
“Uhh...p-professional, y-y-yeah, professional” Nick stammered out, faking a cough as he did. “I was gonna say you must’ve looked so...professional...”
Nice save, idiot.
“You finished?” Judy asked in an irritated tone.
“Yeah,” Nick awkwardly answered. “Sorry…”
“Anyways…” Judy continued with a shake of her head. “There was a robbery right on the street I was working, so I jumped in and tried to stop it. Managed to catch the guy but the chief was furious at me for abandoning my post.”
A nervous look crept across the rabbit as she continued the story, “Well that...and...some other things I’d rather not get into. Anyways, that was one of the reasons I was fired in the end.”
“What was the other?” Nick asked.
“Insubordination,” Judy answered. “The chief didn’t appreciate me trying to go over his head when I offered to help on some missing mammal case, sent me packing after that and it was all over...”
“Huh...no good deed unpunished…” Nick remarked.
"I don't know," the rabbit doubted. "I was proud and impatient, I can't help but wonder if maybe things would've been different if I just kept a cool head and waited..."
"Nah, don't think like that. Fortune favours the bold after all, it's how a treasure hunter thinks, and I'd like to think it's how a good cop thinks," Nick offered. "Anyways, how'd your parents react? They're close, right? Disappointed to hear you got fired from your dream job?"
“Actually, they were thrilled,” Judy said. “They never wanted me to be a cop, thought it was too dangerous. They probably thought I was going to come back home and work the carrot farm instead.”
“Again, you're here instead of pulling carrots out of the ground in some farm county, so I’m guessing that’s not what happened, either,” Nick speculated.
“Obviously not,” Judy smiled. “Had a minor in journalism that I was able to leverage into a job as a reporter for Animalia Explorer. Mam, they were not happy when I dropped that news.”
“Sorry to hear the road has been so rough,” Nick said, feeling a bit guilty after hearing her story. “I know I sure as hell haven’t made things easy for you.”
“Yeah, well, things haven't exactly gone the way I hoped they would,” Judy remarked. “But hey, glass half full, at least I still get to do incredible things, right? Explore the world, discover long lost ruins, beat up some bad guys. Definitely beats working on the carrot farm. And I get to do some good as well, even if it’s not the way I wanted to.”
“Honestly, it’s probably for the best,” Nick said. “You can actually make something of yourself out here, rather than waste your life passing out parking tickets.”
“Waste my life?!?! Now wait just a minute!" the rabbit objected. "I’ll admit things have gone a bit askew, but that doesn’t mean I’ve given up on Zootopia! It may not happen right away, but I will go back there one day and try again!”
“Why even bother?” Nick challenged. “Zootopia was holding you back, that’s what it does to mammals like us! If you don’t play by their rules, the city crushes you, it doesn't tolerate free thinkers. This type of life though? Out here? This is made for mammals like us! It's where we belong!”
“Come on, Nick, it’s not as bad as you're making it out to be,” Judy reasoned. “Zootopia is proof of what mammals can accomplish when they put aside their differences and work towards something greater. It’s those old legends like Henosia made real, a place where anyone can be anything.”
“If that was really true, you’d be a cop right now instead of out here in the middle of the ocean looking for the ruins of a city built on the exact same lie as Zootopia,” Nick countered. “These so-called 'paradises,' where mammals can achieve their dreams and be whatever they want? Where prey and predator live in harmony and sing ‘Kumbayah?’ They're all lies, nobody really gets along and nobody actually cares about you or your dreams! Cities like those are where dreams go to die. They're not the paradises ignorant mammals think they are, they just happen to be run by mammals with a talent for pedaling crap as if it was gold!”
“Out here though,” he argued, spreading his arms wide to emphasize his point, “you can pursue your dreams! There’s no stubborn chiefs set in their ways here, no overprotective parents, no condescending mammals that will see you as nothing more than a meek little bunny! Out here, if you want to do something, you can, no stupid rules or systemic prejudices to hold you back! You say in Zootopia, anyone can be anything? I say that couldn't be farther from the truth! All of this, though? Out here? This is the real Zootopia, where you can actually live your dream! Out here, anybody truly can be anything!"
“This is your dream? This is the life you envision for yourself?” Judy asked incredulously. “That’s insane, Nick. Zootopia may not be perfect, but at least there, you can live your life without having to worry about getting shot or gutted by somebody just because you’re in their way or they thought you looked at them funny. I mean cheese and crackers, we have an entire mercenary company trying to kill us! And from the stories you and Finn tell, this isn’t even the first time something like this has happened. How can you seriously think this is any kind of life to aspire to?”
“It may be a dangerous life, Fluff,” Nick said. “But as far as I’m concerned, it’s the only one worth living. Out here, you’re defined by how good you are, and how lucky you are, not by your species. If you can’t do something, it’s not because you’re ‘just a shifty low-life fox,’ or a 'cute little bunny,' it’s because you just aren’t good enough. It's as simple as that. It truly is the great equalizer, more than Zootopia ever would be. I mean sure, it's pretty common for mammals to kill or cross each other out here, but at least it isn't because of what species they are.”
“Okay, I’ll admit that foxes get an unfair rap, I’ve had a mindset in the past that certainly didn't help things,” Judy conceded. “But a fox shouldn’t be on equal footing just because every other mammal in the room is equally likely to stab you in the back, that’s a hard way to live your life, and a lonely one too.”
“Yeah, well... I tried to do things your way once,” Nick said, his ears and tail slumping slightly. “I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say you’re hardly the first one to be told ‘no’ just because of your species.”
Nick turned around and stared out the window at the approaching isle. Kicking himself over the sharp turn the conversation had taken.
Dammit, it was just supposed to be a little chit chat... How the hell did you let it get so real?
His self chasting was interrupted, though, by a soft paw resting on his shoulder.
“Nick,” Judy gently spoke. “Listen...I-”
Nick barely even had time to even register the sound of whatever had been speeding toward the seaplane before it exploded against the hull. The blast rocked the entire plane, knocking Nick off his seat and sending him tumbling to the ground.
“Cheesy Pete's, what was that?” he heard Judy yell in surprise somewhere to his left. He looked over and saw the rabbit pulling herself up and rushing to the cockpit.
“Anti-aircraft fire?” Nick guessed as he struggled to make his way back to the cockpit, only to be nearly thrown off his feet again as the plane was rocked by a series of blasts.
“Mam, this is so not cool!” he yelled in frustration and panic as he grabbed onto the back of the pilot's seat. “Finn, what’s going on?”
“What the hell do you think? Some asshole’s using us for target practice,” Finnick shouted as he fought to keep the plane under control.
“Well, where’s it coming from?” Nick shouted, frantically searching for the source of the flak that was lighting up their airspace.
“Down there!” Judy yelled, her face pressed against the side windshield and her ears swiveling in the same direction as she focused on the water below.
The treasure hunter looked down and saw a number of patrol boats close together around one of the smaller islands. They looked like some sort of scouting party, several of them with flak guns strapped to their decks that were firing on the plane's position. Even from so high up, Nick could make out a symbol painted on the hull of some of the ships. An inverted triangle segmented into three smaller ones that were red, white, and black in colour. Nick knew that symbol, and it was one that spelled bad news for the three of them.
His thoughts were cut short as they were was rocked by another direct hit, Finnick gripping the pilot joystick hard as he tried to keep the plane steady.
“Seriously!?!?” Nick yelled as he caught onto the frame of the cockpit doorway to keep from falling over. “What kind of asshole brings AA guns on a damn treasure hunt?”
“Gree, I don’t know, Kid,” Finnick yelled over the exploding flak. “Maybe the kind that knew the competition would be flying in on a godsdamn plane?!?!”
“Hey, this isn’t my fault!” Nick defended himself, trying to ignore the fact that it probably was, in fact, his fault.
“Then why don't you explain to me how the hell they get the drop on us?!?!” Finnick shot back as he struggled against the joystick gripped in his paws. “Because they sure as hell didn’t stumble onto us by accident all the way out in the middle of nowhere!”
“Uhh...guys?” Judy jumped in, her paws gripping firmly to the copilot seat as if she were holding on for dear life. “Maybe spend less time arguing and more time getting us away from those guns!?!?”
“What the hell do you think I’ve been trying to do, bunny?!?!” Finnick snapped back as he pulled hard on the stick, trying to get the plane out of the line of fire. The plane protested and Nick felt a lurch in his stomach from the sudden shift in altitude, but the plane kept climbing, rocking and shaking every time the flak cannons struck too close for comfort.
“Godsdamn Coastline assholes!” Finnick yelled at the boats below. “Stop shooting up my baby!”
The flak finally ceased as they flew out of range and Finnick started to even the plane out. The relief was short-lived, however, as the roar of the engines was interrupted by a worrisome sputtering.
An encroaching sense of dread started to wash over Nick. “That better not be what I think it is…”
“Uhh...guys?” Judy called out, pointing at the stream of flames that were now trailing from the starboard engine. “We’re on fire!”
The engine continued to struggle before finally dying out completely as the propeller blades slowed to a crawl.
“Oh, that's not good…” Nick muttered, pretty certain what was coming next.
“Dammit, she ain’t gonna hold,” Finnick growled as he smacked the instrument panel in frustration. “We gotta bail out, now!”
“Bail out?!?!” a shocked Judy echoed. “Does this thing even have parachutes?!?!”
“Please tell me you didn’t skimp on those, Gramps!”
“Of course it has parachutes, what kind of dumbass do you take me for?” Finnick growled. “They’re in the back.”
Nick and Judy both made their way to the back of the plane, holding onto the interior frame to steady themselves. It wasn't enough to keep them steady though when the starboard engine suddenly exploded and violently rocked the plane, throwing both of them into the metal floor with a thud.
Finnick managed to keep the plane from rolling into a spiral dive, but the force of the explosion was still enough to cause the plane's hatch to tear loose. Nick managed to look up just in time to see it tear away from the hull and tumble through the air and out of sight.
Nick grasped the frame of a passenger seat with one paw and Judy with the other, making sure neither of them was about to take a surprise tumble out of the newly formed hole in the plane as he carefully pulled his way towards the parachutes attached to the back wall, his fur being blown in all directions by the wind the whole time. He quickly grabbed a small pack and passed it to Judy and then grabbed another one for Finnick as well as a larger one for himself.
“These better work, Gramps!” Nick yelled as he and Judy made their way back to the cockpit, placing a parachute on the seat next to Finnick for him to put on.
“Guess we’ll find out in a second,” the older fox responded, looking over at the parachute briefly before returning his focus to his steadily losing battle for control of the plane.
Nick bent down to the seat Judy was holding onto and helped her strap on her parachute.
“You ever done this sort of thing before?” the rabbit asked when it was fully strapped on, looking up at the fox anxiously.
“Of course!” he lied as he started putting on his own parachute. “You just jump, count to five, and pull the cord! Now get going!”
Judy half crawled over to the gaping hole where the hatch had been, her ears and fur flapping against the wind. She nearly froze when she looked out of the opening and down at the jungle far below.
“Oh cheese and crackers…”
“You’ve got this,” Nick shouted. “Don’t think about it, just jump!”
She turned back to look at Nick, her nose twitching with anxiety. “See you guys on the ground?”
“We’re right behind you,” Nick nodded.
She still looked anxious, but the rabbit managed to nod firmly before gripping her camera tightly to her side and leaping out the blown hatch. Nick held his breath as he watched her fall further and further away until her chute finally opened up.
With the reporter safely off the plane, Nick started making his way forward to position himself at the exit. He looked out at the jungle below, feeling a deep pit in his stomach that probably wasn’t too dissimilar from what the bunny had been feeling a few moments earlier.
Turning to look back at Finnick, he noticed that the smaller fox was still in the pilot seat, his parachute untouched.
“Gramps!” Nick called out. “Come on, we gotta go!”
“You get outta here, Kid!” Finnick called back, turning around to check that Nick was next to the exit and ready. “I’ll be right behind you.”
“Marian’s done for, Gramps!” Nick yelled in frustration. “Just pull the autopilot and get your chute on so we can get the hell out of here!”
“I don’t know if you’re aware, Kid, but that damn thing wasn’t designed to keep Marian steady when one of her engines has gone up in godsdamn fireball!” the desert fox shouted. “If my baby’s going down, I’d rather keep her airborne long enough for you to get your worthless tail off of it first!”
“Dammit, Finn, now’s not the time!” Nick shouted.
“Exactly! Now get going, or we’ll both be dead for sure!” Finnick argued before turning back and focusing on trying to keep the plane as steady as possible.
“I’m not leaving you behind!” Nick yelled in frustration.
“What?” Nick called back, a bit caught off guard by Finn using his actual name for once, but still running out of patience.
“You got your parachute strapped on?”
“Of course I do!” the red fox answered, not sure where his partner was going with this.
Suddenly, the plane rolled to the left and Nick was sent tumbling out the blown hatch towards the island jungle below.
“Son of a biiiiiiiiitch!”
The fox ignored the advice he'd given the reporter, scrambling to pull the chord for his chute as fast as possible.
Nick grunted in pain as he felt the harness press hard into his body when the parachute released and caught the air. He looked down at the jungle below and realized something was wrong. His descent had been slowed, sure, but he was still moving fast, way too fast. He looked back up and that pit in his stomach returned when he saw that his parachute had an uncomfortably large tear in it.
“Dammit Gramps…” he mumbled before looking back down at the rapidly approaching trees.
Well, this was it, he’d done everything he could but the situation was out of his paws now. There was only one thing left for him to do.
“Oh, crap! Crap! Crap! Crap! Crap! Crap!”
His flailed panicking came to an abrupt end as he crashed into the jungle canopy.