The baboon ran for them as soon as they stepped back into the hall--and it died spectacularly, the double-barreled shotgun blasting it to shreds with a deafening roar. Billy broke and reloaded with his one remaining shell. He thought he'd had more, but it seemed he'd lost them somewhere along the way. In any case, nothing else came at them, and they headed back out toward the main room, Billy feeling much lighter than he had in a long time. Besides the much-needed laugh, a break in the relentless chaos they'd both endured, it was the first time he'd told his story to anyone who was actually listening, who was willing to consider that he might be telling the truth. They stopped at the giant circle of stone statuary in the middle of the large chamber, looking it over. There were six carved animals spaced evenly around the circle, facing outward. Each had a small plaque in front of it, a small oil lamp positioned next to each plaque. The animals were expertly carved, but the whole thing was a monstrosity, a real eyesore.

The animal in front of him was an eagle in flight, a snake clutched in its talons. He read aloud from its plaque: "I DANCE FREELY THROUGH THE AIR, CAPTURING A LEGLESS PREY." He frowned, moved to the next animal over, a deer, reading from its plaque. "I STAND TALL ON THE EARTH WITH HORNS PROUDLY DISPLAYED."


Rebecca had walked around the unfortunate art piece, stopped at a steel gate set into the wall behind it. The gate blocked a short hall, two doors set into its walls. "There's a sign here, says"--she turned, studying the animals--"basically, go from weakest to strongest, using the lamps. It's some kind of puzzle." She grabbed one of the metal bars of the gate, shook it. "Must be how we open the gate."

"So you have to light the lamps in order, starting with the weakest animal," Billy said. Dumb. Why someone would go through all the trouble ... He pulled the map out of his back pocket, studied it. "It just looks like a couple of rooms back there. I don't see an exit."

Rebecca shrugged. "Yeah, but maybe there's something in there we can use. Can it hurt?"

"I don't know," he said truthfully. "Maybe." She smiled, turning to the stone animal nearest her, a tiger, reading from the plaque beneath it. "I AM THE KING OF ALL I SURVEY: NO CREATURE CAN ESCAPE MY GRASP."

Billy moved to his left, to a carving of a snake coiled around a tree limb. "This one says, I CREEP UP ON MY VICTIMS IN LEGLESS SILENCE AND CONQUER EVEN THE MIGHTIEST OF KINGS WITH MY POISON."

Rebecca read the last two aloud--the words beneath a wolf carving were, MY SHARP WIT ALLOWS ME TO BRING DOWN EVEN THE GREATEST HORNED BEAST.

The sixth animal was a horse, reared back on its hind legs. The legend beneath it was, NO AMOUNT OF CUNNING CAN MATCH THE SPEED OF MY SUPPLE LIMBS.

Horned beast. Billy walked back to the deer, read the part about "horns proudly displayed."

"So, the wolf is stronger than the deer," he said.

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"And if cunning can't outrace a horse, the horse is stronger than the wolf," she said. "What's stronger than the snake?"

"Gotta be the eagle, it's carrying a snake," Billy said.

They each circled around the statue, calling out observations, working the puzzle. They finally agreed on a sequence, and Billy walked to each animal, lighting the appropriate oil lamp in the appropriate order--from weakest to strongest, at least according to the statue, the order was deer, wolf, horse, tiger, snake, and eagle.

As he lit the eagle's lamp, there was a heavy, mechanical sound from somewhere inside the statuary--and the steel gate behind them rose smoothly, sliding into a niche at the top of the archway.

Together, they moved down the hall. The first room, on their right, appeared to hold nothing of value at first glance. There were a bunch of emptied packing crates, a few cluttered shelves. Billy was ready to move on when Rebecca stepped inside, heading for the crates. One of them was turned away from the door so they couldn't see what was in it-- and when she stepped around it, she let out an excited laugh, crouching next to the crate, pushing it around so he could see. Billy hurried to her side, feeling like a kid at Christmas. Guess that damned puzzle was worth the effort, after all.

Two and a half boxes of nine-millimeter rounds. A half box of twenty-twos, which wouldn't do them much good, nor would the pair of speed loaders-- Billy had to explain that the round metal gadgets were designed to quickly load revolvers--with the .50 rounds. But the box of shotgun shells, fourteen in all, would certainly help. Billy wouldn't have minded running across a bazooka, but all things considered, they couldn't have hoped for much better.

They spent a few minutes loading the clips theyhad. Rebecca found a fanny pack with a broken zipper on one of the shelves and they loaded it up, along with her utility belt; they agreed it was better to take it all, on the chance that they might discover more weapons. Billy rigged the zipper with a safety pin he found on the floor and donned the pack, comforted by the weight of so much ammo.

"I could kiss you," he said, lifting the shotgun-- and at her silence, he turned to look at her, saw that she'd flushed slightly. She looked away, adjusting her belt.

"I didn't mean literally," he said. "I mean, not that you're not attractive, but you're--I'm--I meant--"

"Don't have kittens," she said coolly. "I know what you meant."

Billy nodded, relieved. They had enough to deal with without the male-female thing. Though she is pretty cute--

He shook it off, reminding himself that he'd just spent a year without any women around--and now was so not the time to address it.

They headed to the second door, found it unlocked. It was a bunk room, shabby and dirty, the bunks slapped together from plywood, the few blankets scattered around threadbare and dingy. Considering the poor accommodations and the locked steel gate down the hall, Billy thought it was safe to assume that the inhabitants hadn't been volunteers. Re-becca had told him what that diary had said, about testing human subjects ...

The whole facility gave him the creeps. The sooner they could get out, the better.

"Do we go down, or up?" Rebecca asked, as they moved back into the hall.

"There's an observatory upstairs, right?" Billy asked. Rebecca nodded. "So let's go observe. Maybe we can signal for help or something."

He realized that he'd just suggested they try and get rescued, but he didn't take it back, even understanding what it most likely meant for him. He knew that he'd rather die fighting for his life than be executed . . . But there was Rebecca to consider. She was a good person, honest and sincere, and he'd do what he could to get her out of this alive.

They moved out, Billy wondering where his criminal nature had gotten off to, quickly deciding that he was better off without it. For the first time since that terrible day in the jungle village, he felt like himself again. He watched them stock up on ammunition, both impressed and disappointed by their fortitude. After another consultation with their maps, they started upstairs, presumably for the observatory; although the children could hear their voices, they could not make out their words.

He'd had the children search out the tablets that would be needed, had had the tablets taken to the doors that led to the observatory. Unless Billy and Rebecca were entirely moronic--which they'd already proven they were not--they would figure out how to trigger the structure's rotation, leading them closer to their escape. From there they would move on to the laboratory, hidden behind the chapel...

He wondered what they would find there, in Marcus's laboratories; more to steal, perhaps. He wanted them to uncover what they could about Umbrella's true nature, but was not pleased to see them picking through the sad remnants of Marcus's brilliant career.

He still thought of the laboratories as Marcus's, though Marcus had been gone for a decade. The entire complex had been shut down after the manager's "disappearance," but recently, Umbrella had reopened it all--the labs, the treatment plant, the training center. None had been fully functional when the virus had hit; they were being run by skeleton crews of maintenance men, watched over by a handful of middle management hopefuls; nonetheless, the company had lost a number of loyal employees.

Billy and Rebecca moved through the east rooms on the first floor and back out into the lobby, then headed to the second floor. They found the door that would take them to the third easily enough, entering the stairwell with weapons drawn, their youthful faces determined and seemingly unafraid. He watched as they started up the stairs, emotionally torn. He wanted to see them succeed, and see them die. Was there a way to have both? They had managed the Eliminator series easily, although the primates had been weakened by hunger and neglect. How would they fare against the Hunters? Or the proto-Tyrant?

What if they came to where he and the children waited and watched? What would they do?

The young man frowned, unhappy with the thought. Sensitive to his moods, a number of the many slid up his legs, across his chest, gathering in a kind of embrace. He pet them, reassured them by touch that all was well. If the two adventurers actually made it to the nest--still an unlikely premise-- he would let them pass, of course, so that they might spread the story of Umbrella's sins.

"Or perhaps I'll kill them," he said, shrugging. He would decide when--if--it occurred. To say that he was indifferent to their fate was untrue; as he waited for the death of Umbrella to unfold, watching Billy and Rebecca had become a pleasure, and he was most interested to see what would happen to them. But he would see them dead before he'd let them hurt the children again.

They had reached the top of the stairs, were cautiously peering around the railing, searching for movement. The young man suddenly remembered the Centurion, hiding in the walls of the breeding pool, and wondered if it would come out to see who had invaded its territory. Billy and Rebecca had best hope not. If the Eliminators were but pawns in this game, the Centurion was one of his knights. The young man eagerly leaned in to watch.

The trip up to the third floor had been uneventful, though they'd had to hurry through the dining room; the two zombies that roamed around the tables had been too slow to bother shooting, but she didn't feel particularly comfortable taking a leisurely stroll past the dying creatures, either. Considering that Billy was three steps ahead of her, he obviously felt the same.

Now, standing at the top of the stairs, Rebecca relaxed a little. The third floor--at least this part of it--was a single, giant room, no hidden corners to worry about. The doors to the observatory were over to their right. Straight across from them was the breeding pool, a recessed, empty pit that stretched most of the room's length, and to the left, a door that, according to the map, led to an outdoor patio.

"What do you think they were breeding?" Billy asked, his voice low. Still, it echoed slightly in the vast room.

"Don't know. Leeches, maybe," she said. She thought about that solitary figure they'd seen from the train, singing to the leeches, and suppressed a shudder. "So, observatory or patio?"

Billy looked back and forth, then shrugged. "It seems safe. We could each take one door--just open and look, though, no splitting up, okay?"

Rebecca nodded. She definitely felt safer having a bigger supply of ammo, but that fall had knocked some caution into her. She wasn't nearly so gung-ho on separating. "I'll take the patio."

They moved out, their footsteps echoing in the huge chamber. The door to the observatory was closer; only her steps rang out after a moment, as she continued on to the south wall.

"Hey," Billy called, as she reached the door. He was holding up what looked like a book, two more in his other hand. Rebecca squinted across the large room, saw that they were made of stone, that each was rounded on one end. "These were in front of the door."

"What are they?" she said. Her voice, though low, carried easily in the still, cool air.

"Decorative, maybe," he said. "Each one has a word etched on the front." He looked down at the tablets, shuffled through them. "Ah ... we got unity, discipline, and obedience."

That recording they'd heard, Dr. Marcus's recitation of the company motto--they were the same three words. "Hang on to 'em," Rebecca said. "They might be part of some puzzle, like the animals."

"My thoughts exactly," Billy said, and in a lower voice, "crazy-ass house."

She turned back to the door, raising her handgun as she pushed at the handle--and it was locked. She sighed, her shoulders sagging, realizing how amped up she'd been for some kind of attack.

"Locked," she called out.

Billy had opened the door to the observatory and was still looking inside. He turned back, holding the door open. "This might be promising. I don't know what any of it does, but there's a shitload of equipment in here; maybe a radio, too."

A radio. She felt her hopes surge. "Here I--"

The word come was cut off by a sound of animal movement, a heavy rattle that reverberated through the room. She and Billy both stared at one another, the distance between them suddenly much greater than she'd previously thought.

The sound came again. It was the sound of something hard rapidly clattering against rock, like someone drumming steel fingers against a tabletop, and it was loud. Whatever it was, it was big--and getting closer, from the increase in sound. It was hard to tell where it was coming from; the echoes masked the direction--"The breeding pool," Billy shouted, waving her over. "Come on!"

She broke into a run, her heart hammering, afraid to look at the breeding pool, afraid not to. She sensed movement there, something dark and fluid, and ran faster, finally risking a glance as she passed it by.

The sight of it drove conscious thought away. It was a centipede or millipede, big enough to put those shepherd-sized spiders to shame. Yellow eyes seemed to glow from either side of a glossy black skull, long, reddish antennae twitching and quivering from the top of its head. Its long, sinuous body was low to the ground, plated and segmented, riding atop dozens of pointed red legs. It was easily four meters long, maybe longer, as big around as a barrel--and moving toward her, fast, its legs waving, rippling as it propelled itself across the empty pool.

"Run!" Billy yelled, and Rebecca ran for her life, now breathing in the stink of the creature, a terrible sour smell that would have made her gag if she'd had time to bother. Billy was holding the door to the observatory open with his foot, the shotgun trained just past her, and she could feel how close it was, feel it like a shadow overtaking her.

Just as she reached Billy, he fired, pumping the shotgun and firing again as she flew past him, diving through the door. The second she was through, he leaped back, the door slamming closed--and a split-second past that, they heard its body brush past the door, the sound of its armored body pressing against heavy wood. They waited, both of them staring at the door--but after a few seconds the sound stopped, became the clatter of many feet moving away.

"Good Christ," Billy said. Rebecca nodded. He reached down, helped her to her feet, both of them breathing heavily.

"Let's not go back that way," Rebecca said, hoping very much that they wouldn't have to.

"Sounds like a plan," Billy agreed.

They were silent for a moment, looking around at their sanctuary. It was a big, round room, bi-level. They were standing on a kind of catwalk that half-circled the room; another set of doors was at the northern end. Near the doors was a short ladder off the walk, leading down to a metal mesh platform that was lined with equipment. Beneath the platform was darkness.

Together, they moved around the walk, stopping at the second set of doors. Locked. They exchanged a dismal glance but said nothing, heading for the ladder. Rebecca went down first, stopping at the large piece of machinery that dominated the room at its center, presumably the telescope. There was a telescope arm, but it was high overhead, out of reach. Behind her, Billy was looking at the rest of the equipment, computer banks and other machines that she didn't recognize. She turned back to the telescope, looking down at the console--and felt her breath catch. There were three empty depressions on it, each shaped like a small tombstone, flat on one end, rounded on the other.

"I don't see a radio here, but--" Billy was saying, until she interrupted.

"Tell me you still have those tablets," she said.

Billy turned, looked at the console as he unzipped his pack. He pulled the tablets out, each about the size of a paperback book but thinner. Rebecca took them, remembering Umbrella's discomfiting motto as she set them in place. "Obedience breeds discipline. Discipline breeds unity. Unity breeds power. . ."

"And power is life," Billy finished.

As soon as the third tablet fell into place, a giant sound filled the tall room, a sound of vast machines at work--and they could feel the room around them start to descend, like an elevator. Not just the platform, the entire room, walls and all. Beneath their feet, the darkness rose up, became a pool of water, agitated into a froth by the moving platform. Rebecca had a second to wonder if the platform was going to stop, a flash of panic that they were about to be drowned--and then the sound of machinery died away, the room becoming still again. In the last, fading drone of the machines, they heard a clear click sound coming from the northern doors overhead.

They looked at each other, and Rebecca saw her surprise mirrored on his lean face.

"Guess we know where to go next," Billy said, trying a smile, but it wasn't a convincing one. Rebecca didn't even try. They were being led--but was it to freedom, or like lambs to slaughter?

One way to find out. Without speaking, they turned and walked to the ladder.

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