His hands were shaking.

In the last twenty four hours, his body had begun rapidly losing strength, his nerves weakening under the sway of the virus. It felt like everything inside him was petrifying, his bones bending beneath muscles and tendons that refused to cooperate. Walking was an effort—just traveling across a room left him panting and in pain, his knees unsteady and burning.

Writing was difficult as well, with his trembling hands. His fingers no longer had much grip strength either, which made the letters even more illegible, but he tried his best, tracing each one out painstakingly, blinking his eyes each time his vision started to fail.

He had so much he wanted to say, enough to fill up a thousand pages. When you're a few minutes from apocalypse and you have one last chance to be heard, where do you begin? How can you cut it short?

But the virus didn't give him a choice. He was forced to narrow it all down to a page, a few simple words telling Ada that he loved her, and that if somehow, someday, she ever got this letter, he had one final request of her—get Umbrella.

He could barely fold it and get it in the envelope. He printed her name in big, shaky writing on the front, only three letters but still so difficult for him to do.

He left it lying on the desk as he slid to the cold concrete floor. He was so hot and itchy and nauseous, but he barely even noticed it anymore. All he really felt was the hunger.

He wished he were braver. Suicide was supposed to be the coward's way out, but no, no, he didn't think so, not anymore. It took so much courage to end it yourself. Even knowing he was going to die either way, and that he was going to come back an abomination, he couldn't put a gun to his head and pull the trigger.

Slowly, he slid his hand across his chest, up to his breast pocket. It felt like each of his fingers weighed a thousand pounds, but somehow he managed to pull out a cigarette and his lighter.

Before the outbreak, he hadn't smoked in a long time, not since he was studying abroad in Spain. His roommate had gotten him started and it had been difficult to quit, but in the last few days, he'd taken it back up. Trapped as he was, there wasn't much other pleasure to be gotten out of the remainder of his life.

He managed to get the tip of the cigarette in his mouth before his hand fell back to the ground, a dead weight. He sucked in a deep breath and let it out in a choking laugh, the taste of blood blooming across his tongue as it seeped out and ran down his chin.

It was a little bit amusing, him dying during one last smoke. What a very Luis thing to do—he'd be proud.

So John lay there on the concrete, watching pillars of smoke drift up to the grey ceiling until he couldn't see anything at all.

.

George Hamilton was moving on automatic. He really couldn't remember the last time he'd slept—two days ago, maybe? Three? He'd been running on coffee for quite a while, but even the caffeine was beginning to lose its effect.

Being a surgeon, his hours had never been particularly good, but they weren't horrible either, not like an ER doctor's. Barring the occasional emergency, he was able to get home at a reasonable hour and rest before he came back in the morning, but recently, this had changed.

It started a few days ago. At first there had only been a couple of them mixed in with the usual injuries and illnesses. They mainly complained of flulike symptoms, along with a strange, constant itch all over their bodies. They'd been prescribed antibiotics and skin creams and sent home, but soon they all came back, in much worse condition.

It was rapid after that, with new cases of the same illness beginning to pop up with such frequency that the hospital became overwhelmed. Raccoon General had always been extremely well staffed and equipped for the size of the city it served, but now, it was nowhere near enough.

George, along with majority of the other surgeons, had been drafted to the ER to help examine patients, but there wasn't much point to it. They didn't know what was wrong with them—every test they ran came back negative, and no matter what medical literature they read, nothing described was exactly what they were faced with.

The woman he was examining right now had been in before, according to the records. She'd been given the usual round of antibiotics, obviously to no effect. The symptoms she'd been suffering two days ago seemed mild compared to the present.

She trembled on the examining table, hugging herself as her teeth chattered uncontrollably. The fever causing the shivering was dangerously high, verging on hyperpyrexia, and the skin of her neck practically burned him as he checked her lymph nodes. Severely swollen.

The slight motion of him tilting her head triggered an immediate response, her chest heaving as she lurched forward and gagged. Nothing came up except a long string of bloody bile.

George stared at the mess on the floor, and then at the skin of her forearms, where she had scratched down into the tissue.

"I think we'll check you in . . ."

.

Chris rolled his neck, sighing as it popped. In his lap, his hands pulled open the bag of potato chips he'd gotten from the vending machine down the hall, and he immediately began scarfing them down two at a time. They weren't great, but they were also the first thing he'd had all day, and it had been a long day.

They'd been chasing lead after lead, but none of them had went anywhere. There was DNA evidence on the bodies, retrieved from saliva in the wounds, but it didn't match anything in the system. A few fingerprints were also recovered, with the same results. Mr. and Mrs. McGee, the only possible eyewitnesses, claimed to have not seen or heard anything. And there were, of course, the tips—the police lines had been flooded with people calling in, some lying just for their own amusement, some genuinely certain that their neighbors were child killing cannibals. Others just had a pathological need to confess to things they didn't do.

All of them had been investigated and eliminated. Which left them . . . nowhere. They had nothing, and Chris didn't understand how that was possible.

How did ten people stay invisible? How could a group so large possibly keep such a secret, without at least one of them getting drunk and bragging, or confiding in a friend? Were they all related somehow, which ensured everyone's loyalty?

Chris actually gave a startled bark of laughter as the thought entered his head—he imagined a family of hillbillies, deformed from generations of inbreeding, living somewhere deep in the forest, making furniture covers out of human skin. But wasn't that only supposed to happen in the south?

Chris bit into the last chip and crumpled the bag in his hand, glancing at his watch. He was getting close to the end of his break, but hell, even this hard wooden bench felt pretty good after running around the city all day, and he really wasn't ready to move. Maybe Wesker wouldn't notice if he just sat here for the last hour of the workday . . .?

Yeah, that was doubtful.

With another sigh, this one of resignation rather than satisfaction, he let his head fall against the side of one of the payphones mounted on the wall beside the bench and tried to enjoy the last few minutes of down time.

Across from him, the blue double doors of the detectives' office sat open. He idly watched the people inside work, some of them on their phones, some filling out paperwork. Others were taking down reports from citizens, of which there seemed to be a few more than usual.

A couple of them were filing missing person reports, claiming that no, their relatives were not the kind of people to just leave without telling them. One man was complaining about vandalism to his property he'd discovered when he'd gotten home that day, a window that had been broken from the outside, though there hadn't been any sign of burglary. Another man was ranting loudly about a car accident he'd been involved in, saying that it had most definitely been the other driver's fault, and that if they were so sick they had to be rushed to the hospital by the responding paramedics, they shouldn't have been behind the wheel in the first place.

At the desk nearest the doors, Raymond Douglas was taking down the statement of a pale young woman, who had brown hair pulled back into messy ponytail.

"I was almost home," she was saying. Her pupils were blown wide, the green irises barely visible as her eyes darted around Douglas's face. "I could even see my yard. But I was so goddamn thirsty I couldn't stand it, so I stopped to finish my water. I didn't even hear anyone come up, but suddenly, this fucker is grabbing me. And I—I panicked. I screamed. I started struggling. I don't even remember how I got free—I just remember running across my yard and unlocking the door. I called the cops as soon as I was in."

"Did you get a good look at him?"

"No. And I was too, uh—" She hesitated. "Scared to look out my window to see if he was still out there."

"But they did take the DNA swabs at the hospital?"

She nodded, reaching down to rub the inside of one of her pudgy arms. There was gauze wrapped around it, a reddish brown stain seeping gradually across the white. "Funny how I was so upset I didn't even notice he bit me until later. The hospital says it might be infected—it hasn't stopped draining this whole time. That bastard . . ."

Glancing away, Chris checked the time again. His break was over.

With a groan, he forced himself up and walked slowly to the other end of the hall to throw the empty bag into the small trashcan by the vending machines. Then he started the long walk back up to the S.T.A.R.S. room, deciding to take the route that kept him inside the building the whole way.

Hurrying a bit, he crossed the lobby and into the opposite room. One handcuffed man was being fingerprinted without putting up a struggle, while two others were handcuffed to the bench on the left hand wall.

In Chris's experience, no one was well behaved while they were awaiting booking—they had too much time to think about it, really—but these two weren't even rattling their cuffs. They just sat there, one staring blankly ahead of him, entirely unblinking, the other bent over with his head between his knees, breathing heavily.

Chris sort of hoped this was the start of a new trend.

He jogged down the next two hallways, which were empty thanks to the station being so busy, and stepped out into the room with the staircase. His hand was almost on the railing when he caught something in the corner of his eye and paused.

A few feet away, over by the silver door of the evidence room, stood a man he vaguely recognized. He knew didn't work for the police, but for the city's waste disposal plant out back. He'd seen him hanging around the night watchman on a few occasions, and he thought he'd gotten a memo about him being hired to install some new locks around the station. They were chess themed, or something.

It took Chris a second to find what drew his attention to the man. He was very . . . still. From the toolbox on the floor, it looked like he'd been in the process of installing one of the new locks, but now he was stood up and staring into space, arms hanging limply at his sides.

"Hi . . ." What was his name? Timothy? Thomas? Thomas. "Thomas!" Chris called.

For the longest time, Thomas didn't even twitch. Finally, he raised one gnarled hand to his arm and began slowly scratching up and down.

"Are you okay?" Chris pressed, taking a step towards him.

Thomas breathed in deeply through his nose and finally looked at him, bloodshot eyes drifting over without blinking.

"Oh," he said, as if he'd only just noticed him. "Hello."

"Are you okay?" he repeated. "You look kind of . . ."

Thomas nodded. "I'm tired. I think I should go home . . ."

Chris nodded back, giving a small, strained smile as he turned to go up the stairs.

"Hope you feel better!" he called over his shoulder, taking the steps two at a time.

For some reason, he was eager to get away.

.

Claire closed her eyes and moaned as the taste of chocolate chip goodness exploded in her mouth. She let her head hang back, savoring the warmth, the texture, the body and flavor. Each movement of her teeth revealed slightly more of the cookie's mysteries, and by the time she swallowed it, she had conquered it and taken everything it had to offer.

She opened her eyes to find Chris and Wesker staring at her, both looking faintly uncomfortable.

"What?" she asked defensively, even as she slid her spoon back into the giant dessert cookie, scooped up a piece, and lifted it to her mouth. Chris usually didn't like her eating sweets—he was big on health food and exercise and staying in shape—but it was her last night in town so he'd kept quiet about it.

"So, how did Rebecca settle in today?" Chris asked, finally turning back to Wesker.

"Fine," he said, pausing to take a sip of his coffee. "Neither Marini or I had much time to spend with her, but Bravo Team seems to like her. She's bright; she'll learn."

"That's good. She seemed sweet. And Jill's happy to have another woman on the team."

"Vickers doesn't count?"

Chris blinked. And blinked. "Did you just . . . make a joke?"

Wesker sipped his coffee, staring at him impassively over the rims of his sunglasses.

Chris smiled broadly. "You just made a joke! He's learning, Claire."

"And I never will again if you don't let it go."

Chris coughed into his hand and cleared his throat.

Giggling, Claire raised the last bite of cookie to her mouth, but stopped just a few centimeters short at a crash in the corner of the room. It was followed immediately by gagging, and Claire looked up just in time to see a woman bent over, vomiting on the floor beside her table. She staggered through the remains of the water glass she'd broken when she jumped up and hit the wall, leaning heavily on it as she continued to heave.

Claire let her fork fall back to the plate, suddenly not hungry anymore.

Chris grimaced, eyes following the woman as she was led into the bathroom by the man she'd been eating with, a hand thrown up over her shoulder to itch the side of her neck. "Maybe something's going around . . ."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

He shrugged. "Today, I saw this guy who's installing locks in the station—he didn't look too good. But, then again, he's pretty old. It could've been anything."

"Check, please," Wesker cut in abruptly. Claire glanced at him.

Was it her imagination, or he did look a little bit paler than he had a second ago?

.

After spending all day on that goddamn human interest story his editor had forced on him, Ben Bertolucci had been happy to spend the evening engaging his favorite pastime—sitting in the car, listening to his police radio.

Usually, there weren't that many interesting things—drug activity had been on the rise in some of the rougher parts of town, periodically resulting in a few casualties, but the public didn't care about gangbangers shooting each other. Sometimes there were robberies or domestic calls, but nothing, not even the murders in the forest, had generated much radio chatter.

Tonight, however, he could barely keep up. There were calls coming in from everywhere, reports of people needing urgent medical attention and assaults in the street, alerts about missing persons and complaints from homeowners about trespassers in their yards.

The closest report came from Flower Street. Even though his license was technically suspended, given the pending DUI charges, he didn't think a couple streets would hurt, and he was there in a few minutes.

There was a group of people gathered around the front of Arukas Tailor, held back only by the presence of several cops. One was sitting in a cruiser parked haphazardly on the curb, talking wildly into the radio, and in his own car, he heard a request for an ambulance and the Coroner.

Grabbing his camera, he slipped out and started elbowing his way through the crowd, laboriously making his way up to the yellow crime scene tape.

He grimaced a bit at what he found beyond it.

No corpse was pleasant to look at, but this one was . . . worse. His face was incredibly sunken, the skin the pale yellow of jaundice. The eyes sat open, irises and pupils covered by some kind of thin white film. His mouth gaped, exposing bloody teeth, while more blood ran down the side of his head from the bullet wound just above his ear.

"What happened?" he asked the man beside him.

"He attacked someone." He nodded in the direction of a woman standing by the police cruiser with a blanket around her shoulders, cradling one of her arms. "He wouldn't stop, so they had to shoot him."

Ben glanced back at the body's teeth. "He . . . bit her, did he?"

"I think."

Biting. Seemed to be cropping up more and more. Wasn't that intriguing . . .?

He raised his camera and snapped a shot of the dead man's face, only to find it being yanked away from him in the next instant.

"No pictures," hissed one of the cops, who, on closer inspection, seemed familiar. Oh, of course. Ryman. Wonderful. "No media!"

"That's an expensive camera! You can't just take it!"

Ryman opened the back, pulled out the film, and handed him the camera. "There. Now, leave."

"Bastard," he muttered under his breath, just loud enough for Ryman to hear it. He wasn't really that upset, though—if he could get another roll of film, there would be other photo opportunities tonight.

He'd just gotten free of the crowd when a trio approaching down the sidewalk caught his eye. Wesker, Redfield, and that teenage girl were all dressed casually, like they'd just come from dinner or a movie, and if he hadn't been so preoccupied, Ben would've found it very interesting that Wesker seemed to spend so much time with Redfield outside of work.

As it was, he still walked up, held out a hand (that wasn't taken), and introduced himself, even though he was fairly sure Wesker remembered him. "Ben Bertolucci, The Raccoon Press. Do you have any comment on what happened here? Or on any of the incidents taking place tonight across the city?"

"I don't even know what happened," said Wesker disdainfully. "And as I'm not on the clock, it's none of my concern."

"Can I quote you on that?"

Wesker opened his mouth with an immediate reply, only to hesitate. "Yes," he finally said, to Ben's shock.

"What did happen?" the girl demanded, standing on tiptoe to try to see.

"A man was shot. He wouldn't stop biting someone. Given the serial killings in the forest, don't you find this strange, Captain Wesker?"

But Wesker was already walking away, studiously ignoring the chaos beside him. After a second, Redfield and the girl followed him.

.

That night, long after Chris and Claire were asleep, Wesker sat listening to sirens in the distance, the phone on the table next to him. After a while, he picked it up and placed a call.

"We have a situation."

.

.

.

Author's Note: So, if this chapter seems a little bit lighter than some of the previous ones, it's because I was listening to my happy playlist when I wrote it. Or maybe it doesn't. :)

I had decided I wanted to post this before RE6 came out . . . which, I guess, I technically am. None of the stores where I am are open yet. XD Though, I can't really say I'm looking forward to it too much, given some plot developments . . .

Ah, the south . . . ever since Deliverance, we've cornered the market on crazy, deformed, incestuous hillbillies. Yet I'm still inordinately proud to be from there. Give Me Louisiana or My Old Kentucky Home. :D

Thanks for the reviews! Let's hope RE6 is good!

-Annastasia