Disclaimer & Notices: See Chapter 1.
by Red Hope
“What!” Claire Redfield barked at him. “What the Hell do you mean Carlos and Jill left?”
John Stack, a subordinate to Claire Redfield, held up his hands in defense. He swore there was steam pumping out of Claire’s ears. Before joining the rebels, John was forewarned of Claire Redfield’s wild temper. But nobody warned him that he’d fall under it when he took the position of second in command. He preferred his previous position.
“Did they tell you where they were going?” Claire questioned, slightly calmer. She inhaled deeply in hopes it’d sooth her temper. Yet her hands remained on her hips, inches from her holstered guns.
John glanced to the side, nervously. He bit his bottom lip then met the fiery gaze locked on him. “Valentine wouldn’t tell me.”
John shook his head and weakly explained, “Oliveira was stepping on the gas before I could corner him.”
Claire shut her eyes and breathed even deeper until it hurt her chest. She let out the air in a puff before slotting her eyes at John Stack. “Keep on the damn radios until you get word from them.” She folded her muscular arms that showed beyond the tank top. “Then let me know when they return so I can…”
John cringed but tempted fate and asked, “You can what, ma’am?”
Claire clenched her teeth then snarled, “Skin them alive myself.” She stalked off after dropping her arms. She tugged on her ball cap, an old habit that used to help her, but not much lately. On the front of the red cap was Cessna’s original logo of a yellow airplane that dated to the 1920s.
John blew out a breath after the leader stomped off. He thought it’d be his head on a pike, but instead it sounded like Valentine and Oliveira would be the only two. Lucky them when they returned to camp.
Claire Redfield stepped onto the cracked sidewalk and passed several other soldiers that’d joined the cause. She gave each of them firm nods before she entered the former police station. She was greeted by firelight from the candles and torches positioned through the building. Deeper in the station, Claire located her next target, who was in charge of security.
“Mikey,” Claire snapped when she came around the desk.
Mikey nearly jumped out of his chair, a hand on his pounding heart. “Fuck, Claire… why do you have to do that?”
Claire ignored his curse and instead slammed her fist into the table. “How did Jill and Carlos leave our borders?”
Mikey furrowed his eyebrows then peered up at Claire. He was hard pressed not to look at the computer monitor once he saw the blaze in the green eyes above him. “You… you gave the order.”
“I gave the order?” Claire was dumbfounded for a second then refocused on Mikey. “I radioed you that it was okay for them to leave in the middle of the goddamn night?”
“Yes,” Mikey sharply replied. He was confused and also irritated. “I radioed you, and you approved it.”
Claire went still for a beat. She straightened up and stared, oddly at the monitor that showed different cameras around the border. “That’s impossible.”
Mikey was bewildered and shook his head. “It was your voice, Claire.”
After several heavy breaths, Claire looked at her radio once something occurred to her. After a second, it was apparent the handheld radio was turned down completely low, which was no accident on Claire’s part. An hour before Jill and Carlos left the borders, Jill had been talking to Claire, and they’d bumped into each other, seemingly by accident. It was just an attempt on Jill’s part to turn down Claire’s radio, and a successful attempt at that. From there, Claire theorized that Carlos and Jill used a recording of her voice to give Mikey the approval.
“Damn those two snakes,” Claire growled.
Mikey stared wide eye at his leader. But then shook his head and questioned, “What are they doing anyway?”
Claire drummed her fingers on the table a few times. “I don’t know… but I’m going to kill them.”
“That’s if you’re lucky, and they make it back.” Mikey smirked at Claire’s glare. But movement from the monitor’s screen made him look at it. “Hey… it looks like the supplies team is back.”
Claire looked at the camera that was watching the entrance for the east side. “Good.” She started to go until a thought came to her, and she pivoted on the balls of her feet. “Mikey…”
Mikey met his leader’s gaze and waited.
“We’re going to need to work out a code system or something for these approvals over the radio,” Claire decided.
Mikey pierced his lips then nodded.
Claire was satisfied and marched off. She wanted to see what the supply team brought back with them. Within minutes, she met the supply team by the gate where they were being inspected for any trouble. Much to Claire’s surprise the supply team didn’t just bring back food, clothes, and ammunition but also a survivor.
“I thought everybody was dead or undead in that sector,” Claire argued with L.J.
“Not this girl,” L.J. replied. “How the Hell she’s survived all this time… it’s beyond me.” He was walking Claire to the rear of the military truck. “We found her in a K-Mart store. She was sleeping on one of those shelving units.” Like Claire, he peered into the rear of the canopy covered truck and stared at the thin, sickly looking girl being held by Terri Morales.
Claire leaned in closer to L.J. and softly asked, “She’s not infected?”
“Initial test was negative,” L.J. murmured.
Terri peered over at Claire Redfield and silently hoped that the leader would allow the young girl to stay with them.
“Alright,” Claire softly ordered, “Get her tested and cleaned up.” She stared another moment at the bright gold locks spilling over Terri’s secure arm around the girl. Moving away, she walked around the truck with L.J. and ordered, “I want a full report by morning.” However, she would get an inventory of the goods collected tonight.
“Ya got it, Claire.” L.J. mocked saluted her before he hopped back into the truck cab.
Claire crinkled her nose and stepped aside as the truck passed her. It gave her another chance to see the girl inside, still being held by Terri. She made a mental note to check on the kid in an hour or two, while she was waiting for Carlos and Jill’s anticipated return.
The night carried on quietly and the small city known as Arcadia didn’t have any quarrels with the outside world, undead or alive. But the leader of the Rayne force kept busy with reports about the city, the soldiers, and news about Umbrella. After a few hours, Claire took a break and went to the infirmary where the newcomer was assigned until passed by a doctor. Once in the infirmary, she was directed to the girl’s room but first found the doctor on duty.
“Evening, Dr. Green.”
Doctor Green peered up from the charts on her clipboard. She warmly smiled at Claire Redfield, who stood on the other side of the desk. “How are you, Claire?” After several nods from Claire, she summarized, “That sounds better than my new patient.” She suspected that’s why the leader had stopped by.
“How is she doing?” Claire turned on her heels as Doctor Elisa Green came around the hallway desk.
“Sleep deprived, malnutrition, dehydrated,” Doctor Green listed. “But… she’s clean.” She escorted Claire down the hallway while she continued the verbal report. “It’s amazing she’s alive.” She paused a few yards ahead of the patient’s room. “She’s two steps ahead of being undead.”
Claire had a heavy frown, and she pulled on her ball cap’s brim. “Will she be alright?”
“Yes. It’s a miracle.” Doctor Green turned her head sidelong, towards the patient’s room. “But her psyche… that’s another story.” A sad sigh passed her lips. “She’s still a mess, Claire. We haven’t had much luck communicating with her.”
The leader firmly nodded then patted Doctor Green on the shoulder. “Thanks, Elisa.” She softly entered the candlelit room and was greeted by a girl curled up on the foot of the bed. “Hi there.”
The girl was huddled together, a small ball that could have hidden anywhere. Claire then took in the stench that surrounded the girl. It reminded her of death, slightly warmed over.
After clearing her throat, Claire mentally trained her body to ignore the smell that made her think of undead and took her back to Raccoon City. She carefully approached the girl, who balled tighter, somehow. Claire stopped and frowned deeper then decided on a gentler voice that she hadn’t used in some time.
“You remember me from earlier? I saw you in the truck… with Terri.” Claire resisted from folding her arms, which was a defensive stance. “I’m friends with Terri.” She already knew that Terri had found the girl in the store. “My name is Claire… Claire Redfield.” Somehow, she found curious blue eyes peeking up at her through dirty blond strands. “You’ve heard of me huh?” Claire offered a smile.
Yet the girl still didn’t speak and stayed in her protective posture. Her thin fingers moved against her lean arm.
Claire took one step closer and was relieved the girl didn’t recoil further. “You’re in a safe place now… in Arcadia. There are thousands of Rayne soldiers here. Nothing will happen to you again.” She made another, small step and realized how her height might scare the child. So she knelt down and became more eye level. “Can you tell me your name?”
Pale blue eyes vanished for a second then they came back along with ghostly lips protruded beyond the blond hair. “K…K-K-K-Mart,” she answered in a scratchy voice.
A hard swallow bought Claire a second. She shook her head and explained, “That’s where Terri and L.J. found you.” She canted her head and tried, “What’s your name?”
Slightly more clearly, the girl repeated, “K-K-Mart.”
Claire bowed her head and decided to go with it. “Alright, K-Mart it is.” She finally sat down on the floor, finding it more comfortable. “So Doctor Green told me that we need to get you some food and something to drink.” She canted her head. “It’s been awhile since you had a good meal, huh?” After the girls low nod, Claire seconded it. “If I bring you something, you think you can eat it?” Again another nod was Claire’s answer. “Okay. I won’t be long.” She stood up, slowly so she wouldn’t stir the girl. On her way out, she felt blue eyes following her.
Once out in the hallway, Claire went in search of food that would be light on K-Mart’s tender stomach. She checked with Doctor Green too before giving it to K-Mart. What had initially shocked Claire was how K-Mart responded to the food. The plate hit the floor, in hundreds of pieces, along with the flatware. However, the food was jammed into K-Mart’s mouth like a wild dog from the streets. It took Claire a minute to recover then she cleaned up the mess. She realized just how right Doctor Green was about K-Mart’s psyche. There was a lot to be done to heal K-Mart.
After spending over three hours with K-Mart, Claire decided she needed to retire for the night. She was exhausted after she’d spent over an hour convincing the girl that a shower would be best. Thankfully, the room included a bath that had hot water. Claire discovered K-Mart needed help getting clean so she stayed in the bathroom. Despite her damp top afterwards, she found it well worth it once a teenage girl emerged from the dirt, blood, tattered clothes, and stench. The new clothes and combed hair made K-Mart come back to life.
However, Claire wasn’t able to make the exit she wanted from the infirmary. Halfway down the hallway, K-Mart had chased down Claire and clung to her. Despite her efforts to promise K-Mart that the infirmary was safe, it just didn’t work out. Suddenly the leader of the Rayne forces found herself with a shy, introvert shadow that went home with her.
On their short journey through the small city, Claire noticed how K-Mart was checking out everything. She made a mental note to give K-Mart a tour in the morning when more would be seen than now.
Claire opened the door to her quarters, formerly a motel that’d turned into a makeshift bunker house. She allowed K-Mart in first then she entered next and bolted the door once inside.
K-Mart carefully watched the leader set four deadbolts on the door. She noted how the door was also retrofitted with a heavy steel plate on the inside part. It was deceptively strengthened, just like the window with the steel bars. She turned again, her eyes swept over the enlarged motel room.
“Home sweet home,” Claire muttered. She faced the teenager. “You’re welcomed to stay in the other room.” When her soldiers took over the former town six months ago, she’d claimed two motel rooms as hers. The separating wall was knocked down and gave Claire more space.
K-Mart went into the other room with Claire after the candles were lit. She worriedly studied the quiet space but said nothing.
Inwardly sighing, Claire took leave and prepared to lay down for the night. It was very late, which was normal for her. She checked on K-Mart, who was sitting on the foot of the spare bed in the candlelight. She simply said goodnight then slipped back into her room.
“Mikey, Mikey this is Claire,” the leader hailed on the radio. She sat on the side of her bed, in jeans and a teeshirt. Her left hand loosely held a loaded Beretta on her knees.
“Go ahead, Claire.”
“I’m going to retire for the night. Give me a call on the private channel when Jill and Carlos show up,” Claire ordered.
“You got it,” Mikey replied. “Have a good night.”
“You too. Claire out.” Claire turned the volume lower so that K-Mart wouldn’t be bothered by it. She then tuned the radio to a different channel that Mikey would use to hail her once Jill and Carlos returned from their unauthorized escapade. She couldn’t wait to get her hands on them.
Laying down, Claire hung her ball cap on the nightstand’s drawer knob. She then tucked her handgun under her pillow before blowing out the candles. The only source of light left was a LED nightlight that charged by day from the sunlight in the window.
Claire didn’t really sleep at night, at least not since the nuking of Raccoon City. Not since the night Alice died over nine months ago. She laid in bed, decompressing from the day’s stresses. Her mind was still playing chess though. Her enemy’s king was Umbrella and the pawns were hundreds of undead. And at times, the dwindling government was the queen. However, one day, Claire suspected that the queen would be sacrificed to save the king. It was simply a matter of time before the half-dead government became extinct and pockets of organized humans would be left, like the Rayne forces.
A soft movement sharply roused Claire, who snatched her handgun out from under the pillow. Another quiet sound from under the bed made her hastily roll out with a flashlight magically in her hands. She faced the bed but backed up with the flashlight’s beam shining over the bed. Her eyes danced around, searching for trouble. Then soft, golden strands under the bed caught her attention. A relieved sigh came from Claire, and she lowered the gun.
“K-Mart,” the leader started, in a cold voice. She grumbled at her harsh tone. “That isn’t… the best spot.” She turned on the gun’s safety then tucked it into her waistband. Claire approached the bed and knelt down. “Come on.” She held out her hand but didn’t expect K-Mart to go deeper under the bed.
Claire placed her hand on the carpeted floor, unsure how to handle the situation. It was obvious to her that K-Mart was hiding for safety, a learned habit from being alone out there. “It’s alright,” she insisted. “You’re safe here.” But sadly the teenager still didn’t come out. Claire considered what to do. There wasn’t much beyond dragging K-Mart out from under the bed, which made little to no sense.
What did occur to Claire was the fact that K-Mart chose to go under Claire’s bed rather than the spare bed in the other room. Most likely the teenager felt safer here than alone in the other room. That gave Claire a small idea so she stood up and mentioned, “I’m going to lay down.” She still had on the flashlight until she got into bed. Her gun was hidden again, the flashlight switched off and sitting on the nightstand again, and Claire became comfortable in bed.
“You’re welcome to lay in bed next to me for the night,” Claire offered to the teenager. She hoped the invite would prompt K-Mart to at least try. Only silence responded to her. She rubbed her brow and wondered what would help the girl get more comfortable with her. It was obvious K-Mart trusted her, but K-Mart just didn’t trust her new environment. Perhaps everyday conversation would bring K-Mart back to some of the regular, social norms. Conversation was one thing Claire had forgotten to do, beyond giving orders.
Licking dry lips, Claire attempted to be more human in hopes that it’d open K-Mart up too. She swallowed once then softly told, “I use to be a mechanic… in my previous life.” She felt like she was talking to herself, but Claire knew K-Mart was listening to her. “I didn’t work on cars.” A hesitation came over her as the memories drifted back to her. “I worked on airplanes.” Claire shut her eye and continued talking about a life long gone. “I had my pilot’s license and could also fly helicopters.” Sometimes, she still had dreams at night about flying, but they were so few now. “I started my own airplane mechanic shop at a small airport, just outside of Raccoon City.” A quiet movement under the bed made Claire silent for a second. “But I’m originally from the New England area… grew up around boats and helicopters.”
K-Mart had crawled over to one side of the bed, her head poking out from under the bed so she could hear well. She was interested in Claire.
“I started flying when I was about your age,” Claire mentioned. “I started with helicopters but went to airplanes. They’re a little cheaper than rotorcrafts, I guess.” She thought about the numerous flights she had with her father, who earned his license in the Air Force. “I also got into motorcycles, especially older bikes.” Claire bit her bottom lip when she saw a head pop up on the other side of the bed. She gazed over and smiled at the teenager. “But airplanes were my first love.”
K-Mart studied Claire Redfield, her hands clutched the side of the bed and chin on the edge.
“I had an older brother too,” Claire mentioned. “His name was Chris.” She gazed up at the ceiling so that her staring didn’t make K-Mart uncomfortable. “He looked just like my father. I looked like my mother. But I was everything like my father.” She sighed and quietly added, “Chris was gentler like our mom.”
K-Mart slowly climbed onto the bed and sat there, huddled like normal. But her full attention was on Claire.
“He was a good bother,” Claire continued. “He had a beautiful wife… two kids.” She could picture her niece and nephew. When she opened her eyes, she made out her niece’s features in K-Mart’s face. She shut her eyes and tried wiping away her memories.
K-Mart had her chin on her left knee so she could see Claire. She gripped her pant legs tighter, a nervous habit. Her lips slightly parted then she whispered, “I had… an… o-o-older brother too.”
Claire held her breath and wondered if she’d made up K-Mart’s voice in her head. She believed so until K-Mart spoke again.
“A-a-and an o-o-older s-s-sister,” K-Mart nervously added.
Claire slowly opened her eyes, but she didn’t look at K-Mart, too worried it’d silence the teenager. She considered K-Mart’s slight stutter and suspected it was from not communicating with another human for so long. Most likely, it would fade away over time. She folded her hands over her stomach after she realized K-Mart probably related her to her big sister.
“So you were the middle child,” Claire summarized. She sighed and mentioned, “I wanted a younger sister when I was a kid.” Slowly her eyelids drifted down. “I just don’t think my parents could afford a third child.” She grinned and whispered, “Or they were worried a third one would be more like me.” She softly chuckled.
K-Mart had a thin smile that only lasted for a second. Memories from home and her family were extremely hard. She tightened her arms around her propped up legs. “I… I w-w-was from Racc-c-coon City… originally.”
Claire briefly peered up at the teenager. She wondered exactly what K-Mart went through if she was from Raccoon City. Claire was no fool to what citizens from the city suffered through, and it looked like K-Mart wasn’t any exception.
K-Mart shut her eyes after memories resurfaced from her last days in Raccoon City. She remembered the undead, which were once her family. Then there was the stench; the horrid stench of the sewers under Raccoon City. But it was the only way out.
Claire sensed the teenager’s distraught and hurt. She softly reminded, “You’re safe here, K-Mart.” Slowly, she found pale blue eyes on her that glistened with moisture.
“N-n-nowhere is s-s-safe,” K-Mart rasped.
Claire flexed her jaw a few times. Emotions stirred in her chest, which hadn’t happened in a very long time. She gained control and sincerely swore, “You’re safe with me.” For a long minute, she held K-Mart’s eyes.
Then finally K-Mart broke the contact by moving around and crawled under the covers. She didn’t take off her shoes or other clothes. She still remained in a ball and faced in Claire’s direction.
Claire tried relaxing again now that K-Mart was in the bed. It was a huge step, for them both. She could see it would take a lot of time to get K-Mart on her own feet. But tonight, Claire thought over how to help K-Mart reclaim her own self safety rather than depend on Claire for it. That goal kept Claire thinking most of the night, and it was a better thought pattern than the battle against Umbrella.
It wasn’t until an hour before dawn that Mikey’s voice came over the radio. It jarred K-Mart, who shot up in bed. Claire gave an apology but replied to Mikey’s hail.
“G’day, mate,” Mikey greeted to the leader. “Your two loose cannons are almost at the gates,” he reported.
K-Mart curious listened to the man’s words and his accent. She looked from the radio to Claire and noted the annoyed features there. K-Mart was glad she wasn’t the cause of it either.
“Great,” Claire drew out slowly over the channel. “Which gates?”
“North gate,” Mikey answered.
“Thanks, Mikey.” Claire got out of bed, gun in hand, and radio in the other. “I have to go.” She was putting on her boots and was surprised the teenager was waiting on her. She straightened up after getting her boots laced. “You can stay here… or…” She had a slight frown once she realized K-Mart wished to stay at her side. “Come on.” She nodded at the front door.
K-Mart stayed close. She noted Claire grabbed a leather motorcycle jacket on the way out. She struggled to keep up with Claire. K-Mart was use to either running or walking silently. She forgot what power walking could be like.
Claire hurried across the camp and made it to the north gate as it was opening up. She slotted her eyes at the shiny, black SUV that pulled in, followed by a second one. “What the Hell is this,” she muttered under her breath.
K-Mart inched closer to Claire after she saw the Umbrella logo on the side of the SUV. She glanced up at Claire and considered whether Claire saw it too. From the angry curl of Claire’s lips, she guessed so.
Immediately the gate guards had drawn their weapons after the Umbrella vehicles rolled to a stop beyond the gates. The seven guards expected trouble and were confused too since it’d been Jill that’d radioed their arrival. If it was a trap or test then it was a stupid one.
Claire took a step in front of K-Mart, and had her handgun ready. She visibly relaxed when Jill Valentine stepped out of the driver’s side. However, her confusion returned as Rayne soldiers exited the SUVs but with Umbrella attire on rather than their normal uniform.
Jill approached Claire Redfield with her hands up, clearly prepared for an argument. “Before you even start-”
“What the fuck is this,” Claire hotly cut off. She was scanning Jill up and down. The Umbrella uniform on Jill disgusted her.
Jill lowered her hands. “Carlos and I went on a dangerous mission.”
“And you decided to just now include me?” Claire growled. She put her handgun away, too worried she’d use it now.
“It was too dangerous,” Jill explained. Her temper was starting to flare up too. “For you,” she snapped when Claire nearly blasted her further.
K-Mart listened to the pair’s argument until another newcomer’s approach commanded her attention. Behind a dark haired, handsome man was another woman about Claire’s height, except she had dirty blond hair and wore jeans with a civilian top unlike the others. K-Mart suspected the woman and dark haired man were friends by how closely they walked together. As the new woman came closer, K-Mart had a better look of her soft features, full lips, and those striking blue eyes. K-Mart continued assessing the new woman until she looked right at K-Mart. The next breath of air hitched in K-Mart’s throat when the woman’s bright blue eyes flickered with a familiar red and white logo. K-Mart blinked twice after she thought she imagined it.
“These are my soldiers and these people trust me with their lives!” Claire blasted at Jill. She was on fire and couldn’t curb it even though she should have in public. This wasn’t the place, but Claire was so furious that Jill and Carlos went behind her back.
Jill fought to explain herself and Carlos, except Claire’s anger cut her down. She and Carlos had kept it a secret so they could protect Claire from the risk. She gritted her teeth and was about to cuss the leader out until Carlos’s approach on her left made her look.
Claire followed Jill’s attention. Her heart suddenly leapt into her throat. She stared wide eye at the woman beside Carlos. She worked her mouth, but nothing came from her.
K-Mart kept looking between Claire and the woman beside Carlos. She could feel everything had changed now, everything.
Carlos folded his arms and glanced over his shoulder at his companion before he gave a small grin to Jill.
Claire blinked once then shook her head. “What the…” She felt her knees give way, her hand instinctively going out to catch herself on the ground. But Claire gasped when she was caught and her weight supported by a ghost. “Aliiice,” she breathed out, shakily.
Alice kept her hands on Claire’s hips and held her. She sadly smiled. “Hey you.”
Claire inhaled deeply, but it didn’t ease her racing heart. She couldn’t believe this was real. She found her feet again and realized Alice’s hands weren’t ghost’s once they were gone from her hips. “What is…” She couldn’t get a single coherent thought out. Instead, she had to prove it to herself, and Claire gently lifted Alice’s shirttail until the beginnings of a scar peered out from around Alice’s lower abdomen.
Alice took Claire’s hand into hers after a second. She found steely eyes that stared at her in pure amazement. Alice could read all the anger and hatred that’d built Claire into a cold leader over the months. She clenched her teeth and tried not squeezing Claire’s hand too hard.
Claire breathed out after holding her breath. She accepted it was possible; somehow, that Alice Abernathy was before her. She knew it was true. And without warning, Claire lunged forward and wrapped her arms around Alice. Her body pressed against Alice’s made her realize how real it was now.
Alice rocked on her heels, but she returned the fierce hug. She hadn’t held somebody so close in a long time. It made her remember everything now after many things had been fuzzy earlier. She breathed in Claire’s scent and relived her last moments with Claire before she died. All of it faded away as Alice caught up to the present again.
Slowly, Alice shared the same relief Claire was now feeling because they were together again. This was their chance to change everything.