Loading...
Menu
Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Horror  ➡  Undead

Resident Evil Legends Part Four - Calm Before The Storm

Resident Evil Legends Part Four: Calm Before the Storm

By Andreas Leachim

Shakespir Edition

Copyright 2016 Andreas Leachim

Cover art and design by Andreas Leachim

 

This is a work of fan fiction based on the Resident Evil video game series. All characters and names and related trademarks are the property of Capcom. The author of this work receives no financial compensation from it and does not seek to infringe upon Capcom’s copyrights in any way.

h1={color:#000;}.

Chapter 1

 

Once upon a time, Brian Irons had been a good police officer. During the span of his impressive thirty-year career in the Raccoon City Police Department, he had done just about everything there is for a police officer to do. He started out as a rookie doing routine traffic stops and quickly climbed the ranks, serving on the city’s original S.W.A.T. team and then spending several years as a detective investigating murders and other violent crimes. He was well-liked among his fellow officers, received several awards and medals for exemplary service, and seemed destined for a long career in upper command. By the time he had reached the rank of Captain, he was a highly influential member of the force.

Looking back on it, those early years right before he became Captain were probably the best years of his life. He had still been enthusiastic about the work back then, not yet worn down by the stresses of administrative work, not yet jaded by the realities of upper-level management. He still had dreams and goals back then.

He and his former partner and longtime friend Barry Burton instituted the first incarnation of the S.T.A.R.S. team in Raccoon City. Although Irons never actually served on the team due to his other duties as Captain, he oversaw its creation and over the years used his influence in the department to increase its funding. And when he was finally promoted to the position of Chief of Police, the S.T.A.R.S. team became his main priority. He always felt a personal amount of pride at how the unit grew and developed over the years.

Under Irons’ excellent leadership, the RCPD became a shining example of law enforcement in the region. They experienced tremendous growth and prosperity, an exponentially increased budget, more men on the force, more advanced equipment, and most importantly, a nearly flawless record with the people of Raccoon City. Some cities constantly dealt with corruption in the police force, but the RCPD managed to keep itself above common problems such as police brutality and corruption, working to become a model police force for other cities to emulate. The department actually set a record for the fewest number of internal investigations and formal complaints. Morale was high, public approval ratings were through the roof, and the S.T.A.R.S. teams became nationally known.

Of course, Irons’ personal life was less successful. He always had an affection for gambling, whether he liked to admit it or not, and his collection of artwork and sculpture, while impressive, put him into rather serious debt. His first wife divorced him long ago, and he never managed to recover any semblance of a healthy social life after she left. His entire life became one of extremes: the exceptional success of his professional career, and the pathetic depths of his personal life. He spent all his time at the station, so much that his office became his real home. He received some slight satisfaction in the knowledge that his legacy was assured, and his art collection gave him some sense of personal accomplishment, but other than those few distractions, his life was rather empty.

But at least he still had his honor. Once upon a time, Brian Irons had been a good police officer. And then one fateful day, a mysterious man named Albert Wesker walked into his office and destroyed it all.

As he looked back on it now, Irons realized that he was easy pickings for Wesker and Umbrella in general. Deep in debt, doubting his own personal worth, he allowed the manipulative Wesker to completely take advantage of him. He accepted the money and just let it happen. He just handed over responsibility without a fight. He traded in his dignity, his self-respect, and for what?

Money? Is that what they’d given him? Is that all?

Irons sat at his desk and looked up at the wall. Secured in a glass case were dozens of the medals and awards he had received over the years. Shiny gold pins with red and blue ribbons lined the case, but to Irons they looked like dead butterfly specimens in the office of an entomologist. Even inside the case, they accumulated a thin layer of dust over the years, like abandoned graves. Next to the case were framed pictures of Irons throughout his career, from the picture of his graduating class at the Academy, to the framed newspaper article about his promotion to Chief.

The Brian Irons in those pictures and photographs, the Brian Irons who was awarded those medals, the Brian Irons that he used to be, no longer existed. All that remained was a hollow shell that Umbrella poured money into.

What did Umbrella really give him in return for his compliance in their illegal activities? It wasn’t just money. They offered him an escape from the overwhelming stress of his job. They gave him freedom from responsibility, freedom from consequence. From the moment he accepted that first envelope full of money, he stopped truly being the Chief of Police. After that day, Umbrella was the real commander of the police force, and Irons was just a figurehead. From then on, Irons was not the one making the decisions, he was just the messenger. He accepted their dirty money in return for a life free from responsibility.

He closed his eyes. He wanted to be free from the weight of his office, free from the constant stress of decision, free to enjoy the success he achieved in his long career. He only wanted some of the pressure on his shoulders to lighten up. Umbrella did all of that, and more. And Irons soon discovered that all the responsibility they took away soon became replaced with guilt and self-hatred, which was so much worse.

The radio intercom on his desk buzzed loudly, waking him from his reverie. He knew what was going on before the voice of the guard on the roof came through the speaker.

“Chief Irons, the Alpha helicopter just returned.”

Irons pressed the button and said quietly, “Who’s in the helicopter?”

After a short pause, the guard said, “Redfield, Valentine, Vickers, and the new girl from Bravo, I can’t remember her name.”

Irons’ tongue felt dry in his mouth, and his voice came out like a forced whisper. “Tell them to come to my office immediately. They are to speak to no one else but me, understand?”

“Okay. Yes, sir,” the guard said, a million conflicting emotions evident in his voice.

Irons reached for the button once more, but hesitated, his finger hovering over it uncertainly. He gave in and rested his hand on the desktop. He had no doubts that his orders would be followed, but he could not help but wonder what was going through that officer’s head right now. What everyone in the entire department must be thinking.

Bravo team had been missing for more than thirty hours with no communication. And now Alpha team had been gone for almost seven hours, only to return with half their number. Irons felt lucky that it was so late. Few officers remained in the station at this time of night. But he knew that as soon as the morning shift came in, the news would spread like wildfire, and Irons had to stop the flow of information right now, before it ever got started.

There was no knock on the door. It just flew open with a bang and Chris Redfield charged into the office. Irons tried not to blanch at the sight of him. Chris was still smeared with blood all across his arms and chest, and his face was contorted into a mask of anger and desperation. Somehow, he looked exactly like Irons imagined he would look, even though Irons had no idea where Alpha team had been or what they had faced.

“I want you to tell me right now what’s going on!” Chris screamed, storming right up to Irons’ desk and stabbing a finger at him. “Right now! Just what the hell did you get us into! Tell me that you don’t know what I’m talking about! I dare you!”

“Sit down, Chris,” Irons said.

“Go to hell! You sent us there! You lied to us! You don’t have authority over me anymore, you son of a bitch! Tell me what’s going on or I swear to God I’m going to rip the truth right out of you!”

Suddenly, Jill Valentine was there, pulling Chris away from the desk. Rebecca Chambers was there as well, helping her. Chris struggled against them, but they managed to pull him back. Beyond them, Irons could see Brad Vickers standing helplessly in the doorway, completely confused and unsure what he could do. As Jill managed to get Chris to sit down despite his arguments, Irons spoke loudly enough for Brad to hear him.

“Close the door, Brad. Lock it.”

Brad quickly did so, apparently glad to have something to do. He shut the door and swiftly slid the deadbolt into place.

“Sit down, all of you,” Irons said.

Rebecca shook her head and went up to the desk, waving her hands excitedly. “You’re not going to believe us,” she said pleadingly. “What happened to us, everything that we went through, you just have to listen –”

“We’re not telling you anything until you give us some goddamn answers!” Chris shouted, Jill still holding onto his arm. He finally gave in and flopped down into one of the leather chairs. Jill sat down beside him, hands remaining on his arm as if to hold him down.

Irons looked at Rebecca. “Please sit down. Tell me everything.”

At once, they all started talking, their voices coming at him like a tidal wave. He sat impassively and tried to understand everything, tried to take it all in. Rebecca’s plaintive requests that he believe her, Chris’ angry accusations and horrific descriptions of what they went through, Jill’s fearful explanations and nervous details. Irons only heard a fraction of what they said, with their voices all coming at him at once, but it was more than enough to verify the absolute worst he had imagined.

And of course, Wesker’s name came up often. Whatever plans Wesker had concocted must have failed, because Irons sincerely doubted that Wesker intended for anyone from the S.T.A.R.S. teams to make it back here to incriminate him.

The details that spilled out made his skin crawl. Rebecca’s terrifying story of a train full of undead people, Jill’s insane description of a mad woman with chains around her wrists, and most of all, Chris’ violent retelling of their final moments before the helicopter arrived. Hideous descriptions of death and horror, of the monsters that lurked in the underground corridors of the Umbrella laboratory. They told him everything in bloody detail, so much information that it made his stomach churn.

Brad tried to get a word in here and there, but the rest of their voices drowned his out completely. He looked shocked and disgusted, and Irons realized that he was hearing the story for the first time as well.

“And everyone else is dead!” Chris shouted. Jill winced as if in pain as he said it, and Rebecca and Brad could only look away. “They’re all dead! They were killed in that hellhole you sent us to! Joe, and Ken, and Forrest, and everyone else! Barry’s dead, and it’s all your goddamn fault!”

Somehow, that struck a nerve. Irons snapped back, “You shut your mouth, Chris. I’ve known Barry Burton longer than you have. He was my best friend long before you ever met him.”

Chris rocked back in his chair, the anger and hatred never leaving his eyes, but for the moment he remained speechless. In the few moments of sudden silence, Jill finally said in a tired voice, “Chief, just tell us that you didn’t know about it. Please tell me that you didn’t know about what was happening there.”

Irons very quickly made up his mind. This was his only shot and he knew it. If Chris and the rest of them walked out of here not believing what he said, then by tomorrow morning their horrific tale would be on the front page of the Raccoon City newspaper. Irons had not spent thirty years protecting his city to see it destroyed by a scandal of this magnitude.

Suddenly, all of the responsibility that Umbrella had so willingly taken from him landed right back on his shoulders. And he found that he liked its weight.

“I have to tell you a long story,” he said.

“We have the time,” Chris responded, his voice hard.

Irons took a deep breath and let it out slowly, considering his words. “The Umbrella Corporation owns the City Council. They own it completely, every single councilman and woman is paid off and firmly under their thumb. It’s been like that for more than twenty years. I didn’t really realize the extent of the corruption until after I became Chief of Police. Umbrella controls the local government here. They pretty much own the entire city.”

“Jesus,” Jill whispered. Chris merely shook his head bitterly.

“Not long after I was promoted to this office, I was invited to a special meeting with some members of the Council and some representatives from Umbrella. At the meeting, they told me about some of their more secretive projects in and around Raccoon City. As Police Chief, they said I was entitled to that information. They told me about the experimental laboratory out in the Arklay Mountains.”

“So you did know about it,” Chris said.

“I knew it was there, but they didn’t give me any details. They wanted me to know just enough to involve me. But they stressed how secret and important all their research was, and assured me that everything was legal and above board.”

“Did you believe them?” Jill asked.

Irons could not help but shrug. “Not really. Sort of. It wasn’t really a case of whether or not I believed them. All I knew was that I was now a secret partner. I was implicated in whatever it was they were doing.”

“So you just went along with it?” Chris asked, frustrated. “Didn’t you suspect what was going on?”

“Of course I did, but who was I going to tell? They control everything, Chris. If I told anyone about it, they’d clamp down hard and deny everything, and the city would have no choice to believe them. Someone else would be quickly promoted to take my place, and I’d probably wind up in a ditch somewhere.”

“Were they … were they blackmailing you?” Rebecca asked nervously.

“In a way,” Irons admitted. “And in return for my assistance and help in keeping all their secrets, they very generously offered to increase my salary.”

Chris covered his face with his hand and rubbed his eyes. “Jesus Christ, I don’t believe this.”

“They were bribing you?” Jill blurted incredulously.

“Please,” Irons said, trying to sound genuinely offended. “I didn’t realize it at the time. I thought it was some kind of bonus, some new perk of my position. It wasn’t until I figured out they were paying me the exact same amount every month that I began to catch on.”

“How could you not know?” Chris asked disbelievingly. “What did you think they were giving you the money for?”

“Don’t be an idiot, Chris,” Irons said. “No one came to my office with an envelope full of money and said, ‘Here’s your bribe for the week.’ It was added into my paycheck, it was built into the system. I had no reason to believe anything out of the ordinary.”

How quickly and easily the lies spilled out almost surprised him.

“Why didn’t you tell anyone?” Jill asked. “Didn’t you ask why you were being paid so much extra?”

Irons had to laugh at that. “Come on. Would you tell payroll if your paychecks were too big? No one is that honest.”

“So you took their bribes,” Chris snapped. “How long have they been paying you?”

“Since I became Chief, like I said.”

“So they’ve been paying you off the whole time I’ve worked here?” Chris asked. “Jesus, Brian. Barry always stood up for you, always believed you were a solid guy. How can you even live with yourself?”

Irons hesitated for a moment. “You have to understand that even when I was being paid, I convinced myself that I was still clean. I took their money, sure, but I never let it influence me or my decisions here at the station. They never gave me orders to follow, they never made demands. There was no secret agenda I was supposed to follow. I worked hard and I did my job honestly. But I was fooling myself, I guess.”

“What do you mean?” Rebecca asked.

“Wesker,” Irons said. He spoke the name like a curse.

Chris leaned forward. “Did you know about him the whole time?”

“I didn’t know he worked for Umbrella at first,” Irons lied. “His papers were all in order and everything looked good when I accepted his transfer. I mean, he was an excellent police officer, Chris. You know that as well as I do. You can’t tell me there was any reason to doubt his credentials. But he came by my office one day, not long after he started here, and made a comment about ‘our mutual friends’ or something like that. I figured it out pretty soon after that.”

“And then what?” Chris prodded.

“And then nothing,” Irons said, shrugging. “What could I do about it? If he worked for Umbrella, then he probably knew about the bribes. He must have been put here for a reason, and I was too scared to do anything about it.”

“So you’re saying that Wesker was planted here by Umbrella? For what reason, to spy on us?” Jill asked.

“Possibly. To spy on me, perhaps. But I really think that they put him here in case something went wrong, so they had an informed employee in the department. They didn’t trust me with any details, but they wanted someone here who knew enough about their operation to make critical judgments in case of an emergency.”

“Wesker said pretty much the same thing,” Chris said. “He said he was the research leader of that entire lab.”

“I didn’t know that,” Irons said honestly. In all their years of dealing with each other, Wesker had never actually told Irons his position at Umbrella, although Irons had always suspected he was just middle management.

“It didn’t really matter, though,” he continued. “Most of the time it never came up. He played the part of the perfect officer for years. Very rarely did he ever talk to me about Umbrella, and even then it was like he was just making a polite suggestion. He never said anything overt, never gave me orders or anything like that. He would just come in and tell me that a certain investigation wasn’t worth our time and maybe we should drop it.”

“And you did as you were told?” Chris asked.

“Of course I did,” Irons admitted. “What else could I do? Like I said, they own the entire city. Nothing goes on without them knowing about it.” He paused then and said to Rebecca, “That’s what I meant about fooling myself. All those years I took their money and still thought I was clean, but the moment the put any sort of pressure on me, I caved in right away. I was too scared to do anything else.”

“But … but could you just go along with it?” Jill asked. “If you knew that something illegal was going on, then …”

“And what evidence did I have?” Irons asked. “I had nothing to go on other than my own suspicions. And remember, they promised me that everything was legal. I had no evidence of anything else.”

“And they were bribing you,” Chris added.

Irons leaned forward and folded his big hands on the desk. “They had me backed into a corner before I even realized it. They gave me just enough information to implicate me, had Wesker spying on me, and started sending me money that I didn’t ask for and didn’t know what to do with. How do you turn down a bribe, when you don’t even know it’s a bribe until it’s too late? How could I even try to go against their wishes without them destroying my whole career? I wasn’t about to risk everything just because I had a hunch that they were breaking the law.”

“Some cops trust their hunches,” Chris said.

Jill sat up and interrupted them. “Okay, so you knew that Wesker worked for Umbrella. You knew about that lab in the woods. But that’s all in the past. What about yesterday? What about Bravo team and their mission?”

Irons looked at Rebecca again, “You probably know more about it than I do. All I knew at the time was that Enrico got a call, and it was about a train derailment or something like that. I got the news from Wesker just as you were leaving.”

“He told you the call was about a train?” Chris asked.

“Yes. I had no reason to suspect it was anything else.”

“But when we came to talk to you –” Jill started to say.

Irons waved his hand to silence her. “I know, I know. When Bravo team left, Wesker told me that it was about a train. But about half an hour after, he came back and told me a whole different story.”

“What did he tell you?” Jill asked.

“The call was fake. I don’t know how or why, but he said it was fake. He said that Bravo team was being redirected to Umbrella’s lab out in the mountains. He said there was a situation there and he needed Bravo team to handle it.”

“That was all?” Jill asked.

“I asked him for more information, but he refused to tell me anything. He actually said it was ‘need-to-know’ information, and he said that I didn’t need to know. There was a problem at the lab and he sent Bravo team there to deal with it.”

“And you believed him?” Chris asked incredulously.

“Of course not!” Irons snapped, slamming his hand on the desk. “I knew he was lying, but what good did that do? I couldn’t call Bravo team back even if I wanted to. And even if I wanted to send someone after them, I didn’t know where that lab was located. I still don’t know where it is. Once Brave team left, there was nothing I could do. Wesker told me everything was fine, and I had no choice but to hope to God he was telling me the truth.”

“And what about us?” Jill asked. “When we came to talk to you?”

“What can I say? I lied to you.”

“Jesus …” Chris said.

“Wesker called me on the phone about ten seconds before Barry burst through that door demanding answers,” Irons explained. “He told me to tell you that Bravo team was sent to a government facility. What was I supposed to do?” Irons asked, honestly. “What could I possibly say that would make sense? I had no idea what was going on, so I just went along with the story Wesker gave me. I mean, I had nothing else I could tell you.”

“Wesker said that you personally okayed the mission,” Chris said.

“I didn’t okay anything. I found out about it after you did. Wesker barely had the time to warn me that you were all coming up here.”

“So you just lied to us?”

“What else could I do? What else could I say? Think about it, Chris. I didn’t even know the truth. What would have happened if I’d told you what I knew? Would you even believe something like that? You’d think I was delusional.”

The question silenced them all for a moment, and even Chris could not come up with an answer. Irons took some small satisfaction in that. They were actually going along with him on this strange mixture of lies and truths. He was mostly making it up as he went along, and it looked like they believed it, or believed enough of it to make the rest seem plausible.

“Wesker was the only one who knew where Bravo team was,” Irons said carefully, trying to give them a solid line of reasoning for his deception. “He was the only one who knew what was really going on. I didn’t dare cross him. If I told you the truth, or even some other lie that conflicted with what Wesker already told you, I had no idea what he might do. He said he had a plan and everything was going to work out fine, so I had no choice but to go along with it, and pray he was right. Telling you the truth wouldn’t have helped anything, it would have only made things worse. And it wouldn’t have saved Bravo team anyway.”

After another lengthy pause, Chris finally said, “Okay. So you didn’t know anything yesterday, but what about today? You barricaded yourself in this office and wouldn’t let any of us even talk to you.”

“That was Wesker’s idea,” Irons lied. “He still wouldn’t give me any details about Bravo team or their mission, and just said that everything was under control. He said Bravo team would be back here at the station some time this morning.”

“And what about us?” Jill asked.

“You were going to find Bravo team. Wesker couldn’t prevent that from happening, which was one small point in our favor. But he said that he was sending you on a wild goose chase and you wouldn’t be involved. You’d circle the mountains in vain for awhile and then come right back. I had no idea if he was telling the truth or not, but what could I do? Tell you not to go? You had to go, and I wanted you to go.”

“You wanted us to go?” Jill asked, shocked.

“Of course I did. If Wesker was telling the truth, then it didn’t matter. But if he was lying to me, and Bravo team truly was in danger, then you had to go after them. You had to try to find out what was going on. You would either come back in an hour with nothing to show for it, or Wesker would send you to actually help Bravo team, which is why you were going in the first place. I had no problem sending you after them, because I thought it actually might help.”

While Chris and the others were mulling that over, Irons opened a drawer on his desk and pulled out the envelope that Wesker had given him the day before. He set it on top of his desk. This was the big lie, he thought to himself. This was the lie that would make or break the entire house of cards he had just built. If they bought this one like they had apparently bought the rest of them, then maybe he could hold off for a few days. It would give him time to come up with a better solution, maybe find a way to fix everything that Wesker had managed to destroy. But right now, he needed to make them believe.

“Wesker came by my office just before you left last night,” he said. “He told me that everything was going according to plan, but there was one slight change. He said that he wasn’t coming back with the rest of you. He said that his work here in Raccoon City was done, and this was the last bribe I would ever have to take.”

Chris eyed the envelope. “How much is in there?”

“He said about fifty grand, but I haven’t bothered to open it up to count it. I didn’t know if Wesker planned to fake his death or something, but he said that I was never going to see him again. He promised that the S.T.A.R.S. teams were coming back, but he wouldn’t be with you.”

“Did you believe him?” Jill asked.

Irons waited a moment before shaking his head. “No, I didn’t. I thought that you were all going to disappear with him, that once he was done using you, you would all die in some mysterious accident. Whatever was wrong at that lab, Umbrella would never allow there to be living witnesses, especially not members of the police force.” Irons allowed himself a short dramatic pause, absentmindedly tapping the edge of the envelope with his finger. “I had almost resigned myself to the fact that all of you were being led to your deaths, and in my negligence, I had allowed it to happen.”

Like any police officer worth his badge, Irons knew a bit about human psychology. And his time as an administrator had given him much-needed experience dealing with people and solving problems among them. He had just told Chris and the others a mishmash of the truth, half-truths, and outright lies. He had confessed that he was guilty of accepting bribes, and also guilty of negligence. That was the hook, the embarrassing truth that they already suspected him of, that he admitted in order to make them more likely to believe the things that weren’t so true. It was an old trick among con men and pathological liars, to confirm one truth in order to conceal a bigger lie.

As for his knowledge of Wesker and his dealing with Umbrella, that was mostly fabricated. But he had sprinkled his lies with just enough truth to make them sound genuine, and it had worked. He felt confident that all four of them believed him. Or at least, they believed him enough for now. Maybe later on they would discover cracks in his story, but for now they accepted his words as truth. So it was time for him to drop the big lie.

“I need you all to listen carefully,” Irons said. “Everything that has happened to you tonight, everything you know about Wesker and Umbrella, and everything I’ve just told you. All of it has to remain a secret. For a little while, you cannot tell anyone –”

“What are you talking about?” Chris snapped, sitting up quickly. “We can’t hide what happened, we can’t cover it up!”

“We have to tell everyone!” Jill agreed, “We can’t let them get away with this!”

“You’re just trying to cover your own ass!” Chris accused.

“The FBI already knows!” Irons’ shouted, his voice drowning out everyone else’s. Chris stared at him in complete shock.

“About three hours ago I called the Feds,” Irons explained, his voice lower. “I told them everything I just told you. Federal agents arrived here in Raccoon City not more than an hour ago.”

“The Feds?” Jill said, stunned.

Irons looked at the four of them plaintively, apologetically. “Wesker said you’d be back in an hour and you weren’t. I couldn’t get anyone on the radio, I couldn’t get Wesker on the phone. I had nothing left to hide behind. I had no choice.”

“And you told them everything?” Chris asked.

“Yes, everything I knew. When I knew for certain that Wesker lied to me, once I accepted the fact that you were probably not coming back at all, I had to call the Feds. I had no choice but to tell them what happened. I’m not prepared – this city is not prepared – to handle a scandal this huge, a catastrophe of this magnitude. The entire S.T.A.R.S. unit gone in one night, killed at some mysterious science compound in the middle of the forest? I had to give up and call them, because I had no one left to turn to.”

“They’ll bury you,” Chris said quietly. It didn’t matter if he meant Umbrella or the FBI.

Irons nodded. “You’re probably right. Maybe I can cut a deal with them, no jail time in return for my cooperation. Maybe some time in witness protection, just in case.”

Jill said, “If you called the Feds, then why aren’t they here? Why aren’t there FBI agents swarming around this office right now?”

Irons managed a weak smile. “Because it turns out I didn’t have to call them at all. They already knew most of it.”

“How could they …” Jill whispered.

“They were already investigating you, weren’t they?” Chris said. “Or were they investigating Umbrella?”

“They didn’t say,” Irons said. “But they knew about the lab, and they knew about Umbrella’s hold on this city. They had phones tapped and satellite photos and who knows what else. They’ve been investigating this for years, I think.”

“Then why aren’t they here?” Chris asked, repeating Jill’s question. “If you confessed, then that’s all the evidence they need, right?”

Irons shook his head. “This isn’t just about me, or Wesker, or even this whole city. All of Umbrella is involved in this, all the way to the CEO, and they want to catch them in the act. So they have to sit quiet and wait until Umbrella tries to cover this up. If they show their hand too early, then the upper management will just shift the blame and claim innocence, and there won’t be any evidence to connect them to the lab out there. But in a couple of days, maybe in a week, once Umbrella tries to cover up what happened tonight, then the FBI can get hard proof that the people at the top knew what was going on.”

Irons leaned forward and looked right at them one at a time. “If you want Umbrella to pay for what they’ve done, you have to keep all this a secret until the FBI decides to act. I don’t know when that will be. But you can’t tell anyone what happened. You can’t tell anyone.”

Chapter 2

 

Wesker turned off the hot water and stood in the shower for a few moments, letting the water drip off his body. He only slept for five hours and woke up long before his alarm went off. He expected to sleep much longer, but he didn’t feel very tired.

The water in the bottom of the shower stall was pink with all the dried blood that Wesker had to wash off. Not to mention the dirt and grime from the thick smoke at the lab, and the chemicals that spilled all over him when the Tyrant launched him into the metal shelf. He changed into clean clothes before leaving the destroyed lab, but even those clothes had to be discarded when he finally arrived at his backup laboratory. He was only now taking the time to shower and clean himself off.

He stepped out of the shower and walked to the sink and the small mirror hanging above it. He wiped the mirror with the back of his hand and looked at himself.

Nothing different, nothing that looked wrong. He looked no different than before he infected himself with Lisa’s miraculous blood. Just the same old Wesker, as far as he could tell. And he certainly felt no different, other than feeling surprisingly awake and refreshed after so little sleep. He felt pretty good, actually, which wasn’t bad considering he was brutally impaled about seven hours earlier.

Seven hours. Maybe it was too early to tell if there would be any lasting effects, any consequences to his actions. Lisa was not only immune to most physical forms of damage, but she was also inhumanly strong and agile, and also possessed several other superhuman abilities. Wesker wondered if he might inherit such skills.

Of course, Lisa was also violently insane and savagely homicidal. It was entirely possible that Wesker would inherit those less-desirable qualities as well. Right now, he simply had no way to know which of those qualities were the result of Lisa’s own personal genetic makeup, and which were the result of her infection with so many different strains of the Progenitor and the T-virus.

Wesker didn’t want to dwell on it. He would worry about it later, when the time came. If the time came.

He left the bathroom and quickly dressed in a loose-fitting pair of gray sweatpants and a large white shirt. He didn’t bother to put shoes on, but he slid on his sunglasses before taking a stack of folders and notes on his way out the door.

His backup lab was located in a large warehouse on the outskirts of Raccoon City, in the middle of a maze of manufacturing facilities and warehouses in the industrial sector. Umbrella owned several warehouses there for storing old equipment, and Wesker simply moved into one of them, using the machinery already there to start setting up his work. He managed to transfer some new equipment there along with all of his records and personal notes, but most of the scientific apparatus there were older models that Umbrella saw fit to replace at the main lab, but didn’t want to discard.

Generators, growth tanks, incubators, genetic sequencers, computers, microscopes and centrifuges and other lab equipment by the crateful; pretty much everything Wesker needed to do his work was there at the lab, waiting to be set up. Crates and boxes were stacked everywhere, labeled and numbered and just waiting to be made useful once more.

The warehouse also featured a large office that connected to a bathroom complete with shower stall, which made it almost as livable as his own house. The only appliance it lacked was an oven. But Wesker didn’t cook anyway.

He did some preparation already, but almost everything was still packed up. Today would be spent setting up some rudimentary growth tanks and a very simple lab area. All Wesker set up so far were a couple of computers to begin working with.

The only catch was that his new lab was sure to use much more electricity than a warehouse would ever need, and that might draw someone’s attention. But Wesker guessed that by the time the next electricity bill was calculated and sent to Umbrella, they would have more important things to worry about.

Wesker guessed that by the end of the day, Umbrella was sure to send a team to the Arklay lab to find out what was going on. He managed to keep them from getting suspicious for as long as he could, but they had received no communication from the Arklay lab for almost three days now. Umbrella would not wait much longer before investigating. There were probably people there already, a primary team to find out what happened. It wouldn’t take them long to figure it out, and then a veritable army of scientists and investigators would descend on the remains of the lab to determine the damage.

Wesker reckoned that they would have full knowledge of the biological breach within 20 hours at the most, barring some details, such as the whereabouts of himself and Spencer. And then they would be in full damage-control mode, trying to contain the flow of information, if not the actual flow of infection. The fact that the mansion contained the bodies of numerous RCPD officers would throw them into panic mode, which could only work in Wesker’s favor. The more time they spent dealing with other problems, the less time they spent looking for him.

They would know, just as Spencer and Wesker had known, that the virus was loose and there would be no stopping it. Once that realization hit, they would put every ounce of effort into decontamination measures. Tying up loose ends like Wesker and Spencer would have to wait until later. So Wesker felt confident that he had several days, perhaps even weeks depending on the current state of the outbreak, to finish up some final projects here in Racoon before the infection reached the city and it was time for him to leave.

He spent the morning unpacking three growth tanks and hooking them up to the power and water lines. They were older models, taking up space at the warehouse for probably ten years, but they were good enough for Wesker’s purposes. He plugged them in and attached cables to the computer displays, preparing for the tank calibration.

There was a loud clang at the other end of the warehouse by the rear truck doors, and then the loud hum of the garage door opener. Wesker looked up from his work and walked casually over to one of the nearby tables, which was covered in folders and various packages of equipment. He slid his hand into a leather bag and pulled out a shining black sub-machine gun.

He glanced down an aisle between two long rows of crates and saw a pair of shadows, created by the long windows along the side wall. Two men emerged from around the side of the crates, both of them dressed in military outfits. Wesker silently clicked off the safety and backed up against the side of the some tall crates, peeking out from behind them.

“Mister Wesker!” a deep voice called out. “There is no need to hide! You told me to come here, remember?” The man laughed, a guttural noise that sounded anything but friendly.

Wesker edged his body around the side of the crates, keeping the machine gun aimed forward, held tight against his thigh. The two men approached his makeshift lab area and saw Wesker standing to the side. One of the men flinched at the sight of the gun and froze in place, but the other man paused for a moment and then laughed again.

He was taller than Wesker at a solid six-foot-two, and seemed to be made of muscle. Even under his wrinkled military fatigues, the man’s physical strength was plain to see. He wore cargo pants and military jacket decorated in black-and-gray urban camouflage, which the other man wore as well. His black army boots shined like marble, and his belt was weighed down with pouches and pockets, although he did not seem to be carrying a gun.

His head looked bald from a distance, but his hair was just cut extremely short in a proper military buzz cut. He had a strong jaw and heavy eyebrows framing his small, sharp eyes and harsh mouth. The tiny name tag on his breast pocket said Sgt. Ginovaef.

“Mister Wesker!” he chuckled. “You do not have to point a gun at me. You should know better.”

“Just being cautious, Nicholai,” Wesker said evenly.

“You asked me to come here, yes?”

“I did.”

Nicholai Ginovaef nodded, a very cruel smile creeping across his lips. “Well, I am here. And I brought someone to help us, as you asked me to do.”

The other man looked nervously from Wesker to Nicholai and cleared his throat. “Yeah,” he said uncertainly. “Nick told me there was some work you needed done. You know, work that you wanted kept a secret. He said there was some good money in it for me.”

“He’ll do,” Wesker said, and looked back at Nicholai. “Go ahead.”

“Go ahead and what?” the man said, glancing at Nicholai as well.

A stun gun appeared in Nicholai’s hand as if by magic, and he jammed the metal pins into his companions chest. The man shrieked in pain and jerked away, and staggered backward, fumbling at his hip for the pistol that was sure to be there. Nicholai blasted him again with the stun gun and the man collapsed onto the floor.

He switched the stun gun off and slid it into his pocket, shaking his head with the dark smile still on his face. “Sorry, comrade, but you should have known better as well.”

Wesker clicked the safety back on and set the gun on top of the nearest crate. He stepped over to the unconscious man, and knelt down to take out the pistol that the man had nearly gotten free of his holster. Wesker stood back up and handed the gun to Nicholai, who took it and tucked it into his jacket.

“He won’t be missed?”

“No one will miss him,” Nicholai assured him. “No one knows he is even here.”

“He wasn’t a friend of yours, I hope.”

“I have no friends,” Nicholai said. “But this one was an agent of your government. He thought I did not know. I will not be sad to see him gone.”

Wesker grabbed one arm and Nicholai grabbed the other, and together they dragged the body over to one of the growth tanks. Wesker fumbled inside one of his cases for a long-lasting sedative and injected the man, making sure he would remain unconscious for several hours. Enough time to get him stripped and inside one of the tanks.

“What are you going to do to him?” Nicholai asked casually, standing over by the computers with his arms crossed. He glanced across the papers and notes scattered across the table but did not seem too interested.

Wesker set the injection gun back into its case. “I’m going to turn him into a Tyrant,” he said simply. “I had to sacrifice my last one, so now I need a new one.”

“What for? Your important work at that laboratory is finished, yes?”

Wesker looked down at the doomed man’s body and felt a twinge of pity for him. But it passed quickly and the man became just another test subject. “My work there is over, but I still have work to do here. And besides, you can never have too many Tyrants.”

Nicholai chuckled at that. “I still have work to do as well, yes? You promised more work for me. And payment for my finished work.”

“Over there,” Wesker said. “In that leather briefcase.”

Nicholai spotted the case and walked over to it eagerly. Wesker, without any shoes on, walked silently over to his machine gun and picked it up. He looked back to see Nicholai facing him with the pistol right back in his hand. Nicholai tilted his head in an unspoken question, the dark smile never leaving his face.

Wesker smiled back and motioned toward the briefcase. “Go on. It’s all there. I’m not going to kill you yet, Nicholai. I still have work for you to do, remember?”

“Yes,” Nicholai said. “But I can be cautious as well.”

He opened up the briefcase and took out a large manilla envelope. His smile growing wider, he ripped open the tape and peeked inside at the small bunches of money piled inside. Satisfied, he tucked the envelope under his arm and nodded to Wesker.

“It is very good to do business, as always. Now that old business is out of the way, what new business do you have for me?”

Wesker leaned up against one of the tables and crossed his arms. “Nothing fun, I’m afraid. I just need information.”

“I am not very well informed,” Nicholai said with a shrug. “What information?”

“You’ll know it when you hear it,” Wesker promised. “You’re the ranking UBCF officer on the East Coast right now, correct?”

“Yes.”

“By the end of the day, you’ll almost certainly receive orders to report here to Raccoon City. Umbrella will bring the full force of the UBCF here within a day or two, I’m sure of that. You’ll most likely be put in command of the troops here.”

“Good thing that I am already here, yes?” Nicholai chuckled. “Was the problem at your laboratory truly that bad?”

“This whole city will be infected in a couple of weeks.”

“That is very bad,” Nicholai said slowly, his creepy smile fading for the first time. “Are you sure of this?”

Wesker nodded. “Pretty sure. When they put you in command, and they probably will, just keep me informed about current events. Troop positions, infection rates, places in the city I should avoid, things like that. And on the off-chance that they don’t put you in command, keep me informed anyway.”

“I can do that,” Nicholai said. “And if someone else has command, I will give them an accident, yes?”

“By all means,” Wesker said. “But keep me in the loop. When things get really bad, I can give you important information as well. So we can help each other.”

“Very good,” Nicholai said. “And my payment?”

“Same as before. Which should be more than enough, since you aren’t doing anything difficult this time.”

“Was not difficult,” Nicholai grinned. “Was very enjoyable. Perhaps not for the woman, but for me.”

Wesker tried not to think about that part, so he ignored the comment. “Call me when you get your orders. And for your own benefit, don’t let anyone find out that you have ever been to Raccoon City before. When this is over, they’ll be looking for anyone associated with me or this location. In fact, it might be better if you just disappear. In the aftermath, I doubt there will be anyone left to identify bodies.”

“If it is as bad as you say, then that might be good advice. I think I will take it,” Nicholai said. He shook the envelope full of money and laughed to himself. “Goodbye for now, Mister Wesker, and I will talk to you again very soon.”

“Yeah,” Wesker said. “Keep in touch.”

Nicholai left the warehouse the same way he came in. Wesker waited until he heard the garage door close with a thud, and then looked down at the unconscious man at his feet. One Tyrant was okay, but Wesker wondered if maybe one would be enough. He also had some other variant T-virus strains he wanted to experiment with in the coming week, just to get some primary information to take with him when he left the city for good. So it occurred to him that maybe one subject would not be enough. He would have to find a couple more unwilling volunteers.

More work to do, he decided.

Chapter 3

 

The helicopter hovered unsteadily in the air and lowered to the ground. Before it was even flat on the landing pad, the door slid open and Damascus Kelly stepped confidently out. The powerful blast of air from the rotors spinning above his head barely seemed to even ruffle his clothing as he walked away from the chopper, directly toward a makeshift medical tent set up at the edge of the landing pad. All around him, he could see the scenic beauty of the Arklay Mountains, but he was not there to sight see.

Damascus Kelly was not your average business manager. Towering over people at six feet and five inches, he sported wide, muscular shoulders and powerful hands that gave away his background playing college football. He had a strong, square chin and penetrating blue eyes that were almost always narrowed to intimidating slits.

He could smell the destruction all around him. A faint odor of smoke and chemicals, even out here in the open air, thanks to the complete lack of wind. He could also see the charred remains of a small building, and the battered shell of another nearby.

“Who’s in charge here?” he demanded in a booming voice.

Several men emerged from the tent, all of them dressed in white hazard suits with large plastic helmets built into the hoods. Kelly caught a peek of examination tables lined up within the tent, but his attention was on the man coming forward. The others wisely avoided him and headed toward a small concrete booth that Kelly guessed was the entrance to the lab.

The man in the hazard suit pulled his hood back to reveal his face and stuck out his hand in greeting. “You must be Doctor Kelly.”

Kelly declined the handshake and instead stared the man down. “Yes, and who are you? You’re in charge here? I want to know what’s going on.”

The man frowned and sheepishly pulled his hand back. “I’m Daniel Fisher, from the New York facility. I’m the senior officer right now, but I was told that someone from Arizona would be here soon to take over.”

Kelly gestured impatiently at the scene before them. “So what’s going on? I want an update. What have you discovered?”

Fisher paused and adjusted the glasses on his nose. “Well, we’re still in the preliminary stages of the investigation, but I can tell you that it’s very bad. The entire lab complex directly beneath us is completely destroyed. Thankfully, the fire was trapped underground, and it quickly burned itself out.”

“How much damage?”

“Impossible to say. We’re still digging through the wreckage. But I’m guessing at least three full lab complexes are gone, not to mention all their secondary equipment. I’m not an accountant, but I have to guess the damage is above a billion dollars. Probably more than that.”

Kelly waved the comment away. Although monetary damage was a concern, it was not the primary reason he was there. “And biological contamination? How bad?”

Fisher looked up at Kelly and then averted his eyes. He cleared his throat and adjusted his glasses again. “Well, I’d say it’s pretty bad. What did they tell you on the way here?”

“Not much, just that they lost contact with this entire complex about three days ago, and found evidence of a fire and an outbreak. Are you telling me it’s worse than that?”

Fisher nodded, and when he spoke, it was almost too quiet for Kelly to hear. “This was a Level One,” Fisher said.

Kelly opened his mouth to respond, then thought better of it and stayed silent for a moment, glancing at the medical tent. “A Level One,” he repeated after a moment. “You can’t just toss around terms like that, so you better know what you’re talking about.”

Fisher motioned for Kelly to follow him, and they walked over to the tent. Kelly ducked through the zippered door flap and looked at the tables arranged inside, all of them covered by thick white sheets. Fisher said nothing, but merely walked over to one of the tables and pulled back the sheet.

Kelly grimaced at the sight of a pair of huge legs attached to a severed torso . It wasn’t just the sight of the mutilated body that bothered him, but the fact that the corpse’s skin was white, and the legs were clearly too long to have belonged to a normal human.

“It’s a Tyrant,” Fisher said clinically.

“I can see that,” Kelly snapped. “So what? They had Tyrants at this facility. What happened to this one?”

“I have no idea, but it looks like it swallowed a hand grenade,” Fisher said without humor. “We cleaned up what was left of it. Its arms and head were relatively intact, if burned pretty badly. But the real problem is where we found it.”

“And where was that?”

Fisher pulled the sheet back over the remains. “About twenty feet away. It was sitting right out there in the middle of the patio.”

“What? You mean it was outside?”

“Yes, it was right outside. Like I said, this is a Level One.”

Kelly already had his cell phone in his hand. He flipped it open and was about to dial when Fisher interrupted him. “That’s not all. I have another team at the mansion entrance, and they’ve found some … disturbing things. You should probably go right to the mansion so you can see it for yourself. “

Kelly nodded and left without a word. He went back to the helicopter, which was still running, its blades rotating at half speed. He climbed inside and leaned over the pilot’s seat to yell, “Get me to the mansion!”

The helicopter rose into the air, and a few short minutes later arrived at the mansion, landing in the rear courtyard. Again, Kelly hopped out before the chopper had even stopped moving. He was met halfway to the building by another scientist wearing a hazard suit, although this one did not pull the hood down.

“You should probably put a suit on, sir.”

“Forget it,” Kelly snapped. “Just show me what you have to show me.”

The scientist led him to a door at the left rear side of the building that led to a small gardener’s supply shed. As soon as he opened the door, Kelly immediately pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and covered his mouth and nose. The shed had no ventilation, and the stink inside was almost unbearable, the faint whiff of compost and fertilizer mixed with the nauseating odor of a rotting body.

Right in the middle of the floor was a corpse wearing a white lab coat. Kelly was no stranger to dead bodies, but this one had been dead for a couple days at least. And the circumstances made Kelly a bit more careful that he would have been otherwise. He wondered if maybe a hazard suit would be a good idea after all.

The scientist knelt by the body and looked up at Kelly. “Second-stage host,” he said. “It was infected with one of the variant strains, I think. Probably the T-strain, since that was what most of the work at this lab was based on.”

“If it’s second-stage, then what happened to it?”

The scientist reached over the body and picked something up off the floor. He held it daintily between his thumb and forefinger, lifting it up so Kelly could see.

It was a pistol. The scientist placed it back on the floor and stepped around to the other side of the corpse. He pointed, and Kelly took a step closer to see what he was pointing at. The back of the corpse’s skull was blown out.

“What in the hell happened here?” Kelly whispered. “Someone shot it?”

The scientist nodded. “And there’s something else. This was clearly a Level One outbreak, but it was also a Level One security breach.”

“What are you talking about?”

The scientist led Kelly through the next door into the mansion, and down the hallway. They turned right through a doorway, and at the end of the next hallway beside a staircase was another corpse. This one, however, was not wearing a lab coat.

Kelly got a closer look at the body. It wore black boots and black cargo pants, with a brown vest over a white shirt. It took Kelly a moment to realize what was wrong. “Wait a minute, this one doesn’t look infected,” he said.

“It’s not. This man died from some other cause, probably something to do with that wound on his leg. But take a look at that.”

Kelly’s eyes followed where the scientist pointed, and saw a piece of metal stuck to the front of the corpse’s vest, half-hidden under its arm. Kelly reached forward and pulled the piece of metal up.

“Oh my God …” he whispered, letting it slip from his fingers. It was a police badge. The corpse on the ground in front of him was a police officer.

“Yeah,” the scientist said. “He’s a cop. Why he’s here, I have no idea. But what bothers me more is why this whole place isn’t surrounded by police by now.”

“I have to go,” Kelly said abruptly, standing up. “I don’t have the authority to deal with this situation. I have to make some phone calls.”

“What do you want us to do?”

“Just continue your investigation for now. Keep reporting to Fisher until his replacement gets here.”

“And what about that?” the scientist asked, pointing at the dead police officer.

“Leave it here for now. You’ll get further instructions soon.”

“Yes, sir.”

Kelly left the mansion gratefully and walked back toward the helicopter, taking out his phone. Actually, he did have the authority to deal with the situation, or else he would not have been sent there in the first place. But he wanted to get out of that mansion without appearing scared. He had not expected a Level One outbreak.

Or a Tyrant outside the lab. Or a dead police officer.

He dialed and put the phone to his ear. “This is Kelly. The Arklay facility is a total loss. We have a Level One biological contamination and a Level One breach. Casualties may be total, and the local police may be involved as well. I want the highest priority on this. We need more teams down here, as fast as possible. Standard investigation teams, plus hazard crews and clean-up. We don’t have much time.”

An outbreak could be dealt with if it was limited to lab itself. But if a Tyrant had made it outside the lab, then the virus was loose in the wild. In fact, a Level One outbreak would have guaranteed it. Who knows what else might have escaped the lab? For all Kelly knew, there were second-stage hosts wandering throughout the Arklay Mountains, spreading the virus everywhere they went.

And if that was the case, then there was nothing they could really do. Kelly knew that he was just delaying the inevitable, but he had no choice.

“I want a full unit of UBCF troops by the end of the day,” he said into the phone. “And I want a commander here in six hours. And start the media controls right now, we can’t let this get away from us. And don’t let the Feds get involved in this just yet.”

Just as he was about to get into the helicopter, he heard shouting behind him. He turned to see a scientist running towards him. “Doctor Kelly! Doctor Kelly!”

“Hold on,” he said into the phone. “What is it?” he asked the scientist, already knowing it was more bad news.

“We just got word from the team at the disposal plant. They said the main entrance building has burned down, and most of the first underground level is completely destroyed.”

“Another underground fire?”

“Looks that way.”

“How many other buildings to we have in this area?” Kelly asked. “Isn’t there an old training facility a few miles from here?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Send some men there as well. Send someone to every single location we have here. I’m already calling for more people.”

“Okay.”

Kelly climbed aboard the helicopter and closed the door. The sound of the rotors was still extremely loud, and Kelly had to yell into the cell phone just to be heard. “Change of plans. I want a unit of UBCF troops here in six hours, and commander here in three. Mobilize at least a dozen more units, because we’re going to need them. This Level One could potentially reach the local urban areas, and we have to be prepared to deal with that.”

He looked out the helicopter’s window idly as he talked, and suddenly jumped in his seat at what he saw below them. “Circle around!” he screamed at the pilot. “Didn’t you see that?”

The helicopter swung around and Kelly looked down at the ground far below them. At first he didn’t recognize the wreckage, but after a moment he realized he was looking at the remains of a passenger train, scattered across a wide area. He could see the train tracks nearby, and where the train must have jumped them.

It seemed an incredible coincidence that a train would crash so close to one of their labs at the same time they had an outbreak. It did not occur to Kelly that the two events could possibly have been related.

He told the pilot to get lower so he could get a closer view of the damage. He saw a couple of train cars, one of which seemed to have been smashed right in half. Trees were sheared off at their trunks when the train jumped the tracks. And when he looked back toward the train tracks, he was shocked to discover someone walking toward them.

“There’s a survivor!” Kelly shouted. “Land this thing!”

The helicopter lowered to about twenty feet off the ground, but there was nowhere for the pilot to land. The survivor, as Kelly believed the person was, walked toward the helicopter and raised his arms into the air as if reaching for it.

Kelly looked down at the figure again, and the look on his face changed from surprise to sudden fear. The survivor was smeared with blood from his head to his waist, and even from twenty feet in the air, Kelly could see that half of the man’s face was gone, ripped away to expose part of the skull underneath.

From underneath a section of train, another figure crawled out and got wobbly to its feet. It was a woman, or used to be. She stumbled toward the helicopter, staring into the sky with all white eyes. Kelly suddenly saw two more figures emerge from the trees, all of them like the first two. They weren’t survivors at all.

“Get us out of here!” he shouted, and the pilot wasted no time in complying with the order. The helicopter lifted back up and continued on its way. As they flew off, Kelly saw what he probably would have seen in the first place if he had looked out the window on the other side of the chopper.

It was another mansion like the one they had just left, only smaller and with an astronomy tower in the back. Kelly knew right away that it was the old training facility. And right next to it was a derailed train full of resurrected hosts.

He put the cell phone back to his ear. “I’m still here,” he said. “Contact the Board of Directors. I’ve just verified civilian casualties. I don’t think we’ll be able to contain this at all. The UBCF probably won’t be enough.”

He looked out the window and sighed. “We may have to consider final decontamination measures.”

Chapter 4

 

When Annette Birkin arrived at the lab that morning, she found people running around everywhere in a flurry of busy action. Low level researchers and lab assistants were organizing files, cataloging samples, filling out forms, doing just about everything you can do in a lab except perform actual science. The whole place was a mess of files and notes and records, with panicked assistants running around and harried researchers trying to get everything in order. Annette didn’t think she had ever seen the place so busy.

She managed to grab one of the lab assistants by the arm as they rushed down the hallway. “Just what in the hell is going on here?” she asked impatiently.

“Oh, Mrs. Birkin, didn’t you hear? They’re auditing us! We have to get everything organized before they get here! Oh God, we have so much to do!” And then the assistant ran off, carrying a cardboard box full of old sample results.

Puzzled, Annette walked down the hallway toward her husband’s office. In her more than ten years working with Umbrella, she had never heard of them performing an audit on an entire lab complex. But if they were actually doing one, then she could understand the assistants’ dismay; William Birkin was perhaps the laziest administrator in the entire Umbrella Corporation, and Annette knew for a fact that the lab had not done proper record-keeping in years. Getting this lab in condition for an audit would be like trying to alphabetize the entire Library of Congress in three hours.

She found Birkin in his private lab, as always, hunched over a microscope. But the place was even more disorganized than usual, with print-outs and papers scattered everywhere, even all over the floor around Birkin’s chair. There was a mountain of styrofoam cups on the desk, all stained brown from coffee.

“Will,” she said. “Can you explain what in the world is going on here?”

Birkin sat up very slowly and turned in the chair to face her. She almost gasped at his appearance. He looked terrible, his eyes half-open with dark bags underneath them, his face unshaven and his hair a greasy tangle on his head. There were several coffee stains on the front of his white lab coat. Birkin was never huge on personal hygiene and could care less about his appearance at the lab, but Annette had never seen him so disheveled. He looked like a homeless person had wandered into the lab.

“Jesus,” she whispered, still standing in the doorway. “When was the last time you slept?”

Birkin swallowed and looked down at his hands. He sighed and looked back up at Annette after a moment, shrugging weakly. “I don’t remember. A very long time.”

“What is going on out there? Someone told me that they’re going to audit the lab. Why wasn’t I told about this?”

Birkin glanced past Annette into the hallway, but no one was walking by to overhear them. “Because it’s not true,” he said. “I just told them that to keep them busy.”

“Keep them busy? What are you talking about?”

“I’m sorry I didn’t call you,”Birkin said, turning in the chair to face the microscope again. He rested his hands on the arms of the chair and took a deep breath. “But I’ve been so busy. God, there’s been so much to do.”

Annette finally stepped into the lab. She could smell Birkin from the doorway, a foul mix of body odor and stale coffee. She stepped on several sheets of paper as she approached, letting them crumple under her feet.

She touched the edge of the chair, almost hesitantly. “Will,” she said softly. “I think you need some sleep. A lot of sleep. Why would you tell all your people here that we were being audited?”

“They’re going to shut the lab down,” Birkin said, as if to himself. “They haven’t said so, but I know they’re going to. After they find out about the Arklay lab, they’ll shut us down in a heartbeat.”

“What about the Arklay lab?”

“Lock the door,” he said, looking up at her. “They can’t find out about this. You have to keep this a secret between us.”

“What?” Annette asked, feeling increasingly helpless. She was more than accustomed to Birkin’s habit of not sleeping enough, but this time he sounded disoriented and confused. It just wasn’t healthy to stay awake for days at a time, and maybe this time he had finally reached his personal threshold. She wondered if maybe his judgment was suffering, but she did as she was told and walked over to lock the lab room door.

“Okay,” she said. “Why are they going to shut us down?”

Birkin swallowed again and took another deep breath, as if he was having trouble even staying awake long enough to have this conversation. “Well, remember a few days ago when Wesker called the house asking for me?”

“Yes, of course.”

“He called to tell me that he had a contamination at his lab. The T-virus got out somehow.”

“Oh my God,” Annette said, lifting her hand to her face. “What happened? Do you mean … did anyone get infected?”

Birkin grinned for just a second and then nodded absently, looking away for a moment. “Yes, you could say that,” he said slowly. Then to her surprise, he rolled the chair forward a bit so he could reach out and take hold of her hands. He sighed again and looked up at her, and she almost choked up at the plaintive, pathetic look in his sad eyes.

“Annette,” he said softly. “It was a Level One. The virus got out of the lab. The virus is loose.”

For a long few seconds, Annette felt as if her heart had stopped beating. She felt Birkin’s hands on hers, but everything else seemed to fade away, and she could not hear anything but her own breath, which picked up speed until she was almost hyperventilating. Her legs felt weak underneath her, and she sat down on the edge of the desk to steady herself.

“That’s why you haven’t seen me for a few days,” Birkin said, although she barely heard him. “I was at the Arklay lab with Wesker, trying to figure out what happened. We tried our best to contain it, but … I mean there was nothing we could really do.”

“A Level One breach?” she whispered, terrified. “How could that have happened?”

Birkin had no answer for that, so he just shook his head and continued. “That’s why I said they’re going to shut this lab down. That’s why I told everyone to start organizing our files. I’m sorry, but I didn’t want to tell you this over the phone.”

“My God …”

“Yeah,” Birkin agreed. “Praying might be a good idea right about now.”

Annette shook her head to clear it. There were still a million questions she wanted to ask, but she had to focus on the problem at hand. “Okay, but why are you still here working?” she asked. “I mean, shouldn’t you be helping them get the lab in order? What’s so important that you have to stay up for days to work on it?”

At that, Birkin finally did smile, and it was an honest, open smile. The kind that Annette so rarely saw on her husband’s face. “Take a look at the microscope. Go ahead, take a look and you’ll see.”

He slid his chair away so Annette could stand in front of the microscope. She looked through the eyepiece at the magnified blood under the lens for a few moments, trying to get an idea of what she was looking at. It was a slide like a thousand others she had seen, but there was something different about this one, something she couldn’t quite put her finger on.

“What am I looking at?” she asked finally.

“That sample has been given the G-virus,” Birkin prodded.

Annette furrowed her brow and looked at the sample again. She upped the magnification a little bit and stared at the tiny cells. “It doesn’t look like it,” she said. “I don’t see any of the …” She paused momentarily.

When she said nothing for almost a full minute, Birkin pushed himself up out of the chair and put his hand on her shoulder. He leaned close enough to feel her breath and said softly, “I did it, honey. The G-virus in that sample has bonded with the DNA in the cells. It was just a routine experiment with one of our enzyme cocktails. But it worked.”

Annette backed away from the microscope, a curious, wide-eyed smile on her face. “It bonded with the DNA? You mean it …”

“It’s what I’ve been trying to do for years. And I finally did it.”

“Oh my God!” Annette blurted out, and then she laughed suddenly and wrapped her arms around Birkin. “You did it! I don’t believe it!”

Birkin smiled but did not laugh; he was too tired to laugh. But he embraced Annette tightly and breathed a long sigh of relief. It made him feel good that Annette was happy for his discovery, because sometimes he wondered if she even cared about the work anymore. She was at the lab so rarely, busy with the business of raising their daughter and taking care of their house that Birkin so rarely visited himself. The fact that she seemed so thrilled at his success was a very pleasant surprise.

He held her close until her initial joy wore off, and she let him go, still looking just stunned at the extent of his discovery. She ran a hand through her hair and laughed shortly. “God, of all the times to find something like this.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “I finally succeeded right at the exact same time that Wesker completely failed. A bit of cosmic irony, don’t you think?”

“So what are you going to do? If the T-virus is out in the open …”

She didn’t even have to finish the sentence. Birkin sat back down with a grunt and rubbed his eyes. “We don’t have much time. But I need to know as much about this new strain of the G-virus as I possibly can.”

“Why? I mean, I know how you are about this kind of thing, but Umbrella’s going to shut the lab down, right? So we’ll just get transferred somewhere else, and you can work on it there. Why spend so much time working on it here when they’re shutting us down anyway?”

Birkin tried to find a way to explain. It would be awfully hard to make Annette understand when she had no idea about what had happened at Arklay. Birkin could not give her many details without revealing his involvement in the entire disgusting business. It was easy for him to blame Wesker for the whole disaster, but he had certainly done nothing to help. He was basically an accomplice at this point. Annette could not know that, she could never find out about his guilt in the matter.

“I’ve told you about Spencer,” he said. “About how he kind of tutored Wesker and I when we were first promoted. Well, with the Arklay lab completely infected, let’s just say that Spencer is no longer in a position of authority.”

“Okay,” Annette said, crossing her arms. “So what?”

“Spencer protected us,” Birkin said, and he wondered if it was even a lie. “I’ve told you how ambitious and greedy Wesker is, and you know how … how obsessed I am. Spencer promoted us because we were geniuses, not because we were good employees. He let us do whatever we wanted as long as we got results, and he didn’t look too closely to see if we were doing it all by the book.”

Annette gave him a disapproving look, but said nothing, so he continued. “When Umbrella comes down here and sees what happened at the Arklay lab, they are going to start looking for someone to blame. They’ll go through everyone’s employee records with a fine-toothed comb to look for discrepancies or possible connections to Wesker and the work he did. They’ll be on a witch hunt. And I will be the first person they point the finger at.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Annette said, but Birkin could sense the nervousness in her voice, the hint that maybe she didn’t believe what she was saying. “You haven’t worked with Wesker in more than ten years. Our work is totally separate from what Wesker does. They can’t possibly fire you just because of your connection to him.”

“I should have been in communication with him on a regular basis, I should have been reading his status reports, I should have been coordinating the work done between my lab and his, I should have known how dangerous he was.”

“Will …”

“I’m just predicting what they’re going to say,” Birkin said. “They’ll take one look at Wesker’s file and know right away that he should never have been in charge at the Arklay lab. And they’ll look at Spencer’s records and see that the old man treated the entire lab like his own personal kingdom. They’ll second-guess every single decision he ever made, including my promotion here. The fact that Spencer let Wesker run that lab proves that his judgment was clouded. The old man was probably going senile.”

Birkin spread his hands to indicate the entire lab. “And when they come here and see what a total disaster it is? You know that we never kept proper records. And when everyone who works here tells them what kind of manager I am? I’m hardly a popular guy around here, and you know that as well. Umbrella will take one look at me and kick me right out the door. They’ll get rid of me as fast as you can blink.”

“I just … I just don’t believe they would do that,” Annette said weakly, shaking her head. “They can’t just fire you.”

“They’ll accuse me of negligence, of incompetence, of insubordination. Whatever they can think of to discredit me. And I’ll have no allies to back me up, not with both Spencer and Wesker out of the picture. Spencer had enough clout to protect me if he had to, but I’m on my own this time.”

Annette continued to shake her head, and once more had to lean against the desk for support. This time, Birkin did not reach out to touch her. She had to deal with this on her own, without Birkin trying to pressure her. Despite their arguments and their strained marriage over the years, and Annette’s waning interest in working at the lab, Birkin knew her enough to know that she was thinking along the exact same lines that he had a few days ago. Her mind worked in tune with his, which was one of the reasons he had fallen in love with her in the first place.

This entire lab, all the work done there over the years, was accomplished solely because of Birkin’s obsessive work ethic. He pushed his assistants to the absolute maximum and did not tolerate laziness or failure. He performed more experiments and did more tests than any three similar labs combined, because he never stopped working. He was a fanatical workaholic and had developed that same mindset in the group of scientists and assistants who managed to put up with his gruff demeanor, until they worked almost as hard as he did. Everyone at that lab had proved their worth, because Birkin did not suffer fools and got rid of anyone he didn’t feel was perfectly qualified to be there.

Every discovery and every success at that lab could be directly traced back to Birkin. At many labs, the Project Manager was just an administrator who let his underlings do the actual scientific work. But not at the Raccoon City lab. At this lab, Birkin did just as much grunt science work as the newest trainee, if not more. He performed experiments on his own, he scheduled tests and read every single result. He left nothing to chance and rarely let someone else do a job that he had time to do himself.

Birkin made this lab a success, and he deserved all the credit for this new discovery with the G-virus. And yet, despite all this, Umbrella could come to this lab and fire him at the drop of a hat, for nothing but his past relationship with people like Spencer and Wesker. He’d be guilty by association, and everything that he did at the lab would be taken away and scattered to a dozen different labs. He’d never receive an ounce of credit or appreciation for the work he did. Umbrella would throw him to the wolves and steal his life’s work without so much as an apology.

“What are you going to do?” Annette said softly, and Birkin could not help but smile to himself. No one knew him like Annette did, and he loved her for it.

“The first thing I have to do is sleep,” Birkin said. “Give me an hour here to close up my office and I’ll go home with you and go to bed. While I’m sleeping, you and Sherry have to start packing. Everything you want to save, everything that you want to take with us when we go. I already have some things ready here at the lab. I haven’t spent the past two days just working with this new strain, I’ve been backing up files on my computer. Give me two days here at the lab to finish. I think I can get everything I need.”

“It won’t work. They’ll track you down.”

“Let me worry about that. I have a plan and I think we can get away clean. Umbrella will have its hands full dealing with the outbreak, so that will give us some time. Just pack up whatever you need from the house. I’ll handle the lab. But I don’t want to wait longer than two days. I want to be out of Raccoon City in two days or less.”

“Okay,” Annette said, pushing away from the desk. Birkin stood up once more and they embraced again, this time more deeply. Birkin knew that Annette was holding back tears, but exactly what the tears were for, he didn’t know.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered into her hair. “I didn’t want this to happen.”

“It’s not your fault,” Annette whispered back. “We’re just doing what we have to do. You don’t owe them anything, Will. You’ve given them so much, maybe it’s time you can take something for yourself.”

She pulled away, but not before kissing his cheek tenderly. Her eyes glistened with tears, and now Birkin had a good idea that the tears really were for him.

“What are we going to tell Sherry?” she asked.

“Let’s tell her the truth,” Birkin said. “We have to move away because something very bad is going to happen here.”

Chapter 5

 

Dimly, through a foggy red haze of sleep and throbbing pain, Jill Valentine heard something banging. She drowsily tried to ignore it, but the steady banging continued, pulling her unwillingly out of sleep. As soon as she shifted her position on the couch and moved her head, a burst of agony went off inside it and she groaned loudly, wincing in pain. She lifted a trembling hand and gently placed it against her forehead. She blinked a few times to see sunlight seeping in between the closed curtains of her living room window.

“Jill?” a voice said nervously from the hallway. “Are you there?”

Jill grunted and swallowed a few times, her throat dry. Her mouth tasted awful and she frowned to herself at the foul taste. She blinked a few more times to clear her eyes, and she spied two bottles on the end table in front of her couch, one of them tipped over and empty. She reached out for the bottle, but her fingertips barely got a hold of it before it slipped out and rolled onto the floor.

“Jill? Are you okay?”

Jill managed, with much difficulty, to push herself up and take a sitting position on the couch. Her head reeled at the motion and she felt her stomach heave, but there was nothing inside it to throw up. She closed her eyes tightly and grimaced in pain, her head pounding heavily.

“Jill?” the voice called again, quieter.

“Mmmm … Who is it?” she groaned, the effort making her head pound even more.

“It’s me. I mean, it’s Brad. Is it okay if I come in?”

What in the world was Brad doing at her apartment so early in the morning? Jill fumbled on the table for her watch and squinted to see what time it was. Four in the afternoon. She tried to wrap her head around that. She glanced at the bottles again and finally remembered what she had done the night before.

After coming home from the station, she turned off her phone and took a bottle of wine from her refrigerator. By the time she managed to drink the entire bottle, she decided that wine was not enough and pulled out a bottle of vodka as well. Looking at the bottle now, she could see that it was half-empty. She certainly did not remember drinking that much, but she must have passed out right on the couch and slept most of the day. That would also explain the blinding headache.

“Are you there, Jill?”

“Give me a minute,” Jill said. She managed to stand up and staggered to the bathroom, leaning against the wall for support. Her bladder felt like it was going to burst.

When she was finished using the bathroom, she rifled through her medicine cabinet to find some aspirin. She took a handful of them and walked carefully back out into the kitchen, trying to move her head and neck as little as possible. She poured a glass of water and downed the pills, but at this point she didn’t think they would do much good. If anything, the glass of water would do more for her headache than the aspirins.

When she finally got around to opening the door, Brad just looked at her sadly and nervously ran a hand through his hair. “Hey,” he said meekly. “You look like shit.”

“I feel like it too,” Jill said, her eyes squinted.

“I guess I woke you up.”

Jill nodded. “So what are you doing here? Is something the matter?”

Brad cleared his throat and glanced up and down the hallway. “Yeah, you could say that. Can I come in for a minute? I kind of want to talk to you.”

Jill considered telling him no, but didn’t have the heart. Brad, in a strange way, had been left out the night before. He had not experienced the nightmares that the rest of them had, and knew nothing of what they had gone through until they went to Irons’ office. And after that, none of them wanted to go into more details, and he seemed too afraid to ask. They had pretty much ignored Brad the entire time.

And Jill still didn’t want to talk to him, not now. She had a splitting headache and the last thing she wanted was to go over the events of the previous night again. But instead, she sighed and let the door swing open. Brad accepted the invitation and followed her back into the living room, closing the door after him.

“What do you want to talk about?” she asked, sitting back down on the couch. She cupped the water in her hands and took another drink. The lingering taste of vodka was still in her mouth, but the water helped.

Brad sat down on a chair facing the couch and his eyes immediately focused on the empty bottle of wine and the half-empty vodka. “I guess you did some drinking last night,” he said, not making eye contact.

“Yeah, just a little.”

“I guess I would have, too.”

Jill agreed, but she somehow doubted that Chris had gone home and immediately gotten himself completely wasted. So the thought of being in the same category as Brad did little to comfort her.

“If you just got up, I guess you don’t know what going on out there,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“Did you check your answering machine?”

Jill shook her head and then regretted it when the pain flared. “No. No, I haven’t.”

“I bet it’s full. Mine was when I got up a few hours ago. Six messages from the newspaper, three from radio stations, eleven more from people at the department. They all want to know what happened last night.”

“The newspaper?”

“Of course. It was all over the news that Bravo never came back last night. Someone on the force told a reporter that only four survivors came back with Alpha. The whole city is up in arms about it. They want to know what happened. But I guess Irons wasn’t fooling around about keeping this quiet. The police department has not released any statement yet.”

Jill leaned back in the couch. “Oh, Jesus. Did you tell them anything?”

“No,” Brad said immediately. “I didn’t call anyone back at all. I haven’t even called my parents yet.”

“What did the papers say?”

“Just what I told you. They know that only four people came back, but I don’t even think they even know which four people. But they’re already starting to say all sorts of stuff.”

“Like what?”

“Oh, you know,” Brad said. “They don’t have any real information, so they’re just making stuff up. They said that all of us have been suspended and that the whole S.T.A.R.S. unit is now under investigation. They said that it was some kind of training mission that went wrong. They think the department is trying to cover something up. It’s like a huge scandal now, and we’re all in the middle of it.”

“I don’t believe this,” Jill groaned. She leaned forward again and put her face in her hands.

“It’s all over the news. And I don’t think Irons is going to help us at all. There were two reporters outside my apartment when I left. I had to sneak out the back way so they didn’t see me. I half-expected there to be some here as well, but I guess they haven’t tracked down your address yet.”

“I can’t handle reporters,” Jill said weakly. “If they come here, I don’t know what I’ll do. I just can’t deal with that right now.”

“That’s one of the reasons I came over. Chris lives on the other side of town, and I don’t know where Rebecca lives. But they probably have the same problem. I tried to call as well, but no one answered their phone.”

Jill pushed her hair out of her face and looked longingly at the bottle of vodka sitting on the table so invitingly. Nothing would be better right now than just drinking some more. But instead, she picked up her glass of water and had some of that.

She set the glass back on the table. “What are we going to do?” she asked rhetorically.

“I don’t know,” Brad admitted. “We can’t just ignore them. If we do that, they’ll just repeat the worst rumors. And if we tell them we have no comment, they’ll take that as a confirmation that there’s some kind of investigation going on. No matter what we do, they’ll think we’re either guilty of something, or trying to hide something.”

“We have to call Irons.”

“I already tried and got nowhere. He’s not answering calls from us, either.”

“Why am I not surprised?” Jill said with a short laugh.

“Do you …” Brad hesitated, and then said, “Do you think he was lying? About the FBI and all that stuff?”

It didn’t take Jill long to decide. “Yeah, I think he was. I thought he was lying last night, to be honest, but I was too tired and scared to disagree with him. It was too much for my brain to handle. All I wanted to do was come home and forget about everything.”

“If he’s lying, then we’re screwed,” Brad said. “I mean, what can we do? We can’t tell the newspaper the truth, can we?”

“Sure, if we want to get sent to a mental hospital,” Jill said. “They’d never believe what we have to say. It doesn’t even matter.”

“But what should we do?”

Jill reached for the glass of water again, but her hand went past it and she grabbed the neck of the vodka bottle instead. “I know what I’m going to do,” she said angrily, picking it up.

Brad reached out and put his hand on hers, pushing the bottle down. “Jill, please don’t. You can’t just drink this away, because it won’t go away. We have to find a way to deal with this.”

“This is my way of dealing with it,” Jill snapped, yanking the bottle toward her so fast that it splashed across her shirt. “And don’t you even try to stop me.”

“It won’t make anything better, Jill.”

“How do you know?” Jill said bitterly, clutching the bottle. “You weren’t even there, so don’t tell me what won’t make me feel better. This is the only thing that will make me feel better right now.”

“Maybe now it will, but what about later? What about when the reporters get here and start asking you questions? Do you really want to be drunk when that happens?”

“No, I want to be unconscious. They can’t ask me any questions if I’m passed out, now can they?”

“Don’t do this to yourself. Come on, give me the bottle,” Brad said, reaching toward her.

Jill shook her head furiously and pulled away from him. He stood up and reached across the table to grab the bottle out of her hand, and she batted his hand away. When he finally was able to grab the bottle, Jill jumped up and shoved him backward. He fell into his chair and the bottle slipped from both of their hands. It struck the edge of the table and the bottom shattered, spilling vodka all over the floor.

“Damn it!” Jill shrieked. “Look what you did!”

“Good!” Brad shouted back. “I just did you a favor!”

Jill stumbled around the table and grabbed him, pulling him up out of the chair. “Just get out of here! Get the hell out!”

“Fine!” Brad snapped, pushing Jill away and walking past her toward the door. “You want to just drink yourself to death? You want to just drown your problems in alcohol? Well, you be my guest.”

Jill staggered after him. “Don’t you dare judge me!” she cried. “You weren’t even there! You don’t know anything! You didn’t live through that nightmare! You don’t know what that was like!”

Brad stopped on his way to the door and spun back around. “Oh, you think just because you went through something traumatic, that means that you can drink your troubles away? Being an alcoholic is alright because you were scared?”

“You weren’t there!” Jill shouted again. “You didn’t see any of it!”

“I saw those dogs kill Joseph, and I saw those monsters when I picked you up, so don’t tell me that I didn’t see anything.”

“I watched Enrico die right in front me,” Jill said, her teeth clenched. Suddenly, she felt tears in her eyes. “And I was there with Barry, when we left him there to die. And I saw Edward right when he died. I had to see all of that, and I had to fight those zombies and everything else, so don’t tell me that what you went through even compares with what I went through.” She was crying now, tears dripping down her face at just the memory of what she had faced.

“You think I had it easy?” Brad asked. “Flying around in the helicopter all that time, you think I wasn’t scared? I was terrified, I was scared out of my mind. I thought you were all dead, and it was all because of me. All of it was my fault.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Jill said, wiping her face with the back of her hand. “You didn’t do anything, Brad. Wesker’s the one to blame for all of this, not you.”

“But I abandoned you,” Brad said desperately. “I left you all there, I just got scared and flew away and left you all to die. If I had stayed like I was supposed to, then none of it would have happened.”

“It would have happened anyway,” Jill insisted. “Wesker planned it all, don’t you see that? If you hadn’t flown away, then we’d probably all be dead right now.”

“What are you talking about?” Brad said, walking back towards her. “I left you there, I abandoned you. I mean, don’t you hate me for that?”

By now, Jill had forgotten all about the spilled vodka, or why she and Brad were arguing in the first place. It shocked her when she realized why Brad was so nervous and quiet the night before. It never even occurred to her that Brad blamed himself for the entire thing.

He must have thought that they hated him, she realized. He took their angry silence as reason to think that they blamed him for leaving them behind, that they held him somehow responsible for what had happened. Jill could see now that Brad was so overwhelmed with guilt that he believed that he was to blame. He spent hours and hours alone in the helicopter to convince himself that he was solely responsible, and when Jill and the others were short with him, he assumed the worst. And now, when Jill accused him of not being there and seeing the things she saw, he took that as another accusation, another reminder of his cowardice.

Jill took a deep breath and tried to calm down. She wiped her eyes again and shook her head. “I don’t hate you, Brad. Neither does Chris or Rebecca. None of this was your fault.”

“Do you really mean that?”

“Yes. I mean, we were mad at you, sure. When you flew away, we wanted to kill you. But if you hadn’t flown away like that, we’d all be dead.”

“How?” Brad asked. “I don’t understand.”

“Because Wesker wanted us to die,” Jill explained. “Don’t you get it? If you didn’t fly away to begin with, then you wouldn’t have been there to rescue me and Chris and Rebecca later on. Wesker would have led us all to the mansion anyway, so it wouldn’t have made any difference. If you hadn’t flown away, nothing would have changed, except that you would probably be dead right now, and the rest of us would have been killed by that monster, or by something else along the way. None of us would have made it out alive, because you wouldn’t have been there to save anyone.”

“Do you … do you really believe that?” Brad asked hopefully.

“Of course I do,” Jill said. “None of us blamed you, and I’m sorry if you thought we did. We weren’t angry at you, we were angry at Wesker, angry at the whole terrible thing.”

“I thought you all hated me,” Brad said quietly, as if to himself.

Jill shrugged. “I just hate you because you broke that bottle.”

“We should probably clean that up, you know.”

Jill chuckled, and it felt strangely good to laugh at something. In the space of a few minutes she had run the entire gamut of emotions, from anger to sadness and now humor. She was so on the edge that it felt like she was always on the verge of screaming or crying. Her argument with Brad was already forgotten, just a momentary outburst. She guessed that he probably felt the same way.

She waved her hand dismissively in the direction of the living room. “To hell with it, I’ll clean it later. I guess it’s a good thing that it spilled. Now I don’t have anything to drink.”

“You can always go and buy some.”

“No, I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to leave the house. Not if I might be mobbed by reporters at any moment.”

“Yeah,” Brad said. “I’m going to try driving over to Chris’ place, but I’ll have to be careful if there are any reporters there.”

“We’ll have to come up with something eventually,” Jill said. “We can’t just hide from them forever.”

“I’ll ask Chris what he thinks. I think he might know what to do. Make sure you turn your phone back on, I’ll try to call you if I manage to talk to him.”

“Okay,” Jill said, and she escorted Brad to the door. “I’m sorry about yelling at you a few minutes ago. It’s just kind of hard, you know. Dealing with it, I mean. I didn’t mean to yell at you like that.”

“It’s alright,” Brad said honestly. “I shouldn’t have gotten so defensive. You’re right about it though. I didn’t go through all that, so I have no reason to judge. Just hearing about it last night made me sick to my stomach. I don’t know what I would have done if I had been there, I don’t think I could have lived through all that.”

“Be glad that you didn’t have to see it,” Jill said. “You were the lucky one.”

Brad said goodbye and went down the hallway to the stairs. Jill watched him go and then closed the door and locked it. She took a deep breath and pressed her back into the door, looking up at the ceiling.

She did want to just drink until she passed out again, but the vodka was all she had. Her head still hurt as well, but it wasn’t nearly as painful as before. She went to the kitchen and got some paper towels to soak up the spilled alcohol, and pressed the button on her answering machine. Like Brad had guessed, it was completely full.

The first five messages were from the local paper, asking for a comment on the events of the past two days. The next was from one of the officers at the station, asking if she was okay. The next was from a radio station, and then two more from the paper.

The next message was from Chris, which surprised her.

“Jill, this is Chris. You probably have your phone turned off, so you won’t get this message until later. I want to be the one to tell you myself, because it’s not in the paper yet. I don’t know how to say it, but Barry was right. Last night before we left him, he said Wesker threatened his family and that he thought they were already dead. He was right, Jill. They found Jenny and his daughters this morning at the house. They were murdered last night. I’m sorry, Jill. Please call me.”

Chapter 6

 

Rebecca Chambers didn’t remember anything about their escape from the lab. She remembered treating Barry’s gun shot wound, and she dimly recalled running down the hallway, and then the next thing she remembered was being on the helicopter heading back toward Raccoon City. It felt like waking up from a bad dream, but instead of being safe in her bed, she was laid out on the rear seats with Chris leaning over her, the inside of the helicopter barely lit by the tiny interior lights and the main control panel. The loud rush of wind made it impossible to hear what Chris was saying to her, and she forgot to ask him after they landed.

After their meeting with Irons, Chris took her to the hospital. They did some quick tests to check if she had suffered a concussion, but in the end it was nothing so serious. All she had was a bump on the back of her head. But the doctors warned her to return to the emergency room if she had any symptoms such as headaches or forgetfulness. By the time they left the hospital, it was almost morning, and Chris let her spend the night on his couch, rather than driving all the way across town to her own place.

“Thanks again,” she said. She sat against the arm of the couch in Chris’ living room, absentmindedly fidgeting with her hands.

Chris glanced up from the kitchen counter, where he was preparing breakfast. “You’re welcome, again,” he said. “It was no trouble.”

“And thanks for letting me stay here last night.”

“It’s okay. I didn’t want to be by myself either.” The toaster popped up and Chris took a pair of waffles out of the slots, quickly replacing them with two more and pushing the lever back down. He set the waffles on a plate and undid the cap on a bottle of syrup. “Do you want something to eat?”

“Yes, actually,” Rebecca said. She hadn’t felt hungry when she first woke up, but the scent of waffles was enough to make her feel ravenous. She hadn’t eaten anything almost all the previous day. Her last meal was a stale sandwich and cup of pudding, before she and Billy escaped the huge underground factory.

The thought of Billy briefly distracted her, but she pushed the thought away. There were other things to worry about right now without getting sentimental about him. She walked over to the kitchen table and took a seat.

Her police uniform was piled on the floor by the couch. When she asked if she could stay at his apartment, he let her change into some of his spare clothes. Now, she was dressed in a pair of gray sweatpants and a red t-shirt that was too big for her. Her hair was uncombed and she self-consciously ran her fingers through it, trying to make herself look a bit more composed. Chris didn’t seem to care, but she couldn’t help but worry about her appearance. It felt strange to be sharing breakfast with Chris at his place, even though she spent the night asleep on his couch. He didn’t seem to think it was out of the ordinary, and made her breakfast as if he had done it a dozen times.

He handed her a plate of waffles and set the syrup bottle on the table. “What do you want to drink?”

“Whatever you have,” she replied. “Milk, orange juice, whatever.”

“I have 2% milk.”

“That’s fine.”

Chris wore a white muscle shirt and black pajama pants. Until now, Rebecca had only ever seen Chris in his police uniform, so it was strange to see him dressed casually. She didn’t know he had any tattoos, but she saw two of them on his upper left arm and another larger one on his right bicep, but she didn’t look at them long enough to see what they were tattoos of. She felt weird staring at him, and usually looked away before he noticed.

He set two glasses of milk on the table, and then returned to the counter when the toaster popped up again. He took the waffles and set them on another plate and then came back to the table.

“How did you sleep?” he asked.

Rebecca shrugged and poked at the waffles with a fork. “Okay, I guess. I still feel tired, like I didn’t sleep for very long.”

“I think you were asleep for about seven hours or so.”

She cut her waffles and took a bite. “Did you sleep okay?” she asked.

Chris hesitated, pouring syrup across his plate. “Not really,” he said. “Tried to, but I only slept about an hour before I got up.”

“You only slept for an hour?”

“Yeah. I’ve been up since about nine. I was kind of surprised I didn’t wake you up, cause I was walking around the apartment.”

“I knew you got up before me, but I didn’t know it was that early.” Rebecca fiddled with her waffles some more but didn’t take another bite. “Did you … did you have nightmares or something?”

“No,” Chris said. “I just couldn’t stop thinking. My mind was racing, you know? I couldn’t settle down long enough to fall asleep.”

“I understand,” Rebecca said, not knowing what else to say. She certainly hadn’t had that problem. She passed out as soon as she laid down on the couch.

“I’m still trying to put it together,” he continued. “There’s still so much that doesn’t make any sense. And I know it won’t make sense any time soon. But I can’t help but wonder what else we could have done. Maybe it would have turned out differently.”

“I don’t see how it could have,” Rebecca said, setting her fork down. “I don’t think we could have done it any differently. I think we should feel lucky that we made it out at all, instead of second-guessing ourselves.”

“Maybe you’re right,” Chris admitted. “But we’re not really done with it yet, you know. I mean, we made it out of that lab, but it’s not over yet.”

Rebecca nodded. “Chief Irons was lying to us, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, I think he was,” Chris said solemnly.

“Why would he do that?” Rebecca asked. “Why would he bother? It’s not like we wouldn’t find out soon anyway.”

“I’m trying to figure that out,” Chris said. “He must have some kind of reason. Maybe he was just trying to buy himself some time.”

“Time for what?”

Chris leaned back in his chair and shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe he’s waiting for more orders from Umbrella. He knows more than he told us, that’s for sure. But I think it has more to do with what we know about Umbrella. I think he was trying to shift the blame onto us.”

“What are you talking about?”

Chris pointed toward the living room windows. “There’s three news vans outside right now. I unplugged the phone and turned off the door intercom so they can’t bother us.”

“What?” Rebecca asked, stunned. She turned in her chair and went over the to the window, carefully pulling back the curtains just a few inches. Parked out on the street in front of the apartment building were a trio of news vans from the three major channels in Raccoon City. There were a dozen people milling around with cameras, and a group of curious spectators was lined up along the sidewalk.

When Rebecca looked back at Chris, he said, “Irons has been completely ignoring them all morning. The police department didn’t give the press any kind of statement about what happened last night.”

“Then how did they find out anything happened at all?”

“It was already front page news that Bravo never came back yesterday,” Chris said. “When we got back this morning, someone told the newspaper that only four officers came back. The reporters have been trying to get more information ever since, and Irons isn’t talking. So they found out who was on the S.T.A.R.S. teams, and they used the process of elimination to figure out who those four officers were. They’ve been staked out front there for the last couple of hours.”

“That’s crazy,” Rebecca said in disbelief. She wanted to look out the window again, but was afraid someone outside might see the curtain move. “Do they even know we’re here?”

“Probably. My car’s in the parking lot, and someone might have seen us come in this morning. I have a dozen messages on my answering machine already from news stations and newspapers asking for a comment on what happened last night.”

“Did you tell them anything?”

“Like what? That Umbrella created some kind of disease that makes people come back from the dead?”

“But what about Irons? Why won’t he tell them anything?”

“To put pressure on us,” Chris said. “All he has to say to the press is that there’s an investigation going on, and he can’t comment during an investigation. So they assume that means that we’re the people being investigated. Anything we tell them at that point becomes a defense.”

“But there is no investigation,” Rebecca said.

Chris shrugged. “What difference does it make? If we tell the press that there’s no investigation, then they’ll just keep asking us what happened. And there’s no way we could tell them. They would never believe it. But if we tell them we have no comment, they’ll take that as confirmation that there really is an investigation going on.”

“I don’t believe this. Are you saying that we’re trapped?”

“Basically,” Chris said, far more calmly that Rebecca would have thought possible. Chris was so loud and angry in Irons’ office, and now was calmly accepting the fact that Irons had lied and they were stuck in defending his lie. “The only thing we can say is that we have no comment, but that only implicates us.”

Rebecca sat down at the table and looked at her waffles, which were now cold. Besides, she had lost her appetite. “How long are they going to stay out there?”

“I don’t know. Hopefully not too much longer. They’ll give up eventually.”

“Have you tried to call Jill and Brad?”

“Yeah, I called them both and left messages. They probably have their phones turned off like I do. Hopefully they call me back on my cell phone some time today.”

“So what are we supposed to do now? Just wait for the media to leave us alone?”

Chris set his elbows on the table and sighed. His breakfast was still untouched. “Well, I was still thinking about Irons. About why he would allow the reporters to hound us like this. Obviously, he wants us distracted and occupied. Like I said, I think he wants to buy some time.”

“Okay,” Rebecca said. “But time for what?”

“Right. What’s he waiting for? Eventually, the media’s just going to turn back at him, asking for more info about this fake investigation. He can’t just blockade them forever. They’ll figure out pretty soon that there is no investigation after all. Maybe someone at the department will tip them off.”

Rebecca tried to think about it, but she had no idea what Irons might be up to. Chris had obviously spent a lot longer thinking about this, so she just said, “I have no idea what he’s waiting for.”

“This is what kept me up,” Chris said. “I was thinking about all those monsters and zombies running loose out in the mountains. Those skinless dogs and creatures like the thing that attacked us in the generator room. We didn’t kill them all. There’s still dozens of zombies probably wandering around out there, and who knows what else? All those zombies are infected with that disease, and it has to be contagious in some way or another …”

“Oh my God,” Rebecca whispered.

Chris nodded. “Yeah. I think that’s what Irons is waiting for. I think he’s waiting for some of those zombies or some of those monsters to make it all the way back here to Raccoon City. Cause it’s going to happen, probably sooner than later.”

“We have to do something,” Rebecca said urgently. “We have to tell someone, we have to …”

“Tell them what? What could we say that wouldn’t get us thrown in a psych ward? Who could we talk to? How could we warn anyone?”

Rebecca felt her heart constricting in her chest. It was the most horrible feeling in the world to know something bad was going to happen, and not be able to tell anyone about it. But Chris was right. No one would ever believe them, no one would take them seriously. Especially not when they were supposedly under investigation by the police department. Rebecca wracked her brain trying to think of some way that they could tell people of the danger, but nothing seemed like it would work. And even if they managed to find a sympathetic ear, what could be done at this point?

The zombies and the skinless dogs were running wild out in the forest, less than 20 miles from the outskirts of the city. And they had no way of tracking them, no way of knowing where they all were. Even if they somehow managed to make people believe their warnings, what could they possibly do? Send out search parties to look for zombies?

It was impossible. They would need guns to fight off the zombies and skinless dogs, and trying to cover that many square miles would take weeks. They could never track down every single creature that escaped from the lab. Even organizing a group of people large enough to attempt such a wide search would take days, and by that time the infected creatures could be miles away from the lab complex.

“What are we going to do?” Rebecca heard herself whisper.

“I don’t know about you,” Chris said gently. “But I’m going to pack up my things and get out of town.”

“You’re going to leave?”

“I can’t accomplish anything here in Raccoon City. It’s far too late for that. The only thing I can do now is keep my promise to Barry. I’m not going to let Umbrella get away with this. I’m going to find proof of their guilt, and I’m going to make them pay.”

“But how?” Rebecca asked helplessly. “How could you ever get that kind of evidence?”

“I still have some friends in the Air Force and I know people in other branches of the military. I can get in touch with a couple of guys I know who went freelance. They’re mercenaries now. They can help me get started. Then its just a matter of tracking down Umbrella and going up the chain of command until I find someone who knew about the experiments they were performing here. Someone out there knows the truth, and if I can track them down, I can get the evidence I need.”

Rebecca could see now why Chris seemed so calm about Irons’ deception. Irons was no longer a concern to Chris. He had already set his sights much, much higher. Chris had no room to worry about Irons now, when he was already planning to go right to the top of Umbrella to find out the truth.

“What about you?” Chris asked suddenly. “What are you going to do?”

The question took her off guard. What in the world was she going to do? Staying in Raccoon City was not an option, but she had no real roots there anyway. She only moved there for her job, and right now seemed like the perfect time to hand in her resignation. She could easily move back home with her family and start fresh once more.

But her thoughts again drifted back, almost unwillingly, to Billy Coen. The last time she saw him, he was walking off into the forest and out of her life. But now, thinking about the horrible future in store for Raccoon City, she felt the overwhelming need to know that he made it out okay. It had not occurred to her that maybe he had encountered some new danger before making his way out of the mountains, but now she felt terrified that he not made it out at all. She had to know that he was okay.

“I think I might try to get in touch with some old friends,” she said quietly.

Chapter 7

 

A gleaming cherry red Corvette drove into the parking lot of the Hilton Hotel in Raccoon City and eased into a parking space. The engine grumbled threateningly as it slowed to a stop, and then went quiet. The door opened and a long leg swung out of the driver’s seat and stepped onto the hot pavement, the foot clad in a red stiletto heel.

As lithe and graceful as a ballerina, the driver slid her way out of the car and shut the door with a flick of her wrist. She wore a red satin dress that hung loosely on her thin shoulders and swished around her feet as she walked across the lot to the front door of the hotel. A tiny black purse was on her arm, and her eyes were concealed behind a large pair of sunglasses. The dress was clearly provocative, but her posture was more businesslike than sexual, and she walked through the doors and into the lobby with a forceful stride. Her heels slicked loudly on the shining gray marble.

The clerk saw her as soon as she entered and watched her approach the front desk. He was in his mid-twenties, young for a desk manager, and he tried his hardest not to focus on the low neckline of her dress.

“Good afternoon,” he said, somewhat uncomfortably. “Can I help you, ma’am?”

“I have a reservation. Vanessa Cooper,” the woman said in a short, clipped tone. Her lips, shining with red lipstick, were pursed in a disapproving look.

The clerk swallowed and typed at the computer in front of him. “Yes, we have a reservation for you. You have one of our Executive Suites. Room 614.”

“My luggage has arrived already, correct?”

The clerk glanced down at the monitor. “Uh, yes. All your bags arrived this morning and are already in the room.”

“Good. May I have my key?”

“Of course, of course,” the clerk stuttered. He fumbled around at the rack of keys behind the desk and handed her the plastic key card for her room. She plucked it out of his hand.

“Thank you,” she said, clearly not meaning it.

As she walked away from the desk toward the elevators, the clerk, and half a dozen other men in the lobby, watched her go with a conflicting sense of desire, distrust, and envy. She ignored them all and went to the elevator door. When it opened, she stepped inside and turned around, and then pulled off her sunglasses to gaze out at the lobby just as the doors began to close.

She folded up the sunglasses and tucked them into her little purse. The mirror-like metal surface of the elevator door reflected her appearance. Although it was hard to tell her exact ethnicity, without the sunglasses on to hide her eyes, she was clearly Asian, possibly Japanese. Her face was undeniably beautiful, but many people found it hard to remember exactly what she looked like once she was gone. She had a narrow face and small, intense eyes. Her jet black hair contrasted with her pale skin., and was currently tied in a tight bun, a pair of long metal needles holding it in place. She certainly didn’t look like any woman named Vanessa Cooper.

The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. She walked purposefully down the lavish hallway, her heels silenced by the soft brown carpet. She made her way to Room 614 and stood to the side of the door when she slid the electronic door key through the reader. With her other hand, she reached into her purse and took out a tiny makeup mirror.

She let the door swing open and held the mirror up so she could see into the room. There was no one there, and she hadn’t really expected there to be, but it always paid to be careful.

Glancing up and down the hallway, she went into the room and locked the door behind her. The curtains and blinds were open, so she went to the window and closed them all, engulfing the room in mid-day darkness. She turned on one of the table lamps by the bed.

Three suitcases were on the bed, each of them secured by a small lock. The woman procured a set of keys from her purse and opened the luggage, flipping each of them open. One suitcase contained clothes much like the ones she wore now. Fancy, expensive dresses in a variety of colors, a few more pairs of high heels, as well as underwear that was both practical and extremely sexy.

The second case was another story. Stiff, black leather pants and a black leather jacket, as well as dark sweaters and a pair of boots. There were also a few plastic boxes and a large silver thermos. The woman set the thermos on the night stand.

The third suitcase held more clothes, some simple t-shirts and jeans, sneakers, a couple of baseball caps, and a large makeup case. There was also a laptop computer in between layers of clothing. She pulled out the laptop and set it on the night stand as well.

She examined the outside edge of the suitcases and found a tiny zipper on one of them. She pulled it open to reveal a separate, narrow compartment on the side of the suitcase. It contained a long plastic box. She opened it up to see a series of syringes and needles encased in black foam to protect them. She put it on top of the laptop.

She pulled out all of the clothes in the last suitcase and found another zipper. She pulled it open and then pulled down the flap, revealing another separate section. In this, however, was a disassembled assault rifle, each piece also encased in black foam.

The woman took out each piece of the gun and arranged it on the bed. There was a long barrel, a scope, the bullet chamber, the handle and trigger, and the stock. The entire gun was made in very lightweight metal and snapped together like a bunch of Lego bricks.

Satisfied with the rifle, the woman reached down to grab the bottom hem of her dress and then pulled the entire dress up over her head. Underneath she wore very sleek stockings, garter belt and panties, and a strapless black bra. Also, she had a pair of small black leather holsters strapped on the inside of her thighs, each of which held a tiny pistol. There was another such gun in her purse. They were not powerful guns and they only held two bullets each, but they were appropriate for her line of work and easy to conceal.

She pulled the long needles out of her hair and combed her fingers through the bun to shake it apart. She shook her head and her hair fell down around her shoulders. She took the needles and set them beside the assault rifle.

Quickly and efficiently she changed clothes, discarding the sexy underwear and dress for much more comfortable and casual clothes, a pair of jeans and a green long-sleeved shirt. She opened up the laptop and turned it on, and fussed around in the suitcase for a pair of socks while the computer loaded up.

She clicked on a desktop icon and a window opened up on the screen. A series of images popped up and a mechanical voice came out of the laptop speakers.

“Agent Takashi. Pass code 92-85-32-00-87-15. Please confirm.”

“44-97-23-43-01,” she said, pulling on her socks.

“Thank you,” the laptop said.

Agent Takashi was another code name in an endless series of code names, just like Vanessa Cooper and all the dozens of various aliases she used over the years. At this point, her actual birth name was almost as fictional as the aliases were. No one else knew her birth name but a high-security computer system somewhere in Switzerland.

“Our informant has not contacted us in the last 24 hours,” came a different voice, this one a recording and not an electronic simulation. “However, your instructions remain the same. Keep a close look out for the men shown in the dossier. We have reason to suspect the local Chief of Police may be involved and perhaps other high-ranking members of the police force. We will contact you when our informant gives us the meeting place and time. If we do not hear from the informant by midnight on the day you arrive, you will receive new instructions.”

The woman sat down on the bed and clicked on the images on the screen. They were pictures of several men, identified only by a number. One of them was a man with short blonde hair and sunglasses. There was also an athletic-looking man with brown hair, and a tall blonde woman wearing a white coat. In all, there were pictures of fourteen different people.

“You have no local support for this mission,” the recording continued. “We have no reason to believe your target is suspicious. Any snooping into either of your backup identities will show them to be legit. Your public code name is Vanessa Cooper. The hotel reservation, the car rental, and your credit cards are all under that name. Your private code name is Ada Wong.”

Chapter 8

 

The sun went down behind the Arklay Mountains, painting the sky orange and making the range of mountains west of the city seem to glow as if they were on fire. And if Wesker could allow himself a poetic metaphor, they were certainly on fire right now. They were burning with the most destructive disease known to man.

He watched the sun set while sitting at a table near one of the large warehouse windows. On the table before him was a copy of the daily newspaper. The front page story had surprised him, to put it lightly. His gaze shifted from the setting sun to the words in bold at the top of the page and he let out a long, annoyed sigh.

Exactly how Chris and the others escaped was a mystery to him. They must have made it to the escape elevator, which Wesker had considered before. He intended to disable the elevator completely, but he got caught up with other things. He didn’t think it would matter either way, because the Tyrant could just follow them up and kill them out in the open.

The real hint was the number of officers who made it out. The newspaper said that four S.T.A.R.S. members made it back to the city and that they had returned by helicopter. A helicopter meant Brad.

Wesker felt himself seething with rage at the mere thought of his name. Brad, the one who completely screwed Wesker’s plans in the first place, by flying away and leaving them to outrun the dogs. And then he made up for that mistake by rescuing the other three surviving members of the team, screwing Wesker’s plans over even more. Brad, the most cowardly, helpless, absolutely useless member of the entire S.T.A.R.S. team. Brad, who could barely be trusted to tie his own shoes without proper instruction. The last person in the world that Wesker would have considered a threat to his plans.

If Wesker ever saw Brad again, he would skin the stupid bastard alive. He wouldn’t even kill him right away, he would torture him for awhile. He’d make the torment last.

Wesker tapped the edge of the table. Sitting a few inches from his hand was a pack of cigarettes. Strangely, it had taken Wesker most of the day to realize that he hadn’t smoked at all since the day before. Normally he needed a cigarette within minutes of waking up, but today he felt no urge at all to smoke. He attempted to light up sometime after lunch but tossed the cigarette away after only a few drags. Inhaling the smoke gave him no satisfaction at all, no pleasurable rush of nicotine into his system, no sense of relaxation and well-being.

He didn’t know if that was a good thing or not. He preferred to ignore it for now.

He walked away from the table and back to his makeshift lab setup. Almost everything was up and running now. Not quite a full laboratory, but enough to suit his purposes. Several computers lined up on some tables along with some microscopes and other regular lab equipment, two generators, three completely installed growth tanks, and an impressive array of genetic sequencers and other equipment. Wires and thick cables criss-crossed the floor like a collapsed spider web.

The first growth tank held the unfortunate associate of Nicholai Ginovaef. The soldier was stripped and dumped into the tank, where he was connected to the monitoring cables and then infected with the T-virus. Fully sedated now, his skin was turning pasty white and his hair had already fallen out. In another 24 hours he would be mostly transformed into a Tyrant.

The other two growth tanks were also currently occupied, which was a lucky coincidence. Wesker hadn’t expected to find a pair of volunteers so quickly. But after lunch, he went out to install some cameras around the perimeter of the warehouse as a basic security measure. Behind the warehouse in an empty lot were some huge stacks of discarded wooden pallets and other building equipment. A pair of vagrants had been nesting among the pallets, smoking crack together. Wesker smelled the sweet chemical scent of the crack smoke, even though he was more than fifty feet away. He offered the men fifty bucks each if they would help him move some heavy equipment in the warehouse. They jumped at the chance, and Wesker had incapacitated them both as soon as they were inside.

So now they were in growth tanks as well. One of them was also slowly turning into a Tyrant, but Wesker had other plans for the second one. He had a variety of other strains of the Progenitor and the T-virus that he wanted to try out.

One such variant was the N-strain. It worked much like the T-virus itself in that it killed the host and transformed it into something else. One major difference however, was the way that the N-strain remained contagious beyond the original host. A Tyrant passed on secondary infection to susceptible individuals, who became second-stage hosts much the same way they would if infected with the original Progenitor. Secondary infection turned them into zombies instead of Tyrants.

But the N-strain was much more virile. A first-stage N-strain host was capable of passing on the exact same strain of the virus by way of secondary infection. In other words, someone infected by an N-strain host would turn into another N-strain host instead of a zombie.

The N-strain was still pretty new, and not much work had been done with it. They had progressed their work just far enough to discover that fact about its contagious nature, but they hadn’t really managed to do much research into it. But like all their various strains and viruses, someone at the lab had given such N-strain hosts a nickname. A T-virus host was called a Tyrant, and similarly, an N-strain host was called a Nemesis.

There was now a Nemesis growing in the third tank. Wesker crossed his arms and looked at the poor, drug-addicted vagrant floating unconscious in the tank. His skin was peeling off like a bad sunburn, revealing pinkish layers of dermis underneath. The body was also beginning to look bloated and the sight of it was rather disgusting. Wesker turned away and walked back to the window.

Chris, Jill, Rebecca, and Brad were still alive. The paper did not say who the four surviving officers actually were, but Wesker knew. Barry might have survived, but Wesker doubted it. He was already wounded when the Tyrant came after them, and was in no condition to run for his life, so he must have perished. Considering the fate of his wife and daughters, perhaps that was a blessing.

The only thing in Wesker’s favor was the fact that they surely thought he was dead and weren’t looking for him. And the paper reported that the police department had not given any statement, which meant that Irons was going along with it for now. Irons probably believed that Wesker was dead as well. And at least for the time being, there was nothing that Chris or the others could really do.

They could try to go to the press, but what could they say? They could try to spin the reports that they had answered a call to a government site, but there were too many unanswered questions. They certainly couldn’t tell people the truth. Wesker took some comfort in the fact that the truth was so insane that no one would ever believe them. And Wesker had a feeling that the S.T.A.R.S. members would have to keep quiet for another reason as well.

If they said anything about a mission into the Arklay Mountains, or even hinted at the location of a government lab or an Umbrella lab, then some intrepid reporter or curious civilian would surely go looking for it. And Wesker counted on the S.T.A.R.S. team to avoid anything like that. The last thing they would want was for any more innocent people to get caught up in the events at the lab. Any reporter or investigator who went anywhere near that place was sure to find himself against a zombie, or even worse, one of the dogs roaming the forest. Telling people about a secret lab in the mountains would almost surely lead to more innocent people getting killed trying to find it.

But that didn’t mean that the S.T.A.R.S. team was harmless. They still knew far too much about the events at the lab, and Wesker’s complicity in those events. If nothing else, Wesker had to assure himself that the rest of the team died. If any of them managed to spread word of Wesker’s involvement, then his future would be on very shaky ground.

That was the real reason he was growing the Tyrants and the Nemesis. Not just as a continuation of his work, although that was part of it. He needed them to finish the work that the other Tyrant had failed to accomplish. He needed them to kill the S.T.A.R.S. team.

Chapter 9

 

Unofficially, the Umbrella Corporation Board of Directors were some of the most powerful men in the world. Umbrella was one of the most influential international corporations on Earth, although most people were totally unaware of that fact. Umbrella held three major facilities and scientific compounds in the United States; one in Raccoon City, one near Flagstaff, Arizona, and another newer facility and research development in the middle of rural North Dakota. Aside from their United States facilities, they had large sites in Paris, Cairo, Tokyo, Dubai, and Sydney, and other locations in Yakutsk, Russia; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Belmopan, Belize; and their newest facility in the middle of the Congo in central Africa. And of course the research facility in Antarctica, although that one was hardly used anymore.

Aside from those major locations, there were literally hundreds of smaller sites and research compounds spread across the world, from Australia to Iceland, in major cities like New York and Hong Kong, and more remote places like northern Finland and tiny islands off the coast of southern Argentina.

Umbrella exerted a certain amount of influence on the government of every single city and country that they were located in. Sometimes that influence was as complete as their control over Raccoon City, but that was usually the case only in smaller cities. Although in some cases, such as their facility in Belize, the national government was firmly in their pocket, not just the local government.

The Board of Directors were a group of seven men, each of them the top Facility Manager at one of the major locations. Although few people in the world even knew who they were, the Umbrella Directors commanded an ungodly amount of power, since the Umbrella Corporation had such massive influence worldwide. The Facility Managers from Arizona, Paris, Cairo, Tokyo, Dubai, Sydney, and Sao Paulo were about as powerful as a mythical society like the Illuminati.

Technically, there were eight members of the Board, but the Facility Director of their Antarctica base was a member in name only, and he rarely, if ever, took part in major board meetings such as the one taking place today.

Damascus Kelly took a deep breath and tried to remain composed as the computer screens spread out on the conference table in front of him blinked to life. He was seated at the head of the table, a set of folders laid out before him. Each computer screen was positioned at one of the other seats at the table, so Kelly could look at the faces on the screens as if they were people seated around the table. The eighth computer screen was blank, as usual, but the other seven revealed seven very important faces. Each of the men was seated at a desk somewhere else in the world, attending this meeting by satellite, since meeting together in person was both difficult and dangerous. And although Kelly was not a man used to being intimidated or easily frightened, the thought of being under the harsh gaze of such powerful men made him break out in a cold sweat.

“Gentlemen,” Kelly said gravely. “Thank you for speaking with me. By now, all of you know about the situation here in Raccoon City. I am here to give you the details.”

“Go on, Kelly,” the Director from Arizona said. Kelly was from the Arizona facility himself, so the Director there already knew him by name.

Kelly licked his lips and looked down at the list of notes in front of him. The Directors already knew that the Arklay facility was a loss and that reports were very bad, but Kelly was not looking forward to telling them just how bad they really were.

“We have over 120 casualties so far,” he said slowly. “That includes our own researchers at the Arklay lab compound, as well as security personnel and other workers from the surrounding complex. It also includes 47 civilian passengers of a local train that was somehow infected when it passed through the area.” Kelly paused for a moment and added, “It also includes at least five local police officers.”

“Excuse me?” the Director from Paris said. He was an ancient-looking man with thin gray hair and liver spots on his forehead. “Did you say police officers?”

“Yes,” Kelly said uncomfortably. “Five, so far. We’re still trying to track bodies in the surrounding woods.”

The Director from Arizona nodded and said, “Go on.”

Kelly looked down at the list again. “There are three major locations here, aside from the separate lab complex in Raccoon City itself. There is the main Arklay lab, the closed training facility nearby, and an industrial plant that served as a treatment and disposal facility. We’ve found numerous second-stage hosts at the main lab and the treatment plant. We’ve also found them at the training facility, but we believe all of them are from the passenger train, which crashed nearby.”

“How did it crash?” the Tokyo Director asked. He was a middle-aged Japanese man with a thin mustache.

“It derailed,” Kelly said simply. “We don’t know how or why yet.”

“And the hosts?” the Arizona Director prompted.

“The main lab was the primary infection point. Most of the hosts were scientists and researchers, but there were security personnel as well. The industrial facility was all security personnel, most of them local employees. But some of them were special security forces.”

“What do you mean?” the Director from Paris asked.

Kelly paused and looked down at the sheet of paper. “Several of the bodies at the treatment plant are from the special security force.”

“What? You mean the UBCF?”

“No, I mean the … Umbrella Security Service,” Kelly said, unsure exactly what else he could call them. Technically, the USS was a specialty division of the UBCF, but in reality, they were a completely separate military organization, under the authority of the Directors themselves.

“Jesus Christ,” the Dubai Director grumbled. Despite being located in the Middle East, he was an American with a slight southern accent. “You mean those black ops commandos? How in the world did they get sent without us knowing about it?”

“We’re working on that, sir,” Kelly said weakly. “We don’t know exactly when they were sent here, but we’re trying to find out.”

The Dubai Director narrowed his eyes and leaned forward. “Just who was in charge over there, anyway?”

“The Facility Director was a man named Ozwell Spencer,” Kelly said.

He could see the Directors from Arizona and Paris nodding their heads slightly, but the other Directors didn’t seem to recognize the name. Kelly had never heard of the man either, but a quick background check before the meeting showed that Spencer had quite a history with Umbrella. When Kelly read up on the man’s history, he was surprised that Spencer hadn’t been on the Board himself.

“Have you found his body?” the Dubai Director continued.

Kelly shook his head. “No, we haven’t. We also haven’t located the Research Project Manager, a man named Albert Wesker. So far, both of them are missing.”

The Director from Arizona looked at Kelly knowingly. “Do you find that suspicious?” he asked.

Kelly made a noncommittal shrug. “Much of the underground lab was destroyed by fire, which we are also investigating. We’ve barely begun to dig through the wreckage, so we may find their bodies there. But …” he paused uncomfortably. “There is some evidence that could be incriminating.”

“Such as?”

“Spencer’s car isn’t here either,” Kelly said. “We’ve checked the parking garage and cross-referenced all the vehicles. Spencer’s car is missing. Also, Spencer’s office appears to have been ransacked. Whether this was done before or after the outbreak is unknown.”

“What do you mean, ransacked?” the Tokyo Director asked.

“I mean his desk had all the drawers pulled out, things were thrown around everywhere. There was a wall safe that was left open. We don’t know what the safe contained, but it seems unlikely that anyone but Spencer knew the combination to it.”

Kelly let them think about that. Spencer’s desk ransacked, his wall safe emptied and left open, and his car missing. It certainly sounded suspicious to him.

“What about the Project Manager?” the Dubai Director asked. “What was his name again?”

“Albert Wesker. There’s a car registered to him in the garage, and so far we’ve found two offices that we believe were his. It appears that he didn’t have one primary office in the lab, he had several small ones. But we haven’t found anything out of the ordinary so far.”

“Enough about them,” the Arizona Director said. “What about the experimental creatures at the lab?”

Kelly read through the long list of creatures and specimens that the lab experimented with. It was a sizeable list, including a few creatures that he had never heard of before. The researchers doing the clean-up work at the lab found several infected dogs running loose, as well as infected monkeys, and a few sharks in the destroyed aquatic lab. Plus a handful of hunters, several of them dead already, as well as lickers and stingers, and even some rarer specimens like the jumpers. There were also a few wild mutations like the enormous snake they found with its head blown off. And of course, the Tyrants.

“One of the Tyrants was found outside the lab, correct?” the Arizona Director asked.

“Yes,” Kelly said. “It was found destroyed near an exit elevator to the surface.”

“Destroyed how?” The Tokyo Director asked, curious again for more information. Kelly wished the man didn’t ask so many questions, because Kelly didn’t like giving them the answers.

“A rocket launcher, sir.”

The Director paused and leaned forward. “What?”

Kelly tried to explain as calmly as possible the sequence of events as he understood them, as the researchers had explained it to him. Much of the lab directly beneath the scenic area, where the elevator was, was thoroughly destroyed by fire. But they believed that the Tyrant was grown in a lab room not far from the elevator entrance. Somehow, it made its way up the elevator shaft, completely destroying the elevator in the process, and was destroyed by a rocket launcher before it made its way to the surrounding forest. They found the empty launcher at the edge of the concrete patio, along with cases of other weaponry.

“Were there any bodies found near the Tyrant?” the Arizona Director asked.

“No, sir.”

The Dubai Director finally interrupted. “Just what are trying to tell us, Mr. Kelly? That a random hiker passing through the area just happened to stumble on an escaped Tyrant and happened to have a rocket launcher in his backpack? Nothing you just told us makes any sense at all. How could the Tyrant climb up a closed elevator shaft? Wait, forget about that. How did the Tyrant even escape the lab when the entire place was supposedly on fire? And just who in the hell shot that rocket launcher?”

“We’re not exactly sure,” Kelly said as calmly as he could manage. “The most likely scenario is that the police were responsible. We did find several bodies of local officers, as I said.”

“If you found dead cops, then why aren’t there more cops there right now, arresting all of you? If the police knew about that lab, they wouldn’t just go away and not tell anyone.”

Kelly pushed his folders aside and took out the newspaper underneath them. It was the Raccoon City paper from the day before. “Actually, sir, I think that’s exactly what happened. We don’t have a lot of information right now, but it seems that the local police did come here at some point during the outbreak.”

Kelly read them details from the newspaper report, although the details were admittedly sketchy and incomplete. Two days before Kelly and the other scientists had arrived, approximately three days after the initial outbreak, a special team of police officers came to the mansion. The paper did not say that, it only said they were sent on a special mission of some kind. When the team did not return, another team was sent the following day. It appeared that four members of that team came back from the failed rescue mission on the same day that Kelly had arrived. They probably left the site just hours before the first Umbrella investigative teams came onto the scene. Kelly’s team determined that those four officers were the ones who destroyed the Tyrant, just before leaving by helicopter. It was speculation, but the facts seemed to fit.

“Alright,” the Arizona Director said. “So the police were involved. But if that’s the case, why aren’t they investigating this further? Why haven’t they returned to the lab yet?”

“I think that some high-ranking members of the police department or the local city government are keeping this confidential,” Kelly said. “We’re trying to find out which individuals in particular might have been working for us, but most of Dr. Spencer’s files are disorganized and we think some are missing. I suspect the local Chief of Police is probably responsible for keeping this under wraps so far.”

“Sounds plausible. Recruiting local authority isn’t unheard of.”

Kelly nodded and tucked the newspaper back under the folders. He slid out another small stack of notes and tapped the edge on the table to line the pages up.

The Paris Director spoke up. “Whatever the reason, we can’t expect it to last very long,” he advised. “Sooner or later, the public will demand answers, in particular the family of the dead police officers and any other employees that lived locally.”

“Very true,” Kelly said. “But I’m afraid there is still more bad news. It’s the real reason that I asked for this meeting, as a matter of fact. I don’t think we’ll have to worry about an upcoming police investigation any time soon.”

“And why not?” the Paris Director asked.

“Because the town of Raccoon City is at risk of infection. If our estimates are even close to accurate, the virus will spread to the city no later than eight days from now.”

Kelly sat upright and looked at the faces of the men on the seven computer screens. The Director from Arizona, who was Kelly’s direct manager, already knew that part of the meeting and could only look away. All of the other Directors said nothing, but they did not avert their gaze, each of them staring forward right at Kelly, as if daring him to change his mind. The Director from Dubai, the southern American, finally broke the silence. His voice was dark and threatening.

“You sure about that, Mr. Kelly? I mean, are you absolutely sure?”

“Yes,” Kelly said. “Without a doubt. Far too many infected hosts, human and otherwise, made it out into the open for us to contain the infection at this point. We’re still finding second-stage hosts out in the forest. By now, they’ve spread the virus as far away as four miles from the lab site. We cannot contain something that widespread.”

“What are your recommendations?” the Arizona Director said quietly, his question merely serving as a prompt.

“First,” Kelly said, “We have to stop all work at the central Raccoon facility. Our time is short, so we need to send units as soon as possible to take possession of the intellectual property. Escort the employees out and close the location. Try to save whatever we can before its too late.”

“And second?”

“Lock down the city. I already have several units of UBCF here on site, but I’ll need authorization for at least twenty more units. We have to keep the city quarantined to prevent anyone from leaving. When the virus hits, we have to limit its infection to this city alone. If it gets out of the city, then I don’t know what we can do.”

“You have a UBCF Commander on site, correct?”

“Yes.”

“Are these his recommendations as well?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Is there anything else?” the Paris Director asked.

Kelly nodded. “I hate to say this, but in the event of failure to contain the infection, I think we have to authorize the use of final decontamination measures.”

“As a last resort, of course,” the Arizona Director added.

“Of course,” Kelly said.

It was impossible not to notice that the Board of Directors was seriously opposed to the idea, but none of them were about to vote against it. There was simply too much at stake, too many lives at risk, too much damage already done for them to hesitate. Kelly knew that he had the support of the Arizona Director, and that made it easier for him to make such a request. Final decontamination was just that, a final solution to prevent the spread of the virus in the case of a massive, uncontrollable outbreak such as the one they had on their hands right now.

In the end, the Board voted in favor to authorize its use as a last resort.

Chapter 10

 

Sherry Birkin had come to accept the fact that her father was not home very often, and in the past couple weeks she barely saw him at all. She wasn’t the only one, as several of her schoolmates also had parents who spent long hours at their jobs, so it was easy for her to understand. Although her schoolmates parents at least slept at home every night, something her father rarely did. On the few nights when he was at home, she made sure to talk to him and learn about what he did at work, to keep updated about his life. Her mother was always so vague about their jobs, but her father usually was more specific. Whether this was because he was less careful when he talked to her, or because he actually respected her intelligence enough to tell her, she wasn’t sure.

While writing in her diary up in her room, she heard the front door close and was surprised to hear her father’s voice. She immediately ran down stairs and into the living room.

“Hey, honey,” Birkin said as he came into the kitchen, where Annette was waiting for both of them.

“Hey, daddy,” Sherry said. “I didn’t know you were coming home tonight.” She ran over to him and gave him a hug.

“I wanted to surprise you,” Birkin said with a smile. “Me and your mom have some pretty big news for you.”

“That’s right,” Annette said, kneeling down so she was face to face with Sherry. “But first, why don’t you help me set the table while your dad gets ready for dinner?”

“Sure thing, mom.”

Birkin patted her shoulder and walked over to the stairs, setting his briefcase and jacket on his recliner. As usual, he seemed tired and weary. Sherry went over to the silverware drawer and took out some knives and forks while Annette went over to the oven.

“So what’s the news?” Sherry asked when her mother didn’t say anything.

Annette opened the oven door and took some mitts off the counter. She sighed and smiled, but just said, “You’ll have to let your father tell you.”

“Is it good new or bad news?”

“Depends on how you look at it.”

Sherry placed the silverware on the kitchen table. “That means it’s bad news.”

Annette laughed at that, but it was one of her fake laughs. She pulled out a steaming tray of casserole from the oven and set it on top of the stove. Deciding that she wasn’t going to get any information from Annette, Sherry decided to hold off on the questions until her dad came back.

She suspected that something was up when she came home from school to find her parents’ bedroom a mess, and a couple half-packed suitcases on their bed. And her mother was even more sullen and moody than usual. Yesterday, Annette barely said anything to Sherry all night, and when Sherry tried to engage her in conversation, she shrugged it off by saying she didn’t feel well. Sherry could tell she wasn’t ill, she was just preoccupied, but Sherry had learned long ago not to try to get information from Annette when she was in one of her quiet moods.

Sherry got some glasses, but the plates were in a higher cupboard and she couldn’t reach them. By the time the table was ready, Birkin had come back downstairs, still wearing his work pants, but with a loose t-shirt on instead of his wrinkled work shirt. He had washed his face as well, and his hair was now wet and combed back..

“How was your day at school, honey?” he asked as he sat down. His voice was slow and quiet, betraying his weariness, but he had a peculiar smile on his face.

“It was okay. We handed in our history projects today.”

“Really? Is that the one you were doing about the Pilgrims?”

Sherry knew her father was rarely up on current events, but it still made her laugh sometimes how behind the times he was. “No, Daddy. That one was like two months ago. This was one about Abraham Lincoln.”

“Oh, okay. I think your mom told me about it. I just forgot. What did you do for the project?”

“I made a log cabin out of popsicle sticks. Lincoln grew up in a log cabin.”

“I didn’t know that,” Birkin said with a smile. “I was never all that interested in history.”

Sometimes, adults pretended not to know something that they actually knew. She guessed that they did it because they wanted children to be proud of knowing something, but it was cheap way to foster knowledge as far as she was concerned. Usually, she could tell when an adult was being honest, or just patronizing her. Her father, who was a brilliant scientist, was being honest this time. It amazed Sherry, because she thought everyone knew about Lincoln growing up in a log cabin. It amazed her more that there was something her father didn’t know.

Annette kept quiet during dinner, as Birkin and Sherry chatted back and forth a bit about school. Talked died down as they ate their chicken casserole, and Sherry watched with familiarity as Birkin wolfed down two full plates worth. Whenever he came home for dinner, he always seemed to stuff himself. Didn’t they feed him where he worked?

Annette had three glasses of wine during the meal, which was more than usual. Sherry noticed it but Birkin didn’t pay attention. If anything, her father seemed more talkative than usual, while her mother was quiet and withdrawn. She didn’t seem angry though, so Sherry was kind of confused.

Sherry and Annette were both done by the time Birkin finished his second helping, and had already cleared some of the dishes. Annette stacked them in the sink and then turned the water on, letting the sink fill up.

“I wouldn’t worry about the dishes, dear,” Birkin said with a chuckle, pushing his chair back. He set his plate into the sink and turned off the water.

Annette paused for a moment and said, “Yeah, I guess not.” She smiled, pleasantly warm from the wine, and dried her hands on a dish towel.

Birkin helped Sherry stack the rest of the dishes in the sink, something he almost never did, and then went into the living room as Annette took the tray of casserole, covered it with a glass lid, and placed it in the refrigerator.

Sherry followed Birkin into the living room. “So what’s the big news?” she asked, taking a seat on the couch.

Birkin set his briefcase and jacket on the floor so he could sit down in the recliner. He put his feet up on an ottoman and sighed, folding his hands in his lap. “Well,” he said, “There’s some good news and some bad news, I guess.”

Annette came into the living room, and leaned up against the wall, crossing her arms. “You might not like the news, honey,” she said softly.

“Well then, give me the good news first.”

Birkin smiled at that. “The good news is that I made a very important discovery at work the other day. I mean an incredible discovery, something totally amazing. It’s what I’ve been trying to find for years now. I’ve been working on it since before you were even born.”

“Wow,” Sherry said. “Is it going to make us rich?”

Annette could not help but laugh at that, and she quickly covered her mouth, as if embarrassed by the outburst. Birkin smiled as well, and said, “It’s more than that, honey. It’s going to change the world.”

“So what’s the bad news?”

Birkin shrugged and looked over to Annette, who just sighed and shook her head. “No, Will. This is your news, you can tell her.”

Birkin pursed his lips and took a deal breath before putting his feet back on the floor and leaning forward. He set his elbows on his knees and folded his hands. “The bad news is that we can’t live in Raccoon City anymore.”

It took Sherry by surprise, and she stuttered, “You mean we have to move away?”

“Yes,” Birkin said. “I’m sorry, honey.”

“Why? Did your boss tell you we have to move?”

“Not exactly. To be honest, I don’t really have a boss anymore. But that’s beside the point.”

“Why do we have to move, then?”

Birkin got up from the chair and walked over to the couch. He sat down next to her and put his hand on her shoulder. “It’s complicated, honey. I don’t know if I can really explain the whole reason.”

“Try to explain. I can understand a lot.”

Birkin smiled warmly, and Sherry noticed for the first time just how rarely he did that, how rarely he connected with her this way. He wasn’t just a busy person in the background who sometimes talked to her on his way through her life. For the first time in recent memory, Birkin was actually acting like a concerned, sympathetic parent. Somehow, Sherry began to realize just how bad this news really was.

“It’s not that you won’t understand, honey, because I know you will,” Birkin said. “But there’s some bad things about my job that I don’t want you to know about. Now that I’ve made this big discovery, I don’t want to deal with those bad things anymore. So we have to move away, so I can get a new job somewhere else.”

“Why can’t you just keep the job you have now?” Sherry asked helplessly.

Birkin looked at her and just shook his head. “Believe me, if I had a choice, we would stay here and everything would be fine. But sometimes people have to make difficult decisions like this. I don’t want to move away either, but we can’t stay here in Raccoon City anymore.”

Sherry glanced to Annette for help, but Annette merely looked at her sadly and nodded her head in agreement. She fidgeted with her hands and then walked back into the kitchen, probably going for another glass of wine.

“I don’t understand,” Sherry said. “I thought you liked your job. Maybe you can get another job here and we don’t have to move.”

“I know it’s tough, honey. I know you have friends at school, and I know you don’t want to move away, but I’m afraid we don’t have a choice.”

Sherry recalled the suitcases in her parents room and made the connection. “When are we moving?” she asked nervously.

Birkin looked right at her and did not hesitate. “We have to move away tomorrow night. Mom will help you pack up tonight and then you’ll stay home from school tomorrow. When I come home from work tomorrow, we’re packing up the car and moving away.”

Sherry said nothing as a horrible sense of dread crept up her back. She felt as if she was in the middle of a nightmare, and desperately wanted to just pinch herself and make it go away. Birkin held her hand tightly, holding her steady.

It wasn’t just the fact that they were packing up and moving away so suddenly, without any warning at all. That upset her, but at least she could accept it. But it seemed like there was much more going on that just moving away from home. Annette was already downing another glass of alcohol, and Birkin was finally acting like her father. That alone made Sherry realize just how bad this really was. Her parents were scared.

“What’s going to happen?” she whispered.

Birkin put his arm around her. “It’s okay, honey. We’re going to be fine. One day I promise I’ll explain everything, but right now you’ll have to believe me. I promise that after this is over, everything is going to be just fine.”

Chapter 11

 

Chris walked up the empty stairwell one slow step at a time, his hand sliding along the railing, his boots making loud footsteps on the cement steps. When he reached the third floor of the apartment building, he pushed open the door and walked into the quiet hallway.

He still didn’t have the heart to tell his family what happened, or what was going to happen next, so he sent impersonal emails to tell them that something came up and he would be busy for a couple of weeks. They would not be able to get in touch with him for a little while. He emailed his parents, his grandparents, and his sister Claire. Telling them over the phone would too difficult, and they would never understand the real reasons. Chris was very close with his family, but somehow, he knew that even they would not believe him if he tried to tell the truth. And he could not bear to lie to them, so he just avoided the problem altogether.

He stopped at the door to Jill’s apartment and paused, looking down at his hands. He came to tell Jill in person that he was leaving town for good, but now he didn’t know if he wanted to break that news to her in person either. She took the deaths of Barry’s family very hard, even harder than Chris had. And Brad already mentioned to Chris that Jill was dealing with the situation by drowning herself in alcohol.

Chris sighed and knocked on the door, tapping it lightly with his knuckles. He waited a moment, and when he heard no answer, he knocked again.

“It’s Chris,” he said.

Almost immediately, he heard the sound of the deadbolt chain. The lock clicked and the door eased open and Jill was there, looking out at Chris with a sad smile on her tired face. She was a mess, but not as bad as Chris somehow expected. Her hair was unwashed and her eyes were slightly glazed. She wore a gray undershirt and a blue pair of shorts, and a blue blanket was draped over her shoulders.

“Hey,” she said. “I didn’t know if it was another reporter or something. That’s why I didn’t answer. You can come in if you want.”

“Okay,” Chris said, and he walked into the apartment, sticking his hands in the pockets of his black cargo pants. Jill closed the door and locked it again.

Chris glanced surreptitiously into the kitchen and noticed two empty wine bottles on the counter. He walked into the living room and saw that the television was on with the sound muted. A news anchorman mouthed out words silently on the screen. There was another half-empty bottle on the end table, next to an open bag of store brand chocolate chip cookies.

“Are you going to lecture me too?” Jill asked as she shuffled back over to the couch. She sat down and crossed her legs, wrapping the blanket around her whole body. It was like she was encasing herself in a cocoon.

“No,” Chris said softly. “We all deal with things differently. I don’t blame you for having some trouble with it.” He took a few steps over to the window and looked outside. The view from Jill’s living room was pretty bleak; it showed an empty side street with a few cars parked along the curb, and a small factory building with no windows across the street.

“So how are you dealing with it?” Jill asked. She shifted position on the couch and tilted her head back, staring up at the ceiling.

“That’s kind of why I came over. I thought about just calling you on the phone, but I wanted to talk to you in person.”

“I unplugged my phone anyway,” Jill said. “I got sick of all the messages.”

“Have you talked to anyone? Have you called your parents or anything?”

Jill shook her head and closed her eyes. “No, I haven’t. I don’t even know what I could tell them. I’ll call them in a few days. I need to think it over.”

“I know what you mean.”

“I’m quitting the force,” Jill said suddenly. She sat up straight and took a deep breath, and looked at Chris with sad, weary eyes. “I can’t go back to work. I can’t be a cop anymore, not after what happened.”

“Me neither,” Chris said.

Jill was taken aback and just stared at him with her mouth hanging open. Chris guessed that she expected him to try to talk her out of it. “You’re quitting too?” she said disbelievingly.

Chris nodded and pursed his lips, giving her a weak shrug. “What’s the point? Going back there to work for Irons, knowing he lied to us? If we went back to work, we’d all be under the microscope. Every cop there would wonder if they could trust us. I can’t live like that.”

“I guess I thought you would be too stubborn to quit,” Jill said. “Are Brad and Rebecca quitting too?”

“Rebecca is. I’m not sure about Brad. I called him earlier today and he told me that he would think about it.”

Jill sighed and looked down at the floor. For a few long moments, neither of them said anything. Jill’s hand came out from under the blanket and she grabbed a few cookies off the end table. She ate one, replacing the calm silence with the sound of her chewing. She swallowed and then looked disinterestedly at the other cookies in her hand, before setting them on the arm of the sofa.

“I wonder if Irons would let me take a medical leave of absence,” she said.

“He might,” Chris said. “I’m sure he doesn’t want any of us coming back to work anyway. Signing off on a leave of absence would be easier than firing us.”

“We’re liabilities now. We know too much.”

“Yeah.”

“Do you think …” Jill said, and then shook her head. “No, nevermind.”

“What is it?”

Jill sighed again and said, “I wonder if he might try something to get rid of us. If we refused to quit, or if we threatened to go to the press, no matter how crazy it sounded. Do you think he might … I don’t know … try to have us killed or something?”

Chris had already considered that. “It would be too suspicious if we were killed all of a sudden. With the other members of the team gone, and Barry’s family gone, if one of us were killed, it would be way too obvious. Irons wouldn’t risk making people more suspicious than they already are.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“Of course, if Umbrella found out what we know, they might try something. After all, it wouldn’t get traced back to them, since no one but Irons knows they’re involved.”

“Do you think they’ll try something to keep us from telling anyone?”

“Maybe,” Chris admitted. “But I doubt it. No one would ever believe us, and Umbrella has bigger things to worry about.”

Chris had no doubts that Umbrella must know by now that the S.T.A.R.S. teams were involved in the events at the lab. The bodies of seven police officers were still there, not including Wesker. For the past two days, the newspapers had been full of speculation about the events of that night. Umbrella would have to be blind not to put it together by now. The fact that Chris and the others were not silenced already was a good sign that Umbrella was not concerned about them.

“So what are you going to do now that you’re unemployed?” Jill asked.

“I’m leaving Raccoon City. I’m already all packed up. I came over here to talk to you before I left.”

“Before you left?” Jill said. “You mean you’re leaving today? Right now?”

“Yeah,” Chris said with a short nod. “I came over to say goodbye.”

Jill looked up at him with wide eyes, and then slowly looked away. “Maybe I should go away too,” she said quietly. “I should get out of here before it’s too late.”

“Yes, you should,” Chris said.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m heading to Florida first. I have some friends there, some guys I used to know when I was in the Air Force. They’re going to help me get started.”

“What do you mean?” Jill asked. “Get started with what?”

“I made Barry a promise,” Chris replied, looking down at the floor. “And I’m going to keep it. I’m going to make sure that Umbrella doesn’t get away with this.”

Jill just looked disappointed. She shook her head defeatedly and said, “How are you going to do that, Chris? I mean, I know how you feel. I want them to pay for this just as badly as you do. But you can’t get revenge on them. They’re a huge company, they have millions of employees probably, they have buildings and stuff all over the world. What could you possibly do by yourself?”

“Maybe I don’t have to do it by myself.”

“Maybe you …” Jill blinked and shook her head again. “No, I’m sorry, but I can’t help you, Chris. I’m not up to it. I just can’t.”

“It’s okay,” Chris said reassuringly. “I asked Rebecca and Brad as well, and they didn’t want to come with me either. I know what I’m getting into, and I know that it’s something you might not want to be involved in.”

“I don’t want you to be involved either,” Jill said. “What do you think Umbrella will do to you if they catch you?”

“I’m willing to risk it. I can’t just walk away from all this. I promised Barry that I would make sure Umbrella paid for their crimes, and that’s what I’m going to try to do.”

“I wish I could help you,” Jill said weakly. “Maybe some day down the road, I might be able to. But not right now.”

“I understand.”

Jill looked away again. She spoke, but her voice was low. “If you’re leaving today, you’re going to miss the funerals.”

“Yes,” Chris said. The funeral for Barry’s wife and children was in two days. “I’m sorry, but I can’t be there. It wouldn’t be right.”

“I know what you mean,” Jill said.

The thought of having a funeral for Barry’s family, while not being able to have a proper burial for Barry himself, was something Chris could not accept. And it wasn’t just Barry. All of the members of the team deserved a real funeral, but he doubted that any of them would receive one. Their bodies were still out at the mansion and the lab, and Umbrella would surely never want those bodies to be returned. They would hide the evidence of their wrongdoing, and the bodies of all the victims would be disposed of or hidden away.

Until Umbrella paid for their crimes, until the truth about the events in the Arklay Mountains was revealed to the public, Chris could not bear to face the families of the deceased. Every dead member of the S.T.A.R.S. teams had families and friends that were demanding answers from the RCPD. They were also demanding answers from the surviving members of the team, and Chris had no answers he was willing to give them. It was only a matter of time until the lawsuits started flying, and Chris wanted to be long gone when that happened.

“I have to leave now,” he said.

“Okay. Good luck, Chris.”

“Thanks. I think I might need it.”

Jill smiled sadly and nodded to herself. “Yeah, I need some too.”

Chris walked over to her and put his hand on her shoulder. “Don’t wait too long, Jill. If you’re planning on getting out, get out as soon as you can. Things are only going to get worse. If I were you, I’d get the hell out of this city in the next couple of days.”

“Do you really think it will be that bad?”

“Yes. Whatever happened out at that lab is going to happen here.”

Jill looked up at him and slowly put her hand on top of his. “Okay,” she said softly. “I promise I’ll get out as soon as I can.”

Chris smiled and walked to the door. Just as he was reaching for the doorknob, Jill got up off the couch, tossing the blanket aside. “Chris, wait,” she said.

Chris turned around as Jill rushed over to him, her eyes glistening. She wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his chest, holding him tightly. Chris put his hands on her shoulders and held her gently as she cried, her body trembling. After a few moments, she sniffed and wiped her face with the back of her hand, but her cheeks were still wet with tears.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.

“It’s okay,” Chris whispered back.

Jill cleared her throat. “Be careful, alright?” she said, managing a smile even as her eyes blurred with more tears. “And keep in touch. Give me a day or two and I promise I’ll be right behind you.”

“I hope you will. If you can’t find me, I’ll try to find you.”

“Okay.”

Chris touched Jill’s cheek and then leaned down to plant a kiss on her forehead. She closed her eyes and smiled. Another stray tear rolled down the side of her face.

“Goodbye,” Chris said. “I’ll see you soon.”

“Bye,” Jill whispered.

The door opened and closed, and when Jill opened her eyes again, Chris was gone.

Chapter 12

 

Now that his meeting with the Board of Directors was done, Kelly felt like he could relax a little bit. Things had gone rather smoothly, which he was grateful for, but unfortunately it only gave him more work to do in the long run. Coordinating the UBCF, briefing their Commander, preparing the city for occupation, planning the stages of engagement, and possibly authorizing the decontamination, all still had to be done. Kelly mentally reminded himself to schedule in some sleep at some point in the next couple of days.

His office was one of the cleaned rooms in the mansion above the lab. The hazard teams had gone through some of the rooms on the second floor in the right wing and declared them safe. They had bagged up and removed all the bodies and scrubbed clean any residues or possibly infected fluids. Personally, Kelly felt that the only real way to clean the mansion was to burn it to the ground, but he wasn’t going to argue.

The mansion wasn’t really dangerous at all, except for the remains of the infected hosts, of course. Kelly wasn’t going to get infected just by walking around, because the Progenitor virus, and all of its variant strains and related viruses, were not communicable by air alone. The original infection event was long enough ago that any trace of the virus would have long since settled out of the air or died off. But Kelly, after seeing the aftermath of the infection, was not about to take any chances. He had balked at wearing a hazmat suit when he first arrived there, but he was not so careless about the virus now, after witnessing the damage it had caused.

Of course, that original infection event was one detail conspicuously left out of his meeting with the Board. They had already been informed of the infection, and during the meeting they were too concerned with the possible consequences to ask for further details. But none of them had asked the one very obvious question. It was something so blatantly obvious that no one bothered to question it, assuming it had already been explained and they simply missed it.

How had the virus escaped in the first place? What was the cause of the original infection event? How did it happen?

The virus itself was not located in the mansion, it was located in the lab below. In theory, the mansion was effectively sealed off from the lab. If an accident occurred in the lab, or the virus was released for whatever reason, it was nearly impossible for the mansion to become exposed, unless an infected host somehow made it all the way back to the mansion and managed to spread the virus there.

But nothing like that happened. And the implications of that were staggering. The fact that the virus not only reached the mansion, but the guardhouse, which was a completely separate building, was more than simply suspicious. It was the smoking gun.

The scientists performed tests on all the dead bodies and still active secondary hosts found at the Arklay lab. The original time of infection could be roughly estimated by calculating how quickly the body deteriorated and how certain bodily functions broke down. It was hardly accurate, but the time of death could be estimated within perhaps twelve hours.

All of the bodies found so far, except for those of the dead police officers, were infected within the same twelve-hour period, based on their investigation. In fact, the scientists performing the tests were of the opinion that everyone was infected at roughly the same time. In retrospect, that was the only possible explanation for the suddenness of the infection. It had happened so quickly that no one had managed to escape or send a warning.

The lab, the mansion, and the guardhouse were all infected in the same time frame, but that was impossible. There was simply no way that the virus could have spread to all those locations simultaneously. It must have been released into the lab first, and then spread to the mansion and the guardhouse afterward. But that’s not what the pattern of infection showed. Hosts from all three locations became infected at around the same time. It was impossible, simply impossible.

Acting on that information, Kelly ordered the investigators to check the ventilation system. And that’s how they discovered the method by which the infection occurred. The water system was contaminated with the virus. The ventilation system was then sabotaged to allow the water system to spray vaporized water into the ventilation ducts. That vaporized water then was distributed simultaneously to all three locations, where it then infected the hosts.

Of course, there were safeguards to prevent something like that from ever happening. Very complicated systems were in place specifically to prevent infection from spread by way of the ventilation system. And when Kelly ordered those systems to be checked, they found more sabotage. Someone had deactivated the safety protocols on the ventilation system and reprogrammed the entire thing.

The infection at the lab was no accident. It was a deliberate act. The virus didn’t just escape, it was purposely set loose. And the person responsible was very thorough in making sure it struck everyone at the same time, so that no one would be able to get away in time. The entire thing was planned.

The Arizona Director knew of this, but he and Kelly had wisely decided to keep it confidential for the time being. They had to focus on handling the problem here and trying to contain the infection of the city. If the other members of the Board knew that it was a deliberate act of biological terrorism, the entire focus of the investigation here at the lab would be shifted to discovering the culprit. Planning to counter the infection in Raccoon City would become a secondary goal, something to be done later, if time allowed.

Kelly gave them enough information to let them make their own conclusions about Ozwell Spencer’s possible guilt, but he had managed to avoid getting into concrete details. Once they were done in Raccoon City, then the results of their investigation could be given to the Board, and the search for the guilty individuals could begin in earnest.

By the time Kelly left the mansion and walked outside to see how things were progressing, it was already dark outside. Half a dozen trucks were parked in a semi-circle around the front lot, and tall flood lights cast long beams of light across the expanse of concrete. Two large command tents were set side-by-side off to Kelly’s right, closer to the mansion. Men in black and green military gear, with army boots and crew cuts, unloaded crates and cases from the trucks, setting them in rows facing the mansion. Kelly stood on the front steps and slid his hands into his pockets, watching the men unload their gear with a detached sense of interest. There was an army gathering.

He went down the steps and marveled at the precise organization of the soldiers. He had only seen UBCF troops deployed two other times since he first joined Umbrella, and each time it was a very informative experience. The troops said nothing as they worked, unloading crate after crate, setting up security and monitoring systems, and splitting up all the equipment equally among each unit of soldiers. Such organization would help them in the next day or two, when twenty more units of soldiers arrived to join the force. Some of them would surely arrive in the next ten or twelve hours, and the command center here at the mansion had to be ready for them.

The flaps on one of the tents spread open and the UBCF Commander walked out. He was a muscular bear of a man, and although Kelly was taller than him by three inches, he still felt intimidated by the Commander that Umbrella sent there to take control of the mission. His name was Nicholai Ginovaef, and he was built like a bodybuilder. Every movement gave away his harsh, violent nature. Kelly had taken an immediate dislike to the man.

“Good evening, Mister Kelly,” he grunted in his deep voice, with his distinctive Eastern European accent. He had a habit of always calling him “Mister Kelly.”

“Sergeant,” Kelly said. “The new units are on their way. The Board agreed to our suggestions.”

Nicholai chuckled. “That is good news. I have good men here, but not enough. Not enough at all, for what we have to do.”

“No problems so far with your equipment?”

“No problems with that.”

“Good,” Kelly said. “Will you be ready in two days?”

“Yes, I believe so. Are we going to wait so long?”

“We don’t have to. Two days is as long as I’m willing to wait. If you and your men are ready before then, that’s even better.”

“We will be ready then,” Nicholai assured him, nodding toward the swarm of soldiers working in front of them. “Lots of good men here. We will be ready.”

“Can you show me your initial plan of action?” Kelly asked. “My superiors will want to know what steps you’re taking.”

“Of course,” Nicholai purred. “Come, into the tent.”

The inside of the tent was a random assortment of tables covered in computers, radios, and other electrical equipment. All of it was powered by an independent central generator, and a huge spiderweb of cables and wires was strung up on poles above the tables to all of the various devices and machinery. Half a dozen men were seated at various computer stations, some of them talking into microphone headsets. As Kelly and Nicholai walked into the tent, no one so much as glanced at them.

“Shutting down entire city is no easy task,” Nicholai said as he wove his way around the tables and computers to a large square table at the other end of the tent. Maps were spread out before them, of the city and the mountains beyond. “But this city is not too bad. There are only three main roads into the city. Blocking them is the easy part. Some smaller roads as well, we can close them too.”

He pointed a thick finger at the map at the locations where the roadblocks were planned. Raccoon City was such a good location precisely because of its isolation from other metropolitan areas. Three main routes to the city, none of them even a major highway. Most of the people who worked in Raccoon City lived there as well, and the city had few commuters from other areas. Blocking the roads was indeed the easy part.

“What about communications?” Kelly asked.

Nicholai pointed to a series of red marks on the map. “Cell phone towers. Those are easy to shut down. I do not think anyone could get a signal here without the towers. Just in case, also have cell phone jamming devices due to arrive tomorrow.”

“What about land lines?”

“Two main telephone cables go through the mountains. Tomorrow I will send men to disable them. No one will be able to call outside of the city.”

“Good. What about satellite phones?”

“Jamming them as well.”

Kelly set his hands on the table and looked at the map. Phones were out, but there were other ways to contact someone. They had to cover all their bases.

“What about television stations and radio stations? Can you jam all of those?”

“Do not have to,” Nicholai said. “There are four television stations and five radio stations. I will send men to the stations themselves and shut them down.”

“What about the internet?”

“Disabling the phone lines will also disable the internet. We are trying to track down cable lines as well. You do not have to worry about anyone sending an email,” Nicholai said with a chuckle.

“That’s good,” Kelly said. “You can have all communication shut down by tomorrow night?”

“Yes.”

“And you can block the roads the following morning?”

“Yes. As I said, that is the easy part.”

“Are you sure that these are the only roads out of the city?” Kelly asked, pointing at the roads shown on the map.

“There are some little dirt roads in the mountains,” Nicholai said. “Some of them are not shown on our maps. But we will find them all. I think that most of the people here will not try to escape.”

“Sure they will,” Kelly said. “But not right away. In a day or two, once they figure out that the city is cut off, some of them will try to get out.”

“They will not escape us,” Nicholai said confidently.

Kelly nodded and looked at the map for another few moments before stepping away. He wanted to assert some kind of authority, but he knew that he was out of his league here. He was an administrator, not a soldier. As much as he disliked the idea, he would have to trust Nicholai and give him room to control the operation as he saw fit.

“We’re going to shut down the Raccoon City lab tomorrow,” he said. “You can spare some men to handle that, correct?”

“Of course. One unit will be enough.”

“More than enough, probably. All they have to do is show up and wave their guns around. Once they escort everyone out of the lab, I’ll have my men show up and take over from there. That part of the plan, at least, should be no problem at all.”

Chapter 13

 

Rebecca held the phone in her hands, studied it for a moment, and hung it back up. There was a phone number scribbled on a piece of paper on the table, but she couldn’t build up the courage to call it. It had taken her most of the morning to even track the number down, and she had so far spent half an hour sitting next to the phone, debating with herself about whether or not she could call it.

Finally, she took a deep breath, picked up the phone, and dialed the number. She cautiously held the phone to her ear and heard it ring on the other end.

Two rings and then a click. A woman’s voice said, “Hello?”

Rebecca paused for a second. “Um, hello,” she said. “I’m looking for Darlene and David Coen?”

“This is Darlene.”

“Okay. Um, my name is Rebecca Chambers. I don’t know if you’ve heard of me.”

“No, I’m afraid I haven’t.”

“Well, I met your son, Billy.”

“Oh.” Billy’s mother paused, her voice dropping. “Well, you know he’s not here, then. We haven’t heard from him in a long time. I can give you a phone number where you might be able to contact him.” There was a coldness in her voice that Rebecca could feel through the phone line.

“Actually,” Rebecca said uncertainly, “I was wondering if you might be able to give him a message from me.”

“He’s in jail,” Billy’s mother said emotionlessly. “We haven’t heard from him.”

Billy had told Rebecca that he planned to contact his parents once he escaped. That was two days ago, so if Billy made it out of the woods, then he surely would have been able to talk to his parents by now, even if he had not made it all the way to Colorado. And even if he never escaped the woods, then surely the military would be looking for him by now. The police would have called his parents to tell them that their son was missing, and to order them to call the authorities if he contacted them. In any case, Billy’s parents would know that Billy was not in jail right now. So Darlene Coen was lying.

If they didn’t know where Billy was, then they had no reason to lie to Rebecca. But the cold, unfriendly tone in the woman’s voice told her something else. They were not taking any chances. For all they knew, Rebecca was an undercover agent trying to figure out if Billy’s parents were helping him. They had no reason to trust her.

Rebecca could not help but believe that Billy’s parents knew where he was. Darlene’s quick statement that they had not heard from him sounded to her like an excuse. Darlene was denying anything before Rebecca had even suggested otherwise.

“I know you haven’t,” Rebecca said. “But if you do hear from him, can you send him a message for me?”

“What did you say your name was again?”

“Rebecca Chambers.”

Billy’s mother paused again. Rebecca wondered if perhaps she was covering the receiver with her hand so she could talk to someone else in the room with her. After a few moments, she said, “Okay. What’s your message?”

Rebecca took a deep breath. “Um, can you tell him that I want to see him again? I quit my job and I’m moving away. I’d like to … make a new start somewhere. I’m sure he knows why. Can you just tell him that I’d like to see him again?”

“Yes, I suppose I can do that. I’ll tell him next time I see him. But that probably won’t be for a very long time.”

“I understand. Thank you.”

“Yes. Goodbye.”

The phone clicked off before Rebecca could say goodbye, and she listened to the dial tone for a few seconds before slowly hanging the phone up.

She had no way to know if they had any intention of giving Billy her message, or if they were even able to. She doubted that Billy could have made it all the way to his parents’ house in Colorado by now, but he surely could have made his way to a pay phone and called them. Rebecca believed that he had done just that. The fact that Billy’s mother even listened to her message made Rebecca believe that she was at least able to relay it to Billy.

She wondered what he would say if he got the message. Part of the reason he chose not to stay with her before was that he was a wanted fugitive and she was a police officer. But after the events at the lab, Rebecca couldn’t be a cop anymore, at least not in Raccoon City. And with nothing keeping her there, she planned on leaving as soon as possible.

She wanted to see Billy again, although she couldn’t really explain why. Or maybe she just couldn’t accept the reasons why she shouldn’t. The only thing she shared with him was a memory of a traumatic event, and she was smart enough to know that those types of situations were not something to base a relationship on. Her feelings for him were the result of a terrifying experience, not a normal, natural attraction.

Maybe he would just ignore the message. He left her once before, and maybe he thought it best that they stay away from each other. Maybe he thought she wasn’t really prepared to give up her entire life just yet.

She was, though. Sitting on the floor next to the couch in Rebecca’s small apartment were half a dozen packed bags containing only the most important of her possessions. Everything else in the apartment would be abandoned here when she left. Furniture, dishes, clothing, books and video tapes, everything she didn’t need. She was going to leave it all behind when she left, she just didn’t know exactly where she was going yet. Her parents’ house first, then maybe somewhere else, anywhere else. Maybe she would go and see Billy, wherever he was.

She wandered around her apartment for a little while, lost in her own thoughts. Chris was already gone, and Jill said that she would probably leave town as well. Brad was unsure, but Rebecca had a feeling that he would see the wisdom in getting out. There was nothing left for any of them here, only bad memories and growing suspicions. None of them could return to the police station, that was certain.

What was going to happen to Raccoon City? If Chris was right, the virus that had devastated the lab and killed all those people was going to make it to the city. What was going to happen then? Rebecca had already experienced what a small crowd of hungry zombies was like, but she could not even imagine an entire city infected with the disease. Hundreds of thousands of people all infected? That was too much to even consider. But Chris believed it was bound to happen, and probably sooner than later.

Rebecca felt like a coward for leaving town, but she knew that staying behind would not solve anything. No one would believe her. Trying to warn anyone would probably get her committed in a mental hospital. If she had any close friends in town, she would try to warn them, but Rebecca hadn’t lived in Raccoon City long enough to really meet anyone. Her only friends were her fellow police officers. The only thing she could really do was get out of town before the disease struck.

The phone rang. Rebecca walked over to it, expecting it to be her parents. She picked it up and said, “Hello?”

“Is this Rebecca?” asked a deep male voice.

“Yes.”

“This is David Coen. My wife gave me your number. I’m calling from a pay phone.”

“Oh,” Rebecca breathed.

“How do I know I can trust you?”

“You’ll have to ask Billy.”

“I already did. He told me to call you.”

Rebecca swallowed nervously. “Where is he?” she asked.

“Right now he’s in Virginia. His sister lives there. He showed up on her doorstep yesterday morning and she called us. We’re trying to find a way to get him out of the country.”

“Have the police contacted you?”

“Of course they have.”

“Did … did Billy tell you what happened?”

Billy’s father sighed, and his voice softened. “No, not all of it. Do you know? Maybe you can tell me just how he managed to escape. All he said about it was that something very bad happened in the mountains, and we might be hearing about it on the news. Just what does he mean?”

“I don’t know if I can tell you either,” Rebecca admitted. “But Billy’s right about it being on the news. I think it will be all over the news in a week or two.”

“Did …” David Coen’s voice caught and Rebecca could sense the worry and frustration he must have been feeling. “Did he hurt anyone to escape?”

“No,” Rebecca said. “Nothing like that. He only escaped by accident.”

“Okay, I just … I know he had nothing to do with that thing in Africa, anyone could see that. But he was being sent to jail for life. I was afraid that maybe he … he was desperate and .. maybe he had to kill someone to escape …”

“He didn’t kill anyone,” Rebecca promised. Of course, even that was only partially true. “In fact, he saved my life. More than once.”

“Did you help him escape?”

“Sort of. Let’s just say that we helped each other.”

David sighed again and cleared his throat. “Okay. I guess one of these days I’ll hear the whole story from him. When he’s ready to tell us.”

“Would it be possible for me to come and see him?” Rebecca asked.

“I don’t know. He won’t be staying in the United States much longer. The sooner we get him to Mexico, the better.”

“Is that where he’s going?”

“He wants to go to Costa Rica. Right now, I’m just worried about getting him out of the United States.”

Strangely, the thought of traveling all the way to Costa Rica sounded wonderful to Rebecca. She expected to be frightened or worried, but instead she was almost excited about the prospect of going there with Billy. As a trained nurse, she could certainly make a living there. Of course, that all hinged on Billy letting her come along.

“If I can help you, I will,” Rebecca said. “And if Billy wants me to, I’ll even go to Costa Rica with him. You can tell him that. I have nothing keeping me where I am now.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes, very.”

David paused for a moment. “Maybe we can work something out. We were worried about smuggling him into Mexico. It would be too suspicious if anyone in our family drove there so soon after his escape. But if you drove him there …”

Rebecca could not stop herself from smiling. She almost had trouble containing her happiness. “That sounds like a great idea. I would love to.”

Chapter 14

 

“Thank you for your time, Mr. Irons. If you have any other information that might help us, please contact me as soon as you can.”

“Of course I will,” Irons said. “Glad I could help. Have a good evening.”

“You too, and thanks again. Goodbye now.”

“Goodbye.”

Irons set the phone down and let out a long breath. He held onto the phone for a moment before letting go, and leaned back in his chair. His head tilted back and he blinked a few times, staring at the ceiling.

Umbrella didn’t know anything yet, at least not about him. When they had called him, he expected some kind of vague threat or other hint that they knew about his involvement. But to his disbelief, the man on the phone sounded sincerely unaware of Irons’ connection to the events at the lab. He was some mid-level manager calling about possible information dealing with an Umbrella facility out in the mountains. Any kind of police action out in the woods that might have something to do with the facility.

The man was not very specific, not surprisingly. He mentioned some kind of internal investigation into Umbrella employees, and asked very politely for any information the local police might have.

Irons had answered very carefully, keeping his responses in line with what was the papers reported. And of course, qualifying each response with the statement that he could not comment on an ongoing investigation. The man from Umbrella seemed happy with the answers, or at least Irons thought he sounded that way.

Without Wesker around to give him directions, Irons was forced to play everything by ear and hope for the best. The call from Umbrella unnerved him at first, but now that his heart had stopped racing, he felt better about how things turned out. Maybe Wesker had decided not to throw Irons under the bus after all. If Wesker managed to erase any record of the bribery, then maybe Irons would be safe. He knew that any investigation on his end would find nothing out of the ordinary. He was very careful right from the beginning not to leave any kind of paper trail to the thousands of dollars he’d been bribed with in the past decade. So if Umbrella didn’t know about it, then maybe he would be safe.

Well, he might be safe from prosecution, but his career was not going to survive much longer. He knew that already. The farce that was the “investigation” was going to eventually ruin him, and he knew it.

It was sort of an open secret that the S.T.A.R.S. teams were not under any kind of investigation. Irons made no effort at all to conceal his lies to the media. The entire police department knew that his talk about an investigation was nothing but smoke and mirrors to distract the newspapers and reporters, and no one did anything about it. Of course, any day now, one of the officers in the force might blab to the press, but Irons was cautiously optimistic that they would keep the secret.

In the end, all he had to do was appeal to their sense of loyalty. Irons worked hard all his career to fight illegal corruption in the police department, and for the most part he succeeded. But even without corruption, there was still the infamous Blue Code of Silence, a permanent feature in even the most law-abiding police department.

It was the unspoken code of loyalty between police officers. It had a very negative public stigma attached to it, because far too often, corrupt police used it as a way to cover up wrongdoing by officers. But in this case, Irons invoked the Blue Wall to protect people that had truly done no wrong.

Barry Burton was a legend at the RCPD, and his tragic death shook the department down to its foundation. The S.T.A.R.S. unit included some of the most widely-respected officers in the force, including Barry, Enrico Marini, Chris Redfield, and ironically, even Albert Wesker. For so many of the members of the team to die so suddenly wasn’t just a tragedy for the department, it was a great loss for the entire city. And for the local media to jump in and started making baseless accusations was a slap in the face to the people who died. Irons did not have to work very hard to persuade the rest of the force to keep silent about the events at the lab. To respect the memory of their fallen peers, they were more than happy to keep silent.

The truth, as Irons explained it to them, went like this:

The S.T.A.R.S. Bravo team was sent on a mission to help rescue people involved in a train accident. But when they arrived, they discovered a secret research facility in the Arklay Mountains. Terrorists had infiltrated the facility and taken hostages. They set explosives in the surrounding area, and one of their bombs inadvertently derailed the train. Federal agencies were already on the scene, and reluctantly allowed the Bravo team to assist them once they discovered the situation. For reasons of national security, the entire hostage situation was kept hidden from the media.

When the violence escalated, the Bravo team was sent in to help the federal agents. Several of them were killed by the terrorists. When Alpha team arrived on the scene 24 hours later, they had no choice but to help as well. In the aftermath of the terrorist act, only four members of the S.T.A.R.S. team had survived. They were all required to keep their silence about what they saw and witnessed, because of the nature of the work done at the facility. They could all be charged with treason if they revealed anything they saw there.

Irons’ version of the story was similar enough to the rumors already circulating the police station that everyone pretty much accepted it. It was also related to the series of lies that Irons gave Chris and the others, although many details were different. Irons insisted that Chris, Jill, Rebecca, and Brad were completely blameless in the deaths of their fellow officers, but due to the risk to national security, they had no choice but to conceal the events that took place.

In another week or so, Irons would have to retire due to the public pressure. He would claim full responsibility for the failures of the investigation, and announce that no charges would be filed against any of the officers involved. The whole thing would be written off as a horrible tragedy, but the public would never be given a full explanation, and no one would ever be truly held accountable for the deaths.

Irons’ resignation would serve as a public admission of guilt, and for such a high-ranking officer to be forced out of office would trick the media into thinking that someone had really been punished. It was not the graceful retirement that he had always planned on, but more like a reluctant resignation with the support of the department. It would serve its purpose. Irons would take the brunt of the public disapproval, hopefully leaving the rest of the department unscathed.

The police force, believing that Barry, Enrico, and the rest had died fighting against terrorism, would keep that secret. And the S.T.A.R.S. team members who survived would surely never reveal the truth, knowing that no one would ever believe them. Not that it even mattered, since three of them had already resigned. Brad Vickers was the only S.T.A.R.S. member still on the team, and Irons expected him to quit the force any day now. By the time Irons retired in disgrace, there would be no one left to disagree with his version of events.

But until then, Irons still had lots of work to do. He didn’t want to leave the department a mess for his eventual replacement, whoever that might be, so he took it upon himself to take care of the multitude of problems in the aftermath of the incident in the mountains.

As distasteful as it was, the S.T.A.R.S. teams had to be resurrected. The special team was too important to just let it fade away. Even though most of its members were dead, Irons was not about to cancel the entire unit. Already, he had promoted several regular police officers to serve in the new S.T.A.R.S. teams. Police veteran Marvin Branagh was chosen to command the new Alpha team.

A stack of transfer requests sat on Irons’ desk. There were always a few applications to join the S.T.A.R.S. team, but since the events a few days before, Irons was inundated with requests to join the team. And as much as he disliked the thought of replacing the people who died, he had no choice but to accept a few transfers to help fill the ranks.

He read through some of the applications and set them aside, not impressed with anything that he saw. One or two of them seemed like good candidates, so he put them in a separate pile. It took him half an hour to peruse most of the stack and at the end of it, he had about eight or nine good choices out of more than fifty.

One of the applications in particular caught his attention. It was from a police officer in a nearby city on the other side of the Arklay Mountains. He had grown up in Raccoon City before moving away, his background check came back flawless, and he had been a member of the special Rangers unit of the United States army. He earned several medals and commendations with the Rangers, and had just completed his training at the Academy. His name was Leon Kennedy. Irons liked his application, and decided to accept it on the spot. He felt that an officer like Leon Kennedy would fit right in at the RCPD.

Chapter 15

 

Things were not going well. Although he knew ahead of time that not all hosts reacted in exactly the same ways to all the different strains of the virus, he somehow expected not to encounter any problems. But so far, Wesker was not having any luck at all.

The two Tyrants were growing normally, relatively speaking, although one of them was getting lopsided since its torso was growing at an angle. But the third creature, the Nemesis, was not growing properly at all. Not much work had been done with N-strain hosts, but Wesker was very disappointed so far in the results.

The host’s hair and skin had flaked away, revealing puffy pink dermis. Floating in the tank, the Nemesis looked like some massive mutated newborn baby. Its face was misshapen, the skull bulged out and facial features badly distorted. Its arms and legs looked too bulky, and the hands and feet were swollen and deformed. It was nothing like the powerful albino Tyrants, it was a bloated pink freak with oversize appendages. Wesker didn’t know if it would be any use at all in tracking down the S.T.A.R.S. members, or if it would wind up a failed experiment of no use at all.

He pumped the Nemesis full of sedatives and tested their effectiveness. When he was certain that the creature would not wake up prematurely, he drained the tank and the Nemesis slumped down, propped up by the numerous tubes embedded in its flesh. Slowly, the entire tank tilted backward, finishing the drain program. Metal rods on each side of the tank rotated on wheels to slide the tank from a vertical position to a horizontal one. Wesker stood aside and crossed his arms, waiting for the program to end its cycle.

He had not slept the night before and did not feel tired now. When he had tried to sleep, he just laid on the bed, remaining impatiently wide awake. After two hours, he got up again and went back to work. He still had no desire for a cigarette, and didn’t even need coffee to keep him alert. In fact, he felt more mentally alert than he usually did, and physically, his body felt in peak condition. Despite that, he made sure to monitor his health, to keep track of any delayed effects.

The base of the tank beeped to signal that the drain cycle was complete. The entire glass tank section was now on its side, its inhabitant carefully sedated and lying motionless inside. Wesker walked over to the tank, undid the outer latches, and pressed a button to decompress the air seal around the side of the tank. And then he opened up the front of the tank like a coffin lid to look down at the Nemesis inside.

Its feet were so swollen that Wesker doubted the creature would be able to walk. It would be impossible to tell without a full examination, but he also suspected that the creature’s bones and muscles were weakened in the same way its flesh was. If released from the tank, the Nemesis might just collapse under its own weight, paralyzed by weakness. And if that was the case, then Wesker might as well just put it out of its misery and burn the remains.

Wesker wondered if he could somehow strengthen the creature’s weak body. He had a wide range of other strains and variant viruses at his disposal. One or more of them might held rebuild some of what the N-strain had effectively destroyed. Perhaps he could use some of the virus suppressors or biological stabilizers. Of course, he didn’t have much time to play around with the Nemesis, trying to tweak it with a cocktail of other viruses. He needed it to be ready to deploy in three days at the most.

Leaning against the side of the tank, momentarily lost in his thoughts, he didn’t hear the very quiet squishing noises until it was almost too late. He turned his head and then suddenly leapt out of the way as a writhing purple tentacle burst from the Nemesis’ body and swung up toward him, spitting slimy pink ooze.

Wesker rolled into his feet and backpedaled as two more tentacles flopped up out of the tank, shorter than the first. They inched along the edge of the glass tank and squirmed like huge purple earthworms. The first tentacle, the longest one, flopped back and forth, dripping pinkish fluid onto the floor. Its tip was lined with a circle of tiny teeth like the mouth of a lamprey eel, and it moved around as if smelling for prey.

“Jesus Christ,” Wesker whispered, staring at the squirming tentacle in shock.

He walked over to one of his computer tables and grabbed a pistol sitting atop a pile of notes. He flipped the safety off and walked back over to the tank.

As if sensing his approach, the two smaller tentacles retracted back into the Nemesis’ body. The first one swayed upright and pointed right at Wesker. He lifted the gun and squeezed off a single shot, shooting the tentacle halfway down its long body.

More pinkish fluid burst from the bullet hole and splashed across the outside of the tank. The tentacle thrashed violently and retracted back into the Nemesis like a spaghetti noodle being slurped messily into someone’s mouth. Wesker immediately went over to the tank and closed the tank lid. He reactivated the air seal and closed the latches, but waited for a little while before reactivating the tank’s fill program.

He had not noticed the slightly discolored muscle tissue running down the Nemesis’ arm before, but he noticed it clearly now. Watching carefully, he could see the vague purple outline moving around underneath the surface, all the way from the creature’s bicep down to its wrist. Somehow, the Nemesis had mutated tentacles that formed inside its body.

Mutating strange body parts, such as tentacles, was far from rare in hosts infected with a strain of the Progenitor. In his years working with hundreds upon hundreds of different lab experiments, Wesker had seen every bizarre mutation imaginable. But what was strange was that these tentacles seemed unaffected by the powerful sedatives that kept the rest of the creature comatose. And more than that, they apparently went right for Wesker, not randomly, but intentionally.

Had this variant strain managed to spawn a self-aware mutation into the host body? Wesker had never heard of anything like that before. He guessed that somehow, the tentacles were just immune to the sedatives, and were acting independently of the host, like an involuntary muscle reaction.

Right on cue, the tentacles burst forth again, this time slamming into the glass a foot from Wesker’ face. He didn’t even flinch. Slime streaked across the inside of the tank as the tentacle slid back and forth, trying to find a way out. The tiny little circle of teeth closed and opened as if trying to bite through the glass. There was no trace of the bullet hole, as Wesker had expected.

Maybe he could use the Nemesis after all. It might take a bit of work, but the tentacles were an interesting new development. Wesker glanced back across the boxes and crates full of material he had taken from the labs. In one of those cases, he had a set of samples that might be made very useful. But he wasn’t sure if he had remembered to pack them.

The Nemesis’ swollen body was still a problem, but Wesker had a plan for that too. He would have to leave the warehouse to get some supplies and do some shopping. There were risks involved with that as well, but he didn’t anticipate trouble. It was always dangerous to go out in public when you were supposed to be dead, but the odds of running into anyone who could potentially recognize him were very slim. He would change his appearance just a little bit to make sure no one identified him, just in case.

He programmed in the fill sequence for the tank, and it slowly lifted back up into a vertical position and began to fill with water. Wesker walked back to his work area and tossed the pistol onto one of the tables. As he walked over toward the packing crates to look for the set of samples he hoped would be there, he heard a loud pop and a splash coming from the tank.

The fill tube had burst, and now water was spraying across the tank and onto the floor, and the water already inside the tank was draining right back out. Wesker ran over to the tank in a heartbeat and stopped the fill cycle, swearing at himself. The water spreading across the concrete floor was cold on his bare feet. He clenched his fists angrily and swore at himself, walking around to the back of the tank.

The hose had burst right at the connecting valve, and water had poured across the control panel at the back of the tank. It would take some time to fix, and Wesker could only hope that the panel didn’t get damaged.

He turned around, and in a moment of fury, swung his fist at the edge of one of the large wooden crates stacked behind the tanks. He just wanted to release a little anger, punching an inanimate object to make himself feel better.

His fist smashed right through the thick wood and splintered the corner of the crate as if it was made of styrofoam. Small chunks and splinters of wood scattered to the floor, and Wesker stared in stunned surprise at his hand.

A sliver of wood was jammed right in between the knuckles of his ring finger and middle finger, seeping blood across the back of his hand. He held his hand up, and watched the tiny stream of blood trail all the way down to his elbow. With his other hand, he gripped the sliver of wood and pulled it out. Immediately, the puncture wound healed itself. He wiped his knuckle but there was only unbroken skin. He felt no pain at all.

It took an hour to fix the tube and valve. All the while, the Nemesis’ tentacles were flopping around the tank and banging against the glass, trying to get at him. He ignored them for the most part, but he wondered why they had not appeared before now. The only thing he could think of was that they could not emerge under water, although why that was the case was a total mystery.

When he was finally done, he started the fill cycle and watched as the tank rotated upright and began to fill with water. As he suspected, the tentacles retracted back into the Nemesis’ arm as the water level rose. In a few minutes, the tank was full of water, and the Nemesis floated silently inside, the purple tentacles writhing beneath the surface of its flesh.

Wesker walked back to the living area and changed his clothes. He needed to go out and buy some equipment, so he dressed in very nondescript blue jeans and a t-shirt. It was highly unlikely that he would run into anyone who knew him, since most of the people who knew him were dead already, but he was not going to take any chances. Someone from the police department might see him, and he couldn’t have that.

His most recognizable characteristic was his sunglasses, of course. As much as he hated to do so, he decided not to wear them today. It would be one of the few times Wesker had ever gone out in public without his sunglasses. He set them on a table and wandered into the bathroom to check his appearance in the mirror before he left.

When he glanced at his reflection, he stopped in his tracks. He leaned forward to get a closer look, and decided perhaps he should wear the sunglasses after all.

Chapter 16

 

Theodore Hunklemeyer did not reveal his real name to anyone. The soldiers in his elite squad of covert operatives did not use their real names for security reasons, since their identities were considered classified information by their employers at Umbrella. Each one of them had a long background in black ops or special forces in any number of countries, from the United States to Japan, and most of them were forced out under negative circumstances. They were all hired by Umbrella after entering the private sector as “independent contractors,” a friendly phrase for mercenaries-for-hire. They worked for the highest bidder, and Umbrella was the highest.

The Umbrella Security Service was a secretive organization buried in the complex bureaucracy of the Umbrella Corporation, officially designated as a special unit of the UBCF, the Umbrella Biohazard Countermeasure Force. That was Umbrella’s special military arm trained to handle biological outbreaks and other internal security situations. The UBCF faced many of the same dangers as the USS, which included infected hosts and other bizarre creatures, and they were sworn to secrecy about everything they witnessed, just like the USS.

But the USS performed other missions as well, the kinds of missions that Umbrella kept highly classified. Surveillance of its own employees, infiltrations and military raids, industrial sabotage, the removal of unwanted personnel. Assassinations, in other words. All of the dirty jobs that Umbrella couldn’t trust to anyone else, the USS took care of.

In his six years with Umbrella, Theodore had seen every continent except Australia, which he found humorous. He had managed to be sent to Antarctica twice, but never Australia. His missions ranged from simple security details in Japan, to hostage situations in Brazil, to advanced training gigs in Russia, to tactical infiltrations in London, to full-blown open combat in South Africa. Having survived thus far, he was promoted to squad leader the year before and so far had overseen a dozen successful missions.

Each of the men in Theodore’s squad went by a special codename or nickname, usually something short and simple. In his squad there was Spike, Maze, Joker, Cash, Torch, Fonz, and Croc. Theodore’s nickname was a shortening of his own last name, although his fellow soldiers didn’t know that. He went by the codename Hunk.

The squad’s sleek black helicopter soared over the quiet mountain town of Raccoon City like a warning shot. Hunk glanced disinterestedly out the window, cradling his XM8 assault rifle in his lap and leaning his head back. The inside of the chopper was dark despite the windows, as if the men seated within were embraced in perpetual shadow, and none of them bothered to try to speak over the loud throbbing of the chopper rotors.

The mission today was pretty simple, although he had enough experience to know that Umbrella would not have sent them in if things were really as simple as they appeared. Umbrella had standard UBCF troops for basic missions, so they only brought in the USS for special situations. Special, in this case, meant difficult and dangerous.

As the helicopter approached their destination, Hunk leaned forward to look out the window again. Raccoon City, as far as he could tell, was just another minor city surrounded on all sides by wilderness, the preferred type of location for an Umbrella installation. Not really large enough to be called a city in his opinion, it barely had any buildings over twenty stories tall. The helicopter ride was short and direct, and they didn’t even need any special codes to give air traffic control, which meant that Umbrella had already taken care of it.

Around him, the squad was doing their pre-mission checks. Securing ammo, tightening belts and harnesses, adjusting helmets, checking rifles, testing their night vision goggles, taking a few deep breaths to calm their rapid heartbeats. Hunk used to engage in such preliminary checks but rarely bothered anymore. Such actions were like a calming mantra, a simple repetitive device to help prepare them. Hunk had too much experience to worry about being calm.

The helicopter settled down on top of an office building with a large red H painted on the roof. The squad held their guns upright as Hunk stood up and slid open the chopper door. He jumped out and immediately lowered his reflective goggles to shield his eyes from the bright midday sun, standing aside as his team departed the chopper and ran to the roof entrance. Most of his team put on their goggles as well, and now they were an almost identical group of soldiers, differing only in the color of skin on their exposed mouths and chins. The rest of their bodies were covered in black body armor and webgear. Each of them held their assault rifle at the ready, although Hunk didn’t expect armed resistance.

They stomped down the stairs, their heavy army boots thudding hard on the cement steps in unison. Hunk signaled to the chopper to wait for them and then followed them down. The stairwell ended in a long hallway on the top floor of the office building. Hunk’s team took up positions on each side of the stairwell entrance.

The office building was six stories of accountants and paper pushers, and only half of them were Umbrella employees. Umbrella rented out office space on several floors to other businesses. Hunk was not concerned with anyone in the building, since their target was underneath the building completely, in the lab complex under the streets of Raccoon City. He pointed at the two elevators and walked casually to one of them, while his team split into two groups, three men going with Hunk into the first elevator and four men entering the other. They already knew the passcode to enter the lower levels, and soon the elevator doors hissed closed and transported them downward.

Hunk glanced quickly at the three soldiers in the elevator with him. It was Spike, Cash, and Torch. Spike and Cash had worked with him for over three years each, but Torch was the newest member of the team, having only been with them for a handful of missions in the past year. Hunk didn’t like him personally, but as a soldier he had no complaints yet.

The elevator door dinged and slid open, dropping them off a few stories under the pffice building. Hunk lifted his goggles back up onto his helmet and stepped out into the pale white hallway. He looked up and down the corridor, letting his rifle hang by its shoulder strap. His men took positions behind and in front of him as the second elevator opened and the rest of his team came out.

The lab complex was large and spread out under a few city blocks, but Hunk and his team had already memorized the area they were heading for. They went down the hallway and descended two sets of stairs, turned left at the next hallway intersection and went straight ahead until they reached a series of lab rooms with large windows.

One of the scientists must have heard their oncoming footsteps, because as they approached the labs, a young woman wearing a long white lab coat wandered out into the hallway, looking in their direction. She flinched so bad that the folders in her hand flipped up into the air and scattered papers everywhere.

Hunk pointed forward and his men hurried ahead of him. He approached the female scientist and showed the Umbrella emblem on his shoulder. His gun remained aimed at the floor and his eyes focused intently on the woman’s face.

“Please stop what you’re doing and come with us, please,” he said.

“What? What are you doing?”

He grabbed her arm, gently but firmly, and pulled her into the hall. Within the lab there were two more people, staring at Hunk in shock. He pointed at them and said, “You as well. Stop working right now and come with us. This lab is being evacuated.”

“Evacuated? Do you mean –”

“Now,” Hunk said, raising his voice ever so slightly.

The two people in the room glanced nervously at each other and immediately came forward, one of them clutching his notebook.

“Leave that here,” Hunk ordered.

“What do you mean? These are my notes.”

“I don’t care. Personal property will be returned to you. For now, everything in this entire lab is considered Umbrella property.”

The scientist reluctantly left his notebook behind and hurried away. Hunk ordered his men forward and they stomped down the hallway like an invading army, stopping at every room and lab area to order those inside to leave immediately. One or two of them resisted momentarily until they realized that Hunk and his men were armed, and the guns had their safeties turned off.

Another woman scientist burst through the doors at the end of the hall and came toward them, her hands swinging energetically at her sides. “Who are you?” she demanded angrily. “What authority do you have to come in here? This is a secure Umbrella facility and you have no right to –”

Hunk swung his gloved hand up and struck the woman across the face. It was more than a slap, but not quite a punch. But he hit her hard enough that her glasses flew off of her face and the strike stunned her so much that she lost her balance and fell over backwards. She sat up and stared up at him, terrified, her lip trembling and her cheek already turning red.

Hunk looked down at her, and his face was an emotionless mask. “If you question my authority again, I will order my men to shoot you,” he said quietly, his calm tone of voice doing little to hide the violent threat. “Now pick yourself up and get out of here. Don’t make me tell you again.”

When they reached the next hallway intersection, Hunk held up two fingers and then pointed to the left and to the right. Two of his men took off in each direction, and Hunk led the rest of the team forward. By now, word of the evacuation preceded them, and there were few people left to direct out of the lab.

Hunk pushed through the next set of doors and heard loud voices from up ahead. Two more scientists wearing lab coats hesitated momentarily as Hunk and his men approached, but they took off before Hunk had to tell them so.

“But they’re forcing us to leave!” a woman shouted frantically from inside the next lab room. “Sir, you have to stop them!”

Hunk stepped into the room and the woman backed away fearfully as soon as she saw him. Behind him, his three other soldiers lined up, their guns at the ready. There were two other people in the room besides the woman; there was another male scientist beside her, and the man that Hunk had come here to see.

He knew William Birkin from the dossier he studied prior to the mission. Birkin was easily recognizable, with a greasy mop of dark brown hair and the pale complexion of a man who rarely saw sunlight. Birkin stood across the room from him, in front of a long lab table covered in microscopes and other apparatus. He wore dirty gray slacks and a blue shirt underneath his white lab coat, and black sneakers. Birkin leaned back against the counter, looking at the soldiers’ guns suspiciously.

“See?” the woman complained. “They’re kicking us out!”

“Under orders of Umbrella, I am evacuating this lab,” Hunk stated.

“Permanently?” Birkin asked softly.

“Yes.”

Birkin sighed and shook his head. “I guess there’s nothing to be done, then.”

The woman scientist said desperately, “They can’t do this! They can’t just force us all to leave without telling us why!”

“I’m afraid they can,” Birkin said.

“I’m glad you understand,” Hunk said. “Now please leave the lab.”

“Of course,” Birkin said, turning to the side. He picked up a small silver briefcase off the table and came forward.

“Leave that here,” Hunk ordered.

Birkin stopped and stared at him, and then glanced briefly at the case. “Excuse me, but this is mine.”

“I don’t care. Leave it here.”

“No,” Birkin said simply, letting the briefcase dangle at his side. “This belongs to me and I am not leaving it here. What assurance to I have that it will be returned to me?”

“All personal property will be returned to its owner.”

“Somehow I don’t believe that,” Birkin said, taking a step backward until he was back against the lab table. “I know exactly why you’re here, even if you don’t. I’ll leave peacefully, but I am taking this with me.”

Guns clicked in unison and all three of Hunk’s men raised their weapons. Birkin seemed unaware of it, and kept his uneasy gaze right on Hunk. The two other scientists seemed scared stiff, frozen in place and unable to move. Hunk blinked and took a short breath.

“I have orders to take you alive and without a fight,” Hunk said evenly. “Don’t make me disobey those orders, Dr. Birkin.”

“I am taking this with me,” Birkin said, lifting the case up.

“No, you aren’t.”

Birkin leaned back against the lab table and set his elbow down on top of the counter as if resting casually. Behind him was a small tray of beakers and glass containers.

Hunk saw the entire scene play out in his mind less than a second before it happened.

Torch, standing next to him with his gun aimed forward, seemed to twitch. Birkin’s elbow slid along the top of the counter and gently pushed aside one of the glass containers. It tipped over the edge of the table. Hunk began to lift his arm to push the gun aside. The two other scientists opened their mouths in unison, about to say something. Hunk knew it all before it happened, and suddenly the glass beaker struck the linoleum floor and shattered, the loud sound breaking the tense, almost dreamlike silence.

Hunk tried to grab the gun in time, but Torch flinched at the sound of the beaker breaking and squeezed the trigger. The assault rifle fired off a burst of three shots and the scientists screamed. Birkin jerked backward.

Hunk swung around and slammed his forearm into Torch’s face, pushing the soldier back until he smashed him into the wall. He pressed his arm against Torch’s throat and leaned right into him until they were face to face, with blood streaming from Torch’s nose.

“I did not order you to open fire!” Hunk shouted furiously. He backed off and clenched his teeth as Torch slid to the floor and lifted a hand to his bloody face. The other two soldiers stood aside as Hunk stepped toward Birkin.

“You shot him!” the woman shrieked. “Oh my God! Oh my God! You shot him!”

“Shut up!” Hunk roared, and the woman obeyed, covering her face with her hands.

Hunk looked down at Birkin and could only shake his head in disappointment. The doctor was propped up against the counter, with two red circles spreading across the front of his formerly white lab coat. He tilted his head up and gazed confusedly up at Hunk, who knelt down and gingerly took the silver briefcase from Birkin’s hand.

“Well?” Hunk asked. “Was this briefcase really worth dying for?”

To his surprise, Birkin took a gasping breath and nodded. “Yes,” Birkin whispered. “Yes, it’s worth dying for.”

Hunk stared at him for a moment and then stood up straight. He didn’t know what was inside that case, but he guessed that it wasn’t just boring notes and equations. He turned and looked at the two scientists.

“Do either of you know first aid?”

“No, no, we … we don’t,” the man said weakly, staring down at Birkin’s body.

“Then go get someone who does. Call an ambulance.”

“What about …”

“Now,” Hunk said.

The two scientists paused nervously and then ran out of the lab room, squeezing in between the two soldiers and taking off down the hall. Hunk took a deep, annoyed breath.

All of his soldiers had emergency medical training. Knowing first aid and other basic medical techniques was required knowledge of any soldier, but Hunk was not in the mood to waste time. Birkin was not one of Hunk’s soldiers, so he could care less whether or not the man died. An ambulance would never arrive in time so it made little difference.

The silver case in hand, he walked out of the room and pointed down the hall. His men went off in that direction, with Torch right behind them. Hunk grabbed Torch by his throat and pushed him into the wall again.

“You,” he growled. “Stay here. Guard the good doctor until help arrives.”

“Yes, sir,” Torch said obediently.

Hunk pushed himself away and walked back the way they had come. He would return to the chopper and wait for his men to finish evacuating the lab. As usual, a simple mission had not gone according to plan.

Inside the lab room, Birkin sat motionless, listening to the ragged sound of his own breath. It felt like there was a huge vise across his chest, and each time he inhaled, it felt like someone was squeezing it a little tighter. When they shot him, it had felt like someone struck him in the chest with a sledgehammer.

But he felt lucky, since assault rifles were not designed to wound, they were designed to kill. It was amazing that he was still breathing at all. Not that it mattered, since he would surely be dead soon anyway.

Blood pooled in his lap, spilling across his stomach and down the sides of his body, and he could feel blood dripping down his back as well, creating a large red puddle right underneath him. Soon, he would slip into an unconscious state due to blood loss, and probably be dead a few minutes later.

He looked up at the clock on the wall. It was eleven-thirty. He told Annette to come to the lab and pick him up at noon. She was probably driving there at that very moment. Just half an hour made the difference between life and death. If he had told her to pick him up at eleven, then they would already be on their way out of the city. But how could he have expected Umbrella to send people there so quickly?

I’m so sorry, Annette, he thought to himself. I’m so sorry. This was not supposed to happen. I’ve failed you again.

What was going to happen to her now? When she came to the lab in just a little while, they would not let her in. Word would spread that the soldiers had shot him. He tried to imagine what would happen then, how she would react to the news. Would she be overcome with grief, would she be angry, would she simply refuse to believe it?

Annette was so strong, so much stronger than he was, that he doubted she would surrender to emotions that easily. They both knew the risks and the dangers in what Birkin had planned. Annette would come to the lab, see the soldiers, and probably leave immediately without speaking to anyone. The soldiers were probably under orders to detain her as well, and she would know that. Birkin could only hope that she did not get taken into custody.

He hoped that she followed through on their plans. She would take Sherry out of school and leave town, just as they had intended to do. And poor Sherry, who barely ever got to see her father, would now have to grow up without him at all. Annette would raise her right, just as she had always done. Birkin was not much of a father, but he hoped that Sherry would have fond memories of him, the few that there were. Words did not exist to describe how much he regretted not spending more time with her. It seemed so important at the time, working late hours in the lab instead of going home to be with his family. Maybe it was important, but Birkin would never know now.

As his breathing grew weaker, his vision dimmed. He grew too weak to hold his head up, so it slipped down until he could only gaze at the floor and the spreading pool of blood. Each breath was like a knife in his heart. He tasted blood in his mouth.

Something on the floor seemed to draw his attention. He blinked a few times and saw a small purple vial sitting on the floor among bits of broken glass. His mind took a long time to recognize the object, but he finally realized that he was staring at one of the small vials of the G-virus that he had been packing in the briefcase before the soldiers arrived.

Had he missed one? When his research team members came into the room to tell him about the soldiers, he was distracted. Had one of the samples fallen onto the floor in all the commotion? How could he have not noticed?

He managed to slide his hand an inch at a time across the floor until his fingers gripped the small sample vial. He wasn’t just imagining it, the glass tube felt real in his hand. A sample of the G-virus, sitting right in his hand.

He barely felt the pain anymore, the crushing weight on his chest seemed like a long-forgotten illness. Blackness edged his vision and his mind seemed muddled and hazy. How long did he have now? Minutes? Seconds?

It was up to him now. He could either live or die. But he had to choose quickly.

The G-virus instantly bonded with the host DNA and mutated it. They had never tested it on a living subject, so Birkin had no idea how a living host would deal with the mutations, or how drastic they would be. Would it turn a host into an inhuman creature like a Tyrant, or would it be less extreme? Would the host retain its mental faculties?

Birkin could either die without knowing the answers, or discover them for himself. He held the sample in his hand, and then forced his arm upward. It was the most difficult thing that Birkin had ever done. His arm moved ever so slowly toward his face, and with even greater effort he managed to place the capsule right in his mouth.

He didn’t have the strength to open it any other way. He bit down on the glass and it shattered in his teeth. Tiny shards of glass sliced his tongue and lips, and the inside of the vial tasted horribly bitter, almost making him gag. He took the broken end of the vial from his mouth and forced himself to swallow. Glass cut the inside of his mouth and throat as he swallowed, but he ignored the pain. He took the broken end of the capsule and reached down to push it right inside one of the bullet wounds on his chest.

His body jerked and he slipped off the side of the counter, his body toppling over and his head striking the floor. He gasped in pain and closed his eyes tightly. It was like someone had poured molten magma directly into his chest.

Oh God, it’s too late now.

He felt the flame take over his whole body, and knew that he had made a horrible mistake. Before he lost consciousness, he managed one final coherent thought.

Annette, please forgive me.

Chapter 17

 

Twenty minutes later, Annette arrived at the lab. It had numerous entrances through several buildings, and she normally used a single-story office building where a dentist office and temporary employment agency were located. As she got out of her car in the parking lot, she failed to notice the black helicopter taking off from the tall office building at the other end of the block.

Birkin said he had some last-minute work to clean up, but promised her that he would be done by noon. Together, they would go to the elementary school and pick up Sherry, and then stop back at the house one last time before leaving Raccoon City for good. Annette almost couldn’t believe how fast things went, how much work they did in such a short time, but everything was finished today. As soon as she picked Birkin up, they would both be officially unemployed.

She walked briskly through the front doors and headed down the hall to the stairs into the basement. Entering one of the unused offices, she took the secret elevator down into the lab.

The doors opened and she stepped out into the hall, glancing into the break room near the elevator. She expected her husband to be there waiting for her, but the room was empty. She took a few steps and then paused curiously, breathing in through her nose.

It was not an odor that many people would have recognized right away, but as a biological scientist, Annette knew blood when she smelled it. She stood in the hallway and breathed in, getting the distinct metallic, copperish smell of blood. She tilted her head and listened, but heard nothing.

She walked slowly to the end of the hall, walking carefully so that her sneakers made no sound on the white tile. She peeked around the corner and saw nothing, and headed for the north wing main lab room across the hall. Like the break room, it was empty, which she found strange. There were always one or two people working in the main lab room.

She thought she heard something, and went back out into the hallway. She wanted to call out, but something in the back of her mind instructed her not to. She could still smell the strong odor of blood in the air, and the whole situation felt wrong. She quietly walked down the hall, glancing into a few side room, finding no one there either.

At the end of the hall was a central lobby area near some more elevators. Annette slowed her pace as she approached the doors, seeing a reddish tint through the glazed windows on the double doors. She swallowed hard and felt the hair rising on the back of her neck. Her hands almost trembled as she pushed one of the doors open.

And immediately, they jumped to her mouth to suppress a scream. She stumbled backwards, the door swinging shut again. It swung back and forth on the open hinges, giving her brief glimpses of the room beyond the hallway, flashes like a nightmare strobe light. Blood smeared across the floor like spilled paint, mangled bodies wearing lab coats strewn around like broken mannequins, the walls smashed in and crumbling, the entire room like a grisly tableau.

Annette crept forward and held the door open. She tried to count the bodies, but some of them were incomplete, torn in half and dismembered. At least seven bodies, so brutally mutilated that they were completely unrecognizable.

She carefully stepped around the shimmering pools of blood. It wasn’t the blood and gore that horrified her, as she was used to that. She had seen horrors just as gruesome in her years with Umbrella. But the butchered corpses here were not expendable test subjects or experimental animals, they were the scientists and researchers that she worked with. People that Annette knew personally.

Just as she made it across the room, a loud roar of noise erupted nearby and she fell to her knees, covering her head with her hands. She gasped and looked down the other hallway, seeing nothing there. Then the loud noise again, the unmistakable sound of a machine gun opening fire.

She stumbled down the hall, reflexively cowering in fear every time the machine gun opened fire. Halfway down the hall she stopped as a pair of men burst into the hallway, spinning to turn their guns toward her. They were military commandos, dressed in all black, with large mirrored goggles on their faces

She screamed, waving her hands defensively, and one of them roughly pulled her to her feet, screaming at her. She didn’t make out what he said because the other was firing his gun around the corner.

“Go! Go!” the other screamed, “Get out of here!”

Annette tried to shake loose from the soldier’s grasp but he dragged her back down the hall. The other soldier ran after them and suddenly, a fierce inhuman roar shook the hallway, so loud that Annette had to clap her hands over her ears. The soldier stumbled and they both fell to the floor.

She glanced up in time to see a spinning body collapse to the white floor at the end of the hall, where the soldiers had come from. It was only a torso and flailing arms, with ropy intestines spilling from the abdomen and quivering like ribbons in the breeze. When the body struck the wall, blood splashed up like a burst water balloon.

The soldiers kept shooting as they retreated down the hall, dragging Annette with them. She finally managed to get to her feet and broke free, pushing the soldier out of her way and running off, the edge of her lab coat flapping wildly behind her.

“Come back here!”

“Run after her! She must know the way out!”

Annette ran as fast as her trembling legs could carry her, away from the soldiers and away from whatever horrible death awaited them. She barreled her way through the next set of doors and kept going.

The doors slammed open behind her and she heard the loud footsteps of the soldiers running after her. And again, the horrifying roar of whatever creature was loose in the lab. Annette couldn’t even imagine what it could be, as there were no dangerous host monsters at the lab. All work along those lines was done at the Arklay lab. But something was loose, something had killed off all the scientists, something seemed immune to the bullets that the soldiers were using against it.

She managed to glance over her shoulder as she ran, seeing the two soldiers in hot pursuit, and a flash of something dark in the other section of hallway. And then the doors smashed open, flying clear off their hinges, and the beast was right there behind them.

Annette didn’t stop screaming. Her lungs burned, and her legs felt like they were about to give in. One of the soldiers aimed his gun over his shoulder and opened fire in a desperate attempt to slow the creature down. But he was too late, and the monster slammed into his back, knocking him to the floor.

He rolled onto his back and tried to scream. His fellow soldier did not stop to help him as the monster tore into his body with huge hands, ripping him limb from limb. His anguished screams became nothing more than a death gurgle.

Annette was far ahead of the soldiers when she reached the elevator. It was not the elevator she had entered from. This one went to a two-story office building across the street from the building she normally used.

She slapped the up button and the doors opened immediately. She dove into the elevator and scrambled to hit the top floor on the control panel.

“Wait for me!” the soldier screamed. “Jesus, don’t leave me!”

Annette cowered on the floor and pressed herself into the back wall, holding her knees up against her chest, staring in terror out into the hall. Slowly, so slowly she wanted to scream for them to hurry up, the doors began to slide closed.

“No! Wait!”

The monster raced around the corner right behind the soldier, howling maniacally, its huge body almost entirely filling the hallway, its massive simian arms smashing the sides of the wall, its hideous face contorted into a nightmarish mask of rage. Annette trembled, helpless and defenseless, and watched in slow motion as the elevator doors closed.

Just as they closed completely, she saw a narrow glimpse of the monster land on the soldier’s back and tear his head off his shoulders. Then the doors closed, and the only thing Annette saw was her own terrified image reflected back at her.

She crawled back to the control panel and pulled down the emergency section beside it. Her finger seemed to move by itself, pushing the lockdown activator and entering in the five-digit authorization code. Immediately, the elevator’s lights flashed red and she heard the deafening crash of the emergency doors slamming shut at the bottom of the elevator shaft.

The doors slid open and she crawled out into an empty hallway on the second floor of the office building. Sunlight poured in through the windows, bathing her in warmth. Her whole body trembled, and the warm sunlight did little to change the overpowering cold she felt running down her back and along her extremities. She sat on the floor, back against the wall, and buried her face in her hands.

Tears streamed down her slender face, and her shoulders shook as she cried. Her whole body seemed about to pour out her grief and horror like an emotional tidal wave. She sobbed uncontrollably, images of the past few minutes still burned into her brain.

She could not deny what she saw. The monster had been a man once, as it wore the tattered, blood-stained remains of a lab coat and gray pants, torn apart by the growth of its huge body. Annette saw its face clearly. Even distorted by the horrific mutations, she saw its large brown eyes, and the tangled dark brown hair on top of its head.

“Oh Will …” she sobbed, “What have you done?”

Chapter 18

 

Jill Valentine sat on the edge of her bed, holding a photograph in her hand. It was taken the summer before, at the annual RCPD Fourth of July barbecue. It showed the entire S.T.A.R.S. team all grouped together, mugging for the camera.

Jill liked the picture because one person was missing. Wesker, always the unsociable one, did not attend the party and so was not included in the group photo. For that, Jill was grateful. But everyone else was there, except for Rebecca, since she had not joined the team yet. In the photo, Jill was crouched down in the front row in between Brad Vickers and Ken Sullivan. Next to them knelt Ed Dewey and Joseph Frost. Standing up behind them were Barry Burton, Chris Redfield, Richard Aiken, Forrest Speyer, and Enrico Marini.

They were all smiling and happy, and Jill tried to even remember how she had felt back then, long before she had entered the living nightmare in the Arklay Mountains. In the photo, Kenneth’s hand was behind her head, giving her bunny ears. Barry had a cold beer in his hand, his other arm resting on Chris’ shoulder. Joseph was giving two big thumbs up. Enrico was laughing, a cigar in his hands. Forrest was sticking his tongue out.

Jill sighed and placed the picture back on the pile of photographs she was taking with her when she left. Her car was already packed with clothes, books, and as many other necessities as she could fit inside. All that was left were the small personal possessions and mementos that she had all around the apartment. She spent most of the evening gathering up all the stray photographs, notes, gifts, collectibles, and various knick-knacks that she’d accumulated over the years. But every time she saw one, she sat down and daydreamed about it, so it took much longer than she planned.

It was already almost three o’clock in the morning. Jill sighed and packed up the pile of photographs and other personal effects. She filled up two small bags with items and set them by the front door to be taken out tomorrow when she left.

Her furniture, appliances, and most of her electronics would stay behind. She would leave no forwarding address with her landlord either. Everything left in the apartment when she left would just be abandoned here.

She walked over to her bedroom window and crossed her arms. The street outside her apartment building was silent as the grave at this time of night. Streetlights shined down on empty pavement. There was no sound at all, as the other residents of her building were all asleep. Jill felt like she was the only person in the whole city who was still awake.

She had lived in Raccoon City for almost seven years, long enough to call the city home, but not long enough to feel like it was really an important part of her life. She was from New York state originally, and her parents still lived in Albany. Raccoon City was just the city she lived in now, so she didn’t feel sad to leave for any sentimental reasons.

But she wondered what would happen to the city after she left. Whatever horrible disease infected the people at the lab was surely contagious, but would it somehow make its way to the city, as Chris suspected? Would all of Raccoon City be infected with the disease, turning the entire populace into a roving mass of undead zombies? Jill found it hard to imagine such a scenario.

Even if some zombies, or other infected creatures, made it into the city and infected some people, it would only be a tiny percentage of the population. Soon, the police would be able to quarantine the affected parts of the city. If things got too intense for the local authorities, the National Guard could be called in. It would be very bad and lots of innocent people would die, but Jill could not imagine it getting worse than that.

The zombies were slow and mindless, they could not possibly overrun a determined counteroffensive against them. Once the police realized the danger, they would send every available officer to the affected neighborhoods and just start shooting every infected person they saw. Anyone else would be evacuated long before the disease spread to other sections of the city. Again, there would be numerous casualties, but Jill could not see the zombies completely infecting the entire city. Hundreds would die, but the city would not be destroyed. There was simply no way for the disease to spread at such a rate that the entire city would be infected.

Jill had to believe that. To accept the possibility that something far worse could happen might weigh too much on her conscience.

She wandered into the living room and poured her last glass of wine. The bottle, empty now, was left on the end table. Jill curled up on the couch and pulled a blanket over her. She laid her head down on a pillow and thought about her final day in Raccoon City. She figured she would wake up around noon and leave soon after that. She would be at her parents’ house by tomorrow night. There was nothing to hold her back now.

Chapter 19

 

Nicholai Ginovaef was not promoted to the rank of UBCF Commander based on his winning personality. Like all successful commanders, he relied heavily on equal doses of intimidation, humiliation, cruelty, and punishment to instill the proper level of respect in his underlings. His overbearing, forceful presence and violent body language was usually more than enough to frighten or bully the soldiers under his command. His deep voice, obscure guttural accent, and dark sense of humor were also effective at times.

Unfortunately, not all of the soldiers currently stationed in Raccoon City were actually under Nicholai’s direct command, much to his annoyance. Umbrella Security Service units were still technically an independent division, although they were supposed to report directly to Nicholai.

Standing in the command tent with him was one of the black ops squad leaders. Identified only by the codename Hunk, the squad leader seemed disinterested in Nicholai’s normal methods of intimidation. He stood casually in the tent, still wearing his combat gear, his arms at his sides in a relaxed posture. Like Nicholai, he was a long-term veteran, his military experience evident in the way he carried himself. His rank, although classified, was very likely the same as Nicholai’s own, or perhaps even higher.

Nicholai crossed his muscular arms and leaned against one of the computer tables, his eyes narrowed to threatening slits, the light bulbs hanging overhead casting ominous shadows under his eyes.

“Well?” he asked harshly. “What happened to the rest of your team?”

“The rest of my team is dead, sir,” Hunk replied evenly.

Three other soldiers were currently in the command tent, working at various computer stations. There was a tense moment as Nicholai glanced at them in a wordless order, and they quickly left the tent, leaving him alone with Hunk.

“Explain,” Nicholai said.

Hunk took a short breath and nodded to himself. “Our orders were to evacuate the science lab in Raccoon City, and to take the supervisor there, William Birkin, into custody. We had no problem gaining entrance to the lab, and we took the workers there by surprise. They did not give us any resistance. When we found Birkin, he agreed to leave the lab as well, but he insisted on taking a briefcase that he claimed was his personal property.”

“You did not let him take it, correct?”

“I did not. My orders were to make sure that the scientists did not take anything.”

“Then what happened?”

“One of my men mistakenly opened fire when Birkin made a suspicious movement. He was shot twice in the chest.”

“He was killed?”

Hunk shook his head. “No, sir. But it was a lethal wound, and I did not think he would survive. I ordered all the scientists out and took the briefcase that he tried to take with him. I suspected that it contained sensitive information. I ordered my men to continue the evacuation of the lab.”

“Then what?”

Hunk licked his lips and took another breath. “I’m not entirely sure. Something happened to Birkin. He became infected with something in the lab.”

Nicholai, like most high-ranking employees of Umbrella, had intimate knowledge of many of Umbrella’s legally-questionable scientific activities. He saw some very disturbing images since joining the UBCF, so he did not ask Hunk for a visual description.

“Tell me exactly what happened,” he said.

“As I made my way back to the elevator, I heard a scream,” Hunk said. “It was more like a roar, actually. A noise an animal would make, not a person. Right after that, there was a crash and another scream, this time definitely human. There was a single burst of gunfire. I immediately went back to the lab room where Dr. Birkin was being held. He wasn’t there, and the soldier I ordered to watch him was dead.”

“How?”

“Torn in half,” Hunk said, almost casually.

“And then what?”

“There was more gunfire and shouting, this time from farther into the lab. I went to investigate and discovered more mutilated bodies. Two of my men showed up as well, having heard the gunfire. We continued through the lab until we discovered Birkin, or should I say, the creature that had turned into.”

“You are sure it was him? It was not some other creature that was set loose?”

“Yes, I’m sure. It was Birkin, all right.”

“So, tell me what happened next.”

“Well, my men and I opened fire, of course. But it didn’t seem to have much effect. He just walked through the bullets. We held him off for a few moments, but we had to retreat. We made our way back to the elevators and I ordered my men to maintain their fire on Birkin as I went back up to the chopper. I ordered them to come up immediately after me, but I waited several minutes and they never arrived, so I ordered the helicopter pilot to take off.”

“You left your men behind?”

“I had little choice, sir. I can only assume that they were all killed.”

Abandoning soldiers under your command was an unacceptable act for most military organizations in the world. Of course, Umbrella’s UBCF was not a standard military organization, and the black ops units even less so. Nicholai did not feel it was necessary to criticize Hunk for leaving his men behind, since Nicholai would certainly have done the same if he had been in the same situation.

“What about the scientists?” he asked.

“They’re all dead as well. Birkin killed them.”

“Okay,” Nicholai said. “What about the briefcase you brought?”

“I gave it to the scientists at the command center,” Hunk said.

“Do you have anything else to report?”

“No, sir.”

Nicholai looked at him for another moment before tilting his head in the direction of the tent flap. “Get out of here. You’re dismissed.”

After he was gone, Nicholai stood alone in the tent for a few minutes, his various conflicting loyalties waging a silent war in his head. He was obliged to tell his superiors about the incident, of course. He also felt the need to inform his liaison at the mansion, the middleman Damascus Kelly. And his financial benefactor, Albert Wesker, would also like to know about it, Nicholai was sure.

He picked up a phone and made a short call to Kelly. Then he made another call to his superiors in New York and informed them as well. And then he contacted the scientists at the mansion for information about the contents of the briefcase.

The consequences of the incident at the lab were impossible to determine. The entire plan to shut down the city was dependent on the fact that the infection would not spread to the city that fast, and the UBCF could avoid open combat with infected hosts. But if the city lab was compromised, then it might spread to the city as well. If Hunk’s story was to be believed, the supervisor at the lab had transformed into some kind of monster after exposure to some virus or other biological product. If that monster managed to escape the lab complex, then it might make Nicholai’s job a little bit harder.

When he was done making phone calls, he left the command tent and headed to the mansion’s side yard, the command center’s helicopter landing area. He saluted to the soldiers standing guard and went directly to one of the small personal helicopters sitting unused. He climbed aboard and was airborne in a few minutes.

It took about twenty minutes to fly to the newly-prepared central command post within Raccoon City itself. Located in the center of Raccoon City Park, it was intended to make commanding the troops easier from a closer location. Nicholai landed the helicopter and went to the communications shed, where several of his sub-commanders were already waiting for him, having been notified by radio that he was coming.

After his meeting with the sub-commanders, he spent the appropriate amount of time inspecting the conditions of the command post. Although he was in a hurry to leave, he had to make a show of inspecting everything, since as far as his subordinates knew, that was the whole reason he came. He contacted several groups of soldiers throughout the city, who were waiting for their orders. He had to make everything look official before he left.

It was late in the evening before be managed to leave the command post, taking an unmarked car into the city. He drove across town to the industrial district and finally to a plain-looking warehouse in the middle of a mostly-abandoned industrial park.

He entered through the back door and announced his presence loudly, hearing his voice echo across the aisles of crates and boxes.

“Mister Wesker, I have some news for you,” he called out, walking toward the front of the warehouse. Most of the lights were out except in the front, leaving the rest of the building dark and foreboding. Nicholai guessed that Wesker left the lights off so as not to attract attention.

As he walked down the wide aisle and approached the front of the building, he slowed his pace. When he was there last, there was a large amount of machinery and equipment lying around, but there was easily twice as much now. The entire place looked like an overcrowded attic in some eccentric inventor’s house. And with only a few bright lights hanging above him, the machinery was given an eerie sort of illumination. One solitary illuminated area in the middle of a huge dark shadow.

Two huge growth tanks were at his left, each of them containing one of the monstrous Tyrant creatures. Nicholai could not tell which of them had previously been the government agent that he brought there. He walked out into Wesker’s work area and looked around the corner.

“Nicholai,” came a strange voice. “Watch where you step.”

He froze and glanced down at the cement floor. Immediately, he backed up a few steps to avoid the slick red blood that was spilled all over the floor in the middle of the work area. He felt the hair rising on the back of his neck. It looked as if someone had just dumped barrels full of blood all over the floor.

“Mister Wesker?”

“I’m over here,” came Wesker’s voice in a peculiar tone. “This blood is infected with one of the new strains. You didn’t step in it, did you?”

“No, I did not.”

“Good. It would be unfortunate if you trailed it anywhere.”

Nicholai crept up to the edge of the blood and peeked around the corner of the crates blocking his view. “Where are you, Mister Wesker?” he asked, a strange nervousness creeping into his normally firm voice.

“Around the other side of those crates. Go behind the growth tanks to avoid the blood.”

Nicholai did as he was told and walked the long way around the growth tanks and computer tables. He snuck in between some electric generators and some racks of equipment until he was at the other side of the work area.

There was a huge lab table right in the center, directly underneath one of the few lights. Beside it was a makeshift trough full of bloody water. Nicholai looked at the creature splayed out on the table and imagined the workshop of Victor Frankenstein. The blood spilled all over the floor glistened gruesomely, and he could hear as it dripped off the edge of the table.

“You caught me at a bad time, Nicholai,” Wesker said.

Nicholai opened his mouth to speak but found a lump in his throat. He gasped for breath and then coughed, trying to regain his composure.

“I’m sorry,” Wesker said quietly. “I hope my appearance doesn’t bother you too much.”

“You said …” Nicholai started. “You said the blood was infected.”

“Yes.”

“But you’re …”

Wesker, standing beside the work table, was smeared with blood from head to toe. He wore only a pair of sweat pants, once gray, that were now a slimy purplish-red. His bare feet stood almost ankle-deep in blood, and his bare chest was smeared with blood and gore as well. His sunglasses, however, were untouched. He stood like a statue, with his hands folded behind his back, his head tilted slightly downward, so that the reflection in his glasses showed the glistening red floor.

“Don’t worry about me,” Wesker said soothingly.

“What … what are you doing?” Nicholai managed to ask.

Wesker motioned at the creature lying on the table. In a pool of its own blood, it was wrapped in what appeared to be a huge black trenchcoat. Its hands and head were exposed, revealing soft pinkish tissue. One arm was resting inside the trough of bloody water. Nicholai then noticed the piles of pink flesh and meat piled on the floor under the table. Suddenly he felt the bile rising in his throat and resisted the urge to vomit.

“This one was a lot more trouble than I thought it would be,” Wesker said, looking at the creature. “I think I’ve figured it out, though. The body was just growing randomly inside the tank because of the fluid. I had to find a way to encase the body to keep it from growing out of control. I think the leather coat should work pretty well. I wrapped most of its body with duct tape to keep its growth in check.”

“You cut apart its body?”

Wesker let his arms hang at his sides, and Nicholai could see that he was holding a huge butcher knife, coated with blood from edge to handle. “I had to cut off all the extra tissue. It was mistake to keep it in the growth tank. The Nemesis has no skin, you see. Combined with the effects of the growth tank, that led to unchecked growth of muscle tissue all over the body. If I had left it alone, the Nemesis wouldn’t have been able to walk. It would have been a mass of tissue like a huge mound of clay.”

Wesker pointed with the knife. “So I cut off all the excess tissue and dressed the body in that huge overcoat. I also gave it a pair of pants and the biggest pair of boots I could find. It doesn’t have skin, but at least now it has a specific form. The body will heal, of course, and its growth will stay in check now, at least I hope so.”

Nicholai didn’t know what to say to that. So he just said what he had come there to say. “Your friend, Mister Birkin, has turned into some kind of monster.”

“Really?” Wesker asked, his head perking up. “What happened?”

“I do not know. Some of my men went there to close down the lab, and they shot him. He must have injected himself with something, because he killed most of the soldiers there, and all the other scientists.”

“My, my, my. That is interesting.”

“I thought you would like to know.”

“Yes,” Wesker said thoughtfully. He folded his arms and rubbed his chin with his free hand, the butcher knife dangling loosely the fingers of his other hand. “What is he infected with?”

“I don’t know,” Nicholai said. He gave Wesker a short version of the story that Hunk gave to him. “I talked to the scientists at the mansion. They say the briefcase contained samples of a new kind of strain. It is something new. They are studying it right now.”

“It must be very potent if it transformed Birkin that quickly. I wonder what he stumbled onto? It could be useful, whatever it is.”

Nicholai knew what Wesker was getting at. “I can try to get a sample for you, but not right away.”

“Of course,” Wesker said, nodding his head. “I understand. I don’t have the time to deal with new projects right now anyway. Perhaps once we’re done here in Raccoon City, you can obtain a sample for me.”

“Surely, Mister Wesker.”

“Keep me informed, Nicholai.”

“I will.” Nicholai made his way back around the tables of equipment and the growth tanks to avoid the blood, which had spread farther in the few minutes he had spoken with Wesker. He could not imagine so much blood coming from one creature. And Wesker looked like he had practically taken a bath in it. Nicholai wondered, for the first time, if Wesker had come through the events at the Arklay Lab completely unharmed.

He glanced back at the two suspended Tyrants and stopped. One Tyrant should have been enough, but why was Wesker growing a second one, as well as the creature on the table? He had said before that there was still unfinished business, and that one could never have too many Tyrants, but Nicholai began to wonder exactly what purpose these beasts could possibly serve.

Wesker walked around the corner, his bare feet splashing in the blood. He followed Nicholai’s gaze up to the Tyrants, and then gazed curiously at Nicholai. The butcher knife was still in his hand.

“What is it?” he asked.

“These creatures,” Nicholai said, motioning at the tanks. “What do you need them for?”

“What’s the matter? You’re not getting nervous, are you?”

“You must plan to set them free.”

“I do.”

“Why?”

Wesker chuckled and looked down at the knife in his hand. “It turns out that you aren’t the only person who knows I worked for Umbrella. Some of my fellow police officers escaped from the mansion after I faked my death. They’re still alive, and that’s a problem I have to take care of.”

“I thought you said no one was going to escape.”

“I thought so. Turns out I was wrong.”

“So these monsters are going to kill the police, yes?”

“That’s right,” Wesker said with a nod. “The Tyrants here are sort of a back up. The Nemesis will go after the police and kill them.”

“How?” Nicholai asked. “I do not think it will just follow your directions.”

“Not exactly,” Wesker admitted. “But I’ve given it genetic samples from the police officers that escaped. I took samples from them a long time ago, just in case I ever had a use for them at work. The Nemesis knows their DNA now. It will track them down like a bloodhound after a fugitive.”

“And it will only go after those people?”

“Of course not,” Wesker said. “It will probably attack anyone who gets in its way. But it will be tracking those specific people.”

“How reassuring,” Nicholai said.

Wesker smiled again. “Don’t worry about it, Nicholai. The Nemesis won’t get in your way. Unless you plan to spend some quality time with the members of the S.T.A.R.S. teams, you probably won’t even see it.”

“I am just hoping you did not have a blood sample from me as well,” Nicholai said. He turned and walked down the aisle into darkness, hearing Wesker laughing softly behind him as he departed.

He left the building and went to the car. Several times since he had started working for Wesker, he had debated whether or not to kill him. After all, Wesker was as much a liability to him as he was to Wesker. But in the end, his greed won out and he continued to work for him, always planning to kill him later.

But now, Nicholai wondered if he had waited too long.

Chapter 20

 

Momentary flashes of memory flickered at the edges of its eyesight like tiny flickers of lightning. He could sense feelings and emotions like some long-remembered dream, impressing on his mind like a song stuck in his head. But that’s all they were, just flashes, just brief glimpses. The immediate present managed to keep them at bay. But if he slowed down for even a second, the memories would come back and nag at him. So he kept moving.

His large feet, bare now, splashed in the filthy water of the sewer. Rats and other vermin, as if sensing his approach, ran for cover. His pants were shredded, hanging in tatters from his legs, barely held on by the belt still fastened at his waist. His shirt and lab coat were also ripped up, the blood splashed across them dry now. He didn’t even know whose blood it was, his own or someone else’s. Those memories were too recent for him to grasp.

His right arm was now a massive club of flesh almost as large as his torso, so heavy that he had to swing it as he walked, swaying his body from side to side like a gorilla. Rippling under the transparent skin of his upper shoulder was a roving eyeball, sliding around without looking directly at anything. The huge arm ended in a hand with long bony claws coming from each thick finger.

His skin was dissolving slowly, becoming transparent, his huge arm now mostly revealed muscle. Slowly, the skin across his chest was changing as well. His huge neck seemed ready to swallow his head. And those were just the first changes, the first stage. He could feel inside his body that more changes were coming, more drastic and more extreme than the first.

He was after something. It pulled him along like an invisible leash. Stomping through the murky sewer tunnels, spreading disease wherever he went, he slowly pursued his goal. He didn’t even know what it was, at least not completely. His mind was so scattered, so muddled, that he could barely maintain a coherent thought. But his body knew the goal, his body urged him forward on his mission.

The virus that had altered his DNA so dramatically was like a living parasite, and a parasite’s only goals are to survive and to spread.

But the virus did not want to just spread to any host. Interacting with new, different strands of DNA would only cause different combinations and more mutations. The virus coursing through his blood did not want to change, it wanted to continue its growth in a new host with the same DNA.

And there was only one creature with the same DNA that he had. One of his offspring, his only offspring. As he moved through the empty sewer tunnels, he could see images of her flashing in his mind, little reminders of the purpose of his search. His search for the one creature with the same DNA as his own.

Soon, he could find her. And anyone, anything, that got in his way would be destroyed.

A note from the author

 

Resident Evil Legends is a seven-part series that was originally posted online from 2007 to 2012 on Fanfiction.net. The entire series has been completely revised and edited for this new Shakespir Edition. The author would like to thank all of the readers on Fanfiction.net who posted comments and feedback. Without their help and support, this series would never have been completed. The author would also like to thank Capcom for creating such wonderful and memorable characters and making such entertaining games.

 

 

Resident Evil Legends

 

Part One: Welcome to the Umbrella Corporation

Part Two: The Arklay Outbreak

Part Three: The Mansion Incident

Part Four: Calm Before the Storm

 

COMING SOON

Part Five: City of the Dead

Part Six: Escape from Raccoon City

Part Seven: Aftermath


Resident Evil Legends Part Four - Calm Before The Storm

Based on the Resident Evil video game series by Capcom. Jill Valentine and the rest of the surviving S.T.A.R.S. team members return to Raccoon City after their harrowing ordeal at the Arklay mansion, only to find that they cannot reveal the truth about what happened. No one would ever believe them, but the death of so many of their coworkers draws them into a scandal that rocks the entire city. Umbrella has finally come to investigate the Arklay lab, and they discover the outbreak. They begin damage control, bringing in BCF soldiers to prepare for the inevitable outbreak in Raccoon City itself. A black ops commando code-named Hunk is sent to evacuate the Raccoon City lab, where he meets William Birkin and sets in motion a devastating chain of events. Meanwhile, a mysterious secret agent named Ada Wong arrives in Raccoon City as well. And Albert Wesker, still alive and manipulating things behind the scenes, remains in Raccoon City to clean up some loose ends before the T-virus infection reaches the city. Using a new variant of the Progenitor, he creates a new creature called the Nemesis ...

  • Author: Andreas Leachim
  • Published: 2016-04-25 15:05:11
  • Words: 48734
Resident Evil Legends Part Four - Calm Before The Storm Resident Evil Legends Part Four - Calm Before The Storm