"I don't care who recommended you. I don't care what your expertise was at Officer's School. I don't care how good your grades were and I don't care who pinned your bars on your shoulders."

Judy stood ramrod straight as she had her situation laid out for her.

"Yes, Hopps, we do have a major operation underway and it is not your concern. Your job is not a part of it. In. Any. Way. You were sent here to my team so you could get experience as an expert on the culture and characteristics of this city, not so you could interfere in an ongoing operation!"

She hadn't thought her request was unreasonable at the time, but as her superior officer ranted, she was forced to reconsider. She had hoped to lend another pair of paws to the problem, but it was sounding more and more like she was a liability than an asset.

"You are too inexperienced to handle anything beyond learning the basics of living in this society. You haven't even gotten used to being here, yet!"

Her Commanding Officer was right. Adapting to her current circumstances was proving a more challenging task than she had anticipated. The grooming and maintenance alone was a considerable amount to learn in practical terms. She'd read about all of it, of course, but the reading and the doing were not the same. It all took so much time! Apparently, that was normal, especially for females, but really… it was bordering on the absurd!

"I'm sure I will get faster with practice, sir!"

"And better at it, but that is not the point! Do you honestly believe you are fit to assist experienced officers in the field when you only barely blend in?"

"I have years of experience in the field elsewhere, sir. My tracking and recovery record is in the ninety fourth percentile."

"Be that as it may. Then and there you had a record. Here and now, you have a lot to learn before you can be allowed to work on your own safely and I can't spare any of my other officers to assist you with your transition. Until that changes, you will follow protocol and complete your transition unassisted. That means no operational assignments until you are competent to my satisfaction. Now, get out."

Half an hour later, Judy sat at a coffee table. She looked much less like an unmade bed in a wind storm and passed easily enough for a denizen of her assigned area. Item number six on her checklist of tasks for acclimation entailed getting coffee and a Danish at a café and spending time observing the average mammal to hone her behavioral camouflage. Mammal watching. Riveting.

Not that she wasn't fighting the giddiness of finally being in the city. She was barely able to contain herself. It was Zootopia! The crowning achievement of Mammalia in the last two hundred years; an apex achievement in cultural development. She was there! At last! Judy could not wait to get some leave so she could dig into everything the city had to offer, but that was a reward as yet unearned. Leave was granted following achievement, necessity for medical, psychological or emotional health reasons, or time expended in the Service. She had only just arrived, so the first and third didn't apply. The second was something she hoped to avoid as long as possible. Rather than grouse like a petulant child, she set about doing her job.

She lasted roughly ten minutes before her tablet was up, on and pulling all files from the mainframe for current operations. As an assigned member of the team, even if in transition, she had access and a responsibility to know what was going on in case of an emergency. Her interest in getting up to speed had nothing to do with her total disinterest in her "important task" of watching llamas cross the street. An hour passed and she was hazarding another trip to the counter for another tea with lemon when she saw something that made her fur stand on end.

Among the files she had received as part of her deployment was a long list of known enemy operatives. She had given it a cursory once-over, focusing on the red-flagged items. There was plenty for her to catch up on, already, so a quick scan of the pictures and cover pages was enough for her initial review. She had a good visual memory. She was glad she did.

One of them just walked, more accurately sauntered, past the window of the café. A red fox with fever bright green eyes. In the time it took her to shake off her astonishment and race to the door the phantom enemy operative had vanished into the crowd.

She was sure of it.

Judy scampered back to her seat and pulled up the file, again. She was astonished at what she found. There was nothing but a grainy, distorted photograph and brief description on the initial assessment sheet. The rest of the sheet said nothing. Name, unknown. Status, unknown. Rank, Powers, Associates, Faction and History entries on the initial assessment sheet, all unknown. The only other entry of substance in the file was the tag on the top card flagging the subject as a class 5 threat, extremely dangerous.

It was a meagre file on its own, but the associates number of case files and incident reports was staggering. File after file added to the queue as the search engine worked its way through the mainframe and archives. The more she read, the more horrified she became. Plenty of sightings and circumstantial evidence, but nothing conclusive and concrete evidence. Whoever this character was, he was a serious problem. If he was in the city he was probably involved in their current situation.

The operative, called Wraith in the file, was accredited with a distressingly long list of successful missions. Unfortunately, all his successes were at her people's expense. If he were on her people's side, he'd be decorated and honored within an inch of his life. As it was, he was reviled, and yet his file didn't even have a name.

He was a monster.

And a mystery.

And in the city.

"Sir, I know what I saw."

"Do you?" Bogo didn't even look up. "You saw a fox after reading a file on a fox and matched them up. It's a rookie mistake."

"So, all foxes around here smell like brimstone? That one did."

Side-eye was a step up, but not by much. "Are you sure?"

"It was faint, but present on the air." The water buffalo's flat expression communicated his unimpressed state. She pressed, "You are well aware that any form of falsehood will cause me pain."

"Yes. That carryover from your last posting…" Bogo leaned back in his chair. "Let us say, purely for the sake of discussion, that this fox you saw was Wraith. What do you propose we do about it?"

"I'm a tracker, sir. I can hunt him."

"Did you completely forget the conversation we had here, in this office, less than two hours ago?"


"The one where you agreed that you were too inexperienced to be allowed to operate on your own and I don't have the spare personnel to assist you?"


"The one where you were ordered to finish your acclimation and transition procedure before attempting anything else?"


"Did you?"

Her CO didn't raise his voice even a decibel through the whole thing. He didn't have to. He had her dead to rights.

"No, sir."

"You didn't? Good!" Sickly sweet and condescending; every syllable. "Then this conversation has only one obvious conclusion."

"What is that, Sir?"

He leaned in and stared hard, growling, "You go back to finishing. Your. Transition."

"What about the fox?"

"I will assign another officer to look into it when and if we are able to, once this operation is concluded."

Judy could see she had already been dismissed in his mind, but had to try. "Sir, he may be involved!"

"Possible. However, not your concern. The officers assigned will be informed that Wraith may be present and possibly involved. They will keep an eye out for him and report in. If he is confirmed as present we will proceed from there." Reading glasses perched on his muzzle, he turned fully back to his paperwork. "I take it I am making myself crystal clear this time, Hopps?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Good. Now, go."

Judy left her superior officer's office and leaned back against the wall by the door. She needed a moment. This was exactly the sort of bureaucratic buck-passing that she had left her old position to get away from. It was bad enough that her old coworkers thought theirs was the only work of value in the universe, regardless of its actual importance, but here she had hope to find something more rewarding. Possibly fulfilling? At least, she had hoped that she would be taken seriously.

The last shred of hope for that vanished as her hyper-acute hearing picked up her boss grumbling into his phone. "I don't care what orders that sow received! If she's not reading the situation reports when she's assigning assets, she needs replacing. Swinton is as useless as wings on a frog and if this is the result of her incompetence I will personally prove that pigs CAN fly, when I drop kick her through the pearly gates! I need seasoned personnel. Why did I have to get saddled with a brainless rabbit and now, of all times? She hasn't even been here a day and she thinks she's found something big. As if I didn't have enough problems…"

Her arms flopped against her sides. It was always the same. She would have to prove herself, again. And again. And again, before they gave her a shred of respect. The fastest way to accomplish that was to prove herself once and she had an opportunity in front of her to do exactly that. She headed back to her apartment to prepare.

There was technique involved in the finding and taking down of enemies. Step one, know them. That was impossible in this case, as his file was one sheet and a photo. She wouldn't have time to research him, either. If he was that good and that secretive, her surveillance would prove fruitless.

Step two, prepare suitably for the target. That was also impossible. Her heavier-grade gear was under lock and key until her transition was signed off on. The rest of her personal collection was in transit along with the rest of her personal effects. She had her standard issue body armor and the one weapon set that had been modified for her.

Step three, Choose the hunting ground. That she could manage. She knew she could find him and once she did, it was a stalk. Wait for her quarry to pass into a place she could claim the upper paw and she was all but assured to win. She had a secret weapon: she was not as strong as she looked. She was stronger. Much. Her small stature generally led opponents to underestimate her, to their pain. A surprise attack and his presumption would see the Wraith brought down and her reputation climbing. It was a start and a start was all she needed.