Ada sat on the edge of the cluttered desk in the office of the Chief of Detectives, resting her aching feet and staring blankly at the empty steel safe in the corner. Her patience was wearing thin. Not only was the G-Virus sample nowhere to be found, she was starting to think that Bertolucci had flown the coop. She'd gone through the break room, the

S.T.A.R.S. office, the library - in fact, she was pretty sure she'd covered just about everywhere the reporter would have had easy access to, and had used two full clips to do it. It wasn't that she was low on ammo, it was the waste of time that the bullets represented -

Advertisement

- twenty-six rounds and no results, except that there were a dozen more virus-riddled corpses lying around. And two of Umbrella's freak hybrids... Ada shuddered, remembering the warped red flesh and trumpeting shrieks of the bizarre creatures that she'd capped in the press room. She'd never been particularly bothered by greed, corporate or other- wise, but Umbrella had been up to some seriously immoral experimentation. Trent had warned her about the Tyrant retrievers - which, thankfully, hadn't put in an appearance yet - but the long- tongued, clawed, bloody humanoids were an affront to even her sensibilities. Not to mention a lot harder to kill than the virus carriers. If they were T-Virus products, she'd have to keep her fingers crossed that Birkin hadn't done anything with his newest creation. According to Trent, the G series hadn't been put to use yet, but it was supposed to be twice as potent... Ada let her gaze wander, taking in the plain, functional office. It wasn't the most inspiring environ- ment to take a break in, but at least it was reasonably gore-free; with the door closed, she could hardly smell the officers in the main part of the room. They'd been pretty far gone when she'd put them down, that bonelessly wet stage that apparently preceded total collapse.

Not that it matters if I can smell them, my hair and clothes have absorbed the goddamn smell; when they start to go bad, it seems to happen with a bang...

She wished she'd bothered to learn more on the science end; she knew what the T-Virus was used for, but hadn't thought it necessary to research the physio- chemical effects. Why bother, when she had no reason to think that Umbrella had been planning to spill a shitload of it in their hometown? She was getting plenty of firsthand information about how well it worked, but it would have been nice to know exactly what happened in the infected party's body and mind, what turned them from a person into a mindless flesh- eater. Instead, she could only file away her observa- tions and make guesses at the truth. From what she'd seen, it took less than an hour for someone infected to turn zombie. Sometimes the victim went into a kind of fever-coma first, which presumably burnt out parts of the brain and only added to the impression that they were waking from the dead when they stood up and started looking for fresh meat. The symptoms of the virus were the same for everyone, but not the progression rate; she'd seen at least three cases where the victim had turned bloodthirsty within a couple of moments of being infected, the stage she'd started to think of as "going cataract." One of the few constants was that their eyes clouded with a thin film of eggy white mucous when they turned and although the physical deterioration always started immediately, some fell to pieces much faster than others...

... and why are you thinking about it? Your job doesn't include finding a cure, does it?

-- Advertisement --

She sighed, bending over to rub her toes. True enough. Still, it was something to think about. Focus- ing on staying alive was tiring and all-encompassing work; she didn't have a chance to consider the subtle-ties of the circumstances while clearing out corridors. She was on break, and she needed to let her brain run around a bit, ponder a few of the job's more puzzling aspects.

And there are about a thousand to mull over... Trent, what Bertolucci should or shouldn't know... and the S.T.A.R.S. - what the hell had happened to that merry crew?

From the articles that Trent had included in the info packet, she knew about the S.T.A.R.S.'s suspen- sion - and considering what they'd been investigat- ing, it didn't take a genius to figure out that they'd been railroaded by Umbrella for uncovering part if not all of the bioweapon operations. Umbrella had probably offed them by now, if they hadn't gone into hiding and she had to wonder if Trent had played any part in the S.T.A.R.S.'s little misadventure, or if he'd tried to contact them before or after. Not that he would've told her; Trent was an enigma, to be sure. She'd only had one actual meeting with him, although he'd contacted her several times prior to her leaving for Raccoon, mostly by phone and although she'd always prided herself on her ability to read people, she knew absolutely nothing about where his interests lay, why he wanted the G-Virus or what his gripe with Umbrella was about. It was obvious that he had some inside connection, he knew too much about the company's workings, but if that was the case, why not just pick up his own goddamn sample and then quit? Hiring an outside agent was the act of someone trying to avoid implication, but implication of what?

Ours is not to question why...

A good principle to live by; she also wasn't getting paid to figure out Trent. She doubted she'd be able to even if she was getting paid for it; she'd never met such a supremely self-controlled man as Mr. Trent. In every interaction they'd had, she'd gotten the feeling that he had been smiling inside, as if he knew some intensely pleasurable secret that no one else was privy to and yet somehow, he hadn't come across as arrogant or overblown. He was a cool one, his genial-ity so natural that she'd been vaguely intimidated; she might not have been able to pick up on his motives, but she'd seen that calm humor before it was the real face of true power, of a man with a plan and the means to implement it.

So has the spill upset his plans, whatever they are? Or was he prepared for this contingency...? He may not have planned it, but I can't imagine that "caught unawares" is anywhere in Trent's vocabulary...

Ada leaned back, rolling her head tiredly before pushing herself off the desk and stepping back into her uncomfortable shoes. Enough down time, she couldn't spare her aches and pains more than a few minutes and didn't expect to figure out much of anything until she was well away from Raccoon. She still had a couple of areas to check for Bertolucci before heading into the sewers, and she'd noticed that some of the first-floor window barricades weren't as solid as she might have hoped; she didn't want to end up blocked out of a path by a new group of carriers from outside. There were the "secret" passages on the east side, and the holding cells downstairs past the parking garage. If she couldn't find him in either of those places, she'd have to assume he'd left the station and concentrate her efforts on obtaining the sample. She decided to try the basement first; it seemed unlikely that he'd stumbled across the hidden corn- dors. From what she'd read of his work, he wasn't a good enough reporter to find his own ass. And if he was hiding in or near the holding cells, she wouldn't have to spend any more time roaming the station, facing the inevitable invasion; the entrance into the subbasement was downstairs, so barring any compli- cations, she could head straight for the lab. Ada walked out of the office, wrinkling her nose at the fresh burst of rotting smell pushed at her by the lazily spinning ceiling fans. There had to be seven or eight bodies in the desk-filled room, all of them cops, and at least the three that she'd shot had been fairly rank...

... and didn't I leave five carriers still walking around in here when I came through before?

Ada paused just outside the large and open room, looking back in from the narrow connecting corridor that led to the back stairs. Had there been five? She knew she'd capped a couple on her first visit; the rest had been too slow to hassle with, and she thought there'd been five of them. And yet she'd only had to knock off three when she had returned for her im- promptu break.

There were five. I may not be at peak, but I can still count.

She wasn't in the habit of doubting her ability to keep track of such things, and the fact that she'd only just noticed was a sign of how tired she was; two days ago, she would have made the observation immedi- ately. There was no way to tell if the additional corpses had been shot or had simply disintegrated on their own without exposing herself to contact - they were too messed up; but it would be wisest to assume that there were still a few survivors wandering around.

Not for long, one way or another...

Whether or not the zombies managed to break through, Umbrella would act soon, if they hadn't already. What had happened in Raccoon was a share- holder's worst nightmare, and Umbrella certainly wasn't going to ignore the problem; they'd probably already worked up a fail-safe disaster and prepared their own spin to feed to the press. And it was a foregone conclusion that they'd try to salvage Birkin's synthesis before putting their fail-safe into effect, which meant that she'd have to be very careful. Birkin had apparently been somewhat secretive about his work, and Trent had relayed that Umbrella would eventually send in a retrieval team... with Raccoon in ashes, that eventuality had probably been moved forward a few notches.

A team of human beings, hopefully. I can handle that. A Tyrant, though... I don't need that kind of pain.

Ada turned away from the room, walking toward the closed door that would lead her to the basement steps. Tyrant was the code name for a particular series in Umbrella's organic weapons research, a series that embodied the most destructive applications of the T-Virus. According to Trent, the White Umbrella scien- Tists - the ones working in the secret labs - had just started tests on a kind of humanoid bloodhound, designed to hunt down any assigned scent or sub- stance it had been encoded for with relentless and inhuman capabilities. A Tyrant retriever, a nearly indestructible construct of infected flesh and surgi-cally implanted wiring - just the kind of thing that they might send in to find, say, a sample of the G-Virus... Once she collected Trent's sample, she was history, paid and drinking margaritas on a beach somewhere. And anything she might or might not feel about it, about how many innocents had died or what Trent wanted the G-Virus for - it was just one more thing to put on her list of things the job didn't call for. Her defenses safely in place, Ada started for the basement to see if she could find the troublesome reporter.

Leon stood in the ransacked basement weapons locker, adjusting the holster straps and thinking about where Claire might be. From what little he'd seen so far, the station wasn't too bad. Cold and dim and stinking of the bodies heaped in the hallways, but not as actively dangerous as the streets. It wasn't much to be grateful for, but he'd take what he could get. He'd killed two of his fellow officers and a woman in the tatters of a traffic patrol uniform on his way to the basement - the cops upstairs and the woman just outside the morgue, a few yards from the small room that housed the RPD armament. Only three zombies since he'd reached the station, not including the few he'd been able to avoid in the detectives' room, but he'd passed over a dozen corpses on the short journey and had been able to make out the bullet holes on about half of them, through the eyes or directly to the temple. Between the cleanly "dispatched" creatures and the number of weapons missing from the lockers, he dared to hope that Branagh had been right about there being survivors.

Marvin Branagh... probably dead by now. Does that mean he'll turn into a zombie?If Umbrella's really behind all this, it has to be some kind of a plague or disease, they're a pharmaceutical company - so how do you catch it? Is it a contact thing, or can you get it from taking a deep breath...

Leon dropped that train of thought, fast; as cool and humid as the basement was, the thought that he could be infected by the zombie sickness made him break out in a sudden feverish sweat. What if all of Raccoon was still hot, and he'd caught it just driving into town? The cluttered shelves of the storage room seemed to close in just a bit, in an anxiety flash of epic proportions. But before real panic set in, he heard his mind's voice remind him of the reality - and the acceptance of the reality came with it, allowing him to let go of the fear.

If you're sick, you're sick. You can eat a bullet before it gets bad. If you're not sick, maybe you can survive to tell your grandkids about all this. Either way, there's probably nothing you can do about it now - except try to be a cop.

Leon nodded to himself, sighing. A better plan than worrying about it, and he now had the equipment to boost his chances. The electronic lock for the weapons store had been shot through, saving him from having to go searching for a key card or shooting it himself; the door had obviously been pried open, the external locks and handle practically shredded. On his first dig through the room, he'd been disappointed, and not a little freaked. There had been no handguns at all and very little ammo left in the dented green lockers - but he had found a box of shotgun shells, and after a second, more desperately thorough search, he'd un- covered a twelve-gauge hidden behind a high stack of boxes. There were a couple of shoulder harnesses for the Remington model still hanging on a wall hook, as well as a bigger utility belt than the one he already wore; it even had a sidepack deep enough to hold all of the loaded Magnum clips. With a final cinch on the harness, he decided that it would be best to start searching the most obvious places first, every connecting corridor from every possible entrance. He'd head back to the lobby first, find something to leave a note on... Bam! Bam! Bam! Shots fired, close, and the echoing tone said it was the garage just down the hall. Leon yanked the Magnum out and ran for the door, precious seconds wasted as he fumbled at the mangled handle. The hall was clear, except for the dead traffic cop on the floor to his right. Straight ahead was the entrance to the parking garage, and Leon hurried toward it, reminding himself that he wanted to go in easy, that he didn't want to get shot by a panicked gunman.

Take it slow, get a good look before you move, identify yourself clearly...

The door, set into the wall to his right, was standing open and as Leon darted a look into wide and open space, his body shielded by the concrete-block wall, he saw something that startled him into forgetting about the shooter.

The dog. It's the same goddamn dog.

Impossible - but the sprawled, lifeless animal in the middle of the car-lined chamber looked the same. Even with the barest glimpse he'd had before, the slimy wet demon in canine form that had nearly scared him into a crash ten miles outside the city could have come from the same litter. Beneath the sputtering fluorescent strips that lit the cold, oil-stained garage, Leon could see how truly abnormal it was. There didn't seem to be anything moving, and no sound except for the buzz of lights. Still holding the Magnum ready, Leon stepped into the garage, deter- mined to get a closer look at the creature - and saw a second one next to a parked squad car, apparently just as dead as the first. Both lay in sticky red pools of their own blood, their long, skinned-looking limbs splayed brokenly.

Umbrella. The wild animal attacks, the disease...... how long has this shit been going on? And how did they manage to keep it quiet after all those murders?

What was even more confusing was why Raccoon wasn't crawling with support services already; Um- brella may have been able to keep their involvement with the "cannibal" murders silent, but how could they keep Raccoon's citizens from calling for help from outside the city?

And these dogs, like carbon copies... something else that Umbrella made up in their labs?

He took another step toward the fallen dog-things, frowning, not liking the dark conspiracy theories that were forming in his thoughts but unable to ignore them. What he liked even less was the look of the oil stains on the concrete floor; they were rust-colored and there were too many of the dried splotches for him to count. He bent down to get a closer look, so intent on putting to rest a sudden terrible suspicion that he didn't register the shot until he heard the high, singing whine when it blew past his head. Bam! Leon spun left, bringing the Magnum up and shout- ing at the same time...

"Hold your fire!"

... and saw the shooter lowering her weapon, a woman in a short red dress and black leggings stand- ing by a van against the far wall. She started walking toward him, her slender hips rolling smoothly, her head high and shoulders back. As if they were at a cocktail party.

Leon felt a rush of anger, that she could seem so calm after very nearly killing him, but as she got closer, he found himself wanting to forgive her. She was beautiful, and wore an expression of genuine pleasure at seeing him; a welcome sight after so much death. "Sorry about that," she said. "When I saw the uniform, I thought you were another zombie."

She was Asian-American, fine-boned but tall, her short hair a thick and glossy black. Her deep, satiny voice was almost a purr, a strange contrast to the way she looked at him. The slight smile she wore didn't seem to touch her almond-shaped eyes, which were scrutinizing him carefully. "Who are you?" Leon asked. "Ada Wong." That throaty purr again. She tilted her head, still smiling. "I'm Leon Kennedy," he said reflexively, not sure what to ask or where to start. "I... what are you doing down here?"

Ada nodded toward the van behind her, an RPD transport wagon that was blocking the holding cell area. "I came to Raccoon looking for a man, a reporter named Bertolucci; I have reason to think that he's in one of the cells, and I think he might be able to help me find my boyfriend..."

Her smile faded, her sharp, almost electric gaze meeting his... "And I think he knows all about what happened here. Would you help me move the van?"

If there was a reporter locked up on the other side of the garage wall who could tell them anything at all, Leon was eager to meet him. He wasn't sure what to make of Ada's story, but couldn't imagine why she would lie about anything. The station wasn't safe, and she was looking for survivors, just as he was. "Yeah, okay," he said, feeling caught off guard by her smoothly direct manner. It felt like she had taken control of their meeting, some subtle but deliberate manipulation that had put her in charge and from the casual way she turned and walked back to the van, as if there was no question that he would follow, he thought she knew it. Don't be paranoid; strong women do exist. And the more people we can find, the more help I can get to look for Claire. Maybe it was time to stop making plans, and just try to keep up. Leon bolstered the Magnum and went after her, hoping that the reporter was where Ada thought he was and that things would start making sense, sooner rather than later.

-- Advertisement --