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Where Demons Hide

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Harvardville, June

The mutilated body of forty-two-year-old Anna Mitaki was discovered late yesterday in an abandoned lot not far from her home in northwest Raccoon City, making her the fourth victim of the supposed 'cannibal killers' to be found in or near the Victory Lake district in the last month. Consistent with the coroner reports of the other recent victims, Mitaki's corpse showed evidence of having been partially eaten, the bite patterns apparently formed by human jaws. Shortly after the discovery of Miss Mitaki by two joggers at approximately nine o'clock last night, the police chief made a brief statement insisting that the RPD is 'working diligently to apprehend the perpetrators of such heinous crimes' and that he is currently consulting with city officials about more drastic protection measures for Raccoon citizens. In addition to the murderous spree of the cannibal killers, three others have died from probable animal attacks in Raccoon Forest in the past several weeks, bringing the toll of mysterious deaths up to…

Claire Redfield stopped reading and put the newspaper on the table where she was having breakfast with her girlfriend. Dahlia, whom everyone called K-mart, seemed always prettier like that in Claire's eyes: just out of bed, without makeup, her hair messy, wearing her worn pajamas and rubbing her eyes with sleep.

"Why did you stop reading?" she demanded to know. K-mart always demanded everything and never accepted half-terms or incomplete things. With her, it was all or nothing.

"Because it's goes on like yesterday and the day before. They'll never stop it. It's embarrassing what's happening in Raccoon City and it bothers me that Chris has to go with these incompetents." Claire tried to look indifferent. She couldn't let her feelings take over. She couldn't remember a time when it hadn't been like that. She never liked to share what she felt. With K-mart and Chris she could reveal some things, but even so, Claire never let them see it all.

"Maybe Chris' exactly what they need. Maybe he'll go there and fix everything. Maybe he'll be back before you can miss him."
"And maybe he'll die on an impossible mission." Claire didn't mean to sound so melodramatic, but she couldn't help herself either. She didn't want Chris to go. The S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics and Rescue Service) Team had given him full leave for the next two years but now, because of the bizarre events that no one seemed to be able to unravel, they had decided to ask for the help of the best agent they had ever had.

Not that Claire didn't appreciate the opportunity to save the lives of others. She knew how important it was, her brother's job. But the timing wasn't right. For Claire, there was a time, a way, a place for everything. And it wasn't yet time for Chris to go back to Raccoon City. Something bad would happen if he went back before his time.

K-mart shot her a look of sympathy and love. It was one of those looks that should be forbidden because they left Claire unsure of what to say, and made her heart beat out of rhythm. No one had ever looked at her like that before K-mart. Chris was perhaps the kindest guy in the universe (definitely the only guy Claire would love in this lifetime), but he was just as closed up emotionally as his sister, and getting the two of them to exchange any kind of affectionate gesture was a big deal.

"Chris knows how to take care of himself," K-mart said. "If anyone does, it's him."

Claire shook her head. "It's not just him. There's… There's us."

"And we'll be fine."

"And Jessica?" Claire met Dahlia's eyes. "Is she going to be fine?"

K-mart blinked a few times and Claire realized she was trying to consider the situation from another angle, from Jessica's angle. Jessica was Chris' girlfriend. They had been together for a short time only, but had already decided to move in together (Jessica was probably forcing Chris' hand on this, if Claire knew her brother), and Claire suspected they (Jessica) were considering the possibility of starting a family. Now he'd be leaving and Jessica would stay alone in that big house where she would have to keep her dreams in a drawer as she waited for him to come back. If he ever did.

"We can take care of one another," K-mart decided at last. "Like I said, maybe Chris will sort it all out and come back soon. I have faith in him."

"You have faith in everyone," Claire murmured more in wonder than criticism, but K-mart didn't seem to hear her; she was lost in an exciting speech about how they should enjoy Chris' last day with him. Partying. Loving. Having fun. Doing all the things Claire would miss so much after he was gone.

 

Raccoon City, a few days later

With the reported disappearance of three hikers in Raccoon Forest earlier this week, city officials have finally called for a roadblock on rural Route 6 at the foothills of the Arklay Mountains. The police chief announced yesterday that the S.T.A.R.S. will participate full-time in the search for the hikers and will also be working closely with the RPD until there is an end to the rash of murders and disappearances that are destroying our community. When asked why the S.T.A.R.S. hadn't been assigned to these cases until now, the chief would only say that the S.T.A.R.S. have been assisting the RPD since the beginning and that they would be a 'welcome addition' to the task force currently working on the murders full-time. Founded in 1967, the S.T.A.R.S. organization was originally created as a measure against cult-affiliated terrorism by a group of retired military officials and ex-field operatives from both the CIA and FBI. Under the guidance of former NSDA (National Security and Defense Agency), the group quickly expanded its services to include everything from hostage negotiation and code breaking to riot control. Working with local police agencies, each branch office of the S.T.A.R.S. is designed to work as a complete unit itself.

Chris Redfield sighed inwardly before getting into the helicopter that would take him to his first mission back in with the S.T.A.R.S. Team. He had come of his own accord; contrary to some that thought he'd been summoned, Chris had actually volunteered for this. But he wasn't happy about the way things were being done. He was surprised they would be sending Alpha and Bravo Team in separately. Although it was standard procedure, this wasn't exactly a standard operation. The number of deaths they were dealing with alone was enough to call for a more aggressive offense. The fact that there were signs of organization to the murders should have brought it to A1 status, but the case was still being treated as some sort of training run.

Nobody else saw it… They hadn't known Billy…

Chris thought again about the night call he had received from his childhood friend. He hadn't heard from Billy in a while, but knew that he'd taken a research position with Umbrella, the pharmaceutical company that was the single biggest contributor to the economic prosperity of Raccoon City. Billy had never been the type to jump at shadows, and the terrified desperation in his voice had jolted Chris awake, filling him with deep concern. Billy had babbled that his life was in danger, that they were all in danger, begged Chris to meet him at a diner at the edge of town and then never showed up.

No one had heard from him since.

Chris had run it over and over again in his mind during the sleepless nights since Billy's disappearance, trying to convince himself that there was no connection to the attacks on Raccoon City and yet was unable to shake his growing certainty that there was more going on than met the eye, and that Billy had known what it was. The cops had checked out Billy's apartment and found nothing to indicate foul play… but Chris' instincts told him that his friend was dead, and that he'd been killed by somebody who wanted to keep him from talking.

And Chris seemed to be the only one who cared.

He pushed the thoughts aside as he got into the helicopter. He had to focus, to keep his mind on what he could do to find out why Billy had disappeared, but he was exhausted, running on a minimum of sleep and an almost constant anxiety that had plagued him since Billy's call. Maybe he was losing his perspective, his objectivity dulled by recent events…

He forced himself not to think about anything at all as he neared the place of the mission.

"WHAT?" At the sound of the speaker's high voice, Chris turned to him, along with everyone else. He was agitated, one hand pressed to the earpiece of his set. "Bravo Team, report. Repeat, Bravo Team, report!"

The captain ordered him to put it on 'com. He tapped the switch on his console and the bright, stunning sound of static filled the room. Chris strained to hear a human voice amidst the fuzz, but for several tense seconds, there was nothing.

Then: "…you copy? Malfunction, we're going to have to…"

The rest was lost in a burst of static. Chris felt stunned, saw the feeling reflected in the faces of the others. The helicopter's transmitter was designed to keep working no matter what. The only way it would shut down was if something big happened.

Something like a crash.

"Position?" the captain wanted to know.

"They're in, uh, sector twenty-two, tail end of C," the interlocutor replied.

Chris felt his stomach knot as he recognized the coordinates.

The Spencer Mansion.

Could it be a coincidence? The Bravos were in trouble, and practically on top of the old Umbrella mansion.

There was a slight dip in their altitude as the pilot adjusted the rotor pitch. The ragged outskirts of Raccoon Forest slipped by below. Twilight was finally setting in, the forest growing heavy with shadow.

"ETA… three minutes," the interlocutor said and Chris looked around the cabin, noting the silent, grim expressions of his teammates. Then he stared out at the seemingly endless sea of trees as the helicopter skimmed lower, forcing his full attention to the search. The Spencer Mansion had to be close, though he couldn't see it in the fading light. Thoughts of Billy and Umbrella circled through his exhaustion, trying to break his focus, but Chris refused to give in.

Then he saw it less than a mile away, an oily plume of black smoke boiled up through the last remnants of daylight, staining the sky like a promise of death.

As they neared the plume of smoke, the helicopter's whirling blades pushed it down and out, creating a black fog that blended into the heavy shadows of the trees. Any chance of spotting the downed vehicle from the air was lost to the smoke and dusk. The pilot settled the bird into a scrappy patch of tall grass. Even as the rails wobbled to the ground, Chris had his hand on the latch, ready to move out.

They spread and began to search. They moved quickly through the wooded area, visibility dropping off sharply beneath the needled branches. From the dim light filtering toward them, Chris saw that there was another clearing ahead, high with brittle grasses. They emerged from the copse of trees, and found the Bravo Team helicopter. No one spoke as they surveyed the scene. The long, wide body of the 'copter was intact, not a single scratch visible. The port landing rail looked bent, but besides that and the dying haze of smoke from the rotor, there seemed to be nothing wrong with it. The hatches stood open, the cabin undamaged. From what Chris could see, most of Bravo's gear was still on board.

So where were they?

It didn't make any sense. If anyone had been injured, they would have stayed. And if they'd decided to leave, why had they left their equipment behind?

Chris scanned the thick ground cover. In another few moments, it'd be too dark to see anything. He stopped suddenly, listening. They were in the woods, in the middle of summer; where were the animals, the insects? The forest was unnaturally still, the only sounds human. For the first time since they'd set down, Chris was afraid.

He was about to call out to the others when someone shouted first from somewhere behind them: "Over here!"

Chris turned and started jogging back. In the murky light, he could just make out the shadowy form of one of his teammates, crouched down in the high grass near some trees a hundred feet past the 'copter. His friend stood up, holding something, and let out a strangled scream before dropping it, his eyes wide with horror, and for a split-second, Chris' mind couldn't accept what it had seen in his grasp.

A S.T.A.R.S. handgun, a Beretta.

And a disembodied human hand curled around it, hacked off at the wrist.

There was a deep, guttural snarl from behind his friend, from the darkness of the trees. An animal, growling joined by another rasping, throaty shriek and suddenly dark, powerful shapes erupted from the woods, lunging at the S.T.A.R.S. Team member and taking him down. Chris drew his weapon and stopped in his tracks, trying to get a clear shot at the raging beasts that were attacking his friend.

The captain's penlight sent a thin beam dancing over the writhing creatures, illuminating a nightmare.

The body was now all but hidden by the three animals that tore at him, ripping at him with gnashing, dripping jaws. They were the size and shape of dogs, as big as German shepherds maybe, except that they seemed to have no fur, no skin. Wet, red sinew and muscle flashed beneath the wavering light, the dog-creatures shrieking and snapping in a frenzy of bloodlust.

The Alpha Team member cried out, a burbling, liquid sound as he flailed weakly at the savage attackers, blood pouring from multiple wounds. It was the scream of a dying man. There was no time to waste; Chris targeted and opened fire. Three rounds smacked wetly into one of the dogs, a fourth shot going high. There was a single, high-pitched yelp and the beast went down, its sides heaving. The other two animals continued their assault, indifferent to the thunderous shots. And, as Chris watched horrified, his partner, or what was left of his partner, started to stir, to get up, although he was so obviously dead.

Chris staggered back, his thoughts racing in time with his hammering heart.

Dead, that thing was the walking goddamn dead!

The cannibal attacks in Raccoon, all of them near the forest. Chris had seen enough late-night movies to know what he was looking at, but he still couldn't believe it.

Zombies.

No, no way, that was fiction. But maybe some kind of a disease, mimicking the symptoms?

"Run!" someone suggested and the others didn't hesitate to obey. They stumbled and dodged through the woods, tripping on uneven ground as the killer dogs came on. Chris saw their salvation through the thinning shadows of trees, the Spencer Mansion back-lit by an early moon, and ran in that direction, praying that the others would follow. It looked abandoned from the outside, the weathered wood and stone of the giant mansion crumbling and dark. The full size of the structure was cloaked by the shadowy, overgrown hedges that surrounded it. A massive outset front porch presented double doors, their only option for escape.

Chris reached the doors first, slamming into the heavy wood with one shoulder as he snatched at the handles. Amazingly, they crashed open; brightness spilled out across the stone steps to the porch, lighting their path. Chris turned and started firing, providing cover as the other three gasping men ran for the opening behind him. The Alpha Team piled into the entrance hall and Chris threw his bulk against the door, wedging it closed against the snarls of the creatures.

They had made it.

And now that they were here, Chris silently wondered if they were any better off inside than out…

Chapter Text

Harvardville, August

For the longest time, Chris was not aware of anything. He found himself in a state of non-existence where he couldn't see, hear or feel. His body was in some sort of limbo, while his mind was being haunted by images he didn't understand. The skinless dog. His partner getting up after being ripped apart. Great chandeliers hanging from the high ceiling of an abandoned mansion. An underground laboratory. Confusion. The rush. The blood. The chaos.

Slowly, some of his senses started to come back. Although he still couldn't see, he could hear voices hovering over him.

"...Chris..."

"...we'll have to leave soon..."

"...we're trying to ..."

"...please, come back to me..."

"...Chris, please, wake up..."

It wasn't always the same voice although they all sounded feminine. They were getting so insistent now that, with effort, Chris was able to obey the command. His eyes opened and immediately he closed them again when the shock of the bright sunlight blinded him. Slowly, he tried to open them again. This time he was ready. He stared at the white ceiling as he tried to figure out where he was. He moved. Painfully. He was able to sit down after several minutes of struggle. Then he looked around.

He was in a hospital room. How he had gotten there or why remained a mystery in Chris' hazy mind. He tried to remember something. Where had he been? What was the last thing he'd done? Something was bothering him. He had forgotten something important and was painfully aware of it. But the effort to remember only made his head hurt more.

And where was Claire? He had definitely heard her voice. She had insisted that he'd wake up and now that he had, she was not here to see him? It wasn't like her. Claire's determination was flawless. If Chris was in the hospital, she would have stayed with him 24/7. Could she have gone to grab a bite? Take a shower? Talk to someone?

Chris glanced around the room once more. There was a vase on the nightstand, but the flowers were rotten. More suspicious. Nothing was ever rotten in a hospital. On the opposite wall, the clock hands were frozen.

Confused, Chris decided it was time to find someone to clear things up. He rose from bed, slowly, and felt his legs give in from beneath him, and the next minute he was stretched out on the floor. He let out a deep groan. It felt as if he had been stranded in the desert for days. His body was in no working condition. "Nurse!" he called, as loud as he could, which wasn't very loud. "Help me, nurse!"

Nobody answered that call. How was that possible? What kind of hospital was this?

Chris made an inhuman effort to rise to his feet. His legs trembled like jell-o, but somehow he made it to the bathroom. Leaning on the sink, he opened the tap and drank the water until he was full. His stomach protested at the lack of food, but his senses sharpened and his vision brightened.

He made his way to the corridor and the situation took on another level of weirdness. It was like a horror film.

The hospital was completely empty, something Chris never thought he would see. There were sheets of paper all over the place, as if the officials had thrown them up in the air before leaving. Hospital beds were abandoned and the ceiling lights flashed in a sinister effect. There were bullet holes in the walls.

The silence, however, was what bothered him the most. It reminded him of something. Another situation in which silence did not fit.

Breathing heavily, Chris headed down the hall to the reception desk, where he tried to use the telephone but there was no line. Again, he wondered how that could be possible. Had they dropped him off in a deserted place? Like a prank? The silence told him no. The discomfort in his stomach made it clear that something serious was happening. Chris followed the opposite corridor that led him to something his brain could not conceive: double doors, locked with thick chains and a long wooden plank.

Don't open. Dead inside.

Chris approached. The doors led to one of the hospital's larger wings. The first thing that occurred to Chris was quarantine. Definitely an epidemic. People had died. Bodies were isolated to keep the contagion. It was the only reasonable explanation.

But then, as he pondered the possibilities, one hand, pale and bloody, forced its way through the double doors. Only the fingers were able to come through, but that was enough to raise the hairs on the back of Chris' neck. Something jerked on the door but the chains kept them closed. More and more hands began to appear, desperately trying to get to Chris. The silence was broken by growls and groans, noises that human beings should not be able to emit, and Chris ran.

A thought teased deep in his mind. A memory. A skinless dog. A dead man walking.

The sunlight granted him little hope when Chris left the hospital. He recognized the streets of Harvardville around him, even though everything was somewhat unrecognizable. The hospital's parking lot had been taken by bodies wrapped in bloody plastic bags. The sight made Chris' stomach twist. Military cars had been abandoned in the streets and there was no living soul to be seen. Chris walked down the familiar streets, ran, followed, with only one thought in his mind: to find Claire.

He didn't get very far. Something hard and unpleasant hit the back of his head and everything went black.
***

The house was trashed but the little comfort it could provide was enough for her; after all, Alice would only stay for one night.

Redfield stirred on the bed where she'd put him. He had a nice face and a fit body but he drooled a lot as he slept. Of course, maybe that was her own fault; she had hit him in the head with a shovel. His eyes opened, blue as the sky. Alice leaned over him revealing her favorite knife. It was sharp silver blade adorned with hard leather. It had been a gift from her father many years ago.

The man set his eyes on the object. "Take a moment, yes?" she told him. "Look how sharp it is. You try anything and I'll kill you with it." He didn't answer, which Alice took it as a promise of good behavior. She stepped away from him.

"You knocked me out," he accused massaging the spot on his head where she'd hit him.

"You were freaking out," she justified. "I thought you'd start screaming out there. Which would've called a lot of unwanted attention. Trust me."

Redfield studied her as if she was a threat. Point for him; Alice had had innumerable chances to kill him. But then he noticed where he was and jumped to his feet. His head, however, must've been giving him a hard time because he had to lean against the wall to keep standing. "This… This is Claire's house… my sister's house. What are you doing here? How did you…? Where is she?"

Alice sat on the dresser near the window and shrugged. "I suppose she left. Everyone with a brain did. Everyone alive. And I can't guarantee that she is."

A shadow crossed his face. Aversion. Anger. Followed by fear. Alice knew very well how that worked. She knew it was her he was afraid of. He was afraid he wouldn't find anyone he cared about. He was afraid there was nobody else in the world he could count on. Afraid to be like Alice. But instead of having a fit, he swallowed his feeling and asked for an explanation to what was going on.

And oh boy, how to begin… Alice considered one or two ways before deciding they weren't good enough. If she was right, he couldn't remember a damn thing. She would have to be patient. She owed him that much. Problem was she wasn't all that certain of the events as she tried to pretend.

"Are you aware that at the beginning of the 21st century, the Umbrella Corporation had become the largest commercial entity in the United States? Nine out of every ten homes contain its products. Its political and financial influence is felt everywhere. In public, it is the world's leading supplier of computer technology, medical products and health care. Not necessarily in that order." Alice felt a bitter smile forming. "Unknown even to its own employees, however, its massive profits were generated by military technology, genetic experimentation and viral weaponry."

Redfield watched her for a few seconds. He seemed to be struggling to understand where she was going with that, but he looked dizzy. Well, it was astonishing he was standing at all; the guy had been hit on the head soon after awakening from a coma. Alice would've felt sorry for him if she could.

"Who are you?" he asked as if that bit of information would make things clearer.

"My name is Alice. I worked for the Umbrella Corporation," she told him. "I was head of security at a secret high-tech facility called The Hive."

"What's that?"

"A giant underground laboratory that developed viral weaponry. The mansion where the S.T.A.R.S Teams were sent to, the Spencer Mansion, was an emergency entrance to the Hive. I was the security guard stationed there to protect this entrance. The Hive itself is located underground deep beneath the streets of Raccoon City. A top-secret research facility, owned and operated by the Umbrella Corporation. Technicians, scientists, support staff... They lived and worked underground. And their research was of the highest importance. "

"What was it?"

Alice shook her head. "Its nature was classified."

Redfield had to sit after that. Alice didn't blame him. "Why can't I remember anything?" he asked.

"The Hive had its own defense mechanisms, all computer-controlled. A nerve gas was released as soon as you and your team broke in. Primary effect of the gas is complete unconsciousness. The lasting time can vary, depending on how long you inhaled it. Secondary effects can include acute memory loss."

"For how long?"

"Subjective. An hour, day, week."

"I still don't understand," he admitted. Alice played with her knife as he strived for the right words. "Why were we sent there? I… I can't remember. I mean… A helicopter fell. And the mansion wasn't abandoned as we thought. But… The rest is blank."

Alice tried to comfort him at the same time as she explained. She knew first handedly how much loss of memory sucked. "Earlier, before the S.T.A.R.S. Teams showed up, something big happened. I don't know the details, before you ask. But the Red Queen went homicidal. Sealed the Hive and killed everyone down there."

That didn't sit right with him, she could tell, but then again who enjoyed hearing about mass massacres? Redfield frowned. "Who is the Red Queen?"

"Artificial intelligence," Alice said. "The computer that controls the Hive. Its holographic representation was modeled after the head programmer's daughter, Angela Ashford. She was made to deceive and confuse when it felt threatened." Alice stopped to consider her words. She knew he was confused. She knew it was hard to understand. But he had to. "You know, corporations like Umbrella think they're above the law. My father was a renowned scientist who participated in several projects and brought many gains to Umbrella. Even so, when he said he didn't condone what the company was doing, a company to which he had dedicated his life, they killed him. So I decided I would put an end to we needed something concrete. Anything to expose Umbrella to the press. Proof of the research that was going on in the Hive."

"What kind of research?"

"The illegal kind," she said. "Genetic. Viral. My partner was going to smuggle out a sample of the virus they were developing." Alice prayed that her feelings didn't betray her. She prayed that she could call him partner without letting out that he'd been so much more that. That was the best she could do. If she had to say his name aloud, if she had to say it…

"And you were going to help him make out of there?" Redfield guessed.

"He was my contact within the Hive. And I had access to security codes, surveillance, everything he needed."

"Considering everything I saw today, I'd say he didn't make it? Your plan didn't work? Why?"

Alice looked away. She hated having to admit her failure. "Someone got there first. Someone who wanted the virus for themselves. Do you have any idea how much the T-Virus would be worth on the open market?"

Redfield looked disgusted. "What, worth all this?"

"Yeah. To someone."

He let that sink in for a moment. She waited. "Where do I fit into all this?" he asked, at last.

"My contact, my partner…" Alice took a breath, avoiding the name. "He said we could trust you. Said you had contacts of your own. That we could get you in the whole thing and you would help become public. I don't know what happened." Suddenly a terrible need to explain herself took over Alice. An overwhelming guilt. "Someone got to him. Someone killed him."

Redfield didn't need more than that to understand. His eyes narrowed and he pressed his lips together, and Alice knew that was the farthest he would go on letting his emotions show. And that didn't mean he felt the loss of his friend any less than she did. "Billy," he breathed and her eyes stung.

"I knew you'd be part of the team they were sending to the Spencer Mansion. I followed you guys there and watched. I saw the dogs. I saw… I saw what happened to the S.T.A.R.S. And after you went inside… I can't tell you exactly what happened, but I know that you found your way to the Arklay Laboratory. That's the entrance to the Hive. But you didn't go through it. The house defenses were activated and whoever was still alive lost consciousness. I got you out," Alice told him, "but there was nothing I could do for the others. A group of Umbrella scientists showed up. They…"

"They what?" he pressed.

"Those scientists... They had special suits and gear. Gas masks. Do you think that helped them when they reopened the Hive? That it prevented them from being contaminated? No. And you know why? Because what they found down there was not a virus in the air or the corpses of their companions."

"What did they find?"

"I think you know," Alice suggested. "You were there. You saw them."

"You mean the…" Redfield swallowed hard and then had to force the word out, "...zombies."

She nodded.

"They're out there now?" he asked pointing to the window behind her.

"Yes. They get more active after dark. Maybe it's the cool air or… Maybe it's my imagination."

He didn't look like he believed her wholeheartedly. "Are we…" he stopped. Then he tried again: "Are we sure they're dead?"

"I knew you'd ask." She smiled; being right could be a pain in the ass sometimes. "They're dead. Except for something in the brain. That's why you have to get them in the head." She stood up. "Anything else you have to ask? Someone's gotta cook dinner and it isn't going to be me."

"Yes," he said standing up as well. "You still haven't told me why you're in my sister's house?"

Alice blinked. "I thought that was obvious. Someone suffering from amnesia, I thought you'd feel better waking up somewhere familiar." She crossed the room, went through the door and headed down the stairs, two steps at a time.
***

Dinner was made and ingested silently. Chris felt like part of his brain would explode any second now because of all the information he was trying to process. The other part, however and inexplicably, had already accepted it. Despite how hard it was to understand all that, Alice had been right: he had seen it. And seeing it changed everything.

If he trusted her? Chris doubted he would ever trust anyone other than his sister. But Alice hadn't given his reasons for suspicion, at least not yet. She was a tall, slim woman, with hard, cold features that indicated she had gone through a lot to be there with him. And Chris suspected her pain had something to do with Billy's death. She answered his questions as best as she could, but he could see she had doubts of her own. They were on the same boat and she had to adjust to the reality of it just as much as he did.

"Why are we in Harvardville?" he asked, the thought just occurring to him.

Alice raised her fair eyes. "I brought you here. From the mansion. I knew your sister lived here. I thought you'd want to be with her."

Billy, Chris realized. If she had known that, Billy must've told her. "Thank you," he said and he meant it.

"It hasn't been that long she left," Alice went on. "I kept an eye on her, you know, just in case. There was a revolt a few days ago. The hospital was shut down and she wasn't able to… I don't really know. But she left with two other women."

Yes. K-mart and Jess. Claire would've taken them with her. Claire would've taken the whole world. Which meant that if she had left Chris behind, she'd had no choice. "There was nobody in the hospital," he said. "When I woke up, there was nobody."

"No," she agreed. "The last doctor left about an hour before you woke up. I was coming to get you."

"But you chose to hit me in the head instead."

She shrugged. "I do whatever works best."

Chris felt his lips twist into a smile and wondered how that was possible.

"Is she's alive," Alice said, "she'll be in Raccoon City."

That didn't sound right. If that whole mess had started in Raccoon City, why would anyone have gone there? "Wouldn't that be suicide?" he mused.

"Not necessarily. I know what you're thinking, and I'm sure Raccoon is looming with the walking dead, which is why the main streets should be avoided. But there's a refugee settle. Somewhere strategic, from I gathered." She pointed to a radio in the corner of the dining room. "Huge, when they said it, before the broadcast stopped. Military protection. Food. Shelter. They told people to go there. Said to be safest."

"If they told people to go there, why didn't you?" He regretted the words as soon as they left his mouth, as soon as she heard it and faced him with those eyes filled with pain.

"I didn't go because I was watching over you," she said dryly. "It was all I could do for… for him. I owe him more than I can repay."

Chris nodded, ashamed. He wanted to thank her again but knew that wasn't what she wanted to hear.

"Besides," she returned to the subject like there'd been no interruption, "dr. Charles Ashford took over the Arklay Laboratory. Said he's working on how to solve this thing. Find a cure."

That word brought a new sense of purpose and suddenly Chris knew what to do. "If you think I might find Claire in Raccoon City, then there's where I'm going," he told her. "We can leave at sunrise."

"No. I'm not going." Alice tapped the table with her fingers. "Maybe I'll find you later on, Redfield. But I still have business here. Reckoning."

That wasn't what Chris had hoped to hear. He'd been counting on her help. The idea of going alone… It wasn't exactly appealing. But if that's how it had to be, he'd do it. Nothing would stop him from finding Claire. And Alice remained resolute. Chris might not have known her well, but it was clear that when she made a decision, nothing would change her mind.

The next morning they said their goodbyes.

"Watch out, Redfield," she told him. "They may not seem much one at a time, but in a group, all round up and hungry… Better watch out. And I hope you find your sister."

Chris also wished her good fortune and then he hit the road. First he went to the Police Centre of Harvardville, now abandoned, and filled a bag with all the guns and gear he could find. The armory was half empty when he got there, but he found a good amount of weapons, more than he'd dared to hope for. He also took one of their vehicles.

As he drove away, he turned on the radio and tried to send a message: "Hello? Can anybody hear my voice? Anybody out there? Anybody hears me, please respond. Broadcasting on emergency channel. I'll be approaching Raccoon City on Highway 85. Can anyone hear me? Please, respond."

There was no answer but nor had he expected there to be. Good things take time, Claire always said, and that was likely more true in the apocalypse. He wasn't going to let that take his faith away. He drove and drove, and eventually ended up on a part of the road that was blocked by vehicles that had been abandoned. There was no way he could proceed on car.

That was that then. He'd have to keep going on foot. Chris decided that wouldn't be a problem either.

He passed the billboard that welcomed him to Raccoon City. The level of destruction shocked him. He eyed the empty streets, the garbage, the signs of death. There were helicopters and cars, some had been thrown around, and even a war tank left in the middle of a crossroad of the main avenue. Remembering what Alice had said, Chris thought maybe he should follow through narrow, darker streets instead of the open avenue but the tank held his attention. And there was no visible threat, he calculated. Surely a quick look wouldn't be a problem…?

He approached the tank. It was a modern model, one of those new, colorless ones. Chris could smelled something foul. He looked up and saw a body being torn apart by crows. Disgusted, he rounded the tank, nearing the tail and that's when he saw it, turning the corner, a huge group of zombies approaching. He ran backwards just to realise there was another group coming from the opposite side.

Congratulations, Chris, you're going to die.

Surrounded, he did the only thing that came to mind. He threw himself on the ground and crawled his way underneath the tank. Unfortunately, the dead mimicked his movements. Heart beating fast, Chris felt his lungs demanding more air but the smell of decomposed flesh was making his stomach lurch. Chris pulled a revolver and fired three shots, hitting bullseye the three times. But that was the only gun he had in hand, the others were in the bag on his back.

There was no time. He wouldn't even get to-

Looking up, he spotted his salvation: a hatch at the base of the tank. Chris crawled up there at the last second and closed the door underneath him. Then he took a moment to calm himself down, to breathe.

When he moved again, he saw he was not alone. A dead soldier faced him. The thing moved, attacked, and Chris, without thinking, fired his revolver a fourth time. Big mistake. The noise was like an explosion to his ears. The world started spinning and the ringing in his ears made it that much worse.

He was definitely not deaf, he found out, in the end, because the next second he heard a woman's voice coming through the tank's radio: "Hey, you. Dumbass. Yeah, you in the tank. Cozy in there?"