Here is the beginning of Part III: Adaptation. I'll update as quickly as I can and while I'm on my writing spree this month. As always, I love reviews. They make me want to write more for everyone to enjoy. So…um…yeah…Enjoy! Reminder: I own nothing.
Chapter 30: Adaptation
Red hair fluttered about the woman's face as a light breeze blew through the courtyard of the small apartment complex. Her lips parted into a gentle smile as she stepped further into the sunlight, and her eyes matched the brilliant azure sky overhead. It was late spring, May, five months after a captivity that no one would guess at judging by her face. Claire Redfield was sipping from a tall glass of iced coke and walking barefoot along the stone pathway leading across the small, grassy enclosure. She and Chris were sharing an apartment on the second floor. No doubt he could see her from the small balcony where she had left him.
"Claire, come play with me!" a short little girl called. She skipped across the grass in a red dress and latched onto Claire's hands, tugging enthusiastically. Claire had become a favorite among the children in these apartments, but what child could resist someone who handed out mini chocolates? "Come play!"
"Not today, Missy," Claire laughed. "I have work to do soon, but you can sit with me in the grass for a while."
"Ok." They sat and Claire pointed out animal shapes in the clouds overhead. The little girl giggled. Claire had become more acutely aware of wanting a family someday with so many children around. But with Umbrella and who-knew-who else after her and Chris, the realization of those dreams was remote. Maybe it wouldn't happen in this lifetime. Claire accepted that and fulfilled the desire by enjoying other people's kids. She wasn't ready to settle down anyway—no way, not anti-Umbrella Claire.
"Where did your friends go?" the child asked. "Becky was funny." Claire sighed. That had been two months ago. There had been little to no action on their radar for weeks, and the anti-Umbrella group had inevitably separated with other interests and projects to attend. Leon had been finagled into doing something with the government; Rebecca had gotten wind of a possibly lead on Billy Coen; and Jill was attending to an ailing relative. Of course, they were in contact, especially with Jill. Chris called her frequently, and Claire knew that the woman would return when she could. Perhaps a break was a good idea, for they weren't accomplishing anything lately. She and Chris had their ears and eyes open but were having difficulty getting anywhere. It had been a quiet several months.
"They're busy," Claire answered. "Adult stuff."
"Claire!" Chris called from the balcony. "Come take a look at this!" Claire excused herself and hurried up the stairs to their small apartment. She had been earning cash as a waitress in a nearby shop and kept them housed for the time being. Chris was reclining beside a large fan and looking at his computer. "This just came in." He moved the computer so that Claire could see the screen. It was an e-mail detailing a suspicious, unmarked, and very small shipment of fragile chemicals to a remote location in central Russia.
"Where'd you get this from?" Claire asked.
"Oh, a friend," Chris shrugged with a boyish smile. "He marks and forwards me anything that might be related to bio-weapon research. And," Chris said, "there's a small town near there—only about four hundred people, and there have been strange reports of monsters from neighboring people that got to close to this place. No one's gone to the town for days."
"Shall we check it out?" Claire grinned.
"You bet. We have nothing else to do around here. Things have been way to quiet, if you ask me."
"You always assume that no news is bad news," Claire playfully chided as she got herself another soda. She wiped sweat from her brow. The apartment was cheap, and that happened to mean no air conditioning.
"It usually is with bio-weapons," Chris answered. He watched Claire move about the kitchen with her energetic confidence. She had returned to herself a week after being rescued from Wesker, but she still didn't talk about it. She had made only one comment, and it left Chris baffled. It had been soon after their tiny Christmas celebration, and Claire was making hot chocolate for everyone. He had found her in the kitchen staring blankly into her cup with a strange emotion trapped in her eyes. He naturally asked what was bothering her. Nothing. It reminds me of him. Chris didn't need to ask who the "him" was, but he couldn't fathom what the connection was.
"You sure you're up for this, kiddo?" Chris jokingly asked. Claire knew better than to think it was only a jest. Chris liked to mask seriousness with humor.
"You mean, do I want to be involved with biohazards after a tyrant held me captive and exposed me to viruses?" she asked. Chris muttered something incoherent. "Chris, we've been through this. Wesker could have bested any of us. It's not like I was just weaker than you. I'm ready for action again. In fact, there's nothing else I want to do right now. Ask me again, and I'll break your nose." Chris smiled and stretched.
"Suit yourself. I'd like to send you back to college, personally."
"We've been through that too, and the answer's no. I'm much more useful here." Not lately, she admitted, but every week couldn't be fast paced. "I'll go back when the t-virus and its counterparts are gone for good." That could be a lifetime, Claire realized, or until the masterminds were executed. "And are you going to Russia on your own if I back out?" she teased. "Good luck!" Chris's phone began ringing and he leapt from his seat. Claire laughed as he lunged for it.
"Jill? Hello beautiful." Claire stepped out onto the balcony and closed the door to give them some privacy. The sun was beginning to set, and she loved this time of day. Chris and Jill were discussing the trip to Russia. To another person, the sound from inside would have been muffled, but Claire heard it clearly. She was sure that her ears hadn't been this acute before. She could hear softer noises—sometimes other people's pulses if she concentrated—and she often used the ability to eavesdrop. It would have been an enjoyable gain had it not been connected to a virus, which she was certain was the source of it.
Besides that, no other conditions had manifested, although she checked her body every single time she went for a bath or shower. There was hardly a day that went by where she did not think about being infected. Sure, she looked normal, but, when she got angry, she knew that she had to be careful. She had been furious when she learned that Missy's stepfather sometimes hit her when drunk. She had been holding a glass in her hand, and it snapped when her temper rose. Since then she had kept a constant vigil on her actions when emotional. It was like when she fought Wesker's test subject, and she still had no control when that strength arrived or left. She wished it into nonexistence, but that didn't change reality.
"Chris! Such a dirty mind." Jill's voice came through the door. Claire choked on her smile and ran a hand through her hair. Keeping track of Umbrella's bio-weapons was becoming more difficult due to the small groups that bought them. There were isolated incidents that should have had international organizations worried, but most people didn't realize the extent of the BOWs' danger or potential to destroy whole cities. To most people, monsters were still fictional.
You'll be a BOW one day, her mind reminded. Stop thinking about it! She was not a BOW. She was not some type of killing machine or freak. She was Claire Redfield, and she would stay that way. Not for the first time, she wondered how Wesker would find her, as he claimed he would if she had problems with the virus. He had let her go so that someone or something else would kill her. He was keeping his hands clean of that, and Claire liked to think that it was because he couldn't coldly murder someone who had treated him as she had, but she knew better than to think in black or white when it came to Wesker.
"He's mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf," she recited. She had circled that in her Shakespeare collection and written Wesker's name beside it. She wondered if he had noticed. She could picture him, in all his smugness and control, placing her book back in the library for safekeeping. He would be in trim, black clothing from head to foot, with sunglasses, and perfect blond hair. Not for the first time, she remembered what it had felt like when he held her face; but she never let herself recall the kisses. Those she shunned from her mind like a disease. They were the sole property of Claire the captive, and it was too dangerous and disturbing to think about kissing Albert Wesker now that they were most clearly enemies again.
She shook her head. Damn that man had smoothly snuck those kisses into the scene right when she was at her most vulnerable. He knew what he was doing with his cool, calculating understanding of people. He was a deadly man, deadly with his manipulative abilities. Her life would be easier if she never saw him again, but it wasn't only because she needed to focus on defeating him and because she wanted to be loyal to her friends; she didn't want to be in a position to shoot or otherwise maim him. If he had to die, she didn't want to be directly involved.
She could hear Chris approaching.
"Claire, Jill says hello," he announced. "Here, she wants to talk." Chris handed her the phone and went back inside.
"Hi, Jill," Claire warmly greeted. She could not be happier that Chris and Jill were together. Jill was the exact type of person she would want for him, and she was fond of the woman. "How's it going?"
"Oh, you know, going about my business but sleeping with a weapon. How are you? Chris hasn't been pressuring you to drop out of the Russian mission, has he?" Claire smiled and looked to see if Chris was nearby.
"Only a little, and he hasn't mentioned Wesker yet, so that's a good sign."
"Yeah…" Jill agreed. "He still talks about your captivity. He's afraid that Wesker did horrible, tortuous things to you and that you're carrying that burden alone. You know he wants to help, Claire."
"I know, but he can't. He wouldn't understand, Jill. I don't think any of you would. I'd rather just keep the memories as my own."
"Seeing in grey?" Jill asked gently. Claire loved the tact this woman could express. She was tough and assertive and understanding all at the same time.
"I have no idea what happened, and I probably wouldn't understand either, but Chris is damned confused sometimes. He expects you to hate Wesker and speak his name with venom, like him, but you don't, and he doesn't get that." Background noise distracted Jill for a moment. "What? Oh, right. I've got to go, Claire. Tell Chris that I love him and will be back when I can. And take care of yourself!"
"Bye." The phone went dead and Claire walked back inside. Chris was fiddling with his handgun. "So when are we leaving?" Claire asked. She sincerely wanted to do some damage to the viral cause.
"Tomorrow, sis. I already booked our flight." Claire began gathering her supplies and loading them into a large backpack. She packed protein bars, bottled water, ammo, extra jackets, and knives—anything that she thought might be useful. The backpack slouched against her bedroom door as she went for the most vital items. First was her pink jacket—her trademark. Nothing put her in the mood to shoot zombies like slipping it on. Wearing that jacket meant maintaining the sarcastic, tough-girl image associated with it. Next, she removed a thin metal necklace from a box beside her bed. It was a dog tag.
She ran a finger over its surface and read the inscription:
Nathaniel, M. O POS
She had notified the relatives of their son's death in an anonymous letter. At least one family swept away by Umbrella would have some closure. She slipped the tag around her neck and tucked it underneath her shirt. She wore it as a reminder of what she risked and what kind of mercy she could expect to receive if she should ever surrender. She hoisted her rifle and sat on the bed. It was going to be a long night of waiting.