Winding Road Chapter One

He was going over the notes again. He had read them no more than ten minutes before, had taken in every word, every number, had almost even memorized them. And yet, he was reading them again. Something didn't quite add up in the final equation, and his mind was hard at work to find the imperfection in his calculations.

They had told him not to go over his notes while walking down the corridor. He had collided with countless people during his tenure at Umbrella, occasionally causing some sort of spill. But he had never been interested in taking the suggestions of others.

And so the woman walking toward him, her own notes firmly in her hand at her side but her eyes looking to the right, through the glass wall of an office, became his next accident. She lost her balance from the impact and fell to the floor, her notes pouring out of her folder and scattering across the floor. His were still in his hands, though he stumbled slightly and grabbed the wall.

She sighed, looking at the mess, and began gathering the papers into a neat stack. "I'd tell you to watch where you're going, but I suppose you could say the same to me."

He shrugged, watching her. Most of the people who worked in the facility knew him well, the genius researcher, the mad doctor Birkin. He was aware of the rumors that circulated around him, that he was insane, that he was a butcher in the experimentation rooms, and even the more ridiculous stories about him actually being an experimental creature developed by Umbrella. He cared little about having a negative reputation. In fact, if anything, it was a blessing. If people were afraid of him, or at the very least, didn't like him, they would stay away. People were annoying creatures, interruptions. As his reputation stood, most of the people he bumped into either apologized profusely or did not speak at all.

The woman looked up at him. "Well, thank you for being such a gentleman," she said without smiling.

It hadn't even occurred to Birkin that it might be a good idea to help her pick up her notes. Things like politeness or kindness were of little importance to him. He had work to do. He had very important research to finish. Niceties could wait.

"Sorry," he finally said, though his tone wasn't exactly sincere. By this point, she had gathered her notes and stood back up. As far as he was concerned, the conversation was over. He started to walk passed her.

"You can make it up to me," she said from behind him.

He turned, surprised that she was still talking to him. "What?"

"You can make it up to me. Take me out to lunch."

Confusion and surprise had converted into pure befuddlement. "I'm not going out for lunch," he told her, then looked at his watch, "Not enough time."

She still didn't smile. "Tomorrow then."

He simply nodded, not sure what else to do. He probably wouldn't see her again, as the facility was large and employed a great many people. Besides, he didn't even know her name. Surely she wouldn't dare seek him out.

She walked away, and so did he. He returned to his notes, but he could no longer focus. He mentally cursed the woman for distracting him. Couldn't she see that he didn't want to take her to lunch? And anyway, the accident had been partly her fault. He didn't owe her anything.

He finally reached the central research room, where he spent most of his time working on the new virus. He was greeted by his research partner, Wesker, and the rest of their staff was toiling away at their work stations.

"Any progress on the equations?" Wesker asked him, walking beside him over to a nearby table.

Birkin shook his head. "It still doesn't add up right at the end. One of the chemicals is disrupting the balance, but I can't pinpoint which one it is."

"Let me see," Wesker said, looking over them himself. It was common knowledge that there was no problem the two of them together couldn't solve, in time. Which is why they had been given such high positions at Umbrella. "Oh, by the way, we're getting a new staff member today."

Birkin looked from the notes to his partner. "Another one?"

"I'm not complaining. More help can't hurt anything. And they wouldn't send her to us if they didn't trust her completely."

Birkin looked back to the notes. "I suppose so," he said, trying desperately to focus all of his mental energy on the numbers.

Several minutes had passed with no progress, and the door to the room slid open with a mechanical thud. High-heeled footsteps echoed on the metal floor, and Birkin looked up. If he had been a slightly less composed person, his jaw would have dropped. It was that annoying woman, the one who attempted to force him into a lunch date.

Wesker approached her. "Birkin, this is the newest staff member, Annette Jenkins."

Birkin's eyes narrowed. This was all he needed, more distractions. But displaying such feelings would only hinder the working environment. He forced a vague smile and reached out to shake her hand. "Welcome to the team," he said.

She took his hand, shaking it delicately. She smiled at him then, for the first time. And despite his best efforts, he couldn't help but take note of the fact that she had a very attractive smile. "Thank you, Dr. Birkin."

Wesker took it upon himself to show her around the room, and lead her to her work station. Birkin watched her set her bag and folder on her table, then walk back over to him. She leaned across his table and picked up his notes. He was about to protest when she spoke up. "It's the C24F chemical," she said, handing them back to him.

He stared at her in shock. Was she serious? Had she figured it out in a matter of seconds? He immediately scanned the page and checked the chemical. Just as she had said, the C24F chemical was throwing off the balance of the equation, and would have to be altered.

She smiled at him again, this time seeming a little more genuine. "You're lucky, Dr. Birkin. You happen to have a specialist in equations on your team."

Birkin was not sure how to respond. He was suddenly very aware of her value as a staff member, and all displeasure at her arrival melted away, a begrudged appreciation taking its place. "Thank you, Miss Jenkins."

He turned away from her, carrying the notes over to Wesker and pointing out the offending chemical. Occasionally, his eyes drifted from the work at hand to Annette, standing by her work station in her bright, white lab coat. Her skirt was too short to be seen under the coat, but dark black stockings were very much visible, with a clearly pronounced seam running up the center of the back of each leg. It was a bit racy for work, especially in a facility like this. But otherwise, she looked rather normal.

He tore his eyes away from her. Wesker looked at him curiously. "You seem off today. Anything wrong?" The question was not asked out of concern for his partner, but rather concern for their work.

Birkin looked at him. "No... nothing's wrong."

Wesker looked over to Annette. "She's rather attractive, isn't she? Though I'm surprised that you noticed."

Birkin frowned. "I'm not blind. And contrary to the ludicrous rumors, I'm still human."

Wesker didn't laugh, but something about his expression hinted at amusement. "Yes, well, I suppose you are."

Birkin was still frowning when he forced himself to return to his work, but he knew that nothing more would be accomplished that day. There were far too many distractions.