Hubb Lebowski pushed open the door to his office, saw the amount of paperwork sitting on his desk, and resisted the sudden urge to turn around and flee.
Author's Warning: This story takes place AFTER EPISODE 30. If you have not seen that far, don't complain to me that there are spoilers in the story. You've been warned.
Hubb Lebowski pushed open the door to his office, saw the amount of paperwork sitting on his desk, and resisted the sudden urge to turn around and flee. He hung his hat on the coat rack in the corner, already shrugging out of his ratty grey duster, all the while eyeing the stack to make sure it didn't multiply like rabid rabbits when his back was turned.
"I was only gone a day," he complained to the coat rack as he hung his coat up as well. Before he had a chance to actually get to his desk, the office door slammed open and rebounded against the wall like a shot.
Hubb winced as his direct superior stormed into the office, already ranting. "-wild dogs attacking people on the streets, the heads of corporations arrive in town, an entire gang is massacred-"
"Good to see you too, chief," Hubb said, walking around his desk and finally actually getting a good look at the pile of paperwork. He quickly wished he hadn't. "I'm never taking a day off again."
"You're damn right you're not! Not if all of this is going to happen when you're away!"
"Brilliant," Hubb muttered absently, picking up the report on top. It was about the wild dog attack. He had heard about it yesterday, but really hadn't thought all that much about it. He flipped open the report.
"I'm putting you on this dog thing, Lebowski. The guy upstairs wants every stray dog in this city to have a bullet to the head by this time tomorrow. I've been trying to convince him to back it down a little, so we've got no time on this." White paused in the doorway. "They're being kept in a pen outside ... not a one of them is large enough to do the damage with one bite that guy sustained."
"Right," Hubb nodded, flipping through photographs as well as the autopsy report. The size of the bite was large, larger than most pets or wild dogs would be capable of. He glanced up to ask White a question, but his chief was already gone, harassing someone else in the station house.
Hubb pushed his chair out with a foot and sat down, nudging the stack of reports off to one side so he could spread the other one out. Just as he settled down, a pretty young aide stuck her head in the door. "Lebowski-san, they're taking the first bunch of dogs to be put down."
"What?!" Hubb leapt to his feet. "So soon?"
The aide shrugged. Hubb darted to the coat rack, tipping it over in his haste to pull off his coat and hat. His hat in his teeth and still pulling his arms through the sleeves, he bolted out the door. "Did they say where they're at?"
"Outside," the aide gestured vaguely. Hubb stopped and gave her an incredulous look, and the aide shrugged. "Sorry, they skimped on the details."
Swearing to himself, Hubb darted through the door and down the stairs. He got to the base of the stairs in time to see a large truck full of cages pull out. "Oi! OI!" Hubb waved his arms frantically at the driver, but the man only stuck his arm out the window and waved back.
"Auugh," Hubb groaned, glancing around. He spotted his car and ran to it, fishing the keys out of his pocket. "This is gonna be one long day."
It was early, and it was already snowing.
Hige glowered up at the heavens, as if that would stop the snow from falling. If anything, it at least made him feel better. "Taku..." he sighed, returning his attention to earth.
The market was open early, and the buzz of activity almost seemed unnatural in comparison with the rest of the city. The market and downtown were the only places that ever seemed populated ... you could wander the back streets and not come across a living soul for hours on end. It probably had to do with the cold, Hige thought as he stopped in front of a food vendor. Most people had the sense to stay indoors when it was this cold out.
Apparently he lingered too long, because the food vendor glowered at him. "If you're not buying, move along!" he snapped.
Hige pulled a face at him, before walking off. The vendors in the market had sharp tongues and sharper eyes. With the increase of poorer classes came a sharp rise in theft. Even the good lifters got caught often, and it wasn't uncommon to see people with only one hand ... even in this modern day, the vendors had a steep price for stealing their goods.
Fortunately for Hige, he was a very good thief.
He was snacking on the apple he lifted when he noticed the commotion at the end of the street. Curious, he wandered over in that direction. Hige had nothing but time to kill, so it couldn't hurt to poke his ever-inquisitive nose where it shouldn't be.
Several armor-clad police were arguing with a shop vendor, while a young girl cried in the background, hugging a dog. One of the policemen held a metal bar with a loop on the end. Hige paused a little down the street, he was too far away to hear the exact words of the exchange, but it was obvious the policemen were trying to take the dog. After a short shouting match, the vendor won and the policemen stalked off.
"Interesting," Hige muttered, taking a bite of his apple.
"Horrible, is more like it," a young woman with a shopping back said beside him. "They're trying to take family pets away from people right and left ... they've already rounded up all the stray dogs. Rumor is they're going to put them all down."
"That is horrible," Hige agreed. He took another bite of his apple, and watched the police slowly back their truck up. The rear end of the truck was loaded up with cages, and just as Hige was turning around, he noticed a flash of red.
He turned sharply. "Hey!" Then he ran towards the truck, waving his arms wildly. "Hey, hey!"
The truck hadn't gotten off to a start yet, so the policeman on the passenger side hung out the window. "Yeah? What do you want?"
Panting slightly, Hige pointed to the back of the truck. "You've got my dog." He huffed a moment. "Black dog, red bandanna."
The policeman shrugged. "Tough break, kid, but we found her loose on the streets. Might as well find you a new pet." He motioned for the driver to start forward.
"Wait! You're not just going to kill my dog, are you?!"
The policeman shrugged again, but then one who was riding in the back said something, and the guy turned around. He listened for a moment, and then turned back to Hige. "What's her name, kid?"
Her... name? CRAP! Hige thought quickly, and the only thing he could think of were the dog's large blue eyes. "Uh... Blue," he said.
"Right, then. If the dog responds to the name, then we'll let her go. One less dog means one less piece of paperwork." The officer grabbed a key ring and slid out of the cabin. "I'll be right back, boys, this shouldn't take a minute."
Hige followed the officer to the back of the truck nervously. This was all spur of the moment ... he didn't even know if the dog would recognize him, or bolt for it. Fortunately for both Hige and the officer, the cage holding the large black dog was one of the last ones on the truck. "Glad I only had to move one," the officer huffed, unlocking the cage door.
The black dog sprang out, and Hige glanced at the officer in surprise. The man winked. "I don't particularly like what they're doing," he said in a low voice. "But orders are orders." The officer watched, amused, as the black dog practically knocked Hige over by jumping on him and licking him.
"Oi, Blue," the officer said, and the dog stopped, cocking her head at the officer. "You be a good girl and stay with your master, so this doesn't happen again, you understand?"
Blue yipped happily and then resumed lavishing affection on Hige, who had given up and fallen on his behind. The officer gave them both a two-fingered wave before climbing back into the cab of the truck. Hige watched the truck lumber off, still not quite sure what had happened. After a moment, he was quite through with the face-washing. "Oi, enough already!" He pushed the dog off of his lap.
Blue sat beside him happily, tongue lolling out of her mouth. Hige sighed, rubbing his head. "Well, then. Because of my sudden attack of conscience, I guess I'm stuck with ya, Blue-eyes." Blue barked a reply, and Hige laughed, patting her head and than slowly getting to his feet. "Fine, fine, I know when I'm beat. Let's go find something to eat, huh?"
Ashi yawned, sitting up and rubbing the back of his head. He hadn't meant to fall asleep on the roof, but it had been so peaceful and relaxing with the full moon's light washing down on him. He grumbled slightly to himself, working out the kinks, before standing up.
Kiba was gone, but that didn't surprise Ashi one bit. He made his way carefully down the pile of debris, until his boots were on solid ground once more. He wandered over to the ledge and glanced down.
There was at least twice the number of gang members inhabiting the lower level than there was the night before. Ashi blinked, staring down at them. There were a good dozen of them now, all shapes and sizes. The thing that Ashi noticed that amused him the most was that at least four of the men assembled weren't even a part of Tsume's gang. The others gave them wide berth, but it was clear they came to avenge friends from Luca's group.
Ashi sniffed the air, already having lost interest in the group. Kiba's scent was old, he had been gone a while. For an instant, Ashi wondered if he had gone early, forgone the dealings with humans, and was already dead.
He dismissed the notion. There was no point to worrying about it ... Kiba was gone now, and if he would return, then he would return. There was nothing to be done about it now.
Ashi glanced over his shoulder, watching as Tsume stepped over some of the rubble that blocked the door. "Ohayou, oyabun." Ashi tossed his head in the direction of the assembled thugs. "Looks like you've got yourself a task force."
"Interesting how fast word spreads," Tsume said, walking over to the edge and staring down at them. "I see we've got some recruits from Yaga's group.
"I know. Think they can be trusted?"
"We'll find out. Speaking of trusted, where's your friend? Did he run off with his tail between his legs?"
Ashi gave Tsume a sharp look, but the silver-haired young man wasn't looking at him, instead still looking down at the activity below. Ashi measured his words carefully. "I haven't seen him since the night, but I don't think he ran out on us, oyabun."
Tsume grunted something that Ashi didn't catch, but he didn't bother with it. "We're really going to do this in the middle of the day?"
"It's between guard shifts," Tsume said. "Your friend actually picked a good time to go. The first shift is switching out with the second, and if we're lucky, just about everyone else will still be on their lunch breaks." He crossed his arms, leaning against part of the railing that wasn't broken.
"And if we're not lucky?"
"Then we're dead." Tsume glanced back over his shoulder at Ashi, who didn't look perturbed. "I'm not going to ask you to come with us," he started, when Ashi snorted.
"Oh, stuff it, oyabun. I'm gonna go out and look for Kiba ... what do you want me to tell your girlfriend if I see her?"
Tsume's look turned into a glower. "She is not my girlfriend, and I would thank you to avoid her if at all possible."
"Yahuh. I'll be sure to remember that." Ashi waved over his shoulder as he headed out the door. Tsume closed his eyes and sighed.
This entire venture was spiraling out of his hands. It had been an impulse yesterday, he had really no intention of even attempting to avenge Luca's gang ... they had known each other, and kept out of each other's territory, but that was it. Luca was an idiot for getting himself killed like that, and it really wasn't any of Tsume's business. However ... he wanted to know what they were protecting in that installation of theirs.
He smirked to himself. "I'm a complete fool." He got up on the half-crumbled ledge, and then dropped down amid the rabble below. That startled them all awake, and earned a bit of respect from Yaga's goons, even if his legs weren't too happy with him.
Tsume straightened, glancing around and evaluating them all. "We're leaving now," he told them gruffly. "I won't hold it against you if you decide not to come. Once we're there, though, I don't take kindly to deserters."
One final glance over the lot of them showed that they understood. He nodded, and then led the way out of the headquarters, and into the gray late morning.
He had been watching the kids all morning.
At first, there had only been one. But as the morning progressed, more joined in, and after a while five or six kids were playing soccer in the back street, slogging through snow drifts and generally having a good time. The scuffed black and white ball bounced around wildly as the kids played, ricocheting off of garbage clans with enough clatter to raise the ire of someone in a nearby apartment. The kids promptly showed how much they respected their elders by bouncing the ball repeatedly off of the dumpster in response.
After a long while of this, he was finally noticed.
"Hey, look at the dog!"
"Wow!" It didn't take long for the kids to crowd around him. Hana raised his head happily as the kids jostled around to pet the dog. They scratched behind his ear, and under his chin, and ooooh right there, on his back. After a minute or two, they tired of this and ran off, ready to play more games. Hana's wagging tail soon slowed, and he knew he had already been forgotten.
He got to his feet. There wasn't all that much for him to do in this city. There were some kids for him to play with, but they got tired of him quickly, and before he knew it he was wandering the back alleys again, looking for scraps, or just someone to talk to.
The birds didn't like him one bit. They would mock him whenever they saw him, but Hana was at least adept at tuning them out. Hana trotted out, pausing by the kid's game again in the hopes of another petting, but they were too involved to care, so he continued on.
The back streets were full of life today, a marked difference from the previous day. A few people looked at him funny, but he ignored it, unless they stopped to pet him. The closer he got to the main roads though, the less that happened. And soon, as the roads got nicer, people actually started avoiding him. Hana didn't like this at all.
He hadn't been in the city long; he had hitched a ride here in the cab of some truck. The trucker had been a nice man, and Hana had ridden with him to several cities. He had let Hana out as normal, but when Hana returned to where the truck had been parked, it was long gone.
"Hey, get that dog!"
Hana wasn't really paying attention at first, because there were other, more important things on his mind. When the shouter got close enough for Hana to sense the danger, then he started paying attention.
Three police officers were running down the street towards him. One had a long metal pole with a loop on the end of it; another had what looked like a stun gun. Hana immediately knew this was a Very Bad Thing and decided a retreat was in order. He darted down an alley and started running.
He turned several corners in quick succession, burrowed under a fence and jumped several trash cans, before finding himself in an alley that opened back out onto a main road. He froze; knowing that going out there might mean they'd chase him again.
While he was thinking on this, a strange scent caught his attention. He looked up in time to see a white wolf in the guise of a human walk casually by, with the humans none the wiser. Hana blinked, and then stepped cautiously to the edge of the alley, sticking his head out the mouth and glancing down the street. No one was even giving the white wolf a second look.
Hana glanced back, hearing the pursuing police officers start to catch up. It was time to make a decision.
Hubb pushed his hat up on his head as he scratched his forehead in frustration. A few hundred cages sat before him, filled with dogs in a variety of shapes and sizes, most whining and barking at each other.
"I cab't breave," he muttered, fishing a handkerchief from his pocket and blowing his nose again. "I swear, chieb knows I'm 'llergic to any'hing bat 'as fur!" He blew his nose, walking through the maze of cages as fast as he could.
Thankfully, the chief had managed to get that hold on shooting all the dogs through, and now they were all just in cages and very, very upset. Hubb had been walking through the cages with a few other policemen, marking the cages of the dogs that might possibly have the correct jaw size. It was surprisingly few dogs.
They hadn't gotten through all that many cages before Hubb's allergies had attacked him full force. He had let the younger officers continue on with the job, and headed as far away from the cages as he could get.
"It couldn't have been a wolf."
Hubb stopped dead. Three younger officers were marking cages nearby. Actually, it was more along the lines of one was marking cages, and two were standing around talking to him. "I'm telling you, it was. Didn't you hear the wolf howling last night?"
"Wolves are extinct."
"How do you know?"
"Um, same as most larger wild animals. We learned that in elementary school."
Hubb was intrigued. "Dere was a wolb how'ing last nigbt?"
The three officers turned and glanced at him, bewildered. Hubb excused himself, blew his nose several times, and cleared his throat. "Erm ... there was a wolf how'ing last night?"
"Yeah ... a lot of people heard it," one of the officers who weren't working said.
"Which is, of course, complete horse shit," the one who was marking cages said. "Wolves have been extinct for years."
"That's what they'd like you to think," the first retorted.
The second and third looked at him like he was crazy. "What?"
"Well ... if you wanted people to stop bothering you, you'd pretend to be extinct too, wouldn't you?"
The third one shook his head. "You have entered the realm of "not touching that"," he informed his companion.
Hubb had to smile. "You three are just out of the Academy, aren't you?"
The one marking cages smiled. "Did our sparkling wit give it away?"
Hubb waved at them, turning to walk away. "Get back to work, before someone with real authority comes over here and yells at you," he told them good-naturedly. However, he was mulling over this new side of things. "Wolves, huh...."
Kiba would have to be blind to not realize that he was being followed. He frowned, glancing slightly over a shoulder to watch a young wolf sneak around a corner and watch him. The young wolf sensed he had been spotted and ducked back behind an alley wall.
Kiba shook his head and turned back to the road. It seemed all the vagrant wolves were coming out of the woodwork. The scent of the flower had called them to this city, but they had hidden themselves in it, not going any further. He did not understand why, nor what was stopping them. Their goal was clearly in sight, it was securely guarded from a human standpoint, but as wolves they would have no problem at all slipping through the holes in security.
There was a crash behind him, and Kiba stopped, as did the pedestrians around him, to see what the commotion was. It was, not surprisingly, the young wolf. He had taken human form and was not used to concealing himself on two legs. This klutziness, mixed in with the crowds around a few haphazard tents, made for an obstacle course the young one failed at.
He watched, slightly amused, as the "boy" picked himself up, apologized profusely to the owner of the tent, and then fled into the crowd. He was not a hard character to track ... visually, his human form wore bright colors, and his gray hair was very distinctive. Shrugging off his interest, Kiba turned and made his way through the crowd.
His morning walk hadn't done much good. The city was laid out on a series of grids, so it was easy to move quickly from one area to another. The people who resided within were as apathetic as any he had come across, and with the exception of Ashi, this young wolf was the only other one he had come across.
The installation had been his primary worry, but a quick scout of their security provided little of threat. That gang leader and his thugs might have some problems, but that was their issue and not his. He had already come to the decision that they would serve as a diversion, making things all the easier for Kiba to slip in and check out the source of the scent. If the Lunar Flower was encased within the installation ... well, that was something he'd worry about when he got that far.
Kiba was nearly out of the main market when the young wolf managed to fall over a pile of crates and sprawl into his path. Kiba halted and stared down at the wolf, who was sitting up and scratching his head, looking sheepish. His scarf fluttered around him like a second tail. "Err... that wasn't supposed to happen."
He received no response. Kiba merely stared down at him, so the young wolf hopped to his feet. "I'm Hana," he told Kiba excitedly. "I haven't ... err... met anyone like me before. Do you live around here?"
Kiba blinked once, and then stepped around the wolf, continuing on his way. He needed to be at the installation soon, anyway, or else Tsume would be going in without him.
Hana stood there for a second, surprised at the brusque brush-off, then turned and trailed after Kiba, undeterred. "My name's Hana. I'm from ... somewhere far away. Not sure, really. Been traveling all of my life!"
There was no response, but that didn't stop Hana. He chattered away to Kiba, who had long ago tuned out the younger wolf. He wondered for a brief instant if every wolf was as insane as Hana, then remembered that Ashi at least seemed normal, excepting his bizarre affinity for humans. Kiba sighed quietly. Apparently he had just picked up a straggler.
The installation was buzzing with activity. Cher Degre bustled down one hall, her dress suit wrinkled and her lab coat spotted. She hadn't had more than an hour of sleep and no time to change out of her clothes and into fresh ones. The flower maidens had been reacting, and she didn't want to miss a minute of anything.
Hamona had returned to the installation earlier in the morning, after spending the night in a local hotel. She had met with the scientists above Cher several times, but sought out the rare female doctor on the team personally to let her know what was going on. "We're going to transfer both of the flower maidens to our main complex," she told Cher as they had hurried along one of the corridors. "We want to see what sort of reactions we'll get by placing all of the maidens together."
"You're moving them both? Today?" Cher was very disturbed by this. "It's very dangerous, and might disrupt the globes..."
"We're taking them out of their globes," Hamona said breathlessly. "They've awoken, Cher! It's cheaper, and safer to move them outside of that equipment, and as long as we keep their feet soaking in the solution, they shouldn't even come close to withering." Cher's horrified expression was not pacified by Hamona's excitement.
"They've never been out of those globes once, not since before I've been here," she said, slowing her busied trot to a stop. "I'm not sure that's ... wise."
"They're being moved this afternoon," Hamona continued, moving straight through Cher's discomfort. "I want you to be with them the entire time, you'll be a familiar face to them."
Cher had nodded once. "Of course, Chikai-sama, whatever you wish. If you'll excuse me... I do have a lot of work to do, especially if you are going to have them moved today." She had hurried off, leaving Hamona to turn and go chasing off after some scientists, shouting something about pretzels.
That had been earlier in the day. Now, while the activity was frenzied to prepare the flower maidens for their journey, it had somehow also become... subdued. The globes were going to be emptied in just a few hours, and then Tane and Tsuchi would be transported in a modified cargo car to the main installation, in the south.
Cher slowed to a stop, stifling a yawn. She wanted to be awake to document all of this, but her exhaustion was quickly catching up with her. Grabbing a nearby aide, she told him to inform her superiors that she would be in her office, napping, but to send word if anything happened, even the minutest detail. With that taken care of, she turned around and made a beeline for her office.
The phone was ringing as she stepped through the door. Shutting it behind her, she groaned and mentally revised her statement to "major details" as she picked up the phone. "Degre."
"I was beginning to think you were never going to pick up, Cher." The voice on the other end didn't belong to any of the scientists, and it actually took Cher a moment to remember who it was. "Oh, don't tell me you've forgotten your fiancÃ© already."
"Hubb," Cher flopped onto the couch, kicking off her heels and rubbing her forehead as she did so. "It's been very hectic over here. They're moving everything out to the main installation."
There was silence on the other end, and Cher could imagine his expression. "Everything? Where does that leave you?"
"I have to go with them, for the time being," Cher told him, trying not to yawn into the phone. "Just to get the cargo settled."
"... sure," Hubb said quietly. Then his voice switched gears. "What do you know about wolves?"
Cher sat up and stared at the receiver for a moment. "Wolves? They're extinct, aren't they?"
"Yeah, that's what I thought." Hubb was quiet for another moment, and then his voice was forcibly cheerful. "I was just checking up on you, anyway. Give me a call when you arrive ... wherever it is you're going."
"Hubb, wait--" Cher said quickly, but not fast enough. The line disconnected, and buzzed quietly. "Dammit, Hubb," she groaned, sinking into the couch. She hadn't wanted any of this stuff to have happened ... it just had. There was very little she could do about it now, though, so she just settled into her couch for her nap, hoping she could dismiss the pesky little thoughts circling around her brain and at least get another hour's sleep under her belt.
Ashi was sitting on top of a fence, chewing on a hamburger, when Kiba and Hana walked by. "I was beginning to wonder if you were dead or not," Ashi said conversationally, jumping down off the fence and taking position on Kiba's right side.
Hana glanced at him curiously. Ashi had folded his arms behind his head and was walking next to Kiba with his eyes closed. One of those eyes suddenly snapped open and stared at Hana. "So, who are you, runt?"
"Me?" Hana jumped slightly. "I'm ... um, I'm Hana."
"Hana?" Ashi sniffed slightly, and then grinned. "Nice to see more fur around here."I'm Ashi. The strong and silent one here is Kiba. What are you doing around here, Hana?"
Hana was staring at Kiba again. "Nothing much," he muttered.
"Ah, good. We can always use another runner." Ashi stretched his arms out languidly. "Tsume was starting to doubt you," he told Kiba conversationally, as they headed down an alley and out of the main flow of pedestrians.
"Let him doubt." Kiba glanced down the alley, which ended in a short brick wall, blocking off a two-story drop where the buildings had been built on a slope. Hands still in pockets, he hopped up on the ledge, staring at the installation at the northern edge of the city. Ashi easily hopped up beside him, and he watched, half-amused, as Hana quickly scrambled to join them. In the distance, there was an explosion on one side of the installation. "They've started without us."
Ashi swore quietly, and the three wolves quickly disappeared from their ledge. In the distance, smoke curlicued from the edge of the facility, and up into an uncaring gray sky.
End Chapter 2
*/hashiru/ -- run
*/ohayou/ -- 'mornin
*/omoshiroii/ -- interesting
*/oyabun/ -- boss
*/-san/ -- honorific
*/taku/ -- jeez