Disclaimer: Prototype is the property of Activision; Resident Evil is the property of Capcom.
The Umbrella Corporation. A sprawling pharmaceutical company and world leader in biotechnological research. A key competitor of GenTek. And currently, a topic of interest to Alex Mercer. Ragland recounted everything he knew about them, including the allegations of less-than-legal behavior and unethical research practices, before asking Mercer why the sudden interest.
"Last night…" Alex began, pausing to choose his words carefully. "I met some of their employees."
"Can you be more specific?" Ragland asked, shifting forward slightly.
"Mercenary unit, multinational. From what I can gather, most were ex-special forces. Slipped through the Marine perimeter, and… well, I managed to slip through right behind them."
"What were they after?"
"Something… very important that Blackwatch was trying to transport out of the city." Mercer said, pausing as he chose his words carefully.
"Alex, what were they after?" Ragland repeated, shifting forward slightly. Mercer didn't like sharing information with others. Knowledge was power, and after his experiences in the past year, Alex liked to play his cards close to his vest. Until last night, only Ragland himself was aware that Alex survived the nuclear blast meant to destroy Manhattan.
"Look… it's probably best if you don't know."
"Alex… first, I'm already in deep enough over my head that if Blackwatch ever finds out a fraction of what I've been doing for you, I'd end up dead." Ragland said. "Second, you trust me with your sister. I think you can handle letting me in on this."
Alex regarded him with a scowl; Ragland wasn't sure if it was his usual expression or a subtly less amiable one. But he shrugged and conceded the point "Last night, Blackwatch was transporting a blood sample from Elizabeth Greene off the Island."
"Greene's blood?" Ragland repeated. Alex Mercer might've been a monster that looked like a man, but at least he acted the part. Greene… any humanity in her had been burned out by the virus decades ago. She was the one at the head of the infection; she was responsible for its spread. When Alex killed her, he robbed the infection of any semblance of order, weakening it enough for the military to begin exterminating it.
"Yeah." Alex said, scowling deeper. "After Greene escaped, Blackwatch retrieved vials of her blood from the Gentek building. Kept them in separate bases, didn't want to risk transporting the blood off the island while trying to keep the infection contained on it. Most of them were destroyed during the outbreak…"
"And they were flying the one away last night?"
"And the transport crashed. I found out about it and went to investigate." Alex said. Despite not being told, Ragland was certain Alex 'found out about' the blood sample by messily killing somebody who knew about it. "By the time I got there, Umbrella's men had already killed the Marines that were sent to secure the site."
"What happened next?" Ragland asked. He knew Alex wouldn't just let Umbrella take Greene's blood. It was the source of countless Blackwatch and Gentek experiments; it was the groundwork for the viral creature that co-opted the identity of Alexander J. Mercer. But if he had it, he would probably be in a better mood.
"The squad leader got away with it."
"What?" Ragland asked, incredulously.
"Crazy bastard made a run for it and radioed in for an artillery strike." Alex said, looking out the window. "I almost had him and then fucking got hit by a shell. By the time I pulled myself together… well, I lost the trail."
He paused, glaring out the window. "If I had just been a split second faster, I would've got him. Blind fucking luck…"
"Alex, I know it's late, but I'm not the only person here. Please, keep your voice down." Ragland said, feeling his heartrate jump when Alex half-turned and glanced at him. When the monster turned back to the window and let out an exasperated breath, Ragland paused for a moment before continuing. "What do they want with Greene's blood?"
"Grunts I consumed didn't know any specifics." Alex said, running his hand along the window pane. "But… Umbrella is conducting bioweapons experiments."
"Like Hope?" Ragland asked. While he wasn't surprised Umbrella was fully aboveboard, what Alex had suggested was terrifying. The US Army had been behind the experiments that had led to Greene… which had led to Alex.
"Maybe. Looks like they're more interested in marketing an army of infected than wiping out specific groups." Mercer said.
"Like Blackwatch's Super Soldier project?" Ragland asked. During the outbreak, Blackwatch had begun to field troops enhanced by a virus derived from Greene's blood. The program ended up being cancelled shortly after Greene's death due to certain 'concerns over long-term effects of the DX-1120 strain'; as Alex related it to him, the D-Code soldiers themselves were 'decommissioned'.
Alex gave a nod, then added "Problem is, their current experiments have issues with 'erratic behavior'."
"That must why they want Greene's blood." Ragland said, standing up. "She controlled the infected during the outbreak."
"Yeah." Alex said, turning back towards Ragland. "They must want to try and figure out how to replicate her ability to control the infection."
"It won't work. Blackwatch and Gentek had Greene for decades and never figured it out..."
"It isn't stopping them from trying."
"That's insane." Ragland said. Greene getting loose plunged Manhattan into more or less a living Hell; and though she had been dormant for forty years, her escape was trivially easy when she awoke. There was no controlling or predicting Greene or someone like her; another thing that worried Ragland when he thought about Dana.
Alex shrugged. "I'm a walking disease wearing the corpse of a sociopathic scientist as a mask, the Army unit behind all this just turned a section of downtown into a smoldering crater, and now there's not one, but two Fortune 500 research firms with horrendously unethical bioweapons programs that we know of. I'm frankly not sure 'sane' exists from where we stand."
Ragland did have to concede that statement was pretty accurate. "So… what are you planning to do?"
"I don't know where they took her blood; the grunts I consumed weren't briefed on that part. Any ideas?"
"They're a multinational research firm with major facilities in the UK, France, Russia, the US, and Africa. Rumor is they also own a bunch of private island facilities." Ragland said, adding with "If you go for conspiracy stuff, and I know you do, they've even got a lab in the Antarctic. Your guess is as good as mine."
"Helpful." Alex grumbled, Ragland imagining him rolling his eyes beneath the shadow cast by his hood.
"So what're you going to do?"
"Blackwatch knows about Umbrella. Maybe not about last night, but they are aware of some of what they're up to. I figure they might have some leads."
"Wait, what do you mean Blackwatch knows?" Ragland said, incredulously.
"At least… General Randall was aware of some of their experiments." Alex said, alluding to the former leader of Blackwatch. "Never was cooperation between Umbrella and Blackwatch… but they were paying attention to one another. Someone in the government was protecting Umbrella from Blackwatch oversight."
"Who would have that kind of pull?" Blackwatch was a pack of ghosts. Outside usual chain of command. Virtually unaccountable for any of their actions and officially unacknowledged. Cracks in their secrecy began to form in the wake of the Manhattan outbreak; with them operating in the open in a city of millions, covering up their very existence became impossible. But they still hid behind misinformation and suppression of evidence. As far as Ragland knew, there was no one in the U.S. Government who could effectively shield something from Blackwatch.
"I don't know. This just goes a lot deeper than we think." Alex said, before turning back to Dana. "Just… take care of her, Doctor. I'm going to do some digging, see what I can find out. Then we'll talk about where to go from here."
Jake was not having a good day.
He remembered answering a knock at the door, and being greeted by a fucking squad of those assholes bumrushing his apartment and dragging him outside, through a shanty town serving as a home for displaced New Yorkers following the outbreak. He tried getting away, only to get hit, hard, and black out.
He woke up sitting on a stool, slumped facefirst against a wooden surface. His hands were cuffed underneath the seat of the stool, forcing him into a slouching posture. His fingers ached somewhat, he vaguely recalled reading about nerve damage resulting from overly tight cuffs. One of his eyes ached, he was almost sure it was swollen shut.
He tried to struggle, to absolutely no avail; the cuffs were tight on his wrists, and struggling just managed to abrade one of his wrists against the interior of the handcuff. He tried to stand, but the stool was bolted to the cold, concrete floor. He reached forward with his foot, finding a table leg; that must've been what he had been slumped against when he woke up. Without much else to do, Jake thought.
He tried to figure out why he was in custody of those motherfuckers. The Marines and NYPD were bad enough, fucking turning the boroughs into a practical dictatorship, but these guys, the Blackwatch... He'd heard horror stories about them. They scared everybody, fucking Jarheads included.
He had a few run-ins with law enforcement in the past, even before the outbreak. Losing everything and having to live in a shanty didn't exactly improve things. He had been detained for questioning briefly a year ago, and since then did take every opportunity to try and circumvent curfews. Shit like that would get the cops or Marines on your case if they had nothing better to do, but Blackwatch never got involved unless it had to do with the outbreak.
After entirely too long an amount of time in total darkness, Jake heard the sounds of boots marching down from somewhere outside the room. A heavy, metal door creaked open from the right sight of the room and was swiftly shut. Someone stepped across the room, and turned on an exceedingly bright lamp, shining in right in Jake's face. He swore as he slammed his good eye shut. After a few moments, when he could sort of see again, if he squinted, Jake looked at the silhouette of a man sitting across the table from him.
"Shall we begin?" The interrogator's first question was whether he was Jake Lawson, and that prior to the Manhattan Island outbreak he had been a student at NYU. It probably was not the best time for Jake to be a smartass, as the interrogator apparently took offense to his reply, stood up, walked around the table, punched him hard in the solar plexus, and then grabbed him by his hair and slammed him facefirst against the table for good measure.
Jake began rambling at that point, vacillating between asserting the soldier was a fascist, saying his mother had a preference for barnyard animals, and claiming that he didn't know anything. At about the time his tirade turned towards assertions of rights, mainly what he got from watching SVU and some half-remembered jargon he picked up on internet forums, the trooper wrapped a hand around his throat and squeezed.
The interrogator drew his face close, glaring at Jake through the three amber-colored lenses of his gasmask. "You want to talk about your rights? About seeing a lawyer and how I didn't tell you how you could be silent? That shit's for cops and trials, punk. I ain't a cop, and this is about national security. All I want is an answer. And if you want to remain silent… I don't think it'll last very long."
At that, the soldier let go and waited for Jake to stop coughing and wheezing. "Let's try this again. State your name and occupation."
"Jake Lawson. Former NYU student. Currently homeless and unemployed."
"Good," the soldier returned to his side of the table and sat down, and began asking more questions. Address, what he was doing prior to the outbreak, what he was doing since the outbreak, where he was yesterday. A mix of general, irrelevant bullshit and oddly specific questions. Any time Jake snarked or answered in a tone he didn't like he would stand up, though Jake quickly would correct his mistakes before he could come over.
He had no idea how long things had gone one before he heard the door unbolt. A nonchalant voice said "Sorry I was delayed. Interview with the previous witness lasted longer than expected."
"Counselor," the soldier said, getting up from his chair and stepping away from the light. Soon, another shape took his place.
The new interrogator sat down in the seat, silhouetted against the bright light. While Jake couldn't make out the man's face, he wasn't wearing the combat gear the soldier had on.
"Jacob. Do you know why you're here?"
"That jackass, or some other motherfucker dressed like him, dragged me out of bed and chained me up in here."
"The rank-and-file do have a lack of finesse," The "counselor" said. He must've had notebook or something, as Jake heard the scratching of a pen on paper from across the table.
"I don't care about your good cop, bad cop bullshit. I have rights!" Jake shouted, immediately cringing as he heard the man place his pen on the table. Damn him and his smart mouth.
However, the new man didn't leave his chair or even move. All he did was or let out a sigh and say "Alexander James Mercer"
"What the… fucking Mercer? I thought you people were done with that!" Jake had been out of town for the outbreak, but headed home as soon as he could. He got detained by the USMC and asked a bunch of questions about another NYU student, Dana Mercer. Apparently she was related to Alex, and the authorities were interrogating everyone connected to her.
"Jacob, I don't think I need to remind you that last time Alexander Mercer was seen in Manhattan, he engineered the worst bioterrorist incident in global history."
"He's fucking dead. He's gotta be fucking dead!"
"He is very much alive, Jacob. And you knew his sister."
"I just went to the same fucking school as her, I don't…"
"Jacob, we know that you were social acquaintances. You ran in the same circles, both were arrested at the same time at a protest prior to the outbreak, and you admitted as much to the USMC when you returned to Manhattan."
"Fine, I knew her, alright, but I didn't fucking know her brother."
"We know. However, we feel that given your anti-establishment bent and familiarity with his sister, he might have tried to contact you."
"No." Jake said, wracking his brain to try and recall any time it might have happened. He didn't know Alex Mercer beyond what was published in the press and what he learned through… other channels on the internet. "Wait… maybe… I dunno…"
"Just tell me what you know."
"Okay, maybe a few months ago, I was at the Soup Kitchen at St. John's" Jake said. Wasn't Catholic, but he wasn't about to turn down a free meal. "I look over my shoulder, and there was a guy.
"Maybe, I dunno. Dressed up just like the wanted posters. Y'know, hoodie, leather jacket. Fucker was staring at me from across the street. For a long time, too. Then all of a sudden I look away, then I look back and he was gone."
"And you didn't inform the authorities?" Jake could've sworn he heard a hint of annoyance in that man's voice.
"Right, like the dead terrorist was the only person to have ever owned a hoodie and a leather jacket. I also saw a zombie Bin Laden last Halloween, sorry I didn't call Homeland Security." Jake snarked. "Besides, as you've pointed out, the authorities and me aren't really close."
The counselor corrected any slight loss of composure he had undergone. "Did this man ever try to contact you?"
"Get any odd telephone calls or e-mails from people you didn't know, or from people you thought were dead?"
"No." Jake said, wondering why he was bringing that up. The counselor made a few notes but said nothing. After an uneasy few minutes, Jake broke the silence "So…"
"The U.S. Government thanks you for your cooperation on this matter, Jacob." The counselor said with a nod. "There will be no need for further questions."
Lieutenant Jon Tyler squeezed the trigger. The punk's head snapped back, and all was quiet. Holstering his sidearm, Tyler reached for the lightswitch and flicked it on with his free hand, bathing the room in white light. The tile wall behind the punk had a fresh coat of blood on it, covering older, rust-colored stains. Tyler walked behind the body and undid the handcuffs, clipping them to his belt. The door opened and two more troops entered, having heard the gunshot.
"Dispose of that, would you?" The counselor said as he scribbled something on his notepad. The duo nodded almost in unison, one grabbing the corpse under its arms and the other hooking his arms around its legs. In a well-practiced routine, they carried it out of the room. As they left, the counselor turned his attention to Tyler. "Have a seat, Lieutenant."
The Blackwatch soldier sat down on the stool. "Sir?"
"You seem stressed."
"ZEUS is still around, apparently. That's cause enough for stress, I think" Tyler said, glancing at the table.
"Anything else on your mind?" The counselor asked. Blackwatch's mission tended to take a toll on the psyche of its members. The counselor, and others like him, were responsible for maintaining the efficiency of the unit by identifying problem factors and sorting them out.
"What did you think you were going to get from him?" Tyler asked in as respectful a tone as he could.
The counselor set his notepad down and clasped his hands, looking right at Tyler. "I didn't think we would get much. I suppose in that regard Mister Jacobs didn't disappoint. As it was, we're grasping at straws. Codename ZEUS's only known confidant, at least the only one we haven't confirmed dead, is Dana Mercer."
Tyler knew as much. Between ZEUS's activities and the collapse of Blackwatch's control following Taggart's fuckup, a lot of records were totally destroyed. A lot of data gathered was lost. Worse there were rumblings that someone inside Blackwatch had been sabotaging the unit. It was no secret that Captain Cross, the best Blackwatch had to offer had been killed and replaced by another ZEUS-level viral construct, and had been fucking things up for them. But rumors persisted that since the nuke, every software glitch, every hardware failure, every time the press managed to get a little too much information, was the result of deliberate action.
"Want me to bring in the next person of interest?"
"No, I doubt we'll attain anything significant from any of them."
"Where do we go from here?"
"Mister Lawson had an apartment on the Island. He wasn't allowed to move back in after the all-clear was given. The building itself has been condemned by the city, but no one's made an inventory of it."
"You're thinking ZEUS has been hiding out there?"
"Mister Lawson was out of town during the outbreak. It's possible that Miss Mercer helped herself to it while he was away."
"So, prep my team and search the area."
"Exactly." The counselor said, getting up from his chair and exiting the room. Tyler followed, sparing a last glance at the bloodstained wall.
Doctor Taylor Hale yawned. Since being awakened in middle of the night, she had spent most the time reading over the various files that had "gone missing" from a government storeroom detailing the Manhattan Island Incident. She hadn't had the opportunity to sleep since Management had informed her that they were going to go ahead on their "acquisition plan" to aid her research.
Working in Umbrella's more… interesting research ventures had rendered her a bit paranoid. She knew the basic outline of the company's bioweapons research well enough. The trio that founded the corporation, Ozwell Spencer, James Marcus, and Edward Ashford had discovered… something in Africa in the 1960s. Whatever the source, the Progenitor virus that they had discovered was the basis for the company. The fact that they found out its effects, and then decided to base a company around it, meant that as crazy as she was for working for them, they were even crazier.
Ashford died late in the decade, while his son's work with the company severely underwhelmed, before he too, died. Last Hale heard, the last remaining Ashford, Alfred, spent his days delusionally boasting about restoring his family's lost glory. Given that his job was running the Security Service Training Facility on Rockfort Island, she was struck by the amusing mental image of the gasmask-wearing assassination squad having to listen to him ramble.
Marcus headed up research and development in the wake of Ashford's death, as well as training promising young scientists, in facilities outside a quiet Midwestern Town. Through a generous amount of investment and bribery, Raccoon City grew, prospered, and unwittingly played host to dozens of Umbrella laboratories.
Marcus would later end up dying, in a another "lab accident"; coincidentally after having made a breakthrough in his research, with one of his pupils, William Birkin, taking over his research. Of course, a lab accident in Umbrella's secret projects usually meant either being mauled to death by some sort of escaped test subject, or a visit from Umbrella Security Service and several dozen "accidental" gunshot wounds. Though it was never made directly clear to Hale, she suspected the latter.
That tended to be the story of an Umbrella researcher's career. Excel, fade into obscurity, die horribly, all of the above. Hale herself had spent years conducting various overseas "product tests" for the company. After the Manhattan Outbreak, management had asked Hale if she would like to head to Raccoon City to, in their own words "Investigate the possibilities of Gentek's research". She wholeheartedly accepted; after all, it beat playing second fiddle to some other researcher's pet project.
Most of Umbrella's upper-tier researchers were prima donnas; they wouldn't let something minor like an opportunity to pour over the single largest-scale dataset for viral testing get in the way of their own pursuits. She could understand to a point why her coworkers would be loathe to throw out years, or even decades of work in order to pick up Gentek's, but at the same time, they were outright ignoring a potential goldmine of research data. Raymond McMullen and Alexander J. Mercer definitely knew what they were doing, or at least made a good showing of pretending they did.
It was slow going when she got started. Before any actual testing could be done, she had a lot of background research to do, and even with Umbrella's contacts in government, getting their hands on the Blackwatch and Gentek files took a while. When she got them, she had been disappointed at how much of what management gave her seemed irrelevant. While she understood that ground-level troops' accounts of fighting infected was useful in their marketability as weapons, simple lethality against combat troops was not the point of stealing from Gentek and Blackwatch. More interesting to her were various theories on how the hive mind at the center of the Outbreak worked. Unfortunately, almost all of that work was supposition at best, involving ultra low or high frequency sounds, pheromones, and progressively more… unique possibilities. Worse yet, someone had heavily redacted most of those reports.
So after gleaning as much as she could from the files, she politely requested a sample of one of the viruses Gentek had been experimenting with. And then the delays started. Convincing someone underpaid in the Department of Defense to hand over copies of documents that officially weren't supposed to exist and would normally just be filed away in some dark basement was difficult, but doable. It was entirely different getting someone to hand over a pathogen.
No matter how strong Umbrella's standing was with the U.S. Government, somebody always managed to find a way to obstruct their efforts in obtaining any samples. The usual sales pitch, that Umbrella was at the forefront of virology research, and therefore suited to hazardous materials containment, was not working. Management balked at an attempted buyout of Gentek; aiding one scientist in her research project wouldn't be worth the expense, even if they believed Blackwatch wouldn't simply destroy any evidence. So, Umbrella began to consider a more direct approach.
Dealing with Umbrella's mercenary units was always a bother. But if nothing else was working, might as well send a Black Ops squad to smash and grab. Management was concerned about the possible damage a failed operation to steal from Blackwatch would cause the corporation, so they insisted on holding off on action until the USS's top agent had finished recouping from previous operations. By that time, Blackwatch had burned away every hive, bathed every subterranean lair in white phosphorous, and killed every walker. The Reagan had finished a months-long decontamination at a drydock at Hampton Roads.
By the time the USS team was assembled and on site, there was no easy target. Everything was either scorched and sterilized, or locked away in a vault in some army base. That led to several more months planning a burglary, adding yet another annoying delay. And more headaches for Hale. Subtle, stealthy burglaries were not the specialty of the USS. Chances were the thing would blow up in their face, and hers by extension.
Making matters worse were containment failures at Umbrella's Arklay Mountain Facilities. There was a fast, somewhat haphazard coverup that somehow worked, thanks in part due to a campaign to discredit the police officers who ended up in the middle of the incident. But now, Management was more paranoid than ever; apparently at least part of the incident involved a company employee betraying the Corporation. There were fears that the Corporation's friends in Washington and elsewhere might fail to prevent Blackwatch from paying more attention, though that turned out to be unfounded. Still, it seemed to Hale her project was dead in the water; she didn't think the Corporation would risk stealing viruses out from under Blackwatch's nose with what had already transpired.
Then she had been awoken late last night to Management telling her to come in, that an opportunity had presented itself and that the Alpha Team would be making their move that night. So she headed to her office, and began rereading the research papers while she awaited news. She couldn't be sure if it was just nerves or sleep deprivation, but she began to wonder what exactly the point of all the redactions was. If Blackwatch did them, she wondered what purpose they'd serve for that organization. If Umbrella redacted the information, she was wondering what they were hiding from her. She had specifically asked the company for any information about where Gentek got its viruses, what the basis for Alex Mercer's research was. Anything she received was either not on point, or so heavily redacted that it was borderline useless.
She had to admit, the exact source of the virus was more to sate her curiosity than strictly necessary to research its effects, but at the same time, it was odd that Management felt the need to hide it from her.
Her reflections were cut short when the phone rang. Stepping away from the desk she had piled the Government Files on, she walked to the wall and picked answered the phone. "Umbrella Corporation, Biomedical Research Division, Raccoon City. Doctor Hale speaking."
"The mission was a success. We have the package."
That was a relief. "Good. When can I expect…"
"Delivery within twenty-four hours." The voice cut her off.
"Any complications?" she asked. While she herself had no role in planning the operation, considering it was done to benefit her project, Management would not be favorably disposed to her if things went south.
"There was..." The voice paused. "...an unplanned for event. You'll receive an after-action report soon."
"Pass on my regards to the squad."
"Agent HUNK was the sole survivor, Doctor." The voice said matter of factly.
She did her best to feign sincerity, though her sleep-deprived state probably harmed her efforts. "I'm sorry"
The voice pretty much echoed her opinion on the matter, coldly stating "Don't be. Mission's accomplished, that's all that matters"
The other end of the line hung up before she could reply, which was just as well. USS did their jobs, which now allowed her to do hers. She hung up the phone and returned to her desk, glancing at a heavily-redacted account of a major battle that happened between the infected, USMC, and "ZEUS" at time square a few weeks into the Outbreak, wondering what exactly was being hidden.
She knew it would keep bugging her, but she had more important things to worry about. First, she needed sleep. Then, she needed to acquire some test subjects. Thanks to the huge demand for test subjects in Umbrella's labs, they had adopted somewhat streamlined procedures to procure subjects, although she would have to carefully oversee it to ensure a representative sample.
Human testing was always such a hassle…
Author's Note: I'd like to thank Laluzi and NanoMoose for beta reading parts of this chapter for me.