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Claire's head hurt.
She'd been half-dreaming, remembering things, until the faraway sound of thunder crowded through the dark, pulling her closer to wakefulness. She'd dreamed about the insanity that had become her life over the past few months, and even though an almost conscious part of her knew it was reality, it still seemed too incredible to be true. Flashes of what had happened in post-viral Raccoon City kept rising up, images of the inhuman creature that had stalked her and the little girl through the devastation, memories of the Birken family, of meeting Leon, of praying that Chris was all right.
Thunder again, louder, and she realized that something was wrong but couldn't seem to wake up, to stop remembering. Chris. Her brother had gone underground in Europe, and they had followed, and now she was cold and her head hurt but she didn't know why.
What happened? She concentrated, but it would only come in pieces, pictures and thoughts from the weeks since Raccoon City. She couldn't seem to control the memories. It was like watching a movie in a dream, and still, she couldn't wake up.
Images of Trent on the plane, and a desert, finding a disk of codes that had ultimately proved useless to her brother's cause. The long flight to London, the hop to France --
-- a telephone call, "Chris is here, he's fine." Barry Burton's voice, deep and friendly. Laughing, the incredible relief filling her up, feeling Leon's hand on her shoulder --
It was a start, and it led her to the next clear recollection -- a meeting had been set up, one of the surveillance posts for the HQ Admin wing, on Umbrella grounds. Leonand the others were waiting in the van, checking my watch, heart pounding with excitement, where is he, where's Chris?
Claire didn't know she was screwed until the first bullets ripped past, chasing her onto the spotlight-riddled grounds, into a building --
-- running through the corridors, deafened by the rattle of automatic weapons and the helicopter outside, running, bullets chipping by close enough to send sharpened slivers of floor tile into the meat of her calves --
-- and an explosion, armed soldiers writhing in the blast's fury, and...and I got caught.
They'd held her for over a week, trying everything they could to make her talk. She'd talked, too, about going fishing with Chris, political ideology, her favorite bands....When it came down to it, she didn't know anything vital; she was looking for her brother, that was all, and she somehow managed to convince them that she didn't know anything important about Umbrella. It probably helped that she was nineteen, and looked about as deadly as a Girl Scout. What little she actually did know, things about the Umbrella insider, Trent, or the whereabouts of Sherry Birken, the scientist's daughter, she buried deep and left there.
When they'd realized she was useless as an informant, she'd been taken away. Cuffed, scared, two private planes and a helicopter later, the island. She didn't even see it, they'd put a hood over her face, the stifling blackness only adding to her fear. Rockfort Island, wasn't that what the pilot called it? It was a long way from Paris, but that was the extent of her knowledge. Thunder, there was a sound of thunder. She remembered being pushed through a muddy prison cemetery in the gray morning, catching a glimpse through her stifling hood of the graves, marked with elaborate headstones. Down some stairs, welcome to your new home and BOOM --
The ground was shaking, rumbling. Claire opened her eyes just in time to see the one overhead light go out, the thick metal bars of her cell suddenly imprinted in negative and floating off to her left in the pitch dark. She lay on her side on a clammy, dirty floor.
Not good, nope, you better get up. Steeling herself against the pounding of her skull she crawled to her knees, her muscles stiff and sore. The blackness of the cold, dank room was very still, except for the sound of water dripping, a slow and lonely sound; it appeared she was alone.
Not for long. Oh, man, I'm in it deep now. Umbrella had her, and considering the havoc she'd created back in Paris, it was unlikely that they were going to treat her to ice cream and send her on her way.
The renewed awareness of her situation knotted her stomach, but she did her best to put the fear aside. She needed to think straight, to figure out her options, and she needed to be ready to act. She wouldn't have survived Raccoon City if she'd given in to panic --
-- except you're on an island run by Umbrella. Even if you get past the guards, where can you possibly go?
One predicament at a time. First thing, she should probably try to stand up. Except for the painful lump at her right temple from the asshole who'd knocked her out, she didn't think she'd been injured --
There was another rumble, muffled and far away, and a bit of rock dust drifted down from above, she could feel it on the back of her neck. She had integrated the rumbling sounds into her half-conscious dreams as thunder, but it definitely sounded like heavy artillery had come to Rockfort. Or Godzilla. What the hell was going on out there?
She crept to her feet, wincing at her rifle-butt headache as she brushed dust off her bare arms, stretching chilled muscles. The underground room was making her wish she'd worn something warmer than jeans and a cut-off vest for her meeting with Chris --
-- Chris! Oh, please be safe! In Paris, she'd deliberately led the Umbrella security team away from Leon and the others, Rebecca and the two Exeter S.T.A.R.S.; if Chris hadn't also been caught, Claire figured he'd have hooked up with the team by now. If she could get to a computer with an uplink, she should be able to send a message to Leon...
...yeah, just bend those steel bars, find a couple of machine guns, and mow down the population of the island. Oh, then hack into a tightly secured relay system, assuming you can find an unmanned computer. All so you can tell Leon that you don't actually know where Rockfort is --
A louder internal voice cut in. -- think positive, damnit, you can be sarcastic later, assuming you survive. What do you have to work with?
Good question. There was no guard, for one thing. It was also extremely dark, a bare hint of light coming from somewhere off to the right, which could be an advantage if --
Claire patted her pockets suddenly, wildly hoping that no one had searched her when she'd been unconscious, sure that someone must have -- left inside vest pocket, there it was!
"Idiots," she whispered, pulling out the old metal lighter that Chris had given her awhile back, the comforting weight of it warm in her hand. When they'd patted her down for weapons, a soldier reeking of tobacco had taken it out, but given it back to her when she'd said that she smoked.
Claire put the lighter back in her pocket, not wanting to blind herself now that her eyes were getting used to the dark. There was enough ambient light for her to make out most of the small room -- a desk and a couple of cabinets directly across from her cell, an open door to the left -- the same door she'd entered by -- a chair and some miscellaneous crap stacked off to the right.
Okay, good, you know the environment. What else you got?
Thankfully, her inner voice was a lot calmer than she was. She quickly went through her other pockets, turning up a couple of ponytail elastics and two breath mints in a crumpled roll. Terrific. Unless she wanted to take on the enemy with a very small, refreshingly peppermint slingshot, she was shit out of luck --
Footsteps, in the corridor outside the cell room, coming closer. Her muscles tensed and her mouth went dry. She was unarmed and trapped, and the way a few of those guards had been looking at her on the transport....
...bring it on. I'm unarmed, maybe, but not defenseless. If someone meant to assault her, sexually or otherwise, she'd make a point of doing some major damage in return. If she was going to die anyway, she didn't plan on going out alone.
Thump. Thump. There was only one person out there, she decided, and whoever it was, he or she was hurting. The steps were erratic and slow, shuffling, almost like...
No, no way.
Claire held her breath as a lone male figure stepped haltingly into the room, his arms out in front of him. He moved like one of the virus zombies, like a drunk, reeling and unsteady, and immediately staggered for the door to her cell. Reflexively, Claire backed away, terrified at the implications -- if there'd been some kind of viral outbreak on the island, at best she'd end up starving to death behind bars.
And Jesus, another spill? Thousands had died in Raccoon City. When would Umbrella learn, that their insane biological experiments weren't worth the cost?
She had to see. If it was a drunk guard, at least he was alone, she might be able to take him. And if it was a carrier, she was safe for the moment. Probably. They couldn't operate doors, or at least the ones in Raccoon hadn't been able to. She took out the lighter, flipped the top and thumbed the wheel.
Claire recognized him instantly and gasped, taking another step back. Tall and well-built, Hispanic perhaps, a mustache and dark, merciless eyes. It was the man who'd caught her back in Paris, who'd escorted her to the island.
Not a zombie, at least there's that. Not much of relief, but she'd take whatever she could get.
She stood for a moment, frozen, not sure what to expect. He looked different, and it was more than his dirt-smeared face or the small bloodstains on his white T-shirt. It was as though there'd been some fundamental internal change, the way his expression was set. Before, he'd looked like a stone killer. Now...now she wasn't sure, and when he reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys, she prayed that he'd changed for the better.
Without a word, he pulled the cell door open and blankly met her gaze before jerking his head to one side -- the universal sign for "get out," if there was such a thing.
Before she could act, he turned and staggered away, definitely injured from the way he held his gut with one shaking hand. There was a chair between the desk and the far wall; he sat down heavily and picked up a small bottle from the desktop with bloodstained fingers. He shook the bottle, about the size of a small spool of thread, before weakly throwing it across the room, muttering to himself.
The presumably empty bottle clattered across the cement floor, rolling to a stop just outside the cell. He glanced in her direction tiredly, his voice thick with exhaustion. "Go on. Get out of here."
Claire took a step toward the open cell door and hesitated, wondering if it was some kind of trick -- being shot trying to "escape" crossed her mind, and didn't seem all that far-fetched, considering who he worked for. She still clearly remembered the look in his eyes when he'd shoved that gun in her face, the cold sneer that had twisted his mouth.
She cleared her throat nervously, deciding to probe for an explanation. "What are you telling me, exactly?"
"You're free," he said, muttering to himself again as he sank deeper into the chair, chin lowering to his chest. "I don't know, might have been some kind of special forces team, troops were all wiped out...no chance of escape." He closed his eyes.
Her instincts told her that he really meant to let her go, but she wasn't going to take any chances. She stepped out of the cell and picked up the bottle he'd thrown, moving very slowly, watching him carefully as she approached. She didn't think his wounded act was a fake; he looked like hell, an ashy-white pallor over his dark skin, like a transparent mask. He wasn't breathing all that evenly, either, and his clothes smelled like sweat and chemical smoke.
She glanced at the bottle, an empty syringe vial with an unpronounceable name on the label, catching the word hemostatic in the fine print. Hemo was blood...some kind of bleeding stabilizer?
Maybe an internal injury...She wanted to ask him why he was releasing her, what the situation was outside, where she should go -- but she could see that he was on the verge of passing out, his eyelids fluttering.
I can't just walk out, not without trying to help him --
-- screw that! Go, go now!
He might die...
You might die! Run for it! The internal dispute was brief, but her conscience triumphed over reason, as usual. He obviously hadn't set her loose because of some personal affinity, but whatever the reason, she was grateful. He didn't have to let her go, and he'd done it anyway.
"What about you?" She asked, wondering if there was anything she could do for him. She certainly couldn't carry him out, and she was no medic --
"Don't worry about me," he said, raising his head to glare at her for a second, sounding irritated that she'd even brought it up.
Before she could ask him what had happened outside, he lost consciousness, his shoulders slumping, his body growing still. He was breathing, but without a doctor, she wouldn't want to bet on how long.
The lighter was getting hot, but she endured the heat long enough to search the small room, starting with the desk. There was a combat knife thrown casually on the blotter, a number of loose papers....She saw her own name on one of them and scanned the document while fixing the knife sheath to her waistband.
Claire Redfield, prisoner number WKD4496, date of transfer, blah blah blah...escorted by Rodrigo Juan Raval, 3rd Security Unit CO, Umbrella Medical, Paris.
Rodrigo. The man who'd caught her and set her free, and now appeared to be dying right in front of her. She couldn't do anything about it, either, not unless she could find help.
Which I can't do down here, she thought, snapping the overheated lighter closed after she finished the rest of her search. Nothing but junk, mostly, a trunk of musty prisoner uniforms, endless stacks of paperwork stuffed into the desk. She'd found the pair of fingerless gloves they'd taken from her, her old riding gloves, and put them on, grateful for the minor warmth they provided. All she had to defend herself with was the combat knife, a deadly weapon in the right hands...which, unfortunately, hers weren't.
It's a gift horse, don't complain. Five minutes ago you were unarmed and locked up, at least now you have a chance. You should just be happy that Rodrigo didn't come down here to put you out of your misery.
Still, she pretty much sucked at knifeplay. After a brief hesitation, she quickly patted Rodrigo down, but he wasn't carrying. She did find a set of keys but didn't take them, not wanting to carry anything that might draw someone's attention by jangling at the wrong moment. If she needed them, she could come back.
Time to blow this Popsicle stand, see what there is to see out there.
"Let's do it," she said softly, as much to get herself moving as anything else, aware that she was basically terrified of what she might find...and also that she didn't have a choice in the matter. As long as she was on the island, Umbrella still had her -- and until she assessed the circumstances, she couldn't make plans to escape.
Holding the knife tightly, Claire stepped out of the cellar room, wondering if Umbrella's madness would ever end.
Alone, Alfred Ashford sat on the wide, sweeping stairs of his home, half blind with rage. The destruction had finally ceased raining down from the skies, but his home had been damaged, their home. It had been built for his grandfather's great-grandmother -- the brilliant and beautiful Veronica, God rest her soul -- on the isolated oasis that she had named Rockfort, where she had made a magical life for herself and her progeny over the generations...and now, in the blink of an eye, some horrible fanatic group had dared to try and destroy it. Most of the second floor architecture had been warped and twisted, doors crushed shut, only their private rooms left whole.
Uncouth, uncultured miscreants. They can't even fathom the measure of their own ignorance.
Alexia was weeping upstairs, her delicate rose of a heart surely aching with the loss. The mere thought of his sister's needless pain fueled his rage to greater intensity, making him want to strike out -- but there was no one to submit to his anger, all the commanding officers and chief scientists dead, even his own personal staff. He'd watched it happen from the safety of the private mansion's secret monitor room, each tiny screen telling a different story of brutal suffering and pathetic incompetence. Almost everyone had died, and the rest had run like frightened rabbits; most of the island's planes were already gone. His personal cook had been the only survivor in the common receiving mansion, but she'd screamed so much that he himself had been forced to shoot her.
We're still here, though, safe from the unwashed hands of the world. The Ashfords will survive and prosper, to dance on the graves of our adversaries, to drink champagne from the skulls of their children.
He imagined dancing with Alexia, holding her close, waltzing to the dynamic music of their enemies' tortured screams....It would be nothing short of bliss, his twin's gaze locked to his, sharing the awareness of their superiority over the common man, over the stupidity of those who sought to destroy them.
The question was, who had been responsible for the attack? Umbrella had many enemies, from legitimate rival pharmaceutical companies to private shareholders -- the loss of Raccoon City had been disastrous for the market -- to the few closet competitors of White Umbrella, their covert bioweapons research department. Umbrella Pharmaceutical, the brainchild of Lord Oswell Spencer and Alfred's own grandfather, Edward Ashford, was extremely lucrative, an industrial empire...but the real power lay with Umbrella's clandestine activities, the operations of which had become too vast to remain entirely unnoticed. And there were spies everywhere.
Alfred clenched his fists, frustrated, his entire body a live wire of furious tension -- and was suddenly aware of Alexia's presence behind him, a trace of gardenia in the air. He'd been so intent on his emotional chaos that he hadn't even heard her approach.
"You mustn't let yourself despair, my brother," she said gently, and stepped down to sit beside him. "We will prevail; we always have."
She knew him so well. When she'd been away from Rockfort all those years ago, he'd been so lonely, so afraid that they might lose some of their special connection...but if anything, they were closer now than ever before. They never spoke about their separation, about the things that had happened after the experiments at the Antarctic facility, both of them just so happy to be together that they would say nothing to spoil it. She felt the same way, he was certain.
He gazed at her for long seconds, soothed by her graceful presence, astounded as always by the depths of her beauty. If he hadn't heard her weeping in her bedroom, he wouldn't have known that she'd shed a tear. Her porcelain skin was radiant, her sky-blue eyes clear and shining. Even today, this darkest of days, the very sight of her gave him such pleasure...
"What would I do without you?" Alfred asked softly, knowing that the answer was too painful to consider. He'd gone half-mad with loneliness when she'd been away, and sometimes still had strange episodes, nightmares that he was alone, that Alexia had left him. It was one of the reasons he encouraged her never to leave their heavily secured private residence, located behind the visitor mansion. She didn't mind; she had her studies, and was aware that she was too important, too exquisite to be admired by just anyone, quite content to be sustained by her brother's affections, trusting him to be her sole contact with the outside world.
If only I could stay with her all the time, just the two of us, hidden away...But no, he was an Ashford, responsible for the Ashford's stake in Umbrella, accountable for the entire Rockfort compound. When their basically incompetent father, Alexander Ashford, had gone missing some fifteen years before, the young Alfred had stepped up to take his place. The key players behind Umbrella's bioweapons research had tried to keep him out of the loop, but only because he intimidated them, cowed them by the natural supremacy of his family name. Now they sent him regular reports, respectfully explaining the decisions they made on his behalf, making it clear that they would get in touch with him immediately if the need arose.
I suppose I should contact them, tell them what's happened....He'd always left those matters to his personal secretary, Robert Dorson, but Robert had left his service some weeks before to join the other prisoners, after expressing a bit too much curiosity about Alexia.
She was smiling at him now, her face glowing with understanding and adoration. Yes, she was so much better to him since her return to Rockfort, truly as devoted to him as he'd always been to her.
"You'll protect me, won't you," she said, not a question. "You'll find out who did this to us, and then show them what one gets for trying to destroy a legacy as powerful as ours."
Overcome with love, Alfred reached out to touch her but stopped short, all too aware that she didn't like physical contact. He nodded instead, some of his rage returning as he thought of someone trying to harm his beloved Alexia. Never, not as long as he lived, would he allow that to happen.
"Yes, Alexia," he said passionately. "I'll make them suffer, I swear it."
He could see in her eyes that she believed in him, and his heart filled with pride, just as his thoughts turned to the discovery of their enemy. An absolute hatred for Rockfort's assailants was growing inside of him, for the stain of weakness they had tried to paint on the Ashford name.
I'll teach them regret, Alexia, and they'll never forget the lesson.
His sister relied on him. Alfred would die before letting her down.
Copyright © 2001 by Capcom U.S.A., Inc.