“How’re you feeling?” Edwin asked Billy, his dark eyes on the Marine. The two had been sitting in silence for the better part of ten minutes, glancing at one another warily.
Viciously biting off the immediate reply to jump to his lips, Billy shrugged a shoulder slightly. "Not bad, all things considered....what about you? Holding up okay?" He replied quietly.
“I’ve had better days, that’s for sure,” Lifeline sighed a little. “Thought I’d seen some strange things in my time with the Joes, but ...” he trailed off for before shaking his dark head a bit. “I don’t think it’s really hit me yet.”
"I don't think so either," Billy agreed sympathetically; in this respect, he could feel for Edwin. He'd been a pretty hardcore military man in his own time in the service, and what he'd seen of the Umbrella creatures had left him a sobbing wreck as soon as he'd been on his own again and well away from Rebecca and Raccoon City.
“I...I just can’t believe that somebody – that somebody could do that to another human being.” Lifeline closed his eyes, but the image of the Tyrant refused to fade. “It’s...it’s just so...wrong.”
"Inhuman, immoral, and deliberately cruel...."
Edwin nodded his head slowly. “Cobra has done some things that made my stomach turn, but it was never – it’s was never anything like that. Even at its worst it was something that we could reverse.” The medic involuntarily shivered a little. “Something worse than Cobra...I don’t even want to believe it.”
"Try not to think about it," Billy urged quietly, unsure if he'd be able to do anything if Edwin slipped over the edge. "Not tonight..."
“How can I not think about it?” The medic opened his dark eyes and looked at Billy. “I – I can’t get the image of that thing out of my mind. It was like – like my worst nightmare brought to life.”
Billy nodded understandingly. "I know...that's the third one of those bastards I've seen....he's by far the nastiest critter, but he's not the only type out there..."
“Good God, you mean there are more things like that?” Edwin’s eyes widen slightly.
Billy nodded. "The virus is extremely adaptable."
“A virus did that?”
Another nod. "Yeah..."
“Well if it’s a virus ...” Lifeline paused for a moment while he thought. “There must be a cure; but if not, one could probably be found. Modern medicine can work miracles sometimes.”
“Try not to burst my bubble too badly,” Edwin said with a slight smile that he didn’t really feel. “I’m a medic, I’m used to believing in the power of medicine to heal.”
Nodding again, Billy returned the smile with one he didn't really seem to feel either. "And I used to believe that we were the good guys....." he said softly, lying back in the bed again and letting his eyes drift to the ceiling once more, studying the network of cracks in it.
“Yeah...we’re pretty far from the days when all the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys dressed in black. Today, you never know. Your next door neighbor could be building bombs in their basement.” Lifeline said with a sigh. “But if we didn’t stand up for what was right, then who would? Even on days when I don’t feel like it, I keep telling myself that what I’m doing is making a difference in the world.”
“...I used to tell myself the same thing..."
Edwin pushed his glasses up on his forehead and rubbed his eyes with his fingertips as he tried to stifle a yawn. He’d already been feeling the effects of the long drive before he’d encountered Billy on the road, and after their flight from the Jeep’s wreck, it was all he could do to keep his eyes open. Glancing down at this watch, the medic wondered what was keeping Mainframe. True, he’d asked the former hacker to be as nondescript as possible while trying to find the information that Billy had asked for, but he’d expected to have heard something from his fellow Joe by now.
From his vantage point, Tomax surveyed the motel though a pair of binoculars, while the handful of Cobra troopers that had accompanied he and his brother fanned out around the L-shaped building. The information that they had received from Umbrella had given this rather plain and unassuming building as the place where one Edwin Steen had recently used his credit card to purchase a room for the night – the same Edwin Steen that the destroyed Jeep had been registered to.
While Umbrella had been unable to confirm that the fugitive Billy Coen had been involved, the body of the Tyrant and the fact that the former Marine had been tracked to the general area made it more than possible that he might be with or had passed information to the man that they now sought.
“We’re in position, Commander.” The voice of one of the twins’ hand-picked Crimson Guard troopers crackled over the communicator around Tomax’s wrist.
“Excellent. Wait for my signal before moving in.” The scarred man replied as he dropped the binoculars.
"Maybe you should try and get some sleep," Billy said softly.
“Hey, who’s the medic here?” Lifeline replied with a faint smile as he resettled his glasses. “If anybody should be sleeping it should be you. You weren’t looking all that hot when I found you; and I bet our little trek through the woods didn’t help matters either.”
"I'll be fine. I don't sleep real well anyway. I can keep watch."
Edwin regarded Billy silently for a few moments before nodding his head slightly. Rising from the chair, he moved towards the other bed and sat down on the edge. Removing his glasses he set them down on the nightstand before leaving his Joe communicator next to it. Swinging his feet up on the mattress he took a few moments to get comfortable before allowing his dark brown eyes to finally close.
Billy watched Edwin quietly for a moment or two, a part of him still amazed that the medic trusted him enough to actually try and rest. Guess some of 'em are still the good guys... he thought, sliding away from the bed and toward a window, gun in hand as he settled into a nearby chair to keep watch.
Mainframe scratched his head as he re-read the information on the monitor in front of him, still trying to figure out what Lifeline had wanted it for. It wasn’t like the medic to ask for personal favors and the fact that he had only made Mainframe more curious. He had also informed Duke that Lifeline had finally checked in, giving their commander the story of the car accident that the medic had relayed. Duke hadn’t looked very happy and Mainframe had a feeling that his friend would be called in for a personal visit once he returned to the base.
“Well buddy, I don’t know what you wanted it for, but here it is ...” With the tap of a few buttons, Mainframe signaled the medic.
Edwin felt as if he had only just closed his eyes when they flashed open as his communicator began to trill. Pushing himself up on one arm, he reached over and flicked it on. “Lifeline, here.”
Billy had nearly jumped out of his skin at the sound, and his eyes snapped over to Edwin, relaxing only when he saw what had made the noise.
“Mainframe ...” Lifeline’s dark eyes flicked towards Billy as he sat up on the bed, swinging his legs over the side. As he listened to the man on the other end, he occasionally nodded his head and glanced in Billy’s direction, his face unreadable. “No, I got it, thanks. I really owe you one.” The medic listened intently as Mainframe continued to speak, a slight frown crossing his face. “I don’t know. No...well I had to leave it and walk to where I could use a phone...well, I kind of lost it...well the Jeep flipped and it fell somewhere...yeah, I know...what did he say...is he mad...no, I’ll handle it when I get back, but thanks anyway... I’m okay really, just a little shook up...I will, I will...thanks for your help...no, just curiosity – something I heard...no, it’s not important now...I promise...okay ...” Lifeline’s usual inexhaustible patience was starting to fail by the time he managed to get his teammate to say goodbye. Flicking off the communicator, he looked up at Billy.
Billy returned the gaze, feeling uncertain but determined not to show it. "Well?"
Edwin put the communicator back down on the nightstand before he answered. “According to Mainframe’s information, there hasn’t been an execution scheduled at Regarthon since 1996. In fact they haven’t even had any prisoner transfers there in almost as long.” The medic reached for his glasses and put them back on. “Why was it so important for you to know? Does it have something to do with that -- that creature?” Lifeline’s dark eyes were intent on Billy’s face as he asked his questions. “What does it mean?”
"Those sons of bitches...." Billy growled, looking away from Edwin and out at the night again. "It was a set-up...the whole thing was a set-up...."
The medic rose to his feet. “What’s going on, Coen? You said you would tell me once you got your information.” Lifeline took a few steps towards Billy.
"With all due respect, Sir," Billy said, grinding the last work through grit teeth. "Keep your fucking shirt on....I'm still in the process of putting it all together myself.... But I know that Umbrella wants to get a hold of me. Bad. Bad enough that they staged an entire court-martial and sentencing, and had me thinking I was going to be shipped off to Regarthon for execution."
“Look I just lied through my teeth and asked a friend of mine to do something that was probably illegal...” Edwin started, only to bite off his own angry comments as the explanation was given. He ran his hand through his already tousled dark hair. “So that’s why you wanted to know.”
Billy nodded. "I needed to know how much of a threat you were...."
“ . . and whether I would turn you in if I found out who you were ...” Lifeline supplied with a slight sigh.
"Or shoot me on sight, considering...."
“That wouldn’t be too likely,” the medic said softly to himself before shaking his head. “But how could a civilian corporation set up a fake military court martial?” He mused aloud. “That would mean that ...” Edwin trailed off as the implication hit him. “Good God.”
"I told you they had their hands in everything," Billy replied and sagged in his chair, the full import of his discovery settling around him like an iron weight.
Lifeline dropped down heavily to the edge of the bed that Billy had been occupying earlier. “No wonder you were so leery of me.”
"...Been leery of everybody..." Billy replied, his tone gentler than before. "No offense, Doc, but you've got no idea what I've been through in the last few years..."
Edwin nodded slightly. “I can’t even begin to imagine.” The medic looked at Billy. “I’m sorry, for snapping at you earlier.”
Billy shook his head. "Don't worry about it. We're both under a lot of stress...but now...that I know a little more...maybe you can help me..."
The medic’s brows crooked a bit in puzzlement. “How so?”
"At the very least, by helping me out until I'm well enough to go my own way again..."
“I’d like to help you out but...“
"But nothing. You're in this at least as deep as I am, Doc, and they're going to be looking for you, too."
“Crimson Guard, prepare to move out. Our targets are in the third room from the end. Nobody opens fire until Tomax or I say so, we want to keep this as quiet as possible.” Xamot’s eyes once again scanned the parking lot of the motel, before he started moving.
“For me? Why? Nobody but that Tyrant-thing knows that I picked you up and it’s dead.” Lifeline’s frown deepened slightly.
"And whoever happened to get a hold of that Jeep after we left it behind. I got thrown around quite a bit, and I was kinda bleeding at the time," Billy replied.
Edwin put his hand to his face. “That’s what Mainframe was talking about...“ he murmured.
"Clue me in?"
The medic dropped his hand. “After he gave me the info on Regarthon, he said something about the Jeep and kept asking me if I was okay.” Lifeline looked up at Billy. “He said that somebody had run a check on the tags.”
"Shit....Shitshitshit...." Billy said, moving to his feet. "How'd you pay for this room? Cash or credit?"
“Credit card,” Edwin replied, an extremely puzzled look on his face.
"We need to get moving...now. If they traced your car, they can trace your card..." Billy was already moving toward the door, although his movements were stiff with pain.
Lifeline’s puzzled look deepened, even as he rose to his feet and moved to retrieve his duffel bag and communicator. Billy sighed softly as he flicked off the safety on the gun. Stepping in front of Edwin, he eased the door open and looked outside, his gun kept low and mostly out of sight, in case he really was being paranoid.
“Brother, we have movement.”
Tomax’s voice came through the comm link, stopping Xamot in his tracks. “Where?”
“The target door.”
“Crimson Guard hold your position,” Xamot spoke the order almost immediately, his eyes fastening on the door in question.
“What’s the plan?” Lifeline asked softly over Billy’s shoulder.
“I'll head out first. If there's anyone looking, I'll draw their attention and their fire. Besides, they'll probably look for me first, anyway. Make for the woods. We'll have an advantage there. Do what you've gotta to keep from getting caught.”
Edwin wasn’t sure he liked Billy’s plan, but at the moment, he couldn’t think of anything better. “Wait a minute,” he said before fishing around in the duffel bag. Pulling out a metal locked box, he quickly pulled his keys out of his pocket and unlocked it. “Here, take this.” Flipping the lid open, he reached in and took out his Joe-issued Baretta and handed it to Billy.
Billy smiled a little at that. "Thanks, Doc..."
"Somebody might as well put it to some use." Removing the two clips inside, he slipped them in the back pockets of the Marine's jeans before tossing the empty box on the chair nearby. "Ready when you are."
Exhaling a slow breath, Billy shoved aside the pain pulling at him, letting himself sink into his "military mode" as he stepped slowly from the room.
“Commander, they’re moving out.”
Xamot nodded his head, his own position giving him a clear view of the door.
“Should we move in, sir?”
“No, hold your positions. Lets see what they’re up to.”
Edwin waited and counted to ten before slipping out of the door after Billy, keeping his back against the outside wall. The dimly lit parking lot looked deserted as the medic’s dark eyes quickly scanned the area.
"So far, so good...." Billy whispered back to Edwin.
The medic nodded his dark head slightly as he looked at Billy’s shadowed profile. “When ever you’re ready.”
"Let's move....keep to the shadows as much as possible...."
“Gotcha.” Edwin’s eyes were on the Marine, waiting for him to move.
“Xamot, they appear ...”
“...to be on to us. Yes, I can see that my brother.”
“I suggest that we follow them ...”
“ ...and strike when they are away from the motel. My thoughts exactly Tomax.”
Billy headed off, his steps silent as he made his way away from the motel and into the woods. He kept to the light only enough for Edwin to keep up with him, but was otherwise as stealthy as he could be. He didn't really want to fight; in truth, he wasn't ready for it and he knew it. But he'd die before he let Umbrella get too close to him again.
Lifeline followed the Marine on silent feet, aware that Billy was trying to take it easy on him which was of course unnecessary. As a member of G.I. Joe, he’d had to go through the same training as everyone else, including combat and stealth training. His tread was just as light as Recondo’s or Low Light’s, and as they passed into the woods, not even a twig or a leaf crunched underfoot.
Impressed by Edwin's ability to follow him, Billy caught himself and shook his head. Good thing the good captain behind me hasn't decided to pull rank so far....But time to take the kid gloves off...he's not a civilian, and I don't have time to coddle a pacifist... he thought to himself as he quickened his pace a little.
Edwin had no problem keeping the pace that Billy set, although he started to worry just how long the Marine could keep it up with his injuries. As they moved deeper into the woods, the medic began to relax a bit as it appeared that whoever Billy had been worried about had apparently not found them yet.
“They’re moving deeper into the woods.” The masked Crimson Guard trooper saluted as he stood before Tomax and Xamot.
“Have the men ...” Tomax started.
“... circle around them.” Xamot finished. “Once they’re surrounded, ...”
“...then move in.” Tomax looked at his twin. “We’ll catch Coen and his accomplice,”
“...in one fell swoop.” The scarred man smiled at his brother.
Billy kept at a fairly brisk pace until his aches forced him to slow. He called a halt, and listened intently as he took a moment to catch his breath. Lifeline immediately dropped down on one knee next to the other man, his shadowed face full of worry. Reaching out, he put his hand lightly on Billy’s back. “You alright?” he asked, his voice no louder than a whisper.
Billy nodded a little, although he was feeling anything but all right. "Just need...a sec...to catch my breath..."
Edwin’s hand slid away as he nodded his head and sat back. “Looks like they haven’t caught up to us yet.”
The words had no sooner left the medic’s lips when two thin blue beams of light shot out of the darkness around them. “Get down!” Lifeline said hurriedly as he threw his arm around the Marine and pulled him down to the damp forest floor.
Billy had little time to do more than hiss in a breath as he was pulled to the ground, his vision streaked from the two beams of light. Blinking, he hissed at Edwin, "What the fuck was that?!"
Edwin ducked his head down farther as another pair of lasers shot out over their heads. “Laser rifles...Cobra laser rifles,” Edwin’s voice held a note of surprise.
"I'll ask you more about it in a minute," Billy replied tensely, eyes darting about to try and find more suitable cover for the two of them before he started exchanging shots.
The unseen marksman fired another series of laser shots over the heads of the two men, and Lifeline was sure that it wouldn’t be too long before more joined it. “We’ve got to get out of here,” he whispered to Billy, his dark eyes trying to peer through the inky darkness as he hesitantly lifted his head a bit and looked around.
"No argument out of me, Sir. You lead, I'll cover you...."
Lifeline’s eyes snapped towards Billy, his mouth opening as if to speak before shutting with a snap. The medic seemed to consider something for a few moments. Without a word he slowly rose to his feet a little and started to scuttle away in the direction that the two had originally been heading – away from the Cobra shooter. He had only moved a couple of feet away before another volley of laser blasts shot out over his dark head. Billy used those shots to find the men holding onto the weapons, and squeezed off a shot or two in reply, starting to move after Edwin, covering the other man's retreat.
Edwin took just a split second to glance back at Billy before he continued moving forward towards a thicker copse of trees, Cobra? What the heck is Cobra doing here? He didn’t have the time to pursue the many questions that were swirling around in his mind; and as another series of laser blasts arced over his head, he dove through the dense covering that had been his target. A few moments later, Billy joined him, kneeling. The gun Edwin had lent him was still pointed unwaveringly at the path they'd come down. A laser blast passed close enough to him to leave a tiny cut on his right temple, and he hissed softly, moving further behind the cover. “Our only hope is to lose them in these woods.” Lifeline whispered, his eyes darting to and fro, ears alert for sounds of pursuit.
"Lead on. I'll keep 'em off your ass as long as I can and follow you...."
Edwin looked at Billy silently for a few moments before slowly nodding his head and starting forward once more. The medic was feeling a bit uncomfortable at being in the lead. Despite his rank, he’d always been more than happy to be a follower than a leader when it came to participating in missions with the Joes. As he moved farther into the dense covering, he could vaguely hear voices shouting to one another while the unmistakable sound of laser fire seemed to dim as well. Suddenly, Billy grabbed Edwin's arm and yanked him behind a tree, clamping a hand over his mouth to keep him from crying out in surprise. "Keep still. There's a couple of 'em headed this way," He whispered into the field medic's ear, hoping to head off a struggle before he ended up hurt.
The two Cobra Crimson Guards walked carefully, their scarlet-helmeted heads swinging back and forth as they moved forward, their rifles up and ready to shoot at the first sign of anyone or anything. Lifeline’s eyes widen slightly behind his glasses as he got a glimpse of the blood-red uniforms that passed his and Billy’s hiding place. Crimson Guard! Suddenly one of them stopped and turned around, the dark visor of his helmet swinging from one side to the other as he surveyed the area behind him. Satisfied after a few moments, he turned back around and joined his companion, the two of them slowly edging away from the two men.
Once the two Crimson Guards were far enough away, Billy released Edwin and began creeping away from them, his steps completely silent. He was trusting Edwin to follow him, and hoping he hadn't overstepped his bounds. Given the circumstances, he was getting the impression he had a little more experience than the medic did.
Lifeline breathed a deep sigh of relief once the Marine let him go, swallowing the lump that had formed in his throat. Without a word he adjusted the straps of the duffel bag on his shoulder and automatically followed the dark-haired man just as he would have Flint, Beach Head or any of the other members of the Joe team.
Billy's path was meandering; they had precious little of anywhere to actually go, and the Marine was more than a little paranoid about being discovered. He kept his ears tuned in to catch the slightest sound out of place. Edwin kept his eyes riveted on Billy’s back, frowning whenever he saw the Marine starting to waver. He knew that Billy needed to rest before he collapsed completely, but as they moved deeper into the woods, the medic knew that there would be little chance of that. Thankfully however, there had not been any signs of pursuit since the two Crimson Guardsmen had passed them earlier and as they moved farther away from where they had encountered them, Lifeline started to relax a little.
It was a long while before Billy relaxed himself. Only when he was completely sure they'd eluded their pursuers did he finally permit himself to sit, desperately wanting a cigarette, but not daring to deprive his lungs of oxygen at this point.
Lifeline dropped down to the ground heavily next to Billy, dropping the duffel next to him. Unzipping it, he rifled around inside for a moment before pulling out a sealed bottle of water. Opening it, he then nudged the Marine and offered it to him. Billy smiled faintly, and took the bottle. He eased down a few sips, then another swallow before handing it back over and switching on the safety on the Baretta. "It's a nice weapon," He remarked quietly, when the silence grew too tense for his tastes. "But it's a little stiff....You really don't use it much, do you?"
Edwin shook his dark head before putting the bottle of water to his lips and taking a couple good sips. “Only for my yearly marksmanship test,” he said softly, not looking at Billy. “If I wasn’t required to have it, I wouldn’t.” He recapped the bottle and tossed it back into the duffel.
"Don't meet many medics like you," Billy admitted, smiling a bit.
Lifeline titled his head curiously. “What’s that mean?”
"It means that most of the medics I've dealt with have had no problems at all turning a gun on an enemy soldier. Civilians, no way, and definitely not friendly troops...but you get what I mean."
Edwin nodded slightly. “From what I’ve found, violence never solved anything. Compassion and selflessness are much better weapons to fight with if you ask me.”
The faint smile on Billy's face took on a sad edge. "Yeah...maybe..."
“I know I’m some kind of crackpot. Why would somebody who thinks the way I do join the military?” Lifeline drew his knees up and rested his elbows on them. “Because I wanted to try to make a difference, to help people.” He glanced at Billy, “Since I’ve been with the Joes, we’ve done a lot of good – and not just in fighting off Cobra and other terrorists. We’ve helped sandbag towns against flood waters and rebuilt them after hurricanes and tornadoes...given out vaccinations to people who couldn’t afford them on their own... the very opposite of what most people think we do.”
"Hey, don't get defensive," Billy said softly, his tone taking on a subdued gentility that hadn't been there before. "I'm one of the good guys, remember? Believe me, I wish more people thought like you did..."
“Sorry ...” Edwin’s voice was soft. “Guess I’m just used to people thinking I’m a nut or a wimp or something.”
"It's okay. Compared to you, I probably come across as kind of a thug..." Billy replied with a shrug.
“No,” the medic said with a slight smile and a shake of his head. “There’s a few of the guys I work with who definitely ‘out thug’ you.”
Billy smiled at that. "Oh really?"
“Beach Head, Duke...Leatherneck...they’re all pretty hard-boiled soldiers.”
Nodding, Billy let it go at that, secretly pleased beyond belief that his recent year spent locked away hadn't outwardly affected him too much.
Lifeline pushed his glasses up on his face and rubbed at his eyes with his fingers while he tried to stifle a yawn. “What’s the plan, soldier-boy?”
"We find somewhere to rest. Neither of us is going to travel easily much further, and I'd rather you don't have to cart me around."
Edwin nodded his head. “Not much in the way of choices as far as rest goes. Looks like trees, trees and more trees.”
"Could be worse."
“True,” the medic resettled his glasses. “We could be guests of the Cobra Crimson Guard.”
"I'm making you explain this to me in the morning, you realize that, right?" Billy said, offering Edwin a tiny smile.
“If I can; I’m still trying to figure out what they were doing out here.”
"We'll worry about it then."
Edwin nodded slowly. “Sounds like a plan,” he said with a small smile, his voice sounding tired.
"C'mon, let's see if we can find a good place to bed down for the night."
Lifeline nodded once again as he started to rise to his feet, grabbing his duffel bag as he did so.