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Sunday, December 4th, 2016 08:30 pm
Oh hay, I do have a free moment don't I? TIME TO BACK UP FIC.

The chapters will differ from AO3 because I decided to split the chapters here by POV shifts.

Summary:(Star Trek and Zootopia crossover) Judy Hopps doesn't do diplomacy. Nick Wilde doesn't do Away missions. Both of them are going to have to make up for what the other lacks if they're going to survive Draconis and maybe save Captain Bogo while they're at it.

Sequel to "the map that leads to you". Features Judy firing big guns, Nick sassing everyone and romance on a planet where reptiles are the dominant species and mammals are not.

Rating: T
Genre: Gen, slices of romance, sci-fi, action/adventure
Warnings for: Fantastic racism, if Nick had a tombstone it would read "dead from deadpan", STAGGERING LEVELS OF COMPETENCY
Disclaimer: If I owned both Star Trek AND Zootopia, I would be paying other people to write this.
Notes:Draconian dialects are in italics. Emphasis is in bold italics.

Part 1

Despite all Nick had said, Judy had still come along.

He knew she didn't like what they were doing from the way her eyes narrowed every time she glanced his way, but she had gone to get her rifle, their personal phasers along with a ridiculous number of energy packs and grenades without comment. He half expected her to dump the gear in their chosen boat and watch him sail off alone down the river. Instead she'd jumped in and waited for him to start the engine, not saying a word the entire time.

Not that Nick had the right words for her, not when they were this close. Distance could make him forget that in the space of a day she'd nearly died on him twice. Distance could let him ignore that she thought he could abandon his post. He craved for the luxury of a remote comms line.

But he didn't even have that reprieve. Instead of his station on the starship, the console under his paws was to operate a boat that had taken a furtive call to Finnick to get up and running. His own Comms gear was down to a PADD, his personal microphone and a handful of universal translators.

If it had been just Nick alone, he would have been fine relying on nothing but his wits and his words. He wasn't sure that would be enough for Judy. He wasn't confident of how far he could push his favours when he wasn't even able to read just one rabbit that kept defying his expectations.

Night had fallen on Draconis, the quiet lap of the river against the boat overlapped with the cacophony of insects announcing their presence. He wondered if any of the Draconians still hunted wild insects, or if it was as commercialised as Bug-a-burgers were in Zootopia.

Thinking of burgers reminded him of the field rations he'd packed but Judy hadn't. He dug in his bag and held out a ration to Judy.

She glared at the ration then at him. "You said it was a quick trip."

"It is a quick trip, compared to the 80 days to get around the planet."

She almost took off his paw with how violently she'd swiped the ration. "You are nothing but trouble."

"You knew I was trouble when I walked in," he quoted one of the terrible songs she'd defiled his sound system with. Keep it light and easy Wilde. Maybe disaster could still be averted, if Judy was having second thoughts. "Well, it might not be entirely planetside all throughout, but I'm sure Finnick could beam you back to the Security Centre right away if the sweet little rabbit just said pretty please."

"Why don't we just use the transporter to get to wherever we're going?"

"Would you like someone to beam straight into your living room? No you would not. Besides, Tsiny thought the Captain was a belly crawler just because he didn't make his great escape. The fewer Starfleet resources are involved in this field trip, the better it will go."

"You've been to Draconis before, haven't you?"

"Does it count if Starfleet ignored my 2 out of 5 stars, do not stay here review?" Maybe even his words were failing him, if both Starfleet and Judy had chosen to be here. No time for that now Wilde, there had to be an angle here he could use. "One star docked for being terrible hosts, another for having a language that frankly gets rather insulting if you aren't tall enough or don't walk right, and the last for their tendency to bite once diplomatic immunity goes out of the window."

There, there was that little flinch every time he mentioned the Draconians and their teeth to Judy. Nick plucked a protein ration out of his bag, even though he'd never really cared for bugs. Setting the boat on auto-pilot, he dropped down next to Judy and tore the packet open to pluck a bug out. "See, most Draconians are predators," Nick said, before crunching the bug. Having previously served on a mostly predator ship had its benefits. Nick channeled a bit of Raymond and his habit of showing teeth as he chewed. Judy's eyes flicked to his flash of fang. Good. "And a number of them are venomous. Case in point: Senator Rindja. S'ken Waran." He crunched another bug. "One bite from their kind would send you straight to the hospital. And here we are, running around without diplomatic immunity."

He let Judy mull over the last bit. Judy was smart and could draw her own conclusions. It would also make her more likely to hold on to her beliefs, since she'd come up with them on her own.

She smiled at him, the first smile he had seen out of her for a while. "You and your hang-ups over teeth."

While he was puzzling over the warm exasperation in her tone she tilted his muzzle down to a better angle and kissed him. Never mind his sharp teeth, never mind that he'd just been eating bugs. The opposite in fact – she seemed intent on dwelling on these, touching her tongue to the sharp points of his teeth before slipping her tongue into his mouth. Whatever shortcomings her tongue had with polite forms in Draconian were completely absent in her kissing.

When Nick had his mouth back again, he said, "I thought you were mad at me." Apparently he'd forgot to pack his sense of self-preservation for this Away mission.

"Right back at you." She leaned her forehead against his. "But the last time you showed that much fang was when you were convinced I was going to cut myself on your teeth. I thought I'd remind you we already had this discussion. Dumb fox."

"Sly bunny. You were just looking for an excuse to kiss me. I'd give it an 8 out of 10, but I think the taste of bugs might have docked a few points for you."

"Honestly? I'm more upset over your attempt to brush me off." Her other paw came up such that she was cupping his face between her paws. "If you think we can get the actual locations of Vector from your contact and get back without bodily harm, then that's what we'll do. Even if it's taking a ridiculously long time."

He wanted to believe in her words, but part of him had been set off-kilter since the confrontation at the pier. They were becoming textbook examples of why there was an unwritten rule Comms should never get attached to Away teams, both emotionally and literally, and neither of them were fighting hard to stop that.

That thought turned the sweetness of her words to ash in his mouth, made him shoot back, "Even if it means abandoning our posts."

She sighed, and drew away to give him the distance he needed. "I was small-minded. If we can do good out here, if this helps us rescue Captain Bogo, why shouldn't we try your way?"

"I wasn't kidding about the venom and potential bodily harm, Hopps. Even my contact packs quite the bite."

"How'd you get to know your contact?"

"For pretty much the same reason why the Federation wants Draconis to join: technology. Did you know Draconis has the best hands free technology? Finnick needed a few doodads, they had the goods, we just happened to be in orbit so we popped by."

"I don't know how your Captain agreed to that."

"Captain Big runs a very different ship from Captain Bogo." Nick leaned back to look up at the stars, visible away from the harsh lights of the Draconis capital. "If there's anything I learned from Captain Big, I learned that whatever the official channels lack in usefulness they make up for in safety. My contact is just a business partner. Once politics comes into things, there might be more benefits to stabbing us in the back."

"I think it's worth a try. If I wanted safer, I'd be back on a carrot farm in Zootopia. Quit using safety as an excuse."

"It's not an excuse. You owe me favours for the rest of your life, Fluff, so I have a vested interest in making sure that lasts as long as possible."

Nick had meant it as a smart comeback. But Judy read something in his tone that made her lean over and press her mouth to his in one of those sweet chaste kisses she was so fond of. He wanted to be mad at her, but she was making it hard.

Despite his worry, despite the dangers of getting attached, Nick kissed back under the stars in an alien sky.

When the shoreline had shifted from trees to rocks, the sun was just peeking over the horizon. Judy had pulled out her communicator, staring at the carrot casing as if she expected Higgins' voice to burst out the speaker at any moment.

"If Higgins hasn't called to give you an earful, that's a blessing you shouldn't look so worried about."

"I'm not used to missing check in when I'm not in any trouble."

"Integrity to Ensign Hopps, what's your status?"

"Ensign Hopps, right next to you." She punched him in the arm. "But you already knew that."

"Ow, I definitely know that now." He rubbed his sore arm. "We're coming up on the Serpentus settlement now. Seeing that you don't know any Draconian dialects, you might want to turn on your universal translator."

"Serpentus? That's another faction under the Crurotarsi, isn't it?"

"They have no love for their fellow Draconians. You'll see why."

They found another dock, stone this time. Nick spotted a pair of yellow eyes peer out at them from one of the stone posts before sliding out of view. So they'd passed the first check. Next up – see if Ilysia was up to entering visitors.

When Nick had first come to the Serpentus settlement, he'd thought that the rocky formations were natural. Now that he knew to look for it, he could see how the edges of the formation were aligned as much as the natural shape of the stone would allow. The spaces between formations were also uniform, forming paths for animals and vehicles alike.

Judy followed him down a path between the rocky houses. Her feet were touching the ground fully, not on tip toe if she were truly alarmed. That and the relaxed way she held her rifle in her paw meant she hadn't spotted any danger at the moment, though she was ready for it.

With that assurance, Nick focused on looking at house numbers. Rocks all looked the same to him, so numbers it had to be. If he was reading his numbers right, Ilysia's place should be this way, on the edge of the settlement.

When he found the symbol that looked like the right number, Nick tapped on the stone it was painted on. Then he took hold of Judy's arms and guided her some distance away.

"What's with the distance?" She said, the universal translator doubling he words.

"My contact isn't small, so we need to give her some space. Did someone forget to read the mission brief?"

"Otterton told me about insular gigantism since they don't have mammals here. But how large can they -?"

Judy trailed off in mid-sentence. Nick turned to see Ilysia had poked her head out of an entrance hole, tongue tasting the air. From her snort, Nick guessed she had spotted him but preferred to ignore him for now. Maybe she was still warming up from sleep with the sluggish way she was slithering from her house and the warmer she was still wearing. Sure enough, Ilysia headed up to the sun roof.

Better to deal with Judy, whose jaw was slack with shock. Leaning down to speak right in her ear, he said, "Hopps, meet Ilysia."

Beneath the bland response of the translator's voice, Judy's actual whisper was frantic. "You didn't say your contact was a giant rattlesnake!"

"See, Standard says 'giant rattlesnake', but is that really the right description for an alien species - "

"She's a legless Draconian!"

"Yes, the poster child for the term belly crawler. Why else did you think they really wanted to develop hands free technology?" Ilysia's tongue was flicking out more rapidly now, so it might be the right time to talk to her. "Ilysia! Looking shiny as ever. Listen, I know early morning doesn't show off those scales in the best light - "

"Wilde. You sand-nosed egg sucker." Ilysia had lapsed into Draconian as soon as she started on the insults. "What did I say about visiting in summer?"

Ilysia knew enough Standard that Nick could reply in Standard without the aid of his translator. "I had no idea it was summer, you know how it is on starships that can't even decide when day and night is. Don't blame me, blame Starfleet."

"Pheromone fakers. It serves them right for listening to the Squamata on the agreement."

"That's cold." For Judy's benefit Nick switched back to Standard so she didn't have to rely on the translator that much. "Look, I'd rather not talk about the agreement under the sun, so if the Starfleet officers could go inside - "

Ilysia's rattle came up. "No."

"C'mon, we've known each other for years now, surely old friends can meet the fam."


"Then how about we catch up over a nice drink somewhere else -"

"No." Ilysia's rattle shivered into sound, a low buzz that set the teeth on edge.

"Ok ok, no leaving the house. You always knew to drive a hard bargain, Ilysia. So what do you want?"

Ilysia slid off the roof in a clatter of coils. Within moments she was nose to nose with Nick. "Why don't you - "

The tip of a phaser rifle pressed against her bottom jaw. Judy wasn't braced for a proper shot, but the steel in her gaze showed she had no qualms in pulling the trigger if she had to. "Why don't you back off and stay out of biting distance?"

"Carrots," Nick whispered out of the side of his mouth. He'd been so focused on Ilysia that he hadn't realised what it must look like to see a snake coming straight at him.

"A bodyguard? With your rank?" Ilysia wondered.

"Ladies, let's all back off a bit, I know I'm good looking but there's really no need to fight. Introductions? Introductions. Maybe not at gun point, Fluff." He placed a paw on her rifle barrel. When all she did was frown he dared to push her gun down, just as he had in the ballroom. She let him walk her a little distance away, let him put an arm around her shoulders. "Ilysia, meet Judy Hopps. She's with me, and not as a bodyguard."

He couldn't be more specific than that for now. Judy and he were outside, between houses with enough crevices that acted as eyes and ears for the inhabitants. They'd lost the advantage of anonymity by declaring their names out in the open, on top of turning up in their Starfleet uniforms. Their best defence now was to use their affiliation to show they were outsiders, to pretend that they were professionals.

Ilysia would be a tougher audience, especially if Nick was right about the significance of summer. Right now she was staring at Nick and Judy leaning against enough other. Maybe Nick shouldn't have pulled Judy close, what if it wasn't the right image to communicate?

Ilysia finally jerked her head sharply to the right. "Parking lot."

She had meant garage, but they got enough of her meaning to follow her around her house. The three of them ducked into a lean to of metal, where the sole vehicle was covered by an additional tarp. The only other furniture was a table with scattered tools on it. Wooden crates filled up the rest of the space.

Nick propped one elbow on the table and leaned against it. Judy, due to her height, rested her shoulders against the table edge, with her rifle dangling from a deceptively loose grip. At the garage door, Ilysia had settled in a relaxed coil around herself.

"Did you upgrade your skimmer? It looks larger – "

"Cut crap. What Starfleet officers want in summer? Especially when you've had a grand celebration leading up to signing the Federation's sham of a document with the Squamata."

"That's the thing. Since we go way back, I'll give you this one for free. The agreement should have been signed last night, but it was cancelled."

"Pheromone fakers, the whole lot of them. What happened?"

"That's what brought us here.
Our Captain was escorted away by the Crurotarsi before he could sign the agreement."

"Have enough mouths at home already without adding Starfleet captain." Ilysia's sarcasm could have seared a hole in a starship hull.

"As low maintenance as Captain Bogo might be, we're here because we think you could help us find who took him."

"Why should I?"

"C'mon Ilysia. You didn't teach your children Standard just because the Federation exists. You wanted them to have the best chance at any opportunity Draconis would have upon joining the Federation. Including your latest this summer. How many are there now?"

"None of your business. Why don't both of you take your fangs out of the house?"

"Ilysia," said Judy, with a gentleness that didn't translate into Draconian, even with the universal translator. "We mean your family no harm."

"What's that Draconian saying? Keep your teeth sheathed but sharp in foreign territory? No offence to you, but we're nervy after our Captain got nabbed. If you want us to leave, we will. After you give us information that will help us as much as it would help you and your own."

Ilysia buzzed her discomfort with her rattle, but it was thankfully brief. "What do you want?"

"We need your help to find out where Vector is now."

"Ha!" Ilysia's mouth yawned open in amusement, fangs still held back. "That one is easy, no need for maps even. Word from Vector is he'll talk to anyone who can bring him a copy of the agreement Starfleet was planning to sign with the Squamata."

"That so? Is Vector turning up at a drop point, or is there a standing invitation to one of his bases?"

"Hst. If I remember place right, Vector has many operations there."

"Excellent." Nick was already running through what he remembered from the agreement from double-checking the translation. "So we can see which is more important to him, Bogo or the agreement. If we try for an exchange -"

"Ilysia, I need a moment to talk to Wilde." Judy turned so her back was to Ilysia, so she couldn't see what she was saying to Nick as he and Judy stood shoulder to shoulder. "Nick, you can't give them the agreement, even a fake one. It's Vector."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"I've seen Vector fight. He's not a straightforward fighter, which makes me think he wants to do something with the agreement, or with the information in the agreement. Even with false information, that can still cause a lot of damage."

"We'll have to risk it."

"At what cost? Starfleet has branded him a terrorist intent on planetary civil war, which means we shouldn't aid and abet him in any way."

"It won't get that far. This is the easiest way to try and suss out whether we can get him to release Bogo willingly – "

"It's the wrong way!" Judy snapped. "You know Starfleet won't approve!"

"So it's the wrong way because Starfleet would disapprove? Or is it the wrong way because it’s Nick Wilde and his dodgy schemes, who listens to him anyway? I already told you from the start that this trip would be about calling in favours. Is that too much for you to handle?"

"You don't have to do things this way. Nick, you're better than that."

"Well I'm not. What made you think I'd do things differently? Wait, don't answer that. I already know. The thing is, you seem to think the fox that deals in favours and the fox you care about are two different foxes. Guess what? They aren't. If you don't trust my method, if you can only trust the second fox – "

– and she shouldn't trust that fox either, because that fox could only watch as she almost died twice, and the first thing that came to Nick's mind now was –

"– you can go your own way."

With her shoulder up against his, Nick couldn't see Judy's expression. He did hear the sharp intake of her breath in disbelief.

By the time she had taken a step back to look at Nick, she was wearing what Nick recalled describing to Finnick as parade rest bitchface. "Sir, sorry, sir. Won't do it again, sir."

Ilysia uncoiled herself, scales rasping against stone. "Hst. Maybe wrong temperature creates wrong mood." Without checking if the Starfleet officers followed, she ducked through a hole set in the wall shared with the house.

Not trusting himself to speak anymore, Nick turned to follow Ilysia. The hole, set about waist height to Nick, made him think of what dens must have been like in the past, when Zootopians still made their shelters with their own hands. He dropped to all fours to wriggle after Ilysia, watching her segmented tail flick ahead of him.

The hole opened up to a living room with a tiled stone floor that was nicely warm beneath Nick's paws. Ilysia slithered right over woven leaf throws and rugs that were scattered all about, while Nick picked his way through.

"It seems Hopps is from a high strung species. Would hot or cold improve her mood?"

"As Goldilocks said, this is just right,
" said Nick. It was to his benefit that he didn't share too much with his business associate, especially since Judy had just joined them in the living room. She stayed by the entrance, almost standing sentry with her rifle butt resting on the floor.

Despite Nick's assurance, Ilysia still pressed her nose to the pressure pad and shifted the temperature up a tad. "Good?" she asked, head turning towards Judy to make it clear Ilysia was addressing her.

"It's fine, thanks." Judy's response to Ilysia was gentle, considering Nick and she had been at each other's throats earlier.

"Rule for hosts - make sure guests are comfortable. Rule for guests - Don't touch anything, don't wander around, don't cause more trouble."

"Trouble? When was there any trouble?"

"You are trouble."

"Lies, trouble would like to take you to court for slander.

Ilysia snorted, but Judy didn't even twitch out of parade rest bitchface, as if she'd turned into one of the ceremonial guards back on Zootopia. No time to dwell on that Wilde, time to deal Ilysia while she was comfy and no longer bristling.

"You'll be able to shed us as easy as snakeskin soon. As we were saying earlier, we want to meet Vector to try for an exchange. Could you show us the base where Vector wants his agreement delivered? Got to check on the delivery options for his area."

Ilysia slithered over to another part of the floor and leaned on a different coloured panel. The first press dimmed the overhead lights. The second threw up pinpoints of projected light, a starry night recreated in 3D. The last press sent streaks of blue light wending through the star map.

"This river you came on," said Ilysia, head bobbing to mimick the curve of the blue light she was pointing at.

"You can use your native tongue, Hopps has a translator."

"Good. I don't know why you have such stupid names for your stars. We are here, under Dragon's tail. That star is named as Thuban on Starfleet maps

"Which isn't a word in Standard," Nick couldn't help pointing out. "Honestly I don't know how navigators like you keep place names straight."

"Vector's base is under Prosperity, which Starfleet names as Mizar. Luckily for you, Dragon's tail and Prosperity are aligned." A flick from Ilysia's tongue sent a line arcing between the two named stars.

"Can we travel directly following this line?" Judy wondered.

"No. If you pay attention to the blue line the river does not flow the right way. There are also mountains."

Nick meant to pay attention as the two discussed routes, he really did. But something cool had bumped against his foot that felt like a snake's snout in miniature.

"Ilysia," he called out. "You mentioned don't touch anything right? Could you take your kid away please?"

"I said you couldn't touch anything. That doesn't mean they can't touch you."

"Wait, c'mon how is that even fair?
" Nick usually wouldn't have any problems with snake babies, but Ilysia's species was poisonous from birth. He dared a glance down as the cautious bump turned to crawling over his foot. The young snake looked back, tongue flicking out to assess this stranger. There were no fangs. Yet.

"So warm," He/she said, Nick had never figured out how to tell Draconian genders. Speech probably meant it was one of the older kids. Nick tried reasoning.

"As warm as I am, it's rude to crawl on someone without permission."

"But you are different. Even though you speak our tongue.
" The snake twined itself about Nick's ankle now. Nick felt something poke at his tail, another sibling probably inspired by the first. Yet another had thrown all caution to the wind and dropped onto Nick's shoulder. Nick bristled but didn't dare to do more. This snake moved the quickest and wended its way to Nick's wrist in a matter of minutes, where he looked offended that Nick's arm ended.

As preoccupied as Nick was with avoiding snake bites, he didn't notice Judy crossing to his corner of the room. Judy’s outstretched paw to the snake came as a surprise.

"I'm pretty warm too. Let's give Wilde some breathing room," she told the young snake through the translator. While holding herself still for the snake to clamber on, Judy's eyes met Nick's. With the star map laid out behind her, he recalled their moment under the actual stars.

But the apology neither of them were willing to offer yet hung heavy between them. As soon as she could, Judy turned away.

Before they set off, Nick scanned the communication channels out of habit. He didn't have a team to check in with, and Ilysia probably knew the weather and traffic better than Nick did. But it was something to do while Ilysia and Judy checked on more useful equipment.

He hadn't expected the broadcast he'd stumbled across that he replayed a few times just to be sure, then took with him when he headed to Ilysia and Judy.

"Bad news," he told the two, who had been performing their checks in companionable silence. "Shortly after Hopps and I left, someone made a copy of the actual agreement and made a run for it. Everyone's losing their shit."

"Speak for self," Ilysia muttered. "This is relevant how?"

"The shit stirrer got away, and if he meets up with Vector, then shit will hit the fan."

"If he meets up with Vector and hands him the agreement, we'll have nothing to negotiate with," said Judy, setting down her rifle to dig out her communicator. "So that's why Higgins hasn't called. Is this being shared on the public channel?"

"It's pretty grim listening, Carrots." The nickname slipped out before Nick could think about it. Time to cover. "But sure, it’s a free for all shitshow."

"I don't understand why you're wasting your time on all the whining if you want to stop the meeting with Vector."

"If we want to have a chance at negotiation, we'll have to go the slow but polite way. It took us all night just to get here by boat."

"That's if you're meeting Vector. But if you want to smash and grab the agreement from the little thief, then there's no need to go by boat.

"Go on. We're all ears." He held up Judy's ears out of habit, earning himself a well-deserved jab in the ribs. Yep, she was definitely still angry.

Ilysia, not having any limbs, didn't appreciate the pain Nick was in. "The thief will be travelling by boat to increase the chances of successful negotiation. To catch up with the thief before he reaches Vector, we take the skimmer. The thief won't know what hit him."

"Very nice," said Nick, once he'd managed an upright position again. "How-ever, we don't know who the thief is or where he is along the river."

"With the skimmer, we can quickly sweep the length of the river.

Judy was already shaking her head. "Ilysia, the scans of the river you showed me had an awful number of boats. How would we know which one has our thief? There's bound to be a few heading in the same direction."

"She's right," said Nick, even though it earned him another surprised look from Judy. "Unless we're really lucky and our thief is a Starfleet officer. Then we can track him by his communicator."

"Wait." Judy jabbed the leafy end of her communicator at Nick. "Everyone given access to the agreement was at the function last night. Did you hand out all the universal translators to all the guests?"

"All Draconians and Starfleet officers with access to the agreement were given universal translators. And I haven't collected any of them back, except for Tsiny's."

"Somehow I doubt that Vector's at the top of his contact list." Judy's wry tone probably meant she was recalling the interview, just as Nick was. "If our thief left in that much of a hurry – "

"He might still have the universal translator! Carrots, I could kiss you." He was halfway through reconfiguring his PADD to track the translators instead when he realised his slip. He had picked up some really bad habits. Glad for the excuse of the PADD, he hunched over the display until his scan of the river threw up a signal. He held up his PADD to the other two. "Bingo. X marks the spot."

Judy swept up her gear, but paused in front of Ilysia. "You've helped us a lot. If you don't mind us borrowing your skimmer, you don't have to come."

"Hst. Give me a hug and then we'll talk."

At the odd request, Judy looked to Nick for confirmation. "What she said, Hopps. Hop to it."

Judy looked Ilysia up and down before finally settling for somewhere midway of Ilysia's length that was covered by the warmer. She'd barely gotten her arms around when Ilysia huffed and slithered out of her grasp. "Weak Zootopians with their weak grip shouldn't ask to drive Serpentus skimmers."

Nick smirked at Judy as he passed. "Don't worry, Fluff, she did the same thing to Finnick. The pressure controls of her skimmer are notoriously temperamental. That's why Ilysia makes the best getaway driver: no one can jack her skimmer."

He'd expected some quip about the skimmer, or if Judy was feeling like her past self again, some acid remark about needing a get-away driver. But all he got in response was a professional nod.

He'd made his bed, now he had to lie in it.

Seat belts were, literally, an alien concept to Draconians that could stick to surfaces or twine tightly enough to secure themselves. Nick would need to break his back in several places to wind around the controls as Ilysia was right now.

He'd taken Ilysia's old skimmer enough times to have figured out a solution for a Zootopian. Draconians liked to wedge themselves into tight spaces, and their idea of comfort was to line these narrow spaces with padding. For a smaller Zootopian, these narrow spaces acted as padded pods that gave the illusion of safety.

It held up well enough under high G turns and acceleration. Nick really didn't want to think beyond that.

If any of these reservations had occurred to Judy, she hadn't shown them at the beginning of the trip when she'd copied Nick and tucked herself into another padded space. The reservations might resurface, given Nick's PADD now showed they were catching up to the source of the universal translator Nick was tracking.

"Ilysia, you have any ideas for stopping our runaway?"

Ilysia didn't even twitch from where she was wrapped around the controls. "Come up front to identify thief."
Nick left the safety of his seat to look through the front viewfinder, as did Judy. There were indeed a few boats on the waterway. Nick pointed to the boat that was weaving in and out of the other boats in a pattern that matched the signal on his PADD. "That's our guy."

"That's the same type of boat that we took to visit Ilysia," Judy noted, the universal translator conveying her words to Ilysia as well.

"Hst. Let's try driving them into a coil."

"Herding?" Nick tried to put Ilysia's comment into Zootopian friendly words. "You'll give us enough time to – whoa!"

Before Nick could duck for the safety of his pod, Ilysia was already pointing the skimmer down in a dive. Nick clung onto a random control panel as they snaked in between two boats to come up in front of the boat in question.

The boat swerved, throwing up a wave of water.

Ilysia swore and jerked the skimmer out of the spray. She tried to get in front of the boat again, but got another wave of water for her trouble.

"This is an atmospheric skimmer. The engines and hull aren't sealed tight. If enough water gets in, we'll be in trouble."

"Our thief knows that, and knows enough defensive driving to take advantage." Judy too was scowling at the boat through the viewfinder. "Ilysia does this skimmer have any weapons?"

"Meant for family use," was Ilysia's curt reply.

"What about a harness? For cleaning, maintenance..."

Ilysia flipped open the top of a compartment that housed a tool belt.

"Good enough." Judy slung the belt over her shoulder. "Wilde, I need your help."

"Carrots, whatever you're thinking, stop thinking it."

Judy picked up her rifle next. "There isn't a way for me to hook this belt to anything, so I'll need you to hold on to something and hold on to this belt once I tell Ilysia to open the hatch."

"You've got to be kidding me."

"It'll be fine. Like shooting fish in a barrel, and I know where to aim this time."

"Usually the fish isn't a boat, and both you and the barrel are on the ground. Shooting the boat while hanging out of a skimmer is just crazy!"

"I'm not hearing a better idea now, Wilde. This is easiest and quickest."

"Yeah, sure, if you're catching the express train for shuffling off the mortal coil." For lack of a better idea, Nick stomped after Judy towards the hatch at the end of the skimmer.

The length of the tool belt could be controlled by a switch that reeled the belt strap in or out depending on which way it was pressed. On top of that, once the desired length was achieved it was kept in place by inflating the belt like a pressure cuff.

Judy did both, which required Nick to press his paw up against the small of Judy's back before he could get a good grip. He found some random bar and clung on to that.


Nick only wished he could match Judy in confidence. "No, not ever, but let's do this."

"Ilysia! The hatch!"

As the back of the skimmer opened, Nick braced himself for the sheer. He didn't have to – Ilysia was keeping the skimmer moving forward, sending wind whistling past either side of the opening.

"A little lower!" Judy called back.

Ilysia took the skimmer around for a second pass in front of the boat, shifting the view from river to land to sky to river again.

Judy dropped to a more secure crouch. "Hold the height and course for your body length."

Nick tried to see what Judy was aiming at and immediately felt dizzy. Instead he focused on the sweep of Judy's ears held back out of her eyes, her squared shoulders, her measured cadence in breathing that he somehow wanted to match.

The shot left her rifle like an exhale. Nick swallowed down the tickle in the back of his throat and made himself focus on the boat. A lizard in white had clambered up the side and was considering his options now that he was dead in the water.

Then he vaulted onto the water and ran as if the surface of the river was made of glass.

Judy glanced back at Nick, who would have shrugged if he didn't have to hold on. "Hey don't look at me, I didn't know Draconians could run on water either!"

"Ilysia, could you reposition us over our runaway? Same height, relative position, distance flight path is maintained." To Nick Judy said, "Wilde, you'll have to hold on a bit longer."

"As long as you need," said Nick. He didn't know why the comment made Judy pause, as if he'd pinned her instead of simply clinging to the belt around her waist.

But Ilysia had already brought them onto their new course and Judy had to snap back to her position again, paws shifting rifle settings before they too stilled. The lizard had made land without breaking stride, and appeared like tiny speck to Nick before the tickling in the back of his throat became too intense for him to keep looking.

Judy too lingered over this shot. But Nick knew the moment she made it when the tension seeped out of her body, long before she called back, "Ilysia bring us down! He won't be stunned for long."

As the hatch closed it abruptly jerked under Nick and Judy's feet, sending Judy sprawling across Nick. He looked at Judy's bright eyes and satisfied smirk at a job well done and felt a second, completely non-physical all emotional jerk – he didn't want to let go. Judy didn't seem to mind him holding on, or how they were pressed up against other. It seemed like ages before Nick could draw in a breath to –

Then the skimmer hit the ground and in that lurch the moment was gone.

Judy pushed herself back upright, shedding the tool belt as she walked. "I'll check on our thief."

Ilysia had landed them in a good spot – from the again open hatch Nick could see the lizard blinking and swaying his head as he tried to shake off the stun. Judy must have hit him with the lowest setting if he was still conscious. That explained why she had hurried over to the lizard to train her rifle on him again.

Going from the dim of Ilysia's house to the skimmer left Nick unprepared for the harshness of the Draconian afternoon sun. He had to pause to dig out a pair of shades from his satchel before he joined Judy, and even then it took some time for Nick's eyes to adjust.

Judy was more alert, keeping her eyes on the lizard's every movement. Perhaps she spotted some personal quirk that made her exclaim, "Senator Plumi?"

"Senator Rindja's pal? The one that Starfleet so helpfully identified as a basilisk lizard?" Nick peered down at the lizard and spotted the head crest and the matching tail crest. "So it is. Well this got a lot more interesting. I wonder what's his story?"

"Let's find out." Judy nudged Plumi with a foot. "Senator, can you hear me?"

"Ensign Hopps? No no can't be. No no Starfleet knows nothing." The translator's voice almost drowned out Plumi's bewilderment in his native tongue.

"I'm a communications officer, not a doctor, but that sounded like it scored 100 for hearing and 0 for coherency."

"He just needs to be coherent enough so we can decide if he's friend or foe." She nudged Plumi again. "Senator, can you tell us why you're here?"

"Starfleet knows nothing, Starfleet was not meant to be involved. Captain Bogo was not meant to be involved!" As if the words had set off some internal trigger, Senator Plumi stumbled to his feet and started wobbling away.

Judy shoved her rifle at Nick so suddenly that he took it before realising that she had left a loaded gun in his charge. In the time it took for Nick to decide whether he wanted to hold it or toss it Judy had grabbed Plumi's arm and marched him back.

"Would it be faster to shoot him again?" Nick wondered as he held out the rifle to Judy. He was hoped the answer would be yes so she could take the weapon off his hands.

"Only if you wanted to turn his brains into scrambled eggs. We need to reverse the stun."

"Don't look at me. I just eat scrambled eggs, I don't know how to unscramble them."

"And I don't eat eggs," was Judy's dry response. "But I was taught how to handle a Starfleet officer that had been stunned."

"I suppose that's useful for trigger happy Security officers."

Judy snorted. "Yes, both you and Wolford are hilarious. If you could be serious for maybe five minutes, I need you to make sure the universal translator is helping me get Senator Plumi out of his delirium, not sending him further into it."

"You'll be surprised at what I'm game for. I once dangled a rabbit out of the back of a skimmer."

She jabbed him in the ribs again, but it was a playful jab as opposed to the earlier jab that his stomach was still recovering from. Then she was serious again as she asked the Draconian, "Senator Plumi, how are you?" Plumi shrugged, which was slightly better than the rambling. "We are near the River Kankakee. You arrived here by boat when we stopped you. Do you know where you were going?"

"Captain Bogo! Starfleet was not supposed to be involved!" Plumi exclaimed. Judy's tight grip on his arm was the only thing stopping Plumi from making a break for it. Nick pointed at his own temple and wriggled his finger in a spiral.

Judy ignored Nick in favour of speaking more to Plumi. "Well Starfleet is involved now. This is Ensign Hopps, and I have Lt Wilde with me. We're the ones who stopped you along River Kankakee. Can you tell us where you were going?"

"Ensign Hopps. You were with Captain Bogo. So you know about Vector and Bogo."

"Yes, we both know about Vector and Bogo, but their confrontation was in the past. It's now noon the following day. We stopped you along the River Kankakee, but we don't know where you were going. Would you like to share with us where you were headed?"

"She means it's now Highest Sun. You took the whole night to travel by boat along the river. Where were you taking the boat to?"

Apparently when his native tongue wasn't spoken to him by a machine, Plumi responded better. "The boat. The boat could not go all the way. But Vector agreed to negotiate as long as I took the boat to Modimolle Lookout."

"It's a good thing I'm not superstitious, because a lookout locally named as the Feast of the Spirits definitely doesn't sound ominous at all."

"What do you need to negotiate with Vector?" Judy asked.

"Vector wasn't supposed to nab Captain Bogo! Vector was just supposed to have a copy of the agreement!"

Nick raised his shades to exchange a look with Judy. She let go of Plumi to hold out her paw for her rifle. Nick handed it back to her and sidled next to Plumi in case he decided to use this chance to run away again. "Why was Vector supposed to have a copy of the agreement?"

Plumi puffed in annoyance at being held at gunpoint again. "Because they're Draconians! They too deserve to know about the agreement with the Federation."

Nick let his shades drop back down to hide his skeptical look. "That's a convenient sympathy for Bellycrawlers now that you're in their territory."

To their surprise, Plumi dropped down to all fours. He crept forward a few steps, even though that left streaks from the sand of the riverbank over his white robes. "If it weren't for my ancestors learning to walk upright first, I too might have been considered a Bellycrawler. Is this answer enough?"

Then, as if that never happened Plumi sprang back upright, not even bothering to dust off his robes. "You have to let me meet Vector."

"There's something I don't understand," said Judy, squinting at Plumi over the barrel of her rifle. "How would giving Vector a copy of the agreement help in any way?"

"If Vector knew what was in the agreement, it would aid his appeal to have the agreement overturned.

"Or he could just kidnap someone who was supposed to sign the agreement to make sure it didn't happen in the first place," Judy retorted.

"Can't blame Vector really. If Miss Long Shot here thinks that's a long shot, you probably didn't make Vector the best offer."

Plumi puffed up even more. "It was the only one that could be offered without alerting Senator Rindja or Captain Bogo! It was not supposed to turn out like this."

"Well it did," Judy retorted. "How will meeting Vector fix things?"

"If I can convince Vector to go back to our old deal, perhaps he will be willing to reset everything. This is a dispute among Draconians that Starfleet should not be involved in. Our own house has to be set in order before the agreement should go ahead."

"Did you hear that, Fluff? It's a domestic dispute, we can pack our bags and go home."

"Sounds great. Except for the part where Captain Bogo is already embroiled in the dispute."

The lashing of Plumi's tail, while not as violent as Waran's, swept up enough dust. "That was not meant to happen! Part of my negotiation is to make sure that Starfleet doesn't get involved more than it already has. We cannot afford for your Captain to be involved any further. Vector has to let him go. Vector will let him go, once he has the agreement."

Beneath the translator's churned Standard, Plumi sounded sincere enough with the right formal accents and all. Nick turned so his back was to Plumi, cutting off his view of what Nick was saying as he and Judy stood shoulder to shoulder. "Seems like you got your wish, Carrots. We won't need to aid and abet Vector because the Squamata will do it themselves."

"I don't think it's that straightforward. There's something about this deal that Vector made that doesn't seem quite right."

"The entire deal stinks. Plumi's story stinks. Which is even more reason for us to keep out of spray distance, did they not teach you how to deal with skunks in school, Hopps?"

"You already know how lacking my education was, Wilde."

There was something about the way that Judy used his last name that already sent his heart plummeting downwards, even before she said, "I know you advised me not to swim with alien crocodiles, but I'm going to."

"Why? There's a chump over there who's going to deliver the agreement and all to get Bogo released. Why do we have to stick our own necks out?"

"I don't trust that chump."

"That's why we watch and wait for the fallout from a safe distance. Look, take this as the voice of experience from someone who deals in schemes as dodgy as Plumi's. Walk away, Carrots."

“We do need someone to wait from a safe distance in case of any fallout,” Judy agreed. “But that doesn’t have to be the both of us. Nick, what if we don't get there fast enough after Plumi’s deal goes sour? That's gambling with Captain Bogo's life.”

“Bogo made his choice to leave with them. He knew the risks.”

"Did he? Did he know about Plumi's deal?"

"So you want us to go in and be big damned heroes about the whole thing."

"Not us. Just me. I haven't been on many long missions, but each time I try to make sure it's only my life on the line. I won't gamble with Captain Bogo's life, or yours."

She took a step back to face Nick directly. He wondered if she minded her open and gentle expression she saw reflected in his shades. He was already glad that there was no screen on a Comms station to reflect his own expression back at him.

"It's nothing against the fox that deals in favours. We need that fox who knows what to do if the fallout happens. I guess – I guess we have to go our own way."

There was nothing Nick could say to that. It was his own words echoed right back at him.

She went up on tip toe – because Nick wasn't going to bend down, wasn't going to make it easier for her – but Judy found her own way, she always did, placing a paw on his shoulder – he was steady only because he'd already dug his toes into the dust and the stone below that he had to imitate – as she pressed a kiss to the corner of his mouth.

In her next breath she dropped back down, the serious Security officer all over again. She'd shouldered her rifle as she barked out some instructions to Plumi. Nick didn't care; couldn't care.

He knew that the both of them were truly gone when Ilysia finally left the cover of her skimmer and slithered over. "Hst. That's a long path ahead of them."

Nick stretched a smile across his face. "Pheromone fakers like Senator Plumi always have a way. They'll get where they need to."

"No, Senator Plumi is not a pheromone faker. Pheromone fakers wave their lies in your face and dare you to challenge them. Senator Plumi is a mimic who hides under the disguise of other's skins.

Nick wondered if knowing this would have helped change Judy's mind. Probably not.

His path towards the skimmer was suddenly blocked by a snake tail twisting across his path. "Hopps will go alone?"

"She chose to go alone.
" Hopefully Ilysia would read any twists in the words as a quirk of Nick's accent in Draconian.

Ilysia snorted, and turned towards her skimmer. "Zootopians. Figures that you wouldn't understand the concept of winter family."

"What, those crazy folks you hang around each winter?
" Nick hung back a step, just in case Ilysia's statement wasn't as innocent as it seemed it was. Snakes, even alien ones, did have a habit of striking out.

"No crazier than you." At least Ilysia had opted for a verbal strike. "In the days before heating technology, winter was a dangerous time that Draconians would not be sharp in body and mind. Like what you call hibernation. Then, we gathered in winter houses regardless of species. What was important was our winter house was filled with those that we trusted, our winter family. Here on Draconis, we are more accepting of those who care for other species."

Nick ducked into the skimmer after Ilysia, but did not remove his shades. This was as much as he could get in terms of distance. "What's with the pep talk? Is this a mothering thing?"

"Fuck you too, Wilde." Ilysia's voice echoed as she headed further inside her skimmer. "If Hopps matters despite species, then perhaps it is important to deal with the other Draconians in pursuit of the thief." She jerked her head in the direction of her navigational screens. Nick came over – even his shades didn't obscure the symbol signifying a skimmer belonging to Waran's security. The skimmer was also heading towards Modimolle Lookout, although it was traveling in huge, lazy sweeps that suggested it was following a much slower target. A target that, perhaps, might be a boat.

"Ilysia, you ever make a prank call to Modimolle Lookout?"

Part 3 || Part 4 || Part 5 || Part 6


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