Chapter Seven: The B-Team
"Richard's really dead?"
Rebecca nodded. "Yes, sir."
She was still calling him "sir", despite his insistence that she didn't have to.
"He survived the venom long enough to bleed out. There was nothing I could do."
He crushed his palms over his face. He'd already assumed that Richard was gone. Even so, this felt like a punch to the gut. Maybe if he'd killed the snake himself, or distracted it long enough, he wouldn't be hearing this frightened kid tell this story right now.
He made it out of that attic after all. Across the roof, or...
She looked up from fondling the Beretta lying in her lap.
"That's why I came looking for Chris. I... I tied off Richard's shoulder and packed the wound with gauze, but... It had severed so many vessels. There was so much blood. I thought after I administered the antivenom and the paralysis wore off he might be okay, but..."
She swallowed hard.
Again, he found himself thinking about how young she looked. Years older than his own kids, but still. Young was young. She didn't belong here.
And she's been here for twenty-four hours already. No way she's been in the field before. Talk about a baptism by fire.
It had taken its toll. He could tell. Her shoulders were slouched. Her weapon discipline was sloppy. The naked bulb dangling from the ceiling threw off-white highlights across her face that deepened the bruise-black bags under her eyes. Her cheeks, her tactical vest, her arms - all were spattered with blood. Maybe Richard's blood
"I just didn't know what else to do."
"You did your best. That's all that matters. But you put yourself at risk by coming out here alone."
"I know, I know. I'm sorry." Her voice sounded tight. Overwrought. Like she was going to start crying.
Please don't let her start crying. Sarah would know what to do, but me? I can build tree houses with the best of 'em, take 'em camping, but...
He started to blow the dust off his old SWAT pep talks. But she wasn't a cop. If he told her she was the best the city's finest had to offer, or that she had one shot to make her daddy proud, she'd probably curl up in a ball right there and then.
Gotta try something. Here goes.
"You acted on your initiative. A good cop follows orders, but a great cop follows his gut. You've got nothing to apologise for. But you're the medic. We need you. You're the most vital part of this operation. If one of us gets hurt, you can patch us back together again. What are we going to do if something happens to you?"
She chewed at her lower lip. "Captain Marini told me that if you want to take care of other people, first you have to take care of yourself."
"Yeah. Enrico's a good man. One of the best."
"He said I needed to learn how to use one of these," she said, tapping her pistol, "I'm kind of glad he insisted. I'd never even held a gun before last month."
"Rebecca, I've been in law enforcement thirty years. Hell, I retired two years ago. But there isn't a Captain on the force who wouldn't be impressed by you after tonight."
"I've had help. I haven't been alone since we crashed in the forest. Until Richard told me to wait in the infirmary while he looked for the others, I mean. He kept me safe. I ... wish I'd been able to return the favour."
"You said it yourself. There was nothing you could have done. God only knows what kind of snake that was."
"An elapid," she said, "Acanthophis, I think. It was hard to tell because of the size and discolouration and the fact that they're only found in Australia and New Guinea. We had to get Richard to the infirmary to treat his wound, so I didn't have time to study it after Chris killed it. We were lucky. The Acanthophis is an ambush predator. It's actually one of the only snakes in the world to act that way. If it had been a hunter then it might have gone into the forest, or even the city, looking for food..."
She was rambling again. Three decades had shown him a lot of ways for men and women to break down. This was the intellectual's way. Spewing thoughts and facts like a machinegun on full-auto, none of it relevant, all of it just to distract from the shock that was beginning to set in.
He'd seen guys with head injuries do the same thing dozens of times. They gibbered with a feverish energy, trying to convince him they were fine, all the while bleeding from the skull.
She looked up, saw him staring, and flushed.
"I share a lab with a herpetologist. An amateur herpetologist, at least. She's a big fan of the Acanthophis. There's a poster of it in her dorm room. I'm more a spider person myself, but..."
"Rebecca, how old are you?"
She lapsed into silence. Then, she hazarded an answer. "Uhm, n-nineteen?"
"And you work for the CDC?"
She shook her head. "I'm studying at Raccoon U. My tutor said that it would help my application to join the CDC in Atlanta. I was supposed to consult with STARS while working on my thesis. That was what the Dean and the Chief of Police said. And then, last night..."
"So you haven't even finished college yet?"
"Next year." She looked past the gun resting in her lap to her sneakers. "If I survive this."
Poor kid. She's had a rough night. Two rough nights. Probably scared to death. I need to cut her some slack.
Hell, maybe this whole mess was all Wesker's fault anyway. Hire a kid to do a pro's job. Less chance someone might smell a rat. Anything to protect the company.
"We should get moving," he said, "no use sitting around here. We have to look for Chris, and maybe Captain Wesker while we're out there too."
She pushed herself up off her crate, readying her gun. She seemed game. So long as she was smart enough to stay behind him, they'd be just fine.
There were dead dogs strewn across the courtyard. A couple bore the puckered, penny-size entrance wounds of a 9mm. Most had been cut apart by buckshot, distended snouts ripped to shreds, front legs torn off at the joints, their insides piled around burst stomachs.
Wesker's the 9mm. Headshots on the dogs blocking his way. Chris was probably the shotgun. He took out the rest. Looks like I owe you and Jill now, old buddy.
Rebecca tugged at his jacket. "A-are they all...?"
"Yeah, looks like it," he said, edging into the moonlight, "keep your guard up. Don't talk. Listen."
She nodded, pursing her lips.
They marched, single-file, between the shot-riddled compost heaps dotting the yard. The flagstones had turned to islands separated by red rivers. Nothing moved.
"Sir..." Rebecca whispered.
He glanced back, saw her pointing, and followed the direction of her finger. There, perched atop the stone gazebo that dominated the courtyard's centre, was a cluster of silhouettes. Silver highlights fell on black feathers and long beaks and a dozen glittering eyes, all looking at them.
Barry flinched. The first crow ducked its head under a wing and began to prune away loose tufts of plumage. The others jeered. They reminded him of a gang of teenagers heckling pedestrians at the roadside.
Except that a vision of blood and feathers on a sitting room floor crowded into his head and suddenly the teenagers were cold-blooded killers. And the heckling was a threat.
"Stay behind me," he hissed, and started to strafe towards an arched opening in the wall.
She did as he asked and kept quiet.
And then something screamed like a wounded animal at his hip. He recoiled, clamping a hand over his ear and keeping Miranda aimed at the birds with the other. Rebecca scrabbled at his belt, grabbing for the radio as it rasped out its discordant symphony of static.
"Turn it off."
"...pha tea... Brav... eam... one read.... ou guys... there?"
"I can't. The dial isn't turning."
The crows started to stir, unfolding their wings, squawking in agitation.
"Damn it. Time to go. Move!"
He spun, pushing her ahead of him as they barelled into the narrow passage. Ivy dripping from the arches overhead swiped at his forehead. He glanced up and saw dark shapes wheeling against the sky through the tangle of vines.
A deep rumble was rising beneath the scream of the crows, coming from straight ahead. It took him awhile to realise that it was rushing water, and by then they were bursting into the second courtyard.
Water was spilling in a torrent from a gateway set high in the wall, crashing down into a basin lined with cracked, stone flower pots. The plume of spray it kicked up filled the air with a mist that turned their clothing dark and heavy. It washed away the sweat and dirt sticking to his face. Rebecca skidded on slick cobbles and he grabbed her arm to keep her upright.
"Where do we go?" she asked, sweeping her sodden bangs out of her face.
He wished he knew. Black feathers were falling around them. They couldn't stay out in the open, and they couldn't go back. But beyond the wall, with its curled crown of barbed wire, he could see another building.
It wasn't like the mansion. No fancy architecture. No stone columns. No stone at all. It was just a wood cabin, like the lodge in the Rockies he rented most summers.
A couple more weeks, and that's where he'd have been - just him, Sarah and the kids - far away from this place.
They shot across the courtyard towards the next ivy-strewn passage. Something hit him in the back as he passed under an archway, squawking and raking his vest with its talons. He swung around and caught it full on the side of the head with his elbow. The bird let out a confused cry and hit the wall.
He fumbled his way along the tunnel in darkness, following Rebecca's lead. He saw her silhouetted against lamplight coming from around the corner as she turned her head to look for him. Then, she was stumbling on, not stopping until she reached the building.
Two wooden steps led up to a metal door with a thin slot at about eye level. An electric lamp hung above the porch, a halogen bulb in a stainless steel cage. More pot plants spilled from their pots and mingled with the undergrowth climbing the cabin's walls.
The sound of the crows was already fading, but Rebecca wasn't slowing down. He could see her shaking as she pushed open the door and fell inside. He joined her and threw it shut.
For a moment, they mirrored one another, leaning against the walls with their hands on their knees, sucking in air as fast as their lungs would allow. He looked over at her, and she offered him a weak thumb's up.
She swallowed hard and then kept panting. "Don't think ... I'm ever ... going to get used to ... running for my life."
"Yeah," he breathed, "me either."
The storeroom off the cabin's entrance hall had rope. He cut himself a length about six metres long and then, taking a tip from Jill, tied it around his waist. Rebecca sat on a crate and watched.
She trailed off as he looked up at her. He'd been halfway through knotting the line at his midriff, and her voice had surprised him. She seemed to realise that and clammed up straight away.
"Did I what?"
"That voice, on the radio," she said, "did you recognise it?"
"Can't be sure, but... I think it was Brad. Vickers. Alpha Team's pilot."
"You mean, he's still out there?"
"He took off when we first set down in the forest. He's probably circling the area, looking for survivors."
He tied off the rope with a hard jerk. His jaw was tight. Was he angry? This was the first chance he'd had to think about it.
Vickers had left them stranded in the forest, with only the mansion as shelter. He knew that had been Wesker's plan all along, but the fact remained. That man was a coward. He'd abandoned them to save his own life.
And if he had a wife and kid? If Wesker was holding them hostage? You'd forgive him then? Hypocrite.
"Do you think he might come back for us?" She was looking at him with her eyes wide and filled with desperate hope.
"Maybe, if we can get a signal out to him."
In truth, he'd expected Vickers to be back at the RPD by now, enduring a dressing down from Irons. But if he was still in the air nearby, he was their best chance for rescue. They just had to hope that his fuel didn't give out, and that his guilt kept him searching until they could get in contact.
He wondered how Brad figured into Wesker's plan. How had he been planning to get out of the mansion anyway?
"I suppose there's no way for us to fix that radio, is there?"
"I'm not too good with electronics," he said, "but Jill - I mean - Officer Valentine should be able to make it work."
Just as soon as I get her out of that hole she's been stuck in for the last half hour.
She hopped off the crate as he walked to the door, taking up her position behind him without needing to be told. She nodded at him, ready, and he led the way back into the corridor.
The building smelled of damp and creaked like it was swaying in the wind. Only it was a still night. No wind to speak of. And so the constant groaning of the timbers put him on edge, like he was waiting for the place to tumble down around him.
The sooner they found Chris, the better.
There was a double door at the end of the hall. It looked important. The only other doors had been a plain single - the storeroom - and a locked door with a number on it.
He rushed into the room, letting Miranda lead the charge. Rebecca piled in after him.
They'd stepped into what had to be some kind of rec room. A counter filled the right wall. Behind it hung a cabinet bowing under the weight of its bottles, a chequered mosaic of warm amber and cool clear, all unlabelled. Discarded playing cards and beer bottles covered tabletops, ringing oil lamps that had burnt out a long time ago. To the left was a pool table and a pair of vintage pinball machines...
A hand latched around the harness strap at his lower back. He looked back at Rebecca and found her tugging at him, trying to retreat from the room.
Her gaze was fixed on something above him.
He looked up. A dozen eyes stared back at him. He saw a wide body covered in black and red bristles. Eight long, segmented legs. Fat mandibles peeling back from fangs.
And then he was in the corridor again, throwing the door shut.
He stared at it for a few moments, revolver raised, and then realised that his hands were shaking. "What the hell was that?"
"A Mexican Red-Knee," Rebecca said, trembling almost as much as he was, "it's a tarantula. Only... I've never seen one that huge before."
He took the info in, only half-listening. It had been a rhetorical question anyway. But, it didn't seem like the spider was following them. He sagged against the wall.
"Damn. Thought that thing was gonna bite me."
"Oh, they don't bite. Not often anyway. I mean, I might be wrong, because they aren't usually that big, but tarantulas have a very weak venom. It barely serves as a defence mechanism. What you really need to watch out for is the hair."
More rambling. But even if he knew he should be keeping her in check, he couldn't help but ask. "Hair?"
"When they feel threatened, they scrape their back legs on their abdomen..."
She started to mime the motion with her hands, flicking her palms across her stomach. Her eyes were glowing with intellectual enthusiasm. The fear had taken a back seat. She was in the zone now.
Here he was clutching at his chest, and she was giving him an insect biology lesson. And enjoying it.
"...and release a cloud of hair. Usually it causes irritation, temporary blindness. At worst, respiratory distress, depending on allergies. They wouldn't even cause an abrasion on skin. But that one was so large. The hairs would be as long as your hand, and sharp as tacks. You'd be more at risk from severe punctures or penetration wounds."
She seemed to notice the horror on his face.
"But normally they're perfectly docile. I've never had any problems with Andrea. All of my friends say it's like feeling a newborn kitten walking on their hand. You just need to respect their boundaries and try not to spook them, and they're happy."
"My pet tarantula. She sleeps in a tank next to my bed."
He shook his head. "We're not going back in there."
"But what about Chris?"
"Chris knows how to clear a room. If those things are still alive, then he didn't go that way. Same with the dogs we saw outside."
"Right, and the zombies in the mansion too. That's how I made it to the back door okay."
"Exactly. So we move on. And we avoid those spiders if we see them."
"Okay, sounds good." She shot a glance at the doors, and he couldn't tell if it was fear or fascination in her eyes. "I've never seen one that big before. Do you think it behaves differently at that size? More aggressively, I mean."
He put his hand on her shoulder and turned her back to the corridor. "Let's not wait around to find out."
He snapped on the lights. The strip bulb overhead flickered on with a tinny plink and threw a haze of off-white fluorescence over what looked like a chemical laboratory. Jars were stacked by the dozen on the shelves and around the metal basin, most of which were filled with liquids he could only guess the purpose of.
Most importantly, there was a heavy, iron lock on the door.
"In here," he said, beckoning for Rebecca.
She looked up from the dust-covered museum piece she'd been examining, some kind of outdated machinery that had been turned into a part of the décor. It took her a few seconds to approve the room he'd found.
"Think you'll be okay to wait here while I search this place for Chris?"
"Are you sure you want me to wait? I mean, wouldn't you prefer to have company?"
He smiled. She was young, and for the first time that wasn't a bad thing, because it made her earnest and ridiculously endearing. He hoped his own kids grew up to be like her.
Maybe she'd like to earn a little money babysitting. Probably a good idea to get us both the hell out of here first though.
"Don't worry. I won't be going far."
She had already started looking over the chemicals. A few of them had the Umbrella logo stamped on their labels. But that didn't mean anything. Umbrella dealt in chemicals. That wasn't incriminating.
God, I hope that isn't incriminating.
"Rebecca." She glanced over at him. "You were supposed to be the expert consulting with STARS on this case. What do you think happened here?"
She hesitated. "I-I really can't say. I've never even heard of anything like this before."
"Right." He was relieved, not that he could let it show. Maybe the combination of her inexperience and Wesker's efficiency with the evidence would be the edge they needed to make it home. All of them.
"But if I had to guess, I'd say some kind of virus. Not an ordinary one either. Something artificial, maybe even designed. I'm not sure if we're seeing the results of an accidental spill or..." Her voice dropped low, like what she was about to say was near-unspeakable. "...something deliberate. Biological terrorism, maybe?"
Sweat broke, cold, on his back. "Virus?"
"It fits. Snakes and spiders aren't like human beings. We're practically a new species by comparison. A virus that affects us in one way could affect an older species in a completely different way. And in prehistoric times, both reptiles and arachnids were much, much larger..."
She trailed off when she realised that she'd been rambling again.
He sighed. She'd figured it out. Just about all of it.
He's gonna kill her. Wesker's gonna kill her.
"The good news is that if this virus was airborne before, it almost definitely isn't now, sir. Even so, I don't think it's inert yet. We might still be able to contract it through blood or saliva or any number of other bodily fluids, so we should take care to avoid contact as much as..."
He cut her off. "You did a great job piecing this all together, Rebecca. I mean it."
"I've had a lot of time to think about it," she said, "I just... I wish I knew more about what happened here."
"We'll work it out. First order of business is to find Chris. Then we can start looking for the medals we need to get out of this place."
"Medals?" She dipped a hand into her satchel and pulled something out. It was a metal disc, about the size of her palm, cast in gold. There was an engraving of an eagle on it. "I found this in the library. I thought it looked important so I picked it up. I'd completely forgotten about it."
She pressed it into his hand, grinning. For a moment, all he could do was stare at her. Just like that, she'd brought this evening one step closer to its end.
He hesitated for a moment, and then ruffled her hair. It wasn't too professional, but she didn't seem to mind. "I'll be back, okay? You just wait here."
She saluted. "Yes, sir!"
He stepped out of the room and swung the door shut behind him. A moment later, he heard the bolt slide into place on the other side.
He turned and saw, out of the corner of his eye, someone standing right behind him. He brought Miranda up, acting on reflex. A hand caught his wrist and twisted his arm away. He checked the impulse to squeeze the trigger. His stomach lurched when he realised who he was looking at.
"Hello, Barry," Wesker said.