IN THE DREAM, JILL DIDN'T RUN FAST ENOUGH. It was the same dream she'd suffered every few days since the mission that had nearly killed them all that terrible, endless night in July. Back when only a few Raccoon citizens had been hurt by Umbrella's secret and the S.T.A.R.S. administration wasn't completely corrupt, back when she was still stupid enough to think that people would believe their story.

In the dream, she and the other survivors  - Chris, Barry, and Rebecca  - waited anxiously for rescue at the hidden laboratory's helipad, all of them exhausted, wounded, and very aware that the buildings around and beneath them were about to self-destruct. It was dawn, cool light coming in shafts through the trees that sur-rounded the Spencer estate, the stillness broken only by the welcome sound of the approaching 'copter. Six members of the Special Tactics and Rescue Squad were dead, lost to the human and inhuman creatures that roamed the estate, and if Brad didn't set down quick, there wouldn't be any survivors. The lab was going to blow, destroying the proof of Umbrella's T-virus spill and killing them all. Chris and Barry waved their arms, motioning for Brad to hurry. Jill checked her watch, dazed, her mind still trying to grasp all that had happened, to sort it all out. Umbrella Pharmaceutical, the single biggest con-tributor to Raccoon City's prosperity and a major force in the corporate world, had secretly created monsters in the name of bioweapons research and in playing with fire had managed to burn themselves very badly. That didn't matter now, all that mattered was getting the hell away -

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- and we 've got maybe three minutes, four max

CRASH! Jill whirled around, saw chunks of concrete and tar fly into the air and rain down over the northwest cor-ner of the landing pad. A giant claw stretched up from the hole, fell across the jagged lip -

- and the pale, hulking monster, the one she and Barry had tried to kill in the lab, the Tyrant, leaped out onto the heliport. It rose smoothly from its agile crouch... and started toward them. It was an abomination, at least eight feet tall, once human, perhaps, but no more. Its right hand, normal. Its left, a massive, chitinous grasp of claws. Its face had been horribly altered, its lips cut away so that it seemed to grin at them through sliced red tissue. Its naked body was sexless, the thick, bloody tumor that was its heart shuddering wetly outside of its chest. Chris targeted the pulsing muscle with his Beretta and fired, five 9mm rounds tearing into its ghastly flesh; the Tyrant didn't even slow down. Barry screamed for them to scatter, and then they were run-ning, Jill pulling Rebecca away, the thunder of Barry's.357 crashing behind them. Overhead, the 'copter cir-cled and Jill could feel the seconds ticking away, al-most believed she could feel the explosion building beneath their feet. She and Rebecca pulled their weapons and started firing. Jill continued to pull the trigger even as she watched the creature knock Barry to the ground, slam-ming in a new clip as it went after Chris, firing and screaming, enveloped by a rising terror, "why won't it go down?"

From above, a shout, and something thrown out of the 'copter. Chris ran for it, and Jill saw nothing else nothing but the Tyrant as it turned its attention to her and Rebecca, indifferent to the firepower that contin-ued plugging bloody holes through its strange body. Jill turned and ran, saw the girl do the same, and knew -knew that the monster was after her, the face of Jill Valentine embedded in its lizard brain. Jill ran, ran, and suddenly there was no heliport, no crumbling mansion, only a million trees and the sounds: her boots slapping the earth, the pulse of blood in her ears, her ragged breath. The monster was silent behind her, a mute and terrible force, relentless and as inevitable as death. They were dead, Chris and Barry, Rebecca, even Brad, she knew it, everyone but her  - and as she ran, she saw the Tyrant's shadow stretch out in front of her, burying her own, and the hiss of its monstrous talons slicing down, melting through her body, killing her, no... No...

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"No!"

Jill opened her eyes, the word still on her lips, the only sound in the stillness of her room. It wasn't the scream she imagined, but the weak, strangled cry of a woman doomed, caught in a nightmare from which there was no escape.

Which I am. None of us were fast enough, after all.

She lay still for a moment, breathing deeply, moving her hand away from the loaded Beretta under her pil-low; it had become a reflex, and one she wasn't sorry to have developed. "Useless against nightmares, though," she muttered and sat up. She'd been talking to herself for days now; sometimes, she thought it was the only thing that kept her sane. Gray light crept in through the blinds, casting the small bedroom in shadow. The digital clock on the nightstand was still working; she supposed she should be glad that the power was still on, but it was later than she'd hoped  - nearly three in the afternoon. She'd slept for almost six hours, the most she'd managed to get in the last three days. Considering what was going on out-side, she couldn't help a flush of guilt. She should be out there, she should be doing more to save those who could still be saved...

Knock it off, you know better. You can't help anyone if you collapse. And those people you helped...

She wouldn't think about that, not yet. When she'd finally made it back to the suburbs this morning, after nearly forty-eight sleepless hours of "helping," she'd been on the verge of a breakdown, forced to face the re-ality of what had happened to Raccoon: The city was irretrievably lost to the T-virus, or some variant of it.

Like the researchers at the mansion. Like the Tyrant.

Jill closed her eyes, thinking about the recurring dream, about what it meant. It matched the real chain of events perfectly, except for the end -Brad Vickers, the S.T.A.R.S. Alpha pilot, had thrown something out of the 'copter, a grenade launcher, and Chris had blown up the Tyrant as it was going after her. They'd all got-ten away in time... but in a way, that didn't matter. For all the good they'd been able to accomplish since then, they might as well have died. It's not our fault, Jill thought angrily, aware that she wanted to believe that more than anything. No one would listen  - not the home office, not Chief Irons, not the press. If they'd listened, if they'd believed...

Strange, that all of it had happened only six weeks ago; it felt like years. The city officials and the local papers had enjoyed a field day with the S.T.A.R.S.'s reputation  - six dead, the rest babbling fantastic stories about a secret laboratory, about monsters and zombies and an Umbrella conspiracy. They had been suspended and ridiculed, but worst of all, nothing had been done to prevent the spread of the virus. She and the others had only been able to hope that the destruction of the spill site had put an end to the immediate danger. In the weeks following, so much had happened. They'd uncovered the truth about the S.T.A.R.S., that Umbrella  - technically, White Umbrella, the division in charge of bioweapons research  - was either bribing or blackmailing key members nationally in order to con-tinue their research unimpeded. They'd learned that several of Raccoon City's council members were on the Umbrella payroll, and that Umbrella probably had more than one research facility experimenting with man-made diseases. Their search for information about Trent, the stranger who'd contacted her before the dis-astrous mission as "a friend to the S.T.A.R.S.," had turned up nothing, but they'd come up with some ex-tremely interesting background stuff on Chief Irons: it seemed that the chief had been in hot water at one point about a possible rape, and that Umbrella knew about it and had helped him get his position anyway. Perhaps most difficult of all, their team had been forced to split up, to make hard decisions about what needed to be done and about their own responsibilities to the truth. Jill smiled faintly; the one thing she could feel good about in all of this was that at least her friends had made it out. Rebecca Chambers had joined up with an-other small group of S.T.A.R.S. dissidents who were checking out rumors of other Umbrella laboratories. Brad Vickers, true to his cowardly nature, had skipped town to avoid Umbrella's wrath. Chris Redfield was al-ready in Europe, scoping out the company's headquar-ters and waiting for Barry Burton and Rebecca's team to join him... and for Jill, who was going to wrap up her investigation of Umbrella's local offices before hooking up with the others. Except five days ago, something terrible had hap-pened in Raccoon. It was still happening, unfolding like some poisonous flower, and the only hope now was to wait for someone outside to take notice. When the first few cases had been reported, no one had connected them with the S.T.A.R.S. stories about the Spencer estate. Several people had been attacked in the late spring and early summer  - surely the work of some deranged killer, after all; the RPD would catch him in no time. It wasn't until the Raccoon Police De-partment had put up roadblocks on Umbrella orders, three days earlier, that people had started paying atten-tion. Jill didn't know how they were managing to keep people out of the city, but they were  - nothing shipped in, no mail service, and the outside lines were cut. Citi-zens trying to leave town were turned back, told noth-ing about why. It all seemed so surreal now, those first hours after Jill had found out about the attacks, about the block-ades. She'd gone to the RPD building to see Chief Irons, but he had refused to talk to her. Jill had known that some of the cops would listen, that not everyone was as blind or corrupt as Irons  - but even with the bizarre nature of the assaults they'd witnessed, they hadn't been ready to accept the truth. And who could blame them? "Listen up, officers -

- Umbrella, the company that's responsible for building up our fair city, has been experimenting with a de-signer virus in their own backyard. They've been breeding and growing unnatural creatures in secret laboratories, then injecting them with something that makes them incredibly strong and extremely violent. When humans are exposed to this stuff, they become zombies, for lack of a better term. Flesh-eating, mind-less, decaying-on-the-hoof zombies, who feel no pain and try to eat other people. They're not really dead, but they're pretty close. So, let's work together, okay? Let's go out there and start mowing down unarmed cit-izens in the streets, your friends and neighbors, be-cause if we don't, you could be next."

Sitting on the edge of the bed, Jill sighed. She'd been a little more tactful, but no matter how well worded, it was still an insane story. Of course they hadn't believed her, not then, not in the light of day and in the safety of their uniforms. It hadn't been until after dark, when the screaming had begun... That had been the 25th of September, and today was the 28th, and the police were almost certainly all dead; she'd last heard gunshots... yesterday? Last night? It could have been the rioters, she supposed, but it didn't matter anymore. Raccoon was dead, except for the brain-dead virus carriers that roamed the streets, look-ing for a meal. Between no sleep and a near constant pump of adrenaline, the days had blurred together for her. After the police force had been destroyed, Jill had spent her time looking for survivors, endless hours ducking down alleys, knocking on doors, combing buildings for those who'd managed to hide. She'd found dozens, and with some help from a few of them, they'd made it to a safe place, a high school that they had barricaded. Jill had made sure they were se-cure before going back out into the city, searching for others. She'd found no one. And this morning, when she'd gone back to the high school... She didn't want to think about it, but some part of her knew that she had to, that she couldn't afford to for-get. This morning, she'd gone back and the barricade had been gone. Torn down by zombies, or perhaps taken down by someone inside, someone who looked out and thought they saw a brother or uncle or daughter in the crowd of flesh-eaters. Someone who thought that they were saving the life of a loved one, not realizing that it was too late. It had been a slaughterhouse, the air fetid with the stink of shit and vomit, the walls decorated with great smears of blood. Jill had nearly given up, then, more tired than she'd ever been, unable to see anything but the bodies of those who'd been lucky enough to die be-fore the virus could amplify in their systems. As she'd walked through the almost empty halls, killing the handful of carriers that had still been stumbling around  - people she'd found, people who had cried with relief when they'd seen her only hours before -whatever hope she'd held on to was gone, lost with the realization that everything she'd been through was worthless. Knowing the truth about Umbrella hadn't saved anyone, and the citizens she thought she'd led to safety  - over seventy men, women, and children  - were gone.

She couldn't really remember how she'd made it home. She hadn't been able to think straight, and had barely been able to see through eyes swollen from cry-ing. Outside of how it affected her, thousands had died; it was a tragedy so vast it was nearly incomprehensible. It could have been prevented. And it was Umbrella's fault. Jill pulled the Beretta out from under her pillow, al-lowing herself to feel for the first time the immensity of what Umbrella had done. For the last few days, she'd kept her emotions in check  - there had been people to lead, to help, and there'd been no place for any per-sonal feelings.

Now, though...

She was ready to get out of Raccoon and make the bastards who'd let this happen know how she felt. They had stolen her hope, but they couldn't stop her from surviving. Jill chambered a round and set her jaw, the stirrings of true hatred in her gut. It was time to leave.

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