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As You Sow, You Shall Reap

Chapter Text

In the crowded, Confederation, command center, activity always continued, but now it was a little less frantic. The end was in sight, but most of the mammals were too tired to notice.

“He’s here, Field Marshal,” an aide, this one a raccoon, said from near the doorway.

The Marshal, a red fox, looked around very obviously and did not see his expected guest. Then the fox looked at the raccoon and raised an eyebrow.

The raccoon sighed. “He’s outside. Said he didn’t want to be in the way.”

“I’ll just go and have a look,” Marshal Reynard told another aide, a badger, and then followed the raccoon out through the door of the command vehicle. The badger only nodded in return, preoccupied with his own duties.

‘Where is he? He’ll still be inside the perimeter, and he’ll be high enough to see the flames,’ this fox thought, looking around. 'Can't track his scent.' His sense of smell wasn’t as useful out here, of course.

The marshal motioned for his guard, a wolf sergeant, to stay back a bit when they saw the colonel near the top of a nearby hill.

“Marshal,” the other fox said and then stepped back from his place on a large rock and assumed a somewhat respectful posture. He had been near, but not on, the hilltop, as if he remembered his own long ago training as an infantry mammal. Any observer from the burning city would have seen, at most, his head above the hill. Now, the observer would not have even seen that. The city was within indirect artillery range, and so the chance of seeing something as small as a head from the city was unlikely, but one should never gamble on something like that.

“Carry on, colonel. Mind if I join you? I wanted to see our handiwork,” the marshal said, gesturing. Now that he was close enough, the marshal could smell a kind of satisfaction from the older fox as he went back to looking west, in the direction of the city.

Reynard had smelled the smoke as soon as he stepped outside. The entire city would not burn, but he had known arson and vandalism, and not just in prey areas, were inevitable. They could not stop all the rioting and the mobs, but they could stop some of them, and decisive action now would lead to helping the transition of power in the coming days and weeks.

“I didn’t expect to see you until tomorrow,” the younger fox observed. The older fox had turned away again, and moved part way back up the hill.

“I figured there wasn’t much else to do. Your plans are in motion. My people in there with some of yours, the rest of your people out here, and-“

“My people are your people,” the marshal said. “Like it’s been for years now.”

“Yes, sir, of course,” the former Zistopian replied, but the Confederate could no longer smell complete agreement, as the colonel turned away again.

“Ever think about what you would’ve been, if you were a different mammal?” The marshal asked.

If the Colonel was annoyed about the continued interruption of his silent observations, he didn’t show it. “Nearly every day, sir. What if? What might have been.”

“I never do, or almost never. My family serves the royal family first, and then, the Carnivore Confederation. It is in our blood. I never considered being anything but a soldier. Members of my family become leaders of armies, and so here I am,” and then he paused, considering. “I understand you were a tailor?”

“Yes sir. So long ago that I can’t really remember it very well,” the colonel replied. He had turned away from the hill again, and now he faced the marshal fully as required when addressing a superior officer in normal circumstances. He knew the marshal would give him some space if he insisted, but that wouldn’t be right. He knew this from their long working relationship.

“What do you think of our uniforms?” The marshal asked.

“A little too utilitarian. Function, not form. The dress uniforms are better, of course,” the colonel replied, apparently only slightly more interested in this topic.

“The teams have linked up,” the marshal observed, finally getting to the point of the meeting. “You can see and smell how well that worked. I would’ve expected you to be interested in a more hands-on approach inside the city, not out here, watching. It's not as personal this way.”

“My anger cooled years ago. Mostly. Now? I can stand here and watch. Later? I will go to the trials. Maybe I’ll visit some of the prisoners.”

The two foxes exchanged smiles full of sharp teeth, and said nothing.

“Sir, it’s been fifteen minutes. You asked me to let you know,” an aide said from behind them, near the wolf guard. This was the raccoon. He was very good at his job, and he fit the ‘same size as your boss’ requirement of most aides. The same was not true for the marshal’s guards, but they didn’t have to share confined quarters with him for hours and hours. The guards just had to take a bullet or blade for him, which was not the same thing.

The marshal motioned the aide back to his own duties, stood in silence a while longer, and then sighed, preparing to walk back to the command vehicle. “Time to get back on my head. Take as much time here as you like. You know the plan, of course. You might consider getting some rest, later.”

Now the older fox put his own muzzle back and up in the gesture of full obedience and submission. Such a move was rarely seen between a fox of colonel’s rank to a fox of the field marshal’s rank. Such a gesture was more common between one of far lower rank, possible a leftenent, to a field marshal. The colonel had not done it in years, but he knew Marshal Reynard would understand and appreciate the gesture.

The younger fox paused a moment, put a paw on the Colonel’s shoulder briefly, nodded, and then went back the rest of the way downhill.

“For my family and my species,” Colonel Wilde said, looking uphill again.

Chapter Text

Inside the city, the atmosphere was less cordial.

“Duke,” the rabbit said, after turning around and seeing him watching her. It was late afternoon, and all ZPD officers, of all shifts, had been called in for duty.

“Just what the fuck you think you’re doing Hopps?” The weasel spat. Like everyone here, he was in full street uniform. He had half a dozen other cops with him. “And that’s Captain Weaselton to you.”

“Well, let me see. The whole rickety corrupt enterprise has been coming apart since we found out our army was defeated, and we all know the Confederation opinions about TAME collars and the treatment of predators, don’t we? My officers and I are going to do our jobs. I presume you’re going to hide here and protect the building?” The rabbit asked sarcastically.

She added in an afterthought just as the weasel was about to reply. “And I am Leftenant Hopps.”

“Yes. Arrogant bitch since day one,” the weasel said, performing, as he always did, for his followers. They didn’t seem to be as impressed as they had been as recently as this morning. Now, they looked scared.

“Don’t you mean arrogant doe? I’m a lepor, not a canid, or mustel like you.”

“Don’t try to play the educated card with me!”

“Can’t read it anyway,” one of the officers near the rabbit said, just loud enough to be heard. The weasel turned on him.

“You will address me with respect, patrol officer! I am still your Capt. and this is still the ZPD!” He screamed. “And where is your collar?”

The wolf officer rather pointedly ignored the weasel by turning his back and rejoining the interrupted task of loading supplies into one of several police cruisers.

“We’re leaving, Captain Weaselton. That’s what we’re doing. Mammals need protection now more than ever with the Confed army scheduled to come in tomorrow at mid-day. Gangs will be out tonight, one last night of arson, rape, and vandalism. We’re going to do something about it.”

“Giving a speech, rabbit? That’s all you are. Talk. Since the day you got here.”

“The day I got here? That’s when I first met you. The first gods damned day. You showed me. Remember?”

Now the weasel said nothing. If anything, the rabbit looked far more calm than she had been. There was no tapping foot. No twitching nose. Her ears were up and focused on the weasel.

“You sexually propositioned me, then grabbed me when I declined. Your partner, minder, whatever, held you back. Remember?”

“I was never charged for that.”

“You are never charged for anything. Not yet. Tomorrow? That’s probably going to be different. The prisoners will be found. Mammals will talk, and fingers will point. At you.”

“And at you, rabbit! And Bogo!” The weasel replied, frantically. "I only collected those prisoners. Whatever happened to them later wasn't my fault!"

Judy did not reply immediately. She scowled, but then she smiled.

“But hey, there is some good news. I guess we can settle old scores? If you like? Haven’t you promised to get me one of these days? Well, here I am.”

She reached behind her back and drew the fighting knives every officer carried in addition to their slug pistols. The knives were mostly intimidation weapons, and Weaselton’s weapons were larger and more vicious looking than most.

Judy’s knives were more practical, and had seen more practice. Not so much in the weasel’s case.

“Come on. Want to show me your junk again? I got a couple of blades that’re just perfect for a little street surgery.”

The weasel looked at the officers near the rabbit, and then left and right at his own officers. There were fewer with the weasel and those few looked scared. The ones with the rabbit looked angry and ready to fight. Many had paws on knife handles, or had actually drawn pistols down by their thighs. Weaselton’s mammals were keeping their paws away from anything that looked like a weapon. They had seen her fight other mammals. They didn’t want to see it up close and personal.

“Fine. Abandon your posts and to hell with you!”

The rabbit looked around one last time as her officers boarded the various police vehicles. Now that loading was done, they were ready to move out to various destinations already discussed. The primarily predators team would protect the slums, also called the ghettos, or simply "Happy Town". Other teams, including the one led by Leftenant Hopps, would protect critical infrastructure targets like water treatment, food storage, and climate control. No officers would be wasted in the rich, prey only, parts of town. They had their own soldiers, for the most part, and presumably they had safe rooms.

“Where are we going?” Leftenant Hopps asked no one in particular. Then she boarded one of the vans, and motioned the others forward and out the ZPD motorpool area. Probably for the last time in her life. She tried not to think about that.

Chapter Text

“What’s going on?” Hopper asked.

“No clue, sir,” Delrio responded. “Could be a drill, could be something else. It looks like something else. Drills have all been with warning. Not so much warning this time.” Both mammals were running together toward their tanks.

“Wonderful,” Hopper replied. As a leftenant, his duty was to get his platoon ready to move. For that matter, his duty was to assume command of the armored company until relieved by higher authority, which was nearly anyone because he was the newest officer, out of five, in the company.

The base was on full alert, and predator soldiers of the Army of Zystopia were running all over the place. It was either late Friday night, or very early Saturday morning depending on how one looked at it, and if this was an attack, it was clearly planned to take full advantage of the time and the day. The troops were mostly drunk, and the officers were mostly exhausted. Monday through Friday was for field problems for all mammals and then various administrative duties for the officers after that.

“Reds one through four report ready,” Sergeant Delrio said over the tactical net 30 minutes later. All four tanks were ready to go, which wasn’t surprising. This was a forward battalion, so maintenance was conducted by well motivated and trained prey mammals, not the predators who operated the vehicles. These predators were not collared, but they were not fully trusted, either.

“Roger,” Hopps responded, then switched to the company frequency. “Red is nominal, over,” he said into the radio. Then he waited. And waited.

“I say again, Red is nominal, over.”

‘Why isn’t Bodo, or a member of his crew, responding?’ Hopper looked at his gunner, a predator named Morgan. “Corporal, switch your headset to the platoon net. Monitor. I need to assume company command.”

“Affirmative, sir,” Morgan was a coyote and sounded eager, and not afraid.

Hopper was a leporidae, not a canidae like Morgan, or mustelidae like Delrio, so he could not smell the others' pheromones, but that wasn’t really a problem right now. Hopper was justifiably proud of his mammals and their level of training.

“This is Red Six. I am assuming command of Gator Company. All Gator elements, report in,” Hopper said into the radio because someone had to be in actual command at all times. Taking over the job of a superior officer was a punishable offense unless Gator Six, Captain Bodo, was unavailable, so now was the time for Bodo to use his radio and let everyone know he was in command. He didn't.

“Blue is nominal,” second platoon reported. And then first platoon, “Green is nominal.”

“White,” Hopper spoke into the radio, “report status.”

There was no response.

This was not a huge problem, but it was very annoying. “Morgan. Get Delrio on the platoon net because he's closer. Find out what the flock is wrong with third platoon.”

G, or Gator, was composed of four, color coded, platoons of four tanks each. There were two more tanks in headquarters section, but these would attach to first platoon if Captain Bodo was unavailable. Had they not attached, Green platoon would have been ‘two’ or ‘missing the two tanks from headquarters’ instead of ‘nominal’ or ‘all tanks report ready to move.’

The tanks were all in the motor pool area, which was uphill from the barracks, and all tanks were in view of at least a few others. Hopper knew Delrio would either visually check on Third, or possibly, send one of his mammals on foot the 15 meters to check in person.

While Hopper waited, he stood up in his tank, on his chair, and looked around. Eighteen tanks were up and running. He could see the engine exhaust on the thermal visual blocks if he wanted to drop back down into his command seat, but he didn’t need to. He could see, and more importantly to a lepo, he could hear eighteen engines. Each one distinct after months of training.

The tanks, as always, looked impressive under the motorpool lights. They were 60 tons each, armed with five guns. One 105 mm main gun, two secondary 20 mm weapons, and two machine guns, all mounted in the fully rotating turret on top of the vehicle. The officers had the firing pins, so all weapons would now be ‘live’ if they had ammunition. Except for white platoon of course. The ammunition was stored in special bunkers a mile away and everyone would be expected to be on the way there only minutes from now. When the Battalion commander called, Gator company would move out, with or without Gator Six.

Hopper was relieved to hear Morgan's voice before hearing the radio again.

“Dell says Leftenant Jones is missing in action. Nobody knew what to do, so Dell said they should just follow us.”

“Good idea. Excellent,” Hopper said, not worried about the sort of regulations this would break. Not moving those four tanks was worse than moving them without their prey officer. Jones, or Bodo, or someone from Battalion staff, would surely be available to lead them while they drew their ammo.

“Gator. Move out. Follow your guide to tango,” Hopper heard on the radio. Battalion was telling them to go get loaded up, and Hopper could now see the guide vehicle, a multipurpose wheeled unit, waiting outside the motor pool.

“Blue, green, and white. Follow me,” Hopper ordered on the company net. He signaled to his own Red platoon tanks with a hand motion.

Then he told his driver to “move out. Follow that wheeler.” When he looked back, he saw the other tanks of the company were all in line behind him, and he felt a surge of pride.

Gator was lead company in Third Battalion of the Seventh Cavalry Regiment, which made its home here on this base, which was located in a small town near the border with one of the Confederacy city states. The other two battalions would also be road marching to the ammunition storage area either before or behind Third Battalion, depending on when they had been, or would be, ready to go.

The soldiers normally relaxed in the town, and many of them had been in one of the bars there only a few hours before. Wives and/or husbands lived in the nearby off post housing. Hopper considered himself to be too young to be married, but he knew many of his mammals had spouses in that housing. If this was a real emergency, and it was looking more and more like it, then they would be very worried. Hopper knew the family members would be evacuated, of course.

Hopper keyed the radio on the company frequency. “Remember what we’re fighting for. This might be the real thing,” Then he looked for, and saw, the approval hand signal from Delrio’s tank nine vehicles back.

The road march to the ammo bunker was uneventful, but Hopper was becoming more concerned about Bodo. ‘Where was the mammal?’ He thought, again.

“Blue, green, and white sixes, assemble here,” Hopper radio. All Gator company leftenants assemble at my tank, in other words. They had stopped and now waited in line behind another company from another battalion that was drawing hot rounds, not the blue practice ammo. The hot, or live, rounds were color-coded for type: black for armor piercing, red for high explosive, green for cannister, and yellow for incendiary. The most likely enemy, indeed the only enemy nearby, was the Carnivore Confederation. They used mostly small, fast mechs, so guns would need mainly red or green shots. The black ones would punch a four inch hole into, and then out of, most of the Confederation combat machines, and might not actually do enough damage to kill them. Unless the shot passed through stored ammunition or a crewmember, of course.

Hopper thought about those mechs as he waited for the other leftenants and, possibly, Bodo. The MBT 70s of the Dystopian Army were not fast, but they are well armored and armed. The general idea, tactically, was a kind of spray and pray idea at short range, and try to make as many kills at long-range as possible. The machine guns were for the infantry, and the 20 mm were for short range. He hoped not to need the twenties. Actually, he hoped for no fighting at all.

The blue, green, and white leftenants arrived, surprising Hopper. Jones had apparently jumped up on his tank when it slowed to come around a corner back at base camp. At least he didn’t have to run here.

“Glad you could make it,” Hopper said, grinning at Jones. Hopper showed his teeth as usual, but the other leftenants were used to it. They were also used his habit of command, and so they made no argument about his leadership of Gator company. Everyone expected Bodo to arrive any moment now, anyway.

“Where is the mammal?” Green asked, mimicking Hopper’s own thoughts.

Nobody knew, so they discussed the next elephant in the room.

“What the hell is going on? The last thing I heard, the chance of war with the Confederation was basically zero. Their president is some sort of airheaded idealist, and the queen of their most powerful city state withdrew from politics after the coup five years back. Their army is smaller than any time in the last twenty years, according to all the recent briefings. Unless we’re not fighting them?” One of the leftenants asked.

“It’s the Confederation. Notice how we’re drawing ammo? The Confederation is close, and so we don’t need to board trains. If you are going to travel, then you don’t drawn ammunition,” Hopper pointed out.

The company in front of Gator was nearly done, and Bodo still had not arrived, so the leftenants went back to their tanks and Hopper continued to run the company. This mostly consisted of keeping Battalion informed, and that was easy. He just touched the appropriate icon in his own command tank and the data went to Battalion automatically. Sometimes he wished he had an actual armored command vehicle because there would be more room for larger map displays, but mostly he preferred to be in his own fighting vehicle. Gator did have communications and maintenance vehicles, but they were back in the rear out of the way at the moment. They had no need for the kind of ammunition available here.

An hour later, Gator had finished drawing ammo and been assigned a laager, or parking, area near Second Battalion. Third Battalion had ordered all three of its companies, G, H, and I, to park and shut down the main engines to conserve fuel. They always parked in the motor pull overnight with full gas tanks, but never with ammunition or firing pins. The guns were now ready to use, but no gun would have a round in the chamber. Accidentally shooting one of the 105’s here in this crowded parking lot would be an excellent way to get a great many friendly mammals killed. ‘That was the point of the weapons, of course, but we’re not supposed to be killing our own mammals,’ Hopper thought.

Sound came from one of Hopper’s radios again. These were run on an auxiliary power from a small generator, and not the main turbine engine. “All sixes. Report to big sky. Immediately.”

“Morgan, you have the tank,” Hopper said, and grabbed his gear for the walk to Battalion command. He signaled Green Six on the way, and got an acknowledgement wave. “Where the hell is Bodo?” Hopper muttered for the sixth or seven time.

He saw the Battalion command vehicles, and two company commanders, or 'sixes', already there, outside. These were the commanding officers of H & I companies, and they didn’t like Hopper very much. This was a war maneuver, so Hopper didn’t salute. H and I were buffaloes, like Bodo, and the battalion CO. Buffalo were far larger than rabbits like Hopper and these pretended to ignore him most of the time. He was used to that, having seen it several times when he had had to interact with them. Most of time, Bodo had done that interacting.

‘And I can’t let them bully me this time, or not as much. Bodo is not here to see that Gator gets its fair share of supplies and information, so I have to do it,’ Hopper thought, and followed the last buffalo into the vehicle. The company commanders were 03, with double bars on their uniforms, and they outranked his own O2, single bar. The Battalion CO was an O5, with a single silver cluster. Regiment, of course, had an eagle, and he was O6.

“Leftenant Hopper reports,” Hopper said after the H and I company commanders had reported in. They were inside a vehicle, but the other two had saluted, so Hopper did as well, even though regulations normally forbid such things. He put his right paw into his left breast, and put his muzzle slightly up.

“Just what the hell was that?” The Battalion CO asked.

“Sir? I don’t understand,” Hopper replied.

“That head back thing. Don’t do that,” the head buffalo replied.

Hopper realized his mistake. Nearly all the predator mammals in his platoon, and the company for that matter, saluted him that way, so he has fallen into the routine and forgotten that other officers preferred the level muzzle salute. He did not apologize, of course. Soldiers never do. Battalion CO waved him back and started talking.

“Right. Bodo is out, so I guess Hopper here,” and now the CO did roll one of his eyes, “is in command of Gator. I can’t spare an O3 from my own staff and Regiment doesn’t care who leads the company as long as the Battalion, which is me, does its job. Your orders are to do what I tell you, when I tell you. You understand that?”

“Sir, yes sir!” The company commanders said in unison. It’s what Bodo would’ve done, so Hopper did the same, but he was worried.

‘Why can’t the colonel spare an 03? Headquarters section has at least two spares. Unless they’ve already been taken by Regiment?’ His train of thought was broken by the CO.

“You may return your company, rabbit. You’ll be told if we need some warm bodies for some extra duty or other. When they move out, stay behind H and I companies. Dismissed.”

“Sir?” Surprise startled Hopper into replying. “Gator is the lead company-“

“And you’re the junior company commander. Anything else you want advice on? Do you need me to hold your hand when you piss?”

“No sir,” Hopper saluted again and left after a wave from the CO. The other two company commanders stayed, but they were buffaloes like the colonel. Hopper made his way back to Gator company looking and feeling defeated.

There he met Delrio, who waved with his now usual greeting. “Having fun talking to the big guns?” He asked.

“What do you think, sergeant?”

“You look like it didn’t go well, so yeah, that’s what happened.”

“Bodo is out. They didn’t say why. Next time we move, we’re playing rearguard,” Hopper didn’t say why, but Delrio knew. The colonel liked Bodo and promoted him to be a company CO. The colonel didn’t like rabbits, and so only tolerated Hopper, and would certainly punish him in every petty way possible, including rearguard duty, despite their location in the parking lot and the way Gator was the first one ready to move earlier tonight.

“About that. I heard Bodo got himself hurt skiing. Or anyway, that’s what he says. Actually, he heard what we’re doing and then he managed to find that his injuries were too serious to be able to return to duty,” Delrio said.

Hopper thought, but it did not say, ‘some mammals are more, or less, brave than others.’ Criticizing one’s superiors was another of those things the proper mammal could never do, so Hopper didn’t do it. Delrio heard the thought anyway.

The road march to the border was short and uneventful. They refueled just after dawn when they arrived in their assigned location, and Hopper had his mammals doing preventative maintenance as soon as possible because he wasn’t sure when actual fighting would begin. The other three leftenants showed no interest in discussing, or questioning, his orders, and Battalion had only told him to have his tanks occupy the forward fighting positions.

Hopper was called to a Battalion conference in person again later that morning, and again given minimal information and dismissed.

He called the other leftenants, and the track commanders of the maintenance and supply vehicles, together at his tank. “We’re at war, gentle mammals. Our dependents have been moved out of the forward base and back to Zystopia. All ambassadors have been recalled, or expelled, as appropriate. Civilian air traffic in this area is canceled, so anything you see flying is going to be either our war birds or the air craft of the Confederation. Don't shoot unless you know it's an unfriendly! We’ve got the border there, to the East,” he said, pointing in the same direction the tank guns were pointed. Then he pointed again and again. “First and Second Battalions are to the south. North of us we have an infantry division, the Fourth ID.”

“Questions?” He asked them. The leftenants said nothing, but Delrio made a hand motion.

“Sergeant?” Hopper invited.

“Sir, why are we on the line? Or why all three companies? Tanks are more mobile than infantry. Let the infantry hold the line and we can rush to plug holes by counter attacking.”

‘Good question,’ Hopper thought. 'Probably has something to do with the surprise nature of this assault.' Aloud, he said, “I don’t know. Battalion gave no explanations, but if I had to guess, I would say that we'll be replaced by infantry eventually.”

The leftenants left, and Delrio stayed. He and Hopper discussed the situation at great length, and then the otter returned to his own tank. The rabbit checked on the mammals and tanks of his company, and found them in relatively high spirits. He hoped the rest of this Zystopian army felt the same way, but he knew that was unlikely. Bodo had not been popular, so the mammals were relieved, not worried, by his absence. Hopper also knew the predators trusted him, Hopper, more than they trusted Bodo anyway, so that had an additional positive effect.

Chapter Text

Leftenant Hopper had been trying, without much success, to get some sleep. In desperation, he had gone so far as to take the tank driver’s seat while that soldier, Pvt. Kyle, took his four hour turn on night watch in the gunner’s far less comfortable position. The night was cool and there was very little moonlight, so the rabbit had left the driver’s hatch part way open.

“I’m telling you, he’ll be okay with it,” someone, probably Cpl. Jenner from third platoon, said.

“And I’m telling you to wait for-“ Morgan replied, as Leftenant Hopper moved the hatch the rest of the way and stuck his head out of the driver’s compartment.

“Who will be fine with what, exactly?” The expressions on Morgan's and Jenner’s faces would have been funny under other circumstances. “And who, exactly, is this?” The leftenant asked, turning his ears and his muzzle to the left toward the weasel in odd grey coveralls.

“Well sir, this-“ Morgan began, but was interrupted.

“Is a prisoner of war,” Delrio said, coming in out of the darkness from Hopper's right.

“Prisoner? That’s what you were talking about?” Hopper asked, turning back to Morgan and Jenner.

“You don’t have to do what he says, you know,” the weasel said. Later, Hopper would remember the various reactions from the mammals under his command. Fear from Jenner, annoyance from Morgan, and anger from Delrio.

The sergeant put his paw on his pistol, and then grabbed the weasel.

“No, sergeant, don’t shoot him. He’s a prisoner, right? We do need to notify battalion however,” the rabbit said. He continued when Delrio seemed reluctant. "Unless you plan to just tie him to a tree?"

For his part, the weasel looked smug. As if he had a secret.

“Anything more to add?” Hopper asked him, and then deliberately failed to notice Delrio’s ears go back, very briefly. ‘What does he not want me to hear?’

“This play acting will be over very soon. My comrades and I will assist our predatory brothers and sisters in throwing off the prey yoke,” the weasel said.

“I was expecting name, rank, and service number, but okay, if you want to talk. How did you get so close?” The rabbit asked.

The weasel looked quickly at Delrio, and said, “your otter buddy here has been telling me all about your security. Getting in was easy.”

“Getting out won't be,” the leftenant replied, ignoring the enemy’s feeble attempt to cast doubt on Delrio’s loyalty. Then he heard the otter’s heart rate and saw the look on his face.

“Sergeant?” And Hopper asked, surprised.

“Sir, I think we need to pay attention to what Squad Leader Johnson has to say,” the otter said. "And I don't think we need to be calling the military police."

‘So that’s his name,’ Hopper realized. ‘The name of the prisoner.’

“Sir?” Jenner said now, and gestured. There was a wheeled vehicle approaching from the rear. Hopper had heard it, but had been too focused on Delrio to pay it much attention.

The vehicle stopped, and two zebras with night vision gear got out. They looked around, saw the gathered mammals uphill behind one of the tanks, and started toward them.

“Military police, sir. I’m not sure who called them,” Delrio said, but he didn’t say it very loud. “Probably someone from third platoon.”

The unarmed weasel turned toward them, and snarled. Hopper realized, too late, that he had not actually checked to see, or even ask, if the weasel was armed.

“What do we have here?” One of the zebras asked, when they were close enough. They had their hand weapons slung across their chests for easier access.

“I am Leftenant Hopper. Fourth Platoon,” rabbit said before he thought about it. “That is-“

One of the zebras interrupted him. “Yes, yes, these are your mammals. We understand. And this?” The zebra gestured with a hoof toward the weasel.

“Prisoner,” Delrio said, without emotion. “Our prisoner.”

“Was your prisoner. Has it said anything?”

“He,” Hopper began, and then had to start over when he noticed Delrio’s and Morgan’s heart rates change. “Said something about predators not obeying prey. The Confederates were going to win. That sort of garbage. Nothing unusual.” Hopper deliberately failed to mention the name of the prisoner or how he knew what it was.

“Well. We can’t have that,” the larger zebra said. "Shoot it."

“Sir?” Hopper said. But he realized he didn’t know what rank the zebras held. He didn’t even know their names.

“Shoot. It.” The other zebra said, slowly and deliberately, as if speaking to a child.

“No. And you two haven’t identified yourselves. For all I know-“

“Fine. I’ll do it myself,” the larger zebra said. He pointed his machine pistol at the weasel, and then put a burst of machine gun fire into him from three feet away. “See? Nothing to it.”

“You shot him? He was a prisoner of war. A mammal with rights!” Hopper said. He realized, distantly, that he was shouting. Some of the other mammals from Gator Company were reacting, but few seemed to know where the shots had come from.

“And I am a colonel in the military police. And you have questioned my authority and disobeyed an order. In the presence of the enemy. You’re under arrest,” the smaller zebra said.

No one in Hopper's platoon was armed at the moment, except the night watch mammals, and many of them had been "buttoned up" inside the tanks, and so they hadn't heard anything. The nearest watch mammal, Private Kyle, inside the nearest tank, might not even have heard the shots.

“Right. Get back to your vehicles. Let your captain know what happened and why,” the unidentified zebra said to Delrio and the other predators that had gathered around, and then the smaller zebra shoved Hopper into the back of their vehicle. The larger one grabbed the body of the weasel, possibly to conceal the evidence of murder, or possibly to see what might be learned from examing the body, and tossed it into the back of their vehicle.

“Shit,” Delrio said, watching the zebras drive away.

“Well, I guess that solves the 'what do we tell the leftenant?' problem,” Morgan said. Delrio nodded, reluctantly.

"We need to send a message."

Chapter Text

“Lady Bellweather. It’s time to sue for peace. Now, while the armies are still in the field. Now, while we have a measure of control. It will give us time to reorganize,” the general said. He was a ram and held his post only because the Bellwether trusted him not to try to use soldiers to seize power.

“Now? No. We’ll wait. As you say, the armies are still in the field,” the lamb replied. She was staring out the window of government house. ‘The buildings are so pretty and our location is so useful. The citizens can be so industrious, if only someone like me can keep them united against a common enemy,’ she thought, not for the first time.

Most of the population of Zistopia was unaware of the true state of the war. Censorship was one of the first things she had done after removing Lionheart from power and she expected never to regret that decision.

“My lady,” the ram said, trying again. “Their offensive surprised us. All our tactics and strategies are based on a kind of citadel defense. Our tanks keep the enemies away from the interior of the flock, and kill their machines before they get too close. Now, our enemies are inside-“

“Our enemies have always been ‘inside’, as you put it. Those damned biters! Our ancestors should have killed the lot of them instead of settling for pain collars,” another ram said from his place on one of the couches.

The general glared at the interruption, but didn’t try to continue speaking. He knew perfectly well that his own position was, at best, uncertain at the moment, and he could be removed at any time. The current state of the army's morale was his responsibility, after all.

“We’ve been over this ground before, Doug,” the Bellwether said to the ram on the couch, turning from the window. “We need someone to blame for our problems, so we have to keep the biters around. They let us put TAME collars on them after we convinced them they couldn’t trust their own savage natures. Also, they do all the crap jobs and no one wants to get rid of them because they’re so useful."

“Not all of them have collars,” Doug replied, glancing at the general again.

“No, not all. But everyone knows that a pain collar on a soldier won’t work. Maybe in practice? But not on an actual battlefield. All they do is try to die, and soldiers need some sense of individual need for survival, and those collars shock them more or less constantly when they are hyped up to fight,” the lamb said.

“Not if we reprogram-“ Doug started to reply. He stopped when the Bellwether waved a hoof.

“Doesn’t matter. Not now. We didn’t collar our soldiers, and we did collar the biter civilians. Now, some of the soldiers appear to be in open rebellion,” she said.

“Fine. Find out which ones and kill their families. The others will learn to obey. It’s what we’ve always done before,” Doug suggested. “And it always worked.”

“That is got to be the stupidest-“

“They’re all worthless anyway-“

The Bellwether listened to them bickering for a time, but with only part of her attention. She was sure the early reports of fratricide were exaggerated. Preliminary reports were always inflated, weren’t they?
‘No, better to wait and see. Even if we do lose, the other nations can’t allow the Confederation to gain Zystopia. Or anyway, they can’t allow the Confederates to keep the city, the ports, and the priceless artifacts here,’ she thought.

“Soon it will be time for us to relocate. But not yet,” she said.

Chapter Text

Centurion Wolfson liked to think of himself as a military genius. He had heard that at least some of his soldiers didn’t agree, but he hoped that these malcontents were few and far between. If he was a genius, most of them would survive; and if he was not, well, he would just get them all killed. 'That would shut them up at least,' he thought.

“Are we ready?” He asked his assembled section leaders.

There was a pause, and then one of them, a cheetah optio named Darwin, spoke. “Sir. This is very odd. Just charge straight in, spread out, and then accept surrender? How do we know there is no second line over that ridge waiting for us to-“

“Just do it,” he replied. He had been briefed by one of the field marshal’s aides, and then told the penalty for sharing that piece of information. The Marshall did not want word of the Confederates’ help to spread. The idea was that the Dystopian predators had spontaneously, and without urging from outside, decided to stop fighting and then, later, they’ll also decide to use their tanks to shoot at the mammals still loyal to Zystopia. Wolfson didn’t think anyone would believe that, or not for very long, but he also didn’t believe a mere centurion was really qualified to critique such a decision.

The other optios looked uncertain as well, so Wolfson went back over the plan. ”Charge when I tell you. The enemy may not fire. If they don’t shoot, we don’t shoot. If they shoot at you, you may dodge, but you will not stop to return fire. When, not if, when we reach the Zystopian lines, spread out and go to ground.”

“Darwin, you keep your mobile infantry close, but you’ll put one soldier on, that’s on top of, each Dystopian tank. Probably the engine deck, behind the turrets. I expect they will surrender, but who knows what their prey officers will do after we get too close for them to fight?”

“OK. Are we ready to kick some ass?” The centurion concluded.

“Sir!” The group leaders said with more evident enthusiasm. They put their right paws to the left breasts of their torso armors, and then they left to rejoin their soldiers at Wolfson’s nod.

“Gods, I hope this works,” he prayed, fervently.

 

His mammals thought that he would give the signal to move at dawn, but Wolfson actually wanted to move sooner. Johnson’s instructions had included the phrase ‘as soon as possible’, but it was always possible-

“Sir. Burst message on secure frequency seven. David. Bathsheba. Uriah.” His radio mammal reported, at 0248 hrs.

“Acknowledge receipt,” Wolfson ordered, and then tried to remember what, exactly that meant.

‘Well, at least we know it worked. There is no way the Dystopians know those codewords! David means Johnson is not under duress. Bathsheba. Okay to attack immediately. But Uriah means there was a complication. What complication? There are codewords for specific situations, and he chose the most general one? That’s not very helpful!’ He thought.

“Communications. Inform all units, this detachment, to move out. Immediately!”

“Yes sir.”

The signal went out, and the Confederation striders started rising and moving. The nearby powered armor soldiers, all cats in this group, also got up and started moving, but they weren’t pushing very hard. They could easily take to the air in bounding leaks, and reach the far ridgeline in half the time, but they were obviously not as confident as they should have been.

‘Darwin and I will need to discuss that later,’ Wolfson thought, and then he concentrated on his more immediate tasks. He was mounted in a command Strider, which looked exactly like the fighting machines, but lacked the ammunition storage of one of those. His own mount had extra communications, and all centurions had strict orders to guide and direct, not shoot and kill, during a battle. Shooting and killing was what the soldiers were for, not the officers.

His strider left the concealing tree line after two or three other striders, all headed straight for the hostile ridge on the far side of the valley. They couldn’t see the Dystopian tanks, but Wolfson knew the enemy was up there. The scouts that seen them arriving before Wolfson's century was close enough to engage, and even now, the various sensors in his machine were sounding off.

There was a great deal of metal on that ridge, and background temperature was above normal, especially for this time in the morning. Also, there was a great deal more respiration gases than there should be for an unoccupied ridgeline. Not much combustion gases, so the enemy tanks weren’t running their engines, but there were definitely mammals still up there.

“Darwin! Faster!” He ordered, and several armored cheetahs leapt into the air. Gunfire did not erupt from the enemy, and the closer, and higher, vantage points of the cheetahs gave his own computers more and better information to draw a more complete picture. The scouts had reported an entire armored company on the ridge, which was similar in size to his own century. Wolfson briefly wondered why the enemy company was deployed that way, with no reserve platoons behind the lines to deal with striders that broke through, but he tried to put that thought out of his mind. Maybe they were changing tactics to cut down on the inevitable fratricide kills when a main gun fired from the second line missed a strider and hit a tank? Maybe they really were as short handed as headquarters thought?

Closer. Closer.

Now he could see individual, unarmored mammals. Several were standing on Dystopian tanks with obviously empty paws.

“All units. Do not fire unless fired upon! Infantry, remember your instructions!”

There was a flash and then a sound from the right side of the tree line ahead, and several of his striders paused, briefly. This was exactly the wrong thing to do!

“No! Don’t stop! Forward! We’ll take them from behind if they’re shooting at us!” Wolfson said into the radio. “Like we’ll take their wives!” His next thought was ‘why the seven Hells did I tell them that?’

 

His century reached the ridgeline, and started spreading out and taking cover. The infantry was already in place, at least one on each tank.

“Sir, this is Darwin. One of them tanks went boom. Has to have been fratricide.”

“Acknowledged. Find their commander, or lease whoever’s in charge at the moment. Probably gonna be somebody with sharp teeth,” Wolfson replied. He stopped his own strider just short of the ridge. He didn't need to be on top of it to see everything, and he could see that that the attack had been entirely successsful.

The radio clicked to acknowledge and Wolfson sent the ‘assault successful’ code to cohort headquarters. They acknowledged and told him to hold in place and expect reinforcements.

“It worked!” He said, forgetting that he was still broadcasting to the entire century. If they noticed the surprise and relief in his voice, they gave no indication.

Chapter Text

“Okay, everyone. Stay frosty. No itchy trigger fingers. It will all be over soon,” Sgt. Delrio said into his microphone. He was wearing his vehicle crew mammal helmet, and it allowed him to talk to everyone. Everyone with a helmet like his, and on same side, anyway. Yesterday, that would have been all Zystopians. Today it was everyone with a helmet like his, and tuned into the same frequency.

The approaching war machines were definitely not on his side. They looked vaguely alive, sort of like parents and children, and the larger ones even tended to move in mutually supporting pairs. The smaller ones tended to act like children and moved in no particular pattern, rushing ahead of their larger elders. As they got closer, their size became more obvious and Delrio saw the parents as the giants they were.

Delrio suddenly found himself face-to-face, or muzzle to face shield, with one of the smaller ones. One moment, the otter was alone on his tank; the next moment, he was sharing the space with what could only be an armored cheetah standing next to the tank.

“You in charge?” The visitor asked, and put an armored paw on the side of the vehicle. The gesture appeared to be somewhat proprietary.

“I am. My name is Delrio. Fang Delrio. These,” the otter gestured around him with his left paw, “are my mammals.” Then he pointed at a group of three prey mammals nearby with his right paw. “And these are my prisoners. Formerly leftenants in the Army of Zystopia.”

“Formerly? Very well, fang,” the cheetah replied. He did not identify himself, but he was obviously communicating with someone by radio or communications laser because one of the larger bipedal machines stopped in front of his tank, but not far away. Another mammal, this one of wolf, opened an access hatch, stuck his head out, looked at the otter, and waited.

“Centurion wants to meet ya,” the cheetah said, gesturing.

“Right,” del Rio replied, climbed off his tank, and walked over to the other machine. The otter was a little surprised that he was not relieved of his helmet, but then he realized they probably wanted all the Zystopians to hear the conversation. Simpler that way.

 

An hour later, Delrio was back in his tank, and moving behind Zystopian lines toward one of the other Third Battalion tank companies. He had half the company with him. The other tanks, eight in that group, had moved out earlier to meet the other company in Third Battalion, and either accept or compel their surrender.

All tanks of G company had four mammal crews, but now one member of each crew was a Confederate. Centurion Wolfson had explained, carefully, to Delrio that this was not a sign of mistrust. Rather, it was more like a show of unity. Confederates and former Zystopians going into battle as predatory allies; or that kind of thing. Delrio didn’t believe that, but he didn’t think it really mattered either. His part in this war was nearly over.

“Do you know where they are?” Delrio’s Confederate ally asked. His manner was not exactly hostile, but it wasn’t very trusting either. He could certainly smell Delrio’s annoyance in the close confines of the tank, just as Dell could smell the Confederate’s distrust.

“No,” the otter admitted over the intercom. “Nobody told us where the other companies were located. We’re just grunts. My leftenant probably knows, but they arrested him when he refused to kill your guy.

The Confederate bobcat nodded, so the Zystopian otter continued.

“We’re heading for the most likely location of one of the other companies. H company, by the way. They’re almost certainly dug in around the next chokepoint south of where we were, which is the town of St. Vith."

“They probably aren’t all in the town,” the bobcat said. “The tanks will be inside houses, barns or garages, and that sort of thing, along the east side of town so they can react more quickly to incoming threats from that direction. The crew mammals, or most of them, are probably asleep in town, or up high in church steeples keeping an eye toward the east. There won’t be any lights on, so we’ll be able to get close before they see anything.”

 

“Halt!” A soldier shouted from the middle the road ahead.

“Stop,” Delrio said into the radio microphone attached to his helmet, and the column of tanks stopped in place. “Looks like we made contact. Make sure the Optio knows we’re here.”

It was a zebra in the middle of the road waving a flashlight. There was a vehicle nearby and probably another zebra inside. The one with a flashlight was armed only with a pistol, so Delrio was not worried about a winning any fire fight. He was concerned about making enough noise to warn the enemy too soon.

The zebra activated his radio on the Zystopian Third Battalion frequency. “Identify yourselves! What are you doing here?” He had come closer to the lead tank with Delrio.

He sounded puzzled, not really suspicious or afraid. When confronted by a column of tanks from what could only be your own army, and you have only a pistol, you have to assume everything is okay. If not, you have to run away in terror, and this zebra was trying to play it cool.

“We’re your reinforcements,” Delrio shouted down toward the zebra. Then he repeated the same thing on the H company frequency in order to use up more time. He didn’t want to use Third Battalion frequency because he didn’t want to risk them to finding what was happening. Not yet anyway.

The other zebra motioned to the one with the flashlight, and then the radio spoke again. “I can see by your markings that you’re G Company. So, what are you doing here?” This time it was on H company frequency.

“We’re here to help. Some local militia replaced us on the line, and then we lost contact with the battalion, so, here we are.”

In the dark, unnoticed, the armored cheetahs of Optio Darwin’s unit had jumped off their tanks and filtered into the town.

It was not yet dawn, so the Zistopian tank company in that town would not yet be fully awake. Their tanks would have, at most, one or two mammals, predators, on night watch, and the officers would probably not be very close to their soldiers. Those soldiers did not feel much loyalty to their officers, anyway, and would almost certainly surrender if given the chance.

“Nobody told us about that,” the zebra replied.

Delrio knew this zebra’s buddy in the jeep was relaying the information to Third Battalion because he could hear it on his own radio, but he thought a garbled story about some tanks getting lost in the dark was better than simply shooting these traffic control soldiers. Even if the traffic soldiers were prey, and in a unit that also took care of what they called ‘field discipline.’ Discipline like arresting Leftenant Hopper for being a good mammal instead of a monster. But these two had not been part of that.

The sun was starting to come up as Delrio and the zebra talked. Finally there was enough light for the equines to see the armored cheetahs behind them, but the zebras refused to surrender. Delrio didn’t know if they were too stupid or too surprised, but it didn't really matter. The one in the road tried to draw his pistol, and the other one tried to hide, so Optio Darwin tackled the one in the road, and then used his mechanical arms to yank the other one out of the jeep and toss him. Then he waved to Delrio.

“Got some more tanks for you,” the cheetah said.

Chapter Text

James Hopper, formerly Leftenant Hopper, Army of Zystopia, was spending the morning under a tree near the edge of the Seventh Tank Regimental Command area. The setting was not ideal for several reasons. First, the paw cuffs that connected him to the tree didn’t allow him much freedom of movement. Second, the pain collar around his neck, currently turned off, identified him to anyone looking that he was one of “them”. Third, the complete lack of adequate sanitation facilities for his use, and his apparently total invisibility as far as his former friends and coworkers were concerned. It was as if treason, or the punishment for it anyway, was contagious, and they didn’t want to catch it.

He had spent the remainder of the night, after arrival here, in a kind of daze, broken only when he started getting hungry around sun up. He was, of course, ignored when he asked for food. With nothing better to do, he had settled down to try to sleep.

The rabbit had discovered the problem with sanitation when he asked, and then begged, to be taken somewhere to relieve himself, but he had instead been hit in the head by another zebra. When he woke up, he had scratched a hole near the tree, used that, and then covered it up. He had to ignore the mammals working not more than ten meters away.

He knew the zebras planned to leave him here, chained to this tree, after the regiment left. They had said as much. They might give him a ration, but they might not. Or they might give him something in a can and then not give him a can opener.

He wondered about his current status in Gator Company. Did they think Leftenant Hopper was a deserter?

Around noon, he became aware of auto cannon fire. At first, he was surprised that he could not recognize it, because he had heard gunfire many times in training. Then he realized what it had to be. The sounds were faint at first, and only audible to him, and possibly to a few other mammals with exceptional hearing. A leftenant in the Army of Zystopia would normally have informed the nearest superior about the noise. But he was no longer a leftenant, and he was attached to a tree, so he didn’t know what to do.

The sounds were faint, at first, but then they started getting closer, and Hopper started hearing the sounds of individual projectiles striking trees nearby and some rounds passing over the command area. He knew what that meant.

The regimental command area had no fighting vehicles that Hopper could see. All the reserves were already committed, and so any enemy with vehicle mounted weapons would easily be able to destroy everything here. That would include all the vehicles, supplies, personnel, communications equipment, and one James Hopper.

Eventually, the mammals around him realized what was going on and then they started packing up to move. Hopper knew it was too late when he saw his first Confederate strider. He had expected artillery fire, and deeply regretted not digging a hole.

He found himself fascinated. He always wanted to see an enemy war machine in action; preferably through a gun sight. Now he had a kind of ringside seat, and he felt like he was actually watching a documentary instead of participating in one.

The first strider, and all the others, were bipedal, and about three or four meters tall. There was some sort of weapon on the back that was, apparently, meant to be used from a prone position because it pointed up when the machine was in motion. Hopper knew what it was from briefings and what it did from direct observation. The machine went down to its knees and then one limb and then its belly. One arm went back and stabilized the barrel of the weapon now pointed forward instead of up. And then it started putting shots into the far tree line. If there was return fire, Hopper couldn’t tell, as several more machines joined the first one on the ground.

Other machines started to arrive. Most of them were smaller than the first one, and Hopper realized they were actually large predators, probably lions and tigers, wearing some sort of powered armor. These smaller ones moved through the command area in a line, as if doing what Hopper’s mammals would have referred to as “policing the area”, but Hopper’s mammals would have been looking for trash on the ground, and not fellow mammals wearing the wrong uniform.

Large tracers walked across the headquarters area to Hopper’s left, and then into one of the command vehicles, which exploded. Mammals, predator and prey, were running in every direction. Some did not run, but crawled, or tried not to move. Many could not move. The noise reminded Hopper of a training exercise, but there would be no umpires and no after action review this time.

Hopper noticed the Confederates didn’t shoot, or in some cases, club, everyone. Prey usually died, but most of the predators were only disarmed if they didn't resist. Also, the older prey, who were, correctly, assumed to be senior officers, mostly survived. These were bound with plastic ties when caught. The prey that didn’t surrender were shot, and he didn’t see many escape.

Then Hopper realized that one of the Confederates had seen him. The rabbit had been crouched down, trying to hide, because he had no weapon or armor. Now he stood up as the shooting nearby paused briefly, and a Confederation strider stopped a few meters away.

‘Probably reporting in’, he thought, ‘but why haven’t they shot me? Maybe because I’m chained to a tree? That probably makes them at least interested in hearing my story.’

The destruction of the headquarters area continued another half hour, and then the larger machines left. Hopper felt nothing. Not relief. He was just a spectator. The Zistopian soldiers in the area were dead, wounded, or disarmed, and there were very few survivors that were prey. There were many Zistopian predators around, now, and they were no longer under control.

‘What will they do?’ Hopper wondered.

The answer seemed to be ‘not much.’ Mostly they just milled around. They had been conditioned to obey, and now no one was telling them what to do. They stood where they were, or they found somewhere to sit.

Later, infantry arrived and started getting things in order. They were predators, but the uniforms and gear were Confederation.

Two of them stopped near Hopper's tree and had a short conversation.

“What about this one?” One said. To Hopper, it sounded like 'Wa bout tis un?' His mind automattically translated.

“Leave him,” was the answer.

“No. That’s an officer. Rabbit, see?”

“Tied to a tree? With a collar?”

“Sure. He must’ve pissed somebody off. Maybe he banged the general’s daughter?”

Hopper just stared, as the two tigers finally stopped debating.

“Okay. Bring him, but leave the cuffs on. Orders are to collect prisoners if convenient, and this one is more valuable, being an officer. Put him in the transport.”

Chapter Text

“Well, now what?” Wolford asked. Like the other half dozen, he was staring at the bridge.

‘You’re asking me?’ Delgado thought. Aloud, he said, “we go as far as we can. I don’t want to leave the cars for the mobs to destroy, but there is no place to hide them, and it’s a long walk.”

That was obviously true. The predator portion of Zystopia was not the oldest, but it was the least desirable. It was an island, and typically flooded during major storms, so the residents had started building houses on stilts and either getting around by canoe or raft, or using elevated walkways, when it rained.

The bridge was about a quarter-mile long, made of multiple sections, and high enough to enable ships to pass beneath on a regular basis. Some of the cops had been here before, when someone had called in a prey-suicide attempt. Predators, of course, didn’t jump off bridges. Or if they did, the cops were never called.

This evening, the normally clear two lane roadway had various debris, including several wrecked cars. To the cops, it looked as if the cars were dragged here recently, apparently to discourage further traffic. If so, it was working. The ZPD was alone on this side of the bridge.

“Have you ever heard the phrase ‘we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it’? Well, we’ve come to it,” Delgado said. “You will follow me. If we have to stop, you’ll probably know why.”

The other cops, all predators, nodded, so Delgado continued.

“Remember what we’re here for. Prey start trying to cross, we discourage them. That’s what the riot control gas, shields, and gas masks are for. There may be predators that want to help us. I’m not sure how to handle that.
Normally I’d say no because of the paperwork, but I doubt there will be any after this.”

He grinned, tightly, and some others grinned back. It was just now sunset.

They got back in the three radio cars, and drove cautiously up the bridge, and then across. There were other teams of cops at the other bridges and the tunnel, but contact with the tunnel group had been lost. There were many signs of fighting. Bullet holes, burned out cars, and bloodstains, but no bodies.

‘Probably dumped any dead ones in the river,’ Delgado thought. He didn't want to think about what probably happened to any unwelcome guests that weren't dead yet.

They didn’t actually make it all the way across the bridge. Not because of the debris, various immobile vehicles, or even the massive barricade on the predator side. They had to stop because of what they at first thought was a citizens’ militia on the barricade.

There were a dozen or so mammals. All armed, and all wolves, except for two. One was a panther. Another, an otter, was obviously a local citizen, and he was wearing a kind of homemade uniform. He was clearly not in charge, and clearly delighted to be here.

“Well, look who finally decided to show up,” the citizen said, to no one in particular.

One of the cops, Wolford, looked up and started to respond. “We had duties all over the city. Not just here, and we didn’t know-“

“And didn’t care!” The otter replied.

“Cut it out, Bobby. These are not the bad cops. They’re here now, aren’t they?” One of the wolves said. He had a kind of presence, and the others made way for him, so Delgado thought this wolf must be the alpha. Also, he had come from the other side of the barricade with a deer following him around with a radio backpack.

“Leave the cars. They won’t fit through the barricade anyway,” the wolf said.

Delgado hesitated, so the wolf continued. “Or stay here with them. Actually, that’s even better. My mammals and I aren’t here, officially, but here you are, looking at us. Is that going to be an issue?”

“No sir,” the tiger replied. He could see the other wolves watching from along the top of the barricade. “I am Sergeant Delgado, ZPD. May I know who I am addressing?”

“You may not. Get your mammals through to the other side of the barricade,” the wolf replied.

 

Time passed and Delgado found himself and the other members of the ZPD sequestered about a hundred meters behind the barricade. They still had their uniforms, but all their equipment, and some personal effects, had been confiscated.

“Well, we crossed the bridge. Now what?” Wolford asked. It was past midnight.

“I’ll find out,” Delgado said, and got up. He noticed the way one of the nearby wolves watched him. “Just want to talk to your boss.”

“K,” the wolf replied, and made a hand gesture at one of the other wolves, who nodded back, in a sort of chin up manner that Delgado had noticed previously.

The command wolf, whom Delgado was starting to think of simply as “Alpha”, was using the radio when Delgado and his guard approached. The big cat didn’t hear much of the conversation, but it seemed like a simple status update. “We’re still here and still waiting” kind of thing.

“What are you doing here?” Delgado asked.

“Probably the same thing you’re doing, or were going to do. Protect the predator civilians,” Alpha replied. The radio mammal reacted to that, slightly, but it was barely noticeable. Both the wolf and the tiger smelled it, however.

“You don’t believe me?” Alpha asked the deer.

“I believe you sir. Of course I do. I just don’t think….” He trailed off, looking around, but obviously not looking at the tiger.

“That our guests will? I understand. They’re smart enough to keep their opinions to themselves, and that’s all that really matters right now anyway. When the balloon goes up-“

“Sir!” One of the wolves on the barricade shouted. He was pointing at something on the bridge.

“Which it just did.”

 

Delgado was not allowed up on the barricade to watch, of course, but he could hear, feel, and smell what was coming. There were thousands of prey mammals, all different types, and all in one group, coming this way. The ground shook very slightly. The strong scent of anger, fear, and alcohol had become very noticeable.

“You and your officers going to behave or do I need to make threats?” Alpha asked.

“I don’t believe threats will be necessary. What are your intentions?” Delgado asked.

“Something illegal,” was the reply. “Probably.”

Then the wolf grabbed a loudspeaker, climbed the top of the barricade, and told the mob to go home. They roared an answer, and Delgado thought they must still be several hundred meters from the barricade. Otherwise, they’d be throwing things over it and trying to tear it down.

Alpha climbed back down and motioned to his mammals. “Shoot any that get too energetic.”

The radio mammal approached him again, but the wolf didn’t take the microphone. Instead, he pointed to the panther on top of the barricade, and smiled, showing teeth. “Cat? Go for the big ones.”

She grunted in acknowledgment, and took aim with what appeared, at first, to be some sort of shot gun. Then it fired, quietly, again and again, launching projectiles down into what must be a mass of prey mammals. Delgado could not see, but he could hear, the results.

“Those are night howler, by the way. A nice mix of various drugs. Mostly hallucinogens. Also some strength enhancements and pain blockers,” Alpha said. “It’s based on a common agricultural flower used to keep pests away from more the valuable plants. Sort of like the way we’re using it now.”

Delgado was speechless.

“I’m not a savage, but the mammals on the other side of the barricade and the mammal from whom I take my orders? They might be savages. Or maybe my boss is just very pragmatic. I don’t much care.” Then he laughed and took the microphone. “Phase 2 successful at South bridge. We will continue to observe and report.”

Releasing the microphone, he turned back to the tiger as sounds of panic and the smell of blood came from the other side of the barricade. “Don’t go anywhere. The colonel will want to talk to you.”

Chapter Text

Zystopia is not, technically, a walled city. The various climate control structures between habitats look similar to castle walls, but they are actually just large weather insulators. These structures could be defended by a small number of friendly soldiers, if there were any. However, if there were, Field Marshal Reynard would have sent his own soldiers over the walls in an escalading attack because the plan had never anticipated a siege.

The Confederation Army entered the city precisely at noon through all Eastern wall openings simultaneously. The other entrances / exits, on the other side of the city, were blocked by armored vehicles to prevent the departure of refugees. There were many mammals, considered responsible for the current state of the city, that might have tried to escape, had this not been done.

Major roadways were cleared of civilian transport, in some cases by simply pushing cars and trucks out of the way, and then the same streets were filled with soldiers, tanks, striders, and other military vehicles. These were a show of force, a demonstration to all citizens that Zystopia has lost the war. The tanks, with mostly former Zystopian crews, and the new grey colors of the Confereration, headed for armories and motor pools. The other vehicles, with armored escorts, went to various control nodes, and never in numbers less than four.

Food storage, climate control, water purification, radio and television stations, and government buildings all received attention. A dozen grey war machines visited the former mayor’s mansion, and there was another dozen at the ZPD headquarters across the square.

Within two hours after noon, the city was full of grey clad troops and grey war machines. Most of their interactions with the Zystopians were peaceful, after the Zystopian prey realized that these armed, foreign, predator, soldiers were not here to kill anyone. In the manner of soldiers everywhere, they looked like they’d done this sort of waiting thing before, and would do it again as often as necessary. Mostly they stood around, and sometimes they interacted with local citizens.

 

“Hey, you!” One of the Confederation wolves at the intersection of 7th and Main shouted at a deer working in a nearby, and very solitary, food truck. It was around 5 PM.

“Me?” The deer replied, frantically looking around, and hoping that someone else was the center of attention. His customers had all moved back far enough to run if something bad happened, but they were still near enough to see if whatever happened was exciting or interesting. The grey uniformed wolves reminded the deer of some gang members he’d seen previously, but no gang was ever this heavily armed.

“No, the other buck in the food truck next to yours!” The wolf replied, sarcastically. The deer couldn’t see the wolf’s ears because of the helmets they all wore, but the deer thought the ears had gone back. There were certainly a great many teeth visible as the wolf came closer. He was followed by two more wolves, and they had their paws on their weapons. The guns were not pointed at anything. It was as if they had forgotten they had them.

“Umm. May I help you gentle mammals?” The deer asked, attempting to treat this as just another customer request on any normal day.

“Give us… one of each of those… Umm, whatever those are,” the wolf replied, gesturing at the pictures on the sign.

'Can he not read?' the deer wondered, but he said, “OK. Let me ring this up. Are you paying with cash or... Ummm" Then he froze. The wolf just looked at him, curious, and shook his head.

“Damn. No local money, of course. All I have is Novan script. What’s the exchange rate, anyway?” He said to one of his comrades. That wolf, of course, only shrugged. “I guess it don’t matter. Zystopian money won’t be worth crap tomorrow, so how about you take our money one for one, right?”

“OK,” the deer replied, glad to find out that he was going to be getting any money at all.

 

However, not all the interactions ended peacefully.

“Right. Keep your paws off the triggers. Weapons on safe.” Centurion Wolfson said, for perhaps the third or fourth time today. “The city, its buildings, and all these taxpayers standing around, belong to the Confederation, now.”

Various acknowledgments came over the radio, and several of the armored infantry mammals waved, or saluted, somewhat languidly. His cat soldiers were bored, but the centurion knew that was better than overly excited in the present circumstances.

There was very little about the current duty to cause excitement right now. The ZPD headquarters, and the buildings nearby, had been stormed an hour ago by special shock troops backed up by striders, but those striders had left and been replaced by Centurion Wolfson’s unit. The buildings’ occupants, apparently consisting entirely of out of shape prey, had surrendered more or less immediately and most of them were still on-site, in a bus waiting for final determination of destination. One of the building next to the ZPD HQ was being secured and searched by the company of Novan wolves in unpowered armor.

‘Secured,’ Wolfson thought. ‘We used to call this sort of thing looting, but whatever-‘

His thoughts were interrupted by his radio. “Victor one echo, this is zulu seven. We’re coming out and we need medical teams.”

Wolfson heard the odd way the words sounded, and responded immediately, watching some of the nearby feline soldiers and stryders reorient toward the building. “This is Victor one actual. Have you encountered resistance?”

“Negative, sir. Got some former guests of the previous administration. Found them in the lowest level cellar. Only accessible through the back of the building, unless you blow a hole in a wall, like we did. We’ll need some stretchers and body bags," Zulu Seven said. "But at least some of them can still walk.”

Wolfson made the necessary radio calls and then reminded his own soldiers to keep their eyes on the perimeter.

‘However, as the commander it’s my job to keep an eye on threats from any direction, including inside the perimeter,’ Wolfson thought, conscientiously.

He had a different emotion when he saw the walking wounded mammals coming out in borrowed jackets, following by body after body on stretchers. Most of the stretchers were covered with one thing or another, and so they looked like they could be small predatory, or prey, mammals, like otters, squirrels, or ferrets, even though all the walking mammals were big cats of both genders. That one, and… that one, on that stretcher, however, were…. He looked quickly away, and found himself staring at the bus with the prisoners. Using his targeting scope, he zoomed in and got a good look at their faces. Their happy faces, and their pointing arms. As if they were proud.

His targeting system was already live with the optical scopes, but the guns had been on safe. A flick of a paw changed that. He knew he didn’t have as much ammunition as a regular war machine, but he had enough for-

And then the bus started shaking and coming apart as it took hundreds of small machine gun, and large caliber autocannon, rounds in a few seconds from at least two of the mechs under his direct command. Not his own war machine, but that wouldn't matter. These machines were controlled by mammals whose actions, or crimes, were his responsibility.

“Cease Fire!” The centurion shouted into the radio, shocked out of his own bloody-minded thoughts. ‘Won’t save anyone on the bus, anyway,’ but he had to get things back under some sort of control before he reported in and then surrendered to the military police.

Chapter Text

My day began in the usual way, with a wake up call from the guard. I know that each one of my wake ups might not be a day, but that’s how I think of them. The guards had been acting odd these last few days, and I’m not sure why. I’ve been here about five years. I say 'about' because I don’t have a window and haven't actually seen the sun recently, so the count of days might be wrong. Prisoners don’t get watches or smart phones or much of anything else.

“Bob?” I asked one of them, the rhino. There are also several deer, at least one buffalo, and a wolf. I’ve never seen the warden, but I’ve heard it’s a ram.

“Ummm. Hey. Fox?” The guard replied. He knew my name; they all know my name, but they aren’t allowed to use it. This is part of my punishment. I had a guard, once, use my name. Once. I never saw that one again. This one continued, clearly nervous, “ah, you’re being released.”

This is new. I’ve never been released before. I’ve been executed a few times. Not for real obviously, but they tried to make me believe it each time. Also, Bob’s attitude is different. He smells like too much alcohol, no sleep, and…. Fear? That’s odd.

He hands me a pair of coveralls, correctly sized, and I put them on without comment.

So, they’re going to release me. Okay. I’ll play along like a good prisoner. Like I always do.

“That’s wonderful. What do I need to do?” I ask. It’s important to play my part, so I don’t get my guards in trouble. Most of them are basically good mammals just doing the job of keeping me here.

I must’ve gotten the tone wrong this time because the guard continued, “no, really.” Then he opened my cell door and stepped away, which was also unusual. They normally block the door.

I figured I might as well pretend it was real, at least for now, for the watching cameras. He gestures me ahead, like usual, and then walks behind me. I know the way, but then we take a left when we had always took a right before, and there’s another open door. I pause, and Bob gives me a pair of sunglasses, which is so odd that I just sort of carry them even after I'm nearly blinded by the sunlight outside.

Walking through, I see several unknown mammals. They're all canines, and armed. Mostly hyenas and coyotes, but there is one black wolf.

“Mr. Wilde? I am Capt. Char, and these are my mammals,” the wolf said, gesturing to the other canines. “You've been released into my custody.”

Somewhat confused at this point due to all strangeness, I join them without comment. I also put on the sunglasses I pass through the last open door. I wonder if I'll be allowed to keep the glasses?

Outside, I see, smell, and hear further proof that I’m not being tricked again. I can see no armed prey out here. There are several grey colored war machines and more grey uniformed soldiers in the parking area, all the gates are open, and there’s a hole in the barbed wire topped fence. I can hear what must be the sound of war machines, including tanks, trucks, and mechs moving around. The canines with me smell tense and alert, but not particularly afraid, and I can smell the kind of smoke produced by gunfire.

The soldiers take me out through a gate, and we get into one of the transports, and start moving. I can’t tell where we’re going because this is a combat vehicle and I’m not in the driver, gunner, or commander position. Passengers can look out through gun ports in the back of this kind of vehicle, but I’m not sure if I should be doing that, so I don’t.

 

An hour or so later, after several stops and starts, we stop one final time, and they lower the ramp at the back.

“Follow me, sir?” Capt. Char asks now, as if I’m some sort of Very Important Person. Well, I guess I am? Apparently, they sent this vehicle and this squad of soldiers for me. The captain leads me toward what I can see is government house, the home of Zystopia’s mayor and legislature.

It doesn’t look the way I remember from five years ago. There are no bullet holes, but there is some trash and some stains that could be blood from mammals that may have been injured or killed and the bodies moved recently. There are also a dozen or so grey mechs, all kneeling with their primary weapons pointed out, instead of up. The weapons are not repointed at anything or anyone, but they're clearly ready to be used. I remember seeing pictures of Confederation mechs like these many years ago during the obligatory military training that all Zistopian predators get.

“Please wait here,” Char says, after we’ve entered the building and stopped outside with must’ve been the mayor’s office. I’ve never been here, of course, and I don’t expect the previous mayor is in the city, much less still holding this office. I expect I am about to meet the mammal in charge of all these soldiers.

I wonder what he wants?

Chapter Text

“In there,” Captain Char said, so I stepped through the doorway of what must’ve been the mayor’s office in more peaceful times.

I didn’t see the mayor. Instead, I saw another red fox like myself, maybe a little older. He was standing to the left of a fox sized desk near the window. I could tell the desk was a new addition to the room by the marks on the carpet. There was also a guard in powered armor to the right of the desk, and several chairs in front of it.

Not sure what else to do, I walked in and stood in the middle the room. I’d not been invited to sit, so I didn’t.

I waited a half minute for the other fox to speak, but he did not. I considered waiting him out because I’m sure he has far more, and more important, things to do today, but that would’ve been impolite. He had just rescued me from prison after all.

“Ah. Good afternoon, I guess.” I said. I still thought of this as morning. I knew it wasn’t because of the location of the sun.

“Yes. Good afternoon, Nicholas. Have a seat,” the other fox said, so I sat. The guard moved toward the window behind the desk, but not far. Just far enough to keep the other fox out of the probable firing arc if I acted improperly.

“As you can see, this is the former mayors office, but I’m actually the Viceroy. I am Field Marshal Reynard, and I rule Zystopia in the name of my queen, Skylar III”

He paused, so I filled the silence as he no doubt expected. ”What happened to the previous mayor? Lionheart, I think it was?” I asked.

“No, it was Bellweather, but she's left the city, so we need to appoint a replacement as soon as possible,” he said. “Mammals like stability and that means a continuous government. We’ll also need to replace the city council, of course.”

“Who do you have in mind?” I asked, but by now I had a pretty good idea. I can smell his expectation and curiosity, and I’m sure he can scent my own polite interest.

“We need someone local, predator of course. Someone with some sort of leadership experience. Someone like you, in fact.”

“Experience? Sure, if you consider failure experience,” I replied. “All I’ve done is start an amusement park, which was seized by the government, and I was imprisoned, when they decided I must have been encouraging my fellow predators to go savage. In fact, that was sort of the point of the park, but the idea was that they-”

“I consider experience, experience,” the marshal replied, waving away my continued explanation. “And I’m sure you’re aware of the way my mammals and I feel about the previous administration?”

The intercom on his desk buzzed before I could reply verbally, and he touched it with a claw. “Yes?”

“Sir, the Union ambassador is here. He says it’s urgent that he see you. Immediately.”

“Is he alone?”

“No sir. He’s got a guard with him.”

“The ambassador can wait. I’ll buzz you when I can see him. The guard will stay outside, of course.”

“Sir.” The voice replied.

“Well,” Reynard said, addressing me again. “Would you like to meet this mammal? If you get the job, you’ll be seeing more of him, I’m sure.”

I nodded. “I met him during one of his previous visits, but I don’t think he remembers me.”

“Oh? That’s good to know. Do me a favor and don’t speak unless I speak to you and ask a question?”

I nodded, so he touched the intercom again, and the guard outside held the door open to let a warthog in.

I’ve seen Union mammals, including this one, before, of course. Every Zystopian has. They’re always visiting the rich parts of town and showing up on TV with the mayor or members of the Council or, in very rare circumstances, carefully selected member of the predator community. They are always talking about the importance of the equality for all mammal kind and that sort of thing. The ones on TV were always optimistic and happy. Unlike this one, they were never angry.

“I demand an explanation for this unwarranted act of senseless aggression against the peaceful city of Zystopia,” he said, before he even made it halfway across the room. He did not sit, or even try to, in the chair next to mine. I turned my chair slightly so I could see him, but he did not acknowledge me yet.

“Good afternoon ambassador. I trust my soldiers have treated you with the proper respect?” The Marshall asked. He had not moved from his position by the desk, but his body language was slightly more open. The guard had also not moved, but she smelled more anxious than before.

“Your thugs you mean? I’m sure they’re committing numerous crimes against mammal kind right now.”

“Crimes against mammal kind? Like torturing political prisoners or executing mammals you don’t like without charges, due process, or trial? That sort of thing?” The marshal replied.

The ambassador ignored the question. “I demand you remove yourself and your army from the city immediately,” he said, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t expect any such thing to actually happen. He smelled like soap and perfume.

“Unlikely,” the marshal replied. “Departing, I mean. We were invited in after some unrest occurred, and fires broke out. I have some sworn statements by various prominent citizens somewhere…” He started moving papers around on his desk. I expect the warthog to roll his eyes, but he didn’t.

The ambassador had put himself a few feet from the desk, between me and the guard. He may have thought the guard would not risk shooting me, but I didn’t think it would matter. Anyway, the hog was in arm’s reach, and the guard was a tiger, so shooting was unlikely anyway.

“This illegal aggression-“ the ambassador started to say, and the Marshal interrupted him.

“It’s quite legal, as I’ve said. There was civil unrest, my army was nearby, so we came in to restore order. I think you'll find that we were invited.”

“By whom? This mammal?” The ambassador asked, finally acknowledging me by waving in my general direction. I said nothing of course.

“No. This is Mr. Wilde. He was one of those political prisoners I was talking about. Don’t you remember him? I was thinking about offering him a job.”

“Can he speak for himself? Or is he just a lap dog?”

They both waited, but I held my tongue.

The marshal broke the silence. “Well, this has been fascinating, but I’ve got other work to do and I’m sure you need to get home and consult, or whatever mammals like you do when you’re not ignoring inconvenient things. “

The Marshal touched the button on his desk again, and the door opened. This time two guards entered and they came to stand near the warthog. The guards didn’t touch him, but one gestured toward the door.

“This is not over,” the 'hog said, completely unnecessarily, on his way out.

I waited until he left and the door closed again, and turned back to face Marshal Reynard. “I don’t think he likes us very much.”

“I don’t think I care, Mr. Mayor.”

Chapter Text

Two rabbits were talking in a temporary holding area set up by the Confederation Army. The buidling had been some sort of warehouse, previously, but now it was full of prey mammals of both genders and all different sizes. New mammals were arriving and other mammals were leaving more or less all the time.

“What are you in for?“ The buck asked the doe. They wore the remains of their previous uniforms, without weapons or other gear. The male in military green and the female in police blue.

“I am, or I was, an officer in the ZPD. How about you?” The doe replied in a somewhat resigned tone. She kept her ears down her back and tried not to be noticed. The buck had started doing the same thing when he joined her, after she arrived. There were other rabbits around, but not many.

Most of the upper ranks of the ZPD were already dead, by one means or another. Two dozen had been killed “accidentally” while in a bus at the ZPD headquarters. The guards had laughingly called it a ‘weapons malfunction.’ Talking about it seemed to cheer them up considerably.

The other members of the ZPD from the headquarters, predator and prey, had been separated from the military prisoners, and taken to a different warehouse. The guards had been discussing the probable, very unpleasant, fate of the prey, but they didn’t seem to know what to do about the predators. Judy had heard word “collaborator” once or twice, and “traitor”, so she thought she had a pretty good idea.

The buck hesitated, but replied. “huh. I’m thinking you’re going to have it rougher than me.”

She nodded, and he continued. “I’m James Hopper, formerly a leftenant in the Army. I disobeyed orders, and so I was stripped of rank and handcuffed to a tree.”

“That’s how they found you? At the tree?” She asked, and he nodded. “I haven’t seen many other army officers around.”

“How did you end up here?” Hopper asked.

“Confed military caught me, like the others, but not in ZPD headquarters. I had taken some officers, and all of predators I could, with me when I. That is, when we removed ourselves from the ZPD, the day before the city was invaded. My team was guarding the city water supply when the wolves found us that night,” she replied.

It was a common story. Everyone had expected the city to be invaded the day before yesterday, but there were obviously elements of the Confederation Army in the city before that. Teams of unidentified wolves had turned up at various critical locations during the night.

“I also sent teams to the bridges and the tunnel to try and dissuade the mobs from attacking the primarily predator parts of town. I don’t know what happened,” she continued.

There were stories, unconfirmed, about what the wolves had done to mobs attempting to invade those parts of town. No one was sure about those stories, but everyone who knew anything agreed the teams had been extremely well-informed and well coordinated. No one seemed to know anything about the cops, and so Judy Hopps was afraid her people had been killed by the mobs.

“So, they brought you here?” The buck said.

“Yes,” the doe replied, shrugging.

“I didn’t expect to meet a cop,” Hopper said, apparently changed the subject.

“In here you mean? Or just still breathing?” Judy said, trying some gallows humor.

“In here, I guess. I can’t say I much like police mammals right now.”

“Join the crowd,” the cop replied, and then realized what she had said. “Or, I’d rather you didn’t. You want to talk about it?”

“Not much to say. I was ordered, by the military police, to shoot a prisoner. I declined, so they shot the prisoner, and handcuffed me to a tree. That’s where the Confederation soldiers found me. The Confeds were shooting most of the prey, and I expected to die also. But I didn’t.”

Then he looked back out at the crowd of mammals around them. “Most everyone here seems to be some sort of bureaucrat, low level political functionary, or business mammal. The sort of upper middle management mammals necessary for the day to day running of the city, but not the sort to make decisions. I expect those mammals are somewhere else.”

“But everyone here was part of the old pain collar system?”

“Yes,” he replied. There wasn't much else to say, now.

“You haven’t seen those MPs again have you?” Judy asked.

“No. Two zebras. One short and one tall. They probably died when the command area was overrun.”

“You need to tell our captors what you saw,” the doe suggested. “It might help you.”

“Would they believe me?”

“It’s the right thing to do,” she replied, and smiled tiredly.