It had been a crazy week, Judy reflected as she let Nick unpack their dinner, fresh from the Hoof & Claw. Robert and Linda had ruthlessly closed the diner early tonight since Sunday was guaranteed to be a madhouse tomorrow. But they'd been kind enough to bring enough food for a small army.
Once again they were gathered in Tyrone and Gazelle's sumptuous apartment in the Horn Spire building. Judy's nose twitched as she smelled fresh pecan pie being unpacked. “Ooh, I want dessert first,” she purred, stretching her tired, aching back.
Tyrone laughed gently at her. “There is the sound of a tired mammal wanting comfort food,” he observed. She nodded as he continued, “Well I for one am in perfect agreement. I love Gazelle with all my heart, but when we're practicing for a concert she's practically a slave driver.” He windmilled his arms. “Every muscle in my body is sore.”
“Bogo told us you loved dancing,” Nick quipped, balancing two plates loaded with food. He carefully gave one to Judy before sitting down beside her.
“Ole sourpuss better keep his opinions to himself,” Tyrone returned darkly. “Dancing for fun is one thing; dancing for a living is work!”
“If you've been on your feet as much as I have this week then I sympathize with you,” Linda said, tucking hers under her as she sat down next to Robert. “I'm glad for the extra money we're making but my feet are killing me.”
“It's been a crazy week for all of us,” Lawrence added around a huge mouthful of an FLT sandwich he was making short work of. “Thanks to Gazelle the press has been hounding Shelly and I non-stop for interviews about future 'biological problems'.” He shook his head at her.
Gazelle had the grace to look embarrassed. “It was not my intention to do that to you,” she assured them. “After all we've been through with the press I would never sic them on someone else – not on purpose.”
“I believe you,” Shelly assured her gently, “but its been crazy. I don't know how you've put up with them all these years.”
Gazelle snuggled up in Tyrone's arms, her plate held daintily before her. “It hasn't been easy,” she answered seriously. “I wanted to succeed in this business, and you hear all the stories about what the press is like if you make it and you think you can handle it, but actually experiencing it is still something of a shock.”
“Speaking of the Fourth Estate, what's with all the stuff in the papers about Lionheart?” Robert interjected. “Where'd all that come from all the sudden?”
“He brought most of it on himself,” Judy responded primly. Earlier in the week they'd told everyone about Lionheart's inattentiveness to business, allowing Bellwether to run roughshod over the city. “He's finally starting to act like the Mayor and all those bureaucrats don't like it. They had a good thing going with Bellwether; cushy jobs, easy money, and no one to answer to. He's trying to change all that so naturally they're fighting back.”
“But is it true?” Linda wondered. “I mean, some of the things they're saying . . .” She trailed off uncertainly.
Judy shrugged. “Probably not but I don't care. He's getting what he deserves for letting Bellwether run loose for so long. Being Mayor is his job, it's time he started doing it.”
“Has anyone ever told you you sound like Bogo?” Tyrone asked her.
She and Nick both chuckled. “Oh, just a time or two,” he joked. “And Bogo thinks it's a complement!”
Tyrone nodded in amusement. “He would.”
Lawrence cleared his throat. “And speaking of the Chief, is he ready for tomorrow?” The room grew quiet. “Performing a wedding for three predator-prey couples is definitely going to put him on some mammal's hit list, you know. If they don't like us getting married they're not going to like him for agreeing to do it.”
“There's still a lot of prejudice out there,” Robert agreed. “We closed early tonight because our business dried up after the press ran that story about us this morning.” There was quiet anger in his voice. The newspaper and all the television stations had headlined a story about Robert and Linda's relationship, quoting sources from Garlic and Clove Trucking as well as local farmers who frequented their diner. The reporters acted like it was the juiciest story of all time, using lurid prose better suited to checkout counter magazines touting three-headed babies than serious reporting.
Judy heard Nick's heart skip a beat as the deadline for their own “outing” in the form of their marriage now loomed huge and immense before them, barely twelve hours away. Her ears flattened against her head and she saw the others having similar reactions.
“Fear will keep us trapped forever,” Nick said, for once being dead serious without any hint of sarcasm or joking. “No offense to you guys,” he nodded at Tyrone and Gazelle, “but I don't want to spend the next 20 years hiding how much I love Judy.” His paws balled up into fists. “And if the world doesn't like it, bring 'em on!” he finished with a snarl.
“Nick.” Judy touched his arm gently.
He relaxed a bit. “Sorry, Angel Face, I can't help the way I feel.”
She smiled up at him. “I know, and you wouldn't be you if you didn't, but let's not pick a fight unless we don't have a choice.”
“And speaking of choices, how's it coming with our escape hatch choice?” Lawrence put in, trying to ease the tension. By common consent they'd begun calling Nick's plan to divide the money from the ticket sales and concession stand revenue among them, their “escape hatch” if the public turned against them.
Nick perked up. Talking about money always excited him. “Better than I expected,” he exclaimed brightly, glad for the change in topic. “Just on what we've got so far, we'll be able to live without needing any income – at all – for nearly two years. And the concession stands tomorrow should bring in even more.”
Everyone was surprised. Tyrone and Gazelle didn't need any money from their project. They already had enough to last the rest of their lives so they'd offered their share back to the other three couples. It made for quite the nest egg for them.
“By the way,” Nick continued, “that two years is after paying taxes! Someone once told me not paying your taxes is a felony.” He added, with a sly sideways look at Judy. She smothered a giggle with her paws. The rest, sensing some kind of private joke, just shrugged.
Lawrence was thoughtful. “So if we get fired – or go out of business . . .” he inclined his head at Robert and Linda, “. . . we'll be in good shape for at least two years?”
“'at's 'ight,” Nick mumbled around a mouthful of fish, lettuce, and tomato sandwich. He swallowed. “Of course, that doesn't help with the attitudes we might encounter, but at least we won't starve.”
Judy glanced at the clock. “Tomorrow's going to be a busy day, we all ought to get to bed,” she advised like a spinster school marm.
Tyrone shook his head. “You sound way too much like ole sourpuss,” he growled without realizing how much of a sourpuss he sounded like when he said it. Everyone burst out laughing. “What?” He looked around in confusion, which only made them laugh harder. “What?!”
Gazelle stroked his ears softly. “I'll explain it to you later, babe,” she teased.
“One last thing before we go,” Lawrence interjected. The ones who'd started getting up sat back down. “It's been a week-and-a-half since Dr. Hippocore and I got the meteor from Buck and he's been running test after test on it. He's in hog heaven,” he chuckled. “And he's come up with something.”
Their ears perked up.
“As far as he can tell, every test he's run, all point to the same conclusion . . .” He paused dramatically, scanning their faces as they leaned forward expectantly. “It is the meteor that crashed here 2000 years ago!”
They exploded in a hubbub.
“Oh my goodness!”
“Sweet cheese and crackers!”
“But HOW?” Nick yelled over them. They quieted down a bit. “How can he tell for sure?”
All eyes turned to Lawrence. “I don't have time to go into all the details of the tests but rest assured, they're very rigorous. But the main one, the real turning point was his discovery of copious quantities of the unusual trace minerals found all over the world in the layer that's 2000 years old. He found enough to allow him to run some tests on them as well, and it turns out they have mutagenic properties.”
“Ah, muta-what properties?” Linda asked in puzzlement.
“Mutagenic,” Sally answered softly. “It means they cause mutations in developing embryos.”
There was a collective gasp in the room.
Gazelle sat bolt upright. “Mutations that could have changed us?” she pressed, asking the question that was on everyone's mind.
Shelly and Lawrence nodded in tandem. “More than enough,” he answered gravely. “Now mind you,” he said, holding up a restraining paw, “all this still has to be verified at other labs in the country before we're sure, but as it stands right now, it looks like we've found the source of our change from wild savages to the walking, talking, civilized mammals we've become.”
“And . . .” Shelly added before they could all start talking at once, “Gerald, Doctor Hippocore, sent the samples out to four different universities earlier this week. We should have confirmation very soon.”
“Would it also confirm Lance's thrill of the hunt theory?” Nick asked quickly.
Shelly and Lawrence exchanged a worried look. “It doesn't confirm it biologically,” she replied slowly in a professor's careful wording, “but logically speaking, yes, it would lend considerable weight to it. If we're the result of recent, induced mutations, it stands to reason our instincts haven't change all that much.” She worried her bottom lip. “We basically the same animals our ancestors were but with intelligence added on top.”
“Which would render us susceptible to becoming addicted to adrenaline producing activities,” Lawrence continued for her. “Adrenaline produces the old fight-or-flight reflex in us and any kind of thrill seeking activity like racing . . . or chasing suspects,” he nodded at cops in the room, “would produce lots of it.”
“And our predator-prey relationships?” Judy asked cautiously.
“Definitely,” Shelly nodded. “A common mutagen would tend to produce the same results in everyone exposed to it. That's why our diets are all essentially the same now, and why predators, without exception, report revulsion akin to cannibalism at the thought of eating prey mammals. A common mutagen would produce common DNA in all the subjects, hence the feelings of cannibalism.”
“That's fine,” Robert told her, “but it doesn't answer Judy's question.”
“Not directly,” she admitted, “but it does indirectly.”
“How so?” Judy wondered curiously.
Shelly was in total “professor” mode, pacing slowly back and forth as she spoke. “Common changes in DNA, intelligence, and diet, coupled with feelings of revulsion at eating each other don't lead to predator-prey romances, but they leave the door to it wide open by removing all the old barriers against it. With those obstacles gone, it's just a matter of time until it happens.”
“Like playing the odds?” Tyrone asked.
“Crude, but accurate,” she conceded. “The right mammals meet at the right time and boom!” She threw her arms wide. “It happens.”
“So why all the life-and-death stuff?” Gazelle wanted to know. “Why did we have to go through that?” The rest of them nodded.
Shelly shrugged. “We don't know.”
“We're still working on that aspect of it,” Lawrence added. “We know what, we just don't know why. Physical changes are relatively easy to track but mental and emotional ones are a lot harder. It can get pretty murky,” he finished.
There was more discussion along the same lines which went nowhere so very soon they were filing out the door, hugging each other as they went. Nick and Judy spent a few extra minutes in the tunnel with Robert and Linda, comforting them over their early outing by the press, then left for their apartments.
Nick paused at Judy's door. “It doesn't seem fair to you not to get a honeymoon,” he told her after a spine tingling kiss. Bogo had advised them that until they were able to judge the public's reaction to their marriage it would probably be safest for them to go to work every day for a while. Once they knew which way the wind was blowing they'd be able to decide whether or not to take some time off for an official honeymoon. “Every bride should have a honeymoon in some exotic place.”
Judy caressed the side of his face. “A tin shack would be exotic if it was with you,” she whispered against his lips. She gave him another lingering kiss that sent shivers down her spine, and made his heart race like a sports car. His fur stood up and laid down in ripples across his body. “I'll see you at the altar,” she said, slipping through the door.
He shook himself back to reality. “See you,” he grinned. “Don't forget to set your alarm clock!”
She waved him. “Now who sounds like Bogo?” she taunted as she closed the door.
But it was a good reminder. They had to get up earlier than normal to get everything done. When her alarm went off the next morning Judy wanted nothing more than to hit snooze and roll over but she forced herself out of bed. A quick peek out the window confirmed it was, as Nick put it, O dark thirty out there.
After showering and dressing she slam-dunked her breakfast. She heard Nick coming down the hall as she opened her front door. After a quick kiss he held the door for her as she brought out the long white wedding dress Fru-Fru had helped her pick out. She held it carefully to keep it from dragging on the ground.
“You're gonna look like a million bucks in that,” Nick whistled appreciatively, seeing it for the first time. He leered and gave her a wolfish howl.
A delighted smile split her face. “And it's all for you, mammal O'mine,” she assured him.
“As long as you don't mind me tearing it off you tonight,” he grinned, pressing the buttons on the elevator to take them down to the garage. Her pheromones were already flooding the tiny space.
“Don't you dare!” she mock scolded him. “Unless I can do the same thing to your tux,” she added in a sultry tone. She heard his heart shift into high gear and knew he was only moments away from taking her right there and then. The elevator doors opened just then and she ran out before their growing passion could get the better of them. He followed her, growling in frustration.
“Just a few hours more,” she comforted him, wondering who she was really talking to. Her own desires for him had been peaking lately, driving her to distraction when they were together, which was practically all the time.
They hung her dress behind the seat, safe in it's flimsy plastic protection then headed for the station. They'd agreed that Judy would drive their cruiser while Nick took the truck. Their office was stacked with supplies for the opening race, including the winner's trophy and he could load it up while she headed out to the track.
After making sure the parking garage was empty she quickly transferred her wedding dress from the truck to the cruiser, kissed him briefly then took off.
She made good time driving through the sleeping city since the traffic lights were still blinking yellow. She only had to slow down once to let a lonely garbage truck go by. The Hoof & Claw was on the way to the track; as she came up she saw the lights on and a few cars, mostly pickups, in the parking lot. She still had some time on her paws and decided to stop in for a minute to get some coffee and check on Robert and Linda.
The doorbell jangled as she went in. Linda looked up. A smiled flooded her face when she saw who it was. Aside from a few local farmers, the place was empty. She hurried over to embrace Judy. “Good morning!” she chirped brightly.
Judy hugged her back. “Good morning yourself,” she returned. She nodded at the farmers, gathered around one of the larger round tables, “It looks like the regulars haven't abandoned you.”
“Nope,” Linda laughed. “Country folk are more laid back than you'd think. As long as you don't push anything on 'em, they're willing to live and let live.” Robert rang the bell to signal an order was ready. “I'll be right back,” she said, hurrying off.
Judy nodded at her back and sat down at the counter. Robert waved at her through the window. “How's it going?” he called to her.
“It's good,” she answered. “I just stopped in to get some coffee to go before I get to the track. Once things get going I probably won't have time for anything.”
Linda came back, wiping her hooves on her apron. She filled a styrofoam cup with coffee and sat it in front of her with cream and sugar close by. “It's going to be a madhouse,” she agreed. The doorbell rang as more customers came in. “See?” She hurried away to seat them.
Judy's nose twitched. Her sense of smell might not be as good as Nick's but it didn't need to be when fish patties were on the grill. “Can I get some of those to go?” she called.
“Way ahead of you,” Robert grinned.
She grinned back then busied herself fixing her coffee and putting the lid on. Robert came out with a bag and plopped it in front of her. “On the house,” he smiled. Linda was coming with an order and the doorbell rang again as more customers came in.
Through the window Judy could see headlights as other cars pulled in and knew it was time to go; the breakfast rush was starting. “Thanks!” she sang gaily, grabbing the bag and her coffee. “I'll see you at the track!” Robert and Linda waved briefly at her.
Judy pulled out of the parking, seeing more trucks and cars pulling in as she left. She shook her head when she saw one of them was a news van. It looked like the press was getting an early start too.
The smell of Robert's delicious fish patties filled the truck before she made it to the race track. Nick pulled in behind her as she was getting out. “I smell fish patties,” he exclaimed excitedly getting out of the truck.
“Is that all you can smell?” she asked in a teasing voice then was immediately embarrassed at herself when he gave her a knowing grin. Before they could say or do anything else their assistants, hired for the day, swarmed the truck to get the boxes of supplies and equipment.
The next few hours were indeed a madhouse just as they'd predicted. There were a million things to do to get ready.
As the sun crept over the horizon, street sweepers, their yellow hazard lights rotating on top, were going around the track to make sure it was clean. Crews armed with brooms moved up and down the stands, cleaning them off as well while others unfurled pennant flags of all the companies who were sponsoring the race. They were fastened to poles along the top of the grandstands, adding a vibrant splash of color to the otherwise drab seating.
Racers began arriving with their cars in tow or on trailers. They pulled into open-sided red and blue tents set up side by side to form a long, covered garage for them. The sound of engines revving soon saturated the crisp morning air along with the smell of rubber, oil, and gas as the racers began a series of last minutes checks and tests. Several gas trucks, donated by local companies, covered with their logos, were lined up to form a temporary gas station.
The concession stands, most of them run by the catering companies that owned the food trucks in town, were opening their windows, firing up their grills, and starting up their generators, adding to the growing clamor. Mouth watering odors soon wafted around the track, drawing the arriving crowds with their tantalizing offerings. Lines quickly formed, creating a maze other arrivals had to thread on their way in.
Vendors hawking programs, toys, souvenirs, hats, flags, sunglasses, towels, t-shirts, and race branded merchandise of every description yelled out for customers from their own stalls, or meandered through the crowds with portable tables full of merchandise hanging around their necks. The track wasn't even officially opened yet and it was already half-full.
As technicians from Gazelle's advance team added to the growing noise with sound checks, and the occasional ear-piercing scream of feedback, news choppers began circling overhead, first one followed by another then another until they filled the sky like a flock of starlings.
The sun was above the horizon and climbing when a Gazelle's motorcade arrived promptly at 8am, surrounded by dozens of police cars and motorcycles, their lights flashing. They drove through the narrow entrance onto the track then into the pit area to the infield where the enormous stage was almost finished. The crowd went wild with a thunderous roar when Gazelle emerged. She waved at the them then vanished into a huge tent with Tyrone hard on her heels.
Chief Bogo, wearing his dress uniform, climbed out of a police van. He nodded at someone inside and Mayor Lionheart stepped out, his wife on his arm. He gave a politician's wave to the crowd then disappeared into the giant tent. Bogo saw Nick and headed over.
“It's getting close to time for you to get changed,” Bogo informed him curtly with a tap on his wrist watch.
Nick shook his head. “I've still got a dozen things to do,” he argued. “It'll just take me a few more minutes then I'll be done.”
Bogo reached over his head and snagged his clipboard out of his surprised paws. “Wrong,” he thundered down at him. “You're done now!” He smiled to take some of the sting out of his words. “Being late for your own wedding is about the dumbest thing you could ever do. Git!”
Nick gave up. “Sir, yes sir,” he said. He headed for the tent.
Finnick was waiting for him with his tuxedo, his over-sized ears twitching with impatience. “Where have you been?” he snapped in his gravely voice when Nick came in. “The pre-race stuff starts in less than 20 minutes!”
Nick shook his head in amusement. At least that hadn't changed. “Take it easy, big guy. I'm here now and it only takes a couple minutes for me to dress.” Suiting actions to words he slipped out of his regular clothes and began throwing on his tux. Finnick had to help him with the bow tie, ordering him to lie down so he could tie it, but true to his word he was soon changed and ready to go. “How do I look?” he asked, turning around slowly.
“Not bad . . . for a cop,” Finnick said.
McHorn stuck his head around the partition separating them from the rest of the tent. “Hey Wilde, your mom is here.” He eyed Nick's tuxedo. “What's with the monkey suit? You getting married or something?”
“Or something,” Nick temporized. “Tell my Mom to come on in.”
“Sure thing.” McHorn pulled the partition further back. “He's right in here, Ma'am. Go on in.”
Faye came in wearing her Sunday-go-to-meeting best. McHorn dropped the curtain behind her and she paused to look him over. Tears started form. She dabbed at them. “My little boy, all grown up, a big strong cop, and getting married too,” she sniffled. She rushed over to wrap her arms around him in a fierce hug.
He was startled for an instant then his emotions got the better of him and he hugged her back, nearly lifting her off her feet. She squeaked in surprise. “When did you get so strong?” she gasped when he let her go. He just smiled and shook his head, not trusting himself to speak.
She put a soft hand on his face. “Judy is getting the pick of the litter,” she smiled proudly.
He grimaced. “Mom! I'm an only child.”
She patted his arm. “You know what I mean.”
He laughed. “Yeah, I know.” He hugged her again. “Are Judy's parents here yet? I didn't see them come in.” Behind her, Finnick hooked a thumb over his should and waved goodbye. He slid out through the partitions to give them some privacy.
“They've been here for quite a while,” she told him. “They told me Judy had some big shot in Tundratown send a limousine to pick them up. They'd never been in one before; they couldn't stop talking about it.”
Nick fought to keep his surprise from showing. “Uh, great,” he managed. Judy had asked Mister Big to pick up her parents? Since when did cops ask crime bosses for favors? Between the shopping trips with Fru-Fru and now this, she was spending a little too much time with them for his comfort. He was gonna have to ask her to cool it – after the wedding of course. He smiled at his Mom. “We've got some seats set aside for families right down front in the VIP section. McHorn can show you where they are.” He pulled the curtain back and escorted her out.
McHorn was standing close enough to be available when they emerged but not so close he'd intrude on their privacy. He spotted them and hurried over. “Ready for me to show you to your seat, Mrs. Wilde?”
She smiled up at him. “Thank you, Officer McHorn.” She kissed Nick on the cheek then followed McHorn outside.
He waved at her as she disappeared then looked around. Lawrence and Shelly were standing with Gazelle, Tyrone, and their dancers. In the middle of their conversation his phone rang and he had to answer it. He lifted a finger at Nick when he spotted him, then suddenly turned his whole attention to whatever the mammal on the phone was telling him. All at once the polar bear was nearly jumping up and down with excitement.
Nick headed their way, slowed down by fellow officers congratulating him on the race track and how well everything was going. Fangmeyer, assigned today as part of Mayor Lionheart's security, whispered, “Congratulations on the marriage.”
By the time Nick got to Lawrence he'd hung up and was talking rapid fire to Shelly. “What's going on?” he asked everyone and no one.
“We don't know,” Tyrone grumped. “They're so busy speaking 'science' to each other we can't figure out what they're saying.”
Nick felt his pain. Every other word out of their mouths seemed to have ology or ism or para in it. Or maybe it was endo, they were talking so fast it was hard to tell. “Hey!” he yelled. “What's going on?”
They jumped in surprise.
“What? Oh! Hi, Nick,” Lawrence said. “I just got a call from the answering service at the university. They got messages from all four of the university labs we sent the samples to. They all confirmed Hippocore's results; it is the meteor!”
Nick broke into a huge grin. “That's great! Now you'll really have something to tell everyone when you get out there.”
A familiar movie star voice interrupted him from behind. “And what would that be?”
Nick turned. Lionheart was standing over him, managing to look worried and confident all at the same time. “Hello, Mister Mayor.” He glanced at the clock hanging from one of the tent poles. It was almost 8:30. “Professor Huffer just received confirmation of something that has a direct bearing on our street racers and future problems like them. He'll have to explain it when he and Professor Fürlong address the crowd.” He gestured at the clock. “But for right now, we need to start heading out to the dignitaries box.”
He tried to lead the Mayor outside as if it were a foregone conclusion but Lionheart wasn't having any. “What's going on?” he nearly roared. “Confirmation of what?” He looked around. “And where's Hopps?”
“She had to change,” Gazelle butted in quickly. She wound her arm through the Mayor's. “Won't you be my escort to the platform? Please?” she begged coquettishly, batting her eyes.
He heaved a frustrated sigh, then summoned a pained smile. “Of course. It would be my pleasure.” He let her lead him away, giving Nick the evil eye over his shoulder.
Tyrone and his fellow dancers shook their heads in amusement. “She always gets her way when she does that,” he chuckled. He gestured at the other dancers. “Come on guys, let's get out there before she convinces him to abdicate or something.” A huge roar outside told them the crowd had just spotted her.
After they left, Nick looked around. “Where are Robert and Linda?”
“They're already in the dignitaries box on the platform,” Shelly told him. “They're doing the catering there, remember?”
Nick shook his head. “No. To be honest I'd forgotten.” He fixed them with a stare as they all followed Tyrone's dancers. “They're not actually working are they? This is their wedding day too.”
“Of course not,” Lawrence assured him. “Robert cooked everything before they came but they hired some temp help to do the serving.”
Things started happening very fast after that. No sooner had they taken their seats than it was time for Nick to get up and get the ball rolling. Officially Mayor Lionheart was the Master of Ceremonies but someone had to introduce him first.
Nick tried not to let his surprise show when he saw the size of the crowd. He knew they'd sold out, installed some extra grandstands, then sold out of those too, but it was still amazing to see every seat filled, and mammals standing in every possible spot besides. It was the biggest crowed he'd ever seen.
He stepped up to the microphone and the crowd burst into wild cheers as his presence signaled the start of the day's activities. He gave them a moment to quiet down then thumped on the microphone. “Thank you, thank you. Thank you everyone. Alright, settle down, settle down.” When they kept on cheering he gave Chief Bogo an apologetic look then leaned over the microphone and bellowed, “Shut it!”
Shocked silence held for a split second then laughter slowly rolled through the grandstands, but it had the desired effect; they began quieting and sitting down. He saw a number of puzzled looks being directed at his tuxedo, because it seemed so out of place.
The raised platform occupied the middle of the infield. In front of it were several rows of VIP seats, then the tent-garage, then the pit, then the track, and finally the grandstands. Powerful speakers on the edges of the platform, set up for Gazelle's concert, broadcast his voice over the whole area, all the way to the fringes of the parking lots outside.
“Thank you,” he started. “Today's Master of Ceremonies needs no introduction . . . so I'm going to introduce him anyway!” The crowd was in a good mood so they laughed dutifully at his joke. Nick waited a moment or two. “He's a direct descendant of Mars, one of Zootopia's Founders, the Mayor of our city, and one of the most photogenic mammals of all time; Mayor Lionheart!” He waved the Mayor forward.
Lionheart was at his best as he strode to the podium, smiling and waving, shaking paws with Nick, and posing with him to give the reporters time to take their pictures. Ever the consummate politician, he made sure they were done and he was at the mic before the applause died down.
“Thank you for that unnecessary introduction, Detective Wilde. Thank you very much,” he began, his smooth voice rolling out across the field. “All of Zootopia owes you and Detective Hopps a debt of gratitude for recognizing the gravity of the problem with the street racers and coming up with this magnificent solution.” He gestured grandly at the track. He looked around. “Detective Hopps is around here someplace but I'm told she had to change clothes. I guess working does that,” he grinned at the cameras.
Laughter rippled through the stands.
The teleprompter flickered to the next slide, the slender, almost invisible glass screens on either side of the podium reflecting the words written by his staff. Unbeknownst to him though, Nick and Judy had made a few changes.
Lionheart glanced at the screens. “One thing we've all wondered about is the extent to which problems like this might be inherent in our biology. I know you're probably as curious as I am, so here to explain it to us are the two professors from the Department of Anthropology at Zootopia University, Dr. Lawrence Huffer and his colleague Dr. Shelly Fürlong.”
The crowd applauded politely. Most of them were only there to see Gazelle or watch the race but a lot of them were curious.
Lawrence and Shelly took the podium, standing side-by-side. Taking turns they explained their theory about mammals being mutated by a meteor crash 2000 years ago instead of evolving over millions of years. They covered the fragmentary evidence of rare minerals in the ground, the sudden rise of intelligence in all mammals at exactly the same time – but only in mammals; birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and insects were unaffected.
Then they began covering the paper Judy had found online, giving the rundown on predator-prey relationships over the years, starting with Mars and Venus, through the pirate Redmane and Elvira, and the few other suspected couples scattered throughout history. Then they told the crowd about finding contemporary predator-prey couples.
Lionheart frowned in puzzlement at that part, glancing suspiciously at Nick. Nick shook his head that he and Judy weren't one of the couples the professors had interviewed.
The crowd was leaning forward intently, fascinated by the material they were presenting. When they got to the dietary parallels between modern predators and prey, a buzz of excitement ran through the stands as everyone began comparing notes with their neighbors. This was something they could all identify with.
Lawrence and Shelly emphasized the mutations they'd undergone didn't demand predator-prey romances, they simply opened to the door to allowing them, then they quickly ran through the four steps that had to take place in order for them to develop and their efforts to interview modern couples.
Finally they dropped the bombshell about the meteor, culminating with the message Lawrence had received just minutes ago that Dr. Hippocore's findings had been corroborated by four different labs at universities around the country.
The crowd was buzzing with confusion mixed with excitement.
“You see,” Shelly was concluding, “our origins, the problems with the street racers, our diets, and even predator-prey romances are all part-and-parcel of the same issue. They're all intertwined.”
Lionheart was preparing to stand when Lawrence stopped him with another bombshell. “And just to show you what we're saying is true, there are four predator-prey couples here today, starting with us.” He turned to Shelly and kissed her briefly. The crowd stared in shock.
Before they could react, Gazelle and Tyrone stood up. A stunned hush settled over the crowd as they watch them stride to the podium to join Lawrence and Shelly. The professors stepped aside to make room for them.
Gazelle looked out over the crowd. “I know many of you have heard rumors about me and Tyrone. We are here to put those rumors to rest.” She paused. “They are true.” And right there, in front of the crowd and the cameras, she kissed him.
The crowd exploded as flashbulbs went off everywhere. Some animals were yelling at them in anger, while others silently shook their heads in disappointment. But others, more than they'd expected, were cheering for them. Some were even clapping.
Then Robert and Linda stood up. Their approach to the podium, unnoticed at first, finally drew the crowd's attention as they got close and they quieted expectantly.
Gazelle told the crowd, “But we are not the only ones.” She and Tyrone moved aside.
Robert addressed them. “I'm Robert Padfoot and this is Linda Stepps. We own the Hoof & Claw diner just down the road from here, and we used to work at Garlic & Clove Trucking Company until we were fired for being in love.” Following the other's lead he leaned over and kissed Linda.
Flashbulbs exploded again.
Nick smelled Judy before she even sat down beside him, her long white wedding dress rustling as she moved. He looked at her, nearly blinded by her beauty and smiled. She nodded, her eyes alive with fear and anticipation. They stood up together and moved toward the podium. The crowd spotted them instantly; their obvious wedding attire provoking gasps of disbelief.
In the VIP section below the stage, Faye tensed as they came forward but Judy's parents began crying.
Their friends made way for them. Nick didn't bother saying anything; everyone knew who they were. He drew Judy into his arms and kissed her in full view of the world.