Voracious - Prologue

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Life is not a static thing. The only people who do not change their minds are incompetents in asylums, and those in cemeteries.

Everett McKinley Dirksen

August 15th, 1999

There was no room in the company for people who couldn't keep up.

Far from the family oriented facade it presented to the public, Umbrella Corporation made sure from the outset that it's employees and even those they paid discreetly on the side would get little, if anything, in the form of lenience. Sloppy work ethics were punished as severely as was lateness, and, after the incident at the Arklay Research Facility the previous year, false alarms could yeild even more severe reprecussions than anything else, making those who had issued the alarms lucky if they merely lost their job or found themselves demoted to feeder. And it didn't help matters that the top executives had decided to treat almost every alarm as false, either; their security had become inordinately tight, enough that the higher ups had allowed themselves to breathe a sigh of relief, even as their more dangerous experiments hurled themselves in animalistic fury against the reinforced walls of their glass and steel prisons.

But whatever howls and noises kept the janitorial crew on their toes at night didn't bother the executives, who had begun to sleep soundly for the first time since the real disaster. They were content, positive, that things were under control. And as long as things were in control, they were unsinkable.

Them and the Titanic.

"And can you feel . . . this?"

There was a brief silence as Marshall LaChance gently edged the dial a notch higher. Everyone in the room seemed to hold their breath until the small figure on the static-ridden screen before them shook it's head. Several of the other men and women exchanged grins and clapped one another on their backs. LaChance himself held no such optimism, however; a higher tolerance had been encountered before, and they'd still needed a cleanup crew before the night was over.

He waited until the murmurs died down before he held down the button for the intercom again. "Are you ready?" At the nod, LaChance gave the dial a half-twist, one of the assistants beside him wincing sympathetically, clutching her clipboard against her chest. An electrical hum, until then barely perceptible, rose to an audible quality in the room, and even LaChance found himself raising his gaze apprehensively towards the ceiling as he leaned on the button again, asking, "Can you feel that?"

There was a longer pause this time, and LaChance winced inwardly. After a beat, however, the figure shook it's head once more, and Riddick didn't realise he'd been holding his breath until he heard it let out in a collective rush with the rest of the people, who had hunched closer around him before he'd noticed it. He looked at the numbers on the display with measured disbelief; if it was true, if it was working, and if it was working, he could say goodbye to worrying about making payments on his summer home.

This time, he accepted the firm handshakes offered by his colleagues, and didn't bother to suppress his grin. There were times in life when you simply had to stop worrying and accept your good fortune.

None of them could hear the high, plaintive keening noise issuing from the figure on the screen, small limbs stiff against the bonds.

And deep below them all, in the containment tank, it churned restlessly. Sitting nearby at a desk, the security guard eyed it apprehensively, wishing they'd put a curtain around it so he wouldn't have to look at it. Something about it made his brain hurt if he thought too long about it, and even when he forced his attentions entirely on one of the skin mags the other guards stashed about the facility to relax on breaks, he could somehow see it out of the corner of his vision, and he thought it was seeing him, too.

As if in response to some primal call, it roiled and shifted position once, furiously, so that he shot to his feet in alarm.

After a moment, however, it fell into stillness, and a kind of suspended dreamery.

Even after the guard was relieved of duty for the night, he slept restlessly.

Marshall LaChance slept dreamlessly.

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August 16th, 1999

By the time the dim outlines of buildings appeared on the horizon, Barry Burton was so tense he thought for sure he'd have to get the girls to help him pry his fingers off the steering wheel when they finally stopped. There were dozens of family vacations in the past, and not one of them had ever made him feel as though he was walking on glass like this one did.

Except, he thought, this isn't exactly your typical family outing, Burton. Maybe you should stop pretending it is.

A glance at Kathy beside him, her tense, drawn face averted and reflected in the windshield, let him know he was right.

"Nearly there now, girls," he said with false cheeriness, "about fifteen minutes, maybe, and I figure we'll all be peeling our shoes off in genuine rustic comfort. Sound good?"

Barry risked a glance in the rearview mirror. Only Poly Anne, out of the three of them, looked pleased. Kathy still wasn't speaking to him, and after the first leg of the trip, Moira had turned from her usual cheerful self to being cranky and troublesome. The girl was slouched in her seat now, arms folded across her shirt, frowning out the window. Both she and Poly Anne resembled Kathy to a startling degree, sharing the same blue-black hair, pointed nose, and strong cheekbones. Once, Barry had happily joked how pleased he was to have the three most beautiful women in the world under more than one roof; now, with two of them scowling because of him, it only made him feel like more of a hell.

Sorry girls, he thought miserably, I didn't have a whole lot of choice.

As if she knew what he was thinking, Kathy snorted slightly.

She had every right to be angry, Barry knew. Most couples faced rough patches in their marriages, but not many of them had to deal with death licking at their heels wherever they went. Immediately after the Spencer Estate disaster, when the paper had branded himself and the other S.T.A.R.S. liars and worse, Barry had sent Kathy and the girls to stay with her mother, hoping to keep them out of harm's way. He'd visited them as often as he could, and initially, despite the cirumstances, Kathy had kept a brave face, mostly for the sake of the girls.

But now, with their home, their entire city gone . . .

"What do you expect me to do, Barry?" Kathy had snapped at him that night. "I can't keep smiling! I can't just laugh and say, 'oh, well, it's only our lives, it's no problem! We can make new ones!' Is that what you want me to do? Because I'm sorry, Barry, but you married the wrong woman then."

He had never expected it to be this hard, this genuinely painful to convince her to take the girls on a trip with him. He didn't know what was worse; the anger she'd flared with that night, or the odd, speculative way she looked at him now, when she bothered to meet his eyes at all.

"I don't know about you guys," he said now, with false cheerfulness, "but I can't wait to have some pancakes tomorrow morning, and maybe some hotdogs tonight. Cooked outside on an open fire is the best way you can get them." He realised he was babbling, but pressed on grimly. "You girls haven't had a real hotdog til you've had one of these."

In the back, Poly Anne looked up. "Can we roast marshmallows?"

"If you eat marshmallows," Moira spoke up sourly, "you'll get so fat, you won't be able to fit into any of your clothes. We'll have to give them all away, and you'll just have to wear garbage bags and potatoe sacks."

"Nuh-uh," the younger girl replied, "marshmallows don't make you fat."

"Do so."

"Do not."

"Do so."

"Do not. They're light and fluffy." Poly Anne said this with a note of triumph, as though that closed the subject once and for all.

Moira opened her mouth to respond, and Kathy cut in sharply, "Moira, that's ENOUGH. I don't want to have to tell you again."

To Poly Anne, Barry said, "We can do whatever you like, baby."

For a brief instant, Kathy's eyes met his. Barry thought he saw something accusatory in them, and he quickly looked away, staring determinedly down the road, focusing on the shapes of buildings. I'm sorry, Kathy, he thought wearily, but this is the last chance for a while we'll get to spend some time together . . . and you'll be safer here.

Besides, he thought, hands tightening on the wheel, this isn't . . . my . . . fault!

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Daddy wasn't acting like his usual self.

He was almost completely quiet as they drove down the leaf-littered road, the muscles in the back of his neck hard and tense as wood. Mommy hadn't said anything either, instead sitting silently in the passenger's seat, her hands resting limply on her lap, occasionally clenching reflexively into the fabric of the skirt she wore.

Moira Burton looked back and forth between the heads of her parents from where she sat in the back seat, and wished someone would say something.

Beside her, Poly Anne seemed oblivious to it all, contendtedly scrawling in the colouring book she took with her everywhere these days. Her side of the seat was littered with bits of crayon wrapper, pencil shavings, and stickers; the twerp even had one shaped like a bumblebee stuck to her forehead. But then, Poly Anne was five, and you had to expect these things, though Moira, who was eight.

"What are you drawing?" Moira asked, bored.

Poly Anne looked up. There was a smudge of something blue across one cheek. "I'm drawing a picture of the forest for Gramma an' Grandpa." she announced, reaching for a purple crayon to colour in the leaves.

"Boy," Moira said, "that'll thrill the pants off 'em. A bunch of trees."

"They'll like it." said Poly Anne, who was a devout worshipper of Barney. "Gramma said, it's always specialest when you make something yourself."

"As long as she can tell what it is, you mean."

From the front seat, their mother said tiredly, "That's enough, Moira."

Poly Anne stuck out her tongue, and Moira sunk down slightly in her seat, scowling out the window. "Butthead." she muttered under her breath.

Outside, enormous trees rolled by the windows as they drove, looming out of the ground and fog. Earlier, when trying to start up a conversation, Moira had learned from her mother than they were called redwoods, and from what Moira could see, they seemed to make up all there was to the forest, except for a few scraggly bushes and thin, whippy looking trees. Moira decided she didn't care for it at all; she wanted the clean, manicured grass of the park outside their house back in Raccoon City, but she'd learned early on in this impromptu trip that even mentioning their house seemed to set things off.

She'd been thrilled when Daddy had showed up on Grandma and Grandpa's doorstep the other night, flying off of her seat at the kitchen table to launch herself into his arms, followed close behind by Poly Anne, and thrown her small arms around his neck. Daddy had been crying a little when he'd kissed them both on their cheeks, the hairs of his beard rough and crinkly against their skin, and that, combined with how pale and tired he'd looked, and alarmed Moira a little; they'd been to Grandma and Grandpa's hose LOTS of times before, even longer than this, and even though he'd always been happy to see them when they'd gotten home, he'd never cried before.

Footsteps behind them had made Moira turn. Seeing her mother standing in the hallway, she'd happily called, "Mommy, look!"

Instead of running over to them, however, instead of smiling, instead of even blowing a kiss as she usually did when she saw their father across the room, Mommy had only stood there, arms folded so her hands could cup her elbows, looking at them thoughtfully. Daddy had stood up, taken a step towards her. "Kathy . . . we need to talk."

Later that night, lying beside Poly Anne in bed, Moira had tired to block out the angry voices from the room her parents were using down the hallway. Well . . . angry voice, anyway; that one was Mommy's. Daddy sounded . . . sounded tired. It was the only word Moira could think of to describe it. And in the morning, when he'd announced that they were all going away together for a while on a trip to the mountains, neither he nor Mommy had been smiling.

At first, Moira had been ecstatic about the trip. She and Poly Anne hadn't ever gone farther than their grandparents' house on holidays, and the prospect of staying in a real, live log cabin as Daddy had promised they would was exciting to them both. As the hours in the car wore on, however, and Mommy grew increasingly snappish, Moira found her own mood turning sour.

This wasn't a good trip at all, she decided, moodily studying the backs of her silent parents' heads. In fact, it was crap, which was a word she wasn't supposed to use, but which she thought perfectly summed up their situation.

"Total crap." Moira muttered, half hoping someone would hear her.

In the front seat, her father shifted positions, a restless creaking of the leather seat covers.

Her mother coughed quietly.

Somehow, Moira thought, it wasn't half as fun to be missing school when this was what you were missing it for. She settled back with a sigh and watched the trees go by, wishing for the billionth time she were anywhere but there.