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What It Takes

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Zootopia Police Academy – Class #1082
Week 7 of 16 (Monday)

ZPD Cadet Judith Hopps had spent her entire life on a carrot farm and like any self-respecting farmer, she was no stranger to hard work or early mornings. Since she was a four-year-old kitten, life on the Hopps Family Farm meant being awake before the sun and wrangling her multitude of little brothers and sisters as her parents and older siblings divvied out jobs.

Twenty harvest seasons later, Judy thought that she understood what it meant to be exhausted. She thought that adding four years of university on top had taught her how it felt to be overwhelmed. She been confident that getting into the police academy had given her some perspective in overcoming adversity.

The last seven weeks had blown all those ideas right out of the water. The day had barely even started and she already felt worn out. The relatively small bunny marched tiredly toward the academy mess hall, flanked by her follow trainees, her aching muscles wanting nothing more than for her to go back to the barracks and collapse onto her bunk.

The entire class been running drills on the environment courses since well before sunrise – a seemingly unending cycle of getting soaked on the swamp patch, chilled on the ice wall, and then essentially sandblasted in the academy’s own pocket sandstorm. None of these obstacles had looked particularly daunting on the first day, but whatever intimidation they lost in size was quickly regained in repetition.

The whole process, which left their skin raw and muscles burning, played out under the close supervision of their lead instructor, Major Friedkin. The polar bear hadn’t been bothered in the slightest by the cold morning air and showed little compassion for those that were. She was constantly pushing them beat their best times, forcing them to focus on something other than their aching muscles and shaking paws.

As she filed into the food line with the rest of her class, Judy thought back to her first conversation with a ZPD recruiter. He’d repeatedly emphasized how difficult the training program was, that it was designed to push the strongest and toughest mammals past their limits. She remembered the sense of outrage she’d felt when the uniformed coyote outright told her that a bunny wasn’t up to the challenge, then smiled down at her and asked if she’d considered any of the other ways she contribute to her community. He’d actually had the nerve to recommend Zootopia’s new Urban Sustainability Program, pointing out the need for “experienced farm animals” to supervise the community gardens.

She’d calmly told him that she would be the judge of what she could handle. He’d shrugged, accepting her application paperwork. The following two months were a blur of aptitude tests and qualification trials - all of which she passed with flying colors - and the day her acceptance letter arrived was one of the happiest of her life.

Now she found herself standing in line for breakfast; half-asleep, half-frozen and half-heartedly trying to shake the water out of her left ear.

Earlier that morning, one of the other trainees – Greg Humphreys – had washed out of the training program altogether. Although he had smashed every record on the desert course, the ice wall wasn’t so easily defeated. The otherwise tough-as-nails camel had once again succumbed to the cold and collapsed into the frigid water - it had been his fifth case of hypothermia to date. He’d shown a lot of courage by coming back each time, but the toll was obvious; his hooves started trembling every time he stepped onto the ice.

He’d already been hauled out of the water and wrapped in a foil blanket when Friedkin’s booming voice had sent them scrambling back to the course. Judy watched as the normally aggressive instructor knelt beside Humphreys, gently placed a large paw on his shoulder and told the heartbroken camel that he was done. She thought Humphreys might have cried a little, but the Major had smoothly placed herself between him and his former classmates.

"You did your best, cadet. You can be proud of that." Judy sharp ears barely caught the Major’s uncharacteristically comforting tone. "Take your time. I can stay here as long as you need me to."

By the time they returned to the barracks Greg was already standing outside in his civilian clothes, duffel bag in hand. Most of the candidates had shuffled past him quietly, some offering a brief nod or mumbled farewell. Deep down, many of them were secretly happy it hadn’t been them. Despite her exhaustion, Judy had managed a brief smile and told the camel she was sorry to see him go.

“Thanks, short stuff.” He’d grumbled as she passed by, smiling faintly.

Last in line had been Cadet Nathan Barrow, a white-furred timber wolf and one of Humphreys’ roommates. The camel kneeled down to Barrow’s height and the wolf smiled sadly at his friend. “Take care of yourself, ya ugly bastard.”

“You too, mutt.” Humphreys’ deep voice had cracked slightly as he thumped his hoof against the wolf’s paw. She’d left the two of them to their goodbye and hurried to get washed up and changed for breakfast.

Now she stood in a breakfast line between a rhino and a tiger, not quite able to shake the image of Humphreys standing on that curb. Was that it for him? All that work to get here and now he was gone, just like that? She wondered whether Humphreys would be back. Would he put himself through the entire application process again? Would the ZPD even consider him as a candidate again?

She’d try again. If it was her, she’d definitely try again. And she was pretty confident the camel would be back. He didn’t seem like the quitting type.

A light shove snapped Judy’s mind back to the present and she realized she’d been holding up the line. Mumbling an apology, she stood high on her toes to reach for a meal tray and stepped out of the line. She made a beeline for the fresh produce, humming some Gazelle song to distract herself from the sound of the grills.

Most of her fellow candidates were predators (omnivores, at least), and on an intellectual level she’d understood that most predator species needed a lot of protein to function properly. Greer alone could put away almost 25lbs of protein-rich food per day. Naturally that was reflected in the dining hall’s menu.

Weeks ago, when she’d enthusiastically bounced up to the counter for her first breakfast as a ZPD cadet, she’d been assaulted by the profoundly unfamiliar sight, sound and smell of cooking meat. Confronted with the image of shrimp and crickets popping on the grill, her stomach had pulled an immediate backflip and she’d spent the next ten minutes dry-heaving in the bathroom.

Wincing at the memory, she quickly filled her plate with the fruit, vegetables, and nuts she preferred. She quickly spotted Cadet Daphne Talbot, one of her own roommates. Daphne smiled warmly and waved Judy over. A quick glance at the other cadet’s plate solved the mystery of the missing berries and honey granola.

Following the bunny’s unfortunate reaction to the Academy’s menu, she’d had to put up with her classmates’ teasing for days. It was a common occurrence for her to find lobster restaurant bibs hidden in her pockets or airsickness bags carefully folded between the pages of her textbooks. She’d accepted that it was all in good fun and even had a laugh or two herself – particularly when the Academy Sergeant-Major had looked her square in the eye during an inspection, demanding to know why the sushi in her locker wasn’t properly lined up with the rest of her kit.

Although most of the teasing had been playful and eventually tapered off, some had been downright mean. During meals, she’d occasionally found crickets slipped in her food when she wasn’t looking. Once she’d discovered a crude - and slightly disturbing - drawing taped to her locker; it was entitled “Killer Bunny”, and depicted a rabbit with blood-soaked fangs.

It went on for a few days and she thought she’d done an admirable job of ignoring it - until the evening she’d thrown back the sheets on her bunk to reveal the head, spine and innards of a recently gutted salmon.

Clone fish were literally brainless, grown specifically to provide protein rich meat without the possibility of cruelty – but that didn’t matter in the slightest when Judy’s horrified gaze met the fish’s dead eyes. Her body forgot she was at the top of a bunk ladder as she involuntarily recoiled, losing her balance and falling to the floor. She landed firmly on her back, driving every last wisp of air from her lungs in a sharp cry of pain.

Gasping for breath and trying to shake the image of the fish’s eyes, Judy was upset to hear two of the other candidates that shared the room laughing at her. She clenched her eyes shut and silently willed herself not to cry, detachedly aware of Daphne climbing from her bunk, walking over and helping Judy up off the ground.

“Are you alright, Hopps?” She asked, concerned. “Did you hit your head?”

She’d had quietly assured Talbot that her head was fine. The older cadet had given the bunny’s shoulder a gentle squeeze, then guided Judy to her own bunk. Walking back to Judy’s, Talbot gathered up the ruined sheets and carried them out to the garbage. She returned shortly after, sat down and gently rested a paw on the demoralized bunny’s shoulder.

“’re going to sleep in my bunk tonight and I’m going to take the couch in the common room.” Daphne told her matter-of-factly. When Judy’s opened her mouth to object, she was silenced with a raised paw. “No arguing now. You’ve been tied up in knots for days and you need to get some actual rest.”

Judy sighed, smiling weakly as a wave of exhaustion rolled over her. Laying back, she barely felt the blanket that was gently laid over her. As the bunny drifted off to sleep, Daphne turned to the other cadets in the room and pinned them with a look that said one thing loud and clear – the bullying ended now.

Judy woke the following morning to the familiar sounds of reveille and rushed outside with everyone else. She’d fallen into formation beside Talbot and risked a reprimand with a whispered “Thank you.”

“Anytime, Hopps.”  Daphne had whispered back with a ghost of a smile.

Daphne and Judy shared similar upbringings – they both came from small towns and had both grown up working on a family-owned farm. They had both dreamed of becoming police officers from a young age, but while Judy had dedicated her life to that goal right away, Daphne had chosen to start a family of her own first. And years later, her husband had happily taken over the day-to-day running of their honey farm so she could finally pursue her childhood dream. Apparently, her two boys where already bragging that their mama was going to be the toughest and coolest cop ever.

That was also why Daphne wasn’t training to become a ZPD officer. After graduation, when the rest of them would be headed to one of the Zootopia Precincts, she was getting assigned back to the local Sheriff’s Department in her home town, Acrewood.

Months later, when Judy learned that Sheriff’s Deputy Daphne Talbot had been nicknamed ‘Mama Bear’ by the town’s citizens, she hadn’t been surprised in the slightest. Anyone who spoke to Daphne could understand why she’d chosen to become a police officer; she had a protective streak a mile-wide and could go from nurturing to menacing in the blink of an eye. Something that the would-be bullies had learned all too well, cowering in the shadow of a 1,500lb pissed-off Kodiak Bear.


End Part I