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Resident Evil Legends Part Seven - Aftermath

Resident Evil Legends Part Seven: Aftermath

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.

Chapter 1

 

The man seated at the large rectangular desk stared at the printed statement in front of him and ignored the crowd of people packed into his office. He was tall and thin, but not athletically so, with graying hair at his temples and soft, expressive gray eyes that had made him popular with the public. There were bags under those eyes now, and they were slightly bloodshot from being awake for so long. A team of makeup artists managed to hide the worst of it, making him appear appropriately photogenic, as the public expected him to be. But it had been a very long day and a longer night, and he could not hide his weariness. His hands trembled almost imperceptibly as he ran his finger along the edge of the papers.

Packed into the Oval Office were his family, his closest advisers and members of his Cabinet, several other high ranking officials of both parties, as well as technicians and the cameramen and the director. Two large television cameras dominated the center of the room, and at least half a dozen other photographers were standing in the background, ready to snap pictures at a moment’s notice. A select number of journalists, reporters, and other news writers were in the office as well, with tiny audio recorders hanging from their wrists and notebooks in their hands. And nearly invisible among them due to their omnipresence, were a small army of Secret Service agents.

He scanned the opening lines of the speech in front of him for the thousandth time. He didn’t really need it printed out, since it would be shown on the teleprompter for him to read, but it was good to have a copy on the desk as well, to give him something to do with his hands.

His wife, standing to the side of one of the cameras, forced a brave smile and nodded to him, their two young children there as well, completely ignorant of what was going on. They were used to standing around during these sort of meetings, but they were too young to understand the significance of what was about to happen. He tried to think about his children, wondering if someday they would look back on these events with the benefit of hindsight, and whether they would feel pride or disgust for their father in this defining moment.

And more importantly, how was the American public going to react? It was almost a foregone conclusion that this would effectively end his unfortunately short Administration, but the question remained as to just how quickly it would end. Would it end in the next election, or would it end this very day? Would it end in the voting booth, in a massive public protest, or would it possibly end with a bullet? The future was impossible to even guess. He was entering completely uncharted waters here, and trying to anticipate the public’s reaction to the events of the last 24 hours would be a futile effort.

There was no way to lessen the impact, no way to sugar coat it. To even attempt to soften the blow might as well be political suicide. He must face it head-on and bear the consequences. If the Administration was going to survive this catastrophe, he needed to stand and face the aftermath like a lone person standing up against a tidal wave.

Finally, he sighed and glanced at the director. He nodded silently and the director immediately signaled the cameraman, holding up his index finger to start the countdown.

The red light blinked on above the camera, indicating that they were now transmitting live all across the country, and in fact all over the world. The entire room was now focused solely on him, and he stared into the camera like a man facing a firing squad.

“My fellow Americans,” he said gravely, his voice quavering but resolute, “I am here today to tell you something that no President has ever wanted to have to tell his country. The news I have is terrible and tragic, and although I am certain that we will face this event with the same strength and fortitude that has made this nation so great, I can only hope that the American people will come to understand the reasons that this tragedy took place.”

He took a deep breath, glanced down at the papers in front of him, and felt as if he had lost his voice. But he continued, “Early this morning, a nuclear weapon was launched and detonated over American soil. But this was not the act of an enemy nation or a terrorist organization, and it was not an accident or a mistake. It is my duty to inform you that … I am the one who authorized the use of that nuclear weapon. I cannot express in words how much it pains me to tell you this, but I ordered a nuclear weapon to be fired over an American city.”

The words hung in the air like a cloud of poisonous gas. It was out in the open now, and there was no putting it back. He took another nervous breath and stared helplessly into the camera. His eyes, once the warm and gentle eyes that the public found comfort in, were now panicked and guilt-stricken, like the eyes of an accused man up against a corrupted jury. A confession such as this would have crippled him even in private, but he was making the announcement to the entire world. Millions of people were listening to him.

“Two days ago,” he said in a fragile monotone, “a small town called Raccoon City was exposed to a highly contagious, extremely dangerous biological contaminant. There was an advanced medical laboratory in Raccoon City operated by the Umbrella Corporation, where they studied different diseases in the hopes of finding new cures and treatments. In their research, they studied mutated versions as well, and it was one such mutated version that somehow infected one of their employees. Exactly how this happened is unknown.”

His hands trembled once more as he continued, feeling sweat drip down his back. “This single employee unknowingly spread the disease into the city, where it very rapidly infected other people. It spread almost immediately through personal contact, and spread through the city at an exponential rate. Half the city was exposed to the disease within 24 hours.”

The words on the teleprompter seemed to blur, so he glanced down at his papers, although he didn’t need to read them. Reading a prepared speech seemed pointless; he would be better off just saying what happened in his own words. He let go of the papers and fumbled with his hands, eventually managing to fold them in front of him.

“This disease was … it was unlike anything that has ever been seen before. Less than 36 hours after someone is exposed to it, they become affected by the most … terrible symptoms. I cannot even describe it to you … but there are a few people who survived this epidemic, and their stories will horrify you. I have seen images of the infection, and believe me when I tell you that this disease is the most awful thing you would ever witness …”

He took a deep breath, and continued, “Despite the best efforts of the local government in Raccoon City, and the brave sacrifices of hundreds of people in their attempts to halt the spread of the disease, all of Raccoon City soon became overrun with those who became infected. It was not possible to contain the spread of the disease any longer, because it spread too fast. Unless immediate, drastic action was taken, the disease threatened to spread outside the city limits of Raccoon City and possibly infect neighboring towns and cities.”

His voice took on a desperate, pleading note, and he stared directly into the camera, as if trying to speak to every single viewer individually. “If there had been any conceivable way to stop this disease from spreading farther, I promise that we would have tried it. But we had to take action, we had to do what had to be done, in order to protect the lives of thousands, if not millions, of more innocent victims. Any delay, any wasted time, could result in further death and suffering.”

His wife was crying now, tears streaming down her cheeks, and his children stared at him in uncomprehending worry. The journalists and reporters stared in horror as the words sunk in, and his own advisers could not disguise their dismay and disbelief.

“What I had to do will haunt me for the rest of my life,” he said, his voice quavering. “I had to order the only possible solution, the only possible way to stop this disease from infecting more people. I ordered a nuclear missile to be dropped on Raccoon City. I could not make this decision without the most profound sadness, and even though I strongly believe it was the only possible course of action, I will never be able to erase the guilt I feel.

“In the coming days and weeks, you will see for yourself the terrible devastation that this disease was capable of, and understand the impossible choice that I was faced with. I was forced to give an order than no one would ever want to give … but the alternative was worse.”

His voice felt dry and he knew he could not speak for much longer without breaking down completely. But he continued, his voice growing weaker. “All I can do now is pray for the lives of the people who died, and beg for your understanding and your forgiveness. The American people are strong, and I know they will deal with this terrible tragedy with courage, and sympathy, and hope. This great nation will survive this catastrophe, and the memories of those we have lost will never be forgotten.

“God Bless America,” he whispered, his eyes welling over with tears. “God Bless us all.”

The camera’s light blinked out.

Chapter 2

 

Somehow, Jill Valentine managed to fall asleep. She dreamed that she was drowning in a choppy sea scattered with floating debris and decomposing bodies. As she tried to stay afloat, gagging on the foul water, something kept pulling her legs down to force her down. All the while the sky seemed to roar, deafening her.

She snapped out of it, lurching forward with a gasp, her hands grasping at her chest. Carlos Oliveira, seated in the pilot’s chair beside her, looked concerned but said nothing. Jill took a few deep breaths and slumped back in her seat. The load roaring in her dream was nothing but the sound of the helicopter.

Her head lolled to the side as she glanced out the window at the line of trees rushing by underneath them. They were still flying low over the Arklay Forest; Jill realized she must have only dozed off for a few minutes, if it was even that long. She sighed wearily, closing her eyes again, although she doubted she would drowse off again so soon.

“You okay?” Carlos asked.

Jill nodded.

She was lying, of course. She wasn’t okay. She was dead tired, half-starved, and her leg throbbed in pain every time she moved it. She was far from okay. But she was alive and on her way to someplace safe. Or at least she hoped so. Under the circumstances, she was doing fantastic.

“You sure you’re okay?” Carlos asked. “You feel alright?”

“Yes,” Jill said. “I feel wonderful.”

“Okay. You just got real quiet all of a sudden. And you fell asleep, I think. I just got worried that … well, you know.”

“I’m fine,” she said more clearly. “Just tired. How about you?”

“It hurts to breath,” Carlos said with a weak smile. “Other than that I’m just great.”

Carlos most likely had several broken ribs. At least, Jill hoped that’s all it was. If one of his ribs punctured an internal organ, he could be bleeding internally or be suffering from worse injuries. But Jill guessed that he would be in more pain if that was the case. Either way, they both needed medical attention as soon as possible. How they would get it might cause a problem, but Jill was prepared to have Carlos fly the helicopter straight to the nearest hospital if that’s what they had to do. Once they got out of the forest, would have a better idea of where they were.

She wondered if the local cities around Raccoon Cities had any idea at all about what was happening just a few miles away. Surely, they must know something was wrong, since Umbrella blocked all the roads into and out of the city.

Were the Raccoon City survivors being treated at local hospitals? Jill doubted it. Umbrella was probably shipping them off to distant locations for treatment to try to keep a lid on things. Jill knew there were other survivors. The Umbrella soldier named Hunk told her so, but he gave her no clue about exactly what was being done with them. They were probably being separated and interrogated to find out what they knew, and then tricked or coerced into believing whatever lies Umbrella was telling to spin this disaster in the best possible light.

How were they going to explain it all? How could they explain the destruction of an entire city and the deaths of almost all its residents? Jill tried to imagine what they were going to blame it on. A terrorist attack? Some kind of ecological disaster? A meltdown at a nuclear power plant, perhaps? Raccoon didn’t have a nuclear power plant, but Jill didn’t think facts like that would get in the way of Umbrella’s cover story.

In any case, she would soon find out.

She sighed again and glanced over at Carlos to say something, when she caught movement outside the helicopter, something black against the dark blue sky.

“Carlos!” she cried, pointing.

A blinding light began to flash outside, filling the cabin with light, and Carlos lifted his hand to shield his eyes. Jill fumbled at the control panel for the radio switch.

“ – immediately!” the radio screamed when she found the switch. “Do not attempt to escape! You will follow us to the landing zone! If you do not comply, we will shoot you out of the sky! Repeat, change your course immediately! Do not attempt to escape!”

Carlos activated the radio on his flight helmet. “Okay! Okay!” he shouted. “Fine, we’ll follow you! Don’t shoot us!”

Jill looked around and saw that they were surrounded by other helicopters now, at least four of them flying in formation around them. And they weren’t simple commercial two-seaters like the one she was in, they were full attack choppers with mounted machine guns which were currently aimed at them.

“Looks like they found us,” she said, looking worriedly at the choppers. They came out of nowhere, and could have shot them down in an instant if they wanted to.

“I told you the whole city was surrounded,” Carlos said, moving the stick sideways to direct the helicopter in a new direction. They angled left and followed their escort of attack choppers.

The loud voice came over the radio again. “Over the next ridge is a landing zone! You will land immediately once you reach the clearing! I repeat, if you try to escape we will shoot you down! Is that understood?”

“Yes,” Carlos said, “Yes, I understand.”

“So what happens now?” Jill asked no one in particular.

“We land,” Carlos said, “And we hope they don’t shoot us anyway.”

The landing zone was marked with flares and flashlights, and Jill spotted people running around below. It was a wide clearing in the middle of the forest that appeared to run alongside a narrow dirt road. There were a few floodlights illuminating some tents by the trees but the middle of the clearing was dark except for the flares.

Carlos lowered the helicopter toward the clearing and let out a deep sigh of relief when they touched down, the helicopter bumping down roughly on the uneven ground. Dozens of shaking lights flashed in their direction and Jill squinted against the lights, her eyes still accustomed to the darkness. Carlos turned off the engine and the helicopter’s rotors began to slow.

The shaking lights were flashlights attached to the barrels of assault rifles. All around them, armed Umbrella soldiers aimed weapons, and Jill raised her hands just in case. Carlos took off his flight helmet and did the same.

“Get out of the helicopter!” someone bellowed with a megaphone. “Come out and keep your hands in the air! If you make any sudden moves you will be shot!”

Jill pushed open the side door and carefully swung her legs out, wincing in pain. She lowered herself to the ground as gently as possible and leaned against the side of the chopper. Dozens of assault rifles aimed at her, although the men wielding them were concealed, their black uniforms almost invisible in the dark. She felt as if she was surrounded by nothing but a bunch of independent floating lights. She tried to shield her eyes, but she could not even tell how many men there were.

Carlos got out as well and said, “I’m with the UBCF. I’m on your side, guys.”

“We’re not infected,” Jill added importantly. “We haven’t been bitten.”

“I’ll decide that for myself,” came a voice from the darkness. A man pushed his way forward through the armed soldiers and approached. Like them, he wore an Umbrella uniform. With the lights behind him, Jill could not make out any facial features. He was just a dark silhouette.

“We are not infected,” Jill repeated. “But we do need medical attention.”

The man folded his hands behind his back and walked over to Carlos, but he kept his distance. “You were part of the first wave into the city?”

“Yes, sir,” Carlos said with a weak nod.

“Who was your commanding officer?”

“Mikhail Victor.”

The man considered that and then nodded. The soldiers behind him lowered their weapons slightly. “Are you injured?” he asked.

Carlos nodded again. “Yes, sir. It’s my ribs. I think some might be broken.”

“But you are not infected?”

“No, sir.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“We’re sure,” Jill snapped. “If you don’t believe that, then just stick us in solitary or something for a couple of hours.”

“I’m going to do that anyway,” the man said, a trace of humor in his voice. He gestured to the soldiers, who lowered their guns all the way, shining their lights at the ground.

“Here is what we’re going to do,” the man said, looking over at Jill. “You are going to follow me to the other side of this clearing. You will not attempt to run away. You will not even try to touch or contact any of my men. Don’t even talk to them.”

Jill nodded. “I understand. I couldn’t run away even if I wanted to. I can barely move my leg.”

“You are going to be loaded onto a truck. You will be given instructions by the scientists there, and I suggest you follow them to the letter. If you make any suspicious movements or exhibit any signs of infection, you will be shot immediately. I cannot stress how serious we are about this.”

“I don’t blame you.”

“Well, come on then.”

They were led across the clearing, surrounded by the armed soldiers at all times. None of them came closer than about ten feet. Jill and Carlos could not move very fast, with Jill limping heavily on her good leg, and Carlos walking slowly to avoid moving his torso too much. At no time did any of the soldiers point their guns in another direction, the assault rifles were always pointed right at them.

There was a large transport truck parked next to the tents, and the man in charge stopped well short of it. Two other men climbed out of the back, both of them wearing white hazard suits with wide clear helmets, the suits covering every inch of their bodies.

“Please come with us. You need to get into the vehicle,” one of them said.

“We need medical treatment,” Jill said.

“You’ll get it. But not here. We have to take you to a decontamination center first.”

Carlos and Jill both needed help getting into the truck. Inside were two rows of seats facing each other, and a bright light overhead. And they were not alone. There was a middle-aged man already seated in the truck, wearing a dirty gray business suit. His hands were in his lap and he did not look up when Jill and Carlos got in. They were directed to sit as close to the front of the truck as possible. Then the two men in hazard suits got on after them, sitting as close to the back as possible, and armed with assault rifles.

“Just stay seated where you are,” one of them said. The bright light reflected off the front of their helmets, masking their faces, so Jill wasn’t sure which one had spoken. “If you try to move closer to us, we will shoot you. Keep your hands in your lap. If you try to throw anything at us or make any suspicious movements at all, we will shoot you.”

“You are allowed to ask us questions,” the other one said, in a somewhat softer tone. “But we’re afraid that you’ll have to wait until we reach the decontamination center for more information.”

“Aren’t you going to ask us anything?” Jill asked.

“No. You will be questioned at the decontamination center.”

“We aren’t infected,” Carlos said. “What are they going to decontaminate?”

“You might not be carrying the virus, but your clothing or hair might have traces of infected blood on it. We have to make sure that anything on your person is completely removed of any trace of the virus before you are released.”

Jill nodded, suspecting as much. She and Carlos were not infected, but they had fought enough zombies and other creatures that there might be a considerable amount of blood and tissue on their clothes that could spread the disease. Although not infected herself, she might become a veritable Typhoid Mary without even knowing it. She wished the soldiers treated her a bit more humanely, but she really couldn’t blame them. It was a good idea to take no chances.

Jill and Carlos sat next to each other, with the other man seated across from them. He lifted his head a little bit to glance up at Jill, but he did not maintain eye contact long, and his gaze returned to the floor.

As the truck began to roll down the dirt road, Carlos leaned his head against the wall. He gave Jill a wan smile, and she tried to smile back, but it felt forced, so she just sighed and closed her eyes, happy to let the motion of the truck lull her back to sleep.

“What’s your name, man?” Carlos asked the other passenger.

The man did not respond for a moment, and then said softly, “David Hanley.”

“How did you get out?”

“Through the woods,” Hanley said weakly. His black leather shoes were coated with mud and his gray slacks were dirty as well, with muddy spots on the knees. “I tried … I tried to get into the city this morning, but the roads … there was too much traffic and it was so backed up. I managed to … hide in this house, I don’t even know whose house it was.”

Jill interrupted him gently. “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”

“What about … what about you two?” he asked.

“I’m Jill Valentine, I was a police officer.”

“And I’m Carlos. I’m part of the UBCF. You know, the Umbrella soldiers.”

Hanley nodded slowly and looked intently at Jill, keeping his head tilted down. He seemed to be thinking hard about something, and Jill did not have to think too hard to figure out what it was.

“Go ahead,” she said. “You can ask me.”

“You … you were one of the police officers in the news, weren’t you?”

Jill nodded. “Yes, I was.”

One of the Umbrella employees cleared his throat loudly, and Jill turned her head to look in their direction. Both of them pointed their guns in her direction, but she was almost surprised to see that neither of them were actually wielding the rifles properly. They had the guns laying across their laps; they weren’t actually holding them in a position where they could shoot.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to change the subject,” one of them said. Again, Jill could not tell which one was speaking because of their masks.

“Why?” she asked, although she already knew the answer.

They didn’t give her an answer, so she just laughed defeatedly to herself and sat back, leaning her head against the wall. Hanley didn’t say anything else after that, he just stared at his hands. Carlos leaned against Jill and put his hand on her shoulder supportively, but he also remained quiet. The only sounds after that were the uneven bumping of the truck as it drove down the dirt road.

Jill should have known that Umbrella would be on the lookout for her. After the events at the remote lab, they must have been watching out for any of the police officers who were there. A newspaper would tell them the identities of the surviving S.T.A.R.S. members. They sent that monster in the trenchcoat after her, so they knew who she was. All of their soldiers and other employees dealing with the infection probably knew her name and were ordered to keep an eye out for her.

She regretted giving Hanley her name, but she decided it didn’t matter. Umbrella would have figured out who she was anyway. Of course, now she had to worry exactly what they were going to do with her. They had no qualms about sending monsters after her, so what now? Jill had no idea, and she was too tired to worry about it now. She wasn’t sure if she even cared anymore.

After a few minutes, Jill surrendered to the the gentle rocking motion in the truck, and managed to drift off to sleep again. Her dreams were not pleasant.

Chapter 3

 

Claire Redfield looked down Sherry Birkin, who lay asleep beside her. Almost as soon as they drove away from the train yard, Sherry passed right out, and Claire was inclined to let her sleep. The poor girl deserved a rest. She gently brushed Sherry’s hair from her face and smiled, then leaned back and watched as the Arklay Forest passed by outside the truck’s windows.

They had been driving for about half an hour, according to her digital clock on the truck’s dashboard, just following the train tracks through the forest. Claire wasn’t sure where the tracks led, but once they made it through the mountains they had to reach some other city soon. Although exactly what they were going to do when they reached it, Claire had no idea.

Seated on the other side of Sherry was Leon Kennedy, driving the truck quietly, keeping his eyes sharp for anything in front of them. Claire felt that he must have been running on some bottomless reserve of stamina, because he didn’t even look tired. After everything that they had been through, Leon was still awake and alert, on the lookout for any new obstacles or dangers. He had not calmed down or relaxed since they left the city behind them. Claire didn’t know how he did it. It was a good thing that he was driving, because Claire probably would have fallen asleep at the wheel.

She must have been smiling, because Leon glanced at her and said, “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing,” she said softly. “It’s just you, that’s all.”

“What about me?”

“I don’t know, you just look so serious. We made it out alive, you know. You can relax now.”

Leon shook his head. “No, not yet. I’ll relax when we’re completely out of this forest and in protective custody someplace. I’ll relax when we are far, far away from Raccoon City.”

“I don’t think any zombies are going to chase us down out here.”

“There’s more than zombies out tonight.”

Claire admitted that he had a point, but she still didn’t think anything was going to come after them. They might not be in a completely safe place yet, but they were on their way. She didn’t think they were in any more danger.

“I think we’ll be fine. You just worry too much. You’re such a boy scout,” she said, and then giggled at herself.

“I was a boy scout, as a matter of fact,” Leon replied, deadpan.

“Why am I not surprised? You must have earned all the merit badges.”

“Yeah,” Leon said. “In fact, they’ll have to make a new merit badge for me now. A badge for escaping a zombie infestation.”

Claire laughed, even though it wasn’t that funny. It just felt good to be able to laugh at something. She hadn’t been able to laugh much in the last 24 hours. Sherry rustled beside her and mumbled something, but her eyes remained closed and she soon returned to sleep.

What were they going to do now? Could they just go straight to the police and tell them what happened? Or maybe go the local FBI office instead of local police? And what would they tell them? “Hello, we just escaped from a nearby city that is infested with the undead?” Claire couldn’t help but think they would be committed to a mental ward. But they had to tell the authorities somehow.

“What are we going to do?” she asked.

Leon rubbed his cheek thoughtfully. “I’ve been thinking about that. The first thing we have to do is find out what people already know. Check the news, read the paper, figure out what information is already out there.”

“There have to be other survivors, right?”

“I certainly hope so, but I think that Umbrella found most of them and took them away. They had blocks on all the roads, remember? There might not be any other survivors who made it out of the city who aren’t in Umbrella’s custody.”

“Yeah,” Claire agreed, looking out the window, thinking to herself. “I hadn’t thought of that. But people have to know something is wrong if they blocked the roads.”

“I think they must have jammed all phone signals too,” Leon said. “They couldn’t risk anyone calling out. That would cause a lot of questions. I wouldn’t be surprised if all the local cities around here are investigating already, trying to figure out what’s going on. So first, we have to figure out what they already know about the epidemic.”

“And if they don’t know anything about it? What do we tell them?”

Leon shrugged. “I don’t know yet.”

“You’ll think of something,” Claire said supportively.

And she knew that he would. Ever since she had first met him, Leon had always known what to do. Claire could not even count the number of questions she’d asked him, how many times she had not known what to do or where to go, and depended on Leon to solve their problems. He always figured out what to do next. How many times had she pestered and nagged at him? Thinking back, she realized how much a pest she must have been, always bothering him with questions. Sherry did too, but she was only a child.

But Leon never snapped at them, never got angry, never got frustrated. He never once lost his temper or lost hope, he never once failed them. Claire didn’t know how he managed to handle all the stress he must have felt. He didn’t ask to be their leader, but he accepted the responsibility without complaint. Claire knew that if she had not met Leon, she would be dead right now. Leon saved her life half a dozen times, and never once asked for anything in return, not even a simple thank you. It was time for her to give him one.

“Thank you,” Claire said softly.

Leon glanced at her. “For what?”

“For everything. For saving my life. For saving both our lives.”

“You don’t have to thank me for that,” Leon said, shrugging it off.

“Yes, I do,” Claire insisted. She felt a tightness in her chest, and realized that her eyes were filling with tears. “You didn’t have to stay with me and Sherry. You could have run away and saved yourself at any time, but you stayed with us, even right at the end. When that monster cornered us on the platform, you … you tried to protect us. You could have tried to save yourself, but you didn’t leave even when we were all going to die …”

She choked and felt tears spill down her cheeks, wiping them away with the back of her hand, pushing back the urge to break down into sobs.

Leon reached out his hand and she fumbled for it, gripping it tightly. She wiped her eyes and cleared her throat, trying to regain her composure.

“I don’t think I’m a hero,” Leon said quietly. “I just try to do the right thing. If I was really a hero then I could have saved everyone. I could have saved Ada, and that woman we found in the lab, and I could have saved the Chief of Police, and those Umbrella soldiers I ran into before I met you. A hero would have saved all of them. But I’m just a regular guy.”

“You saved me and you saved Sherry,” Claire said with a sad smile. “That makes you a pretty big hero to me.”

“You saved my life too, and you saved Sherry as well. So I guess we’re both heroes.”

“Then Sherry is a hero too, isn’t she?”

Leon smiled and looked down at the sleeping child in between them. “She’s the biggest hero of all. She’s braver and stronger than both of us put together.”

Claire wiped her eyes again and sighed, letting Leon’s hand slip free from hers. She rested her head against the seat and put her hands in her lap, and Leon returned both hands to the steering wheel and focused his attention on the dark stretch of railroad tracks in front of them.

“What are we going to do when this is all over?” Claire asked. “I don’t know if I can ever go back to a normal life after this.”

“Well, my career in law enforcement ended before it even began,” Leon said. “I think I might go back to the military after this is all over. I think they could use someone with my experience.”

“What branch of the service were you in?” Claire asked.

“The Rangers,” Leon said with some pride.

She smiled. “My brother Chris was in the Air Force. I thought about enlisting too, I thought it might be cool to drive tanks.”

“What do you do for a living?” Leon asked. “It’s funny that we’ve spent all day together, and I really don’t know anything about you.”

“We haven’t exactly had time to sit and talk about our lives,” Claire said with a chuckle. “Maybe now’s a good time to get to know each other. Anyway, I work in a real estate office right now. I’ve been meaning to go back to college and maybe become a teacher.”

“What subject?”

“Oh, I don’t know. English, I guess. That sounds easy.”

Leon laughed and said, “Sounds pretty hard to me. I almost failed English in high school once. They tried to make me read Moby Dick and I just couldn’t handle it.”

“Got any family?” Claire asked.

“Other than my parents, not really. I’m an only child and my folks live in Florida. My dad owns a couple of pizza restaurants down there. What about you?”

“My parents live in Virginia. Chris is my only sibling, and him and me are pretty close, I guess. I’m not married or anything, and I guess you aren’t either.”

“No, not married,” Leon said, shaking his head.

“No girlfriend?”

“Not at the moment.”

“You and I should go out sometime,” Claire said casually.

Leon grinned and looked at her curiously. “Are you asking me out on a date?”

“Yeah,” Claire said. “I think I am. When this is all over, we should go out for dinner and actually get to know each other. We can have a real conversation without worrying about monsters sneaking up behind us.”

“I think I’d like that,” Leon said. “You got yourself a date.”

Claire smiled and was going to respond, when a light flashed up ahead of them on the train tracks, distracting them. Leon took his foot off the gas just as more lights popped into view, and then suddenly a pair of huge flood lights burst on, illuminating the entire area. Leon hit the brakes and the truck skidded to a halt on the stones.

“Leon,” Claire said nervously.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” he said.

All around them, Umbrella soldiers appeared from seemingly out of nowhere, wielding assault rifles. Leon instinctively raised his hands, and Claire did the same. The soldiers surrounded the truck, standing well away from it, and a loud voice boomed out from a megaphone somewhere.

“Please exit the vehicle,” the voice said calmly. “Keep your hands in the air. If you do not follow my orders, you will be shot.”

“Oh my God,” Claire whispered.

“Just do what he says,” Leon said quickly, pushing open his door.

Claire shook Sherry awake and she sat up sleepily, blinking against the bright lights shining through the windshield. “What’s going on?” she asked. “Where are we?”

“It’s okay, Sherry,” Claire said nervously, opening her door as well. “We’re safe, but we have to get out of the truck now.” She got out and pulled Sherry free, setting her down in the grass.

Sherry held up her hand to block the light and stared out at the crowd of soldiers. Claire stood protectively next to her, while Leon stepped to the front of the truck, keeping his hands in plain sight.

“Congratulations,” a man said as he stepped into view. He was a very tall man in an Umbrella uniform, with dark brown skin and a bald head that gleamed in the light from the floods. He folded his hands behind his back and looked across at the three of them. “You are the first survivors we have seen here. I am glad that you made it out of the city.” He spoke in a clipped African accent and smiled genially at them, although the other soldiers did not lower their weapons.

“Are we under arrest?” Leon asked.

“Do we look like police officers?” the man said with a chuckle. “Forgive me, but we cannot afford to take chances, now can we? We must be assured that you are not carrying any trace of the disease. I’m sure you understand.”

He gestured at his men and they finally lowered their weapons. He then waved at Claire and Sherry and stepped aside, motioning for them to walk ahead. They didn’t know what else to do, so they followed instructions and walked along the tracks in the direction of the flood lights.

“My name is Captain Dosu Obasanjo,” the Umbrella commander said as he walked behind them. “I’m sure you have questions, but sadly, I cannot answer them for you. My job here is to take survivors into our custody and begin their decontamination process. After that, you will be sent to a nearby facility where you will receive further treatment.”

“And then what?” Leon asked.

Obasanjo shrugged theatrically. “I’m afraid I cannot answer that. I have not been given that much information. Please, continue forward. The decontamination tent is just ahead.”

“What kind of decontamination?” Claire asked worriedly. Sherry clutched her side for dear life, keeping her eyes looking straight forward.

“It is a series of cleaning agents,” Obasanjo said with a friendly smile. “It will remove any trace of contaminants from your skin and hair.”

“But we’re not infected with the virus,” Claire said.

“I believe you, but you may still carry it unknowingly on your clothing or skin. Before we release you, we must be certain that all traces of the disease are gone.”

Obasanjo made it sound very simple and easy, but Claire had a terrible feeling about what was about to happen. There were three large white tents set up along the tree line, brightly illuminated by the flood lights, with several men wearing white hazard suits loitering out front. The Umbrella soldiers accompanied them all the way to the tents, guns at the ready the entire time. Claire could not imagine what they were trying to prevent; did they honestly think one of them might try to run away? An escort of one or two armed soldiers would have been enough to keep anyone in line, there was no need to send an army along with them.

One of the hazard suits approached them. Inside was a woman who appeared to be in her forties or fifties, but it was hard to tell. She looked weary and short-tempered, and jerked her arm at the nearest tent. “You, in there,” she said to Leon, and then pointed at the other tents. “You two, over there.”

“Why are we being separated?” Leon asked immediately.

“The decontamination must be done individually,” Obasanjo answered from behind them. “One person per tent. For privacy reasons.”

“Privacy?” Claire said.

The woman in the hazard suit glared at them. “Just get in the damn tent.”

“Fine,” Leon said, turning to look at Claire and Sherry. “I guess I’ll see you in a little bit.”

“Yeah,” Claire said uncertainly, as Leon entered the first tent, the woman following after him.

Sherry, her hands trembling slightly on Claire’s arm, looked up at her. “I don’t like this,” she said in a strained voice.

“I don’t like it either,” Claire agreed, “but I don’t think we have a choice.”

“That is correct,” Obasanjo said pleasantly. “You don’t have a choice, so please continue. I promise you will be reunited once the decontamination is complete.”

Claire and Sherry walked over to the next tent, the armed soldiers escorting them, with Captain Obasanjo walking a few paces behind. His friendly, polite behavior was probably intended to reassure her and make her feel safe, but it was having almost the exact opposite effect. She had no reason to trust him, especially since he was acting helpful and friendly while still ordering his men point their guns at her. It did not exactly foster a sense of safety.

Three more people in hazard suits came out to direct them inside. “Come with me,” a young man said, and then gestured at Sherry. “She can use the other one.”

Sherry immediately gripped Claire’s arm harder and pressed up next to her, and Claire held her protectively, shaking her head, “No way, we stay together.”

“I don’t think so. You’re not in charge here. You’re coming with me and she’s going over there, and that’s all there is to it.”

“No!” Sherry cried, grabbing onto Claire even tighter.

“She’s just a girl!” Claire snapped.

“Grab her,” the man said.

The two others in hazard suits came up and grabbed Claire’s arms, pulling her away from Sherry. Another hazard suit appeared behind them and grabbed Sherry, yanking her back. She wailed and screamed, swinging her arms and kicking her feet. “Claire!”

“Let me go, God damn it!” Claire shouted, fighting them, but they held her arms fast and pulled her away.

“Stop!” Captain Obasanjo bellowed. His voice was like a rifle shot, and everyone immediately froze in place as if by hypnotic command. Obasanjo strode forward and snapped, “I am in charge here, is that understood?”

The man in the hazard suit reluctantly nodded, “Yes.”

“There is no need for violence,” Obasanjo said, glancing over at Claire. “I apologize, miss. However, you will see that it is necessary to separate you. Again, I promise that you will be together again shortly.”

Sherry was crying, and the hazard suit held her with both hands to keep her from running away. Obasanjo walked over to her and knelt down, although he still remained several feet away, and looked at her with a gentle, concerned expression.

“What is your name, little girl?” he asked.

Sherry wiped her face with a shaking hand and whispered, “Sherry.”

“Sherry, you must be a very strong and brave girl. You are one of the only children I have seen that made it out of the city. You must be very brave to have lived through that. Well, I must ask you to be very brave one more time. You must let these men do their job, Sherry. It is very important. I give you my word that once the decontamination is complete, you can be with your friends again. It will not take very long, but it must be done. Can you do that for me, Sherry?”

Sherry didn’t give him an answer, but she seemed to calm down a little bit. Obasanjo smiled and nodded to the hazard suit, who then relaxed his grip on Sherry. Instead of fighting against him again, she allowed him to escort her to the last tent, although she looked over her shoulder at Claire the entire time.

“Thank you for that,” Claire said softly.

“Do not thank me,” Obasanjo said, his voice carrying a trace of remorse. “I should warn you that the decontamination process is not a pleasant one.”

Claire was then led inside the tent, and its entrance was zipped up by another person in a white hazard suit. Claire was shocked to see almost a dozen hazard suits in the tent already, standing around and looking at her curiously. Large white fluorescent lights hung from the top of the tent, making the whole interior shine a blinding white. The front half of the tent had several long tables with computers and other strange equipment she did not recognize, and the back half was basically empty. There was an open area with hard plastic flooring and a drain in the middle. Since the tent was not a permanent structure, Claire guessed that the drain led to a transportable pump somewhere outside, but the presence of the drain itself made Claire very nervous.

One of the suits came up to her, and Claire saw that it was an older man wearing glasses with thick black frames. Like all the others, only his face was visible inside the large helmet of his suit. He cleared his throat and said, “My name is Dr. Howard. I assume that Captain Obasanjo gave you some indication of what the decontamination involves?”

“He said that you used cleaning agents to remove any trace of the virus that I might be carrying,” Claire said.

“Yes, that’s part of it.” He hesitated, as if waiting for a response, but Claire didn’t know what to say to him. After a few seconds, Dr. Howard shifted his stance uncomfortably and said, “Ma’am, you’ll have to remove your clothing.”

Claire stared at him. “Excuse me?”

“You’ll have to take your clothes off. Everything, even any jewelry you might –”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Claire said. “I’m not taking my clothes off. If you want to decontaminate me, you can do it with my clothes on.”

“I’m not asking you. I’m telling you. We cannot do this if you are clothed.”

“And if I refuse?”

“Then you will never leave this tent.”

Claire wanted to snap at him, but she suddenly felt the crushing weight of her situation sinking in, like an oncoming thunderstorm. She was surrounded by a dozen people, and she couldn’t possibly fight them. If they were going to force her, then they could do it. And even if she managed to get out of the tent, then what? Face off against fifty armed soldiers with automatic weapons? Her legs suddenly felt weak, and she felt light-headed, as if she was going to faint.

“I’m very sorry,” Howard said, and she believed he was actually telling the truth. “It has to be this way. We will not risk the possibility of the disease spreading outside of the city. You must understand how deadly serious this is.”

“Okay, okay,” Claire said in a weak voice. “What about my clothes, then? Will I get them back, or are you just going to burn them?”

“If you want to keep these clothes, then we’ll do our best to get them back to you.”

Claire closed her eyes and stepped out into the middle of the tent, away from the hazard suits, and removed all of her clothes, dropping them into a small pile. Her boots, her black jeans, and her pink sleeveless jacket. Then her black t-shirt and her socks and underwear. She didn’t have any jewelry like a necklace or earrings; the only other thing she wore was the scrunchie that tied her hair. She pulled it off and dropped it on top of the pile and stepped onto the plastic platform with the drain, keeping her back to the others. She covered herself with her hands, feeling foolish for doing so, but she could not just face them like this. She had to maintain a shred of her dignity.

“We have to apply a solution first,” Howard said from behind her. “It may feel a little cold. You’ll have to turn around so that the solution covers you completely.”

As soon as he was finished talking, Claire heard the splash of liquid and then it ran across the floor to the drain, pooling around her bare feet. It was cold, but Claire did not have time to complain, as they quickly raised the spray so that it splashed across her legs and up her back, spraying from a hose although the pressure was not very high. Claire did as she was told and slowly turned around so that the spray splashed across her front as well, and soaked into her hair, leaving her dripping and shivering once they were done spraying her.

“This is the cleanser,” Howard said. “It will sting. I recommend that you keep your eyes very tightly closed.”

When they hit her with the cleaning spray, Claire let out a gasp of pain. It felt like they were blasting her with hydrochloric acid. She groaned and leaned over, gritting her teeth as the corrosive spray splashed down her arms and legs and then across her torso. She gave up any attempts to cover herself, and used her hands to block the spray from hitting her directly in the face, opening her mouth long enough to squeak and squeal in pain. The spray lasted longer than the other one, seemingly lasting for hours. Her whole body throbbed and stung in pain, and when it was finally over, she managed to pry her eyes open to look down at her skin. She expected it to be red and raw, but surprisingly, it didn’t appear to have burned or scalded her at all, despite the pain.

“Close your eyes again,” Howard said. “I’m sorry, but this one will be much worse.”

Claire turned away as they sprayed her with the next cleanser, and as soon as it struck her back and legs, she let out a shriek of pain, almost falling over. It was like being sprayed with boiling oil, the pain so bad she could barely stand. There were two people spraying her this time, one on each side, so that she couldn’t escape the agonizing spray as it splashed all over her body. She cried out in pain and shrunk down to her knees, the spray blasting into her hair and dripping down her face, burning her every moment. She curled herself in a protective ball and slumped down onto the plastic, crying in pain and praying that it would stop, but it kept going as they continued to spray her, making sure that the cleanser covered her completely. It felt like she was being flayed alive, every inch of her exposed skin burning in pain.

Finally, after an eternity, it stopped. A few seconds later, they sprayed her lightly with something else, but this time it didn’t burn. Claire realized it was simply water, washing away the cleansing solution. She got onto her hands and knees and then stood up somewhat unsteadily, gasping in relief as the corrosive cleaner was washed away. She leaned forward to let them spray her hair, making sure that she was rinsed completely clean.

When that was done, one of them handed her a white towel. But when she took it, she realized it wasn’t fabric or cloth, it was more like a soft, semi-transparent paper. She was thankful for it just the same, and wrapped it around herself like a towel, brushing her dripping hair back behind her head. Claire realized why Obasanjo told her not to thank him. As bad as it was for her, Claire did not even want to think about how bad it must be for Sherry. She wanted to hate Umbrella for it, for forcing people to submit to such an indignity after they had already gone through such terrible events in the city.

But deep down, she knew that it was a necessary evil. It just seemed cruel and malicious to do the decontamination in such a degrading way; surely there were easier, less invasive ways to ensure that the disease was not being spread out of the city. And Sherry was still just a child. Performing the decontamination on her was almost unconscionable.

“So that’s it?” she said, her voice still weak. “It’s over?”

“Unfortunately not,” Howard said, helping her step away from the platform. “But the worst part is done. We still have to do a full body scan as final test to make sure that you are fully decontaminated. After that, you’ll be done.”

“And then what?”

“Well, you’ll probably be sent to one of the recovery centers for further treatment, counseling, rehabilitation, that sort of thing. But once you leave here, you are free to do as you wish.”

“What about clothes?”

“Oh, we have some clothes for you to change into. Just simple pants and shirts, like medical scrubs. Once we’re finished processing your personal clothes, you can have them back as well if you want.”

They instructed her to lie down on a white table and scanned her with a device that looked like an X-ray machine. She didn’t know exactly what they were scanning her with, and she didn’t much care, she just wanted out. But after the cleaning spray, she was too tired to offer much resistance. She desperately wanted to go to sleep.

“I thought you handled the decontamination rather well, if I may say so,” Howard commented as he watched a pair of monitors displaying the scan results. “We’ve had a few people that fared much worse. A few of them screamed and begged for us to stop and could not stop crying afterward. Not that I blame them, of course. I may have done the same in their position. But you suffered it much better than some others.”

“Yeah, well,” Claire muttered. “It’s not the worst thing that’s happened to me today.”

Chapter 4

 

A rusted green pickup truck, the tailgate plastered with right wing political bumper stickers, pulled into the motel parking lot and came to a stop in front of the office.

Ada Wong leaned forward wearily and turned off the ignition. She rested her forehead against the steering wheel briefly, her long hair hanging down over her face, but she took a deep breath and leaned back again, lest she fall asleep right there. Her body ached and cried out for sleep, but she knew that she still a little while to go before she could get any.

Seated beside her was the man who called himself Ted, although Ada sincerely doubted that was his real name. He looked more like a Gary or a Hank than a Ted, but since Ada was going by a fake name as well, she couldn’t accuse him of being too secretive. His face was still flushed and red and his breathing was rapid and anxious, and that was the least of his problems. He gritted his teeth and nodded toward the motel office, his hand gripping the door latch tightly, although he made no move to open the door. The collar of his white t-shirt was soaked in sweat.

“Can you get us a room?” he asked, glancing at her.

Ada sighed. “Yes, but we can’t stay here too long. Someone has probably reported this truck stolen by now.”

“Just park it out back. No one will see it.”

“Okay, how do I look?” Ada asked, looking in the rear view mirror.

“You look like shit,” Ted grumbled.

Taking a long look, Ada was inclined to agree with him. She did look like shit. Her eyes were bloodshot and there were minor scratches all across her face. Her hair was a long, messy tangle spotted with dirt and bits of leaves. Her boots and pants were spattered with mud, and her long-sleeved red shirt was torn at the waist in a few places, not to mention filthy dirty. She probably stank as well, but she didn’t want to take a whiff to find out.

But considering the fact that she spent the entire previous night scrambling and crawling through the Arklay Forest in pitch darkness, she looked like a million bucks. Ted looked far worse than she did, so that meant she was the one who had to do talking. She took a deep breath and pulled her hair back, wishing she had something to tie it with, and stepped out of the truck.

Her legs were so sore that she limped up to the office. It was almost a miracle that she hadn’t twisted an ankle during their frantic escape the night before. They didn’t have a map to mark their progress, but Ada estimated they must have traveled almost twenty miles through the woods, hiking up and down hills, pushing through dense underbrush, splashing through streams and creeks, and even climbing up steep embankments. Their flashlight went dead an hour into the hike, leaving them forced to navigate solely by moonlight.

They were both exhausted by that point, but three things kept them moving. One, the very real chance that they might encounter an infected creature in the woods, whether it was a zombie or something else. Secondly, they knew that Umbrella was probably combing the forest for more survivors, and neither of them wanted to get caught.

Thirdly, it was impossible for them not to notice the earth-shaking explosion that lit up the entire sky a few hours after they entered the woods. The ground literally shook underneath their feet, and the entire horizon glowed orange all night after that, bright enough for them to see the monumental mushroom cloud that now hung over the city. It made the explosion of the propane tankers look like a firecracker, and they both knew exactly what would create an explosion of that magnitude.

After that, they somehow managed to quicken their pace, even though they both knew that if the radiation reached that far, they were probably both dead anyway. But the mountainous landscape served as a barrier of sorts, and Ada was confident that they were far enough from the center of the blast that they would suffer no long term effects. Or at least she told herself that.

Ted had it far worse than she did. He was already injured and limping before they even entered the woods, and Ada could only imagine how much pain he must have been in. But he fought on without a word the entire time, keeping up with her no matter how fast she went, his face etched in pain and dripping with sweat for hours, one hand clutching his injured leg to keep it from seizing up in pain. He was ex-military, that much was obvious. Only someone with a military background could have pushed themselves like that all night, Ada was certain of it. She probably would not have made it herself if not for her own training. But she still had to shake her head in amazement at Ted’s relentless stamina, marching for miles across uneven territory with an injured leg.

They stumbled out of the woods after the sun came up, and followed an old dirt road to a few scattered farm houses. In the driveway of one such house, they found the green pickup truck with the keys sitting on the center console. They were now a few towns over, the events of the past 24 hours making them both want to sleep for days.

“Can I help you?” the motel clerk asked with a smile. She was an elderly lady with white hair, a newspaper propped up in her lap. Behind her, there was a small television showing a news reporter talking earnestly into his microphone, but the sound was off.

“I’d like a room, please,” Ada said, taking her credit cards out of her pocket.

“It’s so terrible what’s been happening,” the woman said, shaking her head as she scanned the motel’s ledger. “Do you have family there? I know a lot of people are coming in to find out about their families. It’s just awful, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it’s hard for me to even talk about it,” Ada said, looking at her hands. She didn’t even have to ask the woman what she was talking about. A blurry image of the mushroom cloud was displayed on the television.

After she paid, she went back out to the truck and got inside. “Room 12,” she said, handing the keys to Ted.

She drove over to their room and got out, walking over to the passenger side. Ted opened the door himself and attempted to get out, but eventually surrendered to Ada’s help. He was almost too weak to stand, so he hung his arm around Ada’s neck and she helped him hobble to the door, where she fumbled with the keys for a bit before managing to unlock it and kick it open. Ted’s body felt like it was burning up beside her, and she quickly dragged him over to the bed and dropped him down on it, panting for breath herself and brushing her hair out of her eyes again.

The room was small and cramped, with one bed, a chair, and a nightstand. There was a tiny bathroom in the back and a narrow closet. A dusty old television was propped up on a metal frame attached to the wall up in the corner.

Ted lay on the bed and groaned in pain, arms flat at his sides. He swallowed and continued his ragged breathing. Ada stood over him for a few moments, her hands on her hips, trying to figure out what she was going to do with him.

“You’re going to make me do this, aren’t you?” she said.

Ted gazed up at her and shook his head wearily.

“You’re burning up with a fever,” she said. “Now, I’m going to run to the store to get us some food, and I can pick up some antibiotics while I’m there. But I need to see exactly what we’re dealing with here.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Ted muttered. “I just need some rest.”

“How bad is it?” Ada asked.

“Pretty bad,” Ted admitted.

“Then let me see.”

“I’m too weak. You’ll have to do it yourself.”

“Just take your damn pants off.”

“No.”

Ada sighed and closed her eyes in frustration, shaking her head from side to side. She stepped up to the edge of the bed and leaned down to look Ted right in the eye.

“If you tell anyone about this,” she said darkly, “I will kill you.”

She unbuckled his belt and unzipped his pants, and then very gingerly pulled them down past his knees. Ted grimaced and hissed in pain as the pants rubbed his injured leg, grabbing the bedsheets and squeezing tight, more sweat popping out on his forehead.

“Jesus,” Ada whispered, staring at the jagged, messy gash on Ted’s thigh. It was a twisted gouge wound, nastily stitched up with thread, throbbing pink at the edges and seeping yellowish fluid mixed with blood. “Did you sew that up yourself?”

“Yeah,” Ted grunted, out of breath. “Didn’t do a very good job.”

“It’s probably infected. No wonder you have a fever.”

She went to the bathroom and found a plastic cup on the sink. She filled it with water and walked back to the bed to hand it to Ted. “Here, drink some water, you’re probably dehydrated on top of everything else.”

“Thank you,” he mumbled, gulping down the water. Ada refilled it for him twice and he drank it all like a man dying of thirst.

“I’m going to the store now. I’ll get some food and some medicine. When I come back I’m going to clean out your leg and sew it back up.”

“Thank you,” he said again.

“And after that,” Ada continued, “you and I are going to have a long talk. I know you’re one of Umbrella’s boys. You’re going to tell me everything I want to know.”

Ted didn’t respond at first, but then he sighed and nodded. “Yeah, sure. Whatever you want.”

Ada locked the door when she left, and drove a few miles down the road until she found a grocery store. There was a fast food restaurant next door with a phone booth out front, so she used the drive-through lane to buy some lunch, a crispy chicken sandwich and french fries with a soda. Normally, she didn’t like greasy fast food, but she was starving.

She parked the truck and walked over to the phone booth, chowing down on french fries and sipping her drink. She received change at the drive-through, and dumped a couple of quarters into the phone, propping the receiver on her shoulder. She quickly dialed a toll-free number and waited for a moment. There were a series of beeps and then Ada dialed another series of ten digits. She waited as the phone clicked, redirecting her call.

“Good morning, thank you for calling Elmhurst and Associates,” a perky female voice said. “How may I direct your call?”

“I would like to speak with Mr. Dane,” Ada said.

“I’m sorry, but Mr. Dane is not in the office right now. When would be a good time to call you back?”

“As soon as possible.”

“And where can he reach you?”

“Room 12 at the Sunset Ridge Motel right down the road.”

“Thank you, and have a nice day.”

Ada hung up the phone and returned to the truck. When she was finished eating, she drove over to the grocery store and bought some food for Ted, as well as some cheap antibiotics and some peroxide and bandages. She paid for everything with her credit card and returned to the motel soon afterward.

Ted was fast asleep when she got back, his pants still down around his knees. Ada woke him up and handed him a box of cookies.

“Here,” she said. “I wish we had a microwave so we could cook something, but for now this will have to do. I have some drinks too.”

Ted popped a few cookies into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. “Thanks again,” he said as he munched, eyeing Ada with a curiosity that bordered on suspicion. “But I’m beginning to worry why you’re being so helpful. You don’t seem like the type of person who would help someone without getting something in return. And I don’t have anything to give you.”

“Don’t you worry about me,” Ada said, sorting through the bags for the medicine and bandages. “You have plenty to offer, you just don’t know it. I was sent to Raccoon City to get information from high-ranking members of Umbrella. But they’re all dead now, so that means you’ll just have to do.”

Ted merely laughed as he worked his way through half the box of cookies, washing it down with a bottle of soda. “Who do you work for?” he asked once he was done.

“I work for an agency so secret that I don’t even know it’s name,” Ada replied. “We were contracted out by one of Umbrella’s rivals. You’ll find out soon enough. I made a phone call while I was gone. They’ll be here to pick us up in a couple of hours at the most.”

She stood up, bandages in hand, and looked at Ted’s wounded thigh. At the very least, they could clean out the wound and apply fresh dressings, although he would probably need some more professional medical attention later. “Now, if you’re ready,” she said, “it’s time we took a look at your leg.”

“You mind washing your hands first?” Ted asked.

Ada looked at her hands. They were filthy from her trek through the forest, and there was dirt caked under her nails. “Yeah, that’s a good idea,” she said. “You never know what germs we might be carrying.”

Chapter 5

 

The mall food court was a thronging, disorganized mass of chatty teenagers, bored senior citizens, and overweight middle-class parents trying to keep an eye on their rowdy children. The central seating area was a cluttered maze of small circular tables with cheap plastic chairs, most of them occupied by people with shopping bags at their feet, stuffing down food so unhealthy it almost required warning labels. Outside the seating area in a large semicircle were a series of fast food “restaurants” staffed by disinterested drones, with long lines of impatient customers waiting to order, all the while trying to dodge the vast numbers of people walking around in every direction. People on cell phones, women pushing enormous baby strollers, children running around while their parents tried in vain to haul them in, packs of trendy high-schoolers spending their parents’ money, bored-looking janitors picking up trash. The noise was almost deafening, a constant chattering screech, caused by every single person trying to shout over the others in order to be heard.

And sitting motionless in the middle of the room, was Albert Wesker. On the table in front of him was a plastic tray with a half-eaten hamburger and a soda, the burger now cold and the soda warm. He bought the food simply for show, as he had no appetite to speak of. He leaned back in his chair, arms crossed, his reflective black sunglasses resting comfortably on the bridge of his nose.

He was dressed in a simple white dress shirt and black pants, although he probably could have worn a clown suit or a gorilla costume and still blended in with the crowd seamlessly. Normally, he would have avoided a place like this at all costs, for several reasons, but it was an excellent place for a meeting. Especially the kind of meeting Wesker was here for, the kind of meeting where a huge number of potential witnesses would keep all involved parties on their best manners.

He could not help but overhear the conversations all around him. There was plenty of normal day-to-day gossip and inane babble, but one topic was on everyone’s minds, it seemed. Wesker barely had to focus his hearing at all to catch snippets of a hundred conversations.

“… wonder how many people survived? They say it was only like a hundred …”

“… unbelievable, I can’t understand how something like that could ever …”

“… the speech last night? He looked like a ghost …”

“… not getting the whole story, not by a long shot. I don’t believe …”

“… all those poor people. What about their families? What are they going to …”

“… thousands dead, tens of thousands? They don’t even know the death toll yet …”

“… a disease like that could ever get loose? They all need to go to jail …”

“… don’t care how what kind of disease it was, you don’t just blow up all those …”

“… it spread outside that city, what if they didn’t do it in time? What if …”

“… said it drove people insane. I don’t know what to believe …”

“… bad enough that the whole country was in danger? How could they …”

“… murdered them. All those people were innocent, and they murdered them …”

Wesker sat back and let the conversations flow around him, picking out sentences here and there, fascinated at the huge variety of reactions. Sadness and grief, anger and frustration, disbelief and indifference, confusion and shock. That was the other reason he chose such a public location for the meeting. He wanted to know how people felt and how much they suspected, and whether or not Umbrella’s media blitz was having the desired effects.

Wesker knew long ago about Umbrella’s plans for a Final Decontamination, but right up until the last minute, he secretly doubted that the Board of Directors would ever truly allow such an option to be considered. Even when Nicholai informed him of Umbrella’s plans, Wesker didn’t really believe they would do it. Somehow, such an act of absolute desperation seemed even beyond Umbrella’s reach. Even they would not dare to enact such an insane plan.

Of course, Wesker knew that destroying the city was the proper course of action, the only possible way to stop the spread of the virus. And Umbrella knew it too, as much as they must have known that doing so would effectively destroy the entire corporation. In that sense, it was almost a noble sacrifice. Wesker almost had to give them credit for doing the unthinkable, even when it was absolutely the right thing to do.

A young couple approached his table carrying food trays. The man wore gray pants and a blue shirt while the woman wore a black skirt and a gray blouse. They were both mid-twenties, blonde, and reasonably attractive, if not necessarily memorable. The woman had a black leather purse hanging from her shoulder, and the man had a cell phone clipped to his belt. There was a little colored symbol on the man’s shirt; a pattern of three pentagons facing each other, dark green, light green, and light blue.

“Are these seats taken?” the woman asked, smiling brightly, showing off perfect white teeth.

“Go ahead,” Wesker said. He pushed his own tray out of the way, making room for theirs, which like his, contained just a burger and a drink.

“Seen the news today?” the man said in a friendly manner.

Wesker nodded. “I read the news this morning.”

The man sipped his drink, but neither of them reached for their food. The woman crossed her legs and sat with her hands in her lap, looking intently at Wesker, as if trying to read his expression. But Wesker had spent his life practicing a blank expression, so if she was trying to learn something from him, she was out of luck.

“We were surprised to hear from you yesterday,” the man admitted, setting down his drink, giving Wesker an insincere smile. “Today, we were less surprised.”

“We’ve actually been trying to contact you for years,” the woman added.

“I bet you have,” Wesker said. “Well, here I am. Would you like to talk business?”

All around them, people came and went, and no one seemed to pay any attention to them. As far as the other mall shoppers were concerned, Wesker and the couple were just more visitors to the mall, nothing to be interested in. Speaking in such an extremely public place was almost safer than speaking in private.

“Before we start any of that,” the man said, “we need to know that you’re free and clear. There cannot be any connections between you and your former employer.”

“There are none,” Wesker said firmly. “I can assure you of that.”

“How?” the woman asked.

“Because they think I’m dead. And even if they don’t, they can never prove I’m not.”

The woman glanced at her partner and nodded. “Works for me.”

“Does anyone else know?” the man asked, leaning forward.

Wesker had thought about this at length already. The only person who could possibly know that he was still alive was Nicholai, who mysteriously disappeared right after the city was destroyed. He should have contacted Wesker long before now, and the fact that he had not meant that he was most likely dead himself, which was wonderful news.

“No one,” Wesker said. “And it is imperative that we keep it that way.”

“Okay,” the man said, sitting back again. “We are more than prepared to make a deal with you, which is of course why you contacted us. And if what you say is true, then I doubt you had many options. There are few companies with the capability to handle your type of work.”

“There are one or two others that I’m sure would love to have my knowledge, but only yours has the resources to actually make it worth my while.”

“Exactly what are you offering us?” the woman asked, neatly folding her hands on the table. Her eyes seemed to glimmer with the question, and she struck a very seductive pose, almost comically out of place in the noisy, crowded food court. Unfortunately for her, Wesker’s interest in women was almost as nonexistent as his interest in the hamburger on his tray.

“I can offer you full details on all my previous work, complete reports and detailed computer files, as well as samples of almost every strain I have helped develop over the past decade. Essentially, I’m offering you everything. Myself included.”

For a moment, neither of them spoke. Wesker could see the gears turning, as what he told them slowly began to sink in. The woman’s eyes grew and her breath quickened, and she sunk back into her chair, while the man sat up straighter, anticipation flashing in front of his eyes. They shared a single glance, and returned their attention to Wesker, who observed them silently.

“Samples?” the woman asked.

“Hundreds of them. All labeled, with appropriate files and project information.”

“Where are they?”

“In a safe place,” Wesker said. “No risk of exposure, if that’s what you mean.”

The man picked up his napkin and dabbed his forehead. “Well, that is pretty impressive. Is there anything that you don’t have?”

“What else do you want? I don’t have any infected hosts, but I could get some suitable test subjects if you like.”

“No, thank you,” the woman said quickly. “That’s more than enough.”

“I’ll give you everything I have,” Wesker said. “That’s ten years worth of research and development, and enough data and biological samples for a hundred scientists to spend a career working on. Some of my work was even kept secret from my former employer, and you can have that as well. You won’t just catch up to their research, you’ll exceed it.”

“And in return?” the woman asked quietly, staring at Wesker once more.

Wesker leaned forward, setting his elbows on the table. He knew that he could make any demand he wanted, any amount of money, and they would agree to it immediately. He could see it in their eyes, he could read it in their entire body language. They were nowhere near as good at he was at hiding their emotions, or perhaps he was just better at reading them.

What he was offering them was nothing less than complete and total domination in the field of advanced biological research. Umbrella was the current world leader, but with Raccoon City a smoldering crater, their reign was at an end and everyone knew it. Wesker was handing over the keys to the kingdom, and any price he asked for would be a pittance compared to the amount of money a company could make with the information he possessed. He could ask for ten billion dollars in cash and they would hand it over willingly. He could ask for their first-born sons and they’d probably ask if he wanted their daughters as well.

But Wesker did not find money and power to be that appealing. Money was meaningless to him, and power was only a means to an end.

“First,” Wesker said, “You must guarantee that my identity will remain a secret. Create a new identity for me if you wish, but the world must continue to believe that I am dead. If my former employer ever figures out that I am still alive …”

He allowed the sentence to hang unfinished, letting the man and woman come up with their own conclusions. In truth, Wesker didn’t have a clue what would happen if Umbrella learned he was still alive. Would they try to have him killed, or would they just sue him for breach of contract? Whatever happened, they would all be tangled in a legal mess of unprecedented proportions.

“Second,” he continued, “You will provide me with a new lab, preferably one in a remote location. Complete with the most advanced equipment you have, and fully staffed with my own team. Give me your best and brightest. I also require some very specific equipment that you will have to procure for me. I will need a lab complex at least as advanced as the one I had before, you understand.”

He looked at both the man and woman, and they nodded eagerly.

“Third, I will have absolute authority over the lab, and complete control over the research that is performed there. I will not tolerate any management overseeing my work. The only people in your entire organization that I will take direction from is your Board of Directors, and if they want to give me orders they must talk to me directly. For all intents and purposes, I will be the new acting supervisor of all research done at your company. No one will have any authority over me except the Board, is that understood?”

The couple shared another glance, this one longer and not as certain. After a moment or two, they looked back at Wesker and nodded, somewhat reluctantly.

“Agreed,” the woman said.

“I thought so,” Wesker said.

“Is that all?” the woman asked, sounding surprised.

Wesker thought about it for a moment and then gave a short nod. “Those are my demands, yes. I don’t think I’m asking for too much.”

“We expected …” the man started hesitantly, glancing at his partner. “Well, we expected a financial arrangement.”

“I’m not interested in money,” Wesker said simply, leaning back in his chair once more. “I thought you would have realized that by now. I want to continue my research without all the red tape and needless bureaucracy I was forced to deal with before.”

“And will your research be profitable?” the man asked. “I’m all for the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, but we’re not a university or a non-profit. If we accept your terms, we will expect results.”

“If you can guarantee me absolute freedom and control over my own lab, and the resources to advance my research as far as I can, then I’ll guarantee results.”

“How long will it take?”

“You will profit enormously from the work I’ve already done, so that is all up to you.” Wesker shrugged. “Give me two or three years, and you’ll be the world leader in the biological technology industry. Medical research, health care, pharmaceuticals, disease research, biological weapons, anything you want. The possible uses for my research are almost endless.”

The woman licked her lips and took a deep breath, looking around the food court. The man watched her, waiting for a response. It was clear by now that the woman was actually the one in charge, although Wesker suspected that as soon as they sat down.

“Well, then,” she said finally, smiling a warm, predatory smile, “Allow me to be the first to welcome you to Tricell.”

She extended her slim hand and Wesker shook it firmly, looking her right in the eyes. They probably sent her because she was attractive, and like most attractive women, she was accustomed to using her sexuality to get what she wanted. Wesker’s obvious disinterest sidelined her usual course of action, but it didn’t matter because they were still going to get what they wanted. But Wesker, despite himself, did find her attractive in a non-physical way, interested in her transparent ambition and intensity. However, he would have to do something about her commanding attitude. If he was to work with her, he was going to have to show her who was in charge.

“My name is Gianna Aldritch,” she said as they broke off the handshake. “My associate here is Steven Calloway.”

“I look forward to working with you,” the man said, shaking Wesker’s hand as well.

Now that the introductions were over, Wesker stood and picked up his tray, and both Gianna and Steven stood as well. They dumped their uneaten food into a trash bin and left the food court together.

“We would appreciate it if you would show us your work,” Gianna said as they went outside into the parking lot. She pulled a pair of blue-tinted sunglasses from her purse and put them on, brushing hair away from her face and tucking it behind her ear. “The files and samples and so forth. I would like to see exactly how much there is, how much we’re actually dealing with.”

“Of course,” Wesker said. “I brought some of it with me. My vehicle is parked up here.”

Wesker’s white van was parked down at the end of the long column of cars. It was the same van that Nicholai left for him outside Raccoon City, along with the three soldiers ordered to kill him. Those soldiers were now dead, but Wesker still had the van, complete with a barely-noticeable bullet hole in the side from when the soldiers shot him. Wesker opened the back doors and pulled out some long white boxes filled with documents.

Gianna opened one of the boxes and began flipping through the pages, her eyes quickly scanning the information. The documents were status reports and experiment updates. She looked at the three other boxes, and at the small gray case sitting directly behind the driver’s seat.

“Are those the samples?” she asked, unable to keep the interest out of her voice.

Wesker nodded. “Just a few. I have about ten more boxes like this filled with documents, several hundred computer discs with all sorts of information, and about fifty cases of biological samples. Probably over a thousand in all.”

“A thousand?” Steven asked incredulously.

“Over a decade of work,” Wesker said. “We experimented with hundreds of different strains and variants. Some of them were useful, others less so.”

Gianna reached into the van and pulled out the case. Her hands almost trembled as she undid the clips and the case snapped open. Inside were five rows of small glass vials embedded in black foam. She quickly closed the case again and swallowed nervously.

“These are … infectious?”

“Deadly,” Wesker said calmly. “How about you let me handle those? We don’t want another outbreak, now do we?”

He carefully took the case, closed the clips, and returned it to the van. Gianna turned away, fumbled in her purse, and took out a pack of cigarettes. Her hands trembled, either in excitement or fear, as she lit one up. Steven looked at her with a sly smile and folded his arms as Wesker pushed the document box back in as well.

“We’ll follow you,” Steven said. “Is it far from here?”

“A few miles. I rented out a storage unit.”

“Okay. Now before we go, is there anything else you want to know, or anything else you maybe want to tell us?”

Wesker smiled and chuckled to himself. He reached up to adjust his sunglasses as he swung the van door shut. Gianna blew out smoke and regarded him coolly, the cigarette perched across her fingers.

“Is there anything I want to tell you?” he asked rhetorically. “There are a million things I would love to tell you, but now is really not the time.”

He stepped over to Gianna and plucked the pack of cigarettes out of her purse. He tapped one out and returned the pack, and asked for a light. Gianna gave him a suspicious look, but did as he asked, lighting the cigarette for him. Wesker breathed deeply, remembering the pleasant sensation a cigarette once gave him, although nicotine did nothing for him anymore. Smoking was now just an act, a meaningless gesture. It was just one more thing that Wesker no longer needed to do, but pretended to enjoy just to keep up appearances.

“Do you want to hear a secret though?” he asked, blowing out smoke. “I was going to tell you this later, but maybe it’s better if I tell you now, so you understand exactly what you’re dealing with. And why it is so vitally important that my identity be kept secret at all costs.”

Gianna stared at him, holding her arms against her chest in an unconscious defensive posture, a wide range of emotions passing in front of her eyes. She was defiant and confident, but clearly fascinated and even attracted to him. And beneath that, she was terrified.

“I lied when I said that I don’t have any infected hosts,” Wesker said, leaning closer. “As it turns out, I did manage to smuggle one out of Raccoon City when I left. You have nothing to fear, of course. The host is under control. It’s not a threat to anyone. But you should be aware of it.”

Steven, standing just a few feet away, looking nervously at Gianna and then back at Wesker, asked suddenly, “Where is it?”

Wesker reached up to lower his sunglasses just enough to let Gianna see his eyes.

“Right here,” he whispered, grinning savagely at her. He quickly slid the glasses back up and stepped away from her, tossing away the cigarette.

He didn’t even bother to look back to see her reaction as he walked over to the driver’s side of the van and opened the door. When he did look back, Gianna was facing the other way, her hands lifted to her face. Steven stared back at him, confused and unsure what had happened.

“You know what?” Wesker said. “There is one more thing you can do for me. One more loose end I forgot to mention.”

“What is it now?” Steven asked.

“There’s someone I’m looking for. I want you to find him for me.”

Chapter 6

 

The room was long, white, and sterile, like a cafeteria in a hospital. There were two long tables surrounded by cheap plastic chairs, and bright white fluorescent lights that glinted harshly off the formica tabletops. An air-conditioning system hummed somewhere nearby, the droning sound mingling with the muffled chatter of the two security guards out in the hallway.

Jill Valentine sat with her hands in her lap, her hair hanging down limply along the sides of her face, staring wearily at the newspaper the guards left on the table for her. She read the huge headline on the front page and the first few lines of text beneath it, but that was all she needed to see. She did not reach out to pick the paper up, unwilling to read the entire article.

 

Tragedy in Raccoon City

President Orders Nuclear Strike – Worst Biological Disaster in History

 

Jill was dressed in the plain white t-shirt and gray pair of pajama pants that they had given her the night before. Her own clothes probably wound up in an incinerator. Her small room, where she slept the night, was about the size of a jail cell and contained little more than a bed and a table. So far, the two security guards were the only people she’d seen since they took her here, and neither of them had much to say to her.

She could not shake the feeling that this place was a mental institution, and she was its newest resident. At least someone took the care to have a doctor examine her leg. She now wore an elastic knee brace, the kind athletes used, and was also given some pain pills. The swelling was down on her injured knee, although she still walked with a limp.

Another voice could be heard in the hall, and then the door opened. A young man marched into the room, motioning briefly to the guards as the doors closed after him. He looked in his mid-20s, barely older than Jill herself, and wore black loafers, wrinkle-free black pants, and a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up and the collar unbuttoned, as if to demonstrate how busy and overworked he was. A red and white octagon shape adorned the key card hanging from his belt, the symbol of the Umbrella Corporation.

He walked over to Jill and pulled out a chair, setting down a stapled stack of papers. He took a seat across from her and leaned back comfortably, giving Jill a casual, indifferent glance.

“My name is Alex Carlisle,” he said. “I was sent here to talk to you. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”

“Sorry,” Jill said, not moving. “I’m busy right now.”

“Is that so?” Carlisle asked, glancing at the newspaper. “Reading up on current events? If you like, we can get a television in here and put the news on. There’s been nonstop coverage on every station all day so far.”

Jill swallowed with some difficulty and said, “I don’t even know what time it is. There’s no clocks in here.”

Carlisle looked at his watch. “It’s five-thirty. We figured we’d let you sleep as long as you wanted. You were pretty tired last night.”

Jill expected some half-hearted, insincere platitude like “I can’t imagine what you went through” or “It must have been terrible for you” or “You’re very lucky to have survived,” but Carlisle didn’t seem the type to bother with platitudes. His clumsy attempt to look hassled, the rolled-up sleeves and the collar, and his slick, corporate haircut marked him as some ambitious middle-manager. Just another faceless paper-pusher, some low-ranking executive wannabe sent here to give Jill meaningless reassurances and try to boss her around.

“Where am I?” Jill asked suddenly.

“An Umbrella facility south of Atlanta,” Carlisle answered. “I thought they would have told you that.”

“They didn’t tell me anything. They still haven’t told me anything.”

Carlisle shrugged. “Like I said, you were pretty tired.”

After the traumatic “decontamination” process they subjected her to, Jill wanted nothing more than to crawl into a dark place and cry. The chemicals felt like they were melting her skin off, and the crowd of silent watchers in oversized hazard suits made her feel like she was in some kind of nightmarish science fiction movie. She would rather go back into the city and face the zombies than go through a dehumanizing ordeal like that again.

“Is there anything else you want to know?” Carlisle prompted, knowing full well that there were a million things Jill wanted to ask.

“What am I doing here?”

“Well, we had to bring you somewhere. We have a few other facilities like this, where we’ve taken the other survivors for observation and recovery.”

“Are there other survivors here in this building?”

“Just you and Carlos Oliviera.”

Jill hadn’t seen Carlos since they’d been separated after landing the helicopter. After the pain of decontamination and mysterious transport here, she almost forgot about him.

“Where is he?”

“Upstairs,” Carlisle said vaguely. “I talked to him earlier, before you got up.”

“Is he okay?”

“He’s fine. We gave him medical attention as well. He had some broken ribs and some bruises but he’ll be fine. You can talk to him later.”

Jill waited for a few moments, glancing around the empty room but not moving in her chair. She remained hunched over, her hair hanging down, her hands in her lap.

“Am I a prisoner here?” she asked finally.

A slow grin touched Carlisle’s lips but he quickly covered it up. “Of course not, Miss Valentine. I think it would be best if you stayed here a couple of days to fully recover from what happened, but you’re free to leave at any time if you wish to.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Why would we want to keep you here?”

“I know too much. I know what really happened. I know about your lab in the mountains, and the outbreak there, and about everything else. You can’t let me leave,” Jill said, feeling hopeless. She shook her head defeatedly.

“Don’t be so dramatic,” Carlisle said with an annoyed wave of his hand. “We don’t care what you know. It doesn’t make any difference at this point. If you want to leave, go ahead and leave. I’m certainly not going to stop you.”

Jill lifted her head up and tried to stare him down, but he returned her gaze with a calm, worry-free look on his face. He propped one leg up on his knee and rested his arm over the back of the chair, seemingly as comfortable as if he was sitting in his own living room.

“And when I go right to the media and tell them what I know?” Jill asked, trying to keep her voice low to keep from screaming at him.

“And why would you do something like that?”

“Why …?” Jill felt the wind being knocked out of her, and slumped farther back into her chair, stunned at Carlisle’s completely indifferent attitude.

“Are you out of your mind?” she snapped. “Do you think I’m going to keep this a secret? That I’ll be an … an accomplice to everything that Umbrella has done? Do you really think I’ll be silent? That I’ll just disappear, and let you … let you get away with this?”

Carlisle narrowed his eyes just a fraction, although Jill couldn’t tell if he was angry, thoughtful, or just confused. The man’s face was unreadable, and Jill began to wonder if he was just some random manager after all.

Slowly, Carlisle reached out and put his hand against the newspaper, and slid it across the surface of the table until it was right in front of her. He stared at her without speaking, as if daring her to look down at it.

“I saw the headline,” she said. “I didn’t have to read the rest.”

“Maybe you should have,” he said coldly. “If you read the entire story, you would know that Umbrella already took full responsibility for the disaster.”

For a moment, Jill thought she had misheard him. She just stared open-mouthed, unable to even come up with a response. She found herself looking down at the paper headline again, as if seeking verification.

“You mean Umbrella … they admitted that they’re to blame?” she finally managed to whisper.

“An entire city was destroyed last night, Miss Valentine,” Carlisle said. “We don’t even have an estimate yet for the number of people that were killed in the outbreak, but the population was over one-hundred-thousand, so that’s a minimum figure. An entire city was wiped completely off the map. How could Umbrella, or anyone else for that matter, possibly cover it up? The government couldn’t keep a lid on something like this. Umbrella had no choice but to take responsibility for it.”

“But …” Jill said. “If this is an Umbrella facility, then what am I doing here? If Umbrella took the blame, then aren’t they getting shut down or something? I mean, I should be in the protective custody of the police, not sitting here talking to you.”

“Umbrella has admitted that the outbreak was their fault,” Carlisle explained. “And in doing so, they have been tasked with cleaning up after the disaster. Umbrella has taken over the entire rescue effort and all investigations into the causes of the outbreak. They will also be in charge of dealing with the remains of the city, as soon as it’s safe to do so. Everyone already knows that Umbrella is to blame, so it’s only right that they should be the ones to deal with the aftermath. By now the entire world knows what happened, so exactly what is it that you want to keep Umbrella from getting away with?”

Jill shook her head. “No, this can’t be right. Umbrella could never tell people the truth about what happened. If Umbrella ever admitted the truth, there’s no way anyone would let them be in charge of anything.”

“I said they admitted it was their fault,” Carlisle said evasively. “They revealed that one of their research centers accidentally exposed their employees to an extremely contagious pathogen which was then transmitted to the city.”

He paused then, letting Jill fill in the blanks.

“So they aren’t really taking responsibility after all, are they?” Jill said softly. “It’s just another cover-up, isn’t it? They aren’t telling the truth about what happened.”

“Well,” Carlisle said, “obviously the specific details of the infection are not being released to the public.”

“Oh yes, they are,” Jill said. “Because I’m going to tell everyone. Umbrella won’t get away with this. I swear to God, I’ll scream it from the rooftops. Everyone will know the truth.”

“These people are dead,” Carlisle said suddenly, raising his voice. He stabbed his finger at the newspaper, emphasizing each word. “By this time tomorrow, there are going to be a thousand families across the country grieving for the loss of their loved ones, and you want to make it worse for them? Don’t you think what’s happened already is bad enough? Do you actually think anyone out there wants to hear what you have to say?”

“People need to know the truth!” Jill shouted.

“No, they don’t!” Carlisle shouted back. “Not this truth! People don’t want to know about what actually happened, and neither do you!”

Jill was taken aback momentarily, and tried to respond, “I don’t know what you –”

“You know exactly what I mean,” Carlisle said harshly. “The things you saw, the things you had to do. Do you really want those memories? You would forget about them all if you could.” His voice softened for a moment, and he added, “And no one would blame you for wanting to forget, because the things you saw are things that no one should ever have to see.”

Jill’s voice was less than whisper, her eyes tightly closed. “It’s not the same. Just because it’s horrible doesn’t mean people don’t deserve to know about it.”

“I’m not talking about what people deserve,” Carlisle said, speaking calmly again. “I’m talking about what they want and what’s best for them. The story we told them is bad enough already. The victims’ families are going to have a hard time dealing with what we’ve already told them. The complete truth is simply too much.”

When Jill said nothing, Carlisle leaned forward. “Think about the families, Miss Valentine. It’s horrible enough that they have to imagine their loved ones dying of some mysterious disease without understanding why it happened. Why would you want to make their suffering even worse?”

“Don’t play the guilt card with me,” Jill warned. “I’m not the one who killed a hundred thousand people. I don’t have anything to be guilty about.”

“Is that so?” Carlisle asked. “How many infected people did you kill before you escaped the city, Miss Valentine?”

The question was so vile and repugnant, and asked with such casual disregard for good taste and decency, that Jill was unable to speak. Carlisle stared her down, cruel and emotionless, lacking even the smallest bit of compassion or feeling. Jill was suddenly afraid of him.

“Are you going to go on television and admit to the public that you personally shot and killed infected people during the outbreak? Is that the truth that you want to reveal to the world?”

“They … they were …” Jill tried to stammer. But she couldn’t say what they were, it was as if the very words could not be spoken out loud.

“I know what they were,” Carlisle said. “And if I was in your place, I would have done the exact same thing. But that’s not my point. My point is that the rest of the world believes that the infected people in Raccoon City were still alive. They may have acted crazy and violent, but they were still living people. That is the story the rest of the world believes.”

“The other survivors know …”

“The other survivors have already accepted our explanation of the outbreak,” Carlisle interrupted her quickly. “Many of them didn’t witness the kinds of things you did, Miss Valentine. Some of them only encountered two or three infected people before they were rescued, so they were willing to accept our story. Many of the other survivors were rather traumatized by what they’d seen, and they were more than happy to believe what we told them.”

“You see,” he continued, “they didn’t want to know the truth. Despite witnessing the events first-hand, almost all the survivors were ready to believe that the infected people they saw were not actually zombies, they just were acting that way because of the disease. They wanted to believe that, you understand? The truth would have been too much for them. It was better to tell them a lie that they can live with, then tell them the truth that they can’t.”

Jill had nothing to say, so she remained silent. She knew he was telling the truth, as much as she hated herself for it. She saw it herself in the city; some people refused to believe that the infected people were zombies, despite seeing it with their own eyes. How many people called the zombies “crazy people” at first? None of the others knew what she knew about the infection, so they would not have immediately come to the same conclusion she did. How many people saw zombies and refused to believe it, right up until their own death? How many people were luckier than her and managed to hide safely until their rescue, not realizing or even suspecting the truth of the infection?

Carlisle was still talking, as if to himself. “Of course, if you still want to go on television and tell them everything, we won’t stop you. But no one’s going to believe a word you say. They’ll think you’re some lunatic crackpot with a personal vendetta against Umbrella, using this terrible tragedy for your own benefit. You’ll be vilified in the media. And if you admit how you killed infected people, you might as well be confessing to mass murder.”

“I can’t …” Jill whispered weakly. She felt like she wanted to cry, but there were no tears. Her whole body felt empty, like she was just a shell. “I just can’t … I won’t be able to live with myself if I don’t do something. I promised Barry … that I would make Umbrella pay for what they’ve done.”

“I don’t think you have to worry about that. Umbrella will certainly pay for it.”

“That’s not what I mean,” Jill said, frustrated. “I’m not talking about losing profit or losing business. I want the people responsible for this to go to jail!”

Carlisle picked up the stapled papers that he had brought with him and set them in his lap, flipping through the pages. “So would Umbrella,” he said, folding the sheets over to one of the pages in the middle. “Unfortunately, the people responsible are not here to answer for their crimes.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You might not believe this,” Carlisle said slowly, casually flipping through pages. “In fact, I’m willing to bet that you won’t. But the people in charge at Umbrella had no idea about the illegal activities going on in Raccoon City. The things that went on in the Arklay Lab were done without Umbrella’s knowledge.”

Jill stared at him. “Do you think I’m stupid?”

“I’m not talking about the scientific research. Umbrella is well aware of the virus that caused the outbreak, of course. They’ve been studying it for decades. I’m talking about the initial infection at the lab, the attempted cover-up, the involvement of your police unit, and the events following that. Umbrella had no knowledge that anything was wrong at the lab until you and the other surviving police officers returned to the city. They didn’t know about the outbreak until it was far too late to do anything about it. The people in charge at the Arklay Lab are the ones truly responsible for this, not Umbrella as a whole.”

“You’re right,” Jill said. “I don’t believe you.”

“Why not?”

“Because there’s no way they could have kept it a secret from their own bosses. Umbrella wouldn’t give them that much freedom, no company would let their employees have that much authority. Whoever was in charge there probably had to send daily reports or something to his boss, who had to send them to his boss, all the way up the ladder. Somebody up at the top is responsible for this, not some low-level manager.”

“Normally, you’d be right,” Carlisle admitted. “Most of Umbrella’s facilities are very strictly managed, due to the nature of their work. But the Arklay Lab was an exception, because the Director of Operations wasn’t a regular manager who had to report to his superiors. Actually, you could say that you’re half right. Someone at the top was responsible, except that he was in charge of the Arklay Lab and he acted completely on his own.”

Jill shook her head and would have laughed if she wasn’t so tired and depressed. She was almost amazed at how they wanted to twist the facts to fit some altered version of reality where they somehow deserved none of the blame. “So let me get this straight,” she said sarcastically. “The guy who did all of this just happened to be super high-up in the chain of command, and he just happened to have enough authority to keep everything from the other bosses at Umbrella, and he just happened to be in charge of one single lab in the middle of nowhere. Sure, I totally believe that.”

“Yes, and his name was Ozwell Spencer,” Carlisle said. “Do you recognize that name?”

Jill did recognize it, and it must have shown on her face, because Carlisle merely smiled briefly and held up the stack of papers slightly. “This is a typed transcript of your short debriefing last night, before they brought you here. We didn’t have time to get into detail with the questioning, and besides, you were in no mood to be interrogated after your escape from the city. But you gave us enough information to work with. You didn’t mention Dr. Spencer at all, which makes sense because we’re pretty sure he was gone from the lab long before you got there. But you’ve heard the name before, haven’t you?”

Jill thought back, and then nodded. She remembered the name.

“We found a note,” she said, thinking back. It was right before they encountered Wesker for the last time, back in the lab. It seemed like a lifetime ago, and she struggled to even remember the details now. “Chris found it, not me. It was a note for Wesker, and it was one of the reasons we suspected he was involved in Umbrella. But it was signed by someone named Spencer. We guessed that maybe he was in charge, because Chris said he had a big office in the mansion.”

Carlisle nodded. “Ozwell Spencer is one of the founders of the modern Umbrella Corporation. If you don’t believe me, there’ss plenty of information out there to prove it. He was a pretty important man in the company, and he had complete control of the lab complexes in and around Raccoon City because he personally supervised their construction. At one time he was on the Board of Directors, but he chose to be Director of the Arklay Lab because it gave him more direct control over the work that was done there.”

Jill was silent for a few moments, and said, “So Spencer is the one responsible for this?”

“We think so,” Carlisle said. “Unfortunately, Spencer’s whereabouts are currently unknown.”

“You mean …?”

“Yes, we think Spencer is still alive. We suspect that he left the lab not long after the initial outbreak, but we have no idea where he went. In any case, he was not at the lab when you and your team arrived there.”

Jill tried to remember exactly what the note said. She couldn’t remember the exact words, as she only read it once. But she remembered the basic message. It told Wesker to get away, to leave the lab. At the time, the content of the message was not important to her, because she was still so stunned that Wesker was involved. But now, it seemed to make sense with what Carlisle was telling her. But the last thing she wanted was to take his word for anything.

She wanted to be defiant, she wanted to be hostile, she wanted to be combative and argumentative. She wanted to spit in his face and tell him to go to Hell. But she just didn’t have the energy to fight anymore. She had been forced to fight too much already, and now that the fighting was over, she had no desire to start it up again. It drained her, physically and emotionally. And Carlisle was doing such a painfully good job at twisting her emotions and dashing her hopes that she didn’t want to argue with him anymore, out of fear that he might drop another bombshell that would leave her staggered.

She thought that she was ready for them. She knew that Umbrella would send someone to try to soften her up, either with threats or promises. She knew that they would lie and twist the truth and try to convince her that everything was fine and that she should just go along with it. And she thought she was ready for them.

But Carlisle was like a shark smelling blood in the water. He didn’t bother to make vague promises or insincere pleas for understanding, or even resort to outright threats. He sensed Jill’s weakness and attacked her where he knew it would hurt her most: her fear and her guilt. And when she was wounded and defenseless, he attacked her credibility and then shot down what she thought she knew about the infection in the first place. She had no reason to believe anything he told her, but somehow she knew it must be true.

If they wanted to silence her, they could murder her in cold blood right now and no one would ever know. She could be just another victim of the outbreak for all they cared. And everything Carlisle said about the media and the public was true, as much as she hated to admit it. Deep down, she knew that it was already too late to try to get people to learn the truth. The official story from Umbrella was close enough to the truth that no one would think to doubt it, especially since it already cast Umbrella in such a terrible light. If Jill tried to reveal the actual truth, then the media would surely cast her as some fringe conspiracy theorist if they acknowledged her at all. No one would believe her, because the truth was too terrible to contemplate.

“So that’s it,” she whispered to herself. “Nothing I do now matters. And everything that happened … Barry and Enrico and all the others … their deaths were for nothing. The only thing I wanted to do was escape the city so I could … so I could expose Umbrella. And now I can’t even do that.”

“Sometimes,” Carlisle said, “terrible things happen for no reason. They’re just accidents. No one’s to blame, and no one’s truly at fault. Sometimes, the world just isn’t fair. Maybe this was one of those times.”

“I can’t believe that,” Jill replied. “I can’t believe that all of this was just an accident.”

Carlisle shrugged slightly, not trying to argue with her. “It might have been,” he suggested. “The truth is, we don’t know what started the infection. We know it didn’t start at the lab, so it must have spread there from somewhere else. But where and how is still a mystery. That’s why we want to find Dr. Spencer. But we don’t even know that he’s still alive, he could have been killed during the outbreak.”

Jill tried to consider his words, but they contradicted everything she believed. Could it really have been some huge mistake, a monumental accident? Maybe at the very beginning it was, maybe when the first person got infected with the disease, maybe that was an accident.

But everything that followed was no accident. Sending the S.T.A.R.S. units to the mansion was no accident, letting the disease spread to the city without warning anyone was no accident, destroying the city was no accident.

When Jill remained silent for several minutes, Carlisle said, “If you’re still in the mood to talk, I have some questions for you.”

“About what?” Jill asked wearily.

Carlisle set the papers down. “About a man named Albert Wesker.”

Chapter 7

 

It took two days for Umbrella to return Leon’s wallet to him. After his decontamination, he told them they could dispose of his clothing, but he forgot about his wallet in the back pocket of his jeans. When he asked about it, he was told they would return it to him as soon as possible, but took them two whole days to track it down and return it.

Leon wondered if he should have bothered. His wallet, once a nice, rather expensive leather one, was now a stiff, dry piece of cardboard. Whatever chemicals and solvents they sprayed it with completely ruined the leather. Leon dumped the contents out and tossed the wallet in the garbage. His driver’s license, military identification, credit cards, and other pieces of plastic were relatively unharmed, as was the spare key to his jeep. But anything made of paper was gone, destroyed by the chemicals, including his social security card and other paperwork. Whatever cash he carried was gone as well, but someone was nice enough to replace the currency with a small stack of crisp, new twenty dollar bills.

Not that Leon had anything to spend it on at the moment. After the decontamination – a procedure that Leon did not want to experience again any time soon – Umbrella boarded them on a private plane and flown them to a recovery center in upstate New York. It was a quaint little hospital complex surrounded by trees and picturesque meadows, with smiling attendees and friendly, soft-spoken doctors and therapists asking them if they were okay and if they needed help with anything. They were all assigned their own private room, complete with a bed, dresser, desk, television, and large windows looking out on the wilderness beyond the front gates.

Leon, Claire, and Sherry were not the only residents. There were at least forty people at the recovery center, and most of them, it seemed to Leon, shared a similar experience in Raccoon City. That is, running for their lives and fighting off the hordes of undead. None of these survivors were rescued early, none of them harbored any illusions about the reality of the infection, and all of them were forced to fight and kill zombies in order to survive.

Their seclusion at the isolated recovery center was explained when they all watched the news the following day and realized that the United States government and the Umbrella Corporation joined forces to give the American public a watered-down, sanitized version of the infection. Leon supposed that he should not have been surprised. He should have known far ahead of time that there was no way that the government was ever going to tell people that Raccoon City was overrun with zombies. But when he watched the initial news reports, complete with their coverage of the destruction of Raccoon City, he still felt shocked that they were going to try to smooth over the truth.

Everyone at the recovery center knew they were lying, but strangely, none of them said it out loud. They all watched the news in silence, accepting this new version of events. None of them spoke out, none of them complained, none of them said anything. It was as if they all implicitly agreed that this was the best course of action. That it was better to just hold their tongue and put the past behind them. Besides, the story told by the news reporters was close enough to the truth that it really didn’t matter. It was still an unimaginably horrific outbreak and thousands of people still died. Nitpicking the particulars of the infection would serve no purpose, at least as far as Leon was concerned.

It was better to keep the truth hidden. Some things were better left kept secret.

There were repeated interviews and conversations with the therapists and counselors on staff, done in the guise of aiding recovery and dealing with the emotional trauma. But Leon suspected that the real intention was to reinforce the wisdom of this new reality. Subtle persuasion and gentle guiding to make them all accept that they had not actually seen the dead come back to life. It was all a mistake, an exaggeration. It would be best if they all came to realize the truth that zombies don’t exist, and the people infected in Raccoon City just behaved that way. The news reports were giving an accurate description of events and everyone should agree that is what really happened.

There was no obvious coercion going on, no blatant attempts to force anyone to keep silent, nothing so deliberate. Just a supportive, inoffensive kind of persuasion, almost as if they were merely asking the survivors to keep a secret without ever acknowledging that there was even a secret to keep.

Leon just went along with it. He just nodded and repeated what the counselors said until they were sufficiently convinced that he was not going to contradict the official version of events. They had already given him permission to leave the compound, but he was sticking around a bit longer to give Claire and Sherry more time. He didn’t want to leave without them.

He stood in his room, tucking the contents of his discarded wallet into the side pocket of his suitcase, which along with his current wardrobe, had been furnished by Umbrella. His own clothes were gone of course, so they gave him a new set of clothes and other personal items such as a toothbrush and a comb, and even a new sports watch which currently adorned his wrist. He had already packed some of the clothes into the suitcase, getting ready to leave as soon as Claire and Sherry were ready.

He heard footsteps out in the hall and then a gentle tapping on his door. It was probably one of the counselors or nurses coming to ask if he needed help with anything. Anyone caught spending too much time alone was destined to be bothered non-stop about it.

“Come in,” Leon said in the most bored-sounding voice he could manage.

The door opened, but Leon didn’t even turn to see who it was. He kept his attention on the clothing he was stuffing into the suitcase, hoping that if he ignored them, they would go away.

“Hey, Kennedy, think fast,” an unfamiliar voice said.

Leon turned quickly and saw a fluttering dark shape come flying at him. He instinctively leaped to the side, swinging his arm out defensively, swatting the shape aside and spinning around to face the person standing in the doorway, slipping into a martial arts stance without even thinking about it. He glanced down at his arm to see that the dark shape was nothing but a folded up jacket, currently wrapped around his forearm. Upon closer inspection, he realized with a start that it wasn’t just any jacket, it was his own fur-lined aviator’s jacket. The last time he saw it, it was in his jeep. When the jeep was stolen by the woman he rescued, the jacket was gone with it, never to be seen again.

Or so he had thought. He finally looked up at the figure standing in the doorway and for a few moments was at a loss for words.

It was a man a few inches taller than Leon, wearing a gray combat uniform, the sleeves rolled up on the muscular arms, which were currently crossed over the man’s wide chest. His muscular bulk seemed to fill the doorway, but he carried himself effortlessly, as if the physical strength was just part of his uniform. He had a broad face with chiseled good looks, and his light blond hair was cut short and smoothed back.

It took Leon a minute to put a name to the face. When he spoke, it was with a sense of disbelief. “Jack? Is that you?”

The man chuckled softly and walked into the room, lowering his arms and letting them hang at his sides. “Your reflexes haven’t slowed down at all, that’s good to know,” he said with a wide smile. “It’s good to see you, man. Been too long.”

Leon tossed his jacket on the bed and walked up to the man, swinging his hand up in a strong sideways slapping motion. The man swung up his opposite hand in return and the two of them clasped their hands together in a forceful handshake. Leon laughed and slapped the man’s shoulder.

“Jack! My God, what in the hell are you doing here?”

“Looking for you, of course. Why else would I be in a place like this?”

“I mean, how did you know where to find me? How did they even let you in here?”

Jack shrugged and turned sideways, enough for Leon to see the special insignia on the shoulder of his gray uniform. It was a red and white octagon, with the letters UBCF etched underneath.

Leon’s smile faded and he looked up at his old teammate. “Umbrella? Jack, please don’t tell me you work for them.”

“Sorry, man,” Jack said with a shake of his head. “I got to pay the bills somehow.”

“But Umbrella?”

“They recruited me less than a month after I was discharged,” Jack explained. “They’re always looking for people like us, guys with military experience. Especially guys like me. You know, guys who maybe don’t have a lot of other opportunities, you know what I’m saying? The pay is good and the training is excellent. How could I say no to that?”

“But you must know about …” Leon let the sentence hang.

Jack nodded shortly and looked away. “Yeah, I know some things. I guess they weren’t totally honest with me when they recruited me, but I sure can’t turn back now. There’s a lot worse things I could be doing with my life. You know that.”

“I suppose so,” Leon said.

Jack had been part of Leon’s squad when he was still in the Rangers. Fun loving, fearless, and loyal, Jack had been almost the perfect teammate. That is, except for his affinity for drugs and loose women. He was caught red-handed with a trunk full of methamphetamines when he was stopped by the military police in the middle of a raid. As it turned out, Jack was not only dealing on the side, he was also involved in a prostitution ring right on the base. He ratted out his partners in return for a lesser sentence, but he was still kicked out of the military in the aftermath of the scandal. Leon hadn’t seen or heard from him in over two years.

“Let’s not talk about the past,” Jack said, smiling again. “I just about fainted when I saw your name on the list of survivors. Could not believe my eyes, man. I wanted to come see you in person and give you your coat back.”

“My coat,” Leon said, glancing back at it to make sure it was still there and he hadn’t imagined it. “How in the world did you find it. Where did you find it?”

“We got your jeep too,” Jack said. “Right now it’s at an impound yard in Rochester. A lot of folks drove out of the city in whatever vehicles they could find, so they had to check the registration to see who the owners were. That’s when your name popped up.”

“You have my jeep?” Leon said, completely flabbergasted. “You mean that woman made it out of the city?”

Jack shrugged again. “I don’t know anything about a woman, all I know is that your jeep made it out. It’s not in great shape though. Looks like somebody entered it in a demolition derby, and the cleanup crews ripped out most of the interior for the decontamination. It’s yours if you still want it, though, and Umbrella will pay to have it repaired if you want.”

“Wow,” Leon said, shaking his head. The last time he saw his jeep, a woman that he rescued was driving it away, abandoning him in the city. He got out to investigate some gunfire, and the woman took the opportunity to steal the jeep to try to save her own life. Leon didn’t even remember her name, but he didn’t really blame her for what she did. He could not bring himself to condemn someone for actions taken at the height of blind panic. But he was still amazed that she managed to make it out of the city as well.

“If you’re in the UBCF,” Leon said, “then were you …”

Jack shook his head. “No, man. My unit was stationed in Honduras. We didn’t get called in here until the morning after … well, you know. A lot of Umbrella’s forces didn’t make it out either, and they’re so short-handed they’ve called in pretty much every non-active unit they have.”

“You were one of the lucky ones then.”

“You don’t have to tell me that,” Jack said sincerely. “I saw the reports, I can’t even imagine what you must have went through. And I know you might not be cool with Umbrella right now, but those guys did their best, man. A lot of good soldiers sacrificed their lives trying to save people, I hope you understand that.”

“I do,” Leon said. “I actually ran into some of the UBCF at one point, and I know they were good men. They were fighting for their lives just like everyone else. I wish more of them could have made it out. Have they released any numbers on how many men they lost?”

“Six thousand,” Jack said quietly. “Out of barely seven. They lost six men for every man who made it out alive.”

“Jesus,” Leon whispered. “I had no idea they lost so many.”

“Umbrella hasn’t released that information to the public. In fact, they haven’t even told the media that they sent in the UBCF at all.”

“Why not? It would prove that they were trying to stop the infection and save lives.”

Jack could only shrug. “I don’t know, man. They probably figure people are more concerned right now with the civilians who died. Once the survivors get a chance to talk to the media, then they’ll talk about how the UBCF was involved.”

Leon hadn’t even considered that the media would inevitably want to interview every single survivor, including him. Once his name was released, he would probably be inundated with phone calls and requests for interviews. The thought made him sick to his stomach. The last thing in the world that he wanted was to be forced to tell his story a hundred times on talk shows and news programs.

Jack seemed to know exactly what he was thinking. “The names of most of the survivors were released this morning,” he said, somewhat apologetically. “Right now the media don’t know you’re here, but they’ll find out soon enough. When are you planning on leaving and heading home?”

“Tomorrow, maybe,” Leon said distractedly. “I came here with some other people – other survivors, I mean – and once they’re ready to leave, I’m leaving with them.”

“You made it out with some other folks, then?” Jack said with a smile. “That’s good, man. When I saw your name on the list, I knew you couldn’t have escaped that city by yourself. You don’t give up on anybody. If I know you like I think I do, then you must have fought like hell for those folks.”

Leon shrugged off the compliment. “I’m sure they think so. But I just did what I thought was right. You know I’ve never considered myself a hero.”

“Well, you’ve always been wrong, then,” Jack said.

“You want to meet them?” Leon asked, trying to change the subject. “They’re probably downstairs in the recreation room. I can introduce you.”

“That would be fantastic. My uniform won’t bother them, will it?”

“I don’t think so,” Leon said.

They left his room and headed down the hall. Even though it was normally wide enough for two people to walk side-by-side, Jack had to walk a step or two behind Leon because otherwise their shoulders would rub against the wall.

“I hate to say this, but I got another reason for coming here to see you,” Jack said. “When my bosses found out that I knew you, I told them that we served in the Rangers together. I was gonna ask permission to come see you, but they ordered me to before I had time to ask.”

“They ordered you here?”

“Yeah. Since you have a military background, you know. And since you have very important first-hand experience dealing with … this kind of situation, they wanted me to ask you –”

“Not a chance,” Leon interrupted. “Tell them they can kiss my ass.”

“I will do that,” Jack said. “But even if they didn’t tell me to ask you, I probably would have anyway. If you don’t mind me saying so, we could really use good guys like you, Leon.”

“I don’t mind you saying so,” Leon said, just so Jack knew that Leon wasn’t angry at him. They descended a staircase, passing a nurse who nodded politely to them as she went up. “But they’re crazy if they thought I would say yes. They can’t expect me to join the UBCF, not after what I’ve seen and what I’ve gone through.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Jack explained. “But they would like you to, you know, maybe help them out. Maybe work out a training program. Something to help the UBCF deal with situations like this. A lot of our men died because they weren’t really trained for something on that scale. If you could give them your knowledge, they might be better prepared next time.”

“Next time?” Leon asked. “Are you suggesting that something like this could ever happen again?”

As they reached the bottom of the stairs, Jack slowed down and looked around. No one was nearby to overhear them, but he still spoke in a low voice. “Listen, man, I could get in a lot of trouble for telling you this, alright? But this outbreak ain’t the first, and it ain’t gonna be the last. Especially not now, not after this.”

“What are you trying to say?” Leon asked.

“I’m saying that Umbrella ain’t gonna be able to recover from this. But they got laboratories all over the world, you know? And that disease that broke out in Raccoon City is studied in lots of those labs. What do you think’s gonna happen if some of those labs have to close, or get bought out by Umbrella’s competitors?”

Leon didn’t know, so he said nothing. He knew that Umbrella was a worldwide corporation, but it hadn’t occurred to him that they ran laboratories spread across the globe that worked with the same compounds as the lab in Raccoon City. Suddenly, he felt a shiver run down his spine, at the thought of some other lab somewhere having an outbreak as well. He felt stupid for not thinking of it long before now, but his experiences in Raccoon City remained on the forefront of his thoughts and he had little time for speculation about what might happen elsewhere.

“Umbrella’s kept it a secret for a long time,” Jack continued, and Leon realized just how much trouble Jack would be in if Umbrella ever found out what he was saying. He also realized just how much Jack trusted him, and he wondered if he really deserved such trust. He didn’t owe Jack anything, and he had as much reason to hate Umbrella as anyone.

“But now people know about the disease, and once Umbrella starts breaking up their company, that means they’re gonna have to transport all those samples to new labs. And the odds of another outbreak increase about a thousand percent. And what happens if some other company buys out Umbrella in a few years and gets possession of all their research? They aren’t gonna be prepared to deal with something that dangerous, and they won’t have the safety procedures in place that Umbrella has built up over the years.”

“Jesus,” Leon whispered, rubbing his forehead.

“You asked me if I was suggesting another outbreak might happen?” Jack said. “No, I’m telling you that another outbreak is gonna happen, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened in less than five years. Once Umbrella falls apart, they won’t be able to keep a tight lid on it anymore, and that research is gonna spread out and eventually it’s gonna fall into the wrong hands.”

“Oh my God,” Leon said, his head snapping back up. “You mean …”

Jack nodded. “You think some crazy religious fundamentalist won’t want to get a sample of that disease so he can start Armageddon or some shit? Some terrorists get a hold of a sample and they can hold the whole damn world hostage.”

Leon knew he was right. It was a common fact among the intelligence community that the odds of a secret being revealed increase exponentially for each person in on the secret. The same held true for Umbrella’s secret research. If only a small number of high-ranking scientists knew about the disease then they could possibly keep it contained. But now the whole world knew about it, and if Jack’s prediction was true about Umbrella breaking up their company, then more and more people would have to be brought in to deal with their top secret research. New scientists, new managers, whole new companies might all of a sudden be given knowledge of the disease. And eventually, one of those new people might make a mistake, or might get greedy, or who knows what else.

“You understand now why I’m asking you?” Jack said. “Most of the other people who survived don’t have the background to help us. But you’re military – hell, you’re one of the smartest soldiers I’ve ever known. You can tell the UBCF what you learned, you can help devise tactics, develop training programs. They need guys like you, Leon.”

“You’re going to have to give me a few days to think about it,” Leon said after a few moments. “I can’t promise you anything right now, but I’ll think about it. I just need some time.”

“Thank you,” Jack said, obviously relieved. “I’m sorry if I laid it on a little thick, and I don’t want to try to guilt you into anything. But we’re desperate right now, man. Almost all the men we had with real experience didn’t make it out alive.”

“I understand, and it’s okay,” Leon said. “And I’m glad you decided to tell me.”

He didn’t hold a grudge against Jack for anything. In fact, he felt angry at himself for not realizing sooner how much the UBCF really needed his help. He was so caught up in his own situation, concerned over Umbrella’s distortion of the facts and still brooding about what he had done and seen, that he hadn’t stopped to wonder about the bigger picture.

His unique experiences and knowledge would be very valuable if there ever was another outbreak. The real question, however, was whether or not Umbrella was really deserving of that knowledge. The soldiers in the UBCF may have acted honorably and bravely, but the fact remained that they worked for the very company responsible for the outbreak in the first place. Leon wondered if maybe his experience would be better put to use by the government instead of Umbrella.

“We can talk about this again later,” he said, leading Jack through a set of doors into the recreation area. “Let’s introduce you to Claire and Sherry.”

Chapter 8

 

Hunk sat on the edge of the bed and absentmindedly rubbed his leg, watching the television as it showed shaky images of the remains of Raccoon City from a national news channel. His leg was in better shape now after some real medical attention, having been stitched up properly the night before, although it still hurt badly. The pain pills helped with that, but Hunk expected he would bear that pain for the rest of his life. His fingers traced the jagged scar through the fabric of his khakis.

The phone next to the bed rang and he picked it up, grunting a response.

“We’ll be there to pick you up in a few minutes,” a gruff male voice said.

“I’ll be ready,” Hunk responded, and hung the phone back up.

He and his mysterious partner, the woman who went by the name Ada, were picked up at the motel only a few hours after she made her phone call. Two plain cars arrived with five men dressed in civilian clothes, and they very quickly and efficiently picked them up and drove off. Hunk didn’t ask where they were going and no one bothered to tell him.

They were taken directly to a small airfield and shoved aboard a private jet. Hunk slept on the flight for an unknown amount of time, and when he woke up, they were in Japan. He hadn’t seen Ada since they stepped off the plane.

And now, he was a guest at a very expensive hotel in downtown Tokyo. His room window offered a wonderful view of the city, but the curtains remained closed. Hunk was not interested in taking in the sights. At the moment, he was concerned with staying alive, and hoping that his new benefactors found him useful enough to keep around.

Three men in dark suits came for him and escorted him from the hotel to the underground parking lot, where a black limousine with tinted windows was waiting. Hunk winced in pain a bit when he climbed inside, and the men closed the door after him.

“Well, how do you feel?” Ada asked, seated across from him. She was dressed in a very flattering black miniskirt and black suit jacket, with black high heels and sleek nylons. Sitting with her legs crossed, she held a glass of wine in her slim hand. Golden jewelry flashed on her wrists, and her eyes twinkled attractively.

“I feel fine,” Hunk said, leaning back and setting his hands in his lap.

“Care for a drink?” Ada asked.

“No thanks.”

“Good, then I’m going to have another,” Ada said with a smirk, and downed the rest of her glass. She reached into the minibar and poured herself another as the limousine began moving.

“Where are we going?” Hunk asked. Out the tinted windows, he caught glimpses of crowded sidewalks and heavy traffic as the limo zipped through the streets of downtown Tokyo.

Ada cleared her throat and said, “We are going to meet my employers. They want to have a face-to-face meeting with us.” She paused and then downed the glass of wine in one swallow.

“Do you always get drunk before meetings with your boss?”

“I’ve never had a meeting with them before.”

“That’s not encouraging.”

“No, it isn’t,” Ada said distractedly. “There’s a very good chance that when the meeting is over, they’ll kill us both and dump our bodies in the ocean.”

“Is that why you got so dressed up?”

“If I’m going to die today, I might as well look my best.”

“Well, I have to admit that you look very nice,” Hunk said humorlessly. “Maybe you and I could have a quickie here in the limo before the meeting. If they’re going to kill us, it might be our last chance to get laid.”

“I’m tempted to take you up on that offer,” Ada said emotionlessly, not looking at him. The empty wine glass remained in her hand, as if waiting to be refilled again.

“I was being sarcastic,” Hunk said.

“I don’t care. I like strong, violent men, and you fit the bill.”

“You really are scared to go to this meeting, aren’t you?”

“Scared shitless,” Ada said softly, returning to the minibar to refill her glass again.

The limousine wove through traffic and a few minutes later pulled into another underground parking lot, this one with armed security guards at the entrance. They drove down to a brightly lit area, separate from the rest of the parked cars, and the limo came to a stop.

The doors opened abruptly and more men in dark suits escorted Hunk and Ada out of the vehicle, submachine guns visible under their black jackets. They were taken to an elevator and directed inside, but none of the guards went inside with them. The elevator doors closed and they felt the elevator start to rise.

“Do you even know who it is that we’re meeting?” Hunk asked.

Ada shook her head, looking at herself in the reflection of the elevator doors. She brushed some stray hair out of her face and tucked it behind her ear. “I’ve never met them before. I only speak to them on the phone.”

“If they were going to kill us, they wouldn’t have gone to all the trouble to bring us here.”

“Maybe, maybe not.”

“Why would they want us dead, anyway?”

“Because I failed my mission,” Ada explained. “I was sent in to gather information on high ranking Umbrella scientists, and attempt to infiltrate one of their labs. We had a contact there, someone we thought we could bribe. But obviously, my mission didn’t go as planned. My employers don’t appreciate failure.”

More armed guards were waiting for them when the elevators doors opened. Ada walked confidently forward, her high heels slicking smartly on the marble floor, acting as if nothing was wrong. Hunk almost smiled at her behavior, but he was too tired to smile. He didn’t think they were going to be executed, despite Ada’s worst fears, but at the same time he didn’t think he was going to see Ada again after today. Which was a shame, because she was an interesting person. Undeniably beautiful, mysterious, dangerous, and able to hold her own in a fight. Hunk almost wished he could have gotten the chance to really see her in action.

They were brought through a pair of doors into a huge conference room dominated by an enormous conference table lined with dozens of black leather chairs. One entire wall was made up of floor-to-ceiling windows looking out toward Tokyo Bay. Two people were seated at the head of the table, talking quietly to each other, but there was no one else in the room.

One of them was a middle-aged white man in a smooth black suit. His graying hair was slicked back and his dark eyes were set behind a pair of wire framed glasses. He stood up when they approached and stuck out a hand, his fingers adorned with large gold rings. Ada and Hunk both shook his hand but neither of them spoke.

“My name is Reginald Dane,” he said in a deep, commanding voice. “Please, be seated. Both of you. We have much to discuss.”

The other person at the table was a thin, attractive blonde woman wearing a blue blouse and black slacks. She had a self-satisfied smile on her face, and barely even glanced at Ada or Hunk, not bothering to introduce herself.

“This is Agent Takashi,” Dane said to the woman, motioning to Ada, “and with her is Mr. Hunklemeyer, formerly of Umbrella’s security force.” He then turned to Ada and Hunk and said, “And this is Gianna Aldritch, a representative from the firm who hired us.”

“You can tell them,” Gianna said.

Dane nodded and sat back, steepling his fingers. “Agent Takashi, you already know some of the details, of course. But let me fill you in on what you don’t know. We were contracted by a company called Tricell. They are one of Umbrella’s largest competitors. One of Umbrella’s employees contacted Tricell recently and indicated he might be willing to sell secrets. Your mission was to contact him and possibly infiltrate one of the Umbrella facilities. You were unable to complete this mission.”

“Yes, sir,” Ada said softly, although she kept her head up and tried to hide her fear.

“However,” Dane continued, “your failure to complete your objectives were, of course, not due to your own actions. Performing your mission became impossible when the city was struck by the outbreak. I understand that.” He glanced at Hunk and added, “But even though you were unable to meet with your original contact, you did manage to secure a different high-level contact within Umbrella. Not bad work, considering the circumstances.”

Ada nodded a little. “Thank you, sir.”

Dane leaned back and smiled. “Now, the reason we’re all here today is because the situation has changed considerably. As it turns out, Agent Takashi, some recent events have transpired that have rendered your original mission completely irrelevant. And the fact that you were able to escape from the outbreak without being detected has made you a very valuable asset.”

“I’m not sure what you mean, sir,” Ada said.

“Perhaps Mrs. Aldritch can explain.”

Gianna turned in her seat a little in order to face Ada and Hunk, although she regarded them coolly, like some pampered millionaire looking down on poor people. Hunk could tell she was a recent promotion within her company, still getting used to the feeling of power and control. Hunk saw more than his share of new managers and commanding officers in his years with Umbrella. He could tell when someone was trying to establish themselves in a position of authority.

A man like Dane didn’t have to look down on anyone to prove that he was in charge. He radiated an aura of authority, and just being in the room with him was enough for Hunk to know that he was not a man to be crossed. Dane had been in power for so long that it came naturally to him, and subtle changes in his tone of voice were more than enough to keep his underlings in line. The fact that someone like Ada was so meek in his presence was proof of the man’s powerful effect on people.

Gianna, on the other hand, did not have that aura of authority, so she tried to make up for it by being aloof and rude. She regarded Ada and Hunk like a pair of vagrants dragged in off the street, barely worth her time. But Hunk could see that it was just an act. She was just as nervous as they were, but she was supposed to be in charge, so she tried to act like she was.

“The man that you were sent to meet was one of the researchers in the Raccoon City lab,” Gianna said to Ada, “but he was one of the low-level employees there. He didn’t have clearance to the more advanced projects in the lab, unfortunately. So he was not very valuable to us yet, but we hoped that in time he would develop into a very important contact. We don’t have any verification yet, of course, but he probably died in the early stages of the outbreak. So sending you to meet him was basically a waste of our time.”

A small intercom device on the table beeped and a female voice said, “Mr. Dane, your other guest has arrived.”

“Send him up,” Dane said, and then nodded to Gianna. “Please, continue.”

“The reason we’re not concerned about your intended contact anymore is because we have made a deal with another employee from Umbrella. He is a much more important person within their organization, a senior research manager, and after the unfortunate events in Raccoon City, he has decided to join us.”

Ada took a short breath. “So my failure won’t be held against me?”

Dane shook his head and gave her a smile. “Quite the opposite, my dear. If things had worked out differently, there may have been some repercussions, I suppose. But given the unique situation, you are currently in line for a promotion.”

Ada just stared at him, speechless.

The door opened suddenly and Hunk turned to see who entered. The new arrival wore plain black dress pants and a white shirt, and wore a pair of reflective black sunglasses on his face. He had blond hair and a lean but muscular frame. As he entered the room, Hunk could sense that he, like Dane, was a man accustomed to authority. His movements were deliberate and controlled, but he carried himself like a coiled spring, ready to jump at any moment.

He walked around the other side of the table and took a seat opposite Ada, sitting next to Dane. Gianna narrowed her eyes and gazed at him intently, and Hunk noticed that Ada seemed mesmerized as well, staring at him in amazement.

“I recognize you,” Hunk said.

The man turned and studied Hunk for a moment, his eyes invisible behind the dark sunglasses. “I don’t recognize you. I don’t believe we’ve met.”

“We haven’t. But we used to work for the same company.”

“Is that so? What work did you do?”

“I cleaned up the mess,” Hunk said.

Ada spoke up, clearing her throat. “I know who you are too. I recognize you from my mission dossier.”

“Well, it’s nice to know how popular I am,” the man said in a cold monotone. He rested one hand on the surface of the table.

“Thank you for coming, Wesker,” Gianna said. “This is Ada Wong and Ted Hunklemeyer. Ada works for Mr. Dane here, and Ted was a commander in Umbrella’s classified security force. They managed to escape from the outbreak without being caught.”

“Fascinating,” Wesker said.

“I was thinking that they might be worth our time,” Gianna added. “You said that our own security forces are not up to your standards. I thought Mr. Hunklemeyer could add some needed experience to our team.”

“Please,” Hunk interrupted. “Don’t call me by my last name. Just call me Hunk.”

Wesker looked at him. “Your code name is Hunk?”

“Yes, it is.”

“Were you part of the squad that tried to take William Birkin into custody?”

Hunk had no idea how Wesker would have known that, but he did not show his surprise. “Yes, I was in charge of the squad.”

“Now that actually is fascinating,” Wesker said with a cruel smile. “You’ll have to give me your own first-hand account of what happened. I would love to hear it. A long time ago, you might say that Birkin and I used to be friends.”

Wesker turned to look at Ada and said, “And what about you?”

Dane answered for her. “Agent Takashi is one of my most talented field agents. Since she managed to survive the outbreak on her own, Ms. Aldritch suggested that she might make a capable addition to your own team.”

“Takashi? I thought you said her name was Wong.”

“I have lots of names,” Ada said. “It comes with the job.”

“Which name is the real one?”

“Sorry, I don’t think I know you well enough yet.”

At that, Wesker actually laughed. It was a short, violent sound, like a bone breaking.

“Do you approve?” Gianna asked.

Wesker nodded, an amused smile on his face. “Yes, I think we can work something out.”

“Wonderful,” Dane said eagerly. Hunk could almost hear the dollar signs ringing over Dane’s head. He also was mildly irritated that he and Ada apparently had no say in the matter. They were being treated like pawns in some high-level corporate chess game.

“Sir?” Ada asked. “Does this mean I’m being … reassigned?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Dane said. “You might say that they are placing you under an indefinite contract. For all intents and purposes, you will work for them.”

“Welcome to Tricell,” Gianna said.

Wesker pushed his chair back and stood up. “I’m sure you two can work out the details. If you don’t mind, I’ll be getting back to the lab.”

“Thank you for coming,” Gianna said. “I know how busy you are.”

As Wesker headed for the door, he gestured for Ada and Hunk to come with him. Ada hesitated momentarily, looking to Dane for permission, but he was already talking to Gianna about reimbursment and fine print. Hunk went after Wesker and Ada quickly followed.

“They think you’re dead,” Hunk said as they walked down the hall to the elevator.

“And hopefully they continue to think I’m dead,” Wesker said casually. “But I’m sure they’ll always have their doubts.”

“So what happens now?” Ada asked. “I’m not sure how I feel about this.”

The elevator opened and all three of them got inside. Wesker pressed the button for the basement and then leaned against the wall, crossing his arms over his chest. “I’m afraid your feelings are ireelevant. Your boss just sold you to Tricell. Actually, he sold you to me. Both of you work for me now.”

“For you personally?” Ada asked.

Wesker smiled as if sharing some private joke. “Well, technically all three of us work for Tricell. But right now they’ll do anything I tell them to. So if I say that you work for me, then you work for me.”

“Doing what, exactly?” Ada asked. “I’m not a secretary.”

“Don’t worry, I have some work already lined up for you. If you’re as good as your boss implied, then it should be a walk in the park.”

“And what about me?” Hunk asked. “I’m part of your new security team?”

“Tricell has their own military response team, but they’re little more than a bunch of overpaid mall security guards. Maybe you can actually make a useful combat unit out of them. We’ll need them soon enough. The UBCF lost too many men in Raccoon City, and Umbrella can’t spare the resources to replace them. Eventually, Tricell’s team will have to take over for the UBCF completely.”

“I left Umbrella because I wanted to get out of the mercenary business,” Hunk admitted. “I was kind of hoping to retire in peace.”

“Sorry,” Wesker said. “You don’t have a choice.”

“I know that.”

“I don’t have a choice either,” Ada said, but she didn’t sound too upset about it. She was still alive, and that alone was more than she had expected.

“Trust me,” Wesker said. “Some day you’re going to thank me for this. Tricell might think that they own me, but that’s not going to last very long. They’ll make so much money because of my research that before long I’ll have the Board of Directors eating out of my hand. And when that happens I’ll take control of the whole company. If you do what I tell you and do a good job for me, I promise you’ll be rewarded.”

Ada looked at Wesker and then smiled seductively. “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Chapter 9

 

Jill wrapped her hands around the cup of hot coffee, watching the steam rise from the surface. It was cheap coffee purchased from a vending machine upstairs, but it wasn’t the worst coffee she had ever had. The rush of caffeine helped her feel more alert and perked up her frayed nerves. Carlisle was generous enough to buy her coffee and some donuts to make up for the lack of a proper breakfast. She hadn’t felt very hungry until she ate the first one, and then ate the rest of them ravenously while Carlisle waited for her to finish. She sipped the coffee, feeling better about herself, but only a little bit.

“So what do you want to know?” she asked.

Carlisle briefly scanned the pages of the transcript of everything Jill said the night before. “Well, it says here that Albert Wesker is dead.”

“Yes,” Jill said with some satisfaction.

“I’d like some more details.”

“Like what?”

“How did he die? Did you actually see him get killed?”

“Yes, I did,” Jill replied. She leaned back in her chair and let out a long sigh. “He was killed by one of your monsters you made in that lab. I can’t remember what he called it, but it was this huge tall creature with white skin.”

“The creature that you killed with the rocket launcher?”

“Yes.”

“And you saw Wesker get killed?” Carlisle asked again.

“Yes,” Jill repeated. “I was in the room, I saw it with my own eyes. It picked him up and stabbed him right through the chest.”

She paused and allowed herself to remember those hectic moments. She had not thought about it for some time, not wanting to remember. Barry was at her feet, dying of a gunshot wound. Wesker was shooting at them, acting insane. And then the monster broke free of its glass tank and murdered Wesker right in front of them. The sight of Wesker’s blood splashing across the creature’s broad torso was etched in her memory. In those terrifying minutes, they were forced to leave Barry behind in order to escape, and the thought of him dying in that final, hopeless last stand made her breath catch in her chest.

“The son of a bitch got what he deserved,” she whispered. “He betrayed all of us. He killed Enrico, he killed Barry, he damn near killed us all.”

“You were aware that Wesker worked for Umbrella, is that right?”

“We figured it out right at the end,” Jill explained. “We found a few things with his name on them, like that note I told you about earlier. And when we found him in that lab room, he confessed to us that he’d worked for Umbrella for years.”

Carlisle nodded slowly, reading the papers. “Yes, I’m having trouble understanding that part of this whole thing. Wesker was your commanding officer in the police force, but he was working in the Arklay lab as well for that entire time. How in the world could he have managed to work for the police for so long without giving himself away?”

“I don’t know. Even now I don’t really believe it. I mean, Wesker wasn’t exactly my friend, but I thought I knew him. I trusted him, I respected him. I would never in a million years have suspected that he was working for Umbrella that whole time.”

“He didn’t just work there, he was the one in charge,” Carlisle said. “He was the Research Supervisor for the entire lab. The only person with more authority was Dr. Spencer.”

Jill just shook her head. “I don’t know how he did it for so long.”

“You weren’t there when Wesker joined the police force, were you?”

“No, he joined the force long before I did.”

“I wish we had records or some kind of documentation about his time with the police. But it seems that Dr. Spencer was very good at hiding that kind of information. We only had a few clues about Wesker’s involvement in the police, that’s why I’m asking you about him.”

“You mean Umbrella didn’t even know?” Jill asked incredulously.

“Well, we knew that Spencer had some influence in the police force. That’s not entirely uncommon. We knew he kept a bank account specifically for payments to local officials, including the Chief of Police.”

“Irons,” Jill grumbled. “That bastard. I hope he got what he deserved too.”

“But,” Carlisle continued, “actually having an Umbrella employee infiltrate the local police force is unprecedented. I mean, I could see it happening in another country perhaps, where the police are traditionally more corrupt and easier to bribe. But in the United States? I can’t believe Dr. Spencer would even attempt something so audacious. And it wasn’t some random employee either, it was the supervisor for the entire lab complex. That’s just incredible.”

“You almost sound impressed,” Jill said.

“I am very impressed,” Carlisle admitted. “Wesker must have been some kind of genius to have pulled it off for so many years.”

“Yeah, I guess so. He certainly fooled us.”

“So you understand why I’m so interested in how he died.”

“What do you mean?”

Carlisle finally set the papers down and leaned back in his chair, crossing his legs and stretching his arms. He put his hands behind his head and arched his head back, looking up at the ceiling. “Well, I don’t understand how a guy smart enough to have lived a double-life for a decade could have gotten himself killed in such a stupid way.”

“He didn’t think the monster would attack him.”

“Exactly. That makes no sense. Wesker knew enough about Tyrants to know better. Besides, you said that you were trapped in the room, right? There were no other ways out?”

“Yeah.”

“So what would have happened if the Tyrant killed you like he planned? He would still be stuck in the room with a loose Tyrant, and it would have killed him anyway, unless he could have managed to escape, which seems unlikely. He would have had to get past the Tyrant to get to the door.”

“Maybe he …” Jill started to say, but she realized that Carlisle had a point. She almost said that maybe Wesker hadn’t intended for the monster to get loose at all, but that didn’t make sense either. Wesker clearly intended for them to wind up in that room, by forcing Barry to lead them there, so he must have intended to release the monster. But how would he have gotten away?

“See what I mean?” Carlisle asked. “Now, you’re absolutely sure that the Tyrant killed him? Is there any way that Wesker could have faked it?”

“No,” Jill said with certainty. “It stabbed him right through the chest. He was only thirty feet away from me. I saw the blood. There’s no way that it was a trick or something.”

“Hmm,” Carlisle said, leaning forward to pick up the transcript again, flipping to the later pages. “Okay, I think we’ll do some more investigation into this later, but for now let’s forget about Wesker. How about we talk about Nicholai Ginovaef, the UBCF Commander?”

“What do you want to know about him?” Jill asked darkly, staring into her coffee. “He was a sadistic psychopath and he tried to rape me. What else can I say?”

“Sergeant Ginovaef was in command of all Umbrella forces in the city,” Carlisle explained. “He was the one who organized the search and rescue squads, he supervised all of the evacuation efforts, and he had full authority regarding use of force against infected hosts.” Carlisle paused then, as if letting it sink it, but Jill didn’t care about Nicholai’s qualifications. “It’s hard enough to believe that someone like Albert Wesker could have been conspiring against Umbrella, but if Sergeant Ginovaef was also involved in some kind of conspiracy, that’s almost unthinkable. He was one of the most highly decorated officers in the entire Umbrella Security Department.”

“I never said he was part of a conspiracy,” Jill said, confused. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“He should have reported in when the last UBCF troops left the city park,” Carlisle said, “but after that, we lost all contact with him and he was presumed missing. You said that he was alone in the park’s office when you heard him on the phone with someone, is that correct?”

“Yeah, he said he was on the phone with someone from Umbrella.”

“Well, that’s not the case. We had no contact with Nicholai at that time.”

“Then who was he on the phone with?”

“That’s what we’d like to know. Based on what you told us, it appears that he was attempting to fake his own death and cover something up, although we have no idea what. That helicopter you used to escape the city was not Umbrella property. If Nicholai planned to use it, then he must have been trying to escape the city without us knowing about it.”

“But why?” Jill asked. She shook her head, unable to follow what Carlisle was getting at.

Carlisle shrugged slightly. “We don’t know. But it might have had something to do with that creature you told us about. The one that kept pursuing you all day, the one that killed your fellow police officer, Brad Vickers.”

“What do you mean, the one I told you about? You’re the ones who let it loose!”

“Miss Valentine, I can assure you that Umbrella did not release that creature into the city to hunt you down. We knew nothing about it. As I said before, we don’t care what you know, and we certainly weren’t trying to kill you.”

“But if you didn’t send it after me, then who …” Jill’s voice trailed off, as she began to realize what Carlisle was implying.

Carlisle nodded and said, “Now do you see why we are so interested in Albert Wesker?”

“He’s dead!” Jill repeated. “He has to be!” She stared at Carlisle, who merely tilted his head inquiringly. Jill’s heart pounded in her chest, and she suddenly felt cold. She forced herself to laugh at the absurdity of it. “He’s got to be dead, there’s no way he could have survived …”

“Consider this,” Carlisle said, his voice calm and soothing. “Wesker planned on killing you and your teammates back in the lab, so that you could not reveal to anyone what you saw there. But you did manage to escape. Now, let’s pretend – as ridiculous as it sounds – that Wesker managed to fake his death. Who else could have created that creature, and who else had the motive to send it after you? And who else could Nicholai have been working with? Everything points to Wesker.”

“What about the other guy you told me about? Spencer, what about him?”

“Okay,” Carlisle conceded. “It’s possible that Spencer was the one working with Nicholai, but why would he bother? Spencer was already gone by the time the infection hit the city.”

Jill attempted to play it over in her mind, trying to see all the angles, but the whole situation was just too complicated for her to understand. Surely there was someone working for Umbrella who had the motive to send that creature after her. She had to assume that Carlisle was being honest, since at this point he had no reason to lie, but maybe he didn’t have all the facts. Maybe his superiors were keeping information from him.

Wesker was dead, Jill was certain of it. There was no way he could have faked being stabbed through the chest, and even if he somehow survived, he would have been infected with the disease anyway and turned into a zombie like the rest. He absolutely had to be dead. Spencer must have been the one who sent the creature after the S.T.A.R.S. team, to silence them in case they knew about his involvement in the outbreak. If Spencer remained near Raccoon City, all he needed to do was buy a newspaper to know who escaped the lab, and if Wesker was capable of creating such a creature, then Spencer certainly was too. He probably hired Nicholai to sabotage the rescue efforts in the city, although Jill couldn’t see why.

However, there was one more detail that stuck in the back of her mind. Something that she avoided thinking about until now, but suddenly became very vital to unraveling the entire situation.

“You didn’t have UBCF teams stationed in Raccoon City, did you?” Jill asked slowly, trying to piece together her thoughts.

“No, we had to bring them in from other locations.”

“What about Nicholai?”

“We had to call him in as well.”

“Do you know where he was stationed?”

“Not off the top of my head, but I can find out. Why do you want to know?”

“Just something,” Jill said vaguely.

In all the madness after their return to Raccoon City, after their final, fateful meeting with Irons and self-imposed exile from the police station, Jill and the others had too much on their minds to deal with all the fallout from the failed mission. There were simply too many things going on at once; the media circus surrounding them, the suspicious behavior by Irons, trying to deal with the deaths of their teammates, Chris’ plans to leave the city, and Jill drowning her troubles in alcohol. In the middle of everything that was going on, Jill all but forgot about one more senseless tragedy following their return to the city.

The murder of Barry’s family. Jill was not able to cope with it at the time, and was too ashamed and scared to even think about it. The funerals never took place, but even if they had, Jill didn’t think she would have been strong enough to go. But in the back of her mind, there was always the nagging question: Who killed Barry’s wife and daughters?

Wesker could not have done it himself, because he was at the lab with them. So he must have had an accomplice working with him. Learning the identity of that person seemed like a distant concern at the time, especially since Irons seemed determined to block any police action regarding them. Jill didn’t even know what kind of investigation had been done, or if there were even any suspects.

What did Nicholai say to her? That she wasn’t the only one? When Jill was defenseless and Nicholai hovered over her, holding his knife to her throat, he said that there had been many others. It didn’t matter if he meant other people he murdered, or other women he raped, the fact was that Nicholai was capable of such brutal, despicable, violent acts.

Did Nicholai kill Barry’s family? It seemed impossible to conceive of such a coincidence, but the scenario made sense. Wesker would have had access to Umbrella records and could have sought out the help of someone like Nicholai. And Nicholai had already proven himself capable and willing to commit rape and murder. And both of them, Wesker and Nicholai, were involved in some kind of conspiracy against Umbrella. In that sense, it was almost impossible for them not to have been working together.

But the thought that she had been in the same room as the man who killed Barry’s wife and children, and almost become a victim herself …

“Listen,” Carlisle said, pushing his chair back from the table. “Let’s take a break from this, okay? Let’s take a walk and stretch our legs.”

Jill looked down and saw that her coffee cup was empty. She stood up and wrapped her arms around herself, as if she was cold. She said nothing as Carlisle led her out of the cafeteria, her mind still running, trying to put the pieces together.

The guards in the hallway were gone now, and Jill and Carlisle were alone as they walked down the hall. Carlisle’s shoes clicked on the tile, while Jill’s socked feet made no sound. They got into an elevator and Carlisle reached out to press one of the buttons. His finger hovered over the number panel for a second, and then he seemed to change his mind, and pressed a different button.

The elevator hummed slightly and began to descend. Jill expected Carlisle to take them up to the ground floor, but she was too lost in her introspection to spend much time thinking about it.

“There is one more thing I was kind of curious about,” he said. “This isn’t really important to our investigation, but I am curious.”

“About what?” Jill muttered.

“That woman that you met at the mansion. The one that you said fought off the Tyrant.”

“What about her?”

“Do you know anything about her?”

“Only what I told the other people,” Jill said. “She must have been one of their lab subjects, someone they were experimenting on. I mean, she had chains on her wrists for God’s sake. She didn’t even know how to talk. Who knows how long she had been there.”

“Do you know where she is now?”

Jill shook her head. “The last time I saw her was when we flew away in the helicopter. I have no idea what happened to her after that.”

Her last memory of the mysterious woman was looking down to see her waving goodbye as Brad flew them to safety. Jill was convinced that the woman was waving goodbye, that she understood what was happening. She wasn’t able to speak or communicate, but Jill believed she was intelligent enough to understand. After all, the woman defended them selflessly, and even followed Jill’s directions, getting out of the way so Chris could use the rocket launcher.

Prompted by Carlisle’s questions, Jill began to wonder what did happen to her. She must have remained in the woods; Jill doubted that she could have found her way to the city. And if she had not gone into the city …

“She might still be alive,” Jill whispered.

Carlisle looked at her. “What do you mean?”

“Well, that lab was miles away from the city, out in the mountains. I know the city was destroyed, but could the explosion have reached all the way out there? If she went in the other direction, then she might have been far enough away that she would survive.”

The elevator door opened with a ping. Jill looked out to see several Umbrella employees sitting around at computer terminals. Carlisle walked out and Jill followed, wondering what floor they were on now, and how far underground this facility extended.

“Do you think she’s dangerous?” Carlisle asked. “If she managed to escape and was still on the loose, do you think she would hurt anyone?”

“I don’t really know,” Jill said honestly as Carlisle led her down a brightly-lit corridor. More Umbrella employees passed them in the hall, giving Jill a strange look.

“You said in the report that the woman attacked you at first, but then you think she tried to befriend you. Do you really think that?”

Jill shrugged. “Maybe. I think she was trying to communicate with me, at least. She didn’t seem to want to hurt me. But I really can’t say if other people would be safe around her. I mean, she was like an animal, she might hurt someone without trying to.”

“Interesting way of putting it,” Carlisle said.

He pushed open a set of doors and Jill found herself on a wide metal catwalk that circled a huge lab room at least five hundred feet long. The sudden immensity stunned her, making her back up, as if expecting the roof to collapse. They had to be several stories underground, and the sight of such a huge room baffled her.

The catwalk extended in a long circle around the entire perimeter of the room, and looked down to a veritable maze of computers and scientific apparatus on dozens of tables below. Several people in white lab coats walked around, some carrying clipboards or laptops. Jill looked around the room, watching in fascination at the extent of the work done here. This facility had to be at least as large as the one outside Raccoon City, she realized, if not bigger.

There was a huge enclosed space right in the middle of the room, walled off from the rest of the area by thick plexiglass walls and a complete ceiling. It was like a fully-contained living area inside the larger lab room, with clear walls so the researchers could look right inside. Not just one room, the enclosed area contained several large rooms, all interconnected and separated from the lab area.

Jill walked to the edge of the catwalk and put her hands on the railing to steady herself. Leaning over the railing, she looked carefully into the enclosed area. There seemed to be a large number of colored plastic furniture, tables, and even a television. All sorts of items seemed to be randomly laying around inside. Pillows, chairs, books, toy blocks, a bicycle, everything disorganized, like the room of a child who never picked up his toys.

Inside the enclosed living area, there was a single person. The researchers and scientists stood around and watched intently, studying whoever it was. Dressed in baggy blue and white clothes like pajamas, the person sat in the middle of the floor in one of the rooms, facing the other direction. The person had long dirty blonde hair that reached the floor when seated. As Jill looked on, the person suddenly perked up, as if hearing something, and stood up.

Jill suddenly realized it was a woman, and she stared intently, not really believing what she was looking at. The woman’s arms were abnormally long, hanging almost to her knees when she stood up straight, and just below the cuffs of her long-sleeved shirt, Jill could make out fading red scabs around the woman’s wrists.

She turned and looked up directly at Jill. An awkward, toothy smile appeared on her face, and she brushed loose strands of hair out of her eyes. Lifting one large hand, she waved clumsily, as if unfamiliar with the gesture.

When she spoke, her voice was low and garbled, the words mispronounced. They were the words of a person first learning how to speak.

“Hullo, Jull,” the woman said.

Jill’s breath caught in her throat. She was speechless, staring in absolute shock, as Carlisle came up beside her and leaned on the railing as well.

“Jill Valentine,” he said softly, “Allow me to introduce you to Lisa Trevor.”

Chapter 10

 

“I’m scared,” Sherry said softly. She sat on a wooden bench with her hands in her lap, a packed bag sitting on the floor beside her. Her school uniform was gone now, discarded at her request after her decontamination. Now, she wore jeans and a blue Disney t-shirt, and red sneakers were on her feet. Her hair was combed back and put into a short ponytail.

“It’s going to be okay,” Claire said with a reassuring smile, rubbing Sherry’s shoulder.

“I’d rather just stay here with you and Leon.”

“We’re leaving too,” Claire said. “I don’t think they’d want you to come with us.”

“I barely know them,” Sherry said, fidgeting with her hands. “I’ve talked on the phone with them a few times. I think I’ve only ever met them twice that I remember.”

Sherry’s maternal grandparents were scheduled to arrive at the recovery center to pick her up and take her home, so Claire helped her pack what few things she was allowed to take. There was nothing left to pack except the clothes Umbrella provided for her. Her grandparents were supposed to arrive very soon, so Claire brought Sherry down to the main lobby to wait for them.

“You have to stay with your family,” Claire said. “I know you don’t know them very well, but they are the closest family you have now. I’m sure they’ll be very happy to see you. It’s going to be okay, I promise.”

“It’s just that …” Sherry started uncertainly. “I mean, they’re like strangers to me. I don’t really want to go live with them.”

“I know, Sherry. But they won’t be strangers for long. I was a stranger just a couple days ago, remember? And don’t forget that they don’t know you very well either, but they are coming to pick you up anyway.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Sherry said.

Sherry knew that most people were close to their grandparents. All her friends at school were close to theirs, and Sherry even met some of them at her friends’ birthday parties. But Sherry never knew her own grandparents very well, although it was through no action of her own. At first, she thought it was because they all lived far away. But recently she realized that her own parents, William and Annette, were not very close to their parents, so Sherry was then denied regular access to her extended family. She didn’t think she had any uncles or aunts or cousins, but she honestly didn’t even know.

Part of her was angry that her parents kept her away like that, keeping her from knowing her own grandparents. It was unfair to her, and put her in the position she was in now, forced to go live with people she barely knew.

But part of her was also afraid. What if the reason her parents kept her away was because her grandparents were not very nice people? She never really heard her parents say anything bad about them, but they rarely talked about them at all, so Sherry had no way to know. For all she knew, her grandparents were violent or cruel or even abusive.

The last time she saw them was almost two years before, at Christmas time, and she barely remembered their visit. It was short and awkward, and they didn’t stay long. She got the impression that her father insisted they leave early, but Sherry didn’t remember why. She spoke with them on the phone once or twice since then, on her birthday or some other special occasion, but she’d never really had a long conversation with them.

Both of her sets of grandparents were contacted by Umbrella, but it was her maternal side that came to pick her up. Her father’s parents lived in a retirement village in Florida and could not have Sherry live with them. Her mother’s parents lived in Ohio and instantly agreed to take Sherry in, because if they did not take custody, Sherry would have become a ward of the state and put into a foster home. Living with family, even a family that she barely knew, was still preferable to that.

Leon came in from outside and walked over to them. “Hey,” he said, kneeling beside Sherry, “Still nervous?”

“Yeah,” Sherry said.

“Don’t worry. If you ever want to talk to me and Claire, we’re just a phone call away.”

“Here,” Claire said, handing her a small index card. “I put my phone number and my parent’s phone number too. I’m not going to be home very much, so in case you can’t reach me, you can call my parents and they’ll put you in touch with me. I also put my email address so you can use that if you want.”

“My family’s number is on there too,” Leon said.

“Don’t you have your own phone number?” Sherry asked.

“I’m homeless right now, remember?” Leon chuckled. “Once I get settled somewhere and get my own phone number, I’ll make sure you get it.”

“Okay.”

“You’ll be alright,” Leon said. “You were strong enough to fight your way out of the city, you’re strong enough to do this. I know it’s going to be hard to get used to this new life, but I promise that you’ll do just fine.”

Sherry held onto the index card and studied the numbers, as if trying to memorize them instantly. She carefully tucked the card into her jeans pocket.

She tried to remember the last time she saw her parents, and attempted to create a solid mental image of them in her mind. She had nothing to remember them by, no pictures or messages or anything else to keep their memory alive. It hurt her to realize that in a few years, she might not even remember what they looked like, the sound of their voices, the way they acted. Years from now, when she was an adult, she might not be able to remember them at all.

That was the worst thing. Knowing that she might forget about them.

The last time she saw her mother was the day of the outbreak, when she was dropped off at school that morning. Annette had been preoccupied with something all morning and was acting very strangely, and the last memory Sherry had of her mother was her saying “Have a good day at school, honey” as Sherry got out of the car. She had looked very tired and nervous, as if she’d been awake all night. Sherry’s last words to her mother were “Sure, mom.”

She wished she had said something else, anything else. Of course, she could never have known that it was the last time they would be together, but it still hurt to know that her mother’s last memory of her own daughter was a sarcastic remark. Sherry had no idea what happened to Annette after that. She just drove away and was never seen again.

Sherry’s last memory of her father was a much better one, but tragic in its own way. The last time she saw him was the night that her parents told her that they were moving away. William tucked her into bed and kissed her goodnight and told her that he loved her. The memory almost made Sherry tear up. Her father was away from home so often, he was almost never home when she went to bed, and having him tuck her in and wish her goodnight was a rare treat that Sherry savored. Her last words to her father were “I love you too, dad.”

And then she never saw him again after that. The next day, Annette came home crying and told Sherry that their plans were on hold. Sherry suspected that her father had been arrested, but now she wondered if it was something worse.

Sherry tried to keep those memories intact, tried to remember every last moment. The first thing she was going to do when she arrived at her grandparents house was get herself a new diary, and she was going to write down everything she could think of. She would fill a hundred diaries with memories of her parents. She didn’t want to forget anything.

“I think a car just pulled up outside,” Leon said, looking out the front windows.

Sherry tensed up and looked anxiously at Claire, who smiled and gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “You’ll be fine, honey. I’m sure they’ll understand if you’re a little bit nervous. They’re probably just as nervous as you are.”

“You think so?”

Claire knelt down beside her. “Don’t forget that your mother was their daughter, so they lost someone too. And even though they don’t know you very well, they were still willing to come all this way to get you and let you live with them. They don’t know what to expect either. They’re putting a lot of faith in you, so you should put some faith in them as well, don’t you think?”

Sherry was about to answer when the lobby doors opened and a older couple came inside, looking around expectantly. The man was taller than his wife and wore a floral print shirt and khaki shorts, and he was bald on top. His wife carried a huge beige purse hanging from her hands and was dressed in white pants and a pink shirt. Her hair, once blond, had turned a silvery gray, and she had a thick pair of glasses on. She glanced around for just a moment before her eyes settled on Sherry and she gasped in relief.

“Oh, honey!” she cried out, rushing forward. Sherry hopped off the bench and came forward nervously, and her grandmother knelt down to embrace her in an emotional hug. She kissed Sherry on the cheek and pulled her close.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, honey! It’s so terrible! But I’m so happy that you’re okay!” she said, half sobbing. Sherry hugged her back and sighed, the tension draining away. She let herself be swept up in her grandmother’s embrace.

Her grandfather shuffled forward slowly, looking uncertainly down at Sherry and then up at Claire and Leon. He seemed at a loss for words, unsure how to proceed.

Claire decided to introduce them, feeling awkward at being involved in such a personal family moment. “My name is Claire. We met Sherry during the … the outbreak,” she said, deciding to use the media’s term for the events in Raccoon City. She was more inclined to use the word “infection” or maybe “epidemic,” but “outbreak” sounded safer.

“Oh, well, well thank you,” Sherry’s grandfather said, sticking his hand out, glad to have something to do.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Leon said. “I’m Leon. Sherry, Claire, and I all left the city together.”

Claire and Leon both shook hands with him, and then Claire stepped back, not wanting to interrupt further or get in anyone’s way. Sherry’s grandfather swallowed nervously, his prominent Adam’s apple bobbing up and down. He returned his attention to Sherry, but seemed at a loss for what to do. If anything, he seemed even more nervous than Sherry was.

Claire couldn’t blame him. How do you reunite with a family member you haven’t had contact with in so long, in the middle of such a tragedy? Claire reminded herself again that these people had just lost their daughter, but were finally gaining their grandchild. Such a mix of opposing emotions would make anyone seem nervous and confused.

Sherry’s grandmother finally pulled away, tears on her cheeks. “Listen, honey,” she said, her voice trembling. “I know it’s going to be hard, but we’re going to do everything we can to make this better, okay? It’s okay to be scared. And I know it hurts that your mom is gone, but I promise that we’ll do our best to make you feel welcome in our home.”

“Thank you,” Sherry whispered.

Her grandmother got up and then surprisingly rushed over and wrapped Claire in a hug as well. “Thank you so much!” she cried. “Thank you for bringing my granddaughter back to me!”

Claire didn’t know what to say, so she simply hugged back and tried to remain composed. The woman’s passionate outpouring of emotion made Claire want to break down and cry as well, but she didn’t want Sherry to see her like that.

It took a few more minutes for Sherry’s grandmother to calm down enough to get things in order. She spoke to Sherry, asking her if she was okay and how she felt, while her grandfather went to the main office to sign Sherry’s release forms, since Sherry, as a minor, could not leave without being signed out by her legal guardian. Claire again noticed that he just seemed relieved to have some specific task to perform. He was clearly uncomfortable with the whole situation, making it clear which one of Sherry’s grandparents had decided to take custody of her.

Since Sherry was already packed, it didn’t take long for them to load the car with her two small bags. There was no real reason for them to stay, and Sherry seemed to relax and actually seemed eager to get going.

Her grandmother again profusely thanked both Claire and Leon for everything they had done, for saving Sherry’s life and bringing her safely out of the city. Leon tried not to take any credit for anything, but there was no way for them to really claim otherwise. Her grandfather was more formal in his thanks, shaking their hands once again and wishing them good luck. They both promised that Sherry would be free to call them or talk to them whenever she wished.

“Looks like it’s time to go,” Claire said when they were finished. “Have a safe trip, and I’ll talk to you soon, okay?”

Sherry gave her a hug and then ran over to Leon to hug him as well. “I’m going to miss you,” she said. “Do you think maybe you could even come and visit me sometimes?”

“Of course we will,” Leon said.

“It’s going to take some time for all of us to get settled,” Claire said. “But maybe in a few months we’ll visit. You’ll be really busy starting in your new school and making friends. How about we come and visit this summer?”

“Okay,” Sherry said, a little disappointed. “But I’ll call you as soon as we get to their house. I mean, as soon as we get home.”

“I’ll be waiting for the call,” Claire said with a smile.

Sherry’s grandparents thanked them once again and got into the car. Her grandfather got into the driver’s seat, and her grandmother got into the back seat so she could sit next to Sherry on the long drive home. Sherry opened the door to get in and waved one last time at Claire and Leon as they stood in the parking lot.

“Bye, Claire! Bye, Leon! I’ll talk to you soon!”

They stood side by side and waved back. Leon placed his hand on Claire’s shoulder and she leaned against him. As the car pulled out of the parking lot and onto the access road leading away from the compound, Sherry turned around in her seat and waved at them through the back window. Claire and Leon stood in the middle of the parking lot until the car was out of sight.

“I feel like I just said goodbye to my own daughter,” Claire said softly.

“I think she’s going to be okay,” Leon said supportively. “They seem like nice people, I think she’ll be happy living with them.”

“I hope so.”

Leon sighed. “I’m more worried that someone will figure out she was a survivor from Raccoon City. I don’t want their house to get bombarded with phone calls and reporters asking for interviews.”

“I don’t think that will happen,” Claire said. “They aren’t releasing the names of any children who were involved. You and me, on the other hand, will have to fight our way through a mob of reporters just to get home.”

“Yeah,” Leon said. “But we still have a day before we have to worry about it. Are you sure you don’t want to leave today?”

Claire nodded. “Let’s just leave tomorrow morning. I’d like one more night of peace and quiet before we go and face the world.”

Leon led her back to the building. “How about I take you out to dinner? One of the nurses told me they’re serving spaghetti in the cafeteria tonight.”

“Oh, that sounds wonderful. Can we get a bottle of wine? Maybe some candles?”

“Sure, I’ll ask them to dim the lights so we can have a nice, romantic meal.”

Claire laughed softly. “You’ve got yourself a date.”

Chapter 11

 

It was almost ninety degrees outside, but the inside of the truck was comfortably air-conditioned. Despite this, the two passengers in the truck were still sweating, although it was not the heat that made them sweat. Their truck rolled forward, in the middle of a long line of vehicles lined up at the U.S.-Mexico border crossing in Del Rio, Texas. Waves of heat were visible off the wide expanse of concrete and the dozens of vehicles packed in line, baking under the hot Texas sun.

Rebecca Chambers sat in the passenger seat, her hands in her lap. The radio was on but the volume was low. Country music was the preferred choice of the locals, but Rebecca wasn’t a fan. Still, they felt it was a good idea to play it safe. There was nothing suspicious about either of them, and no reason for the law enforcement officers to pay them any special attention, but in contrast to Rebecca’s outwardly calm and casual exterior, she was scared out of her mind.

“Relax,” Billy Coen said softly, behind the wheel of the truck. His hair, previously a dark, unruly brown, was now dyed black and cut very short. His elaborate tattoo, which spiraled and twisted up his right arm, was now covered in long sleeves. Not that such tattoos were very uncommon, but it brought attention to him, and the last thing Billy wanted was attention.

“Sorry,” Rebecca whispered. “Do I look nervous?”

“You were shaking so bad the whole truck was rocking back and forth.”

“I was not. Don’t be silly.”

Billy gave her a quick grin. “Just try to keep calm. We’re doing fine. Once we’re through the checkpoint, we’ll be home free.”

“If you keep saying that, I might start to believe it,” Rebecca said.

“You’re the one who volunteered to come with me, remember? You’re not having second thoughts, are you?”

“Of course not. I wanted to come with you even if I knew for a fact that we’d get arrested at the border.”

“If you keep saying that, I might start to believe it,” Billy said, imitating Rebecca’s voice.

Rebecca smiled at him and reached out to give his arm a playful squeeze. Another car moved through the checkpoint ahead of them, and Billy took his foot off the brake to let the car coast forward a few feet before stopping again. There were still several cars ahead of them.

In truth, Rebecca didn’t regret her decision at all, even though she suspected that Billy still regretted letting her come along. He refused at first, doing his best to convince her that it was a terrible idea and there was no reason for her to throw her life away by leaving the country with him. He was quite adamant that they should go their separate ways, that she had a good life and a bright future ahead of her, while he was doomed to spend the rest of his life a fugitive. Rebecca admired his insistence that she should go back home and forget about him, but it was not going to be that easy.

Unfortunately for him, Rebecca could be just as stubborn and insistent when she wanted to be. She hadn’t tracked down his parents’ phone number, built up the nerve to call, and then driven all the way to Colorado just to have him tell her to go back home. He could have done that over the phone. He would not admit it at the time, but he wanted her to come, he was just afraid to tell her. If he really wanted her to stay away, then he would have instructed his parents not to let her come see him in the first place. Just the fact that he was willing to see her again was proof enough for her.

She stayed at his parents’ house for two days while they worked out the plans to get Billy safely out of the country. The whole time, Billy kept trying to persuade her to change her mind. And then, on the second night, Rebecca snuck downstairs into the basement where Billy was sleeping, crawled into his bed, and convinced him once and for all that she was going with him.

And now, they were almost to their goal. Billy’s father had some serious connections, and somehow managed to get Billy a complete set of false documents and a new identity, although Rebecca didn’t ask how. According to his new fake driver’s license and equally fake passport, his name was John Lewis. The truck was registered to one of Billy’s old friends, who donated it to the cause. Rebecca didn’t need any false identification, and could just use her own. If the authorities decided to search the truck, they wouldn’t find anything out of the ordinary, just the kind of items a couple would take with them on a vacation to Mexico. Some spare clothes, some food, nothing out of the ordinary.

The only real hitch in the plan was Billy’s false license. They were given promises that it would not bring up any red flags in the police computer system, but they couldn’t exactly test it beforehand to find out. They would discover out soon enough if Billy’s father wasted his money or not. They didn’t have to worry so much about Billy himself, since no one was actually looking for him.

As far as the rest of the world knew, Billy Coen was dead. Billy and Rebecca had been reticent about their shared experience in the Arklay Mountains, despite his parents’ efforts to draw them out. But when details about the events in Raccoon City finally hit the news, Billy’s parents realized why they didn’t want to talk about it.

Rebecca and Billy watched the news reports as intently as everyone else, shocked and horrified to learn that the entire city was destroyed, but at the same time they felt much differently about it. They knew the truth about what happened, they knew the truth about the disease. And as terrible as the official cover story was, the truth was more terrible than that. Neither Billy nor Rebecca felt the need to make things worse by contradicting the story on the news, so they kept silent about it.

In the end, Billy’s parents accepted the story that Billy escaped because the soldiers transporting him were infected with the virus and the transport truck crashed. It didn’t really make much sense, but it was close enough to the truth. His parents also understood why Rebecca was so eager to leave Raccoon City behind, and perhaps why she bonded so strongly with him. When some of the survivor accounts began getting played on the news, his parents reacted with horror, and stopped asking so many questions, because they were afraid of the answers.

“I wonder if Jill and Brad made it out of the city,” she said softly, not for the first time.

Chris left the city before Rebecca did, so she knew he was safe. But she knew nothing about what happened to Jill and Brad, and could only hope that they chose to leave the city before the infection hit.

“They started releasing names of the other survivors yesterday,” Billy said. “If they made it out alive, we’ll find out.”

Rebecca had already told Billy about the other S.T.A.R.S. members, and about their dramatic escape from the labs, even though Rebecca herself had no memory of it, since she’d been unconscious at the time. The two of them lived through their own ordeal inside the disposal facility, which they just barely escaped from, so Billy was shocked and saddened to learn that Rebecca had faced even more dangerous monsters later on.

“I wonder if I’ll ever see them again,” Rebecca mused.

“I’d like to meet them someday,” Billy said. “You’ve told me a lot about them.”

“I’m sure you’d get along great with Chris. You have a lot in common with him, I think.”

“What would we tell them about me?”

Rebecca smiled. “I think we could tell them the truth. They would understand.”

Another car moved through the checkpoint, and Billy took a deep breath as he drove the truck forward toward the checkpoint booth. Rebecca swallowed nervously and then forced herself to look away, casually glancing out the window.

“Here we go,” Billy whispered, putting the truck in park. He rolled down the window and leaned out to speak to the officer in the booth.

“Good morning,” the officer said. “Passport, please.”

Billy handed over their passports and other identification. They also needed other special forms to allow them to drive their truck into central Mexico and other paperwork as well. He smiled genially as he handed over the fake license.

“Reason for entering Mexico?” the officer asked as he flipped through the papers.

“We’re going on vacation,” Billy said. “We always wanted to see the Mayan ruins and we thought it would be fun to make a road trip out of it. And my girlfriend,” he added, “she wanted to get away, you might say.”

“Hmm,” the officer said, not really listening. Then he stopped suddenly and leaned forward to look at Rebecca through the driver’s side window.

“Ma’am?” he asked, “Is this your current address?”

Rebecca stared right back at him, her face expressionless. “Not anymore,” she said simply, and then turned to look out the window again.

Billy said in a low voice to the officer, “Listen, she’s really uncomfortable talking about it. That’s the other reason we’re going on vacation. She wants to get away for a while, you know?”

“But it says she’s from Raccoon –”

“I know, I know, but it’s hard for her to talk about.”

The officer looked at her compassionately and then nodded, sitting back and completing his check of their paperwork. Billy sighed and rested his head against the headrest. The rest of the checkpoint went quickly, and the officer handed Billy back the paperwork, including his identification.

“I want to apologize, ma’am,” the officer said. “I was just surprised. I’m very sorry. I can’t imagine what you must be going through.”

Rebecca nodded but said nothing, and Billy put the papers in the center console. The officer waved them through, and Billy put the truck back into drive, nodding politely as he drove forward through the border checkpoint and into Mexico.

He let out a long sigh of relief and almost laughed out loud, his heart pounding in his chest. He gazed over at Rebecca, utterly speechless.

“Well, that went better than expected!” Rebecca said with a laugh, and leaned over to plant a kiss on his lips. “We made it!”

“We made it!” Billy repeated.

“He was so shocked to see that I was from Raccoon City that he probably didn’t even bother to look at your passport,” Rebecca said.

“You were fantastic,” Billy said, shaking his head in amazement. “The way you looked at him, he felt like such a jerk he just let us go.”

“Now, aren’t you glad I came along?” Rebecca laughed. She reached up to touch his face, turning it towards hers, and then kissed him more passionately.

“Careful, babe,” he said with a chuckle as they pulled apart. “I’m trying to drive here.”

“Well, maybe you should pull over so we can really celebrate,” Rebecca said with a mischievous smile.

“How about we get a few more miles down the road,” Billy suggested. “We pull over now and it would look super suspicious.”

“Sounds good,” Rebecca said. Then she sighed happily and leaned back in her seat, feeling relaxed and overjoyed. Softly, she added, “I think we’re going to make it, Billy.”

“Yeah,” Billy said. “I think we’re going to make it too. And it’s just the two of us, now. From her on out, it’s just you and me, babe.”

They drove down the broad, flat highway, a wide expanse of rolling desert hills in front of them, and the United States in their rear view mirror. The next few days would take them all the way through Mexico, then into Guatemala, then through Honduras and Nicaragua, to their final destination in Costa Rica. Along the way, they would pick up more detailed and updated identification for Billy to get him through customs in the other countries, and then find somewhere to live where both of them could find work. Once they could apply for citizenship in Costa Rica, they would be able to finally erase Billy’s criminal history, but that would take years to accomplish. But together, they could do it. Together, they could do the impossible.

“Just the two of us,” Rebecca said to herself. She looked over at Billy and smiled warmly. “I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Chapter 12

 

The Umbrella Corporation Research and Training Facility near Flagstaff, Arizona was little more than a one-story office building about the size of a small town high school, constructed of shining stainless steel and bright glass. During the day, the building probably sparkled and shone in the harsh Arizona sun, but right now the facility was dark and half-hidden in shadows since the sun had gone down. It sat alone in the middle of the desert, north of I-40 in between Flagstaff and Winslow, accessible only by a series of dusty roads winding their way through the rocky hills. Few people in the area even knew that it existed.

At night, few of the windows were illuminated, indicating that most of the staff had gone home for the night. But a careful observer would notice that even during the day, there were only a handful of cars in the parking lot, which seemed far too small for a building of that size, and almost none of the scientists or other workers who were glimpsed going outside during the day ever seemed to go home at all. A careful observer would notice that, and Chris Redfield was a very careful observer.

Chris lay on his stomach in between a pair of large rocks, peering at the dark facility through a high-powered set of night vision binoculars. He scanned the perimeter of the building, his vision glowing with an ugly neon green coloration. After a few minutes, he set the binoculars down and scribbled the time of day and a quick note in his notebook. He then took a much-deserved gulp of water from his canteen and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand as a few drips rolled down his chin.

He had been scouting the facility for two days now, watching people come and go and staying far out of sight of the security detail, which was impressively thorough. But Umbrella’s armed guards were on the lookout for lost hikers or curious sightseers. They were not prepared to find a man dressed in desert camo and well-hidden, watching the facility from over a mile away. In fact, two guards walked within fifty feet of Chris on his first day, and didn’t even noticed him. Chris felt confident that he picked a good location for his observation, although the occasional low-flying helicopter flew overhead during the day, and there was always the possibility that one of them might spot him. He kept his supplies safely under an outcropping of rock, and his desert camo would hopefully keep him from being seen easily.

He gathered up his notebook, canteen, binoculars, and other equipment, and tucked them into his backpack before sliding backwards on his stomach until he was on the opposite side of the hill, no longer in sight of the facility. He crouched low and hurried across the barren desert, running almost directly south, barely making a sound as he ran across loose sand and rocks, running almost blind in the near complete darkness

An hour later, he reached the highway, and followed it west until he found his motorcycle stashed in a ditch surrounded by bristly shrubs. When no cars were visible coming down the highway, Chris started it up and drove off for Flagstaff.

He rented a motel room there, and as soon as he went inside, he unloaded his gear and took a nice, cold shower. After a day spent lying in the blistering sun, a cold shower was the greatest thing in the world. Afterward, he sat in front of his laptop computer and rubbed his hair with a towel, checking his email while the television played in the background.

The destruction of Raccoon City was still the biggest story in the news. Chris turned to watch the news reports for a moment, finding himself unable to ignore the images of the smoking crater that had once been his home.

He went over it in his head a million times, but no matter what he tried to come up with, it always ended the same way. Could he possibly have changed the outcome? Could he have warned them, maybe prepared them? Could Chris have done anything more to try to save the people of Raccoon City from certain death? As much as he wanted to think so, as much as he wanted to believe that he could have done more, it just didn’t seem possible. In the end, Chris had done very little, but even that was as much as he could have ever done.

He knew that no one would ever have believed him. There was simply no way that Chris could have convinced anyone that the city was in danger. At best, they would have merely ignored him as some kind of weirdo, and at worst, they may have arrested him and thrown him in a mental ward. And then he would most likely have died with the rest of them. He tried to think of every possible scenario, every possible way he could have warned them. But nothing would have worked. He knew that, but he wished it was not so.

He consoled himself that at least Jill, Brad, and Rebecca made their escape as well, even though he didn’t actually know for sure that Jill and Brad left the city. They both said they were going to, but the infection struck much sooner than they expected. Chris tried not to think about what might have happened if they had not left like they planned. The only other person who knew the truth was Chief Irons, and Chris wondered if he left the city as well.

He tried to push it from his mind. He could not focus on the past, he had to keep his mind focused on the future. And the future was his continuing investigation of Umbrella, and hopefully, the proof he needed to make sure that the people responsible would go to jail.

It didn’t matter that Umbrella successfully managed to hide the truth for now, or at least cover up the more horrifying aspects of the infection. They all but admitted they were at fault anyway. To Chris, all that mattered was finding solid evidence that the upper management at Umbrella knew of the extreme dangers of their research and were breaking the law in order to work on it. If Chris could find that evidence and reveal it to the press, there was nothing Umbrella could do. The public would revolt against them, especially in the aftermath of Raccoon City. And although no one would ever have listened to him before, he knew that everyone would listen this time.

So he started at the bottom. Do surveillance on an Umbrella facility, find out who works there, track them down and investigate them, figure out a way to gain leverage, and then gain access to the facility. It might take months of hard work, but Chris was prepared to spend years if necessary. He didn’t even know if he would find success at this facility in Arizona, but it was a good starting point.

His email inbox was full of information from his friends and contacts in the military. He already had a solid lead on one of the researchers at the lab, having traced his license plate number the day before, using a friend of a friend who worked in the Arizona DMV. There were other emails with responses to his numerous inquiries and other leads for him to follow. Now that the events of Raccoon City had unfolded, Chris found that people were more than willing to help him on his quest.

There was also an email from his parents, which he hesitated reading. He had emailed them in the morning, contacting them for the first time since he had left the city, to let them know that he was okay and he would talk to them later. He didn’t know exactly what he was going to tell them, although his mysterious disappearance was not so mysterious now that Raccoon City was all over the news.

Finally, he resigned himself to reading their email, not knowing exactly what to expect. Would his parents be angry at him? Scared for him? Would they demand that he come home right now? He didn’t know what to expect.

The first line of the email jumped out like a slap to the face.

Chris, when you didn’t return our calls, Claire went to Raccoon City to look for you.

The breath caught in his chest and he rocked back in his chair, a freezing shiver running down his spine. He managed to swallow nervously, and continued reading.

Don’t worry, she’s okay. We spoke to her this morning. She’s in New York in some kind of hospital, recovering from what happened.

Chris slumped down in the chair, his heart pounding. “Jesus Christ, Claire,” he said out loud, wiping his hand across his eyes, “What in the hell did you think you were doing!?”

He couldn’t believe that she came after him, and felt even more shocked that she survived the infection. He felt a million emotions at once, and quickly read through the rest of the email, trying to understand what had happened. He read it six times, letting his heartbeat return to normal.

Please contact us as soon as you can, the email read. We love you and we want to hear from you. Whatever happened to you, we want you to know that it’s okay. Please call soon.

Chris took a deep breath and wiped his eyes, which had teared up. He still couldn’t get over the fact that Claire came to Raccoon City to talk to him. He couldn’t imagine a more terrible coincidence happening, and he felt painfully guilty that he didn’t warn them not to come. He should have told them he was not in the city anymore.

His sister was nothing if not obstinate, and he suspected that she would have come for him wherever he was. But at least he could have kept her from going to the one place on earth that he wanted them to avoid. He could not believe that she went to the city and then somehow managed to escape. It all seemed to be too much.

He reached out and closed the laptop. Whatever work he planned on doing tonight would have to wait. He found his cell phone and dialed a number, and waited a few rings for someone to pick up.

“Hey, Mom,” he said quietly, “It’s Chris.”

Chapter 13

 

Jill sat with her hands in her lap, staring at Lisa through a thick sheet of plexiglass with an amazed expression on her face. Lisa gave her a dopey smile and gave a throaty chuckle, glancing at Carlisle, who was standing next to Jill with his arms crossed. The scientists all stood back, watching intently, clipboards in their hands.

“You can talk now,” Jill said. “But you didn’t talk to me before.”

“Dudn’t know how,” Lisa said. “Membered later when you gone.” She smiled again, proud of herself, and wiggled in her plastic chair.

“And you even remember your name?”

“Uh-huh, Lisa Trevor. Name is Lisa Trevor.”

Jill was just speechless, and she could only shake her head in amazement. She asked Carlisle, “Where did they find her?”

“Out in the woods,” he said with a shrug. “One of the UBCF squads was doing a sweep for infected hosts, and they ran into Lisa here. They mistook her for one of the infected and they opened fire. You might say they were kind of surprised when she ran off and told them not to shoot at her.”

“They hurt Lisa,” Lisa said matter-of-factly. “Not mad at thum, not their fault.”

“They called a retrieval crew right away,” Carlisle explained. “Lisa only arrived here half a day before you did.”

“And they set all this up already?” Jill asked, gesturing around at the whole lab and Lisa’s enclosure. “This room and all her toys and everything?”

Carlisle nodded. “Yes, it was all rather sudden. They cleaned her up and took the chains off –”

Lisa laughed suddenly and raised her hands to show off her bare wrists. “Gone!” she cried happily. “No more chains!”

“– and brought her here for observation,” Carlisle continued, not missing a beat. He looked at Lisa and chuckled to himself. “Lisa is a bit of a celebrity around here, you might say.”

“Yah, a culubrety,” Lisa said, although Jill doubted that Lisa even knew that the word meant.

“That’s incredible,” Jill said to Lisa. “I wouldn’t have believed it. If you know your name, does that mean you remember who you are?”

Lisa’s ever-present smile drooped a bit, but she nodded eagerly. “Uh-huh, I member. Been there long time, sunce I was a chuld.”

Jill looked at Carlisle for an explanation, and he hesitated before speaking. The fact that he seemed nervous about telling her gave her a hint of just how bad it was going to be. So far, Carlisle had told her everything with the smooth salesmanship of a con man, but he seemed unable to spin this in a positive light.

“The mansion that housed the entrance to the Arklay Lab was designed and built by a man named George Trevor,” Carlisle explained in a low voice. “In 1970, just a few months after the mansion was completed, George Trevor, his wife Jennifer, and their young daughter Lisa disappeared without a trace. Two years later, their car was found at the bottom of a ravine near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It had been there for some time, and the police found evidence – traces of blood, scraps of clothing, that kind of thing – that indicated the family survived the crash and then left the car in search of help. It was believed at the time that they died of exposure or injuries, but the bodies were never found.”

Lisa’s expression was hard to read, but she seemed angry. “Not car crash,” she said, shaking her head. “Bad men took thum away. Locked Lisa up and made her sick.”

Jill’s heart pounded in her chest as the realization of what had happened slowly sank in. Although she had suspected something like that must have taken place, to hear the specific details made her sick to her stomach.

“But why?” she asked helplessly. “Why would they do something like that? How could they?”

“We don’t know,” Carlisle admitted shamefully. “The records in the lab were mostly destroyed, we don’t have any idea what happened, or why. But according to Lisa, the scientists at the lab held her family prisoner and infected her with the Progenitor. We have to assume that her parents were infected as well. But why Spencer would have done that is something we’ll never know.”

“And then they … what? Faked the car crash to cover up their crimes?”

“They must have, it’s the only thing that makes sense.”

“My God,” Jill whispered.

“Yeah,” Carlisle said softly.

Lisa looked at them both, narrowing her eyes a bit, studying them. Then she sighed and shrugged her large shoulders. “Long time ago,” she said, looking away. “Dudn’t evun member who Lisa was for long time. Forgot everythung about life.”

“Yeah, a long time,” Jill said. Then she paused and looked back at Carlisle. “Wait a minute, you said it was 1970?”

“It was,” he replied.

“That was thirty years ago. Lisa doesn’t look much older than I am.”

“Stuff that made Lisa sick,” Lisa answered. “Made strong too. Make Lisa not look old.”

“That’s right,” Carlisle said. “I’m not going to get into the science with you right now, but the Progenitor’s primary biological function is cellular regrowth. Her exposure is making her look younger than she really is.”

“But I thought that disease of yours just kills people.”

“It does,” Carlisle said. “Except for Lisa, apparently.”

“Lisa spucial,” Lisa grinned. “Stuff not kill Lisa, nothung can hurt Lisa.”

Jill felt overwhelmed, a million questions on her mind. She felt like she could spend all day here talking to Lisa, and maybe she would. There was just so much she wanted to know, things she wondered if Lisa even knew. Carlisle was right; Lisa was a celebrity. She was the only person who had ever been infected and was still alive to talk about it.

Lisa’s incredible transformation continued to amaze her. Back in the woods, Lisa was a howling madwoman, unable to speak, walking on all fours like a gorilla with rusted manacles and chains around her wrists. She was more animal than human then, barely able to communicate at all. But now, she was almost normal, except for her choppy pronunciation she might even be able to pass for anyone on the street. And months from now? Years? Lisa might fully regain her speech and mental capabilities, and then what?

“How long are you going to stay here?” she asked Lisa.

“Dunno,” Lisa said with a noncommittal shrug. “Stay here for now. New place better thun old place. Have thungs here, people talk to Lisa. Happy here for now.”

Carlisle cleared his throat and said, “Lisa is infected with the Progenitor, don’t forget. Actually, we think she’s been infected with dozens of different strains. Right now, she’s far too dangerous for us to let her go. She could be a Typhoid Mary. You must understand that.”

“But she’s …” Jill started to say, but she knew she couldn’t honestly finish the sentence.

Lisa understood as well. “Might make people sick,” she said. “Dun’t want to, but might happun. Bad thungs happun if people get sick from Lisa, people all be dead. Stay here so that other people not get sick.”

“But for how long?” Jill asked. “Maybe in time, you can …”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Carlisle interrupted her. “We’re still studying Lisa to see exactly what she’s carrying. I know it isn’t fair to her, especially after what has been done to her, but we don’t really have a choice.”

“They give me thungs,” Lisa said, trying to make the best of it. “Have toys, have books, have tulevisun,” she said with a smile, pointing at the television behind her. “Teach Lisa to read books, lots of new thungs for Lisa to do.”

“Okay,” Jill said, reluctantly agreeing. After seeing what Lisa had once been, and what Lisa had managed to become, it broke Jill’s heart to see her right back in a lab, being studied like a science experiment. Lisa had already spent the majority of her life hidden in a lab, it simply was not fair that she would finally experience a tantalizing hint of freedom, just to wind right back up in an underground Umbrella laboratory once again.

Lisa saw the look on her face and gave Jill a wild, mischievous grin, for a moment appearing like the crazy woman Jill encountered in the woods. “Do not worry about Lisa,” she said cryptically. “Lisa is okay here, they not do anything bad.”

Then she paused a bit, thinking to herself, and smiled once more, as if she had just realized something. When she spoke again, the tone of her voice changed somehow, and a shiver ran down Jill’s spine.

“They cannot hurt me,” Lisa said. “I can leave anytime I want to.”

Chapter 14

 

More than 600 miles south of Tokyo, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there was a small collection of islands called the Ogasawara Gunto in Japanese, or in English, the Bonin Islands. Of the more than 30 small islands in the chain, only three were inhabited, and one of those had only recently become so.

Kurisutaru no Shima was a tiny island on the edges of the Bonin Islands chain, separated from the main island, Chichi-jima, by 17 miles of open ocean. It was only about a third of a mile long, and thrust upward out of the ocean like a stalagmite, its rocky walls home to various birds. Bits of glassy igneous rock dotted the island, and from a distance they seemed to sparkle, giving the island its name. In English, Kurisutaru no Shima translated to Crystal Island.

Up until about six months earlier, nesting sea birds were the only residents of the island at all. Then Tricell purchased rights to the island and began construction of a scientific lab complex there, flying in the construction materials by helicopter and ferrying the workers back and forth from Chichi-jima for five months, until the main construction was completed. At that point, basic living quarters were completed, and they brought in another construction team to live on the island while they finished the more detailed work.

Albert Wesker sat in a desk chair and looked out the window toward the ocean. His office, or at least the room he was currently using as an office, was dark and gloomy, the only light coming from the laptop computer on his desk. There was little other furniture in the large room, as it was still not completely built yet. There were gaping holes in the ceiling where acoustic panels would eventually be placed, and a few capped wires hung loose in spots, as only half of the fluorescent lights were installed. The rough gray carpet was dirty with sawdust and mud from the construction workers’ boots.

Wesker’s desk was equally unfurnished. A laptop, a lamp, his cell phone, a pad of paper and pencil, and a couple of bottles of water sitting on the edge, room temperature since there was no refrigerator to put them in.

It was late, past midnight, and Wesker supposed he was the only person still awake. In the morning, Tricell was set to deliver some of the first shipments of scientific equipment, which were going downstairs in the main complex, which was still under construction. Nothing advanced yet, just some chemical analyzers and spectrometers, some growth tanks, and a ton of microscopes and centrifuges and test tubes and all the other basic apparatus that any lab would need in bulk. Wesker wasn’t really concerned with any of that, and in fact had no real reason to be on the island at all until the lab was functional, but he wanted to be there and get a feel for the place. Besides, he had nowhere else to be at the moment.

Crystal Island was to be his new home for the indefinite future. The lab being built there was tiny in comparison to his former lab in the Arklay Mountains, but size was not important. There was no need for a sprawling complex here, with various lab areas doing a wide variety of research with hundreds of scientists. This lab was to be Wesker’s private kingdom, and all the research done here would be done under his watchful gaze, with only a handful of high-level scientists working under him. When everything was complete, they would bring in the most advanced scientific technology in the world for Wesker to experiment with, and in these rooms, the future would be made.

At least, that was the plan. Wesker was confident, as usual. In his very short time as an employee of Tricell, they had already begun to discover the wealth of knowledge he delivered to them, and it would not be long for them to begin to profit from that knowledge. At the moment, Wesker had free reign to do as he pleased.

He could not continue to use the name Albert Wesker, of course, since the man with that name was supposed to be dead. If the wrong person overheard the name Wesker and it somehow got back to Umbrella, it would complicate matters. So in all official Tricell communication, he was simply called Greg Smith, although Wesker didn’t know why they chose the name or if they had any documentation to prove that’s who he really was. After all, if his future discoveries were credited to a mysterious person called Greg Smith, eventually people would wonder who that was. Wesker had to assume that Tricell knew this ahead of time and already had paperwork and proper identification to prove Greg Smith was a real person. For all Wesker knew, Greg Smith actually was a real person, some middle-management nobody chosen by Tricell to act as Wesker’s public counterpart.

So far, everything was going smoothly. So smoothly, in fact, that Wesker was suspicious that something was bound to go wrong any day now. He hadn’t expected it to be this easy.

Suddenly, the door to the office opened, and Wesker turned around in the swivel chair to see a figure entering the room. Even in the darkness, he could see clearly who it was.

“Gianna,” he said, his voice betraying not a hint of surprise. “What in the hell are you doing here?”

Gianna Aldritch walked up in front of Wesker’s desk and took a seat in one of the cheap plastic chairs. “What do you mean?” she asked innocently, leaning back and crossing her legs. “I work here.”

Although she usually made a point to dress very professionally, although still with a generous amount of sex appeal, Gianna was now dressed much more casually. The top few buttons of her white dress shirt were unbuttoned suggestively, and her black skirt was ruffled and wrinkled. She was also barefoot, having abandoned her high heels, and her hair was untied and mussed up.

“I mean, what are you even doing on this island?” Wesker asked. “I thought you left hours ago with those accountants that were hanging around all day.”

“No, I’ve been here the whole time,” Gianna said. “I made some phone calls and then I took a nap on the couch down the hall. I woke up a little bit ago. I knew you’d still be awake.”

“Of course I am.”

“You don’t sleep at all, do you?”

“Maybe for an hour or two if I really feel the need,” Wesker said. “Although I rarely do.”

“You might want to start pretending to sleep more often,” Gianna suggested. “People might start to get curious about the man who never sleeps.”

“I’ll take that under advisement.”

Gianna had shadowed Wesker since he first joined Tricell, and rarely left his side since their first meeting in the mall food court. She was a high level administrator in Tricell, exactly how high she never bothered to explain, but it seemed a fair guess that she called a lot of the shots, and was perhaps only answerable to the Board of Directors. She was ambitious, intelligent, beautiful, and she was beginning to get on Wesker’s nerves.

In the past few days, her casual flirtatious comments were becoming less and less subtle, and she was acting toward Wesker with far more familiarity than he felt comfortable with. She almost acted as if they were friends, even though Wesker did everything in his power to persuade her otherwise. He hadn’t had any friends in years and he wasn’t about to start making some now.

“Don’t you have more important work to do than staying here and keeping an eye on me?” he asked evenly, studying her carefully.

“Keeping an eye on you is my job. I’m your handler.”

“Is that what you’re doing? Handling me?”

“Not as well as I would like,” Gianna said, with a smile. She uncrossed her legs and then leaned forward to pluck a bottle of water off the desk, doing everything in her power to give Wesker an unobstructed view down the front of her shirt. She was not wearing a bra.

She sat back, unscrewed the lid, and then took a few sips of water. She smiled at him again, as if sharing some private joke. “You don’t sleep, you don’t eat, but if you have water then that means you must have to drink now and then.”

“I’m not a robot,” Wesker said. “I have to eat and drink just like anyone else. Just not as often.”

“What about your other bodily functions? Everything in working order?”

Wesker was starting to get annoyed with the game. “Yes,” he said. “In fact, it all works even better than it used to. Do you have a point you’re trying to make, or are you just curious?”

Gianna sighed in frustration and set the bottle back on his desk. “Are you sure you’re not a robot? You certainly act like one. I don’t normally have to work this hard to get men to notice me, but you’re not making it easy.”

“I hate to state the obvious,” Wesker said slowly, “but I am, for all intents and purposes, infected with the T-virus. You are aware of that, correct?”

“Sure I am.”

Wesker made a questioning gesture with his hands. “So you are doing what, exactly? Flirting with me? Trying to seduce me? I shouldn’t have to point out what a phenomenally stupid idea that is. Sleeping with me would be be nothing less than suicidal.”

“Doesn’t that bother you?” Gianna asked intently. “So you’re just going to remain celibate for the rest of your life? You’re not interested in women at all anymore? I’ve never met a man who would give that up so willingly.”

“I’m not like most men,” Wesker said. “And I’ve never had much use for romance.”

Gianna laughed shortly and slumped back in her chair. “Jesus, you are a robot. Here I am, totally in the mood, and I’m stuck with the one man on earth who doesn’t want to sleep with me.”

“Sorry,” Wesker said sarcastically. “You could always call one of the guys in the construction crew downstairs. I’m sure any of them would be more than happy to oblige.”

Gianna dismissed it with a wave of her hand. “I’m not into Japanese guys.”

“Well then, you shouldn’t have chosen to live in Japan. Maybe you should ask for a transfer.”

With a loud, theatrical sigh, Gianna slouched further in the chair and rested her hands in her lap, looking up at the ceiling. “No, I’m afraid that’s not possible. They assigned me to be your corporate liaison permanently.”

Wesker looked at her for a moment and then shrugged. Somehow, he expected as much. “I guess you are stuck with me, then. I’m sorry to hear that,” he said, more seriously this time.

“Yeah, well, thanks for your concern.”

Wesker leaned back a bit and looked at her through his dark sunglasses. Even in the almost perfectly dark room and wearing his sunglasses, he could see perfectly clearly. He had believed Gianna was in upper management, so to be assigned to be his assistant seemed below her. Something else was going on here, and after a few moments of concentration, Wesker figured out what it was. In fact, he was almost irritated at himself for not realizing it sooner. It didn’t change his plans at all, not really, but it would have been nice to know in advance.

“The Board knows about my condition, don’t they?” he asked.

“Of course they do,” Gianna replied, tilting her head back down to look at him. “You didn’t think I was going to keep it a secret, did you?”

“Not at all,” Wesker said. “But it does explain why they were more than happy to stick me on this remote island. I guess I would have done the same thing if I were in their position.”

“Well, it seemed like a good idea.”

“But why would they stick you here with me? You’re too valuable of an employee to be given such a pointless task. I mean seriously, a corporate liaison? Is that what they told you?”

“It’s just a title. It doesn’t mean anything.”

“But you know why you’re here.”

“To spy on you, of course,” Gianna admitted with a shrug. “The Board doesn’t trust you, not really. And I don’t mean they think you’ll betray them, it’s just that …”

“They don’t know what the infection might have done to me,” Wesker finished for her.

“Your behavior doesn’t help. The way you act sometimes throws people off their guard.”

“That’s intentional. And for the record, I’ve always behaved this way, even in high school.”

“I believe you.”

Wesker leaned forward and set his elbows on the desk. “So you’re here to watch me to make sure I don’t go insane or grow a third arm or start biting people and spreading the virus?”

Gianna clearly didn’t like to think about that. “Like I said before,” she said, “I’m your handler. I’m here to keep an eye on you.”

“I’m not just the scientist in charge here, I’m also one of the experiments?” Wesker prompted.

“Something like that,” Gianna said with a nod.

“Then why don’t you just ask me? Go on and ask me what I feel like. Ask me what the virus has done to me.”

Looking at him suspiciously, Gianna sat upright in her chair. “Okay,” she said after an uncomfortable pause. “What has the virus done to you?”

Wesker set his hands down on the desk and slowly stood up.

And then, in the blink of an eye, he zipped around the desk and placed his hand on Gianna’s arm. She screamed in fright and flew backward, tipping over in the chair and falling to the floor. She rolled over and scooted back until she was against the wall, staring at Wesker in shock, her hair hanging wildly around her face.

“And that’s just the beginning,” Wesker said smoothly. “I can do much more than that. And not much can stop me, not even a bullet.”

“My God,” Gianna whispered.

“Still want to sleep with me?” Wesker asked, smiling malevolently down at her. In the darkness, his teeth seemed to glisten like vampire fangs.

“You never … I mean, you didn’t really tell us exactly what you did,” Gianna said, her body tense, her voice trembling slightly. “You must have taken some kind of … what? An antidote, a vaccine?”

“Not exactly. Certainly not something I would recommend taking unless your life depended on it, as mine did at the time. I have no evidence that it would work on anyone else anyway. Once this lab is up and running, it is one of the things I would like to test thoroughly.”

“And your eyes?” Gianna asked.

“An unfortunate side effect.”

“Are there other … side effects?”

“No other physical ones that I’ve noticed. Although it’s entirely possible that more may develop over time.”

“What do you mean?”

Wesker knelt down and set his elbows on his knees, making Gianna back up a bit more, afraid he was going to try something. Seeing her in such fear amused him, although he felt guilty for being amused. When he did nothing, she relaxed a bit, but still watched him carefully, even though he had already shown her that he could move faster than her eyes could follow.

“You see,” he said softly, as if sharing a secret, “the T-virus was originally created by bonding the Progenitor virus to the DNA of leeches. When the Progenitor bonds with the DNA of a host, it creates a new strain of the virus. This can either be done over time by breeding infected hosts, or it can be done with prolonged exposure under the right circumstances.”

When he was sure that Gianna was paying close attention, he continued. “I have been exposed to an unknown strain of the virus. One of our projects in Raccoon City was a human host exposed to numerous strains of the virus over many years. Some of those strains, over time, bonded with the DNA, creating something new. That new mixed strain was then injected into my bloodstream, but I didn’t have time to isolate exactly how the virus changed, or even which strain of the virus I was actually testing.”

Gianna asked, “How did you know it wouldn’t kill you?”

“I didn’t,” Wesker answered. “I was going to be infected with the T-virus anyway, so I didn’t have much choice. But over time, this new strain will eventually bond with my own DNA as well. And since it is already a combined form of the T-virus and the original host’s DNA, it will in effect bond my own DNA with itself, creating something even more complex. I am most definitely an experiment, because we never accomplished anything like me in the lab. We were never able to combine the DNA of two separate hosts with the virus.”

“So you don’t even know what’s going to happen, do you?”

Wesker slowly shook his head. “I have no idea what might happen, and I don’t know how long it will take. It might be months or years, but eventually I am going to become a host for a completely unique strain of the virus.”

Chapter 15

 

As it turned out, the recovery center cafeteria did have bottles of wine. They also had cold beer and even hard liquor. Apparently, some of the other survivors spent their time in recovery getting pleasantly drunk. Instead of eating in the cafeteria, Leon and Claire filled their plates with spaghetti and went up to Leon’s room. Leon snagged two bottles of white wine, stuck them in a bucket of ice, and brought them along.

Claire sat cross-legged at the foot of Leon’s bed, her plate in her lap. Leon was seated in a chair with his legs stretched out on the edge of the bed, his plate sitting on the desk beside him. They didn’t find any candles, but Leon improvised by turning the desk lamp on and leaving the overhead lights off.

Right before dinner, Claire went to her room to check her messages, and found out that her parents finally made contact with her brother Chris. After the sad goodbye to Sherry, the good news brightened her mood considerably.

“He’s in Arizona,” she gushed. “I guess he’s doing alright, but he didn’t tell my parents much about what he was doing.”

“I think I can take a good guess about what he’s doing,” Leon said. “Have you told your parents about what happened to him in Raccoon City?”

“No, not yet,” Claire said, shaking her head. “I’ll let Chris decide when he wants to tell them about it.”

Leon learned from Claire earlier about what happened to the Raccoon City S.T.A.R.S. team, which she learned from reading a newspaper back in the police station. Leon already knew some of the details, of course, since he was hired for the S.T.A.R.S. team as a replacement for one of the officers who died in the line of duty. And although they didn’t know exactly what happened on that doomed mission to the Arklay Mountains, it didn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to figure it out.

“You think your brother is going to try to get some kind of revenge on Umbrella?” Leon asked carefully, trying not to make it sound as bad as it was.

“Not revenge,” Claire said. “He’s not the kind of person to want revenge. But he’ll go after Umbrella, I’m almost sure of it.”

“If not revenge, then what?”

“Justice?” Claire said with a shrug. “That’s the kind of person Chris is. I know he likes to pretend that he’s this carefree kind of guy, but deep down he really has this deep sense of right and wrong. It’s why he joined the Air Force, why he became a cop. Umbrella did some terrible things, we both know that, and I bet Chris knows it too. And if he knows, then you can bet he’ll do everything he can to make it right.”

“You mentioned that he was in the Air Force,” Leon said. “Why did he leave the service?”

“Well, it’s a bit complicated,” Claire said. “He was training to be an officer, but unfortunately, he wound up getting discharged.”

“Really?” Leon asked, surprised. “What happened?”

“It’s a stupid story, it never should have happened.”

“We’ve got time,” Leon said. “I’m honestly curious. Unless it’s something really bad, which I don’t think is the case.”

“No,” Claire said, “It’s actually the opposite.”

“Well, what happened?”

Claire sighed and set her plate down on the bed beside her. “I went to visit Chris one time while he was on base. He was only going to be stationed there for a couple months, I think, so I went to visit him and I met some of his teammates. We went out to dinner, we had a few drinks, you know. We had a really good time, and went back to his dormitory on the base. Well, I had a room at a hotel nearby, so later that night I left to go back to the hotel.”

“So what happened?”

“Well, I was out in the parking lot, getting on my motorcycle. And these two guys came up to me and make some smart-ass comment about my bike. I hate it when guys do that. I didn’t even know these two guys, but I could tell they were drunk. So I just tried to ignore them, you know? But they tried to act all cool and tried hitting on me, so I told them to get lost.”

Leon waited a moment, and then prodded her. “And then?”

“Well, one of them got all nasty with me and called me a stupid dyke.”

Leon’s jaw dropped. “Wow, that wasn’t very nice.”

“You’re telling me. So I got in his face and told him to go to Hell. And that’s when the other one grabbed my arm, like he was going to hit me or something. I mean, I can take care of myself, and I can certainly take care of two drunk losers like that. But I guess Chris came out to the parking lot to see what was going on. And when he saw that guy grab me, he ran in without thinking and just nailed the guy right in the jaw, knocked him cold.”

Leon leaned back, covering his eyes with his hand. “Oh, Jesus. Those two guys were Air Force officers too, weren’t they?”

“Yep,” Claire said. “And it gets worse. When the other guy tried to fight Chris, he wound up getting the crap kicked out of him. I was pulling Chris off of him when the MPs arrived. They arrested all three of them, of course.”

“Did he get court-martialed?”

“Not exactly. That guy that Chris beat up, his father was some high-ranking guy in the Air Force, like a Major or something. So his son got off without a punishment, of course. They tried to claim that Chris started the fight, and were going to try to throw the book at him. So I accused the guy of trying to rape me.”

“Holy shit,” Leon said, stunned.

“I had to do something,” Claire explained. “I wasn’t going to let them just destroy Chris’ career like that. They didn’t have any proof that I wasn’t telling the truth, so they quickly covered the whole thing up. They let Chris choose an honorable discharge in return for me not pressing any charges. The whole thing was such a mess,” Claire said with a sigh, shaking her head in disappointment. “If I had left his dorm a few minutes later then I wouldn’t have even run into those guys, and none of it would have happened.”

“That’s quite a story,” Leon said. “I can see what you mean about your brother, though. He didn’t even think twice, he just ran in and punched the guy out for grabbing you?”

Claire gave him a quirky, half-embarrassed smile. “Well, let’s just say that Chris can be a bit overprotective at times.”

“I guess one of these days I’ll have to meet him.”

“I’d be happy to introduce you. You and him have a lot in common, actually. You’d probably hate each other.”

Leon laughed at that. He reached for his plate of spaghetti, but realized that it had already gone cold, so he just left it on the desk. He asked Claire for her plate, and she picked it up to hand it to him, but it slipped out of her hand and fell to the floor, spilling spaghetti and tomato sauce all over the carpet.

Claire yelped in surprise and looked at Leon. “Do you think we should clean that up?”

“Leave it,” Leon said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “We’re leaving here tomorrow anyway, let Umbrella clean it up.”

Claire busted out laughing, rolling back on her legs and bumping back against the wall. Leon laughed as well and reached down for the bottles of wine on the floor.

“And on that note,” he said, “how about a drink?”

“I would love a drink,” Claire said, still giggling with laughter.

“Does white wine go with pasta?”

“I have no idea, I don’t drink wine. I like craft beers,” Claire said with a laugh, as Leon poured two glasses.

“I like fruity mixed drinks, myself,” Leon said.

Claire reached out to take the glass he handed her. “Well, aren’t you a fancy man?”

“The fanciest,” Leon said with a grin. “Cheers.”

They clinked their glasses together and took a sip of their wine. Claire made a funny face after tasting hers, but she shrugged and drank some more anyway. Leon wasn’t big on it either – he guessed it was a cheaper brand – but he wasn’t going to be picky. He drank down the whole glass and then poured himself another.

Claire swirled the glass in her hand. “What are we going to do, Leon? How can we possibly go back to a normal life after this?”

“I don’t think we will. But having a normal life is overrated anyway.”

“I don’t know, a normal life seems pretty nice compared to what we’ve been through.”

Leon nodded and set his empty glass on the desk beside him. “Just be thankful that we didn’t lose anyone we cared about. We might be the only survivors who didn’t live in Raccoon City or have family there. All the other people who made it out lost family members, like Sherry lost her parents. We were the lucky ones.”

“That’s true,” Claire said. “At least we can go back home after this is all over. I hadn’t thought of that.”

“All we have to do is go back to our lives. The newspapers and the media will bother us for awhile, maybe some of the people we know will treat us differently. But a normal life is still out there, we just have to go for it.”

“Are you going to?” Claire asked.

“I don’t think so,” Leon said after a pause. “I’m going to re-enlist. I think that the military might have a use for someone like me. My friend Jack asked me to join the UBCF, but that’s not going to happen. Instead, I think I might try to set up special unit like that within the Army.”

Claire sighed and looked down into her glass before drinking the rest of it. She held out the glass and Leon refilled it for her. “Maybe you’re right. I don’t know if I want to go back to my boring old job after all this, especially not if Chris is out there doing who-knows-what. Maybe I’ll try to track him down and see if he needs my help.”

“You could certainly do that,” Leon said. “With the money we’re getting, you could help fund his investigation.”

Neither Leon nor Claire had really bothered discussing the monetary settlement that Umbrella was offering them. They were just happy to be alive and safe, a huge amount of money held little interest for them at the moment.

But Claire brightened at the idea. “That’s a good idea, I like that. We could use the money Umbrella is giving me to try to bring them down. That would be like poetic justice.”

“Personally, I think Umbrella is going down all by itself,” Leon said. “But if you or your brother can find real, solid evidence that conclusively proves that they were responsible for the outbreak, or that the people at the top knew about it and didn’t stop it, then that would be amazing.”

“I think I’ll do that,” Claire said, half to herself, holding the glass of wine in her lap. “I need to find Chris anyway. I want to know what he’s been through. I want to make sure he’s really okay.”

Leon filled his glass once more. He felt pleasantly warm, but he would have to drink the whole bottle to get as drunk as he wanted to get. Besides, Claire didn’t seem to want to drink very much, and Leon didn’t want to get sloppy drunk by himself, so he set the bottle back in the bucket of ice and sipped his glass slowly.

“You know what this means, though,” Claire said. “We won’t be seeing much of each other after this. I don’t know where Chris’s search is going to take him, he might leave the country. And if he does, I’ll probably go with him.”

“I don’t know where I’ll wind up either,” Leon said. “If I end up joining some kind of special task force like I want to, they might send me anywhere. And who knows when I’ll be able to come back to the states.”

For a few minutes, they sat in silence, considering their own individual futures. Then Claire patted the bed beside her. “Come, sit next to me.”

Leon set down his empty glass and got out of the chair. He sat down on the bed and slid next to Claire, who sighed gently and set her head on his shoulder.

“I wish we could have met under different circumstances,” she said softly.

“Me too. I guess things aren’t going to work out like we thought.”

“I feel like this is all just … like an interruption. Like, as soon as we get past this, everything is going to get worse again. This is just a brief respite.”

Leon couldn’t help but think about Jack’s dire warnings the day before about more impending virus outbreaks. He felt like his decision to go back to the military was in reality an invitation to go jump into danger once more. A widespread outbreak had happened once, and it was bound to happen again. The only questions were “How long until it happens?” and “How many will die this time?” This was just a calm interlude before the next crisis developed.

“I think you’re right,” he said. “But what else can we do? You and I could go and have a normal life. Maybe we could even have a normal life together.”

“I would like that,” Claire said. “But it’s not going to happen, is it?”

Leon shook his head. “I don’t think we’re going to be that lucky.”

Claire sighed again and nestled up closer to Leon, and he reflexively put his arm around her.

“All we have is this short time together,” Claire whispered. “I hope we can make the best of it.”

Chapter 16

 

As Jill looked out toward the street, she almost felt as if everything she experienced in Raccoon City had taken place in another world. In this place, life went on as usual. Cars drove down the street, people went down the sidewalk with headphones on, music played from a car stereo, birds chirped nearby, everything was exactly the same as it had been before. It was almost like the events of Raccoon City never happened.

Of course, Atlanta, Georgia was hundreds of miles away from Raccoon City, and life goes on no matter how terrible things are in other parts of the world. Jill sat on a bench out in front of the Umbrella research lab entrance on the outskirts of Atlanta and just watched life return to normal. People still went to work, children still went to school, the people here heard about the disaster on television, shook their heads and said how terrible it was, and then went right back to their lives. The destruction of Raccoon City was as far away from them as an earthquake in Peru or a famine in Ethiopia.

Jill envied them, in a way. To the people here, Raccoon City was just the name of a disaster now, like Hiroshima, or Chernobyl. But to Jill, it was the place she lived, it was her home. And now it was gone.

She didn’t know where she was going to go now. She supposed that she could go back to New York state, where her parents lived. But she couldn’t face her parents now, she had only spoken to them on the phone once since the disaster, just to tell them she was alive and okay. They would have a million questions that she didn’t want to answer. And if she stayed with them, then she knew that they would pity her and sympathize, and so everything they said and did would be with respect to what she had gone through. They would treat her differently. They would treat her like a victim who needed to be comforted and taken care of.

Jill didn’t want that. She wasn’t a victim. She fought harder than she had ever fought in her life, and she survived. There was no way in Hell anyone was going to treat her like a victim.

She sipped her cup of coffee and continued watching the traffic drift slowly by. Occasionally, a pedestrian or a driver would glance her way. They were probably wondering who that strange woman was, sitting outside an Umbrella office in her bare feet and with her hair uncombed.

She heard the front door open and close behind her. Someone joined her on the bench, and she smiled into her cup. “Good morning,” she said.

Carlos Oliveira nodded and slouched on the bench, setting his hands in his lap. He was dressed in sneakers, khakis, and a blue dress shirt. While Jill felt perfectly comfortable wearing the plain white clothes Umbrella gave her when they first arrived, Carlos opted for something more normal.

“Yeah, good morning,” he said. “What are you doing out here alone?”

“Just sitting here doing nothing.”

“That must be fun.”

Jill shrugged. “There isn’t much else to do. Besides talking to Carlisle or talking to Lisa, I’ve been pretty bored.”

“Me too,” Carlos said. He leaned forward, setting his elbows on his knees, and looked out toward the street. “I was just talking to Mr. Carlisle. He wants me to stay with the UBCF.”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” Jill said. “I think he even wants me to join up, but he won’t come out and ask. He knows that I’ll bash his face in if he so much as suggests it.”

“Yeah, he treats you real carefully, you know?”

“I don’t know why he would. It’s not like Umbrella is worried about me. They know I can’t do anything to them now. I’m just another survivor, I don’t even know why they’ve let me stay here as long as they have.”

“Cause that girl they got here likes you, I think.”

“You mean Lisa? I guess that’s possible.”

“I never saw her before we came here,” Carlos said. “Was she really crazy like they said? She was one of their experiments?”

“Yes, she was. When I saw her before, she didn’t even know how to talk. She was just a wild animal.”

“Man, that’s crazy.”

“Just one of many crazy things I’ve seen in the past week or so.”

“Yeah,” Carlos said. He ran a hand through his hair and sighed. Jill noticed that since their arrival in Atlanta, Carlos was kind of uncomfortable talking to her, like he wasn’t sure what to say. Having a normal conversation seemed silly somehow, after what they had been through together. Jill suspected there was more to it than that.

Carlos was barely twenty-three years old, just a few years younger than Jill herself, but somehow, she felt like the age gap between them was much larger than that. Maybe her experiences in the Arklay mansion aged her somehow, or maybe she just felt older. But sometimes she felt that Carlos was still just a kid, which was actually kind of demeaning, since Carlos fought his way through Raccoon City and saw many of the same terrors that she had, and he even saved her life a few times.

But now, here together, he seemed like a shy teenager, and Jill felt twenty years older than she really was. She wondered if Carlos felt that way.

“What are you gonna do with your money?” he asked finally.

“What money?”

“Didn’t Mr. Carlisle tell you? They’re gonna pay us off. A settlement, he called it.”

“Really? How much?”

Carlos quoted a figure in the high six digits, and Jill grunted amusedly, drinking the rest of her coffee and tossing the empty cup in a nearby trash receptacle. “That’s interesting. Makes sense though, they’re probably paying everyone a settlement like that to prevent them from filing lawsuits later.”

“That’s a lot of money,” Carlos said.

“So they’re giving you the settlement, but they still want you to stay with the UBCF? That doesn’t make any sense. You could take the money and go start a new career doing whatever you wanted. I mean, it’s not enough to retire on, but you could live comfortably for quite a while on that.”

“Maybe,” Carlos said. “But having that much money is dangerous. People talk, people find out about it, and it just makes me a target. I already have a bad reputation, you know? For trying to stop the cartels from bribing the guys in my unit back when I was in the army. The cartels know who I am.”

“You think they might come after you?”

“Probably, if they find out. And I can’t give the money to my family or the same thing might happen. You’re better off not being rich. And if you are rich, you better be rich enough to afford bodyguards and a huge security system and all that stuff.”

“So what are you going to do?” Jill asked.

“I think I’ll use the money to help my family come to the United States. I told Mr. Carlisle about it, and he says that Umbrella might be able to help, but I think they would be doing it in return for me staying with the UBCF.”

“Do you want to stay with them?”

Carlos shrugged. “Maybe. I know what they did, it’s just that …”

“Don’t worry about what I think,” Jill said softly. “If you want to keep working with Umbrella, then go ahead and do it. I won’t think any different of you.”

“You won’t?” Carlos asked uncertainly.

“Of course not,” Jill said. “Remember when you told me about why you stuck with Umbrella in the first place? That even a bad company like them needs at least a few good people working there?”

Carlos nodded. “Yeah, I remember that.”

“They still need good people,” Jill said. “And as much as I hate to think about it, they need people with the kind of experience we have. I’m certainly not going to join up, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t, if that’s what you want to do.”

Carlos was quiet for a moment, and then said, “I keep thinking about Mikhail. My commander, you know. Mikhail was a good man, a good commander. He died on that train car, he gave his life for us. Well, they want to promote me to squad commander now, and I keep thinking if I could live up to that example, you know? I don’t know if I could be as strong as he was.”

“I think you are,” Jill said. She leaned against him and set her hand supportively on his shoulder. “I think you’re a lot stronger and a lot braver than you realize.”

“I think you’re a lot braver than I am,” Carlos said in a low voice. “Like when you made that monster chase you. You did that two times, I could never have done that.”

Jill didn’t respond right away. But all she could think of was when she and Barry were attacked by the skinless dogs back in the mansion. It seemed like a lifetime ago. When those dogs came through the windows, Jill was not very brave then. She turned and ran for her life, leaving Barry behind to fend for himself. She escaped in a blind panic and finally hid in a bathroom, where she crawled into a ball on the floor and cried her eyes out. She was not brave then, she was a coward. It was the lowest point of her entire life.

Bravery was a quality that people either had or did not have. Jill didn’t believe that it was something that could be learned. Her actions back in the mansion proved that she was not brave, but since then she redeemed herself somewhat. She did her best to save the lives of the people around her, but despite her best efforts, it was all for nothing. Her friend and teammate Brad was dead, Eddie Thorne and the rest of the survivors at the warehouse were dead, the rest of Carlos’ unit of UBCF soldiers was dead, they were all dead. Only Jill and Carlos managed to escape. Even if Jill was truly brave, it didn’t make any difference.

Carlos asked, “After we leave here, are you gonna be a police officer again?”

“No,” Jill said instantly. Her police badge was back in her small room. Apparently, Lisa was still carrying it when they found her and brought her here. Carlisle returned the badge but Jill could barely look at it.

 

After a pause, she added, “No, I’m done being a cop.”

“What are you gonna do?”

“I’m not sure. If they’re giving us a settlement, then I guess I’ll live off of that for awhile. Maybe buy a house somewhere very far away, like Alaska or something. I haven’t given it much thought.”

“Are you gonna talk to the news people or anything like that? I guess some of the other survivors already started doing interviews.”

Jill considered it briefly, and then shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. I know the truth, but I can’t tell them the truth. They don’t want to hear my story.”

She sighed and continued to watch the traffic. She didn’t know how she was going to be able to keep her silence. Carlisle did an excellent job of convincing her that it was not a good idea to try to reveal the truth, but that didn’t mean Jill was happy about it. But she didn’t know if she could keep a secret this big. She would have to tell someone, sometime. Otherwise, the knowledge would eventually eat her up inside.

“How’s the busted ribs, by the way?” she asked.

“Sore,” Carlos said, gingerly touching his side. “I’ll be alright though. What about your leg?”

“I’ll probably have to get surgery on it.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, I tore a ligament or a tendon or something. It doesn’t hurt right now, but it won’t ever heal on its own. If I don’t have surgery, it will keep getting worse until I won’t be able to move my knee at all.”

“I guess it could have been worse,” Carlos said lamely.

“Yeah. I’m sure Umbrella will pay for the surgery. I’ll talk to Carlisle about it.”

They sat together for a few minutes, not saying anything. Despite the time they spent together, Jill felt as if they were worlds apart. In the end, they just didn’t have anything in common to talk about once the excitement was over. They would always have a connection, and they would always share their memories of the traumatic events in Raccoon City, but unfortunately, that was all they would share.

“Once we leave here, you know we’ll probably never see each other again,” Jill said softly. “Umbrella will probably send you to another country. I’ll move somewhere far away. This will be the last time we’re together.”

“I know,” Carlos said. “I suppose I could try to visit you sometime, but …” he trailed off.

“Yeah,” Jill said. “But why bother?”

“We can keep in touch.”

“We can. I would like that.”

“Maybe when we’re old, maybe we can meet up and see each other, just for old time’s sake.”

Jill smiled gently and put her hand on Carlos’ shoulder. “They’ll probably have a ten-year anniversary of the disaster, and a twenty-year anniversary, and so on. Maybe we can make plans for the fifty-year anniversary. Maybe by then it won’t hurt so much.”

She stood up unsteadily on her weak knee and took Carlos by the hand, pulling him to his feet. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s go get something to eat. I’ll buy you lunch.”

They headed back into the lab building, walking hand in hand. Jill decided that maybe it was time to stop thinking about the past, and begin to think about the future.

Chapter 17

 

The television in Lisa’s new home was originally programmed to play children’s shows like Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Lisa only possessed a bare grasp on language at the time, and little to no memory or understanding of civilized behavior, and the scientists felt that watching shows like that would help Lisa’s intellectual development, since in many ways, she was still just a child herself.

But after two days, Lisa was bored with watching shows for children. In a very short time, she greatly increased her vocabulary, nearly perfected her understanding of syntax and grammar, and already begun to develop intellectual abilities far beyond what the scientists expected. In two days, she went from reading Dick and Jane books to reading and understanding regular newspapers.

The scientists didn’t know everything about Lisa, though. They only knew what little Lisa allowed them to know. They walked around her enclosure, taking notes and watching her carefully, studying her. Lisa knew what they were doing, although she pretended not to.

When the scientists walked away from her area and whispered to each other by the computer terminals, they had no idea that Lisa could hear them. It never occurred to them to test her hearing. If she listened intently, she could hear anyone talking in the entire huge room, although she kept that ability to herself.

While these scientists were obviously much nicer and more friendly than the scientists at the other lab she had been imprisoned at, they were still scientists, and Lisa had no reason to trust them. She was still an experiment, although this time she was a more willing participant, because cooperating with them was much easier than fighting them. By cooperating, she could gain their trust, and eventually, they would let their guard down.

Lisa was not brought to this particular lab by chance. Up in the ceiling, far over her head, there were special openings that looked like simple air vents. But in an emergency, the vents would spray a flammable gel like napalm into Lisa’s enclosure, setting the entire area ablaze. Blast doors would seal off the entire lab, and oxygen would be pumped inside to keep the fire going until there was nothing left to burn. It was the lab’s final emergency procedure, to be activated in case Lisa tried to escape or somehow managed to infect one of the scientists.

Lisa knew all of this from eavesdropping on the scientists’ conversations when they thought she could not hear them. Even though they were being so nice to her, they already had plans in place to kill her the moment she became difficult. So Lisa behaved herself, at least until the time was right.

One other thing the scientists did not know was exactly how strong Lisa was. They knew she was very strong, of course, but they still assumed her strength was within the normal adult range. But Lisa was much stronger than that. They felt that the thick plexiglass walls surrounding her would be enough to keep her contained, but they were wrong about that. Lisa knew for certain that she could break through the walls very easily if she wanted to.

This is why Lisa was not concerned about the emergency measures. If she wanted to escape, she could break through the plexiglass walls and get out of the room before the blast doors would even have time to close. And once she was out, they could not to anything to stop her. All they had were guns, and bullets were about as harmful to Lisa as bug bites.

So she remained in her enclosure, watched television, read books, and learned more about the world. Much of her past was still a hazy memory, but the past did not concern her anymore. She asked them for different shows to watch, more advanced books to read, and more things to learn about. And so far, they were more than happy to comply with her wishes.

But what Lisa really wanted, and what she knew that she was not going to get any time soon, was more visitors and more people to talk to. The scientists keeping an eye on her did not really talk to her like normal people talked with each other. Everything they said was a question or designed to get some kind of reaction. They spoke to Lisa primarily as a way to get information from her. Talking to them was difficult because they didn’t talk about themselves, and Lisa had to constantly be careful not to give anything away.

Talking to her friend Jill was a much more rewarding experience. Jill actually talked with her and engaged in real conversation, and she didn’t write down all of Lisa’s responses on a clipboard to be analyzed later. But Jill would not stay here much longer, Lisa knew that already.

The other person who actually talked to Lisa was the man named Carlisle, and he was very interesting. He was not a scientist like the others, and he didn’t treat Lisa like a subject. He didn’t talk to her like a friend either, though, the way Jill did. He acted strangely, and it took Lisa some time to figure out exactly what his goal was. Speaking with Carlisle was fun because he was so mysterious, as if everything he said had two possible meanings, and he was testing Lisa to see which one she thought he meant. In a way, he was studying her even more closely than the scientists, but he engaged her curiosity much more than they did.

Lisa flipped through a magazine and looked at pictures of cars and trucks. She had glimpsed such vehicles briefly when they transported her to this facility, and she’d seen many images of them on television, but so far she’d never seen a car up close. She wondered if she would ever get the chance to ride in one. One more thing to wish for.

She heard Carlisle enter the lab room, but she did not look up. Carlisle walked over to one of the employees and asked, “How’s she doing?”

“She’s been quiet all morning, sir. We gave her some new magazines to look at and she’s been reading them very thoroughly.”

“What about the television schedule?”

“We’ve sent up a list of possible shows for approval. Some cartoons, some educational shows, but nothing too advanced or complicated.”

“Maybe we could get her some old episodes of Mr. Wizard’s World or something.”

“Actually, we requested Bill Nye the Science Guy.”

“Never heard of him,” Carlisle said. “But hopefully it keeps her interest longer this time.”

“I know, sir,” the researcher said. “She’s advancing so fast, I’m worried about what she’ll be learning six months from now. Exactly how educated do we want her to be?”

Carlisle hesitated before answering. Lisa could almost feel his gaze on her. “I’ll talk with the Director about it,” he said vaguely. “Right now we don’t haven’t made plans that far in advance. We expect her intelligence to level off pretty soon.”

Lisa turned the next page of the magazine. She could hear Carlisle’s footsteps as he approached her enclosure, and the scrape of the chair as he took a seat on the other side of the plexiglass.

“Lisa,” he said. “How are you doing today?”

She pushed the magazine away and turned to face him, and then hurried over to the chair where she could talk to him. He didn’t flinch when she sat down and leaned close against the plexiglass, the way the scientists always did.

“Doing good,” she said eagerly. “Reading a lot. I want to know more about cars.”

Carlisle nodded. “Okay, we can get you some more magazines about cars. That shouldn’t be too hard.”

“Where is Jill? Is she still here?”

“She’s still here,” Carlisle said. “Right now she’s upstairs talking with some people.”

“What are they talking about?”

“Money,” Carlisle said. “We’re giving Jill a lot of money as a way to apologize for what happened to her.”

“Will I get money too?” Lisa asked with a sarcastic smile. “Is that how big companies apologize to people? By giving them money?”

“That’s pretty much the way it works.”

“How much money am I going to get?”

“I don’t know, we haven’t thought about that yet.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’re still here with us. You don’t need money here.”

“But when I leave here, you’ll give me some money?”

“Sure.”

“What if I don’t ever get to leave?”

At some point, Lisa always turned the conversation in that direction, and it amused her to see how much better Carlisle handled it than the scientists did. They always got nervous or uncomfortable and tried to change the subject, giving her some mumbled variation of “We’ll see what we can do.” But Carlisle was almost impossible to shake, he always took her comments in stride. It was one of the things Lisa liked about him.

“You know we’re going to do everything we can,” he said calmly. “But you have to give us some time. We know you don’t want to stay here forever, and we have no intention of keeping you here forever. But we have to take things one step at a time. We’re still going over all those preliminary test results, and it might take months before we have a full understanding of all the strains you’ve been exposed to. We’ve barely scratched the surface, Lisa.”

“Can I take a ride in a car someday?”

The random question did not seem to phase Carlisle at all, and he merely nodded in approval. “Sure, I think we can arrange that.”

“I also want to listen to music. I know that you can buy music and I want some to listen to.”

“What kind of music? There are lots of different styles.”

“Buy one of every kind. I’ll pick the ones I like and then you can buy more of that kind.”

“Okay,” Carlisle agreed, a faint smile curving his lips. “Any other requests?”

“I want more color,” Lisa said. She gestured at the floor and walls beyond the plexiglass barrier. “Everything is white, just like the other place. It’s boring. Paint the walls a new color. Or give me some paint and let me color inside here.”

“I think we could do something like that.”

Lisa slapped her hands down on the tabletop and laughed in her deep, throaty chuckle, gazing at Carlisle with wild eyes. “I like talking to you. You’re fun and you never tell me that I can’t do something. The other ones never agree with me.”

Carlisle gave her a calculated smile. “That’s because they don’t have the authority to make those kinds of decisions. They’re here to keep an eye on you and keep you safe, but they can’t give you permission to do things like that.”

“But you can give permission?”

“I can.”

“Are you the boss here?”

“Not exactly.”

“Then what do you mean?” Lisa asked intently.

“It’s complicated,” Carlisle said.

He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a small square photograph with bent edges. “Here,” he said, sliding the photo into a plastic tray beside the table. “I got something for you.”

He pushed the tray into a slot in the plexiglass barrier and closed the lid. When the lid closed, Lisa could open another on her side and pull the tray out to retrieve the item. She gave Carlisle a toothy, eager grin and picked up the photograph.

When she looked at it, the smile gradually faded and she stared at the image with slack expression on her face. It was a small black and white photo of a young man in a business suit, standing beside a pretty young woman with dark hair, wearing a flowery dress. Held up between them was a little child, still just a baby, but the ribbons in its hair marked it as a little girl. The picture was faded and bent, as if having spent years folded up in someone’s wallet. Lisa stared down at the image and felt a sudden tightness in her chest.

She raised her eyes to look at Carlisle. He said nothing, so she returned her gaze to the photo, studying every detail. She turned it over in her hands, but the back of the picture had nothing written on it.

“Where did you get this?” Lisa whispered.

Carlisle let her study the photo for a few moments more before he answered. “We tried to find out if you had any living relatives. Your father was an only child, and so was your mother, so you don’t have any aunts or uncles or cousins. I’m afraid that all of your grandparents passed away years ago as well.”

“But …?”

“But your paternal grandmother had a sister who is still alive. She is ninety-four years old, but she is suffering from dementia and is confined to a nursing home. She’s your closest living relative. We got permission from the people at the nursing home to go through some of her possessions, and we found that photo. We believe it was taken around 1966.”

Lisa held the photo gingerly, afraid that she might accidentally tear it with her large hands. She felt a lump in her throat, and swallowed uncomfortably, setting the photo down on the table. She had never felt this emotion before, but she knew exactly what it was.

“Thank you,” she managed to say.

Carlisle leaned forward and set his elbows on the table. “It must be very hard for you to be contained here in this lab all the time. You’ve spent almost your entire life trapped in a lab, and it’s not fair that you experienced your only taste of freedom, just to be put back into another lab again. I know that you want to be set free. But we can’t let you go free right now. You might have to stay here for several years, until we are certain that we fully understand your condition. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” Lisa said softly, still staring down at the picture. “I know.”

“But no matter how long you are stuck here, and no matter how much the scientists might treat you like an experiment, you have to keep in mind that you are a person. I brought you that picture to prove that we have your best interests in mind, that we aren’t just going to lock you away forever. Terrible things have been done to you,” Carlisle said sincerely, “and we can’t change that. But we’re going to do whatever it takes to give you your life back. I promise.”

Lisa didn’t know what to say. She sighed heavily and wondered if this was a time when normal people would cry. She didn’t cry though, she didn’t think she knew how. She picked up the photo once more and held it close.

“I can keep this?” she asked.

“Yes, you can.”

“Thank you for finding this.”

“You’re welcome. You deserve to have something to remember them by. And there’s something else I should tell you as well. We’re trying to find the people in charge at the other lab, the one that held you captive for so long. If we find them, I promise you that we’re going to punish them. They deserve to suffer for what they’ve done. Not just what they did to you, but what they did to all the victims at that lab.”

Lisa nodded and touched the front of the photo. Her memories of the distant past were so hazy and unclear, but now she had a solid image to match those dreamlike memories. For the first time, she had real evidence of her past. Proof of who she used to be.

“I wonder if those bad people ever thought about me as a person,” she said softly, bad memories surfacing once more. “I was there for so long, they probably forgot that I used to be a little girl. I wonder if any of them even knew who I was. They never treated me like a person at all.”

“I know, Lisa,” Carlisle said gently. “And I know that we can’t change what was done to you, but hopefully we can give you a chance to have the normal life that they took away.”

The faces of the people who imprisoned her for so many years were lost to her, they were nothing but blurs, no different than the faces of the people she thoughtlessly killed for so long. She never knew their names either. If she ever heard them say their names, she did not understand what was said anyway. Her only real memories were of the chains, and the victims she mutilated, and of the moment she was finally freed from her captivity.

She realized that the only reason she was even alive now was because one of them deliberately set her free in the end. Otherwise, she probably would have died when the labs were destroyed, although maybe not. But the man who set her free must have felt some reason to do what he did, whether it was guilt or something else. Maybe it was simply curiosity that led him to do what he did.

“Maybe the man in the dark glasses felt guilty for what they did to me,” she said absently. “Maybe that’s why he let me loose. I wonder about that sometimes.”

Carlisle slumped back in his chair, staring at her with a stunned expression.

“What did you just say?” he asked.

“The man in the dark glasses,” Lisa repeated. “He was the one who set me free. He shot the chains and let me go. I wonder what happened to him.”

“You never told us that someone set you free from the lab. We thought you simply escaped when the infection broke out.”

“I didn’t really think about it until just now,” Lisa said. “I don’t have very clear memories of that time.”

“But you remember who set you free? And he wore dark glasses? You mean like sunglasses?”

Lisa shrugged, unsure what its significance was. “I think so. I just remember he had dark glasses on his face. I don’t know who he was.”

Carlisle looked away and then cleared his throat and stood up. “I have some things I have to do now,” he said distractedly, “but I’ll come back down with Jill later today and talk with you some more, if that’s okay with you. Take care, Lisa.”

He hurried away from the table before Lisa could respond. As he headed out the door, the scientist who spoke to Carlisle earlier, and who observed their whole conversation, quickly asked, “What is it, sir? Who was she talking about?”

“Nobody,” Carlisle snapped. “Nobody at all.”

Chapter 18

 

Damascus Kelly sat down with a sigh and took a tired breath. He felt cramped and irritable after the long plane flight, but duty called. His expensive business suit was wrinkled and needed cleaning, and he needed a shower as well. He foolishly thought that after the Decontamination was complete, his work in Raccoon City would be over. How very wrong he was.

“Want a drink?” the Arizona Director asked, standing by his desk and staring out the large windows of his office, his hands folded behind his back.

“No, thank you,” Kelly said.

“Well, go make one for me then,” the Director said.

Kelly put his hands on the arms of the chair and pushed himself to his feet. He walked over to the expensive mahogany liquor cabinet and pulled out some bottles. He poured the drink, saying nothing, and dropped two ice cubes into the glass.

“Excellent work,” the Director said with a smile as took the glass. The ice cubes clinked together when the Director swirled the glass before taking a drink. Kelly returned to his chair and sighed again.

“What are you thinking, Kelly?” the Director asked. “Tell me what’s on your mind.”

“Right now I’m thinking I would love to go to bed,” Kelly said honestly. “I don’t think there is any work left for me to do.”

“Sure there is,” the Director said. He looked out the windows again and stared out across the city of Flagstaff. The Director’s lavish office was located on the 30th floor of the Umbrella Administration Center in the middle of the city. Actually, his office was the entire 30th floor of the building. The room was large enough to play a baseball game inside, but Kelly and the Director were the only two people there at the moment.

“I’m not really qualified to handle the supervision in Raccoon City at this point,” Kelly said warily, unsure what the Director had in mind. “Much of the city is still impossible to enter. The Ecological Response Teams know far more about what needs to be done than I do. Unless you want me to handle the media, but I thought that the Public Relations Department had all that covered.”

The Director chuckled. It was a dry, humorless sound. “Kelly, you always suspect the worst, don’t you?”

“I thought that was my job, sir.”

“And you’ve done a stellar job so far,” the Director said. He turned to face Kelly and returned to his desk, setting the drink down and taking a seat. “Dealing with that disaster was the most thankless job in the entire world. Congratulations on not screwing it up.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“And onto new business.” The Director tapped a few keys on the keyboard sitting atop his desk, and the enormous flat screen television on the wall nearby blinked to life. When the image came up, it was a map of the world with hundreds of tiny red dots across all seven continents.

“You know what that is, I suppose,” the Director said.

“Looks like a map of all of our facilities worldwide.”

“Correct. That is accurate as of this morning. But by the end of the year, we are going to have to close perhaps a fifth of them. In two years, maybe a third of them.”

“Yes, sir.”

“But that’s not the bad part,” the Director said. “Closing all those facilities isn’t the real problem, even though it is a huge problem. The real problem is all the people who work there. You follow me so far?”

“Yes, I understand.”

“Just what in the hell are we going to do with all those workers?” the Director asked rhetorically, spreading his hands. “Those scientists and researchers and interns and paper pushers and janitors and security and everyone else? We’re going to have to fire them, of course. And then what?”

“Our competitors will snatch them up.”

“Precisely. Companies like Tricell, Vorhaven, Elemental, WilPharma. They’re circling us like sharks smelling blood in the water. It is going to be increasingly difficult for us to maintain any sort of intellectual secrecy once we have to start shutting down all these labs. All the other Directors know this already, but we haven’t talked about it yet. Too many other things to worry about at the moment.”

The Director leaned back, propped one leg up on the other, and sipped his drink, giving Kelly a moment to think.

Kelly looked hard at the screen, trying to do some quick math in his head. If they closed down a hundred labs, with perhaps fifty personnel for each lab to worry about, although that was a very conservative number, and that meant five thousand individuals with knowledge about Umbrella’s top secret projects, namely the Progenitor and the T-Virus. Maybe ten people per lab with intimate, detailed knowledge of the Progenitor. That was one thousand people that Umbrella could not afford to get rid of.

They all signed extensive non-disclosure agreements, of course, but it would be hard to track each one of them. If a hundred of their people all got hired on at one of their competitors and that competitor suddenly knew all about the Progenitor, how could Umbrella possibly figure out who broke the agreement? And how could they file a lawsuit without the public learning about the Progenitor as well? Shutting down so many labs would create far more problems than it could possibly solve.

The Director finished his drink and set the empty glass back on the desk. Leaning forward, he set his elbows on the desk and steepled his fingers. “You see, we have to consolidate our resources here. In a nutshell, we must figure out exactly who knows what. I’ve compiled a list of about sixty facilities that are good candidates for being shut down. What I need from you, Kelly, is a report of exactly what employees at those facilities are the highest risk, in terms of their clearance level and what knowledge they possess.”

Kelly nodded, already thinking ahead.

“We start now,” the Director said in a conspiratorial tone. “Shut down all Progenitor research at these labs, transfer the high-clearance personnel to new locations. Then, when the time comes, we shut the whole lab down without losing any valuable people.”

“Of course, sir. I can get on that right away.”

“Good, glad to hear it.”

“Is there anything else you wanted me to take care of?”

“There’s a million things you can do, but let’s focus on the most important. For example, I haven’t heard any updates about our old friend Ozwell Spencer.”

Kelly shrugged. “There’s nothing to report, sir. We haven’t made any real progress in the investigation. It’s possible that there may have been more information at the Arklay mansion, but we didn’t have time to follow up on every lead before we torched the place.”

“Well, leave no stone unturned. Spencer’s alive and hiding out somewhere, I know it. He’s a top priority as far as the Directors are concerned. We want him found as soon as possible. No excuses.”

“Yes, sir. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before we find him.”

The Director nodded, but the look on his face told another story. He looked at his empty glass and sighed, as if disappointed that it was empty. He said, “I assume you read the reports on that girl they discovered, right? Lisa Trevor?”

Kelly hesitated, and then nodded uncomfortably. “Yes, sir, I did.”

“What are your thoughts on that?”

“My thoughts?” Kelly said. “I don’t even know where to begin.”

The Director sighed. “You never met Spencer, did you?”

“No, sir. I’d never even heard of him before this happened.”

“You’re lucky then. Ozwell Spencer was the coldest, meanest, most ruthless son of a bitch I ever met in my life. It takes a certain kind of person to do what we do for a living. I suppose we’re all a little bit ruthless now and then, but he took it to a whole new level. And we let him get away with it because he always got results. Hell, his lab is the one that originally discovered the T-virus. And he’d been in the company so long that to be honest, some of the Senior Managers and even the Directors, myself included, were almost afraid of him.”

He paused and turned in his chair to look out the windows again. “But even then, I could never believe that he could be responsible for something like that. I’m no saint, Kelly. My hands have their share of blood on them. You know more than enough about the things we’ve done in the name of science. But killing that family and locking the little girl up for three decades? That’s beyond ruthless, that’s just insane. It’s evil.”

“I agree, sir,” Kelly said, secretly relieved that his boss felt that way. For a moment, Kelly had been terrified that the Director was going to confess something even more terrible than that. Even Kelly had his limits.

“We have a man in Atlanta dealing with the Trevor girl, his name is Alex Carlisle. One of the troubleshooters from our European offices. You ever met him?”

“I’m afraid I haven’t.”

“He’s a smart kid, he’ll go far in this company. You should probably look him up, since you’ll be competing with him for promotions in the future, I suspect. Anyway, he sent us a new report a little over an hour ago.”

“About Lisa Trevor?”

“Yep. We naturally assumed that she escaped her confinement at some point during the outbreak. But it turns out that she was deliberately released.”

“What?” Kelly asked, astonished. “By whom?”

“According to the girl, Arklay’s Research Supervisor, that man named Wesker, is the one who set her loose. She didn’t actually use his name, but we’re certain that’s who she was talking about.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense.”

“It makes some sense,” the Director said. “I think it puts a whole new spin on this whole situation. What do you think?”

“I’m really not sure,” Kelly admitted. “I mean, we already knew that Wesker was alive during the outbreak. We know he coordinated the police teams that came to the mansion, and if that policewoman’s story is to be believed, he arranged to have them all killed in the end. I’m not sure where Lisa comes into the equation.”

“The girl’s sense of time is all screwed up,” the Director explained, smiling to himself that Kelly apparently could not grasp the situation the way he did. “So she has no idea exactly when she was set free. It was probably after the outbreak started, but …”

“It might have been before,” Kelly finished. “Jesus.”

The Director nodded. “See where we’re going with this?”

“I think I can put two and two together, sir.”

Kelly’s investigation into the outbreak at the Arklay lab complex uncovered incontrovertible proof that the virus was intentionally released there. The Arizona Director knew this, although that information was carefully kept secret from the other Directors. Spencer seemed the most likely culprit, although his motive for doing so was impossible to guess. However, they really had no solid evidence that either Spencer or Wesker were actually responsible for the outbreak. It could very well have been some other researcher at the facility. For all they knew, the entire outbreak could have been the action of one disgruntled employee or even someone suffering from mental illness.

But if Wesker had deliberately released Lisa, then that put Umbrella’s suspicions squarely on him. Why would he set her free, except to cause more disruption and chaos, and spread the virus even farther? That was the only possible reason. And if he was the one who set her free, then wasn’t it more likely that he was also the one who infected the entire mansion with the virus?

Kelly, and the rest of Umbrella as well, it seemed, knew almost nothing about Wesker. Despite his status as Research Supervisor and Project Manager for the entire Arklay lab, there were very few records of his time with Umbrella, and in the aftermath of the infection, what information they did find was mysterious and hard to believe. Apparently, he had infiltrated the RCPD and worked there for almost ten years as the commander of a special unit, while also performing his duties at the Arklay lab for that entire span of time as well.

Given the huge number of projects and experiments at the lab, all of which appeared to be under Wesker’s direct supervision, it seemed absolutely impossible that he could have managed to also work full-time at the local police station in such a high position. How could any one man live such an incredibly stressful double life?

Had the pressure finally been too much? Had Wesker finally snapped? Had he released the virus in a fit of madness in order to destroy the lab, and then lured his teammates there to destroy them as well?

“Do you think Wesker is alive?” Kelly asked.

“Hard to say,” the Director said with a shrug. “I read that Valentine woman’s story too, and she swears up and down that he was killed by the Tyrant. But it doesn’t make sense that he would be fool enough to set the Tyrant loose without knowing the dangers. But maybe he expected to die after all, maybe that was part of his whole plan. Kill everyone at the lab, kill the police, kill everyone he knew. And then kill himself in the end.”

“It’s possible, I guess,” Kelly said. “But what about Spencer, then?”

“Spencer must have known something bad was going to happen. The man was a control freak. He ruled that lab with an iron fist. He probably pushed Wesker too far and realized too late what Wesker did. And then he took off and tried to save his own skin.”

It was all speculation on their part, but Kelly couldn’t see anything wrong with that line of reasoning. Unfortunately, they simply did not know enough about Wesker or his time at Umbrella to make any concrete conclusions about his behavior. But it did seem to make sense.

“Focus on finding Spencer,” the Director said. “He’s the only one that tell us what we need to know.”

“Yes, sir.”

The Director stared at nothing and then said in a lower voice, “Spencer needs to be found. Not just so he can be punished for what he’s done, but because he’s dangerous, especially now that he’s on the loose. The man is clearly a psychopath. Who knows what he might do? Who knows what else he’s already done?”

Chapter 19

 

Claire opened her eyes and then closed them again, taking a deep breath and fumbling at the blanket tangled up under her arm. Dim morning light filtered in through the closed blinds, casting the room in a grayish hue. The digital clock on the desk read 6:23.

Carefully, Claire wiggled her way out of bed, trying not to shake it too much. Leon was still sound asleep beside her and she didn’t want to wake him. Not quite paying attention, she nearly stepped in the spaghetti that she spilled all over the floor the night before, but she managed to notice at the last moment and moved her foot out of the way. She giggled at herself and then picked her shirt up off the floor and pulled it over her head.

Each room had its own phone, so Claire took a seat by the desk and dialed her parents’ house. Her father had probably already left for work, but she knew her mother would still be home.

She spoke as quietly as she could so as not to wake Leon. “Hey Mom, it’s me. Yes, I’m fine, I know it’s early. Listen, I was just calling to let you know that me and Leon are both flying in to Roanoke together this afternoon. Yeah, I really wanted you to meet him, so I talked him into it. Oh, it will be okay. Actually, I’m not sure what time the flight is, we haven’t checked yet. They’re paying for the tickets, so it doesn’t matter. I know, Mom. Just a few hours, probably. He said he’ll just take another flight out later, he said it was okay. His family lives near Tampa, so I was thinking that maybe I could …”

She smiled. “Mom, of course we’re just friends. I’ve only known him for a few days, after all. But we went through a lot together, and he’s a really great person. You’ll like him, trust me. I’ll give you a call when we find out what time the flight is, okay? Okay, sure thing. Love you, bye.”

She hung up the phone and then crept back over to the bed. She climbed on very carefully and took a seat at the foot of the bed, folding her legs under her and setting her hands in her lap. She resisted the urge to wake Leon up, and just contented herself with watching him sleep.

He wasn’t going to stay at her parents’ house long, she knew. His own family was waiting anxiously for his return, so he would have to leave soon and go back to Florida. Their original plan was to say their goodbyes at the airport, but Claire talked him into coming to Virginia with her, at least for the day. She knew that once he left her to return home, she would not see him again for a long time. And once he rejoined the military, she might not see him for years.

She wanted to ask him to stay, to maybe hold off on his plans for just a few months. He didn’t have to join the military again right away, did he? She wanted to stay with him for at least a little while, but she could not ask him.

She had her own plans anyway, and being with Leon would delay her. She had to go track down her brother. That had to be her priority right now.

Deep down, she knew that neither she nor Leon could put their plans on hold, even if it meant not seeing each other again. Their experiences gave them a bond much deeper than friendship, but she knew that it would take time to let that blossom into something more. And time, unfortunately, was something they did not have.

When 7:00 finally rolled around, she shook Leon’s arm gently. “Hey, mister sleepyhead, it’s time to wake up,” she said with a smile.

Leon blinked open his eyes and grumbled something, rolling onto his back. He yawned and stretched his arms over his head, then rubbed his hair. His eyes focused on Claire and he smiled awkwardly. “Um, good morning. What time is it?”

“Seven.”

“How long have you been awake?”

“About half an hour. I called my parents to let them know that you were coming to visit.”

Leon sat up and rubbed his head, mussing up his hair even more. “Did you, um, sleep well?”

Claire laughed. “I slept fine. You slept a like a rock though. You’re not hung over, are you?”

“I have a bit of a headache, to be honest.”

“Want to go get some breakfast?”

Leon nodded sleepily. “Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.”

They dressed and went downstairs to the cafeteria. There were only a handful of people left in the recovery center, so the workers there didn’t bother to serve breakfast anymore. All they had to eat were single-serving boxes of cereal.

They chose to take their cereal out to the main recreation room. Claire flopped down on one of the couches while Leon set his bowl down and turned on the television.

“ – later this morning,” a news reporter was saying. “And now, a special news exclusive. One of the survivors of the Raccoon City Disaster is here with us, ready to tell her story. She is the first survivor who has come forward to give us a first-hand account of those terrible hours –”

Leon clicked the television back off.

“I don’t think we need to see that,” he said, taking a seat next to Claire.

“I wonder when they’re going to start pestering us for interviews,” she said.

“My parents said that they’ve already had calls from reporters trying to find out about me.”

“What did your parents tell them?”

“They told the reporters it was a wrong number and hung up on them.”

“Good plan,” Claire chuckled.

“It’s not going to hold them off for too long, though,” Leon said. “Pretty soon, they’ll be camping out in my parents’ front yard. I’ll have to change my name to keep them from finding me.”

“God, I hope that doesn’t happen to my parents,” Claire said, shaking her head.

“They’ll start calling our other relatives, friends, people we went to high school with,” Leon muttered. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to avoid the media for very long.”

Claire sighed. “Hopefully the other survivors do enough talking that everyone pays attention to them, and the reporters get bored and leave our families alone.”

After they were done eating, they tracked down one of the Umbrella administrators still working at the recovery center and got him to make their travel arrangements. Umbrella agreed to pay for the plane tickets to take them wherever they wanted, so they scheduled a flight that morning. Leon would have to pay for his own ticket from Virginia to Florida, but their settlement money was already in his bank account, so he could afford it. Claire called her parents to let them know when they were due to arrive.

They were already packed for the most part, so they didn’t have anything important to do in the couple hours until they had to leave for the airport. Claire took Leon by the hand and led him outside so they could take a leisurely stroll around the premises.

“Thank you for coming to my parents’ house with me,” she said.

“You’re welcome. I can’t stay too long, though, maybe just a few hours. I’ll have to fly back to Florida this evening.”

“I understand. I would love for you to stay, but I know you have to see your family.”

“They wanted me to fly back right away. They’re upset that I stayed here as long as I did, they wanted me to come home the day after the outbreak.”

“My parents did too. I convinced them to let me stay here at least a few days. Once they learned about what happened, they realized maybe it was better this way. Besides, we couldn’t just leave Sherry here by herself.”

They walked around the side yard of the compound, among the scattered trees, and then headed back toward the rear doors.

“Listen,” Leon said uncomfortably, “About last night.”

“I wondered when you might bring that up,” Claire said with a warm smile.

“I just … I don’t want you to think that –”

Claire put her finger against his lips and said, “Shhhhh.” Then she quickly leaned into him and planted a quick kiss on his lips.

Leon stood there, surprised for a moment, and Claire said, “It’s okay, Leon. I know that you’re going away and I might never see you again. I know that.”

“I wish it wasn’t so,” Leon said softly.

“Don’t feel bad about it. We had our one night together,” she said, placing one hand on his chest as she looked up at him. “I think we were both there for each other when we needed it most. It meant the world to me. But we both have things we have to do. I have to find my brother. You have to go back to the army.”

“Maybe I don’t have to.”

“Yes, you do. I can see it in your eyes. You have a goal now, a mission, just like I do. I wish we could stay together, but we would only be putting off the inevitable.”

Leon placed his hand on Claire’s and gently touched the side of her face with his other hand. He moved closer and kissed her softly, romantically at first, and then put his arms around her and kissed her more passionately. Claire let herself be swept up in his embrace.

“I love you,” he whispered, almost painfully.

“I love you too,” Claire said, her breath on his cheek. “That’s why it hurts so much. Because I know that love isn’t going to be enough.”

Chapter 20

 

Jill knew that she couldn’t stay at the Umbrella facility forever. Strangely, she had no particular desire to go anywhere else, but eventually they were going to ask her to leave. She spent a few days talking with Lisa, following the news, attempting unsuccessfully to pry information from Carlisle, and getting to know Carlos better. She felt a comforting lack of responsibility, a guilty freedom gained by abandoning her goals. When she escaped from the city, she wanted nothing less than the utter destruction of Umbrella, but now, she was content to listen to their explanations, accept their financial settlement, and let them die a slow death in the court of public opinion.

Carlos was going back to Mexico for a few weeks before his transfer to Europe, where he would begin his his advanced training as a commander within the decimated UBCF. Now that Carlos was leaving, Jill decided that maybe it was time for her to return to her family as well. So she said her goodbyes to Lisa, and told Carlisle to get her a flight to Albany.

She slouched down in her seat in the back of the limousine and looked quietly out the window. Beside her, Carlisle sat with one arm hooked over the back of the seat, and seated across from her was Carlos, who had his arm propped up and his chin resting in his hand. Jill wished that Carlisle was not with them; she wanted to talk to Carlos alone before they said goodbye to each other.

The limo pulled into a private airfield and slowed to a stop beside an airplane hangar. Parked out front on the runway were a pair of white Learjets, their flawless exteriors gleaming brightly in the mid-afternoon sun. Carlisle got out of the limousine and held the door open for Carlos and Jill as they exited the vehicle. Carlos carried a duffel bag with some clothes and other supplies given to him by Umbrella, but Jill wore only the clothes on her back, which of course were also courtesy of Umbrella. She left everything behind during the outbreak, and now owned nothing except her memories.

“The one in front is for you, Carlos,” Carlisle said from behind them. “The other one is for Miss Valentine.”

“We each get our own private plane?” Jill said. “They really spared no expense, huh?”

“Umbrella has an entire fleet of private jets for use by the upper management,” Carlisle said. “We thought it would be easier than dealing with airport security.”

Carlos walked to the jet’s entrance stairway and dropped his duffel bag on the ground. He sighed heavily and Jill walked over to him. Her arms were crossed over her chest and she felt chilly, even thought it was warm outside.

“I guess this is goodbye,” she said softly.

“Yeah,” Carlos said, turning to face her. “I guess it is.”

They looked at each other for a few moments. Jill doubted that she would ever see Carlos again, and she guessed that he felt the same way. This wasn’t just a temporary farewell, but neither of them had the words to express what they were feeling.

Carlos finally reached out and took Jill by the hand. “Are you going to be okay?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” Jill answered honestly. “Maybe I just need time.”

“What are you going to do when you get back to your family?”

“I haven’t even thought about it. I don’t think I’m going to do anything right away.”

“You could be famous, you know. You could sell your story.”

Jill replied with a barely perceptible shake of her head. “No, I don’t think I can do that.”

Carlos gave her hand a squeeze. “Well, do me a favor, okay? Try to get better. Don’t stay depressed. You have a lot ahead of you. Find something to do with your time, something important.”

“I will. I owe it to Barry and Brad and the rest of them.”

Jill reached up and put her hands on Carlos’ shoulders, then pulled him in for a hug. She rested her face next to his and whispered in his ear, “You take care of yourself, Carlos. They need more good people like you. Remember that.”

“Thank you, Jill. I’ll miss you.”

As they separated, Jill gave Carlos a quick kiss on the cheek and then stepped away, giving him a sad little wave before she turned and quickly walked away. She didn’t want him to see her cry.

As Carlos boarded his private jet, Jill walked over to the other one, where Carlisle was waiting for her. Jill wiped her eyes and cleared her throat. She looked back to see Carlos at the top of the stairs. He waved once more and then got inside, the stairs folding up after him.

“Well, Miss Valentine,” Carlisle said. “It’s been a pleasure knowing you. Have a safe trip home.”

Jill wiped her eyes again and brushed her hair out of her face. She gave Carlisle a calculated stare and said nothing. Cautiously, she took one step up the stairs into the plane, wincing a bit as she did so. Her leg still hurt, and walking up stairs was a pain. Once she was settled back with her family, she’d schedule the surgery.

“There is one last thing I would like to ask, though,” Carlisle said.

Jill stopped and turned to look down at him. “I knew there would be.”

Carlisle set his hands on the railing. “You know, we haven’t been able to track down the other members of your police unit yet. Chris Redfield and Rebecca Chambers. Do you have any idea where they might be?”

Jill shook her head. “They both left the city long before the outbreak. I haven’t heard from either of them since.”

“Well, if you should hear from them, would you please give them some of the information that we gave you? Or perhaps you could get them to contact us directly? You understand, of course, that we would like to speak with them.”

“I’ll bet.”

“We’ve been very forthcoming with you, Miss Valentine. I hope you believe that.”

“I do,” Jill said. “But it doesn’t matter.”

“Do you think your teammates won’t believe us?”

“They might, but that’s not the point.”

Carlisle gave her a questioning look. “What is the point, then?”

“The point is,” Jill said, “that Umbrella is still guilty. And even if your whole company eventually goes bankrupt, and it probably will, then the people at the top who are responsible for all of this will still get away with it.”

“I thought I explained that –”

Jill cut him off. “You said that Wesker and Spencer are responsible for the outbreak. Maybe that’s true and maybe not. But this goes way beyond Raccoon City and you know it.”

Carlisle, for once, had no clever response or comeback that twisted Jill’s words. He merely nodded slightly and let go of the stair railing.

“Well then,” he said, “is there anything else?”

“You can do one thing,” Jill said. “Keep your promise to Lisa. Don’t turn her into another experiment. I want there to be a day when Lisa can live on her own.”

“That is a promise I can make,” Carlisle said.

“I’m glad to hear it. Goodbye, Mr. Carlisle.”

“Goodbye, Miss Valentine.”

Jill boarded the plane and took a seat in a comfortable leather chair. The co-pilot came out briefly to ask if she needed anything or wanted a drink during the flight, and Jill politely turned him down. He retreated to the cockpit and a few minutes later, the pilot announced over the intercom that they would take off soon.

Jill fell asleep during the flight. She just felt worn out, and wondered if she would ever feel rested again. The stress of leaving Lisa and Carlos was only multiplied by the stress of having to meet with her parents. She still had no idea what she was going to tell them.

They landed in Albany, New York just under two hours later and Jill was led from the plane to one of the terminals. She walked inside and avoided small crowds of people milling around, waiting for their own loved ones to arrive. She felt an acute sense of agoraphobia as she passed through the airport. The last time she was in the middle of a crowd, the rest of the people in the crowd had been undead, so it was hard for her to shake the uneasy feeling that any minute now, a zombie would burst from the crowd.

“Jill Valentine,” said a voice behind her.

She spun around quickly, lifting up her hands defense. Moving so abruptly almost made her lose her balance because of her leg.

Standing a few paces away were two men and a woman, all wearing plain black suits. One of the men removed a pair of sunglasses and reached into his jacket to pull out a badge identifying him as an FBI agent.

“You are Jill Valentine, correct?” he asked.

“What do you want?” Jill asked, more harshly than she meant to.

“If you have some time, we’d like to talk to you,” the federal agent said.

“My family is waiting for me. What do you want to talk to me about?”

“A job opportunity.”

Jill looked the agent in the eye and then looked suspiciously at his partners. How did they know she would be at the airport today? Jill only made the flight arrangements that morning. The only possible way they could have known was if they had her parents under surveillance.

“It won’t take long, I promise,” the agent said, handing her a card. “We know what you’ve been through. I think we have a lot to offer each other. Just a minute of your time, please.”

“I’m sorry,” Jill said, her voice low and emotionless. “But I’m not interested.”

She turned and walked away, leaving the agents behind her. They did not follow, much to her relief. She had not finally returned home just to get sucked back into the same pattern of interviews and interrogations, and she was not about to let herself get pulled back into law enforcement. That part of her life was over forever. However, she glanced down at the card he handed her before stuffing it in her pocket.

Her parents were waiting for her near the front of the airport. When she called them earlier, she requested that they come alone. She didn’t want a crowd of family members to greet her, as she didn’t want to make a huge scene in public. Her mother cried joyously and embraced her, and Jill could only let herself by caught up in the tearful reunion, and did not resist as her parents led her out into the parking lot and into their car. Her mother talked the entire trip home, about all the terrible things she heard on the news, and how everyone in Jill’s entire extended family was so thankful that Jill was safe, and that if Jill wanted anything at all, she only had to ask. Jill just nodded and gave short responses when asked for comment.

Everything seemed to rush by in a whirlwind of conflicting emotions. She was happy to be home, she knew she was, but she couldn’t express that happiness. She just felt numb. Once they were back at her parents’ house, her mother sat her down on the couch and asked her fifty times if she was okay and did she need anything, before running off to make phone calls and let everyone know that she was home. Her father spoke to her as well, but Jill didn’t know what to say.

When she was left alone for a few moments, she reached into her pocket and took out the card that the FBI agent gave her. She thought back to what he said. He said that they had a lot to offer each other. She wondered exactly what that meant. She turned the card over in her hand and looked at the phone number.

Once upon a time, Jill promised herself that Umbrella would pay for their crimes. Despite all that had transpired since then, she still felt the obligation of that promise weighing down on her. But she could not do it on her own, she just didn’t have the courage or the strength to see this through all the way. Someone like Chris would keep fighting until the end, but Jill didn’t have Chris’ willpower. Jill knew when she’d had enough, and that had been some time ago. She couldn’t fight any more.

Her only hope now was to give herself time to heal, both physically and emotionally. The promise would have to wait. She could not continue to dwell on all those people that she lost, both her coworkers and friends, and those she was not able to save. She ran her fingers along the FBI agent’s card, and then set it down on the end table by the phone. Maybe someday she would have the strength to fight, and be able to finally keep her promise, but not today.

Today she had to come to terms with those that were still living. She pushed herself up from the couch and went into the kitchen, where her father was sitting at the table and her mother was nervously talking on the phone to one of her relatives. They both looked up anxiously when Jill entered.

Tears streamed down her cheeks. “I’m so sorry,” she said weakly. “I wish I knew what to say to you, but I just don’t know what to do anymore …”

Her parents rushed to her and she fell into their arms, sobbing her eyes out. Days of pent up emotions flooded out of her as if a dam had burst. She had been so distracted that she hadn’t even realized the obvious truth.

Finally, she was surrounded by those that cared about her most. Finally, she was safe.

Epilogue – Six Months Later

 

The small tourist village of Kavos was nestled on the southernmost corner of the island of Corfu, off the western coast of Greece. It was a popular vacation spot for European and American travelers, one of many on the island, and less crowded in peak season than the capital of Corfu or the other cities on the northern side of the island. Kavos stretched along the southeastern coast close to the beach, a gallery of expensive hotels and fancy nightclubs. Arranged along the narrow streets were cafes and outdoor restaurants offering authentic Greek cuisine, gift stores and souvenir shops, and public markets and swimming pools within view of the ocean.

A distinguished-looking gentleman in a white suit sat in a metal chair outside a cafe, his wide-brimmed white hat blocking the bright midday sun. He propped a newspaper up in his lap and sipped his tea, his eyes hidden behind large gold-colored sunglasses. He had a narrow, pinched face and a thin, elderly frame. He walked with a thick mahogany cane, the kind that could easily be used as a weapon if need be.

The newspaper was in English, and the front page detailed various worldwide news events; a new round of political unrest in Iran, a powerful earthquake in a remote part of Chile, a continuation of the genocide in Africa, a sex scandal involving a politician in Tokyo, the death by drug overdose of a popular musician in France. And more coverage of the nuclear explosion that destroyed the small town called Raccoon City in the United States.

The old man scanned the article carefully, although there was not much new information. It had been six months since the sudden epidemic infected the entire city in less than a day, and in a desperate attempt to contain the devastating spread of the disease, the United States government chose to destroy the entire city with a nuclear missile. The current death toll stood at 126,500 civilian casualties, but no one would ever know exactly how many people died. The article was nothing but an update on how the cleanup was going, with the remains of the city having been razed to the ground almost a month prior. There was currently much debate on what to do with the land; to try to rebuild the city, to turn the entire area into a memorial shrine, or to simply let it return to nature.

Worldwide opinion on the disaster was understandably mixed. Some felt that the nuclear event was karmic payback for the United States using nuclear weapons on Japan over 50 years before. Many questioned the President’s decision, wondering of the epidemic was truly as bad as was claimed, although the numerous witness accounts certainly painted a dire picture. While some called for the American President to be removed from office, so far the public supported him, mostly due in part to his emotional public appearances after the event and his impassioned addresses to the nation begging for their understanding.

But even beyond those who were critical of the use of nuclear weapons, a significant opinion remained that perhaps even that was not enough, that even a nuclear strike had not completely removed all traces of the disease. What if the disease was still there, ready to infect people once again?

The waiter came over with a pitcher of tea and said, “A refill, Mr. Worthington?”

The old man glanced up and shook his head. “No, that’s okay. I’m finished here,” he said in a tired voice. He handed the waiter some cash to pay for his lunch, and then tucked the newspaper under his arm and walked out of the cafe and onto the street.

Adjusting his sunglasses with one hand, he walked slowly down the sidewalk, his cane tapping on the cobblestones. He wasn’t a tourist like most of the people who visited the island, although he was not truly a local either. He had been living in Kavos for five months, and the locals were already becoming accustomed to seeing his bright white suits as he strolled down the winding lanes and narrow streets, his cane tapping along, announcing his presence.

He said his name was Basil Worthington, which sounded British, although the man’s accent was purely American. He claimed to have worked in banking most of his life and that he was currently retired, and he certainly had enough money to convince anyone of his upper class background. Foreigners rarely took up residence in small tourist towns like Kavos, so Basil Worthington was an oddity among the people there. But he took long walks along the beach, ate his meals in local restaurants, and spent most of his time observing the beautiful scenery and apparently enjoying his retirement. He even charmed a few of the older local women, and rumors abounded about which ones had been sharing his bed.

He walked up a twisty street a few miles from the beach and looked back over his shoulder, taking a long glance down the street. He sighed to himself and continued on, his cane clacking down like a hammer. He took a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped sweat from his forehead.

His bungalow apartment was in a somewhat cheaper section of town, far from the hotels and clubs that catered to the tourists. Most of the people who lived out here worked in the service industry, employed as waiters or clerks or bartenders or cooks at one of the businesses along the beachfront. But there were also a fair number of fishermen and farmers and schoolteachers and policemen, and Worthington’s apartment was indistinguishable from half a dozen others along the street. Despite his apparent wealth, he chose a less-extravagant residence.

A young boy was sitting out on the front steps of the apartment next door, fully engrossed in a handheld video game. Worthington walked past him and reached into his pocket to get his keys. The boy looked up and said, “Hey, some lady knocked on your door a little while ago.”

Worthington turned quickly and said, “What did she want?”

“I don’t know. She was really pretty, I thought she might be your girlfriend or something,” the kid said with a mischievous grin.

Worthington looked up at his front door, fumbling nervously with his keys in his pocket. His voice sounded strained. “Where did she go? Did she say anything to you?”

“No, she just knocked on the door and when you didn’t answer, she walked away.”

Worthington pursed his lips thoughtfully and let out a deep breath before walking to the door. “Thank you for telling me,” he said, sticking his key in the lock.

He opened the door slowly and crept inside, reaching into the inside pocket of his suit as the door closed. He yanked off his sunglasses, revealing a pair of dark, intense eyes. From his inside pocket, he pulled out a revolver and swallowed hard, looking down the small entrance foyer and into his living room. The apartment was sparsely furnished, but clean and orderly, with large windows along the back that looked out toward the hills to the west. The living room had a small table and a couple of chairs facing the small television on the opposite wall. Worthington stood motionless, hearing nothing but the sound of his own breath, as he took a cautious step forward, peering around the corner and into the rest of the living room, seeing no one there. His hand trembled as he held the revolver out in front of him.

Off to his left was the small kitchen and pantry, which was also empty. He braced himself and crossed the living room on the way to the two bedrooms in the back, which were empty as well. His breath coming more naturally, Worthington lowered his arm and returned to foyer, hanging his hat on the wall, and then walked into the kitchen to pour himself a drink. He set the pistol on the counter next to him and opened the refrigerator.

“Good morning, Spencer,” came a voice behind him.

Ozwell Spencer spun around, his heart hammering in his chest, grasping the edge of the counter with shaking hands. His eyes bugged out as he stared in shock at the man sitting casually in the living room, relaxing in one of the chairs, which now magically faced the kitchen. He had one arm resting comfortably on the back of the chair, and his other hand rested in his lap, holding a pistol aimed at Spencer.

“Wesker,” Spencer gasped.

Seated in the chair was Albert Wesker. He was dressed in plain gray slacks and a white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up. A silver watch was on his wrist and his signature black reflective sunglasses were on his face.

Wesker nodded briefly and then glanced around the small apartment, as if admiring the interior decorating. “It took a long time to find you,” he said casually. “You covered your tracks pretty well, I have to admit. But I’m afraid that you couldn’t hide forever.”

Spencer was too scared to speak, but he finally stuttered out, “I knew that one day they would send someone to find me. I didn’t think it would be you.”

“Who else?” Wesker said with a cunning smile. “After all, I have to pay you back for running out on me before. I was very disappointed in you, Spencer.”

“I warned you,” Spencer mumbled. “I told you what would happen.”

Wesker nodded again and moved the gun in his hand. Spencer glanced to the side and saw his own revolver sitting just beyond his reach, right on the counter a few feet away. He felt sweat dripping down the side of his face and nervously wiped his brow with the back of his hand.

“You did tell me,” Wesker admitted. “But I thought that you would at least have the courtesy to tell me yourself that you were leaving, instead of just writing a note and taking off without so much as a goodbye. You left me to deal with that whole disaster on my own.”

“But you’re here,” Spencer said. “So you must have made it out okay.”

“In a manner of speaking,” Wesker said cryptically.

“If you were smart, you would have left right after I did,” Spencer insisted.

“Oh, no,” Wesker said, “I stayed in the city right until the very end. William Birkin and I dealt with the incident at the lab, and then I stayed behind to try to help contain the outbreak when it reached the city. Sadly, I was not successful, as you certainly know by now.”

“I read the papers. Is William alive too?”

“No, he’s dead. There’s only me.”

For a few moments, neither of them said anything. Spencer dared not make a move for his gun, because Wesker was watching him too closely. But Wesker clearly was hesitant to pull the trigger, which was completely out of character for him, so Spencer hoped to stall him long enough to make his move. He didn’t particularly want to kill Wesker either, but if only one man was going to make it out of the apartment alive, Spencer wanted it to be him.

“You know,” Wesker said conversationally. “There is one thing I’ve always been curious about. I just never had the time to really ask you about it. But now seems like a good time, since we have a few minutes before I have to leave.”

“What do you want to know?” Spencer asked carefully, keeping his eyes focused on the gun in Wesker’s hand.

“Well, it’s about that woman that we kept locked up in the lab. You remember Lisa, don’t you?” Wesker asked, then continued without letting Spencer respond. “For all those years, we kept her locked away, and I have to admit I always wondered why. She was of no real use to us from an experimental standpoint, since she was already infected. Any tests we performed on her would be rendered pointless since she was already a host for so many different strains.”

“If you say so,” Spencer said evasively, edging his hand along the counter, closer to his gun.

“But then I realized why you kept her around,” Wesker continued. “She had some kind of immunity to the Progenitor, some kind of defense against it. It occurred to me that all those other poor souls we infected were just attempts to find another person with an immunity. If we compared their results, we might just learn what they had in common, and maybe discover some kind of cure, or perhaps simply a treatment for infection.”

Spencer shrugged noncommittally. “Maybe we could have. I don’t see how that would be a bad thing, do you?”

“Of course not. But why didn’t we ever have any research in that field? We never devoted any serious study to figuring out why she was immune. You never even told Birkin about her, and she would have been a godsend for his lines of research.”

“We studied her for years,” Spencer said defensively, for a moment forgetting that Wesker was pointing a gun at him. “Before you joined Umbrella we spent a solid decade on it and we got exactly nowhere.”

“But you still kept Lisa around.”

“Why wouldn’t we? She was a valuable resource.”

“How old was Lisa?”

Spencer sputtered and shook his head. “What does that have to do with anything?” he said dismissively.

“Because she didn’t look a day over twenty-five,” Wesker said. “It was hard to tell, since she was so filthy and she wore her victim’s faces the way she did. But I spent enough time down there to tell, and she couldn’t have been that young, could she? She must have been older than that.”

“Well, I don’t … I don’t remember,” Spencer mumbled guiltily.

“You just said that you studied her for over a decade before I joined Umbrella. So unless you infected her when she was just a baby, she must have been at least, what, thirty-five? Forty?”

Spencer said nothing. He glared at Wesker, grinding his teeth, clutching the counter in his desire to reach for his gun.

Wesker continued. “What would happen if someone was immune to the Progenitor, but only to its negative side effects? If the healing properties could remain unchecked, it would make someone effectively immortal, wouldn’t it? That’s the real reason you kept Lisa around for so long. You wanted to see if the infection would stop her from getting old.”

“And what if I was? What difference does it make now?” Spencer spat bitterly.

“You never had the guts to test it yourself, did you? In all those years, you never even tried injected Lisa’s blood into a living host to see what would happen. You were never looking for a cure to the Progenitor, you were looking for a cure to mortality. But you always chickened out at the last moment.”

Sweat dripped down the sides of Spencer’s thin face, his body trembling with rage. “I knew what would happen!” he shouted. “We did test her blood on a living host! But I destroyed all the files long before you ever joined the company.”

“Is that so?” Wesker said, leaning forward in the chair, suddenly very interested. “What was so terrifying about the results that made you keep it a secret?”

“You think Lisa was dangerous?” Spencer croaked. “But she was nothing. She was controllable because she was insane. She was mentally deficient even when she was a child. But when we injected her blood into a new host, an intelligent adult host …”

“What happened?” Wesker pressed eagerly.

“We created a real monster,” Spencer said, his voice barely audible. He stared at the floor as he spoke, the words pouring out. “The host inherited all of Lisa’s most powerful aspects: her strength, her endurance, her healing abilities. But it was stronger, even stronger than a Tyrant. And it was sane. Do you understand, Wesker? It could speak and think and sometimes it could almost pass for a normal person. But it wasn’t human anymore, it was like a monster in human skin. It had the speed and savagery of a Hunter, and the power and resilience of a Tyrant, and it was intelligent, more intelligent than any of us.”

“So what did you do with it?”

“We tried to destroy it, but the normal methods didn’t work. It’s healing abilities surpassed even Lisa’s. Fire wasn’t enough to kill it, acid wasn’t enough to destroy it. We didn’t dare try to transport it anywhere outside of the Arklay area, because the risk of it escaping was far too great. So we took it to the treatment plant and encased it in a block of molten steel. And then we buried it deep under the plant, so deep that it could never escape.”

“Are you trying to say …”

“Yes,” Spencer said. “It was still alive when we buried it. But even that creature wasn’t strong enough to break through ten feet of solid steel and dig its way out from under a hundred feet of earth.”

“Why didn’t you just keep it locked up like you did with Lisa?”

“You don’t understand,” Spencer said desperately. “It was too dangerous. It was too smart, it could have figured out a way to escape. It could talk and it could be so persuasive, in time it might have even tricked one of the researchers into letting it go. And we could not risk it ever escaping. If that thing ever escaped captivity, it was strong enough and smart enough and ruthless enough that it could have destroyed the world. Or maybe conquered it.”

“I think I’m beginning to understand,” Wesker said, a grim smile appearing on his face.

“So now what?” Spencer snapped, all the fight drained out of him. “I’ve told you my deepest hidden secret, so what are you going to do about it? Going to inform the Board of Directors? Or have they already offered you a position on it?”

“Oh, I’m afraid you’re mistaken,” Wesker said. “I’m no longer employed by Umbrella. In fact, Umbrella doesn’t even know that I’m still alive.”

Spencer gaped at him. “But how did you …”

“Escape the city?” Wesker finished for him. “Well, you might say I had to take some very desperate measures. That’s why I wanted to ask you about Lisa. And I must say,” he said with a vicious smile, “the answers you’ve given me have been very reassuring indeed.”

“What are you talking about?” Spencer asked weakly.

Wesker slowly reached up and touched his sunglasses, and then slid them from his face, revealing his eyes to Spencer for the first time in their long history together.

But his eyes were no longer the soft blue that they had once been. The whites of his eyes now shone a bright yellow, with vertical pupils like those of a cat, the wide irises glimmering a menacing bloody red. And deep within the black pupils seemed to shine red as well, as if illuminated from within.

Spencer’s whole body seemed to shake in abject terror. “Oh my God …” he gasped in horror, “Wesker … what have you done?”

He broke free from his paralyzation and grabbed the pistol off the counter in sheer panic, swinging it around and pulling the trigger. The bullet struck Wesker in the side of the face.

In the next moment, Wesker emptied five bullets into Spencer’s body. He slammed back against the counter and clutched at his bloody chest, the gun tumbling from his numb fingers, his face contorted into a mask of agony. He tried to grab the edge of the counter to remain standing, but he fell to the side, sliding his arm across the side of the sink, sweeping some dirty dishes off the counter as he fell. He collapsed to the floor, the dishes shattering beside him. His hands, coated with blood, reached out pleadingly, his eyes beginning to glaze over.

Wesker walked over to Spencer’s prone form and put two more bullets into the back of his head to finish the job. He then casually ran a hand across the side of his face, now completely healed and unharmed, and smoothed out his hair before returning his sunglasses to his face.

Ten seconds later, before the little boy next door even had time to run to Spencer’s apartment to investigate the shots, Wesker had run out through an open back window. Thirty seconds later, when the neighbors were calling the police, Wesker was already three blocks away, walking unhurriedly down the brightly lit street. His gun was tucked into the folded up newspaper he took from the apartment, and he casually dropped it into a trash bin eight blocks away.

Ada Wong was waiting for him in a white SUV parked in a gas station parking lot. She sipped her iced tea and adjusted her large amber-colored sunglasses as Wesker climbed inside.

“Are we finished here?” she asked.

“Yes,” Wesker said. “Take us to the airport.”

With the knowledge he learned from Spencer, Wesker was more eager than ever to get back to his lab. There were so many ideas to try out, so many projects to start, so much work to be done.

After almost twenty years of hard work and research, Wesker felt as if he had just scratched the surface. It was as if his entire life up until now was nothing but practice, and now his real work could finally begin. There was so much more to learn, so much more that he could accomplish, and now he realized that he had the time to do whatever he set his mind to.

No more limits, no more walls to block his research, no more pointless distractions, and no more physical deadlines. There was nothing in his way. He had all the time in the world. If he put his mind to it, there was nothing he could not achieve.

The world was never going to be the same.

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

Part Five: City of the Dead

Part Six: Escape from Raccoon City

Part Seven: Aftermath


Resident Evil Legends Part Seven - Aftermath

Based on the Resident Evil video game series by Capcom. Raccoon City is no more, having been destroyed by a nuclear missile. The rest of the world is shocked and horrified to learn about the deadly infection that took place there, and the survivors -- Jill Valentine, Carlos Oliveira, Claire Redfield, Leon Kennedy, Sherry Birkin, Ada Wong, and Hunk -- now must decide what to do with the rest of their lives in the aftermath of the tragedy. But the destruction of Raccoon City is not the end, and there are still mysteries and secrets to be revealed. Umbrella begins their investigation to discover who is responsible for the outbreak, just as rival companies seek to take advantage of Umbrella's involvement in the disaster, and various agencies try to hire survivors such as Leon and Jill because of their experience. Meanwhile, Chris Redfield and Rebecca Chambers are far away from Raccoon City, on their own personal missions. And still controlling events behind the scenes is none other than Albert Wesker, pursuing his own ambitious goals. What he discovers about the T-virus will change the world forever ...

  • Author: Andreas Leachim
  • Published: 2016-12-18 17:20:15
  • Words: 59927
Resident Evil Legends Part Seven - Aftermath Resident Evil Legends Part Seven - Aftermath