Leon clutched the beam in time to stop himself from crashing through the ruined ceiling. Wrapping his legs around it, he dangled from the beam, supporting himself with his left hand, gun ready in his right. Below him, a soldier peered up through the splintered tiling.
Before the soldier had a chance to react, Leon fired a perfect shot through his helmet visor. Two more soldiers came into view. Leon dropped down, landing on one of them. The second soldier swore foully as he struggled for a clean shot at Leon who was grappling with the first.
“Shoot him, damn it!” the first soldier shouted.
The second soldier locked onto Leon and quickly pulled the trigger, but at that critical moment, Leon maneuvered his opponent into the soldier’s line of fire. A series of shots rang out and the soldier went limp in Leon’s grasp. Following up on his advantage, Leon shoved the dead man into the shooter, who reeled backward in surprise. While the soldier tried to untangle himself from his deceased comrade, Leon immediately fired two shots. Thus, the skirmish was over.
Seeing that the area was currently clear, Leon called up to Sara. There was no response. Leon’s brow furrowed with concern. “Sara, can you hear me?”
Then there was a loud crackling sound as the perforated ceiling crumbled and gave way. Leon looked up to see Sara dangling dangerously from the fissure. She appeared to be unconscious. The next moment, the tiling gave way, collapsing under Sara’s weight. Leon darted toward her, sliding across the floor in an effort to cushion her fall. He grunted loudly as she dropped onto him, her weight causing his sore muscles to scream in protest at the impact.
Sara moaned softly. Leon sighed with relief at the sound; she was alive. Quickly brushing debris from his face, he gently shifted Sara away from him and carefully laid her out on the floor. He looked her over, his grave gaze settling on her lower leg. A bullet had hit her just above her ankle. Fortunately, it was only a graze. Though the wound bled profusely, it didn’t look serious.
Sara stirred and opened her eyes. She looked around her dazedly at the three dead soldiers before finally turning to Leon. “Wow. I missed a lot,” she said hoarsely. “I think I fainted. Sorry.”
“Don’t be. That’s a bullet wound, not a papercut. I remember my first shot.”
“Bet you didn’t faint,” Sara muttered.
Leon scoffed. “Sure I did. I’ve just developed a higher pain threshold since then. Luckily, this is just a graze. We’ve gotta get out of here before we get more company.” He put one of Sara’s arms around his neck, supporting her as he lifted her up.
Leon led Sara down yet another dim corridor, his eyes darting about warily. Sara leaned partially against him, making every effort to walk as quickly and independently as her wound permitted. Leon silently commended her for her grit.
They encountered no further resistance as they made their way through the shadowy halls. Presently, they came to a double door. Leon tried it; the knob turned easily. Leon carefully released Sara, gesturing to her to stand aside quietly. She nodded, and he cautiously opened the door, gun ready. A quick scan of the room revealed a storage closet filled with crates and bins. Satisfied that it was clear, he ushered Sara in and shut the door.
“Damn. No lock. We’ll have to keep a low profile.” Leon returned to Sara and helped her to walk to the furthest end of the room. Placing his hands on his hips, he stood analyzing Sara’s wound. “I’d like to bandage that.”
Sara leaned heavily against the wall. “With what?”
“The hem of your nightshirt would work,” Leon replied.
Sara blushed. “Is that really necessary?”
“It’d be better to stanch the bleeding. The more blood you lose, the weaker you’ll get. Plus you’re leaving a pretty good trail.”
Sara groaned slightly. She hesitated momentarily before finally nodding her consent.
Leon knelt before her and carefully began cutting a strip of fabric from her nightshirt with his knife. Sara stood rigidly while he worked, tension rolling off of her. Sensing her discomfiture, he tried to be quick. “Okay, this is good enough. Sit down so I can get this on you.”
Clearly relieved, Sara complied, still looking uneasy. Leon proceeded to complete the bandaging. “That should do the trick. Too tight?”
Sara shook her head, eyes averted.
“Good.” Leon gently turned her face toward him in order to assess her. He brushed her sable waves of hair aside and scrutinized her dark eyes. They were bright and alert. Though somewhat accelerated, her respiration was not erratic; she didn’t seem likely to faint again. That was promising. Almost involuntarily, his gaze trailed down Sara’s face, studying her plain but attractive features. He read a strong character in her firmly set mouth, and the slight upward curve on the end of her lips denoted a spirited nature. He found her amazingly alluring.
Realizing he had been looking a little too long, Leon returned his gaze to her eyes. He was surprised to find Sara observing him as deliberately and interestedly as he had been looking at her. The discovery was somehow pleasing. Sara instantly turned away sheepishly. Slightly amused, Leon recalled himself to the business at hand.
“You’re holding up pretty good, but I want you to take a couple of these.” Leon drew a small white container from his pack.
“What is that?” Sara asked, looking at the container warily.
“Health tablets. They restore vitality and make partial tissue regeneration possible,” he replied. He tapped two white tablets into her palm. “Chew,” he instructed.
Sara obeyed. “Ugh! They’re so bitter!”
Leon chuckled. “Yeah, they’re kinda an acquired taste, but trust me, they work.”
Silence fell between them as Leon waited for the tablets to take effect on Sara, and he deliberated on his next move.
“I do feel a little better. Thanks. But what about you?” Sara asked.
“The night’s young; I have a feeling I’m gonna need ’em a lot more later on.”
Sara’s brow furrowed. “I hope not.”
“Well, it’s an occupational hazard.” Leon sat down before her. “What you did back in the lab…”
Sara spread her hands. “I know. I just didn’t think it through. My brain was screaming ‘bad idea’ the whole time, but I thought if I could distract them, you might be able to make a move.”
Leon huffed. “In my experience, bad ideas are some of the most effective. I admit that took a lot of guts. But I am trying to get you home safely. Please be more careful.”
“I have to say: I’m impressed.”
Sara snorted. “Please. I was scared out of my wits.”
“But you did it anyway. And thanks for the toy,” Leon added, drawing the .45 and studying it briefly.
“You can put it to better use than that bastard,” Sara remarked.
“That’s a promise.” Leon returned the gun to its place. “I’d like to know about this Liam Grey. And I could use some directions here.” He activated his earpiece. “Hunnigan, come in.”
“I read you,” Hunnigan replied. “What’s your sitrep? Are you okay?”
“Sara took a hit, and we’ve got the heat turned up on us, but we’re holding out.”
“The wound’s not serious, is it?”
“No; the tablets are helping. A little stroke of luck got me the files on Project Phanes,” answered Leon.
“Wow! That was quick work. You’ll be ready for evac, then,” Hunnigan said, sounding surprised.
“Not exactly. These guys are serious about not letting us off this island. I’m talking heavy military presence here; not just some muscle-heads with guns. Hopefully, my ammo will hold out.”
Leon glanced at Sara who twitched nervously at those words. “I got a hold of the Phanes Project file and files on other bioorganic experiments being conducted by a Dr. Liam Grey. I’m sending you the Phanes files now. I need you to get me everything you can on this Grey; apparently, he’s Ramsey’s head scientist, but I have a feeling he’s more than just a mad scientist on the payroll.”
“Okay, got it. Good news: I’ve got eyes on you again.”
“Hallelujah!” Leon exclaimed.
The sound of keys clacking followed. “I’ve also got a solution to your ammunition problem. Ramsey made provision for any unexpected interference; he built an armory. It’s located on the northeast side of the facility you’re in, accessible via a cargo elevator from the underground station you’re in right now.”
“An armory? Well, merry Christmas.”
Hunnigan chuckled. “Now, you’re going to need a quick way out of there to make it to the extraction point as soon as the chopper arrives. There’s a garage accessible from a network of pedways. You can reach it from an alternate exit in the armory. From there you can grab a ride and head on to the tower. A causeway connects both parts of the island.”
“Already sent to your GPS device,” Hunnigan declared.
“Hunnigan, you’re the best,” Leon proclaimed.
“I try,” she answered, a smile in her voice. “Keep me posted when you’ve got evac clearance so I can contact the BSAA unit for extraction.”
“Copy that.” Leon disconnected and turned to Sara. “You good to walk?”
“I can run the frickin’ high hurdles if that’s what it takes to get out of this hell,” Sara responded.
A smile flickered over Leon’s lips as he rose and helped Sara to her feet. “There’s an armory not far from here. We’ll head there, do a little hardware shopping, then we get over to the extraction point.”
Cautiously, Leon stepped out of the room, Sara shadowing him at a safe distance. He kept his eyes open for danger while alternately checking his GPS. The trek was uneventful until they reached an intersection in the corridor.
Footsteps could be heard followed by conversation. Leon looked around frantically, hoping to avoid a confrontation. His eye fell on a displaced grille leading to a duct. He quickly removed the grille and signaled to Sara to enter.
Sara’s mouth formed a grim line of dismay, but she knelt down and disappeared into the duct. Leon followed, crawling in backward and hastily replacing the grille. The soldiers paused momentarily in front of their hiding place. Leon gripped his gun, ready for attack if necessary. He sensed Sara holding her breath. After some low-voiced comments, the soldiers passed.
“What do we do?” whispered Sara. “They’re all over!”
Leon checked his GPS. “Detour. If we move along this duct, we can keep out of sight and still get to the elevator.”
Without replying, Sara began crawling forward, Leon behind her. They maintained perfect silence as they made their way through the duct.
Suddenly, a loose hatch gave way beneath Sara. She fell through with a cry of alarm. Leon scrambled forward and peered through the open hatch.
“Sara, are you okay?” he demanded.
Sara looked up at him from the crumpled heap she had landed in. “Yeah. I’m okay,” she replied, her voice breathy. “Nothing seems to be broken.”
Leon let himself drop, landing smoothly beside Sara. He was up in an instant, extending his hand to help her up. She took his hand, but she froze, eyes going wide. “Oh, my God…”
Leon followed her panicked gaze, pulling her up simultaneously. “You gotta be kidding me.”
They stood in a room flanked with four large glass incubation tanks filled with transparent green liquid. Each tank held a female humanoid creature attached by various hoses in their backs and heads. They were nude, having the identical anatomy of human women, but their faces were another matter. Two deep indentations replaced their eyes, and their mouths stretched eerily from ear to ear in perpetual, hideous grins.
“What the hell are these things?” Sara asked, horrified.
“Hell if I know,” Leon replied tersely.
Suddenly the sound of an electronic lock engaging echoed through the chamber. The dim lighting went red, and a loud buzzer went off.
“I don’t like the sound of that,” Leon remarked. He glanced across the room at the door. Beside it was a display panel reading LOCKDOWN in angry red letters. “I’m getting really sick of this lockdown shit,” he muttered.
“Hello again, Agent,” Liam Grey’s voice blared over unseen speakers.
Sara and Leon looked up and saw a dome security camera hidden in the upper corner near the ceiling.
“Congratulations! You managed to give my men the slip. But I’ve got something better in mind for you now.”
“And I’ve got a bullet with your name on it. Why don’t you come down and get it?” said Leon.
Grey laughed. “I’m too busy to play ‘Cowboys and Indians’ with you, hero-boy. I’ll leave you to my lovely ladies.”
There was another buzzing sound followed by electronic beeping and a hydraulic hiss. The tanks were being drained.
Sara gasped and shrank back as the creatures jerked slightly in their glass prisons.
“You don’t need to be afraid, young lady. Your sisters aren’t coming for you. It’s your precious knight they want,” Grey declared, amusement in his voice.
The hoses connecting the B.O.W.s to the tanks were detached.
“Behold the glory of science, Agent. Since I discovered Sara was a perfect fusion with the Omega Virus, I infused these ladies with a compound synthesized from her DNA. They will not attack her. You, however, my heroic friend, will be torn to shreds.”
Leon clenched his jaw tightly as the hoses receded and the B.O.W.s were animated. The tanks opened with a hiss, and the creatures stepped out.
“Finish him and hold the girl.” Grey laughed darkly. “I’ll see you soon, princess.”
The creatures turned on Leon and Sara, snarling, and began advancing on them menacingly.