As he'd suspected, that dead end shrine was a door, and the tiny leech statue that Rebecca had found fit perfectly in the door's "lock." There was a soft, hidden click and the door unlatched.
Billy studied the front of the door a moment before going in, deciding that the profile was, in fact, that of Dr. James Marcus. He wondered why the leech man they'd seen on the train had looked like Marcus; the leeches had been controlled by that obviously much younger man, the one singing outside. Was the real Marcus still around? It didn't seem likely. That diary Rebecca had found--Marcus had been raving, paranoid that Spencer was coming for him, coming to take his work, and that had been ten years ago. People that nuts usually weren't able to hold down day jobs.
Rebecca was waiting. He set the minor mystery aside and pushed past the extravagant door with the barrel of the shotgun. A quick scan for movement-- nothing--and he lowered the weapon, stepping farther inside.
"Wow," he said, hushed, looking around the room. It was an office, large, expensively fitted with built-in shelves and cabinets on one side, all dark, polished wood and beveled glass, an ornate fireplace opposite. The antique wood furniture--a low table, chairs, a big desk--was beautiful, the carpet plush, silencing his steps. He saw a door at the back of the room, behind the desk, and mentally crossed his fingers that it would turn out to be their escape route.
Much of the room's light came from a huge aquarium that dominated the northeast corner near where he stood, painting everything with watery bluish light, though the aquarium itself was empty--
--Billy frowned, stepped closer. Not empty. There were no fish, no rocks or plants, but there were a number of things floating at the top--disgusting things, unrecognizable but no less grotesque. They appeared to be pieces of human flesh, but shapeless, boneless, like deformed, amputated body parts. Billy quickly moved on, disturbed by the pale floating objects.One of the wall cabinets stood open, and Billy walked to it, scanning the books inside. An ancient photo album lay on one shelf and he picked it up. He knew he had to get back to Rebecca but he was curious, wondering if the bust on the door meant he was in Marcus's office.
The photos were old, yellowed and curled. He turned a few pages, decided it was a waste of time. He started to put the album back--and a loose picture fluttered out. He stooped to pick it up, held it up to the blue, rippling light.
The picture itself wasn't particularly interesting, a trio of young men from the thirties or forties, all looking clean-cut and well scrubbed, smiling at the picture taker. On the back, someone had written, "To James, To commemorate your graduation, 1939."
Billy studied the photo, decided that the young man in the middle could be James Marcus. Something about the shape of the head ... He looked familiar, somehow...
"That guy," he said, nodding to himself. The singer from the train. They hadn't seen him well, but he had the same stance, the same wide shoulders ... "He could be Marcus's son. Or grandson."
There was a puzzle here, and he was starting to think he'd just found another piece. If Spencer had overthrown Marcus, taken his work, wouldn't Marcus's son, or his son's son, want revenge? Maybe the viral outbreak hadn't been an accident. Maybe the guy with the leeches had done it.
Billy sighed, setting the photo on top of the album. That was all good and well, but for all practical purposes, who gave a shit? He needed to be looking for a way out.
He checked the desk for keys or maps, found nothing, and went to the room's second door, thankfully unlocked. He pushed it open, felt his hopes dwindle; there was no big tunnel with a flashing exit sign. It was an art storage room, looked like, paintings stacked against walls, a few statues draped with sagging dropcloths. One statue was uncovered, a white marble piece that looked like one of those old Roman gods, seated against one flocked wall, its dusty gaze uplifted, a hand cupped near its belly:--
--and holding something. Something green.
Billy walked over and took the small object from the statue's pallid fingers, smiling faintly when he realized what it was. It was another carving of a leech, this one in green instead of blue.
Another key, perhaps to another secret door. And this one might really be their ticket out.
Day One Administrated T to four leeches. Their single-minded biology makes them perfect candidates for this research, but they may be too simplistic to adapt. No immediate changes observed.
The word four was underlined. In the margin, someone had scrawled "change sequence" in a spidery hand, and circled it.
It was part of a lab journal, mostly dates and numbers. Rebecca had been about to set it back down when she'd seen that several phrases and words had been underlined on one of the last pages. She read on, looking for more of the marked passages.
Day Eight A week now. Rapid growth to double their former size, signs of transformation emerging. Spawning successful, their numbers doubled, but cannibalistic behavior has been initiated, presumably due to increase in appetite. Hastened to augment food supply, but lost two.
Numbers doubled and two were underlined.
Day 12 Provided them with live food but lost half when prey fought back. However, they are learning from experience, beginning to exhibit group attack behavior. Evolution is exceeding expectations. Lost half was underlined.
There were no more marked entries, but Rebecca skimmed on, disturbed by the success of the strange experiment.
Day 23, leeches no longer exhibit individual traits, can move as a collective. Day 31, breeding at a fantastic rate, eating everything offered now...
The last entry painted clearly for her just how far into madness Dr. Marcus had slipped.
Day 46 A day worthy of remembrance. Today, they began to mimic me. They recognize their father, I believe. I feel such strong affection for them, from them. Do they love? I think they do. It's us, now, only me and my brilliant children. No one will take them away from me.
With all that I've learned, they wouldn't dare.
It was Billy, calling up through the floor. Rebecca set the papers down and walked to the hole, kneeling next to it.
"Did you find anything useful?" she asked, looking down at him.
"Maybe. Catch," he said, tossing something small up through the hole. Rebecca caught it. It was another of the leech keys, this one green.
"Is there a door up there with a bust of Marcus on the front?" Billy asked.
Rebecca shook her head. "I don't know. Not in this room, anyway. I've been reading more about his whacko experiments. Want me to go take a look around?"
Billy hesitated. "Why don't I come up, we can both look. Just let me find another table or something ..."
"I'll be careful," Rebecca said. "Didn't you say there was another door down there? Maybe you should try and get it open while I see if I can find the keyhole for this thing."
"It's a combination lock," Billy said. "Unless you have a set of picks handy, I don't think we're going to get it open."
Rebecca sighed. Too bad Jill Valentine wasn't with them. She was on the Alpha team, and according to Barry, she could break into anything ...
. .. "change sequence." "Wait. Combination lock?"
Billy nodded, and Rebecca edged back from the hole, hurrying to the desk with Marcus's notes. She quickly read through the marked passages, did the math as she hurried back. Four leeches . . . Doubled ... Lost two... Lost half..."Try ... four-eight-six-three," she said.
"Wild guess?" Billy asked.
Rebecca smiled faintly. "Probably. Just check." She held up the green leech carving. "I'll see if I can find where this goes."
Billy nodded, reluctantly, and Rebecca stood up, started for the room's door, not sure if she was being brave or stupid. She didn't really want to do anything alone, not since her encounter with the primates, but as long as she was already on the first floor, it made sense for her to take a look.
The lab's door opened into a short corridor, three doors besides the one she'd come through. The first door, on the right, was locked. The second door, around a corner and also to the right, was open, but a quick glance inside showed nothing but a large, empty room, a small office set to one side. It was too dark to see much else. Rebecca closed the door, relieved that she was already two-thirds of the way through her little search, and went to the last door, at the end of the corridor.
Also unlocked. Rebecca pushed it open, saw yet another door only a meter in front of her; to the left, the room opened up into what appeared to be the same lab she'd started from ... It wasn't, but with the way the rooms were oriented, it had to be connected to the first lab. Maybe they'd split it up at some point----A movement. There, near a table by the connecting wall, was one of the infected, a gaunt, sallow man, his eyes blank, his mouth open and hungry. He shuffled toward her, making a soft gurgling sound in the back of his throat.
He was slow, very slow. Rebecca looked between him and the door in front of her, the weight of the leech-key warm in her hand. Taking a chance, she stepped forward and pushed at the door, was through and quickly closing it behind her before the too-thin zombie could take another step.
She'd stepped into an operating room, old and unclean, the once sterile tiles gray with a light film of scum, a few metal gurneys standing about on tilted wheels. And there, across from her and to the left, was a greenish door with a profile of Dr. Marcus on the front.
"Gotcha," she said, moving to the door, studiously avoiding a closer look at the operating table set in the room's far corner after she caught a glimpse of the heavy restraints attached. She had an idea of what Marcus had been up to; she didn't need to suffer the details.
The small leech fit perfectly into a depression just under the likeness of Dr. Marcus, and she heard the sound of a latch giving way. The door opened--
--and she took a step back, staggered by the smell, an odor she'd become all too familiar with. The narrow room was lined on both sides with morgue drawers, several of them standing open. There were two bodies on the floor, neither moving, but she trained her handgun on the closest, all the same. Breathing shallowly, she walked inside.
God, please let there be something here worth locking up, she thought, stepping past an overturned gurney. And let it be in plain sight, if it's not too much trouble. There was no way she was going to search each drawer.
At the far end of the room was an offshoot to the right. Rebecca stepped over the second body, turned the corner, trying not to gag at the atrocious smell. There was another metal gurney pushed to one side--and on top was a single metal key.
She picked it up, feeling a mix of emotion. She'd found something, that was good--but whoopee, another key. It could go anywhere, could be the key to Marcus's summer home for all she knew.
Maybe that first door in the corridor. . .
She pocketed the key and picked up her radio, moving toward the door as she answered.
"Yeah. What's up, over." She moved through the operating room, stopping at the door that led back to the partial lab. She'd want to run through to the corridor's entrance, avoid having to shoot that zombie if she could...
"There's no dial on the lock," Billy said, sounding irritated. "I went back and checked Marcus's office, but I didn't see anything. You had any luck, over?"
"Maybe," she said. "Let me check on one thing. I'll meet you back at the library, over."
"Careful. Over and out."
Careful. Rebecca shook her head slightly as she clipped the radio back to her belt, astounded at how fast a relationship could change, given the right--or wrong--circumstances. Only a few hours ago, she'd threatened to shoot him, had been convinced that he was ready to shoot her. Now, they were . . . Well, "friends" was probably not the right word, but it was seeming awfully unlikely that they'd end up killing one another.
For the first time in a while, she wondered what her teammates were doing. Was the manhunt for Billy still on? Had they been looking for her, for Edward? Or had they run into troubles of their own, been caught out by the fallout from the T-virus spill?...
. . . and speaking of. She listened at the door a moment, heard nothing. Taking a deep breath, she pushed the door open, quickly stepping across the short distance to the next door, not even looking into the lab. As she closed the door behind her, she heard a muffled wail of frustration, and felt a surge of pity for the hollow-eyed victim. The guy had probably worked here, but she wouldn't wish the zombie sickness on her worst enemy. It was a bad way to go, hands down.
She walked to the first door she'd tried, hoping the key would work, doubting that it would. She supposed they'd have to do a more thorough search for whatever it unlocked, or just keep looking for something else, another map, another key, another hole in a floor somewhere; it was disheartening, to say the least. If they couldn't turn anything up, they'd have to use the elevator again, take their chances above ground--
She slipped the key into the door's lock and turned it, heard and felt the lock give.
"No shit," she mumbled, grinning, and opened the door.
Something huge and dark leaped for her, howling.
Billy waited at the hole between the first and second floors, idly wondering if there was a way to blow that dial-lock door open with one of the Magnum shells--and heard a terrible, inhuman cry echoing down from the first floor, followed by one, two shots.
He didn't think to try the radio. He hopped onto the low table beneath the hole, hefted the shotgun through, then jumped after it, catching the edge with his hands. He'd doubted his abilities before, but now it didn't cross his mind that he might not be able to pull himself up. With a grant of exertion, he lifted his body through the hole, first scrabbling to his elbows, then getting one knee up.
He grabbed the shotgun and was on his feet in time to hear that animal scream again, a strange and unearthly sound, like a bird being shredded to pieces. He spent a half second orienting himself, finding the door, and then he was running.
He crashed through the door into a hall--and there was Rebecca backed against the wall opposite, one sleeve of her shirt torn, her arm scored with four deep scratches, pointing her weapon at--
--what the hell--
--at a monster, an immense, reptilian monster. It was humanoid, hugely muscled, its pebbled skin a dark, noxious green. Its arms were so long that its clawed hands almost touched the floor. When it saw Billy it dropped its thick jaw and screeched again, the small eyes in its flat, sloping skull practically glowing with malevolence. A thin stream of dark blood flowed from its upper chest, one of Rebecca's shots, but it didn't seem to be overly affected by the wound.
Try this, Billy thought, bringing the shotgun up as Rebecca opened fire again. He blasted the creature full in the face, pumped the weapon and fired again, not waiting to see what the first round had done--
--and the thing's face was gone, splashed across the wall and floor behind it, its heavy body toppling. A frothing river of blood poured from the shreds of its neck, from what little was left of its head--a bit of jawbone, of teeth, tatters of dark flesh.
Billy didn't move for a few seconds, listening, searching for another sound, another movement, but there was nothing. He turned his attention to Rebecca, who was gripping her injured left shoulder with her right hand. Blood seeped from beneath her fingers.
"The pack on my belt," she said. "There's a bottle of antiseptic wash in there, some bandages and tape ... It just clawed me. It didn't bite."
She looked pale, wincing as Billy cleaned her wound and taped it, but she bore up well, taking the pain rather than giving in to it. It was bad, probably needed stitches, but it also could have been a lot worse. When he was finishing up, she nodded toward the half open door across from them.
"It was locked in there. The thing, I mean."
She sounded shocked, dazed. Billy walked to the door, wanting to be in the way of anything else that might come popping out. He stopped at the headless monster, stood looking down at it.
"Kinda looks like the Creature from the Black Lagoon on steroids," Billy said, glancing back, hoping for a smile. He got one, shaky but real, and once again, was impressed with her fortitude. It was rare, to be able to recover so quickly from an unexpected attack, especially by a nightmare like the monster in front of him. Most people would be shaking for hours afterward.
Rebecca moved to stand beside him. She nudged one of the creature's bulky legs with her boot. "Amazing," she said. "The things they were doing out here. Genetic engineering, recombinant viruses . . ." "I think 'psychotic' is the word you're looking for," Billy said.
She nodded. "Can't argue that. Let's see if it was guarding anything important."
They stepped around the creature, Rebecca explaining what she'd found on the rest of the floor as they moved into the room. It was a kennel of some kind, but Billy was fairly certain it hadn't been used to board dogs; there were stacks of steel bar cages, many of them fitted with restraints, and the smell in the air was that of wild animals, a gamy, rank odor.
". . . which is where I found the key to this room," she was saying. "I was hoping that meant there'd be something useful here."
The room was U-shaped, split by shelves. They moved around the shelves, Rebecca letting out a small sound of disgust. Heaped in the far corner was a heap of torn fur and gnawed bones, what appeared to be the remains of a few of those baboon creatures. There was a lot of feces scattered about, too, dense piles of a black, tarry substance that smelled like-- well, like shit. It seemed the monster had been locked up for a while.
There was a small wood table between two of the cage stacks, a few papers scattered across the top. Billy walked over--stepping carefully--and picked up the page on top as Rebecca started poking through a few of the open cages. It appeared to be part of a report.
. . . and yet research to date has shown that when the Progenitor virus is administered to living organisms, violent cellular changes cause breakdowns in every major system, most consistently the CNS. Furthermore, no satisfactory method has been found to control the organisms for use as weapons. Clearly, greater coordination at the cellular level is essential to enable further growth.
Experiments on insecta, amphibia, mammalia (primate) have all fallen short of projected results. It appears that no further progress can be made without using humans as the base organism. Our recommendation at this time is that the experimental animals be kept alive for further study and as possible prey for field testing of newer suggested hybhd B.O.W.s, such as the upcoming Tyrant series.
Jesus. Billy rifled through the pages, looking for the rest of the report, but there were only a handful of coffee-stained feeding schedules.
Tyrant series. All the creatures we've seen . . . And they were working on something that could conceivably kick said creatures' asses.
Billy looked up, saw Rebecca holding something small up in the air, a triumphant grin on her face.
He dropped the report back on the table. "You're kidding me."
"Nope. It was in one of the cages." She tossed the item to him. Billy caught it, felt his own grin surfacing. It was exactly what he'd been looking for, a rounded knob made to fit on the front of the combination lock downstairs.
"Four eight six three?" Billy asked, and Rebecca nodded.
"Four eight six three," she repeated, and held up her hand, showing him her crossed fingers. Billy crossed his own. It was dumb, a child's superstition, but he was long past the point of caring whether or not he appeared rational. Anything that could help, he'd give it a shot.
"Let's go see," he said, feeling hope resurface yet again as they moved out of the monster's room, amazed at how resilient that particular feeling was. There was a quote somewhere, about how as long as there was life, there was hope. He'd heard it when he'd been on trial, had thought it obvious and stupid at the time. How strange and somehow marvelous, that he would discover the truth of that statement fighting for his life in such very different circumstances.
Together, they headed back for the lab. Billy kept his fingers crossed.