elydesia: " DOGS " (badou nails ; listless)
[personal profile] elydesia posting in [community profile] ethosa
Title: We Live
Chapter: 4
Fandom: Stripe
Rating: T
Word Count: 2,931 words
Summary: This is the end.
Authors Notes: Abrupt ending. Definitely not what I had in mind, but I can't make it any better. If you know of/have read anything else from STRIPE you should have an idea of what's going on next.




"Vettore!" He turned in the direction of the voice only to be met with a tray of food thrown at him, chilly potato salad covering his face and hot spaghetti splattering across his uniform. For a moment the cafeteria was near silent. Slowly and carefully he cleaned up the mess at his feet, putting the food back in their respective dishes and left.

Snickering aside, the cafeteria returned to normal after Vettore's leaving. Albrecht arrived late for dinner, her hair a mess and labcoat still buttoned tightly to her figure.

"I'd be worried if I were you," said the cafeteria worker as he served Albrecht's food. She took the plate from him with a puzzled expression.

"Worried? Why?"

"Your partner was made fun of just a moment ago. Give this to him and tell him to cheer up." The cafeteria worker prepared another plate of food and placed it on Albrecht's tray before she could say otherwise. Curious and concerned, Albrecht thanked the worker and took off to Vettore's room.

He sat on the sofa in his room, his stained uniform on the corner table beside him and tray of disturbed food in front of him. His posture was hunched over, chin resting heavily on his clasped hands, elbows pressing into the tops of his knees.

The knock at his door disturbed him from his trance, pulling him back into the real world. "Who is it?"

"Albrecht." He opened the door and let her in. "Who else would be visiting you now of all times?"

"Doctor Vaughn said he would drop by to pass on the results of the latest test this evening," he replied.

They sat on the sofa together, Albrecht setting her tray down next to his messed up one. "This is from the cafeteria worker who saw what happened to you." She placed the plate of food on his lap and stuck a paper napkin in his collar, wiping his utensils with another napkin before holding it out to him.

Sighing, he said, "So you know about what happened."

"Your dirty uniform and messed up tray of food would have given you away even if I hadn't." She paused to take a bite of pizza and sipped at her water. "It's been months, and something like this still happens? Ridiculous. We're supposed to be a pillar of knowledge, a driving force toward a hopeful future. How could such trivial incidents like this still happen? It's not high school." Albrecht shook off her labcoat and took another bite, a scowl carved on her brow.

Vettore shook his head. "With the stress weighing on everyone's shoulders, I think an outlet is needed."

"That's what the recreational facilities are for. I just don't understand some people. Did they not know you before your accident?"

He shook his head. "I prefer to keep my relations with people on a professional level."

"I heard you were friends with Bacchus and Coriani."

"That was a... mistake."

"Clearly you don't really think that way. I think you're just hurt inside. Still."

"Still?"

"After all this time, perhaps your peers won't accept you. After all this time, perhaps you still haven't forgiven yourself for what happened. Ever since I've arrived and was paired up with you, I've been trying to be your friend, Vettore."

He shook his head and covered his face with his palms, half laughing. "I can't make friends anymore. You just can't understand my troubles."

"Listen, I think it's fair to say I can not and will never understand what this whole Rabbit thing you're going through is like. No one's going to intrude here and say I'm wrong. But you need to understand something: You aren't alone in this world, and neither can you trudge through it pretending to be. I learned this, and you should, too."

"You?" he asked accusingly.

Albrecht nodded her head. "Yes." She took a deep breath and sighed. "What you said to me on our first mission... I believe it was along the lines of, 'You haven't experienced anything like this before, don't speak as if you have,' was it?" Vettore looked down at his food in shame.

"I didn't mean to offend--the subject was still a sensitive--"

"I know what it's like." Her interruption halted his words. "You were the one who brought Stella to the lab that evening. Aren't you curious in the slightest?"

A thick forest surrounded a trio unit ploughing ruthlessly towards their goal, wet mist clinging to their hair and skin. An area past a school near the outskirts of the now desolate city was their goal, investigating a Rabbit sighting to ensure the current residents could return quickly to their now lonely homes.

Some years prior, a powerful flood devastated the city which was then made weaker by the quickly following appearances of Rabbits. Most of the city was decimated in the events and survivors ended up leaving. Two years ago, however, the Committee published an article stating it was safe to live in the city again.

Life returned to the port city, half swallowed by the rainforest. The sighting of the Rabbit near a school induced a fear many residents never felt before, and they were evacuated.

Reaching the school wasn't a problem, but entering the rainforest was something else. "This heat is unbearable!" Stone complained, taking another drink from his water bottle.

"You drink up all your water, I'm not sharing any of mine." Davey shot her lover a smug look. Stone quickly looked over at the team's researcher with pleading eyes.

"Don't look at me. I'm not sharing mine, either." Albrecht shifted her satchel and looked forward. "We're almost at the reported site."

"Shouldn't we put on our miasma masks?" Davey suggested.

"What for? I'll kill it before it can even release its miasma!" Stone's confidence made Davey laugh.

"Don't be silly. Miasma's what we'll walk into first when we even get near it." Davey grabbed two masks out of her hipbag and tossed one to Stone. He fiddled with it in his hands before slipping it on.

"Ah, that reminds me. What type did the witnesses report the Rabbit was?" he asked. Albrecht pulled out her work tablet and looked over the mission notes.

"Oval."

The corners of Davey's mouth pulled down as she thought. "Weren't they just a bunch of kids? And they must've been scared out of their wits! How could they even tell the difference, let alone remember mask shape?"

"Well," Stone started, "if they're wrong, what type could it be? Think about it. What type is closest in shape to oval?"

"Teardrop," Albrecht answered, now reviewing mission files on her work tablet as they walked.

Davey's pace slowed and unease was clear on her face. "Now that's a frightening thought." Stone stepped closer to her and gave her hand a squeeze before kissing her on the cheek.

"If a teardrop Rabbit pops up, I'll protect you."

Davey laughed and pushed him away. "You need to put the mission above all, remember, Enforcer?" Stone laughed along with his girlfriend as the couple linked arms, Albrecht following a few paces behind them.

All the laughing stopped when in an instant night had descended upon the rainforest.

"Masks!" Davey shouted, a routine command. Stone and Albrecht signalled they were already wearing theirs and they arraigned themselves into position. Albrecht began recording the events in her work tablet only to realize it had no connection to the Committee server. They were cut off from the outside world.

"What is this?" Stone shouted.

"Most likely an example of isolated time-space," Albrecht explained.

"They can do that?"

"Don't be so impressed, Davey!" Stone shot her an angry glare as he chided her.

"Where is it, though? Why can't we see it?"

"We're in a separate world of its own creation, it can control the rules of the world here as it pleases." Albrecht bit down on her lip as she raced ideas through her head. If they destroy the Rabbit, would that set them free? Or would they disappear along with it?

A blast of wind pummelled them from above, grinding them into the wet ground, and then spread the three apart like a triangle.

Davey crawled along the mud towards Albrecht and muttered, "This... this isn't an oval type."

There descended from the sky the silhouette of a teardrop shaped Rabbit, the face of a giant moon filling the break in the canopy of trees behind it. It floated a few metres off the ground in a lotus position.

Stone cursed under his breath as he stood to face the oncoming threat. "Finally come to face us, huh?" The corner of his lips pulled up into a crooked smile but his clenched jaw and tense muscles gave away his unease.

A booming voice echoed in the bubble of space; masculine, deep, and unwavering like an old man who had seen too much conflict. "You do not belong here," it said.

The team members present looked at the Rabbit in awe, each thinking the same thing: Did it just speak? The silence was profound in the absence of the Rabbit's voice.

Albrecht was the first to stand and address the Rabbit. "You are the intruder here. Why do you infiltrate our cities and infest our lands? You eat us, we have become your food but this should not be. We are the owners of this world, not your kind!"

The Rabbit turned and bore its single large glass-like eye upon the small body. "My kind? Do you know what we are? Have you any idea who our creator is? You hunt us like annoying wildlife, even naming us 'Rabbits' and taking our bodies as if studying a new species. We are beings higher than you are. You do not belong here, mortal beings." Following its words a small but powerful tornado thrashed around in the small bubble, whipping the team members around in piles of mud and foliage. Their masks were ripped from their faces, exposing them to the miasma.

But there was no miasma, the Rabbit was holding it back. When the tornado disappeared and the members had fallen they were too weak to get up so the Rabbit continued with its speech.

"The Creator was foolish to have made humans. So low and weak and powerless. Magicless humans are nothing like the Cards; why do they need to be watched over?"

With shallow gasping and shaking limbs, Davey made it to her feet. "Humans... You are looking down on humans? We... we have science at our fingertips; technology heeds our will, not some finicky magic spell. Who needs magic when we have science?" Stone had by now stood up, put on his spare mask and was preparing to make an attack. Davey, too, had taken out her spare mask and was about to put it on when the Rabbit gave a smug chortle and said:

"My speciality is not fighting or defending. I never intended to fight."

"So... what, you came to talk?"

"Indeed. But now that has finished. You are preparing an attack I can not deflect, but I can raise a champion in my stead." A wave of heat began spewing from the Rabbit, miasma flooding the sphere.

"Masks!" Davey commanded. Stone already had his on but Albrecht didn't have her satchel--she was maskless. Both Enforcer and Guardian saw this and knew what had to be done.

"Eliza!" Stone pleaded.

"For the safety of the team," she whispered, remembering the vows she took at the end of her training.

Albrecht's eyes were large and fear-filled when Davey limped over to her and slipped the mask on the researcher's face. Albrecht shook her head tearfully and attempted to take the mask off but Davey quickly grabbed her slim hands and held them tightly in her strong ones.

"For the safety of the team," Davey repeated, more confidently this time. "The Committee needs to know what happened here today. You are one to tell them." Her words were soft and gentle, like wisps of dust through a beam of light. Davey hugged her friend, the team researcher and sometimes the team leader, and cried.

After a few minutes of breathing the miasma, the physical changes began. Two bulges appeared on her lower back and grew larger with each passing second, pulling the skin tight and sore until finally a pair of black leathery wings burst forth covered in blood. From the crown of her head two shiny black horns grew to a fine point and her skin paled. Davey was hunched over on all fours, her elbows growing tusk-like protrusions, and banged on the ground. Tears painted her face in both pain and fear as she could feel the edge of her mind be eaten by a beast within her.

The transformation was complete when Davey growled and roared like an animal. The Rabbit released the group from the isolated bubble of time-space and floated above the treetops into the sky. Daylight returned and with it the natural sense of the rainforest.

But instead of three team members there were only two.

Davey lunged at Albrecht but before she could reach her Stone was between them, gloved fists gripping Davey's newly clawed hands.

"You recording all this, Albrecht?" he growled. "She's become valuable research data. Don't let it go to waste." He finished speaking and gave a magnificent punch to Davey's face.

"Enforcer Sven Stone struck down his girlfriend that day, but I guess you could say the Eliza we knew died before he landed that finishing blow. I was split in two after that incident: collect all the data I could from the event and further our study, or forego it for Davey's sake? It was later on when I made up my mind.

"Stone didn't actually kill Davey in that Indonesian rainforest, but she was mortally wounded. Her brain bounced around so much in her skull it was never going to make a recovery, and her face was smashed in. I'd sent out a distress signal and we were rescued pretty quickly. Davey was detained and locked away in a high-security underground area... for me to run tests on. But I despised the idea and did not do it as often as I know I should have.

"A month later, Stone broke into the facility and sabotaged Davey's life support. He watched her die, Vettore."

"I can see how hard it was for him to do. He didn't want you to study her?"

"No. He didn't care whether she was studied or not, Stone just wanted her dead. What Davey was reduced to... It wasn't his girlfriend and that thing in the tank was just a hollow shell pretending to be her. I thought the same way! But before he was taken away--I was the one who found him--he told me something: 'Don't let the sacrifices made be in vain. Find out what makes those Rabbits tick by the end of the decade, or I'll kill myself.' I was pretty worried for him, too. I could just imagine what sort of pain he was going through at that time, but it was thanks to him that my current resolve and determination was born.

"All of this was only a year ago but when I'm alone in the lab or in my room I look back to those days and think, 'Wow, that was a lot to digest. How did I go on after that?' My research saved me, and I think so did Davey. Well, definitely Davey."

"That's why Stella resents you?"

"Yes. Besides Chiefs Asimov and Calixto, my assistants and now you, no one knows about that day. I have reason to believe Dr Vaughn knows, but I doubt he knows in detail. That a Rabbit out there somewhere is capable of speech? Incredible."

They were silent for a long time, their meals long since finished.

Vettore placed a hand on the researcher's knee. "I'm sorry for what I said before."

Albrecht smiled at him. "You should be sorry! But it's not your fault; I can't blame you for what you said. Now that you know, could we agree on being friends?" She stuck her hand out toward her partner with a smile on her face.

"Yeah," he replied and they shook hands.


All the labs were empty except for one: Laboratory D2. Alone, Albrecht gripped her work tablet tightly and nibbled on the tip of her tablet pen. Cursing under her breath, she crossed out an entire paragraph before tossing the tablet on her desk and leaning back in her seat. She stared at the white ceiling and sighed. Her thesis wasn't coming along very well, and she doubted there was enough material for an extension by the time New Year's Day came around.

Just outside the lab doors Vettore stood with stiff shoulders and clumsily knocked. "Hey, Albrecht! You're still working?"

The researcher unlocked the door and greeted Vettore at the door. She sighed and rubbed the back of her neck, staring at her feet. "Yeah. There's a lot of work to get done--" He grabbed her arm and pulled her toward the cafeteria.

"Just come. They're waiting for you, sent me to get you."

"Huh? What're you talking about?"

He dragged her through the cafeteria doors and everyone shouted various mixes of "Happy Birthday!" and "Merry Christmas!"

"They told me it was your birthday. Happy Birthday, Albrecht."

She couldn't hold back a smile as she waded through the crowd to the birthday cake, made a wish, and blew out the candles.

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