Beautiful Experiment

Chapter 22

“What the hell?”

Leon stared with disbelief at the particular trap that lay before them. As soon as the pair had stepped into the chrome hallway, a set of lasers had come out of a track, forming an “H” with their beams. Glancing at Manuela, he took stock of her stunned expression.

“Well, can’t go around it, can’t go under it, guess we gotta go through it.” Stepping forward, Leon edge towards the lasers, ducking under the horizontal one when the two side ones separated. Standing on the other side, he motioned Manuela to follow, and she repeated the same pattern.

Stepping forward, Leon sighed as another grid appeared. Watching carefully, he saw that two of the lasers spun around the track, pausing in the corners to keep their rotation, while one two moved up and down and another moved from left to right. He grabbed Manuela’s hand as the time approached. “On my mark...go!”

Stepping forward, he reached the track just as the diagonals straightened to verticals, allowing him to step through easily. With a quick tug, Manuela cleared the space two just as the verticals cross each other and the pattern reset.

Suddenly, a set of scattered lasers dropped down along the walls ahead of them. Instead of staying there, however, the lasers began moving towards them quickly. Thinking quickly, Leon backed up, bracing himself. “Get down!”

Manuela followed his order just in time, sliding under a gap in the lower lasers while Leon himself threw himself through a hole right in the middle, rolling to a stand. Helping Manuela to her feet, he looked around, expecting the next set. “Looks like they decided to push our luck.”

Another set dropped ahead of them, but didn’t activate. Instead they sparked menacingly. Approaching cautiously, both agents walked into the middle of them warily. Both heard the hum moment before the lasers activated, and they both threw themselves backwards, hand springing away. Manuela dropped once more to the floor with her thinner frame, easily ducking under the lowest lasers, while Leon performed one more spring over the leading lasers, before ducking under the others like Manuela had, ending up behind her. He motioned for her to run ahead while he pushed himself to a stand.

Manuela made it to the other end of the room safely, and pressed the button on the console, only for the light to remain adamantly red. Both heard the hiss of lasers, and turned to see a large grid at the other end of the hallway. Thinking quickly, Leon ran towards Manuela. “Use me as a springboard!”

Unsuredly, Manuela charged towards him, leaping off before she reached him, pushing off his back as he tensed. The jump allowed her to clear the top of the lasers, as well as gave him the extra push of speed he need to reach the other end of the hall. As Manuela arced over the lasers, she could see Leon running, the lasers catching on him. “Leon!”

Just before Leon reached the door, he gritted his teeth as he pushed off the door, hoping he got the grip he needed. Luckily, he managed to find enough purchase to run up the wall, leaning back just in time to clear the lasers. Whipping his legs up, he brought them over as well, flipping into a crouch. Standing quickly, he took a couple of skipping steps back, staying light on his feet just in case the lasers came back. As the lasers turned off, both agents sighed in relief, jogging to the door. This time, the button turned green and the door slid open.

Hurrying out, Leon rolled his shoulders while Manuela fell to her knees, taking deep breaths. “Let’s...not do that...again.”

“I’m not exactly raring to go either. Good job back there.”

“Me? Did you not just see what you did? Where did you learn that?”

“I believe in fighting smarter, not harder. After Raccoon City, I decided I needed to learn to fight hand to hand, just in case I was in an instance where I didn’t have a weapon. That involved a lot of physical training.”

“I see...say, Leon. Back when you rescued me...wasn’t Krauser’s arm injured?”

Leon’s expression hardened. He had his own suspicions about that. “You’re right. He was dismissed from the forces because it was unfixable. They told him he wouldn’t be able to fight with it.”

“So how was he able to use it? Do you think..?”

“I’m not sure, but we have more pressing matters to think of. Saddler mentioned some kind of ‘It,’ and I hate to think what kind of monstrous reject he’s throwing at us. So let’s just...focus…” Leon trailed off as the pair entered a large cavern, contrasting with the polished metal of the hall they had just been through. From the ledge they stood on, Leon could see another ledge on the far end, connected by a series of suspended cargo containers that swayed ominously over the dark abyss. “What is this?”

A vague memory came to Manuela as she looked about the cavern. Something about it seemed familiar. The idea just began to click in her head when both agents felt a shake in the ground. Instantly drawing their weapons, they stood back to back, scanning for threats. The shaking grew more intense, cascading small stones into the pit. As it grew louder, Manuela’s eyes widened as she realized both where they were and where the thing was coming through.

Just in time, she turned to the wall as a massive form broke through it, plowing heedlessly into the pair. Leaping back, Manuela was hit from below, throwing her onto the top of the crate while Leon was thrown through the open door, where he did a backspring to a stand, firing off a few discouraging shots at the monster. “Leon! I’ll keep you covered!”

Leon nodded as he turned and ran alongside the corrugated metal walls of the shipping crates that were arrayed in a seemingly random pattern. Withdrawing her machine gun, Manuela aimed down, targeting a fleshy point on the thing’s back. Opening fire, the beast let out a horrific screech as the bullets sent up a constant spray of yellow ichor. As it reeled from the attack, Leon made it around the corner, moving to reload his pistol when he spotted a strange console beside him, protruding from the floor. Moving over to it quickly, he read the words on it quickly. Cargo Suspension Controls.

“Manuela! I’m going to release the cargo compartments! I need you to cover me while I activate them and be ready to move!” Leon yelled over the din of horrific screeching. Manuela nodded, sparing a glance at the floor plan below her.

“You have to get passed this thing to get to the next one! Stay clear!” Manuela ordered, unclipping a flash grenade from her belt while continuing her covering fire. Flicking off the lever, she tossed it at the thing’s feet, finally letting up on her fire to reload her clip. The thing reeled from the hits, and as it finally stabilized, it looked up threateningly before being engulfed in the brilliant flash, causing it to shriek loudly and flail.

Leon, hearing the explosion, whipped around the corner, charging towards the thing. Finally at the advantage, he got his first good look at it. Resembling a man mounted in place of a lion’s head, it also had a tentacle replacing one of its arms. The thing’s flailing took up most of the hallway, and Leon looked around, trying to quickly spot a way passed it. Leaping to the side as he approached it, he cleared a wild swing of its clawed hand before running along the corrugated metal. As he passed, he looked at the thing, spotting an area of discoloured flesh on its back.

“Aim for the plaga in its back!” Leon yelled as he landed, sprinting around the corner to slam the button with his fist. The whole container gave a shudder that caused both of them to have to steady their stances. Leon looked up to see Manuela waving him over towards her, aiming her gun at the spot on the thing’s back. Leon rounded the corner, only to come face to face with it, the stun having worn off.

Leon threw himself backwards, landing flat on the floor to dodge a swing of its tentacle. The action saved him then, but left him open to attack. The thing raised a claw up as Leon began to stand up. A loud gunshot caused the thing to roar in pain, and Leon could see the flames from one of Manuela’s special bullets begin to cover its back. Just passed its flailing form, he could see Manuela herself, rifle in hand, waving desperately for him to move.

Not wasting time, Leon stood up and threw himself under the thing’s body, rolling under and passed it to a running stand. He changed his direction quickly by kicking off from the corner, dashing with everything he had for the door to the next compartment. He could see the open portal and threw himself through, moments before the door sealed and the compartment he had just been standing in fell. Leaning over, Leon breathed heavily. He was about to stand straight when the compartments gave a shake and he looked behind him to see the thing on the outside of the crate, clinging on by its tentacle. It had just finished swinging its clawed hand up and was forcibly working its way up the side.

Leon raised his weapon to fire at it, but Manuela called out. “Don’t waste your time! Just drop the compartments, I’ll take care of it!”

For a moment, Leon continued to aim at the thing, but eventually tore himself away angrily. Glancing one of the consoles on the other side of a chain link fence, he went around the container, only to encounter a solid steel door with a lock panel to one side, a green light glowing on it. Hurriedly pressing the button, he frowned when it refused to open. Unslinging his shotgun, he fired point-blank into the panel, causing it to fry and the door to slide up. Not wasting any time, Leon slid under it as soon as it was open enough and hit the first button.

Manuela, meanwhile, was busy trying to keep the thing at bay. It had just crested the top of the cage by the time Leon hit the button and it fixed its attention on her with a malevolent light in its eyes. As she raised her machine gun, the thing took a step forward, shaking the cage and throwing off her aim. There’s no way I can shoot it like this!

Putting back her gun, she unsheathed her blades instead, feigning challenge. She wouldn’t be able to stand against it in a prolonged fight, but she was certainly more agile and could keep its attention for a while. With a roar, the thing lashed its tentacle at her, trying to ensnare her. With a sidestep and a swing, she dug her blades deep into the appendage, eyes widening at just how resistant the flesh was. Quickly, she pulled the blades out, just before it curled the appendage and swung, attempting to toss her off the edge. Instead, it threw itself off balanced slightly shaking the crate.

Leon stumbled slightly as the crate ground against the one next to it, causing him to miss his shot at the panel, only partially damaging it. Not willing to waste another shot, he rushed forward, closing the distance with a spin, planting his heel into the damaged panel, forcing enough metal into it to cause it to short. Quickly, he planted himself, avoiding getting shocked. Sliding under the gate, he pressed the second button, causing the crate to begin is release protocol with a shake.

Climbing the side of the crate closest to him, he turned around, leaping off. Pushing off of the button, he jumped over the top of the chain link fence next to it, landing immediately beside the door. Stepping through the threshold, he turned around to see Manuela still fighting the thing. He realized with horror that unless she got moving, she wouldn’t make it in time.

“MANUELA! RUN!” Leon yelled so loudly that it was almost painful. Disregarding everything else, he aimed his pistol at the monster, covering Manuela.

Hearing Leon’s command, Manuela sheathed her blades as she turned around quickly, bolting in the other direction. The monster saw that she was fleeing and began charging forward, slowly gaining on her. Manuela’s breath caught as she got close to the end and she felt the crate release. Time seemed to slow and she could hear the fastenings release with an almost sadistic hiss. The sounds of her boots hitting metal faded as acceleration made her footfalls matter less. She could see the crate in front of her rise like a monolithic last hope.

She could see Leon standing in the opening, waving desperately for her to jump. Tears of fear and desperation stung her eyes as she leapt for him, able to see the crate fall into the darkness below her. Her stomach plunged with it as she realized her arc wouldn’t take her close enough and she gasped out her last breath as she began to see Leon rise passed, instead of to, her.

Leon could see she wasn’t going to make it. Quickly, he fired his grappling hook into the metal behind him, not even waiting for the sound as he affixed it to his belt. Running, he leapt into the open space, practically tackling Manuela as he grabbed onto her. One of her arms found its way around his back while the other wrapped around his arm, gripping the back of his head tightly. His own arms wrapped tightly around her, and both of them braced for the fall.

Both felt the sensation of falling in empty space, before suddenly stopping their downward descent. Instead, they swung to the side, the air rushing passed them as they clung to each other tightly. Once the swinging had stopped, Leon looked around, taking stock of the situation.

Looking above them, he saw the monster high above, once again clinging on by its tentacle, though it was struggling more with the injured appendage. Gripping Manuela tighter, he gently shook her to get her attention. “Manuela, I need you to press the retraction button on my grappling hook. It’s the only way we’ll get up before he does.”

Manuela nodded, reluctantly pulling herself back a little so that she could see better. Reassured by Leon’s tight grip on her she looked down and saw the device, moving her closest hand to it, looking at Leon as he fingers found the button. He nodded silently, tightening his grip to an almost painful level. Flicking it, Manuela leaned back against him quickly as they began to ascend speedily.

Both looked up as they ascended, and Leon carefully turned his body so they wouldn’t slam into the bottom of the crate upon reaching it. Both braced as they slid up and over the lip of the crate. Manuela let go as soon as they were over the edge, standing shakily to hit the button to seal the compartment. Outside, she could hear the monster roar in frustration.

Leon pulled the hook out of the metal with a grunt, letting it go back his side. Walking over, he put a hand on Manuela’s shoulder, panting a little from the strain. Manuela launched herself forward, hugging him tightly, which Leon returned. The two held onto each other tightly for a minute, steadying their nerves, until the thing outside managed to snag its clawed hand on the metal. “We should get moving.”

Letting go, the two looked at the diverging paths, and with a silent agreement, went opposite ways. Leon slipped into a small hallway made from a strange, smooth metal that had been wedged in between crates while Manuela rounded the corner to find another of the metal gates.

Looking around for an alternate way, she spotted the chain link next to the gate, and cut through it easily with her blades. Slipping through the hole, she pressed the button before cutting through the other section of chain link.

Leon made quick work of the lock panel, hitting the second button. Stepping back through, both Manuela and he appeared on either side of the gate at the same time. Rushing towards each other, they heard a bang of metal and looked up in time to see the monster break through the roof a few canisters behind them. Both turned to leave, only to see the face of a cliff before them. Looking up, they could see the ledge they needed to get to above them, with only a single chain hanging down to access it.

Wasting no time, they both took a step back, pausing to look at one another. As determination flashed between them, they both pushed forward, running in synchronized step. Leaping off the platform, they both grabbed onto the chain, dodging one of the shipping containers as it was flung passed them by the thing, which had just enough time to see them before the container gave way, sending it into the dark abyss with no way to catch itself.

Leon watched it fall into the darkness before looking up. He guessed they had ten, twenty, feet to climb before they could reach the ledge. Testing his grip, he threw up an arm, grabbing higher up safely. The chain barely moved and he smiled in success. “Well, guess this is just like training. Come on, let’s get out of here.”

Manuela nodded, and the pair began the slow ascent, having to alternate their pulls to allow handholds until Leon allowed Manuela to climb passed him. Leon had turned his head aside so that he wouldn’t accidentally be kicked when he spared a glance down. Staring into the darkness, he spotted something clambering out of the darkness with surprising speed. With a curse, he realized the thing was climbing straight up the side of the ledge.

“It’s coming!” he warned, increasing the speed of his own ascent. Manuela’s eyes widened as she saw the thing and she began hurrying up the chain. With both of them speeding up it, the chain swung annoyingly, making it harder to climb. Manuela made it to the top, throwing herself onto the ledge. Turning around immediately, she pressed herself to the ground, extending a hand to Leon. After her seized it, she pulled him up enough so he could grip the ledge. Between his own pulling and hers, he easily made it over the lip. They didn’t pause to recuperate as they ran away from the ledge. Leon spotted a track in the floor and the base of a gate above it in the tunnel ahead of them. At the same time, he heard the thing reach the ledge behind them. As they passed under, Leon looked at the side, spotting a lever. Praying it worked, Leon threw it down just in time to have the gate slam in front of the thing.

Backing up, Leon looked around trying to find some way of fighting it. Manuela tapped his shoulder and pointed passed a pillar of stone. There was another tunnel with a lever beside its mouth, and a lever on the inside. Leon could also just barely make out a red barrel. Putting together a plan, he began running towards the tunnel. Another tunnel entrance came into view and he could tell by the curvature that they connected in a half-circle. “You head over to that end, I’ll be on this end. Which ever of us he follows after, we lead him into the tunnel. The other person waits at the other end and throws the lever to seal it in. Then unload everything into it.”

Heading over to his end, Leon drew his pistol, aiming at the gate as the beast slammed into it. Taking potshots, he was surprised at the rapidity with which it broke down the gate, scuttling forward ungainly. Even more worrying, it seemed to have mutated somewhere along the line, with a strange, worm-like protrusion sprouted from its back, tipped with scythe-like mandibles. What had previously been its head hung limply from the front, giving the whole thing a wobbling gait.

“Over here you big stupid bastard!” Leon taunted, firing at the worm-like appendage’s mouth. The thing turned in rage, charging with disturbing speed, leaning forward menacingly. Turning to run, Leon could hear its footsteps behind him. Passing the barrel, he whipped around, firing a pistol shot into it just as the thing passed. The explosion engulfed it, causing it to flail angrily, allowing Leon to fire a few more shots into it before turning, stowing his pistol in favor of the Broken Butterfly. Turning, he could see the mouth of the tunnel and he ran for it as the thing recovered.

As soon as he stepped through, Manuela pulled the lever while lifting the rifle she had equipped up, taking aim. The gate slammed down in front of the beast, and it slammed into it bodily, screeching in pain. Sparing no time, Leon and Manuela began unloading into it, ripping chunks of flesh away from it with the force of impact. The thing staggered with each shot, trying to shy away from each new wound, only to have a new one throw it off balance. With a frustrated growl, it reared up and stamped on the ground, knocking the gate back, forcing Leon and Manuela to dodge to the sides. Instead of charging though, it began burrowing, disappearing in a matter of moments, the earth filling in behind it.

When the pair made it to their feet, they took aim, only to see that it had seemingly disappeared. The loose earth and dust cloud made it fairly evident what had occurred though. The two spun in place, weapons at the ready.

Leon felt the shaking increase in intensity rapidly and moved just in time to dodge the bladed mandibles of the worm attachment, which quickly returned back to the earth. He dodged again as it tried to hit him once more and this time, both he and Manuela got a shot on it. The pain caused it to lose coordination for a moment and Leon was able to toss an incendiary grenade in with it, causing the thing to go up in flames once more. Crawling to the surface, it thrashed on the ground, trying to beat off the flames.

Leon could see Manuela put her rifle away, taking advantage of its distraction to rush forward, digging both her blades into the flesh of one of its back legs. Switching to his pistol so he could aim more precisely, he aimed for the appendage to continue disorienting it. With a cracking noise, he saw Manuela rip through the thing’s back leg, using the now lowered corner of the body to hop onto its back. Without pause, she began slashing at the worm, ripping out chunk after chunk as Leon kept the thing stunned with carefully placed shots. Finally, one of the claws sliced straight through, sending the appendage flying to the ground. With a great shudder, the body collapsed, tossing Manuela off, where she landed with a roll.

Leon walked over to the severed appendage, plugging a pair of pistol shots into its “head,” causing it to cease its twitching. Prodding it with his foot, he let out a sigh as he slipped his pistol back into its holster. He jogged over to Manuela, helping her to her feet. “That was a nasty toss, nothing broken?”

“Nah, just a bit dusty. But I think I’ve had enough of caves.”

Leon smiled, allowing a small laugh. “Let’s get going then. We’ve got a cult leader to kill.”

Manuela seized his arm, and he looked to her with slight confusion. “I just remembered why this cave seemed so familiar! These must have been the caves they used to transport us before you got injected!”

“That means the lab where Luis worked shouldn’t be too far off,” Leon surmised. “Okay, we still need to find Ashley, but if we find that lab, we need to remember to bring Ashley there as well.”

Manuela nodded as Leon lead the way, more animated than he had been. She smiled as she watched him move, filled with new purpose and energy. Allowing herself just the one moment, she sighed in relief at the fact that Leon would once again be with her, free of the parasite, and soon, they would be home, painting pictures and spending the days in the yard. Filled with her own purpose, Manuela sped up, running alongside Leon with a determined smile, striding with purpose and power.
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