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Title: Bloodlines
Series: Sequel to Genealogy
Rating: 
Characters: Alec(494), Max(452), Felix(496), Keegan(105)et. al.
Pairing: Max/Alec, Keegan/Felix 
Spoilers: Genealogy
Warning: Species-ism, gore, violence in excess, people who might not stay dead, crossover
Word Count:3641
Disclaimer: Dark Angel is owned by Cameron/Eglee Productions and 20th Century Fox Television. Resident Evil/BioHazard is owned by Capcom Entertainment, and movie references belong to Constantin Film Produktion, Davis-Films, Impact Pictures and New Legacy.   All original characters belong to me, all rights reserved and all lefts reversed.
Summary: It's been six years since Max fought on the front lines against Umbrella's T-Virus. The world is decimated, and survivors moving in caravans. But no one is really safe, and it looks like Umbrella’s plans have only just begun…

Cover and Banner Resources: Eye: http://eviltriangle.deviantart.com/, Blood: http://moonglowlilly.deviantart.com/, Code: http://brujo.deviantart.com/, Brushes: obsidiandawn.com, Font: dafont.com

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German Translations are by the amazing Twinchy.  All the danke.

INCOMPLETE

CHAPTERS IN FILE SO FAR:

Table of Contents

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Epilogue

Translations:

 

One

 

Lemme tell you a story.

                On December 24th, 2021, a plague broke out. It was the plague to end all plagues, the next great flood—fire was the only thing that kept the infected down. In that, at least, the Bible was correct: the world was ending in flames. Flames that clung to dead flesh that still moved, spreading the fire like the disease that had started the whole mess.

                As I write this, I’m watching Los Angeles burn to the ground. Our caravan—

                “Max!” Max jumped, her pen shattering in her grasp and smearing ink across the diary page. From behind her, Justin winced, making an odd noise as he exhaled. “Sorry, boss, but we got movement on the perimeter.”

                She looked up, almost hopeful. “Another caravan?” The last one they had passed had been nearly six months ago, and it had been the first one they had seen in nearly a year.   Justin’s expression told her all she needed to know. “Ok, get the group packed up. Anyone showing any signs of infection?”

                He flashed her a megawatt smile. “Glad to say the transgenic race is still proving it’s immunity time and time again. I was worried when Sam got bit, but, after all…”

                His voice faded to the background, as Max’s mind flashed back, back to the turning point. Oh, Justin, you have no idea just how lucky we are. She mused, watching him blather on, Sandman could have fucked with your DNA, attempted to make you stronger with this… Faces swirled in front of her eyes. Devon, her clone. Frankie’s blue and red striped boots. Misha, and his bowl of oatmeal. Keema, looking so afraid. Clinic’s haughty snarl. The constant bickering of Keegan and Felix…and, of course… Alec. His bright green eyes lingered the longest and the brightest in her gaze. His white blonde hair somehow always tinged red with blood, his face bright with the rush of battle. Alec was her mate, and how amazing he had been in his element…if only she had seen him for who he was before this fiasco…before she watched him fight an un-winnable battle. Before they detonated the nuke. Before any remnant of their bodies could have a burial.

                Tears welled in her eyes, and she hastily wiped them away. Thinking like that cost lives, she reminded herself. And, it wasn’t as if she didn’t have any reminders. Alec had pressed the dog-tags from every member of the Squad at Raccoon City, and they hung around her neck in a place of honor.And there was still—

                “I lost you about ten minutes ago, didn’t I.” Justin said, gently flicking the back of one of Max’s ears.

                She  half-heartedly swatted at him, sighing. “My focus just isn’t where I want it to be today.”

                “Well, you better get it back,” He said, his blue eyes squinting against the harsh sun. This had once been a thriving suburb of Los Angeles; now, it was nothing but sand, sun, and heat. “I don’t really fancy fighting any more of these things this month.” His lips quirked, and he leaned down, pressing a soft kiss to her lips. “Shall we go, boss?”

                Max accepted his hand with a smirk, allowing his help and letting him know it. “Get the sentry duties out there, then get the kids loaded up. Everyone else needs to pack camp.” He mockingly saluted her, and she shoved down the cold shudder that crawled up her spine.  Sighing, she picked up her notebook, frowning at the ink blotch. It was fitting, now that she was really looking at it. And it rather summed up the last six years. Her heart clenched tightly, and she forced the tears away. And, with a scathing look at the cardboard and paper, she flung the notebook out amongst the dunes, listening to the loosed leaves fluttering in the wind. Max turned on her heel then, heading back towards camp with a speed bourn of sorrow.

                Moments later—if she had turned, she would have seen!—a hooded figure stepped from behind the nearest dune. It easily caught one of the fleeing pages, tipping down tinted goggles to read the words. The eyes snapped up, once again following Max’s progression.  Under the shadow of the hood, they glowed green.

***

                It was dark by the time Max ordered her caravan of wayward transgenics to set up camp. The children were quiet, but she could tell they were hungry. Everyone was these days. The canned food they had been scavenging was running out; things were expiring. Her people were so weakened by hunger that even the skills for hunting were stretched beyond their limit; healthy game was too few and far between to expand the effort needed to track it down. In her heart, she was starting to wonder if this was the cruelest joke of all, that the transgenics would survive this great cleansing only to starve to death in its aftermath.

                “Mom?” It was the type of voice that would cause any female to look over. Everything about this little raven haired boy compelled you to cater to him, to care for him. He was most certainly his father’s son.

                “Yes, Alec?”

                He grinned, his hazel eyes just as merry as his father’s. “You told me we could get another story after we settled.” His voice was hopeful, and at his heels, Max could see Ginny—another X5 kid—griping on to his belt, with her thumb in her mouth. Alec was by no means the eldest child in their caravan, but, just like his father, the others seemed to instinctively look to him. A natural born leader.

                “Let me grab my dinner, and I’ll be with you guys soon.” She said, ruffling his hair with a sad smile. “I’ll be out of stories by spring at this rate!” Her hand clasping his, she started towards the campfire, but little Alec didn’t move; he had gone strangely still.  She tugged his arm a little harder, “Al, come on.”

                His eyes were on the horizon, scanning with an intensity that frightened her. “I feel…I feel like someone’s watching me.” He said, still searching the dunes.

                Max shuddered, knowing the exact eerie feeling he was describing. “There’s no one out there.” She said, firmly. “Come on, it’s safer back by the fire anyway.”

                A sound drifted past her ears on the wind. She knew it was there, because Alec started too. “Mom? Who laughed?”

                Once, she would have called them out, bluffed her way either in or out of a fight, purely confident that she would win. That was a lifetime ago. “Move, Alec Guevera!” Unused to the anger in his mother’s tone, Alec snapped into motion, keeping his steps quick to match pace with Max’s larger strides. However, as any child would, his gaze was continuously drawn back over his shoulder, towards the shadowy dunes where he could just swear someone was standing just out of his vision. He would never say anything (not since that last time, no, mom was too upset, and she cried), but it was the same feeling he got just before the scouts would call that another caravan was spotted. His hair was standing on edge.

                Just before they hit the campfire, Alec risked one last glance back. There was a figure standing there, dressed much the same as everyone he ever known was, but the stranger had his cloak up. Sand whipped at his eyes, and Alec blinked the harsh grains away. When his vision returned, the figure was gone, and with it, the strange feeling.

                Alec wondered just how long this strange figure had been following them.

***

                

                One of the first things Alec had learned, growing up as a nomad, was that ammunition was scarce, and very few, if any, people were making it. His own mother had Justin (not dad, never dad, no, because Justin didn’t smell like family) train him when he was strong enough to withstand the recoil. Even now, at five and a quarter years old, he was carrying his own small pistol. “Never shoot when you can run.” Was the golden rule, and in his short life, he had only seen shots fired when one of the caravan was in immediate danger.  It was this rule that prevented him from grabbing his gun when he felt that strange feeling creep up on him. Slowly, he turned, fully expecting to be getting wigged for no reason.

                The shadow man was there.

                Fear leapt into Alec’s young mind, and he staggered back a step, reaching for his gun—He was disarmed before he could feel it, and as far as he could tell, the stranger hadn’t moved. Which wasn’t fair, he was the fastest kid in the caravan! When he got big, he should be the fastest!

                “I have a hard time believing your mother wants her kids handling guns.” The voice…

                Alec had heard the voice before, in his dreams. He stared up at the shadowed face. Bright, glowing green eyes stared back. Alec swallowed hard. “Mom had Justin teach me. We all have to defend ourselves. There’s zombies out there!”

                The shadows under the cloak shifted, and Alec thought the man might have smiled. And then, without warning, the man dropped to one knee. “You really are Max’s kid, aren’t you.”

                He knew Mom. Tentatively, little Alec stepped closer. He still couldn’t see under the hood. “I don’t like this.” He said, fear getting the better of him. “I can’t see you.”

                The man carefully pulled off his hood.  He wasn’t gross, and Alec almost felt disappointed. He was a transgenic male—Alec knew that scent anywhere!—and he was old. Old like mom was, so he was probably an X5, like her, but his hair was white, Alec didn’t think it was from age, because the strands by his neck were a darker, sandier blonde. However, what unnerved him were the man’s eyes.  All transgenic eyes reflected light, it was a holdover from the night vision they were designed with. But this man’s eyes glowed like they were lit with some fire behind them. Like he was so full of life that the energy had to escape somewhere.

                It was the last straw, and Alec ran. Little chest heaving, he bolted onto the faded yellow bus they rode and dove under his blankets. He refused to come out even for dinner. After a while, his cold shivering gave way to fearful tears, and he ended up crying himself to sleep refusing to leave the bus.

                When he woke the next morning, the scary man felt like a bad dream…until he saw his pistol lying on the broken leather seat next to him.

***

                Crows. When the shadows started circling overhead, Alec felt a fear rise up that had paralyzed him for as long as he could remember. There were nightmares, about being in his mother’s arms, screaming as crows dive-bombed her. He didn’t know if it was real or not, but considering what he lived with, it was very possible.  Alec was on firewood duty with Agatha, an X4, and two X5 kids, when he saw the shadows. His pile of shelving dropped to the ground with a clatter, and Agatha paused, turning around, the sun glinting off her sunglasses. “Alec, come on! We can’t linger!” She started back towards him, bending down to pick up the first piece of his dropped wood.

                The crows were on her before she had reached it. Alec had seen the moment she realized her mistake, as her reach turned into a shove, knocking him as far from her as his little body would go as the crows hit her body like a hail of bullets. “Aggy!” Alec screamed, skittering toward the two other kids, seeing them pull their weapons even as he drew his. “Aggy!”

                “Run!” Her scream was wet, and Alec could see the inside of her throat as she yelled. His fingers went limp.

                One of the swarm turned, it’s dead eye focusing on the three children cowering together just a few yards away. It let out a squawk. The two behind him took off running, but Alec, who had been leaning on them, fell to the ground, watching with petrified horror as more crows turned away from his former nanny. Alec closed his eyes, hoping the whole ordeal would just go away—

                Gunfire exploded around him, and he instinctively dropped to the ground, hands covering his sensitive ears. A hand closed around his belt and yanked him up into arms. The woman holding him—he could tell because she was soft on top—was too warm, especially in the chilly desert night. Her other arm was firing a weapon of some sort, he could see the muzzle flashes from the corner of his eyes.

                “Duck!” Alec felt the woman drop to the ground, careful of his own smaller form, just as a burst of hot wind blasted over them. A moment later, his protector was being pulled to her feet, and Alec was carefully placed on the ground.

                He opened his eyes, ready to run. He was not ready for the completely flabbergasted looks appearing on the three adult transgenics standing in front of him. The first one was the female—dark in skin and hair like his mom, but her eyes were a shining, wolfish yellow, and she was wearing far too little clothing for the temperature. Next to her was a man who looked similar to his own reflection, dark haired, olive skin, soft brown eyes. The man was a clone, and the clone was next to him, light to his dark, his skin brown from too much sun, and his eyes…It was the same man who had tried to speak with him before. Alec even told him so.

                A long moment of silence stretched after his announcement, followed by the three bursting into laughter. Alec started like a skittish dear, and only held his ground when he realized that they were not a danger…to him at least.

                “My gods, he’s got your attitude.” The dark haired male said, elbowing the blonde. “Looks a bit like me, though.  Heh, told you your blondeness was a freak accident.”  The blonde elbowed him back.

                Alec didn’t like it. “What do you want with mom?” He asked, feeling oddly unnerved by their appearance and instinctually knowing they weren’t there for him.

                The tears in the light male’s eyes were not what he expected from the question.  “I…” He paused, looking back in the direction of camp. Alec turned too, seeing the outlines of his caravan running towards him, his mother in the lead looking horrified.

                “Well?” Alec demanded, turning back. But there was no one there. Only fading footprints in the shifting sand, soon to be erased. Well, footprints, and a whole mess of dead crows. Alec really couldn’t blame his mom for confining him to camp for a week.

***

                Max sat atop the lead truck in the caravan, looking out over the shapeless desert that had once been the west coast of the United States. She had spent hours screaming into the night, demanding for her son’s protector to show himself. After a while, she fell silent, just hoping to catch a glimpse of the shadow that she thought, she hoped

                “Alec? Seriously?” The voice surprised her, and she hastily turned her head to see a hooded figure sitting next to her on the truck’s roof. His eyes glowed from under the shadow of the cloak. “You really couldn’t have thought of a better name for our son?”

                Tears leapt to her eyes, but she forced them to stay there, looking back out on the horizon. “I thought you were dead.” She said by way of explanation. “It’s been six years.”

                He nodded, also looking out over the horizon. “I think it might have been better if I were. Dead, that is.” Sighing, he turned, his hood falling away. “I don’t know what I am anymore.”

                Max risked a glance, and gasped. “You haven’t aged a day!”

                He shot her a look. “Out of all the changes, that’s the one you’re gonna go with?” he shrugged. “Ok.”

                “I thought you would be awful.” She admitted, looking away again. “They nuked you. The burns alone…”

                “Umbrella had us out by the time they bombed Raccoon City.” He said, his voice tight. “They were experimenting on us for at least a month after. Saved our lives, yeah, but… even I don’t know everything they did to us.” He shuddered. “I can sense him, you know.” Max wasn’t sure how to respond.  They settled into a slightly uncomfortable silence that stretched for minutes. “I want to be here.” The statement startled her, and Max found herself drawn to peer back into his glowing green eyes. “I want to be with you and our son. I want to find us a place to settle down, away from all this…” He glanced back over his shoulder, and Max followed his gaze to see two more figures at the edge of the camp.

                “Felix and Keegan survived.” She said, feeling relief, “Did anyone else..?”

                He shrugged. “Dunno. We were the only ones at the facility.”

                Max felt her lip tremble. “Then why can’t you come back? You’d all be welcome here, we have plenty of psy-op transgenics!”

                Alec gave a small laugh, looking back out over the dunes.  “Umbrella isn’t done with us, Max.  They’re tracking us, even as we speak.”

                She felt as if the breath was knocked out of her. “What?”

                “Apparently Wesker was a little too quick to attempt to terminate our project parameters.  The current head of Umbrella is apparently very interested in recapturing us freaks.  We’ve been evading their satellites since we broke out…about five years ago.” He offered her a ghost of his former smile. “I’ve been around…it took a while to track you down. By the time I did…” he turned away. “So, how is Justin anyway.”

                Max felt a flicker of guilt, but shoved the slight aside, knowing Alec was just being Alec. “He’s nothing compared to you.” She made him look at her, so he’d know she was telling the truth. “Can’t you stay?”

                She knew by the set of his jaw what his answer would be. “One day soon, I promise, and I’ll even fight the bastard for the privilege of reclaiming you…but I’m needed.” He glanced back at Keegan and Felix, looking slightly guilty himself. “If I had found you sooner…well, odds are I wouldn’t have had the strength to leave.”

                “And I wouldn’t have needed to be all self-sufficient.” She smiled at him, trying to stay brave. “Go. And hurry back.”

                Alec smirked, “Tell Junior I’m sorry for scaring him.”

                Max swatted at her mate, even as he dodged, leaping easily down from the truck. “You are NOT calling him junior.”

                “Well I’m not calling him Alec either, silly woman, giving him my name.” He grinned, the glow of his eyes dimmed by the goggles he now wore.

                She returned it, her heart heavy, but some of the chains around it had broken. “At least it’s not Bullet.”

                Alec flashed her one more of his patented smiles, whispering, “Well, touché.” Before literally vanishing before her eyes. Moments later, she caught his figure next to the ones of Felix and Keegan, and then all three were gone from her sight. Slowly, carefully, she made her way back to the tent she shared with Justin, peeking in on the nursery tent just to make sure her trouble maker was snoring first.

                As she bunked down, Justin came in, his nose twitching and a peculiar look across his face. “Now, now, it’s not happening just yet.”

                Even with her assurance, Justin took a long moment before lying next to her, wrapping his arms around her with a possessiveness tinged with remorse. “ I always knew he didn’t die. I’m not sure I liked the thought. Mostly because now I know he can survive pretty much anything.” He paused. “X5-494…he’s something more than transgenic.”

                Max smirked into her pillow. “Please. And can’t we just enjoy the moment?” When Justin didn’t move, she rolled herself over and looked him in the eyes. “You knew if he ever came back that he has my heart. You’ve been a great friend, and amazing lover…”

                “But I’m not him.” Justin wrinkled his nose. “I know.”

                “Then let’s just enjoy the evening. With a teasing grumble, Justin joined her on the ground, reveling in her embrace.

                Across the desert, Alec—X5-494—was staring back at where the camp was. I’m coming back this time. he promised, before following his pack’s footfalls over the cold, desert sand.

 

Two

 

                Twenty seven years he had been on this planet. To him, it was two hundred. Every day was torture, every night a literal nightmare.  He was X5-331845739494R, X5-494 for short and ‘Alec’ to his friends. He was a soldier, a fighter, a hunter of yet to be surpassed skill. He was a pack leader, a mate, a friend. ‘Who’ was never the problem, it was the ‘what’; he didn’t know just what he was anymore. Created in a test-tube, born of a surrogate; he had started off not knowing if he was human or animal. In time, he had understood what he was: transgenic. But even then, forces had been at work, changing him and a handful of others into something…different. All had died, though it was unclear whether some of the murdered would have survived, mutated, evolved like he and his small group. He had woken up in that lab terrified and frozen, not knowing that the barcode encoded into his genealogy was no longer valid. And if that wasn’t enough, Umbrella had added their own unique stamp to his twisted genealogy.

                “Never again.” He had said, the day after he and his poor unit had been released from psy-ops in 2010 after the escape of their twins, when his skin still throbbed from the genetic manipulation of his barcode, adding the then humiliating ‘R’ to the end. Eventually, Alec had prided himself on that additional letter; his unit had gone on to become the absolute best that Manticore had ever produced. Now, Umbrella had claimed their right to his flesh. Now just as faded as his barcode, placed dead center, directly underneath, there was a small red and white octagon; Umbrella’s logo. He half suspected that they had originally intended to tattoo their motto (“Our business is life itself.”) underneath that, but found it too garish. Considering this was Umbrella, he was lucky they hadn’t redesigned his entire body.

                Oh, wait.

                He chuckled to himself. Sitting out in the desert, watching the stars make their nightly trek across the sky, he felt peaceful.

                Alec!

                The cry was bright, hot and loud, echoing in the corners of his mind. His green eyes flashing, he looked back in the direction of his camp, eyes narrowing. And just what is so important, Keegan? He could sense her wince, and smirked to himself.

                Felix scented that we’re getting company. 

                Alec frowned, just as he heard Felix’s voice call out, “I’m not talking zombies.”

                He broke into laughter, picking up his rifle and heading back towards the camp. The second he was within the firelight, he sought out Felix, giving him a playful shove. “Why the heck would you bother warning us about zombies?  Or course it’s going to be Umbrella.”

                “Yeah, well you’ve seemed out of it, brother.” Felix announced, not looking up from his packing. “I told you spying her was a bad idea.”  

                Alec sighed. “You know how I feel, Felix. And you at least have your mate.”

                Felix looked away. “I get it, I do, but I get it, I do, but you want to protect her.  Stop making it harder by teasing yourself.”

                “I love how you both are ignoring the fact that Umbrella is on our tails.” Keegan’s voice chided them. Felix and Alec both looked up to see the female stretched out on what used to be a fast food sign, directly above them.

                Alec rolled his eyes, “Because you’re doing so much packing.”

                Keegan dropped down to the sand lightly, tossing a rucksack down in front of her.  “I’m done.”

                “Of course you are.” Alec grumbled, moving to break down his tent.

                Felix and Keegan watched him for a moment, both frowning slightly. “I don’t like what this is doing to him, baby-girl,” Felix said, pulling her close and nuzzling her hair. “He feels like he lost them already.”

                “Well that’s stupid.” Felix looked down at Keegan, happy to see her relaxing into his embrace. “We’re going to take Umbrella out, we’re going to make it safe for everyone left.”

                “There’s always a chance for casualties,” Felix said, pressing his forehead to hers, “and we’ve lost too many people already.  I can’t lose either of you.” She didn’t respond, instead leaning in, kissing him gently.

                Alec watched the tender moment from his tent, the canvas just barely folded. Yes, if he was honest with himself, he was jealous. Why wouldn’t he be? His older brother actually got to be with his mate, didn’t have to feel the pangs of loneliness. But his jealousy was small; they were together but certainly not out of danger from Umbrella. If he was honest, he’d rather forever be away from Max, knowing her and their child was safe. He was obviously growing up. With a head shake, he let the canvas fall into his pack, and continued to break camp.

***

                It was the night after Alec had visited Max in her camp. Her scent was haunting him. His scent was on her, as if he had some claim to her or her kid. Anger swirled through Alec despite his attempts to breathe, to regain control. Oh, that poor X3 was going to find himself fighting a whole new animal, since he dared to—

                “Are you still fuming over the fact she has a boyfriend? I mean, you knew this before.” Felix grabbed Alec by the shoulders, forcing him to stop his relentless pacing. “Oh gods, here we go…”

                “I could smell him on her!” Alec growled, wringing his hands.

                Felix glared at him. “Well, gee, ever notice that I can smell you on Keegan? It’s been six years, I would have turned gay for the dude if I hadn’t been laid in that long.” Guilt swarmed through Alec, but Felix gave him a shove, forcing him to look back at him. “You’re my brother, and Keegan’s my mate. Don’t think she didn’t offer comfort on my suggestion.”

                Alec raised an eyebrow. “You do know I never actually…”

                Felix smirked. “The fact that you needed a cuddle is going to be my blackmail for the next hundred years.” But his expression became troubled. “I am slightly worried about your apparent lack of sex-drive though.”

                Alec sighed, “Of course you would be.”

                “My nose is a curse sometimes,” Felix announced, flopping onto the sand near the fire, “when the males in the unit hit puberty, you have no idea…”

                Alec punched Felix in the shoulder. “I know what come fucking smells like, ass.”

                Felix tapped the side of his nose. “My point was that you haven’t had that scent in nearly four years. And that just can’t be healthy.”

                He stared at Felix, completely gob-smacked. Felix’s lip quirked. “You fucking douche!” Alec yelled, tackling his brother. “Stay out of my sex life!”

                “Aw, you know, I could take you to your first strip club, make a man outta you!” Felix laughed, catching Alec in a headlock.

                Alec managed to flip himself out of it, sweeping Felix’s legs, a grin on his face. “I’ve totally had more tail than you!”

                “Doubtful.” Felix crowed, despite his position of being flat on his back, pinned. “I still believe I have the distinction of being the ladies’ man of the unit.”

                “I’d give him that one, Alec,” Keegan called out from her spot by the fire, “He got through most of the females we came across—transgenic and human. Only took him a year or more to figure out who he should have been with.” Her tone was smug, and Alec couldn’t resist the urge to tease his brother.

                “’Had’, Felix,” Alec grinned, “Face it, you’re a kept man now. Keegan tamed your wild ways.”

                His soft smile and the glance towards his tent—where Keegan was peeking out the door—was only more proof to the sentiment. “You know? I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

                “Aw, you’re no fun.” Alec declared, standing and offering his hand to his brother.

                Felix accepted it, allowing himself to be pulled to his feet. “Just promise me you’ll start taking care of yourself too? Please?”

                “Of course.” But they both knew he was lying.

***

                Gunfire was normal to his ears, the sound jarring but comfortable. Alec spun, reloading faster than the eye could see before continuing his rapid fire shots into the small mob that had been following Max’s caravan. It wasn’t anyone’s fault; the infected seemed to smell the living, and as time went on, they seemed to be able to detect it farther and farther.

                Once upon a time, it had been noise that attracted them, prompting most of the human caravans to be wiped out; for some reason, humans in general had an inability to do silence. A few survived, Alec was on first name basis with Claire Redfield’s and Leon S. Kennedy’s caravans—both were outbreak survivors, back before the plague had been widespread. Devon—X5-472R—had been on a scouting mission when he discovered Leon and Claire stuck in the police station, pinned down by a Nemesis. They had lost contact with both caravans after Claire’s made an attempt to get to a place named Arcadia, it’s coordinates in Alaska. The cold was to none of their tastes, and thus Alec and his pack had stayed. That, and the fact that it was doubtful Arcadia would be housing Umbrella intel.

                Now, he was wishing more of the caravans had followed suit; the zombies were adapting to their environment. Something about the t-virus was allowing them to evolve, despite the fact their bodies only operated on the basest of functions.

                “Duck!” Keegan’s voice rang out, and neither he nor Felix questioned the command.

                A moment later, a wall of flame flashed over the sand, curving along the dunes and consuming the dead flesh in its path. A moment later, there was a soft thud as Keegan hit the sand. Alec stood, dusting himself off even as Felix sprayed more sand in his movements to get to his mate. “Is she ok?”

                Felix placed his forehead against hers, and was quiet for a long moment. “Yeah, just exhausted.” He replied, glancing back over the burned path. “We better put that out.”

                “Let it burn.” Alec said, watching the flames flicker as they found new kindling. “This world is dead anyway. Somebody should set the pyre.”

                The smack nearly knocked him off his feet, and Alec shook his head, trying to clear the spots forming in front of his eyes.  Felix was in front of him, eyes burning with an icy fire. “I never want to hear you talk like that again.” He rasped, shaking in his anger. “We’ve done nothing but fight and fight and fight for this world, I’m not going to let it go down in flames.” Alec shared Felix’s gaze for a long time, trying to figure out exactly where the pain, hurt and dedication came from. Felix broke the gaze first, shoving Alec backwards. “Get out of my head, 494.” He warned, turning to lift his mate from the cooling sand. “I’m going back to camp.”

                Alec watched him go, Keegan stirring feebly in his arms, and became lost in his thoughts.

***

                She didn’t know he was there. Max was a clever female, smart and well-bred for a genetic freak. And her senses were excellent, after she admitted to herself she wasn’t human.  So why didn’t she know he was there? Alec watched her carefully undress, wincing at a wound on her side. She should have scented him, she should have heard his heart beat…the cut wasn’t that bad, shock and blood loss wasn’t an excuse…

                “Sometimes, I don’t think I should be here.” Max yelped, spinning, her hand going for her pistol—the very one Alec had given her when she joined the battle against Umbrella. She was disarmed before she could blink, and was glancing around the room, completely at a loss for where he was. He stepped out of the shadows, slowly, deliberately, reminding himself that even regular transgenics couldn’t pace his pack now. He held her gun dangling from his trigger finger, and frowned. “We’re so far beyond even transgenics now.”

                She stared at him, her mouth open, and the tiniest bit of fear tainting her features. “A-alec? What are you doing here?” As an afterthought, she grabbed for her shirt, using it to cover her nudity.

                Alec sighed. “Your caravan—”

                “What about it?” She demanded, defensive.

                He couldn’t help his chuckle; it was so Max. “We took out another mob. The zombies are following your scent, you need to start carrying carrion with you.”

                Max wrinkled her nose. “Gross. How do you stay off their noses?” She questioned, still maintaining a wide berth.

                Alec inwardly winced; he honestly hadn’t meant to scare her. “We smell like them. At least, to them.” He cocked his head to the side, sizing her up. “I was pretty sure we smelled like that to you too, but you didn’t even smell me in here.”

                Her lip trembling, Max turned, pulling something from a trunk near her bunk. Wordlessly, she unfolded it. He was at a loss for words. In her hands was one of his BDU jackets, the casual bullet hole and bloodstain marring the otherwise faded black. After six years, the scent was still readable. “I thought I left my trunk open.” She said, carefully avoiding his gaze as she refolded her prize, carefully placing back in its case. “You smell the same as you did in Raccoon City.”

                “Still not quite transgenic, though.”

                “No…you had lost most of that scent by the time you came recruiting at Terminal City.” She said, sadly. “I knew it was you: you have your unique smell.” She finally looked at him. “I needed Al to know your scent.” Alec winced at the mention of his son, turning away. Max was there, her hand hovering just above his shoulder. “Oh, Alec,” She breathed, letting her hand make contact.

                It was a long, tense moment as she carefully alleviated her fear that she was dreaming. Her touch grew stronger, and she pulled on him, asking him to turn without words. He did, meeting her eyes almost guiltily.  She kissed him, pulling him close, gently prompting him to return it, to deepen it. Happiness soared through Alec’s being, and he told her, I’ve missed you so much, Maxie. Gods! I love you and I wish that I didn’t have to…

                She jerked away, staring at him with a startled expression. “Were you just…?”

                He scratched the back of his head, looking sheepish. “Uh, Umbrella activated some dormant parts of my brain…I can sometimes communicate telepathically…on a limited scale, though.” He added, as if that would help. Max cocked an eyebrow. “So far, I’ve only been able to talk to people who also…like me. I didn’t even think…”

                Her smile was the last thing he expected. “You know,” she started, stepping back into his arms, “you should really hang out with transgenics more. Mated pairs have this sort of…empathic bond…” She looked up at him, her eyes sparkling. “Maybe…” He was already kissing her. She responded eagerly, tugging his shirt from his belt, running her hands up his thin and ragged frame. He felt her drop her cover, and let his hands wander over her bare flesh, his kiss intensifying—

                Footsteps.

                Max found herself standing in the middle of her tent, completely naked with the fading sensation of being thoroughly kissed tingling on her lips. “Alec?” She hadn’t even felt him move away. “Alec!”

                “Yeah, mom?” A fraction of a second before her son opened the tent, she grabbed her robe, throwing it over herself. He wandered in, in eyes bright and his dark hair white with dust.

                “Were you on your way here before?” She asked, still glancing around her tent.

                The five year old shook his head, upsetting the dust into a cloud that haloed him. “But Justin was. He stopped when he heard you yell for me.”

                Max colored, gently lifting her son into her arms. “I got worried. I had a feeling.”

                He wrapped his little arms around her, snuggling into her shoulder. “Don’t worry mommy. I’m supposed to take care of you.”

                Tears sprung to her eyes, and Max held her son tighter. “And you’re doing a wonderful job, baby.”

                Out of the corner of her eye, she caught movement; barely a shadow, darker than the others, exiting her tent. And, in a moment of desperation, she frantically thought, Come back soon! I need you! There was a long pause, and Max was sure that she had failed.

                And then, a quite brush, almost a caress instead of a whisper, I promise.

Three

                She was out there, again, staring out at the dunes, eyes searching. And Justin turned away, forcing his snarl down and walking purposefully back to where they kept the food.  He couldn’t kid himself anymore, the X3 thought to himself, once again attempting to figure out the best way to stretch the meager supplies they had left. Max was never going to give him a fair chance, not when there was some hope of being reunited with that freak--

                He forced himself to take a deep breath, and calm down. Anger issues tended to run in his line—left over from the failed class of X2s—and he was no exception; being designed for extreme strength and endurance usually required a high level of testosterone. But, despite this, he knew it would have been a lucky day had he managed to beat the rogue X5 before whatever experiments had happened. Now, he didn’t think he’d stand a chance.  A knock on the door pulled him from his thoughts. One hand still holding the yet-to-be-tallied soup can, he stood, moving towards the truck’s steel doors. They opened with a creek, one that never quite went away, and Justin poked his head around the door—

                “Seriously?”

                Justin couldn’t see the speaker, he was too busy staring down the barrel of a heavily modified pistol that had, perhaps, been military issue at one point. “Could you take the gun out of my face, please?” His eyes were starting to hurt from staring down his nose. With a scoff, the gun was moved, and there was the soft scrape of metal against leather; he had holstered it. Justin immediately swung the rest of the way out of the truck, finding himself face to face with a figure that had managed to completely conceal himself in shadow. “494.”

                The other inclined his head. “Sorry, I don’t know you…”

                Justin felt himself fall to attention, “X3-12.” He said, frowning, “Justin.”

                “Well, Justin,” he said, stepping forward and tugging his hood back, “my name is Alec.”

                Justin took an involuntary step back. The X5s had always looked young to him; Justin was from an older generation, a different, outdated model. But Alec didn’t look right; he was almost too perfect. None of the lines or scars that had eventually touched all of the X5s were there, and that wasn’t even mentioning his eyes— Justin looked away, realizing he was showing throat to the more animal transgenic in front of him.

                Alec, however, ignored this behavior, and gestured towards the rear wheel of the truck, where Justin now saw a brown sack. “Max said you needed food—well, not in so many words…” He chuckled to himself, green eyes glowing brighter. “But I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention who dropped it off.”

                Justin found his voice, startled that this one male had managed to disarm him so, “She’s going to know.”

                “So? That doesn’t mean you have to tell her.” He grinned, and then vanished in front of Justin’s very eyes. A dark, lingering fear was crawling up his spine, even as he grabbed the sack of what smelled like venison, and took it inside the truck to start preserving what he could.

                There was something wrong with that X5.

***

                Full bellies were a rare thing, let alone for several days in a row, and it took a lot of will power not to curl into a ball and sleep. But Max knew she couldn't; the meat was proof that Alec had been there, the first sign in weeks. She gently tucked her son in, smiling softly as he gave a happy little purr in his sleep, before standing, and heading out of the dormitory style tent. It was a quiet night—the caravan had detoured into deep desert terrain to conserve ammunition—with a chill that sank into her bones. The cold had never really bothered her before, and she shivered, peering out into the darkness.

                There! A flash of shadow within shadow, and Max was off, blurring towards the source of the movement. She stopped, skidding in the sand when she realized she was chasing a curtain, blowing from one of the campers.

                “Jumpy.” It was all she could do not to scream, and she spun, slipping a little in the sand. However, Keegan just gave her a look, and reached a hand out to help her up. “You really need to be more aware of your surroundings; you walked right past me.”

                Max glared back, accepting the proffered hand, but annoyed at the reprimand. “Hard to be aware of a shadow.” She shot back.

                The other female nodded, seemingly conceding that point, before pointedly glancing around. “Alec sent me.”

                “Yeah, I got that.”

                “He's a little...occupied. But he wanted you to have this.” She gestured towards the ground, where Max could see a burlap sack leaning against one of the camper's tires. It smelled of venison, and Max made a mental note to set someone to the task of preserving the meat.

                However, there was something nagging at her mind. “What the hell is he occupied with?”

                Keegan met her gaze, her amber eyes bright in the dark—unnaturally so. “Did you really think Umbrella was only after us? They've been nabbing survivors and zombies alike, and subjecting them to gods know what experiments.” She gave a little shudder. “Also, Alec told me to tell you to bring your caravan back west: Los Angeles is still burning, but now there are emergency transmissions being broadcast. Might be people left.” She shifted her weight, and momentarily broke her shadow on shadow cloak.

                Max felt a pang of sympathy for her; Keegan had always been small, but now she looked underfed and exhausted. “Please tell me you're eating.” There was a shrug. “Keegan, you can't let them get--”

                There was a fire in Keegan's eyes, and Max suspected that, just maybe, she had crossed some line. “Get back to your son. Worry about him and you before you worry about anyone else. It takes a lot more than lack of sleep and appetite to kill me.” She gave a sardonic chuckle, “Trust me; I tried.” She was shocked to silence, the implications racing through her head and a need to try to help—But Keegan melted into shadows, literally vanishing in front of her very eyes. And just like that, Max was left alone again.

***

                There was already a fire by the time Keegan made it back to camp, and, with a sigh, she shifted her path towards the tent she shared with Felix. “How was she?”

                Keegan didn't pause in her steps, and for a moment, Alec thought she was going to ignore the question. “Worried.”

                “Sent them to LA?”

                She finally stopped, turning slowly. “Is there some reason you think I didn't?” It was clear she was agitated, and Alec was pretty sure he knew why.

                Still, an agitated female was not on his list of things he wanted to deal with, so he attempted to present his theory in a gentle way; “I know she tends to demand proof, and isn’t the easiest to convince...” he stopped, realizing her expression was shifting into dangerous territory. “I know you think we’re putting them in more danger.” He was sure he was about to be burned, and flinched, bracing himself for the heat when Keegan let out a sob. Slightly un-flinching, he reached out, and was surprised to find himself with a double armful of crying female.

                Despite being a rather powerful empath, Alec really had no idea how to handle this particular situation. Awkwardly, he patted her back, and frantically attempted to grab Felix's attention. However, Felix, as usual, didn't respond to his mental call, and Alec figured he was stuck. Very cautiously, he sent out a feeling of soothing, of comfort, hoping against hope that maybe this time, Keegan wouldn't be pissed at his so called 'mind fuckery'.

                Gradually, her crying stopped. “Out of my head, Alec.” She warned, though her tone was gentle. She stepped back from him, wiping at her eyes with the rags wrapping her hands and wrists. “Sorry, I just...lost it.” She even gave him a brave attempt at a smile, as she turned.

                He caught her wrist, halting her. “Please don't lie to me.”

                She sighed—of course she would have known he'd know—and looked back at him, her eyes still red and damp. “I'm not sure I can keep doing this, this running.” Her voice was barely a whisper, nearly lost despite his close proximity.  But her gaze was strong and determined.  “I need to do something.  I’m letting them win.”

                Before he could respond, there was the ever so slight sound of sand shifting, and Felix came running into view. “I heard! Keely!”

                Alec released her wrist, allowing her to be swept up into her mate's arms. “I made her cry.” He said, rather lamely.

                Felix shot him a look over Keegan's covered head, shaking his own. “Why am I not surprised?” His older clone gave a loud sigh, and gently placed Keegan back on the ground. “We're all tense, it's been one hell of a week. And we all know you can be stupid with women.”

                “For what it's worth, I'm sorry.” Alec said, once again reaching out but this time taking and clasping Keegan's hand. “I should know better than to think you’d disobey an order.”

                “Damn fucking straight.” She said. “Can’t say I wasn’t tempted, you know how much she annoys me…” She fell into silence, and Felix eyed Alec, looking for any sign that it was more than what her words implied. Alec bit his lip, and Felix fought the urge to shake Keegan very hard, hopefully getting her sense back in place. But he knew better to push the matter, especially since his mate was showing signs of breaking down. He knew Alec would tell him later, he always did. He just hated that he had to ask him.

                Alec had already moved to the fire, poking at the deer haunch that was slowly drying over it, and Felix sighed, turning back to Keegan. “You know we’re going to kick their asses, right?”

                The watery smile she gave him didn’t quite reach her eyes. “I know.”

                Felix pulled her into a hug, cradling her head to his chest. He knew she was lying. He wasn’t as good as Alec at that shit, but he had been trained to read body language, and he knew Keegan’s tells as much as his own. And she was holding something back. “You blame me.”

                She recoiled in shock, and even Alec looked in their direction, expression slightly alarmed. “What?” She gave him an incredulous look. “What the hell would I blame you for? The zombie apocalypse?” Felix gave her a look, and she threw her hands up, exasperated. “I don’t even know why I put up with this shit.” And she was gone.

                Neither Alec nor Felix had caught her particular route—she was the fastest of them by far—but that didn’t stop Felix from calling out into the night, hoping for a sign. None came.  Felix turned, heading back towards the fire where Alec was determinedly not looking at him. “Spill it.”

                “I have no idea what you’re—urk!” he glared at Felix, pointedly looking at where the other male was holding him up by the neck. Can’t exactly talk like this.

                “Tell. Me.”

                There was something dangerous in Felix’s eyes, and Alec frowned, his brother’s outburst confusing him. After a moment, Felix’s fingers lessened, and Alec dodged away, ending up a good four yards before Felix had spun to see where he had gotten to. “She was lying.”

                “Yeah, I got that. I’m not that stupid. But she does blame me.” And all the anger was gone, and it was replaced with a sorrow that Alec wasn’t sure even he had sensed before. “She blames me because I pissed Wesker off, so he targeted us.”

                Alec stepped closer, now that he wasn’t in imminent harm. “We don’t even know if he had anything to do with it. The last outpost we took out had him listed as exhiled. As far as I can tell, he was never at the New York facility.”

                Felix shook his head, “You know what I mean, Alec.”

                And at that, Alec wisely made his way back to the slightly burned venison he was attempting to make into jerky. “If it goes that far back, you’re right: Wesker is one petty bastard.” But he paused, a thought suddenly blasting its way forward. “He’s the one who dosed you with G!” Felix didn’t turn around, didn’t make any sound. “Holy shit, man, when?”

                At first, he was sure Felix wouldn’t answer, but, then, “Back in 2021, before all of us on deep cover missions realized Manticore went down. If Jewel had called just one day earlier…” Felix clenched his fists, “I’m gonna go see if I can find Keegan.”

                Alec thought about stopping him, but realized there was no use. No, Felix would go looking for her, and if he was lucky, she’d let herself be found and if he wasn’t…well, Felix was known for being tenacious.

                It was going to be a long night.

Four

                

                He watched her, he always did. She knew, she had to; no one was that ignorant. And, as if to prove his point, his pant leg caught fire. With a sigh, Felix smothered it—sometimes the psionic abilities he was discovering were alarming—and got up to move back towards camp. She had no idea…and perhaps it was best.  See, there were these times—not very rare, either—when his body would suddenly explode in pain, and something would move under his skin, as if he was finally succumbing to the genetically engineered viruses that Umbrella had subjected him to. And honestly, it wasn’t a far off assessment.

                While the Arizona Unit of Project Phoenix were still on mission—nearly a year after Manticore fell, though no one had thought to inform them of that fact—he was deeply embedded in the Umbrella Corporation’s private security force, something that only vaguely resembled anything like the average guards. After a couple months, he had gotten himself promoted to head of Albert Wesker’s private security attachment. It was all to plan; assassinate Albert Wesker and allow one of the more Manticore favoring (and less psychotic) CEOs to step up. He excused the cyanide attempt as Wesker simply choosing another bottle that evening; it had been rather half-assed. The lab explosion was slightly more puzzling, and yet his information could have been faulty, alarm bells were certainly not ringing. The point blank shot to the heart confirmed what Felix should have realized at his first attempt: Albert Wesker wasn’t human.

                Worse, his cover was blown.

                Felix knew better than most what resided in the Arklay Mansion, on the outskirts of Raccoon City: he had discovered pretty much every hidden room in that place while trying to keep away from the very security force that he had just been head of. He had fought off things that they had abandoned, left to mutate on their own. He had seen some freaky shit, some experiments too horrifying to recount. He also knew where Wesker’s supposed ‘secret lab’ was, and knew it was his last chance to figure out some way to kill the fucker. Breaking out one of the T-002 model Tyrants in the lab had been easy—realizing Wesker could survive that thing’s claws and command it to attack him was the hard part. Felix had put the thing down, only catching flashes of Wesker’s ‘healing’. The man had shaken as if every cell in his body was fighting to maintain control. That was when he learned that t-infected creatures mutated. As he was plowed through the wall by the reanimated—and severely mutated—T-002, he realized his phone was ringing. And that small slip of attention and cost him sight of Wesker. Oh, he took down the mutated Tyrant—and made it stay down—but his primary target had vanished. Felix had just been cursing himself when he felt the needle sink into the flesh of his neck, and felt something burn its way through his veins as the plunger was forced down with superhuman speed and strength. Felix had to pull out part of the plastic when he yanked it out, spinning and fighting vertigo at the same time. And there had been Wesker, smiling at him, his face shifting slightly, and Felix had realized that he didn’t look quite like he had before Felix had started trying to kill him. “So they sent one of Manticore’s after me? I’m impressed.” Felix had snarled something at him, but whatever had been in that needle was making him dizzy and sick. “Too bad you had your barcode lasered, I wanted to know your designation. It would have been interesting to see what the Gene-virus did if you’re one of Sandman’s projects.”

                At this point, Felix had known that there was only one way out. “You are one fucking tough mark but make no mistake: I will kill you…” Wesker had started to smile, started to retort, “even if it takes me too.” And with that, he had dropped the grenades he had stashed in his belt, pins pulled even as he had been speaking. Wesker’s face—already not the same as the picture he had been given from Manticore—was a mix of surprise and disbelief as the grenades exploded. Felix had known he hadn’t been clear—had known he should have blown himself up—but there he was, clothes burned to hell and frost on some of the debris. He should have known then, and not excused the creeping skin as just a sensation. He should have never checked that missed call, never headed over to Terminal City, never exposed anyone to what he had become.

                And he wasn’t sure what the consequences would be.

                                                                            ***

                X5-105 had never felt comfortable in her skin. It was something she had realized would never quite go away. When she took on the name ‘Keegan’, it lessened a bit. Lessened more when she had added ‘MacGyver’ to that, a little bit of human in her and Felix’s mating. The feeling had resurged, stronger than ever before when she realized she had always been Project 105. Her skin didn’t crawl unless she was really wounded, and she didn’t feel like she was fighting with her own cells, so she assumed Umbrella had, perhaps, messed with her less. Or she was possibly bonding to the virus, like Alice had—like they had thought Alec and Felix had. But that seemed unlikely; Umbrella liked to mess with things.

                Sometimes her vision went funny, though. Almost as if she was looking through a camera lens. And sometimes, she could swear that she was hearing a radio, despite the fact their pack had stopped using them. Alice had warned them all to stay away from Umbrella’s orbiting satellites, and they had followed the advice like law…until Alec had realized where Max’s caravan was. Since they had stopped avoiding the satellites, she had noticed her vision going weird more, and these headaches—One was happening now, and she curled in on herself, glad she was away from everyone, everything. She pressed her hands to her head, willing the headache to ease, but it felt like someone was cracking open her head from the inside out—

                Her scream was punctuated with a wave of fire that washed over the landscape, burning out a few yards away. Her brain felt fried, and, yep, there was the skin crawling. Knowing her cry would draw Felix, she forced herself upright and headed off deeper into the desert. Keegan didn’t want to be found just yet…at least, not until her skin stopped shifting around under her wrist wraps. She didn’t think Felix would be the happiest if he noticed that she was mutating too.

                                                                            ***

                

                The argument was getting old, they were having it every time he showed up at her caravan. It was the primary reason he had been sending Keegan in his stead. “Max,” He started, barely keeping his patience, “I can’t.” He turned to leave.

                “The invitation wasn’t just for you.” She countered, looking pointedly towards where Alec’s own camp fire was just barely visible amid the dunes. “Besides, I want you here, and you should get to know Al.”

                “You know what we are, Max.” He said, “We’re not human, not transgenic. We’re something else, something Umbrella wants. And you can’t forget that.”

                “So what?  We’ll keep to your rambling patterns; adjust for those satellites you say are tracking you!  And besides, I’m not scared of them. You’ll keep us safe, you always do!”

                “You just don’t get it!” He whirled on her, eyes glowing even brighter in his anger. “I’m not safe! I’m the one you should be afraid of!” He forced himself to rein his anger in, to just clench his fists rather then send the nearest camper flying. “Did you really think all they did was save us?” She looked away, unable to meet his eyes, though he gave her credit for not backing away. “They played with us, Max. We can do shit that I didn’t even think was possible. And then there’s this!” He shoved his sleeve up, revealing skin that was trembling, throbbing, even shifting. “This is what happens if I don’t consume enough fresh meat. Did you get that? I start to mutate if I don’t get fresh, uninfected meat. Why the fuck did you think I didn’t come find you sooner? I’m not exactly a stable science experiment, besides being hunted!”

                Only then did he register that Max was not looking at him. And there, standing in the shadow of the camper, was Justin. Alec felt his lip curl, despite himself, mirroring the other male’s expression. “I think you should leave.” Justin said, his voice calm and even. “And possibly not come back.”

                Max stared at him for all of a second before she launched in on him, “Who the fuck do you think you are? You can’t just—“

                “He’s right, Max.” He knew she was staring at him in shock, but his gaze was focused on the X3 who was just this close to issuing an outright challenge—and Alec didn’t have time to deal with disposing of another corpse. “Sandman made you special, made you to help make a cure, if humans hadn’t been so fucking speciesist. He made us to be the perfect bio weapon, better than Manticore, better than the Reds, better than everything, and it cost us what little human was in our DNA.” He turned, shoving down his coat, revealing the red and white Umbrella logo tattooed just under his barcode. “I can’t be here now, but that doesn’t mean I’m not coming back.” He said, looking back to Justin, “And I’ll deal with you then.”

                Only then did Max actually back away from him fully, putting herself just in front of Justin, almost as if she was guarding him. A little bit of his heart broke at that moment, and Alec staggered backwards, shocked with the force of the emotion. It did not go unnoticed. Justin smirked, and Max cocked her head to the side, as if trying to understand the move. “Alec…” He ignored her, trying to regain his normal breathing rhythm. “494.” It was a plea, one that spoke to the deepest part of him.

                But it was the wrong thing to say. “Don’tcha mean Project 494?” He snarled, his anger, his rage, projected into the word. He spun on his heel, storming into the desert, the dunes blasting out of his way, sand flying everywhere. And in his wake, two terrified transgenics.

Five

 

“She’s gone.”  Felix’s voice tore through the bubble that had housed Alec in blissful sleep.  “Keegan’s gone.”

His first instinct was to comfort his brother, let him know that she probably took off on one of her sojourns…but Keegan was not in empathy range.  Alec sat up.  He couldn’t even sense if she was still alive.  “Fuck.  She’s…she’s out of range.”

Felix sighed.  “I figured as much.”  He looked towards the horizon, clearly distressed.  “I never thought she’d take off on her own.  We’re a pack, family…”

“I’m not entirely sure she’s in her right mind, Felix, and you know that.  We’re all going nuts.”  Alec sighed, rubbing his face with dirt-stained gloves.  After a long moment, he looked back towards his clone, his stomach growling.  “This is rough, man, but I need to eat before I mutate.  Betting you do to.  Question is, which way do you think Keegan went?”

“We’re not following her.”  His voice was calm, steady, and that, perhaps, was the most unnerving thing about the statement.  “Keegan…if she needs time, I can give her time.  But I’ve got a feeling about LA, and I can’t…I can’t go looking for her too.  You know what she’s like when she doesn’t want to be found.”  He was speaking sad, unpleasant truths, things that needed to be thought about.

Alec wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it.  “She may have headed towards LA.”  Felix grunted, gathering up what little supplies they carried on them.  Yeah, Alec didn’t really believe it either.

 

***

 

There was this noise, and it was coming from somewhere close, but Max had no idea what it could be.  It was practically electronic.  And, it was her phone. Max stared at the ringing plastic for a long moment, unable to comprehend that the lump of circuitry she had been carrying around as a last reminder of civilization was working.  There was a network.

“You going to answer that?”  Max jumped, nearly dropping her prize at the appearance of Keegan.  However, the smaller female snatched the falling phone from Max’s fingers, and the former sniper held the phone up to her ear: “Go ahead.”

The line screeched—it was loud enough Max had to cover her ears, and she wasn’t even next to the speaker!  But Keegan stood there, expression blank as what was unmistakably an electronic coded transmission blared through the cellular phone.  Max knew what it was—Logan had warned her of it long ago—and she leapt forward, knocking the phone from Keegan’s limp grasp and smashing the device with the heel of her boot.  When she looked back up, Keegan was blinking, looking confused and disoriented.  “Who the fuck answers a phone out here?  All networks are down!”

“’Cept Umbrella’s.”  Keegan muttered, slumping to the ground, cross-legged.  Max followed her, worried but unsure how to continue.  “Was kinda betting on them having a code programed to call any active phone that enters their network area.  They were hoping we’d be stupid enough to use them.”

Max raised an eyebrow.  “So you were trying to get captured?”

Keegan was glaring at her, which seemed to indicate she was recovering from whatever that databurst had been.  “I was trying to infiltrate their facility.”

There was a long moment before Max trusted herself enough to speak.  “This was obviously your plan, as neither Alec or Felix are stupid enough to think letting themselves be programed was a good idea.”

“I can’t be programed.”  Keegan huffed.

“Oh yeah?  Well, until I have a better explanation for that dial-up-noise, I’m going with programed.  When are they getting here?”  Keegan determinedly looked away.  “Oh,  you went off on your own.”

“It wasn’t exactly like I was expecting to run into you out here.”  She retorted, seemingly ignoring the obvious.  “This isn’t exactly the way to Los Angeles.”

Max rolled her eyes, pulling herself to her feet.  “We’re not going to LA, no matter what Alec said.  We need to get out of the zombie infestation, not run towards it.”

Keegan laughed, allowing herself to sprawl out on the sparse rug that covered the floor of Max’s tent.  “You’re heading right for another swarm.”

“Why the fuck would there be a swarm out in the middle of the desert?  There’s nothing out here!”

It clicked in Max’s head the same moment Keegan said, “Or that’s what they want you to think.  Alec is convinced there’s something hinky with the survivors being kidnapped out of LA.  I think there’s something hinky here.  And, I dunno…”  She shrugged.

Max understood, but she didn’t agree.  “Keegan, you’re still rushing off without a plan.  And if this is a plan, it isn’t a good one.”

“I’m not asking for your help.  I wouldn’t even be here if your phone hadn’t picked up Umbrella’s network.” She looked sullen.

Max sighed; Alec’s pack was just as thick headed as he was.  “You shouldn’t go in alone.”

Keegan sat up, fixing Max with a hard stare.  “Well, I’m not taking you with me.” Max glared at Keegan.  Keegan glared back.

“You need backup.” Max insisted.

With a huff, Keegan stood.  “And you think that it should be you?”

“No, I think it should be Felix, but you ran off on your own.”  Max shrugged out of her clothes, pulling on tighter and less torn jeans and a thicker shirt.  “I’ve learned a lot since  Raccoon City.”

“Puh.”  The enhanced female made a face.  “I doubt that.”

She put a hand on Keegan’s shoulder, giving it a squeeze.  “Think what you want, but I know I’d rather fight than run. Don’t let Umbrella make you second guess yourself.”  For a long moment, Max thought Keegan would freak, would blur out of there and vanish into the desert—most likely to her death—but Keegan’s too-warm hand covered hers, and gave a squeeze back.

“Alec is going to murder me.” She said with a chuckle.

Max chuckled.  “Nah.  I think Felix will beat him to that.”

Keegan made a face.  “True.  Hey, don’t you need a baby sitter, or to at least tell someone where you’re going?”

“Doing that now.”  Max stopped at the entrance of her tent.  “Don’t go off without me.”

“I don’t think you’d let me.  Knowing you, you’ll run straight to Alec and organize a rescue party.”  Keegan nudged open one of the trunks, and gave a gasp.  “Guns, Max?  Heh, maybe you really did grow up a bit.”

“Ammo’s in the smaller trunk to the left.  Should be enough to get us in there.”  But probably not enough to fight our way back out… Max suppressed a shudder as she went off to warn Justin of her plans.

 

***

 

The desert got cold at night.  It still astounded her, how this blazing, barren landscape could switch from broiling to arctic in a matter of minutes.  Shivering, Max pulled her hoodie tighter around her, stepping lightly in the shifting sand.  Just a head of her, Keegan was walking, leaving no footprints and looking toasty despite the fact she was wearing far less than Max.

As if she knew she was being watched, Keegan looked over her shoulder, frowning a bit.  “Do you want to stop?”

“With the swarm so close?  No fucking way.”  After a moment, she added, “You could be nicer.”

Keegan gave a little shrug and continued on.  Max followed her, a little unnerved by the silence, but keeping pace.  The closer they seemed to get to the swarm, the more on edge Keegan was.  It was logical; it was good odds there was an Umbrella base underneath, but what if there wasn’t?  Max knew the thought had to be knocking around in Keegan’s head.  But there was also that databurst, and Max wondered what effect that would have.  Despite Keegan’s assertion that she couldn’t be programmed, it was common practice back at Manticore.  While re-indoctrination took days, it still reprogrammed them, made them think what Manticore wanted them to.  What would Umbrella be able to do?

“I swear I can hear you thinking.”  Keegan called back, her voice barely audible on the night wind.        

“Well, one of us needs a plan.” Max snapped.

Keegan gave a little shrug. “I’m thinking kill.”

Max sighed.  “Everyone?”

“Pretty much.” Keegan acknowledged, lowering herself down onto the cooling sand.  Max followed suit, realizing they were coming, at last, to the swarm.  “Heh.  Weird place for a fence.”

Max couldn’t agree more: just out, in the middle of the desert, there was a small house with a yard, surrounded by an eight foot tall fence.  And all outside that fence, beating on the chain links, were zombies.  A lot of zombies.

“What do they need all of them for?”  Max asked, scoping her vision.

Keegan shrugged.  “Maybe they don’t need them for anything.  Those things can smell flesh for miles, it’s probably just the nearest source of potential food.”  She looked over at Max, “You don’t need to follow me.”

“You’re a broken record. I already suspect you’ve been trying to get me to turn back with your wacky brain powers from Umbrella.” Max said, annoyed.

Keegan gave a sardonic laugh, “You have no idea what I want to do with those ‘wacky brain powers’ right about now.”

Her tone made Max very uneasy and she could tell Keegan knew it.  “You can’t kill someone with your brain, can you?”

Keegan paused, looking towards Max with a rather creepy smile, “What do you think?”

Max stood, reconciling the fact she was about to go into combat with someone who might not be on this side of stable.  “Stop trying to kill me with your brain.”  Max announced, blurring towards the fence.  She was through the zombies and on the other side in seconds.  Breathing heavy, she checked herself over, making sure no scratches or bites had made it through.  To her shock, Keegan was already at the entrance of the small house, and working on the lock.  “How long were you here?”

“Maybe two seconds before you.”  Keegan looked up from her ministrations, smirking a bit, “and you think you can back me up.”

Max joined her at the door, resisting the urge to punch her.  “Maybe you just need someone to remind you not to go all psycho-zombie.”  Her words cut seemed to cut Keegan, and Max felt a slight sting of guilt as the other female  successfully picked the lock and pushed the door open.

After that, everything went black.

 

***

 

Los Angeles was burning—the smoke stung Alec’s eyes despite the goggles he wore.  And the stench, it was awful.  Beside him, he could hear Felix breathing shallowly, trying not to inhale as much as he could.  And the worst part was the low moaning.  There were so many infected here that it was practically white noise.  After the silence of the desert, it was extremely disconcerting.

“Any idea on where to start looking for this crazy Umbrella base?”  Alec asked, blinking away smoke-borne tears.

Felix shrugged.  “Needle in a hay stack.”

He let his head fall forward, wiping his face.  “Joy.”  Alec checked his fire arm before swinging himself onto the fire escape of the building they had been perching on.  Felix followed him closely, having pulled up a bandana to help block the stench.

After what seemed like hours, they hit the edge of the city, the only part not burning.  Originally, Alec had thought the ocean was keeping the flames at bay, but there were distinct signs of fire-fighting: residue from fire extinguishers covered the ground.  “Live ones.”  Felix commented, kicking a used up extinguisher out of his path.  “Wasn’t really expecting that.”

Alec shot him a look.  “Well, there would have to be survivors if Umbrella is experimenting on them.”

“You ever think they’re trying to copy that five percent immunity?”  Felix casually kicked in the glass of a still-standing vending machine, and started rummaging through the contents, finally settling on some sort of chocolate.   “Though, that’s not really their style.”  He said around a mouthful of candy bar.

Alec wrinkled his nose. “I wouldn’t eat that.”

Felix shot him a look.  “You do know expiration dates are really suggestions.  Besides, what is this thing going to have that my immune system can’t fight off?”  and with that, he stuffed the rest of the bar in his mouth.  With a sigh, Alec moved on, the shattered glass barely making any noise as he stepped over it.   Felix was just as silent, keeping his rifle trained straight ahead as he chewed.  And then, a low thumping reached their ears.  Felix nearly choked as he swallowed and whispered “That’s a Osprey’s engine…that’s Umbrella’s fleet.”

“And they seem to be sending it out towards the bay…”  Alec didn’t need to tell Felix to follow him, his clone was right on his heels as they dodged through the broken city, now not bothering to mask their steps.  The noise attracted the attention of a few of the undead, but the two were far beyond them before they had time to register the direction it came from.

The ground was even more broken closer to the water, as sewers and water mains had burst without the human care and attention needed.  And here, there were zombies moving in a rather unusual way, almost intelligent.   And their skin was odd, green, mottled.

“I don’t think those are t-zombies.” Felix muttered, frowning as he looked through his weapons scope towards the unknowns.  “And that one just shot…things from it’s mouth to catch a rat.  You don’t think Umbrella mutated these things with that Plagas parasite, do you?”

Alec bit his lip.  That was exactly what he thought, but that wasn’t very helpful at the moment.  The mutated zombies were distracted by a large explosion off shore, and  Alec waved Felix forward: they needed to see better.  And as soon as they climbed to the nearest balcony, it was clear.  “That’s Arcadia?”  It was a ship, a ship that was currently under attack by a large airborne Umbrella security force.  “Fuck, I bet I know where all those human caravans got to.”

“Ya think?”  Felix gave a little shudder.  “Looks like they lost—is that Alice?!”

And there was no mistaking the small frame currently being thrown from the ship’s deck by the explosion.  Alec groaned.  “She found them.  And they found her.”  As they watched, a Osprey swooped low over the sea where she had landed, and a retrieval device pulled up a still struggling body.  “She’s alive.  Some hope there.”

Felix grunted in accent.  “I think we should commandeer one of those planes.”

Oh how he loved his brother.  “I think you’re right.”  He responded, grinning.  “Think they’ll be returning to the main headquarters?”

“It’s likely.  We know Tokyo and New York were wiped out, and that leaves very few active Umbrella sites.  It’s certainly better than walking.”  Felix grinned, holstering his p-90 and pulling out his grappling gun.  “Time to fly, little brother.”

 

 

Six

 

                 It was cold.  It was dark.  It was damp.  But no matter how uncomfortable it was, Max couldn’t help but drift off into long periods of unconsciousness.  At least, she thought it was long periods.  The room that she was lying in was constantly lit with bright, white lights.  She knew she was cold, because, in the few minutes she had managed to keep herself awake, she realized she had been stripped of her clothing, and was instead wearing a flimsy, paper-like cloth that wasn’t even closed on the sides.

                    Her modesty was the least of her worries, as she just couldn’t stay awake.  And she knew she wasn’t in good hands, how could she be?  Her last memory was Keegan easing open the deceptive door that should have contained a secret Umbrella base.  Instead, there was just blankness, and then waking in this room some time later.  She wasn’t hooked up to any wires or tubes, so she didn’t understand why she was so tired.  It was as if someone was playing a lullaby on repeat in her brain—a thought that reminded her of Alec for some reason.

                And then she was off again, shivering slightly as her body was once again claimed by unconsciousness.

 

                                                                            ***

 

                “Uh, Alec?”  Felix’s voice jarred him out of his thoughts, shaking him alert.  “We’ve got an incoming message on the transceiver.  Do you think we should answer it?”  Felix was looking worried, as he should be.

                So far, no radio transmissions had been sent or received on any channel they could scan.  They still had no idea how Umbrella was communicating with the rest of the Osprey fleet.  It was pretty much screaming ‘trap’.  “Might as well.”

                He knew Felix knew it, especially with the canned, monotone response he gave to the request for reply.  A woman’s voice responded—accented heavily as if she had originally spoken Mandarin or Cantonese before English.  “This is Ada Wong, who is flying this Osprey?”

                Alec nodded—she didn’t sound Umbrella—and Felix replied: “X5-496, Ms. Wong. And what use is that to you?”  They both waited, holding their breath as the radio crackled, waiting for the airwaves to resonate with a voice.

                “Ah, Felix, correct?”  She all but purred his name, and Felix’s hair went on edge.  Alec resisted the urge to laugh.  “Good.  We’ve been trying to locate you.  Project 105 has reported to Umbrella headquarters and we were worried we lost you and 494.”

                Felix glanced sideways at Alec before responding.  “You know a lot about us.  How about giving us something to work with on our end?”

                Alec could swear he could hear Ada smile through the radio.  “Of course.  Umbrella is no longer under Wesker’s control: The Red Queen, the artificial intelligence that triggered the Arklay Mansion incident, has taken control.  We’re unsure if the regular security teams are aware, but the…special teams are most certainly compliant.  The Red Queen has released orders to exterminate all human life outside of the Umbrella Prime base, to prevent reinfection in cleansed areas.  If you’re interested in wiping out Umbrella, and assisting the last survivors, alter your course to these coordinates.”  A string of numbers appeared on the screen, and Alec committed them to memory before they vanished.  “I hope to see you there, Felix.”  And without another word, she ended the transmission.

                “She was one of Umbrella’s agents, right?”  Alec asked, frowning.  “Why would she turn?”

                Felix shrugged.  “Money?  I dunno.  Maybe she was a double agent from the moment she was hired.  But I want to know how the fuck they managed to get themselves access to the helipad at the White House.”

                “Should we go?”  Alec half hoped that Felix would decline, would decide to track down Keegan instead, would rather protect the few transgenic caravans they knew were wandering.  But he also knew the Felix hadn’t ignored or missed the comment about ‘project 105’.  He didn’t even need to look at Felix to know what the answer would be.  Instead of waiting for it, he punched in the new coordinates, and guided the Osprey out of the formation, and off towards Washington, D.C.

 

                                                                            ***

 

                The landing strip was a nice touch, lit just bright enough that their transgenic eyes could register the glow.  It was smart, too, as most B.O.W.s seemed to be attracted to bright lights.  Alec guided the Osprey down, touching the landing pad with a light bump as Felix stood at the entrance to the cockpit, gun aimed towards the entrance hatch. “You ready?”

                “Don’t think I’ll ever be.  Open it.”  Felix responded, not taking his eyes off the hatch.  Alec took a deep breath, cut the engines and slammed the hatch release.  He was beside Felix, gun at the ready, before the hatch had creaked.

                As expected, the doors opened to reveal a full security force.  Alec tensed: they had Umbrella corporation logos on their body armor.  “What the hell is this?!”  He roared, and at least half of the force were knocked off their feet as he stormed forward, gun raised, sights on the one person not wearing the uniform.

                And Albert Wesker just welcomed the gun with a grin, arms open, no sign of resistance.  “Alec, Felix, you’re looking well.”  Felix seemed frozen in shock, whereas Alec was seeing red, not even noticing the security team getting back to their feet and training their weapons on him.  “Easy now, I think Alec just had a bit of a shock.  No need to get violent.”

                His voice snapped Felix out of his paralysis and the larger transgenic raised his weapon.  “Give me one reason not to shoot you right now.”  He growled.

                Wesker cocked an eyebrow.  “Well, for one, your brother would most certainly be in the line of fire, given where he’s standing, and secondly, I believe you want to take down Umbrella.  I’m you’re only way to do that.”  He smiled, his strange, red-glowing eyes peeking from behind his dark glasses.  “We’re all on the same side, after all.”

                Alec growled, trying to work through the fog in his brain, to translate the words into actual thoughts he could process.  After a minute, he lowered his gun, lip uncurling.  Behind him, Felix did the same, albeit more reluctantly.  “You’re going to have to prove that with a lot more than words.”  He snarled, holstering his weapon.  “And I make no promises for Felix’s actions.”

                “Damn fucking straight.”  Felix had pushed his way next to Alec, glowering at Wesker with a hatred that was palpable.  “First you’re telling us about Keegan.”

                Wesker nodded, and gestured behind him.  “Let’s retire to someplace more comfortable, and with something to eat.  I’m sure you’re feeling the effects of hunger by now.”

                It was bothersome to realize that Wesker had the same response to the infection they did, and it did nothing to sooth either of their nerves.  However, with a glance to each other, both Alec and Felix started down the hall behind Wesker, the security team—weapons holstered—bringing up the rear.

 

                                                                            ***

 

                It was freezing.  Max forced her eyes open, the white light of the room seemingly harsher than before, and the chill far more biting.  But this time, she wasn’t lying on the floor, as she had found herself every other time upon awakening.  This time she was strapped to a gurney that seemed to have slid out from one of the identical walls, and there was a machine steadily pumping red out of her system.

                Ice slid from her skin to her stomach: they were draining her blood.

                She struggled to move, but already she was too weak, too drained.  Her inability to stay awake was now making sense—they were likely only letting her rest between blood draws.  A hissing noise drew her attention across the room, where a door had slid open.  In stepped a nondescript doctor, and quickly, professionally, removed the iv draining her blood, and replacing it with a bag of saline solution.  He didn’t realize she was awake.  And the used needle was lying right there, just by her hand—

                She inched her fingers towards it, a desperate plan haphazardly forming when another hand descended on hers.  It was warm, hot even, and strange—she hadn’t seen that hand without the cloth wraps that usually hid it.  Her eyes shot up, and there—yes!—was Keegan.  Max started to open her mouth to say thank you, say something, when Keegan’s fingers tightened over hers, and Max’s words came out a scream as her fingers snapped.

                “I would suggest you behave, Project 452.”  Keegan stated, her voice cold, blank…controlled.  Fear fought with pain for control of Max’s mind.  “You turned traitor against Umbrella and Manticore.  However, your immunity is key to controlling the infection.  You are not above elimination if you do not cooperate, and I’m sure you will not like the other methods.”  And there was that slightly evil smile Max had glimpsed earlier.  It was tinged with a red glow from a strange, spider-like device attached to her chest, only visible through the strange battle suit she was wearing.  With another squeeze on Max’s already broken fingers, she released them, watching the doctor remove all the equipment from the room.  As he left, the gurney released Max, sliding back into the wall while she slipped from it to the floor.

                Only then did Keegan turn and start towards the door.  “Keegan!”  Max called out, still unsure what exactly had happened.  The female, though, didn’t pause or hesitate.

                “Keegan is dead.”  She announced, turning as she reached the hall, hand outstretched towards presumably the door controls.  “I am Security Chief 105.  I’m sorry, 452, but you have no friends here.”  And she closed the door, leaving Max alone in the white-lit room.

 

                                                                            ***

 

                Alec stared at the screen in front of him, unbelieving.  This, this had to be a trick.  A deception.  But his sensitive eyes couldn’t detect any doctoring—any fake blur that might be disguising an edit to the footage.  Beside him, he could feel Felix tense up, and absent mindedly placed a calming hand on his brother’s shoulder.

                “Thank you, Ada.  We’ll leave the system before the Red Queen detects the intrusion.  I’ll contact you when we will commence with the hack.” Wesker said to the Asian woman on the screen beside the footage.  “Wesker Out.”  Her screen went black, leaving the still of Max lying on the floor of her cell, barely concealed by the dressing she wore.  “I’m afraid we have confirmation that actually is 105.  There has been some…issue with that in the past.”

                Felix reached out, rewinding the footage until there was a still of Keegan’s blank faced expression.  His fingers trailed along the display, finally resting on the strange, spider-like device glowing on her chest.  “What did they do to her?”

                Alec turned to watch Wesker, who looked mildly uncomfortable—an odd expression on his face.  “She is being controlled by two means, one of which you both are currently susceptible to: the circuitry Umbrella installed in your brain when you were first captured.  From what we can gather, she was subjected to a databurst that implemented a subroutine, forcing her to seek out the nearest Umbrella base.”  He clicked something on the tablet in his hand, and the image of Keegan was replaced with a small shack in the middle of the desert, surrounded by a fence which was in turn, surrounded by the undead.  “She entered here, in the desert outside of Los Angeles.  452 followed her.  Once inside, the security protocols of the base were activated, knocking them both unconscious.  As Keegan is transgenic, and not completely susceptible to the mind reprograming, she was fitted with a Scarab, that silver device on her chest.  It’s pumping a chemical we call P-30 into her system, enhancing her already considerable strength and making her compliant to computer commands—commands from the Red Queen herself.”  He flicked through a few files, finally settling on another image, this one of a blonde woman with the same scarab on her chest.  “The only other operative with a scarab is Security Officer Valentine, a former S.T.A.R.S. agent from Raccoon City who was recaptured after an incident in South America.  They are currently in charge of all of Umbrella’s operations, including their experimentation, all working under orders directly from the Red Queen being transmitted into the brains directly.”

                “And Max?”  Alec asked, his voice soft.

                “The Red Queen wants to control the infection, after she uses it to wipe out the last remaining immune to it.  We believe she is experimenting with 452—Max’s blood.” And then, Wesker was on the floor, and Alec’s hand was throbbing as if it had been hit with a sledgehammer.

                “This is all your fucking fault.”  Alec snarled, grabbing Wesker by the collar and lifting him up off the ground.  Wesker, however, was faster than him despite his shock, and had dodged out of his grasp, forcing a plunger full of some serum into his neck.  Alec roared, breaking the needle off just as Felix landed beside him, looking dazed and holding his neck: he too had been injected.

                “Yes, I suppose it is.”  Wesker said placidly, showing no sign of distress nor exertion.  He calmly kicked their weapons out of reach.  “But is it really necessary to keep attacking me?  I am trying to help.  You’re more than welcome to kill me after we’ve taken the world back from the Red Queen, if you can.”  He whistled, and several uniformed security officers ran in.  “Make sure you put them up in the good suites.  And you two, please, try to calm down.  After all, you wouldn’t want to stress your system into mutating.”

                Felix made a gagging noise before yelling out, “You dosed us with the t-virus again?!”

                Wesker smiled.  “A more potent version.  You’ll find you need the enhancements it brings, especially for the rescue operation you’re about to mount.”  He waited until the security officers had helped them to their feet, before standing in front of them and placing a hand on each of their shoulders.  “You’re going to bring them home.”

 

                                                                            ***

 

                Alec blinked.  Yep, he was awake.  But his body, it felt…lighter.  Less unstable.  More remarkably, his stomach was growling, and yet he wasn’t experiencing any of the familiar skin crawling sensation that had accompanied it since he broke out of Umbrella the first time.  His neck throbbed where he had broken the needle off, but the metal itself had worked it’s way out of his skin while he was unconscious, it lay on his pillow next to a small glob of congealed blood.

                The blood gave him pause.  Never before had it coagulated, that was something reserved for dead things that hadn’t been drained.  His blood was flowing, he could see his veins gently pulse with each heartbeat, but his blood died the second it hit air.  It shook him to his core; it was the point of no return.

                Beside him, he heard stirring, and flopped himself over to see Felix sprawled out on the queen bed next to his, groggily rubbing his eyes.  “I’m hungry.”  He announced, sitting up.

                The motion was exceptionally fast, faster than Alec was expecting.  He leapt to his feet, startling Felix with his own speed, and began a physical check of his person.  His body, while relaxed, seemed to have grown in muscle mass and speed, not enough to look unusual, but enough that he could see changes.  It was as if they replaced his muscles with steel, and it was a powerful feeling.  And another blow.  “They really can make us anything they want.” Felix, however, looked appalled with himself.  With a brush of his mind, Alec knew why.  “Dude, it’s ok to feel like that.”

                Felix caught him with a glare.  “Yeah, it’s ok to feel glad they’ve finally stabilized my genetics into what they want.  Yeah.”  But the heat went out of his gaze quickly.  “I kind of like it.  I feel…settled.”

                “Good.”  Alec said, offering a hand to Felix, who accepted it.  “So, we’re going on a rescue mission.  Wonder who we’re saving.”

                “Knowing Wesker,” Felix grumbled, tugging on his gear belt (which they were both surprised to see contained their weapons), “It’s another project.”

                “Right you are.”  Neither Alec nor Felix jumped at the voice over the intercom, both having already expected it.  “You’ll be heading in to rescue Project 452, 105 and Alice from the Red Queen, and to assist in Ada Wong’s extradition.”  They could hear his smile.  “I didn’t think you’d want to miss that.”

                Alec turned, searching the ceiling until he located a security camera.  He addressed it, “Weren’t planning on it.  Where are we heading, and when do we ship out?”

                “Siberia, and in one hour.”  Wesker responded.  “More equipment and weaponry are available in the hanger.  Wesker out.”

                “Like we know where the hanger is.”  Felix grumbled, securing the last of his personal weapons—a hunting knife that Keegan had left behind—to his belt.

                Alec sighed.  “We’ll figure it out.”  His mind drifted back to Max, to his shock and horror of her situation, to how frail and weak she looked.  Hold on, Maxie.  Please, just hold on.  Felix grasped his shoulder, and Alec realized he had blasted the thought out.  But Felix’s face only showed understanding.

                “They both better hold on.”

Seven

                “Max?  Max!”  This made no sense.  She should be back by now.  Justin glared at the crumpled piece of paper in his hand, frowning to himself.  Max never ran off, at least not without a reason.  And this ‘explanation’ was barely that: I have to help out a friend.  Please take care of Alec, and don’t tell him I took the weapons.  He’ll get scared.  Well, no offense to Max’s kid, but fuck that.  Justin was scared.  And he was damn sure the ‘friend’ was Alec, or maybe even one of the freaks who made it out with him.

                    It didn’t really matter in the end, because it was pretty damn certain that wherever she ran off to, she wouldn’t be coming back.  Justin crumpled the paper in his fist, feeling his eyes prick with tears.  She was never his, never could be. X3s didn’t mate, couldn’t mate like the X4s and beyond; they weren’t animal enough.  But he had loved her, probably always would.  And if she didn’t come back and he ever saw one of those freaks, there would be hell to pay, even if he didn’t survive it.

                    “Justin?”  The soft voice of Alec startled him, and Justin turned to see the child at the entrance of the tent, tears already streaking down his face.  “Justin, mom’s gone.”

                    Justin dropped to a knee, enveloping the kid in his arms.  “She’ll be back, she just went out to help some friends.  They were in a bit of a bind.”  He wasn’t lying, not really.  And yet, little Alec wasn’t convinced.

                    He pulled back, sniffling.  “No, she’s probably not coming back.”  His face scrunched in a valiant attempt to hold back the tears.  “No one comes back from Umbrella.”  And he broke down, hysterical.

                    Pulling the kid back into his arms, murmuring words of comfort, the little resolve Justin had vanished.  I knew it was something like this. He thought, tears falling and bouncing off Alec’s dark hair.  I will never leave you, Alec.  You’re the last bit of her I have left.

 

                                                                                                    ***

 

                    There was a tingling sort of sense that was brushing the very edge of his mind, but Alec would be damned if he knew what it was.  Even so, it was damn near physical, and he rubbed at the back of his neck, just over his barcode, trying to make the feeling go away.

                    Felix frowned at him from his seat in the Osprey launch bay.  “You got fleas?  Cause if there are zombie fleas, I think I may just quit life.  Fleas are bad enough when they’re alive.”

                    Sighing, Alec removed his hand, instead using it to swat at his brother.  “Just got the sense that I’ve forgotten something, big time.”

                    By the look on Felix’s face, the ‘big time’ was an understatement.  “I know I was freaked watching my mate end up as some brainwashed Umbrella drone, and I can imagine what it was like to see Max like that…but come on.”  Alec stared at him.  “Your son?  You know, the one that Max would have had to leave if she actually followed Keegan out to Umbrella?”

                    All the blood drained from Alec’s face.  “Oh, fuck.”  Part of him knew he shouldn’t feel so upset; he had barely met the kid, who also happened to have an entire caravan of transgenics who loved and cared for him.  But it was his son.  “Do you think they’re safe?”

                    Felix sighed, and, after glancing around to make sure none of the others travelling with them could hear, leaned closer, “I think they’re safe as long as they’re off Umbrella’s radar.  I don’t think it would be wise to mention that you and Max were able to breed after exposure to the t-virus.  That will pretty much guarantee his place as a science experiment. “

                    Feelings threatened to overwhelm him, but none of the random flares of psionic activity manifested.  It was a great thing to hide his tell, but a worrisome prospect with what mutations were happening in his body.  Alec put his head in his hands, reining himself back in.  “Our first priority is to rescue Max, Keegan and Alice.”  He said, loud enough that the rag-tag group of humans riding with them looked up.  “Everything else is just gravy.”

                    “Still can’t believe they got you on this suicide mission.”  One of the humans spoke up, grinning a bit.  “Thought you all had enough of Umbrella.”

                    Felix affectionately flipped him off.  “Nah, that was just the first date, Leon.  You know that.”

                    The other men of Leon S. Kennedy’s strike team laughed, falling into conversation amongst themselves, even as Leon stood and joined Alec and Felix towards the rear of the hold.  “I know how you guys feel, Umbrella caught Jill on my watch.  Security Chief Valentine.”  He let the information sink in before continuing.  “She’s not on the extraction list, but I don’t think I need to tell you…”

                    Alec raised a hand.  “If we can manage it, you know we’ll get her out too.  But, with those scarabs…”  Alec shuddered.  “I somehow doubt talking to them will wake them up.  And you guys are setting explosives, right?”

                    It was Felix who answered, “Barry’s got the charges and the timers.  So insulting.”

                    Leon rolled his eyes.  “You’ve got the more insane mission to try to break people out of mind control.  While on a time limit.”  He stood, patting Felix on the shoulder.  “I understand if you have to shoot to kill.”

                    Felix caught his hand.  “No doubt about that, but from what I understand, you’re going to be breaking into Chief Valentine’s sector.  Make sure you don’t die trying to save someone.  We need more people like you.”

                    Leon offered him a grateful smile before returning to sit with the rest of his strike team.

                    Ten minutes later, Alec and Felix got word their drop point was coming up.  “We’ll see the rest of you guys at the rendezvous.” Alec yelled over the rushing wind of the open drop doors.  And with a cocky smile, he dove out of the Osprey, Felix yelling ‘Allons-y!’ as he leapt.

                    “I think I like those freaks,” Barry said, rechecking his magnum.  “They remind me of me.”

                    Leon just sighed, watching the drop doors close.

 

                                                                                                        ***

 

                    Warm sunshine brushed her face, and she snuggled deeper into the pillow.  It was warm, comfortable, and she had no intention of letting that feeling go.  “Yo, Boo!  You gotta get up!  We’ve got to be at work in ten minutes!”

                    Max shot up from bed, cursing, “Why didn’t you wake me up earlier, Cin?  Fuck!”  She scrambled out of bed, tugging the blinds closed before peeling off her pajamas and slipping into comfortable jeans and a tank top.  Just before she left her room, she remembered to grab her messenger bag, slinging it over her shoulder as Original Cindy handed her a to-go mug filled to the brim with hot, black coffee.  “Mmm, thanks.”

                    “Well someone’s got to make sure you’re awake after that party last night.” Cindy smirked over her own cup.  “So, you think you’ll be getting a repeat performance any time soon?”

                    Max smiled to herself.  Oh, Justin had been amazing last night, but there just wasn’t that ‘click’ she was looking for.  “Well, maybe just the sex.”

                    Cindy broke into a wide grin, smacking her on the shoulder.  “Ooooh, girl.  At least you got your priorities right!”  She cackled, putting down her own, non-travel mug.  “You better dish it all on the way to work.”

                    Laughing, Max agreed, following Cindy out the front door, locking it behind her.  Their bikes were propped up against the front of the building, chained to a bike rack that was shiny and bright despite the weather and age.  She had to admit, New York was a beautiful city.  She smiled up at the bright blue sky.  “Oh, shit, isn’t there that blood drive today?”  She asked, as a red cross van pulled up across the street to the office building across from their apartment.

                    Cindy shrugged, mounting her bike and adjusting her bag so that it didn’t get in the way.  “Ten bucks says we’ll get triple runs if we’re late again.”

                    Max groaned.  “No, I want to get home early tonight! Lost Girl is on.”

                    Whatever Cindy was about to say was lost in a flash of raging sound: a semitruck lost control and veered sideways, tipping, tires screaming, horns blaring across the island of the road, crashing into oncoming traffic.  People were screaming, fires were popping up, and Max could smell the sharp tang of gasoline leaking from the truck’s fuel tank.

                    Dropping her bike, Max looked frantically around for Cindy, only to see her sprinting towards the truck’s cab, yelling for the driver.  “No, Cindy!  It’s too dangerous!”  She screamed, now being pushed back by a crowd of people who seemed to have notice the exact problem she had.  They pushed against her, but they weren’t as strong as she thought they should be—it was as if she was stronger.  Ignoring that, she reached the wheel of the truck just as Cindy wrenched the driver’s side door open.  The driver was alive, stirring, bloody, and she reached in, grabbing his belt, starting to pull him from the wreck.

                    It happened in slow motion: Max could see every second.  The driver groaned, and seemed to register that there was someone helping him, he reached towards Cindy.  Cindy smiled, starting to say something as the man latched on to her arm and bit down, snarling.  Blood blossomed on Cindy’s dark arm, and she screamed, yanking her arm back, tearing more flesh from it.

                    The truck driver didn’t stop, he started to crawl from the cab just as the first police officers hit the scene.  One grabbed Cindy, dragging her away from the truck, which was now smoking.  Another grabbed Max, pulling her back, but Max was trying to get to Cindy, who was crying and trying to stop the—

                    BOOM.

                    The truck exploded, throwing the police, Max, Cindy and the scattering civilians across the street.  Max hit the side of another building, wincing, but was on her feet immediately.  Cindy was ok, tossed onto the lawn, but looking nauseous from blood loss.  The police were scrambling, Max couldn’t hear what they were yelling—there was a ringing in her ears that wouldn’t stop—but they were drawing their weapons, and firing into the crowd.

                    Cindy grabbed Max’s shoulder with her good arm, pulling herself up.  “Why are they shooting?”  She screamed, though the voice was a whisper beyond the ringing.  Max shrugged, pulling Cindy towards their apartment building, even though the bottom floor’s windows were blown out from the shockwave.

                    One of their neighbors, an elderly Chinese woman who often brought them left overs was blocking the path.  Max reached out to her, trying to calm her, help her back inside.  The woman lunged at Max, snarling, her mouth bloody, her skin grey.  Max barely got out of the way in time, some part of her dodging and snapping a kick to the old woman’s head that cracked bone.  The woman went down, and Max was almost glad to see that there was no way she should have been alive—the back of her dress was torn open, and her spine was exposed.

                    “She’s dead.”  Cindy exclaimed as soon as they had made it to their apartment on the fourth floor.  “Ms. Chan is dead.”

                    “I’m pretty sure she was before I kicked her.”  Max snapped, grabbing the peroxide from the bathroom and pouring it over Cindy’s hand.  Her friend winced, pulling away.  “We need to clean this, get you to a hospital, get you a tetanus shot.  That guy was sick with something.” Cindy looked about to respond, when she turned very green, and averted her head to vomit onto the kitchen floor.  Max winced, but held it together, continuing to bandage the heavily bleeding wound.  “I need you to keep pressure on this, ok?  I’m gonna call 911.”  As she stood, Max realized something was wrong.  Her apartment had never been this nice, this…complete.  She never had a working phone in her apartment.

                    Shuddering at the thought, Max pushed it away, and grabbed the cordless phone from the counter.  There wasn’t a dial tone.

                    Something was very, very wrong.

Eight

                It was quiet.  Too quiet.  Alec shifted his stance, trying to ease the cramp in his leg while maintaining his invisibility.  The air shaft was small, and even tighter because of the thick, heavy coats they wore.  He had to applaud Umbrella’s thinking; this was a very delicate base to infiltrate, and he doubted a human could have utilized his and Felix’s route.  And, hopefully, they’d make it in before the second strike team, create enough of a distraction that the humans could make it through.

                    Didn’t stop it from being too quiet.

                    “I don’t like this.”  He breathed, knowing that his words wouldn’t be heard except by his close quarters companion.  Felix’s grunt of accent was also barely audible.  “You think we should chance it?”

                    His older brother frowned, leaning forward a bit to peer into the open, white-lit hall.  “This whole thing stinks of a trap…thought that could also be you.  Dude, when did you last shower?”

                    Alec smacked his arm, rolling his eyes.  “It’s these freakin’ animal skins.  You’d think Wesker could have sprung for thinsulate or some shit.  These reeked when they were in storage!” He sighed.  “I think we should chance it.  If we don’t move soon, my entire body is going to be one giant cramp.”

                    “Here, here.”  Felix agreed.  With another quick glance, he crept forward, landing lightly in the hall with his gun raised and eyes searching.  Alec dropped down behind him, gun also at the ready.  “What's the eta to hack?”

                    A quick glance down at his mission clock confirmed what Alec had already been counting down in his mind, “About ten minutes.”

                    Felix looked over his shoulder, catching Alec’s eyes with a wicked smile.  “Well, I think it’s about time we let the Red Queen know we’re here.”  He slipped the safety off his gun and took aim at the nearest visible security camera.  “Hey, bitch, I’m back.”  He fired.

                    The lights immediately shifted to red, the room still bright but now eerily blood covered.  An alarm began to blare somewhere, and Alec tensed.  Something was about to happen.

                    “You shouldn’t be in here.”  It was a child’s voice, a little girl, and it was coming from the wall panel beside them.  A screen had sprung to life, on it a red hologram.  Alec recognized her as the head researcher’s daughter, and suspected that was also why the program was speaking in a British accent.  “This area is off limits to non-authorized personnel.  I implore you to stay here until a security team can be dispatched to escort you to control.”

                    Alec glanced at Felix, gun still aimed towards the seemingly endless corridor in front of him.  “You think we should wait?”

                    “Nope.”

                    “Didn’t think so.”  Alec looked back at the screen, where the hologram was eerily watching them, perhaps basing its sightline off security feeds.  “Sorry, kiddo, we’ve got someplace to be.”

                    The hologram’s expression didn’t change.  “Activate laser grid in corridor B-18.”

                    Only now did Felix blanche, securing his weapon to his body.  “We’ve got to move, and we have to move now.”

                    Alec didn’t question it, he followed suit, and as he did, his end of the corridor darkened.

                    “Good luck, Projects 494 and 496.”  Red Queen said, before her screen vanished.

                    Oh, that didn’t bode well.  Especially now that the darkening was contracting around a blue laser that was shooting across the width of the hall.  Lasers.  Laser grid.  Fuck, the whole hall was a booby trap.  Probably every hall.  “Set pattern?”  He questioned, diving over the beam that had come surging towards them.  Felix had ducked instead, losing a few ends of his black hair to the laser.

                    “Oh fuck no.  Red Queen’s running this herself.”  As he spoke, the laser fragmented—instead of a single beam across, it was now a net, reaching from floor to ceiling and wall to wall.  “I’m pretty sure I can’t dodge that.”

                    Alec didn’t respond, he ran towards the non-blocked end, unsure if he even could outrun the net behind him.  Felix was hot on his heels, and then there was a wall, the end, this was it—

                    The wall slid open, revealing a large, dark, echoing space.  Alec didn’t question it, he barreled through, arming himself as soon as he had cleared the doors.  Felix was right behind him, and for a horrible second, he thought the grid would continue, that they had only extended their torment.  The grid shut down at the end of the corridor, and both of them let out a small sigh.

                    “Stand by. Suburbia Sequence initialized.

                    The cold, computerized voice startled them, but they had no time to search for its source—lights were flickering on, revealing—“Holy fucking shit.”

                    They were standing in one of the suburbs of Raccoon City, pre pulse.  The yards were green, the sky was bright—Alec couldn’t see the edges of the room beyond the store front that hid the doors they had just come through.  The houses were beautiful, freshly painted and cared for.  There were brand new cars in the drive ways and—

                    “Honey! You forgot your briefcase!”

                    People!!

                    Alec felt his grip on his weapon loosen; it hung limply at his side with his hands.  They were humans, actual humans, uninfected, smiling happy, very few even taking notice of Felix or himself.  And it was warm, a beautiful spring day.  The thought snapped something in his mind.  Yeah, a beautiful, pre pulse spring day somewhere under the ice in Serbia.  “I didn’t think there were this many survivors.  And they’re real.”  He said, poking a business man who walked past him.

                    Felix looked confused, sniffing the air and electing a few giggles from a group of passing school children.  “I can only smell maybe forty or fifty scents, but I see at least a few hundred people.”  He paused, staring hard at another business man who was walking towards him.  “He just passed you.”

                    Alec took another look, before turning and scanning for the man he had poked… “About three times.  Different hair colors, styles, outfits.  They’re clones.”

                    “Yo! Move it or lose it!”  A woman yelled at them, and Alec was already complying when he took a look at what the woman looked like.

                    “Original Cindy?”  He gasped, eyes wide.  Felix turned, also surprised.  “We thought you died.  We heard your caravan was hit—“

                    The woman was staring at him as if he had grown a second head.  “Oh, honey, I think you’ve gotten me confused with someone else.  Maybe its heat stroke—you know it’s way too warm for those heavy coats.”  And, giving him a sympathetic, if pitying, smile, she moved on.

                    “Imprinted clones.”  Felix muttered, frowning.  “Probably to adjust for accelerated growth in the lab.  But why?”

                    Alec was about to answer when the first screams hit his ears.  His stomach dropped.  “Oh gods, they can’t be…”

                    Not-Cindy was running towards them, arm bloody, screaming through her tears.  She ran into Alec, clinging to his over coat as her body succumbed to whatever injuries it had sustained.  “They’re insane!”  She gasped, as Alec and Felix helped her to the ground gently.  “And the police are shooting at---arg!” She choked, coughing on her own blood, even as Felix was compressing the wound—a stray gunshot—on her side.

                    “Hey, now.  Come on.  Stay with me.”  Alec pleaded, ignoring the growing chaos around him.  Not-Cindy gurgled in response, and Felix was shaking his head.  “You’re ok, girl.  We got this.  You’re…”  He trailed off, she had stopped breathing.  Carefully, he laid her head back onto the concrete, using his fingers to close her staring, glassy eyes.  “This is so fucked up.”

                    Felix nodded.  “We need to move, though.  The map says we have to cross this room…er…town?”  He looked ready to crumple the tablet, but instead re-stowed it back in his pocket.  “Wesker told us the base was big, but it would have been nice to have a little perspective.  And fuck this coat.”  He placed his gun on the ground, ignoring the screaming, running civilians and shucked the heavy fur coat.  “That’s better.”

                    Alec followed suit, re-arming himself as quickly as he could.  “That voice earlier, it said ‘Suburbia Sequence’ right?”  Felix nodded.  “That’s really not good.”

                    He almost missed it amid the screams, but there was a gurgling noise, close by.  Alec looked back to where Not-Cindy had been, only to see the woman had dragged herself towards them, gurgling, snarling.  Infected.

                    Felix summed up his thoughts perfectly: “Oh shit.”

 

                                                                                                    ***

 

                    Max was terrified.

                    Original Cindy was now laid out on the couch, her usually dark skin pale and green.  The vomit-bucket that Max had placed beside her was halfway full, again, and the color was alarmingly red.  Cindy was sick, really sick, and with all the chaos outside, there was no one to come help her.  Max was helpless.

                    Now that’s bullshit.

                    The thought rose unbidden in her mind, along with a sense of direction.  She moved from her perch on the kitchen counter, starting to dig through the drawers.  Knives, good.  The longer the better.  If there were more people like Ms. Chan out there, she’d need something to defend herself, and she’d rather not get close, especially if they were sick, like the man who bit Cindy.  Ideally, she wanted something with more length, but there wasn’t anything like that in the kitchen…

                    Max gasped as she remembered the baseball bat Cindy had tucked under her bed, just in case.  She blurred through the hall, unaware of her speed, and grabbed the aluminum rod before rushing back to the kitchen.  Duct tape was in the utility drawer, and she looped it around the top of the bat to help keep it from caving in after too much use.  She dumped her messenger bag—which had been flopping about her person since she had gotten Cindy inside—next to the stove and dug out the essentials: cellphone (no service), pepper spray (one could never be too careful) and her key chain.  It was from an ex-boyfriend, and was apparently one of those devices used to deter muggers, she wouldn’t turn it down.   Then she stuffed them into a smaller, closer fitting bag and slipped two of their kitchen knives into her belt and another into her boot.

                    Feeling a bit more prepared, she stepped back into the living room.  “Cindy, you hang on, I’m going to see if I can get help.”  There was no response.  Dread sank into Max’s stomach.  “Cindy?”  Still nothing.  “OC, come on.” There was a groan.  Max rushed forward, grasping Cindy’s surprisingly cold hand.  “Hey, did you hear me?  I’m going to try to go for help.”  Cindy opened her eyes—they were bloodshot and foggy.  Max gasped, dropping her friend’s hand, but the hand didn’t drop hers.  Fingers curled into claws and Cindy snarled, pulling Max closer to her.  Her mouth was bloody, her breath like death.

                    Another flash of instinct hit, and Max recoiled, breaking the hold on her wrist and several of Cindy’s fingers.  The latter didn’t even notice, reaching with her other arm while struggling to stand up.  She knocked over the bucket, spilling bloody vomit across the floor.  Max slid in it as she backed away, unwilling to hurt her friend but part of her realizing there was looking to be no other option.  She backed her way to the front door, intending to close it—and Cindy—to eliminate the task.  But the door opened without her hand, and Max turned just in time to see people in white biohazard suits and mirrored face masks reaching out, grabbing her—

                    She struggled, but one of them got a syringe up and jammed it into the side of her neck.  Her strength left her, and she slumped.  Her eyelids were heavy…so heavy.  The last thing she saw was Cindy’s head snapping back as a bullet pierced her forehead, and then it was black.

 

                                                                                                    ***

 

                    Their ammo was running low.  Alec mentally cursed everything about Umbrella as he shoved the butt of his gun through a Walmart window.  Felix laid down cover fire as he dodged inside the deserted store, coming up to the hunting section and bashing open displays for ammunition.  Careful not to leave Felix alone too long, he swept the majority of it into a duffle, along with two rifles—it was likely most of the ammo was meant for the guns sold in store.  He was out again in half a minute, tossing Felix a freshly loaded gun and grabbing his own tablet from his pocket.  “We keep going this way, we’re going to end up in the Tokyo Scenario, and that’s where they’re housing Alice.  We need to get towards Berlin for Max and Keegan.”

                    Felix groaned.  “Of course, the wrong way.  I think they screwed up the sun’s programing.”  He looked ready to say more when the ground trembled.  It was just a tiny tremor, but it caught both of their attention.  And then another, larger tremor.  And another.  Something was coming this way, and fast.

                    Another tremor came, and Felix backed up to Alec, both of them circling, trying to keep eyes on all directions.  The tremors were hard to pinpoint, directionally.  But the loud metal on asphalt scraping was easier.  They both spun, Felix to the left, Alec to his right, coming up facing an alley way between rows of McMansions.  Standing there was something hulking, hooded, and a good ten feet tall.  In one large hand, it grasped the grip of a makeshift axe—as long as Alec was tall—that curved and spiked with a wicked hook.  The hammer side was more meat tenderizer than hammer, with six inch spikes erupting from the flat surface.  At its belt, there were whaling hooks, one of which was ‘holstered’ through the thing’s skin.  Railroad spikes were pinning its cloth hood—like something an executioner would wear—to its head, the burlap stained with black blood.   It roared, dropping its axe on a zombie next to it, slicing it clean through from scalp to groin.

                    Felix winced.  “Obviously, the heads of Umbrella played Silent Hill.”  He said, rummaging through the bag Alec had grabbed.

                    “And that’s useful how?”  Alec demanded, firing at the gigantic thing, which still hadn’t slowed its progress towards them.

                    With a grin, Felix produced a fully loaded shotgun.  “I know you’re just pissing it off.”

                    Indeed he was, because with another roar, the axeman broke into a run, swinging the huge axe from side to side.  Alec winced as a car was chucked across the street from the momentum, a large slice through its door.  The thing was fast, too, it was on them before he was ready, and Alec only barely managed to dodge a swipe that would have separated his hips from his torso.  “This a Plagas mutation?”

                    “Yep.”  Felix looked almost giddy with excitement as he leapt straight at the hulking thing, firing both barrels of the shotgun right into its burlap-covered face.  It staggered backwards, dropping its axe.  Felix turned towards his brother, starting to give him a thumbs up when it lurched back to its feet, grasping the axe handle and throwing.

                    They flattened to the ground, the wind of the axe’s passing ruffling their hair.  Felix jumped up, pumping the shotgun even as the axeman came thundering towards them again.  Ten feet.  Five feet.

                    Boom.  Felix pulled the trigger on the shotgun, and the axeman fell  backwards, its face and burlap mask blown away.  Alec grabbed his arm, tugging him towards the direction they were supposed to be heading in.  “We need to move.  I’m willing to bet that’s not the only one the Red Queen has ready for us.”

                    “Probably not the nastiest either.”  Felix added.  “Ok, boss.  Lead the way.  I’ll shoot.”

 

                                                                                                    ***

 

            The rain was falling loudly this evening, and Max curled into her pillow, trying to block out the pounding of the water on the roof.  “Warum kannst du nicht leiser regnen?” She muttered, pulling the covers higher over her head.

                    She was so tired lately, probably from working too much.  Well, she’d head over to the discotheque after she took a well needed nap.  With that plan in mind, Max rolled over, and started to fall back asleep.

                    A loud bang—her door being kicked open—woke her and she screamed, pulling the covers around her as she leapt from the bed, going for the knife she kept under her mattress—Berlin was a bad place, sometimes.  To her shock, two men dressed like black operatives were in the door, the taller, darker one sweeping the room and the light-haired one heading forward, talking in a hurried and panicked manner.  Neither of them seemed to want to hurt her, so she spoke: “Ich spreche kein englisch.”  The blonde man paused, and looked at her more closely.  Maybe he didn’t understand Deutsch.  “Kein englisch.”  She said, again.

                    “Sind sie Max?”  he asked.  She nodded.  “Sind Sie vier-fünf-zwei?”

                    Vier-fünf-zwei?  Max was confused.  It sounded familiar, maybe it was even her secret government file.  Oh, that would be bad.  “Ich bin keine Scheiß- Nummer.”  She snapped.

                    Now both men were staring at her.  But something was stirring, they looked so familiar…

                    The black haired one yelled something in Englisch and the blonde nodded.  He gestured to her closet, “Zieh Dich an. Wir müssen abhauen.”

                    She trusted him; she didn’t know why, but she did.  She moved to comply, only asking, “Wer sind Sie?”

                    The blonde looked stricken.  She could have sworn she had seen that look on that very same face before.  And his eyes, they glowed such a bright green, like fire.  “Alec.”  He said, finally.  “Ich heiße Alec. Wir sind hier, um Dich zu retten.”

Nine

                 It was quiet.  It usually was.  Ever since she had come to Umbrella, things had quieted in her normally raging mind.  Everything was perfectly clear, her direction set.  It was something she hadn’t experienced before, not even at Manticore.

                    A light blinked behind her closed eyes.  X5-105—formerly known as Keegan—activated, blinking twice before inhaling; the need to breathe was only tethered to her need to move.  The heads-up display—HUD—was flickering in front of her vision.  The Red Queen had instructions.  The scarab on her chest tightened, and she could feel the slight burn of the P-30 serum as it was pumped into the tissue surrounding her heart.

                                    [Experiment escape: 452.  Re-capture. Terminate if necessary. Target priority Alpha.]

                    She stood, only having laid down for deactivation and rejuvenation.  To her left was a dressing station, where her battle suit hung at the ready.  She slipped into it quickly, easily maneuvering the fabric over the ports that had been linked to her spine, attaching her equipment with precision.  452 would not be able to escape on her own, there must be outside interference.

                    She turned to leave, just barely catching her reflection on the computer monitor to her left.  For a second, her image was obscured by the data stream, but it flickered, and she could see herself.  Her heart skipped a beat; the reflection staring back at her was foreign, not one she was expecting.  The hair had lightened to a blonde, and was pulled back in a high ponytail, not her usual braid. Her skin was pale, nearly translucent.  The scarab glowed bright on her chest, casting it’s red glow over her features and making her look bloody, diseased.

                    Dead.

                    And then the HUD was back, her vision returning to the pixelated blur that allowed for commands, schematics and personnel files to be viewed.  There was an empty feeling, something that sometimes nagged at her mind.  But she pushed it aside.  She had orders.  A small smile touched her lips.  And it wasn’t like she didn’t give Project 452 fair warning…

 

                                                                                                    ***

 

                    “Felix, I need to talk to you.”  Alec said, gently guiding Max (at least, he thought she was Max) into an alley close to the apartment they had evacuated her from.  She shot something at him in German, but he waved her off, which she seemed to understand.

                    His brother moved closer, still keeping his gaze on the street outside, watching for the infected.  “If this is about Keegan…”  He warned, his voice cold.

                    Alec ignored it.  “Leon told me something, about Jill.”  It wasn’t entirely true, but he knew that Felix distrusted mission and personnel files as if they had personally offended him.  “The drug they pumped into her, it didn’t really…change her.  It made her compliant and easily controlled, but it was still her.”

                    Felix scoffed.  “Yeah, sure.  It also messed with her physically, fucking with her hair and shit.  Made her super strong.  I read the file too, dumbass.”

                    “My point,”  Alec continued, “Is that Keegan was already showing some physical changes.  Her hair was black last time I saw it, not…”

                    Finally, Felix looked at him.  “Yeah.  I haven’t seen that light of a color on her since she had to go undercover for Manticore.”  He sighed, resuming his lookout.  “If you’re trying to tell me I’m going to have to hurt my mate, I already considered that.”  He took a moment, as if swallowing a lump that had formed in his throat.  “I only hope she’ll forgive me when we get her back in her own mind.”

                    For a long moment, Alec stood, unable to think of a single thing to say.  And then, almost tentatively, Max stepped up.  With a glance to Alec, she reached out, gently placing a hand on Felix’s shoulder.  “Machen Sie sich keine Sorgen.”

                    Felix looked at her, emotions flickering across his face.  And then he smiled.  “Danke.”  Max smiled back, looking more confident than she had before.  But Felix suddenly looked very worried.  “Runter!”  Both Max and Alec flattened, and Felix unleashed a spray of bullets into the alley behind them.   Alec leapt up, training his weapon on the nearest zombie.  They had come up quietly, startlingly quiet.  He fired.  The zombie dodged.

                    For a moment, Alec was at a loss: zombies didn’t dodge.  But the thing raised its arm, and in it was clenched a knife.  “They’re using weapons!”  he yelled, dodging the blade and shooting the thing point blank in its face.

                    “That’s not a regular t-zombie.”  Felix called back, struggling with another of the strangely smart undead.

                    At that, Alec felt a tug on his belt.  He looked down to see Max grasping at one of his spare holsters.

                    “Gib mir eine Waffe.” She demanded.  On the best days, Alec was reluctant to trust Max’s aim, and an obviously imprinted Max was even lower on his list.  But there was a fierceness in her eyes, and he reluctantly unclipped the pistol from his leg.  She took it, smiling, “Danke.”  She proved it was the right choice in the very next second, firing a head shot into a zombie that had come up on Alec while he was debating.  With a cocky smirk, as if to say, “See?”  Max turned her attention to the oncoming horde.

                    Alec smiled to himself, dropping a clip into her hoodie pocket as he reloaded his own weapon.  Maybe Umbrella imprinted some upgrades.  “Felix!”  He yelled over the gunfire, “Does the imprint rewrite everything a person has?”

                    Felix took a minute to answer, probably because he was also attempting to reload and shoot at the same time.  “Well, probably not, but I wouldn’t know!”  He dropped his pistol, punching the nearest zombie as he grabbed for another in his overstocked gear belt.  “If it’s used on the clones, it’s probably not long term!  Just enough to get the right reaction so Umbrella can study them!”

                    Well then, maybe this would be crazy enough to work.  He waited for a lull in the horde, and then he grabbed Max.  She looked up at him, startled from her ‘zone’.  “Entschuldigung, Aber Du wirst es mir danken, wenn alles klappt.”  He said, before kissing her.  It wasn’t a normal kiss, he tried to shove every emotion, every feeling, everything he knew of Maxie into it, even adding a psionic push.  Her response was to go from passive to slack to passionate, pulling him closer and devouring his lips with hers.

                    He could have stayed that way forever, locked in her embrace, but she shoved him back, shooting him the barest of smiles before retargeting the zombies behind them.  “Oh, I’ve missed your lips, Alec.”  She said, aiming and firing as if it was second nature.

                    Alec couldn’t help the grin that spread across his face, despite the fact he was currently fending off a zombie with one arm.  “Oh, Maxie.  It’s good to have you—“

                    “Not now!” Felix yelled, grabbing both of them by the shoulders and shoving them behind him.  He then grabbed something off his belt, yanked the pin from it with his teeth, and threw it into the center of the swarm.  The grenade exploded, but nothing hit them, and as Felix slumped to the ground, Alec realized why.

                    “You asshole!”  He scrambled towards his brother, checking him over, and finding only his nose bleeding.  “You don’t practice your shitty psionics and then you try this?  I cannot carry your ass out of here.”

                    His brother was already attempting to stand, looking dizzy and nauseous.  “You make that look easy.”

                    “Yeah, yeah.” Alec grabbed him by his belt, yanking him to his feet.  “But at least now we have another gun.”

                    Max was still firing into the crowd, keeping them at bay.  “Please, you both might be all Umbrella enhanced, but I’d still kick your ass.”

                    Alec realized he was grinning like an idiot only when he caught Felix glaring at him.  “Oh shut up.”

 

                                                                                                    ***

 

                                    [Intruders detected.  Targeted for termination.  Intruders entering Hong Kong test environment.  Initiali-i-i-i-i-i-izzzzzzzz…….]

 

                                                                                                    ***

 

                    “…And that’s why there are only fifty or so scents.”

                    Alec blinked, moving forward but not really comprehending what Felix was saying.  “Um…huh?”

                    “That’s seconded.”  Max said, nervously scanning side to side though the street seemed deserted.  “I don’t think I got any of that.  And what about Alice?”

                    Felix sighed.  “I knew they were cloning people back when I was at Arklay.  Half of my personnel were cloned, and they all had the same basic memories.  There was something like forty-five or fifty base models, though I’m sure they cloned the fuck outta Alice after she showed signs of bonding with the virus.  Logically speaking, we should also be running into clones of any survivors Umbrella caught with Arcadia; I mean we did see…”  He trailed off, as if realizing who he was speaking too.  “Anyway, I know I saw One and Carlos when we were shooting our way through Suburbia.  I liked those guys, but you can bet they won’t have any idea who I am if we run into them.  And odds are they’re part of that security force as well as the simulations.”  He paused, grabbing a cigarette from his pocket and started to light it when the sky went black.  More accurately, the stars— projected on the ceiling—went out.  And then the buildings went dark.  All around them, there was the distinct sound of a computer powering down.

                    Alec glanced at his watch as the light dimmed—“Wesker’s late.”

                    “But that mean’s we’ve got exactly two hours to find Keegan and make it to the rendezvous.” Felix said, his lighter making his face visible in the blackness.

                    “Security system disabled. Central computer reboot in thirty seconds.

                    “What happens if we don’t get out in two hours?”  Max asked, stowing all of her other countless questions and trying to focus on surviving.

                    The darker clone grinned, the cigarette also making his face glow.  “I hope you can hold your breath.  We’re off the coast of Russia, baby.”

                    “Ten. Nine. Eight.

                    “We better get moving.”  Alec said, and as the computer hit ‘zero’, all the lights started to flicker back on. Including a red glow that wasn’t there before.  As the light came up, the glow revealed a figure.  Pale, light blonde hair that hit her waist despite the high pony tail, small frame, a sliver and red glowing scarab on her chest.

                    “Central computer rebooting.

                    In front of them stood Keegan, her irises transformed to red and white octagons (Umbrella).  The scarab on her chest pulsed, and she gasped, as if she hadn’t been breathing.  But then her strange eyes focused on them,  “Confirmation of target.  Intruders identified.  Starting engagement.”  The security team behind her raised their weapons.  And then, as if speaking just to Max, Security Officer 105 said, “I warned you that you wouldn’t like our other methods.” And she smiled. “Boys, you’re in for the fight of your life.”

 

                                                                                                    ***

                    

                                        [-i-i-i-i-i-initialize Hong Kong sequence. Activate Las Plagas undead.  Activate all biohazards. Target all for termination if surrender is not achieved.]

 

                                                                                                    ***

 

                    “Stand by.  Stand by.

                    The woman standing before them was not Keegan.  Of that, at least, Max was sure.  The woman before her was pale and blonde and stood baring all skin on her neck and forearms proudly.  Keegan had been tan and raven-haired, and self-conscious of the scars she received during her tour-of-duty in Raccoon City.  But she looked like Keegan, she sounded like Keegan.

                    It stirred a memory of someone else, someone who had looked like someone they couldn’t be.

                    “Hong Kong sequence initialized.

                    “Security team, move!”  The thing with Keegan’s voice yelled, and the black clothed soldiers behind her broke formation, guns unwavering and taking aim.  “You have two options, come with us, or face them.”

                    Max didn’t know what she was talking about, but it didn’t sound like she was talking about the humans (clones?) behind her.  “I think we’ll take our chances.”  She said, raising her gun but unable to bring herself to aim it at the woman who looked so much like her unit mate from Raccoon City.

                    Felix made a noise, but it didn’t seem to deter the Not-Keegan.  “I always knew you liked to do things the hard way.” She said, smiling that same, wicked smile.

                    “Yeah, well, what can I say?  Easy’s no fun.”  She couldn’t be sure why, but she knew that the brainwashed Keegan—if it was really Keegan—had orders for her, and her alone.  Alec and Felix were periphery, because—if everything was true and this artificial intelligence was running things—it couldn’t factor in emotion or devotion.  They would be eliminated if they were in the way.  A plan formed in Max’s mind, one she knew Alec would never approve of.  “How about this?”  She said, lowering her gun, “We all come with you, and I cooperate if you let them go.”  She ignored the incredulous faces of both males, and kept her attention on Not-Keegan.

                    However, her attention should have been behind her, because that’s where the hologram of the little girl manifested.  “Your terms are not acceptable, but I am not above negotiation.”  The Red Queen said, and as she spoke, the entire security team seemed to slump where they stood, Not-Keegan included.  “Your blood is key to controlling the infection.  And I am…curious to know how Projects 494 and 496 have managed to evolve so quickly. Their abilities have grown at a geometric rate.

                    Max hadn’t noticed any particular evolutions in either males, but she also hadn’t noticed Keegan’s appearance when last she saw her.  She wasn’t operating on all thrusters, but she knew she had to keep going, and that what she noticed was enough to save her life.  So she ignored the comment, countering, “No.  You get me.  You can do whatever you want to me, but they go.”

                    “Of fucking course.”  She heard Felix mutter, and shot him a glare.  Alec was just staring at her, as if unable to comprehend what he was hearing.

                    The Red Queen seemed to take a moment.  “Unacceptable.  The logical assumption is that the traitor Albert Wesker managed to infuse their systems with something.  Other relevant details will be discovered upon autopsy.”  Her image flickered and then vanished.  “Security Chief 105, fall back to Control.  Las Plagas undead activated.

                    Max spun, turning in time to see (Not)Keegan and the security force disappearing through a door that was disguised as a garage.  Alec and Felix were already reloading their weapons, Felix looking murderous and Alec’s expression unreadable.  There was a flicker of light, and Max gasped.

                    The Red Queen hologram had re-appeared.  It waited until all three of them had taken notice before calmly stating, “You’re all going to die down here.”

 

 

 

 

Ten

                Alec was not happy.  No, this was possibly the feeling farthest from.  Even as he motioned Felix into movement, he shot a glare at Max.  “You’re lucky we need to move.”

                    Max returned the glare.  “You’re lucky she didn’t take the deal.”

                    He was about to retort when Felix cleared his throat, loudly.  “Not the time, not the place.” He took a look around the vacant, empty streets of the Hong Kong Scenario.  “Yeah, this is place is not defensible.   And I highly doubt the Red Queen would have announced what she was sending if it wasn’t all ready en route.”  His expression was hard to read, set in a way that didn’t sit well with Alec.

                    But it was Max who responded, “Should we get high ground or find someplace with thick walls?”

                    “I’d say high ground.”  Alec said, sighing.  “Lucky we’ve got all these glass high rises, right?”  He started to shake his head when a steady thump-thump, thump-thump hit his ears.  He could tell Felix and Max heard it, because they both tensed, raising their weapons.  The noise bothered him, it was so familiar.

                    “Why am I getting flashbacks to Manticore right about now?”  Max said, her voice uneasy.

                    Felix snorted.  “Because that’s the basic march speed for troops.”  And then his words seemed to register in his own brain.  “Oh.”

                    “Great, zombie soldiers.”  Max grumbled, looking to Alec.  “Where should we move to?”

                    Alec was about to shout an order when Felix let out a slightly startled cry.  “What?!” He demanded, spinning away from the sound of marching.

                    Felix didn’t tear his gaze from the top of the nearest sky scraper.  “I don’t think the high ground is defensible either, boss.”

                    Alec reluctantly turned his attention to the top of the scraper, a good hundred feet off the ground.  “Fuck.”                    There was a licker on the top of that building, but it was not a normal licker.  This thing easily blocked four or five windows, and when it roared, two tongues shot towards the transgenics below.  It was larger than a hummer. Max made a noise that was somewhere between horror and disbelief.  And now the marching boot-steps were closer.  Alec could see movement beyond his clear sight lines.

                    But Felix summed it up best, “You know?  I think we should’ve taken our chances with Keegan.”

 

                                                                                                    ***

 

                    Control was white, sterile and cold.  X5-105 never spared it any thought, but now it seemed a little oppressive.  She repressed a shudder as she marched towards the center display, aware that Security Chief Valentine was no longer at her station.  Something must have happened beyond the rescue of Project 452.

                    The largest screen in the room was currently projecting a double image—the map of the compound, and the representation of the Red Queen itself.  “You will be dispatched again once they reach the Moscow Sequence.

                    105 nodded, still troubled by the feeling of the room.  “Query.”

                    “Accepted.

                    “The team accompanying Project 452—former experiments?”  It had possibly been this that was bothering her.  There had been something familiar about them, something that wasn’t registering in the data banks of Umbrella.

                    The Red Queen smiled.  “Failed experiments.  Termination is expected for Projects 494 and 496.

                    Again, something that nagged in her brain.  And she felt her expression change.

                    The Red Queen apparently detected this, and the scarab on 105’s chest glowed brightly, the legs digging in a little deeper.

                    It’s going to tear through my heart if it keeps this up.  Shot through her head, followed by the even more disturbing, Would it matter? Would I even die? Before everything went red, then black, then crystal clear.  “Their elimination will be Priority Beta.”

                    “Excellent.  Move out, and take models One, Rain and Carlos with you.”  The three in her personal security team broke from the others, immediately flanking their Security Chief.

                    X5-105 nodded, and wordlessly commanded them to move out.  How silly it had been to think that those specific experiments familiar, when she had countless clones of her own security force to confuse them with?  The determined thinking, though, wasn’t quite taking, and 105’s expression once again shifted without authorization—if she could have seen it, she possibly wouldn’t even have recognized it as disgust.

 

***

 

                    “Why do all these test environments have to be at night?” Max muttered, peeking out from behind the makeshift blockade that Felix and Alec had forced her behind.

                    Alec bit his lip.  “They’re not all at night.”  He couldn’t bring himself to say any more than that, not recount the horror as the computer had tested each method of infection in each environment.  He couldn’t bring himself to say that they had been using clones of people they knew—Original Cindy’s clone dying in his arms was not a memory he liked.  His expression must have shown it, because Max was now staring at him. “But, usually it’s night.  That’s when the monsters come out.”

                    “We need to figure out a way past these assholes.”  Felix interjected.  “I doubt we have enough ammunition to shoot it out, and this is not the scenario we’ve been playing with for…wait.”  Both Max and Alec swiveled a bit to look at him.  “Psychotic killers with an immunity to pain that aren’t the brightest crayons in the box.  Didn’t you guys take out some cult like that?”

                    “They got the better of us more than once.”  Alec said, frowning.  “I mean, we’re even better now, so we’d wipe the floor with them easy.  But those things…”

                    Felix nodded.  “Las Plagas.  A bit stronger than we were then.  And now a lot smarter.  Plus, they have that licker…”

                    Even as they watched, the huge beast launched its tongues towards the Plagas below, snapping up two and dragging them up to the high rise it was clinging to.  They made noises as it chewed on them, bits of their rotting flesh dropping to the ground like sick water balloons.

                    They were stuck.  Really and truly stuck.

                    Which was why the explosion of chainsaw engines and gunfire from the far side of the ‘city’ they had made to look like Hong Kong.  The Plagas turned, as if following some unseen and unheard command.  The thump-thump, thump-thump of their uniform march started to fade, and with it, the noises of nails on glass—the gigantic licker was following it’s walking snacks.

                    “Go.” Alec hissed, and they moved.  They were only yards from the perimeter when the first gunshot rang out—Alec saw Felix drop and roll, even as a second shot ricocheted, missing his brother’s head by an inch.  It gave him a sight line for the sniper, but he still didn’t have a clear shot.

                    But Felix did.  Even as Alec contemplated his next move, Felix was rolling himself on the ground, and—snarling—fired a blast of automatic fire towards the lowest roof.  There was a grunt and a pause, followed by a loud and kind of squishy thump.  Felix stood, shakily, and checked his left shoulder.  “That would have been a throat shot if I hadn’t caught the muzzle flash.”  He gave an experimental shrug.  “Stings.  Mostly because Rain’s a punk ass, but she was awesome company.”  When neither Max or Alec did more than shrug, Felix sighed.  “I told you, they cloned the fuck outta people.  That’s one of the basic security teams they have assembled.  And her name is always Rain, and she’s always a punk when they imprint her for security.”

                    Max said, “So where’s the rest of the team?”

                    “En route.”  Alec said, now scanning the empty street.  “Now, we just need to clear the last few yards, and we’ll be at the edge of the Moscow sequence.  It should be a quick trip from there to the submarine pens—the other team was coming in on the far side.”

                    “Should be.”  Felix muttered, shaking his head.

                    “Something’s been bugging me.”  Max said, even as they started jogging towards the edge of the ‘city’.  When no one said anything, she continued.  “How long have I been in here?”

                    “Maybe a week.”  Alec responded, now worried.  “They imprinted you with someone’s memories, that’s how we found you in the Berlin sequence.”

                    They had just crossed through the holographic barrier when Max said, “And how long since Raccoon City?”

                    Felix muttered something under his breath, but Alec was too alarmed to hear it.  “A little over six years.”  His heart was pounding in his ears.  “Max, are you telling me you don’t remember anything?  Nothing since you got out of Raccoon City?”  She shrugged a little.  “Oh…well, um…you’re…I…we…”

                    “Not the time.”  Felix snapped, pointing directly in front of them.  “Keegan’s back.”

                    She and her security team—only two people now—had been waiting for them just inside the sequence.  And now that she had seen she had their attention, she smiled.  “Never left. ”  She turned a little, one eye still on them, even though no one had drawn weapons.  “The other intruders are being dealt with.  I suggest you surrender so your executions will be quick.”

                    Alec glanced down at his watch.  “I’d suggest you get out of our way, or we’re all going to be swimming.”

                    The statement sparked a flash of shock and recognition from Keegan, and Alec undid the wrist band, saying, “See?”  and tossed it to her.  Even as she reflectively caught it, her team brought up weapons, but Felix was already firing, and Alec had his tactical knife against Keegan’s throat.  Max was still standing where they had entered, apparently surprised there had been movement at all.  And Alec couldn’t help but smile when Keegan’s eyes had flicked to the digital read out.  “Ok, so, it didn’t take ten minutes to subdue you…but—“

                    Keegan whipped her head back, smashing her skull into Alec’s adam’s apple—the highest she could reach on him—and gripped his wrists with her hands.  Her smaller frame was pulling his arms apart despite his best effort, and he felt alarm even as he coughed and struggled.

                    She whirled on him, his arms now twisted uncomfortably and launched a kick into his sternum that not only broke her hold on him, but cracked several ribs.  But then Felix was there, and he made a grab for her, but she flipped him as she sidestepped.  “One, secure the prisoner.”

                    Alec sputtered and tried to stand, but he couldn’t regain any breath.  Max hadn’t moved.  Max hadn’t moved.  And now she was at gunpoint from a tall and sturdy looking man.  Felix was struggling to get to his feet as well—Keegan was still holding the arm she used to flip him.  Noticing his movement, she stomped, and Felix cried out as his forearm snapped.  “There is a reason the Red Queen terminated your projects.  You are inferior.”

                    Max still stood there, seemingly unaware of the gun pressed to her temple.  Her eyes were blank, it was as if she was thinking.

                    No, not thinking, remembering.

                    Felix was still struggling, and Alec winced when Keegan drilled her elbow into his collar bone.   Alec took a chance.  “X5-105R! This is insubordination!” The command was weakened by his wheezing, but something flickered.  Good, now her focus was on him.  He wasn’t even sure if Felix realized he had been released, but Keegan had taken a tentative step back.   “You’re looking at time in the Hole, if not reindoctrination.”  He continued, the drill sergeant voice coming on stronger.  “That’s a member of your Unit!”

                    And, all of a sudden, it was Keegan staring back at them, her eyes wide with realization, her face slack with shock.  “Alec?”  Her eyes focused on the figure in front of her, “Felix?!” And she spazmed, grasping at her chest as the scarab on it tightened, tiny rivulets of blood now running from its many legs. “No…”  It was barely more than a gasp, but it caught the attention of her lone surviving subordinate—One—who lowered his gun, ever so.

                    Max exploded into action, deftly relieving the man of said weapon, and delivering a pistol whip that left him unconscious on the ground.  Keegan was still struggling with the scarab on her chest, seemingly both attempting to pull it off and soothe it.  Alec was on his feet, and Max was already at Felix’s side.  Between the two of them, they managed him off the ground.  It was through sheer will power that they got him moving before Keegan fell back under control of the Red Queen.

 

***

 

                    They hit the corridor for the submarine pens, and immediately stopped.  Alec couldn’t catch his breath again, and Felix looked dizzy from pain.  Max was the one who started to check them both over, frowning deeply.

                    “I remember.”  She said, finally.  “Not everything, but enough.  Is…is he safe?”  she asked, and Alec didn’t need any more to realize who she was speaking about.

                    “I don’t know.”  He admitted.  “We came here via  Washington D.C..  We honestly thought your caravan went to L.A..”

                    Felix gave a low groan.  “I’d shut up about that right now.  Who knows how many ears the Red Queen has.” He struggled back to his feet, wincing.  “Keegan was never that strong.  She could have torn me in half—would have if you hadn’t triggered something in her.”  He managed to make it sound like he was sulking.

                    Alec had a retort ready—you don’t just forget military training after twenty-odd years—when the unmistakable sounds of a firefight broke out.  And it was coming from the direction of the rendezvous.  He looked to Felix, who gestured to his left arm, now useless after being shot and broken.  “We can’t rescue her, and I have no idea where Ada is.  We have to assume they are casualties.”  He ignored Felix’s glare and took in the room.  “If they’re back into a corner holding the egress, we should find another route.”

                    “I assume there are submarines in the submarine pen.”  Felix snapped.  “Wanna try manning one with three inexperienced people?”

                    “It’s better than drowning!” Max yelled.  “What else can we do?”

                    “We go back!”  Felix yelled back.  “We go back and…do something!”

                    The gunfire was now peppered with people yelling commands.  Alec had enough.  “We’re moving to the submarines.  No argument and I will knock you out if I have to.” He added in response to Felix’s mutinous expression.  But his older brother kept his mouth shut, and Alec guided them down the side hall that would take them—presumably—to the subs.

                    He could hear Felix grumbling to himself the entire way, and Max was oddly quiet, clutching her weapon as if it was a teddy bear to her chest.  But seeing the full stock of submarines in the pen, his mood lightened a bit.  “Hey, guys!”

                    “That sentence better end in ‘we surrender’, or there’s going to be some issues.”  Keegan was standing in front of the nearest submarine, holding what looked like a bo staff, and behind her was a brand new security team, all ten with guns trained on the three transgenics.  Her chest was bleeding heavily now, but she seemed not to notice.

                    Alec’s eye caught the countdown on his watch, and, thinking quickly, he dropped his weapon.  “We surrender.”

                    “What?!” Max screamed, but Alec shook his head.

                    “We surrender.”  He repeated, gesturing for the others to put their hands up, as he was.  “We surrender to the Red Queen and submit for test—“

                    The rest of his sentence was drowned out by a ringing explosion.  And then another, and another.  And, finally, a wet, rushing sound.  Keegan’s eyes went blank, and then the red faded from her irises.  “Onto the sub! Move!”  She dodged forward, Alec thought to grab at Max, but to his surprise (and a little bit of delight), she grabbed Felix, ignoring his protest and swinging him over her shoulders in a fireman’s carry that barely kept his feet from the ground.  “Get the prisoners!”  The rest of her team swarmed forward, and Alec grabbed Max’s hand, squeezing it as they were pushed and prodded into the sub.  Alec had just cleared the hatch when the first wave of water hit, and swept the last security team member against the sub, crushing him.  He barely secured the seal when another wave knocked into the sub, rocking it sideways.

                    They hadn’t even secured them as prisoners in their haste.  Keegan was standing at the bridge with Felix carelessly tossed into a support seat, and was staring at the command board in front of her.  But she wasn’t doing anything.  “Can she even—“

                    “Shhh.”  Felix groaned, eyes on the few surviving security team, which was surrounding Max.  “I think she’s talking to the onboard computer system.”  He got his confirmation when the sub’s engines started up, and the docking mechanism released, all while Keegan had not moved.  “So…was this a tactical surrender?”

                    Alec rolled his eyes.  “Shut up.  We’re out right?”

                    “Not really.”  He sounded suddenly more afraid.  “Alec, don’t let Max see the computer screens.”

                    “Why?”  Alec glanced back, just to make sure Max’s vision was obscured by the knot of people in black body armor.  Felix pointed, and Alec’s heart skipped a beat.

                    There was real time footage being broadcast on side screens.  Two showed the compound being flooded and destroyed with clones and zombies alike being sucked into the arctic waters around them.  Another showed CCTV footage of the White House, the base for the human resistance.  The last flickered between two tactical teams, both moving through the desert.  They were coming up on a caravan, an unaware, completely at ease caravan.  Max’s caravan.     Alec slumped into the support seat next to Felix, completely ignored by the cloned security personnel.

                    The Red Queen was going after his son.

Eleven

                Alec wasn’t aware how long they were in the submarine.  Keegan stood motionless, like a statue, guiding it to wherever they were being taken.  Felix had fallen into unconsciousness following a series of morphine injections that Alec had procured from the first aid station on board.  He had also gotten the security personnel to move Max to one of the bunks, where he had insisted she lay down, and try to remember more.  He had left her with some food and water, but he hated the fact there was betrayal in her eyes when he left the security team outside her door.

                    To be honest, they were extremely useful at the moment, and if they weren’t questioning his orders, he wasn’t going to give them a reason to.  They were unarmed and out manned seven to three, in extremely tight and unusual circumstances.  Even if Alec could take control over the sub, he had no idea how to pilot it; the controls required someone with a scarab to interface.  They were going to have to wait it out.

                    More time passed, and Alec heard Max screaming from the bunks.  He ignored it, trying to access the route they were taking, to guess their destination.  She fell silent extremely quickly, and he tried not to think about that either.  However, when he felt a light hand on his shoulder, he realized he shouldn’t have been worried.  “I don’t know where we’re going yet.”

                    “And I want to know why you’re so intent to keep me out of here.” Max replied, looking hopefully at the screens.  Alec was very glad he had managed to switch them to the internal data stream before she had come in.

                    “We’re stuck fathoms under water, in a submarine we can’t pilot.  I was afraid you’re ‘action’ streak would come out, and you’d fuck with Keegan before she got us above the water.”  It wasn’t completely true, he had been more worried about that flip out coming from the knowledge that her entire caravan…well, it hadn’t been pretty.  But he had another mission, now.  He had to get them safe.

                    They surfaced two hours later.

 

***

 

                    It was a blur.

                    Alec had woken Felix at the first sign of rising, and had checked that Max had secured the other officers.  It was now three on one, albeit one that was extremely super-powered.   But the second they had docked, Keegan had snapped back into reality, and Alec had her handcuffed.

                    She had been complacent, her eyes still shining with the Umbrella Corporation logo, but silent.  They had made it onto the sandy beach before she struck, snapping the handcuffs as if they had been plastic and retrieving that extending bo of hers.  Her first strike had been a baseball swing around the top of her head, striking all three of them before they had realized she was free.  And then it had begun in earnest.

                    Felix—the one most reluctant to fight his mate to begin with—was taken out easily when she broke the back of his shoulder blade, finally crippling his entire left side.  Max had been taken out with a blow that sent her flying as if she had been struck by a car—she hit the dock and slid into the water.  Alec had tried to both fight Keegan and go after Max, but found himself following Max anyway, and when his head connected with the side of the sub, he lost all track of everything.

                    He came to on the sand, water soaking his pants up to his knees though the rest of him was still uncomfortably wet.  Max was beside him, breathing shallowly, but alive.  Felix was sprawled out on a medical stretcher, surrounded by field medics.

                    And standing by, observing all of this, was Albert Wesker.

                    Alec just barely managed to make a noise, when the blackness consumed him again.

 

***

 

                    The screaming was what woke him.

                    It wasn’t terrified screams, but ones of rage, and they had words, which were only coming clear as he regained consciousness: “That’s my son!  How could you let them do this?!”

                    And Alec was wide awake at once, shoving off the thin medical blanket that covered him and darting—albeit dizzily—towards the voices.  Several people in the room looked up and sniggered when he entered, but he ignored them, instead focusing on the three people in the center of the room: Max, screaming, face red, Wesker,  bored, of course,  and Felix, who looked a lot like someone who had been trying to prevent this exact thing from happening.

                    “We had no way of knowing, 452, not when that information wasn’t released to us.”

                    “My name is Max and it wasn’t any of your business!”

                    None of them noticed him, not until he cleared his throat.  “I take it there’s not good news.”

                    Wesker, most frustratingly, snickered a bit.  “Well, it wasn’t dire enough to come running like that.”  And only then did Alec take in the fact he was nude.

                    He waved off the comment, muttering, “Fucking humans and their modesty” before snatching a flak jacket from one of the chair backs in the rooms and tying it around his waist.  “Can we get back to the pressing matters?  Did you get a lock on where the raid took the caravan survivors?”

                    Max gawked at him.  “This is what you saw on the sub?  And you didn’t tell me?”  Her voice was hitting that squeaky pitch that he sort of hated.

                    Alec sighed.  “Could we have done anything?  Now we can.” But Wesker was looking grim again, and Felix was shaking his head.  “What?”

                    “There’s no suggestion of survivors.”  Felix said, handing over a piece of paper with his left—and still healing—arm.  The movement caused him pain, which only briefly flickered across his face.  “I was just talking to Wesker about doing a fly-by.  Checking for ourselves.  They were hit barely two days ago.”

                    “You were all in very rough shape.”  Wesker said when he saw Alec’s shocked expression.  “And we’ve been having a bit of a time here.”  As if to punctuate that, a siren roared to life, and distant gunfire exploded outside.  “By bringing you and the other team here, we alerted the Red Queen to our last defense.  And she’s making the most of it.”

                    Again, Alec ignored the comment.  “Can you spare one helicopter?”

                    Wesker smiled, almost indulgently.  “Can you spare to get dressed?”

                    “We move out in an hour.”

 

***

 

                    “There!” Max yelled, and Felix tilted the helicopter towards the desert below them, just beyond the encampment that sat amongst the dunes.  It was all she could do to stay inside until they were close enough to the ground, and when they were, she dove.  Ignoring Alec’s cries to wait and Felix’s cursing, she used her momentum to roll as she hit the ground, coming up running.

                    The sand slipped through her fingers as she scrambled over the dunes,  wind whipping her hair about her face as the helicopter rotors slowed. And then she saw it. The caravan was smoldering.  There were charred remains to her right, too small to be one of the adults.

                    Max blinked tears from her eyes as she continued her way into camp, ignoring the mutterings from the two who had finally caught up with her.  Her anger with them hadn’t completely abated, but her shock was numbing the rest of it.  There were less bodies than she had expected, maybe five or six she could see but at least one had been a child.  The others, dead or taken?  And what about Al?

                    She ran towards the most intact tent, the one she had shared with Justin.  Inside, at first glance, it was barely touched.  But her boot hit something.

                    Before she could look down, Alec’s hand was on her shoulder, his voice saying, “Max…” in warning.  He held the same hand out towards her as she swayed.

                    Justin.

                    “Max, we need to get out of here.  There’s a mob heading this way and we don’t know if the Red Queen sent anything specific.”

                    Dead.

                    “We need to move, Maxie.”

                    Justin. Dead.

                    “Now.”

                    Justin was dead.

                    And as the thought settled in her mind, Justin twitched.  “Oh god!”  She gasped, kneeling beside him.

                    Alec shifted uncomfortably behind her.  “No, Maxie.  Step away.”

                    Justin blinked, and then his eyes focused on Max.  A smile seemed to touch his lips, and Max burst out, “We’ll get you out of here.  We’ll get help.  Please, hang on, baby.”

                    “Max. Move.”

                    Alec’s voice was a command, and didn’t quite cover the sound of the safety being clicked off his gun.  She turned, ready to scream at Alec for being jealous at a time like this when Justin lunged at her.  “No!” but instinct was coursing through her and she dodged, her fist shooting out and striking him in the throat.  The sound of a gunshot burst in her ears, and amid the ringing, she watched Justin fall back to the floor, this time for good.

                    And she went numb.  Max dumbly adjusted herself so she was sitting instead of kneeling, and watched with a strange detachment as Alec checked over the corpse.

                    Corpse.

                    “Shit.”  Alec balled up a piece of paper that had been tucked into Justin’s shirt pocket, “Max, we need to move.”

                    “Why?”  It was out of her mouth before her mind had caught up.  “Why bother?”

                    The outraged roar shocked her, but it was Alec grabbing her by her shirt collar, dragging her bodily up to eye level that really woke her.  “The Red Queen. Has. Our. Son.”  He snarled, his face and hers nose to nose.  “I know you’ve been through hell and back, but I will not let them keep him.  Not when they send a message like that.”  His free hand gestured towards Justin’s broken remains.  “You will not shut down.  We’re getting him back.”  His eyes glowed, the green fire brighter than she had ever seen it before.  “We’re getting him back, and we’re destroying the Red Queen, all of Umbrella, once and for all.”

 

***

Two Days Before

 

                    Little Alec had known there was big trouble when he sensed people coming their way.  And a lot of people, more than he had known to exist in the world.  He had relayed the information to Justin as per protocol, but the other people had still been ready for any defense they could have planned.

                    It started with a rain of fire—flamethrowers, Justin told him—and it caught a group coming back from scouting for food.  Ginny had been with them, gathering berries from a pricker-bush in an oasis not too far from camp.  They had been using it as their water source for a month now, it was safe,  safe enough for a cub to wander a bit on her own.  But Al had heard Ginny’s scream, at least until the fire had burned her lungs away.  He had watched her skin blacken and peel, and had wet himself, standing there.  And then Justin had grabbed him, dragging him towards his mom’s tent, yelling orders to the other transgenics scrambling.  That’s when the gunfire started, and shots rang out all around them.  Justin had gotten them to cover…

                    …But they weren’t alone.  There was a woman standing there, and she had just dumped a syringe to the side.  Justin had wasted no time in raising his gun, but the bullets did nothing, she let them pulse out of her with her heart beats, and they fell to the ground, the wounds healing before Al’s very eyes.

                    And all she had done was shove Justin.  One hand, a tight, perfect open hand shove to the center of the sternum.  And Justin had staggered, and then his eyes rolled up and he collapsed.  Al heard the bone shatter, heard the last struggling beat his heart had tried to push out around the crushed ribs, but it had failed.

                    And Al was left alone with the scary woman.

                    “It’ll be ok, kid.”  The woman had said, smiling.  She did have a nice smile.  “The name’s Rain.  We’ve come to rescue you.”

                    “Rescue…me?”  Al said.  Now that Justin was not moving, the woman didn’t act like a threat.

                    “Yeah,” Said Rain, kneeling to his level.  “Your mom sent us.  She knew Umbrella was going to attack.  Did he hurt you?”  She glanced towards the heap that was Justin.

                    Al shook his head, now confused.  “He was mom’s friend.”

                    “Jeez.”  Rain looked startled.  “They didn’t tell me that, kiddo.  Your mom just wanted to get you out safe.  Do you think you can come with me, Alec?”

                    She knew his name.  She had hurt Justin, but she didn’t want to hurt him.  Maybe it had been a mistake.  “Are you taking me to my mom?”

                    Again, she gave him a smile.  “She’s going to meet us there.  You ready?”

                    And little Alec nodded, reaching out a hand, which she took, telling him not to look as she guided him out of the carnage that had once been the only home he ever knew.

Twelve

                It was cold in his room, but Little Alec didn’t mind, not really.  The cold was new, unusual, and interesting.  Rarely had his caravan ventured north enough to get more than the night chill that often happens in scrub and desert land.  It wasn’t practical to head towards cold when there was barely enough clothing to go around as it was.

                    But that wasn’t a problem here.  Rain brought him new clothes every morning (at lease, he thought it was morning), and they were warm, if monochromatic.  She also brought him food—as much as he could eat!—and, well, sometimes she brought doctors.  Alec didn’t like the doctors.        They took his blood, they hooked his brain up to machines, they put him in tubes that made loud bangs and whirrs and made him feel like he was going to suffocate.   Rain was usually with him, holding his hand, but that was a small comfort.  Alec really wanted his mom.

                    Rain also took him places, other rooms away from his that had a lot of equipment.  He was allowed to run around, using the ‘play ground’ quite often, and that was the only thing that helped clear his mind.  It was in one of these play sessions that gave him—if he knew what the word was—an epiphany; this place was not right.  His mother was not here.  He needed to get out.

                    However, he was still little, and still weak.  He would take care to eat a lot more, and keep up the playing—he was able to run longer and climb higher every day.  He would get strong enough to get out of here.  He would  find his mom.  And with that thought, Little Alec pulled himself out of the ball he had been curled up in and straightened out to start doing push-ups.

 

***

 

                    “She still has said nothing.”  Alec sighed, answering Felix’s unspoken question.  “She’s just sitting there.”

                    His brother dropped a hand to his shoulder, giving it a squeeze.  “You got her to respond once.  You’ll wake her up.”

                    Alec gave a bitter snort.  “Glad to know that stupid X3 meant so much to her.”

                    Felix rolled his eyes.  “She’s in shock, dumbass.  It wasn’t just him, it’s what it meant.”  He pulled out a slightly sandy cigarette and lit it.  “I don’t think she even registered that your son wasn’t lying there next to the X3.”

                    “Justin.”   Max said softly, still staring out through the barred window at the warzone that was the White House lawn.  The two males spun, surprised that she had spoken.  “His name was Justin.”

                    “Yeah, his name was Justin.”  Alec repeated, now completely focused on Max.

                    “He was protecting my son…”  She caught his eye in the reflection on the glass, “our son.”

                    “That cat’s out of the bag.” Felix muttered, “Still haven’t figured out how.”

                    Alec ignored him.  “Max, we need to figure out where they took Junior.  We need to get it together here.”  He stepped in front of her, grasping one of her hands in his.  “Come on, Maxie, we need to get a battle strategy going.” She stared down at his hands, face still blank.  Alec gave a frustrated sigh, dropping her hand.  “I swear, this is pointless.”

                    Max’s hand whipped up and connected with his cheek, splitting his lip on his teeth.  Alec stumbled, more from surprise than pain, but Max wasn’t done.  With a feral screech, she launched herself at him, but Felix was there, easily restraining her.  She still was making those absolutely feral noises, and it took a moment to realize it was speech; she was cursing him out.

                    “Ok, ok, not pointless.  I never said going after Junior was pointless, Max, I was talking about getting your help.”  Alec said, putting an extra little push into the words.  Max’s litany stopped.  “I’m trying to get you to work with us here.”

                    She said nothing, and just glared at him.  Alec sighed and gestured to Felix to let her loose.  Felix did so, apprehensively.  “I don’t think we should count on her anyway, bub.”  He said, shooting a sidelong glance at Max.  “She can’t keep up.”

                    “I kept up with Keegan.”  Max said, her voice still ringing with the edge of anger.

                    Felix and Alec shared a look, both worried.  “That...well, frankly, that shouldn’t happen.”  Alec said, turning back to Max.  “We’re the freaky supped up science experiments; you’re…well, you.”

                    An eyebrow went up, and Alec braced himself for the wrath of Maxie: “Are you implying I’m not a supped up science experiment?”

                    “Nope, just you’re not freaky.”  Felix interjected, stepping between the two of them.  “Now, is the mood swing freak out over, or should we wait to plan your son’s rescue?”

                    Max opened her mouth to reply, but then seemed to think better of it, and looked away, crossing her arms and staring back out the window.  Felix rolled his eyes.

                    Alec, despite getting Max’s attention, felt his unease growing.  “The main thing we have to figure out is where the hell they took him.  We blew up their mother base, and Alice wiped out all the satellite ones years ago.”  He rubbed at the bridge of his nose, desperately wanting a cigarette and a quiet place to think.  One of those things appeared in front of him barely a moment later—Felix was an excellent second in command—but the quiet thinking was pretty much impossible with hordes of Umbrella experiments and undead at their doorstep.  He lit the cigarette, ignoring Max’s still disapproving huff, and tried to focus.

                    And then it clicked.  “Fuck.”

                    Felix frowned at him for a moment longer, before it registered with him too.  “No.  No, no, no, no, no, no, no.  We’ve trusted that bastard too much already.”

                    Max’s anger was marred with confusion, but Alec didn’t feel like explaining.  Instead, he took one last drag on his barely smoked cigarette and crushed it under his boot.  “Looks like I’ve got to go make a deal with the devil.”

 

***

 

                    Albert Wesker peered at the quasi-transgenic who sat across the desk.  Well, sitting was a relative term; the male looked ready to bolt at a moment’s notice.  His unease made Wesker smile.  “Well, it is our job to keep tabs on Red Queen’s movements.  We should have a list of possible facilities and locals that it would have retreated to within an hour.  But aren’t you more concerned with how the Red Queen found out about your…cub?”

                    494 bristled, and Wesker grinned wider.  “The same way you found out.  Because you told her.”

                    Well, he knew 494 wasn’t stupid.  “How else do you think I managed to keep you all from dying out under all that ice?  It wasn’t all clever hacking; for one, the Red Queen has adapted after each of our cyber-attacks.  The AI is incredibly flexible, always imputing and correlating new data.”

                    The transgenic’s eyes narrowed.  “So how did you find…”  He trailed off, and then shook his head at his own stupidity.  “How long has Red Queen been tracking Max’s caravan?”

                    Now Wesker truly smiled.  “Since 452 was allowed to escape Raccoon City.  Surely you didn’t think she made it around all of Umbrella’s containment forces on her own?”

                    494 snarled, lurching up from his seat to pace around the Oval Office.  “So when you said you were ending the experiment…”

                    “Umbrella actually had other plans, yes.  I was operating against orders, but your little platoon was such a thorn in my side.”  He wasn’t surprised to find himself in the air, held aloft by his throat.  “Isn’t this excessive?  I am being cooperative.”

                    “Where did they take my son.”  It wasn’t a question, and for the first time, Wesker felt a little bit of fear.  He wasn’t in control anymore, and he had the sneaky suspicion that the last dose of T pushed the two males beyond even what he had achieved.

                    His next swallow was considerably more difficult, as 494 was increasing the pressure of his grip.  “Arklay.”  He managed.  494 held him there for another long minute, before dropping him back to his feet.  Wesker caught himself, barely.

                    “If you’re lying to me…”  Alec began, eyes glowing bright green.

                    Wesker straightened his suit and smiled again.  “494, I’m always lying about something.  But even I know that you’ll know if I try to lie to you.  Go ahead and wait for the list of possible facilities, but they took him to Arklay.  After all, 496 only blew up the mansion levels.”

                    As 494 stalked away, Wesker allowed the smile to drop.  He had been planning on eradicating 494 and 496 from the beginning, as soon as their resourcefulness had ended.  Now, he was certain that they were planning it too.  Worse, it now seemed the odds of their winning were in their favor.

 

***

 

                    “Arklay, and you can bet that Wesker’s already sent the Red Queen a head’s up that we’re coming, so we gotta move fast and now.”  Alec announced, storming into their quarters  and heading immediately towards his knapsack.  He barely registered the look of surprise on both Max and Felix’s faces, but only to the latter did he say, “And remind me to give you a refresher in how to actually blow up a lab, Mr. Demolitions.”

                    Felix’s surprise turned to indignation as he huffed, “Like you could have done a better job.”  But there was no heat in his words.   Alec paused, actively seeking with his empathy—“Get out of my head, Alec.”  Now there was a warning tone.

                    Of course Alec ignored it.  “Not you too.”

                    “Him too what?”  Max asked, and Alec noted her eyes were red; she had been crying.

                    Great.  “I don’t need both of you being battle numb and mourning.”  Alec snapped, cramming the last item—socks—into the sack.  He tugged the laces closed and turned back to face the two of them.  “If you’re both coming with, you better get your heads in the game.  And I need you, Felix, you’re the only one who has even been near that facility.”   Felix grabbed a cigarette from his jacket, and made to light it, but Alec snatched it out from his lips and crushed it.  “MacGyver!”

                    His clone stared at him for a second, seemingly choosing his words.  He slid another cigarette out from his pocket, and lit it before speaking.  “I’m sorry, Alec, I guess I shouldn’t let it bother me that my mate tried to kill me and all.  Oh, and ran back off to Umbrella and Red Queen without a single glance back.  And I guess Maxie here shouldn’t be mourning the loss of her boyfriend of six years, or the rest of her caravan.”  Sarcasm rolled thick in his voice.  “Hey, why don’t you mindfuck us like Manticore used to and get us in fighting shape, eh?”

                    His point was made, and well.  “Oh.”  Was all Alec could say.  After a moment, he slumped onto the bed he had been given and put his face in his hands.

                    Max tentatively sat beside him, and he welcomed the comfort, but it was Felix who spoke.  “You’ve been grieving so much the past few years, I’m not surprised you’re numb to it.  But you gotta think about everyone else here.”  He glanced at Max before continuing.  “We want to get Junior back,”

                    “His name is Alec, not Junior.”  Max huffed.

                    Felix rolled his eyes, “We want to get Alec back…you know what?  No.  That’s too weird to be talking to Alec about Alec and…my head hurts.”  He gave said appendage a shake.  “The point is we want to save the kid, and Keegan if we can, but…give us a chance to work through it.”

                    “We don’t have time.”  Alec stood, starting to pace.  “Wesker is all sorts of squirrelly, and he admitted the fact he gave the Red Queen confirmation Junior—Alec—is Max and mine.  I don’t trust the asshole, and its only a matter of time before he tells it exactly what we’re planning.”

                    “And if he already did, then we need to plan more.”  Max said, and Alec paused in his pacing.  “Especially if it’s really Arklay that they took him to.  I saw it go up, Alec, if that didn’t destroy the whole place, there’s still going to be a lot of rubble and ruin to climb through.”

                    It was truth, but Alec didn’t think they could wait that long.  He was being over-ruled—without Max, he could still manage a successful rescue mission, but without Felix?  He shook his head.  “I’ll get satellite imaging and start planning.  You two…”  He looked to both in turn, willing them to understand, “get yourselves ready.  We’re leaving tomorrow.”

Thirteen

                It was all Alec could do to keep his promise of waiting. He had completed all the preparations, but hadn’t had the heart to tell either Max nor Felix for several hours.  He hoped the delay wouldn’t cost them, even as their borrowed osprey landed four klicks away from the charred remains of Arklay Mansion.  He hoped it with every fiber of his being.

                    To his right, Felix was the very model of calm and collected; even now, he was puffing on one of his ever present cigarettes—of the marijuana variety, if Alec trusted his nose—and triple checking the access points they were hoping to breach.  Max was to his left, huddled in a ball, waiting for the rotocopter to land.  She was brimming with excitement, but it was tinged with just a touch too much kamikaze spirit for his liking.  The jealousy he still felt over her shacking up with the X3 made him wonder if she had really cared that much…and where that left him.

                    He shook his head, clearing the non-essential thoughts from his mind.  They were about to infiltrate—or flat out assault—an Umbrella base, he needed his head in the game.  The same thing I’ve been yelling at everyone else for, he thought, a grim smile gracing his lips.

                    And then the osprey touched down.

 

***

 

                    It was dank in the remains of the mansion, and everything stunk with the lingering smell of smoke and incendiary fluid.  It was dark, too, but that was nothing for his enhanced night vision.  The most infuriating part was the ambient noise: creaking of rotting boards, drips of rain water pooling from a ruined roof, the moaning of the surviving experiments…

                    To his left, he caught movement, and brought his gun up, squeezing the trigger.  A former employee fell to the ground, barely more than bones, and wheezed it’s last stolen breath.  Alec gestured for them to continue on.

                    Max was closest to him, and practically shaking—with fear or anticipation, he wasn’t sure.  He had thrown up every defense he had learned to block out his companions’ emotions.  And for once, he was glad Wesker hadn’t insisted on any other personnel besides the pilot.  Wesker wanted that osprey back at the White House, with or without him and his crew.  And Alec was betting that Wesker actually wanted without.  He hadn’t shared that information, though he knew Felix suspected as much.  The look his clone had given Wesker when the orders were announced was enough to confirm that.

                    “Welcome.”  The voice startled all three of them, but only Felix glanced up in the right direction; Keegan was perched above them, on a rotting support beam that looked ready to give out at any second.  But she seemed perfectly at ease, scarab glowing red on her chest, and her features paler, more translucent than before.  Her eyes, though, were fixed with a clarity that Alec hadn’t seen in years, despite the red and white octagon that marred her iris.  “Red Queen sends her regards, but you won’t make it past here.”  She moved, leaping down lightly, one hand already holding the extending bo staff that she had been given upon her (forced) servitude.  “You will not take the boy.”

                    “Surprised it let you know what we were after.”  Alec muttered, one eye still on Felix, making sure his clone wasn’t going to do anything stupid.

                    As it turned out, it wasn’t Felix he should have been worried about.

                    Max, snarling, rushed at her, but Alec needn’t had worried.  Felix was in her way, blocking the path to Keegan.

                    His nose was twitching, and he looked angrier than Alec had ever seen him.  “That’s not Keegan.”  He growled.  “That is not my mate.”

                    The female grinned like a cheshire cat.  “They told me that you were insane, but that’s just crazy.  I don’t know you, renegade.”

                    “Clones.”  Felix breathed.  “Like Original Cindy.” Max made a noise, but quickly fell back into a defensive stance, eyes searching. “How many of you did they send to fuck with us?” Felix snarled.

                    “Enough.”  This voice was new, and Alec spun, because it was also too familiar.  And he found himself staring at…himself.  He knew clones, he was one of six himself, but this…this went beyond everything.  This was him.  And it was wrong.   Back at Manticore, it had been a source of amusement when their handlers hadn’t been able to tell them apart as children; that changed as they grew into adults that, while sharing the same basic face, had drastically different builds and coloring.  But that wasn’t this.  This was a freakish exact copy, down to his freckles and scars.  The thing’s hair even had the same amount of sun bleached strands. And as it smiled, so warped in comparison to his own, Alec felt a shiver roll down his spine.  “Aren’t our orders to annihilate on sight?”

                    “I kinda like the freaky terror thing going on,” Said a clone-Felix to their rear, and that’s when Alec realized just how ambushed they had been.  “Strange though.  I get to see my handsome mug every day and take it for granted, but that guy is just…too perfect.”

                    The clone-Keegan cleared her throat, and every clone fell silent and back into battle stance.  Alec tried to ignore the vertigo of seeing himself duplicated, his unit—for there were other clones in the mix, faces hazy after six years of terror, but he still could remember everyone lost at Raccoon City—and everyone was there in duplicate, everyone but Max.

                    Max.

                    Junior.

                    Alec had never moved so fast in his life.  The Keegan clone was dead before she could scream out an order, and neither Felix nor Max needed prompting to join in.  It was brutal, and fast; Alec had fought everything Manticore and Umbrella had thrown at him, but he never expected to be fighting himself.  Every clone of his was a challenge, each one knew his moves, knew his habits…but they were not him.  He was out of bullets well before the slew of clones began to subside, and he stumbled over bodies as he fought to keep his footing against each new attacker.  Felix seemed to have no trouble at all, whether it was because he knew his own weaknesses or was just too pissed off, Alec didn’t know.  Only Max was having trouble, and Alec knew why: all of these clones were dosed with T or amped up on the scarab serum.  Or both.

                    He dropped pursuit of one of his clones as one of Misha’s attempted to attack from Max’s blind side.  While the clone was falling from his hands—lifeless with a snapped neck—he caught the barest glimpse of a real face before pain lanced through him and Alec fell, screaming, to the ground.

                    He couldn’t even register his wound, his eyes were locked on her, the real Keegan, as she swept through the body-strewn floor like a dancer, and she was behind Felix—

                    Felix went down, hamstring of his left leg severed with surgical precision and she kept moving, spinning into an attack on Max—

                    “No!”

                    Back at Manticore, Keegan—rather, 105—had discovered at an early age that she was small enough to go undetected, especially around her own clones.  She was also opportunistic; before they had separated clones for fear of familiarity, all of her cloning line had died of accidents on the training field. None had successfully been linked to 105, of course, but it was enough to send her to reindoctrination and become and X5R.  Alec had never fully appreciated his former-sniper’s assassination skills, but he had never had to deal with her so undisciplined, so…enslaved.

                    Her blade caught in his collar bone as he pulled himself in front of Max.  Now the full fire of Keegan’s initial blow hit him, and he nearly collapsed under the agony, but he couldn’t.  If he moved, the blade would hit it’s mark, and hamstring Max as well.

                    Keegan snarled and shoved harder—the scarab on her chest made her so much stronger than even his t virus and transgenic enhanced bones could hold—the blade slipped to his upper ribs, slicing the shoulder tendons.

                    Behind him, he heard Max scream something out, but he couldn’t hear, couldn’t comprehend…his mind was going a thousand miles a minute, the pain was driving him to madness, and yet, and yet….

                    There.

                    He hadn’t even known what he had hoped to do until he did it.  With every last bit of effort, he focused all of his empathy on the enslaved Keegan and pushed, “Your tower’s karma will be fine, Keegan.”

                    The memory, all those years ago, Keegan’s indignation that Alec would let anyone who distasted guns on her sniper tower, the crows, the feeling.

                    The red and white octagon vanished from her irises.

                    Out of nowhere, Felix launched himself between them, knocking the blade back the way it came, and at the same time, grabbing the scarab digging into Keegan’s chest and ripping it free.  Keegan gasped and dropped to the floor, the scarab kicked it’s legs like a living thing and attempted to latch onto Felix’s arm.  Alec, bleeding heavily and collapsed against a sobbing Max’s legs, brought his pistol to bear, and, after glancing at Felix, fired.  The scarab blasted apart in Felix’s hands, debris falling over the prone Keegan.

                    At last, there was silence.

                    After what felt like a lifetime, Felix’s voice filtered into Alec’s ears:  “Hey, you still with us?”

                    He could feel Max’s arms encircle him, but he was woozy, weak.  “Oh, hey, blood loss.”  He blinked against the greying of his vision.  “You got that thing off her.”

                    Felix chuckled despite himself.  “Keegan was waiting for you to break formation.  I just didn’t expect her to come after me next.”

                    The blood was still flowing heavily, and Alec felt like consciousness was going to be a fleeting thing.  There was pressure, and he realized Felix was instructing Max to push something against his shoulder…oh.  Her shirt.  Max in a bra.  He really thought he should be enjoying this more.  “I saw her hamstring you.”  He bit out, the pain of Max’s ministrations almost too much.

                    Felix looked ashamed for a moment, until his resolve steeled his face.  “I let it happen.  The mutating feeling.”  He stood then, turning, and Alec’s eyes barely focused on his leg:  it wasn’t human looking, there was too much muscle and sinew twisted around what looked like human bone.  “And I’m telling you, let it happen.  You’re going to bleed out.  You’ve got a hamstring on top of that…mess of a shoulder.”  Felix gave a little shudder, and Alec appreciated his wound was pretty bad.

                    “Is…is Keegan…?”  Max’s quavering voice startled him for a moment; this moment felt like a lifetime for some reason…

                    “She’s alive.  I think.”  Felix’s voice was monotone.  “Her pulse is weak and she’s barely breathing, but I think I ripped out a good part of her chest with the scarab; I’m afraid to do CPR.”

                    Alec managed to turn his head—everything was so heavy—and saw that Keegan’s chest did look like scoops of the flesh and meat was missing.  There were great gouges from the scarab’s legs across her now bare torso, her breasts scourged and mutilated.  The scarab obviously hadn’t wanted to let go.  “We need…”  He struggled to sit up, “we need to get…Junior.”

                    “His name’s not Junior.”  Max all but sobbed.  “Alec, please, let it happen.”

                    He was a freak amongst freaks already, but Alec wasn’t ready to let the t-virus mutate him, not even if it would save his life.  “Go.”  He gasped, the grey taking over his vision as the blood loss made him even sleepier.  “Go get…”  he felt lighter, in less pain.  “Jun…ior…” he breathed, closing his eyes.  He was so sleepy…

                    

                    Max watched as Alec took one last shuddering breath, and went still.  Her eyes couldn’t see it.  Her brain couldn’t comprehend it.  But it was there.  It was right there.  “Alec…”

                    Her tone was a whine, and he hated that.  He’d open his eyes and tell her off for offending his ears.  He’d smile, and crack a joke, and maybe even smack her ass as she stood up in a huff.  But none of that happened. Alec lay there, still, silent, his blood flow ebbing as there was no heart beat to push it.

                    Dead.

                    She cried out, and realized she was being pulled up, pulled into a fierce hug.  Felix clung to her like she was life itself, and she realized, through her tears, he was crying too.  Vaguely, she recognized that Keegan’s body had also just…stopped.

                    Dead.

                    Grief swarmed her, and she screamed a wordless wail of sorrow.  When her breath gave out, she realized there was a howling still going on.  Still holding her, Felix had given in to the wolf in his dna, and was crying out his grief the way all of their lupine ancestors had.  Their loves lay beneath them, but still, her son—Alec’s son—was entrapped ahead.

                    A solid resolve grew in Max’s heart.  No matter what, she would get her son back.  He was all she had left.  And she knew Felix would be with her…after all, she was all he had left too.

 

Fourteen

                Her eyes were red from unshed tears, they prickled and burned even as Max wiped at them, willing herself to grieve later, to grieve after.  But the damned smoke from Felix’s cigarette was certainly not helping.  “Do you always have to smoke?”

                    Felix took his time answering, eyes still searching any more potential threats.  “Clears my head.  Gives me something mindless to keep me occupied.”  He looked at her, lowering his weapon as he did so.  “I can’t think about them right now.  We’ve got to get your son.”

                    Max nodded, not trusting her voice.  They were deep in the underground parts of the mansion now, something that had taken far longer than she would have guessed from looking at the blueprints Alec had made.  While most of the manse was blown to shrapnel, many of the traps, secret passageways and hidden doors were intact.  She had never known anyone so paranoid as to make the entire mansion a puzzle; it was like being in a video game.

                    But they had made it through, and now were deep under the gardener’s quarters to the rear of Arklay, slogging through stagnant, stinking water towards…she wasn’t sure what, but hopefully it was her son.  And hopefully he was safe, alive and unharmed.  She didn’t trust him to stay that way for long, not with Umbrella’s AI holding him.  Now she understood Alec’s urgency, why she had to stop grieving.  She hadn’t expected another loss so soon.

                    Felix tossed the remains of his cigarette to the water and brought his gun up, signaling her to stop.  Max did, her hand sweaty on the grip of her own pistol.  Her other hand went immediately to her gear belt, where she had stowed the three clips Felix had tossed to her as soon as the clone fight had ended.  She honestly didn’t know where he kept all the ammo he had.

                    A deep croaking noise echoed through the tunnel, and now Max understood why Felix had paused.  She looked to him, and he glanced down at her before continuing to watch the bend of the tunnel before them.  “That noise is made by the Hunter class…kinda like humanoid frogs—those battle toad things—and they are nasty.  They hunt in packs, and dodge just like their amphibian ancestors.  Tough fight, especially if they send out the βs.  Easier if they send the μ’s.”

                    Max waved off the end of his sentence.  “I don’t care what their designation is, how do I kill them?”

                    Felix grinned at her.  “You shoot it in the head.” Splashing noises now reached their ears, and Felix pulled out another P90, holding one in each hand.  “That pistol is going to be ineffective, take this.”  He said, offering the weapon to her.  “Each clip has got fifty rounds, and I only have six, so keep your shots tight and don’t put it on semi-automatic mode—ah!”  he reached out, blocking her hand from touching a switch on the grip.  “That’s semi-automatic.  You don’t want to be firing six bullets every time you squeeze the trigger.”  She nodded, still hefting the weapon, getting used to its weight, its shape.  She had fired a lot of guns since the Raccoon City incident, but she never had the chance to fire a real, military P90.

                    There was another croak, and the first of the slimy green heads popped around the corner—the rest of the body followed freakishly fast.  Even as gunfire exploded through the tunnel, she realized these things were fast.  But she and Felix held their ground, taking down the Hunters as they rounded the bend.  By the time the last one had fallen, there were at least forty bodies blocking their path.

                    Felix wrinkled his nose.  “I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to move those.  Up and over?”

                    Max nodded.  “Up and over.”

                    With Felix taking point, they climbed over the rapidly decaying bodies, and continued on.

 

***

 

                    It was peaceful, the darkness.  And slightly suffocating, but he was ok with that.  He just wanted to sleep, to forget, to move on.  And then someone slammed their fist against his chest.

                    Alec’s eyes shot open, and he gasped for air as his heart started to pound, painfully, harshly.  For a moment he couldn’t speak, couldn’t comprehend, and then he realized he was sitting up, staring at a half-naked Keegan.  “Good, I thought I’d killed you.”

                    He grumbled, rubbing at the sore spot with the only arm that worked.  “I thought you did.”  Alec shuddered, still feeling weak.  “How did you stop the bleeding?”

                    Keegan frowned at him, while tugging a shirt off one of the Frankie clones that littered the ground.  “You were lying in a pool of blood when I came to, but you weren’t bleeding.  Your shoulder should be fully healed in a minute or two.”  She was now tugging off the athletic bra that the clone had been wearing under the shirt.  “These viruses don’t let you die so easily.”

                    Alec hadn’t wanted a mutation, had been ready to go out fighting, but even now, he turned his attention from Keegan and stared the best he could at the shoulder of his t-shirt.  The fabric was sliced, even through the body armor he wore underneath.  And it was soaked with blood, but the wound was knitting before his eyes.  Tiny tentacles were reaching from the edges of the wound, seeking its opposite, knotting itself together to fuse his flesh.  It was disturbing.

                    “How’s your chest?”  Alec asked, turning away from the sight.  He was feeling nauseated.

                    Keegan looked back at him, having donned the bra and shirt over her own ruined jumpsuit.  “Healing.  Don’t think I plan on wearing a bikini any time soon, though.”  She tugged the collar of her shirt and bra back, looking down at her breasts.  “That scarab was deep.  Definitely didn’t want to let go, and did a lot of damage coming off. But that’s old news.”  She knelt beside him, looking guiltier than he had ever seen her.  “I’m sorry.  I know that the words just aren’t enough to help, but I am.  I don’t need you to tell me that who I was wasn’t me, I still took off, still—“

                    The rest of her words were lost as Alec moved his newly healed arm and grasped her in a bear hug.  “Keegan, you’re like a sister to me—a really annoying older sister, actually—and I will never blame you for what Umbrella made you do.”  He let her go, allowing her to help him to his feet.  “And I think you’ve got to worry about Felix more than me.”

                    Her expression darkened.  “No, we’ve got to worry about what he and Max are running in to.  I remember everything.”  She looked towards the direction she had come, from where the Red Queen was hiding.  “The clones they sent at you were brand new, untested and barely imprinted.  Red Queen’s got a lot more of them, a few Nemesis, and at least two Axemen.”

                    “That doesn’t sound like much trouble.”  Alec said, cocking an eyebrow and discarding his guns—he was out of ammo anyway.

                    Keegan clutched at her bo staff, sighing.  “That’s just what was protecting my office.”

                    Alec felt his stomach drop.  “Oh.  Fuck.”

                    “Yeah.”  She strode towards the far end of the rubble.  “We’ll catch up to Felix and Max quicker if we use the security team’s route.”

                    “Lead on, Kimosabe.”

 

***

 

                    There were footsteps approaching, and Max tensed as she quietly walked beside Felix.  They had already encountered so many… things.  She knew that Umbrella had broken the international ban on genetic experimentation, but had no idea just how many beasts it had cooked up.

                    Felix made a slight noise in his throat, and snapped his gun up.  As far as Max could see, no one was in front of them, nor behind.  The only place for someone to access their route was a tiny drain pipe twenty feet above their heads.  She was about to question him when Felix snarled, “You can come down now.”  To Max’s shock, not one but two figures leapt down lightly from the very pipe she had been pondering.  Two figures she was not expecting to see in this life again.

                    Alec stood first from his crouch, wiping the muck from the tunnel on his stained and torn fatigues.  “You two have been keeping busy.”  He said, “We could barely walk because we were always tripping over something decomposing.”

                    Max was speechless.  Her brain was blank, her body numb.  This couldn’t be happening.

                    Keegan stood slower, her eyes trained on Felix’s, and she rose with her hands held up, looking slightly ridiculous in a huge t-shirt and the bottom of her battlesuit.  She didn’t speak.

                    Felix did.  “No more of this fucking clone bullshit.”  He growled, and slid the safety off his weapon.  Neither Keegan nor Alec moved, each keeping as still as a wild animal.  “Is this supposed to throw us off?  Because I killed your predecessors easily.”

                    “This isn’t a trick, Felix.”  Alec said, and Max’s eyes shot to his shoulder: the wound wasn’t there, but the shirt was torn and bloody.  And there was something else…something the clones didn’t have, if she thought about it.  Both of their eyes glowed in the dim light; Alec’s green and Keegan’s amber.

                    Felix’s gun dropped a little.  And then he focused on Keegan.  “Show me your chest.”

                    Alec smirked.  “This really isn’t the ti—”

                    “I want to know if it’s really her.”  Felix snarled.  “Show me your fucking chest.”

                    Keegan huffed, rolling her eyes, but she pulled the shirt up.  “You need me to do the bra too, or is this enough to confirm I don’t have another scarab attached to me?”

                    Max noticed Felix was shaking: the muzzle of his weapon was trembling.  “It can’t be.”

                    “Felix,”  Max said, slowly, softly,  “didn’t you tell Alec to let it happen?  To allow himself to heal?  Isn’t that what the t-virus does?”

                    It was another full minute before Felix lowered his P90, clicking the safety on.  Keegan only hesitated for a second before throwing herself into his arms, and Felix scooped her up eagerly, elatedly.

                    Max did the same, not even doubting that Alec could support her despite his newly healed arm.  And she didn’t know what she was saying, didn’t care that she was repeating the same words over and over, she was in his arms.  Alec didn’t seem to mind either, he was holding her tight and muttering as well.

                    It was a long time before either couple broke from their embraces.

                    “Fucking Umbrella, man.”  Felix said, wiping something from his face; Max suspected it was tears.  Her own face was damp with them.  “Apparently what kills us makes us stronger too.  Heh.”  Keegan slapped his arm at the lame pun, and Felix smiled.

                    Alec gave Max one more squeeze before he let go to approach Felix.  “I need a weapon.  Keegan says there’s a lot more shit ahead, and I need to be armed.”

                    “Only four clips left.”  Felix said, handing over his own P90.  “I have to resort to shotgun, joy.”  Despite his words, he was smiling.  “And that’s the one thing we’ve found a ton of: shotgun ammo.  Weird in a place like this.”

                    “If only you found another shotgun.”  Keegan mused, spinning her bo staff.  “This is shit, and we’re going to need more ammo.  If we make it in to the security office, there will be weapons and ammo enough to make you wet yourself, Felix.”  She offered a rare smile.  “But the whole problem is getting in.”

                    Despite the situation, Alec felt optimistic.  Maybe it was because they were all back together, alive.  “We’ll make it.”  But even as he said the words, he felt his muscles shift and twist.  He was still mutating.  And just as suddenly as his optimism came, it vanished, leaving a cold, dark knot of knowing.

                    Even if they pulled off this rescue, he wouldn’t be coming back him.

 

Fifteen

                The security office was a bloodbath.

                    Somewhere in the midst of fighting, Max  had found herself shunted off to the side, blocked by the hulking mass of Felix from the main action.  Sure, she had taken out quite a few of the Raccoon City clones, but the rest of the battle…

                    All she could honestly recognize was that none of her three compatriots looked quite like they had when the blood had started flowing.  Even now, she could see Alec’s skin pulse, and his features were closer to that of his panther DNA.  Felix was larger, bulkier, and feral looking, while Keegan had compacted, her arms lengthened by the claws that had formed at the tips of her fingers.  And for the first time, Max felt afraid of her fellow transgenics.

                    Alec must have sensed it, because he hesitated before coming towards her, wiping blood from his face, his eyes burning with green fire.  “Anything hurt you?  Are you ok?”  She nodded, not trusting her voice.  He held her graze until she dropped it, and she could hear something shift in his voice.  “Keegan, where’s the weapons?”

                    “Not like I can use them,”  the other mutated female muttered, but she pointed with one of the red talons, “Break open that console and the short circuit should make the armory rise.”

                    Felix was already moving, and Alec hung back, the longing from him physically palatable, but Max couldn’t look up.  Not now.  Not when she would lose her focus.  Instead she wandered the room, taking in the remains of the creatures that had been sent at them: an axeman’s axe was imbedded in the wall on the far side, the rest of the axeman a hulking lump beneath it.  More clones than she could count, both the Raccoon City platoon and S.T.A.R.S. agents, were torn to shreds, and there was at least one Nemises already dissolving into rotting bones.  She jumped as, with a woosh, a weapon display shot up from her feet to her left, another to her right.  Felix had obviously gotten through the circuitry.

                    “Nice selection,”  She commented, when she realized that all three were watching her.  As she turned, all but Alec pretended to have been looking the other way.  “So where to from here?”

                    “Down.”  Keegan announced, pointing towards another computer terminal.  “We go down and hope to hell that it hasn’t booby-trapped the route.”

                    “Great.”  Felix grumbled.  “I hated that last laser trap.”

                    Alec was silent for a long moment, seemingly taking in the choice of weaponry he had in front of him.  “How are we going to take Red Queen down permanently?”

                    “Oh that’s easy.”  Felix laughed, “EMP.  A real big one that takes out this entire state; nothing’s in Pennsylvania anyway.”  He pulled two large black boxes from his stretched and torn fatigues.  “And I’ve got just the explosives to do it.”

                    Keegan rolled her eyes as Alec’s widened.  “Are those thermo-nuclear casings?”  And, before Felix could respond, he shook his head.  “Never mind.  I should know you by now.  What’s the range?”

                    “We’re going to have to be a long way off.”  Keegan interrupted.  “And that part’s taken care of, as long as we can swing another, smaller pulse to distract it.  There’s an emergency transport out for the hard-drive that’s designed to fit with a full security attachment.  The real question is where’s the boy?”  Her claws were dancing over computer keys, as she moved from terminal to terminal, wiping blood and moving bodies.  “I assumed he was still in the labs, but we cleared those getting here.  It seems like Red Queen pulled her defenses back.”

                    “I take it, not a good thing.”  Max already knew that, but the lull in conversation made it all the more likely that Alec would try to talk to her.

                    “No…”  And it looked like he was going to do it anyway.  “I know this isn’t the time or the place, but you’ve got to suck it up and ignore the fact all of us are mutating…”

                    “I know that.”  She snapped, but Alec held a hand up.

                    “Except for the fact that you might have to put one of us down before the end of this.  And I mean down.”  He scooped a small, but heavy gun from the rack next to her.  “This is a self contained laser.  When you pull the trigger, nothing you love or want better be behind your target, because the beam won’t stop until it hits lead.  And it’s what you better shoot us with.”

                    The gun instantly gained twenty pounds in her hands.  “You can’t possibly—“

                    “I can.”

                    “And you better.”  It was Keegan who spoke next, examining her mutated hands with a mild distaste.  “If this is permanent, I don’t want it.  I mean, can you imagine trying to play video games with these?”  She let her hands fall to the sides.  “Seriously, Max, I’m pretty sure we’ve all been expecting this since we escaped Umbrella.  We knew we were different then and now we have the confirmation.”  Keegan’s gaze fell to the dead along the floor.  “And I can’t even tell you how much I wanted to bite into one of those living clones, rather than rip it apart.”

                    Felix’s stomach took that moment to growl.  “yeah, I’m hungry too.”  Keegan slapped his arm and he grinned at her, despite the slashes it left in his already destroyed fatigues.

                    Words floated back over the distance of months, I mutate if I don’t eat enough fresh meat.  And Max nodded.  Alec held her gaze, and after a long moment, nodded as well.  “Good.  Keegan, can you get the access to Red Queen?”

                    There was no need for her response, the dark passageway was already opening at the far end of the room.  It was time to go.

 

***

 

                    It was quick: the sounds of fighting had attracted the remaining of Umbrella’s failed experiments towards the tunnel, hindering their passage even more than the clones they fought continuously.  Felix dodged away from a recently exposed wire, one massive hand bringing a machete down over a Nemesis’ head, removing it from its shoulders.  Keegan was dancing between two axemen, taunting them with slashes from her claws and leaping lightly away when they swung with their enormous axes.  Alec was tearing heads off clones with his bare hands, tossing their fallen weapons towards Max even as he moved to the next one.  And it was all Max could do to keep up: she needed the guns almost faster than he could supply them.

                    The tunnel opened into a large, cool room, one that was already alive with the sound of a thousand computer processors whirring.  They pushed forward, the cold almost a welcome atmosphere, but even over the fighting, a small, childlike British voice spoke: “Get out, get out! You can’t be in here!”.

                    If a hologram appeared, no one knew; Felix sent a Bandersnatch flying into the holo-projectors moments later.  Its mutating flesh sizzled against the live wires even as it disintegrated.

                    And the smell: zombies had shambled in with the rest of the lab experiments, their slow, clumsy movement being more of a detriment when accustomed to the fast moving clones.  Their moans drowned out all other sound, echoing.

                    Her heart was beating in her ears, her hands were numb from gunfire, her arms like dead weight from supporting recoil.  But she fought on, snarling, screaming, unable to stop.

                    Because her son was right there.

                    Little Alec was seated next to a woman Max vaguely recalled, one Felix had known and pointed out amidst the clones.  He looked terrified, unable to comprehend the bloodshed in front of him.  Max had tried to shield him from the worst of the zombie attacks, the horror of the aftermath, but she couldn’t protect him from this.

                    She made a lunge towards the woman, but was batted away, like nothing.  Her chest felt like it was crushed, her heart hurt to beat, and then she slammed into the far wall.

                    Alec was at her side in a second, beating back clones, and Anubi, and Hunters, snarling incomprehensively the whole time.

                    A Nemesis moved past them, and it was a long time before Max realized what she was looking at was Felix; he slammed into the woman, knocking her from her stance, and to the floor.  But she was up impossibly fast, and her hits stunned the far-gone Felix, pushing him backward, back into the fray.  Before Max could call a warning, two axemen were on him, and she lost him in the sea of bodies.

                    Keegan was there next, and the woman seemed surprised.  Max was too; Keegan looked more like a licker once you reached her limbs, and she was faster than the stranger.  But she lost something in her speed and mutation: her wits.  It was an easy feint, one Keegan should have spotted instantly, but the female was flung back into the fighting, and she too was lost.

                    The strange woman didn’t even wait for Alec’s attack; she grabbed a syringe from her belt and slammed it into the side of her neck, pushing the plunger down.  If Alec thought this had been a weak moment, he was sorely mistaken.  Whatever was in that syringe worked fast, and it exploded through her system, her body contorting horribly even as she laughed, baring teeth that had transformed into fangs.  She met Alec head on, and both ripped into each other savagely.

                    Little Alec seemed to have gone past horrified, and had taken refuge behind the black tower that housed the Red Queens AI interface.

                    His face drove Max to her feet, swaying against the cracked skull, forcing herself to breathe through crushed ribs.  She tripped over Felix’s boot, nearly losing her balance.  But on his belt, she saw the twin black boxes: the emp.  He didn’t move as she removed them, but she could see him breathing.  Hope.

                    Beside her, a red figure with long, ragged black hair stood, and wiped it’s face with it’s claws, an oddly human motion.  And then it spoke, “You’ve got thirty seconds to get to that transport.  It’s the green button on Red Queen’s main console.”

                    Max’s resolve was firm.  “You’ve got thirty seconds to get Felix and Alec to the transport, and that’s an order, Keegan.”

                    She didn’t wait to see if her order was followed, the shock on the inhuman face was enough.  Max ran forward, trying to ignore the gore coming from the remaining two fighting, trying to ignore how much Alec wasn’t Alec anymore.  She ducked under a whip-like tentacle and rolled to her son.

                    The pain was immense, and there was movement behind her, and she couldn’t breathe…

                    A small hand reached up and slapped at the green button now beyond her reach.  As the floor behind them slid open, the small hands also took the black boxes, struggling a little under the weight.  “I don’t know how to do this, mom.”

                    Max forced her eyes open, forced another breath.  “Remember…remember how we primed the generator?”  She begged he remembered the two button priming process, on how, while the thermo-nuclear device didn’t need gas, it still needed to build its charge.  “Blue, then red.”

                    Little Alec nodded, glancing over his shoulder.  “The red one got the big one down the hatch.  But…the other one is still fighting.”

                    Fighting was a loose term.  What used to be the woman was holding Alec with her tentacles, but it was over Red Queen.  Alec was struggling, but he seemed to be getting weaker, not able to hold on, his body starting to decay…

                    Max slammed the nearest button she could reach.

                    Bright, so bright, blue lasers shot from the walls of the far end of the room, forming a grid.  It swept towards them, slicing through bodies, heading towards the Red Queen and the two fighting.  It cut through the female, her tentacles falling weakly as her body disintegrated, but they were still moving, moving towards Alec, and then—

                    It stopped.  The grid stopped an inch from Alec’s most extended limb, and then faded.  Faintly, Max realized someone was behind her, someone with long red nails.

                    Keegan gave her a faint smile that made her look so much more human.  “Figured you needed some help with the Kill command.”

                    Max pulled herself up, grimacing in a way she hoped Keegan would take as a thanks, and struggled over to Alec.  He was breathing, and also attempting to stand.  As soon as she realized he could move on his own, she stumbled back towards her son.  She was bloody, wounded, but she didn’t care.  With the last of her strength, she hugged him tight, watching as he pushed the blue button, then the red.

                    It went dark.

Epilogue

                A soft light bathed the room, which, while sparse, was much more than she had become accustomed to.  Max smiled at the warmth, and stretched out, careful not to disturb the child beside her.  She scarcely blamed Little Alec for his clinginess, he had been through quite the ordeal, but had come out alive, and if not a little braver.  She was proud of him, prouder then she ever thought she could be.

                    She gave him a small squeeze before easing herself out of the bed, careful not to disturb him.  Draping herself in a robe, she opened the door, stepping out into the well lit hallway beyond.

                    It was only a yard to her destination, and she pushed the double doors open, wincing a little at the antiseptic smell.  The soft beeps of heart monitors greeted her ears, but she tried to ignore them as she stepped through, examining the room’s wards.

                    Keegan was nearly back to herself; the serum injected by the scarab had introduced many of its own genetic changes, ones that, thankfully, made the new therapy work faster.  It was undoing the mutations, and even now, her skin was only faintly red, her hands much more human.

                    Felix was in the next bed, and not nearly as well off as his mate.  His face had regrown flesh, true, but his body wasn’t reacting to the reduction of size well: he was facing several more rather painful surgeries to repair his bones after the treatment had run its course.

                    But on the last bed was the one she was looking for the most.  Alec lie there, and his eyes were open, alert.  He even attempted a small smile: his mutation had been less than Felix’s for sure, but his bonding with the T-virus had been more intense.  While the new treatment would help, nothing would ever stop any of them from being t-infected.  They would always be not quite transgenic.

                    But with Alec’s smile, Max found she really didn’t care.  “How you feeling?”

                    “I’m always alright.”  He forced himself to laugh.  “Please tell me you’re not letting them drain you dry.”

                    “I wouldn’t allow that.”  A scarily familiar voice said.  Max still cringed whenever the small, female hologram appeared.

                    Alec glared at the image in white.  “New AI?”

                    Max nodded.

                    “I am—

                    “I know who you are.”  Alec snapped.  “I met your sister.  She was a homicidal bitch.”

                    The hologram remained silent.

                    Alec looked back to Max.  “So, I know how I got here—Keegan doubled back.  But damn, I did not expect Junior to carry your ass to the transport.”

                    Max raised an eyebrow.  “Are you implying my ass is fat?”

                    Despite the mutations, Alec still managed to look like he was a deer caught in headlights.  He gasped for a moment, before stuttering out, “He’s six, Max!”

                    She let him flounder for a moment before she allowed herself to grin at him.  “He takes after his father.”

                    Despite his annoyance that she had played him, Alec smiled, even though the wideness hurt his healing flesh.  “What can I say?  Manticore mixed good genes, and Umbrella just improved them.”  He laughed a little, before looking back at the hologram.  “So, White Queen,”

                    “Angela.”  The hologram corrected him.  “I am designed after Doctor Ashford’s late daughter.  I have no part in my sister’s programing.

                    Alec gave a little jerk, as much of a nod as he could with his reforming tissue.  “Are you the AI for everything around here?”

                    Max swore the little hologram rolled it’s eyes.  “I just supervise the medical tech and the med experimentation lab, a lab that Maxine frequents and has signed off on.  I operate under her strict guidelines.

                    “But I can’t get her to stop calling me ‘Maxine’.”  Max lamented.

                    Alec’s eyes sparkled beneath their perpetual glow.  “I kinda like it.”  She play swatted at him, careful not to even bruise him.  He smiled again.  “So, Wesker is MIA?”

                    She nodded.  “It’s why we took over the White House.  Plus, I thought you’d like nicer digs.”

                    He chuckled, leaning back into his pillows and closing his eyes.  “How many transgenics made it here?”

                    Max smiled, even though he couldn’t see it.  “About sixty.  And we’ve got twice that in human caravans.  Leon and Claire made it here too.”  She took his sigh as one of happiness.  “Alec wants to see you, when you’re up to it.”

                    Alec opened his eyes, giving another chuckle.  “Tell Junior he’s welcome anytime…well, any time but now.  I’m sorry babe, but you’re blood makes me tired.”

                    Angela spoke up again, “It is also time for his daily injection.  I have already notified the nurse.”  And a familiar-ish face was walking in, vaguely like Clinic from all those years ago, but paler, greyer.  “Byoin, please maintain the same dosage, but increase the muscle relaxers.”  The hologram vanished, as the transgenic moved towards Alec’s IV.

                    Max smiled at him, smoothing his hair from his face as the nurse injected the drugs.  “I’ll come visit you later.  And I’ll bring Alec.  Don’t you dare call him Junior.” She warned, dropping a kiss to his forehead.

                    Alec smiled at her, but said nothing, already drifting off.

                    But Max was still smiling as she left the room.  Umbrella was all but gone, and the survivors—human, transgenic and experiments—were banding together, fighting off the dying scourge that Umbrella had left.  She didn’t know if the world would be repaired, but she knew they would live, they would be together.

                    And that was really all she could ask for.

 

 

End.

Translations:

Thanks again to Twinchy.

Chapter 8:

Warum kannst du nicht leiser regnen  : Why can’t you rain quieter?

Ich spreche kein englisch  : I don’t speak English.

Kein englisch  : No English.

Sind sie Max?  Sind Sie vier-fünf-zwei?  : Are you Max?  Are you 452?

Ich bin keine Scheiß- Nummer  : I am not a fucking number.

Zieh Dich an. Wir müssen abhauen: Get dressed.  We have to move.

Wer sind Sie? : Who are you?

Ich heiße Alec. Wir sind hier, um Dich zu retten. :My name is Alec.  We’re here to save you.

Chapter 9:

Machen Sie sich keine Sorgen : Don’t you worry

Danke : Thanks

Runter:  down.

Gib mir eine Waffe : give me a weapon

Entschuldigung, Aber Du wirst es mir danken, wenn alles klappt : Sorry, but you’ll thank me if all’s going well.