The Dystopian Society
[February 5, 'Nocturnal District' 3:55 AM]
The Nocturnal District of Zootopia was a very... odd sort of place. Known as the 'Underground' by most, it gained a reputation as one of the most distinctive areas in its namesake city when it was first built. While not odd in the sense of it being too diverse from what one would call the most diverse city in all of Animalia, the sheer idea of it was more than enough to raise a few brows.
For starters, being a city under the city was something that was unheard of. The subterranean district was known for having the look and feel of a lost world and bygone age that both mirrored the surface, and reminded one of the era when their great city was first built. And not only that, but time there was on a different table; noon on the surface was midnight there, if only for nocturnal mammals to acclimate themselves to a routine.
Since its initial excavation and modeling, it did draw up concerns. Most of which were: surface transportation, water resources, lighting and electric, and most certainly HVAC (heating ventilation and air conditioning). Initially, the problems were too massive, far extensively too complex to solve. But with years of planning, they all came together beautifully.
The district now had many ways to travel above ground. From the many reservoir and drainage tunnels, the lines of subway trains that ran there, and to the most prominent and reliable travel method of using the Central Spire - the pillar and backbone of their transportation - all manners of egress were covered. There wasn't a single mammal - from the smallest mouse to the tallest giraffe - that couldn't go and see the nightlife for themselves.
Intricate water wells were dug and carved out to support the mini-cities needs as they came. Ranging from small pools to overflow tunnels, it was no easy feat to divert much of the water from the Rainforest District and flush it into manageable waterways and usable water. But in the end, it all became a magnificent array of water that flowed from one source and ran in every direction.
For lighting and electricity, massive cables and conduits for efficient energy were situated in substations peppered throughout the district. Though it did come with some difficulty as having to divert tunnels for maintenance and root them downward, it became apparent that it was crucial that it must be sustained at all times. For the light that illuminated the Underground had to come from all directions as to keep a sense of time and prevent too much damage to the cavern. They had massive strobe lights attached to the cave ceiling; all able to turn different colours to indicate the time it was, but also give a sense of the district's backward time issue. And should the power of the district shut off, more than the lights would die and leave the citizens in permanent darkness; they themselves would be in danger.
While some districts could do without power for a while, it was an absolute must in the Nocturnal District due to the issue of temperature control and air flow. Engineers and city planners spent years in trying to figure out how easily keep the air at a constant temperature and keep it from becoming toxic. Some suggested open air shafts, others said to use plant life to keep it stable. Neither worked for some time, and it was back and forth bickering about who was right and who was wrong. Budget cuts and project management teams screamed for this to be complete, but it seemed like it never would be.
However, after some time, the two ideas somehow merged after the mayor - formally known as Isaac Bellwether - sought to fix the issue and stop wasting time. They ended up using ventilation shafts built in with massive fans and filters to keep the air pure and as dry as needed. And the use of plants that could survive in the dark was a huge help as their resilience brought about many visitors; their unique ability to glow was what had made them all the better for the citizens and it became the site of a lot of tourists and foot traffic.
As years passed, the district continued to thrive. Though... not in the way it had initially.
Like any other, its initial birth brought about wonder and awe. Now, it was just another place for most to live. It was the same thing that happened to Tundra Town, the same thing that happened to Sahara Square. It became another place to live out one's life and scrape to get by. Only tourists and pilgrims to its unfamiliarity saw the true beauty behind the veil of darkness anymore. There was no hope of lively hood for anyone else anymore with poverty striking after tame collars were issued.
Since then the lively hood in which many searched for - a steady job, decent place to live, and comfort of familiar surroundings - became the only fleeting hope of the sub-city. Such things that were necessary for everyday life became the goings about for everyone there; no awe, no wonder, nothing new for many. All the splendor that had been the lifeblood of the district had vanished, just like everywhere else.
Except... there was always the exception to the rule.
Someone who found wonders in the mundane of life and could always see the veil of darkness as a new adventure; something to still find hope in. That one that could always brighten your day just by proximity and a cheerful smile.
It wasn't that they were different in stature from everyone else, they didn't need to be. All they had to be was themselves, someone that wanted to make a difference because that's who they were.
Someone who -
- turned away from the pressure at her arm and was trying to sleep comfortably in her own home...
It was calm, quiet and peaceful where she lay. Her head tucked neatly under a warm blanket - happy that she had central heating and was snugly comfortable - and a content smile sat on the bridge of her muzzle. In the restful haze of sleep she didn't want to be disturbed, not when she was this relaxed.
So many things plagued her mind as of late, she only wanted a moment's reprieve to collect her thoughts. Her head hurt and she couldn't explain why. A headache perhaps? she thought, only to wince from both a flash of a memory and a dull itch crawl between her eyes.
A vivid image of a dark alleyway and two figures approaching her caused her to twitch her eyes a little, threatening to tear her away from blissful sleep. A shrill cry of pain as her breath left her, the sting of a shock making itself known and forcing her hooves to protect herself. A shuffle, a deep pain, a red blur... then darkness.
She shuddered at what it all was, it happened so fast and felt so real. Her hooves now made their way up to her neck subconsciously. Maybe it was a dream? she hoped, feeling the downy fur pressed down against the fastened object. Surely it was no more than-
-the feeling at her shoulder again...
The jostling started to irritate her. I swear if it's Mateo, and he starts nibbling on my horns again-
Sure enough, she felt a dull pressure creep up onto her horns seconds later, crinkling the padded material that kept her from puncturing anything while she slept; she could only huff in annoyance. Whoever it was, didn't want her to sleep anymore; something she desperately felt as though she needed. Didn't they know what had happened earlier? she mused, grunting in light frustration and forcing herself to roll over on the bed to greet her antagonizer.
It was something that she was used to: being bothered by her brothers while she tried to sleep. Not that it was too bad usually, aside from when one of them either tried to hoist her out of bed or whenever Mateo started using her horns as toothpicks. Still, she wondered, Couldn't they just, for once, not bother me? It's not like I try to get them up when-
Her brush tail twitched from the memories of all the times she had so rudely awoken her brothers with threats going in both directions. They were the usual 'I'll maul you' or 'One more time and I'll you're on the menu'. They never would go through with it, though; they were family, and they always would be... Even after her counter threats when they did the same thing... She came this close to impaling Al once.
As she rolled to face her annoyance, she heard a small squeaking noise; a sound that the tigers were too large to make as they were no longer mewling kits. So, with a sigh, Gabrizella La'Gñeb (Gazelle or just Zell for short) forced her eyes to flutter open.
The room was as dim as she had left it, that was sure. Despite the single window that let in the faintest light of the outside: street-posts, neon lights, and dim faux skyline, it was far less than what any lamp could offer. While the light was still barely a sliver, she could see what was needed: quilted tiger striped blanket that she was nestled in, hardwood walls and flooring, the single porter dresser and night stand she had with various books and collections about them, and her prized acoustic guitar by the door.
To many, the room would seem a mess with clutter. Despite the few clothes strewn about and coffee mug and glass of water on the nightstand, she believed she was somewhat tidy... Though she knew she could do with a few more sweaters, it got cold in the district often and she only had ten left out of the ones she gave to less fortunate mammals.
With the fog of sleep being slowly lifted from her, the first thing she noticed was that her room was... sans tiger? With a mammal that big - literally at least twice her size - how could they possibly hide in her room? Her bed was nothing more than a floor set futon (she hated getting her horns stuck in box springs) and the single closet space she had was full of hangers, clothes, and mementos that they knew better than to rummage through.
Still, she had the sneaking suspicion that she was missing... something. Some detail about the squeak and shoulder poking. Her suspicions lead her to force her to sit up, every part of her protesting against the motion. As her eyes adjusted a little more to the familiar surroundings, they landed on a little ball of fur sitting near the foot of her bed, waiting with a toothy grin.
It was a smile that she recognized well, one that she had grown fond of over the years. "Pequeña!" said Gazelle with a welcoming, gleeful smile of her own. Sitting there, bright eyed and swishy tailed, was the little possum she had known for years now, Cinnamon.
The tiny marsupial giggled a little, curling her tail around her playfully and cupping her paws to her muzzle. Giddy as she was, she kicked her feet at the sight of the slowly waking herbivore.
Gazelle smiled back at her, happy that she was there, but wondering how. In searching for the answer, she noticed that the kit was wearing a different set of clothes her size. A pair she had only seen her ever wear once or twice: blue suspenders and a shirt with a bunny smiling as its logo. She realized with avid fascination that-
"Did Salt get that for you?"
While her question came out as a genuinely curious, she herself tried to piece together out what happened earlier that day. From a headache she felt to the vision of a red fox, it all seemed... surreal.
None the less, Cinnamon gave a courteous nod and crawled forward.
Upon having the little marsupial reach her, Gazelle picked her up and embraced her as best as she could. Still tired and her mind hazy from recent events, the sole comfort of having the kid there put her at ease.
The possum latched to her side, squeezing her tightly in a hug that she would say could rival any of her brothers any day. And hearing the squeak she gave made her feel a lot better. It still didn't stop her mind from wondering or worrying.
How long was I out for? she wondered. As if solely to mock her, the view outside hadn't changed at all: same dim light, soft and humming neon glow. And unfortunately, the only clocks she could even try to get a hold on were just out of reach; she remembered putting her phone elsewhere as to not be disturbed.
So, along with everything else in her life, she ha to stand on her own two hind hooves and face the day... well, night in her case.
Holding the possum to her side as she cooed, Gazelle whispered reassuringly, "Alright pequeña, we have to go see if the restaurant's still standing."
It wasn't that she was truly worried that their home and profitability was in ruin, but more so to show that she wasn't a fifth wheel and could stand on her own.
Knowing that Cinnamon wouldn't want to let go no matter how hard she tried, Gazelle took to simply tossing what was left of her blanket and swinging her legs off the side of the futon. The first step she took was a bit wobbly, shaken from dizziness and feeling the effects of what she began to remember.
Still clad in her dress from earlier that day, refusing to have changed into anything more comfortable as she only swore to take a nap to ease her families worry for her, the doe forced herself to stand, shaking off any feeling of exhaustion. The floor and her bones creaked in protest, and the immediate chill of the room caught up to her. She reached up and took off the protective wrapping around her horns, setting them on the bed carefully before she felt her teeth almost chatter.
Shivering and now partially regretting everything she was about to do, she bit back her tongue and refused to quit before her day continued. She wasn't one to just give up on her goals. So by the time she stood up and yawned away whatever sleep lay still on her eyelids, she found herself standing in the middle of her room.
The still and quiet box that she had known as home for most of her life had a feeling of both longing for things lost and hope for the future. She took to looking around for a moment if only to catch her breath. Though she had seen it all, she wanted her eyes to adjust to the light a little more before heading downstairs.
It was when she looked at the mirror just across from her that she even hesitated a little. Two glowing lights, one blue one that she knew was hers and a smaller green one that she saw as Cinnamons, greeted her in the most unwelcome of ways.
Both somberly and reverently, she approached the mirror. Each step echoed with sounds of the past and memories of days gone by. She couldn't tell why it bothered her anymore, but when she was in arms reach of their reflection she sighed.
Staring at both of them that stared back she held the kit in one arm and let her other hoof lazily reach up to her neck.
Fifteen years... she thought, barely mouthing the words as the possum stared up curiously.
The soft and faint blue light mocked her as her hoof scraped by the solid black box it was set upon. Being in the thing for so long did nothing to soothe her or quiet her. It wasn't just her own device that made her stare longer than she ought to, but when her eyes drifted down to the smaller green light, she felt a sting of a tear threaten her vision.
"Miss Gazelle?" the child whispered, gaining her attention. She looked down at the innocent squirming scavenger and her heart almost broke when she spoke. "Why did Mr. Nick have the red thing around his neck? Uncle Salt wouldn't say."
With the possum's better night vision and her own beginning to catch up to her, Gazelle tore away from the sight and tried to bear a smile.
"Let's see what they're up to in the kitchen first, okay?" she said, smoothing over Cinnamon's ears carefully with her hooves. "I'll tell you later, I promise." She didn't really want to answer that, and the reality set in that it wasn't a dream. Nick was there earlier and wearing a kill collar.
As encouraging as her words could be, she felt them take a toll on her. Not from any ill will, but the stresses of everyday life coupled with the recent events, she couldn't bear to have anything happen to any of her family; by extension of species or not.
Not even one step was taken away before she could feel the kit snuggle further into her side, and by the time she reached the door, the doe could swear she felt the side of her dress feel damp.
Upon setting hoof in the hallway and closing the door to her room behind her, the ambiance of the restaurant below filled the empty space. While not as dark as her own suite, the hallway was still dimly lit. All wood surfaces ranging from the ticking wall hanging clock (now reading 4:03 am) and simple carved doors, to the few picture frames and small tables that had lamps on them.
This was home to her.
It was a little chillier than she remembered when walking up. Must've lowered the thermostat. she thought, ignoring the fact that she still had a little blur to her vision and awkward steps.
The familiarity was welcome with each stride she took. Passing by the other doors that lead to the separate bathrooms, bedrooms, and the study, she was grateful to have all of this as part of her life. And when she walked about halfway down the hall - as she did every day - she stopped to take a look at the largest picture there.
A wall set frame with polished glass that her family took many, many years ago. Three antelope and six tigers all happily staring at a camera. The family that she had been a part of ever since she was so young, a full family that was extended beyond just her species... a family that had both lost and gained.
There were no longer any other gazelle besides her, and two of the tigers were gone as well. She would have frowned, but the tugging at her side made her smirk a little. We'll have to take another picture soon.
As the thought passed by and away from her mind, she trekked down the corridor with a little more zeal in her pace. The simple idea of having these other four as part of her life was exciting to her.
While dwelling on the idea and descending the stairs that lead into the kitchen downstairs, the fresh aroma of spices filled her nostrils.
She had been able to tell what each spice was from just the smell for a while now, and she made a little game of trying to figure out what was being cooked.
Cilantro, basil, coriander, she listed out, smelling one more ingredient, And avocado. Fin must be making veggie tacos.
There were so many more powerful smells, but that one she recognized immediately, so when she opened the door to the kitchen, she was only surprised to see a new face, but not that of a fennec fox frantically mixing ingredients over a pan twice his size.
She was greeted by the hustle and bustle of kitchen work, Clawhouser chopping up fresh vegetables along with her brother Samuel, Finnick barely able to move the wooden spoon in his paws while standing on the countertop to mix the next batch of orders, and Salt scrubbing plates in a dish filled sink.
It was about then that she remembered the conversation that they had. That Salt couldn't stand the heat due to the burns, but he'd be working for them now. Hopefully, he'll like it here. she thought, moving towards the center of the kitchen.
Before she could even open her muzzle to greet everyone, Clawhouser caught sight of her.
"ZELL!" he shouted, abandoning his work much to the frustration of his tiger sue-chef and running, actually running towards Gazelle at full speed.
The doe braced herself and felt the cheetah embrace her in a heartfelt hug. She could only chuckle as he did so, he was definitely the hugging type.
"Good... to see you too... Ben," she wheezed and chuckled.
It wasn't until a pop from her back echoed as well as a squeak resounded that he even stopped and released her. When he did, the doe leaned forward, clutching placing her hoof on her spine and checking on the little Cinnamon possum gagging in her arm.
The cheetah stepped back. "Oh no. I'm so sorry Zell I-"
He was silenced by her laughing and placing her hoof on his muzzle. Though still in a little bit of pain, she was relatively unharmed. "I'm fine Ben. Really."
Still not convinced, the cheetah stared at her. "Uh... your stitches," he said, pointing at the few lines crossing a pattern just above her eyes.
While she tried to comically look at the area (knowing full well that she couldn't see her forehead) the activity in the room came to a screeching halt.
Finnick stopped to stare at them, almost burning the hot plate of veggies he was tending to, Samuel had abandoned his post out of concern for his sister, and Salt had carefully avoided any heat source and made his way over to them.
The doe knew where this was going just by the look on their faces and the gripping at her side. She huffed before anyone could get their words in. "Look, I'm fine," she deadpanned, not wanting any more attention on her for the rest of the day. "There's work to be done and I'm here to-"
The kitchen door burst open and a yellow-shirted tiger stepped in, pen and paper in paw. "Hey, Fin! How're the veggie tacos comin'? We got three orders after I told them we don't have any more bugs and-"
Mateo stopped with the others in the room to stare at the sole prey mammal among them. He would have dropped the order he carried altogether but his claws refused to let go.
He wanted to speak, say anything, a 'hey sis you're up' or 'where's the food already, we've got hungry customers that I somehow drive away', but the shocked look on Gazelle's muzzle spoke first.
"Wait... we ran out of bugs?" She raised a brow at all of them, somehow disbelieving that the shipment they got hours ago could be completely out. They only ever needed to call when they ran out of stock, and by then they made a decent profit. So the only thing she could think was that they somehow sold them all, a bright smile started to work its way across her features.
Finnick nodded and sighed. "Yeah, we got a bad batch." Her smile all but died. "I tried makin' a burger earlier and it was gross." He thumbed to the walk-in fridge just by the stove. "We gotta toss the stuff we got now and tell 'em."
With the idea of being able to earn a little extra having died just before it started, she took to staring at the freezer. "They can't be that bad, Fin," she said, hoping it was true. And while taboo for her species to have bugs on a regular, she had indeed had them before, it kinda came with having tigers for brothers.
The little fox huffed. "Suit yourself. But don't say I didn't warn you. Those things are nasty!" he said, gesturing to the counter where a burger lay waiting on a serving plate. Gazelle would have protested against leaving food out as it was against sanitation to just prepare things to sell and keep them out for a while, but she was genuinely curious to how it could be bad.
Thankful for the distraction for even a moment, she casually strolled over to the delicious morsel. She hadn't had one in a few days, but always thought they were one of the best things on the menu. So after giving Fin a teasing smile and telling him: "And I will. You have poor taste anyways." she lifted the thing with one hoof and bit into it.
The bread was as soft and tasty as any other she had ordered for their restaurant, and the condiments and filler were crispy, citric and tangy. However... her face soured the moment she tasted the bug patty. Every other bug burger she had was tasteful, crunchy and satisfying.
This... was none of those.
It was akin to wet garbage despite the aroma, like it had soured somehow during the processing. The putrid thing was rubbery and gritty in texture, and the flavor was something she couldn't quite figure out. A different recipe maybe? she told herself. Either way, she found herself slowly setting the burger back on the plate, and spitting back out the remains right where she left a bite mark.
Almost dry heaving at what leftover taste there was, she gingerly looked back at her family.
Finnick gave a proud smirk "And?"
She looked back at the burger, regurgitated mass and all, and tried to put on a brave face. Her tastebuds refused to let her take another bite, but she hated wasting food; though she would never serve that to even a hyena. The doe sighed in resignation and held the plate aloft. "Here Mateo," She offered to her brother. "I think you'll like the added flavor."
All eyes fell on him, but he shook his head. "...I'll pass."
Satisfied with hearing his answer and with him requesting the food not burn, Gazelle and the others watched him head back into the open restaurant space. She knew he'd tell the others that she was up and running, but for now, she was happy that she was able to keep up with them.
The commotion in the kitchen soon died out afterward when she tossed the plate. The chefs went back to cooking and Salt took a moment to sign to his niece. While their interaction was short, it left Gazelle confused as to what he was saying. Cinnamon, however, made it seem easy.
He said that he was thankful to their family for letting them stay and that he was happy to be there; both things that made the doe bear a tearful smile. The older marsupial made it known that the heat was bearable as he could stand by the sink and that above all he was glad to have somewhere safe for Cinnamon to stay. Gazelle wanted to question him more about his burns, but she figured he'd give him space. They looked to be healing a little.
She made a mental note to call Lionheart Foods in the morning when they opened. After making the mistake of leaving messages, she realized that the only good time to get to them was when they were fully staffed. So with ensuring the kitchen was still operating, she walked out the door.
Being greeted by a tiger twice her size was not out of the ordinary, though many would find it nothing short of terrifying. It was her brother Alejandro that met her face to face, though his visage was more... stern than hers was. It was an inevitability that she had dreaded since she awoke: potentially being scolded by your eldest brother and told to go back to bed because you needed it.
She couldn't argue against that.
But, instead, he simply asked her if she was feeling alright after embracing her in a somewhat rigid hug. Gazelle knew full well that Al - though the most intimidating of the four tigers - was the last one to even try to give such a thing. So after assuring him that she was fine and even going so far as to ask Cinnamon to tell him (which she did by signing) he relaxed enough to go from a mild headache to just mildly annoyed.
She even got a nod from Daniel who was busy tending to the bar. He had been an excellent barkeep since he was younger, keeping up with orders and closing tabs was his kind of place in their little slice of the city.
When she went to pick up a pen and set Cinnamon down at the empty booth closest to their musical stand, Alejandro abruptly stopped her.
"Al, I'm fine. I can handle taking orders and-"
He held up a paw and she fell silent. "Zel, I know," he said reassuringly. "But you're still tired, and we have enough paws at work."
The doe huffed in frustration. It was true. With the added help of Salt, they were able to have another body up front or in the back cooking.
"Fine," she whispered in defeat, "But I'm still gonna practice while I'm here."
But still, why couldn't they just let her be? She wasn't too bad off to help, and she was no damsel in distress by any means. In the end, she conceded. If her brothers were going to stand as a shield all day and give her a choice between being locked in the tower of her room or to sit back and relax in the ambiance of their restaurant, she figured she could at least have tea and pancakes while she waited.
As she placed the order for herself and a smaller stack for Cinnamon (as too much sugar was bad for her) Alejandro went to get her the guitar if for nothing but to keep her seated. She still never liked being waited on, horns and hoof.
When he returned, pancakes in paw and guitar at the ready, Gazelle thanked him and dug right in. She was more interested in watching the mammals that walked in than her own meal.
They were on the cusp of the dinner rush and others came flooding through in short bursts. Many prey mammals - most of which were both collared and familiar with the restaurant - and quite a few predators came in and were eager to dine there again. Each being welcomed by a tiger - usually Mateo unless Al was by the door - the patrons took their seats quickly and ordered what they had so sought.
It was around then that Gazelle's mind started to wander. She wanted a better life than this, not just for herself, but for everyone there; patrons and family alike. "The stupid collars," she mumbled, picking at her stack of pancakes and chasing down small bites with tea, "Don't know why anyone made them."
She had recalled earlier about her argument again with Mayor Swinton's closed 'Rehabilitation' clause. How badly she wanted it for everyone. Why couldn't anyone see that the collars did nothing good? If they could just see that everyone there got along then they'd see that predators and prey never had any need of the torturous devices in the first place.
And had they never been invented or even used, then her family would be-
The commotion of the restaurant brought her to sigh, there was no use dwelling on the past for matters like this. It took her some time to finish her food, even if it was only a little to keep her from starving. And she only wanted to ease her mind, but the only thing that truly did that for her was her music. So with a renewed confidence and mission, the doe took to reaching her guitar and simply humming and strumming a tune.
She realized that, as with every time, many of the patrons seemed to quiet themselves just to hear her play, and the atmosphere felt more... peaceful. It always made her laugh, made her smile that such a thing could be so harmonious. That a simple instrument could bring such joy to so many.
Even her brothers from time to time just sat back and watched when they weren't busy. And she always, whenever she was around, captivated the attention of her little 'Cinnamon Bun'; it always made her chuckle at the child's fascination with music.
The rest of the shift went by swimmingly. Well, as swimmingly as one given her condition could be. It was relatively peaceful and the ambient music she poured out of her being made it a joy to anyone who walked through the doors of their restaurant.
A simple and thoughtful smile found its way across her muzzle with all that happened recently. From knowing that her family had grown with the addition of the possums, to the sight for sore eyes that was her vet, she couldn't have asked for much more.
In time, just like as always, the restaurant's patronage began to die out. No more clinking of plates or last calls. No final orders or lingering aromas. It was just the restaurant crew locking up for the night.
Again, Gazelle was forced to stay out of the closing regiment: cooking dinner for the staff, locking the place, running through the inventory, cleaning, counting, and stocking.
She would have protested, but the moment she tried to do much more than count bills and clean a table, she felt a slight headache that one of her brothers - and it just had to be Al - caught sight of.
So with them all shoeing her away and assuring her that they had everything, she waited just behind the bar with Cinnamon as they finished cleaning the lobby. It did her heart well to see that everyone was getting along, and even Salt was happily scrubbing a table or two without fuss.
She leaned her elbows across the bar, content with the day's work even though she wasn't 'allowed' to do much more than play.
"Beautiful sight isn't it."
While watching them, a cheerful and familiar voice came from next to her. As Cinnamon was on the counter, she recognized it and agreed.
"Sure is, Honey."
Her greeting given, Gazelle turned back to the few cleaning... only to nearly jump out of her hide when she realized who was there.
"HONEY?!" she shouted, having fully gained the attention of everyone there and effectively shocking herself for the second time in the Undergrounds day period. The footsteps of the others rushing to her side were one of the few things she could hear over the sound of her own coughing.
Through the painful reeling of shock administered, the doe tried to figure out what was going on but was also thankful that she was already leaning on something to support her. Great, she thought, more reason for them to worry.
When they had reached her, they either tried to wrap their arms over her shoulder like Al and Mat or quizzically stared at the badger with shock and awe.
Still clad in her militaristic gear and wearing a hardhat with a flashlight, Honey stood and greeted them all. She even took a moment to smile and wave at the little possum sitting on the counter and both smiled at each other. And when her eyes met the eye of Salt, they silently nodded in acknowledgment.
For a long moment, there was silence, but Finnick was the first to ask, "Where did you come from?"
All eyes on her as if she were the metaphorical elephant in the room, the badger smiled nonplussed by any of their stares.
"Home," she answered, looking around the closed lobby for any stragglers. "Got any leftovers?"
Indeed they did and it was Clawhouser that made the move to get them despite his curiosity. He had made a few plates of food for the staff to pick on, and plenty was left over that they'd likely either take to their rooms or store in the fridge for a quick breakfast. So when he brought around a plate with doughnuts and some appetizers, all watched as Honey quickly dove in.
By the time the cheetah backed away, the badger had eaten half of the leftovers.
The tigers stared at each other for a moment, silently wondering which one forgot to lock the door, but it became apparent that, when Daniel tried to open it, it was clearly locked.
In her recovery from both her tame collar shock and shock from the badger appearing like a phantom from nowhere, Gazelle managed to find her breath and ask, "What are you doing here?"
Honey didn't stop eating, she was on her fifth doughnut now, and she was edging her way to the avocado snacks. "I saw Nick earlier and thought I'd stop by."
While her mouth was full of food, Al took a stern eye to her... though he knew it never phased her, she was a honey badger after all. "Yeah, well... he left."
Honey stopped for a moment and gave them an almost somber look. "Did you see that cute bunny he was with?" she asked, placing down the toast she had in her paw.
Each of the restaurant staff looked at each other, and then back to her.
"You mean the one that tried to shoot us?" Finnick sneered, visibly upset and turning his collar yellow for the near hundredth time that day. He couldn't tell how many times it was as he had been stopped from giving stuck up customers a piece of his mind time and time again.
Honey shrugged. "You probably earned it what with the way you eat and all," Finnick growled and felt a sharp sting on his neck that brought him to his knees. Thankfully he was on the floor and didn't have far to fall, though a Cinnamon went wide eyed and climbed down to see him closer. The badger shook her head and continued, "But it's also part of my new theory."
Everyone, save for Salt, Cinnamon, and the downed fox, sighed. Clawhouser of all of all of them knew where this was going, he'd heard it all before. "Honey...you've already made an armageddon theory that you said was... what was it? Sheepmageddon? Ramageddon?"
The badger's ears perked up. The cheetah covered his big mouth.
"So you were payin' attention?" Honey asked, reaching into her jacket and pulling out a sheet of paper and placing it on the counter space after wiping a few crumbs away that one of them would have to clean up later. "But this one is different. You know how quick bunnies multiply?"
Just on her sheet was yet another scribble that they had seen before as an amalgamate mass of gibberish that only she could understand. They never once questioned her for that, but always asked if she was sane.
Al shook his head. "Don't remind me."
Honey paid him no mind, and instead took out a pen and drew a few lines. "Well. Imagine if that's what the sheep want so they can enslave them." The sounds of paws meeting faces was heard in seconds. "Given enough time to get a bunny army, we'd have-"
The badger scribbled and drew lines to connect invisible dots before lifting up the stationery gloriously.
"Viola! The Lopocalypse."
The sheet was a mess of lines that looked like a sheep holding the faces of a bunny and a large Z in its hooves... at least that's what it looked like from afar.
Daniel had enough. "Honey, that's ridiculous, there isn't-"
She ignored him and spoke up. "You know... I haven't seen Nick hang around a bunny in ages."
Finnick, who had been helped up by the little possum, took to leaning against a barstool for support. He angrily shouted. "He wasn't hanging around that bunny, Honey! That bunny has him on lock!"
Another click and he was down in seconds, unsurprisingly.
It wasn't until that was said that Clawhouser spoke up. "Oh, you mean that bunny in that picture with Nick and his family?"
"Mhm," Honey affirmed, placing her 'incriminating' theory back in her pocket. "It was about... twenty years ago? He was around all the time for a while."
The tigers chuckled in disbelief. Though it was before they knew Nick, it was hard to believe. "What happened to him? Get scared?" asked Mateo.
"I dunno, he just disappeared around the time John escaped."
As Honey continued her explanation, the room fell silent again. Silent murmurings among brothers and the tapping of the feet of Salt were shadowed by the faint gasp of the doe.
"You mean Nick's father? That John?"
The badger nodded, swiping one last morsel from the plate and wiping her paws at the delicious meal.
Gazelle had to wonder, If Nick's father was friends with a bunny, then Nick would be okay with Judy, right? In her mind, it was true, that even at a young age he'd see them as nothing more than another mammal like himself. But then again, that lead to another question, "Why do you think Judy hates predators?"
There was an immediate shift of uneasiness that was felt throughout the lobby. None of them, not even the sole prey mammal could suppress the shudder. And though Honey felt it herself, being a badger, she never did let her pain show. "Beats me. But that other bunny and John were best friends." She took to placing a paw under her chin in deep thought. "Ugh, what was his name again?"
After his two other shocks (and the few dozen earlier) Finnick finally found the need for a much quieter voice. "Well, if Nick knew that bunny, then why didn't he say something?"
Though he spoke quietly, it was still enough to force his collar to warn him.
Honey thought about it for a moment. Taking into account the years and Nick's personality, she gave her answer, "Probably 'cause he wasn't around for but a year or two. So Nick wouldn't remember him too much."
Gazelle tapped her hooves against the bar table. So there's a rabbit that Nick knew, and Judy doesn't like predators? Maybe if he were to tell her, then she could see why predators aren't evil. They're just mammals like everyone else.
With that, Honey leaned back and yawned. "Any who, I gotta go for now, but thanks for the food," she said, walking towards the kitchen.
Gazelle waved her on. "Anytime, Honey, just-"
The badger disappeared without another word behind the kitchen door. It swung loosely and shut with all eyes staring in wonder. Surely she wasn't planning on staying with them or attempting to eat them out of house and home. Not like what she almost did once, where that crazy burrower put it all was beyond them.
So for a second or two when she didn't come back and use the front door like a sane mammal, the tigers and gazelle followed her trail.
As soon as the kitchen door was opened, they caught sight of the badger crawling under the space under one of their sinks. The metal frame creaked and scraped ad the badger slid a heavy floor tile away and hopped down into a hole that they had never seen before, and it looked... freshly dug?
It took only the first two seconds for the whole family to drop their jaws in collective disbelief.
It was Al to speak first. "She left... in a hole... in our kitchen..."
And sure enough, it was just that. They had known Honey for some time since they met Nick, and they all knew about her 'secret' tunnel system that Finnick and Clawhouser told them about. For the most part, up until then, they believed it to be some sort of... myth, a legend, a thing to tell your boss to make them believe you're sane over the person they'd think to hire. But now? Here in broad nightlight, there was a hole in their kitchen that they could only assume led to the mad badger's abode.
As they stared, Clawhouser walked in behind them. When he saw them all gawking at Honey's work, he merely shrugged. He knew it was only a matter of time.
Mateo was the next to speak of the tigers. "Should we seal it up?"
Gazelle had to think about it, and for as many reasons as she wanted to say yes, her answer came out as: "No... no Mateo."
The doe held up her hoof in protest, it was her turn to take charge for the remainder of the day. "It's Honey," she reaffirmed, "Do you really want her showing up anywhere else?"
All of them looked at each other and nodded. What was worse than an ex-military and crazed honey-badger showing up unannounced in your house was having the same scenario happen when you've sealed all the entrances and thought they couldn't come back. Having her around was like a cardio exercise itself.
When she heard them all mumble in agreement, Gazelle sighed. "Just... throw a mat over it or something."
Her shoulders slouched a little in exhaustion. It's been a long night already, and hopefully, she thought, a good day would be greeting them soon.
Heya there, DLW here and I'm changing up my format for futute stories. All announcements, review answers, and such, I'm gonna try posting at the bottom to free up more story space for the upcoming chapters of 'Missing You' and its format.
'A Spring in Your Step' will be updated next followed by 'By My Side'
Combat Engineer: Indeed it has XD
Be-wildery: I know right? Predict away, and post your theory of what will happen! And stay tuned for Volume 2: Routine.
Guest: Always a pleasure, and I plan on it.
Sergeant Sargent II: I think you're one of the few that's figured that much out. I've hinted at it a little starting in the first chapter, but it becomes more apparent as the story goes along. There's two other times (one from Jack and one from her flashback) that give insight as to what happened And don't you worry, Jack... gets a story of his own that's parallel to Predation. Soon... very soon... and you shall see exactly why he's Jack Savage. And as for Honey, well, I can't say that she's exactly sane what with this chapter and all, but vengance is on the horizon.
Alright, I've posted this once before, but if you're looking to find updates on everything I'm doing, and I mean EVERYTHING, please check out my Deviant Art page.
I've been doing a series called 'Snippets' where I'll be posting story excerpts on what I'm working on and will give constant feedback almost daily.
On top of this, I do plan on doing a trivia page before Volume 2 of Predation, let me know in a pm or comment if it's something you'd like to see or just want more story.
Lastly, there's a poll up on my FF page and my DA page on what story you'd like to see more of. Please check those out as one story will recieve 2-3 chapters and the others will be updated once for the next series of postings.
And I hope you get a chance to read this and the other stories at your leisure. All can be found here as well:
If you liked this story and have time please post a review, and if you would like to keep up with the story please fav or follow. Questions, comments, concerns, feel free to message me about anything. If you'd like updates, please check the profile page and or message me.
Till Next Time