A Cogliere Il Giorno
Summary: (AnotherOrder09 Challenge-Entry) Ada had thought it was absolute, but Leon's words echoed in her mind, "Fate is just a word people toss around as an excuse for their inability to escape their own problems." No more, she thought. She refused to yield to her to fate; she would seize the day.
A/N: This is my entry into the Another Order Fanfic Contest 2009 in the Challenge Category.
Private Caller. Number Unlisted.
He picked up the phone.
"Good morning, handsome." A voice purred on the other end. "Enjoying your day off?"
The tomes hidden away inside the Salazar castle had definitely been worth the hassle of pilfering from the libraries of the bastion. The history of the land had certainly piqued her interest, but more so than that had housed clues that led her to rural caves in the slopes of the Aurunci Mountains.
She had always held a soft spot for Italy—like any other woman—so she'd jumped at the opportunity to undertake a mission set in the Apennine Mountains near central Italy just south of Lazio. The clues left behind gave vague directions and few concise speculations that, to the average reader, seemed worthless and more like a map to the dream of a mad man.
Grappling gun poised to fire, she sets foot in the cavern. The flashlight attached to the barrel of her gun shines through the musky air, the beam clouding with a misty haze. She adjusts the light, broadening its focus. She cannot see more than ten feet ahead of her, but where would the adventure be if at least one of her senses wasn't hindered?
"Ada?" he answered with an undertone of surprise. "What's the occasion—run out of samples to retrieve?"
"Oh, no occasion." She replied coyly. "I just called to make sure you didn't get yourself killed in that last blast. After all that, to be blown up on a jet ski? Not the best way to go. …Speaking of which, how'd your return from Spain play out, Mr. Presidential Hero?"
Ada takes special care in every step. She can hear droplets of water plinking against the cavern floor in the distance. The ground beneath her is also slick with water, giving great risk to her every movement. In light of this, she had ditched her usual black stilettos in favor of a pair of more rugged and durable boots that ran up over her calves.
Her attire had also undergone changes to match the climate of her mission. Dressed in crimson leggings and a thick maroon jacket, she could combat the potentially chills of an underground grotto with little worry—all while maintaining her signature look.
The cavern appears abandoned and long uninhabited by any sort of creature, at least for the moment. Not even bats nestle in the rafters of the cave ceiling. But if her guide is to be trusted, signs of life should start to appear further down the way.
She smiles inwardly when she meets her first marker: three stalagmites with two stalactites in the gaps. 'A monstrous creature, forever petrified in stone with teeth as large as a man, devoured me.' She checks behind her before she climbs between the fangs of the beast, surveying the new region with a sweep of her flashlight. So far, so good.
"It was all routine procedure once Ashley returned home. I should ask the same of you. How'd it feel to hand over one of the most deadly B.O.W. samples to a psychotic control freak?"
She kept her knowing smirk out of her answer. "All routine procedure." She mimicked. She wanted to keep him talking, to hear his steady voice and feel secure in knowing he was still there. "I think you'd be surprised; my line of work runs closely parallel to yours, you know. I just play by… a slightly different set of rules."
He scoffed lightly. "So no matter what I say, you wouldn't consider leaving your job as Wesker's lapdog and prized retriever?"
"Working for the government would certainly have its benefits, but even Lassie couldn't work leashed and muzzled."
The path ahead of her reeks of stagnant water and sulfurous limestone, but she presses ahead confidently despite the darkness and plummeting temperatures. She knows what lurks around the corner; she had easily cracked the code with a little help from the tools and technology at her disposal from Umbrella, transforming the volume from journal to charted tour guide. She can repeat the directions by heart, in its native Spanish and back to herself in English—even bits and pieces in Italian, for the worst case scenario. However uncharted, to her, it's like taking a new route to a familiar destination.
Once translated, the map had been astonishingly detailed in both its description of the trail and the dangers thereof. It had made no mention of life in the age-old grotto until much closer to the epicenter, but still Ada remains on alert, handgun drawn and index finger resting on the trigger.
She can only hear the winds thrashing against the outer opening of the cave distantly, soon fading into the occasional plip of water dripping onto moist, solid ground. That aside, her carefully measured footsteps echoing off cavern walls are the only sounds in the quiet world. The silence fails to unnerve her: in most of her missions, it is her ally. Her one true ally.
It serves loyally, yet is faithless. Even in the noisiest of places, it still lingers, appearing in the least expected moments to ruin or bless. It can come as a signal of dread, of dire situations, or of relief.
Disruption through silence is always the name of her mission. It is what she lives for, what she steals for, what she kills for, and ultimately what she will die for.
But she is unafraid.
"It's a shame something as frivolous as the way we earn our money should keep us apart." She sighed, and they both chuckled at the irony. But their laughs were hollow; they both knew their jobs and life used the same door as an exit. "Yet, ironically, it's the same reason our paths crossed almost seven years ago now. You were so painfully inexperienced…"
"If I recall, you were the one who kept getting knocked out." He pointed out.
"Only after you'd infallibly run yourself into a corner," she jabbed back playfully. "Rookie."
She reaches her next landmark within half an hour. Except it's not so much of a mark on the land as it is more of a puncture through it. Small streams of water trickle down its jagged edges, brushing against the soles of her boots as she stands at the edge. She cannot hear the droplets land.
Suddenly aware of her surroundings, she spins around, switching her hookshot into her left hand in favor of drawing her handgun all in one fluid, practiced motion. She searches the area with quick strokes of her flashlight, her heart pounding, body terse. She has learned to trust her instincts more than what logic tells her. She lowers her handgun, replacing it in its holster in favor of her grappling gun. She can't allow it to overtake her, however.
Aiming the gun down into the depths of the fissure, the beam of light is lost to the darkness. Although water can't be heard splashing below, she reaches into the left hand pocket of her jacket, withdrawing a penny left over from an escapade in New York a few years back. The coin is darkened by decades of exchange, circa nineteen-seventy-eight. This Lincoln has probably seen more of the states than she has. It tumbles gingerly from finger to finger before coming to a rest in the palm of her hand.
United States of America. One Cent.
Under the guise of a normal citizen, she had partaken in a dose of normal life in New York. It had been the January of 2002, and every day on her way to the lab where she supposedly worked as an intern, she had passed by a memorial dedicated to those who perished in the, then recent, terrorist attacks of September eleventh. Her assignment had lasted a couple of months until Wesker pulled her due to a lack of information, but the memorial fountain had never ceased to run dry or lay empty of gifts. Cards from children, crosses, pictures, and dozens of red roses had decorated the shrine, even as the streets became laden with snow.
She hadn't known anyone who died. And frankly, she hadn't cared much when she heard the news of the tragic scene, or paid much heed to those claiming it was the signal of the Armageddon. It hadn't affected her.
But everyday she had kept her insurgent skills sharp by spotting loose change wherever she went. And, on her way home, she had always reread the inscription on the fountain: "Make a wish for peace. For peace worldwide, for peace of mind, and peace for those whose lives were taken September 11th, 2001. Gone, but never forgotten."
And every day, she had tossed the loose change she had spotted into the fountain, without making a wish.
She hadn't worn the jacket since her days of normality in New York. She looks at the penny. E Pluribus Unum.
She tosses it down the well.
"Ada, when is this going to come to an end? We keep playing this game forever."
"Game?" she toyed with her words. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Leon addressed her in all seriousness. "Ada."
She was silent. Finally, she replied dryly, "Grow up, Kennedy. Like you could really expect anything more than this. We've made our choices, and now we have to live with them. It's the way things are; there's no twisting fate."
She descends the crevice with her grappling gun and little difficulty. She lands quietly on her feet, the cord slithering back into her gun with a soft hiss. It is pointed downward towards the ground next to her feet. Against the gray cavern floor, Abraham Lincoln's copper aficionado's stare is fixated onward, into the trail of darkness. Heads up, good luck.
"Fate? I never thought I'd hear that word coming from you." He commented. He wanted to keep her talking, to hear her sultry voice and feel relief in knowing she was still alive. "So you think fate's been behind our meeting both in Raccoon City and Spain, yet is still set on keeping us apart?"
He could hear the shrug in her voice. "To some, fate can be a cruel mistress," she paused. "Not that you're expected to know."
He snorted, "If you want my opinion, fate is just a word people toss around as an excuse for their inability to escape their own problems."
According to the text, she is no longer safe, but she doesn't need to consult her translation to know that—already she can feel that she is no longer alone in the underground Italian grotto. Working quickly, she removes the flashlight from the grappling gun and fastens it to the barrel of her handgun. She replaces the hookshot in her holster; she shouldn't need it immediately. She fishes through the inside pockets of her jacket: five spare magazines, a couple miniature flash grenades, two emergency flashlight batteries and a first-aid spray. Against her back she can feel the large compartment she had altered before leaving for Italy. A smaller, more lightweight version of Spain's blessed Bowgun and a few extra bolts are strapped in underneath the jacket's cotton padding. Just in case.
She becomes acutely aware of every step as it echoes off the cavern walls. The ground is dry here; what happened to all the water? The air seems fresh and cold, hardly befitting of an underground cave in the midst of an approaching summer in the Mediterranean. Her breath appears before her in a cloud of mist.
Her pace remains constant, one step for every two beats of her heart. Nothing out of the ordinary is reflected by her flashlight, nor does the silence belie activity. She is not alone.
A wall comes into sight at the end of her path, symbols are carved into it, long eroded by time. She remembers the words of the tome, 'No martyr am I. I shall not follow the words carved by the hand of God onto stone. They cry out in the name of their holy creator, their savior, but He is not coming. The true city of heaven awaits those who consider life the most holy creation!'
She can hardly make out the writing on the wall. '¡Alabado seA Dios! Asimismo, pArA Aquellos que AmAn Aman Sus bendiciones.'
Spanish. The A's are bent at a curious angle to the left; they appear akin to arrows. She takes the path to the right.
Before Ada could respond, her helicopter began its descent into the Aurunci Mountains and she didn't have much time to prepare. Her exit had to be quick and with precise timing. She didn't want to let him go.
"Sorry, Leon. I'll call you back." Her thumb lingered over the button to disconnect her call, but she hesitated. She put the PDA back against her cheek, adding quietly, "You know that little teddy bear on the key to the jet-ski? He's awfully cute, isn't he? I bet he's even got a little gift for you, if you ask him nicely."
With that, she hung up. It was time to land.
The tunnel slithers through the earth, winding. The silence begins to fade into a soft buzz, a hum of a myriad of various sounds. A faint light appears around a corner and she hurriedly presses herself against the wall, switching off the beam to her flashlight. She peers around the corner. What lies before her is unlike anything she had ever witnessed. She can only describe it in one word.
She pulls out her PDA, holding at an arm's length as she double-clicks the green button. She waits, a devilish smile set on her features.
No sooner had Leon connected the bear's 'present' into the universal serial bus port of his computer than a window appears. Ada smiles devilishly at him. "I hope you don't mind that I broke the three-day rule." To let him know she can see him, she comments, "I've never seen anyone decorate their apartment with an array of littered… socks. Well, whatever makes you happy."
Before he can respond, she goes on, "Anyway, I was wondering if you'd like to come on a little adventure with me? You can just tell your work you'll be going spelunking in Italy with an old friend. It's true."
"Let me guess." He replies dryly. "You want me to accompany you through some sort of ancient civilization of hostile, parasitic superhumans so in the end you can ditch me and run off to Wesker with the newest biohazard? I don't think so."
"Who said anything about Wesker?" she asks in a sugary sweet voice. She shakes her head, continuing, "Leon, I'm on my own time here. And every 'biohazard' that we can get means one less that Wesker could ever get his hands on." She then tilts her head in a manner she knows he'll find irrefutable. "Besides, when have I ever truly 'ditched' you?"
"There's that time I nearly strangled you." He offers.
She throws her head back, rolling her eyes with a smirk. "You just answered your own question. I don't work well with other women, anyway." She pauses, quickly inputting various toned codes into her PDA. With a final click, she says, "I doubt the CIA pays as well as what I earn, so I sent you an express ticket to my location in Italy on a private jet, Agent Kennedy. It leaves from the Reagan National Airport in one hour, with you aboard it or not."
She waves her handgun. "I'll save you some of the action. See you soon, handsome."