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The Portrait of a Young Virologist

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It's the third night they spent together this week. Given their packed schedules, they haven't seen the real sun for...almost an entire month now? The Hunter-Alpha project has reached its final stage, two more days before the testing. Now, if only Marcus could stop burying his head in his own world for a while...

Birkin shook off the idea. What does Marcus have to do with this? An old man who is slowly but surely descending into madness. It's Alexia Ashford whom he should worry about.

He needs to stop worrying about things that he couldn't dictate.

Birkin can't help but lets out an inaudible sigh. He's too anxious to remain in bed, which is what he wants until the thought of Alexia Ashford enters him. He reaches out for the clock, it's four in the morning. A night with Wesker usually put him at peace, but not tonight. The artificial moonlight penetrated the blinds and shined on his arms as he bends down to gather his clothes from the floor. It's so quiet, one of the few advantages of living underground. But Birkin recently found the silence intolerable, it makes him to confront his inner state, the last thing he is ready to do.

He should go back to work. He would have to get up an hour later anyway. He needs a shower, but he doesn't want to wake up Wesker, who's breathing steadily next to him. Instead, he lays down again and carefully surrounds Wesker with his arm. He still remembers the first time when he embraced him. He asked Wesker to pick him up at the Raccoon City train station after returning from a conference. They rode on his motorbike. Birkin encircled his arms around Wesker's waist tightly because he was driving too fast. His nostrils was filled with the smell of his leather jacket.

Birkin left the room, carful enough not to make any noise, leaving Wesker in sleep. On his way to the office, he was looking for Annette unconsciously before he realized that it's still too early for anyone to show up. He didn't sit but leaned against the wall until he's done reading the report from last night. He jointed down some instructions on the front page and then left it on the leading researcher's desk. As the research director, he no longer needs to spend the whole day in Level-4 laboratory. Now he supervises the progress of multiple research units.

Time has passed five, researchers, usually the senior ranking ones, are the first to show up. The rest of the day, as Birkin expected, was filled by unpleasant surprises. An error occurred. It's going to be a set back if they don't solve this today. But Birkin is losing his sharpness. He swallowed a capsuled methylphenidate hydrochloride, specially synthesized by Umbrella for its employees because coffee no longer has any effect. After going over the materials for the third time, Birkin decided that he needs Wesker's advise on the mathematical modeling. The drug, which usually works wonder, did not interact well with his body this time. In elevator, sweat has soaked through his lab coat. His consciousness turned off before he realized what has happened.

When Birkin woke up, he found himself back in his room, back on the same bed where he left Wesker last night. Except this time Wesker is the lucid one. The artificial sun has replaced the artificial moon, but someone closed the blind, a trace of light gently projected on Wesker's left cheek. Startled, Birkin noticed that Wesker is not wearing shades. Sitting next to the bed, he's reading the report which Birkin intended to show him before he passed out. Wesker didn't avert his eyes as Birkin was struggling to sit upright.

"What do you think?"

Knowing Wesker has already grasped the problem, Birkin wants his opinion now.

"The percentage of lymphocyte necrosis is not statistically meaningful. And I don't understand why you have categorized it as a 'contradiction'."

"Because it doesn't coincide with the experiment result."

"The reason is that abnormality ranged between hundredth one to three has been excluded by the algorithm. You know this as well as I do. The derivation is not significant to be taken into account by the program."

"I need to reduce as many "exceptions" as possible so the others......"

Birkin suddenly lost his stream of thoughts because he was absorbed by Wesker's watchful eyes. Though Wesker rarely yields emotion, his gazes are incredibly attentive and always fully devoted to his interlocutors. Birkin used to secretly indulge in his gaze by teasing him, just to get his attention.

"The Ashfords are creeping into your mind again."

"If we don't do anything now, they will rule Umbrella Research after Marcus died. Why can't you see it?"

Wesker sees nothing but Birkin is wasting time on an imagined rivalry. True, Alexia Ashford might be more gifted. But she shouldn't be seen as a threat. Wesker wanted to reach out to the Ashfords for an alliance. Together they could be a powerful presence. But Birkin objected most strongly, and by calling Alexia Ashford, a little girl, a "venomous bitch" in front of all the upper-level executives, he left no space for Wesker to maneuver. Nevertheless, Wesker continues to let Birkin do whatever he wants while eliminating all the unfavorable circumstances for him. Wesker can accommodate Birkin's temper. But he can't accept Birkin's utterly lack of confidence, which requires endless reassurance. His insecurity irritates him.

"I should get back to work."

Not knowing what to say, Birkin resolved to his daily routine.

"Let Annette handles it, for now. You are not going anywhere except to sleep."

Wesker waved the report in his hand, "I'll see to this."

Birkin couldn't help but smiled.

"You know I can't do that. Please don't make me do things that I couldn't do."

"How about you make some effort?"

"But I don't have time for it!"

Birkin jumped out of the bed and snatched the report from Wesker's hands. Wesker paused for a second, as if questioning himself why would he wrestle with the inevitable. Finally, he said,

"Will you ever reconcile with her?"

Not expecting that question, Birkin chuckled, "What do you care?"

He never told Wesker what happened that day. Birkin loves Annette, so he didn't try to salvage the relationship when she suggested a break up. She's smart enough to know that nothing could come out between them as long as Wesker is here.

Wesker used to play harpsichord, back in the days when they were under Marcus's supervision. Sometimes Birkin asked Wesker to play for him; Wesker never refused. It was the first day at the executive training center, before Birkin even had a chance to meet anyone other than the assistant director. At that time he was studying the inhibition of cell signaling in humans associated with orthopoxviruses, a topic extending from his doctoral thesis. The sample of Variola virus has arrived at the training center before the researcher himself did. So Birkin could carry out his work immediately.

The training center was constructed as such that the helicopter landing ground was next to the main hall. Since sky is the only viable route for transporting cargos into the mountains, helicopter landings and take-offs hasn't stopped since morning. There was a road to Raccoon City. However given the nature of their work down here, everything must be discreet, and every unnecessary connection must be eliminated. Birkin found himself being tailed after he accepted Umbrella's offer, though he couldn't care less about it.

The first day is usually not the best day to start. Birkin couldn't concentrate. He thought maybe he should postpone the laboratory work for a day and do some readings instead. The prospects' residence was located in the woods and away from the main hall, at least he could have some peace there.

It was how Birkin first met Wesker, the keyboard music coming from the end of the hallway. Birkin has never played music instrument, but he could tell the difference between picking and playing. The person was playing; it was precise, clean, and fluent. Birkin knocked on the door, out of the sheer curiosity of a sixteen-year-old. He wanted to meet his future colleague.

The music stopped, then the door opened. Birkin saw a young man not much older than himself. Sunlight was projecting from his back, for a moment Birkin couldn't really see his face.

"Can I help you?"

His tone of voice was gentle but unyielding, obviously didn't expected to be interrupted, yet courteous enough not to complain.

"What are you playing?"

"Handel."

Birkin saw the instrument. It was an antique harpsichord. It has been here before the entire property was purchased by Umbrella.

"I'm Liam."

"Wesker."

Finally Birkin had a clear perception on Wesker's face. He couldn't help but staring at those eyes. They were blue, transparent, emotionless yet extremely expressive. Wesker's countenance was masculinely defined. But his hands were rather feminine, as the long and delicate fingers stretched across the keys effortlessly. But among all the sentient cues, Birkin only remembered Wesker as someone who appeared to be older than he actually was.

The music resumed. Wesker left the door opened for his new colleague. Birkin hesitated before stepping in, making friends was not his strength. What made him exceptional didn't win him any favor in the childhood. His parents disappeared together before his memory developed. He was raised by his grandparents. His grandfather was a professor in Irish literature; and his wife was a pediatrist. They were extremely protective toward what was left by their daughter. Birkin was home-schooled, barely had any chance to social with kids in his own age. All he wanted was to become an adult, and a surgeon just like his grandmother. But when Birkin started the college, he soon realized that he was excluded by his much elder peers. Students, even professors, were dwarfed by his intelligence. They formed a ring to deracinate him from their circle of reality. They saw him as a sun radiating heat which they couldn't bear. Only one person would see Birkin as who he really was, a boy who desires companionship.

Birkin met Professor Jenner in one of his pre-med classes. Jenner was the leading epidemiologist in the field, specialized in variola virus. He was also the man who made this institution famous. Like him, Jenner was young and gifted. Knowing how difficult it was to be praised and rejected at the same time, how much it must hurt to be envied and abused by the people whom you trying to trust, the professor took Birkin as his protege, making sure Birkin wouldn't compromise his academic performance because of his social circumstance.

Inspired by the man he admired, Birkin went to graduate school for virology. During which their friendship persisted. Two years later, Jenner was sent to India by the CDC, commissioned to investigate a smallpox outbreak. He was infected and died in the village hospital. A year later Birkin published his prized doctoral thesis. He was subsequently offered a position by the university. But he became ever more reclusive after Jenner was dead. He buried himself in the lab, refused to fulfill his teaching responsibility.

Spring, he was approached by two Umbrella's recruiters. Birkin turned down the offer. When being asked what would change his mind, he answered sarcastically that he wants to resurrect a dead man. The recruiters whispered to each other for a moment, and one of them said,

"This can be done, with the Progenitor virus and your brain, Dr. Birkin."

****************************************************************

The next day Birkin and Wesker were formally introduced to each other by the assistant director as the only new prospects of the year. The helicopter hassle came from the Countermeasure team. Only later Birkin understands that they were transporting test subjects for Marcus. He learned Wesker's first name was 'Albert', but he was reluctant to be addressed by it.

Not counting the logistic personnel, the training center was occupied by eight Umbrella employees: two executives: the chief director James Marcus, who worked alone and rarely showed up; the assistant director, four research assistances, who served at the pleasure of the director, and finally the two new prospects.

The meeting was held in a lecture hall. Two researchers had already arrived. They were discussing the test log from yesterday, but the conversation was immediately suspended when they saw Birkin walked into the room. One of the researchers reminded Birkin of Wesker, except he's older and he had green irises instead of blue. He met Birkin's eyes but didn't greet him.

Birkin sat down behind them. The other researcher turned back to introduce himself. His name was Henry Sarton, and the researcher sitting next to him was Philip Sideburn. Philip didn't respond when Henry introduced him. He was doing some calculations on a piece of paper as Henry was blabbing,

"I'm not supposed to be here. I mean I'm qualified, overqualified actually. But it was competitive getting this position, working with Doctor Marcus. One of my professors was Marcus's student. And I got a recommendation from him. That's how I got here." Birkin saw Phillip lifted his pen, wanted to stop his friend from spilling his mouth, but then decided to let him continued. After all, entertainment was scarce here.

Birkin doesn't like small talk, especially not with those who ranked below him. He ignored Henry and started reading the report he carried. After a moment of awkward silence, Henry turned to Philip in the hope of picking up from where they left before Birkin stepped in. But Philip wasn't interested.

Wesker arrived right before the meeting begins. Birkin rose his head and saw the hesitation in Wesker's eyes as he saw Philip, who gently nodded to him. When the meeting was over, Wesker was the first to leave. The assistant director followed him, and lastly were Philip and Henry. Birkin remained where he was after the meeting was over. He thought he might as well finished reading what he had at hand instead of talking to others.

Still, Birkin could hear the voices of others from outside. The lecture hall was located on the ground floor. Wesker and Philip were standing not far from the window. They used to work at the same university department. But they haven't seen each other since.

"Why did you come here?"

"I want Progenitor virus."

"You haven't ask me anything about Marcus, that's unlike you. You were always collecting information on others."

"I already know more about him than I need to. What about you? Why did you take this job?"

"My wife has MS. I couldn't pay off her treatment by teaching Freshmen."

"Anything I can do?"

"Nothing. Umbrella has covered all the medical payments. But...If I were you. If I could choose, I wouldn't work for Umbrella, at least not for Marcus. There is something not right about his practice. Go to somewhere else while you still can. I know you can. Your family connection is still valid, right? Believe me, there is nothing valuable here. Marcus kept most of the information about the virus to himself."

Wesker didn't ask what exactly was suspicious about Marcus. They left while talking about other things. Birkin realized he was reading the same line over and over again until the sound of their conversation faded away. He never cared much about corporate politics. He has an objective, the rest is irrelevant. But if that was the case, then from where did the strange unsettling sensation arise after listening? Birkin couldn't quite put his feeling into words.

Outside, Someone called out Birkin's name from behind. It was a thin and pale young woman. Her eyes were comically enlarged by the thick glasses she was wearing, her clothes, though finely made, were too big for her built.

"Sorry I couldn't make to the meeting. Work, you know. Doctor Birkin, I've read your thesis. It was amazing, and it helped my thesis as well...Thank you...That's all I want to say. You are much younger than I expected! And...I...I didn't know Umbrella got you...They said you were teaching at U Chicago...My brother works there too...He studies immunodeficiency syndrome...I never thought you would work for Doctor Marcus, for anyone, actually."

"What's your name?" Birkin interrupted her absently.

"Oh, it's Heather. Heather Clemens. Sorry, I shouldn't keep you any longer. You must be very busy." She blushed and sticked both hands into her lab coat pockets. Birkin would do the same thing when he got nervous. But before he could say anything she already ran away. Birkin ran into Heather many times after. The last time they met she put up all her courage to ask him out, but Birkin turned her down because he knew there was already someone else in his mind.

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Marcus ordered the new prospects to engineer a new viral strain from the Progenitor virus. Only just obtained the first hand knowledge on Progenitor virus, they didn't know the task which Marcus gave them could only be accomplished years later, after enormous calculations and trials, even then, they are not even close to what Marcus has accomplished in the span of five years.

Being as intelligent and arrogant as Birkin and Wesker were, each of them took his own approach, naively believing that they could get the job done by oneself. But the workload soon exceeded their individual capacity. At first Birkin suspected the Progenitor viral sample they were given was contaminated because how fast the virus mutates. For the first few weeks he couldn't do anything but to find a way to slow down the mutation. Birkin suspected that the virus was not created in laboratory as Marcus claimed. The origin of which the virus was found must also contain a substance that could suppress virus's mutation. Otherwise the virus would be useless. But for whatever reason, Marcus didn't reveal the existence of the substance.

Still, neither of them wanted to be the first to ask for help. Finally, one day Wesker walked into Birkin's study, dropped his notes on the desk, and asked what Birkin has came up with. Birkin took a moment to savory the victory before showing him his data. They've been working together ever since. There were disagreements here and there. But in the end all would be reconciled.

Birkin was glad to have Wesker as a friend and colleague, otherwise he wouldn't know how to survive the tedious technical practicalities. Wesker often frowned upon Birkin's dependency, but Birkin knew he would have Wesker's assistance the moment he seeks it. Like Jenner, Wesker was kind to him, even though he pretended he wasn't.

The two became closer everyday as they spent most of their time together, working or not. He didn't feel awkward or peculiar when being with Wesker. There was no bitterness, no overthinking. With him, things just naturally flow to their places without him even being conscious. They were the same kind. It's a bond which more and more Birkin came to appreciate, and which nurturing his affection.

Once Wesker called in absence. Birkin ran the work alone. He thought he would check on him before going back to his place. It was late night. Birkin unlocked the door using the key Wesker gave to him and went straight to the bedroom. But instead Wesker he found Philip, who was sitting on his bed with his legs crossed, reading a book.

"Wesker was not here. What can I do for you?" Philip asked casually, neither surprised nor enraged by the intrusion.

"I came to see how he is."

Of course, Birkin thought to himself, as the mixed feeling of being stripped naked and shame entered his consciousness. How could he let his own admiration roams freely before knowing if Wesker was in a relationship with someone else. Birkin wanted to drop the key and leaves now. But he was stopped by the knowledge that he didn't have to.

"He went to Raccoon City. I asked him to take care something for me." Philip closed the book but didn't get off from the bed.

"You should ask your wife for help. We don't have much time to waste, unlike you people." Birkin grabbed a chair to sit. All of sudden he has developed enough patience to continue this conversation. He wasn't angry. At first it was disdain, but now he was rather curious about Wesker's past.

Wesker never talks about himself. Very rarely had he brought up his family over coffee and cigarettes break, but then he would immediately drop the topic. Birkin never asked about his past. He doesn't want to make him remember things he didn't want to. Wesker cares for him, it was true and all that matters. Birkin was afraid to lose his fondness, even the slightest possibility scares him.

"I know him long before you do. But I can see why you are not happy finding me here, Doctor Birkin. My wife was scheduled for a surgery this morning. I couldn't make it there because there was an emergency... a hazardous leak to be honest, in Marcus's laboratory. So I asked Wesker to look out her for me. Yes, we dated when we were both post-graduate fellows. He was much younger than me. But he was not naive by all means. I was naive, even though I've lived longer than him. He used to do things for me like what he is doing for you now. Every morning I would wake up before he did, just to watch him sleeping. I thought I could keep all that to myself. But he wants way more than a just a partner and he wasn't as Stoic as he appeared to be. We lived in his apartment, and one day he just stopped coming back. But that has past. There is nothing between us now. Although I was surprised when I saw him that day after all these years. He's magnificent. And I'm just a nobody. He found me after the meeting and was asking questions like he still cared. He was trying to be the perfect gentleman, but I know I bored him. I see you're different, you know how to occupy his attention because you have what he wants, your talent. Is that the answer you are expecting, Doctor Birkin? Let me tell you one more thing. Do you want to now what I think of you the first time we met? You must be what Marcus looked like when he was young, arrogant and ruthless. People like you was the reason why Umbrella disgusts me. You people don't care anything beyond your work. What else you want to know?"

Philip forced out a smile when he realized Birkin was not going to say a word, "I know what you are thinking, that he still cares, otherwise he wouldn't go endure the trouble for my sake. You don't know him as well as I do, Doctor Birkin. When we were together, he told me past was a burden to him because he could never let it go. That's why he was trying not to look back. Now I become the past, a burden that he sees as an obligation to fulfill every time I beg him to do things for me, otherwise he can't stop looking back. Because how he ended our relationship, you see; he didn't know this, but he has never forgiven himself for it."

**********************************************************************************

It was almost dawn when Birkin left Wesker's apartment. He drank the coffee Philip brewed before leaving. Wesker would be back soon, that's why Birkin didn't stay any longer. He should get some sleep but he couldn't. So he chewed an Adderall and went back to work. When stepping into the preparation chamber, he saw Heather was there, copying down their research notes. She froze when she saw him.

"The strain Marcus gave us was P-Beta. The algorithm that you're stealing right now won't work on other subtype."

Birkin didn't really care about the kerfuffle. Lesser evil is just foolishness. Heather followed him into the locker room. She apologized and begged him not to tell anyone. Jenner told Birkin that he used to ruin a man's academic career by reporting him plagiarizing. Umbrella was not an academic institution, nor did Birkin wants to ruin anyone. He was more disappointed than offended. The Heather he knew would take the longest route to laboratory just to increase the chance of running into him, same with her recently put up unhandy make up and clumsy heels. Why couldn't she just asks him for help?

He told her that he won't make his decision now. She went away with tearful eyes. Birkin took off his clothes and changed into scrubs. When he saw the reflection in mirror, he realized that he must report her whether he wanted or not. If he let this go, Heather might discredit him as a countermeasure. But he immediately shook off the idea. Birkin hated the feeling of being so pragmatic. He never thinks that reason should have full control over reality. What a miserable life that would be. But lately he has gotten more used to receiving orders from monotonous rationality instead of his feeling.

Birkin didn't tell Wesker anything that happened during his absence; and he didn't report Heather to the assistant director. Life went on. He still spent most of his off time at Wesker's place, though he would often wondered if Philip has done the same thing without him knowing. That was the time when Birkin became sure that he really wanted to be with Albert.

**********************************************************************************

There was a lake not far from the training center complex. In summer the two would go swimming together. The urge to swim was the strongest after they were sealed in rubber for prolonged hours. No one likes to wear pressurized protective suit. Knowing how much Birkin hated wearing it, Wesker always double-checked the junctures, making sure Birkin's suit was properly sealed and oxygenated. Birkin, desperately bored, was acting like a child being held against his will. Watching Wesker carefully wrapping duct tape around his wrists, he complained that he would die from boredom before the infection kills him. Wesker agreed, but wouldn't let him escaped the safety protocols because Progenitor virus was not the only virus they were dealing with. They also came across variola virus and some dangerously mutated rubella virus. Every few hours he would force Birkin to take a break so he doesn't die from hyperthermia or dehydration, which had happened before because Birkin was often hyper-fixated.

The cold water washes off heat and sweat. Sometimes they raced to be the first to reach the island in the middle of the lake. Birkin enjoyed watching water dripping down from Wesker's eyelashes. His blue iris became even purer after being drenched.

Once they were trying to see who could hold breath longer. Birkin was really good at it. One minute later, Wesker thought he was drawn. He called his name out loud, searching fanatically under the water. Birkin, quietly observing the scene in the shadow, tried hard to hold back his laughter. Finally, Birkin resurfaced because he didn't want to make Wesker panic.

"Are you angry with me?"

Once they reached the shore, Birkin started running, trying to catch up with Wesker while paying close attention to his face, taking notice of even the slightest trace of expression.

Wesker sighed. With his usual tone of voice, he replied patiently, "No, I'm not angry with you, William."

"So you ARE angry with me, ALBERT."

"I'm not."

"Prove to me. Show me you're not angry." Birkin demanded.

"Fine. I am angry with you." Wesker finally gave in. Birkin smiled and jumped on him.

"I know you won't be angry with me."

Birkin embraced him most adoringly. He could no longer resist the desire to touch his love. He must hold him and kisses him, otherwise panic would set in because something isn't right. It isn't right to be separated from whom his heart wholly wants.

Wesker was stronger than him. So when he didn't break away, Birkin knew it was because he didn't want to. He tried to kiss him, but Wesker gently brushed him off.

"Liam, you don't know what you are doing. Stop."

Birkin had always respected Wesker for his ability to constant calculate everything. But Wesker must have seen him as a little brother, not an equal, and certainly not a lover, no matter how much Birkin's intelligence exceeds his actual age. Maybe Wesker was right. Maybe he didn't know what he was doing. He didn't even know if Wesker felt the same for him. He shouldn't have give in to his affection without knowing what might come after it. But why he needs a reason to love? Why must he convince himself this is not what he wants? Must everything be rational and logical?

"I love you. I know that much."

Birkin wouldn't let him go. When Wesker no longer tried to push him away, his heart was immediately filled by immense joy. He knew Albert loves him as much as he did.

"You will always think of me, right?" Birkin broke away from his kisses.

"Always." He promised him.

**********************************************************************************

For the first time in his life Birkin found himself losing his scholarly devotion. His attention was taken by something and someone else. Knowing Wesker's sternness, Birkin was stroked by how gentle and affectionate he could be. Wesker's nearly spoiled him; the warm kisses on his wrists and neck, giving all to his requests, including not going to work and spending the whole day on the lake island. Usually they would sleep in Wesker's apartment because Birkin's bed was always covered by books, data sheets, and emptied snack bags. Love consumed their night and even daytime. Finally Wesker told Birkin in a serious manner that either they must utilize their time more efficiently or they must sleep in separated rooms because they were neglecting the most important task which was why they were here in the first place. Birkin reluctantly agreed. Though it turned out to be the same, that he often ended up too exhausted to work. Still, Wesker would get the experiments done by himself in the morning. In the midday, Birkin would read the data that Wesker brought back on bed, and then worked on the problems through out the afternoon and evening.

Many years later, when Birkin recalled the relationship, he came to the understanding that Wesker's sternness was never rooted in the lust for dominance. No matter what others said, Birkin never thinks Wesker as a slave to power. True he was driven by something, but it was neither desire nor ideal. It was rather the lack of something, which Wesker tried so hard to eradicate, that made him the person that others come to know. Birkin could feel torments boiling inside him when they were together; and the fear that one day there would be nothing left inside him but the void, then everything in his world would go down with it.

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An autumn morning, Philip caught Birkin and Wesker outside the conference hall. He asked them for the whereabout of Heather, whom Birkin hasn't seen since the day he caught her stealing the algorithm. They worked at separated locations, and he wouldn't be surprised if Heather was evading him on purpose. But suspicion arose when she stopped showing up at the weekly meeting three weeks ago. Philip said she hasn't show up for work either. Wesker asked if she had quit without giving any notice, since assistant director said nothing on this matter. Philip said he told them that she has been transferred to another facility. But something wasn't right. She disappeared in the span of a day without a trace. The last person who saw her was Henry. He said she was going to process some samples from last week and didn't mention a word about transfer. It was very unlikely that she would be sent to somewhere else in the middle of an on-going project. But her room has been emptied, all her belongings were gone. Everything indicated that she moved away.

"Heather has a brother, a research fellow at U Chicago. Any of you know how to contact him? Maybe he knows where she went." Birkin suggested.

None of them knew much about Heather's family. Her parents were divorced long ago and had new family. Heather lived with her elder brother John on the allowance they inherited from their grandfather until she went to college. Philip found a journal article that was likely co-written by John Clemens. He wrote to the corresponding address but received no reply. Birkin didn't understand why Philip was being so persistent on finding out where she went. Heather was not happy here, so she left. What gave him the idea that she would want to bide them farewell?

But Wesker agreed with Philip. He told Birkin that a girl like Heather wouldn't just leave without letting them know. Birkin told Wesker that he was making judgement based on prejudice. He also told him what Heather did, and she was not what she looked like. But soon Birkin saw that it was something else that Wesker wanted to find out.

"Do you think...could it be Marcus?"

Wesker told Birkin that Heather wasn't the first to disappear. Before her was another man who had also worked for the director. There were supposed to be four researchers, so far they have only met Henry, Philip, and Heather. There supposed to be one more guy. But he hasn't show up since the first day they arrived. The assistant director said Marcus fired him. But Philip was unconvinced.

"I know Marcus is eccentric, but human experiment is a wild guess. What would he do with all the evidence?"

While Birkin argued that they shouldn't waste time on speculation, Philip continued to persuade the truth that he thought exists. Occasionally he came to Wesker for help. Birkin worried about the possible liability. But Wesker assured that they aren't doing anything against the law. Philip visited the facility where the assistant director claimed Heather has been transferred to. But he was told that she quitted shortly after without leaving any contact information, even though it was mandatory for any Umbrella employee to do so. Philip gave up the investigation reluctantly.

********************************************************************************

Winter; work was back on track. Birkin was coming close to a major breakthrough. Gradually he learned how to adjust the balance between private life and work and regained his concentration. Time suddenly became a precious thing, and now they have to take turns to sleep. Though not today, the air circulation system in the laboratory was down due to the extreme weather. The two were forced to suspend the day's experiment. Of course, Birkin was glad that they could spend the night in Wesker's room. They laid down next to each other in front of the fire place. Birkin, lying on his stomach was watching the fire sparks. Wesker was lying on his back reading a book. The radio was broadcasting a piano transcription of Bach's cantata. Birkin laid on Wesker's chest and asked for the title of the piece.

"Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit."

"God's time is the best time." Wesker told him.

Then the reception was interrupted by snow storm. The harpsichord sits quietly in the corner of the room. A string has fractured. Wesker didn't get the chance to purchase a replacement yet, if he could find one. The road to Raccoon City has been closed off since last week due to the snow.

But the music was still playing in Birkin's mind, along with the memory of Jenner, the image of which has been replaced by new information and ideas. Far exceeds the limit of public institution, Umbrella Research has access to the most advanced biotechnology on Earth, not to mention its massive infrastructures and generous financial endorsement. What Birkin could only previously imagine came true. Yes, he was impressed by the power of Progenitor virus, but the impression was made by its necrotizing efficiency rather than its capacity to generate new cells. He couldn't recall the turning point since which he stopped caring about bring Jenner back. Now all he wanted to do is to create a new virus that carries his name down history.

"I have to run, won't be back tonight."

Out of blue, Wesker threw away the book and stood up.

"Where are you going?"

Birkin was confused. There is nothing to do in a weather like this other than work. Besides, Wesker had never left Birkin without telling him where he could find him.

The snowstorm was blowing heavily outside. Birkin tried to stop him. He thought the least he deserved was an explanation. But Wesker ignored him. He grabbed his snow boots and coat, left in a hurry without saying a word. Birkin was dumbfounded. He didn't go back to his room and ended up sleeping on Wesker's couch, troubled.

*******************************************************************************

Stepping into the hallway, Wesker slowly closed the door behind him. He took off his coat without acknowledging his arrival. The snowflakes fell on the carpet were immediately dissolved by warmth. In the library, Marcus was writing a letter. He heard the rustling made by the guest, but didn't bother to turn around.

"How about a drink?" He pointed to the bottles.

"Suit yourself." The voice was colder than ice.

"You sound unhappy. Why? The assistant director told me you two are making remarkable progress." Marcus poured a glass and handed it to him.

"It could have been sooner if you didn't misdirect in the first place."

"I'm a scientist Albert, not a prophet. Come here, I want to show you something."

Marcus pushed the letter aside and replaced it with a document. Wesker pretended to read its content but instead quickly glimpsed at the letter. As much as he got, it was addressed to a man named Brandon. Marcus was checking on the progress of certain 'cultivation' project. He even asked about Brandon's wellbeing, which came as a shock. Wesker thought Marcus was incapable of human compassion. As for the document, it was report on a testing combat between the newly manufactured B.O.W. and a standing military unit, nothing significant.

"The engineering division has tested the new model. The result was rather disappointing. The head of the project was dismissed. They asked me to recommend someone else. Do you want to go? I know theoretical virology bores you."

Marcus fondled the young man's neck as he was speaking.

"Recommend someone else. I can't leave the task incomplete." Wesker turned his head to the other side.

"You meant you can't leave William Birkin."

"Go to hell, Marcus."

Wesker pushed the old man away. He must put an end on this, here and now. He couldn't bear the relationship any longer.

"Impulsive. His influence I supposed?"

"It has nothing to do with Birkin. Don't bring him into this."

"Remember our agreement Albert. Even if you no longer want to honor it for your own sake, do it for the sake of that boy. You can thrive everywhere. But that boy cannot. Do you know what condition he was in when the scouts found him? He will die in his own hands unless someone puts a break on him. Umbrella is the only place to accommodate people like that. Don't you think so? Where else could he settle?"

"You will die if anything happens to Liam."

Marcus chuckled, "Death comes to all, you, me, and him. Don't look at me like that. You are agitated. Your drink will help."

Before Wesker could lash out, the drug has taken its effect.

"Not this..."

He lost his balance and fell on ground. Though he couldn't move, his consciousness remained clear. He could only watch what Marcus did to him. He heard him said,

"I think you enjoyed this as much as I do. So why the pretense? To make yourself more dignified? You could have stop coming long ago, even before you were with that boy. But you keep coming. Why it's so hard to admit? It has nothing to do with Birkin. It's just you, Albert. You are attracted to people of power, myself, for example. Too bad the boy will never give you want you're seeking."

*********************************************************************************

Spring, Wesker first met Marcus at a virology conference in Vienna. Before he became an Umbrella employee, he was working as the director at a bimolecular research institute in Paris. Marcus, one of the three co-founders of Umbrella Corporation, who was held as a god by other virologists, was invited to give a presentation on the isolation technique which he recently developed. Wesker was there only to replace his sick colleague. He himself was not attracted to the lofting agenda of the conference. He had already made a shift in his career earlier that year. Following an influential article he published about the materialization of the virological piezoelectric effect, which had more to do with biophysics than biology, he was offered a position by Tricell. He accepted it and was waiting for his allocation to Barcelona. The conference didn't mean much to him other than getting a future prospect of the field. Still, he went to Marcus's presentation out of pure curiosity. There was nothing remarkable about Marcus himself, who was a typical corporate scientist. What really remarkable was his achievements in bioweapon, namely, the Progenitor virus, which, like nuclear weapons, was then seen as a countermeasure to the threat posted by USSR rather than an ethical disaster.

During the period, Wesker's father Julius Wesker was the American Ambassador to West Berlin. Julius expected his son to persuade a career in politic just like himself and almost every other male members in his extended family. But Wesker had his eyes on private sector, which, like political career, requires connection and experience, things which he could only accumulate by working for an established behemoth, after which he would have enough to start his own enterprise.

Being only eighteen and one of the most promising brains in virology, he wasn't surprised when Marcus approached him at the conference venue. Right away Marcus asked Wesker to join his laboratory, by which would also make him an Umbrella employee. An offer that supposed to be appealing. But Wesker turned it down, on the account that he has been scouted by Tricell.

Wanting to change his mind, Marcus promised Wesker financial autonomy and intellectual support, so that he could start his own project soon after. It was tempting, but not enough to make Wesker changed his mind. What he saw in Marcus was that he would say anything to have his end meet. But whether he would actualize his promise was a different matter. Besides, as much as Wesker was marveled by Marcus's achievement, the host defense mechanism, essentially immunology, was not his specialization. Marcus didn't know what Wesker was really after. Wesker was not attract to the scientific prospect of virology. He was interested in what virology could do for him. Had he wanted to be a scientist, he would settle for a prestigious institute like the one he then belonged.

This was not the end of the story, however. Later that night Wesker found a file in his hotel room. The file arrived on his desk without the hotel staff knowing how it happened. On the cover there was an Umbrella emblem and a serial number. Wesker didn't care how or through whom the file ended up in his room. He was immediately attracted to its content. It was a confidential report on bio-organism-weapons, something which the rest of the world had no knowledge of yet. They were manufactured through the mutative effect of Progenitor virus. He has participated in a bioweapon project years ago under the commission of French government. They created a type of influenza. But he had never seen, nor knew the existence of bio-organism-weapon until he had read this.

Wesker spent the rest of the night reading and thinking. By morning, he realized that he had underestimate Marcus's talent and overestimated his own. Umbrella has surpassed all the biotechnological tycoons simply by being the intellectual property owner of Progenitor virus. Needless to say the invention of bio-organic-weapons could rewrite the concept of modern warfare. His body started shaking because of the uncontrollable excitement. Only now he has truly seen the face of power. The next morning Wesker accepted the offer. The only instruction he received was to report to the Umbrella Executive Training Center at Arklay Mountain.

***********************************************************

At the training center, Wesker was greeted by the director himself. Marcus was a different man than the one he had met at Vienna. He was laughing, flamboyanting, and flirting with him. Wesker being a Wesker, repressed his shock and retained his composure. Even though he has nothing but disdain left for the old man at this point. He responded to Marcus's questions and comments, but ignored his intention to solicit. The truth was Marcus never wanted Wesker for the virtue of his intelligence. The creator of Progenitor virus needs no one's assistance. He wants Wesker simply because he was young and attractive. The trait which the owner himself sometimes forgets.

Within seconds, Wesker had weighted his choices. Yes, if he wished to find out more about Progenitor virus, he must submit himself to Marcus, a decision which would make him regret later. However, Umbrella, along with what Progenitor virus could create for him, was too valuable to be given up all together so easily. Wesker chose what he should do over his feeling.

Marcus gave him a tour in the research center, places where the experiments were being conducted. The last stop was his private laboratory. As if he knew what would make Wesker obeyed him willingly, by showing him what he could accomplish, the power which he too could have. Marcus was right. It was the first time that Wesker had actually saw a bio-organism-weapon.

While Wesker gazed at the cryogenic suspension chamber, Marcus laid his hands on him. Wesker could feel every muscle in his body had tighten due to disgust, yet he had to force himself to remain still and not to push Marcus away. He put his hand on the ice-cold chamber surface, trying to distract the unpleasing sensation. Marcus was pleased by his silent compliance. He fondled him, and had him there. Wesker denied himself the right to regret for what he has chosen. He doesn't believe redemption. Actions are irredeemable.

********************************************************************************

Wesker found a harpsichord in his new apartment. Whoever used to own the property seemed to be obsessed with antique English furnitures. Even the ante-room ceiling was decorated by Tudor rose plaster. That's why the harpsichord didn't appear discordant. The instrument was not just a kit but a French double-manual, a fine duplication made after Henri Hemsch. It was new and in good condition. As if expecting its new player, the tuning accessories were placed on the bench. Wesker set the strings in tune. Although he hadn't play the instrument since the death of his mother Liv Wesker, he retrieved the skill after a few attempts.

Liv passed away six years ago, liberated herself from the bondage of schizophrenia by suicide. Her mind and body was deteriorating at a fast pace since her husband Julius refused to institutionalize her, thereby denying her the proper care and treatment. Julius insisted to take care of Liv himself, which was practically impossible because he was never home. So the responsibility fell on the servants. The frequent relocations brought by his diplomatic career didn't make things easy for her either.

Liv was born to a Russian family. Her father was a composer and a professor at Moscow Conservatory. They migrated after Russian Revolution. Raised to be the next phenomenal pianist, Liv won Second Prize in the Chopin Competition. When she was waiting to be announced in the backstage, her best friend introduced Julius to her. Liv was too nervous to pay any attention to him. But she blushed when she came off the stage and saw Julius again. They got married when Julius's career took off. Six years later their first and only child Albert was born. All the images Wesker could recollect of his mother was formed before he turned three. He still remembered the last Christmas they spent together. After that, Liv was confined in a separated place to prevent the harm she might do to herself or her son.

When the sign of exceptional intelligence began to shine, Albert was entrusted to the governance of a team constituted by educators, while Julius took Liv with him to Europe for a new diplomatic appointment. It was one of the tutors, a Rameau enthusiast, who taught him how to play harpsichord, which he later became proficient at. But memory was denoted in a strange way, somehow the instrument was connected to Liv. Wesker often imagines her playing the instrument.

It was not until he turned ten that Wesker reunited with his parents in Paris. By that time his father had made to Minister Diplomat. And his mother could no longer recognized him due to her regressed mental state. Liv killed herself two years later, by driving a knife into her abdomen with bare hands. She died from excessive blood loss. After the funeral, Wesker chose to stay with his father instead of returning to State. He attended the university there and obtained his doctorate before he turned seventeen.

********************************************************************************

Wesker still remembers the day when he first met Birkin. That morning he just returned from Marcus's residence. Trying not to think of the night before, he immediately set out to play, a fugue by Handel at fast pace if his memory was correct. He chose the piece only because it was technically demanding enough to fully occupy his attention. Then suddenly someone knocked on his door and asked what he was playing. Wesker invited his new colleague in, but didn't care enough to strike a conversation.

Unlike most people known to Wesker however, Birkin was totally ignorant to social gesture and sense of privacy. Instead of leaving him alone, his childish colleague found himself at ease sitting next to Wesker on the harpsichord bench. Never seen a person such as Birkin, Wesker found himself not knowing how to turn him away. He continued playing and lifted his eyes to observe him. Birkin was watching the movements of his hands with awe. Something strange suddenly passed his mind. But like a failing star to eyes, the feeling disappeared before Wesker could take a better look at it. He lost concentration and the music came to an abrupt halt.

"What's wrong?"

Birkin looked up to him innocently.

Although later it became clear that Marcus never laid his hands on Birkin, at first Wesker wondered if this was just another creature whom Marcus recruited for his own pleasure. Contrary to Wesker, who was stern and disspainate. Birkin was fierce and vehement. His eyes were always brighten by emotions and ambition, which adorned him with an aurora of pride, a symbol of youthfulness that makes him even more attractive.

Birkin was not childish at all when it comes to his field. The new prospects were instructed to created new virus strains based on Progenitor virus. Birkin was entirely dedicated to the task; and he was very competitive. He worked alone and kept all the information private. Wesker raised no objection because he was doing exactly the same.

Marcus told Wesker not to 'waste time' on research, which was what Birkin was hired for. But the idea that Marcus used him only as a sensual treat yet Birkin for his intelligence infuriated Wesker more than anything else. Even to a man like Marcus he still felt the urge prove himself.

The first time they met turned out to be the only friendly occasion between them in the following two weeks. Birkin and Wesker purposefully ignoring each other's existence, let alone sharing findings. Through the assistant director, who had been updating each other's progress for them, soon Wesker found himself under the constant pressure to keep up with Birkin. There was no doubt that Birkin's talent surpassed him. But even for a genius like him the volume of information to process was tremendous.

Wesker was more attracted to the application of the virus than the virus itself. Unlike most viruses that aim to preserve the host in order to duplicate themselves, Progenitor virus kills its host in short period of time. High lethality compromises chance of infection; the host will die before passing the virus to others, that which was against the fundamental mechanism of bioweapon, especially given that Progenitor virus is not airborne. That's why some virologists don't categorize Progenitor virus as a bioweapon. They think the virus was an elegant invention, the product of leisure by a genius scientist, but it has no practical bearing in bio war.

However, the real purpose of the Progenitor virus is not to be a weapon, but to transform its hosts into weapons. Marcus was brilliant. He knew that epidemiologically speaking, regardless how successful a pathogen is, sooner or later a vaccine would be invented to eradicate it. Smallpox, for example, fell under this fate. That's why he made a virus that would transform its host into weapons rather than a virus that passes easily from one to another.

The question is how to do it. Like a god, Marcus holds the secret of creation tightly in his own hands. Simply infecting a living host with the virus wouldn't do the trick. The virus must be manually introduced to the host's chromosome through splicing. In other words, it was bioengineering, which demands time and technical sophistication, not infection, that fully unleashes the power of Progenitor virus.

With every advantage there is a drawback. The process of bio-engineering was time and resource consuming. Even for an enterprise such as Umbrella, at current stage it is nearly impossible to further increase the production. Only later Wesker realized that it was not Marcus couldn't make the process more efficient; rather, he didn't want to make it more efficient. He was withholding the knowledge and techniques, so to protect himself from the other co-founder of Umbrella, Ozwell Spencer.

As the workload increased, working alone was no longer optimal. Wesker found himself losing track of his ideas more often as he prolonged his hours of awakening. Judging from Birkin's miserable appearance, he was approaching his limit as well. There are only so many hours a human can do without sleep even with the assistance of drugs.

********************************************************************************

In between, Philip came to Wesker's aid. They were lovers, and the relationship lasted longer than he had expected. Back then Wesker had just been employed by the university. The department chair held a welcome party for him. It was less than a year after Liv's suicide. Wesker found himself unable to reciprocate any kind of affection. But he showed up and socialized with everyone like he should be doing. Though he could barely comprehend what others have said.

Philip dragged Wesker out the party and brought him back to his apartment in Latin Quarter. Wesker didn't protest because he couldn't think of anything better to do. He was thirteen and Philip was in his late twenty. The next morning he left while Philip was still sleeping. Months later Philip moved into Wesker's place.

They lived together for two years until Wesker started dating some high-ranking official, who was very likely an acquaintance of his father. Through the official Wesker became a researcher in a government commissioned bioweapon project. His outstanding contribution earned him a position in Institut Pasteur, then a member of the administrative committee, and finally the chief director.

There was never a clear ending between him and Philip. The apartment that they lived at sixième belonged to Julius. Julius never asked what his son was doing with the property. So Wesker let Philip lived there. One day he went back and found out that Philip had moved out. They haven't seen or contacted each other since then.

After the breakup, Philip moved back to State and was working as a professor at a private college. Scholarly research was in his nature as much as he loved the quiet life that came with it. He married his graduate student and was forced to take up a better paid job at Umbrella after she fell ill. Philip was not the kind that would work for a corporation unless there was no choice. That's why Wesker thought he has mistaken when he saw him among all the strange faces. Philip was in his early thirty now, but his look didn't diminish with his age. His wife lived in Raccoon City. They reunited whenever Philip could. Toward the end of their conversation, Wesker found out the reason of which Philip disliked Marcus so much. Although there was no evidence to prove his suspicion, Marcus had been using living human as test subjects, namely, his assistances. Wesker didn't think much of it because like Birkin, he thought the possible costs brought by human experiment far exceeds its benefit. Beside, the B.O.W. that Umbrella was producing were based on mammal embryos; it was not necessary to conduct human experiments. However, he could see what gave Philip the impression. The urge to tell Philip what was going on between him and Marcus arose. But Wesker put off the idea.

Philip helped him, when Wesker was nearly buried by work. The prospects weren't assigned any staff assistance. They had to do everything themselves, no matter how trivial it is. Philip would do some data analysis and sample checking for him in his spare time. On the other hand, Wesker found a place for his wife in a treatment program that was set up to conduct clinical trail for a promising drug.

********************************************************************************

The relationship between Wesker and Birkin took a turn one day in the late night. Wesker didn't run into him that day, he thought Birkin just forgot himself in the laboratory. Followed their unspoken privity, Wesker let him occupied the laboratory alone until his patience ran out. He found Birkin lying on the locker room's floor, breathing rapidly, soaked in sweat, still conscious but too weak to move.

Wesker called for help, but no one answered. So he carried Birkin on his back to the medic. It turned out that Birkin had overdosed, plus dehydration and hypoglycemia. Knowing patients like him wouldn't take care of themselves, doctor made him stayed overnight to replenish liquid and get some sleep. Birkin protested but quickly fell asleep once his head hit the pillow.

Wesker, who at that point had extorted his last bit of strength, couldn't even make back to his place. He too collapsed in a chair next to Birkin's bed, and fell asleep followed the sound of Birkin's steady breath. Still, his mind couldn't stop pacing. He had a dream, in which he was back to his childhood home in New Hampshire, the house where the family spent their first two years together after he was born. There was no one home, but fire was burning in the fireplace. He didn't feel lonely or lost. On the contrary, he felt warm and safe, like he was supposed to be there all along. He watched the fire burns, the red and orange flames rising chasing and consuming each other the brightness became unbearable. He was forced to avert his eyes. Then he woke up, the brightness was radiated by the lamp on night stand. He checked the time. It has only been three hours since he fell in sleep. The warm feeling still lingered.

Birkin has lost a lot of weight since he started working here. Though it was only two weeks ago, the intensity nearly crashed him. His eyes have sunk deeper as his cheekbones and mandible were sharply protruding. At the same time however, the feminine fragility made him even more attractive.

Wesker wanted but couldn't leave Birkin alone in the care unit, perhaps he hasn't build up the strength to walk away yet. The room was stuffy. He opened the window to let in some fresh air. The sky was clear tonight. He could even see the milky way.

Birkin was looking at Wesker without his knowledge until his throat started to itch. He diverted his gaze before Wesker could catch him. He didn't know how long Birkin has been awake. He thought he should leave him to rest. But Birkin moved his chopped lips as if wanting to say something. So Wesker stayed to hear what he had to say. Birkin asked him the time despite there was a clock on the nightstand right next to him. He told him that it was three in the morning, and he should get some sleep. Birkin looked away, slowly. He wasn't paying attention to anything. He was just deliberating.

"I had a weird dream." Birkin told him, "I saw a man. His face was blurred. But I got this feeling that the man was you. Although he was much older and...I think he was not human." Birkin chuckled, amused by its absurdity,"He has the appearance of human but was not one. I know that because he was trying to touch my face, and his hand was cold as ice, like there was no blood floating under his skin. But how could a man be alive without heart beats? Do you see what I mean?"

But he wasn't expecting a reply. He laid back and looked confused. He wasn't scared; rather, he was marveled.

"Sometimes I have trouble separating dream from reality."

"You are not well. Take some rest."

Wesker put the chair back to its place as he was about to walk away.

"Do you know how to play chess?"

Birkin asked eagerly, again stopped him from leaving.

Wesker found a chess set in rec room. The game lasted until they both fell in sleep next to the chessboard. It was stalemate. Honestly Wesker hated the fact that Birkin was more talented than him. But they have to cooperate if they want any progress. And they should cooperate, if not for the sake of their health, then for the sake of creating a new and powerful virus, which was the goal that Birkin would give his life for. Wesker didn't care about the honor but would certainly benefit from the first hand knowledge. The next day he brought all his research notes and entries to Birkin and proposed a collaboration.

Within the span of a week they went from practically ignoring each other's existence to friendship. There were so many things that they needed to discuss and do. Even though they have already optimized the division of labor, when Birkin discovered something important, he made sure Wesker was the first one to know, never mind the time, never mind Wesker was conducting an experiment. With uncontrollable excitement, Birkin just wanted to show him what he did, like a happy child.

As a matter of fact, Birkin's way of living took more attention from Wesker than Progenitor virus. Often Birkin would have nothing in his hours awake but coffee and sugar. The amount of sugar he consumed could send an entire kindergarten into frenzy. But soon after he would ask Wesker for ibuprofen because he was having a bad headache coming down from sugar high. Birkin never fills out research reports, despite they were demanded by Marcus and were already a week late. If he could no longer postpone the tedious task, he would ask Wesker to do the honor. He would also ask him to do the mathematic modeling, to isolate strains, to sort out all the data, even to sterilize the equipments.

Birkin would also ask Wesker to do his laundry, to bring confections when he went to the city, and asked him to play Magnavox Odyssey together at three in the morning. He even asked him for his jacket once because it was freezing outside in the middle of the night, and he didn't bother to put on anything warm before leaving his room this morning. Wesker couldn't say no, because Birkin always asked him in such a spontaneous cheerful manner, as if asking for Wesker's favor was part of his nature, and he wouldn't know what to do otherwise. Wesker found that amusing. He would feel bad if he has to turn Birkin down. It did happen sometimes, such as when he was overwhelmed by the inordinate demand because Birkin suddenly decided it was a good idea to run all the fifty-six blood samples for a third round, searching for a specific proinflammatory cytokine which he thought might be the solution to their problem, and which Wesker told him it wouldn't be.

*********************************************************************************

Wesker was born old and raised by a group of pragmatists. The only source of his affection died long ago. Julius discouraged his son to be affective or to form attachment out of passion. Maybe it was Birkin's childish behavior, which led to a dependency that was not previously known to him. Or maybe it was because of his dealing with Marcus, Wesker found relief in Birkin's innocence. His immaturity became a shelter, in which everything was so hopelessly joyful like a dream that he must wake up eventually.

Marcus saw that Wesker adored Birkin, even before Wesker himself did. The assistant director had been giving out contradictory directions that Marcus knew would lead to dead end, which only added to Birkin's frustration. Birkin would unleash his rage on Wesker, questioning him why he couldn't be more helpful. Wesker never confronts Birkin's outburst. He let Birkin say or do whatever he wanted, so in the next few hours Birkin would return to his usual self. Wesker was not unaffected by Birkin's accusation however, even though it was only Birkin's unconscious attempt to transfer his frustration. But he never let his emotion to disrupt his judgment. Marcus wanted him to let it out, just like what Birkin did to him, so they would turn against each other. Marcus's intention, carried out by the hands of assistant director, was to instigate not just a competition but distrust between them.

When they didn't turn against each other, Marcus started courting Birkin. Apparently Marcus took more pleasure in playing with humans than his specimens. However, Birkin was oblivious to Marcus's courtship because he didn't understand what a man such as Marcus could possibly want from him. Marcus on the other hand, didn't realize how insensitive Birkin was to his gestures. Birkin complained to Wesker that Marcus was acting weird and getting under his skin. Wesker did the best to shield Birkin from that man.

At last, Marcus made it clear to Wesker that from now on he must answer to his summon no matter where and when, even in the middle of an important experiment, or he would never see Birkin again. Marcus didn't give a fuck about their work. No one but him and him alone was indispensable to Umbrella Research.

Then was the evening in summer. To make their relationship better or worse, in the episode of emotional convolution, Wesker let Birkin took the initiative. It immediately escalated into something which Wesker had wanted and yet had wanted to avoid at the same time. It was the desire for intimacy which he could no longer repress. But the more he loves Liam, the more he was ashamed by himself. It reminded him how powerless he was in front of Marcus, a fact that has never stopped torturing him.

That night Wesker had to leave in the snowstorm because Marcus wanted to see him. Their relationship continued even after training center was shut down. When Wesker ceased to respond to Marcus's demand, Marcus made sure that Wesker understood that they were not finished yet by paying him visit at the Arklay Laboratory. Birkin couldn't be kept in the dark any longer. Without Wesker's knowledge, he went to Marcus's mansion and confronted him with questions he shouldn't be asking. It was the first time Wesker lost his temper since they knew each other.

*********************************************************************************

"Mutter, was machen Sie?"

"Hush, they can hear us."

Liv crawled into her son's bed. Her bare feet were covered in dirt and leaves.

"Mother, you need to rest. You shouldn't walk this far."

"But I missed you so much." She held the little boy dearly in her arms, "Listen, I'm leaving with your father tomorrow. We won't see each other again."

"But father said you can stay with me..."

"Liv, what are you doing in Albert's room?"

The door burst opened. Julius stormed in. He took his son away and handed him to a maid.

**********************************************************************************

The next morning Birkin was awakened by Wesker. He brought him sugar-loaded coffee like usual, but didn't say anything about last night. Despite his perfectly groomed appearance, Wesker has lost his usual vigilance and attentiveness. His eyes were dreamy and his body was slightly disoriented.

"Look at me."
Birkin grabbed his head to check his pupils; they were dilated.

"What did you take? Amphetamine?"

"Nothing. We should get back to work." His replied with a soft voice.

Wesker wanted to continue from where they unwillingly left of due to the malfunctioned air circulation system. But he was not in the best state to access Level-4 laboratory, let alone handling pathogens.

"No. I will get back to work. You should take the day off. Remember what you said to me after I passed out? It's dangerous." Birkin tried to send Wesker back to bed, but he refused.

"Why? It was just a dream..."

Mumbling something which Birkin couldn't understand, Wesker stared blankly at the ceiling. Birkin tucked a pillow under his head before leaving the room. Later that night, Wesker, who was fully restored by then, apologized to Birkin and promised the same thing won't happen again. True, Wesker was never under the influence of substance again. But the occasions of suspicious disappearance persisted. He never told Birkin where or to whom he went to. At first Birkin thought he was dating someone. But his body was often covered in bruises and lesions. Birkin was begging for the truth because he wanted to help. The harder he begged however, the more avoidant Wesker became. Eventually Birkin had to give up because he was afraid to drive him away.

*********************************************************************************

Christmas was preceded by a ground-breaking announcement: Marcus isolated a new viral strain from the Progenitor virus, code name 'Tyrant'. Shortly after, Birkin also isolated a new strain from the Progenitor virus. Due to the genetic similarity between the newly isolated virus and T-virus, the virus Birkin created was categorized as a T-virus subtype.

The news regarding T-virus was not made public, but Umbrella's share price increased thanks to the well informed military-industrial sector. It was quite an achievement, especially for a sixteen-year-old. Yet Birkin was not least pleased. He could have be the father of T-virus if only he was one step ahead of Marcus. For the same reason Birkin was less passionate about perfecting T-virus or its subtype. He started a new virological engineering project right away without the permission from Marcus or Spencer. He named the project 'Golgotha'. Birkin was determined to create a virus that will bear his mark and his mark alone no matter what it costs.

Another important thing that they must take into consideration now was that as the end of executive training program was approaching, soon they would be assigned to new positions. The new executives' deployment was a matter solely dictated by Marcus, fortunately he would listen to the prospects's opinion before making the final call. Birkin expressed his will to adhere to what he has been doing, which is research and development. He didn't mind the location as long as he could continue the G-virus project.

Birkin assumed Wesker would follow him because their relationship and his interest in T-virus. Birkin relied on him for many things, from work to love. Yet both Marcus and Wesker had different plans. Marcus intended to keep Wesker where he was here at the Research Center. It would serve his best interest, politically and sexually. As for Birkin, Marcus was sending him to Arklay Laboratory. He didn't see much value in the not yet existed G-virus. But he would give his permission if Birkin would just go away.

Wesker, on the other hand, was aiming at the manufacturing and testing of B.O.W.. For one thing at least, he could leave Marcus's side. But his request was rejected. Tired of being forced to submit to someone he hated, Wesker decided there and then that he is going to leave Umbrella. He told Birkin his decision, without telling him the gutter business behind it. Birkin didn't understand. He said he needs him in his G-virus project. Wesker told Birkin to give up it for his own good.

Rarely had Wesker agreed with Marcus. But Umbrella Corporation will found its future on T-virus, which in turn will magnify its power through the mass production of B.O.W.. From now on the focus of Umbrella Research will be cracking down the problems on manufacturing line. Theoretical virology is no longer profitable or useful from the perspective of the share holders. Birkin understood what Wesker was saying. He also understood that Wesker didn't want him to waste his intelligence on something that is going obsolete. But Birkin couldn't pull back his ego from the desire to create a virus that surpass T-virus. He confided his conviction to Wesker, also expecting a rupture between them. Birkin knew his own flaw; he could only live by his creation. But Wesker could do much more and deserves much more other than being buried in a laboratory for the rest of his life.

"I will be fine without you, if that's what you're wondering." He squeezed out a bitter smile.

*********************************************************************************

Marcus announced that on Christmas Eve he was going to hold a gathering in his manor at Raccoon City suburb to celebrate the birth of T-virus. The gathering was not just a party for bunch of friends if he has any. It was a corporate event. Marcus had invited the senior executives, board members, and his past students, all which made up a third of Umbrella Research. The only man whom he should invite but didn't was Ozwell Spencer, the president of Umbrella Corporation.

Birkin wouldn't attend the gala for obvious reason. Wesker learned his reaction from the assistant director while walking down the hallway with him. Birkin refused to talk to Wesker since their last conversation. Wesker told the assistant director that he too decided to turn down the invitation. He didn't want to leave Birkin alone on Christmas Eve. Moreover, although all the higher-ups would be there, the absence of Spencer unsettled him. Marcus was openly hostile against Spencer, who has been gradually subduing his funds and influence since the death of Dr. Edward Ashford. Wesker was sensitive to political current. Despite working at a relatively isolated location, he knew that many have fell under the victims of the power game between the two remained Umbrella co-founders over the past two years. He didn't want to expose himself to the possible risk, especially giving his already complicated relationship with Marcus.

But the usual taciturn assistant director raised his head and said,

"You should go to the party, Dr. Wesker. Never mind the president. I'm sure he will understand."

Wesker took a moment to observe the man whom he had long been ignoring, before asking,

"And you will be so kind to tell me why?"

Wesker was calm, but the question was imposed with a manner that allowed no evasion. For he suddenly realized that he was made a fool by the assistant director, who had his own agenda and was playing dumb all this time right under their eyes. If Birkin was here, he would be startled by the tension built up in him right now. As a young scientist, Wesker could be unusually intimidating due to his appearance and build. But the assistant director was not least affected by his reproach. He looked at Wesker as if didn't understand a word of it. The confrontation continued. Finally the assistant director opened his mouth, from which came forth the same monotonous voice that has never changed since Wesker knew him.

"It was just an advice. You do whatever you please, Doctor."

*********************************************************************************

Wesker knocked on Birkin's door, wanted to get a word with him before leaving. But there was no reply. So he slipped a note through the crack under the door. It says that he has left the Christmas gift in his changing room locker. In case he wouldn't be back tomorrow morning, Birkin would know where to find it.

The road to Marcus's manor traversed Arklay Mountains and Raccoon City. Riding was not fun at all under the weather. As the headlights illuminated the space ahead, for the first time since Wesker obtained his motorcycle license, he was thinking about getting a four-wheel vehicle with window shields.

Since Marcus didn't have any family and never left the research facility, the manor was not occupied and only reserved for occasions such as tonight. He arrived after the toast on purpose. The lobby was filled by people. Marcus encouraged the guests to bring their families. Little children running around, the sight of men exchanging small talks, women laughing with their jewels glowing under the chandelier, the smell of sweat, perfumes, warm leather, cigar smoke, the sound of crystal breaking, gem cuffs, embroidery, silk, fur, hair gel, lipsticks, stockings, marbles, velvet curtains, string quartets, paintings by Gustave Klimt, statues by Luigi Valadier, bouquets, mirrors. It has been long enough for the once familiar scenery to become strange. Julius exposed his son to all kinds of social events during his most tender age, from fundraisers to secret society. He taught him how to observe and talk while others showering the boy with compliments about how matured he was. Wesker never enjoyed those events and he had a feeling that father felt the same.

Marcus was the center of attention. Wesker hasn't congratulated Marcus because he didn't want to initiate a conversation with him. He was here only because what the assistant director has said, which made Wesker suspected that something would happen tonight. But so far there was no sign of it. Wesker went to the second floor, overlooking the guests and the venue. Having met these people in corporate meetings, he recognized most of the faces. Guests who were presented tonight have all benefited from Marcus at some point in their careers. Those who were royal to Spencer weren't invited.

There was a man in his early fifty whom Marcus was keeping close with him all night, grey hair and slender body. Although time took its toll, the glamour distinguished him from other men. He must be extremely handsome when he was young. Marcus introduced him to other guests, and would frequently lean back to hear what he says. He had never seen that face. Perhaps the man wasn't an Umbrella employee.

"Excuse me sir. I couldn't find my father."

A voice cried out. Wesker turned around and saw a little girl who couldn't be older than six. She has light blonde hair and blue eyes, was wearing a white dress and a Burgundy red ribbon on her waist. She was staring straight into his eyes. The cry was obviously targeted at him.

"What's your name?"

Wesker kneeled down.

"Alexia."

"Do you know your last name?"

"No."

"How about your father's name?"

The girl tilted her head a bit before answering.

"Alexander."

"Excellent. Let's go find him."

Wesker held out his hand in case she wandered away again, and Alexia took it.

"Where did you lose him?"

"He asked me to wait here and went away with a woman."

"How long you've been waiting?"

"Where is he?"

Bedding a young model, if he hasn't passed out in one of the bathrooms.

Wesker tried to calm her down while drawing a list in his mind. There were three Alexanders tonight, one shareholder and two scientists. He passed the shareholder just moments ago, so it couldn't be him. Now he needed to find the two scientists. Bedrooms were located on the second floor. It makes sense that Alexia was left here to wait. Wesker searched the bedroom one by one, occupied or not, he couldn't care less. Just when he was about to open the last door, he heard Marcus's voice from the other side.

"How was Cecelia?" He asked, with such earnestness that Wesker didn't know could belong to him.

The door was left ajar. The room was dimly illuminated by moonlight. Marcus was sitting on bed, looking at the man who has been accompanying him. Wesker should walk away but didn't.

"She was not in pain. That's all I can do." The man answered.

"I'm sorry, Brandon."

"No, you aren't. If you are, you would've let us come back here."

"That's not fair, nor true."

"Do you want to talk about fairness?" Brandon was slurring. "Do you really know what is fair? Cecelia was dying. I could never say this to her face, but we all know she deserved it. You heard that? She deserved it for bringing this mess. That's what I call fair. And she still won't let it go. The nurse found her flipping through the research notes one day, and the other day I caught her making phone call to Spencer. She told me she missed the girl and wanted to see her. But she would never tell me that if I hadn't asked her. For all these years we were married. She was my wife! Do you know she refused to have children again after the miscarriage? She wished the baby was his. Spencer never gave a damn about her, and she was not even her real mother. Do you know she's been reading Kafka? And she's been sending those books to the girl. Oh, that little creature, if you could see her, she was the female incarnation of him! She only married me because I'll do whatever she tells me to! Now she's dying. She no longer needs to hide herself from me. Fair, I guess, for the pain she suffered."

Marcus, still facing at the wall, said nothing, so Brandon continued.

"You said you were sorry. What for? For introduced me to Spencer? For watching me married her? But that has nothing to do with you. I was so stupid, right? I didn't know what I've got myself into."

"Brandon, please just stay in Africa until..."

"Until what?" Brandon interrupted anxiously.

"Until it is safe to return. The Ashfords are here. We'll come up with a permanent solution."

Wesker was absorbed by the conversation and didn't notice the butler was looking for Marcus until Alexia pulled his jacket.

"Have you found my father?" She looked up to him. There was no expectation in her eyes. But Wesker was not in the state to discern it.

"He's not here. Let's try other places."

Wesker took a moment to collect his thoughts. Alexia was still holding his hand. The ribbon on her waist was going to fall off. Wesker kneeled down behind her and retied it. Alexia saw Marcus, who just left the room with Brandon, was staring at them with visible astonishment. She grinned at him.

"Lady Ashford, what are you doing here?"

Marcus approached Alexia in a hurry, but his eyes set upon Wesker first. Didn't want to draw any attention, Marcus forced out an amiable smile to pretend Alexia was a friend's daughter.

"I heard you are having a party. So I invited myself. See? I just made a friend."

Alexia held onto Wesker's hand, whom, at this point, has understood everything. The look of innocence was completely gone from her face. Though living in a child's body, Alexia has the mind and heart of an adult. It reminded him what Liam and himself looked like when they were at her age. He met Marcus's questionable stares without any reaction. He knew what Marcus was going to say.

"Albert, I'm glad you decided to join us. Why are you two here?" Marcus smiled but was not amused.

"Alexia was lost. I'm looking for her father Dr. Alexander Ashford. Have you seen him?"

"Sorry Albert, it was a prank. Father wasn't here. But I appreciate your bearing." Alexia let go Wesker's hand and turned to Marcus.

"Let's talk."

She glanced at Brandon and then added, "Alone."

Brandon's face yielded visible vexation. Marcus whispered something to butler, whom left in hurry.

"You are my student. Keep that in mind before you do anything stupid."

Marcus patted on Wesker's shoulders and walked away with Alexia Ashford.

*********************************************************************************

The late Earl Edward Ashford had only one heir, his son Alexander Ashford. Dr. Alexander has been working for Umbrella since he obtained his doctorate at Cambridge. There was nothing special about him, which is a good thing; he was left to live a peaceful life. That's why no one outside the Antarctica Base has ever heard of his name, and no one knows that he has a daughter who has inherited her grandfather's genius, if not excelled him. It's only a matter of time before Alexia becomes the head of the Ashford House.

Although the House kept its reputation as from which the co-founder of Umbrella came forth, both Edward and Alexander have been excluded from the company's decision-making process since the establishment of Antarctica Base. To become relevant again, the Ashfords must contribute something great. A new virus will do. But after the creation of T-virus, it would be almost impossible to reach another significant breakthrough in short period of time. However, Marcus has great faith in Alexia's competence.

On his way back, Wesker remembered Brandon was the person whom he saw Marcus was writing a letter to. He needed to find out where Kijuju is and why it's important. He stopped by the Research Center library and started searching geographical materials. Maps and geopolitical history however didn't reveal anything informative. Finally he found the name mentioned in an ethnography on Ndipaya people. It was written in nineteenth century. Kijuju was located at the now Nigeria, West Africa. Umbrella Pharmaceutic has a branch in South Africa, but Wesker never knows that they have a research center there. He carried the ethnography with him. Sun was about to rise when he stepped outside the gate. Christmas fell on his shoulders without a sound.

*********************************************************************************

The manor was empty again after the last guest left. Alexia ordered the maid to bring her mulled wine, ignoring butler's suggestion for something more suitable for her age.

"Close that curtain. I'm tired of seeing snow."

Alexia pointed at the French window, which framed a beautiful landscape of white. Her voice, which rightly belonged to a six-years-old girl, made a sharp contrast to her tone of authority. The maid, who was watching her affectionally just moments ago, thinking about the resemblance between Alexia and her own daughter, was now perplexed and a bit scared. Marcus nodded in silence, gave her the permission to do what Alexia said.

When Alexia first contacted him, Marcus was shocked by the fact that Alexander has a daughter. He was even more shocked when he learned that Alexia knows about the existence of Umbrella Africa Research Center, which was established under the facade of charity clinic. Only the three co-founders and royal entourage knew about its real purpose. Marcus doubted that Edward has revealed the secret to anyone including his son before he was murdered. Edward was a man of honor. But that was not the only reason for his discretion. He wanted to keep his family away Umbrella's dark side and most importantly away from Spencer. Yet neither his son or his grand daughter escaped this fate.

Edward intended that Antarctica Research Center shall be shut down after he died. But his will was never made public. Spencer intercepted Edward's last letter, which stated the will, after murdered him. The story says that Dr. Edward was accidentally infected during experiment. The truth was someone poisoned him. At his funeral, Marcus saw Spencer talking to Alexander. A month later, Alexander went to England to persuade an education in bioengineering.

Like his father, Alexander was kind and indecisive. He probably believed the lie which Spencer told him, that his father would want him to follow his footstep and join Umbrella. At that time the relationship between Marcus and Spencer has not yet deteriorated. Marcus didn't understand why Spencer wouldn't let Alexander stay out Umbrella, to which Spencer explained,

"I would let him go, if he didn't carry the blood of Ashford."

Looking at Alexia Ashford, only now Marcus could truly comprehend Spencer's plan. Spencer used Edward's descendent just like he used Edward. They were his brains. Marcus knows very well why Alexia has reached out. She wants to restore the glory of the Ashfords. But by doing so, she played exactly into Spencer's hands. Whatever she created would likely become Spencer's spoil, unless, of course, she is set out to replace him.

Alexia was asking for critical information regarding the experiments being conducted at West Africa Research Center in exchange for her support against Spencer. Marcus asked what she could offer in return other than empty promise. Alexia told him that she is working on something that will be more powerful than T-virus.

"How do I know Spencer didn't get to you first?"

Marcus had reasonable concern. Brandon said he has never told anyone about the Africa Research Center and he had no idea how did Alexia found out. Marcus certainly did not tell. Then there was only one man who could reveal it, Spencer.

"You just have to believe me. Spencer didn't know about my existence. My father has been very careful."

Alexia sipped her wine. Marcus detested the feeling that he must treat a child as an equal, but he decided to put up with her.

"Then tell me, who connected you to Brandon; why he was the first person you contacted; and how did you find out about Africa Research Center."

"I didn't contact anyone. I was contacted."

"By whom?"

"Cecelia Wesker."

Alexia enjoyed the shocking expression she brought on others. She took it as a compliment.

Marcus managed to squeeze out a remark, but his heart has sunk to the lowest.

"How would he know?"

And how could he let her escaped his calculation? Because he, like Brandon, was not good at finding out what others are really after; what they are thinking; and why they do what they do. Only after the woman whom Brandon loved has stopped pretending that he discovered her hidden agenda.

Cecelia Wesker was the leading scientist in Wesker Project. She was also Spencer's fiancée, before she broke the engagement and married Brandon Bailey.

*****************************************************************************

The five of them shared a complicated history. Although Brandon was Marcus's lover and favorite student, he was also Spencer's confidant. Brandon came from a family of diamond dealers in South Africa. He obtained his doctorate under Marcus's supervision. Marcus introduced Brandon to Spencer when they were spending summer together in Italy. The age gap between them was not significant. Soon the two became close friends. Spencer made Brandon his secretary and trusted him like he trusted Cecelia. Of course, that was before Spencer was ruined by polio.

Cecelia and Spencer have known each other since college. She was the daughter of an American senator, who belonged to a renowned family rooted deeply in political realm. Spencer was born and raised as a lord, intelligent, brave, decisive, almost invincible. They were engaged to marry after he returned from the West Africa expedition. But Spencer contracted polio upon his return. The disease left his lower body incapacitated. He became a different man after that.

Meanwhile, the newly founded Umbrella Pharmaceutic demanded attention. But Spencer was depressed and on the verge of breakdown. He couldn't manage the company despite being its owner. Later he became obsessive with eugenic and refused to leave his house. So the responsibility fell on Cecelia. Although she wasn't married to Spencer, everyone saw her as the mistress of the Spencer House. She was a brilliant scientist. But after what happened to Spencer, she had no choice but to abandon her study and concentrated on developing new drugs for the company with Marcus and Edward. Beyond that, she also had to put up with Spencer's temper, which became unpredictable and even violent since he was incapacitated. Spencer didn't like others to see him in a wheelchair. Only Cecelia and Brandon were allowed at close proximity.

Pharmaceutical research development was just one among many problems that they were facing. For Cecelia, the biggest torment was to watch Spencer deteriorated. She loved him deeply, but he no longer showed any feeling toward her or others. Edward suffered from the same painful sight. He and Spencer were friends since childhood. Edward did everything he could to salvage him. He found him the best physiotherapy. He even persuaded Carl Jung to see him. But Spencer refused to see psychiatrist. Marcus was looking for a cure from the flower plant they discovered in Kijuju, "The Stairway of the Sun", the local called it. But by the time when Progenitor virus was extracted from the plant, it was too late to repair the damage.

One day in the middle of the night, a servant from Spencer's household rang the bell. He was there to see Edward. From his panicking voice Edward learned that Spencer tried to kill himself by rolling his wheelchair into sea. The night before Spencer told Cecelia that he wanted to spent the night at the seaside villa. Cecelia agreed because she thought it was good for his recovery.

Edward rushed to the seashore. Brandon had been staying with Spencer and Cecelia. Marcus was in Zurich. According to Brandon, Cecelia was the first to find out something was wrong. She was bringing Spencer his night medicine but couldn't find him anywhere in the house. She ran straight into the ice cold water once she saw him floating on the sea. It was early January. Brandon told the servants to get Edward, who was also a licensed physician, before followed her into water. They dragged Spencer back to shore. The servants left the three in front of fire place. That's when Edward arrived. Water was dripping down from their faces. Cecelia was shivering under a blanket. Spencer collapsed on Brandon's laps, breathing weakly, eyes shut. Brandon was wrapping another layer of blanket on him while he was still soaked wet.

Marcus remembered the sadness on Edward's face when he told him about the incident. After which Spencer became even more aloof to everyone around him, as if they were just moving objects. Yet trying to defend the man who still lives in his memory, Edward told Marcus repeatedly that this was not the real Spencer, that he was just sick. The Spencer he knew was a man with tremendous fortitude; and there is nothing he couldn't overcome.

Fortunately, Spencer found his way back to the real world after the suicide attempt. He picked up his duty as the head of the company. Under him, Umbrella was made to the second largest pharmaceutic enterprise in the world. After Umbrella Pharmaceutic was listed, enough resource was collected to found Umbrella Research. Cecelia believed or at least wanted to believe that Spencer has recovered. But Spencer has never recovered. His investment in pharmaceutical business was merely motivated by the need to finance his eugenic project.

Spencer gifted Cecelia his share of Umbrella Pharmaceutic and proposed to her again. But Cecelia refused both the share and the proposal. She told Spencer that the only thing she wanted now is to dissolve their engagement. As Spencer's fiancée, she has done her duty. She loved him, obeyed him, and didn't abandon him when he needed her most. Now she pleaded Spencer to let her go.

Cecelia has fell in love with Brandon. She was already pregnant with Brandon's child before her engagement to Spencer was dissolved. Marcus didn't blame Cecelia for the pain she endured. But when Brandon told Marcus about their marriage and the pregnancy, Marcus had a presentiment that Spencer wouldn't drop the matter easily. Indeed, Spencer agreed to let her go only under one condition, that Cecelia must be the chief director of his eugenic project. The last thing Spencer extorted from Cecelia was her talent. Cecelia agreed, so Spencer wouldn't retaliate against them. Whether she also shared the same fascination with Spencer on eugenics Marcus never knew. She gave her maiden name to the project and its children. In the same year she was married to Brandon. But the baby was miscarried. To Marcus's knowledge they have since remained childless.

Edward, who had always been gentle and amiable, reacted most strongly to Wesker Project. He had never voiced a word of against anyone, yet in that meeting, which Marcus also attended, he rebuked Spencer without any reservation for using the innocent as surrogates for his own misfortunate.

Edward always dedicated himself to good cause. He wouldn't do anything if it wasn't just. Edward lost his parents to a plague in Morocco. Since then it was his ambition to make human being immune to diseases, the same ambition which united him with Marcus and Spencer. Although Edward was never passionate about eugenic ideology, he was enticed by the idea of übermensch. But it was obvious that Spencer was just using Wesker Project for selfish purpose, and Edward couldn't let that happen.

Spencer told Edward that he was either with him or not. He was not oblige to justify his plan. Then he asked for Marcus's opinion. Edward was right to despise Spencer's motivation, but sooner or later it would become necessary to test Progenitor virus on human subject. Like Edward, Marcus was not enthusiastic about eugenic. But he believed, as the initial study on Progenitor virus showed, that the virus has potential to give birth to the perfect species that they've been dreaming of. He couldn't snip the possibility just because it was unethical. And most importantly, Marcus needed to secure Spencer's support for his future project. Two versus one, Wesker Project was granted.

Brandon joined Wesker Project for the sake of his wife. What he couldn't foresee at that time was that every participant in the project was going to be eliminated whether the project succeeds or not. The project could be cited as evidence against Spencer in court of law. He couldn't take that risk. Let alone the fact that Brandon took Cecelia from him. That's why Marcus objected their marriage. He didn't want to lose Brandon. But Brandon insisted to marry her.

There was only so much Marcus could do. He left Wesker project to Cecelia and moved back to his study. More research needs to be done on Progenitor virus. There was no time to be wasted. By Spencer's assistance, Marcus founded the Research Center at Arklay Mountains; and Edward founded the Antarctica Base. The Research center was also used to cultivate promising prospects for Umbrella Research, through which Marcus expanded his influence as wide as possible in order to consolidate his status in the company.

Years have passed until he received a letter from Brandon. He and Cecelia were assigned to the newly Africa Research Center to study The Stairway of The Sun. Strangely, Brandon didn't mention anything about Wesker Project, which was unsettling for Marcus. The information he received was that Wesker Project would be carried out in North America. Why Brandon and Cecelia have ended up in West Africa was unclear.

At that time the relationship between Marcus and Spencer has begun to deteriorate, but they the communication hasn't ceased yet. Marcus made an inquiry on Wesker Project. The replied he received was that Wesker Project has been terminated. No subject survived the exposure to Progenitor virus. Along with the letter which Spencer wrote to him, Marcus received a container of documents and samples, all of which had to do with human Progenitor virus experiments. The valuable materials later contributed to Marcus's T-virus creation.

Marcus sincerely felt happy for Brandon and Cecelia, that they were transferred to another project instead of being snuffed for the failed Wesker Project. He thought it was the end of the project, at least Spencer wanted to leave it that way, until he learned about the existence of a young virologist when he was attending a conference at Vienna. The young virologist was Albert Wesker, the first American and the youngest Director of Institut Pasteur at the age of sixteen.

Wesker Project was initiated eight years ago. The overlapped timeframe and surname gave to the suspicion that Wesker Project was not a total failure; Albert was the walking evidence of its success. However, a simple background investigation revealed that Albert was born to the Wesker family. The only connection between Albert and the project was his father Julius Wesker, the elder brother of Cecelia Wesker. Other than the affinity with Cecelia, no evidence suggested that Albert was related to the project. It was more likely that his superior intelligence was inherited.

But truth no longer matters, even if the young Wesker was part of the Machiavellian scheme set up by Spencer. When Marcus first saw Albert, his reason caved in and the void was immediately filled by sensual desire. What stroke Marcus most was not Albert's talent but his beauty. Albert carried the same sophistication and elegance found on all Weskers. Brandon was exquisite but lacked restraint. His overt passion and vigor sometimes annoyed Marcus. He was attracted to sublimated dignity, which Albert personified.

That year Marcus reached the age of fifty-nine. From a stranger's perspective, Marcus was legendary. He was wealthy and famous, a genius scientist and the co-founder of Umbrella despite he never married or had any children. Virology was his only concern. He dedicated all his energy to Progenitor virus and art collection. The rest of the world was unappealing to him despite the wealth he accumulated. But like what usually happened to all men in his age, his desire was rejuvenated by a young man. Marcus takes what he wants. He wants Albert, so he invited him to join the Research Center. Albert declined the offer. He told Marcus that he had already been recruited by Tricell. Then Marcus made his condition more generous. But Albert was unswayed.

The next morning however, he called Marcus and told him he has changed his mind without telling him why. Marcus was surprised but immediately arranged his employment. Albert shall be the only new prospect of the year, after which he would directly be made an executive of Umbrella Research. Marcus did this not only because he was fond of him; he was also betting on that Albert would play a decisive role in Umbrella's future. At that time Marcus didn't know his relationship with Spencer was going to be that bad. He was only preparing himself for possible impact should the circumstance turn against him. He expected Albert would come to his aid if that day comes. After spending one-third of his life in university institute, Marcus knew better than anyone that what made Albert outstanding was not his intelligence but his political skill, which was in his Wesker blood. There are many distinguished scientists, but being one does not automatically make one the director of the most prestigious microbiology institute.

However, Albert treated him like he treated everyone else, courteous yet distant. Marcus made an advance at his ambition. A man such as Albert Wesker would never be a subordinate. The only reason he was working under someone was that wanted something that he could not yet have. Marcus said he would give Albert what he wants if he gives himself in return.

And Wesker complied.

What Marcus didn't expect was Spencer, who usually stays away from selecting new prospects, has added a name to the list. The man he chose was William Birkin, a sixteen-year-old associate professor. Marcus has read his doctoral thesis. It was revolutionary and inspired many studies which came after. But Birkin's peculiar character made his life difficult. His academic career didn't reflect his contribution. When the scout found Birkin, the university was about to fire him because he refused to teach. The discipline board was investigating him for substance abuse. Marcus gave little regard to the seemingly autistic genius. And needless to say Spencer's recommendation has added to his suspicion.

Albert never disappoints Marcus as a virologist. However, soon it became painfully clear to him that his favorite was no match to Birkin, whose intelligence sometimes even impressed Marcus. Marcus kept all the critical information about Progenitor virus to himself. Albert couldn't make out the missing connection. But Birkin has managed to fill the blanks by sheer brilliance.

The gap between them led Marcus to believe that the two wouldn't get along, which was indeed the case at the beginning. But he had underestimated Birkin's willingness to cooperate and overestimated Albert's pride. Soon the two were working together. Albert assisted Birkin in which ever way he could to maximize efficiency. He was after all a born pragmatist who had no trouble accepting reality and made use of it.

More than just colleagues. Marcus couldn't detect any charm from that boy's immaturity, but Albert treated him differently; how he cared for him, and the aversion he showed when Marcus approached him. Albert never enjoyed the sex, but before Birkin showed up he was indifferent rather than unwilling. Now every time Marcus saw Albert turned his head to the other side when he tried to kiss him, he knew it was because he had someone else in his mind. Jealousy arose. When he couldn't drive them apart, Marcus turned violent. He wants full control. But Albert never lost his composure nor did he complain. He put up with his rampage, trying to absorb his wrath for the sake of that boy.

Meanwhile, Spencer was cutting back his research fund under the excuse that Marcus hasn't create anything new for the past two years. The real reason was Spencer wanted Marcus to share his progress with the rest of Umbrella Research in order to speed up the B.O.W. production. An order which Marcus will never comply because the day he makes the critical technique public was the day Spencer gets rid of him. Marcus embezzled the money from Arklay Laboratory, a research facility which he never used but kept to reserve its funding. But among all the humiliating treatments, what enraged Marcus most was Spencer's ingratitude, after all he had contributed.

Spencer has no regard for others, not even for himself. Marcus could imagine him sitting in his underground laboratory, thinking nothing all day but the dream of making super human. Marcus couldn't deny the fact that the value of Umbrella Corporation has tripled and is still increasing under Spencer's leadership. But Umbrella Research was failing as a research institute because Spencer directed all the resource to Wesker Project, which has failed miserably. Spencer must stop interfering with Umbrella Research and learns to respect him, who is the real leader of Umbrella Research.

*********************************************************************************

Birkin found himself on floor the next morning. He didn't realize a night has passed until he saw the living room furnitures, which were reflecting sunlight. It was a perfect Christmas morning as the snow piling up on window frames. The bedroom was pitch dark. Birkin got up and accidentally stomped on a pile of vomit. The nausea still lingered, along with heartburning and the feeling of emptiness. Birkin didn't really know what he was doing but he saw himself stepped over the foul smelling stomach content and bent down to look for the vial, which was under bed. He flushed the empty vial away, and sat on the edge of bathtub, waiting for his mind to clear up.

He hasn't done any thing other than what to keep him sharp for almost a year. The mentally consuming job helps. But his relationship with Wesker was the decisive factor. When the relationship breaks down, Birkin immediately resorted to his old practice. He's been locking himself in his room since last night. First he was playing Nintendo, hoping to take his mind away. When that failed, he took out the research notes and started doing calculations. It worked until Wesker knocked on the door. Birkin buried his head in his arms and didn't responded. Still, he heard his voice. Wesker was going to Marcus's party. He was going to congratulate him like the royal follower he has always been, leaving him abandoned. After he left, Birkin push aside the papers and dug out a vial from the bottom of drawer. He knew very well that he shouldn't do this, but the pain was unbearable.

The euphoria rush left a bigger void inside him. He took a shower, cleaned up the mess, opened all the windows to let in some cold fresh air. Then he picked up the loose papers from the floor, thought he would take a walk before returns to work. Before leaving he discovered the note which Wesker slipped into his room last night, and it was left unattended since then. Birkin unfolded it, Wesker's handwriting jumped into his eyes.

"Merry Christmas. I left the gift in your locker. There was not enough space so I took the liberty to reorganize it. Used candy wrappers were cleaned out. Scrubs were taken to cleaning. Notes and reports were arranged in chronological order. The photograph featuring you and an unknown gentleman was in box. Books and stationery were on second shelf. First aid kit was on third shelf. I took my pencil portrait away as a gift from you."

Birkin blushed as he slipped the note into his pocket and quickly ran to the building in which laboratory was located. Like Wesker said, everything inside his locker have been neatly organized. The man in the photo was Jenner. It was taken during a fishing trip. The background was Jenner's cabin. There weren't many entertainments other than hiking and fishing, so he picked up the habit of drawing. He was not into art but he sketched whatever he could see when he was bored, Wesker included.

The gift from him was a recording of Schumann's Kinderszenen. Birkin inserted the cassette into player, then laid down on bench. No, he was lying on his childhood bed, and his grandfather was reading Joyce to him out loud. He was fascinated by the rhyme produced by the strings of words rather than their meanings. He asked his grandfather to read the same passage over and over again because he himself couldn't duplicate the same effect. It was before Birkin realized what made him special, before he understood why his grandmother worshipped him, when working on Fourier functions was just a way of killing time, life was simple, and expectation doesn't exist.

Birkin raised his hand to see the bruises on his knuckles. He knew he might jumped out of window someday if he kept increasing the dosage. However the realization of playing with fire isn't enough to stop him. He forgets the danger easily because there is no part of him that worth as much as to endure that pain, including his life. He doesn't care what may happen to him during hallucinations. The best thing could ever happen to him is death. So he could be spared from endless conflicts between ambition and self-deprecation, the two horses which were pulling him apart. Birkin thought he had learned to control the horses after Wesker came along. But Wesker is leaving now. Soon Birkin would be left with nothing but RNA strains to think of.

How comes separation is so painful to bear?

*********************************************************************************

"Where is my brother?"

After a night long conversation with Marcus, it was the first thing that Alexia demanded to know when she returned to the hotel room. She booked the suit on the top floor because Alfred liked to watch the city from above. A Christmas tree has been erected at the center of living room, it was covered with lavish decorations and light strings. The air was enriched by sweet aroma. Hotel staff have laid out Christmas breakfast; gingerbread rolls, eggnog pancakes, pecan pie muffins, and apple pie french toasts.

"Your brother is sleeping. He woke up several times and asked for you." The governess answered in a pressing manner, eagerly to please her young mistress. The governess was the acting guardian of Ashford children. Alexia treated her like she treated any other servants. She didn't want someone to look over her shoulders. But a girl in her age was not allowed to travelled alone. Besides, her brother Alfred needed to be taken care of when she is not there.

Alfred was her dizygotic twin brother. He left the womb first and hence became the elder one. But Alfred didn't inherit the same intelligence as Alexia did. He was an ordinary six-year-old boy. Alexia adored Alfred deeply and there was no one in her eyes but him. She saw it as her responsibility to care and protect him despite there was an army of domestic staff dedicated to their needs at home.

Time just passed six, Alexia took a nap on her way back. It was not much but enough. She sneaked into bedroom and found Alfred under the blanket. Alexia was always happy to see rosy color on his cheeks. It means he was in good mood and health. They played and giggled together. She told him to look for his gift under the Christmas tree, and Alfred did. It was a birdcage covered by black velvet, inside the cage was a twitting finch. Its plumage was sapphire blue, a color that was not found among finches in nature. The bird was bio-engineered, specially made for her brother. Alfred was beyond excitement. He kissed and thanked her. The governess however, was frighten by the joy he displayed. She knew what the children were going to do to that poor bird.

Their father Alexander Ashford suggested that Alexia shouldn't bring Alfred with her for the trouble he might cause. But like always, Alexander let Alexia did whatever she wanted, even though he was the lord of household. Alexia didn't like Antarctica. The isolated surrounding and polar day-night were bad for Alfred. She wants him to grow up in a normal environment. Before she became aware of the situation of the family and its relation with Umbrella, she was going to brining Alfred with her to London, where she would complete her doctoral program. But after finding how the truth of her grandfather's death, Alexia couldn't risk Alfred being taken hostage by Spencer. At least he would be safe at Antartica Base.

The person who told Alexia everything about Edward Ashford and Spencer was Cecelia Wesker. Alexia always knew that Alexander has been shielding her from the outside world. She thought he was just being overprotective, until one day she intercepted a letter to her father. She's been doing this as long as she could remember. She was also a master at restoring an opened letter to its previous state without leaving a trace. Alexander kept everything discreet, including his employment with Umbrella. The servants, who were terrified by Alexia's intelligence and resolution, obeyed her command over her father's. They brought all the mails to Alexia first before passing them to the Earl. The letter wrote,

Dear Lord Ashford,
It has been a year since I received any news from you. I beg your pardon but the urgency of the matter which we discussed requires immediate attention and could no longer be delayed. In case you are wondering the intention of this letter, please see it as a prompt. I am dying from cancer. It is not death itself which scares me; rather, it is time, which I have no more. What we have been discussed needed to be put into action, that is, if you are still interested in it. Although my unborn child never lives a day in this world, I too understand the feeling a parent harbors for her flesh and blood. However, you must reckoned the fact that your children will not survive him if you do not take sacrifice. Evasion may save you but not Alexia and Alfred. The condition I proposed remained same. Please inform me your decision as soon as possible.
Yours sincerely,
C.W.

Alexia didn't know about the urgent subject being stated in the letter, which involved her and her dear brother, nor did she know who the sender was. Alexander was apparently bothered by it. He has been acting distractedly since he read it. Yet he refused to share his concern with Alexia. Knowing father was being indecisive, Alexia directed her inquiry to the sender.

Dear C.W.,
Please forgive my impertinence for writing to you. We are not acquainted. My name is Alexia Ashford. Earl Alexander Ashford is my father. Please also forgive me for having read your last letter without your permission. It was entirely accidental that I came upon the knowledge of the letter. My father was not well. He authorized me to process the correspondences on his behalf.
First of all, I am sorry for the suffering you endured. Given malignancy of the disease, I fully sympathized with the direness you expressed. It was stated in the last letter that you have urgent matter at hand and its precedence demands my father's immediate response. I assumed it was his assistance which you are seeking, not his opinion. My father, as you might know, is a prudent man. He takes time to make sure nothing escapes his faculty of judgment. That is why you must understand when my father did not reply to you speedily. Regrettably my brother and I cannot assist you by hastening his process of reasoning, especially when the "matter" which you were referring to concerns us, his flesh and blood as you called. I have not the least intention to offend you. Father limits our exposure to events that might cause us distress. Your letter came as a shock to me.
We the children also think of prudence as a virtue and have benefited tremendously from it. I believe my father was making a right decision by deliberating the condition which you proposed over and over agin when it comes to the wellbeing of his heir. I'm not in position to speak but I will support father's decision. Meanwhile, I'm going to continue encourage him to be cautious, unless you can persuade me to do otherwise.
Yours respectfully,
Alexia Ashford

Few weeks later, Alexia received the reply she had been waiting from Cecelia Wesker, or Mrs. Bailey. Women scholars who are married tend to retain their maiden names for the sake of consistency in academic publishing. In her reply, Cecelia told her everything about the other side of Umbrella. Ozwell Spencer, the suspicious death of Edward Ashford, Wesker Project, James Marcus, the Africa Research Center, and finally the truth about Alexia's own existence. It was the first time that Alexia learned about Veronica Project, that she was in fact a duplication and not a descendant of their great ancestor Veronica Ashford. Just like the sapphire blue feathers, she too was the product of a carefully planned bio-engineering project, and her brother Alfred was a mere by-product; he was unintended. Alexia, or rather Veronica's intelligence, saved her from the possible trauma that the revelation might do to ordinary children. Alexia realized that Alfred must never find out about this. Her love to Alfred grew ever more stronger. Alfred did nothing wrong. He was completely innocent. She must protect him from the truth.

Cecelia also wrote that it was Alexander who reached out to her first. Unlike what the outside world believed, he was not oblivious to the real cause of the death of his father. But Alexander had no choice but to follow what Spencer set for him. He had no power to resist and desperately needed someone who could. As the last effort to revive the household, Ashford initiated Veronica Project, hoping she could restore the Ashford House to its past glory and proper place.

For a better result, Alexander consulted Cecelia, the leading eugenic scientist in Wesker Project for the technical difficulties he encountered. Wesker Project was never made public, Alexander learned about the project from one of his father's half-burnt letter. He met Cecelia at the annual corporate meeting and told her what he was doing.

Of course, Alexander would be more cautious had he knew the past between Cecelia and Spencer. He didn't know how deep Spencer was involved in Wesker Project. He thought Cecelia was on Marcus's side because of her connection with Brandon, who was Marcus's student. Cecelia asked what would he do with the product if it succeeds.

"Spencer must go. Veronica will make sure of that."

Alexander answered with eerie arrogance. His ambition collapsed the moment he came to holding the new born babies in his arms. Alexander never intended to have children. Yet the tender and fragile bodies appealed to his paternal love. They became his world. He gave the girl a new name instead of Veronica. He would also give his life for them. He never regretted bringing them to this world, but he regretted the idea of using them as means to his end. He gave up the scheme and decided to raise the children discreetly at Antartica Base.

Meanwhile, Cecelia wrote to him to inquire the result of Veronica Project. After the last Wesker children had died, the Project was closed. She seemed to pin her last hope on the outcome of Alexander's experiment. Thinking back from now, Alexander realized that he never really knew Cecelia's attitude on the matter which concerns Spencer. He assumed she was with Brandon and Marcus. But there was no hatred in her voice whenever she mentioned something about Spencer, unlike himself. Alexander told her about the birth of Alexia and Ashford, but he lied that there was nothing extraordinary about them, and Veronica Project was a failure.

In the last meeting between Alexander and Cecelia, she told him that he should raise the children as they were intended to, that is, as a reserved force for future Umbrella. Whether the children are genius or not doesn't matter because the bloodlines are drying out. Although Umbrella Pharmaceutic is a public company, Umbrella Research is not. Among the three co-founders, Marcus and Spencer don't have children, nor do they want any. Ashford House is the only hope. If the Ashford children could outlive Spencer, then the family will surely come to the reign of next generation Umbrella, a result which she believed would please all. She suggested Alexander brought the children out from Antartica Base and raised them under the collective effort of Ashford and herself. The sooner the children are indoctrinated, the better their chance to succeed.

Alexander refused. Cecelia wanted to use the Ashford bloodline for Brandon Bailey's advantage after Wesker Project was terminated. Now he understood why Edward asked him to stay out Umbrella and its people. He realized that he had got himself and his children into a game which he has no saying of its rules. He no longer trusts Cecelia. He didn't contact Marcus for the fear of his connection to her. Cecelia wrote to him several times to press him for making the decision. He didn't reply to any of them. What he didn't expect however was his daughter Alexia, or Veronica's ambition was swelling up bigger everyday, and now he could no longer control her. The power which Alexander provoked in the first place is going to consume him soon.

Tolerance and temperance were never found among Alexia's personalities. Like her ancestor Veronica Ashford, she would rather die fighting than hiding comfortably. Her father was weak. The family was failing under him. Alexia gave herself no choice but to eliminate Spencer and his influence. She was not against the idea of allying with Cecelia, but was not certain of her true intention. Before the doubt was clarified, Alexia wanted to meet the man who set off everything, the father of Progenitor virus, James Marcus.

Marcus perceived whom or what he was talking to the instance he saw Alexia. He dared not turned his back to her. How could a little girl be so intimidating? Strangely, she resembled neither Edward nor Alexander. She reminded Marcus of the young Spencer. Alexia didn't tell him how she was conceived to this world, but Marcus had guessed it. No human born by nature could embody such determination at her age.

Alexia was not shy of revealing her objective. She must know him and Spencer were rivals. Bold as one would expect from her character, Alexia suggested assassination. After all, it was what Spencer did to her grandfather. Marcus chuckled and told her that nobody really knows where Spencer lives nowadays. He rarely makes public appearance. And if he did, it was under the seamless protection of Umbrella Security Service.

When being asked what else could bring the man down, Marcus realized that it was a question which he himself didn't have a definite answer to, which also means he couldn't locate Spencer's weakness. First off, what does Spencer want? He wants neither power nor wealth. The inordinate investment to the eugenic project could only justified by irrationality. But it was not a decision made by a mad man. Ten years of careful planning, extraneous budget, expendable staff and researchers, for what purpose? If it was his own disability that Spencer wants to cure, he might have already succeeded by investing the resource to develop a treatment instead of wasting it on eugenic experiments. If he wants to be god, then it has already failed because Wesker Project is dead. He should be crushed by the devastating result. Yet Spencer seemed to be unaffected by it.

Regardless Spencer's true intention, he couldn't get anything done without finance or intellectual support. It was not as easy as it sounds, however. Unlike most other pharmaceutical enterprises, Spencer was the sole pattern owner of the two popular drugs developed by Umbrella. The drugs were essential in curing leukemia and were unlikely to be replaced in near future. The last thing the board wanted to do was to expel him, which would force the company to give up a chunk of profit. Needless to say, Spencer had amassed enough to fund a small nation's military spending even if he is forced to leave Umbrella. It was unlikely that anyone could bring him down through financial means. One could purchase Umbrella Pharmaceutics, a listed company. But the core of which the entire corporation was based on, Umbrella Research, was again privately owned by Spencer.

Marcus always felt profoundly powerless when he thought about his inability to maneuver in politics, which Spencer excelled. A life time devoted to virology already exhausted his attention. Marcus desperately needed someone to be his consultant. It was also the reason why Marcus valued Albert so much despite he was a less capable virologist comparing to himself or William Birkin. As he is getting older, the sense of urgency grows stronger everyday. Alexia might be his last chance.

But Alexia thinks otherwise. Marcus is a lost cause. Apparently the old man didn't understand his situation. Despite his wide influence on the members of Umbrella Research, he has failed to transfer what he created to into mature products, as Spencer rightly criticized. Marcus didn't care about improving B.O.W. as much as creating it. Had he been more dedicated to the other aspect, the recent trials carried out on battleground wouldn't fail so miserably. Spencer was not the only one who dissatisfied with him in the company. He also missed the chance of raising other figures of power that could stop Spencer from swelling. But it's too late now. She realized that there was no one but herself and herself alone that she should rely upon.

Alexia asked for samples of Progenitor virus and T-virus, which Marcus gave to her. However, as suspicious as he has always been, Marcus didn't give her the substance that without which Progenitor virus would quickly render itself useless: a bacteria found on the surface of the Stairway of the Sun. The bacteria acts as an agent to suppress the viral mutation. When the bacteria is absent, Progenitor virus mutates rapidly, as Birkin correctly speculated. It was the secret which Marcus carefully guarded since the day he discovered it.

*********************************************************************************

"Wake up."

Philip pulled back the curtains to shower the room with sunlight. Wesker rolled off from his bed with sheets and pillows, calmly protesting.

"This is my place."

"You left the front door unlocked. How much did you drink last night? Read this."

Philip was waving something in front of his face, an unsealed letter. Wesker grabbed the letter and immediately noticed it was sent by John Clemens, Heather's brother.

"The letter was misdirected. John no longer works at U Chicago. That's why it missed him. He had no idea of where Heather went. They've lost contact since she left here. You know what this means?"

"It means Heather is missing and likely dead."

Wesker whispered to himself. It reminded him of what happened to Liam's parents. Death is a shadow to many who work at here. Marcus was right, Umbrella is for the people who are destined to live a chaotic life. There is something wrong with every single one of them. It's just a matter of time before the problem manifests itself.

But Philip didn't know what to do next. On the one hand, his suspicion has been proved, that Heather was taken against her will. On the other hand however, despite he worked closely with Marcus, there was no evidence to link Marcus to Heather's disappearance. And without doubt Marcus could walk off clean no matter what crime he is charged of. That's why Umbrella feeds an army of lawyers.

"Take a vacation and forget about the whole thing. If there is a conspiracy, then maybe it's not a coincidence that John's letter was misdirected. It's yourself that you should really worry about." Wesker told him.

Philip didn't respond, though his frustration was obvious. Wesker stroke his hair gently, without exactly knowing why he was doing it.

"Where is your boyfriend? I thought he's living with you." Philip brushed off his hand.

"Could you fix me some coffee? I need a shower."

On the kitchen table, Philip found an unfinished letter stuck in typewriter. It was a resignation. Next to the typewriter was a bottle of sleeping pills. He set the brass pot on stove. When the black liquid started boiling, he poured it into a cup. Somehow his hands got clumsy today.

"You think Umbrella is going to let you walk away in one piece?"

Philip handed him the cup. Wesker closed his eyes for a second,

"No. But I have to try."

"What about Birkin? Are you going to leave him like you left me, without telling him?"

Of course Wesker doesn't care. He used Birkin like he did with others around him. Now he has gathered enough intelligence on Progenitor and T-virus. He is done with him. Whatever goal he has next, there will always be someone else who would willingly used by him.

"Liam would be fine."

"That's a lie. Nobody is 'fine' here. He was just mad at you.

"I have to respect his decision, Philip."

"No. You just don't give a fuck about those who are close to you."

"What kind of fuck do you expect me to give? A lasting relationship? Sense of security? I will never be bound to anyone. Remember my mother? She was a brilliant pianist. Then she gave up her career after marrying my father because she wanted to be with him all the time, not giving tours. Now there is nothing but ash left of her. I can't be like her or you. I can't be that human."

He sighed and put the empty cup in sink.

"I didn't mean to scare you." He saw Philip's expression and added.

"I'm going to finish my resignation now, if you excuse me."

*********************************************************************************

Unlike Progenitor virus, T-virus is not subjected to rapid mutation. With a T-virus sample at his disposal, Wesker thought he has choice. More importantly, he would be liberated from the manipulation Marcus imposed on him. Although Philip was right in that Umbrella wouldn't just let him walk away with the virus, the non-compete would be practically useless at where he would set up his own research center. Unless Umbrella is open to forceful means.

Looking back, Wesker can only laugh at his own naivety.

The truth regarding Heather's whereabout was revealed unexpectedly and bluntly. The day after Wesker submitted his resignation, Marcus asked Wesker to meet him at his private laboratory, the existence of which was only known to few. The laboratory was built underground. Its entrance was located in his library. Wesker was granted access. Marcus allowed him to check on the data and even observing the experiment if he wants to. But he was kept out from the sensitive information such as the test subject in which T-virus was isolated.

Wesker didn't detect anything unusual from Marcus's voice through telephone. But when gate was opened, the smell of rotting flesh and blood almost emptied his stomach. Wesker covered his nose so he could observe the scene closely without throwing up. The pungent smell came from suspension chamber; its inside was covered by dried blood. He couldn't comprehend the situation until he got closer. From the sheer volume of blood being spread, there should be a body. It took him a while to confirm his speculation because the body inside chamber has lost its integrity; it was literally blew to small pieces. There was no facial identity reference. Although some anatomy traits indicated that the body was once a human female, the rest of the body parts suggested otherwise. He scanned over everything covered in blood until he finally found something.

"Oh, it's you. Don't worry about the mess. It's something else thing that I need you to take care of."

Marcus appeared from the adjunct laboratory. He was in a scrub soaked in sweat, exhausted, already immune to the odour.

"What did you do to Heather?"

Wesker found Heather's cracked goggle glasses covered by what once seemed to be liver tissues. Marcus frequently rotated his staff and assistances. The assistant director was the only exception. Before today Wesker thought it was just Marcus's eccentricity doing. He didn't realize what those cases of dismiss could imply until he saw, with his own eyes, Heather's flesh and blood.

*******************************************************************************

"So?"

Heather asked eagerly.

"Well, prior infection of invasive amebiasis will continue to produce IHA positive for five to ten years. You shouldn't rely on IHA as the only method to detect new infections, especially given the region you're studying has historically been an amebiasis endemic area. I know they don't have access to serologic test. So see if you can get the number on asymptomatic carriers, just to exclude the newly infected." Birkin handed back her paper.

"Thanks. I'll do what you advised."

"I should warn you that I'm not an expert on parasitical infection. But I know someone who does. Do you want a reference?"

"What I really need now is clinical data. But amebiasis is rare in developed world. I've applied for a position at West Cape Town. They have a department dedicated to amebiasis."

"So you're more into parasite, not virus."

"Two sides of the same coin." She smiled and blushed, "Any plan? It's Friday. Henry can drive us to the city."

"I can't. We have work to do."

"Please don't mind if I asked. Are you dating Doctor Wesker?"

Her voice gradually weaken as she was afraid to offend him. But Birkin just replied softly, "Yes. We're dating."

Heather felt lost but not disappointed. She knew she was reaching from the beginning. Why would someone who is as talented as him wants someone ordinary like her? Besides, Heather clutched to the paper in her hands; she could finally stopped blaming herself for agreeing to do what Marcus asked her.

Marcus wanted to know why Spencer put Birkin in the training program. Albert was supposed to be the only prospect this year. He demanded Heather to do the espionage.

"Isn't your brother having a difficult time with his superior? People who think for themselves tend to be ostracized. I can help him like I helped Sarton."

And he did. Marcus spoke to someone, and that person relieved John from his tighten situation. Heather, who was to devoted to her brother and who was too afraid to reject Marcus, was left to return the favor. She admired Birkin, which made the task even more difficult. The only thing she could bring herself to do was making copies of his research notes and passed them to Marcus. When being asked what else Birkin was doing, she told him that Birkin and Wesker were lovers. Not knowing the relationship between Wesker and Marcus, she didn't think it matters.

Then Birkin caught her, hands black. She didn't and couldn't explain for herself. Marcus was indifferent when Heather told him about it. He sent her back to work, as if nothing has happened.

A week later, she received a package from her brother. Like always, he decided on himself and bought her expensive ready-to-wear, though the size was sometimes mistaken. She cherished the gifts like cherishing him. Heather never belonged to the popular clique. She was a stutter until fifteen. There wasn't much she could do without being laughed at besides reading and doing practice questions. Her only friend was her brother. He would pick up fights with those who bullied her, and then came back home with bruises and blood. If their grandfather didn't make generous donations to the school, he would be expelled long ago.

She didn't wear what she received that day because scrub must be the only garment between her skin and the heavy protective suit. She was an efficient laboratory worker. Nothing has ever gotten wrong under her management. But her attention slipped that day while she was doing virus purification. A needle accidentally penetrated her rubber glove. She didn't realize the needle has penetrated her skin until she took off the rubber glove and saw the clogged blood stain on the white latex glove underneath. Even then, she didn't panic because they've been vaccinated against T-virus.

It was Saturday. She was the only one who was still working. Heather reported the incident and was immediately received by medical staff. At first she felt sorry for brining so much trouble. But then she was handed to the fully armed Umbrella Countermeasure Team, who were standing by next to a black helicopter. The soldiers detected her fear and took her by force before she could struggle or run away.

One valuable conclusion Marcus was able to draw from the incident was that the T-virus vaccine was ineffective to human despite its effectiveness to other mammals. Three days later, Heather's body was transferred back to the Research Center and stored in Marcus's private laboratory. The mutation doesn't really start until the host is dead. He watched the process taking place from a safe distance behind the consolidated glass. Light excites her and darkness calms her. The blood and tissue samples which were taken on daily basis before Heather was dead were also sent back, waiting to be analyzed. He should be able to make a better vaccine from it, the only question is if he wants to.

*******************************************************************************

"Adverse effect. I have to let her go before mutation goes out of control."

Marcus lit a cigarette.

"You infected her on purpose. So were the others whom you claimed were dismissed."

"It was an accident. The poor girl should be more careful around needles."

"Infection can be stopped at the earliest stage. Why didn't you give her the inhibitor?"

Wesker felt his blood went cold because he already knew the answer.

"In case you haven't realize, dear Albert. My work is the only thing that matters here." He put out the cigarette, "I won't let anyone or anything gets in my way. History came to me with a mission. I'm not going to evade it."

"What mission? Murder?"

At this point Wesker could barely contain his disdain. A strange sensation crawled down his spine as he assessed the possible scale of Marcus's criminal conduct. Was it fear that he felt? The fear that everything is permissible, and there is no real boundary to which extend that people stop and ask themselves if they have gone too far; or is it true that they can go as far as the ambition goes?

Must leave Umbrella, he told himself. Before he too ended up the same, not same as Heather, but same as Marcus.

Marcus chuckled, "If only you could see what I have seen, you will understand that death is a wonderful thing. Life cannot be transformed without it. That's where Spencer went wrong. You see, he thinks that death is not the beginning but the end. But he couldn't be further away from truth. T-virus only unleashes its full potential after the host is dead."

"I'm not doing this by my own will by the way" Marcus proclaimed, "I'm only an instrument through which the future is incubated. So are you and William Birkin. It's just that you haven't realize this yet."

The body parts, the steel laboratory equipments, the white celling, the reinforced surface spattered with human tissues, and the half-smoked cigarette have suddenly faded away from reality. There was nothing but self-consciousness left in the world of the young virologist. Wesker should be disgusted and denounced Marcus's insanity before he made more victims. But a little voice in his mind whispered, what if Marcus was right?

What Marcus masked with his clumsy lecture on historical spiritualism was nothing but the desire for control. Wesker could not point a finger at him because he too was obsessed with the ecstasy brought by power. It's like being too close to sun, between the narrow boundary which separates imminent destruction and imminent transcendence. He would do anything to sustain the ecstasy.

What made him joined Umbrella in the first place was the wish to fund his own enterprise. Yet after knowing Marcus and Liam, he realized how ignorant he was, not just of virology, but also of his own nature. All left was the irresistible curiosity too see where the virus would lead him to, and how far he is willing to go.

No, he must not let this madness consumes him.

*******************************************************************************

Wesker didn't show up for work. Birkin was going to look for him when the assistant director called in. He asked Birkin to meet him at the side of the lake, then hanged up before Birkin had chance to ask any question.

Birkin never really paid any attention to the assistant director; a man who was slightly older than Marcus, imperturbable and bureaucratic. Wesker had little regard for him, saying that the only purpose he served was to keep the facility running, since Marcus only cared about his research.

But the man who was waiting for him was not assistant director. It was a man whom Birkin has never met yet immediately recognized: Ozwell Spencer.

"Dr. Birkin, I've always wanted to congratulate you in person."

Spencer rolled up the wheelchair and stretched out his right hand. Birkin shook it. He was handsome, with grey hair and steel blue eyes, also amiable, or at least appeared to be so. Though his lower body was incapacitated, his upper body was more muscular than most of the men in his age. Marcus never brings up the names of other co-funders, let alone their past. Birkin didn't know more than the public does about him.

"Polio." Spencer told the young man, "Been in wheelchair since my late twenty."

Spencer was not formidable by any means, but pressure was bearing down on Birkin. Intuition told him that he should walk away from this meeting or something bad would result from it. Yet he dared not.

"What can I do for you?" He went straight to the point, trying to end the conversation as soon as he could.

"I'm going to tell you a story, Doctor Birkin."

What Spencer told Birkin remains unknown till this day.

Birkin spent the rest of the day digesting what he's been told. When Wesker found him wandering alone in the forest, Birkin spoke out first,

"I've been thinking about what you said. You were right. I need to stop being so obsessive with the new project."

He paused, observing Wesker's reaction, which gave nothing. So Birkin continued,
"I'll see what I can come up with T-virus."

Wesker didn't know what to say after witnessed what Marcus did. It has harden his determination to leave Umbrella. He has no one but himself to blame for what Marcus had done to him. But he refused to make more mistakes, and certainly not the mistake that involves taking lives from others. He couldn't be an accessory to Marcus's monstrous experimentation and then pretended it was justifiable. He was going to tell Birkin his decision to leave remained unchanged before Birkin said,

"But I need you by my side. I can't do this alone and I don't trust anyone else. So please, stay with me, don't go. I promise I'll be more practical from now on. I really do."

Birkin pleaded, like the time he pleaded Wesker not to forget him.

Chapter Text

The training center was shut down following the graduation of its two last prospects, who were now the executives of Umbrella Research. Spencer stepped in and made Marcus adjusted Wesker's disposition. Together, Birkin and Wesker were assigned to new location: the Arklay Laboratory. Philip Burnside was sent to Raccoon City for the new facility under construction. Henry Sarton became a new staff at Arklay Laboratory. Aside from assistant director and a few assistances, Marcus was left alone at Umbrella Research Laboratory with his research. His position as the chief director of Umbrella Research remained intact. At the same time, Birkin and Wesker were appointed to the Directors of the Arklay Laboratory. Birkin was seventeen and Wesker was nineteen that year.

The Arklay Laboratory was under the radar for years. Before Spencer took over the place, it was Marcus's responsibility to run it. But not only he had neglected the duty; he had also misappropriated the laboratory fund for his own use. The facility was extremely disorganized. Wesker was set out to restore it.

Not without justification, brows were raised over the new Umbrella executives, who were not just the youngest but also much stricter than their predecessors. Just like Birkin and Wesker, most of the staff were hand-picked and trained by Marcus. Some of them have even worked for the late Dr. Edward Ashford. Their sense of superiority was not based on their contribution but seniority. Wesker had to make it clear that the Marcus dynasty was over. Now they have a new master to serve.

Birkin was willing to surrender his administrative privilege to someone he trusted. Social interaction was not his strength. He doesn't have enough patience to deal with those who are as arrogant as himself yet only half competent as he is. After fired some of them, he left Wesker to dictate the administration affairs so he could concentrate on the real work. Wesker knew his career as a virologist has reached its peak after Birkin came along. He has no objection assisting Birkin in which ever way he can.

Their first year performance at Arklay Laboratory could only be rated as passable. Spencer ordered the laboratory to develop types of B.O.W. that could be massively manufactured in short period of time and are actually practical to use in warfare. The task was not as mentally exhausting as they've experienced back at the training center. But they were still under the pressure of its urgency.

The good news was Marcus is out of the picture. They have full liberty to do whatever they want now, which was what Birkin has been hoping for. But in the second year Marcus started to visit Arklay Laboratory a lot. Birkin saw his face more than he had in a year at the training center. It was strange because it was not really their research that Marcus took interest in. Inspection was only a pretense. Beyond that, he only talked to Wesker. When Marcus finally stopped coming, Wesker started to disappear again, once in a while without telling anyone where he went.

Birkin was disturbed despite he couldn't find a justification for his concern. The only thing he was assured of was that Wesker would never do anything to jeopardize his interest. He believed something bad was happening to him; and yet Wesker wouldn't tell him, no matter how far Birkin push for an answer. But this time he decided not to let the matter go easily.

Whatever the secret was, it must be something that concerned both Wesker and Marcus. That was apparent. Instead of approaching Wesker for an answer like he did last time, Birkin went to Marcus. Marcus was not least surprised by his visit or irritated by his questions. But he turned Birkin away, skillfully, in a manner that Birkin couldn't protest, without really answering his question. When Wesker learned that Birkin had gone to Marcus, he was furious. He told Birkin not to go near that man ever again. Birkin had never seen Wesker being overwhelmed by rage. It frustrated Birkin even more that Wesker didn't even care about how concerned he was.

"What's going on between you two? Are you selling youserlf to him?"

Birkin scorned at him on purpose, knowing Wesker wouldn't tolerate such humiliation. But he wanted his attention so much. Any kind of attention would do, a punch on his face would do. He hated that Wesker was so detached and cold.

They had a quarrel, which was again something without precedence, not even when Wesker told Birkin that he was going to leave Umbrella. The quarrel then turned into a fight. Before Birkin realized what was going on, Wesker has already seized him by his neck with his right hand, nearly strangled him. It was the same hand that used to play for him; the same hand that once gently caressed his body. Birkin tried to fight him off, but he forgot how strong Wesker is.

Strangely, it was not fear that occupied Birkin's mind. Even at the moment when Birkin was passing into oblivion, it was the desire of wanting to be taken by him that became most clear.

Birkin's fingernails carved deeply into his skin. He caught a glimpse at Wesker's eyes and then struggled to bring him closer to him until he could see nothing but his blue irises. Then, he bit into Wesker's lips, hard, so hard that he could taste his blood.

The bite had gradually softened, until their lips came to find each other. Blood was dripping down from the corners of their mouths. For the first time in his life, Birkin felt he was real, as real as a man could be. He was made real because of him.

*********************************************************************************

Wesker told Birkin everything that happened between him and Marcus. Birkin said he was sorry. Wesker told him not to be. He left the room soon after Birkin fell asleep next to him. His brain wouldn't stop buzzing. He had to take barbiturate to put himself at ease. The pain from his lips had subsided long ago, leaving a visible bite mark. However, even after the drug had taken effect, Wesker couldn't bring himself to sleep or even to simply sit down. He was thinking about Marcus. Liam said Marcus turned him away without doing anything. Wesker knew Birkin didn’t lie. Even if he wanted to, he wouldn’t be able to sustain a lie in front of him. Still, the thought of what Marcus could have done to Birkin made him cringed.

The day he found out Heather was killed, Marcus gave Wesker a sample of T-virus vaccine. It would worth a fortune once T-virus is weaponized. In return, he asked Wesker to wipe out the evidence that could link him to Heather's death. Wesker told Marcus he won't cover up his crime. And Marcus said,

"Aren't you leaving Umbrella? But Birkin is not going anywhere. What about Philip? Do you wish misfortunate falls on him? Accident happens all the time. Who's going to vouch for them?"

"You don't have the power to do that."

"Here is what you haven't realize yet, Albert, that I'm trying to be merciful. Had I be more selfish, I'd release the virus in sewage. What do you think is going to happen next? But you don't care, do you?"

The next thing Wesker saw himself doing was throwing his fist at the old man. With full mouth of blood, Marcus grinned at him, "I have deadman trigger set up in this facility. If I die, the virus goes out. If you don't do what I say, the virus goes out. And if anyone else found out about this, the virus goes out."

**********************************************************************************

Birkin was a child, no matter how brilliant he was as a scientist. Birkin's trust in him almost resembles faith. Wesker blamed himself for letting the trust to build, and he hated himself even more for not wanting to betray that trust. But to not betrayed the trust he must betray himself. He wanted Birkin to love him, that was true. But it was also true that he cannot let this continue, which, he understood very well that it wouldn't be if he made it clear to Birkin that it was never his intention to mislead him, that their relationship couldn't possibly go anywhere with Marcus breathing down his neck. But then it occurred to him that he has already failed miserably at making a persuasive case even to himself. He cares about him, to a greater extend than he previously imagined since they've known each other.

When Wesker left training center for his new post, he didn't ask logistic crew to itemized the harpsichord. It was left there to rot, along with Marcus and his wish to leave Umbrella.

************************************************************************

Wesker started the day's task ahead so to save both of them from a conversation about last night. His concern was unnecessary, however. Birkin showed up with the most serious look on his face since he known him. Before Wesker had a chance to speak, Birkin announced in a confrontational tone, "News from Antartica Base last night, they've isolated a new variant from T-virus, code name Veronica."

"By Alexia Ashford, I assumed?"

"Who else could it be? Her retarded brother? A ten-year old beat us, unbelievable."

Birkin sounded like damaged dignity. Wesker read the communication, which was distributed across Umbrella Research this morning.

"The virus is useless if it couldn't be used to manufacture weapons. Veronica is inferior to T-virus in terms of its mutation rate. The virus is unstable and the host survival rate is contingent at best. The host will die in an hour."

"Stop brainwashing me with other its defect, Albert. And Stop talking about what it can or cannot be achieve as a weapon. I'm not interested in its weaponry potential, or how it's not going to optimize the organism's combat capacity. It doesn't matter to me. I haven't created anything worth to bear my name since I joined Umbrella! Don't you see how disgraceful this is to me? A slap on me by a girl that is still suckling thumb?"

Birkin stormed out of the room, leaving the staff staring awkwardly at Wesker. Birkin was trying his best not to make G-virus his only priority. But his obsession often prevailed. Wesker didn't want to press too hard. He carefully constructed a balance between satisfying Birkin's agenda and Spencer's demand. But it probably won't last much longer.

*******************************************************************************

Before Alexia Ashford made her name known, Birkin and Wesker were already under Spencer's constant pressure to design new B.O.W. Soon the Hunter-Alpha project was conceived. Wesker was overseeing the collaboration with other departments. Birkin was working on preliminary testing. They have to get the project approved by the board so to initiate mass production. The first test failed due to the weapon's physical vulnerability, despite its promising lethality and speed.

Wesker solved the problem by altering a chromosome that affects the integumentary system. The organism is then able to generate keratinized surface tissue, thereby increases its durability and defense capacity. The only problem was that the process is time consuming and must be introduced manually to each organism. Birkin on the other hand was seeking a permanent solution. He wants to eliminate the inherited weakness in the organism by altering the mechanism of the T-virus. But what he attempted to fill was a bottomless pit. Wesker told Birkin that he was not being realistic, at least not at the current stage. The time and resources invested simply couldn't justify its dimming prospect. Even Marcus had given up, claiming that clone is the only solution to meet the demand of mass production.

It was the first time that Wesker realized that the divergence between him and Birkin was irreconcilable. Birkin, like Marcus, didn't care whether the outcome of his research could be applied to real world situation. The atmosphere of valuing scholar merit over profit was seen as a positive thing in Umbrella Research due to Marcus's influence.

Being the one who keeps the ship from sinking, Spencer must groom the board to continue investing Umbrella Research, which was a private entity owned by him. But the profit generated by Umbrella Research, especially prior to the creation of T-virus, was rather disappointing comparing to Umbrella Pharmaceutic. Spencer was struggling to keep the cost low. Still the profit generated failed to match investors' expectation. The hope was set high because in exchange for extravagant fund, Dr. Marcus, the chief director of the Research, has promised the board a highly lucrative future. But it was left to Spencer to carry out these promises. Naturally, Spencer was not happy about Marcus's performance.

Wesker didn't know much about Spencer at that time. However he could understand the trouble Spencer was facing. Although Umbrella Research holds Progenitor virus and T-virus in its hands, the technology was not being effectively transformed into marketable weapons because Marcus didn't care about Spencer's situation as long as his research was sufficiently funded. He would reluctantly come up with something if Spencer threaten to cut off his fundings completely. But the tactic couldn't be deployed often because first, Marcus was the only one who controlled the core technique after Edward Ashford past away; and second, the board of directors revere Marcus because T-virus has doubled their share value, even though no one but the creator himself really understands how powerful the virus is.

Marcus became even more intractable in recent years. He was indulging in his own secret project and refused to share anything with Spencer. It was the primary motivation for Spencer to shut down the training center. Not just setting up a new research team but also to stop Marcus from spreading his influence. If Spencer couldn't touch Marcus due to his status as one of the co-founders and the father of Progenitor virus and T-virus, he could however weaken Marcus's power by isolating him. Marcus was not totally ignorant to Spencer's intention, but it was already too late for him to do anything.

Meanwhile, Spencer has found a candidate who could replace Marcus. That person, as many have reckoned, is Birkin. And indeed Birkin, though not without eccentricity, didn't disappoint Spencer. Within the span of one year he has isolated a sub-type T-virus independently. Even though it was one step late, he has demonstrated his competence. That is why Marcus never laid his hand on Birkin. He knew the boy was related to Spencer and must be kept at distant. He couldn't kill him either. Unlike what he made Wesker believed, Marcus was afraid of Spencer's retaliation. He used to put his hope on Wesker. But what he didn't expect was not only Wesker couldn't surpass Birkin. The two became close friends.

*********************************************************************************

It was under such circumstance that Wesker first met Spencer. After they arrived at the Arklay Laboratory, a young woman led them to Spencer's helicopter. He was waiting them. Unlike Marcus, Spencer was more of a politician than scientist. He had very little time so he cut out the formality. A new virus which causes hemorrhagic fever in humans was discovered in Democratic Republic of Congo, near Zaire River. The virus has high lethality rate. Umbrella had obtained a sample from the Belgium government. He asked them to assess its viability in making new B.O.W. before leaving. The young woman stayed.

Birkin devoted his attention to the report about the newly discovered virus, which better known as Ebola, ignoring the young woman standing next to him. He didn't care what Spencer's liaison has to say. He thought she was just another "assistant director", the puppet whom Spencer used to spy on Marcus. She was young and delicately built. Her face was pale even under radiation of sunlight; and her eyes and cheeks were sunken for how thin she was, yet she didn't appear frail because the way she carried herself. A young executive like him and Birkin maybe. Wesker almost believed he has met her somewhere before since he sensed a strange familiarity. But that couldn't be the case, he never forgets a face.

"I'm Alex Wesker." She introduced herself.

"Albert Wesker. This is William Birkin."

"I know. I've heard a lot about Doctor Birkin."

Birkin barely nodded.

"But not all stories are well-meant. Some say you are autistic. I'm sure that's not true?"

"'Some' are allowed to say whatever they want if they could just leave me alone."

Birkin flipped over one page and said aloofly, while Wesker laughed in silence.

The three remained on the same spot where the helicopter left them. None of them made any attempt to leave where they were standing, as if the landing ground was just as good as any other places for a pleasant conversation. It was just an ordinary day in the midsummer, the air was floral and dry. However bright sunlight was a burden to Wesker now. His eyes were injured in an accident few months ago. He was fortunately enough to have his vision fully restored, but his eyes became extremely sensitive to light. Doctor said that he must wear shades when he is exposed to radiation.

Leaving Birkin to himself as he wished, Alex turned to Wesker. She worked for Umbrella Intelligence Bureau, a mysterious agency of which the function is unclear to most of the employees on technical side. The only thing Wesker was certain of about IB was that it gave her higher security clearance.

"You should join IB. I can see through others; and I can see that you're not really interested in virology, Unlike your dear friend here."

Wesker couldn't help but wondering, did she know what happened between him and Marcus? Or was it simply that he has left traces behind him when erasing the evidence for Marcus?

"Can you tell me what kind of man is Spencer?" He diverted the conversation.

She laughed, "He is the most realistic man among all the fanatics who are obsessed with English furnitures."

Certainly Alex didn't try to hide her brutal honesty and fervent emotions. The tension built up inside her has far exceeded her natural age. But among all the qualities she possessed, it was the untamed hatred against Spencer, which was obvious in her expression, that surprised Wesker most.

"I think you should know this. I was the one who left the confidential file in your hotel room back in Vienna."

The sudden revelation didn't produce as much effect as Wesker thought it would.

"You are saying my recruitment was orchestrated."

"Umbrella does far more than fueling biowarfare. Keep that in mind. That's why I'm telling you this. So you'll understand why you need to prepare for all kinds of...possibilities."

Neither Wesker nor Alex tried to hide what they were talking from Birkin; they all knew it wouldn't matter the slightest to him. He was fully immersed in the description about Lisa Trevor, a human test subject who has been confined in the Research Center for eleven years before being transferred to Arklay Laboratory. She was the only human being who survived the injection of Progenitor virus and T-virus, though one could hardly say that "she" is still a human.

Liam started asking Alex questions about Lisa Trevor. Wesker pretended to listen but was quietly reflecting on what she just said. He remembered his former colleague, who called in sick and couldn't make it to the conference. Wesker went on his behalf and met Marcus there, which led to the rest of the story. Was it Marcus who set up everything?

No, not even once had Marcus mention the file which Wesker found in his hotel room. He assumed it wasn't Alex's decision either, however she was the one who executed it. It was Spencer. The conviction was so strong that it left no space for other speculations. For unknown reason, Spencer intended that he must become an Umbrella employee. He went so far as to show him the sensitive material. But why?

"Tell me more about Spencer. Do you pledge your loyalty to him?"

Edward Ashford was dead. Marcus is losing his power. Among all the Umbrella co-founders, the only person Wesker had no clear knowledge of was him.

"I can't tell you more than what you already know. I do what I was told, like rest of the Bureau."

"What does Spencer want?"

"That's a good question. But I don't know the answer."

"I thought you can see through people."

Alex looked straight into his eyes. She was still smiling, though with visible enervation.

"I'm sick, Albert, and I don't think I can hold on much longer. "

Then they stopped talking. Before the helicopter took off with her, Wesker called out from an impulse,

"What's destroying your body can be fixed......"

"There won't be a fix. My immune system is killing itself." She said. "You have no idea how happy I am to meet you. You'll understand everything in due time, I promise."

There was so much sincerity in her voice. But Wesker couldn't hear it because her voice was overwhelmed by the noise made by helicopter airscrew.

*********************************************************************************

Birkin stormed out of the room, leaving the staff staring awkwardly at Wesker. Young and gifted, they already achieved what would take most people a lifetime to complete. But whatever they accomplished, the accomplishment would always be outshined by someone else's. Yet one misstep surely means fall from grace. This is the life in Umbrella, and the reason that Umbrella was able to flourish in such speed and scale.

Birkin shut the door behind him. Here was the perfect space to be alone, the adjunction attached to Lisa Trevor's container chamber. The chamber was constructed as single prison cell. Researchers can monitor her safely from here. But the protocol specified that no one is allowed to enter the chamber before the subject is fully incapacitated. That goes without saying. Lisa Trevor has killed five researchers in the past two years. If she was not one of the most valuable test subject, her endurance and aggressiveness would make her an excellent bio-organism weapon. But on the other hand, her cognition was no longer viable. It would be impossible to control her through sensual cues.

Birkin still remembers the first time he learned about Lisa's existence, not from Alex, but from Spencer. Before Spencer told him the real substance of Umbrella Research, he could hardly believe that Umbrella was carrying out human experiments. But belief is only a matter of habit. He found the fact hard to accept. Not because of his sense of morality, it was simply that he was not used to the idea of human experimentation. Once the fear for forbidden knowledge was breached, what was waiting for him was the excitement for endless possibilities.

Lisa was the reason that why Marcus was one step ahead of him. T-virus was first isolated from her stem cell. But now Lisa and other resources are married to G-virus project. They are the rewards which Spencer promised to him in exchange for persuading Wesker to stay at Umbrella.

Birkin didn't turn on the light. The only source of brightness is radiated by the lights in the hallway. He swears he can hear Lisa breathing. But the chamber is supposed to be sound-proof.

His mind immediately starts to race through the data which he received yesterday. True, he is frustrated, but for him the salvation can only come from intellectual brilliance. To defeat Ashford, he needs to do more and do better.

No, he is more than frustrated. He's tortured by the fact that Alexia Ashford has claimed everyone's attention. A ten-year-old. A genius like himself, only even younger and more gifted. Her achievement is engraved in everyone's memory and couldn't be erased by any means. The war is already lost. Is there a point to fight the battle?

Birkin has injected Lisa with the Zaire virus he received. Wesker thinks the virus doesn't have the potential to be incorporated into B.O.W. like T-virus. The virus by itself is already an effective bioweapon, but it has no use in weaponizing organism. The problem again is because it's unstable, just like T-Veronica. Birkin agreed. Nevertheless, precisely because its high mutation rate, it could be used as a vehicle to generate new variants. That was why he tried it on Lisa first. She has survived the infection of Progenitor virus and T-virus. He wanted to see if Zaire was going to alter the T-virus in her body. But the test result returned nothing. Nothing, not even a raise on white cell level. But again, Lisa was, strictly speaking, no longer a human due to the mutations her body underwent over the past ten years. She might not fit the biochemical index tailored for Homo sapiens. Birkin didn't want to give up yet. But maybe Wesker was right, that he was being unpractical. If he wants to surpass Alexia Ashford, his best bet for now is the Hunter-Alpha project.

The door opened. Wesker sits down next to him. Lisa goes quiet again. Birkin relaxes his body a little by leaning on Wesker's shoulder. The memories about Jenner resurfaced, along with the realization that he has changed a lot over the past two years. The two horses in his mind are pulling at different directions again. The black horse is whispering success, what a strange word; he never wants success; he just can't tolerate failure. Sometimes he is afraid that he couldn't turn back even if he wants to. He is afraid that one day he might lose control over himself. He is rushing ahead without knowing where the end would be. Just like he begins with wanting to resurrect the man he used to love and yet ends up conspiring against the man he is loving.

The days back at training center are probably the only days that the two have ever truly experienced happiness. But now things have changed, with the growing divergence between them, Birkin is afraid that their relationship is only going to get worse from here.

"Take off the shades. It's dark in here"

Soon they were laughing together and their limbs onto each other. Birkin ended up in Wesker's arms. They kissed for a while before Birkin realized that Wesker's attention was on something else.

"What's wrong?"

Wesker recalled, "I met Alexia Ashford two years ago. Remember Marcus had a party which you didn't want to go? She pretended she was lost. Marcus showed up and interrupted her prank. The look in her eyes... I think she was only six back then."

"Henry said she's nothing like her grandfather. But not many have seen her. Most rumors are about her now. Before they were about me and you, and us." Birkin leaned on Wesker's shoulder, "What should I do? I don't stand a chance against someone like her."

"It's still too early for self-deprecation." Wesker told him, "Your position would be secured once the Hunter Project succeeds, and it will."

"I don't really care about my position. It's just...I'm not used to being Second." Birkin chuckled at his own immaturity, "Do you think Alexia is better than me?"

"No, she's not better than you. But you need to give people time to correct the false impression."

His assurance always comforted him. Yet Birkin could no longer savor the sweetness in his words like he used to.

******************************************************************************

The Hunter-Alpha project was going well as planned. Birkin however was getting ever more irritated due to the accumulated pressure from both sides: himself and others. Some researchers have been publicly comparing him with Alexia Ashford, and they thought it was a good idea to mourn the late Dr. Edward Ashford in his presence. Usually Wesker would talk him off the edge, so he could continue without thinking too much about what those idiots have said. But one day he finally snapped. Birkin grabbed someone's coffee and threw it across the room. It missed its target and landed on an innocent researcher. The black liquid inside splashed across her shirt. Fortunately it was cold.

The girl couldn't be much older than him. Trying to save both of them from embarrassment, she cleaned herself without making a scene, as if she had accidentally spilled it on herself. Birkin didn't know how to apologize. He had never apologize to anyone or for anything in his life. But looking at the girl and her coffee-dripping blouse, he could only feel sorry for what he has done.

"What's your name? I'm sorry...I mean I'm sorry for what I did..."

Birkin said in a desperate tone.

"It's Annette."

"Whom do you answer to?"

"Dr. Collins. But he's leaving."

Despite Birkin's violent outburst, the girl didn't seem to blame him. On the contrary, her voice soothes him. Somehow in this chaos the only thing Birkin noticed was her delicate wrists. Later, Birkin checked Annette's resume and evaluation. Turns out that she's overqualified for what she's doing now. Collins never knows how to put people into right use. Birkin could always use more hands. Annette gladly accepted his offer.

Wesker learned this episode only later through other's account. Meanwhile, he took the afternoon off because Marcus wanted to see him. Marcus has stopped seeking sexual favor now. The things he wants Wesker to do are exclusively related to evidence disposal. He complained that Spencer is taking away his staff one by one since the closedown of training center. Soon there would be no one but himself left. Wesker has been collecting samples from the disposed material. He wants to know what Marcus is up to. Unless it's something greater than the creation of T-virus, Spencer would be done with him soon.

Sometimes he thinks of Alex's suggestion for a transfer to IB. But IB is under Spencer's direct command. Yet he knows almost nothing about him. Besides, what has happened in Vienna still puzzled him to a huge extend. He doesn't feel safe sailing in uncharted area. Alex appeared to be his sympathizer, but he didn't know whether he should trust her. What's more, people believed that he was Marcus's favorite student. Naturally, the two of them are seen as a clique. It's not true, but the impression is widely acknowledged. Marcus doesn't get alone with Spencer. If Wesker switches side now without demonstrating his loyalty and competence first, Spencer would only get suspicious.

That night Wesker went to Birkin. Birkin wasn't expecting it. He thought Wesker was mad at him after what he said to him that day. But then he stopped thinking. The only thing Birkin wanted was him, and he has him now, even it only for one night.

Birkin wanted to explain for the things he had said. But Wesker was already gone the next morning when he woke up. And Birkin has work to do as well. His anxiety has improved since Annette joins him. For a moment he even forgot about Alexia Ashford. Maybe he and Wesker could spend more time together like they used to. Maybe things would return to the way it was.

"Doctor Birkin."

Annette stopped him in the hallway, "Before you ask, I've asked the lab to run the sample again. Now listen to me, Lisa's routine examination shows that a mutated variant of T-virus is likely to exist in her..."

Birkin snatched the report from Annette's hands and quickly read through it. Annette already ordered a screening to find out if the new virus they discovered is indeed a new T-virus variant.

Suddenly the siren broke out. System feedback shows that there is a containment breach at Lisa Trevor's chamber. Birkin and Annette rushed to the Level on which her chamber is located. The echo of her scream can be heard from far away. The researchers who escaped told them that Lisa woke up during the process of sample collection. She killed the male researcher and then torn off the face from the woman researcher. Dr. Wesker was present when the incident took place.

Birkin told Annette to leave with others as the emergency procedure automatically initiated. Soon the entire Level would be under quarantine, meaning that all the entrances and exits would be shut off until the Countermeasure Team removes the emergency status. Oxygen supply will be cut-off. They have to get out now.

"Wait, aren't you coming with me?"

"I have to find Wesker. Just go."

Soon Birkin is the only one left. Lisa's chamber is located at the end of the hallway, where the trail of blood vanished. The gate is wide opened and inside are the bodies of two researchers. Lisa has escaped and is probably roaming somewhere inside the facility. Birkin assumes Wesker is not harmed, or at least not dead because he is not here. His breath is getting more rapid as the amount of oxygen declines. He realizes that he has no means to defend himself. The electroshock launcher is emptied. Apparently there was s shot-and-miss. Maybe Wesker has already escaped. Just when he thinks he has done something stupid, someone puts an oxygen mask on his face.

"Wait inside and don't leave until I come back. "

Wesker said to him. He's carrying another spare of electroshock launcher on his shoulder. Birkin wants to know where he found it, but his words were muffed by the mask. The gate can only be shut from outside. Wesker locked the entrance from the control panel. Birkin removed the mask and asked where is he going.

"I need to find Lisa before the Countermeasure Team does. Let's say they have a particular way in terminating test subject that is going to cause inconvenience for your work. I read the report by the way. Congratulate."

But the only thing Birkin wants now is Wesker wouldn't get killed.

It's not difficult to locate a living being in the facility. Carbon dioxide sensors are installed everywhere. The sensors wouldn't be much use under ordinary condition. But during emergency they are accurate indictors for sign of life. The only problem is that its backstage is only accessible through the Protocol, which Wesker doesn't have access to. He went to the nearest telephone, dialed the number which Alex gave to him.

Alex laughed after Wesker explained the situation to her. She logged into the Protocol and told him that Lisa is hiding in the male locker room located on the same Level, and she's been there for a while, which means either she is dead or something catches her attention.

Wesker thanked her. Before hanging up, Alex asked him if he had considered her suggestion. Wesker said it's not yet the time for him to join IB. Alex acknowledged his decision, and warned him that the Countermeasure Team has arrived.

The locker room light is off. The electroshock launcher has only one load. Wesker has never used a weapon before. But somehow the task doesn't appear challenging at all. Fear of death never occurs. It exists as a distant possibility in his imagination. To a virologist, death is only a matter of metabolism cessation.

He can hear Lisa's breathing and his own heart beats in the dark. They discovered each other almost at the same time. Before Wesker could have a glimpse at what Lisa was doing, his index finger had pulled the trigger. A blue spark bursted out from the launcher. A shadow leaped onto the roof and then fell on the ground. The next thing Wesker knew was that the Countermeasure Team has stormed in. They would have fired indiscriminately if Wesker did not shout out first.

Lisa, being incapacitated, is wearing the face she torn off from the researcher.

It's not the first time that a researcher was killed by Lisa. But it's the first time that Lisa had escaped her cell. Wesker motioned to increase the security of her containment. His motion was rejected by the higher executive because Lisa should have been terminated long ago after the very first incident which killed a researcher. Spencer has been withholding the incident reports from them, that's why Lisa is till alive. Spencer knows that Lisa is the crucial component to Birkin's success.

********************************************************************************

The end of the second year at Arklay Laboratory is approaching. Sadly Christmas does not exist down here. Birkin devoted every bit of his energy to the Hunter-Alpha project. His staff looked like they haven't sleep forever. The mysterious virus isolated from Lisa's body resembles neither Progenitor virus or T-virus. The virus is entirely new. Birkin has not yet gets his hands on it. So far he has been reasonably realistic by focusing on the Hunter Project. The news that Alexia Ashford wasn't able to create new type of B.O.W. from T-Veronica has encouraged him to perfect Hunter.

Birkin and Wesker don't have time for each other anymore. They would sleep on the same bed. But usually they were too tired to do anything other than sleep. Wesker noticed that Birkin has the same assistant by his side for almost five months now. It goes without saying that Birkin only chooses those who are the most intelligent and conscientious. Nevertheless it doesn't obstruct the fact that the girl has a sweet face. Birkin is not famous for his social skill. It's not easy to work with him. His temper matches the typical stereotype about genius. The longest period his chief assistant lasted was three weeks, before the poor guy pleaded to be transferred. It seems that Birkin has finally found someone who is willing to put up with his hectic habits and demands. Perhaps it's because of her, Birkin has been less anxious lately. He still gets agitated sometimes. But like always, Wesker never reacts to his outburst. He knows Birkin must rant it out to someone, if it helps to keep him on track.

Meanwhile, Marcus has completely disappeared from the public. Wesker has analyzed the sample he collected from Marcus's laboratory waste the last time they met, which was six months ago. Marcus was experimenting on annelids. Wesker is not sure about Marcus's objective. In alignment with his predication, all the specimen died immediately after the injection, and there is no trace of meaningful mutation either. Wesker doesn't understand what the seclusive old man is trying to do. He should consult Birkin, but he shouldn't add extra weight to his load. Now that Marcus has stopped bothering him, it's the time to finally put an end on this.

**********************************************************************************

It's three in the morning. Birkin and Annette are the only ones working now. Annette is waiting for DNA sequencer to print out the data. Birkin, who couldn't sleep, is wondering about the dead embryos from last experiment. While he's staring blankly at the white board, Wesker walks in. He told him that he would be off to Raccoon City tomorrow. The corporate is having a meeting. Since Birkin entrusted all the administrative affair to him, he needs to attend it on the laboratory's behalf. Birkin listened absently, not absorbing the information at all. Wesker looks at Annette, knowing she would repeat to Birkin what he just said later.

Wesker was supposed to return in the same day. But the train from Raccoon City broke down and he was forced to spend the night in town. He caught the first train the next morning. But he couldn't find Birkin anywhere in the office. Just when he was about to leave, the ringing phone stopped him. Lisa has killed another woman researcher and torn off her face as a tribute. Fortunately the containment didn't breach this time.

Birkin and Annette showed up together. The victim is not on duty today. No one knows what she is doing in Lisa's cell. When Annette found out the identity of the deceased woman, she turned back and sobbed in silence. It was her friend.

It becomes clear now that Lisa didn't attack to kill. She just wants the face. Has she regained self-consciousness? Does this mean that her cognition has improved? The new virus discovered in her body must have stirred a change like Birkin expected.

"Can I get you anything?"

"No. Thank you. I can't swallow." Annette wipes the tears off from her cheek, "I thought I could collect her body, but the blood..." Her face went pale again.

As far as gender stereotype goes, Annette never complains about the experiments they carry on Lisa even though they are clearly unethical if not criminal. Yet she is not the kind who seeks pleasure from other's pain. She is mellow and gentle. Birkin doesn't understand how a girl like Annette would choose this job. Now she has lost her friend to the creature. Maybe she couldn't continue anymore.

While Birkin is comforting Annette, Wesker directs the staff to clean up the scene. Umbrella has a procedure to do away with the personnel who are killed in experiments. Wesker is not sure that Spencer wants to hear another incident regarding Lisa, who's sitting quietly in the cell. She's very fond of her new face.

******************************************************************************

"It's beautiful."

The Hunter Project has reached its final stage. The two were admiring its latest product.

Birkin is in awe. He couldn't remember when was the last time that he feels this proud for his work. As Spencer envisioned, Hunter can eliminate enemies who survived the initial bio-attack. Since Hunter project is concluded, Wesker decided to take a short break. Birkin is going to continue the study on the new variant he isolated from Lisa's cell. Annette is there to assist him.

The news regarding Hunter Project has also reached Antartica Base. Alexia was not happy when she received it. Like Marcus, she hasn't been able to make new type of B.O.W. from the virus she created, which would practically rendered her invention useless. What she doesn't understand is how comes T-veronica falls short than the subtype T-virus created by Birkin. Both Alexander and Marcus have warned her that T-Veronica is too aggressive. But Alexia didn't take their advice. She wants a virus that can "evolute" its host through sheer infection, directly, without the intervention of bio-engineering. So far none of her attempts succeeds because the hosts couldn't survive the side effects.

After the last trial failed, Alexia wrote to Cecelia for her advise, which turned out to be very different from Marcus's and her father's. Cecelia told her that the problem is not with the virus but the host she chose; they were too weak.

"Perhaps it has never crossed your mind" Cecelia wrote, "But what you really want is not the perfect weapon but a vessel that can deliver a powerful new race. A mission that we all know only the selected few are ready to receive."

Alexia burnt the letter after reading it. She thought it was ridiculous, and she shouldn't be seeking advise from a crazy old woman who wants to be god. Still, the word 'powerful' was appealing to her. One thing Cecelia did remind her of was that maybe she should make some changes in the host before infecting them, just to narrow down the mistakes.

Clock points at nine. It is still bright outside. She leaves behind task momentarily to check on Alfred, who is doing his homework. The governess immediately retreated after seeing her. Alexia corrected the mistakes for him before taking him out for some fresh air. Alexander says they should stay indoor, fearing they might catch cold. But like always, Alexia was unswayed.

Alfred made friend with a test subject, who was a boy at his own age. His family were kidnapped from a nearby village and were since imprisoned in the base. They died from experiments one by one. Somehow Alfred got to know the boy and the whole matter escaped Alexia's attention until a servant reported it. She didn't like that Alfred had concealed a secret from her. So she killed the boy and the servant who informed against them. Alfred stopped talking to her for a while. But children don't have long lasting memory. She is his beloved sister after all.

Unlike most viruses known, T-Veronica strives under cold temperature, perhaps because it was created at Antarctica. Alexia remembered the very first strain of the virus was isolated from the body of a lost oceanologist. He was separated from his team by a snowstorm. Security found him wondered outside the base and took him back. There weren't many visitors here. Driven by curiosity, Alexia treated him, fed him, entertained him, listened to him talking about his wife and children before infecting him with T-virus. Surprisingly, the man lasted for two days before the mutation finally kicked in. The creature made so much noise that it attracted Alfred's attention. He was not afraid however, unlike her coward father. So Alexia gave him a tour in the laboratory facility. That was probably how Alfred found the prison.

She went back to work after sending Alfred to bed.

**********************************************************************************

It's late in the night when Wesker arrived at the reclusive house, where Philip is living now. He is standing on the porch, looking at his direction. He looks much younger than before. It seems that whatever he is doing now must be easier than the things that Marcus had asked him to do back at the training center. Philip told him that Umbrella is constructing an underground facility at Raccoon City. Soon it will be completed. For now he is working at a temporary research center.

Maria thanked Wesker for the treatment program that he had gotten her into and then bids them goodnight before retreating to her room. Like Annette, she sees everything but says nothing.

"How are you doing? I heard Hunter was a great success."

"Spencer was pleased."

"That's why you came after these years. Always with a hidden agenda."

Even though no one can hear them, Philip leads Wesker outside.

"There, Orion."

He looks up to the sky.

"Rigel is there and Betelgeuse is there." Philip points out after him.

They sit down on grass. Philip is not actually mad at him. He just hates himself for knowing him so well.

"What did you do to the telescope I gave you?"

"It's in the study. I used it from time to time."

"I'm glad you still find it useful."

"I treasure what I have."

Then silence took over. A cloudless night, and it makes him happy, or is it because the man lying next to him?

"I thought you were gonna leave Umbrella?"

"I changed my mind."

"Because of him?"

"No."

"Ever regretted?"

"Sometimes."

"Why are you interested in Spencer?"

"I want to know what he's after."

"Marcus told us that Spencer is running a secret laboratory at West Africa for eugenics.

"Eugenic?"

"My reaction exactly. Can you imagine that? Marcus was probably just throwing mud at him. Also; one more thing that is more credible but less relevant to what you're looking for; Marcus said Spencer has an adopted daughter. She also works for Umbrella."

"I think I know her."

"Then maybe you should ask her, not me."

"That's not what I'm here for. Shall I prove it to you?"

Suddenly Wesker got on top of him. They stared at each other until Philip bursted out laughing.

"You looked hilarious when trying to be serious."

"I didn't know that." Wesker rolled back, disappointed.

That night Wesker stayed in guest room. Philip went back to Maria. He was thinking about many things which he thought Wesker deserves to know. But none of it made to his tongue the next morning.

"Come back again. He won't say it. But you know what he thinks." Maria looks at Philip, who pretended he didn't hear it.

**********************************************************************************

Birkin and Annette are having a fight. That's the first thing Wesker sniffed in the air since he returned. Birkin is easy to read, and Annette looks exhausted and frustrated. When Wesker was absent, Birkin took the liberty to occupy his room, and it continued after he was back. Wesker found Birkin on his sofa every night. He was trying to avoid Annette in his private life. Sometimes they ended up together in his bed. Birkin never talks about what happened between him and Annette. He doesn't know how to bring up their relationship to him, giving that he doesn't know how to put an end between him and Wesker. But now he just wants relief. He is being his old self again, anxious and self-obstructing.

As much as Wesker would like to, he knows he couldn't keep an eye on Birkin forever. Birkin needs a family. He must have something he could retreat into before he destroys himself with endless work and self-imposed torments. He wants him to be happy.

Birkin has changed in a good way since he begins dating Annette. He became less agitated, less reclusive, and less obsessive about what other people think about Alexia Ashford. She adored Birkin and admired him unconditionally like a mother to her son. Despite Birkin's accomplishment, he is still a young man who has a troubled past. Wesker had commenced a search on his missing parents by utilizing his father's network, but nothing significant turned out. It's very likely that they were dead. At least Birkin believed so. That's why he never talked about them. But everything would be fine after he has his own family.

**********************************************************************************

It is six in the morning. Birkin was asked to sign some budget sheets. Usually the staff would go to Wesker for matter like this. But since he has left for the a conference, Birkin reluctantly took up the responsibility. He was going to sign before reading it, but Annette interjected.

"Read before you sign anything."

Birkin chuckled, "You sound just like Wesker."

Annette could respond with something witty, but she knows how sensitive Birkin is to sarcasm since T-Veronica comes out. She has seen how Wesker dealt with Birkin's temper, and reckoned that Birkin is not oblivious to suggestions; he just doesn't want to be opposed.

That day she was not even supposed to be in that room had Dr. Collins showed up for work. But to everyone's surprise, Birkin apologized and offered to compensate. For a moment Annette thought Birkin was joking. But soon she was transferred to his auxiliary team, and then his chief assistant.

Words were breathing nepotism since Annette was promoted to Birkin's chief assistance. Birkin has the reputation of being difficult to work with. But the doubt doesn't simply come from the fact that there is someone other than Dr. Wesker who could meet Birkin's meticulous standard. Birkin is also dating her. That's nothing to be shocked of. Stress doesn't breed normal relationship, and certainly nothing is stressless down here. Birkin, on his part, couldn't care less for what people are commenting on his private life, so does Annette, though she had never expected Birkin would confide to her. They spend as much time as they could with each other. Even though work is all Birkin talks about. Annette knows that's his way to tell her that she's important to him.

Unlike Birkin and Wesker, who were chosen as executives upon their recruitment, Annette began her career as a researcher. Her father was an engineer and her mother a psychiatrist. She was raised in a peaceful household with three siblings. Her parents do love each other very much. Annette never thinks herself as a genius, though others called her so.

The only misfortune ever befell on her was that she was kidnapped when she was four. That night her parents went to a cocktail party. The perpetrator broke into their house, eluded the nanny, and took her away. He left her in a deserted mine pit, thinking Annette was just an ordinary four-year-old girl, the man didn't bother to lock all the entrances before leaving. Instead, he cut off the light, using darkness to entrap her. In pitch black, Annette literally felt her way out the mine. The heart beats, the sound of heavy breathing, and the cracking noise, she still remembers the sensual signs. She didn't know how long she had crawled until finally seeing a trace of light. Her pajama was torn. Her feet and hands were bleeding. A local found her wondering on roadside and took her to the police. Annette was unusually calm. As if someone was guiding her way all along, she has nothing to fear for. The kidnapper was never caught.

She graduated as the top of her class from medical school. Not long after she was engaged to a man whom she knew since childhood, also a friend of her mother. At first her parents opposed to the engagement. But eventually they decided to trust her judgment instead of interfering. People said that with her intelligence she could accomplished anything. But Annette never wanted more than to be a psychiatrist and a happy wife just like her mother.

However, a month before the wedding, Annette's fiancé killed himself by driving his car off the cliff. Investigation ruled suicide. Anette couldn't accept the verdict until she found out the motive in his diary. He didn't think there is anything to live for. "A life full of melancholy" he wrote and underlined. Annette felt betrayed and disgusted. If life was nothing to him, then what was she to him? But more than anything, she found him laughable. The person whom she loved above all in this world was a just another banal man, even worse than a fool.

Still, Annette went to a therapist under her mother's recommendation. It didn't do much help. The therapist said the condescending feeling she experienced toward her dead fiancé was a way to cope with his suicide. But she didn't find the explanation convincing. Her dead fiancé was not the cause of the void inside her. The emptiness was caused by something else as it continued to expand.

Not long after she began the therapy, Annette had lost her verbal function. For a year she could only communicate through writing. After completed her residency at hospital, she came to the conclusion that she no longer wants to be a psychiatrist. She would never be a petite medical professional or a submissive wife. She was destined for something great. People don't need to be saved, they deserve as much as their intelligence endowed them with. This was what she said during the Umbrella job interview. Together with her expertise in neurology, she was employed and assigned to the Umbrella Research at Arklay Laboratory.

The atmosphere in the research center, which most people found oppressing and unpleasant, filled the void inside her. She wasn't affected by the horrendous experiments that she was asked to carry on Lisa Trevor. Although sometimes she must force herself to pretend that she was averted by the blood shed by Umbrella's criminal practices in order to socialize with other researchers, she no longer needs to pretend after being elevated. Maybe torturing others have helped her. She has stopped thinking about her dead fiancé and could sleep soundly without the assistance of pills.

Birkin told her that he regretted not having her in his team sooner. But Annette never thinks his words as more than a kind of approval. Dr. Collins complained about Birkin a lot. Everyone does. But Birkin is a great virologist. The volume of difficulties that he must tackle everyday would blow the most accomplished university scientist away. Even Wesker said that Umbrella Research could not persist without him. Sadly no one wants to admit this. They think talent is all that matters and ignore his diligence and rigor, which Annette has witnessed. But on the other hand, Birkin never socializes, rarely show interest in things outside his field, and could a bit overreacted when it comes to mistakes, especially after Alexia Ashford made her name known. He thinks driving the staff crazy is going to improve his situation. For the same reason, he's often undervalued for his contribution. In this regard, Birkin is rather immature, not evil.

Annette is willing to put up with his requests, which sometimes appeared to be odd, because she can follow his idea. Birkin told her that it was her virtue, as he entrusts more work to her. He even put a raise for her without her knowledge. Gradually Annette came to know him as a man, not just a superior and someone she looked up to.

One day out of the blue Birkin invited her to take a walk with him in the woods. For once they were talking about things other than virus. Then they stopped talking. Birkin kissed her forehead. Annette didn't see it coming, yet she was immediately consumed by happiness and returned his kiss with the same affection.

********************************************************************************

But joy doesn't last. Annette knows Birkin depends on Wesker for many things, from drafting the annual budget to handling corporate politics. Sure, there are things that Birkin would only discuss with Wesker, but that was because they were friends since the early years. Wesker is not the kind who tolerates attitudes, however he is very skillful in dealing with them. That's how he keeps the arrogant bunch together, by manipulating their idiosyncrasy like navigating a ship. Annette thought he was just doing the same thing to Liam. But then she saw how much he cared for him. Only after they started dating Annette realized how personal their relationship has been. To her, Liam would caress and whispered sweet words like the good boyfriend he is trying to be. But he would turn sour when Wesker is absent even for only one day and then questioned where he had been afterwards.

Wesker's eyes were injured by chemical burn. His vision has been restored, but there was complication, and Liam is the only one whom Wesker would turn to when the pain comes up. Annette remembered clearly the day both Wesker and Liam called in sick. It was not serious but highly unusual. Annette went to Birkin's place to see if he's alright. Liam was sitting on sofa, and Wesker was using his lap as pillow. He was in a lot of pain and didn't even notice someone has walked in. Birkin saw her but didn't acknowledge her presence. Instead he bended down to ask Wesker if he needs another shot of morphine. Wesker refused, struggling to control the agony in his voice. She left without disturbing them.

Annette could never forget how he looked at her at that moment, as if she was something he didn't want, as if Wesker is the only one who matters. Birkin denied, but Annette couldn't get rid of the idea that she is to Birkin what he couldn't have from Wesker. She's not sure that she wants to be that.

Chapter Text

"What I'm supposed to tell them?"

"Pardon me?"

"What I'm supposed to say to the auditors? Are you even listening?" Alex complained.

"Tell them that G-virus project needs extra fundings. The expenditure is covered by Spencer's private investment and has nothing to do with the company."

"You looked awful. Are you sick?"

She put a hand on his forehead. Wesker moved back, told her not to worry.

"It's burning." Alex withdrew her hand, "Why don't you take the day off? We can continue this tomorrow."

"There is no time. Alexia Ashford and her father are coming this Thursday. They want to meet the board members."

"She also wants to meet Birkin."

"Better not. He might kill her."

"He won't. Have some faith in his temper." Alex smiled sarcastically.

Thursday morning, the fever didn't subside. Wesker chewed down some few ibuprofen, not knowing how long he could last. Birkin, caught between apprehension and a suit, looked as uneasy as if someone had forced him into a cage. He didn't say a word on their way to the venue.

Spencer made a short speech before introducing the guests from Antartica Base: Dr. Alexander Ashford and his twelve years old daughter Dr. Alexia Ashford, who is now the youngest virologist employed by Umbrella. The conference is being held at the hotel where Alexia stayed during her last visit to Marcus.

White seemed to be Alexia's preferred color. No doubt she is a glowing beauty. Too bad that the same aurora isn't reflected on her father Alexander, who was standing behind her. Her eyes first fell on Birkin before she greets everyone.

"I don't need to meet the wizard."

Wesker heard Birkin whispered.

"She won't bite."

"You don't understand."

**********************************************************************************

Inside the banquet hall, Alexia glanced at the corp, a young woman dressed in black caught her attention.

"I didn't know they called escort. Where is the rest of your company?"

Alexia approached her with a bright smile.

"Go bug someone else, little brat." She lighted a cigarette, said indifferently.

"Alex Wesker? I've read the guest list. You are Spencer's secretary, or his mistress perhaps? Either way, can you take me to the roof garden? They say underage can't go up there alone. I'm so bored."

"Fine. But don't push me off the roof."

"Since you mentioned."

The antique elevator takes longer than they expected. Alex observed the girl standing next to her. Despite her intelligence, Alexia is just an ordinary restless teenager. She must be very happy, growing up without any pressure or constraint.

Before Alex turned sixteenth, every summer she was sent on Rockfort Island, where the members of Umbrella Security Service were trained. Despite her age and close relation to Spencer, there was no preferable treatment. She must do what every other solider does and suffered as they did; sexual assault, drug abuse, bullying, and severe punishment if she made wrong decision that might jeopardize the mission.

The rooftop garden is empty. Waiter brought up two glasses of sherry. Alexia handed one glass to her.

"Father's birthday is coming. What gift should I prepare?"

"How about a handgun? So he could shot himself in the mouth before bringing you more trouble." Alex suggested in a sincere tone.

"You read my mind." Alexia finishes the drink and throws the empty crystal glass at a pigeon just landed on balcony, "Tell me, I thought the Wesker children were all dead. How comes you are still here?"

"I'm a failed product, which is worse than being dead."

"Say...What if...I can fix it for you? What if I can make you perfect?"

Alexia told Alex that T-Veronica could be used to treat autoimmune disease, which was what affecting Alex, and would soon bind her to bed if she didn't do anything. It was a side effect that Alexia discovered during human experimentation. Alex just laughed and asked her why she assumes that everyone wants to live a long and merry life. Alexia is just trying to talk her into becoming a test subject. Alex didn't know what Cecelia has been feeding Alexia with. But it certainly has influenced her.

Many years ago, when the Spencer Mansion was erected, the owner of the property invited an additional guest to join the celebration dinner with the Trevor family. After the family was arrested by Umbrella Security Service, the guest was trusted to isolate the very first Progenitor antibiotic serum from one of the infected family members, Lisa, before handing them to Marcus for his research. Days later, a news which led outside world to believe that there was a betrayal by the guest to the host was announced.

The guest, as many have reckoned, was Cecelia Wesker. The broken engagement however, was arranged. Marcus wanted Cecelia to hand the entire Progenitor research program to him after Spencer fell into depression. He thought Cecelia and Ashford might be too busy running the newly conceived Umbrella Pharmaceutics to discern what he was trying to do. But both of them refused. Infuriated, Marcus had since sending them false data regarding the virus. Ashford found out about this and informed Cecelia.

Cecelia approached Brandon, the man whom Marcus trusted most, in order to access the research material. But Brandon was serious to the relationship. She told Spencer everything that happened after he recovered. Spencer asked if she was still loyal to him and his eugenic ideology, and she was affirmative. Later she broke her engagement to Spencer and married Brandon under his instruction. She lost her first unborn child in an attempt to infect the fetus with Progenitor virus.

"What about Albert? Is he another survivor from Wesker Project?"

"You know him?"

"I met him once, long time ago."

"He's Cecelia's nephew. If you know about the Project, you should know who she is."

"How about William Birkin?"

"What about him?"

"It seems odd, that Umbrella recruited them at the same time."

"You have vivid imagination."

"Wesker is a rare surname. Anyone can sense the similarity between you and Albert. You two are like sister and brother. But there is nothing common between you and Birkin."

"They have nothing to do with the Project."

"You look beautiful when lying."

Alex finished her drink and said, "We should go back. Have you met Birkin yet?"

**********************************************************************************

"I'm calling for a doctor."

Birkin supported Wesker to the nearest armchair. Moments ago he almost fainted.

"That won't be necessary. I'm fine."

He grabs a few ice cubes and compresses them on his forehead.

"Don't believe him. He's definitely getting worse." Alex, popped up from nowhere, suddenly interjected. Alexia is behind her. But Birkin didn't see her until Alex went away to find telephone.

"Hello, William. Hello, Albert." Alexia greeted.

Wesker struggled to sit straight in case Birkin lashes out before he could hold him.

"I don't have time for this. What do you want?" Birkin said impatiently without even looking at Alexia. He's looking for Alex.

"From you? Nothing. I came to see your sour face."

Alexia is humiliating the man behind Birkin, Spencer.

"Doctor is on his way." Alex went back.

"I said I'm fine."

Wesker objected. Doctor arrived and did a smile examination. There was nothing alarming, and nothing he could do against a patient who doesn't want to be treated. Meanwhile Alexia sits across them, watching Wesker argued with his friends in great interest. Maybe the event has accidentally saved Birkin from making a scene with Alexia. Birkin didn't pay much attention to his rival. His eyes were fixed on Wesker.

The conference ended in the late afternoon.

By that time Wesker could barely raised his head. He remembered Birkin was walking next to him, in case he needs assistance. Spencer, in his wheelchair, was wheeling ahead of the crowd. Not long after they stepped outside the hotel front door, he heard a sharp noise made by motorcycle engine. A bike passed them and two gunshots followed. Someone fell on the ground, a woman in black dress. It was Alex. She pushed Spencer aside and was shot instead. Few securities chased after the assassin, though the chance of catching him was minimal.

Alexia moaned in disappointment as she watched the security rushed the unharmed old man into a car and drove away, leaving Alex laying there. She almost made it, had it not been her. She watched Birkin and Wesker ran to her side, trying to stop the bleeding. She'll live. The wound is bad, but not fatal.

**********************************************************************************

Annette thought Birkin was the one who got shot. His shirt was dipped in blood when he helped moving Alex onto the ambulance stretcher. Nevertheless, Annette was shaking in fear. After all, it could be him. Birkin told her not to worry. She clung to him for the rest of the day, making sure he's alright, and completely forgot that she just broke up with him.

Wesker went with the ambulance. The adrenaline rush gave him a boost. Fever has faded away temporarily. Alex lost a lot of blood, and the condition was exacerbated by her low blood platelet level. However they managed to keep up her heart rate. She was sent to Raccoon City Hospital, funded by Umbrella. He waited at there until they transferred her to ICU. Spencer didn't show up. He sent the staff to attend her instead. Wesker doesn't trust them after what happened today. The staff suggested him to leave and promised she would receive the best care. Wesker told them that he's not going to leave until she regains consciousness. The staff, not here to argue, said he could stay if he really wants to. But they don't know when she will recover from critical condition.

Now the adrenaline is wearing off, his head starts to feel heavy again. Wesker left the waiting room to smoke the cigarette he found in Alex's clutch. He had quit smoking since he left training center, though right now he could really use some relief.

"Wesker, what are you doing here?"

He turned back and found Philip. Like Annette, Philip's attention was immediately caught by Wesker's hands, which were covered by dried blood. Even the cigarette he's holding was stained by blood fingerprint.

"Did you just kill someone?" Philip, even though shocked, knows better than his friend in terms of what he should do. He dragged him to wash off the blood before asking any question. Wesker told him about the assassination and Alex.

"They are right you know. There is nothing you can do."

Philip argued. Wesker asked him why he was here. He told him that he's here to fill out the forms for Maria's insurance referral. They were trying to have children.

They left the hospital together after learning that Alex is doing okay and complication is unlikely to occur at this point. Wesker took out the pack of cigarettes and left her clutch to a nurse. Philip drove him to the train station. While waiting for the train, Wesker realized that it's less about having a fever than being in a powerless position when danger is imminent that made him sick.

What is the thing that shocked him most? Was it Alex's loyalty? That she would give her life for Spencer. Alex must have known it would happen. She's prepared. That's why she was able to act fast when the assassin approached them. Or was that someone wants Spencer dead so badly? The entire Research was surrounded by constant undercurrent, which they could neither see nor feel. He doesn't like the feeling of being kept in dark. No, he can't just wait for the truth to come out. Alex is right. His curiosity won't be satisfied by being a researcher forever.

**********************************************************************************

"There's something wrong with dad."

Alfred shared the discovery with his sister, who is reading.

"He just couldn't wait for his birthday."

Alexia put down the book and fondled his head. Of course Alexander is not happy. He went panic after the assassination. Alexia didn't tell him who orchestrated it, but he had guessed. She made sure that there was no evidence which could implicate her. However, Alexander was not convinced. He said she's spoiled and from now on she must be disciplined.

"Why? Aren't you the one who would do anything to remove Spencer? That's how your children came to this world."

Alexander slapped her before she could say more. He was a full grown man and Alexia was after all young woman. In vertigo she saw Alexander trying to hold her in case she falls down. Her face didn't hurt as much as her pride did. She pushed him away.

"Don't you dare go near me or Alfred again!"

Alexia covered her bleeding nose and left the room. Alexander shouted something behind her. She didn't hear it. It was the decisive moment that made her mind. It was not just that Alexander was trying to regain control over her. He has became an impediment to the family business.

She removed her hand and saw the blood dripping down from her finger tip. An idea occurred to her but she immediately repelled it. That night Alexander was taken by security force under her command. He was since confined to his own room. Alexia asked Alfred to choose between his father and her, without telling him what exactly had happened. Alfred bit his lips out of stress. At the end, he chose his sister.

It was two days before Alexander's birthday.

*********************************************************************************

"What are you reading?" Wesker looked over her shoulder.

Alex closed the book to reveal its title.

"Kafka? I thought you were more of a Chesterton."

"Speaking of which, how comes you have time for me?"

"I'm on my way to see Marcus. When are they going to release you?"

"Anytime." She played with her hands for a moment, "You never asked me what happened that day."

"You know what I'll ask."

"That's what I'm trained for."

"To protect someone you hate?"

"It's more than that."

"Because he's your father."

"Father is more than just a name. I can't disobey him. That's how I was raised."

When the visiting hour is coming to the end, Alex reached into Wesker's jacket and grabbed the pack of cigarettes which he took from her last time.

"I like you. But we shouldn't see each other anymore. We're getting too close. It's bad, for both of us."

**********************************************************************************

Marcus is growing older. He refused to attend the meeting held for Alexia because Spencer was there. The incident never made to newspaper. Presumably Marcus didn't know about it either. He wasn't the one who ordered the assassination. He would've take that step long time ago if he dared. Other than business concerning the Research, he has disconnected himself from the outside world since Spencer resumed his funding last year.

In the latest experiment Marcus found a way to control the mutation of T-virus. It's what Birkin had been looking for. Something Alexia was working on yet made little progress. Wesker was the first person whom Marcus showed it to. Marcus might be eccentric, treacherous, manipulative, but he was still the most brilliant virologist in Umbrella. Wesker asked why he would let him know. Marcus told him that despite his hatred against him, he was his favorite, and the only man he trusted.

"I'm not afraid of dying." Marcus says, "But lately I begin to think what would come after I'm gone. Edward left everything to Alexander, and he would leave them to Alexia. But the only child I ever had was my work, and whom should I leave it to? If there is one thing I really want, even after I died, is to see how my work changes this world. It is true that I never cared much about operating the enterprise. Perhaps that's the reason why I ended up like this. Sometimes I'm taken away by the disagreement between me and Spencer. But it's not him that I'm really after. No, I don't even hate him. But I can't get over myself either. It's my work. No one can take it away from me. Funny, isn't it? I have the power to change history but not myself. Spencer can only pick fruits from my tree. That's his shame I guess."

"Albert" He continued, "there is something about you that always fascinated me. When I first met you, I thought you were ambitious, that you would eventually be some kind of grand bureaucrats like the others in your family. But then I saw you were just trying to be ambitious. You don't really know what you are after. But because you were so good at everything that you laid your hands on. It never worries you the underlying drive doesn't manifest itself. Of course, you are attracted to power. But it's the possibility which attracts you, the possibility of being able to control. You don't want to manipulation. If you did, you would've use Birkin like Spencer used me. Yet you didn't. You even give up the chance of leaving this place for his sake. The more I know you, the more I see that you are waiting for a signal. So you would know what to persuade. I think I might be that signal"

"You were right in that you have neglected matter that should be taken as priority, such as your own twisted mind. If only the people who worship you could see what you've done and what you really are, a monster disguised as an introvert scientist. I am not what you said of me. You've been trapped inside your own mind for too long."

That was their last conversation.

**********************************************************************************

Project Hunter is proceeded by Project Nemesis. Annette has so much work to do that she couldn't remember what she did this morning until she saw the engagement ring on her left hand. Liam has proposed to her. She accepted him without much excitement, as if it was a long due event. He asked Annette to meet him in the woods, took out the ring from his pocket, put it on for her, and then they went back to work together. The laboratory has sent back the latest data, but she found herself unable to process them. The feeling of profound satisfaction took over her mind. She twisted the ring from one side to another. It was a ruby ring. Birkin bought it on his way back from the city.

Because of the proposal, Annette no longer found the relationship between Birkin and Wesker an obstacle. Now she can see that the relationship is something different, and she is different, if not more important to him. She couldn't imagine there is another man whom she would fall in love with because there is no other like him.

"Maybe we should take the day off. It's supposed to be a big day for us." Birkin said apologetically.

Annette gave a gentle smile, "We can save it for later."

"I should've pick a better day. Spencer has brought forward the schedule."

"Are you leaving with the testing crew?"

"Wesker is going with them. I'll stay here."

Birkin flipped over the amended testing protocol. He frowned as he saw the part about weapon initiation. To be honest Nemesis was far from perfect. Ideally the weapon should be released through aerial delivery. It should not come into contact with human. But there is still a problem with its nerve reflex loop, in order to reduce the chance of any malfunction. The testing team decided to release Nemesis on ground. No doubt it's dangerous for the staff. However Spencer wants to launch the product at the end of the year, which barely leaves them enough time to solve the problems already existed. That's why Birkin must stay at Arklay. Wesker will synchronize the data collected in testing so Birkin can work on them.

It would be fine; Birkin told himself, as Wesker had told him. But he couldn't shake off the presentiment. He would never ever move into the testing stage when there is uncertainty, not to mention sending someone he cared for it. The possible consequences range from collateral casualty to regional contamination. But Spencer is holding him by throat; he controls the funding for G-virus. Now Birkin understands how Marcus feels. And he hated himself for repeating his way.

**********************************************************************************

Before the mission, Wesker was sent on Rockfort Island to be trained for basic military skill. Should anything get out of hands, only he can protect himself. But as one of its designers, Wesker knew he stood very little chance against Nemesis for the little training he received. Umbrella Security Service and Countermeasure Team were founded on the premise of weaponry testing. Something had always gone "wrong" in the past. He looked at men around him, knowing some of them won't come back. If they did however, there will be generous reward waiting.

His rating was outstanding. The instructor was especially impressed by his marksmanship, given the fact that it was the first time Wesker learned to shoot a weapon. Some doubted if he had military experience because the scores were impossible for amateurs, while others just shrugged and said he was born for it.

Three weeks later he and the rest of the testing team were sent to Edonia, a small nation rampaged by non-stop civil conflicts. Spencer found a warlord who willingly lent them the contested area for testing purpose. The price is paid by the enemy force. The main target was a military factory. It was located at riverside and surrounded by forest, guarded by a small platoon with approximately ninety soldiers and few advance assault vehicles. The road to factory was landmined, the rest of the accesses were guarded by patrol. It was not the exact situation for which Nemesis was designed. But whatever the result is it would certainly adds to experience and improvement.

Nemesis was made to eliminate the life trace in its active range, which means not only it can be used against human, it could also be used against other B.O.Ws. In addition, it could be made to search and destroy a specific target, hence its name. Nemesis has limited intelligence, not enough to discriminate the people it encounters. For this reason the most dangerous and difficult part of this testing is to release it on battlefield, since airdrop is out of option.

It has been Wesker's wishes to see how B.O.W. performs in actual world. Their last piece of work Hunter was a success. Even though it was originally designed to hunt down the survivors of bio-attack. The buyers preferred to use it as assault weapon in urban warfare. He must know how war is fight in order to make the design practical. He volunteered to be the field technician.

The plan goes as follows: The local troop will first attack the enemy patrol to rip a breach on the defense line for Nemesis's active range. The attack is also intended to alert the enemy, so to create combat scenario. Nemesis could wipe out the entire platoon in their sleep, but that would default the purpose of testing, nor it's likely to be enacted in actuality. Then the Umbrella Security Service will escort the vehicle carrying Nemesis into its active range. After Wesker releases the Nemesis, they will withdraw by the two helicopters standing by.

That was the plan. The mission was set to start at dawn. The team should be in their position the night before. But while the team was moving toward the area, they were ambushed by the enemy force, obviously targeted at them. Apparently there was an intel leak. But they don't have time looking for the source now. Umbrella Force was loosing fast because the soldiers were mostly trained for urban combat, not bush-fighting. The local force, on the contrary, had immediately found themselves covers and started shooting back. Wesker, the vehicle carrying Nemesis, and the security team in charged to protect it were suppressed by enemy's fire. Soon a battle that supposed to be fought between B.O.W and human became the battle between men.

One of the soldier asked Wesker if he could release Nemesis now. But they were still in dangerously close proximity with Nemesis. Besides, they hadn't breach the enemy's defense line, which means Nemesis might stamp on landmine. Although its body can absorb excessive force, it was not designed for demining. On the other hand however, they don't have other choice. The situation was becoming dire. The emery force had cut off their way to retreat. Either they find a breakpoint or they die here. But Wesker cannot let Nemesis falls into the hands of others, which would be disastrous for Umbrella. As the men around him dropped down one by one, Wesker was forced to pull over his rifle and joined the fight. The vehicle carrying Nemesis was the obvious target. The enemies had narrowed down the scope of fire suppression around the vehicle, as if they were ordered to seize what's inside.

"Sergeant is down!"

A shout almost penetrated his eardrum through the radio receiver. The soldiers around had all turned their eyes to him. Even though Wesker was not the team commander and the lieutenant was still leading the fight, instinct told them that their life depended on the monster sleeping in the trunk. And Wesker was the only one who know how to awaken it.

Soon they would be out of ammo. Wesker climbed into the trunk under cover. Nemesis was put under hibernation in a mobile cryogenic suspension chamber. A bullet had damaged the compressor. The core temperature was rising. Nemesis would die if he doesn't awake it now anyway. Wesker found himself surprisingly calm. The temperature in Edonia varies greatly between day and night, especially in mountain regions. However humidity had reached seventy percent that night, with weapons and other tactical gears. He found his stamina draining fast as humidity continued to rise.

Normally the initiation process is completed by a computer program. Whereas in an emergency such as now the process needs to be completed manually. And it took ten minutes. Wesker had to pay close attention to its brain wave and heart rates. Meanwhile, outside the noise of gunfire had occurred less frequent. It was a bad sign; their people were dying out.

When Nemesis opened its eyes. Wesker saw his own reflection in those dark pits. The next thing he knew was a force blew him away, along with half of the trunk. His body landed heavily on ground. Disorientation set in after the shock, for a moment he couldn't tell which direction he was facing until he could see the night sky above him.

"Orion..."

Wesker said to himself and struggled to rise up. Yet he couldn't. Then he saw the reason; his right leg was fractured really bad. He wasn't even sure it still exists. There was also a dull pain coming from his right abdomen, under the armor vest. Before he could investigate the wound however, two soldiers had lifted him from the ground and carried him into the woods while the other two were covering for them. In darkness Wesker couldn't see what was going on. He could however hear the screaming, desperate gun shots, and prayers. But in the end all it left was Nemesis's roar.

One soldier called in HQ and soon a helicopter descended on rendezvous. The soldiers threw Wesker on board and climbed into it.

"Where is the fucking backup?"

Over the noise of blades he heard a man shouting.

"HQ is under attack. You're lucky that we made it here." The pilot shouted back. His complain came to a rapid stop when he saw Wesker.

"Shit you still alive?"

"He's losing a lot of blood, and maybe a leg. We need a band-aid. How came HQ went under the weather? Where are we going now?"

"All I know is they were not locals, probably mercenaries. I'm taking us to the ocean. Bella's cargo ship is waiting."

**********************************************************************************

It was four in the morning when Birkin was woke up by the phone call. It was Alex. She told him about the chaotic testing, and Wesker's situation. He right leg was severely injured. Doctor hinted at possible amputation. But the worst part was he was assaulted by Nemesis, which left a deep tearing wound on his abdomen. He has been exposed to T-virus.

Annette also got up while Birkin was taking the call. She learned what happened from his expression.

"There is a vaccine that might work. No, I don't trust those experts. Yes, that would be great, as soon as possible. Just sterilize and close the wound and get ready if... Well you know the protocol better I do. And don't let them amputate it. There must be a way to keep it."

When Birkin hanged up, Annette had already collected everything for him; the vaccine, the inhibitor, other antiviral drugs that might reverse the mutation but were not yet tested. But there is nothing they could do for him, she thought to herself, even if Birkin goes to rescue. The virus is designed to be aggressive and irreversible.

An hour later Birkin was on the plane to Edonia. The flight is going to take nine hours. Wesker won't hold that long. He sighed frustratedly. He could strangle Spencer with his own hands now. Maybe there is miracle. The hell is he thinking, letting him risks for something this stupid? What should he do if Wesker couldn't make it? Birkin would rather him not surviving the mutation than turning into a monster.

Nine hours later the exhausted virologist was on board. Umbrella had turned the cargo ship into a mobile base. The first thing he found out after rushing to the isolation ward was that Wesker was not infected. He was overwhelmed by disbelief instead of joy.

"Negative? How's that possible? What's his lymphocyte count?"

"It increased at first but soon fell back to normal level. Maybe he was vaccinated?"

"He was not."

The poor doctor, trembling in fear, prompted weakly, "No virus can achieve hundred percent rate of infection, not even T-virus. Looks like Doctor Wesker is the lucky few."

Birkin put down the report and collected himself. What's his problem? He should feel happy but is not. He's letting the scholar self to triumph again. He really needs to stop thinking about the virus, at least for now, at least for today.

What was Jenner's reaction after finding out that he was infected? Did he cry, or simply accepted the fact that he was going to die?

Birkin leaned his head against the wall, which cooled him down.

Jenner gave himself to clinical study after learning that he was infected with smallpox.

Now that Wesker was not infected, Birkin was allowed in his room. Now it's his injury that comes to everyone's attention. Doctor said that they could keep his leg. However, depending on the outcome of the recovery, Wesker is going to need some assistance from now on to be able to just walk. But it's better than amputation.

Wesker was sleeping. Birkin didn't want to wake him up. But he couldn't resist the urge to lay down next to him, right on the same pillow. They haven't been this close since last winter. Birkin thought that was the end between them. Now he sees that there is never going to be an end. He still treasures him dearly, and he will do anything in his power to protect him.

**********************************************************************************

Alexia took out the queen ant, put it on her hand for a while, and then returned it to its colony unharmed. The ant belongs to an ancient insect species that no longer exists. Its body was discovered in tundra core sample. One of the few marvels of Antarctica is that the entire land is a paleontology museum.

The laboratory made a clone from the queen ant's chromosome. It was Alfred who suggested that they should infect the queen ant with T-Veronica, just for fun. But the result turned out to be serious. A new virus was isolated from the infected queen ant. The virus resembles T-Veronica but is structurally different and superior. The analysis shows that the new Veronica virus is less likely to aggressively attack the host. In other words, the host has better chance to survive the initial stage of infection.

The birthday gift Alexander received was a shot of new Veronica. Alexia administrated the virus by her own hands. Alexander didn't fight back. If he was lucky enough, reaction would take his life before the mutation sets in.

"When you were a baby, you said you wanted the purple diamond on Veronica's chocker. I had the jeweler removed it. It's in my library, under the desk, the second drawer. I was going to give it to you at the debutant party. You can have it now."

"Rest while you still can. It's going to be a long way to the end."

Alexia told the nurse to bind his limbs, in case he hurts himself in seizure, which is going to take place once the virus reaches his brain.

Alfred was waiting outside the laboratory. Alexia could discern the uneasiness under his blank expression. She doesn't want to make Alfred sad. But she cannot allow Alexander to stand on her way any longer. From now on Alfred is the new lord of Ashford House.

"We've been here too long. Let's go to London once this is over. What do you say?" She smiled and looked up to her brother.

"How about Scotland? I'm getting tired of city." He smiled back.

"Whichever you want."

She holds onto his hand.

**********************************************************************************

Birkin hasn't laughed like this for a long time. He tried to push Wesker away. But he had him in his arms. Birkin dared not touch him, fearing that he might tear open his wound.

"Get off me. People can see us."

"It's not like they have no idea."

His fingertip skimmed over the bite mark on Birkin's neck.

"Are you mad at me?"

"On what basis?"

"That I'm married."

"You should take a family. Annette will be a good wife."

Birkin wanted to say that he's sorry that things turned out this way. But then he realized it would be a great offense to Annette. Despite Birkin couldn't sort out the entanglement with Wesker, one thing he could always answer for sure is that he married Annette not to keep her to himself; he married her because he loves her.

This is the second week they spend on board. Wesker is not ready for a transfer. Doctors can't let him go until they see further improvement on his condition, which is progressing at an astonishing speed. Even his leg, which was deemed beyond salvage, is getting better everyday. While doctors marveled at his fast recovery, Birkin was still puzzled by his immunity to T-virus.

Birkin wants to take a look at the antibody isolated from the plasma. But Wesker takes all his time. In the morning Birkin reads for him; in the afternoon he helps him to practice walking; in the night they sleep next to each other. He should return to Arklay, where plenty work is waiting for him. He should return to Annette; she says she misses him. Yet Birkin could bring himself to neither of them when he is surrounded by boundless ocean and him.

Alex called Birkin almost everyday to ask about Wesker. Yet she didn't want to talk to him. Birkin thought it was strange. Wesker says to leave her be. Alex is Spencer's entourage. She shouldn't get too close to an employee.

********************************************************************************

Alex disconnected the satellite phone. Sweat has soaked through her cotton shirt. She's in Edonia now, investigating the incident happened two weeks ago. The roasting heat is supposed to cool down during the night. But a storm is building up; the steaming air combined with sickly sweet aroma is not going anywhere.

Before stepping out the tent, she pulled down the sleeves to hide the purpura on her arms. Doctor says she should no longer participate field mission due to her decreasing platelets level. She would bleed non-stop if there is an injury, not to mention the increasing risk of internal hemorrhage. The expensive medication could suppress the some of the symptoms. However, she's not getting better.

As many have speculated, someone worked under the warlord leaked the information regarding the Nemesis test to another organization, who took great interest in Umbrella's latest B.O.W.. A private operation team was sent to seize Nemesis from Umbrella Security Force. Soon after the ambush, Umbrella Security sent two separated teams to counter the attack, one to the operation base and one to the testing site. Nemesis was eliminated during the operation. Its body was successfully recovered by the Countermeasure Team. Body count and other evidences show that the entire private operation team has been wiped out, most of them died from the attempt of capturing Nemesis.

In the lawless war zone, deserted bodies were left to rot. Bacterias thrive under such environment. The smell and insects soon made the area almost unapproachable. Nevertheless the Countermeasure Team must carry out their mission, which is to burn all the bodies, in order to prevent biohazard after the Nemesis attack.

Three bodies were preserved and taken back to the camp for forensic examination. Alex entered the tent in which the examination is being conducted. She used a perfumed handkerchief to cover her nose. Still, the smell is holding her breath. An officer showed her the evidences that they retrieved from the body. There was a military map produced by Edonia government, a NATO-standard pistol, and a piece of tattooed skin. None of which could link them to the entity behind other than indicating that the operation team were constituted by mercenaries.

"At least now everyone knows that Nemesis will be another success. Doctor Birkin would be delighted by the casualty rate, which hasn't even include the aftermath of biohazard." One of the scientists remarked.

"The only man who would be delighted by matter as such is Spencer." Alex frowned as she was reminded of Wesker's injury, "Transport Nemesis's body back to Arklay Laboratory; they'll need it."

**********************************************************************************

The first thing Birkin did after returned to Arklay was not to examine the dead Nemesis. He desperately wanted to understand why Wesker was unaffected by T-virus. Birkin was not sure that the machine functioned right. Otherwise what he is looking at would be something impossible. He checked all the inputs and then ran the sample on another device, which gave the same result.

He should have asked permission from Wesker before sampling his DNA. However, at first Birkin didn't think he would need to look into anything else other than the immune globulin. It was late in the night, still he phoned him because he was too anxious to wait. Wesker, a little bit confused, said he could do whatever he needs to.

Looking at the results, Birkin sat on stool with his arms crossed. There is an explanation for the abnormality. However, he found the explanation extremely unsettling. Frankly it was less about the technical aspect than the uneasiness that affects him. He could either drop the matter now or follow its lead. After a long deliberation, he kept a copy of the report and shredded the rest of the data sheets.

When Birkin returned to his place, he found Annette was still waiting for him despite the hour. They've barely seen each other since he was back from Edonia.

"Wouldn't it be nice? If we meet each other before Umbrella recruits you?"

Annette played with her engagement ring, knowing exactly nothing would change. It's who they are and not what they do that defines their present. She would still be with Birkin no matter the context.

Birkin has been in a good mood since returned from Edonia, mostly because Wesker's recovery. He was passionate for her. Even though Annette could feel the trace left by someone else on him, she accepted Birkin nevertheless.

"Sorry that I've been away so long." He said to her.

"I'm afraid of losing you."

"It's not going to happen."

"Can we move out this place then? I don't want to live underground anymore. Let's get a home."

Birkin sighed. He thought about the idea for a moment before answered, "Yes, we should move out. Where do you want it be?"

"Anywhere that is good for children. I'm pregnant." Annette grabbed his hand and put it on her belly.

*********************************************************************************

"Ma'am, it's time to terminate the experiment. There is no point continuing. We've got what we want."

One of the researcher suggested to Alexia, in case mutation gets out of hand; and they have already gained meaningful result.

"No. Mutation is exactly the part that needs to be understood. We must find a way to control it."

Many human experimentations have demonstrated one thing, that there is no rule once the subject enters mutative stage. Most of them dead after the infection; some turned into human mutants with little enhanced combat and no defense capacity; and only few turned out to be something that had the potentials to be B.O.W., such as her father. However, Alexia has yet found a way to regulate the mutation because the process varies highly on individual basis; and the variation is not determined by genetic factor since the subject's clone would still mutate differently from the subject. The mutation mechanism remains a great mystery. That's why good news has stopped coming from Antartica Base since she created T-Veronica; she couldn't weaponized the virus.

"But ma'am, the virus is still too aggressive. Unless we can slow down the mutation, immune suppression is the most economical solution..."

Before the researcher could finish his sentence, a phone call from security interrupted him. Alexia was told that Alfred wouldn't leave his father's library. He has been there since last night. They didn't think it was serious enough until this afternoon. Alexia, who was occupied by the experiment, didn't even realize that Alfred has been away since yesterday.

Alexander's library was located at the northernmost side of the base. It took Alexia a while to get there from the laboratory section. Inside the library was a total mess, as if some theft had sneaked in and trashed the place. Alexia kicked away the fallen books on her way, suddenly seeing a hidden chamber revealed next to one of the bookshelves. She didn't know its existence until now. Surprised, she slowly approached its entrance, immediately noticed that there is a groove built on the wall, which was normally covered by the shelf. In the groove was the violet diamond which Alexander said would be her debutante gift, where the diamond is in fact a key to unlock secret chamber. Alfred had guessed it.

The chamber, which could barely fit two people, was dimly illuminated. Alexia found her brother sitting on the floor with his legs crossed, next to a file cabinet. There were tear marks on his cheeks. His eyes were staring blankly at the opposite wall, and he was holding a diary with black leather cover.

"Did you know?"

He asked without looking at her.

"About what?"

"That we are not...natural?"

Fuck. That old bastard had lastly gotten his revenge on her. Bravo.

Anger and sadness springing from the bottom of her heart simultaneously. For all these years she tried to hide the truth about their birth carefully from Alfred, knowing it would crash him. Her hatred against Alexander grew even stronger. For a man who failed his duty as the head of household would certainly know how to ruin the role of father.

"What makes you think that way? We are flesh and blood. Vitro fertilization is a common operation..."

"That's not what I meant!" Alfred bit into his lip, "He said in his diary that I was untended. I was a mistake. That's why you are a genius and I'm nothing! I should never come to this world. It should be you and only you. You are not Alexia; you are Veronica! It's all an elaborated plan!"

"I'm Alexia, not Veronica; and you are not nothing; you are my brother. The only person I care in this world." She snatched the diary from his hand and threw it away.

"Please, please don't let him get you. How you came to this world means nothing to me. You don't have a choice and neither do I. The only elaborated plan is the wicked man whom we called 'father' trying to separate us and ruining everything. We can't let him succeeds!"

"Then why did you lie to me? When I asked you about mother, you said she had passed away, that she was a great scientist...Why did you cover his lie? Why did you keep me in dark?"

"Because I love you. I want you to be happy more than anything else."

"I don't know how..." He buried himself in her arms, "It's all messed up."

"Everything is going to be all right. But you have to strong, Alfred, for my sake. You are the head of the household now. And I need your help."

**********************************************************************************

"When was the last time you got any sleep?"

Wesker gently took away the bottle of pills from Birkin's hand. It was empty.

"I couldn't found anyone to replace Anne."

"How's she?"

"Occasional vomiting, nauseous, pregnancy reactions in general, but doctor says she's doing okay."

"Use your vacation; I can take care the rest."

"I can't do that. I have to see it through. There isn't much left anyway." Birkin leaned on him and closed his eyes for a nap. Wesker reviewed the data while sitting still to not disturb Birkin.

Wesker had prepared the transfer application since he returned from Edonia. It was clear to him that making B.O.W. could no longer satisfy his curiosity. He wants to know more about Umbrella as a whole as well as Spencer's plan for it. More importantly, he couldn't shake off the feeling of being at risk after witnessing the assassination against Spencer and the attack against himself from unknown organization. It is not his character to be passive; he must be informed and prepared.

However, he has not yet sent the application. Annette is taking maternal leave. Birkin won't survive the work by himself. Wesker can't leave Arklay Laboratory now. He hasn't told him about his decision either, fearing Birkin won't take it well. Their relationship has just gotten back on its feet, he doesn't want to break it again.

The cassette player was playing piano music in low volume. It was Schumann's Kinderszenen, a Christmas gift he gave to Birkin seven years ago. Cassette player has almost gone obsolete now. But Birkin kept one. Wesker looked at their reflections on glass surface, knowing how much time has past since they joined Umbrella, and how much everything have changed without him realizing. But he shouldn't dwell on past. Let past be. He would rather not to look back; and he doesn't want a future where Birkin is not there.

**********************************************************************************

Alex fed the letter to the flames in fireplace. She watched the paper carbonizing, quietly reflecting on its content. She has developed the habit of keeping everything inside her, not revealing a trace of disturbance no matter what. The man who brought her up was good at detecting it, and he never hesitated to point out that being sentimental is a weakness. Still, tears rolled down her cheeks. She quickly wiped them off.

Cecelia had passed away. She was the only one who understood her; the relationship was neither founded on compassion nor contempt; it was founded on pure understanding, which they both held dearly. But now Cecelia is gone; and Alex has lost her sense of security.

Alex was conceived in Wesker Project. Unfortunately she was far from perfect. Soon after she was born, gene detection revealed that Alex was not the product that the Project was looking for. She grew up with rest of the failed products until she turned three. Cecelia used her own gene in experiments. As result, Alex has inherited one forth of Cecelia's chromosome. Though she was born to a surrogated mother. They were bond by affinity.

Despite her immunological defect, Alex was endowed with superior intelligence, which made her painfully self-conscious. She perceived that she was the unwanted one since her memory was developed. Cecelia was kind to the children, but her kindness only shamed the children even more because they knew they could never fulfill her wish, that they would never be perfect.

Spencer took Alex under his wings. She lived without friends nor peers. The only social knowledge she knew was the division between inferiority and superiority. At first Alex didn't understand why she was chosen; until one day she realized how much resemblance she shared with Cecelia. Even the subtle gestures were exactly the same. Spencer never laid a finger on her. But the fact that he used her as a substitute for the woman he couldn't have disgusted her more than she could imagine. Alex has never smiled to him since than.

Many years later Alex met Cecelia again. As if an old connection had been revived, the two developed a close relationship despite the past. Contrary to what Alex had believed until this point, Cecelia told her that Spencer chose her not because of how she looked. He chose her because he was going to raise Alex as his successor. That's why he was being so harsh and strict to her. Though she never told Alex why she was chosen.

Since then they had been communicating through letters. Cecelia would also send her gifts, Kafka's literatures and Beethoven's piano scores were among them. Alex doubted that Spencer was unaware of their communication. But he tolerated it.

Alex raised her eyes from the flames. There was another man's reflection in the mirror above the fireplace. His face was blurred by light, only his hands, which clutched at the wheelchair, were to be seen. She stared at his reflection without uttering a word. Finally the man spoke,

"The funeral will be next week. You may see her for the last time; and Marcus may go down with her."

**********************************************************************************

Alexia was observing closely at the creature's life signs as it was awaken from the state of hibernation. Alfred, who usually doesn't participate in experiments, stayed with her this time, knowing something important is going to take place.

Then the creature came back to life, slowly but fully recovered. The adverse effect, which would normally kill the host by now, was suppressed by the process of hibernation. In other words, mutation can be controlled if it happens slowly, when the host is at its lowest metabolic rate. Alexia was glad to have her speculation proved. The problem is that she's not sure how long the process is going to take. It was only a coincidence that the experiment succeeded this time. She still hasn't found out the determinative factor that controls the mutation.

Alexia was loosing her patience since Nemesis came to the market. Those sycophants began to chase after William Birkin again, calling him the "most valuable asset" after Dr. Marcus. Alexia Ashford? Oh, surely she was a great virologist. But she's been too quiet since the birth of T-Veronica. Perhaps she's not so great after all...

"Solar wind is blowing up. We might see aurora tonight."

Staff and researchers have retreated from sight, leaving the room to Alfred and Alexia. Seeing his sister was boiling in anxiety, Alfred tried to sooth her. Alexia likes aurora. He thought he might cheer her up.

"Maybe another day." Alexia smiled, "When I can come up something worthy, dear Alfred, so I'm not ashamed of myself. Otherwise it will just make me sad."

"Don't be. You are great."

"That's sweet, but not true." She held his hands, "Leave me alone, would you? I can't think straight when you are by my side."

Alexander's library was left exactly the way it has been since Alfred almost torn down the place. Alexia found the journal which she threw away outside the chamber, on a pile of books. She flipped over the pages absently, without knowing what she was looking for. A word suddenly flashed before her eyes. She closed the journal and opened one of the file cabinets in the chamber. She was looking for the records regarding her conception, the bioengineering data used in the Veronica Project.

"Those who are worthy enough..."

In the last correspondence with Cecelia Wesker, she advised Alexia to modify the virus based on a selected group rather than the general population. She thought Cecelia lost her mind to the eugenic ideology. Only just then Alexia realized that she never comprehends its connotation. Rather than controlling the virus, they should create the kind of host that would adapt to the virus. It would still be a parasitic relation, only reversed.

"...me."

**********************************************************************************

Wesker was drinking with Philip when he received the phone call, which informed him that Alexia Ashford has unfortunately deceased. Her brother Alfred told the company that she injected herself with the Veronica virus and didn't survive the subsequent reaction.

"What's wrong?"

Philip watched him hanged up and ordered for another drink.

"Alexia Ashford is dead, killed by her own invention."

Wesker stared at the empty glass. He was doubtful whether the news is true, and he wouldn't be surprised if Alexia faked her own death to escape the pressure from Spencer because like Marcus, she hasn't been able to contribute anything new since the creation of T-Veronica. Either way, he had a strong feeling that she is still alive.

"Could it be Spencer?" Philip asked.

"There is no motivation. She never went against him publicly. Unless she was the one who orchestrated the assassination."

"At least Birkin would be happy to hear it. The Ashford legend is gone."

"He no longer cares about it."

Wesker washed down the painkillers with the amber liquid in his glass swiftly. The old wound in his eye sockets started hurting again. Birkin was away for Annette's due labor. He hoped he could amass enough strength to support himself back home before the pain really sets in. He apologized to Philip and asked him to bid Maria well.

The pain started to burn while Wesker was on the train back to Arklay Station. He moved to an empty compartment so other passengers wouldn't come up to him and offer assistance. He leaned his head on the cold window glass, watching the fleeting dark sky and the mountain curve passed the train. He chewed down more painkillers, however knowing it would no longer work. He could get a prescription for hydrocodone, but he hates the addiction even more. He clutched his fist, didn't know if he could last the two hours journey without groaning in agony.

He closed his eyes as they became increasingly sensitive to light. In darkness he saw different colors of light swirling, interchanging, and eventually disappeared. It was aurora.

"Are you all right?"

Wesker opened his eyes and seeing Alexia Ashford stands in front of him. He thought he was mistaken, and indeed he was. It was another girl who was about the same age as Alexia during the first time they met. She has dark short hair and green eyes.

"You should stick to your parents." He wanted to say, but instead could only manage a sigh. He hoped the girl could just walk away.

"My parents are fighting. I don't want to be around them now." The girl comprehended him but didn't walk away. Instead she sat on the seat across him,

"I'm Rebecca, what's your name?"

Wesker closed his eyes again. Even though he was barely audible, Rebecca managed to catch the what he said.

"Nice to meet you, Albert. It's fine if you don't want to speak out loud. I can read lips because grandma has dysaudia. Where are you going? My parents are taking me to Denver for a special school audition because I won the stupid state math olympiad. But I'm going to play dumb so I don't have to go. I don't want to lose my friends."

"You'll make new friends."

He moved his lips.

"What about my old friends?" Rebecca contested.

"They'll make new friends as well."

"What's the point of making friends then, if they can be replaced?"

"You can't hold people forever."

"I don't like that. I'd rather be alone."

He tried to force out a smile, but his face was twisted by the increasing pain. He covered his eyes with one hand, in agony he felt the girl's hand rested on his shoulder,

"You need help."

He heard what Rebecca said, but it was in Alex's voice. He opened his eyes, seeing Rebecca was gone.

The train slowed down as it approached the Arklay Station. Wesker got off the train, wondering if Rebecca was real or just a dream. The train started, leaving him on the empty platform. He laid down on the wooden bench. The cold night air took some of the pain away. He didn't know how long he had been there until the pain gradually disappeared. Despite the exhaustion, he managed to get up and made it back to Spencer's mansion.

"Doctor Wesker, Doctor Birkin called you an hour ago. He left a message, saying his wife had given birth to a little girl, and he won't attend the meeting tomorrow."

Security handed him a memo.

"He said you can find him by this number."

**********************************************************************************

The application was returned together with a rejection letter from IB. The exact reason of which was unspecified. Wesker inserted the letter and the application forms into the paper shredder before picking up his keys.

Birkin told him that Annette had named the baby 'Sherry'. Wesker didn't know what should he get for the new born. He ended up buying a bouquet of white roses, which looked aesthetically surreal under the snow.

The couple purchased a house in Raccoon City, where Umbrella constructed its latest underground laboratory. Subsequently both Birkin and Wesker have received notice of deployment. Birkin was promoted to the Chief Director at Umbrella Research, replacing James Marcus; and Wesker was promoted to the Deputy Director. Soon they will be to be relocated to the new facility.

Annette seemed to be in perfect health. Her skin was glowing under motherhood, and her smile was as sweet as ever. She showed Wesker the baby, leaving the roses on the nightstand beside Sherry's crib. Birkin, holding a half-read virology journal in his right hand, eager to assist Annette where he could. They talked a bit after Sherry fell asleep. Then Annette went away for grocery shopping.

"Who's going to take Arklay Lab after us?" Birkin asked.

"I haven't see the applicant's list yet. What's your pick?"

Wesker was surprised that Birkin would ask about it, as he rarely showed any interest in personnel affairs. Birkin opened the journal and showed him the one of the authors.

"John Clemens."

"He was Heather's brother if I'm not mistaken."

"He's on the list. You must have read his latest study..."

"No. Being competent is not enough. Heather disappeared while still being an Umbrella employee. What if he has covert intention? Has he been screened? You should run this through me first."

"Heather's disappearance was almost nine years ago. I respect your judgment, but I'm the chief director now. I choose whomever that is fit for the position without prejudice."

Birkin argued. It was not the first time that he spoke to Wesker in antagonistic tone. However, this is the first time that Wesker perceived hostility from him. Maybe he has been living under the assumption too long since Birkin delegated him the power to arbitrate administrative affairs, so that he could concentrated on research. Now Birkin wants the power back, which is his right.

"Fine. Do it justly then. At least you'll keep an eye on him?"

"Of course I will. And one more thing, I'm worried about Marcus. He refused to leave training center since he was demoted. I know we should leave him be. But he's only a staff researcher. He doesn't have enough security clearance to what he is doing now."

"Security clearance means nothing to him. Marcus practically built the whole Umbrella intellectual enterprise. If we take the last straw from him, he will do something stupid."

"That's why we have to take him out. He belongs to psychiatrical institution, not a bio-safety laboratory. Wesker what's wrong with you? Remember what he did to you? Why are you protecting him?"

"I don't forget. I'm not protecting him. I'm protecting this company and our work. Do you know how many organizations are out there to get him? He is the father of T-virus."

"So am I!" Birkin interrupted him, enraged, "Marcus is the hazard waste that should be cleaned out long time ago. We don't need him anymore."

Wesker, reckoned Birkin's intention, closed his eyes for a second.

"What you are suggesting..."

"I'm not suggesting. I'm telling you, what if no one can take him alive?" Birkin emphasized the last word.

Sherry's crying suddenly broke out.

"All I'm trying to say is that I can't do my job properly with Marcus being a possible hinderance. I talked to him last week. He still won't release the most critical part about Progenitor virus. We can't let him do that anymore. Think about it, would you?" Birkin said to Wesker as he ran up stairs to take care Sherry.

*********************************************************************************

A snowstorm is building up. Wesker parked his motorbike at the gas station because he could no longer see the road ahead. With a weather like this he couldn't get anywhere tonight. He took a room in the motel behind the gas station. Birkin and Annette had invited him to stay for the night. He thanked but refused them, saying he has work to do, which is a lie.

Inside him was the frightening emptiness, threaten to devour him. Now Wesker understands why Birkin would rather die than suffered this. He crashed on bed, face down, trying to organize his thoughts. Birkin wants Marcus gone, dead, never coming back. A perfectly reasonable requirement if one has renounced moral sense, which Wesker did. But why the strange feeling? As if something has been shattered and discarded. He woke up from the dream, no longer recognizes the man. Is it because he had seen Birkin as a child? He thought he was obliged to take care him, love him, making him happy. But he forgot that Birkin always had his ambition, which, like moral sense, was something that he had renounced since long time ago.

What's wrong with him? He shouldn't feel lost. He always knows what to do.

The next day Wesker was visited by Alex, who appeared without notice and from no where. She knocked on the glass that separated the conference room and the hallway. Other researchers collected their things and left, Alex walked in, closed the door behind her.

"I heard they turned down your application. You should let me know before applying so I can make arrangement. We have this super annoying guy who reviews application and he's totally against the idea of recruiting people from the research division."

Wesker could see the purpura on her wrist whenever she lifted her hand.

"Anyway?"

"Anyway you are on board. I'm here to prep you. IB has its own entry procedure, which could be very different from what you technical people have here. First you need to disassociate yourself from the identity of Umbrella scientist. The notice for your dismissal will be announced in next month, so finish what you have to do while you still have time. Then you'll be sent to Rockfort Island for intelligence analysis training. After which you will join the army, which gives you a new background. You go where IB dispatches you and do whatever IB told you to. Military experience is going to be handy so don't waste the years in army away."

"Don't bother."

"What?"

"I changed my mind."

"Why...Oh for Jupiter's sake Albert don't be a child. You genius don't take rejection well do you?"

Wesker checked the door, making sure it has been properly closed and locked, before turning back and said,

"Marcus needs to be removed. I have to see him gone before I could leave Research."

"Spencer thought the same."

"Then why hasn't he do anything?"

"He's waiting for the right time and the right man to do it."

"That's why I'm recruited? Did he go through all these intricate plots just to lure someone to do it for him?"

"Or perhaps he just wants to see Marcus ends by his favorite."

Watching wesker fell into silence. Alex asked,

"Albert, you sure want to do this?"

"Yes, and I need a force."

"Eight men will do. Marcus has no means of defense. I'll let you know once everything is ready. And try to act more submissive in my presence, pretend if you have to. I'm your superior from now on."

"You are not getting better."

He picked up her hand to examine the purpura hidden under the sleeve. They were not there the last time he saw her.

"What did I just say? That's none of your business." Alex pulled her arm back, protested in the strongest manner, hoping he would not notice her blushing, which couldn't be more obvious because how pale she is.

**********************************************************************************

Annette was organizing Birkin's study. He was granted more freedom and funds for his G-virus project since Hunter and Nemesis came out. She didn't know the exact budget allowance for G, but according to Wesker, it was an "inordinate amount". Nevertheless, Birkin said Spencer has covered it.

That's why she hesitated when she found a report that has nothing to do with G-virus or T-virus under an old cassette player. It was a report on a single-letter change in human gene, which she has never seen before. She thought it was strange, since Birkin isn't doing any human case study lately.

"Sherry is hungry."

Birkin's voice pulled her back from wondering.

"Right away."

She put the report back to where it was.

"How long you've been home? I didn't even hear you."

Annette held Sherry close to her left breast. Birkin collected her toys from the floor.

"I got this for you."

He reached his hand into the pocket to search for something. When he opened his hand again, there was a gold locket laying on the center of his palm.

"I saw it on my way back from the symposium."

"Thank you." She kissed him, "I'm using it to keep Sherry's fetal hair. What do you want for dinner?"

"Sorry Anne, I have to run now."

"But you said you don't work overnight anymore."

"I promised this won't happen again once the new facility is in operation."

"Liam, I can't..."

"I'll be back tomorrow morning, just bear with me, please."

**********************************************************************************

The sky is clear tonight. Wesker could see every star on Orion belt. It had been three years since the last time he set a foot on this ground. The forest and mountains, untainted by human, remained the way they were ten years ago. He could see the feelings, which were once but no longer belong to him, flowing like river, detached and alienated.

An operation team constituted by Umbrella Security Service descended from the black helicopter, followed by Birkin. Wesker asked Birkin not to come, so he wouldn't be implicated. But he refused. He must see the laboratory and archive not to be savaged by the operation, so valuable samples and data won't be lost.

On their way to Marcus's residence, Wesker recognized the path that leads to the lake and the fragrance of orange blossom, where Birkin and him would spend the evening together after a long exhausting day in protective suits. But now the path is blocked by thistles and thorns. No one has gone through here since they left.

Birkin, walking by his side, was not brittled at all by the upcoming operation. He watches his steps carefully, not used to the heavy tactical boots. Like rest of the team, the two were in black uniforms and balaclavas, except Birkin was not given a weapon. He was not trained and might accidentally shoot one of their own in state of confusion.

The residence was empty as they've expected. Wesker twisted the switch hidden in the library, revealing the entrance to the owner's private laboratory. He wondered where the assistant director had gone.

The layout inside the laboratory has been changed. The suspension container in which Wesker found Heather's body is no longer there. Marcus, back to them, is observing something on the monitor connected to STM. Wesker hears Chopin's Nocturne coming from the stereo at the other side of the room, No.4 in F major, performed by Arthur Rubinstein.

"Don't mess up this place..."

Two crisp rifle shots followed. Marcus is down. He breathed rapidly for about half minute, after which his chest stopped rising.

"It's all right, Doctor. No one is going to mess up anything. I will take over your research."

Birkin took off the balaclava and said calmly. The corners of his mouth turned up a little.

Chapter Text

'Obedience breeds discipline.
Discipline breeds unity.
Unity breeds power.
Power is life.'

"The principle that I myself abide to, shall forever remain the central doctrine of this company, even the great man who authored it is no longer with us. Today we gather here not just to honor the memory of the late Doctor James Marcus. We are here to honor his immortal deeds. As his friend, colleague, and the chairman of Umbrella Corporation, I must say that words cannot express my respect and gratitude for James, who revolutionized virology and whose contribution benefited hundred thousands of world population. There would be no Umbrella Pharmaceutics without him, and there would no Umbrella Research without him. To me, there was no one like him and there will be no one like him. His pass away is the most regrettable loss that Umbrella has ever endured. Yet I beg you not to be paralyzed by grief. We should remember him in the way which he would want us to; we should continue his great work, which, I entrust his favorite student and successor Doctor William Birkin will lead us to."

Not much is known about Marcus's life. His career is his life. Take it away and there is nothing left but silence and solitude. His body was not cremated or buried; instead it was kept in the morgue at the training center under Spencer's order. Maybe he thinks Marcus would come back to life someday because he is not done with him yet.

Birkin never understands Spencer's fancy for somatic immortality. Body rots, only the name goes down forever.

Spencer holds grand funerals for his enemies, Edward Ashford, Alexander Ashford, Alexia Ashford, James Marcus; those whom he buried directly or indirectly. It is the most glorious way to celebrate his victory, showing the world that another power game has been won, that he is one step closer to total control. Watching the crowd dressed in black mourning at an empty coffin, Birkin feels fortunate that he is on the right side, that he is not the one being mourned.

With a new dynasty come its new followers. Being the new leader of Umbrella Research, Birkin asks no more than a fleet that obeys his command. He is ready for the new era. But there is still hinderance.

With a new dynasty come its new followers. Being the new leader of Umbrella Research, Birkin asks no more than a fleet that obeys his command. But Spencer would not let him be its arbitrator.

With a new dynasty come its new followers. Being the new leader of Umbrella Research, Birkin asks no more than a fleet that obeys his command. But he can never have it unless Sergei is removed.

Sergei Vladimir, a dismissed Soviet army colonel, a leftover of USSR, was promoted to the Commander of the newly established Umbrella Biohazard Countermeasure Service, the predecessor of which was the Umbrella Countermeasure Team. He was recruited from Russia, first served as Spencer's head of security, then the Director of internal affairs, now the captain of the largest private military sector funded by Umbrella. The rising only took him less than two years, which was a sign of great trust from Spencer. The reason of which behind the trust cannot be discerned. It concerns Birkin to a huge extend since Sergei starts muddling the Research under Spencer's consent.

With a new dynasty come its new followers. Being the new leader of Umbrella Research, Birkin asks no more than a fleet that obeys his command. But he can never have it unless Ozwell Spencer is removed.

**********************************************************************************

It's the warmest season of the year at Edonia. Philip prefers summer wind over stiffed air conditioner flow. But natural airflow is a luxury in the rigidly sealed laboratory structure. He knocked on the consolidated glass shield. The man inside turned back and saw Philip pointed at his watch.

Wesker puts the sample back to the refrigerator, took off the protective suit and scrubs. After sanitization, he puts on a new set of army BDU, then signed off before exiting the laboratory.

"Let's take a walk outside. You need some fresh air."

Philip handed Wesker a bottle of ice cold water, which he chugged down gratefully. The research complex and its annexed military camp were built in the mountain region, exactly where Wesker almost lost a leg six years ago. Six years later, the now army biological commissioned officer was sent to the same location to facilitate a collaborative bioweapon project between the army and Umbrella Corporation, the private contractor who won the bidding. The chief deputy Philip Burnside was sent on the company's behalf.

The so-called collaborative development was only a pretense. The failed test from six years ago left a legacy which only manifested itself recently. A nearby village was wiped out by a virus that resembles T-virus, and there were traces indicated the possible presence of B.O.W.. Patient zero has not been identified, nor much is known about the possible B.O.W. on loose. Both the military and Umbrella took the incident as a valuable chance to observe the performance of the T-virus as a virological weapon. Besides, Umbrella needs to clean up the scene in case the viral sample and B.O.W. ended up in the wrong hand. Wesker, who takes order from Umbrella Intelligence Bureau but works for the military was chosen to protect the interest of both sides. He was ordered to report to the IB once the location of the B.O.W. is discovered. Umbrella must seize it before the government does.

No body would raise an objection or suspicion seeing the CO and an Umbrella scientist being close because they are supposed to work together. Wesker didn't tell Philip that he is still serving Umbrella, however he thinks Philip knows by intuition. The matter remains unspoken between the two. Philip never asks question which Wesker cannot answer.

Outside IB, Birkin is the only person who knows about his covert employment. Wesker told Birkin about it the day he was dismissed for unethical practicing which resulted the death of two researchers. Birkin was furious about his dismissal, and nothing could prevent him from protesting than telling him the truth. Although Birkin was infuriated by his decision even more, eventually he calmed down.

Maria and Philip had a son. They named him 'Steve' after his grandfather. For sure, Philip would rather not to be here. Steve is having some troubles at school. Maria couldn't maneuver the matter alone. But Philip is a too competent technical bureaucrat; he gets the job done and never complains.

Wesker, on the other hand, doesn't have everything under his control as the way he desires either. Alex, the head of IB and his direct commander, hasn't contacted him over the past three weeks. It was highly unusual since they were in frequent touch. The only logical possibility he could derive was that Alex has fallen ill, and it was so bad that she must resign from her duty for now. The gene therapy no longer works as it used to. The eruption of symptoms was prolonged, but inevitable.

Still, this remote country became a temporary sanctuary which gave both of them a strange sense of relief. As if back to their younger years, for most of the time they have nothing but lab work to worry about. When they are both off duty Wesker would teach Philip the engineering skills he learned in army, such as how to defuse a nuclear bomb, which a civilian is never going to use. And once for a while that question would come up,

"How's Birkin?"

**********************************************************************************

"What can I get you?" The nurse asked before leaving.

"Turn on the music on your way out please."

From the stereo comes forth Beethoven's piano concerto, No.5, adagio. Alex closed her eyes and then opened them as she heard the sound of heavy footstep in the hallway.

"Colonel, I never fail to recognize your steps."

"Do you not like Russian music? I bought a vinyl. You have a taste for suppressed passion. I think Tchaikovsky is to your fondness."

Sergei is seven feet tall, the New England living room, which is too spacious for its owner, could barely contain the gigantic guest. Sun casts a massive shadow behind him; whenever he goes, darkness follows.

Alex has lost a lot of weight since the symptoms exacerbated. Her hair is falling out. Worse, purpura begins to pop up on her cheeks. She used as much makeup as she could to cover her face while not to look like a wax doll at the same time. What foundation couldn't cover was the diminishing energy and strength. She must take naps between hours and hours, and even taking a jog outside the estate is now a luxury, not to mention working without day and night like before.

"I'm here to inform you that your have been discharged from your duty as the Deputy Director of Intelligence Bureau. Given your poor health, you should rest and leave the business to the competent." Sergei took out the vinyl and replaced it with Tchaikovsky's String Serenades.

"You put way too much on your plate than what you can chew down. Intelligence is about network. This is not Soviet Union. Rank means nothing without connection. Nothing will happen if you just sit there and giving commands." Alex chuckled, but her gaze was cold.

"I'm not here to argue. I'm here to pass down the order. Take care." Sergei gave her his signature mysterious smile, which Alex has always wanted to slap off.

Alex was the closest Umbrella employee to Spencer. Even growing up by his side, she didn't understand why Spencer trusted Sergei so much. At first she thought Sergei forced his will on him. However after meeting Spencer she learned that it was not the case. It was simple pure loyalty. Sergei would die for him, that alone which is more important than anything else. Alex had also taken a bullet for him, apparently it didn't strike much of an impression which is as strong as whatever Sergei did. She couldn't care less about being stripped away the title or how much regard Spencer gives to the people around him. What she can't tolerate however, is that she, dying yet still proud, might need to beg for favors now.

No, that would be quiet unnecessary. She never begs. And what is the point for a dying woman to beg, when the world is going to continue without her? She has nothing to lose now. She is free to live for herself now, liberated by the inevitable destruction. Finally she could stop thinking for those whom she hates. At last she could live for those whom she cares, even the moment will only be transient.

Alex reached for the M9 hidden under the sofa cushion. The loaded semiautomatic carries a 15-round magazine, but she needs only one round. Fine marksmanship has never abandoned her, unlike her health.

She pulled out the pistol swiftly, pointed it at Sergei when he has turned back. Before her finger could touch the trigger however, an invisible force stroke the barrel. The force was so powerful that the M9 flew out her tightly clutching hand and sprang her left wrist. At the same time, one of the French windows shattered. Alex looked out through the broken window frames and saw the bright reflection from sniperscope.

Sergei kicked away the gun and grabbed her by the neck like lifting a kitten. The weight of her disease ridden body means nothing to him.

"Are you always surrounded a team of snippers where ever you go?"

Alex is out of breath, but she managed to get out a laugh.

"Is that how you greet your new commander? Either you have no manners or you are flirting."

Sergei looked her in the eyes as his hand pressed in hard on her carotid artery. It cuts the oxygen to her brain, the effect of which manifests immediately. Consciousness begins to drift away, fast. Alex staring into Sergei's grey blue irises, amassed her last remaining strength, stabbed him on the chest with a dagger she has been hidden under her sleeve. Sergei let go her body. She fell down, hitting the back of her head on a furniture.

"It's flirting then."

Sergei pulled out the dagger from his chest, stream of blood is trickling from the wound, tainting his jacket.

"To chase down and penetrate a woman, that's what a man does, not the other way around."

He lifted the nearly unconscious Alex from the ground, carried her across the living room, and threw her on the dining table.

"What a shame; that this too will fade away someday."

Sergei torn off her clothes, observing her body with great interest. This is not the first time that Alex being assaulted. But it is the first time that she got panic because she could not defend herself. Sergei has absolute advantage over her. She stands no chance against him with bare hands.

Yet she would not stop fighting back, the bites, the kicking, the snapped fingernails, the broken vocal cords. Even when Sergei forced himself on her, she didn't give up. The last bit of stamina was drained as her consciousness zooming out. Is that tear drop? When was the last time she cried? Has she ever cried?

**********************************************************************************

In Edonia, Wesker and Philip were oblivious to the storm building up inside Umbrella. Philip knows Birkin is being pressured, but he too barely knows anything about Sergei other than the name and he is Spencer's latest favorite. When he mentioned it to Wesker, his friend had fallen into silent deliberation.

Few days ago IB resumed contact with him. Though they wouldn't tell him where Alex went, they confirmed that she is ill. Since then Wesker has been surrounded by feeling of urgency. Something is going wrong and it's not just Alex's illness. He needs to go back to the State. He saved a two weeks long vacation. Now Philip's words only added to his concern. But he cannot leave until the mission is completed. That is, until they track down the source of the outbreak and the whereabout of the possible B.O.W. on loose.

According to the computational phylogenetic which maps out the genetic sequence alignment, the first case of infection was likely to occur three months ago. It is possible that patient zero was already dead when someone found his body, which was likely deserted in the wild. Whoever found the body then passed the virus to the entire village. The only problem remained was how T-virus came into contact with patient zero.

At first everyone thought the virus was spread by the B.O.W. on loose. But so far there is no decisive evidence that can prove its existence other than few witness reports. No DNA evidence has been extracted from the traces left by allegedly existed B.O.W., such as abnormally savaged wild animal and human bodies. The daunted witness report wasn't much of help either because they were incredibly vague and metaphorical,

"The tainted one."

The investigation came to a breakthrough when a team member found a combat dagger, NATO-standard, tailored, covered in dried blood. It was left by the battle from six years ago. The DNA found on the dagger edge belonged to two kinds of beings: human males and Nemesis, and one of the male DNA belongs to Patient zero. It seems that patient zero was accidentally injured by the contaminated dagger and then infected. The dagger was likely to be buried by layers of rotten leaves and plants before being discovered by patient zero. Humidity and darkness formed a suitable insulation which preserved the virus. The T-virus isolated from patient zero belongs to the same viral ancestry as the T-virus found on the dagger.

Philip gave Wesker a look when he learned about the test result, which could only signal one thing: the outbreak and the roaming B.O.W. are two separated events. Patient zero was infected by the accidental exposure to Nemesis's blood, which contaminated the dagger. Patient zero has no connection to the B.O.W. currently active in the region.

Wesker has not been updated with the details regarding the latest progress of B.O.W. development since he left the company. Due to lack of DNA evidence, he asked Philip if he has any idea as to whether Umbrella is conducting another test in nearby location, which Philip firmly denied.

Philip wanted to say that they couldn't affirm that the creature is related to the outbreak. First of, the village was isolated and scantly populated. The outbreak didn't cause mass mutation. Most villagers died from internal hemorrhage. Second; the "mutants", who attacked others and passed on the virus, were soon eliminated after the local militia was informed. Third; given the prevalence ratio it is impossible that some sort of new mutated sophisticated B.O.W. accidentally arose from the infected villagers. But before Philip could say anything, the sound of gunshots from distance had passed to them. The shots were fired by M16. Then was the combat alert; the complex is under attack.

**********************************************************************************

"Liam, the call is for you. It's Alex."

Annette hanged up after Birkin picked up the phone from his study. Sherry was playing the rabbit pattern on her coat. Annette took Sherry's little hand and they walked to the car.

Birkin would rather not to have his concentration distracted. But hearing it was her, whom he hasn't spoken to since a year ago, had claimed his attention from work. Maybe the matter is about Wesker, whom he also hasn't heard from since long time ago.

"How are you? Don't BS me. I'm seriously concerned."

"Hold your condolence. I'm taking a long drag before Spencer could write another eulogy. Ha-ha-ha."

"Any luck in HLA pairing?"

"None I'm afraid."

The presence of a common enemy sealed the friendship between the two. Sergei was not a trained in virology or bio-organic weaponry, but somehow he has managed to master the knowledge. Right after he was pointed to the head of internal affairs, an organization which monitors Umbrella employees, he began to pay close attention to Birkin's work and the experimentations being conducted outside laboratory settings, such as field test. Sergei has his own particular vision for B.O.W.; instead of the models that can be massively produced such as Hunter, Sergei wants something that is closer to perfect solider: fast, strong, durable, intelligent, and most importantly, with the profile and behaviors of a human.

Needless to say, it is less about the technical reason than costs that makes Sergei's design unpractical. Yet Sergei insisted that Birkin should do what he says, which annoys the Chief Director more than anything else. Sergei is cautious enough to not confront Birkin directly. He is harassing him by other means, making sure the internal affairs officers would pay him a daily visit, following him, interrupting his work, and ordered other department to not cooperate with Research. They went so far as to monitor his private correspondences and phone calls. Birkin was also denied the right to see Spencer. None of this would not happen if Alex is still in the position to intervene. But she was forced to surrender her power to Sergei under the chairman's command.

Since the communication between the two executives have been monitored, there is no way to notify Wesker through Birkin without alerting Sergei. Now that Sergei has taken over IB, it is only a matter of time before he learned about the on-going mission in Edonia. She hoped Sergei would just brush it aside. Otherwise he might mess it up, which could send Wesker to martial court if his covert relation to Umbrella is exposed.

Knowing the phone is tapped, Alex didn't say much other than some irrelevant small talk. She didn't mention a word about what happened to her. She just wanted Birkin to know that she is live and well even though that's not true, and she will find a way to stop Sergei.

Nevertheless, after hanging up, Alex started vomiting uncontrollably, the stress which her body desperately trying to expel. It took her a life time to close the dark void which Sergei has easily torn open again. Those eyes growing inside the void are looking back at her. They see her past, the loneliness, the insecurity, the separation, being manufactured, being abandoned, being betrayed, being beaten, being raped, being experimented on, combats, murders, gambits, conspiracies.

"I'm not weak!"

She saw her childhood self yelling at Spencer. It was the last time she cried, at the old Spencer estate, where she was raised, the long hall way, the obscured portraits, the man, whose hair had not yet gone entirely grey, was not in wheelchair. He was on his feet, supported by the crutches attached to his arms. Sweat soaked his shirt, the muscle on his upper body has tightened due to the amount of strength demanded by his action. Why? It was hopeless. The dead lower vertebrate nerves wouldn't respond. But he has never given up retrieving what he has lost. His gaze fixed on her for a second before turning back to his practice.

Why can't she just run away? Is she trying to be whom that man tells her to be? No, that is not happening...Then what is she doing? Why is she still alive and following him?

Alex grabbed the letter opener and stabbed her inner wrist as if it was her worst enemy. The tension inside her was immediately replaced by a dull physical pain. The only way to stop the pain is to create another pain. When the tension is gone, the mist clouding her mind has also been dispelled. She could see clearly now.

She is here to protect him. She wants to protect him. She must keep going until one of them cannot.

**********************************************************************************

"What is that?"

Philip stared at the shadow that leaped from one side to another. It moved at such a speed that he couldn't even get a clear look at it. Weapons could barely do it any harm. Men were slashed and torn, like tearing a piece of paper into half. What was supposed to be a systematic, well organized defensive retreat has quickly turned into a hide-and-seek. Wesker saw the incident from six years ago repeating itself. The team commander is planning a counterstrike. But how could they strike back without even knowing what their enemy is?

Men don't belong to battlefield anymore. He thought to himself. Men could only do this much against genetically modified creatures, which are far more superior.

The civilians, mainly the Umbrella employees were ordered to retreat to an abandoned mine pit which has become a temporary safe heaven. Philip refused to leave but Wesker pushed him into the elevator. He felt a great responsibility toward Philip which he didn't even know why and he didn't even think about the possibility of exposing him to danger. The team attempted to ambush the thing by a pressure sensitive explosive device. It did work, a bit, by slowing down it for a moment. But a moment is enough. They had a full view of it. It has the shape of human, only bigger and faster. But it's not a human; the shape of its skull doesn't resemble any known Homo sapiens; it has reinforced skin; its shoulders and hips were significantly wider and stronger than human males; on its chest was a cluster of dark tissue that is bumping, and where it supposed to be a left hand was a limb that resembled a crawl, which was used to attack.

The power of common weaponry is diminished by the defense mechanism built in the creature. One way to reduce its defense capacity is to inject it with T-virus immune globulin, if the creature is created based on T-virus, which they weren't sure of. But, as the Captain said, "We don't have choice." Even then, since each kind of immune globulin targets at only one T-virus variant. Using the unmatched immune globulin may not produce any effect at all. Yet again, they don't have any choice.

The team members have been vaccinated against T-virus Alpha before they were deployed. In addition Umbrella has prepared fifty bags of T-virus immune globulin serum incase there is infection. The most difficult apart of the operation is how to inject the creature with the serum when they can't even approach it. Eventually they set down on one plan, the remaining members were divided into two teams. One team acts as decoy to distract and slow down the target so another team could strike the target.

The atmosphere became even more strained as the men realized that they were practically asked to sacrifice themselves. But nobody said a word. On the one hand is unrealistic optimism, the false hope. On the other hand is the profound self-introspection, demanding to know if what they are doing really worth the sacrifice. There is nothing righteousness or honorable about this, being in a remote foreign country, killed by a monster which they don't even know what that is. Lastly there is the ugliest yet most possible ending: none of them would walk out here alive. Courage is conceived by ignorance and destroyed by deliberation. Now, here, ignorance is the only thing they need. What could be more righteous than saving oneself?

"We should aim at the chest. The black boil could be a critical organ."

"How does that work? Because it sounds like a retard design."

"Cut the bullshit, let's get to work. Al, how do we shove serum down that thing?"

"Directional blasting sir, mixed with sharp metal pieces dipped in serum."

"Can't we just dip our bullets with it?"

"Friction heat will denature the protein, rendering the serum ineffectual."

"Blasting that is."

Death, death, death, no one can experience death because we only die once. After which we cease to exist; after which we cannot experience anything. There is no death but the fear of it, and fear is not real.

Number of survivors continued to drop. Wesker found himself a corner, next to a dead fellow solider, under flying bullets and screamings, breathing the air filled with gunpowder smoke, calculating the blasting trajectory, the velocity, and amount of explosive needed. They only got high explosive in inventory. He needs something that is powerful enough to penetrate the reinforced skin but also mellow enough to reduce the energy generated by the explosion, such as quarry explosive, which he found in a storage room near the entrance of mine pit. He looked at the empty shaft, hearing the voice from within, clam and clear.

Keep going.

**********************************************************************************

Annette had a nightmare. It took her a while to find the way back to reality. She checked Liam, who is still sleeping next to her side, and Sherry, who is sleeping peacefully on her bed. She checked the security system, which shows no sign of invasion. Still, she couldn't get rid of the bad taste from her dream, in which she saw Birkin turning into something she could no longer recognized, and Sherry was taken away by a force she couldn't see.

The wedding invitation from her brother has fallen from the clipboard above the cabinet. Next to it was a framed photo taken on last Thanksgiving. Birkin holds Sherry in his arms so she could see the bird nest on oak tree; Annette was laughing; and Wesker took the photo. She picked up the invitation and threw it away. Liam has no time for it, so is she. Not giving up her career after having Sherry might be cherished by the new ideal. But it has been difficult for her. On the other hand however, Annette knows a sweet home is not enough. Now Wesker is gone; Philip is away; Birkin needs her assistance more than anytime.

Sherry, being only six, is doing what most children can't do at her age. She never argues or complains. She does the chores, cooking, homework, and taking bus to her chess club alone for her parents are too busy. But her intelligence is not exceptional, unlike her parents. Liam just shrugged and said it is a good thing, that their daughter has been spared. But it bothers Annette a bit. Then she feels guilty because she was supposed to love Sherry as who she is. Whenever the mood of disappointment begins to manifest, Annette immediately suppressed it like putting out a rising fire.

"Mom, what's wrong?"

Annette turned back, seeing Sherry was there.

"Nothing is wrong, angel. Sorry to wake you up, let's go back to your room."

Annette lifted up Sherry, surprised to find out how stiff and intense her body is.

**********************************************************************************

It was already midnight when the plane landed at Raccoon City Airport. Wesker saw Stuart, Alex's secretary, waving at him when escalator descended into the arrival hall. Outside rain was pouring down; visibility is poor. They ran to his car. He apologized for the delay. Carson airport was overloaded. Stuart brushed it off with his usual humor, saying Alex is waiting him. She canceled his hotel reservation without his knowledge and demanded him to stay at her place.

"You can take the boathouse. Mind you a wild cat broke in last week. But I don't think it'll come back again." She told him through a payphone before boarding.

"How is she?"

"Not very well" Stuart sighed as turning the wheel, "it's not just her health. Things have changed since you left last time. You know how she is; she would never let you know. She didn't even let me know. I checked the security camera footage. Sergei paid her a visit after the nurse left. Later a maid found her laying on the table, unconscious and...assaulted. The maid called an ambulance because she's bleeding non stop."

Stuart couldn't bring himself to say that word. It pains him to recall that Alex has been subjected to such humiliation. He waited until he built enough strength to continue, "But she wouldn't call the police. Glass has been smashed and I found a bullet hole on the fireplace. There were signs of struggle, pool of blood on carpet. Can you imagine what happened? Sergei must have done this."

"Any sequela?" Wesker asked.

"Her body can't heal the wounds."

Then there was silence. Stuart couldn't see Wesker's face. He could feel however, that tension is building up in the narrow space. It was extremely unsettling, frightening him, forcing him into silence, which continued until they arrived.

"What took you so long?"

Alex greeted them at the front door, coarse voice, bare feet, white sundress, and a corolla diamond bracelet on her left wrist. She was in a better state than Wesker imagined. He collected his thoughts, managed a gentle smile. But Stuart could barely look at her straight in the eyes. He bid them goodnight after the luggages were unloaded.

Lights in living room have been switched off. The only illumination came from the flames in fireplace. Wesker found the bullet hole on the surround that Stuart mentioned. Although it has been repainted, the paint color was off.

"Here, take this" She handed him a bottle of Scotch. "In case you want something to eat, this is the only food you will be getting until breakfast. Kitchen is closed."

"It's late. Go rest. We can catch up tomorrow."

His gaze fixed on her.

"Don't look at me! I want at least five compliments from you before I can let you see my ruined face." She covered her face with both hands and started laughing. The bracelet slid down her dainty wrist, revealing the dark bruise. Alex must have saw it as well. Her smile faded away as she let down her arms.

"You're right. It's late. Come, I'm showing you the boathouse."

The only warmth she had in childhood died in her own hands. Laura was her name. She suffered. Yet they would neither cure her nor let her die. They wouldn't let her go no matter how much she pleaded. At last she turned to Alex.

"But I love you!"

"Then do it!"

But who can relieve my pain?

But I'm not weak.

"I won't let anyone harms you again." He told her.

"I know."

I know.

**********************************************************************************

Lisa is here.

Birkin opened his eyes. He recognizes the breathing pattern because it was caused by her mutated myocardium anatomy. But he knows that she is not actually here. Occasionally he would hear the sound of her breathing in his mind, and tonight is the occasion. He didn't remember the exact time when the phenomenon started, perhaps after the first G-virus strain was isolated from her body. Since then there was a strange connection between them.

A gentle knock on the door as he had expected. It was almost too gentle. Birkin might miss it if he was not the only one in the house. Time is late, but time no longer means anything to him at this point. He opened the door and found him standing outside. Wesker looked the same as they parted last Thanksgiving. A cloud shadowed the moon. His face was hidden by darkness. Birkin stepped closer and saw his eyes, still transparent, blue as the night ocean.

"Use the bell."

"I don't want to wake up Annette and Sherry."

"They were at her grandparents. Where are you staying?"

"I'm staying with Alex."

"Why you stopped writing to me? Busy having fun?"

"Still being a child?"

"I'm not..."

Birkin was silent as their lips touched. The days which Wesker was absent divided themselves and formed a separated world from this moment. Birkin saw the world leaving him, as he found himself dwelling in old memory. He was outrageous when Wesker told him that he joined IB and was leaving for a tour in the army. He was sure that he would lose him, either to someone else or in some stupid assignment. Why? Birkin didn't understand. Marcus is gone. He is the new director of Umbrella Research. So why walk away now? What else do you want? Isn't this enough?

"What we have are only for today. We don't know what we might lose tomorrow. I want us to be secured. We can't live at Spencer's mercy forever."

But what then? What is the cost for doing the right thing?

"I missed you." He whispered to him.

"Then come back, please." Birkin begged.

**********************************************************************************

Sergei is not happy. He understands very well as a veteran and commander, that only plan is perfect, reality is not and can never be. Nevertheless, he was surprised to be informed that the mission had fallen at the other end of the spectrum, failure. A complete disaster in fact, since the military has seized the body of Tyrant.

Tyrant was an idea abandoned by Marcus. Sergei wanted to recycle the design after discovering the documents in archive. Birkin refused his request and wouldn't bend to his pressure. Spencer gave him the permission to set up a new research laboratory in Siberia. It was built under an old oil refinery. The staff researchers were recruited from the bio weaponry experts left behind by Soviet Union. Sergei updated them with the latest development in the field and gave them samples to study. It took a lot of time and trials. But his handpicked people didn't fail him. Tyrant was conceived.

Meanwhile, a new surveillance program supported by a supercomputer was up and running. The program has two personas; the first persona is Red Queen. She is in charged to protect Umbrella's property and interest. The second persona is White Queen. She assists the researchers in data analysis. Tyrant has relatively advanced intelligence. Sergei was thinking of a built-in remote control, which would allow Red Queen to calculate and subsequently coordinates its actions in battle. But before his vision could be realized, the precious protagonist was destroyed in Edonia.

The plan was to use the unwitting military personnel as testing subjects for Tyrant's combat capacity. It was supposed to be an easy win according to the modeling. Sergei intended to use it as proof to vouch for more investment in Tyrant project. Tyrant couldn't be produced in mass; his hope and ambition, and now set back by Albert Wesker, one of Umbrella's own, an IB officer under Alex Wesker's command.

**********************************************************************************

It was dawn when Wesker left Birkin's home. There were only few vehicles in proximity; it is hard to not notice the black SUV tailing him. But soon as Wesker spotted the SUV in rearview mirror, it took a U turn and rushed off.

It bothers Wesker less who is behind the wheel than what he should do from now on since the structure of power has changed. The eternal question comes up again: what does Spencer want? During the years which Wesker was absent from Umbrella Research, the events took place in the company were not always pretty, but at least they were going at a predictable direction. Spencer obviously thought highly of Birkin's G virus project. Otherwise he wouldn't have invest so much in it. To return his favor, Birkin has been giving out new B.O.W. each quarter, which led to a surge for Umbrella's share price. Then Sergei came along. But he is only an instrument. If Sergei's interference with Research could be justified as Spencer's measure to curb Birkin's ego, then what could explain for his sanction against Alex?

The more Wesker learned about Spencer, the less he can understand him. The only notion which never ceases to prevail is that he should get away from him while he still can. Yet he couldn't. Maybe it is just an excuse. But one event after another made him believed that his life is intertwined with this company. He shall fall and rise with it.

The sun was barely shining when he returned to her house. Alex, already awake, is reading a book. Nurse just took her blood sample.

"Where have you been last night? I've been regretting keeping you here. Birkin and I are being spied on."

"I know. Someone was following me on my way back here. Either way it would be impossible to conceal our connections given our past. Perhaps Sergei got curious of what we are doing behind his back." He puts the car key back, said calmly, "But it's all right. I will meet my new superior eventually, sooner or later, willingly or not."

He turned to her, "Alex, does the idea of leaving Umbrella ever occur to you?"

What if we get out here together?

But Alex didn't answer; instead, she asked,

"Do you blame me for dragging you into this?"

"I said I won't let anyone harms you again."

"What about Birkin? There isn't another place for him like Umbrella. He can't leave his work behind."

**********************************************************************************

Strange faces no longer surprise Annette, as Sergei has been inserting his own people into the laboratory. Birkin was rather indifferent to them; he knows nothing can get done without him. That is his one and only leverage over Sergei and Spencer.

It was late night when they signed off from work. Sherry had gotten to her bed. Annette kissed her forehead and said she was sorry that they couldn't make it home early. Birkin was talking to Philip on the phone. Something has gone wrong in the Arklay Laboratory today. Sergei threw a tantrum. He ordered a raid on the email servers, claiming that someone attempted to leak sensitive information to the media. The documents being leaked implicated human experimentation. Someone, out of unknown motive, is trying to inform the world about Umbrella's unethical conduct. But the email was intercepted by Red Queen. No one knows whether the case is real or not since Sergei holds all the evidence. Birkin doubted any of his staff would be so stupid as to use the internal server for private communication such as snitching. Sergei probably forged the case to make excuse for infiltrating Research.

Birkin hanged up, decided he would push back the release date for the latest B.O.W.. He is not going to give anything new until Spencer takes Sergei away. Two years would be enough. He thought to himself. Two years after he would have the perfected G virus in his hands. So he could be an equal to Spencer. More and more he sympathizes with Marcus. Spencer is a control freak. He was just afraid to let those who are more talented than him to dominate.

Seeing he is no longer on the phone. Annette walked into the study and said,

"Sherry made it to the state chess tournament. It's going to be next Friday. We should go with her."

"Why? It's chess. We are not doing her any help by being there. She would only get distracted."

"Do you know why she picked up chess in the first place?"

"She thought it was interesting."

"No. Wesker told her that you and him used to play chess together when you were young. She thought she might do the same to please you. But you never played with her. It's a game for two!"

"I don't have time..."

"Liam, please don't say that."

Is Sherry going to ended up like him?

Birkin repressed the idea before it could be processed.

"Fine. I'll see what I can do with the schedule. But don't tell her yet. I don't want to raise her hope for nothing."

"Thanks. Sherry will be happy." Annette smiled and kissed him.
**********************************************************************************

It has been raining non-stop since early morning. Stuart took Alex to the clinic where she receives her weekly gene therapy. Wesker went to Philip. That day he took a piece of tissue from the B.O.W.'s body and hid it under a clean bandage. He gave it to Philip, asking him to do the analysis. Some of his fellow soldiers turned into mutants after being attacked. Wesker was sure that the B.O.W. was made based on T-virus. Since every T-virus strain can be tracked back to the laboratory that tempered it, the only thing waiting to be uncovered is from where the virus derived.

They were supposed to meet at the college medical science building. The university was among one of the public institution funded by Umbrella. Philip kept good terms with the faculty, some of them which he already knew. Sometimes he would hang out there just to check what people are working on. He borrowed a laboratory with sufficient equipments from them and completed the analysis himself.

The college was located outside the city and at the foot of Arklay Mountains. The area was famous for its maple forest, which, during autumn, turns the entire hillside into red. However the season is off now. Wesker didn't expect to be called out by a sightseer. But one of the sightseers, a young man holding a map, seemed to be glad to finally spot a local. The campus was empty for summer break. Maybe he was lost. The sightseer approached him while waving the map. Wesker stood still, not because he wanted to help. He recognized the tattoo on his wrist; it was Uroboros, a symbol of eternity. The pattern was featured as a religious token of the Ndipaya people. He remembered it from the ethnography he read when he was searching for the location of Kijuju.

It was a tactic he learned on Rockfort Island; one man distracts the target so the others could take the target from behind. The trick is cliché but surprisingly useful when the target is not trained or vigilant, neither of which is true in this case. The two men who were quietly approaching him from behind were caught in surprise when Wesker suddenly turned around instead of being distracted like they expected. It was already too late to retract footsteps or pulling out weapons. Wesker took one man's arm and twisted it, leading his body bending inward, bumping the other man aside, revealing the pistol in his concealed holster at the same time. Wesker stabbed him before pulling out the pistol and shot down the two standing next to him and behind him, neglecting however, the driver who has been sitting in the van parked by the roadside. A gunshot followed, the driver fell under the wheel. A young woman stepped out from the bushes. She dressed as a typical college girl, but the Glock in her hands and the muscle definition of her body portray another identity.

"Better leave before anyone see this. Doctor Burnside is waiting."

The young woman said in delightful tone of voice as she showed him the way to her vehicle, a black SUV. Knowing this is not the time to ask question, Wesker took the pistol, collected his dagger from the body and followed her. Until she drove far enough and they see there is no one following them.

"Who are you?"

"Call me Ada."

"You don't work for Umbrella I supposed."

"I'm freelance."

"Did Philip hire you?"

"Save the question for him. I do what I'm paid for."

Philip is waiting for them somewhere in the mountain. They left the SUV and walked to the rendezvous. Ada knew this place by heart. Wesker wonders how long she's been investigating him and what Philip is up to. They've known each other for too long. Sometimes Wesker found himself unable to take a second thought on him.

"I have to change the location. Ada told me Sergei had his men ambushed there. Albert, I no longer works for Umbrella, not since many years ago, not since before you left." Philip confessed, "There is no point knowing why I did it. I know you still work undercover for Umbrella. I'm telling you the truth because I want you to leave with me. Steve and Maria are safe now. There is a helicopter waiting for us, and soon we'll be safe too. I ran the sample you gave to me and found no match in any of the known laboratory database. But it's T-virus for sure. The search must have alerted Red Queen. Sergei has been after me. He was the one who released that monster in Edonia. The man has the entire Umbrella in his hands now. What good could you possibly do to yourself by staying here?"

"I can't just leave them behind."

In an instance Wesker perceived his problem, that he had made the mistake which he has been trying to avoid. That is, not to turn out like his mother Liv, not to be trapped by affections, not to fall for people around him, and to think only for himself; yet none of which he can do. With Birkin being pressured and Alex dying in agony, he can't leave them until the situation is improved.

And Philip knew this as much as he did. He smiled bitterly and said,

"Can't let the past go? Maybe I was the one who can't get over it."

He sighed, picked up Wesker's right hand and wrote a string of number on his palm with his index finger.

"Contact this number if you changed your mind. They won't be as easy as me. But I guess by the time you are ready to leave, nothing would stop you."

Philip closed his hand. Before he could let Wesker go, a green laser point appeared on his chest, followed by a voice,

"Freeze or I'll shoot!"

Wesker raised his eyes to identify the operator. But he was stunned on the nape. The last thing he saw before passing out was a black shadow.
**********************************************************************************

'Philip, I'm sorry.'

Wesker crossed it out.

'Philip, you know why I left.'

He crossed it out again.

"I love you."

He crumpled up the letter and threw it away.

It is true that everyone lives according to its own time. It has been fifteen years since they first met. But it has never occurred to Wesker that he had grown much older, or that his mind had taken away by endless tasks, not realizing his time had come to a stop until he saw Philip again; then the forgotten time looked back at him, demanding to be reckoned.

He left. But Philip stayed.

Philip was always quiet. One night he gently caressed his hair, telling him that one day they too shall be apart, that what he owns now is only for today; he doesn't know what he might lose tomorrow. Wesker disbelieved it, for he was laying in his arms when he said it. He thought he needs no one but Philip. He thought they will never lose each other. How absurd.

They met at a time when Wesker stopped having emotion. Philip found him, took him back, and cured him. Philip understood him; he understood his pain, deep inside, suppressed by numbness, without a word needs to be uttered, Wesker retrieved the lost affection and impulse from him. He crawled back to the world of desire, which he used to his advantage when the chance came. A young man whoring his youth to the statue of power. But how far could exceptional intelligence take him without connection and favor? What he wouldn't do just to guarantee that he never fails? He is disgusted by himself. He paid the price for being an ignorant pragmatist; and for being born as someone who sees nothing but the goal which he must attain. Philip saw through him. Yet he stayed by his side, even when he abandoned him.

Now he wants to get away, Wesker, Umbrella, T-virus, B.O.W., everything.

But it's too late.
**********************************************************************************

Wesker woke up in Spencer's mansion. He found himself laying on bed, attended by a medic. Behind the medic was the owner. Light projected on his side. Spencer smiled,

"Better?"

"Where is Philip?"

"It's yourself that you should be worry about. You are implicated in Doctor Burnside's espionage, and killing four security service members doesn't reflect positively on you either."

"Where is Philip?"

"If you insist to know, Sergei sent him away. I suggest you to not seek him or his family."

Wesker contained his rage, calmly questioning,

"It's that what you want? Giving Sergei the right to control Umbrella? What do you think would happen once he is done with you?"

The smile on Spencer's face grows even brighter.

"Did you like the harpsichord? I really want to know." He speaks in an affectionate tone, "I ordered it from a Massachusetts atelier. There aren't many skillful harpsichord makers left nowadays, and even fewer skillful performers. I'm sad to see that you no longer practice it. Remember Edith, your childhood music tutor? I think she would be sad too seeing you gave up music. After all, you inherited your mother's gift, absolute pitch. Was it because of James? You hate every object that denotes him?"

His words put a smile on Wesker's face as well. For truth always reveals itself when he is least prepared to receive it. Nevertheless, Wesker immediately made the truth into the concrete ground under his feet. So there is someone waiting for him at every turn in his life. So his life is being controlled, manipulated, and influenced. Now he knows, but the weight of being slaved couldn't be lifted from simply knowing.

"File reference number AIRE NM000383.3. You asked Alex to leave it in my hotel room twelve years ago. Why did you choose me?"

"This meeting between us was not supposed to happen, not now. Only Sergei could be too loyal sometimes. His greatest virtue is also his fault. I have to take you from him before irreparable damage is done. If you wish to find out why I chose you, you must stay at Umbrella. Otherwise you are free to go. What you did just then and in Edonia would be duly reported to the military. Forgive me, I don't like making threat. But things must proceed in the way I intended..."

But Wesker is not listening. He is not the sick fuck's toy. His eyes have been on the medic's sidearm, and Spencer is not carrying anything. Impulsive? All he knows is he must end this now. He doesn't care even the ending is his own demise.

The moment he twitched his finger, a shadow dropped down from the ceiling and landed on his chest, almost crashed his thorax. It was the same shadow he caught a glimpse of before blank out. He recognized that the creature was the same type of B.O.W. he saw in Edonia, only much smaller in size and even faster in speed. It held him down by its strong crawl, breathing steadily, waiting for Spencer's order.

"Very well Albert. You never let me down."

Facing up, he could only hear from Spencer,

"Too bad that your will to liberation is not served by sufficient power. Now you must face the consequence."

The creature pressed down. Wesker heard the sound of his sternum cracking, followed by sharp pain and suffocation.
**********************************************************************************

Alex stepped out the boathouse to check the weather. Rain has stopped. But the sky is shadowed.

"You are a fool."

She went back in and checked the man lying on bed, "How do you feel?"

"Any news from Philip?"

"He's gone Albert. Not conceding to reality wouldn't do you any good."

"Did Liam call you back?"

"He did. He's fine, so is his family. I didn't tell him what happened."

"Thank you."

Wesker paused for a second to avoid contracting his lung too much.

"What does Spencer want from me?"

"You know I can't say."

"Even after what he did to you?"

"It has nothing to do with Spencer. It's you..." Alex interrupted herself in silent frustration. "Forget about Philip, forget about what you promised me and forget about what Sergei did. Just forget about everything that happened. Don't even think about revenge or you're just playing into his hands."

"I can't live a life knowing it's controlled by someone else."

"Let's run away then. I don't care where we go, just a place where Spencer couldn't reach."

"It's too late."

Where he could go? How can he walk away with what he knows? Living the rest of his life pretending Spencer never exits? From now on he understands only one thing, that he must set himself free. But he couldn't do it without finding out the whole truth, and he couldn't uncover the truth without becoming more powerful. Spencer was right, he doesn't have enough strength to do what he wants. Not yet.

Even if the ending is his own demise, his demise will surely be preceded by Spencer's.

Alex held his hand as the feeling of being defeated slowly sunk in. So everything went exactly as Spencer planned. Wesker had no idea how far Spencer's power extended. She did her best to keep Albert away from Umbrella. After Albert was almost killed in Edonia, she made him join the military, hoping the identity could temporarily shelter him from Spencer's manipulation. But thinking back from now, her embedded affection must also be part of Spencer's design.

**********************************************************************************

Project Wesker subject number 012 status: active

Project Wesker subject number 013 status: active

The texts are blinking on screen. Alex entered the command to search for subject 007.

Project Wesker subject number 007 status: deceased

She pressed the key again, which returned the same output:

Project Wesker subject number 007 status: deceased

She pressed the key again:

Project Wesker subject number 007 status: deceased

Again:

Project Wesker subject number 007 status: deceased

Again:

Project Wesker subject number 007 status: deceased

She deleted the command and entered:

Where is Laura?

The output returned: invalid request.

"Shh, follow me!"

Laura opened the door to the ballroom, showing Alex the grand piano. Dr. Wesker never touches it, but a tuner comes every two weeks to make sure the instrument is in uniform pitch.

"But I'm not allowed to be here."

The girls sneaked in, Alex lowered her voice, looked around nervously.

"Don't worry. No one gonna hear a thing. They live far enough."

"Why don't you live with us?"

"Because doctor says I may pass the virus to other children."

Laura said as she climbed on the piano bench. Her little body couldn't even reach the pedals. Yet she could play, and she plays so well. It was Beethoven's Moonlight sonata. Alex listened attentively, almost forgot the scary bruises on Laura's fingertips. As days went by the bruises turned from blue to purple, then white, then black; then her fingers fell off one by one; then both of her arms were amputated, at last dark spots begun to appear all over her body, followed by the smell of flesh rotting from inside. Her green irises would turn into burning red when she was in agony.

"Alex, please, do it for me! It hurts!"

Laura begged frantically and attempted to grab Alex with her no longer existed upper limbs. Tears rolled down from her red eyes.

"But I love you!"

"Then do it!" Laura screamed. She was losing her cognition to the virus which was violently attacking her brain. Alex held Laura tightly in her arms. She felt a sharp pain on her left shoulder. Laura bit into Alex and torn off a piece of flesh from her.

"I'll find a cure."

Once she said to Laura.

"It's too late for me."

Laura replied aloofly. She no longer cared for Alex or anyone else. She was waiting for the inevitable and her only salvage.

Take me with you.

Alex watched Laura took her last breath as she strangled her. Staff found Alex laying next to Laura's cold body, unconscious due to excessive blood loss. They sent her straight to the laboratory because she was infected. Laura passed Progenitor virus to Alex, who was deemed incompatible with the virus upon her birth. Back then there was no vaccine or known effective interferon against Progenitor virus. Researchers thought it was too late for subject 012; and they might just take the chance to observe how her body would react to the infection. After reviewing Alex's case Cecelia rejected the advice. She sent Alex back to the doctors and asked them to stabilize her condition as much as they could.

The time spent in intensive care unit was wiped out from her memory. There was nothing left from that period, not even a dream. Alex woke up a week later and was taken to Spencer's estate, where she had been staying since.

Every summer Alex was sent to Rockfort Island to receive military training. It led her to the false impression that she would be a member of Umbrella Security Service. But she was indoctrinated to become a scientist for Wesker Project. She was working as a researcher at Umbrella while earning her doctorate in immunogenetics. Later Alex was assigned to IB. She was in charged to keep on track a survived Wesker children and to protect him in dire situation, subject 013, Albert Wesker.

Alex had always believed that she was the last remaining Wesker children. She still remembers the shock when Cecelia told her in a letter that there is one more child left. Subject 013 was her own nephew.

Liv couldn't get pregnant. The couple went to a vitro fertilization specialist under Cecelia's reference, not knowing the specialist was part of Wesker Project. Cecelia never told Alex why she did it; perhaps it was the mixture of desperation and frustration, the Project was at the verge of total failure. Cecelia turned her eyes to her brother's child. She altered several chromosomes in the fertilized fetus to prepare for the introduction of the virus, the same procedure which she carried out on every Wesker children.

Perhaps, Alex thought to herself later, it was because Cecelia knew, either through experience or intuition, that she found the perfect candidate.

Cecelia reported the existence of subject 013 to Spencer only by the time when the subject was five-year-old. Spencer removed her from the position of Project Director for imprudent conduct. She was then banished from the Project and was forbidden to see the children again. The day which Alex was sent to Spencer's estate was the last time she saw Cecelia alive.

Alex first saw subject 013 at Musée d'Orsay. It was also the same day which he became the youngest Director ever in the history of Institut Pasteur. He should be receiving congratulations. Instead he was on the top floor of the museum, wondering alone, finally settled down before Madame de Loynes's portrait.

Alex followed him at a distance, observing him, taking note of him. She couldn't feel any connection as she did with other Wesker children, even though they share affinity. Gene alteration left no visible side effect on him. He was only sixteen and attractive. The way he carried himself made her believed that he was older than he actually was. It was not just his rigidity. It was the profound weariness inside him. On the other hand, witness account says that he was proud if not arrogant, which was what exactly a genius like him would behave. The contradictory images which formed the first impression was soon dismissed as Alex continued observing subject 013.

It would be impossible to not develop any kind of sympathy or affection toward someone whom one is forced to watch over another one day after day. In her case, the more Alex took the task seriously, the more she hates herself for the mission that she is destined to carry out: introducing him to the virus and then watch him die like Laura.

Did he know? Alex often wondered. Did he know that he was chosen to be the host of Progenitor virus? Did he know the only purpose he will ever serve in this cycle of life is to realize another man's illusion? Did he know he was manufactured? Did he know that he is not free? Subject 013 was unaware of the agenda hidden in his fate. That's why he was able to live a normal life; and it made Alex jealous.

The day when she was allowed to interact with subject 013 was the day that she could finally call him by his name. Albert knew nothing about her. But she already knew too much about him.

**********************************************************************************

Birkin sets the document aside, not knowing what he should do next. It was rare because he always has something to do. He went to Lisa's prison cell. Sergei was there.

"Doctor Burnside is dismissed. I came to collect his belongings. They told me about this fascinating creature. An exceptional beauty I see."

Lights have been turned off to avoid unnecessary excitation in Lisa. Birkin wouldn't recognize the man in dark if he didn't see the gigantic silhouette. Like all those who have gone through hard time, Sergei developed a particular sense of humor that is situated between sarcasm and cruelty.

Rumor says Spencer recruited him ('saved' was the word they used) in the middle of a war in Yugoslavia. Sergei's life and service remained mostly unknown other than what he told Birkin jokingly once, that he "robbed more souls than the devil ever did from the Orthodox Church." Following the seceded, Sergei sold himself to a private military organization and was leading a battle against B.O.W. which the local militia purchased from Umbrella. The outcome of the combats must have made a strong impression upon Spencer.

Rumor also says that Sergei often kneeled on the rocks and appointed one of his subordinates to whip him, until his body could no longer take more slashes without leaving irreversible damages. The flower made from blood and flesh sprouted on his back, jubilated by the sound of hissing and the joy of pain. It was said that a young woman had fallen in love with him. Sergei gave her a knife and asked her to slash him. But the girl used it killed herself because she suddenly recognized the madness, from which their love originated. Such a man was made to the second most powerful person at Umbrella.

"You don't have the right to dismiss him without my permission." Birkin closed the door behind him, not wanting to leak their conversation, also not wanting others to see his frustration.

"I have respect for you, Doctor Birkin. I think we can do great things together. But your attitude is not helping."

"The one who needs help is you, Sergei."

Sergei chuckled. The only man who keeps William Birkin floating is Spencer. Sergei would get Birkin out of his way long time ago, when the first word Birkin said to him was not "yes". Yet the ignorant little ingrate dares to bite the hand that feeds him, trying to protect a traitor who stole and sell Umbrella's most valuable property. No wonders he made a perfect trio with those Weskers.

"Perhaps you already know this, that your friend Albert and Alex are...special?" He smiled mysteriously, "I learned this only today. That they were part of a project commenced by Spencer. I'm not really clear on the underlying mechanism, but at certain stage of their life they are supposed to be introduced to Progenitor virus. For experimental purpose I guess."

"I have no idea what you're saying."

Birkin is bad at lying because he never makes mistake that needs to be covered. His subtle expression didn't escape Sergei's attention.

"You are not entirely clueless then. Now I understand why Spencer keeps you around. I never cease to admire his scheme." Sergei gently knocked on the consolidated glass, which is the only barrier separating Lisa and them. He wished to induce a reaction. But Lisa didn't respond.

Six years ago Wesker was injured by Nemesis. Although he has been vaccinated, Birkin doubted the vaccine actually had any effect; and analysis showed that the antibody was generated by his own immune system.

Later Birkin conducted an analysis on Wesker's DNA, which made the puzzle even more intricate. Five pairs of genes located in his immune system were coded differently than the common case. Birkin couldn't prove that there was a direct correlation between the mutated genes and Wesker's natural immunity against T-virus and even maybe Progenitor virus since he wasn't able to duplicate the result in other organism. Nevertheless the speculation can't be excluded.

Further investigation revealed that it was not just the immune system. There were other genetic mutations. Too many in fact, that Birkin doubted they were not mutations but alterations. Yet the job was so perfectly done, it made Birkin wondered who else except himself could perform an operation as precise as such.

It was not just anyone, it was the man whom he loved. Birkin buried his doubt and refused to think further until Sergei dug it out. Birkin's stomach twisted under anxiety. His mind races so fast that it is too late to stop it from drawing the conclusion.

**********************************************************************************

"Doctor Annette, a word please."

Annette turned around and saw Dr. Clemens running to her. He is tall and strong, too strong in fact for the image of an Umbrella scientist who worked mostly underground. He is assertive and could be stubborn sometimes. Birkin named him the Director of Arklay Laboratory. It was not a well thought decision, which Annette agreed with Wesker. But Birkin was right in that he was talented and competent, and his aversion toward corporate politics puts Arklay Laboratory under temporary peace during the Sergei storm.

"John? What brought you here?"

"I emailed Doctor Birkin but never get a reply. So I came to you. The feedback from Edonia shows that civilians suffered a higher casualty rate than combatants in cases where B.O.W. was involved. I'm wondering maybe we can work more on the identification system to reduce the casualty rate for civilians?"

And stern sense of justice. Annette sighed. The only thing that stops John from climbing up higher was his insistence for ethical standard, which is rather unwanted here. How can she explain to him without making herself sounds like an inhuman killing machine at the same time? That civilian casualty is exactly what they are aiming for, so the civilians could be transformed into walking pathogens that infecting others on their own. There is no weapon ever in history that generates more fear than bioweapon, which cannot be detected until it is too late, and T-virus is not doubt the most formidable among them. It is the unspoken dream of every microbiologist, a perfect bacteria or virus whose lineage could extend itself endlessly. Annette loves the work she does, not because the virus made her feels powerful, but because she is happy to have something that is immortal, something which could put the entire human race in fear, and which could belittle them pass through her hands.

"I'll tell him. Thank you for pointing it out. There is still much work to be done."

John was obviously not convinced by her bureaucratic civilities. But this time he restrained himself and didn't confronted his superior like he did before. He was not good at curbing his tempers, the reason which he was shipped from one project to another, one department to another, one laboratory to another, and finally settled down at Umbrella, where the importance of social skill is ranked below intelligence, and not coincidentally, also the last place which employed his sister Heather before she had gone missing.

When John first joined Umbrella he didn't think Heather's disappearance had to do with Umbrella, until he learned Umbrella's practices, and the business which the company actually profited from. It is not an exaggeration to say that Umbrella has single handily revolutionized war. By replacing regular combatants with B.O.W., it saved tremendous resources and precious human costs for government. But that is only true if one is on the winning side. B.O.W. doesn't discriminate between civilians and combatants. John threw up the first time he saw the photo sent back from the scene. Why would anyone willing to invent such thing he doesn't understand. Now he is an accomplice. But he there isn't price he wouldn't pay to find his sister.

**********************************************************************************

Chapter Text

The events took place in the last week were round up to the following official statements: Alex Wesker was retired due to her declining health. Philip Burnside was dismissed for corporate espionage. Albert Wesker was demoted for misconduct.

Stuart exited the inbox when Alex asked him what's in it.

"Nothing." He smiled at her and answered.

Indeed, what Umbrella is doing to others has nothing to do nor should it assume higher importance than her current condition. Alex is dying. The only thing he should take care of is to let her die in peace.

Alex chuckled, obviously not convinced by Stuart. But she appreciated his thoughtfulness. In her will she left everything to him, knowing he wouldn't care the least of it. She feels obligatory to make up for his unreturned affection.

"Thirsty?"

She could no longer sallow anything. So he dipped a cotton ball in water to moisturize her dried lips. Alex took his hand and kissed it. People who come close to death tend to reveal their most venerable side. However Stuart doesn't think this is true for her. It was a gesture done out of respect rather than love, because love means begging for taste of life. Alex never begs; it is a sign of weakness. He returned her salut with the same kind of kiss. He said he will watch her until she goes in peace.

Alex first met Stuart on Rockfort Island. He was one of the physicians who attended the stationed personnel. She was injured in the course of a routine training. The size of the wound was not life threatening, but nurse wasn't able to stop the bleeding, and stitching somehow made it worse. Stuart was called in. He saw her sitting with a straight back, young and fierce, while the wound was bleeding her to death. She stared at him, like a tiger entrapped, using anger to mask her anxiety. He stopped the bleedings and later found out that Alex had autoimmune deficiency.

Stuart suggested her not to participate field mission anymore. Alex refused. He insisted. Alex refused again. She found it funny that someone who worked on the Rockfort Island would harbor such dedication for their patients, who were mostly constituted by war criminals and ex-convicted. But eventually Alex gave in and shifted her focus to research as her symptom exacerbating. Stuart made himself her entourage, saying she needs to be taken care of. He rarely talked about himself. Only once he mentioned that he lost his wife and children to a terrorist attack in London. He has been working for Umbrella since. People speak fondly of him because of his gentle manner and unrelenting will. No one however could sustain his own life after all he ever loved was taken away from him without the power of hatred. Alex understands, whenever she saw him reading the research papers, that the revenge Stuart is seeking would be against the entire humanity, not just a certain few. Still, Alex admires Stuart's faith. In a poetic sense he lives in eternity. He is kept forever young by the dedication to his wife and children. Even though they no longer live in this world.

After everything happened last week, Wesker said he will seek a discharge from the military, and he will find a way to end Umbrella and Spencer. He asked her to wait for him. But Alex can't. Gene therapy has stopped working, and stress only made it worse. She never doubts Albert's competence, only that she knows what he wants to do is impossible. She wishes she could die in fighting and not like this. But there is no more time for wishing. Yesterday she fainted while talking to Birkin over the phone. She didn't go to hospital; it is useless. She had a presentiment that she has reached the last chapter. Alex didn't make an effort to tell Wesker, however. It would be better that he found out the news of her death through someone else.

Today is a good day to die. Alex watches the endless blue sky stretched outside the window and closed her eyes. Somehow she could feel Spencer's eyes staring at her in dark. Only this time there is no more agony, now she is truly free.

Today is a good day to die. Alex is happy. The last time she ever feels happy was the time before Laura fell ill. Alex thought that she had died with Laura, only they didn't burry her. Then Albert and Birkin came along. They gave her a reason to long for a new world, beyond the one which she was born into.

"Don't make a fuss with the UBCS when they come to retrieve my body. They are just doing their job. I...am infected."

"I won't."

Stuart looked into Alex's eyes. Her irises are slowly transforming into orange red since last night. It was a sign of Progenitor virus infection. It only occurs when the host is under extreme pain. Of course he won't resist. Stuart touched the cyanide capsule in his pocket. He had made his mind to die with her.

"Are you sure you don't want me to inform Doctor Albert?" He asked again, even though already knew the answer.

Alex shook her head as her consciousness began to drift away. She is ready. But her feeble body isn't. Her heart is beating fast out of terror. The body doesn't want to leave; it doesn't want to die. Maybe Spencer was right. There is a weak part inside her. Alex tries to stretch out her hand for Stuart, but she can't. Her vision and hearing are being tuned down as darkness folds in.

*******************************************************************************

Birkin jumped into his car and rushed at Alex's place.

"Two fools."

He mumbled to himself as he pressed on the gas. Why would they keep it as a secret from him? If only Alex would tell him the truth, he could certainly come up with the cure before she was this ill, and he wouldn't have to broke into the Raccoon City Hospital sample bank to look for her stem cell sample. Birkin admitted that he doesn't have more information on her illness. At this point however, he is going to trust speculation over evidence. Maybe the cure he came up is effective, maybe not. But doing something is better than nothing. He refused to watch her die.

Stuart calmly watched Alex took her last breath. He had some morphine ready, to reduce the suffering. But she has gone in peace now, as he wished. Just when he was about to check her vital signs for one last time, Birkin appeared in the bedroom.

"I know what I'm doing."

Stuart stared at the intruder, not knowing how to react to the scene: Birkin injected a serum into Alex's IV. He was panting rapidly and the needle was shaking with his hands. Stuart thought he should stop him. But Birkin's fanatic determination gave him a strange sense of hope. He has only met Birkin once. But now he can see why Alex trusts him. Birkin reminded him of Albert Wesker, in the sense that they don't accept failure.

An hour later, Alex suddenly woke up, screaming in agony as if she just woke up from a bad dream. Her irises are red as blood now. Stuart had never seen her like this. One thing he does recognize is that her body temperature is rising to a dangerously high level. They moved her to a bathtub filled with ice and cold water. Stuart kept asking Birkin what he gave to her and if the rising body temperature is controllable. Birkin deflected his questions impatiently and demanded him to shut up. Soon Alex stopped screaming and fell silent. Stuart checked all the vital signs. They dried her and put her back to bed. After the two settled down in front of the fire place.

"So you are just going to watch her die?"

Birkin, disgruntled, directed his rage at Stuart. However he knows perfectly clear that it is not his or her fault. Someone like Alex won't give up unless they believe it is hopeless, which made sense if she already knew that her genes have been predisposed in certain way that inevitably she will die from the illness.

"How did you find out?"

Stuart answered his questions with another question. It annoyed Birkin, nevertheless he proceeded to explain, for the conversation cannot continue without one of them open his mouth first.

Birkin told him his speculation regarding a genetic engineering program which least involved Alex and Albert. Stuart was as oblivious as Birkin to Wesker Project. He does know however that Alex was infected by Progenitor virus at a very young age. The infection didn't kill her because she was made to be immune to the viral pathological effect. Birkin confirmed this after analyzing her DNA, showing traces of genetic modification. For what purpose Alex and Albert were made such Birkin didn't know. What he knows is that the modification procedure is not an entirely successful one. The result of which in Alex's case is that the immune system couldn't distinguish between her own cells and other antigens. Birkin didn't have much time. He used a modified G-virus variant. It reformulates target receptors, which tells the immune system to not attack them. The only problem is the Progenitor virus infection. Since Birkin is still not clear on the role which the virus plays in her body, nor he had enough time to study its interaction with G-virus.

Stuart listened until Birkin walked away to pour himself some whiskey. Not far from them Alex is still sleeping. Birkin says they better leave her to rest. All the indicators should return to normal level in the span of a day. Stuart nodded. It was actually harder to accept the fact that Alex is going to live than she is going to die. He thought he was going with her, that finally he too could be released from the pain. But the situation took an unexpected turn. Stuart realized a new game has been commenced, a game in which Alex is allowed to live, and so is he.

*******************************************************************************

Alex had a dream. In the dream she was back at the mansion. It was the last time she met Spencer. He told the soldiers to hand Albert back to her. He was injured and unconscious. She must carry him by herself. But she couldn't bear his weight. Her body gave up in the middle of hallway. Struggling to stand up again, Spencer helped her up and offered her a glass of wine to replenish her strength. She accepted it, only to find out the liquid is artery blood. Alex was terrified. She dropped the glass, which shattered on the ground. The blood splashed on her white dress and immediately turned into dark substance. The dark substance climbed on her body and devoured her. The fear was overwhelming, it pulls her back from the world of shadow and silence. She opened her eyes, the first thing she saw was Birkin's face.

Birkin only caught a glimpse of the red irises before being pinned down by Alex. She jumped on Birkin and nailed him down on the bed. Her dainty fingers locked tightly around his neck like iron chain, crashing it. Despite the prolonged hours spent indoor, Birkin is after all a grown man with considerable strength. However Alex suddenly came to possess the power and speed that could not possibly belong to a dying woman. Her face was covered by messy blonde hair. Birkin couldn't see her expression. If he could, he would be astonished by the loathing showed on her face. Stuart grabbed her upper body, desperately trying to pull her away. Birkin heard a sound made by body dropping on the floor, followed by Stuart's painful moan.

As the last attempt to save himself, Birkin amassed every bit of strength and turned aside to throw Alex off from the top of him. They both fell off the bed. Alex got up and ran away. Stuart, sprained his ankle just then, followed her. Birkin rolled over, coughed violently as his throat contracting involuntarily.

"Fuck."

Birkin loosened the top buttons on his shirt, didn't expect the modified G could still stir such an affect. The G variant he gave to Alex was not even close to weaponry strength. It was more like a vaccine, in which most of the factors that might induce pathological reactions have been removed. On the other hand, he was lucky enough to keep his life, knowing what he just done was not so different from human experimentation. He could have done a better job if he had more time to tailor the variant according to her DNA.

He got up and followed Stuart. Alex ran out the house and disappeared in the woods, which formed part of the Arklay Mountains. It's getting dark outside. They must find her now. Two men, one after another, made a rather amusing scene. Birkin glanced through the trees, making sure a white figure wasn't hiding behind one of them.

"What did you give to her?"

Stuart questioned anxiously as sweat dropped down from his forehead.

"Something that made her as energetic as a lynx."

Birkin bent down to examine the muddy ground. Alex was bare feet, her footsteps can be easily identified. At last they found her under a maple tree. Her white silk pajamas was tainted by mud and leaves. So were her hair and feet. She was breathing heavily, still conscious, though not responding to their callings. Birkin carried her back to the house. She was shaking but didn't resist. He couldn't help but notice how fierce her stares were.

It was already dark when they cleaned her and put her back to bed. Stuart was checking if everything is all right with her physically. Birkin sat down in the corner to catch some breath.

"Liam?"

Alex suddenly called out. She has lost her direction between dream and reality. In the state of delirium, she remembered she was terrified by the shadows surrounding her. She remembered waking up in a laboratory, the shadows became faces that she couldn't recognized. One of the researchers asked,

"Does the transplant work?"

"It does. It should."

"Who are you?"

Alex interrupted. But they ignored her.

"Cecelia has the last word. But if you ask me we're wasting time."

"Where am I?"

Alex tried to get up, but her limbs are being tied to bed.

"What is this? Let me go!"

She screamed. The only reply she received was a cold look from the other researcher.

"She looks pretty healthy to me. You know this might turn out to be the most extraordinary..."

Alex raised her hand and broke the restraint belt. She got free. The researcher who was speaking just then didn't even have time to form a reaction before Alex jumped on him. She strangled him and attempted to escape. But before she could run away, something touched her body and she lost consciousness again.

"I'm here."

Birkin helped her got up.

Alex saw the fresh stretches and bruises on his neck, instinctively perceived the identity of the perpetrator as sense of reality returned to her.

"Did I do that?"

She touched his neck with obvious shock. Birkin had never seen Alex being surprised. For things always went according to her plan. Even if it doesn't, she would have prepare for the worst.

"Not at your will. It's side effect."

Birkin supported his head with both of his hands. There are dark circles under his eyes; his cheeks are unshaved, hair is unkept, and is breathing alcohol. Watching Alex, he was again reminded of that this was not a well prepared treatment. The virus variant he used has not been experimented. He chose to follow his intuition, not sure what he might bring back if the cure fails. Using Alex to test G's power perhaps, was the only thing that actually unsettles him.

"You should let me die."

Alex speaks as strength is being slowly restored to her body. The feeling of getting better is exhausting. She asked what Birkin gave to her. He said it was some side product derived from G-virus. Then she stopped speaking. She looked outside, above her was the same sky, which she thought she would never see again. But life made other arrangement for her.

"Cheer up. We can't be our own master. But we can be each other's."

Birkin has a lot of questions to ask. Alex is still ill. He didn't want to push her, but also knowing now is the best time to persuade truth.

"Many years ago, when I was working as a prospect executive at the training center, Spencer came to see me one day." He begins his narration, hesitating, though not doubting whether it is prudent to recount it. He was trying to remember something that he had wanted to forget.

"It was right after T-virus was isolated. I thought he wanted to know more about the virus. We talked a bit, turned out that he already knew everything, more than Marcus would want him to know." Birkin cleared his throat as his gaze immediately drifted away from Alex to a bird twittering on the tree. "I didn't know from whom he got all the information, not from Marcus for sure. Anyway, I had a bad feeling upon meeting him. I didn't know where it came from; I just got this feeling in my head. Spencer told me that he is not here for the virus; he is here to ask me a favor."

Alex sighed inside, not finding Birkin's sudden revelation strange at all. Birkin is impulsive, which is not a bad thing, not at all because he is the kind of man that if he thinks too much nothing will get done. If a man like him choose to hold a secret, it must be something that gravely bothering him. Knowing Spencer, she understands the feeling of being slowly suffocated to death all too well.

"During that time Wesker...Albert was thinking about leaving Umbrella. He said his career as a scientist was over and he wanted to start his own enterprise. The real reason though, was he wanted to break away from Marcus. I didn't want him to leave. So we got into a fight. Then we stopped talking. Spencer told me...He told me to keep Albert, don't let him leave the company." Birkin uttered the last sentence word by word,

"He said that, if Albert leaves, my current research would be viewed unfavorably. His threat came as a shock rather than offense to me. I was doing some preliminary research for G back then. I didn't tell Marcus or anyone level above. No one but Albert was supposed to know. Spencer must have been spying on us. He knows everything. That's why he came to me."

He continued, "I asked him what he means by that. He said he meant exactly what he says. In return, whatever I want to do in the future will be sufficiently funded and with considerable freedom. I wanted to tell him no, that I'm not going to meddle with other's decision and I don't care what he's gonna do to me. I wanted to tell him that. I really did." Birkin emphasized. "But I was in a horrible state. I thought...I thought Albert didn't want me, so I told myself I didn't want him either. I tried to hate him. What difference does it make anyway? Why should I care about him when he no longer cares about me? So what if he doesn't leave this company? I'll have what I dreamt of; and Albert...I wasn't thinking straight back then."

Birkin smiled with trembled lips. His eyes showed no laughter at all, "When later Albert asked me about Spencer, I lied. I told him that I've never met Spencer. You see, the longer I keep it from him the harder it is to confess. I'm waiting for the day when I no longer afraid to lose him, then I will tell him the truth."

Alex listened as she reflected everything happened recently. Of course, Spencer has control over every variable in the Children's life. People he loves; people who love him; everything have been calculated and measured. Alex learned this since the first day working in Wesker Project. But the scale of the manipulation never failed to awe or disgusts her. Perhaps Birkin too, was one part of the grand scheme. Fear stings her. She dares not to think further.

Birkin fell silence. He is not asking her to be the surrogate confessor, nor is he asking for her opinion. He is hinting at her that it is her turn to spit out the truth. It is the debt she shall pay for the resurrection.

"No, you must never tell him the truth."

Alex said firmly as she turned her eyes to Birkin.

Then she told Birkin the truth he longs for, the Stairway of the Sun, Wesker Project, Spencer's ultimate ambition, and what Albert once begged her to tell which she refused for his own good. She trusted Birkin would do the same. He listened attentively, occasionally interjected to clarify some doubts, until the last word. Birkin's hands began to tremble when he heard about Wesker Project.

"I see why you are hiding it from him." He smiled weakly, "No one is on his side."

"You're the last straw. He's so proud. It'll ruin him."

"It's all beyond salvage then."

"Yes, it is."

*******************************************************************************

Meanwhile Stuart was talking to a "Raven" sent by Sergei at the gate, an USCS officer in plain clothes. He was waiting to call in his people to retrieve Alex's body. When Stuart told him that Alex is not going to die today, he pushed him aside, going to inspect the miracle himself. Stuart stopped him and asked a doctor to be sent in instead. His request was ignored. The Raven approached the house. Before his hand could touch the door knob however, Alex opened the door. Her irises, still red, became even more intimidating at night. The Raven, lost his courage all of sudden, didn't dare to step closer because she is no longer human. Alex has not completely recovered, but she made it clear to the Raven (to Sergei in fact) that there is no more use for them. Alex trusted that Spencer didn't give the order to kill her. Otherwise Sergei wouldn't be so courteous as to wait for her last breath. Stuart watched him talking to another man through the radio, then turned away.

The three of them sat down in the living room. Stuart gave the maids a day off to avoid involving the innocents should anything goes wrong. It didn't, and now they need to feed themselves. Coffee and apples were enough for their ill suited appetite. Birkin drove back home because there was no strength left in him to sustain laboratory job. Sherry greeted him despite the late hours. Annette was still working. He petted Sherry's head but said nothing.

*******************************************************************************

Raccoon City received its Christmas in a gloomy morning. Wesker stepped down the train. Birkin is waiting him on the platform, a rare treatment, given how busy he has been recently. They spotted each other at the same time. Without saying a word, Birkin turned around to lead the way. Wesker followed him.

Birkin looked the same as they separated a year ago, thin and pale, worn out by overtime. They got into his car. Birkin took out an envelope from the compartment and gave it to him.

"It's from Alex. She left it to me."

Inside the envelope was a set of keys and a letter. Wesker unfolded the letter and saw the familiar handwriting.

'Dear Albert,

I was ordered to supervise a project in West Africa. I'm doing fine now, thanks to Liam. You should ask him how he did the trick. As you predicted, Sergei (Spencer) would prefer the three of us separated. All my connection to IB have been severed. Sergei used Philip's offense as excuse to eliminate his dissidents. The research division was also embroiled. I'm glad you are in the military, at least Sergei can't touch you.

I asked Liam to pass this letter to you. I didn't reply your message because I was ashamed, and I didn't know how to make up for the damage. I'm sorry that things turned out this way. What you want from me I cannot do, and what you want to know I cannot tell. I wish I can be as brave as you. I wish I can just give up everything and follow you. But one thing I can never disconnected myself from is the past. You must understand.

When you are reading this, you should be either on a break or has been discharged from the army. Since you have strongly expressed your wish to do so, I'm going to go with the latter. In that case, I beg you to measure every step carefully, not to do anything out of sheer impulse. I understand how you feel. But I don't think what you want to do is prudent. Remember self-preservation is the only priority when the current is against us. I don't want to loose a brother in vain.

A.

P.S. I have transferred the house to you. Paper have been signed at the lawyer's. You can find them in the library.'

Wesker folded the letter. Birkin, keeping his sight on the front, gently inquired if everything is all right. Wesker can see that Birkin is concerned. He tried to comfort him but didn't know where to start. Times makes difference, and every man lives according to his own time. There is nothing he could do to make up for the difference other than watching it continues to widen between them.

He leaned back and wondered why Sergei would allow him and Birkin to see each other. Alex is gone. Wesker wasn't significant enough to post any threat. Birkin needs Spencer's support. Sergei knows that he has full control now.

Birkin updated him with the latest progress of G-virus. Other than that they didn't talk much. Birkin was irritated by the silence. He thought Wesker would be happy to see him again after a year of deployment. But now he sees that Wesker is occupied by something else. Alex left because the weight of truth is unbearable. An apologetic letter is all she could communicate to him. And Philip, Wesker refused to talk about Philip, precisely because it had made most impact upon him, even though he is already dead.

Birkin drove him to Alex's place. Wesker invited him to come in. Birkin hasn't stepped into this house since the last time Alex received her injection, which was six months ago. The G virus in her body was not perfectly stable. He gave the suppressor to Stuart, taught him how to use it in case of complication.

Wesker opened the French windows in sunroom. Cold air immediately filled the entire house. The view of Arklay Mountains is breathtaking as it always has been. They were away from the crowd, the noise, the urban surrounding. But nature, which supposed to bring serenity, somehow made Wesker anxious. The rustling of leaves took his attention when Birkin held him close, observing his face attentively. Age and military life have added fortitude to his definition. Yet the image of him which Birkin retained was the one when they first met. He has never grown older since then. And his hands, Birkin could feel the skin has harden.

Wesker had longed for being close to Birkin, his lips, wrists, and the sense of security, that something he lost has been returned to him. But as passion winds down, they have more than being in each other's arms to think about.

Birkin, now used to pragmatistic judgement, asked him what he is going to do next. Wesker didn't answer. What he will do next is going to conflict with Birkin's interest. Birkin knows, as much as he does ever since he found out about Wesker Project. Like Alex, he didn't know what to do or simply to discuss the matter with him. And like Alex, he sheltered himself under escapism. On the one hand he depends on Spencer for the fundings. On the other hand is the man he loves, who seeks Spencer's demise. Then there is himself. Birkin wants the same thing as Albert does, but he is afraid of the instability after Spencer falls.

"Alex plays sometimes. It reminds me of you. You two are the apples from the same tree."

Birkin stared at the instrument across the room. A pile of annotated music sheets are still on the lid. Beethoven was her favorite, mixing with Brahmas and Chopin.

"How's Annette and Sherry?"

"They are fine."

Birkin answered without putting much thought in it. His marriage holds itself together; and one may even say it is going well. People who only know Birkin would be shocked if the relationship didn't fall apart. People who know both Birkin and Annette however, would be shocked by the opposite. Annette is gentle but not weak. She is ambitious, which made her who she is today, and the reason why she worships Birkin. They were bond together by the same goal. It means she understands him. It also means that Sherry is going to be left out from the relationship, because she is not them and she couldn't do what they were doing at her age. A cruel reality the girl has long realized. Sherry was always ashamed when her parents present at school events. Her classmates' curious looks made her self-conscious. She could hear what they were whispering,

"Her parents are geniuses. How comes she's not?"

But her father will never understand. He's too smart for the suffering that only takes place on beings lesser than him.

"What's this?"

There was a scare that resembles shot wound on Wesker's right shoulder. The freshly grown tissue on the scare just turned pinkish from red; it was a new wound. Birkin slowly touched it with his index finger, trying not to bring him pain that only existed in his imagination.

"Do you ever care for your life?" Birkin sighed.

"It was a siege. We got only eight people to defend the entire hospital."

He landed his forehead on Birkin's. The memory of war has distanced itself from him as the he got closer to Birkin. Yet the taste of destruction and death still lingered. If one day they have to turn against each other. What would he do then?

He closed his eyes and immediately found Philip in his consciousness stream. He thinks about Philip more often than he should, the days they were stationed at Edonia, the days back at training center, and finally the days when they were together. Even though Philip was much older than him, when they started dating Wesker was often given a headache by Philip's endless astronomy lectures and his seemingly immaturity. Only later he saw that it was not Philip, but himself being the naive one.

Orion is lost. Yet for reason Wesker himself doesn't understand. He didn't give up searching him, even though reality reflected exactly what Spencer had told him, that there would be nothing left of Philip but the memory. His extended family knows nothing. The school says Steve has transferred. His house was put on market, and his bank account was closed. Even the staff in Umbrella would avert their eyes when his name being mentioned, as if Deputy Director Burnside has never existed.

Wesker remembered the string of number which Philip showed to him just before they were captured. The only thing that can defeat power is more power. He does not care through what means he would achieve his end. He must destroy Spencer and Umbrella.

*******************************************************************************

Sergei ejected the security tail, disconnected the terminal from Siberia facility database. Spencer commanded the Red Queen to override the security clearance; only the one who possesses the tail can access the information regarding Umbrella Far East Laboratory. In other words, the existence of Far East branch is confidential. The intention of separating the Far East branch from the rest of Umbrella could only imply one thing. But Sergei found the assumption too wild. Nevertheless, Sergei obeyed, as he always does.

The elevator ascension took longer today as the maintenance is trying to fix an error in the emergency break system. Sergei took the time to reflect on the research report. He was always happy to see the progress being made on Tyrant Project. What the development team desperately needs right now is combat data. However Sergei's attitude toward testing combat has switched to cautious since the very first Tyrant was destroyed at Edonia. They are like his children. He is reluctant to take the risk, knowing not all of them would survive the test.

There aren't much to see on the ground other than the rusty oil rigs from Soviet era and the grey concrete structures acting as decoys for satellite surveillance. The snow under his boots crumbles as he stepped on it. Not far away, a black helicopter is waiting for him.

The story about him and Sonya was only partially true. The girl didn't stab herself to death. She couldn't build the courage. Sergei shot her.

Sergei was stationed at Crimea when he was young. One winter he led a team to crack down a religious gathering. The Orthodox church had been forced to turn underground since the coronation of communist regime. The villagers were taking Mass when the troop broke in. Unlike other underground churches that they've broken down so far however, women, elders, even cripples, didn't surround but resisted most fiercely. The troop was caught off guard at first, but quickly assumed their positions and started shooting back indiscriminately. Suddenly one young man rushed out from nowhere, both hands holding ignited dynamites which he stoled from the village mine. Sergei ordered retreat just before the explosion went off. Most of his men didn't make it; those who barely made it were left in cold weather to die. Sergei was blew off by the explosion wave. Sonya saved him and hid him in an abandoned hunting cabin.

Sonya's appearance was unremarkable. She had the typical innocence and sweetness of a village girl, freely giving away her kindness without knowing what was she doing. The villagers only found out after Sergei had recovered from the injury. They were divided into two camps. One camp, afraid of retribution, said they should notify the government, the other camp preferred to take the matter into their own hands.

Sergei, foreseeing this, gathered the food he had been saving and left the place before the villagers arrived. He lost his rifle but kept his sidearms, a handgun and a knife. He took Sonya with him, knowing the entire village would be wiped out once the troop sent to search the lost team came. Sonya obeyed silently at first. As the villagers were getting closer however, she collapsed on the snow and started sobbing. She told him that she couldn't do this; and she told him which direction to run and he should go without her.

"Sonya, we have to leave now."

Sergei spoke in an affecting manner, like grooming a child. Of course, she was awfully indecisive. So he grabbed her arms and pulled her up as the angry villagers getting closer.

"What about mama and papa? They will be executed won't they? I can't just leave them here." Sonya looked up to him. Her blue eyes, drenched in tears, couldn't move him. Sergei wouldn't surrender. He will not put himself at the mercy of peasants. It will be the ultimate humiliation.

"Take my gun. Hold it! Can't you hear me? Did papa ever teach you how to shoot? I have removed the safety. It's quite simple you see, a child can do this. You are better than a child, right Sonya? Look at me! Pull the trigger and everything would be over! Those peasants won't harm you. You will be hailed as a heroin, before they kill all of you! If dying with mama and papa is better than saving yourself, then do it!"

Sergei grabbed the barrel and pushed the gunpoint against his chest. Sonya, paralyzed by fear, could barely hold her hands up because they were shaking violently. She looked at Sergei, who was waiting for her action with a cruel smile on his face. She let go the pistol and crashed on the snow again.

She wouldn't do it.

Sergei felt a profound disappointment. He picked up the pistol, wanting to leave. Suddenly Sonya grabbed his hand. He looked down and saw a sad smile.

"Please, don't leave me. God, can I ever get away from this madness? There is no way out! It's too late. Oh, what the little ones are going to do? And mama, poor mama. She will cry herself to death!" She moaned calmly. Suddenly the girl trembling just moments ago was gone. She rose from the ground and held both of his hands, then she kissed the hand holding the pistol.

Sergei saw a villager approaching them from the corner of his eyes. He gently touched Sonya's cheek. Her flush spotted cheek was cold but smooth.

"A fawn, I didn't know deers breed in this season." His eye turned to her right side, commented idly. Sonya turned to the same direction without any suspicion.

Sergei shot Sonya on head, before she could realize what happened.

Then he shot the villager. He took the man's hunting rifle and shot the person he saw next. The territory was big, the villagers unwisely dispersed themselves to search him, hence delivering themselves to him.

Sometimes Sergei would cut his hand and watched blood dripping on snow. The color contrast is stunning. It's his way to memorize Sonya. Sometimes he wondered how the story got out. He didn't remember how many villagers he killed that day. Maybe someone survived. The survived one, who witnessed everything he did, yet was most impressed by his relationship with Sonya.

*******************************************************************************

The trip was a long one. The helicopter landed on a ferry, which headed toward Alaska. Lastly Sergei boarded on a private jet, which took him to Raccoon City. The purpose of going through all the hassle was to attend a meeting, which involves Tyrant Project and Spencer.

The meeting was held at the top floor of the Raccoon City Library. The floor was always under construction and remained close to the public. It was reserved for Spencer's private use. He donated generously to the mayor's campaign.

Sergei open the door to East reading room and saw Birkin, who saw him at the same time. The surprise on his face quickly turned into contempt, which he didn't bother to mask. Sergei didn't avert his gaze. He raised an eyebrow, expecting a curse from the scientist, whom, instead of unleashing his rage, had turned back, staring outside, deliberately ignoring him. Sergei too has nothing to say to the man child. He sat himself in an armchair, waiting for Spencer, who entered shortly after.

The meeting involved only three of them. Spencer gave Birkin a detail account on the Tyrant Project, only omitting the existence of Siberia facility. Sergei didn't expect the sudden discourse, however he remained silent and expressionless. Birkin, the Director of Umbrella Research, understandably, protested against conducting a discreet project without his knowledge. But a protest is a protest. Birkin expressed his dissatisfaction with considerable restraint, which Sergei must give him some credit. For Birkin knew what has been done is done. Since Spencer decided to disclose the project now, it must be that the project has reached the stage where it can no longer proceed without his support.

But what Spencer announced next brought a twitch on Sergei's face. Spencer wanted to open a Tyrant production line in North America. He told Sergei frankly that Tyrant will be the next generation B.O.W., yet the current speed of production has failed to meet his expectation. In order to speed up the production, he was "forced" to bring in Birkin, who is more "daring" when it comes to combat testing. That's why Spencer asked Sergei to send him all the project data before he left Siberia. So Birkin could be wholly "informed".

Spencer robbed the fruit from Sergei's hands. The enormous trust and power which Spencer gave to Sergei have spoiled him in someway, the result of which is that Sergei found the new plan unacceptable, so is the shame of being humiliated in front of Birkin. In the moment of vehement hatred he couldn't help but believed Spencer played him like circus animal. Yet there was nothing he could do because only after the power has been stripped away can he see the source of it. His mind calmed down. What would become of him without Spencer? He would again end up in some war torn blackhole in Eastern Europe, living a life for NOTHING, nothing, void of purpose, in the exact state when Spencer found him in Yugoslavia, fighting a hopeless war for a piece of stale bread. He doesn't hate war or stale bread. He hates action without purpose, an aimless life is unbearable beyond everything else.

What about mutiny? The idea flashed but was dismissed. Alex Wesker was given the right to deploy Umbrella Security Service ever since she miraculously recovered. Perhaps she is behind the partition right now, listening to their conversation with her arms crossed, grinning at his disgrace. Sergei could almost hear her mocking him, only this time he couldn't brush it off.

"I told you. You had way more on your plate than you can swallow."

"Colonel?"

Sergei, immersed in his own thought, wasn't paying attention. He met Spencer's eyes. For the first time since they knew each other, Spencer saw confusion on his face.

"Colonel, any objection?"

"No sir."

Sergei collected his mood and answered sternly.

"I don't have enough men or resources to cover a new project. If you expand the facility, and if my Deputy Director didn't just disappear like that, maybe I can do something." Birkin objected unexpectedly.

Sergei gave Birkin a stare. Birkin stared back. He wanted to promote Annette to Deputy Director since Philip was gone. She rejected, worrying her connection to him, namely, being his wife, would bring a grudge to the researchers. Hence the seat of Deputy Director remained vacant until this day.

"I understand your frustration, Director Birkin." Spencer smiled, "You are right. Get Doctor Wesker back if you are indeed short in hands. I can have him transferred back to Research, right Colonel? I'm sure you would granted me the favor? Though I think it would be a waste because he is doing terrific at intelligence."

His words put shock on both men's faces. But quickly Sergei realized that he was just teasing them. Birkin, didn't pick up the cue, suggested to bring back another Wesker, Alex Wesker. Spencer ignored him and continued,

"The means of production, I cannot build a new facility from scratch (life is short and time is life). I can however reopen the training center for you. Latest equipments will be made ready, budget is not a problem, as always. Too bad I can't give you Alex. She needs rest after what she has gone through. Nevertheless, I must thank you, Director Birkin, to restore her. And Colonel, don't be so strict on Albert's routine. What harm could it done if he wants to catch up with Director Birkin? We'll know law enforcement is a bore, and Director Birkin might need his advice sometimes, who knows?"

"Law enforcement?"

Birkin looked at Sergei, unbelieved.

"Where the hell did you send him this time?"

Sergei looked at Spencer, who was smiling back at him.

"Raccoon City Police Department", receiving the gesture of approval, Sergei explained indifferently, "If you watched the news, the recent bio-terrorist attacks all targeted at pharmaceutical industry. The perpetrator is still on lose, Umbrella could be its next target. We need our own in the police. If anything happens we can have first hand information."

Sergei knew Birkin found the arrangement ridiculous. And how could he blame him? All these years of education and training, being one of the top virologists, only landed Wesker on a position that couldn't be more insignificant. The reason, as Sergeis sees it, is simply that Spencer won't give Birkin the satisfaction. Sergei doubted Wesker would accept the job. One doesn't need a brain like his to see that he has completely fallen out of favor.