Leon stopped to adjust his shoulder harness, so Ada walked on ahead, musing over how surprisingly clear the first few tunnels had been. If memory served, this corridor let out right next to sewage treatment ops; past that was the tram to the factory, and then the machine lift to the underground. Conditions would probably get worse the closer they got to the labs, but with the trek as trouble-free as it had been so far, she was feeling optimistic. Leon had been uncomfortably quiet since they'd opened the path into the sewers, only talking when it was necessary - watch your step, hold up a minute, which way do you think we should go... she didn't think he was even aware of the defenses he'd put up, but she was getting better at reading him. Officer Kennedy was brave, he was at least above-average in the brains department, he was a crack shot and he didn't know dick about women. When she'd blown off his attempt to comfort her, she'd confused and hurt him and now he didn't know how to interact with her. He'd chosen to withdraw rather than risk another rejection.

Really, it's for the best. No point in leading him on when it's not necessary, and it saves me the trouble of ego-stroking...

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She stepped into the intersection of the empty hall, thinking about the easiest place to part company fromher escort...... and saw the woman, just as she fired. Bam!Ada felt chips of concrete spray across her bare shoulders as she brought the Beretta up, a blur of emotions and realizations flashing through her in the instant it took to react. She wouldn't be able to return fire in time, the woman's next shot would kill her, anger at herself for being so stupid - and recognition.

Birkin!

She heard the second shot - and then she was hit, shoved out of the way and falling to the cold floor as Leon cried out in pain and surprise, his warm bulk landing on top of her. Ada took a deep breath, shocked and amazed as she understood what had happened, as Leon rolled off of her and clutched at his arm. She heard running footsteps and Leon's harsh panting, and sat up.

Oh, my God. No shit.

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He'd taken a bullet. For her. Ada stumbled to her feet, bending over him.

"Leon!"

He looked up at her, jaw clenched against the pain. Blood seeped through the fingers of his hand, pressed to his left armpit. "I'm... okay," he gasped, and although his face was pale, his eyes clouded with suffering, she thought he was probably right. It undoubtedly hurt like a son of a bitch, but it wouldn't - shouldn't kill him.

It would have killed me, Leon saved my life...

And on the tail of that thought, Annette Birkin. Still alive. "That woman," she blurted, the guilt hitting her even as she turned to run. "I have to talk to her." Ada took off, sprinting around the corner and down the hall, the door at the end standing open. Leon would live, he would be fine, and if she could catch up to Annette, this whole goddamn nightmare would be over. She'd studied the file photos, she knew it was Birkin's wife and if, by chance, the woman wasn't carrying a sample, she'd sure as hell know where one was. She ran through the door and stopped short of jumping into yet another water-filled tunnel, pausing just long enough to listen, to scan the surface of the rippling murk. No splashing sounds, and there were still lapping waves to the left...... and a ladder bolted to the wall, leading up to a fan shaft.

... goes to operations.

Ada plunged into the water and made for the ladder. There was a hallway farther along, but it was a dead end; Annette would surely have opted for es- cape. She quickly scaled the metal rungs, refusing to let herself think about Leon (because he was fine) as she peered through the shaft and saw that it was clear. Mrs. Doctor was probably still running, but Ada wasn't going to walk into another bullet. Through the shaft, a quick peek past the dead, massive blades of the vent fan at the far end, and back down another ladder. The giant two-story chamber that housed the sewage-treatment machines was emp- ty of life, as cold and industrial and strewn with equipment as she'd expected. There was a hydraulic bridge that spanned the room, raised to the level she'd exited on - which meant that Annette must have gone down via the west ladder, the only other way out. Ada flipped through her mental maps as she started across the bridge, remembering that it went down into one of the treatment center's dumping grounds...

"Drop it, you bitch!"

Behind her. Ada halted, feeling a pain inside - the pain of a hearty slap to the ego. The second time she'd screwed up, badly, in as many minutes, but there was no way she was going to obey Annette's hysterical command. The woman's aim was for shit and Ada tensed, preparing to drop, to spin and fire... Barn-ping! The shot hit the floor next to Ada's right foot, glancing off the rusting bridge. Annette had her. Ada dropped the Beretta, raising her hands slowly, turning to face the scientist.

Jesus, I deserve to die for this...

Annette Birkin walked toward her, a Browning nine-millimeter trembling wildly in one outstretched hand. Ada winced inwardly at the sight of that shaking gun, but saw a possible opportunity as An- nette moved closer, finally coming to a stop less than ten feet in front of her.

Too close. Too close, and she's right on the edge of a

total collapse, isn't she?

"Who are you? What's your name?!"

Ada swallowed heavily, putting a stutter into her voice. "Ada, Ada Wong. Please don't shoot, please, I haven't done anything..."Annette frowned, backing up a step. "Ada... Wong. I know that name - Ada, that was John's girlfriend's name..." Ada's mouth dropped open. "Yes, John Howe! But... how did you know? Do you know where he is?" The disheveled scientist glared at her. "I know because John worked with my husband, William. You've heard of him, of course - William Birkin, the man responsible for the creation of the T-Virus."

Annette fairly glowed with a mix of pride and despair as she spoke, giving Ada hope; it was a weakness that she could use. Ada had read the files on William Birkin - read about his steady climb through Umbrella's hierarchy, the advances in virology and genetic sequencing... and about the scientific ambi- tion that had made him a veritable sociopath. It looked as though his wife was operating on a similar plane - which meant that the Mrs. would have no problem pulling the trigger.

Play it dumb, and don't give her a reason to doubt it. "T-Virus? What's..." Ada blinked, then widened her eyes. "Doctor Birkin? Wait, the Doctor Birkin, the biochemist?"

She saw a flash of pleasure cross Annette's face, but then it was gone, and there was only despair. Despair and the flickering of bitter madness, deep in her bloodshot eyes. "John Howe is dead," she said coldly, "he died three months ago at the Spencer estate. My condo-lences, but then, you're about to join him, aren't you? You're not going to take the G-Virus away from me, you can't have it!" Ada started to shake all over. "G-Virus? Please, I don't know what you're talking about!" "You know," Annette snarled. "Umbrella sent you to steal it, you can't lie to me! William's dead to me now, Umbrella took him from me, they forced him to use it! They forced him..."

She trailed off, her gaze suddenly far away. Ada Tensed, but then Annette was back, her eyes welling up with tears, the weapon pointed at Ada's face. "A week ago, they came," she whispered. "They came to take it, and they shot my William when he wouldn't give them the samples. They took the case, they took all of the finals, both series - except for the one that he managed to keep, the G-Virus..."

Annette's voice raised into a shout suddenly, a pathetic and somehow pleading shout. "He was dy-ing, don't you see? He didn't have any choice!" Ada understood. She understood all of it. "He injected himself, didn't he?"

The scientist nodded, her limp blond hair falling across her eyes, her voice a whisper again. "It revi-talizes cellular function. It... it changed him. I didn't see - what he did, but I saw the bodies of the men who tried to kill him, afterwards... and I heard the screams."

Ada took a step closer, reaching out as if to comfort her, her own features set into a mask of sympathy, but Annette thrust the gun at her again. Even in her sorrow, she wasn't going to let Ada get any closer.

But it's almost close enough... "I'm so sorry," Ada said, lowering her arms. "So the G-Virus, it leaked, it changed all of Raccoon..." Annette shook her head. "No. When the Umbrella assassins were stopped, the case was broken. The T-Virus leaked - the lab workers hit by the airborne were contained, but there were rats, you see. Rats in the sewers..." She paused, her lips trembling. "... unless Wil-liam, my sweet William has started to reproduce. Implanting embryos, replicating... it shouldn't be time for that yet, but I..."

She broke off, her eyes narrowing, the madness sweeping over her again as visibly as a crashing wave. High color flared in her pale cheeks, her red-rimmed eyes glossy with paranoia.

Get ready... "You can't have it!" Annette screamed, spittle flying from her cracked lips. "He gave his life to keep it from you, you're a spy and you can't have it..."

Ada ducked and leapt, pistoning both of her arms beneath Annette's, shoving the gun up and away from both of them. The Browning discharged, sending a round clanging off the ceiling as they fought for control of the weapon. Annette was physically weaker, but she was driven by demons of hatred and loss, the edge of insanity lending her strength -

- but no sense -

Ada let go of the gun suddenly and Annette stum- bled, not prepared for the unexpected move. She crashed against the railing of the bridge and Ada charged, driving her elbow into Annette's lower belly, hitting her beneath her center of balance and Annette half-turned, her mouth an open darkness of surprise, her arms pinwheeling for bal- ance - and she plummeted over the railing, silently, not a sound until the dull thump as her body hit the floor some twenty feet below. "Shit," Ada hissed, stepping to the rail and looking down. She lay there, facedown and motionless, the gun still clenched in one thin white hand.

That's just great. Walk into an ambush, not once but twice for hell's sake, then kill the one crazy bitch who can tell you where the samples are...

A low moan floated up from Annette Birkin's body and she moved, hunching her back, trying to roll onto her side.

Shit shit shit!

Ada turned and ran across the bridge, scooping up the Beretta as she hurried for what looked like a control panel next to the fan shaft ladder. She'd have to lower the bridge, get to Annette before she could crawl away...... except the panel was for the fan, and as another painful moan - a slightly louder moan - echoed up through the chamber, Ada knew she didn't have much time.

The dump, I can go through the dump, circle back around through one of the tunnels...

Even as she thought it, she was jogging for the west ladder, hoping that the pitiful scientist was injured enough to stay down for a minute or two. There was a small balcony at the end of the bridge that looked over the dump, and the metal ladder hung down from an opening at the far right. Ada lowered herself down as quickly as she could, dropping the last several feet onto a cement landing. The dumping area was a large boxy room, the walls heaped with industrial debris - smashed crates, rust- ing pipes, wire-encrusted panels, and rotting card-board. She stepped off the landing and into almost three feet of black sludge, the cold, gooey muck rising up to her thighs. She didn't care, she only wanted to get to the lady Birkin, to bring an end to her time in Raccoon -

- except something moved. Beneath the opaque and stinking liquid, something big moved. Ada saw what might have been a reptilian spine slice through the murk in front of her, saw and heard a stack of boards topple into the water some ten feet away in the same instant.

You gotta be kidding me...

Whatever it was, it was big enough to change her mind about the hurry she was in to get to Annette. Ada backed to the platform and boosted herself up, never taking her gaze from the indeterminate shape as it curled back through the lapping sludge...... and rose up in a sudden, violent spray of dark- ness, coming straight at her. Ada raised the Beretta and started to fire.

There was a tiny elevator platform in one corner of the empty conference room, a square of metal that apparently went down. Claire hurried toward it, fetid water dripping from her clothes, feeling horribly lost and anxious to keep moving, to find Sherry.

Please be alive, baby, please...

She'd found the drainage hole, but no Sherry and after agonizingly long moments of screaming into the rushing water, of trying to squeeze into the tiny hole, she'd forced herself to abandon the effort. Sherry was gone, maybe drowned, maybe not, but unless the flow of water suddenly decided to reverse itself, she wasn't coming back. Claire found the controls for the one-man lift and punched a button. A hidden motor whirred and the lift descended, inching down through the floor, proba-bly taking her to some other empty hall, some other blank and unknown room - or worse, directly into the path of yet another unnatural creature. She clenched her damp hands in frustration as the lift slid slowly down, wishing that it was faster, that there was some way to speed up her search. She felt like she was running blind, taking whatever path was in front of her; from the tunnel where Sherry had been lost, she'd found a dimly lit corridor and then the unadorned and somehow sterile conference room. It was like an endless funhouse - sans fun - and she was feeling pretty shitty for bringing Sherry into it; if the girl was dead, it would be her fault... She shut down the futile thinking before it got any farther, making herself focus. Self-recrimination was a killer, and she couldn't afford it. The elevator was lowering into a hall, and she crouched down, pointing Irons's heavy gun in front of her as her new surround- ings rose into view. The concrete corridor had another lift at the other end, and was intersected by a second hall, maybe forty feet away and next to the junction there was a body propped against one cement wall, what looked like a cop... She felt a mix of shock and distress, her eyes widening as she took in the cop's slack features, the hair color, the build...

... that's... Leon?

Before the lift hit the floor, Claire jumped off and ran toward the crumpled figure. It was Leon, and he wasn't moving, either unconscious or dead, but no, he was breathing, and as she crouched in front of him, his eyes flickered open. His hand was high on his left arm, his fingers wet with blood. "Claire?" His blue eyes seemed clear, tired but aware.

"Leon! What happened, are you okay?"

"I got shot, must've blacked out for a minute..."

He carefully took his hand away, exposing a small ragged hole just above his armpit, oozing red. It looked painful, but at least it wasn't gushing. Wincing, Leon pulled the shredded fabric of his uniform over the hole and put his hand back over it.

"Hurts like all hell, but I think I'll survive - Ada, where's Ada?"

The last was delivered almost frantically, Leon struggling to push himself away from the wall. With a soft groan, he fell back, obviously in no shape to move. "Lie still, just rest for a minute," Claire said. "Who's Ada?" "I met her at the station," he said. "I couldn't find you, and we heard that you can get out of Raccoon through the sewers. The city's not safe, there was some kind of a leak at the Umbrella lab, and Ada wanted to leave right away. Somebody shot at us, and I got hit - Ada went after the shooter, down that hall, she said it was a woman..."

He shook his head as if to clear it, then frowned up at her. "I have to find her. I don't know how long I was out, but not more than a couple of minutes, she can't have gone far..."

He started to sit forward again and Claire stopped him, pushing him back gently. "I'll go. I... I was with this little girl, and she's lost somewhere in the sewers. Maybe I can find both of them."

Leon hesitated - then nodded, resigning himself to his injury. "How's your ammo?" "Uh, seven in this one..." She patted the weapon that she'd taken from the squad car, tucked in her belt. It suddenly seemed like a million years ago, that wild ride. "...and seventeen in this one." She held up Irons's gun, and Leon nodded again, his head rolling back tiredly. "Okay, that's good. I should be able to follow in a few minutes... be careful, alright? And good luck."

Claire stood up, wishing that they had more time. She wanted to tell him about Chris, about Irons and Mr. X and the T-Virus, she wanted to find out what he knew about Umbrella, or if he knew the way out of the sewers, but this Ada might be facing down a sniper right now, and Sherry could be anywhere. Anywhere at all. Leon had closed his eyes. Claire turned and started down the intersecting hall, wondering if any of them had a chance to make it out of this madness alive.

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