Chapter 2: Well, that escalated quickly.
Gazelle checked out of the hospital AMA -against medical advice. She didn't care. She was going to Ashok's funeral even if it killed her. It wouldn't kill her, of course, but it might hinder her healing. The pop diva hobbled up to his casket on crutches that threatened to rip open her stitched with every step.
They placed chandanam over his forehead and wreaths of flowers around his neck and head, and as Gazelle drew closer to the casket, she detected the subtle scent of fresh basil. So, they had decided to go with a traditional funeral. She placed a pinda in the casket, next to his head. Others had already done similar. She rested a hoof on the edge of the casket, making sure not to touch the body, and recited a short hymn. One of the few that she knew.
Someone placed a comforting paw on her shoulder. Orange and cream fur with black tiger stripes. Gazelle turned to see who it was, expecting one of Ashoka's relatives. Instead, she was pleasantly surprised.
Sun-ha Park was one of Gazelle's back-up dancers. The 'fan book' their manager insisted they publish described him as the 'quiet and mysterious' one. But, actually, Park was just introverted and socially awkward. He avoided eye-contact, talking more to her crutches than to her face. "Can I have a hug?"
They hadn't seen each other since the night of the concert.
Gazelle shifted her crutches so that she was holding both with one arm and opened the other to invite Park in. The tiger was twice her size and completely dwarfed her with his muscle and bulk, but it felt good to be held by another Mammal. A Mammal she knew, and worked with, and loved like a brother. Ashok might have been her true love, but Gazelle loved all the tigers of her herd.
"I've been having nightmares." He whispered into her ear. "I keep seeing Rod-" he choked and held her tighter causing a pain in his stitches. "I keep seeing it happen."
"Shh, shh." The pop diva soothed, rubbing circles into his shoulder. She ignored the pain pulsing across her chest and midsection, and down her leg. It was what she got for leaving the hospital against her doctor's advice. Besides, Park's emotional state was more important at the moment. So was hers, for that matter. Emotional wounds were harder to heal than physical ones. "I have nightmares too. I can only imagine what Raj must be going through."
Ashok was his brother -from the same litter.
Park held her for a few moments more. Then straightened, wiping his eyes. He cleared his throat and when he spoke again his voice was even. "He's still angry. Like, really angry. Their parents asked him not to attend the cremation incase his negative energy interfered with his Ātman leaving the body."
"That's terrible!" Gazelle exclaimed. She shifted her crutches back to a position she could use to walk. "Where is he now?"
"Back at the apartment." Park supplied. "Since he can't beat-up Rod, he's been satisfying himself breaking all his stuff." A pause. "If I'd known they were discharging you today, I would have picked you up."
She shook her head. "They didn't discharge me, I checked myself out. I needed- I wasn't gonna miss saying goodbye to-" Her voice cracked and Gazelle put a hoof over her eyes to hide her tears. "The whole point is to not be reincarnated, right? So... so I may never see him again!"
Park's arm was around her again, the tiger leading her away from the casket. They stood to the side, out of the way of the other mourners.
There was no service.
After the wake, the casket was carried to the pyre and Ashok's body cremated. Gazelle insisted on staying for the whole thing -until it was done and his ashes were collected. The ashes were taken by his parents. They would commit his remains to water. There was a river that cut through the Rainforest District that would serve their purpose. They did not invite Gazelle to come with them and she did not ask. His parents never really approved of their son dating outside the species -and a prey at that. The few times she interacted with Ashok and Raj's parents, they were polite to her. They respected her because their son cared about her, but they did not like her.
Gazelle was also fairly certain they blamed her -at least in part- for his death. After all, if Ashok had just kept to his physical therapy practice and not given up the perfectly reputable business to be a go-go dancer, then he wouldn't have been on stage when the other time went Savage.
After the cremation, Gazelle finally let Park take her home.
It was the first time the pop diva had been home since the attack.
A luxurious penthouse apartment in Savannah Square. Four bedrooms, two baths, full kitchen plus dining room, spacious living room and rooftop patio. The space was under Gazelle's name, but all five of them lived there. Her and the four most important Mammals in her life. Her herd. A herd of predators. Sun-ha Park, Rodrigo Colmillo, Rajesh Patel, and... and Ashok Patel. Now it was just the three of them. Now that Ashok was gone (she couldn't bring herself to use the word 'dead' not even in her own mind), and Rod -along with all the other Savages that survived the fire- was moved to a much more secure psychiatric facility. Now it was just her, Park, and Raj.
Park held the door open for her and Gazelle hobbled inside on her crutches -to find the place a complete mess.
Empty beer cans and liquor bottles were strewn all over the living room floor, coffee table, and couch. As were days old, half eaten pizza. Flies circled the boxes, searching for the best place to land on the sticky, congealed grease. Gazelle blinked in horror at finding her home in such a state of... disarray!
"Sorry about the mess." Park muttered, legitimately apologetic and embarrassed. "If I'd know you were coming home today, I would have made him clean up a little."
"Where is he?"
As if on cue, the refrigerator door closed to reveal the tiger that was concealed behind it. Raj shambled out of the kitchen, a fresh can of beer in his hand. Shirtless, wearing a pair of PJ pants that looked like they hadn't been washed in days, fur rumpled from lack of care. He looked Gazelle up and down.
"You look like something the me dragged in." The tiger announced before popping the top of his beer can and taking one long sip. He paused to burp loudly, then took another -longer- sip.
Gazelle crossed the space between them, slowly and awkwardly. She'd been standing far too long already, her crutches threatening to pull her stitches with every step. But some things were more important than physical pain. She wrapped one arm around the larger Mammal and pulled him into a hug. "How are you holding up?"
Raj gave a snort of derision. His hot breath making the fur on her back stand on end. "How am I holding up? Ha! That's cute. You think I'm holding up!"
"I know." Gazelle soothed. "I know. I miss him too."
"Oh, you miss him!" Raj pulled away with a snarl. The warning light of his collar shifting from green to yellow. "It was you that got him killed! Ash wanted to leave the city! Get away for awhile, wait for things to blow over. But you just had to stay. You with your bleeding heart that loves all. If it wasn't for you, we wouldn't have been on that stage when Rod went bonkers! If Ash wasn't trying to protect you, he would still be alive right now. My brother died because of you!"
"Hey!" Park stepped between them. "You don't mean that."
"Oh, don't I?" Raj growled back. He jabbed a clawed finger at the collar around his neck, then at the one Park also worse. "Why don't you tell her what happened as a result of that concert fiasco? Do you know, 'Zelle? Did they let you watch the news during your convalescents? Thanks to Rod attacking you and Ash getting killed, now we all have to wear these damn things. These collars to tell you when we're emotionally compromised and could get aggressive. Oh, but it doesn't stop there. Oh, no. If we do get to worked up, the thing shocks us. And not a small jolt either!"
"Calm down, unless you intend to demonstrate for her." Park snapped. He turned back to Gazelle. "It's not just the collars. You noticed how they stopped us as we were leaving the Rainforest District to check my ID and make a note of where we were going? Well, they're doing that for all predators too. We aren't as free to move around the city as we used to be. Our movements are being monitored. No one's tried to actually stop us so far, but still... the whole thing makes me very uncomfortable."
"We should have just left like Ash wanted!" Raj cut in. The light on his collar was still yellow, but he at least seemed calmer.
"All this happened because Rod attacked me..." Gazelle dropped her crutches and sank to her knees on the floor. She wrapped an arm around her midsection, hoof resting over the deep claw marks Rod had left there when he went Savage. "I never thought... I was trying to make things better! How did this... why is this happening?"
She began to cry.
Park shot Raj a dirty look. "Look what you did." He also wank to his knees next to her. "'Zelle, you couldn't have known this was going to happen."
But it did happen, and it happened because of her. "I should have just left when Ashok suggested it. Gone on tour. Gotten away from the city for a while. It's all my fault."
"Yeah. It is." Raj agreed. He took another sip of his beer and stepped away.
"You're not helping!" Park shouted after him.
But Raj just slammed his bedroom door shut.
Gazelle stayed on the floor, sobbing. She lost her love and it was all because of her. Because she insisted on having a charity concert to try and raise money to figure out what was causing predators to go Savage. She should have just washed her hooves of it all and left. But she was stubborn and insisted they stay. Because of her, Ashok was dead and Rod was crazy.
Gazelle didn't know what to do anymore.
'Stricter regulations for at-risk citizens'. Those were the words used to describe the newest round of laws passed into legislation as a result of the Savage escape and fire. No one bothered to mention that the only citizens whom were 'at-risk' were predators and predators only.
As one reporter asked in a throw-away question that was never answered at the fateful press conference that started this whole mess, a mandatory quarantine was implemented on all predators.
There was no one place in the city where they could stick every single predator that lived in Zootopia. Not even Happy Town could hold all of them. Not to mention, there were still those that thought it would be cruel to force Mammals live outside their natural biome. You couldn't expect a polar bear to live in the scorching hot sands of Sahara Square. Making Mammals live in places not designed for them was cruel, but evicting them from their homes and moving them into hastily thrown together and ill maintained government housing? That was A-okay!
A section within each district was cordoned off for use as a quarantine zone. A chain link fence hastily erected around the neighborhood's perimeter, the windows of some apartments boarded up on the outward facing side. Each zone only had one gate through the fence. Predators still had to be able to get in and out. Life didn't stop just because the city hated them. Adults still had to work. Cubs, and pups, and kits still had school. But the gates shut and locked at nine PM. The quarantine zones all had strict curfews.
As with the TAME collars, predators were given time to set their affairs in order before moving into their new homes in quarantine. If they did not, or if it took them to long, their property was seized by the city and redistributed.
"Wait a sec, you want me to buy your house!?" Primal sat on Silver's porch -because like hell was he going to go inside that spiker infested cavern that Dr. Scott Silvers, entomologist, called a home. Calling it a 'cavern' was unfair. It was a very nice rustic cabin, nestled between two large redwoods. Handmade wooden rocking chairs on the front porch. Exactly the kind of house you'd expect a wolf to live in. It was just Silver's unusual fondness for spiders that made it seem otherwise. The gorilla stared at his friend, not quite understanding.
"I'll give you a good price." The timber wolf assured him. "Way below market value. I just... I don't have a lot of time to get this done and I know the sale won't close before I have to move. But if the purchase is at least on record then they won't take it away from me -uh, you."
The warning light on Silver's TAME collar shifted from green to yellow. Primal could only imagine what the wolf must be feeling. Not only being forced from his home, but having to sell his property for far less than what it was worth or else forfeit it to the government.
Primal shook his head. It was like the world woke up one morning and decided, 'Hey, let's all go bat-shite insane!' "I can't believe they're actually putting predators under quarantine."
"Call it what it is, Primal, we're both of us far too old to be sugar-coating things." Silvers snapped at him, sitting up in his rocking chair and glaring directly at his friend. "It's a ghetto. They're moving predators into ghettos. That's exactly what they're doing and calling it 'quarantine' doesn't change that. Its 2016 and they're setting up ghettos -here, in our city- and everyone is just letting it happen!"
The light on his collar flashed red and Silvers was shocked back into his chair. It rocked back and forth while the wolf recovered.
"First these damnable collars that not only taser us any time we're just a little worked up, but also mark us as predators like a yellow badge." He rubbed a paw over his eyes. "Did you know an otter was a predator before one went Savage? I didn't. They're so adorable and small. I didn't realize a lot of smaller Mammals were predators before the collars went on. Weasel, and mongooses -mongeese?- and stoats. I had no idea they were predators until the collars went on."
"Mongooses is the correct plural." Primal supplied absentmindedly. "And, actually, I did know all that. I'm a surgeon. But I get your meaning."
"I also want you to buy my reenactment costume and props off me." The wolf continued.
That was how he and the gorilla originally met and became friends. Through a historical war reenactment group. Specifically for a period many historians considered to be the start of the trend that eventually gave rise to modern society of prey and predators living and working together. A group mixed of prey and predator Mammals banded together to defend themselves against an encroaching army that was exclusively predator. Maximalus versus the Preda Kahn. More commonly it was known simply as the Beast Wars. It was a short war, lasting only three seasons. But it was of great historical significance.
"I'm not going to the quarantine zone. My brother-in-law managed to get some exit visas for the whole pack. We're leaving Zootopia and I don't think they'll have a reenactment group where we're going." Silvers used the more politically correct term to make his friend feel more at ease. "Give them to the next guy who wants to play Bolt."
"Silvers..." The gorilla began. He was going to refuse. Then he considered his friend's situation and his options, really considered them. It felt like he was taking advantage of a desperate Mammal, but from Silvers' point of view, he was doing him a favor. Buy my stuff from me, and if this madness ends in my lifetime let me buy it back from you when I come home. Instead he asked, "What are you gonna do?"
The wolf leaned back in his rocking chair. "Wolford's a cop, works for the city, that's how he managed to get us passes to leave so easily. The pack has made offers on properties in Deerbrook, Nimh, and Bunnyburrow. The first one that's accepted we're gonna take." A spider crawled out of the window and began spinning its web in a corner of the porch canopy. Silvers looked up at it forlornly and Primal was horrified to see that it was a black widow. The wolf sighed. "I'll have to leave them behind. Oh, dark poison of my heart, I cannot bear to be parted from you."
Massaging his temples, Primal looked away. The wolf was a good friend and pleasant company -most of the time. But whenever his damn spider fixation was involved, he became extremely uncomfortable to be around.
"Well, I better go..." The gorilla stood. "I'm actually relieved that you're getting out of the city, and-" Primal paused, considering his words. "You said your brother-in-law's a cop? If you do end up in Bunnyburrow, he might want to look up the family Hopps. As I understand it, the bunny officer who died is from there. Wolford might want to pay his respects."
The wolf likewise stood, seeing his guest off the property. "I'll tell him. Please, think about my offer. I'd rather sell to a friend for a pittance price than have the government seize it from me and leave me with nothing."
Goodness knew the pack could use whatever extra funds it could get during their relocation.