Chapter One


Eight weeks, three days, seven hours, and forty five minutes.

Claire drummed the eraser of her pencil against a sketchbad, searching her mind for ideas, trying to banish the litany of numbers from her head. She was supposed to be putting together a portfolio for the advertising company downtown. She was supposed to be finding gainful employment and escaping an eternity known only as "Chris' baby sister." She was supposed to be salvaging some element of stability from the remnants of her life and stitching it back together.

The clock switched over. Eight weeks, three days, seven hours, and forty six minutes.

Disgusted, she shoved away from the table and tossed the fridge door open, staring into its depths as though they might hide the answers to her problems. Instead, she found a bag of apples, a plate of leftover pizza, a bottle of water, and half a jar of ketchup. She'd known she would. She'd already opened the fridge five times in the last half hour.

The kitchen was spotless. Chris would be very impressed when he got home from wherever he was. She'd wandered into the kitchen several hours to find a carefully worded note stuck to the refrigerator door:

Foolish and untrustworthy blood relative,

I am going out on a real, genuine date with one Jill Valentine. Please do not try to aid, rescue, or otherwise help me. It is not a zombie hunting date, I promise. I will be home before midnight. Probably.

Seriously -- please stay in just for tonight, Claire. Keep doors and windows locked. Call me if you need me. I have my cell.

But only if you really need me, ok?

Love ya,

It made her smile. Chris rarely left her notes these days, and he was pretty careful about his wording when he did. He was lucky she hadn't made plans for the night, though -- she wouldn't have taken kindly to having them disrupted in such a fashion.

Eight weeks, three days, seven hours, and forty seven minutes.

She sighed heavily and slumped in her chair, forcing her fingers to close around a pencil. She really had to produce some work. Her artwork ended abruptly after the Raccoon City disaster, and she couldn't drag in a portfolio demonstrating that she'd done absolutely nothing since then. She'd managed to doctor the dates on two of her better drawings, making them appear more recent, but she needed at least two or three polished sketches to round them out. Four or five would be better. And she needed them by this time next week.

Eight weeks, three days, seven hours, and forty eight minutes.

Damn it.

She doodled roughly on the page, hoping to get her mind moving. Idly, she sketched the outlines of a face, filling in the rough shapes of eyes, a nose, a mouth. Male face -- neat hair. Shading in the details, her mind a hundred miles away, she wondered what Chris was doing, and if she really wanted to know.

And she could only imagine where Leon was right now. He'd been called off on a "special assignment" three days ago and left in a hurry, promising to take her out to dinner to make up for it. Sometimes it seemed like everyone had a role to play except her. Leon, of course, was bound by threat of termination -- both of his job and his life -- not to reveal details of his work. She was the only one without official training, after all; she supposed it made sense if the others sometimes considered her an outsider. And Chris was her big brother; it was only natural he wanted to protect her.

Still. Still, still, still.

Eight weeks, three days, seven hours, and forty nine minutes.

She leaned back and looked at her work. Well, it was good all right -- a decent likeness, and somehow she'd captured the hard slant to the eyes. But she didn't know if she wanted a sketch of Albert Wesker in her portfolio.

What the hell, she decided, signing and dating it, rubbing out a few lines she didn't like. She hadn't meant to draw Wesker, but she had to draw something, didn't she? As long as Chris and Leon didn't see it, she'd be fine.

She slid the page between the folds of her portfolio. Somehow, she hadn't made him as mean as she would have if she'd set out to draw him. She'd made him look almost human.

Don't fool yourself, kid. He's anything but.

Eight weeks, three days, seven hours, and fifty minutes.

She sighed again. She didn't know when she'd started counting the minutes since she'd escaped Wesker's captivity, but she knew she couldn't stop. She'd tried. She wasn't even doing it consciously anymore, but the moment she opened her eyes in the morning, there it was; the precise awareness of exactly how long she'd been free.

Followed by the cold chill of his words. I'll be back, like the Terminator, except much more frightening because he was human in almost every way -- capable of thought, emotion. Capable of taking a terrible pleasure in the suffering of others that no machine could rival or match.

All at once she slammed her sketchbook shut. She didn't know what she was going to do for the rest of the night, but she needed a break. She'd played all the games of solitaire she could handle, checked her email twelve times since supper, and called all of her friends. Briefly, she contemplated going for a walk, but scratched that idea. As much as she hated to admit it, Chris was right -- all she had to do was give Wesker a chance and...

And what? she asked herself bitterly. Doors and windows don't stop this guy. If he wants me, he'll find me.

She almost wished she would. Anything would be better than this, than counting down the minutes of freedom, knowing that any second it would all be snatched away again.

Eight weeks, three days, seven hours, and fifty one minutes.

FIfty two.

FIfty three.

The rest of her life slipping quietly away to the rhythm of an unseen drum, ticking like a clock, second by second, hour by hour.

Who was she kidding? She hadn't escaped at all.