Chapter 9: Of Puzzles and Ashford Family Affairs

It was cold inside the main HCF building despite the warm weather outside. It felt like they had left the air conditioning on or something.

Chris was sauntering through one of the frigid metal corridors now, the place reminding him of a hospital. Everything was sanitary and great care had been taken to place each of the pictures hanging on the wall at just precisely the right angle in relation to the wall and each other.

The fluorescent lights bathed the entire hallway in a dim glow, and Chris could see that the floor was swept and the whole place was looking rather tidy.

There was a vaguely unpleasant odor lingering in the air that he figured must be the leftover scent of the cleaners.

An eerie stillness hung in the air: it was quiet enough to hear a pin drop.

It all made Chris very uneasy. There was a certain wrongness about all this. It was much too quiet. He found himself thinking of the old adage: 'Just because the water is calm does not mean there are not crocodiles lurking below the surface.'

To try to take his mind off of just how spooked he felt, he examined some of the portraits as he passed. Most were landscapes from remote places such as the Andes Mountains and Sahara Desert.

They were breathtakingly beautiful, but there was a job at hand and now was not the time to be distracted.

Ignoring the small doors he passed along the way, Chris followed the corridor around a corner and found himself standing in a very large reception area. There were chairs and sofas everywhere surrounding a large windowed office built into the wall. There were even T.V.s and magazines to keep waiting people entertained.

Ok, this is starting to feel more and more like a hospital, he found himself thinking, Probably their very own medical facility for personnel injured on the job. Maybe there are some injuries you just can't go to a normal hospital with without the whole world finding out that your company has been engaging in illegal activities.

Chris jumped about a foot high at the sound of a door cracking open. This was followed by a low melancholy moaning, and a zombie stumbled into the room--it's face and clothes dripping with fresh blood.

Acting on impulse, Chris fired three shots directly into the zombie's face.

It dropped like a sack of potatos, it's face decimated.

Seconds later, there was the unmistakable ungodly shriek of a hunter in the proximity. It must have heard the gunshots!

It sounded like it was still a few doors off in another room, but Chris didn't plan on waiting.

He headed for the nearest door to one of the side rooms and slammed it shut behind him once he was inside.

In all his life, he'd never regretted any on-the-spur-of-the-moment decision as much as he did that one.

The whole room was just loaded with zombies!

They were behind him, in front of him, and to both sides before he even knew what was happening. Their dead eyes seemed to glow with an eerie black flame--the lust for the kill.

Since they hadn't been dead long, they really didn't show any telltale signs of being zombies other than their basic appearance and behavior. They were still dressed in their work clothes. If it weren't for the bloody chunks they'd bitten out of each other's bodies, they could almost be mistaken for living people. Almost.

Arms outstretched, they lunged for the kill in a mindless trance.

There were so many of them! Chris knew instantly that if he turned around to go back the way he'd come he'd be dead. The zombies would be on him like mosquitoes on a camper who'd forgotten the repellent. There was only one thing to do.

Catching the forewardmost zombie in a spray of bullets, he shoved the soulless creature as hard as he could into it's buddies.

Just as he'd hoped, the clumsy zombies were mowed over like dominos. They now were on the floor in a tangle of arms and legs.

But that action had cost him precious time.

Cold hands closed in on his shoulders, ripping at his flesh. The zombies prepared to bite down.

"Sorry, but lunch has just been cancelled!" Chris yelled defiantly as he lurched forward with all the spring he had in his muscles. He started for the door at the opposite end of the room, trampling the bodies of the less fortunate zombies underfoot.

Sharp nails scratched at him as he passed by shoving zombies out of his path before the slow-witted creatures had time to respond. He grimaced as a sharp pain shot through his right arm and two red lines appeared on his flesh.

He made it out the door seconds before an unusually quick zombie would've grabbed his back.

He slammed that door shut so hard it made the entire wall shake. But he couldn't stand propped against the door like this forever.

Chris scanned the room he was in; his brain processing information at supersonic speed.

Smallish break-room. Tables, chairs, microwave, T.V…..Chris's eyes fell on the gray double-doors of an elevator. Bingo. Those mindless corpses would never know how to operate one of those!

Spirits lifting, he made a beeline for the elevator and smacked the 'up' button.

The doors flew open.

From the next room, zombies moaned angrily.

Chris darted in and studied the button panel. The button for the first floor was glowing a warm yellow. There were five floors and three basement levels this elevator would run to.

Right now, one floor was as good as another to Chris. He pressed the button for third floor just as the doors were closing. The elevator started it's ascent.

That's the last time I just barge in on a room like I own it without even looking! Chris mentally scolded himself, It's reckless actions like that that are going to get me killed one of these days!

He was feeling rather stupid for not remembering one of the basic rules he'd learned back in S.T.A.R.S. training: Never rush into a potentially hostile room without first looking and taking every necessary precaution.

'Be prepared for anything' had always been their motto.

Chris certainly hadn't been prepared for a herd of bloodthirsty zombies.

The elevator came to an abrupt stop. The doors slid open with a 'whoosh' and he found himself staring out into yet another crowd of zombies.

At the sound of the elevator door, they stopped feeding on each other and turned their hungry eyes to Chris.

"Wrong floor! Definitely wrong floor!" Chris said aloud as he quickly hit the button to the first basement level. The doors shut just as the zombies began to move in.

He couldn't believe his luck. This place is a regular zombie jamboree! What happened here? Well, other than T-virus spilling, obviously. Is it just me, or do chemical companies like Umbrella and HCF have butterfingers where deadly viruses are concerned? They really dropped the ball on this one.

When the elevator doors slid open this time, it was into a fairly large metallic room with few furnishings other than a mahogany desk, a cheery red sofa, and a very out-of-place looking refrigerator.

Of course, Chris though regarding the fridge, because snack-attacks can strike anytime anywhere.

For a moment, he considered going over and opening it just out of curiosity.

But only for a moment.

Curiosity killed the cat, and whatever they were keeping in an oddly-placed fridge couldn't be of great importance, could it?

Chris shook the nagging doubt aside. He wasn't going to search that thing without a good reason.

Rapidly losing interest in the almost-empty room, he wandered over to the huge door with a giant painting covering the width of it.

The image was painted right on to the metal of the door. It was a painting of a turbulent sea, with ominous-looking rocks in the background. It was done brilliantly, all in stormy shades of blue, gray, brown, and green. There seemed to be giant birdlike creatures perched on the distant rock clefts, but the painter had obscured them all in shadow so that only the blackened silhouettes could be seen.

Then something else caught Chris's attention.

A ship-shaped indention about the size of his fist was indented into the door, revealing an entirely gray area that almost blended in with the rest of the scene. It was a groove for something to be placed.

Thus, when he tried the door, he was not at all surprised to find it locked tight.

A mechanical buzzing emanated from the other side, like the sound of a supercomputer.

Intrigued, he looked up above the door frame and for the first time noticed the words 'Main Systems Computer Center. Authorized personnel only'.

He frowned. Another stupid puzzle. Looks like these guys took a leaf out of Umbrella's book after all.

Now it looked like he was going to have to find a crest in the shape of a ship if he wanted to get into this obviously important room.

I'll bet that's where the triggering system is, too. They probably have hidden cameras and devices all throughout this place--finding Claire and Alan would be a cakewalk if I got access to the right systems.

"Okay." Chris thought aloud, "If I were a ship crest, where would I be?"

He looked around the room as if waiting for an answer.

Then it hit him: the desk. If there was any info at all in this room, it would be over there.

He quickly searched the wooden office furnishing and came up with two papers.

Luck was on his side, and one of the papers happened to be a memo on password to some of the supercomputer's most important programs.

The other appeared to be a map of B-3 with all of the rooms outlined and labeled.

One of those rooms in particular attracted his attention. It was labeled simply 'Myth Room'.

Something clicked in his brain. The painting on the door!

He rushed over and studied the turbulent ocean waves and stormy cliffsides again.

Yes: ocean, cliffs, scary-looking creatures, ship…this must be a depiction from the Greek myth 'The Odyssey'!

What kid hadn't had to study that back in school? The Homerian epic was famous in many circles.

Chris remembered reading about Odysseus's adventures back in ninth grade. This looked like the scene where the brave Greek heroes were sailing past the evil sirens who could lure sailors to their deaths just by singing to them. Of course, Odysseus's men had plugged their ears with wax and so had not been affected by the siren's song.

Chris smiled as he folded the papers into neat little squares and placed them into his pocket. He was feeling quite smug for finding the solution to his dilemma so quickly.

He had to find Odysseus's ship, and what better place was there to look for it than in the Greek Myth Room?

Steve wandered aimlessly down the halls, still upset from his earlier drama with the Ashford kids. Just further proof that the Ashford family is a bad family and I'd be better off just forgetting all about them. He kept telling himself over and over again.

Steve muttered some swearwords under his breath as he realized--and not for the first time--that he was walking around with the very real possibility of meeting a zombie or some other mutation with only a broken pipe for defense.

The crates back in that one room where Ash had made his appearance had proved to be totally useless unless he planned on hosting a fashion show.

Any zombie approaches me, I'll give them a sharp thwack on the head! Steve thought defiantly.

But it was more to boost his own morale than anything else.

The pipe would be good for zombies, but if he ran into any hunters or those long-armed monsters he might as well be carrying a stick.

Not to mention the fact that these zombies were very fresh and the odds of him being able to muster enough strength to decapitate one with a pipe were next to none. He could smash their faces in, but that would be very gruesome and quite ineffective against any more than one zombie at a time.

What I need is some firepower. Steve thought purposefully.

Guns would be best.

It was a whole lot easier to simply shoot your way through zombies as opposed to beating your way through them.

Any kind of gun would do, though Steve was hoping against hope he'd find a nice set of machine guns something like the ones he'd had back at Rockfort.

There was no denying that he had an affinity for automatic weapon power. At Rockfort, the sub-machine guns had made him feel in control of the situation.

He liked being in control.

Lady Luck seemed to be smiling on him--he went through several rooms and hallways without incident.

However, all that changed once he entered the room with the huge marble statues.

Scarcely had he opened the door when a hunter flew into him claws first giving him a nasty cut on his shoulder on his way down to the linoleum.

Instinctively, he brought the pipe up to swat it, but it caught the blow midair with a blow of it's own and sent the pipe skittering across the floor in metallic clanks.

The sickly green creature drooled a white foamy substance from it's razor-toothed mouth. Red eyes blazing with hate, it raised it's deadly sickle-clawed hand for the death blow.

Two things happened at once then: Steve kneed up into the abomination's gut as hard as he could, and a flying brown blur knocked the hunter off him like a living bullet hitting it's target.

Steve scrambled up to see the hunter fighting with something that looked almost like a raptor dinosaur covered in brown fur.

"Sreeee!! Aiieeeeaaa!! Aaaooouu!" The creatures hissed and bellowed as they ripped into each other with claws and teeth, fighting over the prey.

They were about the same size and had about the same chance of winning, Steve figured, but he didn't plan on staying around to see which would come out ahead.

Quick as he could, he scooped up his pipe and ran to the nearest door like a bat out of Hell. Not a pleasant ordeal: his left shoulder throbbed and bled from a huge gouge slashing a good four inches down his arm. He was losing blood very quickly. It flowed down his arm in a long, sticky, red river staining his army shirt midnight red in places.

But there was no time for that now. He had to make sure he put a safe distance between him and those monsters!

He blew through room after room, going through one room so fast that it's resident zombie didn't even notice he'd been by.

Finally, he came to a halt in a personal bedroom. He listened for a moment to make sure the beasts weren't following.

After a moment or so of silence, he decided they weren't and began searching the room for a cloth to treat his wound. He found a small towel laying on a shelf in the bathroom, and was about to fashion a tourniquet when he noticed the bleeding had ceased. Fearing the worst, he rushed to the sink and washed the blood off his shoulder.

What he didn't see completely shocked him The wound was gone! Vanished. Not even a scratch to mark where it had once been.

And the pain? What pain? The pain was gone.

"Whoa…how did I do that?!" Steve asked the mirror, howling with excitement, "How did I do that?! Whoa, this is cool! I've got like, a superpower!"

He started laughing like a maniac. This was without doubt the most awesome thing that had ever happened to him! To be able to heal so quickly…he felt like a god. He felt in control. And it felt good.

Must have something to do with Alexia's virus, Steve reasoned, Or whatever these people here were doing to me when I was out like a light.

His mood changed quickly. If he had super-fast healing abilities, what other powers might he have?

Obviously, super-strength wasn't one of them, or else the hunter wouldn't have been able to take him down so easily.

But what about mental powers? Maybe he had some new power he'd overlooked altogether.

Steve came out of the bathroom almost whistling. It was time to find out just exactly what he was capable of.

"I have a surprise for you." Ash told his sister as they passed through room after room, Ash in the lead.

"You have a surprise for me? What is it?" Alexis asked without her usual cheeriness.

She was still upset a bit about the way Steve had been acting and the way her brother had reacted to that. It didn't make sense to her: if Steve was so convinced that all Ashfords were evil, why had he freed her from her cell? Well, sure, he had took some convincing, but in the end it had been his choice. That must've took some trust on his part, and Alexis was starting to feel like she'd betrayed her new friend.

Sure, Ash was her brother, and he meant a lot more to her than Steve did, but was it possible, even a little bit, that Steve had been right?

She didn't want to believe it, but ever since Steve's little 'speech', she got to thinking. It was strange that her mother and grandfather had come up missing around the same time.

And she'd never gotten to see her father save a few brief occasions. She really didn't know much about him first hand. All she knew were the stories. Maybe he had torture chambers, and maybe he didn't.

I guess I can check into that when I get the chance, Alexis found herself thinking, I want to know why someone would say something like that.

She stepped over the lifeless bodies of the zombies her brother had killed on his way to find her. They left a good trail…a disgusting and bloody trail, but a trail just the same.

"You remember how you always talked about wanting to meet Mom and Dad?" Ash said after a moment. He opened another door. "Here's your chance."

When Alexis first stepped into the red-carpeted room she could barley believe her eyes.

Alfred and Alexia sat in a little sofa at the corner of the room, looking as comfortable as if they owned the place.

They smiled when she came in.

"I see you've found her. Nice work Ash." Alexia's voice was soft and cheery, "I've been waiting a long time to see how you'd turn out, Alexis. Come have a seat." Alexia patted the empty cushion in the middle of the sofa.

Trying not to show just how excited she really was, Alexis went over and sat between her parents.

Ash just closed the door behind him and went over to sit at a small coffee table and where he began sipping from a pop he'd bought earlier and left on the table.

Alexis just stared at her parents.

Alfred looked just the way she'd remembered him--all prim and proper with his blonde hair cut short and his usual gold-trimmed red and white soldier's uniform covering his lean form.

Alexis had never seen any pictures of Alexia when she was past the age of fifteen, but now she could see that her mother was in fact very beautiful and bore a strong resemblance to her. She was well proportioned and had very classy features. Furthering her aristocratic look was her black evening gown with which she wore long white gloves that reached up to her elbows. Her hair was the same tawny yellow as Alfred's, and her eyes were the same icy blue.

Upon looking at her brother Ash, Alexis could see that he--as well as she herself--both possessed the traditional blonde hair blue eyes trait.

Okay, so maybe Ash's hair was a shade darker blonde than everybody else's, but it was so easy to see that the four Ashfords were related.

Alexia put a hand to Alexis's face and caressed her daughter's cheek a bit.

They were now eye-to-eye, and Alexis could barely contain her excitement. After all this time she was finally getting a chance to meet her mother! It was like a dream come true.

"I trust you know who I am?" Alexia said after a moment had gone by and Alexis still had not said anything.

"I know who you are, Mother." Alexis managed. She had never been so tongue-tied.

"I'm glad we found you before someone else did." Alfred announced happily. He set a hand on her lap. "There's a lot of weirdos prowling around here. Not to mention the virus carriers."

Alexia suddenly stood up and stretched. "Well, now that all the Ashfords have been reunited, it's time to take care of Phase Two of our plan."

"My favorite phase." Ash managed between mouthfuls of Twinkie.

There were a couple of vending machines in this room--it seemed to be a lounge or break-room of sorts--and Alexis could see where her brother had gotten his treats.

She was feeling a bit peckish herself, but decided to wait until she heard her mother's plans before she helped herself to the goodies.

"Phase Two?" Alexis echoed.

"We find the triggering system and blow this island--as well as anyone foolish enough to still be on it--clear to the moon!"

Dread clutched Alexis's heart.

"But…my friend Steve…won't he have a chance to get off?"

Alexia's cheerful mood changed as quickly as if it were a channel that had been switched.

Alfred stood and straightened, a frown deepening on his face.

"Steve? As in Steve Burnside?" Alfred sounded positively ferocious.

"Yeah, I think. I didn't catch his last name, but he was the one who helped me escape from my prison."

On the other side of the room, Ash wadded a Twinkie wrapper with vicious intensity.

"That jerk I found you with? The one who said I should be out trying on dresses? I think he knows too much."

"Too much about what?!" Now Alexis was worried. Why did her family seem to have it in for Steve?

"I know he knows too much." Alexia agreed, "I wasn't even aware that inferior ponce was still alive!"

"He knows about Nosferatu." Ash supplied.

"Nosfer-what-two?" Alexis's question was duly ignored.

"I can't allow him to survive!" Alexia raged, clenching her fists into tight balls, "If there's even a chance of him getting off this island…"

"He won't. We'll stop him." Alfred cut in, his eyes burning with hatred, "You don't just shoot Alfred Ashford like that and get away with it!"

Alexia turned to her son.

"Ash, do you think you could take me to where you last saw him? It seems I have a loose-end to tie up."

"I'm coming too!" Alfred declared.

Alexia's scowl changed his mind.

"No, your presence will not be required as I am quite confident I can kill jerk-boy all by myself. I want you and Alexis to look for the triggering system. We'll all meet back in this room in one hour."

"But…" Alexis started, but she was too late. Alexia and Ash were already out the door.

Alfred turned and motioned for Alexis to follow him out the opposite end.

"Looks like it's just me and you now. Isn't this great? Our first father-daughter mission!"

By now, Alexis was a flood of emotions, mostly confusion and grief. Something had happened between her friend and family, and though she didn't know exactly what, it must have been pretty major if Steve had shot her father over it.

But why would Steve fight her family in the first place? All she had to go by was his outrageous story about prisons and torture chambers.

But, as Alexis followed her father out into the unknown, she was starting to think that maybe Steve's story wasn't so far fetched after all.

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