|Cast No Shadow
Author: Ada Adore PM
'There are times when even light passes straight through me and, like a ghost, I cast no shadow.' Leon tackles the Harvardville outbreak but the devastation of the previous 12 months has already left its mark. Set during the events of DegenerationRated: Fiction M - English - Drama/Angst - Leon S. K. & Ada W. - Chapters: 4 - Words: 18,055 - Reviews: 42 - Favs: 19 - Follows: 20 - Updated: 11-20-11 - Published: 09-17-11 - id: 7389124
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
*Rushes in* Update! Sorry, again, for the wait. My laptop died *mourns old laptop* and I had to buy and set up a new one. Luckily I'd backed everything up. :-)
Thanks for all the reviews and kind words. There have been a lot of questions about Ada's fate. I don't want to give anything away, but I will say that not everything is as it seems with Ada either in the games or in this fic. Also, Ada will feature regularly in this story, especially as Leon recalls the development of their relationship.
Chapter 4: Rights, Wrongs and Rituals
Washington DC Airport. Eighteen months ago
'I fuckin' hate politics.'
'Then you sure picked a lousy job.'
'He had a crappy guidance councillor.'
Laughter follows, amplified through collar mikes and earwigs.
I smile despite myself as I scan the horizon from behind pitch black shades and a damp brow.
'Alright, settle,' I mutter just loud enough for them to hear over the murmuring crowds and cell phone chatter, the sedate camera snaps from a strict distance of three hundred yards, 'Remember you're representing your agency.'
'Damn right Sir,' Agent Karen Disraeli, my second-in-command, turns to the agent on her right and raises a mocking eyebrow, 'I mean come on McLachlan. You could've at least done something with your hair.'
Kevin McLachlan is our resident demolition expert and team mascot. He's an ex-SEAL with a bravado so big it almost needed its own seat on the flight over. According to the photos in his file the guy's been as bald as an egg since he was 23.
He covertly flips Disraeli the bird as he straightens his sunglasses.
What McLachlan lacks in diplomacy he makes up for in heart so I'd vouched for him back in Denver when Hunnigan and I had whittled down the selection for Echo Team.
As for me, it's been almost a month since my Spanish Odyssey. The scars are knitting up nicely on the outside. But I can't look at shrimp without gagging (don't ask) and I haven't been home in a few days (really, don't ask). I'd resumed my duties with the Secret Service a few weeks earlier than expected by calling in a favour. It was all I could do to get things back to normal.
My first job? To suit up with five men and women I haven't seen since basic training and form an impromptu welcoming committee. Echo Team: Disraeli, McLachlan, Asante, Anders, Ishtay and me. And you'll never guess where they're sending us this time.
'Hyderabad? India?' I'd waved my orders under Hunnigan's nose within five minutes of receiving them at HQ on my first day back, 'You can't get rid of me fast enough, can you Ingrid?'
'And I was trying to be subtle,' she'd plucked the dossier from my hands and flipped it open to a coloured diagram of a five story research facility in the heart of India's eastern ridge, 'Hyderabad is the major hub for biotechnology and pharmaceuticals in Asia. Foreign contractors and private research firms fight tooth and claw for this real-estate.'
I'd smirked into my coffee, 'Yeah, I've read all about those guys. Heard they're even kind enough to hire the villagers as menial labour to build their labs. They're all heart.'
She'd ignored my cynical aside, 'This new medical centre outside the city was financed by WilPharma. It's attracted a lot of attention... not all of it the right kind. We need a physical presence at the facility for the opening ceremony four weeks from today.'
'I hear that. But why me? The ceremony's not on President Graham's itinerary.'
Hunnigan had wearily nudged her glasses along the bridge of her nose, 'He's not the man we want you to protect. Have you ever heard of Senator Ron Davis?'
Oh I'd heard of him. Hunnigan knew I'd heard of him. That's why she'd booked the flight before I could have a chance to turn the job down.
'How's it feel Sir?' Anders mutters out of the corner of his mouth as the chopper comes into view, 'To be back in the saddle?'
'You mean being pimped out with you guys again?' I ask, not taking my eyes off the hovering aircraft, 'Let's just say we're only a few hours in and I'm already sore.'
More laughter, this time strained. They're watching the bird set down on the tarmac and I can feel waves of trepidation passing between us as we stand here shoulder to shoulder in pressed black suits with tiny flags pinned to the lapels. There are six of us to protect a single low level senator for four weeks. The math ain't right and we all know it. Uncle Sam is keeping something from us and whatever it is is on that chopper.
We're at a private airport just outside Washington waiting for Senator Ronald Davis the Third. Republican, philanthropist and the best ally pharmaceutical firms can ask for. He doesn't come from money, none of his relatives work in politics or industry. No, Davis had worked his way up the food chain from a humble background. A farmer's son. Says so all over his manifesto.
Not that it matters much to the throng of men and women behind me; they're south of the picket lines but just within earshot.
'No to Proposition no to 24!' they cry out, wrestling with their homemade banners against the wind as the media circle around them for snapshots and sound bites.
When I'd arrived along with Echo Team it'd taken forty minutes and an armed escort to cut through the crowd.
'I don't get it. What is "Proposition 24"?' Agent Fiona Asante had asked, leaning over Ishtay to get a better look at the protesters jeering at the cops stationed beside the main entrance to the airport.
'Jesus, am I the only the one that reads our mission briefs?' McLachlan had sniffed, absently scratching his meaty chest.
'Yes. Yes you are. Hang on a minute and I'll fetch you a gold star and cookie,' Disraeli had shot him a crooked smile before answering Asante, our youngest and greenest recruit, 'Prop 24 is a move to incorporate the town of Port Greendale on the west coast. It's in Senator Ron Davis' state. The proposed plan is to split the town up, making Port Greendale a bonafide city and separating it from its suburbs.'
'Social cleansing,' McLachlan had thrown his hands into the air, fingers spread and framing his ivory-smooth face, 'You know, keeping out the great unwashed. House prices in the city'll rise, the rich'll get richer. The poor in the 'burbs will commute in from outside city limits to pump gas or flip burgers or-'
'Or the proposition, if voted through, could generate much needed jobs within a failing economy.'
'Wait a minute...' McLachlan had looked Disraeli up and down with mock suspicion, 'Are you Davis' publicist?'
'I'm a neutral bystander.'
'Huh. No such thing.'
Fiona Asante had twisted in her seat, her pale grey eyes darting back and forth across the crowd, 'And what about the uhh... zombie costumes?'
McLachlan had grinned gleefully at the sight of three protestors in rubber masks and artfully torn clothing as they'd staggered back and forth through the crowd. He'd tapped the window beside her with one thick finger, 'That? That's the rub. Davis doesn't just want to incorporate Port Greendale. Rumour has it he wants to let WilPharma build a big, shiny facility slap bang in the centre. Nice little coincidence, huh? History repeatin' itself.'
Asante had shifted away from him, her lips drawn tight and her cheeks flushed with colour. She hadn't understood what McLachlan had meant, so he'd turned to me, her superior officer, 'Sir?'
I'd nodded at her, a half-smile on my face to let her know that she hadn't made a faux pas on her first official day with the service. Though my eyes had been squarely on her, my voice had been barely audible over the chants of the protestors outside. It had been as if I was in two places at once: inside the government vehicle doing my job with impunity and out there with them at the picket lines.
'In 1990 Raccoon Town became Raccoon City,' I'd told her, 'It'd happened through incorporation... an incorporation campaign sponsored by Umbrella Corp. Within three years Umbrella employed practically two thirds of the city's workforce.'
'Yeah, until there was no one left to stand up to them. The more things change,' McLachlan had muttered, 'the more they stay the same.'
No one else had spoken for the rest of the trip.
'Here we go everyone. The ego has landed. Look badass,' Disraeli murmurs into her mike as Senator Ron Davis' chopper glides towards the tarmac.
I straighten up and take my position at the head of my team as the copter's blades strike up a dust storm on the landing bay. Glancing at these five men and women I can't help but feel proud, but the sensation is tempered by an awareness that I'm growing apart from them. The optimism that I'd begun my training with six years ago is beginning to fray at the edges like an old blanket. Reality is whistling through its holes.
McLachlan catches me staring at him and his pale brows arch upwards.
I smirk before turning away, 'She said "badass", McLachlan. Not "constipated".'
The helicopter's hatch yawns open and Davis' two private security guards leap out onto the asphalt. The first is a tall African American with broad shoulders and a superhero's jaw line. The second guy is a head shorter but has a lean, almost graceful quality to him. He slides out of the chopper like a spider monkey.
Next is Davis' secretary; a weedy guy with a wan smile and watery eyes. His grey suit jacket flaps open in the breeze and he grows impossibly pale at the sight of the heckling crowds beyond the barriers.
Then Davis, a rotund figure in a thousand dollar suit, appears. His walk is a little too jittery to be called a 'stride', but he's got the shit-eating grin and the ramrod spine down to a fine art. He's balding, with a high forehead and nostrils that are prominently flared giving his smile a predatory edge, like a well fed house cat staring through the bars of a canary cage.
'Senator,' I greet him formally as my agents wearily size up the operatives flanking Davis. We've never had a good relationship with the private security contractors. Call it healthy competition or mutual distain; maybe it's both.
Davis stops a few feet in front of me and makes a show of slowly peering around me to the crowd at the gates. Without saying a word he turns to the 'Captain America' lookalike and murmurs a few words into the bodyguard's shoulder. The guard nods once and he's off, past us and bearing down on the picket lines as if he's got a can of whup-ass in one hand and a court order in the other.
'Jesus, will you look at that,' Disraeli bites down hard on her grin. She's impressed. McLachlan on the other hand is folding his lips into a sneer.
'There a problem?' I ask Davis, tension knotting around my shoulders. I don't like having my integrity questioned and I like it even less if my team is getting the stink eye from a Yale dropout and his hired goons.
'I don't know, son. Why don't you tell me? What do your years of academy training tell you?' he laughs gruffly but his cheeks are glowing red, 'Four days. You had four days to clear this site of those wailing hippies!'
'They're at the required safe distance.'
'Please. I could smell them before we landed,' he sneers, the hairless crown of his head glowing and bristling like a ripe peach, 'Need I remind you that this is a sensitive operation? Or should I invite the local crackpots to sit in on our meetings? Maybe they could take the minutes and pass around the coffee!'
I step forwards, separating myself from my team and taking the heat off them a little, 'Your concerns are respectfully noted Sir. But we're here to get you from A to B in one piece, not protect you from homemade banners and obscene effigies.'
Davis bares his teeth at me.
'It's Kennedy, isn't it?' he asks kindly as if he's about to offer me a drink.
'Yes, Sir,' I don't give him the pleasure of seeing me react to the jab I know is coming my way.
The Senator sniffs and glances over his shoulder towards the chopper. Its blades are whirling lethargically and I can see two shadowed figures inside.
'Your reputation precedes you,' he continues, sliding his damp palms into his jacket pockets and scuffing his feet like a restless bull, 'Funny. I thought you'd be taller.'
I smile humourlessly. The sun is beating off the tarmac, making the air hiss.
'Go give the guy a hand,' I incline my head towards the crowd where 'Superman' is having the picket dismantled.
McLachlan does as he's told, straight-faced. I give Davis a short nod and he takes it as a sign of me ceding my authority and accepting his. Let him. It makes me sick, but I know the game and it's a dangerous one. What was it Churchill said? In war you die once; in politics many times.
'The cars are over here,' I gesture vaguely towards the lot where two black BMWs huddle nose to nose beside the exit ramp, 'Three of us will ride with you and your aide. The rest will be in the backup vehicle.'
'Actually, no,' Davis nods his head towards 'Spiderman'. The loose limbed guard spins on his heel, galloping back to the chopper.
'Forget your briefcase?' I smile wanly, mentally spanking myself for letting out the sarcastic teenager I thought I'd buried back in my academy days.
The tendons in Davis' neck jump but he lets my comment slide, 'You think this is an escort mission, don't you? As you can see I have my own security. Did you ever ask yourself why I asked for your kind?'
'The question had crossed my mind Senator,' I bite out the words as 'Spidey' dips into the helicopter, reaching in to help out its other occupants. I clasp my hands behind my back, conscious that I'm trying to make the most out of my five feet and eleven inches of height, 'But whatever it is, it doesn't change the fact that we're here to-'
And just like that I forget what I was going to say.
The words pop like soap bubbles and I'm a mute. I forget because of the heat and the noise and the tension. I forget because I'm not here. I'm not. I'm in my bedroom alone or in my car or at my desk or drinking alone in the darkest corner of a sports bar pretending to follow the game on the big screen. I'm in the cab on the way home, too hammered to remember the score but not drunk enough to forget why I was there in the first place. All the places I've thought about her, all the places I knew I was safe to slip out of my iron shell and breathe.
No. Not here. Not now. She can't. I can't.
Faintly I hear Davis chuckle, 'Meet my newest advisor. I believe you know each other.'
I nod as the wall crawler and another security guard frogmarch a third figure out of the chopper and across the landing strip, presenting her like the catch of the day. Whatever the expression on my face is, I'm too numb to feel it. But her lips are drawn into that coy half-smirk and my mouth is dry. Her dark hair is glistening in the clammy heat. I sweat. She ripples.
'Leon,' Ada Wong lowers her lashes as she drinks me in nice and slow as if we hadn't seen each other in years instead of weeks, 'You look... good.'
Harvardville Airport. Present Day.
My eyes haven't left the barrel of my Glock 30 since take off. I'm reloading every bullet, checking the weight and balance of my military issue weapon. Despite me being an acting Government officer, my agency thought it would be a gesture of good will if I entered the camp with minimal arms and accepted whatever weapons the SRT made available in addition to my own 9mm.
Macho bullshit politics. Another thing I haven't missed these past nine months.
The air in our copter is stifling, even with the doors open. It's like being trapped inside an inflated balloon on a hot day. They're both nervous. It radiates out of them in the form of nervous energy and muffled coughs. In the past, like with Echo Team, I would've said something comforting to my colleagues, shot my mouth off and told a joke to loosen the knots in their tongues and stomachs.
But now? Now's different. Now I want my team shitting bricks. I want them to be serious. To understand that this is not a matter of good versus evil. Not tonight. There won't be any backslapping or victory marches and the medals won't be worth the ribbon you hang them on. We're entering an enclosed, populated space hours after a T-Virus outbreak. If we're lucky we'll get to the few survivors still holding on. But the bulk of our work tonight is eradication.
In front of me and to my left Officer Glenn is rocking gently back and forth and cradling his semi-automatic on his knees. His mind is elsewhere and I wonder if this is how he always prepares for a mission. I once knew a guy back in special ops who wound his watch to five sixteen AM at the start of every mission because his daughter had been born at exactly that time. And I'd trained with a woman who always ate the same meal the night before she was due in the field: vegan sausages, creamed potatoes and gravy.
Glenn's pursing his lips together and I hear him humming something in time with the beat of the helicopter's blades. I lean forward discretely and listen. It's a guitar rift. Sounds like Bon Jovi's Dead or Alive. Interesting choice.
My eyebrow twitches and I feel the corner of my mouth tense up. I roll my eyes away from him and they land on Miller. Her chin is pressed into her chest and for a moment it looks like she's fallen asleep. But suddenly her eyes flicker. She's looking at something tucked beneath the collar of her uniform. It's a silver talisman. A crucifix. Not unusual. Not in our line of work. But it swings beside a yellow ribbon with three red stripes. It's old and tattered at the ends. It looks familiar somehow.
I must have been frowning without realising, because she's noticed me watching her and she doesn't look pleased. She's been giving me the silent treatment since I left the tent. Her sculpted cheekbones glow red and she tucks her charms away under her clothes; safe from my prying eyes. I can tell she thinks she knows what I'm thinking about her. From the indignant upturn of her nose she's already decided that I'm a shameless asshole. The last thing she wants is for Agent Apathy to intrude on her private moment. Does she think I hoard sentimentality like a weapon? That I'd parcel up her every weakness, strap them around some napalm and wait for the perfect moment to strike?
Your superiors don't trust you to do your job: Bang!
They think you need a Government appointed babysitter: Boom!
You cling to trinkets and fetishes, as if faith alone is ever enough: Ka-Boom!
But that's not who I am.
It's... it's just how I feel.
I lower my handgun and lean back, holding her reproachful stare with a cool, disinterested expression. But something has been stirring in me since I'd arrived in Harvardville. Energy flicks at my nerve endings. My heel grinds into the floor and heat floods my muscles. It's an awakening of something I'd nearly forgotten. I'm not sure why, but I suddenly want to prove her wrong about me. Hell, I want to prove me wrong about me.
'You don't look old enough to have served in Vietnam,' I remark casually, raising my voice above the thwap-thwap-thwap of the copter's blades.
Her eyes widen and she faintly touches her chest, 'Excuse me?'
'That ribbon,' I explain, 'It was used on medals awarded to American soldiers by the old government of South Vietnam during the war.'
Glenn pauses mid-whistle and his gaze slides to Miller, but she doesn't take her eyes off me.
'My Grandfather was a Marine,' she replies cagily as if she's anticipating a cruel punch line, 'He served in Vietnam.'
'Sixth regiment. Echo twelve.'
A shake of her head, 'Negative.'
She's playing it rock steady, but it's a shallow act, like weak dinner theatre. Her fingers are clamping hard on her arm and the look in her eyes could have led me to class her as a hard-ass if it wasn't for the rising tide of sweat on her forehead. Not used to swinging her bravado around in such an enclosed space maybe? But she enjoys it. She has aspirations and she beats up against them like a moth against a screen door.
'Sniper teams,' I settle on that answer with a slow nod of understanding.
'Hmm. He was an instructor after he retired from active duty,' Miller's fingers relax and she flexes them against her jacket. She even smiles a little, 'When he died he left me his military jacket. But this is all that was left of that medal. He probably melted the rest down for ammo. He got... strange as he grew older.'
I nod again unnecessarily. I'm not sure how to proceed. I glance out of the window for something to look at other than her.
But she's not done with me, 'How could you tell? I thought you were Secret Service.'
She suspects me of being an imposter. A sheep in wolf's clothing rather than the other way around. I get the feeling that if I don't answer she'll keep on asking.
'I am Secret Service, but my grandfather was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Navy. I read his books on the military when I was kid. Used to sneak them out of his room and pile 'em up under my pillow,' I sniff out a smirk and shake my head fondly. I can see past my sallow reflection in the window and out towards the searchlights that swing around the perimeter of the terminal's runway, 'The three most important things in life, he used to tell me, were God, Country and the Uniform. In that order.'
'Goes with the territory,' Officer Miller answers softly and leans forward out of the grey shadows, 'My father's a Major in the Marine Corps. My uncle's a Navy SEAL. Twice decorated. When you grow up around Marines you learn to want to be the best you can be.'
I fall silent, rocking back and forth with the motion of the copter as if I'm barely listening to her anymore. She takes the hint and settles back into her seat.
After a few minutes, Glenn starts to crane past her to see out of the window on her side. The small talk has gone on longer than he can stand. It's time to get started.
'Hey,' he barks in my direction as we begin to close in on Harvardville Airport, 'Is there anything we gotta know about the hostiles before we get in? Like how many do you wanna take alive?'
I wrap my fingers around my firearm and reply with a decisive: 'None.'
'Any reason why Special Agent?'
Is 'Special Agent' an official curse word in the military? I think I prefer 'hey you'.
I slide a full clip into my gun and hear it click sweetly in place, 'Because they aren't alive. Not a single one of those things.'
Glenn bares his teeth at me like a hungry shark.
Miller cuts him off at the knees before he has the chance to growl at me again, 'But the potential for research for a cure has to be a priority for-'
For fuck's sake.
'If you take any of those things in for study it'll be the last mistake you ever make.'
My tone is hot and peppery. It melts that icy detachment I cling to so fondly. I need a moment to find that cold space again.
I find it within me to continue with Zombies 101 and this time I keep my eyes trained on the ridges scored into my weapon, 'If you go in knowing one thing, know this. We are not on a mission of mercy. Those infected with the virus will attack other people. Anyone. Without exception. In all cases the people who are bitten become infected themselves and go on to attack others. The only way to stop the spread of infection is to destroy the infectee's brains.'
Miller cocks an eyebrow at me as if my little speech had been delivered by a second head that had just sprouted out of my neck, 'Destroy their... brains?'
I yank back the slide of my Glock and its snap fills the cabin like a clap of thunder, 'Shoot them in the head.'
I glance up again in time to see them share a 'holy-shit-is-he-for-real?' look. Behind my poker face I'm quietly satisfied. The two of them might just make it out of this alive.
Beneath us, the airport blinks into the clear night. The runway is lit red and white, but the terminal building's almost black as if the power's gone out. I remember Hades and his hack into the system. It's possible that the asshole cut the juice and triggered a blackout soon after the attack to make it harder for people to escape. I lock my jaw and push those thoughts down deeper inside me until I'm almost able to walk on them.
'We're here,' I holster my weapon and reach for the rope that will lower us onto the roof.
As I stand and prepare myself for the drop, my hand brushes something small hiding in the bottom of my right pants pocket. It's a delicate butterfly pin hitchhiking with me. Before I can stop myself I recall another pre-mission ritual. I picture the pin fluttering on a crimson gown. A woman's slender fingers are caressing it, treasuring it and showing the world what it means to her.
To be continued… \o/ Thanks for reading!