Ada wong fit the shimmering disc of metal into the slot on the statue, patting it into the opening until it was flush with the marble. As soon as it was in place, she heard the shift of hidden levers and stepped back to see what would happen. Her footfalls echoed through the massive lobby of the RPD building, the sounds reverberating back to her from three stories of open room.

Another key? One of the subbasement medals? Or perhaps the sample itself, hidden in plain sight... wouldn't that be a happy surprise.

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If wishes were horses. The water-bearing nymph made of stone slid forward at a slight angle, the pitcher at her shoulder dropping a slender piece of metal atop the lip of the defunct fountain. The spade key. She sighed, picking it up. She already had the keys; in fact, she had everything she needed to search the sta- tion, and most of what she needed to get into the lab. If it wasn't for someone at Umbrella dropping the bomb, the job would have been a walk. Easy money.

Instead, I get a three-day vacation sans comfort, I get night of the living standoff, I get to play Put the Bullet in the Brain and Let's Find the Reporter at the same time. The samples could be anywhere by now, depending on who survived. Assuming I make it out of here with the goods, I'm asking for a big goddamn bonus; no one should have to work in these conditions.

Ada slipped the key into her hip pack, then gazed unseeing at the upper balustrade of the impressive hall, mentally checking off the rooms she'd been through and the ones she'd searched more thor- oughly. Bertolucci didn't seem to be anywhere on the east side of the building, upstairs or down; she'd spent what felt like hours staring into dead faces, searching the reeking piles of corpses for his square jaw and anachronistic ponytail. Of course, he could be mov- ing, but from the information she had on him, it was improbable; the reporter was very much a rabbit, a hider in the face of danger.

Speaking of danger...

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Ada shook herself and got moving, heading back to the door that led into the lower east wing. The lobby was safe enough from the virus carriers, they didn't seem to understand the concept of doorknobs, but there were threats besides the infected. God only knew what Umbrella might send in to clean up... or what had been freed from the laboratory when the leak occurred. Less frightening but just as bothersome were the live cops that might still be trooping around, looking for someone to save. She'd heard gunfire, some distant, some not, every hour or three since she'd gone to ground; there were still at least a few uninfected left in the expansive old building. Trying to convince a panicky he-man with a gun that she was alive and didn't want an escort made facing the undead seem almost appealing. Walking on the balls of her feet to avoid additional noise, Ada slipped through the door and then leaned against it at the end of a long hall, safe to decide on her next move; although she hadn't checked out the basement yet and there were still several carriers wandering around in the detectives' room, the hall's doors were all closed; if someone or something wanted to get at her, she'd be able to see it coming and get out in time.

Ah, the exciting life of the freelance agent. Travel the world! Earn money by stealing important things! Fight off the living dead when you haven't showered or eaten a decent meal in three days - impress your friends!

She reminded herself again to insist on that bonus. When she'd arrived in Raccoon less than a week before, she thought she'd been prepared; the maps had been studied, the reporter's files memorized, her cover story set - a young woman looking for her boyfriend, an Umbrella scientist. That part was al- most true; in fact, it had been her brief relationship with John Howe ten months before that had landed her the job. More of a one-night stand, actually, and not a very good one at that, but John had thought otherwise, and his connection to Umbrella, though it had probably killed him, had turned out to be a lucky break for her. So, she'd been ready. But within twenty-four hours of her self-assured check-in at Raccoon City's nicest hotel, her luck had changed; while eating dinner in the vinyl-encased and mostly empty lounge of the Arklay Inn, she'd heard the first screams outside. The first, but by no means the last. In some ways, the disaster was an asset; there'd be no guards posted around the lab, no endless covert trial runs. The prep work she'd done on the T-Virus had assured her that the airborne was short-lived and dissipated quickly; the only chance of catching it at this point would be through contact with a carrier, so that wasn't a problem - and once she and a couple dozen others had made it to the police station, she'd seen that Bertolucci was among them. Even with the undead factor, it initially looked like things were going in her favor.

Mission objectives: question the hack, find out how much he knows and kill him or ignore him, depending; retrieve a sample of the new virus, Dr. Birkin's latest wonder. No problem, right?

Three days before, with the knowledge of how the Umbrella lab connected into the sewer system and Bertolucci standing right in front of her, the job had looked pretty wrapped. And of course, that's when things had started to go wrong. The rearranged station, with the rooms shifted around after the S.T.A.R.S. fiasco, making half my preparations obsolete. People disappearing. The barri-cades that kept coming down. Police Chief Irons, throwing off commands like some cut-rate dictator, still trying to impress Mayor Harris and his whiny daughter even as the dead piled up... She'd watched Bertolucci closely enough to see that he was going to duck and run, but had missed the exit; she hadn't even had time to make contact before he had disappeared somewhere into the maze of the station, losing himself in the commotion of the first wave of attacks. Ada had decided to fly solo herself when three-fourths of the civilians were wiped out in a single mass assault not an hour later, all because no one had bothered to lower the garage gates. She wasn't willing to die to keep up her cover as a frightened tourist looking for her boyfriend. And so came the wait. Almost fifty hours of waiting for things to settle, tucked in the clock tower on the third floor, slipping downstairs to find food or to use a bathroom in the lengthening stretches of time be- tween gunplay. Between the echoing clatter of shots and the screams...

Terrific. So now you're out and what do you do?

Stand around and reflect. Get on with it; the sooner you finish, the sooner you can collect your wages and retire to some nice island somewhere.

Still, for a moment Ada didn't move, tapping the muzzle of her Beretta absently against one long, stockinged leg. There were three bodies sprawled in the hallway; she couldn't stop staring at one of them, crumpled beneath a window counter halfway down the corridor. A woman in cutoff shorts and a halter, her legs crudely splayed, one arm cocked above her blood-soaked head. The other two were cops, no one she recognized, but the woman had been one of the people she'd talked to when she'd first made it to the station. Her name had been Stacy something-or- other, a nervous but strong-willed girl just out of her teens. Stacy Kelso, that was it. She'd run into town to pick up some ice cream and had ended up caught in the takeover - yet in spite of her own predicament, she was more concerned about her parents and little brother, still at home. A conscientious girl. A good girl. Why was she thinking about it? Stacy was dead, a ragged hole at her left temple, and Ada hadn't capped her; it wasn't like she had anything to feel personally responsible about. She'd come in on a job, and it wasn't her fault that Raccoon had gone nova... Maybe it's not guilt, some part of her whispered. Maybe you're just sorry she didn't make it. She was a person, after all, and now she's as dead as her parents and kid brother probably are... "Snap out of it," she said, softly but with an edge of irritation. She tore her gaze from the woman's pathet- ic form, fixing it instead on a broken ashtray at the end of the hall. Feeling bad about things she couldn't control wasn't her style, it wasn't how she'd gotten to the top of her trade - and considering how much Mr. Trent was putting up to retain her services, now wasn't the best time to be analyzing her empathy skills. People died, it was the way of the world, and if she'd learned anything in the course of her life it was that agonizing over that particular truth was point-less. Mission objectives: talk to Bertolucci and get the G-Virus sample. That was all she needed to worry about. There was a mechanism that Ada still had to check a few twisted passages away from where she stood, in the press conference room. Trent's notes on the archi- tect's latest additions to the station had been sketchy, but she knew it had to do with the ornate, sculpted gas lamps and an oil painting. Whoever had commis- sioned all of the work had one serious secret life going on; there were actual hidden passages upstairs, behind the wall of what had once been a storage room. She hadn't gone through them yet, although a quick glance had told her that the room itself had been remodeled as an office. Judging from the overstuffed and neuroti- cally macho decor, it was probably Irons's. Even from the short time she'd been in his company, she'd ascertained that he wasn't the most stable man who had ever walked; there was no question that he was on Umbrella's payroll, but there was also something about him that just screamed dysfunctional. Ada started down the hall, her dress flats clicking loudly on the scuffed blue tiles; she was already dreading yet another time-consuming mechanical puzzle. Not that there was any help for it; she had assumed from the beginning that the virus was still in the lab, but she couldn't afford to take any chances on passing up an earlier retrieval. The files indicated that there were between eight and twelve one-ounce vials of the stuff, information from a two-week-old video feed - and Birkin's lab was far from impenetrable. With the underground lab connected to the station through the sewer mains, she had to entertain the possibility that the samples had been moved. Besides, Bertolucci could be tucked away in the research library or in the S.T.A.R.S. office on the west side, maybe the darkroom; dead or not, he had to be found. And it would also give her a chance to collect a few more nine-millimeter clips from the fallen RPD. She followed the passage as it led her past a small waiting area, complete with vending machines that had already been pried open and ransacked. As with the rest of the station, the corridor was cold and badly in need of air freshener; she'd grown used to the smell, but the chill was murder. For the hundredth time since abandoning her table at the Arklay, Ada wished that she'd dressed more casually for dinner. The sleeveless tight red tunic dress and clattery shoes were fine for cover, as mission gear, however, the outfit was somewhat less than practical. She reached the end of the hall and carefully opened the door to her left, weapon half-raised. As before, the corridor was clear, yet another testament to the faded elegance of the building - dusky sand- colored walls and symmetrically patterned tiles in this one. The station must have been magnificent once, but years of serving as an institutional facility had leeched away its grandeur; the tattered grand movie- house look and the cold, hopeless atmosphere created a distinctly sinister feel - as if at any moment a cold hand could fall across your shoulder, a soft gust of diseased breath whisper across the back of your neck... Ada frowned again; after this job, she was going to take a very long vacation. Either that, or it was time to find a new career. Her concentration - her ability to focus - wasn't what it used to be. And in her business a slip at the wrong time could literally mean death.

Big bonus. Trent smells like money. I'll ask seven digits, high six minimum.

In her attempts to let her thoughts go, to let animal awareness take over, she found that she couldn't keep out the persistent image that crept into her mind. A memory of young Stacy Kelso, anxiously pushing her hair behind her ears as she talked about her baby brother... After what felt like a very long time, Ada shook the troublesome vision and continued down the hall, promising herself that there would be no more lapses of concentration and wondering why she couldn't make herself believe it.

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