A Rose by Any Other Name

Things are Heating Up

The next two weeks passed quickly for the three of them as Wesker trained a group of operatives and Riley worked to prefect his Hunter's behavioral skills. Miranda tried in vain to locate the whereabouts of her daughter but came up empty handed. In her free time she began to rebuild the Tyrant DNA that she and her father had spent a lifetime on.

It wasn't hard to rebuild what she had lost. She'd always had an excellent memory. Even if she hadn't stored the DNA in a safe place, her father had taught her the importance of storing her memories deep inside.

She and Wesker had seen very little of each other that she almost missed him. It wasn't the same as it used to be. There was something different about the two of them. Whether Wesker wanted to admit it or not, a certain bond had grown between them.

She sat behind a computer panel in the main laboratory working to restore her data. She looked up only once as Wesker entered the room. She blushed as he winked at her and quickly ducked her head to continue her work. She'd also discovered over the past two weeks that whenever Wesker looked at her, her insides quivered and she was a giddy as a teenager. There was definitely something different between them. She wondered if Wesker noticed.

Two weeks had passed and Albert Wesker wasn't sure he was ready for them to. He had a feeling in the pit of his stomach that Raccoon city was indeed about to pay for Umbrella's mistakes. That was why he'd singled out the best of the H.C.F. operatives and begun to train them. He would be ready when the announcement came that Umbrella had assassinated William Birkin.

He and Riley had also continued research into the disappearance of Ozwell Spencer but could find nothing. There was no denying that the only way they were going to get anywhere was with the laminated note that Miranda refused to give up. Wesker had learned the value of patience however. So no matter what purpose Miranda had for keeping the note, he would give her time to give it back to him.

He hadn't seen much of her during the day. Riley told him that she had once again begun studying and recreating the DNA of the Tyrant. But for some reason, at night, she had been crawling into his bed and laying her head on his chest. The sensation was as enjoyable as it was shocking. He didn't know what to make of it. Didn't she know that he never slept? But for whatever reason, it did give him the chance to feel her next to him and to smell the sweet fragrance that was Miranda Harley.

Just now, she was sitting behind one of the primary computers in the main lab, her work projecting on a massive screen behind her. From what he could tell the new strand was almost complete. Miranda had proved her value to the H.C.F. Now the Corporation would have nothing more to say to him concerning those matters. He'd given Miranda the freedom to do as she pleased and she had rewarded him in turn. He would give Miranda the world if she'd only ask him; and that was what frightened him the most. He caught himself staring at her and turned away. If there were such a thing as dark fairies Miranda, in all her ethereal beauty, was bound to be one of them.

Riley patted him on the forearm and smiled. "You've lost it, my man."

"Lost what?" Wesker looked at him in confusion.

"Yep, you're gone…" Riley giggled.

"Wesker." Every time Miranda said his name, something happened inside him and he hated it. It was not supposed to be this way and it couldn't be this way. "I have something to show you." He nodded and walked to her seat resting his hands on its back.

"Then show me." He spoke gently, leaning down to kiss the back of her neck. Miranda shivered.

"This strand of DNA is not the same as before. For some reason I can't get it to match. This strand has a human gene that makes it reform and generate newer healthier cells than before." Miranda's sea green eyes were glowing with excitement. "If this is correct than the Tyrant would become almost an unstoppable force. After being injured, his body would renew itself completely, not just stop the bleeding." Wesker placed a hand on her shoulder.

"Harley, I think you're on to something here. Riley, look at this." Riley strode up to them and leaned over the chair squinting at the strand spinning on the screen.

"Not bad. But I'm not sure you know what you're doing. This is supposed to be green." Putting his finger to the side of his nose, he acted like he was wiping whatever was on his finger on the screen. Miranda snickered and shot out of her chair, wrestling him to the ground. The two were roughhousing and laughing uproariously when all at once the lab door burst opened. Miranda and Riley stopped immediately and stared at it. Miranda did not like the feeling she had in the pit of her stomach as one of Wesker's men stepped inside.

Dressed all in black, like his superior, the young man was solemn even as he spoke. " Sir, its happening." He waited for Wesker's nod and then continued. "Umbrella sent a Task Force to assassinate William Birkin." The bottom dropped out of Miranda's stomach.

"No." She gasped. "Wesker…they have a daughter." It was the first time she'd ever come to close to telling him the truth about Sherry; that she knew of. "We have to save her."

"What for?" Wesker growled, throwing a malicious look over his shoulder at her.

"Wesker!" Miranda lamented. "We…"

"We do nothing, Harley. Right now, there are more important matters at hand." He turned back to the young man before him. "Jacks, get the crew and prepare for an attack on the task force. We must get the G-virus sample!" Miranda continued to sit where she was. She was suffering and unable to think of anything but the safety of her daughter. Wesker picked her up by her arms and sat her on her feet. "Besides, he wasn't a good father to her anyway. Don't be a fool, Harley. Let's go." With that Wesker, the young man, and Riley marched out of the room to prepare for the upcoming mission.

It wasn't too much later that they were all sitting in a crowded airplane. Wesker was barking out orders when the same young man opened the cockpit door and shouted. "Birkin's dead, sir. So are the task force members. Something went wrong."

"Like what?" Wesker shouted back angrily.

"It seems that there's a monster on the loose in the sewer system. We heard a lot of screaming over their radio transmits." He answered.

"Oh god. No," Miranda whispered.

"I don't have a good feeling about this either." Riley told her, laying a hand on her shoulder.

"What of the G-virus?" Wesker snarled.

"Presumably, sir, it's still down in the sewer system." As the young man finished, Wesker let out a string of curse words that would make any sailor blush with shame. Miranda grabbed his arm. Looking down at her he frowned. "Find out, Jacks, we can't afford any mistakes right now." Wesker adjusted his sunglasses and turned to Riley. "Get your Hunters ready. The minute we arrive in Raccoon City I want them alert and responsive. Am I clear?" For a moment he turned away, then as if remembering something he turned back. "And Riley?" He titled his dark glasses down to meet Riley eye to eye.

"Sir?" He asked almost fearfully.

"Get your hand off her."

An hour or so later, Albert Wesker stood next to Ada Wong, the plane's hanger door open in front of them. Ada was yet another H.C.F. agent that had been spying on Umbrella for years. She had a spectacular array of knowledge involving guns and bio-monsters. She was well versed in the antics of Umbrella and could predict their plans with ease. He had joined hands with her for those very reasons. But for some unknown reason Miranda hated her.

"If that G-virus isn't in Umbrella's hands then something worse has happened." Ada said aloud.

"Birkin happened to them," Wesker told her. "He knew what potential that virus had. It's very likely that Birkin injected the virus into his own body and turned into a bio-weapon." Ada nodded at that. "In any case, the creature in the sewers must be exterminated and that virus found. Find Annette Birkin, stick to your story and radio me with the results." Ada nodded again and leapt out of the hanger, her parachute opening moments later. Dawn was approaching fast.

"What's the date?" Wesker asked the pilot as he entered the cockpit and sat in the co-pilot's chair.

"September 27th, sir. Six o'clock and o' six hundred hours." The pilot answered. Wesker liked this pilot. He had a lot to do and little to say about it, and what was more he was nothing like "Chicken Heart" Brad Vickers. "The city's strange looking today, sir. There's nothing moving down there." Wesker leaned over to the window and glared down at the city below. It was strange, even for this time of the morning there should have been some sort of activity.

"Ada." He pushed the com-link on his ear and spoke. " What do you see?"

"Nothing. This town's deserted." Ada's voice came back mostly static. "This is the strangest thing I have ever…wait…Wesker…I'm getting…" the words began to break up.

Wesker sat still for a long moment waiting for Ada to respond, but there was nothing more. "Land here. Then keep this thing grounded until I tell you otherwise." He said at last opening the cockpit door. This was a stealth plane. No matter where they landed they would be undetected by Umbrella or anyone else for that matter. "Miranda." He motioned to her. She got up and walked over to him her head down. She'd been crying. Putting a finger under her chin he wiped the remaining tears away with his thumb. Then he took her hand and placed a gun in her palm. "This a .38 special. It's a powerful handgun. Chris Redfield used to swear by it. If you see him, use it." Miranda held out the handgun to look at it. She'd never used a gun before. This one was sleek metallic black and as cold as she felt inside. Her fingers rested on the trigger.

"Wesker, I can't use a…" Before she finished the com-link in Wesker's ear beeped shrilly.

"What?" Wesker's voice was harsh. Something was wrong, she could tell in the way he spoke. He listened intently to the ear link then turned back to her. "Use the gun only if you have to, Harley. I'm afraid the situation is far worse than it first appeared."

Waves of panic shot through her, "What do you mean?"

"Sir," the young man, Jacks, burst out of the cockpit. "The Police Department has been breached. Zombies are over taking the Station."

"Zombies?" Several of the Operatives echoed. The tiny cargo bay became a jumble of voices, save those of Wesker, Riley, and Miranda.

Miranda felt as if she could throw up. Her daughter was there with those things. She had little to no chance of survival with those monsters on the loose.

"Quiet!" Wesker shouted at last. "You are all aware of what Umbrella is capable of. Even with their mistakes. This should not come as a surprise. Riley, I want you to gives us a review of what the typical zombie can do." Riley inclined his head and stood, his legs trembling. He'd never been too good in a crowd. The plane shifted, beginning it's descent into the unknown.

"Well…ah…the typical zombie is nothing more than a human who has lost all sense of self. They are more like…"He paused searching for the right way to describe such a horrendous monster. "Like wolves. They survive on instinct alone. The only thing they know is that taste of human flesh is what they crave. They do not perceive that they are in any danger and will purse their prey relentlessly. Their hunger for flesh is so strong they will go blindly to their deaths…well, second deaths…to get it." Riley paused to cough and continued. "While alone they are easily dispatched, but in groups…whew…they can be deadly."

"A simple hand gun can be used." Wesker finished. "However, preserve ammo if you can. There are very likely more menacing creatures that are bound to be hanging about." Behind Wesker Miranda was holding her breath. The fear she felt inside was quickly growing out of control. As the plane landed, Wesker kicked open the hatch and waited for his operatives to leap out before returning to Miranda.

"You listen to me, Harley." He said harshly. "You stay close to Riley if I'm not around. Use that gun and don't get any ideas about running off alone to find the Birkin's daughter."

"But Wesker, she's just a little girl. We can't leave her alone." Miranda argued.

"We're here to get the G-virus not go off on some bleeding heart mission." Wesker snapped.

"She's just a little girl, Wesker. It's not fair." Miranda glared into his eyes, willing him to understand. Instead he grabbed her arm and shook her roughly.

"You think Sherry is the only child out there, Miranda? Think again. There are hundreds of children in this city and they're all going to die…if they're not dead already. I will not risk lives to find one little girl." He dropped her arm and turned to leave.

"It's not fair, Wesker!" Miranda shouted.

His red eyes flashed as he turned his head to glare at her. "Not fair? I'll tell you what's not fair." He stormed back to her and seized her by the arms again. "Losing your humanity because of someone else's mistakes is not fair. Watching everything you've planned and worked so carefully to obtain crumble around you is not fair." Miranda said nothing. She watched his face hoping he would change his mind eventually. "Now, I don't know why you care so much for the Birkin's daughter," He lied. "But I want you to put her out of your mind. Otherwise you'll get yourself killed." This time he threw her arms down with bravado and moved to the hatch. He turned suddenly, his eyes on Riley. Although Miranda did not understand Riley nodded. "Safe and sound, Wesker. Safe and sound." Wesker nodded back and jumped to the ground below, disappearing into the darkness.

This was the second time that had happened. What were they talking about?

Riley watched Miranda for a long moment before speaking. She was standing alone staring out the cargo bay door after Wesker. She looked so sad he was almost afraid to bother her.

"It's not so bad." He said at last. "What are a few zombies?"

"A few?" Miranda frowned but didn't look at him. "I would imagine that it's more than a few. The creation process for a normal zombie is no more than a few hours. If five are running around and these five kill five more...well, you get the picture."

"I know, but I just thought..."

"Riley, my...there's a little girl out there that I care for very much. I just can't help thinking about her. I'm scared to death for her." Miranda admitted. She'd almost let the truth slip to Riley as well.

"Well, there's nothing we can do right now. Wesker would have my head if I let you go out there. I'm sorry." Riley shrugged. "Can I ask you something?" Miranda nodded silently. "Do you think Ada likes me?" The question caught her off guard and she laughed in spite of herself. "No really. Be serious. Do you think she'd ever fall for a guy like me?"

Miranda smiled and came to sit beside him. "I don't know. Have you asked her on a date or anything?"

"Oh no. Are you kidding? I couldn't do that. I have to be suave and debonair like Wesker. He is smooth isn't he?" Riley elbowed her in the ribs, a wide grin on his face.

"Smooth isn't the word..." Miranda mumbled. Smooth was certainly not the word for Wesker. Selfish, self-absorbed, devilishly charming fit his description much better.

"Tell me what Wesker did to get you?" Riley asked. Miranda stared at him as if he'd just fallen off a turnip truck. Was she that obvious?

"What makes you think Wesker and I are..."

"Oh come on, M. Give me a break. I wasn't born yesterday."

"It's not that he got me. Wesker and I..."she struggled for the right words. "Our relationship was always...um..."

"I get it. You guys were going into the business of breaking in head boards right?" Riley cracked. Embarrassed at the term used, Miranda elbowed him back. "Well you're a girl. Give me a few pointers on what a woman wants in a man. And don't tell me I need a lot of work. I'm perfectly handsome and witty, thank you."

Miranda smiled. Leave it to Riley to make her feel better. "Why Ada? She's a natural born liar you know."

"Why do you hate her so much?" Riley glared at her for insulting his love interest. How could she tell Riley that she hated Ada because Ada had double-crossed her family, her father in particular? Ada had posed as the girlfriend of John Fay, one of the researchers at the Arklay Mountain Facility, and dug into secret files. She had only recently learned that Ada had sold those secrets to the company she was working for, the company that Albert Wesker had recently begun to work for. Instead of telling him all that and getting off on a tangent Miranda shrugged her shoulders.

"Just be careful, Riley." She said softly. "And don't worry about trying to be someone you're not. Be yourself and the whole world will love you."

"I don't want the whole world to love me," Riley said dejectedly. "I just want Ada to...hehe…you know what I mean?"

For a while Riley and Miranda were silent, each was lost in their own thoughts.

Miranda wondered for the thousandth time if Sherry was all right. If she knew her daughter, she had a feeling she'd be fine. Being the daughter of Albert Wesker gave her a lot of resources and talent from which to draw her survival. She just had to keep telling herself that Sherry would be okay.

"Miranda?" Riley's voice cut through the thick silence like a knife. Miranda turned to look at him. "Do you suppose the department stores are filled with zombies too?"

It was dark inside the Sears department store as Wesker made his way down the main isle. He hadn't noticed any creatures walking about. But then again, he hadn't gone that far. His boots made the only sounds. The quietness was eerie.

He'd never liked clothing stores. He'd never found a reason to go there. Barry Burton of the S.T.A.R.S. team had complained constantly about the hours his wife and two daughters could spend in one. It was a good thing that Barry had had that family.

He had been easier to manipulate that way.

When he was younger, before discovering Umbrella and their rivals, Wesker had thought a lot about having a family one-day. Those thoughts had been lost when he'd met William Birkin and blackmailed him out of a G-virus sample. Now the only thing he thought about were revenge and power, which were relatively one and the same. His com-link squelched and tore him from his thoughts. "Third floor is crawling, sir. Requesting...Ahhhh..." The transmission ended as Wesker raced for the nearest stairwell. Leaping straight into the air, Wesker landed easily on the third floor railing and listened. It sounded like wet shoes sloshing towards him. A few mournful moans told him that there were at least twenty to thirty of the creatures heading in his direction...in his direction maybe, but not towards him. He had noticed that zombies paid him no heed. After all, he was dead just like they were.

A small cry sounded from behind him and Wesker lost his balance. Tumbling over the railing he landed on his back the air rushing out of him. "Mommy?" The child was crying profusely above him. "Mommy, where are you?" Wesker stood and listened again but this time he heard only the solemn quietness. It was indeed a pity for a child to die. They had yet to reach their full potential in life and would never get the chance to.

Leaping again brought him over the railing and into the chest of a groaning zombie. He pushed it aside and continued walking. In the darkness he could see them as they watched him with their pupil-less eyes. He could see the rotting clumps of flesh that fell from their bodies. Turning his nose up, he continued, for some reason still listening for the child.

"No!" The little girl screamed as if her lungs were exploding. Wesker didn't know why but he could not ignore this. Bursting forward with agile feet, he reached the child just in time to see her tackle the female zombie and sprint in the direction he'd just come from. "Mother!" the child screamed again. This time Wesker was too fast for her and caught her easily.

Holding her out while she kicked and scratched he stared at the little girl. "Let me go!" Her blonde hair flew around her face and her blue eyes shone like fire with her will to survive. He recognized this child without a shadow of a doubt. This was his daughter, Sherry. For once he was speechless, his mind a jumble of painful thoughts and memories that had never existed for him.

He was too lost in his thoughts to notice as Sherry leaned down and bit him on the wrist. In surprise he dropped her. He watched her scramble to her feet and run down the hall. At the air vent, Sherry turned back and glared through the darkness at Wesker. The independent challenge in her eyes was unmistakable. She may look like him but she definitely had Miranda's spirit.

Sherry disappeared into the air duct just as the building's lights flickered then came on at full power. Zombies stood all around Wesker, some still holding in their shopping bags. Three members of his crew lay in floor dead. Their flesh had been torn from their bodies and hung like ribbons on the floor around them. Wesker scowled and stepped over them. They most definitely weren't as good as he'd thought. Training more before the next mission would take time away from the things he needed to accomplish.

The zombies ignored him, wandering around each other and bumping into what remained of shop displays. There was nothing more he needed to see here. It would not be long before Umbrella sent their newly formed Bio Hazard Countermeasure team in to "clean up" the town. This new team was a group of hired mercenaries who had no idea Umbrella was merely using them as combat data. It was the same thing that they had done to the S.T.A.R.S. Only this time, for once learning from their mistakes, Umbrella was using a bunch of no names that would not come back to haunt them. Laughing in spite of himself he realized the incredible irony of the whole situation. There were a lot of things that were going to come about in a vicious circle to haunt Umbrella Inc.

Looking out the window, he saw Sherry sprinting across the parking lot, looking desperately at the structures around her before vanishing down a dark alley. "This area is dead. Destroy it." Wesker said into his com-link. It was better to destroy the evidence that they'd been there than have those three come back as zombies and be found somewhere in the city.

As he left the building he looked down at his watch. It was late afternoon but by the way the clouds had been hanging over the city it seemed as if it were still night. Even the clouds knew that something wasn't right with this city. Behind him the building exploded. The detonation shook the ground and toppled the department store to its very foundation.

Miranda heard the explosion and shot out of her chair in the cockpit. She leaned toward the widow and squinted into the darkness, searching for the source of the blast. The pilot jostled from sleep turned to her. "It's just Wesker and the boys, lady. Calm down."

Miranda felt something explode inside of her. "Calm down? Sherry's out there and you're telling me to calm down. What if she was in that building, you idiot?" She shouted.

"Hey! I take a lot of crap off Wesker, lady. I won't take it from you." The pilot jumped out of his chair and met Miranda face to face. "Do you here me…" His words trailed off as Wesker's voice filed the cockpit.

"Leave her alone, Peters. She's highly upset at the state of the town. Surely you can understand that." His tone sounded amused. "Miranda, go tell Riley to send out two of his Hunters. Peters, listen carefully. Send out two of our Choppers and get them ready for clean up detail. I'll need them here at 1700 hours, so work quickly." The voice faded out and Miranda found herself shaking inside. He sounded just as sexy over the radio as he did in person. Exiting the cockpit Miranda sat next to Riley and whispered in his ear. Laughing he stood up and began the preparations to let Scooby and Scrappy Doo out of their cages.

The sudden explosion rocked the airplane and knocked Miranda into a set of monitors. Riley stumbled toward her as the second eruption rocked the plane again. The cockpit had disappeared in a wall of flames. "Something's wrong. Come on!" Riley grabbed her arm and pulled her to the Hanger door. The Hunters leapt into the darkness just ahead of them.

Miranda's heart was beating fast. She couldn't understand what had gone wrong. This was supposed to have been a stealth plane. No one should have been able to do this to them. She wondered briefly if Wesker knew anything about this before the third explosion sent them flying from the Hanger door…

As night began to fall over the condemned city, making it far darker than before, Miranda rolled over and opened her eyes, moaning as she did so. Riley lay next to her, curled into a whimpering ball. Pain crept over her, fear following closely on its heels.

She remembered the explosion and shoved him. "Riley, we have to find the pilot. Where is he?" Riley sat up and rubbed his head but didn't answer her. Miranda got to her feet and ran to the front of the airplane hoping to find the pilot safe. The cockpit, however, was still on fire, which didn't bode well for him. Walking around the far side of the cockpit revealed the bed of a truck with the word "Chevro" in charred letters on the tailgate. That meant that this truck had somehow made it through the wooded area to the grounded airplane and driven into the cockpit. But why would they? No one even knew they were there.

"Holy Cow!" Riley shouted as he ran up to her. "So that's what happened." Miranda nodded. "What now? We can't stay here. What if the whole plane blows up?"

"We have to find Wesker," Miranda agreed. She held out the gun Wesker had given her and knew with sickening dread that it wouldn't be too long before she would be forced to use it. Riley held out his own gun, showing it to her. It was a Magnum .357 much like the one that Marcus Baker had used in his fight with Wesker. With that, the two of them turned to the opening in the wooded area. Finding Wesker would prove to be a very difficult task.

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