“Question One: what happened?” Miss Morton borderline snarled through her personal com-link, making Jack wince. “Question Two: what the fuck happened? First you lose the disk, then you end up having to tell Swinton a cock and bull story for why you’re extending your stay in the city, then a pack of western terrorists storm in and-”
Alyssa leaned in and spoke before Jack could stop her. “If you’ll belt up for one second, he can tell you.”
“Excuse me?! Who is that?! Agent Savage, who is that speaking on this line!?”
His head throbbing from his recent sedation, Jack physically held Alyssa’s mouth at bay as he answered. “That would be Agent Skyefall from ZI6.”
Morton did not like that answer. “Do not tell me that was the vixen who stole your intel.”
Alyssa forced Jack’s paw down. “Technically I duplicated it.”
Jack would have smacked his forehead had both paws not been full. Instead he gave Alyssa a look. “Stay out of this.”
It was a look usually reserved for soon-to-be victims who deserved worse than death at Jack’s hands, so it was enough to make Alyssa shrug and back off.
Jack sighed and returned to the com-link. “Sorry about that. It’s liked being allied with a bunch of kids.”
“For the last time, what happened?” Miss Morton asked slowly and angrily.
“At first I thought it was a robbery in progress.” Jack said. “I was unarmed at the time, and I was darted before I could even call the police to let them handle the matter. When I came to, the invaders were gone and nothing had been taken. Instead more than half the prey mammals taken hostage were fixed with black TAME collars.”
“No, I’m mercifully collar-free.”
The silver lining seemed to calm Miss Morton. “Good, good to hear. What’s happening now?”
Jack looked through the narrow gap between two massive slot machines and quickly scanned the rest of the massive casino and adjoining bar; the edgy ex-hostages were being tended to by paramedics on chairs and couches, the collared ones being figuratively quarantined from the others via the lounge area in between. Bisoniing sat among them, his face a picture of displeasure. Being forced to sit among the lesser mammals, with a TAME collar around his neck, was doing no wonders for his pride. The ZPD officers were watching all the exits as far as Jack could see, waiting for the ZBI to arrive and assume control of the investigation. Alyssa was nearby perusing a disposable phone. “Basically the hotel’s on lockdown. No-one goes out and no-one goes in. So until the higher ups say otherwise Skyefall and I are basically stuck in here.”
“God damn it.”
Jack’s ears fell flat at the tone of disappointment in her voice. “I’m biding my time until the ZPD allows us to leave the building, but as I haven’t been collared I’ll be allowed to return to my room once they finish searching it.”
“They’re searching your room?!”
“They’re searching everyone’s rooms, ma’am, in case this was an inside job. The warrant was issued almost instantaneously.”
“That fast? Swinton must be quite on edge to go over their heads like that. Have you contacted Llater yet?”
“Not yet. I’ll debrief him as soon as I can.”
“You’d better. Leave this to the ZBI. I want you to go straight back to finding Slothfeld’s disk as soon as you are allowed to leave, is that clear?”
“Good. The safety of our nation is riding on this, Savage. Don’t let us down. Morton out.”
Jack put away the com-link. Alyssa raised a paw. “Permission to speak now?”
The rabbit narrowed his eyes. “No.”
“Well, seeing as you’re not the boss of me I’m gonna talk anyway.” Jack couldn’t help but smirk at the vixen she leaned against a slot machine built for a rhino. “While you were busy placating her prissy royal highness…”
“Prissy? You heard her say the F word louder than the bells of Notre Dame.”
“Anyway, I answered a text Honey sent me while we were both out cold. She’s spent the last few days hacking and searching the traffic camera footage of the Arctic House, and she’s figured out who found the disk- I mean ring.”
Jack’s droopy ears shot straight back up. “Finally some good news! Who is it?”
Alyssa leaned forward. “It’s-” Jack’s com-link cut her off with a sharp beep. “Unbelievable!”
Jack sighed deeply. “Please, please be quiet this time.” He tapped the button. “Yes, ma’am?”
“That’s sir to you, Agent Casanova!”
Jack raised his eyebrows. “Llater?”
“If you picked up the phone, that means you’re alright.” Llater said. “I heard the Palm Hotel was one of the buildings that were hit. You didn’t get yourself collared, did you?”
“I’m fine.” Jack said. “What’s happening at City Hall?”
“Swinton’s fine, unfortunately. She’s back at City Hall assuring everyone she’s got the situation under control. Bellwether and about thirty others got collared when the debate was interrupted so they’re staying put at ZNN.”
“One of the buildings? What else was attacked?”
“Two sites were attacked in every district in the city. For each district, one unimportant site was either bombed or burned to divert the ZPD’s attention while another site was raided with those collars.”
“Every district?” Jack would have been impressed had it not been the work of terrorists. Alyssa on her part looked troubled. “Sounds like the work of a small army.”
“I’ve been doing a little reconnaissance since Swinton and the Triumvirate got back, and they’re pretty much in the dark as to who’s responsible.” Llater said. “They do have two suspects though. Swinton’s pretty sure Slothfeld’s double crossed her somehow. Pottermass agrees with her, but…”
“But?” Jack asked.
“Llamadaeus thinks it’s Liberum come back from the dead.”
Alyssa scowled, mirroring Jack’s own reaction. “What makes him so sure it’s Liberum?”
“There have been rumors going about for years that not all the Liberum members were wiped out.” Llater said. “You’re ZIA. You must have heard them yourself.”
“Yes, but they were more theories than rumors.” Jack said. “Allegedly it was too dangerous to retrieve the carcasses to do a thorough body count. Still is according to the latest reports.” Alyssa’s scowl turned curious, but she didn’t interrupt.
“If it’s true, then this could be Roarcadia all over again.” Llater’s tone took a hard edge. Jacked shared his trepidation. “What do you suggest we do about it?”
“I have my orders. I’m to focus on my mission and leave this case in the ZBI’s hands.”
“I assume by ZBI, you refer to I.” Llater said.
“Don’t sound too excited.” Jack said sardonically. “Just gather up as much information as you can until the ZBI investigators arrive. Find out if Liberum is indeed behind this. Savage out.”
With the com-link quiet at long last, Jack fell back against the cool metal pole of a slot machine stool and slid to the floor. “For crying out loud, what next?”
Alyssa edged herself to his side, a scowl still on her snowy face. “Zootopia becomes another ghost city.”
Jack nodded, keeping his sight above the vixen’s raised knees. She sitting in a position that would have exposed her underwear for all to see has she not been wearing pants. Jack thanked God for that- now wasn’t the time for Bond-style carnal shenanigans- and added to her statement, “Another mammal-made disaster for the history books.”
They sat there silently for a while, listening to the indiscriminate voices around them. Alyssa occasionally touched her thigh, likely missing her weapons. She’d been forced to remove and hide them when the police arrived. Jack’s own gadgetry was fortunately well hidden in his room up top. He wasn’t worried about the officers likely still searching his room at this very moment. The vibrant lights of the casino flashed all around them like a thousand silent alarms.
“I was little when Roarcadia fell to ruin.” Alyssa said. “What happened there?”
“You never read the report?” Jack asked.
“It was never relevant to the missions I’d taken until now.”
“What do you know?”
“All I know is that a couple of decades ago, a group advocating predator rights went bad and turned Roarcadia into a second Chergnawbyl.”
Jack nodded. “Not quite. A nuclear meltdown was involved, but that meltdown was just the start.”
He’d read the report a couple of years ago before he’d been dispatched on a mission to hunt down an international criminal hiding in the exclusion zone in Pawpyat. Roarcadia had initially started as a large fishing village on a small island situated between Miami and Cuba Hutia, founded not long after predator and prey first started making alliances. It was the arrival of the industrious Swinton family, wielding considerable power and influence even way back in the 1950s thanks to investments in countless businesses, which instigated the rapid urbanization of the little town in a city bearing a population of nearly 200,000. By the 1970s, more than two thirds of the properties within Roarcadia were owned by the Swintons, including a nuclear power plant that had been constructed on the outskirts of the city in 1982 to account for the amplified need for power.
It had been one of the top ten cities to live in once upon a time. The brochures had gone on and on about the natural beauty of Roarcadia; Royal Palms as tall as Redwoods; beaches whiter than a yacht’s sail; a sunset brighter than a sparkling topaz. The brochure had also conveniently left out the part about the institutionalized speciesm, elitism, and subjugation of the predator working class.
The use of predators as cheap, expendable labor, however, had not gone unnoticed. In fact, it was the cause of Roarcadia’s downfall.
In response to the suppression of predators, harsh even by Animercia’s standards, a predator rights group called Liberum rose up in protest. Their intentions had been noble at first: to raise public awareness of the cruelty that simmered beneath the city’s façade, and the elitist swines at the top of it all. They advocated peace and equality above all, and their protests rarely turned to violence. That all changed about twenty years ago.
“We’ll never know exactly why Liberum did what they did.” Jack said to Alyssa. “But they not only brought down one of the most famous cities in the states, they set prey/predator relations back by decades.”
“My colleagues in ZI6 think Liberum were a bunch of duffers.” Alyssa spoke, her tone an indicator of what she thought of their opinion. “They’d tried to make the nuclear reactor explode with enough force to wipe out the entire Bahamanatees but they couldn’t even get that done.”
“Your colleagues are thinking of nuclear bombs, Alyssa.” Jack said with a roll of his eyes. “Nuclear meltdowns are called meltdowns for a reason; when a nuclear reactor gets too hot, it melts, specifically the fuel rods within said reactor. When Liberum attacked the power plant, they strategically targeted the reactor’s coolant system and other safety measures that were in place. With those systems put out of commission, the reactor melted.”
“But it shouldn’t have effected the entire island, right?” Alyssa said. “The plant was built to deal with that kind of stuff.”
“According to the results of the investigation afterward, enough radiation managed to escape the plant to affect mammals within a quarter mile radius. Apparently…” Jack put particular emphasis on that one word. “Predators were affected a little differently than prey were.”
Alyssa stared. “They couldn’t have.”
“I forget the exact details, but when the predators started to deteriorate from ARS, their minds deteriorated with them. They reverted back to their primitive savage ways and started attacking on sight. About four weeks after everything went down, reports came in that the power plant’s containment procedures had somehow failed. In the end, the United States Government accepted Thomas Swinton’s proposal to forcibly evacuate the entire island. The savage predators were culled, the city was sealed off, and no-one has been there since, yadda yadda.”
“Thomas Swinton? Wasn’t that Mayor Swinton’s grandfather?”
“Yes, he was Mayor of Roarcadia at that time, and his son Theodore and granddaughter Tilda were both members of the municipal government under his command. They’d been evacuated the day the power plant’s containment failed. A couple years later they moved to Zootopia, started from scratch by setting up supermarkets and the rest is history.”
“Honey said Starlight and Commissioner Elba were both Roarcadia survivors.” Alyssa said. Jack’s ears perked. He’d never read the list of the survivors and the deceased. “Elba had been a police lieutenant back then, and Starlight’s parents were both Liberum members. They died in Roarcadia when the radiation drove the predators into a killing frenzy.”
“That’s rough.” Jack said. He heard a minor commotion and looked back through the gap between the slot machines.
“If Liberum really is back from the dead,” Alyssa paused. “then what will that mean for Mayor Swinton?”
Jack spied an argument kicking off between Bisoniing and a boar officer near the bar, but two other officers were already marching forward to assist with the situation. Just as Bisoniing reluctantly conceded to their orders to sit back down, the doors connecting the casino to the lobby opened.
“Jack, are you listening?”
“Hold on.” Jack said quietly. “I think the cream of the crop has just arrived.”
A herd of cold-faced mammals wearing ZBI jackets were striding into the room, their eyes scanning the place and sizing up the situation even as the Police Chief of Precinct Two debriefed them on everything that had happened before their arrival. Jack counted two rhinos, one hippo, a horse, a boar and two pigs. The Chief of Precinct Two was a giraffe with an unusually short neck, flanked by two ram officers, one black with big curly horns, one white with a crooked nose…
Jack froze when he saw the crooked nosed white ram. “Fuck.”
He felt Alyssa slink to his side. “You know, I think that’s the first time I heard you actually curse.”
“For good reason.” Jack pointed out the white ram while lowering his head behind one of the thick cables providing power to the slot machines. “That ram… he’s an imposter.”
Alyssa eyed the white ram. Jack watched her sky blue eyes widen in realization. “It can’t be.”
“Ramses.” Jack growled and clenched his fists. “Doug God-Damn Ramses.”
“Huh.” Alyssa looked to Jack. “Nose aside, he looks pretty good for someone who got kicked off a tower by a giant rusty church bell.”