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Resident Evil Legends Part Six - Escape From Raccoon City

Resident Evil Legends Part Six: Escape From Raccoon City

By Andreas Leachim

Shakespir Edition

Copyright 2016 Andreas Leachim

Cover art and design by Andreas Leachim

This is a work of fan fiction based on the Resident Evil video game series. All characters and names and related trademarks are the property of Capcom. The author of this work receives no financial compensation from it and does not seek to infringe upon Capcom’s copyrights in any way.

Chapter 1

 

Damascus Kelly crossed his arms and gazed out across the Arklay Mountains. He stood in one of the small offices on the second floor of the Arklay mansion and quietly watched the motionless wilderness. Occasionally, a stray breeze made the tree branches tremble, but other than that, the woods were still and silent. The sun was down but the sky was still a pale twilight blue, although it would be dark within half an hour.

There was nothing more that they could do. Most of the crew at the mansion was already evacuated, although a few scientists and soldiers still ran around, cleaning up the remaining equipment. In a couple of hours, they would be all be gone.

No matter what happened, Kelly knew that their work was far from over. Now, they were just waiting to see just what was going to happen, although the worst-case-scenario was the most likely one. It was for this reason that Kelly took a long look out across the Arklay wilderness; he was not certain that he would ever get the chance again.

There was a timid knock on the door, and Kelly just turned slightly, not bothering to look. One of the UBCF soldiers said, “We’re ready to remove the rest of the science team, sir. Do you want to leave now?”

“No,” he said. “I’ll leave with you.”

“Okay, sir. We’ll be ready in about an hour.”

Kelly returned his gaze to the view beyond the window. By now, there were Umbrella control units surrounding the entire Arklay region around Raccoon City. Probably three thousand troops were in place in a loose circle in a massive attempt to keep anything from escaping. A fleet of helicopters surveyed as much area as possible, and more troops were coming in all the time. Kelly had already heard reports of strange animals and infected creatures miles from the epicenter of the infection, which happened to be the Arklay mansion itself. But despite how rapidly the control teams had been established and how much ground they had to cover, by some miracle there were no reports of infection beyond the final perimeter.

A miracle, he thought. It might just qualify as a genuine miracle if they managed to contain the infection here in the city. In truth, Umbrella’s plans did not require complete containment, but it would make the next stage far easier to implement.

And for whatever happened afterward, there was a plan for that as well. Umbrella was already making moves, sending an army of lobbyists to the government on every level. Federal, state, and local politicians were already on the phone, government agencies were on the move, and a hundred fortunes were trading hands in secretive Washington back rooms. By the time worse came to worst, Umbrella would already have taken care of the most vocal opposition and started the most elaborate public relations campaign in modern history. When it was all over, Umbrella would come through relatively unscathed, or at least that was the plan.

Would it work? Kelly had no idea. But he knew that they had no choice. If they left things to play out on their own, the Umbrella Corporation would be destroyed and many of their highest ranking executives would be lucky not to get lynched in the street.

This was not just an environmental disaster, this was a new Holocaust. This made the Chernobyl disaster look like a small brush fire. Kelly felt a strange sense of importance, being right in the middle of it, knowing that he would witness first-hand the most terrible thing to ever happen on American soil.

He finally turned and walked out of the office, taking slow steps as he continued to be lost in his thoughts. There was too much here for one man to fully appreciate. Especially a man who had been awake as long as Kelly had.

In the main lobby, one of the UBCF soldiers came up to him. “Okay, sir. The science teams are on their way out.”

Kelly could hear the helicopters outside. “Has everything been loaded?”

“All the science equipment has. It’s all on its way to New York, as you requested. We’re still packing up the rest of the UBCF hardware.”

Kelly walked out the front doors and stood on the porch, taking a deep breath. It was getting chilly outside now that the sun was down. “Has Commander Ginovaef called in?”

“No, sir.”

“When did he last make contact?”

“Over an hour ago, sir. He called in to report he was going to collect a squad that was still in the city. They were supposed to take a city streetcar to the central command post, but they haven’t arrived.”

“Should they have arrived by now?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

Kelly nodded and waved the soldier away. “Okay. Tell me when you’re ready to leave.”

The soldier ran off, leaving Kelly alone with his thoughts again. Maybe once he was out of here, he could steal a few hours of sleep, but that was unlikely. He would probably have to stay awake all night.

Nicholai would have to take care of himself now, so Kelly hoped for his sake that he made it back to the central command post. If he ran into trouble, there was no one coming to his rescue. All missions back into the city were halted hours ago. The remaining UBCF troops were sent to the perimeter to help with the control teams.

The last incoming group had arrived some time ago, but Nicholai insisted on staying in the city to the very end. Kelly was admittedly impressed with Nicholai’s loyalty to the cause and dedication to the matter at hand, even though Kelly didn’t particularly like the UBCF Commander personally. But he also felt Nicholai was an arrogant fool for remaining in the city so long. He should be here at the mansion, overseeing the final evacuation.

Kelly watched as the soldiers loaded up whatever equipment they could. Hundreds of boxes and crates were taken from the lab to be sent to other facilities. Computers, files and folders, biological samples, corpses, chemical apparatus, security camera footage, paper records, infected hosts, a wide variety of scientific equipment, and even an extensive collection of artwork and sculpture from the mansion had already been taken, leaving little behind that was of any value. Pretty much the entire record of all the scientific work done at the lab was now on its way to other labs for analysis.

Whatever they didn’t take with them would be destroyed when they left. Kelly felt it was a shame to destroy such a beautiful building, but sadly, they could not transport the entire mansion with them. Kelly watched as several more helicopters took off and flew away.

“Sir,” a soldier called to him some time later. “We’re ready.”

Kelly walked over to one of the helicopters and glanced back at the mansion one final time. The building was empty and dark now, its electricity cut off. Its entire history would be erased, the evidence of everything that transpired here would be gone forever.

Any mysteries would be forever unsolved.

Kelly climbed into the last helicopter and buckled himself into a seat. As the rotors began to spin, he watched as the last soldier knelt down in the driveway and used a lighter to ignite a line of molotov cocktails on the pavement. He tossed them one by one through mansion windows, where they exploded into flame. The final cocktail was thrown inside the front door, where it ignited the gallons of gasoline poured there after Kelly went outside. A massive swirl of fire shot from the front doors like flames from an incinerator.

Kelly believed that he could feel the heat from where he was sitting. He sighed to himself and rested his head as the soldier got into the helicopter and it lifted into the air. The rotors scattered the thick black smoke pouring from the mansion in a dozen places, the bright orange light glittering off the edges of the sleek aircraft. Kelly watched the mansion burn as the helicopter flew away.

“I guess all we can do now is pray,” he said to himself.

The soldier seated next to him could not hear him because of the noise from the rotors. “What did you say, sir?” he asked loudly.

“Nothing,” Kelly shouted, and then, to himself again, “Nothing at all.”

Chapter 2

 

There was smoke in the air, making her eyes water, and a thick layer of dust, choking her lungs. She coughed weakly and tried to roll over, but something held her down. Muffled noises seemed to come from far away. She heard thumping, shuffling sounds, and the crackle of fire. She tried to focus, but her senses were blurred, as if she was awakening from surgery and was still woozy from the anesthetic. Slowly, with some effort, she tried to open her eyes.

All she could see was a side of a metal panel and a nearby pile of broken bricks and dirt. She reached out and felt the debris, as if testing to see if it was real. Her arms were covered in grayish dust and spotted with dried blood. She tried to sit up but was overcome with dizziness, and glanced down to see a thick metal pole and large streetcar seat pinning her legs to the ground.

Gradually, Jill Valentine realized where she was. The streetcar. The explosion. The crash. It all came back to her as a series of single, unconnected images, and she was motionless for a moment, trying to decipher the images into concrete memories.

She looked around more carefully as the cobwebs in her head drifted away, examining her surroundings. She was inside a derailed streetcar, which was now lying on its side. Tufts of grass and clumps of dirt stuck through the windows, which were now pressed against the ground. Directly above her were the windows on the other side, out of her reach. The doorway to the next car was in front of her, but was blocked by a section of crumbling wall.

She pushed against the seat on top of her legs, but it was jammed in place. She wiggled her feet and felt a surge of relief that her legs weren’t broken. In fact, she wasn’t injured as far as she could tell. She ran a hand across her face and it came away clean. There were spots of blood on her arms though, probably the result of tiny shards of glass during the crash. But being uninjured was a moot point if she couldn’t move.

She listened closely, hearing the thumping noises again. With a creeping sense of fear, she realized what the sound was. Random bumps, scratches, and groans. Jill’s heart began to beat faster and she was overcome with a sense of claustrophobia. She was trapped in the streetcar.

She pushed against the seat but couldn’t get any leverage against it. She began to panic as she saw flickers of flame drifting up above the windows where she could see. There was a fire burning nearby, and for all she knew it was going to ignite spilled oil or something and the whole streetcar would burst into flames. Her attempts to free herself became more frantic and hurried, but she couldn’t move the seat an inch.

She wanted to scream for help but didn’t dare. The zombies were probably everywhere and as long as she didn’t make any noise, maybe they wouldn’t know she was there.

“Please,” she dared whisper, trying to budge the seat to no avail.

When a gunshot rang out just on the other side of the streetcar, she almost screamed in fright. She gasped and cried out desperately, “Help me! Somebody! I can’t get out!”

There was the sound of someone, or something, climbing up the side of the streetcar, and Jill’s breath caught in her throat. A head popped into view directly above her, but it was too dark to see who it was.

“Help me,” she pleaded, staring up at the stranger.

“Okay, hold on. I’m coming down,” the person said.

It was the young Hispanic soldier Jill met earlier. She couldn’t remember his name. He swung his legs over the broken window and lowered himself into the streetcar, dropping down beside her. In the dim light, she saw a bloody smear across the side of his face and more blood on the front of his uniform.

“I’m stuck. I can’t move,” Jill said.

“Yeah, I know,” he said. “I tried to pull you out already. I had to go find something like this.” He held out a solid steel pipe about three feet long and jammed it under the seat that pinned Jill’s legs. He crouched down and pulled up, using the pipe as a lever to bend the metal frame. Jill pulled herself back and managed to slide a few inches. The soldier grunted and pulled harder, the seat lifting up slightly. It was enough for Jill to pull herself completely free, and she gasped with relief as she examined her legs, as if to make sure they weren’t broken. A few seconds later she managed to get onto her feet.

“Thank you,” she said gratefully.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s just go.”

“How many are out there?” Jill asked.

The soldier paused and said evasively, “There’s a lot of them. But it’s okay. We can still get out of here with no problem.”

There was more bumping and groaning outside the streetcar, as their voices attracted more unwanted attention. Jill patted her pocket where she had put her pistol, but the gun was gone. It must have come loose in the crash, but there was no finding it now. Jill didn’t want to go anywhere unarmed, and she stood there indecisively, glancing upward.

“We have to go,” the soldier said, holding out his hand. “There’s like a million of those things outside, and they’re gonna find a way in here if we don’t hurry.”

Jill buried her fear, as she had done a hundred times already today. The soldier lifted her up and she grabbed the edge of the window, and pulled herself up. She sat on the edge and froze in shock as she gazed out across the open area in front of the streetcar.

There was a grass yard about twenty yards long that sloped upward to the train tracks, and it was littered with debris and wreckage from the tremendous crash. Beyond that was the blocked intersection, with dozens of cars smashed and wrecked from the high-speed collision, some of them smashed flat and others knocked onto their sides. The front streetcar lay among the destroyed field of cars, also on its side. Numerous small fires burned here and there, sending plumes of smoke into the dark sky.

And in among all the wreckage, packed shoulder-to-shoulder from the tracks all the way to the streetcar where Jill sat, were hundreds of zombies. Maybe even more than a thousand. They surged forward like a violent crowd at a rock concert, more than Jill had ever seen packed into one place. It was like a moving ocean of the undead, spreading back almost as far as she could see.

Jill quickly started to climb down the other side, which faced the building they had crashed into. The streetcar was lying half inside the building and half outside, and all the zombies were stuck on the outside, unable to get past the car. The inside of the building looked safe.

She reached into the streetcar and helped the soldier climb out as well. Together, they climbed off the streetcar and into the building. The lights were on inside, revealing a bright hardwood floor and beautiful wooden support beams to the high ceiling. They were in a central lobby area, and Jill saw several doors on the other side that led to smaller side rooms.

The building was a church. Jill spied a large white cross on the wall in the front of the lobby, and smaller pictures on the walls were of religious figures like the Virgin Mary. Sadly, even a church was not safe for them.

“I’m sorry,” she said to the soldier. “I don’t remember your name.”

“Carlos Oliveira,” he answered. “You said your name is Jill, right?”

“Yes, Jill Valentine.”

Carlos picked up his assault rifle, which he had left sitting on the floor when he went to help Jill. He held it in both hands, one finger resting against the trigger, aiming it in front of them. “Pleased to meet you, Miss Valentine,” he said with a youthful grin.

Jill was too tired to smile back, but she did reach out to touch the blood on his face. “Are you hurt badly? Maybe we can find some bandages or something.”

“No, it’s okay,” he said. “It was just a little cut. It stopped bleeding already.”

“Okay. Do you have another gun, by any chance? I lost mine.”

“No, just this.”

“How much ammo do you have?”

“One clip,” Carlos said with a shrug.

“That’s not going to be enough,” Jill said slowly.

“It better be enough,” Carlos said with a not-quite-convincing smile. “Cause it’s all we got. I don’t think we’re gonna find more.”

Jill looked around the building, futilely hoping that maybe they were safe here and wouldn’t have to go outside. But she already knew that they weren’t safe. Nowhere was safe, because the zombies always found their way in. The only option was to try to get past the zombies and escape that way. If they stayed in this building, they were just going to be trapped here. Jill was somewhat relieved that Carlos understood this as well.

“The zombies are only on that side,” he said, pointing at the streetcar. “They aren’t really on the other side of the building at all. But if we wait here, they’re gonna surround the place.”

“You’re right,” Jill said. “I’m just … I’m so tired of all this.”

“You made it this far, right?” Carlos said.

Jill nodded.

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I wanna get the hell out of this place. I don’t wanna stay here another minute. I don’t want to die in this stupid city.”

“I tried to get out of the city already,” Jill said. “But the roads are all blocked.”

“Do you know how to get to the park? Our main command station is there, and they have helicopters. If we can get there, we can get out of the city that way.”

It was the first time all day that Jill had actually been given a specific plan. All day, she’d been just running from one place to the next with no clear goal in place, just trying to find a safe location or at the least, a place to rest. The thought of actually getting out of the city for good was enough for her. They had a goal in sight now, something for her to focus on.

“Okay,” she said. “Lead the way. You’re the one with the gun.”

Carlos went to the doors at the end of the lobby and carefully opened them up. Outside was a wide rear yard, fenced in with a high brick wall. A stone walkway led from the doors out to a metal gate, and the walkway was lined with bushes and small trees. Together, Carlos and Jill crept outside, but there were no zombies, as the brick wall effectively kept them outside.

“Looks pretty safe,” Jill said.

Carlos went out first, his rifle aimed forward, the stock pressed against his shoulder. Wherever he looked, the gun was aimed. Jill came out after him and they walked out into the open.

Along the side of the walkway was a large propane grill and behind that was a line of red picnic tables. Jill imagined that the churchgoers had barbecues and cookouts during the summer, but right now the grill was closed up and the picnic tables were empty, since it was getting late in the year for grilling. She wondered if any of the people who attended this church were still alive, but quickly abandoned that line of thought.

“Come on,” Carlos said. “We can jump the wall. I don’t think there are any zombies over here.”

“Okay,” Jill said. “Help me up and I’ll see if I can –”

Before she could finish the sentence, there was a terribly familiar sound, a deafening roar coming from far on the other side of the yard and echoing across the front of the building. A hideous, inhuman scream. Jill spun around and backed up into the wall, her heart pounding in her chest.

Carlos jerked the gun up and swung it back and forth in the direction of the sound. “What was that?! Is it that monster thing again?” he demanded to know.

“Yes! It’s coming after us again!”

“I though we killed that thing!”

“I don’t know how to kill it! It keeps coming back!”

Suddenly, the creature appeared as it jumped from behind the brick wall and soared into the air, landing with a trembling thud in the middle of the yard, its huge feet making indentations in the soft grass. It stood upright and clenched its monstrous fists, appearing like a creature from her deepest nightmares.

Part of its long black trenchcoat was burned away from the explosion, revealing a bulging shoulder colored sickly grayish pink. No clear muscle mass, just a twisted lump of flesh growing out of the jagged hole. Its face was seared and scorched, its large yellow eye seeming to glow in the twilight, its twisted mouth a gaping sore revealing sharp teeth and red gums.

Oh dios mio,” Carlos whispered, backing up.

“Shoot it!” Jill screamed.

The creature stared right at her and hunched forward to scream again, flecks of gray saliva spitting from its crooked mouth as it bellowed its hatred, the sound reaching into Jill’s chest and squeezing her heart with a hand of ice. She gasped for breath and pushed back into the wall.

Carlos remained still but did not open fire. They both already knew what effect bullets had on the creature. Carlos’s teammates had riddled it with bullets back on the streetcar, only to be brutally killed moments later. One single clip of bullets would hardly slow the monster down.

“Shoot it!” Jill cried out again. “Please do something!”

The monster stalked forward, swatting aside the trees and bushes in its way. It stomped to the walkway and took one leaping stride toward them.

Carlos squeezed the trigger. But he didn’t aim at the monster. He squeezed off a single burst of gunfire, and his bullets struck the large tank on the back of the propane grill. There was a sudden whoosh of escaping gas and then a spark, and the entire grill exploded in a stunning fireball. A flash of tremendous heat and a swirling ball of fire shot into the sky, knocking both Carlos and Jill to the ground.

The monster was blown off its feet and hurled through the air, flipping over like a rag doll and crashing limply to the ground, the side of its massive body charred and smoking, bits of fire burning on its tattered coat. It lay motionless, its huge arms and legs in random directions, a twisted chunk of metal from the grill embedded in the center of its torso.

Jill stood up, staring at the burning remains of the grill in awe and then at the smoking body of the creature. Carlos stood as well and lowered his rifle.

“I didn’t think that was gonna work,” he said quietly.

“It’s not going to stay down,” Jill said. “We have to go now, before it gets back up.”

“Look at it,” Carlos said. “It’s dead, it’s got to be.”

“Trust me, I’ve already killed it twice today, and it came back each time. I don’t think it’s possible to kill it.”

Just as Carlos said, there were no zombies waiting for them across the wall. Attracted by the crash, all of the zombies congregated on the other side of the church, and so far none of them had wandered to this side. Jill sat atop the wall and helped Carlos up, and then they jumped down to the other side and took off across the street.

Streetlights illuminated the barren avenues as they ran away from the church and the enormous crowd of zombies beyond it. They ran down the center of the street, avoiding the sidewalks and nearby buildings. Carlos scanned the left and right, his assault rifle always pointing forward. Jill, desperately wishing she was carrying a gun, followed closely behind him.

“We have to find a car,” she said. “The city park is miles from here.”

“You know the way there, right?”

“Yes, but won’t make it there on foot. We need a car.”

They continued down the street, passing a few abandoned cars without keys. Jill felt horribly exposed out in the open, and kept glancing over her shoulder every few steps, constantly checking to see if the monster was coming after them.

Chapter 3

 

Claire Redfield didn’t know how long they had been walking, but it felt like they had traveled through miles and miles of underground maintenance tunnels. She didn’t even smell the lingering odor of sewage anymore, and she began to wonder if they were ever going to find their way out. But she didn’t say so, for young Sherry’s sake if for no other reason.

Sherry remained silent for most of their trek through the sewer system of Raccoon City, holding Claire’s hand as they walked, only occasionally making a comment or asking a question. Claire wondered how Sherry was handling the situation, since she didn’t have much experience with children. Sherry seemed outwardly fine, or at least she didn’t seem like she was freaking out or in the middle of a nervous breakdown. She just kept quiet most of the time, and Claire really couldn’t blame her for that. The poor girl had probably gone through emotional trauma much worse than Claire’s, and she was handling herself better than Claire expected. If Claire experienced something like this at Sherry’s age, she didn’t know if she could live with it at all.

A few steps ahead of them, Leon walked at a steady pace. He held his pistol at the ready, aimed at the floor but ready to raise it in an instant. He had walked like that the entire time they’d been down here, even though Claire had shouldered her shotgun long ago. There were no zombies down here at all, but Leon didn’t seem to want to take any chances. He moved down the tunnel like a police officer following a suspect, his eyes darting into every corner, ready to whip the gun up at a moment’s notice.

Claire wondered if she’d be alive right now if she hadn’t met Leon. Now that she had time to think about all that had happened, she realized how much he had done for her. At the very least, she knew that she wouldn’t have made it to the police station so easily, since it was Leon’s idea to get the car. It was Leon’s idea to sneak around to a side door, when Claire would have tried the front door. And when they ran into that first dog-like monster, Leon nearly got himself killed while allowing Claire to escape. And that wasn’t the only time he put himself in danger, Claire knew. He had saved her life more than once.

She didn’t really know him at all, though. In the short time she’d known him, they didn’t exactly have much time to talk about themselves. She didn’t know what Leon did for a living, where he lived, or anything else about him. She didn’t even know his last name.

But she knew that he was a good person. Most people, even good people, would not have acted so bravely and selflessly in the face of mortal danger. But Leon barely even hesitated before trying to save someone. He seemed like the kind of person who would run into a burning building just in case there was someone trapped inside.

If they made it out of here alive, Claire reminded herself to thank him. But right now, Leon didn’t seem like he needed or expected her thanks. He was just doing what he felt he had to do.

They walked down a short, wide tunnel with brick walls and a low, arched ceiling that was lined with metal pipes. Old electric lights, half of them burned out, occasionally dotted the walls. But some of the areas they traveled through had no lights at all, so Leon and Claire both carried old-fashioned oil lanterns that they found in one of the many disused storage rooms down here. The lanterns were covered in dust and cobwebs, but the small canisters of oil were still good.

“Claire, I’m tired,” Sherry said suddenly.

They stopped for a moment, at an intersection between two dusty hallways, one of them continuing forward and the other cutting off to the left. There were no lights down that way, so Leon lit his lantern and shined the light down the corridor, revealing nothing.

Sherry sat down on the ground with a weary look on her young face, her shoulders slumping down in exhaustion. Claire knelt down beside her and said, “I think we can rest for a little while. We’re safe here, for now.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” Leon commented, looking down the dark hallway to their left. “But I think we can stay here for a bit so we can catch our breath.”

“I’m hungry too,” Sherry said. “You wouldn’t happen to have a candy bar, would you?”

Claire chuckled and rested her hand on Sherry’s shoulder. “Sorry, kiddo. I’m all out of candy bars.”

“Okay then, I guess I’ll have a sandwich instead.”

Leon smiled down at her. “I’ll buy you a pizza once we get back up to the city. How about that? You like pizza?”

“Yeah,” Sherry said. “But my parents don’t let me get pizza very much.” At the mention of her parents, Sherry’s smile faded. But she just sighed and added, “I don’t think they’ll mind this time, though.”

“When we get out of here, we’ll have a big pizza party, okay?” Claire said. “You and your parents can come, and I’ll invite my brother Chris too. That way you’ll get to meet him.”

“Oh, that reminds me,” Leon said. “I have some good news. Your brother isn’t in the city at all. He left a few days ago. In all the excitement, I forgot to tell you.”

“I know,” Claire said happily. “I found that out too. But how did you find out?”

“I ran into the Chief of Police,” Leon explained. “He told me that your brother left Raccoon City a few days ago. It looks like you didn’t have to come here at all.”

“You talked with Irons?” Claire asked incredulously. “You mean he’s alive?”

“He was alive. But he … he didn’t make it,” Leon said vaguely. “And he told me some other stuff as well. He told me how this whole epidemic happened.”

“What did he say?”

“He said that the disease that infected the city was created in a lab up in the mountains. It was some kind of research facility owned by the Umbrella Corporation.”

“Umbrella?” Sherry asked. “That’s where my parents work.”

“Really?” Claire asked.

“Yeah. They’re scientists, but they work here in the city. They don’t work in the mountains, so I don’t think they had anything to do with that disease.”

“Don’t worry, Sherry,” Claire said supportively. “Umbrella probably has thousands of people working for them. I’m sure your parents didn’t have anything to do with it.”

Sherry shrugged and looked away. Claire felt the urge to ask what was on her mind, but decided not to. She felt it was better to let Sherry talk when she was ready. She would be more willing to open up once they were safe.

Letting Sherry be alone for a moment, Claire walked over to Leon, who was staring down the long corridor. “How are you holding up?” he asked her.

Claire crossed her arms and shrugged. “I’m okay, I guess. How long do you think it will take to get back up to the surface? It feels like we’ve been walking for hours. My legs hurt.”

“I thought we could find an open ladder or some kind of access hatch,” Leon said, a trace of frustration creeping into his voice for the first time. “Awhile ago, we passed some circular doors up in the ceiling, but I couldn’t figure out how to open them. I’m pretty sure they led up to the city.”

“Well, there’s got to be another way,” Claire said. “How else did city workers get down here? They certainly didn’t walk all that way.”

“We just have to keep looking, I guess.”

Behind them, Sherry rested her head against the wall and sighed again, looking up at the grimy ceiling. Her stomach rumbled, and she couldn’t even remember the last time she’d eaten. All the talk about food just made her hungrier.

She heard a distinct clicking noise, and her head jerked down. Directly ahead of her, the other hallway loomed threateningly, a mouth of darkness just a few yards away from her. She squinted, but her eyes could not penetrate the darkness, and just when she thought she had merely imagined it, she heard the clicking noise again.

“Claire?” she asked nervously.

“Yes, Sherry?”

“I think I heard something.”

Leon stepped forward and stood in front of her, raising his lantern again, its scattered yellow light piercing the inky blackness of the adjacent hallway. Leon held the lantern out with one hand, his pistol in the other. Sherry stood up and Claire led her away, neither of them glancing away from the corridor.

Leon took a cautious step forward, sending his light just a few inches deeper into the gloom. He heard it then, a clicking sound, like the sound of animal claws tapping on a tile floor, the sound making the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Deep in the darkness of the hallway, he saw a glint of something reflect in the light of the lantern, but it was gone before he got a good look at it.

“Let’s go,” he ordered. “Let’s go right now.”

Claire and Sherry quickly walked away, and just as Leon stepped back to follow them, he heard a rapid scurrying, and dropped his lantern to take hold of his gun on both hands. Before he could even see what was there, he pulled the trigger, the gunshot echoing loudly in the cramped corridor, the flash from the barrel illuminating the hallway for a split-second, just long enough to fully reveal what was coming.

“Run!” he screamed, and immediately took off after them. Claire grabbed Sherry’s hand and they ran ahead of him, but Claire dared glance behind her as her hair whipped across her face.

Behind Leon, enormous shapes burst out into the hallway, emerging into the light like creatures out of a nightmare, scraping and clawing across the brick walls with huge legs and swarming after them like a flood.

Spiders – gigantic spiders – with huge hairy bodies and bright glowing eyes. Half a dozen of them, each the size of an office desk, skittering after them on eight massive legs, their front mandibles snapping open and closed, dripping venom. They were so large, and the corridor so narrow, that they squeezed into each other, completely filling the hall, as if they were morphing together to form one gigantic creature.

Claire managed to slide her shotgun off her shoulder as she ran and carried it in her free hand, pulling Sherry along with her other one. Sherry shrieked in terror, desperately trying to keep up with her.

“Ahead of you!” Leon cried. “Look out!”

Claire gasped in fright as they reached the end of the tunnel. It appeared to just end in nothingness, like a road with the bridge out. She skidded to a stop and stared out across a rickety wooden railing at a huge open pit that led down into darkness, hundreds of feet below. Along all four walls, the ends of huge pipes stuck out and spilled waste water and slime from above, into the gaping abyss. Light filtered down from high above, and the walls of the enormous pit seemed to glow a ghostly blue.

A narrow wooden staircase was attached to the side of the pit, leading up to another hallway up and off to her right. Claire quickly ran up the shaky steps, her feet almost slipping on a coating of grime on the wooden boards, Sherry close behind her. The wood creaked and groaned, and Claire just prayed the stairs didn’t collapse. Leon appeared seconds later and followed them up, the entire staircase trembling with their combined weights. The stairs went to the corner and continued at a right angle up to the next section.

Leon took a step onto a rotted wooden board and his foot smashed right through. The stairs buckled as he crashed through the old wood, grabbing onto the sides desperately, his legs dangling above the bottomless pit below. Chunks of broken wood tumbled down into nothingness, fluttering into darkness like loose scraps of paper.

Sherry screamed and stopped in her tracks, too scared to go forward and too scared to run back for him. Claire moved her out of the way and brought the shotgun to her shoulder. As the huge spiders emerged into the pit and the first one scrambled along the stairs after Leon’s helpless body, Claire opened fire.

The shotgun boomed loudly and the spider’s body cracked in half, splattering green ooze across the wall. The top half , legs twitching wildly, teetered over the edge and fell into the pit. Claire racked another shell in and fired again as another spider came after it.

When Sherry tried to go after Leon, he cried out, “No, don’t! Your weight might bring the whole thing down!”

Even as he spoke, the stairs cracked loudly and the huge bolts attaching the wooden frame to the wall began to slide out. Leon hauled himself up carefully, trying not to shake the steps too much, even as more spiders jumped after him. He managed to get one leg up, as Claire’s shotgun blasted one spider after another, blowing their bodies apart. He pulled himself up and climbed across the remaining steps on his hands and knees.

“There’s too many of them!” Claire screamed.

Leon glanced back and saw more spiders coming out of the hallway, far too many for them to kill. There must have been fifty of the monsters hiding out in that dark hallway, and now they were coming out like a swarm.

Leon stumbled to where Claire and Sherry were standing, and yanked the shotgun out of Claire’s hand. He swung it forward and fired directly at the metal bolts holding the stairs in place. The wood disintegrated, and the entire frame creaked forward and broke right in half, sending the top portion plummeting down into the abyss, taking a couple of spiders along with it. The rest of them scurried across the bottom section, unable to reach the higher platform where their prey stood.

Sherry grabbed Leon and buried her face in his jacket, crying uncontrollably. “Oh God, oh God, I thought you were going to die! I thought you died!”

“Come on,” Leon said urgently. “Let’s go!”

Even as he spoke, the spiders seemed to hesitate, and then they began to crawl right up the side of the wall, their huge bodies defying gravity as they ascended vertically upward and then across the gap where the stairs used to be.

“Jesus Christ,” Leon swore.

Claire didn’t believe her own eyes. It was impossible, simply impossible. Her feet felt frozen to the floor. Leon grabbed Sherry and hoisted her up onto his shoulder and then grabbed Claire’s arm, shaking her from her panic.

They ran full speed down the hallway, with Leon carrying Sherry, her body bouncing up and down on his shoulder, staring in horror behind them as the spiders made it across the gap and reached the entrance to the corridor. She screamed for them to hurry, and Leon ran even faster, leaving Claire a few steps behind, trying to keep up.

Up ahead of them, the corridor ended in a T-intersection and Leon ran to the right without even slowing down. Claire prayed that he made the right decision, but as soon as she followed him, she cried out in desperation. Her heart pounded and her lungs burned with the exertion, and she knew she couldn’t keep running like this forever. Sooner or later, she would slow down or fall, and then the spiders would catch her.

The hallway was barely lit at all, with just a few random lights still working, casting long shadows down the entire length of the tunnel. And far at the end, Claire glimpsed a rusty metal door. It was the only way out.

Leon swung the shotgun up, racked a shell with his free hand, and fired at the door without even slowing down. The door shuddered and the handle blasted apart into chucks of metal. He ran up and kicked the door open and jumped into the room beyond, with Claire only a few footsteps behind him. She flew into the room as Leon slammed the door shut right behind her. Then she spun around and both of them pushed against the door.

Moments later, the spiders reached it and began scratching and pushing. But thankfully, the spiders couldn’t push on the door with much force, so holding it closed was relatively easy. Leon pressed his foot against the bottom of the door and allowed his arms to slip down as he fought to catch his breath. Claire was too scared to let go, and continued to push against the door with all her might. The spiders squirmed on the other side, their mandibles clacking, their hairy bodies rubbing against the door as they tried to push it open.

Inside the room, it was pitch dark and they couldn’t see their surroundings. “Sherry,” Leon said, still panting for breath. “You have to light the lamp and see where we are. We need something to block the door with.”

Claire’s lantern was tied to her belt, and it somehow had not fallen off during their frantic escape. Sherry fumbled in the dark with the small canister of oil and the lighter to get the lantern lit, and it took her a few minutes to figure it out.

The room came into view as Sherry increased the oil flow, and they discovered that they were inside a tiny supply room with a couple of rusty metal shelves and a long wooden work table. The room was barely ten feet square, and would have been a complete dead end with no way out, except for one thing.

The side wall was completely gone, the floor littered with crumbled brick and debris, and the gaping hole led to a tunnel carved directly into the dirt and rock on the other side of the wall. Sherry held up the lantern and stepped over to the hole, but the tunnel headed off at an angle and all she could see was about fifteen feet of roughly-carved tunnel, with dirt and chunks of rock all over the floor.

“Where does it lead?” Claire asked.

“I guess we’ll find out,” Leon said

Claire stood aside as Leon pushed over one of the metal shelves in front of the door. It was not very sturdy, and would not hold against a strong push on the other side, but the spiders could not easily to push the door open, so the shelves were enough to hold it closed.

“This is really weird,” Sherry said, her voice still a bit unsteady. “It looks like someone was digging a new tunnel and broke through into this room.”

“Why would anyone be digging down here?” Claire asked. “Do you think it was the subway project or something?”

Leon looked into the tunnel. “Maybe, I guess. It doesn’t make much sense though. If it was some kind of city project, they would have known about the sewer tunnels. They wouldn’t have just accidentally broken through here.”

“Maybe they were connecting this section with another area?”

“It’s possible,” Leon said with a shrug. He checked the shotgun and frowned, shaking his head disappointedly. “We have three shells left. And I only have a few bullets left in the pistol. Somehow I don’t think we’re going to find more ammunition down here, so we better hope we don’t run into anything else.”

“Are we going in there?” Sherry asked uncertainly.

Leon handed the shotgun back to Claire and then drew his pistol again. He walked to the edge of the broken wall, on the threshold of the dirt tunnel.

“I don’t think we have much choice.”

Chapter 4

 

Blood dripped down the side of Nicholai’s face, and he wiped it away with a careless motion of his hand, making sure not to make any noise. He peeked out through a crack in the metal doorway of the streetcar and grimaced.

The streetcar was on its side, the windows all smashed, glass scattered everywhere. The entire front end was caved in like a tin can from the initial impact with the parked cars, and the dead bodies of the two soldiers who had been driving the streetcar were mangled in with the wreckage. Nicholai ignored the corpses and peeked out again at the area outside the streetcar.

It swarmed with zombies. Dozens of them meandered around just on the other side, only a bent up sheet of metal between Nicholai and the undead. He guessed that there were many more than just the ones he could see.

The only good thing was the streetcar’s position among the wreckage of the blocked street. There were cars everywhere, which gave Nicholai an idea about how to escape. He stepped over to the middle of the streetcar and knelt down in front of the other surviving member of the UBCF team.

“I am leaving,” he whispered very softly. “You can come with me or stay here.”

The soldier’s name was Yuri, although Nicholai didn’t really care who he was. He was a Russian, like the dead Captain Mikhail. He sat on the ground, cradling an obviously broken arm, his face contorted in pain, beads of sweat on his forehead. He nodded, gritting his teeth in pain, and whispered back. “I’m not staying here. What is your plan?”

“We climb out the top and use the cars around us. We jump from car to car. The infected ones will not be able to reach us if we are very lucky.”

“We have not been lucky so far,” Yuri grunted.

“You are wrong,” Nicholai said simply. “We are lucky to still be alive.”

He helped Yuri to his feet, although he harbored no illusions about the wounded soldier’s chances of survival. Even healthy, the odds were low. But with a broken arm, his chances were virtually nil. Nicholai did not care either way, but he would try to take Yuri with him if possible. But if Yuri slowed him down, then he was on his own.

Working silently, he used straps from the dead soldiers’ gear to tie Yuri’s shattered arm securely to his torso, allowing him to move somewhat freely. Yuri whimpered a bit, but did his best to ignore the pain.

Suddenly, there was a burst of gunfire nearby, followed almost immediately by a thundering explosion. Yuri’s head jerked to the side in surprise, but Nicholai merely glanced in the direction of the sound.

“Come on. Now is our chance.”

Nicholai jumped up and grabbed onto the edge of a broken window, hauling himself up with a grunt. Now that he viewed the area from a better vantage point, he realized just how many zombies there actually were, and it was more than he had feared. It was too late to stop now. The zombies all had their attention focused in the direction of the explosion, and for the moment they did not see him. He had an assault rifle strapped over his shoulder and a Desert Eagle at his hip, but he dared not waste any ammo so soon. He knew he would need it later.

He reached down, grabbed Yuri’s outstretched hand, and then lifted him up. When Yuri perched himself on the edge of the window, Nicholai let go and let him get up on his own. Yuri’s face fell when he saw how many zombies there were, but he said nothing.

“This way,” Nicholai said.

He leaped off and landed on the hood of a smashed-up pickup truck leaning against the streetcar. Immediately, the zombies saw him and converged around the truck, but Nicholai quickly stepped onto the roof, where the zombies could not reach. Yuri jumped down after him and nearly lost his balance when he landed, with only one arm to steady himself.

Nicholai did not wait for him. He jumped off the truck onto a sedan nearby, quickly running across the roof and leaping onto another car, with a mob of zombies right underneath his feet, grabbing at his boots as he ran across the cars.

Yuri jumped after him and made it onto the second car, but lost his balance and fell down, sliding halfway down the hood of the car. He cried out in pain as he fell onto his broken arm, and fumbled with his free hand to grab onto the upper edge of the windshield.

Zombies surged around the car and grabbed Yuri’s legs. They pulled at him and tried to bite his legs, but he managed to kick them away.

“Nicholai!” he begged. “Please!”

Nicholai gave him one final, emotionless glance, and jumped to another car. He hopped across the hood and roof and jumped across to the back of another pickup truck. Zombies stuck out their arms to grab him but their bloody fingers only snatched at empty air.

Behind him, he heard Yuri screaming. He continued onward, leaping from roof to roof, avoiding the zombies clawing hands. They scratched at his boots and pawed hungrily at his pants legs, but could not grab him. He glanced back once, to see Yuri frantically kicking away the hordes of zombies that surrounded the car, grabbing and biting at his legs. He lost his grip and was pulled off the hood, screaming hysterically.

When he made it past the largest crowds of undead, Nicholai jumped to the ground and drew his assault rifle, bracing it against his shoulder. The crashed streetcar was fifty yards away by now, and the huge crowds of zombies were mostly behind him, although a few random zombies remained. Nicholai ignored them and started running along the street, parallel to the streetcar tracks.

Once he made it completely past the zombies, he crossed the open area back to the tracks. At this point, few options remained other than to travel all the way back to the streetcar station, where his helicopter was still parked. It was low on fuel, but hopefully there was enough to make one last trip to the city park.

Nicholai ran along the tracks, leaving the destruction behind. Far behind him, Yuri finally stopped screaming.

Chapter 5

 

“So what do you know about all this?” Jill asked she jogged down the street. So far, she and Carlos had traveled about twenty blocks without any problems, keeping to the middle of the street and avoiding any suspicious areas. They passed through a residential neighborhood, and Jill expected zombies to jump out from behind every bush, every fence, and every parked car, but so far they had not encountered anything. They were still a long ways from the city park, though.

“About what?” Carlos asked. “You mean how the city got infected?”

“Yeah, what have they told you?”

“They don’t tell us much. They just said there was a biological contamination. I didn’t know anything at all until we were on the chopper on our way into the city. They just dropped us in here and told us to look for survivors.”

“Well, you know that Umbrella is responsible for this, don’t you?”

Carlos shrugged. “Well, yeah. I kind of figured that.”

“Doesn’t that bother you? I mean, you work for them, don’t you?”

Carlos laughed shortly and glanced down another street, catching a glimpse of a few zombies standing in the middle of the avenue halfway down the street. He raised his gun briefly, but didn’t bother to take aim. “I’m just a soldier, lady. I don’t know anything about Umbrella. All I know is that they wanted to hire me to be a soldier, so I took the job.”

“So it doesn’t bother you at all?” Jill asked, an edge to her voice.

“Hey, I didn’t have anything to do with this,” Carlos said defensively. “My job is to protect people, all right? I’m not a scientist, I don’t know anything about what Umbrella does in their labs and stuff. I’m just a soldier.”

“And you work for them,” Jill said insistently. “You work for the exact same people who did all of this! Thousands of people are dead here, Carlos, and Umbrella is to blame for it. And you don’t even care? You just work for them anyway?”

Carlos stopped in the middle of an intersection and put his hands on his hips, shaking his head and looking around as he caught his breath. “You wanna say something to me?” he asked, annoyed. “Go ahead and just say it, all right?”

“I’m sorry. I’m not trying to blame you for this,” Jill said carefully. “But Umbrella’s responsible for this whole disaster, and if you work for them, then you’re a part of the problem too. Don’t just say that it’s not your fault. You knew that Umbrella caused this disaster, so you know what they’re capable of.”

“So what do you expect me to do?” Carlos asked. “I can’t control what Umbrella does, I can’t stop them from doing bad things.”

“But you still work for them! If you just ignore the illegal things Umbrella does, then you might as well be letting it happen!”

“Oh, is that how it is?” Carlos asked mockingly, coming forward. “I’m just letting this all happen, huh? Well, what about you? You’re a cop, right?”

“Yes. What does that have to do with anything?”

“What would you do if you found out that some of the other cops you work with were breaking the law? Like they were corrupt cops or something. What would you do?”

“I’d report them,” Jill said forcefully. “I’d tell my superiors, I’d tell everyone. I’d make sure that any officers breaking the law were caught.”

“But you wouldn’t stop being a cop, right? You wouldn’t just quit working there, would you? Just because some of the people you work with were doing bad things doesn’t mean you have to stop working there.”

“Well, no, but that’s not the same thing.”

“It’s exactly the same thing,” Carlos said, pointing at her. “If you know that your company is doing bad things, then you just work even harder to make it right. You don’t just give up. You don’t quit being a cop because some other cops are corrupt. And I’m not gonna stop being a soldier just cause some scientists broke the law.”

He lowered his arm and took a deep breath. Jill said nothing, realizing that in his own way, Carlos had a point. She suddenly felt bad for yelling at him, for accusing him of being party to the crimes committed by his employers. But she couldn’t reconcile that with the fact that he still willingly worked for them. Surely, he couldn’t compare himself to a clean cop in a corrupt precinct, because he wasn’t telling the truth about Umbrella, he wasn’t trying to reveal their crimes to the public.

“I’m just trying to do the right thing,” he said, as if to himself. He gazed down the dark street, the barrel of his gun resting on the ground. “If I quit working for them, they’d just replace me with someone else. And nothing I could say would change anything. You think I could just talk to a newspaper about Umbrella and everything would be okay? You really think people haven’t done that already?”

“What do you mean?” Jill asked.

“Umbrella is too big,” Carlos said. “I’ve been all over the world. And Umbrella is everywhere. There are places in the world where Umbrella owns the government. Did you know that? You think a company that big and powerful is gonna let some punk like me get in their way? I could tell a newspaper everything I know, and it wouldn’t change a thing. They’d pay the newspaper to bury the story. Or they’d pay the government to ignore it. Nobody would listen.”

“But that doesn’t mean you have to just accept it,” Jill said. “If you don’t believe in what Umbrella does, then you shouldn’t be working for them.”

“But what would that accomplish?” Carlos asked. “Umbrella would still do whatever they want, and I’d be out of a job.”

Jill shook her head, trying to explain. But as she thought about it, she found that none of her arguments really held water. In a way, Carlos’ comparison with Jill’s work as a police officer was an apt one. If Jill encountered corruption in the police force, she would not quit her job either, because if she quit, then she truly would be letting it happen. If she really wanted to stop it, she would have to keep working.

“There are lots of good people that work for Umbrella,” Carlos said. “Mikhail was a good person.”

“Yes,” Jill said. “He was. I didn’t know him very well, but I believe you.”

“You see what I mean, then?” Carlos asked. “If Umbrella breaks the law, if they do bad things, then good people have to keep working there. They have to …” he fumbled with his words, his English slipping.

“They have to try to limit the damage that Umbrella does,” Jill answered for him. She understood what Carlos meant now, even if she didn’t completely agree with it.

“Yes. If all the good people quit, then no one would ever try to fix the problems. If there were no good people, they wouldn’t have even sent us here to rescue anyone.”

“Okay,” Jill said. “Maybe you’re right. But I think we’ll talk about this again later.”

“Sure thing,” Carlos said. “If we make it out of here alive.”

A zombie shuffled out from behind a nearby house, attracted by their voices. It was an overweight man wearing a pair of bloody sweatpants and no shirt. Chunks of flesh were missing from his chest and stomach. He was too far away to be a threat to them, but Carlos raised his rifle and sighed as he took aim.

Jill put her hand on the gun. “Don’t bother. We might need the ammo later.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” He looked over her shoulder and his expression hardened. “There’s another one,” he said.

Jill turned to see another zombie coming toward them. It was a child, a young girl wearing a frilly pink dress. She wore one pink shoe, her other foot bare. She gaped at them, most of her left cheek torn away, spattering blood down the front of her dress. Her blonde hair was dotted with gore as well.

Jill looked at the girl and felt nauseous. She had seen a few zombie children today, but she hadn’t really looked closely at any of them. She hadn’t taken the time to think about it.

The girl looked like her parents had just finished dressing her for kindergarten. Jill wondered what had happened, her stomach turning as she thought about it. The girl’s parents probably turned first and then attacked their own child. Jill couldn’t even imagine what the girl’s final moments must have been like.

Carlos looked at Jill, and then raised his gun. This time Jill didn’t stop him, and he pulled the trigger. The gun boomed loudly, the sound a sudden shock in the unnatural silence of the empty street. The back of the girl’s head blew out with a crack, and her limp body tumbled to the sidewalk.

“We should keep moving,” Jill said softly.

“When we first came here today, I tried to save a little kid,” Carlos said. “He was in the very first house I checked out. His parents were infected, so I shot them. But when I tried to take the kid out of the house, there were more zombies outside, you know? There were too many of them, and the kid ran away from me cause he was scared. I didn’t have time to go back for him.”

“It’s okay,” Jill said, knowing that it was a lie.

“He’s probably a zombie now. I tried to save him, I mean I wanted to, but I … I wasn’t able to. He ran away from me.”

“I’ve tried to save people too,” Jill said, putting her hand on his arm. “And I wasn’t able to save them either. You’re not the only one.”

“I know. But he was just a little kid.”

Together, they walked off down the middle of the street, a half dozen zombies slowly wandering after them, but Jill and Carlos kept ahead of them and continued to make their way through the city on their way to the park.

Chapter 6

 

Ada Wong had no idea where she was headed, but she kept going anyway, since she had little choice in the matter. She hurried down the long, dimly-lit underground corridor, hoping that she was still following the other survivors, glancing over her shoulder regularly. She dared not slow down now, and could only hope that she found a staircase or a ladder that would take her to the surface.

She was loaded for bear, carrying a shotgun, two pistols, and a grenade launcher. In addition to her weapons, she also carried some other supplies she picked up in a storage room. A small oil lantern, a long coil of rope, and a heavy industrial razor knife. The rope and her grenade launcher thumped rhythmically against her shoulder as she ran down the hall.

For more than an hour now, she’d been traveling through dark hallways, musty corridors, and long-abandoned sewer tunnels. She kept a steady pace, but so far had not caught up with the other survivor, whatever his name was. She didn’t really want to catch up to him, if she had to be honest, since she already abandoned him once before and he might have taken it personally. He wasn’t alone, either, since Ada clearly saw the tracks of at least three people in the thick dust in some of the rooms she passed through. So the survivor must have found others as well.

Ada knew she had a decision to make. She wanted to avoid meeting up with other survivors, but at this point, she wondered if that was the best course of action. If she did happen to catch up with the others, she intended to stay with them. Maybe one of them knew a way out of the city, or knew of a safe place where they could find help. If things went from worse to worst, she could always ditch them and go off on her own.

But finding other survivors was a secondary concern just now. Just as Ada slowed her pace a little bit to catch her breath, she heard another inhuman scream coming from far behind her. The bestial cry echoed endlessly along the hallways, so Ada couldn’t be entirely sure exactly how far away it was. But she started running again just the same, desperate to stay far ahead of the monster that was following her.

She first heard it not long after she came down into the sewers, and had been running from it ever since. She hadn’t seen it, but by the terrible sounds it made, she knew it was the same creature that attacked her back at the police station. A grenade didn’t kill it the first time, and Ada didn’t want to try a second.

Up ahead, it looked like the corridor opened up into a larger area, and she quickened her pace, hoping maybe she’d found a way out. But before she reached the end of the long hallway, something emerged from around the corner and scurried toward her.

It was an enormous spider, as large as a person. It was black and green, and it ran forward on eight huge legs, its front mandibles clicking loudly, as if it was smacking its lips in hunger. Ada froze at first, unable to believe what she was seeing, and then she quickly raised the shotgun and pulled the trigger.

The spider shuddered and fell to the side, a huge chunk of its thorax blasting off, spurting green ooze. Its legs twitched in death throes before its body slumped to the dirty floor. And immediately afterward, three more huge spiders emerged from the end of the hallway. They bolted forward, legs moving in a blur, and Ada stepped backwards as she racked another shell into the gun.

She raised it to her shoulder and fired three times, shooting each of them. But two of the spiders kept coming and she fired again, blasting their chitinous hides, splattering the walls of the corridor with more thick green blood. The dead spiders slumped on the ground like huge puppets, clear venom dripping from their mandibles.

Carefully, Ada walked past the bodies and to the end of the hall, which ended in a wide open, square pit that reached down as far as she could see. Large open pipes poured water and untreated sewage into the bottomless pit, and the walls were coated with mildew and grime that seemed to glow in the soft blue light that filtered down from above. Ada looked directly upward and couldn’t see the top of the pit either, just a hazy blue light far above. She knew it was night time outside, so the source of the light was a mystery to her, since it certainly wasn’t daylight.

The only way to cross the abyss was by way of a rotten old wooden staircase that was attached to the walls, but Ada looked in despair as she saw that part of the staircase was gone, collapsed into the pit, leaving a twenty-foot gap between two separate sections.

Half a dozen more spiders were scattered across the section of wooden stairs directly in front of her, their bodies cracked open and full of holes. Someone had already been here, not very long ago, since the spiders still looked pretty fresh. It must have been the other survivors, and judging by the carnage they left behind them, they were as capable of taking care of themselves as Ada was.

She looked at the missing section of stairs. The whole thing seemed rotten and weak, so maybe it collapsed on its own. Or maybe they destroyed it for some reason. Probably to keep the spiders from coming after them, she guessed.

Of course, now she needed another way to get across. She took the dusty rope off her shoulder and tried to think of the best way to get to the other side.

Suddenly, there was another loud scream of rage, and she spun around to look down the long hallway. But this time, she saw something there.

“Oh, shit,” she whispered.

The creature was down at the other end, and it was coming. Its huge uneven body loped down the cramped corridor, scraping the walls with its massive shoulders. The remaining shreds of clothing hung on its twisted body like scraps of flesh, and its monstrous face bellowed a roar of hatred as it came after her.

“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit,” she muttered frantically, grasping for the end of the rope and quickly tying a loop on one end, her hands shaking.

She threw the looped end across the chasm, trying to catch the wooden railing on the far section. The rope missed the mark and she desperately pulled the rope back in, glancing over her shoulder to see that the monster had traversed half the length of the hall, picking up speed. The top of its head smacked across the light bulbs in the ceiling, breaking them one by one, casting the section of the hall behind it in darkness. It growled animalistically and surged forward.

“Shit, shit, shit!” Ada screamed, hurling the rope once again.

The loop slid across the wall and missed again, and she was forced to pull the rope back once more. She swung back and hurled the rope one final time. The looped end caught on the very edge of the railing, and Ada pulled forward, tightening the loop like a lasso.

She closed her eyes and leaped off the edge of the precipice.

As she swung across the pit, her body turned in mid-air and she slid down the rope, feeling it burn her hands. She opened her eyes in time to see the creature emerge from the hall and grab for her. It all happened in slow motion, her hair whipping past her face, her hands straining for a grip on the rope, her shotgun falling end over end into the darkness below.

The creature bellowed furiously as its huge, misshapen arm slashed through the air, missing Ada’s legs by inches. Its momentum coming out of the hallway pushed it over the end of the wooden platform, and it tipped over the edge, screaming in vain. It flailed its arms and snatched at Ada’s body as it fell past her. It thrashed madly as it hurtled down to the bottom of the pit. Its inhuman scream of rage echoed deafeningly up the huge chamber and then its body disappeared into the darkness like a penny dropped into a wishing well.

Ada’s body slammed hard into the wall on the other side and she slipped down the rope, almost losing her grip. The rope cut deeper into her hands and she cried out in pain, dangling at the end of the rope like a worm on a hook.

She couldn’t get a foothold on the wall because it was coated in slime, and her feet just kept slipping. She locked her hands on the rope and hung there for a moment, trying to catch her breath. Her shoulder and hip stung in pain from slamming into the wall and her hands stung terribly from rope burn.

After a few seconds, Ada pulled herself up. She climbed the rope an inch at a time, her arms burning with the strain. Back in another lifetime, Ada had climbed ropes like this during her extensive training, but she was sorely out of practice. But those times, letting go meant a short fall to the floor. This time, letting go of the rope meant death. So she gritted her teeth and fought for every inch upward. Once she got high enough that the rope hung below her legs, she swung it around her thighs to grip it, letting some of the pressure off her arms.

It took her fifteen minutes of nerve-wracking effort to make it to the top of the rope, and by then, she was at the very edge of her endurance, her arms trembling with weakness, her hands dripping with blood.

She pulled herself onto the stairs and curled up on the floor, gasping for breath. She risked a look at her hands and saw bloody gashes right across both of her palms. She sat up, cradling her hands, and then got to her feet, walking very slowly forward.

She barely noticed the spider until it was almost too late. She stumbled backward, pulling out one of her pistols, wincing in pain because her arms hurt so bad. The spider scurried forward and Ada pulled the trigger as fast as she could, pouring bullets into the gigantic arachnid’s head and face. The spider squealed and ran forward, but it flopped onto the floor and its legs twitched, green blood pooling out underneath its riddled head.

Panting for breath, Ada stood motionless as two more spiders came into view. She let out a whimpering sigh and drew her other pistol. She took careful aim and opened fire, her guns blazing, the sound of the gunfire pounding in her ears.

The two spiders fell dead only a few yards away from her, their heads a pulpy green mass. Ada lowered her arms and leaned over wearily, her arms weak and limp as wet noodles. One of the pistols was empty, so she discarded it, keeping the other in her hand.

She walked down the hall, knowing that she only had a few shots left. If another spider, or something even worse, attacked her, then she would not be able to defend herself. But there were no more spiders. The hallway split off to the left and right, and Ada looked in each direction, wondering which way the other survivors had gone. They must have made it past the spiders somehow. Ada saw a door at the end of the hall on the right, so she went for it.

The door handle was shot off, but Ada had to push hard on the door to open it because it was blocked with a metal shelf. She went inside and lit her lantern because there were no lights, and discovered a roughly-carved tunnel leading out of the room.

For a moment she considered going back the other way. She wanted to investigate the hallway to the left, but it was clear that the other survivors had gone to the right, so Ada decided to continue after them.

Chapter 7

 

Hunk limped down the alley, grimacing in pain, one hand gripping his bloody thigh and the other waving a pistol in front of him. It was so dark outside now that it was hard to see clearly. The alley was almost pitch dark, but there were streetlights at either end, giving him just enough light to see by.

He leaned against a wall and panted for breath. He was lucky to be alive, but unless he took care of his leg, that luck would run out. The hand holding his thigh was sticky with blood, and it was soaked into his pants. It was a bad cut, but it could have been much worse, given the circumstances.

When he saw that the streetcar was going to crash into the traffic jam, he did the first thing that came to mind, the only reasonable thing he could think of. He jumped out a window and prayed that he’d land on something soft.

He did his best to duck and roll when he hit the ground at almost 60 miles an hour, and was fortunate to hit soft grass instead of pavement. But the edge of the tracks was strewn with rocks, and his leg struck a sharp stone, gouging his thigh. It could have been so much worse, though. He could have severed his femoral artery and bled to death in seconds. Or broken his femur. Or fractured his skull, or broken his back, or impaled himself on a wooden signpost. Given the number of things that could have gone wrong, he considered himself incredibly lucky to have only suffered a single cut. The impact with the ground almost knocked him unconscious, but the wound to his leg was the only real injury he had suffered. He was banged up, but otherwise unharmed, which was more than he could say for the people who stayed on the streetcar.

When he finally came to, he saw the aftermath of the collision and doubted that anyone could have survived it. Even if they lived through the actual crash, Hunk saw that the wreckage was now completely surrounded by hundreds of zombies. The zombies were also coming in his direction, so he ran off as soon as he was able to stand.

Now, he needed some medical attention. He left the alley and crossed the street, looking all around for any stray zombies. He limped to a drug store on the corner and peered in the windows, but the place seemed empty. The automatic doors slid open when he approached and he entered the brightly-lit store, seeing rows of cosmetics, snacks, magazines, and other cheap products. He went through the store, looking for the first aid section.

A variety of adhesive bandages and pain pills lined the shelf, and Hunk sorted through them, taking some regular medical bandages and antibiotic cream. He also grabbed a soda and swallowed some ibuprofen to relieve his pounding headache.

To properly treat the wound on his leg, he cut open his cargo pants to reveal the extent of his injury. He dribbled hydrogen peroxide across the cut, then poured more onto a towel to wipe the excess blood away. He smeared antibiotic ointment on the uneven gash and then wrapped his thigh in bandages, tying them securely. It still hurt, but at least he could move around now without having to keep a hand on his leg.

A familiar groan nearby made him swung his gun up in self-defense. A zombie appeared at the end of the aisle, an elderly woman with a store uniform on. One of the store employees, apparently. She had no wounds that Hunk could see, so he guessed that she was part of the initial wave of zombies, the ones infected through the water supply in the early morning. He put a bullet in her forehead.

His pants had a gaping hole in them, so he wrapped the area in duct tape to protect it, and tried to think of anything at the store that he could use. Sadly, drug stores didn’t sell guns or ammunition, which was what he really needed.

He left the store and tried to think which way to go. He lost his bearings during the frantic ride in the streetcar, and wasn’t sure which direction the city park was. He walked out into the street and immediately saw an infected dog coming at him. He raised his gun, aimed carefully, and shot the dog right in the head as it ran across the street. It yelped once and flopped to the pavement, its bloody body glistening under the streetlight, and Hunk lowered his gun momentarily.

But before he had time to consider his next move, two more dogs appeared from a nearby house and immediately came running at him. Hunk braced himself and took careful aim, shooting one dog in the head and then swinging his gun at the other. He pulled the trigger just as the infected dog leaped, and the bullet blew the dog’s brains out. Hunk jumped out of the way as the corpse tumbled to the street.

He stood back up, his injured leg protesting, and looked all around, aiming his gun in front of him even though he knew that it was nearly empty. But there were no more dogs coming for him.

Something much, much worse was coming for him.

He froze in place as a creature like a giant skinned tiger stalked into the street from a store front plaza at the other end of the avenue. Hunk could see the creature clearly, even from here.

It was a Licker, one of the mutated creatures caused by the virus. The details escaped him, even though he’d read the reports, but looking at the creature was enough to freeze his blood in his veins. It was a nightmare made of sinew and blood, with teeth like steak knives, claws like razors, and a long tongue that whipped out of its mouth, giving it its name.

It snorted once and then immediately turned its gruesome head in Hunk’s direction, smelling him a block away. The creature growled and moved forward, its huge claws clacking on the asphalt loud enough for Hunk to hear.

The Licker bounded after him as he turned and ran. He didn’t even try to shoot it, knowing that a few bullets would barely slow it down. He bolted down the middle of the street, his leg screaming in pain, but he knew it was useless. He glanced back to see that the Licker had halved the distance between them and was gaining ground every step.

As Hunk reached the next intersection, he dove to the ground, sliding on his knees to the manhole cover right in the center of the street. With a shout of effort, he stuck his fingers into the handholds and lifted the heavy manhole cover up. He dove headfirst into the hole without a second thought.

The Licker jumped and swung a brutal talon at the edge of the manhole, missing Hunk’s legs by a fraction of a second. The creature howled and swatted aside the manhole cover, knocking it away as if it was a frisbee.

Hunk fell twelve feet down into the sewer tunnel and crashed to the ground like a pile of dirty laundry dropped down an elevator shaft. He covered his head with his arms and tilted to the side as he fell, so that he absorbed most of the impact with his upper body. The impact was enough to almost knock him out again, but he cried out in pain when his injured thigh slammed against the wet concrete, the pain keeping him conscious.

Dazed, he looked upward as the Licker jammed its narrow head into the opening and howled down at him. Its wide body would not fit and its jaws snapped angrily, trying to force its way inside.

“Go to hell,” Hunk muttered, gasping for breath.

Slowly, he rolled over and crawled a ways before trying to get to his feet. He needed to steady himself with one hand on the wall, but he was able to stand. He thanked God that he hadn’t broken his arm or his collarbone, although he was still in a lot of pain. Falling into the manhole like that could have broken his neck, but facing the Licker would result in an absolutely certain evisceration. Hunk was willing to risk a broken neck to avoid getting disemboweled.

The sewer tunnel was dark, but there were a few lights. On the plus side, he guessed that there were not any zombies down here, but it was far too claustrophobic for his tastes. If he did run into something, there was nowhere to hide. And he only had a few shots left.

Sighing in resignation, he began to limp down the tunnel. He might still be alive, but Hunk was fairly certain that eventually, his luck was going to run out.

Chapter 8

 

“Did you hear that?” Leon asked.

Claire stopped and listened, but shook her head. “No, what is it?”

“Almost sounded like gunshots,” Leon said, staring down the unfinished section of hallway.

“Are you sure? Do you think there might be other survivors down here?”

“Maybe, but if they’re shooting at something, we’re probably safer here.”

This new section of underground tunnels was better than the last, but not by much. The walls were still roughly dug out dirt, but at least the tunnels had wooden support beams and electric lights. Wires hung on metal hooks to connect the lights, and electric wires and extension cords were bunched up along the floor. The floor was lined with wooden two-by-fours and various tools like shovels and picks lay haphazardly around.

They had only investigated a small area, but it seemed like the construction here was rather recent. They passed several larger areas, some of them incomplete, and hallways that seemed to go in a circle around the center of the construction.

“What do you think this place is?” Claire asked.

“I have no idea,” Leon replied. “We must still be at least one story underground. I can’t think of any reason to dig out all these rooms. I thought it was a sewer project at first, but it can’t be that. This is some kind of private construction project.”

“How did they dig all this out, anyway? Where did they put all the dirt?” Sherry asked, looking around at the walls. She was perched on a stack of wooden boards, her hands in her lap and her feet dangling a few inches off the floor.

Leon wondered that as well. There must have been a system in place to transfer all the excavated dirt up to the surface, and if they could find it, it would give them an easy way out. It was most likely an industrial or freight elevator, and Leon hoped that wherever it was, it still worked.

Claire sat down beside Sherry and leaned against the wall. She propped the shotgun up in her lap but kept one hand close to the trigger. After their terrifying escape from the spiders, Claire looked even more tired than Sherry.

They’d been on the move non-stop for hours now without anything to eat or drink. Claire and Sherry were running on the last of their energy. Leon was exhausted too, but he didn’t show it. He stood up straight and kept watch along the half-built tunnel, anxious to get moving again.

“Sit down,” Claire said. “You’re making me tired just watching you pace like that.”

“I can’t help it. I don’t think we should stay in one spot for too long.”

“I agree,” Claire said, but she didn’t get up.

“If you two want to stay here for a little while, that’s fine. But I’m going to keep looking around a bit, okay?”

“Why?” Sherry asked. “You shouldn’t go off on your own.”

“I won’t go far,” Leon promised. “If there were people working down here, maybe they had a break area set up somewhere. Maybe they had some food in a refrigerator or something.”

“That’s a good idea,” Claire said. “Maybe we should all go.”

Sherry shook her head and fidgeted with her hands. “I just want to rest here for a little bit. We’ve been walking for so long, my feet and legs really hurt. Just a few more minutes, please?”

Claire put her arm around her. “It’s okay. I’ll stay here with you. We’ll wait until you’re ready to start walking again.”

“You two just stay here,” Leon said. “I’m just going to walk around this area and see if I can find anything useful. I’ll be back soon.”

“Be careful,” Claire said seriously. “And don’t get lost.”

Leon nodded and smiled confidently, although that was an act as well. “I’ll be fine. Just wait here for a few minutes and I’ll be right back.”

He understood how tired they both were, especially Sherry, who must be physically and emotionally drained after what she had been through today. Claire looked about ready to curl up and fall asleep, and Leon didn’t blame her. None of them wore a watch, so he didn’t know what time it was, but it was surely dark outside now, since it was already late afternoon when he and Claire went to the police station. So they’d been walking for how long? Four hours? Longer than that?

Leon had barely even sat down once in all that time, so he was as weak and exhausted as Claire was. But he knew how to push away weariness and keep focused. His training in the military included long marches with full gear, more than thirty pounds worth of armor and weapons, and compared to that bone-deep exhaustion, walking through the sewers was a figurative walk in the park. He could have kept going for hours before he needed to rest, but he couldn’t expect Claire and Sherry to keep up with him.

He carefully walked down the tunnels, trying to get a mental picture of how the area was laid out. It seemed like it was arranged in a square, with several large rooms in the middle, and the hallways going around the edge, with smaller rooms hallway area, leaving the other half unexplored. Leon hoped to find some supplies at the very least.

Eight bullets remained in his gun, which was more than he thought. Luckily, he only wasted one shot on the spiders. But eight bullets was not very many. What if they ran into more zombies, or spiders, or even something else they hadn’t seen yet?

So far, he had neglected to mention to Claire or Sherry the huge creature from the police station, the one that attacked him and the other woman. Whatever that thing was, a grenade launcher wasn’t enough to kill it, so Leon doubted a handgun would do much damage. If they encountered another creature like that …

Leon didn’t want to think about it. He concentrated on what was in front of him, slowly making his way around the unfinished hallways, his footsteps making the wooden floor boards squeak and bend. Even with the lights, the tunnel was dark and lined with shadows.

As he walked around a corner, he found a large excavated area and cautiously walked inside. He looked up and discovered that there was no ceiling. The room extended straight upward for an unknown distance, at least thirty feet, before it stopped with a wide metal slab. Leon saw slivers of light from around the edges of the slab and realized that he was looking at the underside of the freight elevator he had hoped to find. Except it wasn’t an elevator, it was most likely a lift operated by a crane up on the surface.

There was nothing to climb on to reach the lift, and no way to operate the crane from down here. Leon took a deep breath to contain his anger, and cursed their luck. Here was there way out, and they couldn’t get to it.

He walked around for a few more minutes, slowly realizing that they might not make it out of there at all, unless they tried to go back out the way they came. The construction probably started where the lift was, and gone underground from there, so the only way for them to get out was to use the lift. After he got Claire and Sherry, perhaps they could figure out a way to get up there. Plenty of wood was lying around. Maybe they could find a hammer and nails and build a ladder?

He almost didn’t notice the other hallway until he walked right by it, and if the lights had been off, he might not have seen it at all. Connected to the unfinished dirt tunnel was a more complete hallway with plain white drywall sheets on the walls and light fixtures installed in the ceiling. Dirt and mud from the worker’s boots was all over the floor, and there were dirty boot prints heading all the way down the hall. Several folding tables were set up, and a pile of tangled extension cords was packed in the corner.

Leon stepped into the hall in amazement. Rows of yellow hard hats hung on the wall, and there were also blueprints and other maps hanging there, as well as more of them laying across the tables. Leon walked over to the closest map and saw a diagram of the area still under construction. As he had already guessed, it was in the shape of a square with large rooms in the center. The blueprints gave the rooms labels like “Lab Extend C” and “Cold Storage B” but Leon wasn’t entirely sure what it all meant.

That’s when he looked at the corner of the diagram and saw the company logo stenciled there. It was a red and white octagon with the word “Umbrella” written underneath.

Chapter 9

 

Jill and Carlos passed through the residential neighborhoods and found themselves in a business area. There was an oil change service on the corner, and a line of shops along the side of the street, including a real estate office, a hair salon, and a used electronics store. Cars were parked haphazardly everywhere, jammed along the street in random directions. There was a building on fire halfway down the street, bright orange flames swirling from the gutted windows, flickering light shimmering up and down the avenue, glinting off the cars in the traffic jam. The smell of smoke and sound of crackling flames permeated the entire street.

“Keep your eyes open,” Carlos said. “There are a lot of places for something to hide.”

They crept along the street, staying mostly to the sidewalk. Some of the cars were stopped up on the curb, blocking their path. One car was halfway through the front windows of a comic book store, broken glass and debris scattered around. Jill saw blood smeared on the car windows, but there were no zombies so far. She stayed close behind Carlos.

“We’re still going the right direction?” he asked, peering down the barrel of his rifle.

“Yes,” Jill answered. “We can take this street almost all the way to the park, but its still pretty far away.”

“You want to rest for a little while or keep going?”

“We can keep going. Maybe we can stop to get food somewhere though.”

Carlos nodded. “Yeah, I’m pretty hungry too. All I had was breakfast.”

“I didn’t even have that,” Jill said. “I haven’t eaten anything all day except those candy bars you gave me.”

“You know, I wanted to ask you earlier,” Carlos said hesitantly. “I mean, you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. But how did you stay alive this long, anyway? How come you didn’t get infected this morning?”

“I slept in late,” Jill said. “I woke up this afternoon after everything had already gone to hell. After that, I just got lucky, I suppose. I didn’t get bitten by anything.”

“Do you … you know, have a family?”

“They don’t live here. My parents live in New York.”

“Okay, so no kids or anything?”

“No, I don’t have any children. I’m single and I live by myself.” Then, as she though about it, she added, “Thank God for that.”

“Yeah,” Carlos said solemnly.

They made it past the traffic jam and the burning building, and continued on down the street. They saw a couple of ragged zombies, and ran into one of the infected dogs, but Carlos shot it quickly and they were in no danger.

“I’m sorry I argued with you earlier,” Jill said. “About working for Umbrella. I don’t want you to take it personally.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Carlos shrugged. “I don’t blame you. I would probably say the same things if I was you.”

“How did you wind up working for them?”

“I was in the Army back in Mexico but they kicked me out. Umbrella offered me a job as a soldier with the UBCF, so I took it. I don’t regret it, cause it’s been a great opportunity for me, you know? But when they send me to places like this, it really makes me want to change careers.”

“Why did you get kicked out of the Army?”

“Some of the guys in my unit were taking bribes from the drug cartels. When I found out about it, I told my commanding officer.”

“And then what?”

“Turns out he was taking bribes too. And so was the base commander. The drug cartels were paying all of them. So I got kicked out because I tried to stop it.”

“I think I understand why you’re still working for Umbrella,” Jill said. “You already got in trouble once for trying to do the right thing.”

“I could have gotten killed for it,” Carlos said bitterly. “Back in Mexico, you don’t cross the cartels. They have so much power. You say the wrong thing and you’ll wind up decapitated, your body hanging from an overpass as a warning to others.”

“You could say the same thing about Umbrella.”

“No, Umbrella does way worse things than that.”

From far down the street behind them, Jill heard a sound that made her hair stand up on the back of her neck. She stopped and grabbed Carlos’ shoulder urgently, and he spun around immediately.

“What is it?”

“It’s that monster,” Jill said. “I heard it.”

“What do you –”

And then they both heard it, a loud agonized scream coming from far in the distance. Jill peered down the dark street and saw something moving, several blocks away. A dark shape, too small to make out the details, coming down the street.

“I thought we killed it already,” Carlos said nervously.

“I told you, it keeps coming back. I’ve already fought it a couple of times today and I can’t kill it.” She pulled Carlos away and said, “Come on, we’ve got to get moving.”

They ran down the street, past more businesses and houses, past gas stations and convenience stores that they might have stopped at for food. There were auto parts stores, hair salons, and insurance offices, along with diners and fast food restaurants.

Screaming again, this time closer. Jill looked over her shoulder and saw the creature behind them, a block away and gaining, its burnt and shredded trenchcoat flapping behind it like large black wings, its huge black boots slamming into the pavement. She could almost see the twisted look on its monstrous face.

“What are we gonna do?” Carlos shouted. “I don’t have enough bullets left!”

“I don’t know!” Jill shouted back.

“Oh no!” Carlos groaned, causing Jill to look up ahead.

In front of them, blocking the entire street, was a crowd of zombies. There were more than a hundred at least, slowly moving towards them on shuffling feet, glaring with bloody eyes and gaping mouths.

“That way!” Jill cried, pointing to the left. “We have to split up!”

“Are you crazy?” Carlos shouted. “You don’t even have a gun! If it catches you, it’ll kill you!”

“It will kill both of us!”

They turned left and ran down the next street, past more businesses and offices, and two-story buildings with stores below and apartments on the second floor. Streetlights illuminated the street, which was also packed with more cars and trucks, but there were only a handful of zombies standing around.

The creature behind them roared angrily, and Jill could practically hear its thudding footsteps as it ran after them. She turned and ran along the sidewalk, while Carlos stayed in the street, dodging in between the cars.

Up ahead she spotted a building with the lights still on inside. It was a three-story building with large front windows on the main floor, next to a narrow alley with another three-story building next to it with a restaurant on the main floor. A large yellow van was parked in the alley.

“Keep running!” she called to Carlos. “I’ll try to distract it!”

“You’re crazy!” he shouted.

Jill jumped over a hedge and hurried across the well-manicured front lawn of the building, barely stopping when she reached the glass front door. She yanked it open and bolted into a well-lit lobby and waiting room. On the wall was a large sign that read, “The Raccoon City Herald.” It was main office for the city newspaper.

Jill ran across the waiting room and to the main hallway to the offices in the back. Before she even made it that far, she heard a horrendous crash, and glimpsed the creature smashing its way through the glass windows in the front of the building, swatting aside the panes of glass like they were curtains. Glass exploded across the lobby as the creature crashed inside.

It didn’t bother to go after Carlos at all, it immediately went after her. Jill suddenly realized that her encounters with the creature were not just a random coincidence. It was no accident that she kept running into it.

The creature was chasing after her. It wanted her.

She glanced into side offices, seeing numerous desks and stacks of newspapers, but nowhere to really hide. It didn’t matter, because Jill knew she couldn’t hide from the monster at all. She kept going until she reached the end of the hall and saw stairs going up to the second floor. Barely slowing down, she grabbed the railing and swung around to head up the stairs, jumping up three at a time.

The monster howled furiously, the sound pounding in Jill’s head. As she reached the top of the stairs, the creature was at the bottom, smashing the railing with one brutal swing of its massive fist, splintering the thick wood. It charged up after her, the steps cracking under its tremendous weight.

There was another long hallway ahead of her, but instead Jill dove into the first doorway and barged into the room. There were two rows of desks covered in papers and old desktop computers. Jill barely acknowledged the two zombies in the room, and ran right past them as they reached for her. It was a man and a woman dressed in office apparel, most likely employees of the newspaper. They reached out and their cold fingers fumbled at Jill’s sleeve, but she went past them and to the back of the office room, to the door at the other side.

The creature reached the top of the stairs and tore into the office, its wide shoulders breaking through the door frame. It howled and rushed forward, swiping at the zombies with its arm, knocking them off their feet and tossing them across the room like dolls, their bodies cracking against the wall. The beast kicked desks aside as it charged after Jill.

The next office had more desks and tall metal shelves lined down the room, full of cardboard banker’s boxes that were packed full of photos, documents, and paper records. There was another zombie there as well, and Jill slammed her hands into it, knocking it down as she rushed past. She kept going into the next office, as the rooms that ran parallel to the hallway were all connected.

As she made it to the next office, the creature behind her crashed into the room and rushed headlong into the rows of metal shelves. They tipped over and crashed to the ground with an avalanche of paper flowing across the floor. Jill didn’t even look over her shoulder.

The next room was taken up by a large conference table with dry erase boards on all the walls, covered in multicolored writing. A male zombie wearing a business suit blocked her path, so Jill jumped up onto the table and scampered across it. The creature came into the room but couldn’t jump up after her, so it just smashed its huge fists on the table, making the entire thing rattle, knocking Jill off her feet. She went flying off the table and rolled when she hit the floor, quickly holding her breath so the wind didn’t get knocked out of her.

The creature roared and battered the table chairs aside to make its way across the room. The zombie was smashed into the wall, its body crushed under the brutal strength of the monster’s arm. It kept coming, unstoppable, unwavering, like the robot from The Terminator.

Jill stumbled into the next large office room, desperately trying to stay ahead of the monster, and found herself facing a room of zombies. Most of them, like the others, wore office clothing, but one of them caught Jill’s attention right away.

It wore an Umbrella military uniform like Carlos, apparently another one of the UBCF soldiers deployed into the city. The zombie staggered forward, groaning and clutching, and Jill jumped at it to knock it to the floor, even as it grabbed at her hair to pull her closer, its bloody jaws snapping at her face.

Jill unlatched the holster at the zombie’s hip and yanked out a Desert Eagle pistol. She jammed it in the zombie’s mouth and pulled the trigger, scattering its brains across the ceiling. She rolled up as the other zombies converged on her and shot them as well, killing four more until there was room for her to make her escape. She ran out the side door, making her way back into the main hallway.

She barely made it out of the room before the creature lunged after her, its hand snatching at empty air. Jill ran down the hallway, making some distance between them, and ducked into the next room. She ran past more desks and shelves and then doubled back into the previous office, where the other zombies were still standing around.

She blew away a few more zombies that stood in her way and ran back to the dead Umbrella soldier. Strapped over his shoulder was a small pack similar to the one Carlos and the others had been carrying when Jill first met them. She yanked the pack off of the dead zombie and ran back out the door as the creature circled around and came again, still howling its rage, yellow saliva streaming from its twisted mouth as it screamed its unnatural scream.

Jill jumped back into the hallway and ran all the way to the stairs to the third floor, fumbling in the ammo pack for what she hoped would be there. She was almost to the top of the stairs when she found them.

Grenades.

She pulled the pin from one and dropped it down the stairs after her. It bopped down the steps like slinky. As the creature reached the stairs and smashed its way up after Jill, she took off.

The grenade exploded with a thundering blast of flame and smoke, blowing the staircase to pieces, throwing the creature into the air and back down to the second floor. Debris and flaming bits of wood launched to the top of the stairs, blasting right past Jill. The detonation shook the floor, and she lost her footing and fell down. She glanced back, half-expecting to see the creature coming after her through the fire and the flames.

She got to her feet and went through the first door at the end of the hall, and for a moment was able to think for a second about her next move. Undoubtedly, coming into this building was a good idea. Even if she hadn’t found the soldier and his grenades, Jill was confident that she could keep ahead of the creature, since she was able to move faster in cramped quarters. The creature slowed down considerably when it was indoors, as it had trouble maneuvering through narrow rooms and doorways, clumsily battering its way through like a bull in a China shop.

But now, Jill needed to get out of the building, and she had just destroyed her only way back downstairs. Her options were limited. Maybe there was an elevator?

She was in another office room with more desks piled with disorganized stacks of paper. Jill went to the closest window and opened it, looking out to see the alley below. Directly underneath the window was the large yellow van, and a small loading dock against the side of the building. Directly across from her was the building next door, but unlike the newspaper office, that building had a fire escape.

Could she jump from the window and reach the other building’s fire escape? Jill doubted it, as it was easily a twenty-foot gap for her to cross, and she would need a running start and a much larger window to jump from.

She looked to the side into the corner of the office and saw a dead body sprawled on the floor. But when she stepped near it, the corpse’s head jerked up and glared at her. It was another UBCF soldier, and Jill wasted no time shooting it in the head. And then she reached down to pick up its assault rifle, which was lying conveniently right on the floor, and grabbed its ammo pack as well, slinging it over her shoulder with the other. She took the soldier’s pistols as well and dumped them into one of the pouches, along with its combat knife, which she felt might come in handy.

There was nothing in the room she could use as rope, so she walked out of the office to find some other way out. As soon as she reached the hallway, she froze, instinctively raising the assault rifle in self-defense.

From the flaming remains of the staircase, the creature climbed to its feet, growling darkly, the front of its chest now blackened and charred, the leather trenchcoat ripped and tattered even worse than before. The creature was framed by burning wreckage, black smoke drifting across the hallway, and its mismatched eyes seemed to glow even at it was silhouetted against the bright light of the fire.

The creature hunched down and screamed, and Jill again heard the word “Stars” in the bestial roar. It staggered forward, seeming to gain strength with each step it took, and Jill darted back into the office room.

She dropped two more grenades onto the floor and ran, slinging the assault rifle over her shoulder as she reached the window.

The creature smashed into the room after her, just a few steps behind. It reached out to grab her, its arm splitting open to reveal the writhing purple tentacle concealed there. She was only a few feet away.

Jill dove out of the window, arms outstretched, as the grenades went off. The entire room exploded in a powerful shockwave, blasting out all the windows in a torrent of flames and shattered glass, part of the roof blowing off as well in a rapid whoosh of smoke, burning debris, and swirling tongues of flame. From inside the explosion, she heard the creature’s agonized scream of pain and hatred.

Jill sailed out into the open air, surrounded by waves of glass and spouts of fire, reaching out for the fire escape across the alley as she fell. But she wasn’t even close, and the explosion knocked her body sideways in mid-air with the force of the blast. The shockwave hit her like a blow to the head.

She barely made it a few feet from the window before she fell straight down to the alley below, but she was already unconscious before she hit the ground.

Chapter 10

 

There was no light. Engulfed in absolute, perfect darkness, there was not even the slightest hint of light to see by. And yet, it moved without hesitation, making its way through the deepest levels of the underground, able to detect its surroundings with new senses.

Down this far, there was nothing but remains and decay, the leftovers from the world above. The bottom of the pit was a mountain of slime and filth fifty feet deep, enough to soften its landing after its long fall. It climbed from the disgusting pile of rotting garbage and sewage and made its way down a long, dark, cavern deep below the city. It was a natural cavern, not something they built.

It was a place that no human had ever visited. But the creature was no longer human.

The darkness extended for miles, a vast network of caverns and caves beneath the surface, much deeper than the lowest levels of the sewer system. Animals lurked here that never saw the light of day, and they scurried away as the creature approached, its feet splashing through stagnant water and a layer of decay decades old. It stormed through completely undisturbed areas, stomping ancient remains, its wide shoulders scraping plant growths from the narrow rock walls. In the darkness, it could only hear its own heartbeat and the pounding desire running through its brain.

The true prey had been very close. The other human was nothing but an obstacle to be killed and discarded. Now, the true prey was much farther away, but it would be found soon enough.

It crawled through narrower passages, the sharp rock edges and stalactites scraping and cutting into its skin. But it did not stop, did not slow. It moved into another wide-open cavern that dripped with fresh water, and looked upward to see that the cavern stretched upward in a vertical chasm that reached far above. The creature launched into the air and climbed the jagged walls, ascending into the crack and sliding its body upward. Its massive, warped hands grabbed the rocks and pulled upward, and its bare feet scratched for purchase. Fresh water splashed down the chasm, cleaning the filth and sewage from its body, but it did not notice or care.

It would find the prey again and deliver the embryo growing in its body. The prey would then grow into a new creature, something the world had never seen. A powerful evolutionary urge drove the creature up, a single-minded obsession to implant the embryo and pass on its new DNA into the host that shared its old DNA. The young human, the female.

There was no goal other than that, no intentions beyond the implanting of its mutated genetic material. It was like a salmon, seeking only to pass on its genes before it died.

It reached the top of the chasm, a hundred feet above the bottom of the cavern, and clawed at an opening in the rock that poured water. It forced its way into the opening and pulled itself through the rushing water until it reached another cave that went straight upward. Again, it climbed up, slowly making its way closer to its prey.

The other humans were of no concern. They would die. The prey would survive and would become something new. And then they would reproduce, and become a brand new species.

And then, all the humans would die.

Chapter 11

 

“Jill? Jill!”

The voice woke her and she jerked upright, not knowing where she was. The last few moments were a mystery; the last thing she remembered was jumping out the window and then plummeting to the ground.

She looked underneath her body and found newspapers, and lots of them. She was sprawled across a pile of bundled newspapers stacked up on the loading dock next to the newspaper office for delivery that morning. The pile had tipped over and now the newspapers spilled off the dock and across the ground behind the van. Jill crawled to her feet and climbed off the pile, her head pounding and legs unsteady.

She looked up to see flames pouring from the upper windows, thick black smoke lifting into the night sky. All around her was smoking debris and broken glass, including a huge chunk of burning wood that caved in the roof of the yellow delivery van. Jill absently felt lucky that none of the debris landed on her.

She still had the two ammo packs over her shoulder, and found the assault rifle lying on the pavement a few yards away. She almost lost her balance when she bent over to pick it up.

“Jill!” came the worried cry again.

“I’m over here!” Jill shouted, slinging the gun back over her shoulder, and stepped away from the loading dock. She glanced back and wondered how in the world she managed to land exactly on the pile of newspapers. They cushioned her landing just enough to prevent any broken bones. It was a miracle, really. The early morning workers must have stacked the papers there right before the infection hit. If Jill had chosen to jump out of a different window, she would have landed on the edge of the dock or even right on the pavement.

Carlos ran into the alley, a look of profound relief on his face. “Oh, man! Are you okay? What happened? How did you get out here?”

Jill staggered toward him and he took her arm. “It doesn’t matter,” she gasped painfully. “We have to get out of here.”

“I found a car,” Carlos said excitedly, “and the keys were inside! We can drive out of here! Come on, it’s right down the street.”

Carlos draped Jill’s arm over his shoulder and helped her walk down the street. The building continued to burn, sending flaming scraps of paper down to the street below like volcano ash. The fire crackled and snapped and more glass shattered. Jill painfully turned her head to look up at the fire as it swirled up into the sky.

The creature might have been right in the center of the explosion, but it wasn’t dead. Jill knew they couldn’t wait here long, because the creature would come back. There must be a way to kill it, but whatever it was, Jill hadn’t figured it out yet. So far, blowing it up only seemed to make it more angry.

“Where’d you find that stuff?” Carlos asked, eyeing her gun.

“There was another Umbrella soldier inside,” Jill answered. “I’m sorry, Carlos, but he was a zombie. I had to shoot him.”

“It’s okay, I understand.”

He led her across the street to a car parked on the sidewalk with the driver’s side door hanging open. Jill went to the passenger side and got in, while Carlos got in as well and took the wheel.

Jill rested her head and closed her eyes, letting herself rest for a moment, her breath still coming fast and her heart racing. She opened her eyes and cradled the assault rifle in her lap, as Carlos backed the car up and pulled back into the street. The tires bumped over the curb and Jill tilted her head wearily, looking into the rear view mirror.

The car drove forward slowly, weaving past more cars as Carlos tried to get them through the traffic jam. A female zombie wearing a waitress uniform pressed on the side window and groaned, but Carlos ignored it and drove right past.

Jill glanced back into the rear view mirror and saw the burning newspaper building in the reflection. She watched the fire intently for a moment, and saw something burst through the wall on the third floor and fly down to the street, shooting out of the building like a rocket, followed by a cascade of flaming wood and debris. It soared downward and landed directly on an abandoned car, crushing the roof with a heavy impact, making the car bend almost in half as flaming wreckage rained down around it.

Jill quickly turned around to look out the back window, gripping the rifle tighter. Behind them, the creature jumped off the smashed car, shaking its trenchcoat to swat away the flames. Its burnt and charred body seemed larger than before, as if the flames had fed it and made it grow. It glared at the retreating car and then began to run after it.

“Carlos!” Jill cried. “Step on it!”

Carlos hit the gas and the car sped forward down the blocked street. He swerved around more cars, the tires squealing on the concrete, as he and Jill bounced against each other as the car rocked back and forth. Jill changed position so that she was kneeling on the passenger seat, facing backward, and raised the gun to her shoulder.

“No, don’t!” Carlos shouted. “It’s too loud! Point it out the window!”

He spun the wheel and the car skidded across the next intersection, past a car that was flipped onto its roof. More zombies lined the sidewalk and reached out slowly as the car sped past.

The creature ran down the street after them, arms pumping like pistons, the ragged trenchcoat flapping behind it. It barely slowed down as it ran in between the cars, gaining on the car as Carlos had to keep slowing down to avoid crashing.

“Which way do I go?” he shouted.

“It doesn’t matter! Just drive!”

Jill climbed into the back seat and drew her pistol to shoot out the back window. She used the machine gun to break away any loose shards of glass around the edge, and then crouched down to aim the gun through the opening.

She rolled to the side as Carlos steered the car down a side street, since the main street was blocked. He glanced back at her nervously and then faced forward again, gripping the wheel tightly as the car hurtled down the avenue.

Jill had never fired a machine gun like this before, but she knew enough about weapons not to hurt herself. She braced the stock of the gun tightly against her shoulder and hunkered down over the back seat, lowering her head to look down the barrel of the gun. She tried to keep a steady aim as the car swerved to the left and right.

When the creature came into view, Jill aimed carefully but hesitated before opening fire. She’d already seen how little the creature was effected by bullets, but what else could she do? As the car slowed down to maneuver past more abandoned cars, the creature gained ground and quickly caught up with them. Carlos swore angrily and steered the car up onto the sidewalk, smashing aside metal garbage cans and large blue mail boxes before spinning the wheel to get them back on the street. The creature pursued them relentlessly, only half a block behind them now. Every time they got ahead of it, Carlos had to slow down to keep from running into something.

Shooting the creature in the chest or the head didn’t seem to slow it down, but earlier today, Jill managed to cripple it by driving a truck into it and crushing its legs. That gave her an idea. She turned to look out the front windshield and directed Carlos to keep going straight.

“Go as fast as you can!” she shouted. “Get some distance between us!”

“But the road is blocked!”

“I know! Just do it!”

Carlos slammed down the accelerator and the car roared down the empty avenue, leaving the creature in the dust. But at the end of the street, there was yet another blockade of abandoned cars facing in all directions. Carlos hit the brakes and the car screeched to a shaking stop, white smoke shooting from the tires.

Jill took a deep breath and aimed carefully as the creature ran at them. She slowly pulled the trigger and the gun boomed with a blast of gunfire.

The creature’s knee burst apart with a splatter of blood and it immediately collapsed to the ground, sliding to a stop. It howled and slammed its fists against the concrete, and crawled back up on one leg. It seemed impervious to gunfire, but it wasn’t bulletproof. Even a monster like that couldn’t run after them with its knees blown out.

Jill took aim again and squeezed the trigger. The creature screamed in frustration as its other kneecap blew apart and it fell back to the ground, unable to stand. It lifted itself up and bellowed again, pulling itself along the ground, dragging its wounded legs behind it.

“Good shooting,” Carlos said in disbelief, looking back at the wounded creature. “So where am I going now?”

“Just take that alley,” Jill said, turning around in the seat. She held the assault rifle across her lap and brushed her hair out of her eyes. “I know where we are. It’s not very far to the city park from here.”

Carlos backed up and drove the car down a nearby alley. Behind them, the creature continued to scream and howl furiously, crawling after them. Jill knew that before too long, its legs would heal and it would be able to run after them again, but at least for now they had some breathing room. Maybe it would give her some time to figure out a way to stop it again.

She was so tired of fighting it. Ever since she first encountered the creature, it haunted her like a spectre, dogging her every move. She understood why Brad was so scared of it. The creature pursued him first, before Jill found him in the restaurant.

Maybe if she wasn’t so utterly exhausted, she could put the pieces together, but the more she thought about it, the more she lost track. Brad’s apartment was partially demolished by a huge metal container dropped from a helicopter. According to Brad, the creature was inside the container, and immediately came after him when it was released. So that meant Umbrella must have deliberately dropped the creature into the city. But why would they do that?

The city was already overrun with zombies. What purpose would it serve to release some other creature they made in their lab? After all, the infection of the city was not an intentional act. Jill knew that, even though she still hated Umbrella for it. The city’s infection was an inevitable consequence of the accidental outbreak at the lab. But why would Umbrella make the infection worse by releasing more of their creations into the city?

Brad told her that the creature was chasing him. And now, long after Brad’s death, the creature was still relentlessly chasing after Jill. She’d traversed half the city and still the creature was after her. She was missing something, some important detail that would put it all into proper context, but she couldn’t put her finger on it.

There was some kind of reason behind it all, but Jill was too mentally drained to figure it out. It wasn’t important anyway. The only thing she had to worry about was getting to the park and hopefully getting out of the city.

She would have time to solve mysteries later.

Chapter 12

 

Leon carefully set the blueprints down on the table. Part of him wanted to go back and tell Claire and Sherry immediately about his discovery, but the other part wanted to investigate further. He stood indecisively for a few moments, and then stepped farther down the white hallway, following the dirty boot prints.

Claire and Sherry were safe where they were. Leon justified it to himself by saying that he just wanted to make certain that this area was safe before letting them know. Once he checked it out, he would tell them.

He crept down to the end of the hall. There were signs on the walls warning of construction ahead and ordering that hard hats be worn. Leon peered around the corner and saw a wide lobby area with hallways heading in two directions. There were a bunch of cheap plastic chairs in the corner around two small tables.

After spending so long in the dimly-lit sewer corridors and dark passages, the bright overhead lights, shining off the white walls, hurt Leon’s eyes. He squinted until his eyes adjusted, and moved farther into the room.

More boot prints marked the floor from the workers coming and going, and black marks decorated the walls as well. The room was not complete yet, missing ceiling tiles and proper floors, but it was clear that this part of the underground facility was built before the other section. This was apparently the main break area for the workers, as it had a refrigerator, which was unfortunately empty, as well as a television set and a bunch of magazines and newspapers on a narrow table against the wall.

There were no doors, but there were hinges screwed into the wall for doors to attach to. Leon walked down one of the adjacent hallways, seeing unfinished rooms and more partial construction. Capped electric wires dangled from the ceiling, large sheets of drywall and boards of wood were propped up in places, and there was dirt and sawdust all over the floor. Whatever this place was, it was fairly large and complex, and Leon had no idea how many more rooms and halls there were.

He wondered what this place was supposed to be. If it was for Umbrella, he guessed it was some for some kind of scientific facility, but why were they building it underground? It didn’t make a lot of sense to go to all the trouble to build a laboratory underground when there were plenty of above-ground buildings they could use. The only reason to build it underground was because ….

Because they didn’t want people to know about it? What kind of research could they possibly be doing here that would require such secrecy? Leon didn’t know much about Umbrella other than they made pharmaceuticals and other chemical products, but after what Chief Irons told him, Leon didn’t doubt anything. Who knew what this facility was intended for? More bizarre experiments? Chemical testing? Human sacrifices?

Irons told him that the disease that caused the infection was created in a lab out in the mountains, but Leon didn’t think that only one lab would do experiments like that. If they were working on it in the mountains, they were probably working on it here in the city too. He wondered if Sherry’s parents were involved. Or had been involved. They were probably dead now with everyone else.

Leon walked down two more hallways and finally decided it was time to go back. Claire and Sherry were surely expecting him by now, so he reluctantly turned around and headed back the way he came. There clearly weren’t any zombies down here, and hopefully no spiders either, so he guessed that they would be safe. But once Claire and Sherry were rested, they would be on the move again. Leon was still in a hurry to get back to the city as soon as possible. He didn’t want to stay down here any longer than necessary.

He heard a noise up ahead and stopped cold. It sounded like a stray footstep scraping across the dirt on the floor. Leon held silent and moved against the wall. The sound came from the hallway to the right, and Leon cautiously waited at the corner.

It couldn’t be a zombie. He had just come from that way. Maybe it was Claire looking for him? That was a possibility.

From around the corner, the barrel of a pistol came into view.

As soon as the arms holding it appeared, Leon jumped forward and grabbed them, pulling the owner out into the main hall with a yank. He wasn’t surprised to see who it was.

The Asian woman from the police station shrieked in surprise and pulled away, trying to turn the gun on him. He pushed back and overpowered her, and they stumbled into the wall together. Leon hit the woman’s hand against the wall and the pistol clattered away.

“Who are you?” he shouted. “And what are you doing here?”

“I followed you, alright?” she shouted back. “Now let me go!”

“Not until you tell me who you are!”

The woman slipped her hand out of his grip and elbowed him across the face. He backed away, stars flashing in front of his eyes, and she swung her leg up to knee him in the stomach. He gagged and staggered back, and the woman instantly swung her hands down to bash him across the back of the neck. Leon fell down to his knees, wavering on the edge of unconsciousness, and dumbly reached up to grab her again.

She picked up her gun and took off, and Leon managed to stumble unsteadily back to his feet and went after her. He ran down the hallway and heard sudden gunshots up ahead. He drew his own gun, nervously wondering what the woman was shooting at.

Just as he turned a corner, the woman appeared and slammed right into him, running at full speed in the other direction. They fell to the floor together, and the woman wound up on her back, gasping for breath, the wind knocked out of her. Leon sat up and leaned forward, glancing down the other hallway to see someone run out into the open.

It was a blonde woman wearing a white shirt and jeans, and she waved a handgun frantically. The gun spat out bullets, the gunshots echoing loudly in the narrow space, and Leon scrambled away as the bullets flew over his head and struck the wall behind him. He dove around the corner and reached to pull the Asian woman to safety.

She crawled away, swatting his hand when he tried to grab her. She pulled out her own pistol and returned fire blindly down the hall, crawling around the other corner of the T-intersection. She got onto her feet and kept going back in the direction Leon had come from.

“Just what in the hell is going on?” Leon shouted. He peered down the hall to see the other woman turn and run screaming. He called after her but she didn’t slow down.

He stood up and quickly watched as each of the women disappeared in opposite directions. He paused for a moment, and ran off after the blonde woman.

The last three survivors Leon found had immediately shot guns at him: the Asian woman, Chief Irons, and now this other woman. It was becoming an annoying habit. But he needed to know who the other woman was. She was another survivor, and he wasn’t about to let her get away. Maybe she knew how to get out of this place, since she managed to find her way down here in the first place. But why did she shoot at him?

Sherry and Claire would have heard the gunshots and were probably coming to investigate right now, and Leon could only hope that they would be able to figure out where he went. As for the Asian woman, she would have to wait. But Leon felt certain that he would run into her again soon.

Chapter 13

 

Nicholai walked into the main command office and waved the UBCF troops out of the room as he took a seat at the communications console. Almost all radio and phone signals were still being blocked to prevent anyone in the city from calling out, but a few scrambled frequencies were available as a last resort. And at this point, a last resort was all they had left. Nicholai dialed out and placed a set of headphones on his head.

There were still a handful of soldiers at the command post in the center of the city park, but most of the men were already evacuated. The few that remained were there to keep at bay the roving zombies that still appeared from time to time. Apparently, the helicopters drew their attention, and once and awhile a burst of gunfire announced that another zombie had been dealt with.

Nicholai waited as the radio console connected. There was a click in the headphones, and then, “This is Kelly. What’s the status?”

“The status,” Nicholai said slowly, “is not very good.”

“Commander Ginovaef? Is that you?”

“Yes. I had some difficulties coming here. I am afraid the rest of my team is dead.”

“Jesus. How many are left there?”

“There are eight or nine men here. They are the only UBCF that remain in the city.”

“Any civilians?” The question was just a formality. Kelly already knew the answer.

But Nicholai answered him anyway. One day, someone might listen to the recording of this conversation, and Nicholai knew full well that it was being recorded, and he wanted to go on record to say that no survivors had been found.

“Negative,” he said.

There was a long pause on Kelly’s end. By now, the administrator was probably at one of the recovery stations far outside of the city. Nicholai doubted that anyone was left at the mansion. They probably left that site hours ago.

“Is there any possibility of containment?” Kelly asked, his voice flat. This was also a formality, although the question seemed absurd at best, offensive at worst.

“Negative. We do not have the manpower to attempt further controls. Huge portions of the infected area are completely lost.”

“How long do you think we have?”

“Twelve hours. That is an optimistic estimate.”

Another pause. “So what is your recommendation?”

“Decontamination,” Nicholai said. “At this point, we have no other choice.”

“Are you absolutely certain?”

Nicholai leaned back and put his feet up on the desk. “Yes, I am certain.”

“Okay,” Kelly said weakly. “We’ve already made preparations in case that became necessary. I can authorize it.”

“What is our time frame?”

“What do you recommend?”

Nicholai glanced at a clock. “Six hours.”

“Okay. I assume that you and your men will evacuate now?”

“No,” Nicholai said. “The UBCF will return, but I will remain here. It is possible that other UBCF soldiers are still on their way here. All of them know that this location is the final rendezvous point.”

“I understand,” Kelly said. “You know the danger that you’re putting yourself in?”

“There is no danger,” Nicholai said simply. “I will leave here long before the decontamination is activated.”

“Okay then. Is there anything else you would like to report?”

“Not at this time.”

“Okay. We’ll see you soon, Commander.”

Nicholai took off the headphones and set them on the table. He leaned his head back and sighed deeply. As it turned out, he would not be seeing Mr. Kelly soon after all. But that would have to wait. There were other things that needed to be taken care of.

Nicholai got up and went outside. The command post was based out of a rest stop/gift shop near the back end of the park, a spot for visitors or tourists to get some snacks or buy a shirt or some other souvenir. It was a short, cheaply-built little building made to appear like a traditional log cabin. Right in the middle of a wooded area, it was hardly the best location for a stand against the infected, but Nicholai hadn’t chosen it.

The helicopter he flew there was completely out of fuel. The warning light for low fuel actually blinked on during his landing. He wouldn’t need it now anyway, because there were three other copters at the park, although Nicholai didn’t intend to use them either.

He called over the soldiers that still remained. They had been on duty here all day and clearly were hoping to leave, so Nicholai granted them their wish. They quickly loaded onto two of the copters and left as soon as he gave them permission.

When he was alone, Nicholai went back inside the command center and checked his weaponry. An AR-15 sat on the table as well as an M4 Carbine, more than enough firepower to take care of any infected that came within the command center’s perimeter. He took a seat at the radio again and put his feet up again.

Smiling to himself, he pulled out a crumpled pack of cigarettes. He lit one and tilted his head back, taking a long drag. Nicholai rarely smoked on duty, but this was a special occasion and he felt he deserved a reward for all his hard work.

Just another couple of hours and he was done. And quite frankly, he deserved every single penny he made in the past week. Once he was out of the city, it would be time to start spending it. He already had lots of plans.

A private jet back to Russia, for starters. And then an invitation to a nightclub owned by a distant cousin. Nicholai’s military expertise, connections to black market arms dealers, and considerable fortune, thanks to his recent patron, would guarantee him a place in the Mafia. And Nicholai was not the kind of man to work long as a mere underling. Just as he climbed the ladder of command in the UBCF, so would be climb the ranks of the Mafia.

All in due time. He just had to wait here for another few hours. But he didn’t intend to use the Umbrella helicopter to make his escape. Instead, a much smaller commercial helicopter waited for him in the industrial facility directly behind the city park. That was his ticket out of the city. He would fly it low, underneath Umbrella’s surveillance, and disappear just beyond the mountains, where a vehicle was already waiting for him.

He had set everything up the day before, with the help of a few easily persuaded UBCF soldiers. Those soldiers were now dead, thanks to the surprisingly resilient Mr. Wesker. They were sent to ambush him, and Wesker somehow killed them all, leaving Nicholai without any troublesome accomplices. For that, Nicholai felt grateful. It also meant he did not have to share in any of his new-found wealth, also thanks to Wesker.

Wesker might be a problem in the future, but Nicholai doubted that he would make his existence known any time soon. If Umbrella ever discovered Wesker was alive …

For now, at any rate, Nicholai was safe. Just a couple hours, and he would take the chopper to his hidden car in the mountains and simply drive away from this whole nightmare scenario. One more benefit to knowing exactly where all the UBCF soldiers were stationed was that he knew what side roads were not being watched.

And by this time tomorrow, Nicholai would be on a plane to Moscow. There was nothing that could possibly get in his way.

Chapter 14

 

“Okay, here we are,” Jill said as Carlos pulled the car up to the main gate.

“I wish we could just drive right in,” Carlos said.

The entire outside perimeter of the park was surrounded by a wall six feet high, made up of cream-colored stones in various shades and topped with elaborate brass globes every ten feet. The main gate was a huge wrought iron fence that must have weighed a ton, which was outlined by several large lights. Designed into the iron framework were the words “Raccoon City Memorial Park,” and underneath in a smaller design “A Thank You From The Umbrella Corporation.”

Carlos read the words and looked at Jill. “Umbrella made this place?”

Jill nodded. “Yeah, they put a lot of money into the city doing charity work like this. I didn’t really understand why until just recently.” She opened her door and stepped out, lifting up her rifle and looking all around the empty street.

“How big is this park, anyway?” Carlos asked, getting out as well.

“One square mile. I told you before, it’s pretty big.”

“How are we gonna find the command post, then?”

“Well, it has to be in a building, right? There’s only a few buildings on the whole property. I’m guessing the command post is in the manager’s office and visitor center up front or the gift shop on the other side of the park.”

“Why do I think it will be all the way in the back?” Carlos asked.

“We’ll be fine,” Jill said. “There shouldn’t be many zombies in here.”

Together, they walked through the main gate. If it wasn’t for the huge metal posts that lined the front of the main gate every few feet, they could have driven the car right into the park. But they would have to do it on foot.

“Man, I don’t like this at all,” Carlos said when he got his first look of the entrance to the park. The main walkway at the entrance was lined with old-fashioned light posts and long wooden benches, but they only extended about a hundred feet down. There were side paths to the left and right, one of which headed up to the manager’s office, with lights there as well.

But once you got past the main entrance area, there were no more lights, and the rest of the park, as far as they could see, was almost completely dark. There were only a few places with lights, and none were visible from here. At the very edge of the light, they could just make out the shifting shape of trees shifting back and forth in the slight breeze, like huge shadow shapes at the limit of their vision.

“What’s the matter?” Jill asked quietly. “Afraid of the dark?”

“Yeah, as a matter of fact,” Carlos muttered.

They walked down the main path, holding their guns at the ready. Jill handed Carlos one of the packs she took from dead soldiers in the newspaper office, so each of them now had some extra ammo, a spare pistol, as well as a few grenades. Although they each hoped they wouldn’t need the extra firepower.

The trees shifted slightly as they left the safety of the illuminated area and headed toward the manager’s office. Jill knew the way, so Carlos followed her without asking questions, keeping his gaze on the shadowy wilderness to the left and right. The entire area was eerily silent, which was made worse by the darkness. At least when they were in the city, there were numerous streetlights and interior building lights to at least allow them light to see their surroundings. But here, once they left the illuminated bubble of the main paths, they were literally in the dark.

As Carlos expected, the manager’s office was empty, which meant the only other option was the gift shop at the far end of the park.

“It’s okay,” Jill said confidently.

“If you say so.”

“Come on, just follow me.”

There were several dirt paths that wound through the park, many of which met up in the middle area, known as Umbrella Field, which was a wide open space that visitors used to play flag football and toss frisbees around in the summer. Jill led Carlos off the main path and down one of the unlit dirt paths.

They were engulfed in darkness as soon as they left the lighted area, although as their eyes got accustomed to it, they were able to see their surroundings somewhat clearly. Carlos looked around to see trees and bushes, and the occasional park bench next to the path, along with metal garbage cans and a few water fountains.

The path wound in anything but a straight line and within minutes, Carlos was hopelessly lost. He had no idea which direction they were going anymore, but Jill walked quickly and with a sense of purpose, and Carlos practically had to jog to keep up with her.

As they wound down another wooded area, he said nervously, “You sure you know where you’re going?”

“Trust me,” Jill said, “I know the way there. I’ve been here a million times. I’ve probably seen every square foot of this park.”

“Well, that’s a relief.”

“I know this park like the back of my hand. I used to take one of my ex-boyfriends out here and we’d fool around in the bushes when no one was nearby,” Jill said with a soft chuckle.

“Oh yeah? You’ll have to tell me more about that sometime.”

“I could even show you where we did it.”

“As long as it’s on the way to the command post, you can show me whatever you want,” Carlos said, keeping his eyes on the trees and plants off the path.

Jill started to say something else, but both of them turned suddenly when they heard a loud crash behind them and then a sound that was painfully familiar by now: the strangled, inhuman scream of the creature in the trenchcoat.

“Damn it,” Jill muttered. “I guess it caught up with us.”

Carlos raised his gun helplessly, aiming into the darkness. “What are we gonna do?”

“Run for it. Come on!”

Jill took off down the path, Carlos right on her heels. They bolted downhill, past more benches and to an area at the bottom of the hill where two paths intersected. There was a lone light post in the middle, with moths fluttering around the light. Jill didn’t even slow down, she immediately hooked right and kept running, and Carlos had no choice but to follow her. Soon they were in darkness again, running down a narrow path with tree branches whipping by their heads. Carlos spotted dark, moving shapes around them, and prayed his mind was playing tricks on him and they were just bushes.

There was another scream from the creature, and Carlos heard more loud crashing and snapping branches. But it was impossible to tell where the creature was; for all he knew, it was only twenty feet away.

“This way!” Jill cried.

They started to run down another side path, but Carlos caught his foot on a stray branch lying across the path, and went flying to the ground. He got onto his hands and feet and called for Jill to stop, but she was already fifty feet away. She turned to come back, but before she could get there, another deafening screech of rage came from right nearby.

The huge creature bashed its way through the trees and jumped out to the path, landing directly in between Carlos and Jill. But as before, the creature didn’t even notice Carlos, it immediately spun on Jill and screamed, its whole body shaking with rage.

Carlos watched in despair as Jill gave him one helpless look, before she turned and ran down the path, the monster running after her. By the time Carlos got to his feet and retrieved his gun, they were both gone.

Chapter 15

 

“What do you think is going to happen once we get out?” Sherry asked. “Do you think we’ll be on television?”

Claire smiled and put her hand on Sherry’s shoulder. “I don’t know. The police will probably want to talk to us for awhile. But eventually, I think that we might get to do interviews or something.”

“People are going to want to know how we survived, right?”

“I think the whole world is going to want to know just what happened here,” Claire said. “Anyone who survived will get a chance to tell their story. I think Leon will have some really interesting things to say, if he’s right about what Irons told him.”

“Do you really think that Umbrella is behind this?” Sherry asked.

Claire knew that Sherry was just worried about her parents, but she chose to answer the question honestly. Sherry would probably know if she was lying anyway. “Well, Umbrella makes chemicals and medicines, right?”

“Yeah, that’s what my dad works on.”

“So, they probably were trying to make some kind of new medicine, but it turned out to be a disease instead. I don’t think they did this on purpose, but I do think that it was something they made.”

Sherry didn’t answer for a moment, and then said softly, “Yeah, that’s probably what happened.”

Claire wished she knew what Sherry was thinking, or at least knew of a way to help reassure her. Whatever was on Sherry’s mind, she seemed intent on keeping it to herself. Claire tried to think of how to ask her, but didn’t want to force her to talk about something she was uncomfortable with.

She was probably just thinking about her parents. Claire hoped that what she said was true, that the disease plaguing Raccoon City was a terrible accident, the result of a mistaken search for a new medicine or a new cure. It was surely the most likely scenario, but Claire knew that Umbrella was a corporation with its interests spread into numerous fields, including toxicology and possibly even chemical weapons research. Was the disease something they created intentionally?

Of course, for all Claire knew, Umbrella was doing research specifically to bring the dead back to life. It was pointless for her to speculate without any facts, so she abandoned that train of thought and focused on the present.

It was a terrible coincidence that Sherry’s parents worked for Umbrella, and Claire knew that the implications must have weighed heavily on the young girl’s mind. Was it possible that Sherry’s parents were involved in the creation of the disease that led to the epidemic? Claire hoped not, for the girl’s sake.

She decided to change the subject. “Hey, don’t you think that Leon should have been back by now?”

Sherry looked up and nodded. “Yeah, he’s been gone for a long time.”

“Come on, let’s go find him.”

She hopped off the stack of wooden boards and helped Sherry down, and they started down the tunnel. Sherry stayed right behind Claire, who held her shotgun in both hands, but she didn’t expect to run into anything. She was sure that if Leon encountered anything dangerous, he’d fire his weapon, or at the very least, shout for help. Since no sound came from his direction, Claire assumed he just lost track of the time.

“Where is he?” Sherry asked nervously.

“It’s okay, I’m sure he’s fine,” Claire said.

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, there was the sound of rapid gunshots from farther down the tunnels. First a few shots, then a pause, and then another volley of fire, followed by even more shots that sounded like they were from a different gun. Claire froze and lifted her shotgun, and Sherry grabbed the back of Claire’s jacket in fear. There was also the sound of someone shouting, but she couldn’t make out the words.

“Claire!” Sherry cried out.

Claire looked down and Sherry and then ran forward to investigate. They ran down the unfinished dirt tunnels and soon came upon a connected hallway that led into a regular area where the construction was much farther along. There were tables with blueprints and yellow hard hats hanging on the walls.

Claire cautiously stepped onto the dirty white floor, Sherry close behind. She tensed up when she heard the sound of footsteps up ahead, and raised her shotgun just as someone burst from around the corner, running full speed in her direction.

It was a woman Claire had not seen before, an attractive Asian woman with long black hair, wearing black leather pants and a long-sleeved red shirt. She carried a pistol in her hands and another weapon slung over her shoulder, and she stopped dead when she saw Claire pointing the shotgun at her.

The woman held up her hands rapidly. “Whoa, whoa! Don’t shoot!”

“Who the hell are you?” Claire shouted.

“I’m not infected!” the woman shouted. “My name is Ada, alright? Don’t shoot me.”

“Where’s Leon?” Claire demanded.

“Who?” the woman said, and then she hesitated for a moment and swallowed hard, and then pointed back down the hallway where she had come from. “He’s back that way!”

“What were you shooting at?”

“It wasn’t me, it was someone else. This crazy woman was shooting at us, she must have thought we were zombies.”

“Then where is Leon?”

“How should I know? He must have run after her.”

Running off after someone who had just shot at him sounded exactly like the kind of thing that Leon would do. Claire waited for a moment and lowered the shotgun just a fraction of an inch.

“Listen,” the woman named Ada said, keeping her hands in plain view, although she still held a pistol in one of them. “Just let me out of here, alright? You want to go after your guy, then you go ahead. But I’m going my own way.”

“Oh no, you’re not,” Claire said forcefully. “You know where he is, so you’re gonna take us to him.”

“He’s that way,” Ada said with a gesture. “You can find him.”

“And what if we can’t?”

“That’s not my problem,” Ada said coldly.

Claire raised the gun again, keeping it aimed squarely at the woman’s chest. Whoever Ada was, Claire didn’t like her, and didn’t trust her. And by the way Sherry was gripping Claire’s waist, peeking out from behind her, Claire was pretty sure that Sherry didn’t trust her either.

Claire shook her head slowly. “No, I think it is your problem,” she said, an edge to her voice. “Now you’re going to turn around and show us where Leon went, and you’re going to do it right now. Trust me on this. You do not want to piss me off.”

Ada stared her down for the space of a few seconds. Trying to see if she was bluffing? The harsh look in Ada’s large brown eyes told Claire far more than Ada probably thought it would. Claire was no dummy, and she could read the calculated expression on Ada’s narrow face. It wasn’t the look of a normal person, it was the emotionless stare of a true sociopath. Ada, whoever she was, was not to be trusted.

“Okay,” Ada said smoothly, lowering her arms. “Follow me.”

Chapter 16

 

Leon ran down the hall, chasing after the blonde woman. It was easy to follow her because she wasn’t running very fast, so Leon was able to keep up. He shouted for her to stop several times, but she kept going frantically, crying and sobbing as she ran.

“Will you just stop?” Leon shouted. “I’m not going to hurt you!”

They ran through two large rooms and the woman headed into another large area, where the walls were covered in metal panels. When Leon turned the corner, he slowed down as he saw the giant square shaft that dominated the center of the huge room. The floor here was concrete, and there was a wide walkway with a metal railing all the way around the open shaft, which was probably thirty feet wide and extended down at least that far. Above them, the shaft continued up, and Leon realized this was an unfinished elevator shaft. He could see the next level above them, but he couldn’t tell how far up the whole thing went.

The woman finally stopped running. She kept her back to him, one hand on the railing, as if to keep herself upright. She gasped for breath and stood up straight, putting her hands on her hips.

Leon lowered his gun but did not put it away. The woman still carried her gun, and he didn’t want to get shot at again. He’d had just about enough of that already today.

“I’m not going to hurt you, okay?” he said as gently as he could manage. “I’m a cop, my name is Leon Kennedy. You didn’t have to run away from me like that.”

The woman turned slowly and glared at Leon suspiciously. At one time, she might have been pretty, but the strained, haunted look on her face made her appear much older than she probably was. Her blonde hair hung limply across her face, and she didn’t bother to brush it aside. She let her arms hang at her sides, glanced down at the gun in her hand, and then tossed it to the floor with a despairing frown.

“You don’t have to drop your weapon,” Leon said. “You can keep it if you want.”

“It’s empty anyway,” the woman grunted. She cleared her throat and looked Leon unsteadily in the eye.

Leon slid his own gun into his back pocket as a sign of good faith. “Okay, I put mine away too. How about we just talk?”

“Okay,” the woman said, her voice monotone. “What do you want to talk about?”

“Well, let’s start with who you are. How did you get down here?” And then, he added, “By any chance, do you know how to get back to the city?”

“You don’t work for Umbrella?”

“No, I’m a cop.”

“So how did you find this place?”

“I was in the sewers,” Leon answered. “There was a doorway that led to some tunnels, so here I am. What about you?”

The woman sighed deeply and looked down at her hands. Her sleeves and the front of her white shirt were stained with blood, so Leon could take a wild guess what the woman had gone through so far. She fidgeted for a moment and then forced her hands to her sides.

“I work down here,” she said. “This new sector is still being built, but it connects to the main lab. This whole complex extends for a few city blocks. This is just one small part of the whole lab.”

“A lab for Umbrella, right?”

“Correct. I’m one of the senior managers here. My name’s Annette Birkin.”

“Okay, Annette,” Leon said. “If you know your way around, maybe you can help me out. There are some other people with me. I’d appreciate it if you could lead us out of here.”

“Why bother?” Annette muttered. “There’s nowhere else to go.”

“We’re trying to get out of the city.”

“Trying to get out?” Annette choked out a short, mocking laugh. “Do you think that they’ll just let you waltz out of here? Umbrella has the whole city blocked off, you must know about that.”

“I know they blocked the roads to keep anyone from getting in. But I also know that they brought in soldiers who are trying to find survivors. So there must be a way out. We just have to find it.”

“You can’t trust them,” Annette said darkly. “Those soldiers aren’t here to help anyone, they’re here to get rid of any witnesses.”

Leon didn’t contradict her, but he remembered back to the Umbrella soldiers he met earlier that day. They didn’t try to harm him, and their commander, a man named Victor, helped Leon before he died. Leon suspected that Annette had her own reasons for what she believed, but he wasn’t here to argue with her.

“We need your help,” Leon said, moving the conversation back where he wanted. “I have two other people with me, and we’re trying to get back up to the city. We’ve been running around for hours down here.”

Annette didn’t seem to care, or else she was so emotionally drained that she just didn’t react to what he was saying. So Leon added, “One of the people with me is a little girl. She’s very scared. If you could just help us …”

As he spoke, Annette suddenly gasped and closed her eyes tightly, tears forming as she lifted her hands to her face. She sobbed softly and wiped her face with the back of her hand, sniffling and looking away.

“I have a daughter,” she whimpered, looking lost. “I … I dropped her off at school this morning, and … and I never saw her again. I know she’s probably … I just …”

Her legs seemed to give out on her, and she knelt down, burying her face in her hands, crying to herself, whispering so low that Leon couldn’t hear her. In the back of his mind, Leon considered the possibilities. But there was no way. It was just too much of a coincidence.

“We can get out of here, all of us,” he said gently, stepping toward her. “We can help you find your daughter, I promise. I know what you must have been through, but you don’t have to give up, okay?”

“Maybe … maybe if I’d have gotten here earlier,” she whimpered, “then everything would be okay. This wouldn’t have happened …”

Leon had no idea what she was talking about, and didn’t ask. When he tried to help her up, she slapped his hands away and got up on her own, stepping away from him.

“They killed my husband,” she said through her tears. “He was a good man … and we were going to leave before the infection spread … but they wanted to take it from him. God, they killed him, they just killed him,” she sobbed.

“Please,” Leon said, not having any idea what else to say. Annette was lost in her own world, and he had to bring her back. “It’s going to be okay, I promise.”

“No,” Annette whispered. “It’s not going to be okay.”

So Leon tried a different track. “If you want Umbrella to pay for this, you have to help us escape. The world isn’t going to find out what Umbrella did here if no one survives to tell them.”

Annette lowered her hands, the tears on her face smeared with the dirt on her cheeks. “You just don’t understand,” she said weakly, staring into space. “I’ve worked for Umbrella for twelve years. I know things that you wouldn’t believe. They won’t pay for this, they’ll never pay for anything.”

“They can’t cover up a hundred thousand deaths,” Leon said. “If we can get out of the city alive, we can tell everyone that Umbrella is responsible. People will listen, they’ll have to. But we have to get out of here first.”

Annette placed both hands on the railing, looking down into the bottom of the huge empty shaft. “Just leave me alone,” she said softly.

“You have to help us. This place is a maze, we can’t find our own way out.”

“Just go that way,” Annette snapped, jerking her arm up to point down the hallway they came from. “There’s a yellow arrow on the wall. Follow that and you’ll find one of the elevators back in the main lab. Just get the hell out of here.”

“You’re not coming, then?”

Annette sighed deeply once more. Out of sadness or irritation, Leon couldn’t tell. She turned to look at him sideways and paused, as if looking for the right words. Her hair hung over her face like a veil.

“Just leave me alone,” she said.

Leon looked at her for a long moment. If she didn’t want to come with him, he certainly wasn’t going to make her. But he wondered just what had happened to make her so insistent on staying. Had she completely given up hope? Or did the death of her husband and daughter affect her so deeply that she couldn’t function?

As Leon stepped away, there was the sound of a tremendous impact above them. It was so heavy that the floor seemed to shake. Leon glanced upward, reaching for his gun, and even Annette was shaken out of her reverie. There was another pounding crash, and the sudden sound of crumbling rock, like a wall collapsing above them.

And then the scream. It was a long, tortured scream that echoed loudly on the concrete walls, and it sounded awfully familiar to Leon. He backed up, pointing his gun into the air, knowing that it was useless.

Annette seemed possessed. She let go of the railing and her arms fell to her sides, and she stood, transfixed, listening intently to the sound as it echoed away.

And then, from the level above them, Leon caught movement at the edge of his vision. He turned and saw the twisted shape of a creature that might have once been human. It leaped off the edge of the level above them and crashed down to their level, its impact shaking the floor underneath their feet.

One huge arm with a bulging, pulsing shoulder, with a sickening yellow eyeball right in the center. The rest of its body was equally distorted, like someone viewed through a funhouse mirror. The other arm hung limply, apparently useless, but it ended in a large hand tipped with razor-sharp nails. The small human head sunken into the thick torso, a tiny mop of black hair and two tiny eyes that glittered like black diamonds. Clothed in nothing but shredded rags, its body growing oversized and mutated, its whole monstrous form coated in slime and a sheen of something that might have been sweat, it hunched over like it was unable to balance.

But then it ran, zipping toward them like a blur, shrieking like a banshee as it swung its huge, alien arm at Annette, who just stood there, unmoving. Leon reached out helplessly and cried out. Somehow, above the screaming, Leon heard her weak, plaintive voice.

“Will,” she whimpered.

The monster swung its arm down and slammed its huge fist into Annette’s body, sweeping her right off the concrete ledge, smashing through the railing and ripping it right out of the floor. Annette’s broken body sailed limply off the walkway and down into the bottom of the shaft, followed by the broken chunk of railing.

Leon ran for it, but he didn’t have a chance. He spun around just as the creature jumped at him and swung its brutal arm once more. He dove out of the way, but there was nowhere to go, and he toppled back over the railing, flipping upside down and falling over the edge, his pistol flying out of his hand as he desperately tried to grab for anything. The railing ripped out of the floor with a screech of tearing metal, and Leon lost his grip.

He tumbled away from the edge, the broken railing flipping over his head, and followed Annette down to the bottom of the shaft.

Chapter 17

 

Jill ran as fast as her legs could carry her, the ammo pack slapping hard against her back, her lungs burning with the effort. The only thing that saved her life was her knowledge of the city park’s many paths and trails.

She dodged down paths and ducked under low-hanging branches, barely slowing down, as the creature chasing her screeched its frustration as it smashed through the foliage, swatting aside bushes and breaking branches off the trees. Its huge size and clumsy movements made chasing her difficult, and Jill used that to her advantage, deliberately choosing the most winding trails and overgrown paths to slow the creature down.

She knew where she was going, and she had a plan. She just had to make it there in one piece. Behind her, thrashing around and screaming furiously, the creature continued its pursuit, barreling its way down the path like a rampaging gorilla.

Jill finally reached her destination and almost shouted for joy. The path opened up into a clearing that led uphill, and she bolted across, the creature not far behind.

“Come on, you son of a bitch!” she shouted.

A shallow creek ran through the park, winding and coursing its way back and forth in a wide curving line that stretched from one end of the park to the other. In some parts, the creek was narrow and ran along the ground, crossed by short wooden bridges. But in this area of the park, the creek flowed farther down, and the banks of the creek were very steep. A sturdy rope bridge stretched for twenty feet across the creek at this point, hanging almost ten feet above the level of the water, which moved faster here, causing a riffle in the creek, the water rushing turbulently over the surface and splashing across large rocks.

Jill ran to the bridge, hearing the creature burst out of the woods and into the clearing just behind her. She dared once quick glance, seeing it come after her with fury and vengeance in its uneven eyes. From out of her pack, she drew the combat knife.

She ran out across the bridge, grabbing the two side ropes for support. She made it almost half way across when the entire bridge snapped tight and wobbled wildly, almost making her lose her balance.

She turned around to see the creature on the rope bridge with her, its weight almost more than the bridge could support. It growled and took one unsteady step, the bridge swaying back and forth.

Jill grabbed a guide rope with one hand, and swung down with the combat knife in the other. It sliced through the other guide rope, and the entire bridge twisted as the rope snapped, whipping back like an elastic cord. The bridge flipped sideways and Jill grabbed with her other hand, dangling over the rushing water.

The creature held on as well, but its weight was too much for the bridge, and the supports on the front side ripped right out of the ground. Jill and the creature both fell as the bridge swung down, but Jill managed to hold on as she slammed into the steep bank. The end of the bridge splashed down into the water, and the creature struggled for a way to climb up.

Jill didn’t waste any time, she climbed up the bridge like a ladder and sliced down at the remaining ropes, cutting through them and sending the rest of the bridge down into the creek. The creature howled as it splashed down into the water and was quickly swept away in the current. Its fingers dug into the dirt on the banks, but there was nothing for it to get hold of, and it quickly was pulled away, tumbling and splashing in the water.

Jill climbed the rest of the way up and stood on the edge, looking down as the creature was swept away. It wasn’t a permanent solution, but for the moment, she was safe. The creek leveled out maybe a hundred yards away, so the creature would climb out soon enough.

She continued down the main path for a little while, hoping that Carlos had followed after her. She couldn’t risk going back for him now, even though she wanted to. Maybe when she made it to the command post, she could board a helicopter with a search light, and they could locate Carlos in the park that way. She didn’t think he was in any real danger, since he was armed like she was, and there didn’t seem to be many zombies in the park. But she knew how nervous he was, and she wasn’t going to abandon him.

A few minutes later, she arrived at the command post.

Chapter 18

 

After he left the sewers, Hunk headed down an abandoned residential street on his long trek out of the city. His leg burned in agony, almost certainly infected despite his attempts at first aid. He limped, wincing in pain at each step he took, one hand supporting his leg and the other loosely holding his pistol, which was down to two shots now. His face was dotted with sweat, the exertion clear on his features.

He gritted his teeth and forced the pain back, to little effect. At this point, he had to face facts. He was not going to make it out of the city, wounded as he was.

He paused in the middle of the street, looking around with a tired, hopeless expression, and walked up to the sidewalk to a nearby house. The front door was wide open, like so many other houses. UBCF agents had probably checked these houses much earlier, before being forced to retreat against the hordes of undead.

Hunk went to the front door and reached inside to switch on the lights in the front hallway. He leaned in the doorway for a moment, breathing heavily, listening for any sounds inside. Slowly, keeping his attention firmly on the hallway in front of him, Hunk stepped inside, keeping his gun aimed straight in front of him.

After a thorough inspection, he determined that the house was empty, but in the kitchen he saw the back door smashed off its hinges and a huge mass of blood smeared all over the floor. He barely reacted at the thought of what had gone down, and didn’t even care about the children’s toys lying in the middle of the living room. He was long past feeling any sympathy for the residents of Raccoon City.

He walked into the bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet over the sink, knocking aside prescription bottles until he found what he was looking for, a tube of Neosporin. Wincing in pain, he sat down on the toilet and pulled off his pants to expose the bloody bandage wrapped around his thigh. The bandages were soaked with sticky blood, and he cut them off to expose the ragged gash on his leg.

He would have preferred to wash the wound out, but he wasn’t about to use any water from the sink. Even as tired as he was, he could still think clearly. Instead, he just used a handcloth to wipe away most of the blood, and then smeared the entire wound with Neosporin, gasping in pain as he did so, his hands trembling. It wasn’t as good as hydrogen peroxide, but it would have to do.

He managed to limp to the master bedroom and knocked everything off the large oak dresser, photographs and candles and other items, then emptied out the drawers, dumping their contents onto the floor. He was looking for a sewing kit, and after a few minutes found one in the closet under some blankets and shoe boxes.

It was years since he’d stitched a wound closed, and that time it was a wound on someone else. He sat on the bed and steeled himself to the task ahead. Very carefully, very slowly, each movement of his hand sending a spike of pain through his leg, he used a needle and thread to stitch up the wound on his thigh. By the time he was done, his face dripped with sweat and he was completely exhausted. He knew that if he laid down in bed, he would fall asleep immediately.

But instead, he stood up on wobbly legs and limped to the closet again. He took out a gray dress shirt and cut it into strips, which he tied around his leg as makeshift bandages. And then he pulled off the rest of his dirty, bloody UBCF uniform and got dressed in a stranger’s clothes. He put on a pair of baggy jeans and a white t-shirt, and over that he pulled on a dark green hooded sweatshirt with the words “RCHS Raccoons!” on the front in bold yellow letters. He couldn’t find a pair of shoes that fit him, so he put his black boots back on and walked back to the kitchen.

He checked the clock and did some quick math in his head. No one had specifically told him what Umbrella’s ultimate plan was in case of an emergency of this magnitude, but it didn’t take a genius to figure out that simply sending in more soldiers wasn’t going to do the job. Something much more powerful was needed. The only possible way to deal with the undead infestation like this was by destroying the entire city block by block. If Hunk’s hunch was correct, right now at some nearby military airport, a fighter jet was loading up on incendiary bombs, or maybe even something with a bit more punch. He was determined to be out of the city long before it came here.

He had some time, though. It wasn’t even midnight yet, and there were still probably a few UBCF units still in the city at the command station. Hunk figure he had four or five hours to get beyond the city limits. More than enough time, he hoped.

Ignoring the absurdity of the situation, he prepared some sandwiches and ate them at the kitchen table, only a few feet away from a gory murder scene. He was too tired, too weak, and too hungry to care about the people who used to live here.

Quite frankly, he didn’t give a shit about anyone but himself.

He drank a can of soda from the fridge to wash down the sandwiches, and then retrieved his gun and his combat knife, the only weapons he had left. He made his way back to the front door and went outside. He didn’t bother to turn the lights off before he left.

Whatever happened now, Hunk figured that his employment with Umbrella had reached its inevitable end. He had remained a loyal employee throughout most of the crisis, but he was done. Everyone had a breaking point, and Hunk had reached his.

He didn’t feel like sitting through the endless interrogations and debriefings that he was sure to face if he made it out of the city. They would stick him in a room for days and he’d have to answer the same questions over and over. Umbrella would pick him apart, examining his testimony for any inconsistencies, looking for poor decisions or questionable judgment on his part. He would be forced to remember every gruesome, violent, terrible moment of the last few days, and repeat them all in exacting detail.

And the funny part was that after his interrogation was over, regardless of his answers, he would be returned to the UBCF with a promotion and a raise. Umbrella had lost too many men in this disaster. They couldn’t afford to terminate anyone who managed to survive. They needed every single person they could get, especially those with command experience. Experienced soldiers would be in short supply.

But Hunk wanted none of it. He didn’t want to sit through their pointless interrogation, and he didn’t want their promotion. After the last few hours of limping painfully through a deserted city full of the undead, Hunk decided it was time to change careers. Besides, there were plenty of other private military organizations that would be happy to have someone with his background. Maybe he’d go back to doing federally-sanctioned black ops work for one of the numerous security companies that the Pentagon contracted out to. The pay might not be as good, but at least he wouldn’t have to fight undead creatures and other biological monstrosities.

A few blocks later, he stumbled upon a crashed police cruiser, and helped himself to the weapons in the trunk, including a Glock and a combat shotgun. Thus armed, he continued down the street, heading for the mountains in the near distance. By his reckoning, he was only a few miles away from the outskirts of the city. He would leave the city with time to spare.

A few more miles was all he had to go, and then he was done. He continued down the lonely, silent street, hoping that his luck held out just a little bit longer.

Chapter 19

 

Leon slammed hard into the ground, landing flat on his back. The wind was knocked from his lungs with a whoosh and he gasped for breath like a drowning man, rolling onto his side and curling into the fetal position. Above him, the twisted monster shrieked victoriously and ran off in a rush, leaving Leon lying on his side, sucking in breath and trying to regain his strength, blackness edging his vision.

He managed to glance back up to the ledge he fell from, and through the pain in his chest and in his head, he realized in disbelief that he only fell about fifteen feet down. He lay on a wooden walkway that extended below the main concrete section. He didn’t even notice the ladder leading down the shaft, and only by sheer, stupid luck did he manage to land on the narrow catwalk instead of falling all the way down to the bottom. Another few feet to his left, and he would have plummeted to his death.

He got onto his hands and knees and crawled to the ladder, intending to climb back up and try to track down Claire and Sherry, who had to be looking for him by now. He had to warn them about the creature, if he wasn’t already too late.

Down at the bottom of the shaft, he saw Annette’s body lying motionless, her white shirt sticking out against the dark shaft floor. Leon’s gun was also down there, having flown out of his hand when he went over the railing.

As he reached the ladder, he knew that he couldn’t just leave her down there. He had to check on her, even though he knew she must be dead. The monster’s vicious blow alone might have been enough to kill her, but then she fell all the way down the 40-foot pit. She was dead, she had to be. But against all logic, Leon resigned himself and went down to check.

He descended the ladder and reached the bottom of the shaft. It was strewn with garbage and leftover construction materials. The workers apparently just threw their refuse down there; the shaft floor was covered in scraps of sodden cardboard, broken wooden pallets, plastic sheets, and trash like food wrappers and soda cans. It stunk of mold and garbage, and Leon’s feet slipped on the grimy cardboard.

He found his gun and stuck it in his back pocket, and looked a few feet away at Annette’s sprawled, crooked body.

Annette was on her back, her body twisted at an unnatural angle, one of her legs folded underneath her. But as Leon stepped closer, he was stunned to see her chest moving almost imperceptibly and her eyes flutter open.

“My god,” he whispered, kneeling down beside her. He reached out, but knew there was nothing that he could do. It was a miracle she was still alive, but her body was broken. She would not last long like this.

Annette opened her mouth and blood poured out, dripping down the side of her face. She gazed blankly up at Leon and whispered, “… can’t feel … my legs …”

“Don’t talk,” Leon said softly, shaking his head sadly.

“ … Where … did he go …?”

“Who? You mean that creature? It’s gone, I don’t know where it went.”

“ … my husband … came back … wanted him to …”

Leon very gently placed a hand on her shoulder. She was clearly hallucinating, and her whispered stream of consciousness dialogue went on for a few moments.

“I can’t help you,” Leon said, leaning close. “I’m so sorry, but there’s nothing I can do.” He watched as Annette’s eyes focused on his own face, and some remnant of clarity returned.

“ … my daughter … name is Sherry …”

“What? Your daughter’s name is Sherry?” Leon asked in disbelief.

“ … yes …”

“She’s alive!” Leon blurted out. “The little girl I told you about, her name is Sherry. She said her parents worked for Umbrella, but I had no idea.” Then, as if to prove to Annette that he was telling the truth, he said, “She’s about ten years old. Blonde hair. She’s wearing a school uniform.”

Annette moved her mouth in a whisper but nothing came out, and she closed her eyes in a silent expression of sadness. She blinked as tears leaked down her face, and gasped softly, whispering, “… please save her … don’t let … father find her …”

“I don’t understand, who’s her father?”

“ … he’s here … the creature did this … to me …”

“You mean …” Leon said slowly. “That creature up there? That thing was your husband? It’s Sherry’s father?”

“ … yes … they tried to … kill him … but he took the virus … changed him …”

“Jesus Christ,” Leon whispered.

“ … don’t tell her … don’t want her … to know the truth …”

“I won’t tell her. I promise,” Leon said.

“ … save her … please …”

Annette stared up at him and breathed for the last time. One final tear went down the side of her face, slid under her chin, and dripped onto the filthy floor. Leon reached down and closed her eyes. He only understood a fraction of what she said to him, but what little he understood was more than enough to send a chill down his spine. Now he knew why she wanted to stay here, and why she didn’t try to run from the creature. She was waiting for it to return, waiting for her husband to come back to her.

Leon stood up and hurried over to the ladder. He felt a surge of energy, Annette’s final plea echoing in his mind, and went up the ladder quickly, reaching the concrete walkway and instantly heading back down the hall. The pain in his back and the throbbing pain in his head were all forgotten as a new urgency directed him.

He was on a mission now. He had to find Claire and Sherry before the creature found them. He had to find them before Sherry’s father did.

Chapter 20

 

All around him, people were crying. Crisp gray tents were erected in long rows to serve as makeshift shelters, but almost no one had taken shelter yet. Everyone was seated at long tables, attended by physicians in white masks, underneath tall flood lights that lit up the entire field. An army of counselors, assistants, doctors, and administrators ran around in a flurry of movement. Everyone was talking, sobbing, shouting, whispering, and there were others who remained eerily silent, unable to put their thoughts into words.

Damascus Kelly stood in the middle of the maelstrom of bodies, eyes darting all around, trying to take it all in, a calm figure out of place in a madhouse. Mixed in with the physicians and counselors were UBCF agents conspicuously armed with pistols. Like Kelly, they stayed well out of the way, keeping their eyes on the survivors.

Fifty-two people from Raccoon City were here, but it was just the smallest of the three recovery camps located twenty miles from the edge of the city. Fifty-two, when the camp was able to hold over 500. The other two camps were equally under capacity, once again reminding him of just how few made it out of the city alive. There was still the slim chance someone else might make it out, but so far they had less than 300 people total.

As Kelly walked through the camp, he caught bits and pieces of conversation, only a small part of the full story. As the survivors poured out their experiences with the counselors, Kelly caught just a few fragments of the full picture.

“There were so many of them,” one woman whimpered, her face streaked with tears, her hands unable to stop shaking. “My husband … he fought them so I could escape with our son. But little Danny … he was so scared. He … he ran off and they … they got him too …”

Another survivor, a young man no older than 21, sat motionless in his seat, hands folded in his lap, his black t-shirt ripped open. “I had to shoot him,” he said, his voice flat and robotic. “They bit him and I knew he was going to turn into one of them. He begged me not to shoot him, but I shot him right in the head.”

“How could this happen?” one older woman shrieked, her dirty brunette hair a tangle on her head. “Those people were sick! You have to do something about this!”

Kelly crossed his arms and listened to another survivor, this one an older gentleman wearing a business suit. He was slumped over the table, his face in his hands. “I don’t know what happened to Frank and the others. Maybe they made it out too, but I doubt it. The building was surrounded. I had a chance to get out, so I took it. They would have done the same thing, I’m sure of it.”

One woman, an attractive blonde wearing cut-off jean shorts and a red shirt, was shaking uncontrollably, the counselor holding one hand on her shoulder. “And I just left him there!” she cried. “But I had no choice! He was crazy! He heard someone shooting and he wanted to go check it out! And he … he got out of the truck and I just drove away without him!” She descended into sobs, shaking her head in denial.

“You have to send more soldiers in!” another survivor shouted. “She might still be alive! Don’t you understand?! Maybe they didn’t get inside! She probably locked herself in the basement, so she’s probably still alive!”

Kelly shook his head almost imperceptibly and walked along the rows, listening to more survivors tell their stories. But at the bottom of it, all their stories were basically the same. Moments of terrified bravery surrounded by acts of terrible cowardice. Kelly learned one fact above anything else; the only way that these people survived was by abandoning those close to them. Men and women abandoning their spouses, their children, their parents. Almost all of them were rescued alone. They were all loners, the last person standing, the only one out of their group to be rescued.

“I didn’t have any choice!” they cried again and again. Kelly heard infinite variations of it from all the survivors. All of them managed to survive by sacrificing the life of someone else, and all of them claimed that they had no choice.

Kelly supposed they were right. There were undoubtedly many people in the city who resisted the urge to surrender to their fear, who acted bravely and nobly to save the lives of the people around them. And all of them probably died because of it. There was no room for heroes in Raccoon City.

But one thing was even more certain. Kelly’s last lingering doubts about the future of the city faded away as he listened to their tales. Whatever thoughts he stubbornly held about possibly salvaging this disaster and containing the infection were washed away under the onslaught of their eye-witness accounts. If he harbored any doubts about using the Final Decontamination, listening to these people removed those doubts completely.

Of course, he heard all this from Nicholai and the other UBCF Commanders already. But their reports were short, rational, and specific, and they were not able to truly describe the absolute nightmare that was going on in the city. The stories of the survivors gave a human face to the disaster, an emotional element that was missing from the UBCF reports.

How many had died? Over 100,000? Numbers like that were just too large for the human mind to comprehend. Even the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima only killed 45,000. The T-virus outbreak was officially more devastating than an atomic bomb.

Kelly was reminded of the old adage, “One death is a tragedy, but a million deaths is just a statistic.” Right now, the residents of Raccoon City were only a statistic, their deaths a number to be manipulated, their combined tragedies added up to nothing but a footnote on an Umbrella incident report.

After he had heard enough, Kelly walked to the main control tent of the recovery camp, where tables were covered in maps and half a dozen computer technicians were keeping tabs on the remaining Umbrella assets in the city. There were a few more Umbrella administrators, but they stepped aside for Kelly, letting him pass. Although Kelly did not have any specific rank here, they all knew who he was and gave him plenty of room.

So, on to the next order of business. Reports had already been leaked to local news outlets, on Kelly’s authority. As usual, in cases like this, the best lie was something very close to the truth. So the official story was this:

A biological outbreak took place at one of Umbrella’s research facilities, which was of course true, if slightly misleading. Despite the highest levels of safety, a large number of employees were unknowingly infected with an incredibly contagious mutation of the Streptococcus bacteria. They unwittingly passed on the infection to hundreds of other people as soon as they left work, who passed it on to hundreds more. The infection had an incubation period of less than 24 hours, so the next morning, many of the infected people began showing symptoms.

Symptoms included massive bleeding and open sores very similar to the late stages of necrotizing fasciitis (more commonly known as flesh-eating bacteria). However, the most serious symptom was severe damage to the brain and the victim’s cognitive abilities, resulting in violent impulses, lack of communicative skills, and a general lack of awareness. The brain damage caused the victims to act very disoriented and to the violent impulses resulted in attacks such as biting.

There were holes in the official story, but they were minor inconsistencies and could be dealt with later. Some of the survivors would surely make contradicting claims, but they could be written off as misunderstandings, or the survivors merely remembering things wrong. Surely, a victim’s behavior might resemble that of a “zombie,” but Umbrella was counting on the fact that the public would not accept such ridiculous claims. Umbrella’s official version, despite the minor inconsistencies, was still much easier for the public to accept than the possibility that zombies might exist.

So Umbrella reacted swiftly, blocking off the city to prevent the infection from spreading, and sending in their countermeasure force to try and rescue as many people as possible. The fact that a huge number of UBCF troops died in the attempt would actually work in Umbrella’s favor. The public would see their deaths as noble sacrifices. The fact that many of the UBCF soldiers had indeed acted heroically, according to the survivors, was an additional bonus.

The last part of the story would be the real test. That Umbrella, working in close partnership with the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and the United States federal government, decided that the infection was impossible to contain. Every single uninfected survivor was rescued from the city (that part was crucial; no survivors could be left behind), and then the United States government regrettably decided to destroy the entire city to prevent the disease from spreading any farther.

Umbrella would take full responsibility for the disaster, and would lead the investigation in the aftermath of the incident. And in return for their dedicated work in resolving it, the government would protect them from lawsuits resulting from the infection. Of course, they would face severe financial penalties from the government itself, but those would pale in comparison to the amount that could be levied in class action lawsuits. Even if they were fined a billion dollars, it would be a fraction of what lawsuits could cost them. A billion dollar fine would be getting off easy.

Umbrella already had plans in place for just this kind of emergency, and their protections from the government were put into place years ago. All of Umbrella’s actions from this point on would be according to a very specific crisis schedule that was planned out and written down before Kelly even joined the company. Kelly wanted to meet the man who had the foresight to plan that far in advance, and wondered if that man would get any credit for his long-term thinking.

In fact, at this point, it was all out of Kelly’s hands. His decision-making responsibilities had ended hours ago, much to his relief. He was still on-site as a supervisor of sorts, but he no longer was responsible for anything important. And after the last couple of days, it felt great not being responsible for anything. If it all went wrong now, Kelly would not be to blame.

And once it was all over, Kelly was certain to be rewarded for his handling of the situation. He looked forward to his promotion.

Chapter 21

 

Carlos dared not call out for help, nervous about what creatures might be attracted to the sound of his voice. He was alone in the dark, stumbling down overgrown paths, feeling like a mouse in a maze. He listened carefully for anything creeping around nearby, but there seemed to be blessedly few zombies around here. Which made sense, since with only one way to enter, no zombies would have accidentally wandered into the park, and few people would have been in the park when the infection took hold. But Carlos still froze at each waving branch and rustling bush, expecting death to come at every corner.

He heard the creature in the trenchcoat screaming a few times and tried to go in the general direction of the sound. Part of him felt thankful that Jill ran off, leading the creature away from him, but he immediately felt guilty for feeling that way. But hearing the creature’s angry screams actually lifted his spirits, because it meant Jill was still alive. She must have had some kind of plan when she ran off, Carlos was sure of it.

All he could really do was keep moving forward and looking for some sign of the command post. He crept along the paths and soon found a wooden bridge that crossed over a stream. To his great relief, there was an open area beyond the stream, with light posts on each side of the wide main path, which was flat and level but still unpaved. The light spread out across the field, barely reaching the trees that bordered it.

Carlos walked gratefully into the light, feeling almost safe, and scanned the open area. Up ahead of him, he caught movement, and quickly raised his gun. From out of the shadows just on the other side of the light posts, a zombie shambled into the light.

So there were zombies here. Carlos wondered how many more there were, if he had unknowingly passed any of them stumbling through the woods. He held his rifle up as the zombie took a few steps toward him, gazing at him with bloody eyes, hands hanging down with chunks of scabbed flesh hanging in places.

Carlos squeezed off a shot and the zombie’s head jerked with a crack. It toppled over backwards, brains spilling onto the dirt.

Lo siento mi amigo,” Carlos whispered.

As soon as he lowered his gun, he felt the ground tremble underneath his feet. He stumbled backward in a panic and grabbed onto one of the light posts, but suddenly the entire section of ground lifted up, the path breaking in half, a huge crack splitting the earth.

The ground dropped out from under him, like a sinkhole opening up, and he slid down into a wide chasm in the ground, covering his head as rocks and chunks of dirt came down around him in a sudden avalanche. There was a loud tearing sound as the earth cracked open, swallowing him whole. He rolled onto his side and fumbled for his rifle, which was half buried in loose dirt. He glanced around and tried to guess how far he had fallen; the top of the hole was only about twelve feet above him, almost close enough for him to climb up.

The sinkhole was about thirty feet wide, and Carlos saw that it extended farther than that behind him, but the ground there had not collapsed yet. At the bottom of the hole, water splashed, turning the loose dirt into churning mud. Carlos’ boots sucked into the mud and he climbed up onto a drier pile of dirt, trying to climb up.

From out of the pile of loose dirt and rocks across from him, something moved. He spun around, as more dirt slid down to reveal a monstrous brown shape concealed under the ground, a huge circular mouth lined in writhing tentacles like little teeth. It moved forward, spitting dirt, and emitted a high-pitched hiss, the gaping maw opening to reveal a tube-like mouth lined with teeth.

Carlos screamed and opened fire, his machine gun blasting away with a booming roar. His feet slipped in the mud and he fell backwards against the side of the edge of the hole, his back pressed into the dirt as the gun rattled in his hands.

The enormous thing under the ground, a mutated snake or worm grown to gigantic size, twitched and hissed as the spray of bullets riddled its head. Puffs of dirt and bursts of pinkish fluid squirted from the bullet holes.

The gun clicked empty and Carlos immediately snagged a new clip from the ammo pack hanging from his shoulder. He slammed the new clip in as the huge worm emerged farther from the hole, its bulk filling the sinkhole. It opened its mouth wider as Carlos raised the gun, loading a new bullet into the chamber. He pulled back on the trigger, screaming in terror as the gun blasted right into the worm’s head, blowing holes through the side of its head.

The worm shook fiercely, dirt and rubble scattering around it. Carlos did not let up, and the sound of gunfire and screams filled the air.

With a grown and a hiss, the worm shuddered and flopped over sideways, the front of its massive face a mess of bullet holes and seeping blood. Wrinkly brown flesh hung in ragged tatters, exposing the pinkish muscle underneath. Blood and other liquid poured from the huge mouth. More dirt and earth crumbled down into the pit as the monster’s huge body came to a rest.

Vete a la chingada! Hijo de puta!” he shouted, waving the gun victoriously. He slumped back against the dirt and slid into a sitting position, resting the gun across his legs. He fumbled with another clip and snapped it into the gun.

After a few minutes, he calmed down and slowed his rapid breathing. Slinging the gun across his back, he climbed up the dirt mound and lifted himself out of the hole. He walked the long way around the edge of the huge pit, looking down at the mutated worm creature. From above, he was stunned at just how large it was. The worm’s body extended all the way across the pit and into the ground on the other side; it was at least thirty feet long, and big enough around to have eaten him in one bite.

His head snapped up when he heard gunfire up ahead. It didn’t seem like it was very far away, maybe a hundred yards or less. He held his rifle in both hands and ran off down the path, hoping that he wasn’t the only person to get lucky tonight. He didn’t know if Jill was the one shooting or not, but he didn’t hear the creature in the trenchcoat, so if it was Jill, she was shooting at something else.

Not long after, Carlos saw floodlights lighting up the sky nearby, and emerged from the trees to see the command post up ahead.

Chapter 22

 

Jill wanted to run right up to the command post, but something held her back. She stood in the center of the front lawn, floodlights shining across the area, and looked around apprehensively. She expected to see soldiers standing on guard, but there didn’t seem to be anyone at all. She raised her assault rifle and cautiously walked forward toward the main building, which was normally a gift shop and visitor’s center. On the front porch were several vending machines with soda and snacks, as well as a line of gumball machines and other novelty dispensers. Jill walked up the steps to the porch and approached the door.

It occurred to her that the command post might be empty, the soldiers having already left, but from around the side of the building she saw a black helicopter parked in the rear yard, and she doubted they would have left it behind.

She tried the doorknob and it turned easily. She shouldered the rifle and drew a pistol instead, since the rifle would be too unwieldy indoors. The main room was brightly lit, with a rack of brochures and maps against the wall, as well as a few more vending machines and a clerk’s desk. Jill crept inside, listening for any noise, but the place seemed to be silent.

Was it possible that the soldiers were dead? Jill wondered if something got inside the building and killed them. She knew very well that there were other creatures on the loose than just zombies. What if something killed the soldiers? Jill had unknowingly placed so much hope on rescue if she made it to the command post, that she felt suddenly helpless.

She walked into the main gift shop, which was lined with shelves loaded with trinkets and other souvenirs, collectible pins, magnets, toys, and postcards. One wall was lined with shelves of t-shirts. Jill stood up and looked across the tops of the shelves, not seeing any zombies or anything else. At the back of the shop there were large windows which looked out toward the rear yard, where the helicopter was parked.

As she went to the back of the shop, she heard a muffled voice. She followed the sound to a door with “Employees Only” written on it. It led back into the supply rooms and the employee’s office.

Jill knelt by the door and listened closely.

“… I know … what we agreed on …”

It was a deep voice, with a harsh accent. With a start, Jill realized it was none other than Nicholai, the UBCF Commander. But how in the world could Nicholai be here? She thought he died in the streetcar crash.

“… a few hours … will be nothing left … not to worry about it …”

There was no other voice, just Nicholai’s, so Jill guessed he was on the phone or the radio with someone, probably one of his supervisors with Umbrella. Jill felt strange eavesdropping on him, since they were supposedly on the same side, but something in his tone made her pause and listen closer.

“… ran into it not too long ago … one of the survivors is a police officer … killed all my men, and nearly killed me … yes, of course … she must be dead …”

Jill’s mind raced. What in the hell was Nicholai talking about? He must be talking about her, but who was he talking to?

“… a little while … going to destroy the entire city … be long gone by then …”

Jill opened her eyes wide and her breath caught in her throat. She couldn’t believe her ears. Umbrella was going to destroy the city!

From somewhere outside, there was the sound of gunfire. It came from somewhere not too far away, but Jill couldn’t tell what direction. She paused as the rumble of gunfire continued for a few seconds and then stopped. It must have been Carlos, and she worried what he was shooting at.

At the sound of shooting, Nicholai’s voice stopped for a moment, and Jill heard, “… someone shooting outside … yes, of course … talk to you when I’m finished here … goodbye, Mister …” Jill didn’t quite catch the name of the person he was talking to.

She backed up nervously, raising her pistol. She heard a thump like the sound of someone sliding a chair into a desk, and then some heavy footsteps.

The door opened and Nicholai took one step out of the back office before he froze in surprise, an assault rifle loosely carried in one hand. He stared at Jill in disbelief, and started to lift the rifle.

“Don’t move!” Jill shouted, aiming her pistol right at his head.

“What do you think you are doing?” Nicholai asked, narrowing his eyes.

“Who were you talking to in there?”

“I was on the phone with my superiors,” he said after a moment’s hesitation. “I was giving them a status update. Now, would you put down your –”

“Shut up!” Jill shouted. She braced herself, holding the gun steady, and lowered her voice. “I heard you talking about me. Now, who were you talking to?”

“Someone from Umbrella. It doesn’t matter.”

“It does matter! You said that the city is going to be destroyed!”

“Of course,” Nicholai said with a casual shrug, looking away from Jill for a moment. The assault rifle dangled in his hand, and Jill caught his other hand slowly moving toward his back pocket.

“I said don’t move, god damn it!”

Jill lifted the gun and fired a single shot into the ceiling. One of the fluorescent lights exploded in a burst of tiny glass shards, and Nicholai hunched down, raising his hands in self-defense. He dropped the rifle to the floor and glared angrily at Jill.

“Okay! I am not moving!”

“How are they going to destroy the city?” Jill demanded.

“How do you think?” Nicholai spat. “They will strike with a nuclear weapon. It is only a few hours from now.”

“How can they do that?! Why? Why bomb the whole city?”

“The city is already lost,” Nicholai said darkly, staring at her. “You know this. To make sure the disease does not spread, they must wipe your city off the face of the earth. It is the only way to make sure.”

“And what about the other survivors?”

“What other survivors?” Nicholai said mockingly. “There are no more. Everyone in this city is dead by now. And if they are not, then they will be soon.”

Jill clenched her teeth and tensed her finger on the trigger.

“You bastard …” she whispered.

Nicholai chuckled, a cruel and twisted sound. “Are you going to shoot me? You are a police officer, yes? You would not kill me in cold blood. Or would you?”

Jill swallowed hard and took a deep breath, keeping the gun aimed firmly at Nicholai’s chest. “I’ll shoot you if I have to,” she said evenly. “Because quite frankly, I don’t trust you at all. I didn’t trust you the first moment I saw you.”

“Then what are you going to do? Point your gun at me all night, until they drop their bombs and kill us all?”

“We’re going to that helicopter out there, and you’re going to fly us out of here.”

“Us?” Nicholai said. “I only see one of you.”

“Carlos is here in the park with me, but we got separated. We have to pick him up before we leave.”

Nicholai smiled again. “Ah, the little Mexican boy? I’m surprised you both survived the crash.” His smile turned dark again, turning into a fierce grimace, and he slowly shook his head, baring his teeth like a caged tiger. “But no. I do not think I am going to fly you anywhere.”

“Are you trying to bluff me? Go ahead and try.”

“You are not going to shoot me. You would have already. And you are in no position to give me orders, police woman. You are in over your head,” he growled. “And you are not going to get in my way.”

“Whose side are you on, Nicholai?” Jill asked.

“As always, I am on my own side.”

There was motion at the edge of Jill’s vision, and she spun to the side to see a zombie bang up against one of the rear windows, smacking against the glass with bloody hands. Jill panicked and squeezed the trigger, and the window shattered, the zombie staggering backwards. Even as she opened fire, she caught Nicholai whipping a pistol from his hip holster and bringing it up toward her.

Jill jumped to the side and dove behind one of the shelves as Nicholai opened fire, the pistol booming in his hands. Wood and glass shattered, showering Jill in splintered fragments as she ducked down. She rolled onto her side and pulled the trigger, blasting through the bottom of the shelf, blindly shooting in Nicholai’s direction. They traded gunfire for what seemed like minutes, but it probably only lasted for a few seconds at most.

Jill scrambled along the floor, tossing aside the empty pistol and letting the rifle slip down off her shoulder into her hand. She slid across the floor, crawling behind another line of shelves packed with cheap trinkets, and the sound of an assault rifle tore through the air. All around her, shelves exploded in a burst of wood shards and bits of plastic. Racks of framed photos, stuffed raccoon dolls, and other gifts blew apart in a rain of bullets.

Jill pressed her back into the wall and raised her own rifle, pressing the stock firmly against the wall under her arm. She squeezed the trigger and the gun came to life, blasting out a deafening barrage of gunfire with a bright muzzle flash. The shelf directly in front of her disintegrated as if it was made of sand, the bullets tearing the wood to pieces at such close range.

Her finger popped off the trigger and she was left gasping for breath, her arms shaking in a rush of adrenalin. She heard a crash and then a door slam, and managed a peek around the edge of the riddled shelf to see that there was no one standing at the other end of the room.

She dared to stand up, and through a window she saw Nicholai outside, running toward the helicopter.

“Oh, no you don’t, you son of a bitch,” she muttered, running after him. She ran to the door and reached it just as Nicholai made it to the chopper. As he grabbed the side door to climb into the cockpit, Jill raised her gun to her shoulder.

She opened fire and the front cockpit windows blew apart. Nicholai jumped to the ground and scrambled behind the helicopter as Jill riddled the cockpit, the gun pounding into her shoulder relentlessly. Within a few seconds, the clip was empty, and she groaned in pain as she lowered the gun, ejecting the clip and reaching into her bag for another one. She ducked back into the gift shop, taking cover as she slammed a new clip into the gun.

“Not very smart!” she heard Nicholai shout from outside. “This is the only helicopter! How are you going to get out of the city now?”

“I don’t care!” Jill shouted. “But you can’t get away either!”

She flinched as Nicholai opened fire, his bullets striking harmlessly around the checkout line, where he must have assumed Jill was hiding. The cash register blew apart and fell to the floor, spilling coins.

Jill peeked out the window and saw Nicholai pull his arm back to throw something. She bolted away from the door and ran into the back office as a grenade crashed through one of the windows and clattered to the ground right in the middle of the shop.

The explosion blew the room to smithereens, and the concussion knocked Jill to the floor, where she slid into the wall, covering her head with her hands. Tiny splinters of wood became a wave of shrapnel, and a blast of debris and smoke blew through the open door. The entire building rattled with the force of the blast, and the lights flickered uncertainly.

Jill crawled to her feet and stumbled back into the gift shop, her head ringing. She shouldered the rifle and waded through the wreckage, waving smoke away from her face. She made it to the back door and looked outside.

Nicholai was far away already, running across the field beyond the command post, almost out of sight. Jill pushed the door open and started running after him, tempted to use the scope on the rifle to take aim and shoot him from a distance.

But she didn’t think Nicholai was the kind of person to run off in a blind panic. Whatever his motivations, he wasn’t just running into the woods because he was scared, and especially not because of Jill. He must have some purpose in mind. And the only possibility Jill could think of was that he knew of another way out of the city.

So Jill chose not to shoot him. Instead, she followed him.

She ran outside, keeping Nicholai in sight until he disappeared into the trees. Jill knew the park enough to know where he was headed; the trails and paths in this area of the park all led to the scenic rocky area in the back. She knew there was no real exit that way, but there were several large entrance pipes to the sewer, which were locked to the public, but she didn’t think that would stop Nicholai.

As she reached the trees, the command post far behind her, a sound echoed across the open field, a sound Jill knew very well by now. The creature in the trenchcoat was after her again.

Chapter 23

 

Ada hurried down the hall, with Claire and Sherry right behind her. Claire held her shotgun sideways, keeping her eyes on Ada, as if expecting the mysterious woman to spin around at any moment and try to kill her. Claire was not normally a distrustful person, but she didn’t think Ada would hesitate to abandon them or betray them in an instant if the situation presented itself.

When the blood-curdling scream came down the hall, all three of them skidded to a halt and looked around in a panic. Ada gritted her teeth and held her pistol, bracing herself as if expecting something to jump out at her.

“It’s not possible!” she snapped. “There’s no way!”

“What is it?” Claire demanded.

“I don’t know. Some kind of monster. But there’s no way it can be here! I watched it fall to the bottom of that huge sewer pit!”

“Well, maybe it climbed back out!”

“Claire!” Sherry cried out nervously. “What are we going to do?”

Claire faced Ada and gestured with her gun. “So what way did Leon go?”

“That way!” Ada spat, swinging her arm to point down the hall. “Why don’t you go after him yourself?”

“Cause I’m not letting you out of my sight.”

There was another terrifying shriek nearby and suddenly the wall directly beside them smashed outward, chunks of plaster and drywall crumbling to the floor. The hallway shook with the impact, and the entire section of wall bulged out as something on the other side tried to break its way through.

“Jesus!” Claire cried. She glanced away for a moment, and Ada immediately bolted down the hall, leaving them behind.

Claire grabbed Sherry’s arm. “Come on!”

They raced down the drab hallway, but Ada ran ahead of them. Sherry wasn’t able to run as fast, and Claire had to slow down to help her catch up. Behind them, the wall exploded in a blast of dust and rubble and Claire glimpsed something coming through the aperture, bashing away a chunk of wall with a huge misshapen limb. She urged Sherry on faster, and they ran to the end of the hall and darted to the right.

The hallway split off to the left again, and to a large half-built room on the right. Far ahead of them, Ada was running full speed, putting more distance between them. Claire cursed her for leaving them behind, and tried to catch up.

Sherry screamed and ran faster, and Claire glanced back to see that the monstrous figure behind them was catching up as well. It was a man, or used to be, but it looked like something from a sci-fi horror movie. Like a creature that was covered in radioactive waste and mutated into some kind of disfigured nightmare.

There was no way out, Claire realized. There was nowhere to hide and no way to escape. Every step Claire took, the creature gained on them. Ada deliberately ran off in the hopes that the creature would kill them and give her time to get away.

“To hell with that!” Claire shouted to herself.

She grabbed Sherry and they dove into the next room. Almost immediately after they jumped inside, the creature reached them and smashed into the doorway, its bulk unable to fit through. It roared and smashed its massive fist into the wall, breaking it apart.

The room was incomplete, like the rest of the area, with sheets of drywall leaning against the wall, and several ladders set up so the workers could install lights and ceiling panels. Claire and Sherry ran through the room, dodging the ladders and hanging electric cords, and hurried to the open doorway on the other side.

Behind them, the creature howled, the sound hitting them like a blast of wind. It smashed apart the sides of the doorway and squeezed its body through. Immediately, it swung its arm at a nearby ladder, smashing it as if it was made of tin foil. It flipped over, bent in half, and the creature barreled its way through the room, catching the numerous electric cords. It yanked down the light fixtures, ripping the wires out in its fury, and sparks blasted from the live wires.

Claire and Sherry ran out into the next hallway and heard a single gunshot ring out ahead of them. Claire was never so happy in her life to hear someone shooting, and they quickened their pace in desperation. They heard the monster behind them, smashing its way through the next doorway.

At the end of the hallway, two people suddenly appeared. The first was Ada, her hands empty, looking angry and defeated. She staggered out and was followed by the second person, who almost made Claire’s heart jump for joy.

It was Leon. He had a gun in one hand, aiming it squarely at Ada. He saw Claire and Sherry and waved at them urgently.

“Come on!” he shouted. “We have to get out of here!”

“Leon!” Sherry cried happily.

There was another explosion of debris and dust, and the creature burst into the hallway, charging after them like a stampeding bull.

“This way!” Leon shouted, and together they all ran down the next hallway, with Ada in front, followed by Leon and Claire. Leon grabbed Sherry and scooped her up effortlessly into his arms, her weight barely slowing him down. Sherry closed her eyes frightfully and wrapped her arms around his neck, holding on for dear life.

They ran to the end of the hall to a set of white doors. Ada slammed her fist into a button panel on the wall, and the doors slid open. To Claire’s amazement, it was an elevator.

They all piled inside and Ada hit the button for the first floor. There was a ding and the doors closed with terrifying slowness, as the creature chasing them made its way down the hall, shrieking in fury.

The doors closed and the elevator began to rise, just as the creature slammed its huge body into the doors, shaking the entire elevator. Sherry screamed and Leon set her down, as the elevator trembled with the force of the impact. Ada backed into a corner and just stared at the others, probably thinking of some way to get them killed. Claire knelt down and gripped her shotgun like a lifeline. No one spoke as the elevator lurched again and began to rise.

Suddenly the entire elevator rattled to a halt and trembled, the ear-piercing squeal of grinding metal coming from above them. There was a grumble and the elevator trembled again, and Claire felt the floor tip sideways. Leon held one arm against the wall to keep his balance, keeping his gaze at the floor.

Below them, there was a smash of ripping metal and then the elevator jumped under their feet. Leon fell to the floor and Sherry screamed again, covering her face with her hands. The floor of the elevator buckled upward with a booming smash, and they heard the monster below them screaming once more, smashing its huge fist into the floor under their feet.

“What now?” Ada shouted. “Got any more great ideas?”

“Yeah, I got one pretty good idea,” Leon snapped.

As the elevator tilted sideways, almost knocking him to his feet again, he took the shotgun from Claire and for a moment, Ada tensed up. Leon just glared at her and aimed the shotgun up at the ceiling. They covered their ears or else the blast would deafen them. The ceiling panels blew apart like confetti and Leon used the barrel of the gun to swing open the concealed maintenance hatch.

“Come on,” he said to Claire, holding out his hand. With his help, she was hoisted up through the hatch, and climbed out onto the top of the elevator. Her hands and clothes became smudged with thick grease and dirt.

She reached down and Leon handed Sherry to her. The elevator rattled again, and Claire grabbed the edge of the hatch to keep her balance. If she fell off the top of the elevator, she was as good as dead.

Leon jumped up and hauled himself up onto the roof as well. “Over there,” he said. “There’s an emergency ladder that goes up the entire shaft. We can take it to the surface.”

Claire and Sherry walked carefully off the tilted elevator to the inside ledge of the shaft, and began to make their way up the ladder. Leon looked down into the elevator at Ada, who stared at him from her corner.

“You wouldn’t leave me in here, would you?” Ada shouted up to him.

“I’m tempted to,” Leon admitted, but reluctantly held out his hand for Ada to grab. She hurried forward and grabbed his arm, and he helped her climb up as well. Just as she climbed out, the floor of the elevator split open with a screech, almost knocking both of them off, and Leon could see the monster below through the hole in the metal.

Ada jumped over to the ladder and went up after Claire and Sherry. Leon followed her but stopped at the ledge, turning to face the elevator. He held the shotgun to his shoulder and took aim.

With a boom, he shot at the thick cable that went up the center of the elevator shaft. The cable sprang back with the force of the blast, and several of the cable strands blew apart. The elevator shook unsteadily and there was a loud creaking noise. The monster below them screamed again. Leon ignored it and racked another shell in, taking aim once more.

The cable shook once more when he shot it, but this time there was a high-pitched grinding noise and the cable stretched dangerously. The elevator shook like a ball on the end of a string, and with an ear-splitting pop, the cable snapped. The top half shot upward like a stretched rubber band, and the elevator itself hung in the air for just a moment before plummeting downward with a screech of metal and a spray of sparks from the edges.

It didn’t have very far to fall before it hit the bottom of the shaft, perhaps only twenty or thirty feet, but it might as well have been a hundred. The elevator shot straight down and smashed into the ground with a tremendous crash of tearing metal, shooting a wave of dust and debris upward. The monster’s scream, a mixture of hatred, fury, and insanity, was cut off with the huge crash, and silence finally settled on the inside of the elevator shaft.

After looking down at the wreckage for a few moments, Leon shouldered the shotgun and went to the ladder to climb up after Claire and the others.

Chapter 24

 

Nicholai ran down the dark path and out of the trees, laughing to himself as he hurried up toward some large boulders that marked the back end of the park. Just beyond the rocky area were some large sewer pipes that led into the city sewers. When he had planned his final exit several days before, Nicholai learned that there was no way directly out of the park from this direction. The north edge of the park ended in a sheer rock wall about twelve feet high. The only way out was through the sewer pipes.

He jumped across some smaller rocks and stopped at the top of a larger half-buried boulder. He turned to see Jill appear from out of the trees, and chuckled as he took out his pistol. He fired a few shots and watched her dive for cover, laughing as he did so.

He could have killed her then, using the field of boulders as the perfect place for an ambush, hiding in the shadows until she ran by, and then gunning her down. But Nicholai was beginning to enjoy the chase. And the woman Jill was an amusing adversary, much more persistent and cunning that he had initially given her credit for. Either that or she was just incredibly lucky, but Nicholai was leaning toward the former. She was a fighter, and Nicholai was excited to have a worthy opponent coming after him.

His personal conquests of late were against much weaker adversaries. It was almost a shame that Jill would have to die, but perhaps Nicholai could enjoy himself before it was time to pull the trigger. After all, the missile strike was not scheduled for another few hours. He might have the chance to really take his time with her.

He fired off a few more shots to keep Jill on her toes, and tossed away the empty pistol. Jumping down off the rocks, he ran in between them and made his way farther back. With little light to guide his way, the field of boulders was like a maze of huge, looming shadows. If he hadn’t already planned his route far in advance, he probably could not have found his way to the sewer pipes.

He ran up a slight incline and across a rocky outcropping, making his way along the poorly-marked path through the rocks. When he finally reached the edge of the park, he climbed up to the ledge along the wall. Above him was a thick iron fence that lined the top of the wall, a place where visitors gathered to get a scenic view of the entire park. Light posts lined the outlook, illuminating the area directly below the wall.

Nicholai heard someone coming and instinctively ducked down as gunshots rang out. He didn’t know where Jill was shooting from, she could easily see him because he was standing out in the open, almost directly under the lights. Instead of returning fire, he ran as fast as he could along the ledge until he reached the sewer opening.

The pipe was five feet wide, not quite wide enough for Nicholai to walk through comfortably, so he ducked down and hurried inside. More gunshots, and this time he heard them clang off the thick metal edge of the pipe.

There was a metal fence welded inside the pipe to keep people out, but there was also a hinged door with a padlock to allow maintenance and utilities workers to enter if they needed to. The padlock was unlatched, however, as Nicholai had already unlocked it much earlier. He pushed open the fence door and it squeaked on rusty hinges. The inside of the pipe was absolutely pitch dark, but Nicholai knew the way.

He hunched down as he ran, the barrel of his Carbine scraping against the roof of the pipe, his boots splashing through the stagnant water at the bottom. He held his hand out as he ran, feeling along the side of the pipe. Jill would expect him to hide in the darkness in order to kill her, so she would hesitate before coming in after him, which gave him a little more time.

His hand struck the edge of a metal ladder that headed up to a manhole cover on the street above. But Nicholai kept going until he found a second ladder farther down the pipe, and quickly climbed up in complete darkness. When he reached the top of the ladder, he pushed up on the metal door and peeked out into an open concrete yard. One side was bordered by a tall wooden fence and the other side led out to a parking lot next to a huge rectangular gray building.

Directly above him was a streetlight, illuminating the area, shining light down past him and into the sewer pipe. Jill would surely see it, but Nicholai left the metal doors open as he climbed out.

The huge gray building had no windows, and only a simple sign in black lettering that read “Cavanaugh Chemical Disposal.” The fence blocked view of the building from the street, and the open lot in front was empty, as Nicholai expected.

He walked out into the lot, taking his assault rifle down from his shoulder and aiming it in front of him. Around the side of the building was a parking lot, currently empty, and across from that was a chain-link fence that held out an army of zombies. There were hundreds of them packed along the street, and as soon as they noticed Nicholai walking toward them, they began to moan and grab at the fence. The smell of death wafted across the parking lot and Nicholai breathed through his mouth because the stench was so overpowering.

Unfortunately, those zombies blocked his escape route. There was no way he could get through that many undead. There had to be a way through the building to get to the empty lot on the other side, so he went to one of the side doors to the building and tested it, before shooting out the lock and kicking the door open.

But before he went inside, he walked over to the fence. Part of the fence was a long gate that swung open so cars could drive into the parking lot, but right now the gate portion was closed and locked. Nicholai shot out the lock and chuckled to himself as the zombies surged forward and began to push the gate open. Hundreds of zombies flooded through the gate and into the parking lot.

Nicholai ran back to the doors and entered the building.

Chapter 25

 

“It’s too dark. I don’t see anything.”

Leon looked through the narrow opening and saw nothing but a dark hallway. Hanging onto the ladder beside him, Claire was looking through in the other direction but couldn’t see any more than he could. The elevator doors at the top of the shaft were only pulled open a few inches, just in case something dangerous lay beyond.

“Who knows what’s out there?” Claire said.

“Doesn’t matter. We can’t stay in here,” Leon said, peering into the darkness. He listened but heard nothing. If there were any zombies, they would have been attracted by their voices.

Ada’s voice came from below them. “Are we going to stay here all night or what?”

“If you’re so anxious to leave, why don’t you go first?” Claire said harshly. “If you run into any danger, don’t worry. We’ll be right behind you.”

“Fine, I’ll go first,” Ada said, and climbed up past Sherry, who clutched the edge of the ladder nervously, glancing down to the bottom of the shaft far beneath them. Ada climbed up beside Leon and shouldered her way past him to push the elevator doors open a bit farther.

“I’ll yell if I see anything,” Ada said with a smirk, and lifted herself onto the ledge to slide herself out easily.

“Sure you will,” Claire said.

“Come on,” Leon said. “Let’s all just go.”

Ada crawled through the doors and stood up in the darkness, the only light coming from the dim yellow lights along the inside of the elevator shaft. She looked up and down the hallway but the entire area was pitch dark. Leon climbed out after her and looked around as well. They were inside some kind of office building, judging by the plain elevator and the tile floors.

“Worried about my safety?” Ada said in a low voice. Leon could barely see her in the darkness; she was little more than an outlined shadow.

“The only weapon you have is that grenade launcher,” Leon replied. “If you run into anything, that might be overkill. So I might as well come with you.”

“Give me a gun, then.”

“We don’t have any to spare.”

“How many rounds do you have left?”

“Eight, I think.”

“What about your girlfriend?”

Claire stood up next to them, having crawled out. “My name is Claire, and I’m not his girlfriend. And I have three shells left.” She knelt over to help Sherry climb through the doors as well, so all four of them were in the hallway.

“Well, I have two rounds left in this thing,” Ada said, patting the launcher hanging off her shoulder. “So I guess we’re just about ready to take on an army, aren’t we?”

Together, they headed down the hallway, keeping close to each other. Sherry held Claire’s hand tightly, but said nothing. The only noise they heard was their own footsteps on the tile floor and the sound of their own nervous breathing. Except for Ada, who walked confidently forward, as if there was nothing to fear.

Their eyes adjusted to the darkness, and they were able to make out dim light coming from ahead of them.

“How did you make it down there, anyway?” Leon asked her. “You must have followed us from the police station, right? But we left a hundred zombies behind us. How did you get past them?”

“After I ditched you I went back upstairs,” Ada explained casually. “But the way was blocked, so I headed back downstairs and found all those zombies. I shot a grenade into the crowd to spread them out and went down into the basement. I didn’t know you went that way until I saw your footprints in the dust.”

“That leads to my next question. You never told me who you were.”

“You didn’t ask me nicely enough.”

“You didn’t exactly give me a chance to,” Leon said. “As I remember, you punched me in the face and kicked me in the stomach last time.”

“Yeah, well, sorry about that,” Ada said insincerely.

“So who are you?”

“My name’s Ada Wong.”

“You’re military?”

“Why would you think that?” Ada asked, her voice neutral.

“You carry yourself like a soldier,” Leon said. “The way you hold a gun. You know hand-to-hand combat. And you asked me how many rounds I had. Most civilians call them bullets instead of rounds.”

“Well, I guess that means you must be in the military?” Ada asked.

“Army Ranger,” Leon said.

They came to the end of the hallway and saw some windows ahead of them, silvery twilight shining into the open foyer and reflecting off the floor. Claire breathed a sigh of relief when they saw doors up ahead, past a reception area and a short lobby.

“Thank God,” Claire said to herself. She squeezed Sherry’s hand reassuringly and said, “It looks like we made it out. Now all we have to do is find out where we are and we can figure out a way to leave the city.”

“I think that’s easier said than done,” Leon said. He held out his arm to stop her and then knelt down as if to take a short rest. He pointed out the lobby and to the doors. “Looks like we’re not alone.”

Just outside the door, there was a zombie standing unsteadily. It looked like an old man in a business suit, but it was too dark to make out any details. The zombie wavered on its feet as if a stiff wind would knock it over, and did not notice them.

“Are you going to shoot it?” Claire asked.

“There’s probably more of them out there,” Leon said. “I don’t want to attract any unwanted attention.”

“We don’t have to go out the front door. Maybe we can find another way out.”

Leon glanced back down the pitch black corridor and shook his head. “Not without turning the lights on. Come on, let’s try to get closer.”

They crept through the foyer to the main lobby and hid behind the receptionist’s desk. Claire wrapped her arm around Sherry protectively and peeked over the top of the desk. Through the doors, they could see a front walkway and part of a parking lot in front of the building, and streetlights behind that. There was only one zombie that they could see.

Ada crouched down and peered out from around the desk. Leon knelt behind her and looked out as well. He drew his pistol and checked to make sure the safety was off. He glanced back at Claire and Sherry but said nothing to them just yet. Sherry had not spoken in awhile, but now was not the time to point that out.

“I don’t see anything else,” Ada whispered. “Here, give me your gun and I’ll take that one out.”

“Not likely,” Leon said. He stood up a bit and rested his arms on the desktop, taking careful aim at the zombie. He squeezed the trigger and let off one shot. The gunshot sounded far too loud in the quiet stillness. There was the tinkle of broken glass and the zombie toppled to the ground, its head smacking wetly on the pavement.

Everyone held their breath for a few moments, but no other zombies appeared to investigate the shot. After a minute or so, Ada stood up straight and adjusted the launcher on her shoulder. She brushed her hair out of her face and looked down at Leon.

“Are you coming?” she asked sarcastically, and walked out into the lobby.

Leon got up after her, jamming the gun into his belt. Before Ada made it halfway to the doors, Leon caught up with her and grabbed her arm, turning her around to face him.

Ada narrowed her eyes and looked down at Leon’s hand before staring him in the face, the blueish light reflecting through the windows making her eyes seem to glow.

“Let go of my arm,” she said darkly.

Leon stared right back in her eyes, his other hand balled into a fist. “Before we go any farther,” he said, “I think we need to get one thing straight. I’m not about to let you use anyone as bait again, is that clear? If you want to stay with us, then we work together. That means no running off and leaving us behind at the first sign of trouble. If that’s going to be a problem, then we can split up right now.”

“Let go of my arm,” Ada said again.

Instead, Leon squeezed tighter. “Do we understand each other?”

“Still upset that I left you behind earlier?”

“Not me,” Leon said. “Claire and Sherry. When that monster attacked them, you ran off on purpose. How does it feel to abandon a little girl like that?”

Ada leaned closer to Leon, so that their faces were only inches apart. “I will to do whatever I have to in order to survive,” she said, her voice as cold as ice. “I’m not going to apologize for anything. You want to be some kind of knight in shining armor, you go right ahead. But I’m not going to die for anyone.”

“Maybe I should have left you in that elevator.”

“Maybe you should have,” Ada agreed coldly. “What about that blonde chick that was shooting at us? Looks like you left her behind too.”

“She’s dead.”

“Well, it’s a shame that you didn’t get to save her.”

Claire stepped in between them and forcefully pushed them apart. Leon let go of Ada’s arm but did not take his eyes off her face. Ada calmly brushed off her sleeve, as if wiping off Leon’s touch.

“Stop it,” Claire snapped, looking at them. “Both of you.”

Sherry walked up next to Claire. She looked tired, worn-out from their frantic escape and everything else that had happened. Her arms hung limply at her sides, as if she didn’t have the energy to hold them up.

“Can we go now, please?” she asked tiredly, directing the question at Leon. “I don’t want to stay here. I don’t think it’s safe.”

Leon looked outside, but the coast was still clear. Their gunshot had not attracted any more zombies.

“Yeah,” he agreed. “Let’s hurry and get moving.”

Outside, the sky was a dark midnight blue, and the partial moon gave very little light. The air was eerily still, and there was no sound at all. The city was as silent as the grave. Leon went outside first, followed by the others, and they walked down the front walkway to the curb and then out to the street.

There was a small park across the street with a playground made of brightly colored plastic pieces, lit up by numerous lamp posts. There were some oak trees lined along the sidewalk, sending complex shadows across the avenue. Along the street were some small businesses, with residential homes across the street on the other side of the park. Unlike many of the other places that Leon and Claire had seen so far, there were no cars blocking the road, and little other evidence of the infection. The street looked calm and safe, and for just a moment, they felt as if they had escaped the horrors of the city, as if this one small neighborhood had been spared the infection.

“Do you have any idea where we are?” Leon asked Claire. “You know the city a lot better than I do.”

“I don’t live here, remember?” Claire asked, looking at the street signs. “I just come here sometimes to visit my brother. I don’t recognize any of these street names.”

“What about you?” Leon asked Ada.

Ada crossed her arms and shook her head. “No, sorry,” she said, for the first time sounding as if she actually meant it. “I’m not from around here either.”

“Do you know where we are, Sherry?” Claire asked. “You’re the only one of us who actually lives in Raccoon City.”

Sherry shook her head. “No, I don’t know this place. I’m sorry.”

Leon walked out into the street, looking both ways out of habit, as if he expected cars to drive down the street at any moment. “Let’s just walk this way,” he suggested. “Maybe we’ll find a major street.”

They headed off in a random direction, walking in between the playground and the houses, going at an easy pace. All four of them were tired, and Leon didn’t see any reason to hurry. For the moment, they took it slow, happy to be relatively safe.

Claire walked up beside Leon and said quietly, “What happened to the other woman? Who was she?”

Sherry was walking a few steps away, not listening to them, seemingly lost in her own thoughts. But Leon didn’t dare tell the truth. He couldn’t put Sherry through that, not after all she’d been through already. Knowing that her mother was so close and died so horribly was more than she could bear. It would be better if she just remained ignorant of what happened. For all she knew, her parents were already gone, and Leon wanted to keep it that way.

“She worked for Umbrella and was hiding down there,” he said simply. “She shot at me and Ada because she thought we were zombies. I chased after her, but …”

“But what?”

“That creature got her,” Leon said after a pause. “It killed her. There was nothing I could do. I barely managed to get away myself.”

Claire looked down and was silent for a few seconds. “What was her name?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Leon lied. “She didn’t tell me.”

“Jesus,” Claire whispered. “She survived that long by herself and got killed just when we got there. How horrible is that? She could have joined us. It’s like she got killed right when she could have been rescued.”

“Yeah,” Leon agreed.

He glanced back at Sherry, who was fiddling with the edge of her school skirt absentmindedly as she walked. Once again, he was amazed that a young girl like her could have survived on her own in the midst of all this chaos. She had more courage than all the rest of them put together, he thought. Whatever strength she was drawing on that kept her going, Leon hoped that she had enough of it left. Because getting out of the city would not be easy.

But whatever else happened, he was determined that Sherry would never learn the truth about her parents. That was one secret he was going to take to his grave.

Chapter 26

 

Jill held her breath as she climbed the ladder. The moment she lifted her head through the opening to see where she was, she expected to get shot in the head. But if Nicholai intended to ambush her and kill her easily, he already had several chances. He could have hid in the rocks and shot her from a distance, or he could have waited in the darkness of the sewer pipe and killed her there.

Although, if Nicholai was deliberately letting her live, then that meant he was trying to lure her somewhere, and Jill didn’t like that idea either.

She pulled her machine gun free and held it in one hand, her other hand gripping the top rung of the ladder. Directly above her, a light shone down the ladder and into the pipe, bathing her in light. She took a deep breath and lifted herself up to ground level, glancing out to see where the ladder had taken her.

It turned out that Nicholai was not waiting for her after all. Instead, there was nothing short of an entire army of zombies coming towards her, over a hundred of them, all shuffling hungrily in her direction. Jill swiftly climbed all the way out and ran away from the zombies, not wasting her limited ammunition. There was nowhere for her to go, as she was blocked on both sides, with a building on one side and a tall wooden fence on the other.

She ran around the side of the building to see that it led to a dead end. The building was actually in the shape of a U, and there was a wide inner courtyard between the two main sections, where they stacked used wooden pallets and empty barrels and drums. Jill panicked for a moment, until she saw doors over to her left. They were locked, but a few bullets from Jill’s rifle were enough to blow the lock apart.

She kicked the doors open and ran inside to a dark hallway that smelled like chemicals. It was dark inside, but there were small yellow lights along the walls like emergency lights, and they gave the hallway a sickly yellowish illumination. Jill tried to find a regular light switch but there didn’t seem to be one, so she continued forward, her gun aimed in front of her.

The floor was made of sheets of metal grating that clanked softly when Jill stepped on them, and the walls were lined with pipes and metal panels. The stink of chemicals burned Jill’s eyes, making her blink. She couldn’t identify exactly what the smell was; it was as if someone dumped a bunch of random cleaning chemicals all together and they reacted to form noxious fumes. She hoped that they weren’t poisonous.

Where was Nicholai? He must have gone this way, because zombies completely blocked access to the other side of the building. But the door had been locked, so did he have a key? Or had he slipped away somewhere else, leading Jill up here to trick her?

It was a moot point, she thought, because she couldn’t go back now. The only option was to continue forward and try to find another exit.

There were two large storage rooms lined with barrels and large burlap bags full of powdered chemicals. The floor was wet in places, but Jill didn’t think it was water. Everything was labeled with hazard signs and given long chemical names like “trisodium bicarbonate methyl-sulfide” and other names that Jill couldn’t comprehend. She wondered exactly what kind of work went on in this place.

Down the hall, there were more lights on. The walls were painted an ugly orange color, and all the metal pipes were yellow. Jill passed a cramped office room stacked with old filing cabinets and glanced inside.

Something moved at the edge of her vision and she raised her gun when a zombie appeared down the hall. It was a man wearing a yellow rubber jacket like a raincoat, with yellow rubber boots and gloves. A hard hat was tilted sideways on his head as he staggered forward, arms outstretched.

“Oh my God,” Jill whispered, bile rising in her throat.

The zombie’s face was mostly missing, as well as a section of its skull, leaving a melted, gaping hole on the side of its head. Watery blood was spilled down the front of its jacket, which dripped onto the toes of its boots.

Jill took one shot and the zombie’s head exploded, splattering the walls with blood and brain matter. The hard hat toppled to the floor as the body flopped over backwards.

Jill swallowed hard, trying to keep from throwing up. The stink of decay, mixed with the overpowering smell of chemicals, made her sick to her stomach, but she managed to keep it down as she continued onward. She also began to notice that it was getting much warmer as she went farther into the building, and she felt herself begin to sweat. Her shirt stuck to her skin and a slight sheen of perspiration covered her forearms.

She found a set of double doors and pushed them open, discovering a large room lined with mixing vats up on a large metal deck. On the walls were sturdy shelves with pallets of various materials and other products. It was even warmer in here, and Jill felt the humidity in the air, making the chemical odor even worse. She could practically taste it now.

Large lights overhead showed the gleaming metal vats and pipes that led upward and criss-crossed along the ceiling in a maze of metal. Jill was so caught up in examining the room that she barely noticed the movement far on the other side of the mixing deck.

She jumped to the side as a volley of gunfire rang out suddenly, the bullets zipping past her and striking the wall. Some of the shots struck the metal pipes, and they clanged loudly in protest. Jill scrambled along the floor and backed up against an electrical panel.

“Those were just warning shots!” came a bellowing voice.

“Nicholai!” Jill shouted. “You son of a bitch!”

“I could have killed you just now! You are alive because I let you live!”

Jill panted for breath and peered out from behind the panel. It wasn’t bulletproof and offered no real protection from gunfire, but Nicholai didn’t know where she was. And there was so much metal in between them that she doubted he would just open fire without cause. And she knew that he must have limited ammo in any case.

The raised metal deck reached all the way to the back end of the room as far as Jill could tell. It was about four feet off the ground, and there were short sets of stairs in between each vat, all made of gleaming metal. There were plenty of places to hide, but that counted for both Jill and Nicholai.

Gripping her rifle, she eased forward and knelt down behind a pallet covered in plastic buckets. She peered in between them, hoping to catch a glimpse of Nicholai.

“Where are you?” he called out. Jill thought she heard footsteps on the other side of the deck. She retreated back along the wall, feeling horribly exposed, and crouched at the end of a row of shelves.

Her mind raced as she heard more footsteps on the deck. She pulled out the combat knife from her ammo pack, and tossed it across the room. It clanged into the metal railing farther down the deck and clattered to the floor.

“Trying to fool me?” Nicholai said with a laugh. “I know where you are! I have let you come this far, but maybe you will go no farther. Maybe I’ll kill you this time, yes?”

Jill held her breath and raised the assault rifle, propping the barrel on a metal shelf to steady her aim. She waited for what seemed like minutes, when she caught a reflection on one of the huge vats. Nicholai had not stepped into view, but his reflection gave away his position.

She squeezed off a single shot, and it ricocheted loudly against the vat, the sound followed immediately by a shout of anger as Nicholai backed away. When she caught movement, Jill opened fire again, firing off a few shots in between the vats where she thought Nicholai was.

Jumping to her feet, Jill bolted forward, running along the edge of the raised deck. A blast of gunfire opened up, and she screamed as she heard the bullets smack into the wall just behind her. They clanged and chimed against the steel as Jill ran past. She dove for cover at the back side of the deck, sliding along the slick floor and winding up on her back, underneath the edge of the deck almost at the back of the room. She guessed that Nicholai had been standing somewhere in that area when he first opened fire on her.

She got to her feet and crouched low, moving underneath the deck. Somewhere ahead of her, she heard Nicholai’s loud, banging footsteps. She saw his shadow on the floor and opened fire, her bullets striking the underside of the deck, but some of them managed to go in between the grating. Nicholai returned fire, and Jill had to scramble under the deck until she was almost to the opposite corner. She peeked above a stack of wooden pallets and glimpsed Nicholai jump off the deck and run to a side door. She opened fire, but Nicholai dove through the doors and Jill’s bullets struck the wall.

She waited for a few seconds and then chose to move back all the way to the other side of the deck. Then, crouching on the floor, she looked underneath the deck to see the side doors hanging open. Nicholai was not hiding there to shoot Jill as soon as she entered the hallway, so she carefully approached the doors and went through.

She had the distinct feeling that Nicholai was leading her somewhere, but she had no choice but to follow.

Chapter 27

 

When Carlos heard the monster in the trenchcoat screaming out in the woods, he did something that would have sounded absolutely crazy to him just a few hours before. He jumped up and ran toward the sound.

If the monster was screaming, that meant it found Jill and was chasing after her. So Carlos chased after the monster, in the hopes that it would lead him back to Jill as well. He ran through more dark woods, but this time without fear, feeling as if he moved with a purpose. After his encounter with the huge underground worm, he felt like he could face anything that the city park could throw at him.

He burst out of the trees a few minutes later and was amazed to see that he had somehow caught up with the monster, which was now within sight. The creature ran across a field strewn with rocks and boulders and moved to what appeared to be a sheer rock wall at the very end of the park. Carlos saw it clearly because of the large lights at the top of the wall.

By the time Carlos made it to the rocky area, the creature was at the wall. He watched in disappointment as the creature barely slowed down, and bounded up the wall, grabbed the metal fence, and pulled itself over in one swift motion. Carlos knew immediately that there was no way he could follow it.

But there must be another way to get up there, since he doubted that Jill could have climbed up that way. Carlos wondered exactly why she went that way at all, and exactly what happened at the command post. He arrived there to find the place abandoned and completely blown to pieces. Once he found Jill, he would have to ask her.

If he got to her in time, that is. But Carlos hadn’t come all this way for nothing.

He ran swiftly through the boulders and large steep rocks until he reached the wall. Far to his left, he saw a huge shape sticking out of the wall, and discovered that it was a huge pipe. There was a metal door at the entrance but it was wide open, so Carlos went inside even though it was pitch black, with the exception of one tiny illuminated area far ahead. He convinced himself that Jill must have gone this way, since there was no other option.

He went to the lit up area to find a ladder that led up to the surface, but as soon as he climbed halfway up, he saw zombies standing around the top of the ladder. So he went back down and ran to the other ladder, the first one in the pipe. That one was not illuminated, but Carlos climbed in darkness and pushed up a heavy manhole cover at the top of the ladder shaft.

He found himself in the middle of a street, and pushed the manhole all the way off. It clanged loudly, and Carlos quickly climbed out as a couple of zombies nearby came to investigate.

To his right, there was a wide sidewalk that overlooked the city park. A couple of stray zombies congregated there, like tourists taking pictures, and they stumbled in his direction.

To his left, there was a tall wooden fence that stretched almost all the way down the block, decorated with posters and colorful graffiti. A few cars were parked along the street.

One section of the fence was smashed down, the sidewalk there littered with fragments of shattered wood. Carlos knew right away that the creature must have gone that way, and he ran after it, bringing up his rifle as he reached the broken section.

On the other side of the fence were more zombies, but they were just far enough away that Carlos was able to run past them and head toward the large gray building in front of him. As he approached it, he thought he heard gunshots from inside.

Chapter 28

 

They walked for blocks, most of the time in silence. At the moment, there just didn’t seem to be anything worth saying out loud. Sherry was quiet, lost in her own thoughts. Claire walked with her arms crossed over her chest, looking around nervously and occasionally glaring at Ada. Leon was too busy watching out for danger to say anything, and walked forward intently with his gun drawn, even though they had not seen much the entire time they’d been walking. And Ada, apparently happy to maintain the distance between them, walked a few paces in front, her grenade launcher casually slung over her shoulder.

They passed more abandoned houses, wrecked cars piled up at intersections, and more than a few dead bodies lying in the street. Leon wanted to shield Sherry from them, but the sad truth was that a few more bodies would not traumatize her any further. Besides, these bodies remained dead.

Fires burned energetically in charred buildings, cars and trucks lay overturned in the streets, stray zombies wandered along the sidewalks, and in the middle of all that chaos, four complete strangers walked the deserted city like the survivors of a nuclear holocaust. Leon realized that they would find no other survivors here, not out in the city. If there were any more living people in Raccoon City, they were hidden far from view, barricaded down in basements or hidden high in attics. Leon doubted that they would come out willingly, even if they encountered other survivors. At this point, the only way people stayed alive was by hiding, and they were not likely to leave those hiding places any time soon.

Up ahead, the street split off in a crowded 5-way intersection. The streetlights hanging above the road flashed yellow, as if there were any drivers left to signal. In the very middle of the intersection, a lone ambulance sat, its blue and white lights flashing, but the paramedics who once drove it around were probably long since dead. If any of Leon’s group was wounded, they could have used the ambulance to get medical care, but so far they were all somehow uninjured, except for Ada. Leon noticed that she had bloody gashes on the palms of both her hands, but she didn’t mention it or complain about it. Aside from their shared exhaustion, they were still otherwise in perfect health.

Two sets of railroad tracks crossed the street off to their left, although cars were now crowded across the tracks. No trains would be coming this way though, not if Umbrella had blocked off the city.

The entire street, like so many others, was jammed with cars. Some of them were smashed into others, one after the other as the result of a chain reaction collisions. A few of the cars were still running, but they were stuck in between other cars, and there was no way to get them free.

“Any idea where we are?” Leon asked.

Claire looked up at the street signs and shook her head. “Sorry, no.”

“We have to be close to the edge of town,” Ada said, speaking up for the first time in awhile. She gestured up ahead of them, over the tops of the nearest buildings. “You can see the mountains over there. We should just keep walking in this direction. We’ll hit it sooner or later.”

Leon looked at Claire, who only shrugged. “Sounds like a plan to me.”

“What’s that noise?” Sherry asked suddenly.

Leon turned and listened, and for a moment heard nothing but the lazy crackling of nearby fire, and the sound of his own weary breathing. But then, from a distance, he heard a sound he recognized right away. A scream that could not have come from a person. He looked far down the abandoned street, but he couldn’t see anything coming after them. But he knew it was there.

Claire heard it too. “Oh no,” she whispered.

“I guess it finally climbed out of the elevator shaft,” Ada quipped, crossing her arms defiantly. “We should have known that wouldn’t hold it forever.”

“What are we going to do?” Sherry asked.

“Is it following us?” Claire added nervously. “I mean, is that even possible? Why would it keep coming after us like this?”

“I don’t know,” Leon said, although that was a lie. He knew perfectly well why the creature was coming after them.

“I think it’s chasing me,” Ada said firmly. “It chased me when I was in the sewers and somehow found me even though it fell all the way to the bottom of that huge pit. And it attacked you and me in the police station.”

“Why would it be chasing you?” Claire asked suspiciously.

Ada shook her head. “I have no idea, I assure you.”

“Come on,” Leon said, heading up the sidewalk. “We have to get moving.”

“Can we hide from it?” Claire asked.

“I don’t think so. It must be able to smell us or something, if it’s been able to track us all this way.”

“Then how are we supposed to get away from it?”

“I don’t know,” Leon admitted. “But we’ve got to think of something.”

They crossed the crowded street, weaving in between all the cars. Leon went out in front, trying to think of some kind of plan. So far, they had been lucky. But out here in the open, there were very few options. When the monster finally caught up with them, Leon didn’t think they would find an elevator conveniently lying around that they could drop on it. He wished they could find a usable vehicle, but they didn’t have time to check every single car to see if the keys were inside.

“Over there,” Ada said, pointing.

They crossed the packed intersection and continued down the street. Up ahead of them on the left was a large building located back away from the street. It appeared to be a huge warehouse with a row of smaller, single-story office buildings in front. A large sign out front read, “Arklay Valley Manufacturing.”

The four of them hurried toward the buildings as another inhumane scream echoed down the street. Ada slid her grenade launcher off her shoulder and ran ahead. Claire and Sherry followed her, while Leon paused for a moment.

From over the tops of the parked cars, he saw movement far down the street, a vast shape coming toward them. Leon swallowed nervously and ran after Claire and the others.

There was a line of large shipping doors on one side of the building, some of them wide open. Two trailers were parked there, but Leon didn’t think anyone was going to unload them any time soon. The lights were on inside the building, which was the only reason it seemed like a good place to go.

Ada climbed up onto the loading dock. Leon expected her to run off and leave them behind, but Ada helped Claire and Sherry up as well before going off, leaving Leon to climb up himself. They ran across the dock into the main section of the building.

It was a huge manufacturing plant, with rows of gigantic machines lining the entire inside of the building. Three hulking yellow forklifts were parked by the end of the dock. There were two main aisles, marked with yellow tape on the floor, with massive machines on each side, towering green and gray behemoths with huge silver cylinders leading into giant presses. The entire plant hummed with the sound of activated machinery.

The monster outside roared again, this time not a frustrated scream, but the frightening roar of a hunter after its prey. Claire bolted down the aisle in between the machines and looked around in a panic, Sherry clinging to her side.

“Where are we going to hide?” Sherry asked frantically.

“Just keep going!” Leon shouted.

Behind them on the dock, there was a crash and the sound of tearing metal. One of the shipping doors flew off its rails and crashed to the ground, and the monster landed on top of it, its distorted body seeming to writhe with energy. Its tiny head, almost fully engulfed by the wide shoulders and thick torso, turned to the left and right, as if trying to find a scent. The gigantic yellow eyeball on its disfigured shoulder blinked a nictitating membrane and swirled around, while the beast’s massive gorilla-like arm swayed forward and back. It seemed impossible that the monster’s comparatively skinny legs could hold such uneven bulk, but the creature had no difficulty moving around. What was left of the clothing on its body was nothing but slimy rags. To Leon, the monster seemed even less human and more mutated than it was before, as if its body was still changing shape.

Sherry screamed and ran off, and Claire chased after her. The monster leaped off the dock platform and slammed down hard on the concrete factory floor. It growled fiercely and loped down the aisle toward Leon, its whole body lurching wildly. Leon held his ground for a moment but quickly jumped to the side and ran off in between the machines.

Along one side of the plant were rows of smaller machines next to long tables covered in tools and spare parts. Sherry bolted past the machines and dove under the table, crawling across to the other side. Claire ran past and kept going as the monster came up behind her.

The monster smashed its way along the row of machines, swinging its massive arm up to knock aside one of the tables, its contents flying in every direction. The table crashed down on top of a machine, splitting in half, and tools rained down across the aisle.

Sherry crawled behind the other machines and jumped to her feet as the monster smashed into the nearest machine, knocking it off its base. She hurried along the edge of the wall, her blonde hair whipping behind her, crying in out in fear. Attracted by the sound of her voice, the monster leaped upward and landed on top of another large gray press, then jumped across the row of machines.

A shotgun boomed out and a splatter of flesh tore off the monster’s oversized arm. Claire stood in the aisle, racked in another shell, and fired again, striking the monster squarely in the chest. It roared at her and flung itself into the air. Claire pulled the trigger again and the blast struck the monster’s upper arm, striking the huge yellow eyeball.

The monster shrieked in pain and crashed down into the space between two machines, its body crushing a wooden pallet covered in small boxes. The creature rolled back up and shook violently like a dog shaking water from its fur. Claire threw down the empty shotgun and ran after Sherry as the monster spun around, whipping out its arm to smash aside a large metal rack full of tools.

At the other end of the plant were two enormous machines that must have weighed twenty tons each. They sat at opposite sides of the main aisle, towering over the other machines, so tall that there were ladders propped up beside them for the maintenance workers to use. They were huge industrial presses, capable of crushing blocks of solid aluminum into a mold.

Claire grabbed Sherry’s arm and ran toward the machine. She swung up the large metal gate, daring one quick glance over her shoulder. Sherry jumped inside the empty press and Claire climbed in after her, slamming the metal gate down after her. She grabbed Sherry protectively and together, they pulled back away from the gate as the monster ran at the machine and slammed into it with a furious roar. The impact rattled them, as if a tank had crashed into the machine.

The gate buckled inward a few inches, but it held. Claire and Sherry were trapped inside, but the monster could not open the gate. It screamed and howled in a rampage, smashing the machine with its gigantic fists. But for once, the monster encountered something that it wasn’t strong enough to just smash out of its way. The industrial press was an immovable object, immune to the monster’s brute strength. It smashed away at the sides of the press, smashing off the control box, metal pipes, and other attachments, but the sliding gate remained intact.

Sherry clutched onto Claire, trembling in fear, and peeked with one eye at the monster as it thrashed viciously at the gate. In the back of her mind, something about the monster felt familiar. But she was too afraid, too tired, to make any connection.

Suddenly, the gate bent inward with a screech, one side breaking completely off the hinge that it slid on. The gate buckled, half broken off, only a few more hits from breaking off completely. Claire grabbed onto Sherry even tighter and closed her eyes as the world seemed to close in on her.

And then, there was the loud, rumbling sound of an engine. From around the corner, a huge yellow forklift sped towards them, the long metal forks raised several feet off the ground. Leon sat in the driver’s seat, leaning forward and gripping the steering wheel tightly. The monster braced itself and bellowed furiously as the forklift slammed right into it, impaling the monster on the vehicle’s steel forks. The tips of the forks burst out the monster’s back, splashing blood across the side of the machine, and the impact knocked the monster right off its feet.

It screamed in pain, smashing its arms into the front panel of the forklift, but the forklift kept going, as Leon kept his foot on the accelerator. The lift pushed the monster forward and crashed into the wall with a boom, as the metal wall of the plant buckled with the impact. The monster screamed and thrashed psychotically, slamming its fists into the sides of the forklift, blood gushing onto the floor, as it was pinned firmly in between the heavy forklift and the wall, the metal forks stabbing straight through its body.

Leon ducked down behind the wheel, protected by the roll cage. He pulled down the parking brake and shut off the engine before jumping clear. He hit the ground running.

With trembling arms, Claire lifted up the broken gate and crawled through the opening, Sherry coming out after her. She sobbed and jumped into Leon’s arms, tears streaming down her face.

“Where’s Ada?” Leon asked urgently.

“I don’t know, she ran off,” Claire sobbed. Sherry stood beside her, wavering on her feet, staring ahead blankly at the monster as it thrashed against the front of the lift.

“God damn it!” Leon shouted. “She has the grenade launcher! We could kill that thing right now!”

“Let’s just go!” Claire begged him.

The monster swung its arm back with a tremendous roar and dented the wall. It struggled with the forklift but could not move it, so it swung back again and smashed the wall once more. The whole wall seemed to quake, knocking dust loose from the ceiling beams. Leon realized with a sense of impending doom that if the monster could not get rid of the forklift, it would just smash its way clear through the metal wall. Within a few minutes, it was going to get free again.

Claire was pulling on his arm. “Come on!” she cried.

Leon let himself be pulled away from the machines, and together, the three of them ran to the other side of the factory, followed the entire time by the monster’s screams of rage. They escaped out a side door to a narrow parking lot on the rear side of the building and continued on to a side street beyond.

Leon picked Sherry up and she lay limply in his arms, quietly panting for breath. Claire managed to wipe her eyes with her sleeve and temporarily regain her composure. But all three of them were so tired, so emotionally drained, that Leon doubted that they could last much longer. They could still hear the monster screaming after them as they went down the street. Once it finally broke free, Leon didn’t think they could get away from it again.

At the end of the dark avenue, they found themselves in the middle of a huge sprawling intersection of railroad tracks. All around, there were parked railroad cars loaded with blue and red rectangular shipping containers. There was a huge building like an airplane hangar nearby, as well as several smaller gray buildings, and a narrow, three-story building at the far end of the railroad complex.

A sign hanging above the tracks read “Arklay Shipping And Railway Transportation Hub.”

Chapter 29

 

Jill crept forward hesitantly, acutely aware that she did not have much ammo left. The pack hanging from her shoulder was empty,. All she had left was the half-empty clip in the rifle. Her finger rested against the trigger guard as she examined the hallway, wondering where Nicholai went.

She turned a corner and encountered two more zombies. Like the other one she discovered in the building, they both wore plastic yellow jackets as well as rubber gloves and hard hats. Jill gritted her teeth, irritated about using up even more ammo, and took down each zombie with a well-aimed bullet to the head. The hallway clear, she continued forward.

The next hallway opened up into another, smaller production area with gleaming metal vats and large drums lined up along the wall, each with a pump installed on top and a hose that hung down to the floor. This room was much smaller than the other one, and Nicholai was not inside, unless he was actually hiding inside one of the vats, which Jill doubted. She swung her gun to the left and right and proceeded inside, seeing two doors, one on the left and one on the right.

She heard something, and began to turn a split second before Nicholai leaped down from the narrow storage space directly above the door. He landed on top of her, slamming his forearm across her jaw. Jill staggered back, trying to swing her gun up, but Nicholai chopped down her arm, knocking the gun free, and slammed his other fist across her face, stunning her.

Her legs gave out and she fell to the floor, grasping for her gun, which lay just out of her reach. She heard Nicholai let out a low chuckle as he stepped over her and pressed his booted foot down on top of her hand.

“No, you will not be needing that anymore,” he said darkly, kneeling down over her. With a strong hand, he grabbed her neck and forced her to look up at him. His fingernails dug into the soft flesh of her throat.

Awkwardly, Jill swung her other arm up and tried to hit him in the face, but she was only able to slap weakly against his shoulder. She struggled against him, trying to get her legs up to kick at him, but he crouched down and prevented her from using her legs.

“Fighting to the last breath, I see,” Nicholai said. His dark eyes seemed to sparkle with enthusiasm, and he grinned ferociously. “That is very good. I like it when they fight.”

Swiftly, he pulled back, dragging Jill upward. She managed to get onto her knees before Nicholai punched her across the face once more. Stars flashed in front of her eyes and she blindly lunged forward, but Nicholai sidestepped her and jammed his knee hard into her stomach, laughing as Jill gagged and toppled forward, painfully gasping for breath.

She got onto her hands and knees and Nicholai stepped in to kick her right in the stomach. She cried out in pain and rolled onto her back, grabbing her stomach and closing her eyes tightly, her body trembling in pain.

“I wanted to do this sooner,” Nicholai said somewhere above her. “But now the time is right. We have plenty of time, you and me. And when I am almost finished, I think you will beg me to kill you, yes?”

“Go … to hell,” Jill gasped through clenched teeth.

“Yes, I want you to resist me.”

Nicholai grabbed a fistful of Jill’s hair and pulled her across the floor. She screamed in pain and grabbed his arm, scrambling with her feet to keep up with him. He ignored her cries, chuckling to himself, and dragged her through a doorway and down another hall, to a smaller office room. He hauled her up by her hair until she was able to stand, and then hurled her into the room, where she collided with a large wooden desk, knocking the objects on it, a lamp, some papers, and a cup full of paperclips, to the floor. She spun around dizzily and braced herself to fight back.

She jumped at Nicholai, but he blocked her desperate punches almost effortlessly, and quickly slammed one fist into her stomach. She bent forward and he smashed the back of his other hand across her face. Jill flailed at him but could only hear his mocking laugh as he swatted her arms aside and struck her once more, her head snapping back with the blow.

She fell back against the desk, but lost her balance and wound up back on the floor, lying on her stomach, trying to fight off waves of nausea and the unconsciousness that crept up on her. She tasted blood in her mouth and numbly reached up to feel her bloody lip. She gasped for breath and tried to get to her feet.

Nicholai grabbed her and pulled her back up, and then slammed her down on the top of the desk. He leaned forward, his hands locked on her shoulders, holding her down, and pressed in close, until his face was only inches from hers.

“I must confess,” he hissed. “I do not find you very attractive. But that is not a problem.”

With one hand, he grabbed her throat and began to squeeze. Jill helplessly grabbed his arm and clawed at him, trying to reach for his eyes. But he was just too strong for her. She tried kicking, but he had positioned himself between her thrashing legs and she couldn’t get him that way either. She gritted her teeth, blood smeared down the side of her face, her eyes narrowed in anger and fear.

Nicholai laughed once more, with a note of finality. With his free hand, he reached behind his back and pulled a long combat knife out of a sheath on his belt. He raised the serrated blade and held it on front of Jill’s eyes.

“After I am done with you, I will use this,” he growled excitedly, his face covered in a sheen of sweat. “You are not the first. There have been many before you. Maybe that will be consolation.”

He slowly brought his arm down and lowered the knife until the tip of the blade was hovering over her belly button. He used the knife to lift up the bottom hem of her shirt, and with a fiendish grin, slid the blade underneath, skillfully slicing upward. The blade cut through the thin fabric of her shirt, revealing her midriff, on its way toward her chest.

In a final act of desperation, Jill fumbled behind her, groping for anything to fight him with, any loose objects within reach. Nicholai squeezed her throat tighter and she began to choke, hopelessly trying to find something, anything, to use as a weapon. Her face turned red, and blackness began to creep in her vision.

And then, there was a terrifying scream that seemed to shake her from the edges of despair. But it wasn’t Jill that screamed. It wasn’t a human at all.

It was the monster. It was here in the building, coming for her once again, just like she knew it would.

Nicholai jerked back suddenly, lifting Jill up off the desk, and looked over his shoulder in surprise. For a moment, Jill was able to breath, and she managed to turn her head enough to see where she was reaching. She managed to push one of the desk drawers open and stuck her hand inside.

“Maybe I will make this quick after all,” Nicholai said gruffly.

He turned to look back down at Jill, and she swung up to stab him in the face with the pencil in her hand. Her aim was off, and instead of stabbing him right in the eye, the pencil gouged deep into his cheek, spurting blood across her hand.

Shouting in pain and surprise, Nicholai reeled back. Jill did not let go of the pencil, and stabbed down again as he reached up to block his face. She stabbed down into his forearm, the pencil snapping off with a crack. His hand spasmed and the combat knife went flying. He screamed, too in shock to fight back, grabbing at his cheek to stop the blood gushing down the side of his face.

Jill got one leg up and kicked hard in the center of Nicholai’s chest, knocking him out of the way. She rolled off the desk and tried to run, but she was too weak, and instead she stumbled for a few steps, pushed open the door, and collapsed into the hallway.

“You bitch!” Nicholai screamed. “You bitch! I’ll kill you!”

Somehow, Jill got to her feet and ran for it. Behind her, gunshots rang out, and she cowered, covering her head with her hands. She barreled through the other set of doors, back into the room where Nicholai had ambushed her. She was weak, dizzy, and her whole body seemed to throb with pain, but she forced herself to run to her rifle lying on the floor.

Just as she picked it up, Nicholai came after her, wielding a pistol. His shots went wide and she spun around, opening fire, blasting a spray of bullets across the doorway. Nicholai stumbled back, returning fire.

Another scream burst out from nearby, coming from right behind her. The other doors crashed open, revealing a huge figure standing there. Towering in the doorway, the immortal creature in the trenchcoat glared down at her, its twisted face in a permanent grimace, mouth open to reveal rows of long, jagged teeth. The coat was ripped and torn in places, exposing mottled pink flesh, and sections were charred and burnt, although the flesh beneath was undamaged. The creature hunched down and took one step, flexing the fingers on its huge hands.

With one last surge of energy, Jill turned and ran. The rifle felt like an anvil in her arms, and her feet felt like they were tied to lead weights, but she ran as hard and as fast as she could, gasping for breath, her body erupting in pain.

The other set of doors led to another large room, this one lined with huge metal racks to the right. Rows of metal drums lay on the racks, stacked five high in the room. On the other side, there was a stand-up forklift used to get the drums down off the shelves.

Jill couldn’t run any farther. Overcome with exhaustion, she turned defeatedly and raised the rifle as the monster came up behind her, roaring triumphantly.

Time seemed to stop. In the space of a breath, the creature came lunging at her. But she moved the rifle away from the creature, lowered her aim, and opened fire at the bottom supports of the huge rack holding up the heavy drums. The bullets blew apart the supports, and with an ear-piercing screech, the gigantic rack leaned forward as the beams bent and buckled underneath the weight. Thick bolts tore free from the wall, and the entire rack of shelves toppled forward in a roaring collapse, the rack twisting and collapsing like a house of cards.

The monster whirled and raised its arms as an avalanche of metal fell down upon it. Jill jumped back to avoid being crushed herself. The drums rolled and crashed to the floor like boulders down a mountainside, and the creature was immediately buried underneath a pile of twisted metal and heavy barrels. Several of them broke open when they struck the ground, spilling their contents. A flood of chemicals rushed across the floor.

Jill slumped down and wearily continued onward, knowing that the monster would not be delayed for long. She had killed it how many times already? In a few minutes, it would climb from the wreckage and come after her again.

She went through another set of doors and limped down the next hallway, blood from her split lip dripping down onto her shirt. She paused to look behind her, knowing that Nicholai was still alive as well. She had two adversaries to deal with.

A sign above the next set of doors read “Disposal and Recycle Room: Authorized Personnel Only.” Jill wasn’t authorized, but she didn’t care. She went through the doors and stepped out onto a metal walkway a few feet above the floor of a narrow, empty room.

The walkway went all the way around the room, to a control panel on the other side, which led down a short set of stairs to a wide pair of doors. The floor of the room was stained with spilled chemicals and other substances, that collected along a seam down the center of the floor.

Jill crossed the walkway and the control panel and went to the doors. There was another long hallway on the other side that stank of chemicals, the fumes burning her throat. The hallway split in four directions, each leading to more doors. Jill, totally lost by this point, went to the door on the right and reached for the handle.

The door suddenly swung open, and bloody hands clutched out at her. Jill stumbled back as a mob of zombies poured through the doors, reaching for her. The hallway beyond seemed filled with them, and they snatched and grabbed for her, their mouths hanging open, eyes frozen.

Jill pulled the trigger and the rifle fired out a single shot, disintegrating the nearest zombie’s head. It flopped over backwards and the other zombies shuffled over the corpse.

But there were no more shots. The gun, finally, clicked empty.

Jill cried out and threw the rifle at the zombies. It struck the nearest, opening a gash on its forehead before clattering to the ground uselessly. The zombies poured in, and Jill could only back away, shaking her head.

She was trapped in between an army of zombies, an unstoppable killing machine, and a deranged murderer. Death faced her in every direction.

Suddenly, a loud barrage of gunfire exploded nearby and Jill fell to the ground, covering her head with her hands. The zombies standing nearby staggered and fell.

It was Nicholai. He was here to kill her now.

But somehow, the spray of bullets did not touch her. She felt hands grab her shoulders, lifting her to her feet, and she struggled weakly against them.

“Jill! Come on!”

She opened her eyes and stared in disbelief.

It was Carlos.

Chapter 30

 

Leon and Claire walked over the sets of railroad tracks, looking around. There were at least ten different parallel rows of tracks, all interconnected by manual switch points. Shipping containers and tankers sat unused on some of the tracks, but there were no locomotives that they could see. There were a few lonely lamp posts, but most of the yard was obscured in darkness.

“What is this place?” Claire asked.

Leon, carrying Sherry in his arms, looked up and down the tracks. “It’s where railroad shipments get delivered,” he guessed. “The trains come in here, get unloaded, and then they use all these tracks to switch the trains around. There’s probably one of those huge rotating machines down there that they use to turn the trains around in the other direction.”

“Do you think it’s safe here?”

“No. But if we can find a vehicle, we can drive it along the tracks. It will take us right out of the city.”

“I guess it’s just the three of us again,” Claire commented, looking back behind them. “Looks like Ada ran off, just like I thought she would.”

“Can you really blame her?” Leon asked.

“What do you mean?”

Leon sighed tiredly and set Sherry down. She stood on weak legs and looked around with a dazed expression on her face. Grease from inside the industrial press was smeared across her legs and on her checkered school skirt, but she didn’t seem to notice.

“It’s not easy to risk your life to save someone you barely know,” Leon said, not really knowing why he was bothering to justify Ada’s actions. “Most people are too afraid, or just too cowardly. They might put themselves in danger to save their own family, but most people wouldn’t risk their lives to save a complete stranger.”

“You did,” Claire said. “You could have run off when me and Sherry were trapped back there.” She stepped forward and looked up into Leon’s eyes. “But you didn’t run away. You risked your life to save us.”

“Yeah, well maybe I’m an exception.”

They walked along the tracks to the giant building near the front of the rail yard. It was an enormous wooden structure as large as an airplane hangar, over two stories tall, with sides that sloped up to meet at the top of the slanted roof. Both the front and rear of the building were wide open with no doors at all, and long rows of fluorescent lights hanging from the high ceiling. Three parallel lines of railroad tracks went down one side of the hangar, one of which was occupied with a row of train cars, several of them large tanker cars. The other side was a long platform with rows of small, cramped offices at the end. A metal staircase went above the offices to more rooms on the second floor. The ceiling, high above them, was a maze of long wooden beams to support the arched roof.

They walked through the hangar, passing by piles of wooden pallets, crates, and wooden skids. There were two more forklifts here as well for unloading the trains, but the keys were not in the ignition this time. The train tracks that led into the hangar continued on for a hundred yards beyond the building and were loaded with various empty train cars.

“We need a vehicle. A truck, a car, anything,” Leon muttered. “Hell, I’ll take a bicycle at this point.”

“If we can take the train tracks out of the city, maybe we should just start walking,” Claire suggested.

At this point, Sherry spoke up. “I don’t want to walk anymore,” she said.

“We’re all too tired to keep walking,” Leon agreed. “Besides, if that thing chases after us again, we’ll never outrun it. We need wheels.”

There was a small parking lot to the side of the hangar, with a few vehicles. There were no zombies at all, which at the moment, was not even good news. Leon hoped to find cars in the parking lot and then track down their owners, like he did earlier that day at the gas station, to get the keys. But whoever owned the cars parked out front were long gone.

“Can you hotwire a car?” Claire asked with a shrug.

“I had a friend in high school that knew how,” Leon said. “But it’s a lot harder than it looks in the movies. If I tried, I’d probably just electrocute myself.”

“Maybe we’ll find keys in one of the offices.”

“It’s worth a look.”

Just as they turned to walk back into the hangar, they heard the monster again, its hungry roar breaking the stillness. Claire moaned in despair and Sherry fearfully clutched her, while Leon drew his pistol with a sense of finality. He knew he only had a handful of bullets left, and they were about as effective on the monster as flicking rubber bands at it.

Down the avenue, the monster came running, its warped body lurching back and forth on its small legs. It was brutally impaled by a forklift just minutes ago, but the wounds seemed to have healed immediately. It galloped down the street and leaped into the parking lot, smashing down on one of the cars, crushing it flat.

“Come on,” Leon said, leading Claire and Sherry into the hangar. They were too tired to keep running, too tired to fight, too tired for anything. They made it this far, but Leon felt that they would go no farther.

They hurried down the long platform as fast as they could. The monster bounded across the parking lot, growling loudly, as if it knew that its prey was almost within reach. It entered the hangar and came at them, then seemed to slow down and stop. The two tiny human eyes compressed into the small head shined with life, the final spark of humanity in a monster that had lost all traces of its original human form.

What had Sherry’s father done? Leon wondered. Annette said that he infected himself with a virus of some kind, but what could force anyone to do something like that? What dire circumstances could force a person to deliberately let themselves mutate into a hideous creature like this? Did Sherry’s father have any memories, any lingering trace of conscience?

Sherry could not go any farther. She lost her footing and fell to the ground, crying in pain. She rolled onto her side and Claire stopped to come back for her. Leon backed up warily, his gun in his hand, standing guard in between the monster and Sherry.

The creature that was once Sherry’s father stepped forward menacingly, eyes staring down the platform at Sherry’s helpless form. Leon realized at that moment that deep down inside, the creature did have some leftover sense of memory. That was why it pursued them so fiercely.

It remembered Sherry.

There was nowhere left for them to run. The creature must have sensed it, smelled their fear and understood. The other end of the hangar was a hundred feet away but it might as well have been a hundred miles. The monster could catch them in seconds if they ran for it. Leon braced himself and raised his gun. Claire was sobbing in despair behind him.

This is the end, he thought.

Chapter 31

 

Nicholai pressed a rag against his face to try to stop the bleeding. His entire shoulder and the front of his uniform were splattered with the blood pouring from his torn cheek. There was blood in his mouth as well, and all down his left arm from the pencil that Jill broke off in his forearm. He pulled the pencil fragment out and wrapped another rag around his arm, but the blood still seeped freely.

He staggered dizzily, light-headed from blood loss, and went down the hallway, his M4 Carbine held up with one arm, the handle slippery in his blood-smeared hand. He carried it with his right hand, as his left arm throbbed with fiery pain.

But the pain flaring in his face and arm was only a spark, barely noticeable, against the flaming, all-consuming hatred that Nicholai felt. His anger was like fuel, giving him a renewed sense of purpose.

He could have escaped by now. He knew where the helicopter was. It would only take a minute to leave this doomed place behind. But there was something he had to do before he left.

He kicked open the doors at the end of the hall and ran out into the next room. He knew where Jill was headed, and hoped to cut her off. Sadly, he would not get to enjoy her as he had planned, but he was not going to leave until he watched her die. If she had merely gotten away from him, he might have left her to her own fate. But he owed her now for the bloody gash across his face.

She would suffer before she died. Although there was not enough time to make her suffer as Nicholai hoped, there was still enough time to hear her beg.

At the other side of this room, there was a hallway that led into the central area of the facility. Jill did not know the building as Nicholai did, and she would be searching for a way out. Nicholai opened the doors, but the hallway was crowded with a horde of infected.

He raised the Carbine and braced himself as he pulled the trigger. The gun kicked hard, almost falling out of his hand. But he gritted his teeth against the pain and swung the gun in a wide arc to shoot all the zombies in the hall, leaving behind the stink of infection and death, and splattered gore across the yellow walls. He emptied an entire clip and fumbled with another as the last few zombies tried to reach him, tripping over the bodies of the dead. Nicholai snapped another clip into the gun and killed off the last of them.

He ran through the mass of corpses, his boots splashing through thick puddles of spilled blood. He waded through the piles of dead, as if immune to the disease which spawned them. In the back of his mind, he knew that if he got any of the infected blood onto his own wounds, he would become infected himself, but he ignored the danger.

Through the next door was another large production area with rows of metal vats. As soon as Nicholai entered, doors at the other side of the room came open, and two figures stumbled inside as well. One of them was Jill, unarmed and defenseless, but Nicholai realized with a shock of recognition that the other was the Mexican UBCF soldier named Carlos. How he managed to arrive here as well was a mystery to Nicholai, but that was okay. Carlos could die right next to Jill.

Nicholai opened fire with a shout, and his gun blazed with a roar. But he could not aim properly with one arm, and most of his bullets rattled along the ceiling as the gun kicked upwards.

Jill and Carlos jumped away from him and took shelter behind some thick pipes and other gleaming metal equipment. Nicholai took hold of the gun with his other hand, grimacing in pain, and took more careful aim. Bullets blasted across the wall and clanged over the pipes, and to his delight, he heard Jill screaming.

Carlos stuck his arm out, a pistol in his hand, and blindly returned fire, but his bullets went wide. Nicholai laughed, tearing open the gash on his cheek again, causing it to bleed once more. But he ignored the fresh blood dripping off his chin and squeezed off another few shots, aiming at the mass of pipes that his target was hiding behind.

“I should not have hesitated!” he shouted. “I see that now! You are too dangerous for me to let you live! I should have killed you right away!”

Jill screamed something at him, but he couldn’t make it out. He saw Carlos peek out from behind the pipes, but when he pulled the trigger again, the gun clicked empty. Before he had time to load another clip, Carlos leaned out and fired back with his pistol.

The first bullet shattered the plastic window on the door beside him, and the second shot struck him in the thigh. His leg seemed to kick out from under him and he fell back, a bolt of agonizing pain slicing up the side of his body. Blood sprayed out the back of his leg, and he lost his balance and fell down, hitting the floor with his wounded arm, sending another shock of pain through him.

Nicholai crawled into the hallway, letting the doors swing shut. He gritted his teeth, laughing amidst the unbearable pain erupting all over his body. His arms trembled as he got to his feet, leaning heavily against the wall to support him. Blood poured freely down his leg as if from a faucet, and he gripped the bullet wound, watching the blood seep through his fingers. He knew that the bullet had not severed his femoral artery, or else he’d have bled to death already. But he was losing too much blood and running out of time.

He fumbled with another clip, his last one, and lifted the gun, which seemed to weigh a thousand pounds. He took a deep breath and pulled back the bolt to load a shell into the chamber, but it slipped from his bloody hands. He tried again, and this time managed to snap back the bolt.

He didn’t hear anything behind him until it was far too late.

Turning, he tried to raise the gun, but he barely had the strength to hold it at all. Standing in the hallway, seeming to fill it with its inhuman bulk, was the creature that Wesker created. The creature in the long, tattered, black leather trenchcoat. The creature that Nicholai personally delivered to Raccoon City. The creature that Wesker called a Nemesis.

He tried to get away, but the creature reached out with one huge arm and grabbed Nicholai’s left shoulder. He feebly tried to escape the creature’s grip, but was lifted up into the air effortlessly, his legs dangling below him, blood dripping off the bottom of his boots. The creature’s hands were like a vise, and the thick fingers squeezed into his flesh, crushing the bones beneath.

Nicholai screamed. His arm swung up, still holding the Carbine, and he pulled the trigger. The gun blazed with fire, shooting into the monster’s massive torso at point blank range. The trenchcoat ripped apart where the bullets tore into it, and clear fluid spurted from the body. The bright muzzle flash lit across the monster’s distorted face like a strobe light. But it barely seemed to notice the gun at all, and only lifted Nicholai higher into the air as bullets ripped through its torso.

The Nemesis regarded him with one oblong yellow eye. Then, it grabbed onto Nicholai’s right arm, which was holding the Carbine, and held it out straight. The gun fell from his numb fingers, smoke drifting from the barrel.

With a sudden tug of effort, the creature tore Nicholai’s arm off. There was a sickening crunch of splintering bone and tearing muscle, and his arm went flopping to the floor. Nicholai’s endless scream of terror turned into a high-pitched keen of torturous pain, and his body thrashed madly against the creature. Blood sprayed from the ragged stump that used to be his shoulder, drenching the creature in a fountain of bright red blood.

As if to muffle Nicholai’s dying screams, the Nemesis placed its hand across his face and clamped bloody fingers over his mouth. And then it ripped Nicholai’s head off too.

Chapter 32

 

Before Leon could pull the trigger in one final, desperate act of survival, there was a shout up above him. But he barely heard it, because just then, the monster that used to be Sherry’s father roared and leaped at him to deliver the killing blow.

There was a muffled whump and a streak of smoke from up to his left, and then something shot down toward the monster. Leon turned to shield himself and was knocked off his feet by the explosion. There was a flash of fire and a spray of gore as the monster was blown back, smashing against the nearby train cars. Leon landed on his side and covered his face with his hands as chunks of tissue and bits of flesh splattered around him. After a few moments, he looked back at Claire and Sherry, who were staring at the carnage in abject disbelief.

“Leon!” came a shout above him again.

He managed to look up toward the offices on the opposite side of the hangar platform. Up on the second story, standing at the top of the metal staircase, was none other than Ada, her grenade launcher in her hands.

“Ada?” Leon wondered aloud.

“Here!” she shouted, throwing something down toward him. It bounced along the floor and slid right beside him, and he was so dazed that he didn’t even realize what it was at first. There were two keys on a key ring, with a plain red tag with #2 marked on it.

He tried to respond, but the monster slumped upright and turned to face him. Half of its body was a gaping, festering sore, a grisly, exposed mass of bleeding muscle and tissue. The huge, overgrown arm with the eyeball was gone, blown off in the blast, leaving just the unbalanced torso and shrunken head, which glared at him with two bright black eyes.

The creature shuddered, and with a grotesque, nauseating twist of flesh, its torso folded over backwards. The front of its body split open like a gutted deer, a horizontal gash opening up across its chest. White splinters erupted from the exposed flesh, which at first, Leon thought were broken bits of ribs. But he was wrong. They weren’t ribs.

They were teeth.

With a nightmarish, rumbling howl, the creature seemed to double in size in mere moments, its body opening up like a huge, hungry mouth, and when Leon stared down the jagged gullet, he felt as if he was looking into a black hole.

From the grisly shoulder wound, writhing tentacles sprouted and flailed, splashing slime and pink fluid. What was left of the creature’s legs disappeared in a mass of bulging tissue that sprouted thick, bloody horns and spikes.

Leon scrambled backwards as the spikes and wriggling tentacles came close. He snatched up the car keys and tried to regain his footing, but his boots slipped in the blood splashed all over the platform.

“Get out of there!” Ada shouted to them. “Just go!”

“Shoot it!” Claire shrieked.

“You have to get out of there!” Ada shouted back, pointing at them urgently.

Leon glanced up as the creature continued to grow, its gigantic mouth spreading apart, a long red tongue whipping around inside. More tentacles sprouted from its back and slapped down on the platform, smashing the wooded boards. Two seeping yellow eyeballs formed on the creature’s disfigured body, but they swirled around, unable to focus.

To Leon’s right were the train cars parked in the hangar. There were several regular shipping containers, but also three white tanker cars. At first, Leon thought that they were full of chemicals or water or some other liquid, but then he actually looked at the large red warning label plastered on the side of the tankers.

They were full of propane. Three huge tankers of propane.

Ada snapped open the grenade launcher and dropped her final grenade into the chamber.

Like a slap to the face, Leon realized what she was planning to do.

He found his footing and grabbed Sherry, who lay motionless on the floor. He hoisted her up onto his shoulder and grabbed at Claire’s arm. Together, they ran from the hangar, a surge of adrenaline coursing through their veins.

The monster shot out its tongue and it slapped down on the edge of the platform, just a few feet from them. It let out a gurgling, choking roar and inched its way forward, tentacles wavering and trembling like tree branches in a wind storm.

Ada clicked the launcher closed and stepped back from the railing. She took a deep breath and stretched out her arm, aiming the launcher down at the platform below.

Leon and Claire ran across the train tracks outside, gasping for breath, their bodies using up their last reserves of energy. Sherry’s body was limp on Leon’s shoulder, as heavy and cumbersome as a bag of grain. He gasped with the effort of carrying her.

The monster continued down the platform, shrieking and screeching insanely, its body growing and mutating at an exponential rate. It convulsed and throbbed and spasmed, the mutations spreading out of control.

Ada pressed the trigger. Even as the grenade shot from the barrel, she was already letting go of the weapon, turning on her heel, and bolting down the short hallway behind her. The grenade whistled downward like a meteor.

Concrete barriers lined one edge of the train yard. Claire ran over to them but Leon fell behind. She cried for him to hurry up.

The monster’s turned one slimy yellow eyeball toward the oncoming grenade and let out one last shriek of defiance as it struck a few feet over its head.

Ada braced herself and leaped through a dirty window at the end of the short hallway. She flew out into the air, a final prayer on her lips.

The grenade struck one of the propane tankers and exploded. The tanker erupted like a volcano and then burst apart like a popped balloon, the sound of the explosion loud enough to be heard all over the city. There was a white-hot point of light at the center of the blast, and then an expanding wall of fire. The other tankers exploded a split second later.

The entire hangar exploded in one sudden, earth-shattering burst of flame and heat, like a toy model blown up with a stick of dynamite. The entire building disintegrated like a sand castle, the shockwave blasting it to pieces, shooting flaming debris in every direction. An enormous fireball lifted up into the sky and swirled into a towering black mushroom cloud. The sound was like the heaven’s splitting open, a deafening thunder-clap in their ears.

The shockwave threw Leon and Sherry to the ground, where they collapsed like toppled mannequins. Claire was knocked backwards, the wind knocked out of her by the force of the blast. Dirt and debris flew across the ground, pushed by the shockwave, and a scorching wave of heat burned Claire’s eyes as she tried to stand back up. She gasped for breath, as if the explosion had sucked all the oxygen out of the air.

Timber and metal rained down across the entire train yard, scraps of flaming debris and smoldering wreckage. Where the hangar once stood, there was only a flaming pit and a column of flame and smoke rising into the night sky.

Chapter 33

 

As soon as they heard Nicholai screaming, Jill grabbed Carlos’ arm and pulled him away, even as he was ramming another clip into his Desert Eagle.

“Come on!” she shouted. “We have to go!”

Carlos stuck the pistol into her hand and stood up, raising his assault rifle. “We can’t just keep running from it!” he said. “We have to try to kill it!”

“But we can’t kill it!” Jill cried. “No matter what we do, it just keeps coming back!”

“Where can we run to?” Carlos argued. “There is nowhere left for us to run. We don’t have enough ammo to last us very long. We have to try to fight it while we still have some strength left!”

Nicholai’s brutal screams were cut short, and then moments later, the doors swung open and his body came flying into the room, trailing a spray of blood. Missing his head and one arm, it rolled to the floor like a sack of meat. Carlos jumped back in shock, staring at the mutilated corpse.

Por el amor de Dios,” he breathed.

“Nicholai must have had a plan when he came here!” Jill insisted. “He must have had some way out of here, a hidden vehicle or something! All we have to do is find it!”

Carlos hesitated, his gaze flickering between Jill, Nicholai’s body, and the doors beyond, where the monster waited for them. His finger twitched on the trigger guard, and he clenched his teeth, pressing the stock harder into his shoulder.

“There’s no time,” he said under his breath.

The creature knocked the doors back and stomped into the room, ducking under the low doorway, blood still dripping from its hands. Across its body was the evidence of their repeated attempts to destroy it, charred burn marks, gashes and ripped-up sections of its leather trenchcoat, pink gobs of flesh puffing from the holes in the leather, twisted red scars across its misshapen head. How many times had they blown it up, impaled it, drowned it, and crushed it? And yet, it kept coming, unwavering, unstoppable, driven by one mysterious singular purpose.

Forcing its way through the haze of her weariness and fear, Jill came to realize, however, that the creature’s purpose was not a mystery at all.

Its purpose was to kill her. She was its target, there was no doubt in her mind about that. It had pursued her relentlessly all day, ever since she first encountered it when she found Brad. It tried to kill Brad first, and only after Brad was dead did it focus its vengeance on her.

This creature, whatever it was, was deliberately sent to kill them. The reason flashed into Jill’s mind, as if she had always known it. Why would Umbrella create a creature with the sole purpose of tracking down and killing Brad and Jill? What did Brad and Jill have in common that would give Umbrella a reason to want them dead?

The answer was simple. They were the surviving S.T.A.R.S. members.

All of this flooded into Jill’s mind in the space of a heartbeat. Carlos, eyes wide, pulled the trigger and opened up a blaze of gunfire across the monster’s torso. Spent shell casings whipped up over his shoulder, streaming smoke. The creature merely raised its arms to block the bullets from striking its face, and continued forward, as if the gunfire was no more a hindrance to it than a heavy rain.

Jill screamed at Carlos, but he either could not hear her, or was too frightened to move. He suddenly swung the gun down desperately, trying to shoot out the monster’s knees, as Jill had done earlier. But the bullets missed their mark, striking the monster in the thigh.

It stalked forward and grabbed the gun, tearing it from Carlos’ hands and hurling it away. He tried to jump back, but the creature reached in and grabbed the front of his uniform to lift him into the air. Carlos struggled, trying to slide out of the jacket, but the creature held him high and Jill watched in horror as it reared back its other arm.

She knew what was going to happen next. She already saw it happen once before, in the parking lot of the police station. That time, she was helpless to stop it. But this time, she knew what she had to do.

“No!” she screamed defiantly, shooting the creature in the side of the head. It turned its face to the side as the shots thumped against its temple.

“I’m over here, you bastard! Over here!”

She threw the empty pistol at it, and the gun banged against its chest. The creature turned and glared at Jill, Carlos hanging from its outstretched hand, trying to twist out of its grip.

“It’s me you want!” she shouted angrily. She spread her arms, showing that she had no more weapons. “Come and get me! I’m the one you want! If you want me, come and get me!”

The creature’s oblong eye glared down at her, and then it opened its mouth to growl hideously, a line of spittle dripping from its lip. Carlos, stuck in its grip, stared at Jill, begging to know what she was doing.

“I’m right here!” she taunted it. “Come and get me, you son of a bitch!”

The creature growled and turned toward her. It glanced once at Carlos and swung its arm, tossing him across the room. He sailed through the air and crashed into the metal frame of one of the huge vats, crumpling to the ground in a heap.

Jill ran for it. She bolted back the way she and Carlos had come, through the doors and back to the hallway that was now littered with zombie corpses. She heard the monster howl in fury and come after her. She sped past the bodies and back down the next hall, her lungs burning, her heart pounding in her head.

Whatever tiny reserves of energy she still possessed were now stretched to their limit, and she felt her whole body begin to resist the constant pressure, her endurance just about at its end. She had maybe a few minutes of stamina left, but a few minutes was all she needed. She had a plan, and knew that in the next few moments it would all be over no matter what.

The creature was only a few footsteps behind her, so she fought against the pain in her legs and forced herself to run faster. She slammed through the next set of doors and once more found herself in the Disposal and Recycle Room, which she passed through not too long ago.

A metal walkway circled the entire room, with a control panel covered in switches on the left side. The center of the floor had a long crease down the center, where puddles collected. Jill jumped up onto the walkway and looked down on the control panel, taking just a moment to take it all in. She saw it earlier, but was too focused on her pursuit of Nicholai to realize what this room was for.

She looked up as the doors smashed open, one of them flying off the hinges. The creature ran into the room and focused on Jill immediately, like a heat-seeking missile. It charged across the floor, murder in its eyes.

Jill stared right back at it, and slammed her fist down on a huge red button on the control panel. A loud, blaring alarm sounded in the narrow room, and even the creature stopped momentarily at the sound, looking around in bewilderment.

And then, with a grinding creak, the floor opened up underneath its feet like a trap door. What Jill had not realized before, but understood now, was that this room was built to dispose of used and contaminated chemicals. The seam in the floor was where it opened up to drop the materials down into the recycler.

The creature whirled backward, spinning its arms to regain its balance, but the entire middle section of the floor dropped away. The creature tumbled backwards and fell through the opening, and down into a huge pit below the room, filled with a bubbling yellow pool of chemicals. It dropped down and splashed into the mixture with a tortured scream, the chemicals splashing up onto the sides of the floor as they hung down. It emerged from the pit, swinging its arms in a futile effort to stay above the surface, screeching in pain as the chemicals burned into its flesh.

It writhed and splashed, trying to climb out, but the edge of the floor was too high above its head, and the corrosive pool of recycling chemicals ate into its body like acid, melting its flesh and dissolving its leather coat. Thrashing and twisting madly, it howled as its body was eaten away.

Jill stared down, watching in sick fascination. Her stomach churned in disgust, the stink of the monster’s burning flesh reaching her nostrils. She gagged, about to throw up, but she clamped her hand down on her mouth and continued to watch as the creature fought for its life in the huge recycling pit.

Suddenly, there was the sound of tearing flesh and the creature thrust its arm upward. Its arm split open along the edge of its forearm, and a squirming purple tentacle burst through the skin, shooting up and out of the pit like the tongue of a frog. It snapped up toward the control panel and immediately wrapped itself around Jill’s lower leg like a whip, pulling her forward.

Jill screamed as she was pulled into the railing, the tentacle gripping her around the knee. She grabbed for something to hold onto as the monster pulled, trying to take Jill down with it.

She lost her footing and both her legs slipped between the horizontal bars of the railing, and the tentacle yanked down, sliding down around her foot. Jill screamed, her fingers digging into the edge of the panel, desperately trying to keep her grip. The monster, howling and burning away inside the pit, roared as it tried to pull Jill down in after it. Her whole body seemed to stretch, her legs dangling down above the pit as the monster pulled her down.

Jill wrapped one arm around the top of the railing, feeling as if her leg was going to be ripped right off. With her other arm, she reached to the control panel, fumbling at the other switches. She felt her hands losing their grip, her body slipping closer to being pulled right over the edge.

With her last ounce of strength, she pulled back and slapped the palm of her hand down on one of the other buttons. With a loud click, the floor sections began to rise back up, the monster screeching in agony as the floor began to close above its head.

Jill’s arms gave out and she was pulled free of the railing. At that exact moment, the floor sections joined once again, slicing right through the slimy purple tentacle, and Jill fell down onto the floor. The tentacle uncoiled from her leg and twitched once before going still.

Getting onto her hands and knees, Jill crawled away. When she reached the doors, she painfully got to her feet, limping heavily on one leg. The other leg felt like it had been yanked from its socket.

She stopped and looked back into the room, as if expecting the floor to break apart and the creature to come after her again. But there was nothing. She couldn’t even hear it screaming. Maybe the recycler would truly kill it and maybe not, but Jill was certain that she had seen the last of it. The creature was finally gone.

Chapter 34

 

Claire coughed, the smell of smoke in her lungs, and crawled toward Sherry. Leon, nearby, rolled onto his side and groaned in pain. He got up onto his elbow and stared back at the roaring inferno. The entire train yard, once dark except for the scattered lamp posts, now was fully illuminated by the bright flames.

Claire turned Sherry onto her back and leaned over her anxiously. “Sherry? Sherry, are you okay?”

For a heart-stopping moment, Sherry did not respond. Then, slowly, her eyes opened and she gazed up wearily at Claire, breathing a low sigh.

“Is it over?” she whispered.

Claire nodded, her lower lip trembling. “Yes, I think it is.” She brushed hair from Sherry’s face and managed a smile, even as tears ran down her cheeks.

Leon got to his feet, but he had no energy to do anything else. He stood, his arms hanging limp at his sides, and stared into the flames. The shockwave had completely demolished one of the nearby gray office buildings, and the wave of destruction spread out like a crater, casting a spray of wreckage a hundred feet in every direction. He stared into the fire, trying to comprehend everything that had just happened, to make sense of such devastation.

Claire helped Sherry to her feet, but like Leon, both of them walked unsteadily, their legs weak and sore from so much walking and running. Claire limped next to Leon and followed his gaze into the fire. They felt the heat on their faces from where they stood.

For a few moments, Claire said nothing. She wiped her face and put her hand on Sherry’s shoulder, squeezing gently.

“I guess I was wrong about her,” she said softly.

“We were both wrong about her,” Leon said.

“Do you … do you want to wait and see …?”

Leon shook his head. “There’s no way she could have survived that.”

“We can go and look, if you want.”

“We’d have to wait for the fire to burn out. But we won’t find her. There’s no way anyone could have lived.”

Together, they watched the flames for several minutes, letting the emotional impact slowly seep into their subconscious. Each would have to deal with it in their own way. All the events of the past day settled into their minds, and the realization that even after all of that, they were still alive. The constant rushes of adrenaline over and over again had completely drained their stamina, and the continuous images of horror and terror seemed to numb them to anything else.

Sherry looked up at Leon. “Can we go now?” she asked plaintively. “It’s really over now, isn’t it? We can leave, can’t we?”

Leon nodded but said nothing, reaching into his pocket. He still had the keys.

“She gave the keys to us because she didn’t think she’d make it,” Claire said, realizing it even as she said it. “She knew the only way to kill that monster was to blow up the whole building.”

“Yeah,” Leon said. “She must have gotten there just a couple minutes before us. She probably found the keys upstairs in one of those offices.”

“Why didn’t she just shoot the monster again?” Claire asked. “She could have just shot it again and slowed it down long enough for all of us to escape.”

“Maybe,” Leon answered. He looked down at the keys in his hand and closed his fist around them. “But she had to make sure it was dead. If she only wounded it, then it would heal again and come after us, even stronger than before. And we had no weapons left, nothing to fight it with.”

“But she had the keys.”

“We don’t know what car they go to. We have go looking for it, and how long is that going to take? That thing would have time to heal again. It would have attacked us again long before we found the right car.”

Claire frowned and started to say something else, but decided to let it go. Leon knew she would understand eventually, even though it was hard to accept right now. They could go over it in their minds an infinite number of times, but the reality would stay the same.

Had Ada really realized what she was doing? She must have, or else she wouldn’t have thrown the keys down to them. Because she only had two real choices, and they had nothing to do with Leon, Claire, or Sherry.

Ada could have chosen to try to escape again, or to kill the monster when she had the chance. That was the choice: fight or flight.

Leon knew, just as Ada had known, that the only way to kill it – the only way to absolutely guarantee that the monster was dead – was to blow up the propane tankers. But she couldn’t blow up the tankers and still save her own life, as she also must have known. The one thing she could do was at least give Leon and the others a chance to get out alive.

“All right,” Leon said after awhile. “Come on, let’s go find the car these belong to.”

Half an hour later, they found a pair of white maintenance pickup trucks parked on the other side of the row of small gray offices buildings. They were loaded with equipment, including a huge tool box attached directly behind the cab, and a metal frame welded to the bed with a ladder and other supplies hanging from it.

The engine roared to life when Leon turned the key, and Claire almost shouted for joy, embracing Sherry enthusiastically. Sherry smiled for the first time that day, a slight glimmer of hope finally showing on her tired face. She sat in between Leon and Claire and dutifully buckled her seat belt.

Leon drove the truck along the edge of the yard and down the train tracks. He slowed down when they passed by the hangar, which was still wreathed in flames, although it was gradually burning itself out.

Leon turned to look at Claire and Sherry, who smiled back at him. “Are you ready to go?” he asked Sherry.

She nodded, her hands in her lap, feet bumping against the underside of the dashboard. She almost looked like a normal child again, except for the filthy, blood-stained school uniform.

“Yeah, let’s go,” she said eagerly.

With that, they drove off down the side of the train tracks, the truck bumping along the gravel. The tracks led from the train yard through an industrial area, bordered on both sides by rusty metal fences, the entire area deserted. Within a few minutes, they came out into an open field, and then started heading uphill into the mountains, following the train tracks the entire way.

They left the remains of Raccoon City behind them, and didn’t look back.

Chapter 35

 

When Jill made it back to the other production room, she found Carlos on the floor, cradling himself in pain. He looked up in disbelief when he saw Jill limp through the door and tried to sit up, but he was wracked with pain and returned to the fetal position. Jill limped over to him and then slumped to the floor.

“Are you … are you okay?” he gasped, eyes flicking back to the doors. “What happened? Where is … that thing?”

“It’s dead,” Jill sighed. “At least I think it is.”

“Well, that’s good news,” Carlos said with a chuckle.

“How about you?” Jill asked.

“I think … I think I have some broken ribs.”

“I guess you got lucky, then.”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“You want to get out of here?”

“Yes. Yes, I do.”

Jill helped Carlos to his feet, but he was doubled over in pain. Jill’s leg was throbbing in pain as well and felt like it was swollen, so she couldn’t help him walk. They went down the hallway, each of them barely able to move at all. Carlos gripped his midsection and gritted his teeth, trying to avoid any sudden movements, to keep any broken ribs from puncturing his vital organs. Jill walked with one leg, leaning against the wall to stay upright. She couldn’t move her leg at the knee anymore.

They went down a rear hallway lined with trash bins, and exited the building to discover an inner courtyard between two sections of the building, leading out to the street. And sitting in the middle of the yard was a small black helicopter, with room for two.

Carlos smiled weakly, his forehead covered in a sheen of sweat. “I don’t think I can believe we’re gonna get out of here,” he said.

“Do you know how to fly that thing?” Jill asked.

“Yeah,” Carlos said with a shrug. “I guess I do.”

“You guess?”

“Do you know how to fly one?”

“No,” Jill said.

“Well, I know more than you do, so I guess I’ll have to fly it.”

“Sounds good to me.”

When the helicopter was airborne, Jill leaned against the door and pressed her forehead against the plexiglass, breathing her final sigh of relief. The city dwindled below them, and Carlos flew the helicopter south at Jill’s suggestion.

They hovered over burned out buildings, massive traffic jams, and crowds of the undead meandering in huge mobs throughout the downtown area. Thousands upon thousands of zombies congregated there, although Jill knew she would never learn why.

Everyone she knew in Raccoon City was now dead. Except for Chris and Rebecca, the other two members of the S.T.A.R.S. units. But everyone else, her neighbors, her friends, her coworkers, the people who changed the oil in her car, the people who bagged her groceries, the people she talked to at the bank. They were all dead, the entire city was one huge morgue. She looked down on the crowds of zombies, unable to even feel any sympathy for them. She was just too tired, too weak, and too wounded to summon any feelings for the thousands of victims of the infection.

She survived, somehow, but she was one of only a few. How many others made it out? A few hundred? Hunk, the Umbrella soldier, had told her that less than two hundred people survived.

What would happen next? People would find out about this, but what would happen when they did? How could anyone process suffering and horror on this level? How could anyone understand an atrocity on this scale? Jill had lived through it, and even she had trouble comprehending it all.

“Jill?” Carlos asked.

“Yeah?”

“So what do we do next? Once we get out of here, I mean?”

“I have no idea.”

“You know that Umbrella is gonna find us, right?”

“What do you mean?”

“They probably got troops surrounding the whole city. I mean, they have to maintain a perimeter, right? To make sure none of the zombies get out. So somebody is gonna see us try to fly away, and they aren’t gonna let us.”

“Are you saying they’re going to shoot us down?”

“No, I don’t think so. If we try to escape them, they probably will. They can’t risk anyone that’s infected to leave the city, right?”

“No, they can’t.”

“So what do you want to do when they find us?”

Jill shook her head and looked back out the window. “Just tell them the truth, I guess.”

The helicopter continued on its course, passing over abandoned neighborhoods and more deserted residential areas. Soon, they were passing over more spread out areas, as the city gave way to wilderness. Carlos tilted the stick up as they approached the edge of the Arklay Mountains.

Jill cast one last, sorrowful glance back at the city. In silence, they left Raccoon City behind. It would be the last time Jill would ever see it.

Chapter 36

 

Ada Wong crawled away from the smoking wreckage on her hands and knees and slowly got to her feet. The fire burned brightly, the incredible heat pressing against her like a physical force. She shielded her eyes and gazed upon the flaming remains of the hangar.

“Jesus,” she whispered.

She took in the scene for a few moments before retreating farther away from the agonizing heat of the fire. She staggered slightly, head pounding, and maneuvered her way through the field of debris to a safer area, far from the flames.

She was so surprised to be alive that she wasn’t sure what to do next. As it turned out, several large shipping containers were stacked behind the hangar, old rusted ones that were retired from active use but were apparently used by the railroad yard as regular storage. When Ada dove out of the window in the initial moment of the blast, she fell onto one and then miraculously tumbled right in between two of them stacked beside each other, knocking herself unconscious in the process. When the hangar exploded, the shipping containers absorbed the majority of the blast, caving in like enormous tin cans.

When Ada regained consciousness, she found herself cramped into a dark space about three feet wide, created when the shipping containers folded over sideways. The explosion knocked them over like a house of cards, but when they caved in, the narrow space remained in between them. Incredibly, Ada’s body was protected from the shockwave as well as the incinerating heat.

At first, she considered herself lucky to be alive. But now that she got her first look at the smoldering crater, she realized that surviving such a devastating blast must have taken more than a miracle. She certainly hadn’t expected to survive the explosion, and now that she saw just how tremendous it truly was, she wondered how she was still alive at all.

She wasn’t completely uninjured, though. For starters, she couldn’t hear a thing. Her ears rang as if she had just left a heavy metal concert. And she was fairly certain she suffered a concussion in the fall. But given the alternatives, she felt great.

Catching movement out of the corner of her eye, Ada looked up to see a white pickup truck drive along the edge of the railroad yard. She crouched down behind a cement platform off to the side of the hangar and watched as the truck slowed to a stop.

Leon sat in the driver’s seat, looking toward the burning hangar. Looking for her, Ada guessed. She could just about make out the other two passengers in the truck as well, and smiled to herself to see that all three of them had survived the explosion.

Leon only waited a few moments, and then drove the truck slowly along the train tracks and gradually out of sight. When it was gone, Ada stood back up and slowly walked down the tracks in the other direction.

She felt a strange sense of satisfaction, knowing that Leon and the others survived as well. She debated the feeling for a little while, because it was such an unfamiliar sensation, and she couldn’t exactly put her finger on what it was. She felt happy, which didn’t happen much these days.

It wasn’t often that Ada had the opportunity, or the inclination, to actually help someone other than herself. But it made her feel good to know that Leon, Claire, and Sherry all survived, and that she helped make it happen. She felt proud of herself, and for the first time in years, actually felt as if she had actually done something meaningful with her life.

She smiled to herself. “You’re getting soft in your old age, Emily,” she muttered.

As she crossed the row of smaller office buildings and reached the end of the train yard, she turned to look back at the remains of the hangar. She would remember this. Whenever she began to doubt herself or her motives, or wonder about the morality of her actions, she would look back and know that at least one time, she did the selfless thing and tried to save someone else. Leon, Claire, and Sherry were safe thanks to her, and that counted for something.

She wondered if little Sherry had the slightest clue about what had really happened. Ada herself hadn’t figured it out at all until she learned Sherry’s name, and once she realized where she had seen the little girl before, everything else seemed to fall into place. Sherry’s picture was in Ada’s confidential dossier, along with the pictures of the Umbrella employees and other people of interest to Ada’s employers. Somehow, Ada had crossed paths with the daughter of two high-ranking Umbrella employees, both of which were on her watch list.

The crazy woman in the underground lab was Sherry’s mother, although Ada hadn’t realized that until much later. And if Ada’s guess was right, and she was fairly sure that it was, the mutated monster that nearly killed them was none other than William Birkin himself, Sherry’s father. Ada could barely fathom the bizarre chain of coincidences that must have taken place to get all of them in the same place at the same time like that.

Her thoughts wandered as she watched the hangar burn itself out. The flames seemed to flicker and move, and Ada slowly realized that the flames actually were moving. But it wasn’t the flames after all.

Something inside the inferno was moving.

Ada stared in utter disbelief as a shape crawled from the fire, moving along the ground with one arm, smoke steaming from the charred body. One burned, twisted arm pulled a mangled torso through the debris, and only one detail showed through the blackened skin. An eyeball, hideous and yellow, emerged from the flesh, a blood-red pupil scanning the area in front of it.

“Oh my God ….” Ada whispered.

William Birkin was still alive.

Ada turned and ran away from the train yard, her head spinning. She went through a narrow parking lot behind some more buildings at the edge of the property and emerged onto a dark side street lined with parked cars. Not knowing which way to go, she turned left and continued down the street until she reached the next intersecting avenue, a four-lane street that seemed to head toward the outskirts of the city.

Ada walked out into the middle of the street and onto the grass median, under a streetlight, and looked around uncertainly. She had no idea how long it would take Birkin to heal enough to pursue her, or if he would pursue her at all. But her first through was to create as much distance as possible between her and him.

“Stop,” said a nearby voice.

Ada froze for a split-second, almost feeling that she had imagined the voice. When she turned around, Ada found herself staring down the barrel of a combat shotgun. The person holding it was a burly-looking Caucasian man with a buzz cut and a square jaw. He glared at her over the top of the shotgun, his eyes narrowed, finger on the trigger.

“Don’t shoot me,” Ada said simply.

“Why not?” the man asked.

“Because I’m not infected.”

“I can see that.”

“Do you need another reason?”

“Maybe I do.”

They stared each other down for a few moments, giving Ada some time to study her opponent. Whoever he was, he wasn’t some civilian. He held the shotgun like he knew exactly how to use it, and his stance hinted at military training. He wore ill-fitting jeans and a green hooded sweatshirt, but he had on black army boots.

“What was that explosion?” the man asked.

“Propane tankers,” Ada answered. “I blew them up.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes. I was trying to kill something.”

“Looks like you succeeded.”

Ada managed a smile and shook her head ever so slightly, keeping her eyes fixed on the man. “Actually, I didn’t succeed. It’s still alive. So I suggest we get moving, before it comes after us.”

The man did not react at first, and then turned to look down the street Ada had come from. Seeing nothing, he glanced back at her, debating whether or not to believe her. Then, surprisingly, he lowered the shotgun and stepped toward her, limping badly.

“Come on then,” he said gruffly.

“You’re hurt?”

“Yes.”

Two blocks down the avenue, much to Ada’s relief, they found a car that still had the keys inside. The man got into the passenger seat, grimacing in pain when he bent his leg, and propped the shotgun up in his lap. Ada started the car, backed away from the traffic jam in front of it, and drove up onto the sidewalk.

It wasn’t far to the outskirts of the city, and before long Ada drove along a street that edged the woods, passing signs that indicated that the main highway was just up ahead.

“Stop here,” the man said suddenly.

“Why?”

Ada did as she was told, and stopped the car along the side of the road. The man put his hand on the door handle and looked at her.

“We can’t drive all the way out of the city,” he explained. “There’s roadblocks. The only way to get out is on foot. I was going to head into the mountains.”

“You don’t want to get caught at a roadblock?” Ada asked.

“I have my reasons.”

He opened the door and got out of the car, using the shotgun as a crutch. He crossed the gully at the side of the road and started into the woods.

“I think I’ll join you,” Ada said, getting out of the car. “I have my reasons as well.”

The man eyed her suspiciously and then shrugged, deciding that he really didn’t care. Ada used the car keys to open the trunk and found what she was looking for. There was a flashlight, as well as blankets and other emergency supplies. The man waited up as Ada came into the woods after him, crunching through leaves. The trees ahead were dark and foreboding, but Ada flipped on the flashlight, so they could at least see where they were headed.

“So what’s your name?” the man asked as they made their way into the forest.

“Vanessa Cooper. How about you?”

The man seemed to consider the question, as if he wasn’t sure of the answer. He finally shrugged again and replied, “My name’s Ted.”

Chapter 37

 

At six minutes past two o’clock in the morning, a B-2 Stealth Bomber soared high over the western ridge of the Arklay Mountains, nearly invisible against the dark sky. The only sign of its passing was the low rumble of its engine. The sleek aircraft dropped low, splitting the clouds, and came into range of Raccoon City.

Below, the dead city did not even notice the aircraft’s passing. The city’s population, now almost fully undead, congregated in huge mobs in the downtown area. Scattered groups coalesced at various spots around the city. Among the hordes of undead, other creatures lurked as well.

Any survivors with the desire and the ability to leave the city had already done so or had died trying. If there was anyone left alive, they were hidden too deep for rescuers to find, heavily barricaded and armed, unwilling to leave the safety of their havens. But as far as those in charge were concerned, there were no survivors left in the city at all.

The Stealth Bomber arced downward, following the descent of the mountains into the valley where the city lay. One of its missile bays slid open. From the rotary launcher assembly, a long white missile rolled into place.

The pilot’s voice, mechanical and monotone, came over a scrambled radio frequency. “Target in sight. Ready to launch. Final authorization requested.”

“Authorization granted,” came the immediate response.

“Target confirmed.” A quiver of hesitation came into the pilot’s voice.

The missile detached from the launcher and dropped into the sky. The Bomber lifted and shot higher through the clouds as the missile disappeared below it. The missile’s propulsion system burst to life and it rocketed downward through the air.

“Fox three,” the pilot said. Within seconds, the Bomber was already up and out of range, booming through the air at maximum speed.

The 700-pound missile shot toward the center of the city, guided by active radar. It flashed across the sky like a meteor, a barely visible vapor trail behind it. But no one in the city was alive to see it. The missile, a B61 Mod 11 tactical thermonuclear device, fell to less than 100 feet before it detonated almost directly over the Raccoon City Police Station.

Its warhead consisted of two separate chambers, primary and secondary. The primary chamber contained a core of radioactive material surrounded by conventional explosives. When the explosives detonated, they compressed the fissile material, Plutonium-239, to the point where nuclear fission was achieved. A mixture of Deuterium and Tritium gas inside the core reacted to create nuclear fusion, which released additional neutrons that boosted the fission effect of the Plutonium.

The combined heat, radiation, and burst of neutrons was then directed by the interstage to the secondary chamber: a core of Plutonium, a thick layer of the fusion fuel Lithium Deuteride, encased in a shell of Uranium. The Plutonium, when compressed to a critical point, underwent fission, which spread to the Lithium Deuteride fuel, which then achieved nuclear fusion once more. It was this combination of fusion and fission reactions, taking place in close proximity and at almost exactly the same time, each one adding to the power of the other due to the release of neutrons, that made up the vast majority of the visible explosion.

All of this took place in seconds. The thermonuclear bomb exploded in a blindingly white point of light that turned the surrounding city blocks to ashes in the blink of an eye. The shockwave radiated outward at the speed of sound, completely obliterating every single structure for miles around in every direction. Buildings were reduced to a spray of rubble, like buckshot fired from a gun. Every organic creature within the immediate blast radius was incinerated instantly.

The B61 missile was variable yield, programmed for 170 kilotons, the highest possible yield, over eleven times the size of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. The instantaneous destruction of the fusion reaction was immediately followed by a fireball 2000 feet wide. Anything not destroyed by the initial shockwave burst into flames. Glass melted, wood was reduced to ash, even steel melted under the 7,200-degree wave of heat.

And the thousands of zombies packed into the streets were wiped off the face of the Earth. More than 95% of the infected hosts in the city were annihilated immediately.

A tower of nuclear flame erupted into the sky, boiling over into a titanic mushroom cloud that sparked and glittered with internal flashes of lightning. The top of the cloud peaked at over 40,000 feet high and half as wide.

Raccoon City was destroyed in moments. Buildings were knocked flat, every single creature out in the open was vaporized, the destruction spreading for over twenty square miles, reaching from the bottom rim of the Arklay Mountains all the way across to the other side of the city. Even those outside the immediate blast wave were annihilated by the flash of scorching fire and powerful blast of radiation.

The fire spread across the city like a flood, burning everything in its path. Huge swaths of flame covered the city, destroying everything that was not destroyed in the nuclear blast, reducing the entire downtown area to nothing but a graveyard of smoldering remains. Residential areas were burned to the ground, each and every home going up in flames as the inferno continued on its path of destruction. Even the Arklay Forest was not spared from destruction, as the flames reached the woods and continued to burn.

Hours later, there was almost nothing left. The few infected hosts that still remained could be dealt with easily, from a distance. All that remained now was to start to begin the first stage of the cleanup process.

The Final Decontamination was a success.

A note from the author

Resident Evil Legends is a seven-part series that was originally posted online from 2007 to 2012 on Fanfiction.net. The entire series has been completely revised and edited for this new Shakespir Edition. The author would like to thank all of the readers on Fanfiction.net who posted comments and feedback. Without their help and support, this series would never have been completed. The author would also like to thank Capcom for creating such wonderful and memorable characters and making such entertaining games.

 

Resident Evil Legends

Part One: Welcome to the Umbrella Corporation

Part Two: The Arklay Outbreak

Part Three: The Mansion Incident

Part Four: Calm Before the Storm

Part Five: City of the Dead

Part Six: Escape from Raccoon City

Part Seven: Aftermath – COMING SOON


Resident Evil Legends Part Six - Escape From Raccoon City

Based on the Resident Evil video game series by Capcom. Raccoon City is in ruins, and the few survivors who remain must try to escape the city before it's too late. But the survivors are not alone; they are being pursued by terrifying creatures with mysterious goals all their own. Leon Kennedy, Claire Redfield, and Sherry Birkin are on the run from a monstrous creature that was once the genius scientist William Birkin, Sherry's own father. Meanwhile, Jill Valentine and Carlos Oliveira must try to escape the unstoppable creature known as Nemesis. Joining them on their escape from the city are Ada Wong, the Umbrella operative known as Hunk, and the ruthless UBCF Commander Nicholai Ginovaef. They are all running out of time, because in just a few hours' time, the entire city is destined to face Final Decontamination ...

  • Author: Andreas Leachim
  • Published: 2016-10-30 14:35:29
  • Words: 60454
Resident Evil Legends Part Six - Escape From Raccoon City Resident Evil Legends Part Six - Escape From Raccoon City