Redemption and Rebirth
It was hours later when the submarine finally arrived at another one of Umbrella's secret headquarters. The woman hadn't checked the coordinates to see where they were. In fact, she hadn't gone back to the control panel since she had initially hit the autopilot switch back in the Antarctic Base. She had remained at the boy's side the entire time, even though he had been unconscious for practically the rest of the trip. He had only awakened briefly to ask about Claire Redfield again and to express his fear about someone whom he called "the crazy woman." The woman in red answered his questions the best she could before he drifted off into sleep again.
It had only taken a matter of time for the interior of the submarine to become as cold as the water it was moving through, and the woman had wrapped another one of the scratchy blankets around herself. She had worried that Steve, in his weakened (not to mention, naked) state would feel the cold more acutely than she, but her worries had proved groundless. She had found out quickly that Steve's body was giving off an abnormal amount of heat, nearly two or three times as much as her own, and that sitting next to him warmed her up very quickly. She had contemplated climbing onto the cot and curling up against him, but she had been too tired to move.
She assumed the warmth emanating from his body was to be attributed to the fluid she had injected him with, but as far as she could tell, the soothing heat was the only side effect he had experienced. As opposed to mutating into a two-ton behemoth with an ax or turning into a zombie, she thought they had both gotten off easy.
Steve shifted and muttered to himself as the submarine entered the docking bay with a clang of metal. Voices could be heard outside. It looked like the welcoming committee was on its way. The woman leapt to her feet, trying her best to ignore the pronounced ache in her bones, and hastily over his torso with her blanket. She saw no reason that he should face Umbrella's shock troops half-naked.
"Keep quiet," she told him softly. "Or they might shoot us."
"Sh…shoot?" Steve muttered under his breath, then, for all appearances, went to sleep again.
The woman jumped slightly as the hatch of the submarine opened and three men jumped in, one right after the other, all clad in the normal attire of the Umbrella "shock troops," complete with gas masks that made their breathing loud and echoing. Their combat boots made loud noises against the metal floor, and they were all armed to the teeth with submachine guns.
The foremost one of the pack approached her cautiously, and, seeing that she was wartorn and unarmed, allowed his gaze to drift to the cot where Steve lie, shifting restlessly, half-awake. She thought she heard him snort disdainfully.
He surveyed them a moment longer and called behind him, "Someone get a gurney down here." He glanced at Steve. "Looks like this one is pretty much immobile."
One of his fellow brutes nodded and climbed back out of the hatch, his boots clanging on the metal exterior of the submarine as he walked away.
The leader turned to his remaining companion. "Check the rest of the sub. Make sure there's no tracking devices on board."
The shock troop nodded, brushed rudely past the woman and exited through a metal door on the other side of the sub.
The leader lowered his gun and stared at her through the bug eye goggles of his gas mask. "Who are you?" he asked sharply.
The woman didn't like his tone. "That's of no concern to you," she said coldly. "I need to report to whoever is in charge here."
The man pointed his gun at her again, his voice hardening. "Report? That means you must be one of ours. Well, you report to me. What's your ID number?"
The woman's brown eyes narrowed as anger boiled in her throat and hardened her heart. She loathed the way these brutes talked down to other field agents, especially the women. They thought that just because they could infiltrate a hideout, kill a few people, steal whatever it was they were going for, and get out with at least one survivor, that they were the best things that had happened to Umbrella. All of them were simply mindless muscle; however, the woman had heard of one infamous shock trooper called Hunk who was said to be quite resourceful.
The woman was about to give a sharp reply when suddenly a person in a white lab coat climbed down the hatch. He was surprisingly young with unkempt blond hair and dark circles around his brown eyes from night after endless night in the lab. He lowered himself to the metal floor with a thud and brushed imaginary dust off of his rumpled lab coat. He adjusted his glasses and peered at the woman and the shock troop leader.
"And just what are you doing down here, Doctor Ripley?" the gas mask clad brute asked gruffly, his harsh tone apparently hiding his surprise at seeing the man. "Aren't you supposed to be holed up in your lab fiddling with your little test tubes and worrying about that stolen virus?"
Ripley stared at the other man with a calm expression on his face. "I was doing just that, O'Connell," he deadpanned, "when I suddenly caught wind that one of our agents had made it back alive. You don't see too much of that these days." He stared at the woman with an unreadable expression on his face. "I assume that agent is you."
Instead of answering, the woman restated her request, "I need to report to whoever is in charge here."
Ripley waved his hand dismissively. "He's on his way. I'm the assistant to the head scientist here." The doctor seemed to notice Steve lying on the cot for the first time. "Who is this?" he asked in a monotone. "Your partner? He seems a bit young."
The woman shook her head. "He's not my partner," she said simply.
Ripley peered down at her through the thick lenses of his glasses when she had been silent for a few more seconds. "Care to elaborate?"
"No, not really."
O'Connell suddenly snorted. "Perfect. We'll probably have to kill him, you know. I would think that you would know better than to go picking up strays, agent."
The woman bristled, but refused to let her anger show. She was suddenly terrified at the prospect of Steve being harmed. "No harm will come to this boy," she said coldly, making sure that her words were as clear as hell's bells and as hard as steel. "He may be of great importance."
"I don't give a damn about the kid," O'Connell snapped as Ripley bent over Steve, apparently examining him. "Why were you sent to the Antarctic Base, agent?" the shock trooper continued. "To obtain the T-Veronica virus, right? Well, where is it?"
The woman glared at him.
He laughed harshly. "You don't have it, do you? You're a real great field agent. You fail the primary objective of your mission and bring home a little riffraff kid."
Ripley suddenly stepped between them, a suspicious expression on his thin face. "What in the blazing Hades happened to this boy?" he asked sharply. "His body is generating an abnormal amount of heat and there is evidence of mutation all over his body."
The woman stared at him coldly. "This boy is called Steve Burnside, for your information. He was a prisoner at Rockfort Island and a victim of the T-Veronica virus."
Ripley's eyes widened until they appeared grotesquely large behind the lenses of his glasses. "He was injected with the virus?" he breathed in awe. "And he's still human? Impossible. Unless he was encapsulated for a certain number of years, he should have been a monster on a rampage by now."
"He was," the woman answered matter-of-factly. "He apparently reverted back to his human form upon death, and the virus fell dormant is his system."
"Hold on a damn minute," O'Connell snapped. "You said this kid died?"
"Yes," the woman replied.
O'Connell snorted. "Then you're lying. Now I ain't no scientist, but any idiot can see that the kid's alive there."
The woman glared at him disdainfully. "I said he was dead. I…revived him."
It was Ripley's turn to look suspicious. "Revived him?" he echoed. "How did you manage such a thing?"
The woman hesitated, not wanting to confess that she had injected him with some unknown chemical in a moment of soft heartedness and whimsical fancy. The last thing she needed was to have these two men firing more questions at her.
Fortunately, it was that moment that four large orderlies in green hospital scrubs came down the submarine hatch, carefully lowering a gurney along with them. O'Connell immediately sensed new people to boss around and whirled to rap out a long riff of orders that resulted in the four newcomers descending on a sleeping Steve and moving him hastily from the cot to the gurney, one of the scratchy brown blankets falling off of him in the process. The men murmured excitedly amongst themselves when they saw the scaly green patches that graced Steve's skin.
Despite all the bumping and jostling, though, Steve himself didn't awaken. He only muttered incoherently under his breath as the four orderlies worked quickly to strap him down to the gurney. The woman could see his eyes moving behind his closed eyelids, but he did not open them, which was probably a blessing since there wasn't much to see but the ugly mugs of the orderlies staring down at him.
The woman pushed past O'Connell and Ripley and moved towards the men huddled around Steve, who were in the process of trying to figure out a way to get the gurney back up the hatch. "Be careful with him," she warned over the ceaseless murmur of their voices. "He's still recovering."
None of them even glanced at her. Two of them suddenly climbed out of the hatch and stood on the top of the submarine peering down at their companions.
"Alright!" one called down. "Send him up!"
The two remaining orderlies quickly assumed the painstaking and agonizingly slow process of making Steve's gurney vertical and trying to fit it through the circular hatch. Steve's head lolled forwards as his world was suddenly shifted, the wheels of the gurney clanging loudly against the ladder descending from the hatch. The woman couldn't help but wince as each bump and jostle made Steve's head bounce back and forth like the head of some mindless doll. His body sagged against the straps, and his hair billowed erratically as if in the grips of some indecisive breeze, but he still stayed stubbornly asleep.
After what seemed like hours, the four orderlies had finally managed to get Steve's gurney through the hatch without killing him or each other. She heard the wheels of the gurney being rolled across the submarine's exterior and moved quickly up the hatch to follow them. Just the idea of those four men poking and prodding at an unconscious Steve made her shudder.
When she exited the submarine, the woman saw that she was in a chamber similar to the one on the Antarctic Base in which she had first boarded the submarine, meaning that it was a dock of sorts. The room was gloomy with high ceilings that seemed to extend into oblivion in all directions and dozens of small niches made to be used as docking ports for various submarine sizes. However, her rusty submarine was the only one sitting in a huge pool of seawater, a lonely little island of weariness floating in the ocean. The docking pool was easily the size of ten swimming pools and so deep that the bottom was lost in darkness. It was apparently designed to house more than one submarine at a time, but there were no others. The woman's heart sank as she faced the reality that she may have been the only one to escape that Antarctic Base alive.
A narrow walkway had been extended until it touched the hatch so as to make disembarking easier. The four orderlies were already in the midst of wheeling Steve across it, the wheels of the gurney creaking loudly, the noise rising over the feverish muttering of the orderlies.
The woman quickly hurried after them, not wanting to leave Steve unsupervised and in their hands. Her tired and cramped legs, however, seemed to have gone on strike and refused to carry her at any speed faster than a snail's pace. By the time she had caught up to them, they had already wheeled Steve down a metal ramp and were quickly heading towards an elevator at the end of a long corridor.
"Hey!" she called after them as she came closer. "Be careful with him."
One of the orderlies turned to her and spoke, voice muffled by the cloth covering his mouth. "You're the agent that brought him back, right? What the hell happened to this boy?"
"That's precisely what I was trying to find out," Ripley said as he came up beside her. His brown eyes held nothing but suspicion as he glared at her. "Just how did you revive him, agent?" he asked sharply. "Even the T-Veronica virus cannot bring back the dead with some semblance of humanity still attached to them."
The woman hesitated, then reached into her side pack and pulled out the vial of the blue liquid she had injected him with. Only a little was left in it, sitting meekly at the bottom of the vial.
Ripley's response to seeing the vial was instantaneous. He gasped and snatched it from her hand so quickly that the woman was left dumbfounded, her fingers tingling, thinking that they still held the vial in their grasp. Ripley's eyes grew so wide that they looked like they were about to pop out of his head. He held the vial in front of him, and she noticed that his hands were shaking violently. There was utter silence in the corridor. Even the orderlies had stopped their murmuring and were watching Ripley and the woman with interest.
Ripley stared at her with a pleading look in his eyes. "Please," he whispered fervently, voice barely audible. "Please tell me you didn't inject him with this."
The woman unconsciously backed up a step, unnerved by Ripley's fear. "Yes," she said uncertainly. "I did."
Ripley blanched, his mouth dropping open. There was a flurry of movement as the orderlies who had been listening in on the conversation scrambled back against the walls, trying to put as much distance between the gurney and themselves as possible. Silence fell again. The woman was bewildered at their actions and found herself at a loss for words.
Ripley was still staring at her, and she saw that he was trembling all over now. "Do you have any idea what you have done?" he whispered, voice wavering as if he were about to cry. "What you have created? Do you even know what was in this vial?"
The woman was silent, not really knowing how to answer. The agitation that hung in the air as thick as smoke was catching, and she suddenly felt like running away in shame. It was then that a tall striking man in a white shirt and khaki pants strode over to them. He had jet-black hair and pale blue eyes that were as cold and harsh as the bitterest winter. His expression was grim and emotionless, and he carried himself with an air of authority that made him seem even taller than he already was. The woman watched him warily as he approached their group at the end of the corridor.
"What's going on here?" he asked as he came to a stop. His voice was deep and as cold as his eyes. The woman repressed the urge to shudder.
Ripley was still staring blankly at her, his skin as pale as his lab coat. He now clutched the vial in two hands, holding it to his chest protectively. "This woman," he said, voice trembling as bad as his hands, "has created the third one."
The tall man raised a dark eyebrow, the only flicker of emotion he showed. "The third one? How can you be certain the infusion was successful?"
Ripley shifted his zombie-like gaze to the man. "The boy is alive, isn't he?"
The man's cold blue eyes moved to where Steve was lying lonely on his gurney, the frightened orderlies plastered to the walls around him like flies on a windshield. "This is the boy?" the man asked, directing his question to no one in particular.
The woman drew herself up. "Yes. His name is Steve Burnside."
Icy blue eyes immediately locked onto her face, and she suddenly wished she had never spoken. "So you're the one who is responsible for all this? Why did you inject him with a vial of unknown fluid when was already dead?"
The woman kept her face a blank mask with seasoned practice. Her mind raced as she thought of a lie to explain her actions. "I believed the contents of the vial to be all that remained of the T-Veronica virus," she said flatly. "I was operating under the impression that the virus needed to be kept in freezer storage if it was to retain its potency and its usefulness to the agency. Since there were no such necessities on the submarine, I sought the next logical course of action and injected it into the body of someone already infected with the virus so that it would remain preserved in his blood."
"Logical course of action?!" Ripley suddenly echoed in a shrill voice. He was shaking like an electric toothbrush. "Do you realize what you have done?!"
"There no need to overreact, Doctor Ripley," the tall man suddenly said, voice cold as the bottom of a tomb. His eyes pinned Ripley with a stare that froze the shaking man where he stood. "Take the boy and what remains of the virus to the lab. Make sure Doctor Matamores is informed that there is a third one."
"What shall we do with the boy, sir?" Ripley asked fearfully as he glanced at Steve's gurney. "It already appears as if he's survived the first two phases of the injection process. What if he…changes? And it will only be a matter of time before Cardinal and Cinderella sense his presence."
The tall man stared down at the doctor apathetically. "That's why this process needs to be done quickly and efficiently. Place the boy in the isolation ward and take extra precautions. I feel that full encapsulation is in order if we want his vitals to remain static enough to study him. This boy is certainly an exceptional case."
Ripley nodded emphatically in spite of his fear. "Yes, sir. I'll get on it right away, sir." He started to move back towards Steve's gurney, but then turned back with a timid but respectful look on his face. "What shall this one be branded, sir?"
The tall man looked thoughtful, but it was a sort of diabolical form of contemplation, a demon with dreams. "Rook, I think."
Ripley nodded. "Rook it will be, sir."
The woman watched with a seemingly emotionless look on her face as the doctor quickly hurried towards the gurney where Steve lay sleeping. Still clutching the glass vial protectively to his chest as if it were a dangerous snake that would lash out at the world if he let go of it, Ripley regrouped the jittery orderlies and proceeded to the elevator at the end of the hall, where they awaited its opening nervously, stealing glances at the sleeping and perfectly benign Steve.
She was about to make a move to follow them, not trusting orders that involved "branding" and "full encapsulation," when she suddenly felt a large hand clamp down on her bare arm like an iron vise. She instinctively tried to shake it off, but to no avail. Whirling around with harsh words on the tip of her tongue, the woman saw that she was in the grips of the tall man, his frigid blue eyes staring at her impassively.
"Follow me to my office, agent," he said flatly. "I am very anxious to hear your report on the events of the previous days."
Though there was no malevolence in his tone, the woman had no doubt he expected her to obey his orders. He released her arm and began walking back to the room with the submarine, and she followed him without a word, ignoring the urge to accompany Steve to wherever he was going. She knew somewhere in the back of her mind that she had allowed herself to become too attached to the young man with the fiery hair, but her emotions seemed to be things that were far beyond her control now. Her heart ached when she thought of the things that those doctors and scientists would probably do to Steve once they got him in their hands. The woman had done something to the boy that had suddenly given nearly everyone a reason to be frightened and apprehensive of him. And the worst thing was that she didn't even know what she had done. The tall man's entire exchange with Ripley had left her with more questions that she had originally started with. But, of course, with the practice of a seasoned and world-weary veteran, the woman repressed her curiosity, not wanting to admit to the fact that she might have doomed Steve to a lifetime of experimentation and pain.
The tall man led her down a narrow corridor just before the entrance to the submarine dock, a corridor she had somehow missed during her rush down the hallway. From there, he led her up countless flights of stairs and through door after door until they finally reached a hallway that was covered in tasteless green carpet with some senseless triangle design gracing the borders. The man strode down the hallway with quick, confident steps, trusting her to follow him.
And of course, the woman did. She hadn't never once entertained the idea of turning around and walking away from the man and from her life. She had been trained to follow orders with unquestioning devotion no matter how bizarre or morally retarded the orders may seem. That was the life she had lived for nearly six years, a life of missions and orders and false names and lies. She had forgotten her real name long ago, lost it somewhere in the web of deception and cold facts. All she knew were her orders, be they "search and destroy" or "infiltrate and obtain" or "hit and run." She used to be satisfied with just that limited vocabulary to keep her moving through her life.
But now she wasn't so sure. Not since Leon had taught her a whole new colorful vocabulary that involved words from higher levels of consciousness and feeling, words so beautiful that even their own syllables spoken aloud could not attain the magnitude of appreciation that they surely deserved.
The sound of a knob turning snapped the woman out of her reverie. In front of her, she saw the cold man open a large, mahogany door that was unmarked with no nameplate or decoration to personalize it as his own. He stepped aside and gestured with automatic and heartless politeness for her to go in ahead of him.
With her routine mask of icy calm firmly fitted on her face, the woman stepped into the office, shivering as the frigid air blew across her bare arms and slithered into her clothes through the multitude of rips and tears that scarred the fabric. The office was drab and without personality, nothing at all like the extravagance of insanity that had graced Alfred Ashford's mansion on Rockfort Island. The woman glanced at the wooden bookshelves and leather chairs with only passing interest as she came to a halt in the center of the room, just in front of a plain wooden desk with papers strewn all over its surface. A small nameplate on the desk read: Jeremiah Travens, Head Supervisor.
The tall man shut the door as he followed her into the room and sat behind his deck, staring at her with those frozen blue eyes of his. The woman stared back defiantly, her back ramrod straight and her hands clasped in front of her.
"You knew that what you were injecting him with wasn't the T-Veronica virus," he said finally, breaking the cold silence that had fallen in the room.
The woman said nothing. Those eyes had frozen the lies that had started forming on her tongue, but she held her ground.
"What's your ID number?" he suddenly asked.
"RY-1839552," she answered automatically.
Travens raised his dark eyebrows. "You were the one sent to Raccoon City to obtain the G-virus three months ago, correct?"
The woman nodded, her heartbeat quickening for some reason.
Travens' face was expressionless. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but you failed to complete your mission then, right?"
"Yes," the woman said tightly, a memory of herself opening the golden locket and dropping the purple-colored virus into the iron smelting pool suddenly flashing in her mind. She hurriedly pushed it back.
"Good thing we had Hunk dispatched on that mission as well," Travens continued without a pause. "At least he was able to bring us a sample back."
The woman said nothing, but loathed the way Travens belittled her and exploited her failures. Though she wouldn't call dropping her sample of the G-virus into the pool a failure, more like an uncharacteristic act of rebellion.
"And now, three months later," Travens continued, eyes never moving from her figure standing alone in the center of his office like a sinner facing Judgment, "you are once again dispatched to obtain a virus, this time the T-Veronica virus. And once again, you fail to bring it back to us."
"The T-Veronica virus is in the boy's body," she argued flatly, refusing to knuckle under the man's barrage of carefully veiled insults.
"Correction," he stated in an equally flat voice. "The boy had the T-Veronica virus in his body, but that was before you injected him with some unknown substance you probably picked up off the floor and decided to shove it into his veins, thinking you could salvage something from your already doomed mission. The T-Veronica virus has been completely obliterated from his system."
"I assure you," she said coldly, "that I acted out of ignorance, not stupidity or desperation. Maybe if I had been better informed about the properties of the T-Veronica virus, I might have been able to use better logic."
Travens sat back in his chair, his face once again taking on that demonically contemplative look. "I am familiar with your work, agent."
Her blood ran cold, but her face remained expressionless.
"In all your years as an Umbrella agent," he continued. "I have never heard anyone say that you acted out of stupidity or desperation, and I can see just from watching and listening to you for the past few minutes that you are not brash. But I also don't believe that you are as ignorant as you claim to be. The question, however, still remains as to why you would go completely against common sense and shove a vial of unknown chemicals into the veins of a dead boy. And I don't want to hear about your 'logic,' agent. You are no idiot, but I believe you may be sentimental."
The woman's jaw clenched, but she said nothing.
Travens stared at her with a strange, roguish gleam in is eyes. "I believe that it is about time we reassessed your ability to infiltrate hideouts and obtain target items without becoming attached to people you meet. I fear that you may be unqualified for any further jobs involving interaction between civilians and yourself." His eyes hardened. "Unless you can honestly tell me that there is no basis for my speculations about you."
The woman remained silent. She thought of fiercely denying all that Travens had said, but something in the cold, frozen wastelands of those blue eyes told her that it would be a fatal mistake to lie to this man.
Travens gave her a flat, professional smile that showed too many teeth. "I figured as much." He paused. "Wouldn't you like to know precisely what is going to happen to your little delinquent?"
"His name is Steve Burnside," she said flatly before she could stop herself.
Travens leaned back in his chair and brushed a lock of dark hair away from his frozen eyes. "I really don't care what his name is or used to be. When you injected him with that virus, agent, you killed Steve Burnside and gave birth to 'Rook.' As far as everyone is concerned, Steve Burnside no longer exists."
A chill ran down the woman's spine, but she forced herself to think rationally. "So it was another virus in that vial, then?" she asked, trying to look like she wouldn't care about the answer either way.
Travens' eyes narrowed into slits, and for a moment, the woman thought he was going to snap at her. When he spoke, however, his voice was low and calm. "To put it in simple terms, yes, there was a virus in that vial, but not just any virus, a revolutionary virus. It was stolen from us by a renegade scientist among our ranks who managed to flee before he could face our judgment. Personally, I think whoever killed him in that Antarctic Base did him a great mercy."
I'll bet, the woman thought dryly. In the back of her mind where thoughts born of instinctive suspicion reigned, she wondered why this normally taciturn man was divulging all this information to her when she had only asked a simple 'yes or no' question that didn't require any elaborate explanations.
"The contents of that vial held the basis for all future scientific experiments in Umbrella," Travens continued, his eyes never leaving her face, as if trying to gauge her reaction to his words. "If it ever fell into the wrong hands, who knows what kinds of disasters would follow."
It's already in Umbrella's hands, the woman thought. I think those hands are wrong enough as it is.
Travens suddenly rose from his seat and unfolded his long body with stunning agility. He began to saunter casually over to where she was standing. "Though there are very few people who know truly what that virus is capable of, there are certain data miners who keep opening doors that they are not ready to go through." He paused and looked hard at her. "They usually end up bringing about their own demise, and we don't have to worry about them." He walked closer to her with slow, deliberate steps, his blue eyes locked ruthlessly onto her brown ones. "We do, however, have to worry about the renegades, the rebels who wish to steal our hard work away from us. They can be anyone, scientists, shock troops, spies, field agents – anyone. And they will stop at nothing to prevent us from continuing our research with that virus you so deliberately attempted to dispose of." His voice was suddenly as hard as steel.
The woman's heart skipped a beat. He thinks I'm part of the rebellion, she suddenly realized. Travens was so close that she could feel the heat rising from his body, feel his breath harsh against her cheek. Those empty, soulless eyes wouldn't release her, no matter how hard she tried to look away. Her body was frozen where it was, and she was burning with cold fire.
"Dispose?" she echoed as his eyes bore into her, searing her soul with laser intensity. "I never tried to dispose of anything," she said, surprised at how calm her voice sounded. "I just tried to save the boy."
"The boy?" Travens repeated, and laughed harshly. "Forget about the boy, agent. He belongs to Project X, now. There's no saving him."
"Project X?" she whispered, rational thought breaking through her fear.
Travens slowly backed away, his eyes never leaving hers. The woman's heart thudded painfully in her chest, and her limbs felt as if they were frozen underneath that heartless gaze. If only he would stop staring at her.
Then, abruptly, the intensity of his gaze suddenly vanished as that cold fire swooped in to once again lie dormant in his barren soul. The woman relaxed slightly, but only slightly.
Travens raised an eyebrow. "It appears I misjudged you, agent. I thought the significance of you injecting the virus into that boy went deeper than just foolish maternal instincts, but apparently I was wrong. You aren't a rebel, just a fool, a weak, soft fool."
The woman said nothing. Inside, she screamed with rage.
Travens turned his back to her and started to walk behind his desk again. "I have nothing more to say to you, agent. Report back to main headquarters as soon as you can for your next assignment. You're dismissed."
The woman nodded stiffly. "Yes, sir."
She whirled and lumbered over to the door, her legs feeling rubbery and as limp as overcooked noodles. The rest of her body just felt numb. Behind her, she could hear Travens shifted through the papers on his desk. She was just reaching for the door knob with trembling fingers when Travens' voice drifted from behind her.
Her heart skipped a beat. She half-turned her head. "Yes, sir?"
Travens didn't even look up from his desk. "Clean yourself up. You look like shit."
Anger seared the back of the woman's throat, but she forced it down. "Whatever you say, sir."
She fled the room, dizzy with a strange mixture of relief and fury. She was thankful to whatever god or gods that may exist that she was out of that room, but she was also infuriated that she was thankful, infuriated that she had allowed one tall, skinny man with cold, blue eyes to frighten her so bad. She was just mad at everything, mad at the world.
Hallway after hallway flew by her as she walked, but she saw none of it. Her entire world was just a haze of angry pain and raw, red emotions that were refugees from a bruised and tender heart. Random thoughts rushed through her clouded mind, as random as the path she followed through the corridors.
What would Leon say if he saw you shaking and trembling like a little pussy in there? the woman wondered angrily as she punched the button to call the elevator. What would he think if he knew that that single man alone in his boring, nappy office had almost made you pee in your pants?
The elevator opened with a chime, and the woman stomped in angrily, punching a button for the floor level at random, her thoughts still occupied with Leon. What would he have said about "Ada" if he could see her now? Would he shake his head and say, "Yes, you are a weak, pathetic fool"? No way, not Leon. Leon wouldn't have thought any less of her just because she had been afraid.
Why? she suddenly thought. Because you're a woman and he expects you to be weak? Is that the answer?
No, she argued with herself as she exited the elevator and walked blindly into the hallway beyond, lost in her thoughts. Leon wouldn't have thought any less of you, but it wouldn't have been because you were a woman. It would have been because you were human, and he knew that you had feelings just like everyone else. Because he knew you were not the monster you made yourself out to be.
Though no one would have ever guessed just by looking at him or even talking with him, but Leon S. Kennedy had understood humanity and all its complex emotions better than anyone she had ever known. It wasn't so much as a search and hunger for knowledge of mankind's soul and all its many layers, but rather a gentle acceptance of the many different shades that human nature appeared in. All that deep understanding hidden underneath a brash and even rowdy personality with only a pair of fathomless blue eyes as a portal to such a soul.
Voices from beneath her suddenly jolted the woman out of her reverie, her silent requiem for the man who had given her more than anyone in the world. She looked around and was shocked to see that she had wandered into a dimly lit corridor that was completely made of stainless, shining metal except for a row of clear glass that lined the top half of each side of the two walls on either side of her. The meager light and the voices were drifting through the opaque glass and into the hallway where the woman stood alone, afraid to get close to the glass for fear of what she would see below her. For some reason she suddenly thought that if she did chance a peek through the glass, she would see demons with pitchforks torturing damned souls and the Prince of Lies himself presiding over the chaos with an almost childish enthusiasm.
But in the end, the woman swallowed her fear with a defiant gulp and proceeded to the wall to her right. She peered through the glass and looked into the room below with a sense of foreboding in her heart.
Below her was a vast room whose corners and walls were lost in utter darkness. The blackness pulsed like a thing alive, hiding whatever secrets it wanted to, knowing that the weakness of a human being's naked eye could never dream of piercing its elusive, phantasmal skin. The whole room, however, was not a huge pool of pure darkness. There was light - huge round circles of light illuminating shiny metal tables that were spaced an equal distance apart in a single horizontal row across the entire room. All but one was empty, their slack restraints sagging off the sides of the metal tables in sinister disappointment.
But when the woman saw what was happening in that circle of light, and who was bound to that metal operating table, she felt her heart sink in her chest like the Titanic plummeting silently to the ocean floor.
Steve Burnside lay motionless and pale, strapped to the stainless steel table by the off-white restraints that were made to render his arms, legs, and torso inanimate. Electrodes of all shapes and sizes had been attached to various parts of his body, which the woman could see clearly since he still wore nothing resembling clothing. His eyes were closed as if in a fitful sleep, and the fluorescent lighting that streamed down from somewhere above made his red hair appear as bright as fresh blood. His pale stomach was smooth and unmarked. The woman also noticed a series of dark words and symbols on the inside of his right arm that hadn't been there before. It appeared to be some sort of tattoo, but she couldn't be entirely sure unless Steve moved his arm a little, which didn't look like it was going to be happening any time soon.
And all around his limp figure, men and women in white lab coats buzzed back and forth like a colony of demonic bees. They all wore huge bug-eye goggles, gloves, and cloth facemasks to cover their mouths. The hissing symphony of their muffled voices was what had summoned the woman to witness this dark event.
She was amazed that they even had the time to talk; they all appeared so busy. Some were taking notes from readouts produced by the various instruments that had been attached to Steve's body. Several others were mixing horrendously colored fluids together in test tubes. Every once in a while, one of them would disappear into the darkness outside the circle of light, the ebony black swallowing them whole, only to reappear unharmed and holding a vial of fluid or a peculiar instrument in their hands. The woman found this vanishing act extremely unnerving; she began to think that she was watching a silent congregation of ghosts poking and prodding at Steve with their incorporeal hands. She shuddered.
The woman slowly raised her aching hands and placed them on the glass in front of her, very carefully and deliberating, that single motion of cautious curiosity keeping her adhered to the world around her, and convincing her cold and calculating mind that what she was seeing wasn't some sort of ghostly operation or alien autopsy, but a horribly realistic testament to the brutality and frigid countenance of man's scientific mind at work.
Fifteen feet below her, the humming of the scientists' voices suddenly increased. One – she couldn't tell whether it was a man or a woman, since all she could see was the top of a blond head – looked up from its instrument and called another of its companions' over to look on with it, seemingly unsure of what to do about a new occurrence that had shown up on its readout. The rest of the scientists started moving faster as if someone controlling the world had impatiently pressed the fast forward button. The woman's dark eyebrows drew together in puzzlement, and she leaned forward in an attempt to determine what had caused such a disturbance among the hissing gathering.
Her heart skipped a beat and she let out a soft gasp of air as she saw Steve's eyes fluttering indecisively, caught temporarily between waking and sleeping. One of the scientists saw this, too, and made silent but emphatic gestures with his hands that resulted in two of his companions quickly disappearing into the darkness. The hissing voices suddenly dropped into nothing, and silence descended on the cavernous room below like a stifling blanket. Yet, they still continued to work faster, spurred into desperate action by the prelude of Steve's awakening.
The woman, too, was silent in her lonely corridor that seemed to hover above the now silent gathering. Her heart thudded in her chest as she saw a small gap of white appear underneath Steve's eyelids. His mouth opened and closed slightly, sending a rippling shudder through the gathered scientists. Every movement he made seemed to cause a great disturbance among the white coats.
They're afraid of him, the woman realized as she leaned forward even more. But why? He's only one boy. What's to be afraid of?
Then his eyes flew open.
The woman drew in a sharp breath; she hadn't been expecting such a sudden movement. Even from fifteen feet above the metal table where he was strapped, she could see the pupils of his pale green eyes dilating and retracting indecisively as they adjusted to the light. He blinked as if to clear his vision, and his eyes came into focus.
The gathered scientists immediately panicked. The silence was completely annihilated as most of them cried out in surprise and terror, scrambling blindly into the darkness, knocking over unseen tables and instruments that fell to the floor with a loud clatter that echoed through the chamber. The noise level of their voices rose from a stifling silence to shouts that could be heard by the woman.
"Oh! God save us!"
"Doctor Ripley! He's awake!"
"I know! Where's that sedative?!"
But though the woman heard these cries, she wasn't listening to them. No matter how loud they were, the voices of the scientists failed to penetrate her consciousness. All she saw below her was Steve Burnside, his eyes wide open and focused.
He was staring at her, right at her, oblivious to every sound, every movement around him. The woman's world vanished as she looked down into those pale green eyes that were filled with heartbreaking confusion and puzzlement. Her breath caught in her throat, and her limbs were frozen in place. In the eye of the storm with raging winds and torrents of rain surrounding him on all sides, he had latched on to the one familiar thing he had seen – her. From fifteen feet below and through a barrier of opaque glass, that innocent gaze found her like a beacon in the night, like memories of Leon found her as she tried to hide in the coldest crevasses of her mind. He looked at her with youthful ignorance and fragile hope. The woman felt her heart breaking.
She suddenly shook off the frozen spell that had come over her limbs when his eyes had met hers. Without thinking, she raised her fist and pounded on the hard glass in front of her. "Steve!" she cried, her voice echoing in her lonely corridor, the silence utterly shattered. The world reappeared around her, full of sight and sound.
She saw his eyebrows rise in distress, as he seemed to shake off a similar frozen spell, this one probably drug-induced. He surged against his restraints, straps biting mercilessly into his porcelain skin, the puzzlement in his eyes quickly turning to fear. "Help me!" she heard him cry.
One of the scientists suddenly leapt out of the darkness' maw, fidgeting nervously. "Doctor Ripley! Please!" he shouted in desperation as he took a cautious step toward Steve, starting to reach for the belt that would tighten the restraints.
"Look out!" the woman cried in spite of herself, pounding on the glass with both fists now, feeling isolated and helpless.
Steve somehow heard her warning, and turned his head to the left, pinning the frightened scientist with his eyes. The man immediately retreated back into the darkness as if it were a blanket under which he could hide from the boogeyman.
Through her haze of panic, the woman saw a flash of anger enter Steve's eyes. He raised his head up from the metal operating table, now more awake than she had ever seen him. "Who are you people?" he demanded, his voice so loud that it echoed in the cavernous chamber. "What are you doing to me?"
He jerked violently against the straps, and this time, one of them pinning his right wrist snapped open. Impossible, the woman thought somewhere in the back of her rational mind as she continued to pound on the glass, I've seen those straps hold down Hunters in the past. How can one skinny teenage boy manage to break one?
"Doctor! Help!" a woman's voice drifted from the blackness as Steve continued to thrash his weight violently from side to side. The whole table shook and would have fallen over if it hadn't been built right in to the floor.
"Quit your whining, you worthless idiots!" an authoritative voice snapped, and the woman realized with a start that it was Ripley's. "Restrain him!"
Immediately, all the scientists in the room ran out of the darkness and descended on Steve's thrashing form like a pack of hyenas moving in for the kill. They desperately threw all their body weight on him, trying to cease his violent struggles. All three straps holding down his left leg suddenly snapped with a series of popping sounds. Steve instinctively kicked out with the liberated leg, and two of the scientists went flying into the blackness with a resounding crash. The speed and strength of the motion was unbelievable. Needless to say, those two scientists would probably never get up again.
Suddenly, a new figure in white appeared just behind Steve's thrashing head. Even with the goggles and the cloth mask, the woman immediately recognized him to be Doctor Ripley. He was in the middle of extracting a sickly brown fluid from a small vial. The woman felt an abrupt sense of dread as she watched the fluid fill the syringe with agonizing slowness – cold, calculating slowness.
"Steve!" she cried, doubting that he could hear her over all the commotion down there. "Behind you! Look out!"
By some miracle, or maybe just by new supernaturally acute senses that he had acquired, Steve heard her. Bending his head back at an impossible angle so that the woman could only see a shock of red hair and the pale column of his throat, he was just in time to see Ripley jam the filled syringe into the side of his neck and depress the plunger with stunning speed and an amazingly steady hand.
"No!" the woman cried, throwing her weight against the glass, for all the good it did. Her heart sank to the bottoms of her feet. She was willing to bet whatever was in that syringe was some sort of tranquilizer…or worse.
Steve's struggling immediately began to weaken. His head sagged back against the metal table with his eyes only half-open. His teeth were bared in a painful grimace as his violent thrashings slacked off until they were just a mere twitching of his limbs. His one free limb, his left leg, had one final defiance left in it, though, and abruptly lashed out with the force of a battering ram, knocking two more scientists to the floor and scattering the remaining ones. Ripley alone, safely behind Steve's head, stood motionless where he was, as if moving would draw attention to himself.
The woman felt like crying as she saw Steve's twitching finally fade into nothing. She clawed vainly at the glass between them as if she could make a hole and jump through to save him. Through her tearing vision, however, she saw Steve's eyes were still stubbornly opened, and staring at her again.
Pale green eyes locked onto her brown ones with an intensity she hadn't though possible for one so heavily drugged. She stopped pounding on the glass and just stood there, gazing back at him, weary of heart and soul. The woman was never to forget that look he gave her as long as she lived. Such lost, innocent eyes caused motherly stirrings in her soul that were akin to that passionate, violent quakes caused by Leon. The pale green of the irises suddenly seemed to explode with color and reveal depths that were, in their own elusive and fleeting way, as fathomless as Leon's eyes had been. Those eyes broke her heart, and awakened a new passion in her – not the flaming, eternal lover's passion that she had felt for Leon, rather the gentle but equally eternal mother's protectiveness for her only son.
Even though she never would have thought it possible for him even to move after whatever Ripley had injected him with, Steve suddenly jerked his right arm hard. The two remaining straps snapped open with sharp, staccato sounds that echoed in the silence. Slowly, drunkenly, he lifted his right arm towards her, like a drowning child reaching out vainly for its mother's loving hand. She saw the dark tattoo branded on his pale flesh like a leech.
Steve's mouth moved slightly, forming his last word.
Then his eyes drifted shut. His arm fell back to the table in defeat, palm up, exposing the tender flesh of its underside, and she saw what that dark, evil tattoo said.
The woman screamed, once again shattering the silence that still stubbornly tried to fall.
Ripley suddenly looked up, right at her hiding place.
Blinding by rage and suffering, the woman ran.
She never could remember how long, how far, which doors or elevators she fled through, but eventually she stumbled to a stop in a deserted hall and darted blindly into a bathroom, where she fell the tiled floor in a shattered heap of human clay molded into the form of a weeping, lonely woman with nowhere left to run or hide. She kept seeing Steve's motionless body lying strapped to that metal operating table, his skin so pale, his hair so red. Soon, however, that image was overrun with a similar image of Leon, lying in a pool of his own blood right after he had jumped into the path of a bullet to save her. She'd run out on him, too, the one she had started to love so dearly.
What are they going to do to Steve? the woman wondered as she dragged herself against the wall and buried her face in her hands, the very embodiment of agony and torment. I saw that tattoo; it said "Rook." I've created a monster, another one of Umbrella's horrible abominations. I've condemned a young boy with his entire life ahead of him to an eternity of needles, viruses, and mad doctors in white lab coats. He had died and gone to heaven, and I brought him back to hell.
She had seen some of the subjects who had been with Umbrella for years, the ones that had somehow managed to survive all the experimentation and madness that raged all around them. But they had been weak, shattered creatures, beating ceaselessly on the walls of their containment rooms and screaming like the madmen and women they were. What kind of life was that?
"Somebody kill me, please," the woman whispered forlornly as another tear rolled down her cheek. "Leon, take me away from this place." Her voice split the silence in the empty bathroom, her echoes bounding off the walls and coming back to taunt her.
Madness suddenly raged in the woman's mind, and a tide of memories strewn about her soul ran together and came rushing eagerly towards her, forcing her to recall events from the past, forcing her into this dark requiem. Not knowing what to do or having the strength to do anything else, she yielded to the tide, and was soon drowning in a sea of chaotic images that kept overlapping each other and blurring at the edges.
Memories from more recent days played back like a broken record, memories from Rockfort Prison and the Antarctic Base. Escaping her prison. Being chased around the Military Training Facility by a crazed Alfred Ashford with a sniper rifle in his hands. Her terrifying encounter with that man in the sunglasses. Dispatching a peculiar Tyrant-like monster on the plane while fleeing Rockfort Island. Seeing Steve lying motionless against the wall. Injecting him with that "revolutionary virus."
Then the woman fell deeper into her memories, deeper into a tangled web of emotions too complex and interwoven to sort out. Back to three months ago, back to Ada Wong, back to Raccoon City…back to Leon.
Seeing him running through the car garage, handgun clutched tightly in one hand, heading towards the entrance to the jail area. Seeing the blue uniform with R.P.D. emblazoned on the back. Panicking and opening fire. He whirls around, a startled look on his face. He is…stunningly attractive.
"Sorry about that. When I saw the uniform, I thought you were another zombie."
"Who are you?"
Yes, Ada Wong had been one lucky broad, to have Leon watching out for her even as she coldly took every opportunity to try and leave him behind in the dust. He was relentless, however, burning with his duty to "serve and protect" even when he was the only cop left alive in the ruins of zombie-infested Raccoon City.
He is angry because she ran off by herself. He descends the metal stairs, a large Magnum clutched in his hand, blue eyes flashing beautifully with anger…
"Ada! What was that all about? Running off like that was reckless and stupid! Those zombies are everywhere, not to mention that thing that got Ben!"
"I was there, Leon, I know."
"Look, Ada, as an officer, it's my job to look out for you, but we're not going to get through this alive if we don't work together, okay?"
"Alright. We'll do this your way…for now."
The woman had never once in her entire life given into someone like that when it was not required of her. She didn't need Leon; it wasn't part of her job to let him protect her and escort her around. All she needed to do was get the G-virus and get the hell out of there. But there was something intriguing about the rookie police officer. Something hidden within the depths of those ocean blue eyes.
He is not as naïve and foolish as he first seemed. Intelligence, fathomless and unique, burns in those azure orbs. He is reckless and brash, but gentle and sincere. He is the only person in the entire world who cares whether or not she lives or dies. He stays by her side, and she is falling for him…
"I'll only slow you down with these injuries. Go. Save yourself."
"Is it just me, or does everyone always ignore what I say? I told you, it's my job to look after for you."
"But you'll be in danger if you stay with me. I know I've only known you for a short period of time, but I really enjoy being with you."
"I know I'm not capable of caring about anyone, but I don't want to lose you."
"We're leaving this place together. Stay here and wait for me. I'll be right back."
No, she cannot do this; this isn't happening. She needs to get that virus out of the city right now! Forget Leon… But she can't. She has to find him, has to tell him who she really is, has to assure herself that he escapes in one piece. She will never be able to forgive herself if she deceives him.
Inside the Power Room. She sees Leon and…that Tyrant! It has him cornered, and he has nowhere left to run. She is being torn apart. Just turn away, agent, you have the G-virus; you don't need to help him. Save him, Ada Wong; he would have done the same for you…
Pain is all she knows. Pain and more pain. Pain and more painful pain. All she had was a handgun. A handgun versus all the might and muscle of a Tyrant. Was there ever any real contest? But her heart's mission has been accomplished; the Tyrant, blinded and disoriented, plummets into the iron smelting pool. Leon is safe, and he is holding her, but she is dying. His blue eyes are full of pain and tears, and she knows that she's in love with him…
"No, we're a team. I can't just…leave you behind!"
"…I'm just a woman who…fell in love with you. Nothing more."
He kisses her, and suddenly nothing else matters, not her "orders," not her "mission," not the pain all over her body, not the fact that her blood is slowly pooling on the floor, not anything. All she can feel is his mouth on hers, so warm and soft, and Ada Wong is happy for the first time in her life as she loses consciousness.
The woman in red sat sobbing in her lonely isolated bathroom as the flood of memories slowed down to a trickle, then finally fled to lie dormant in the back of her mind, never dying, never fading, just waiting, waiting to remind her of what she had, that her life wasn't all blood and darkness. She had once had a man who cared for her, and that man was still alive, for all she knew. If she returned to him, would he welcome her with open arms, his Ada?
But am I really Ada Wong? the woman wondered as she lifted her face from her hands, wiping away the salty tears. Ada Wong was just a woman who had a boyfriend named John and went searching for him in Raccoon City, only to meet a man named Leon, whose life she died trying to save. Ada Wong died three months ago, in Leon's arms.
But as the woman lurched wearily to her feet, she couldn't help but see Steve Burnside vainly lifted one of those pale arms before the drugs consumed him. She saw his distressed eyes, still painfully focused and aware, the tattoo on his arm, the mark of condemnation, and she saw his lips say her name…Ada. No, the woman realized with grim resolve, Ada Wong did not die back in Raccoon City. Ada Wong lived to throw that life-saving rocket launcher down to Leon in those final moments while he faced the Tyrant. Ada Wong lived to save a boy named Steve Burnside, who reminded her of Leon. Ada Wong was the only one of her aliases after all these years who had survived.
"Here use this!"
"Ada? Is that you?! Ada!"
Leon Kennedy knew her as Ada Wong, Steve Burnside knew her as Ada Wong…and that was all that mattered. Nothing else, not her job, not Umbrella, not even her own life, mattered in the slightest.
Ada Wong turned and looked at herself in the mirror. The face that looked back at her had short dark hair, large brown eyes, a full mouth that went from sensuous to cruel according to her moods. The face that gazed at her as she gazed at it was dirty and weary of body, heart and soul, but it shown brightly with a new life, a new identity discovered. For the first time in years, that face in the mirror had a name to go with it.
Agent RY-1839552 died in Raccoon City, the place where Ada Wong was born.
But now what? she thought as she touched her dirty cheek with an equally dirty hand, like a child examining an unfamiliar object. I do not know where to go. I have no idea where to even start looking for Leon. And even if I do, he'll probably be allied with the other S.T.A.R.S members, and are they likely to trust an ex-Umbrella agent? I'm sure Leon's and my paths will cross again in the future, but what about Steve? Steve is still here, in this compound, and he is here because of me. I have to help him.
Ada strained to recall the conversations of the recent past. What had Ripley and Travens been saying? Words hammered through her head. The third one. Project X. Rook. Cardinal. Cinderella.
For some reason those last two names sent shudders down her spine. Who were they? Surely those had to be some sort of code names. What was Project X? What was Umbrella up to this time? Nothing good. Umbrella was always up to something, but the agent she had been was not advised to ask questions. It had not been her "position" to ask questions. All she had to do was follow orders like some kind of mindless machine.
Well, all that's going to change, Ada thought as she ran a hand back through her tangled hair, watching a new light shine in her chocolate brown eyes. Umbrella has just lost an agent in the line of duty, and they don't even know it. Headquarters won't be hearing from Agent RY-1839552 for a long time, maybe not ever again. Project X is the mystery of the day, and Ada Wong is going to find out about it if it kills her. She's going to do it for Leon, who risked his life a dozen times over to save her, and because she loves him. And she's going to do it because that was her Steve that Ripley jabbed with that tranquilizer, and that didn't make her very happy.
Ada looked at herself one more time in the mirror, and felt the warm glow of satisfaction that had nothing to do with narcissism. Finally, she had found the person that Leon had saved in Raccoon City, a person worth saving.
"Thank you, Leon," she said softly to the empty bathroom.
And with that, the renegade survivor and silent rebel Ada Wong left the bathroom and disappeared down the hall.
July 20, 2000
That is all I'm taking with me
Please don't cry
We both know I'm not what you
And I will always love you
I will always love you
"I Will Always Love You"
Author's Note: Okay, this is my first piece of fanfiction that I actually completed. I know it's not exactly top quality, but I think it turned out okay. I had the sudden urge to write this because I REALLY didn't want Steve to die (I cried my eyes out), and who better to save him than the mysterious "woman in red" from that D.I.J guy's journal in the Battle Mode. So, Steve lives. Ada finds herself and her purpose. Leon is paid the tribute he deserves (Leon is the coolest!) But what's with this mysterious Project X? Who's Cardinal? Cinderella? Hmmm. I feel an action-adventure-survival horror sequel coming on…maybe.