Chapter 12: Kitty

"Wow. I can't believe they would do that." Claire stated once Steve had filled her in on everything that had happened since he'd waken up, including Alexis and Ash.

"Yeah, that was pretty much my reaction, too." Steve agreed, "Although, after reading some of Alfred's little diaries, I guess it shouldn't come as quite a shock. I mean, the guy was obviously mentally disturbed. And he had a very unnatural obsession with his sister."

"Who knew it would lead to incest?" Claire cut in, "I'm actually kind of surprised Alexia would reciprocate such feelings. It's just not right." She made a face in demonstration.

"From what I've gathered, not much about those two was right. And I could tell from meeting him that their son is equally disturbed. But Alexis…I don't know. She doesn't really strike me as being evil or mean spirited. Stubborn, maybe. She just can't seem to accept the fact that her parents were cold-blooded killers."

Claire was silent for a moment. When she did speak, her voice was cool and understanding.

"Well, I guess that's not so hard to understand. Everyone wants to think the best of their families. She's just going to have to learn on her own."

There was a bit more silence as the two friends continued on their aimless journey through room after room. Some were empty, others required darting past the undead residents before they could take that first bite. All along the way, both were looking for better weapons and clues that might lead them to Chris.

"So," Steve ventured, "Let me see if I have your events sorted properly: Alexia was killed by your brother by means of linear launcher, the Antarctic facility is pretty much history, and you and your brother have taken to hiding for the time being. Then, two weeks after the whole Antarctic fiasco, you get a tip that HCF is building a better virus, you follow your lead only to find out much later that he is actually the son of your worst enemy, but by that time you're already chained up and waiting as bait in some dungeon to lure your brother into a trap. Did I leave anything out?"

"Not that I can think of." Claire frowned, suddenly feeling very responsible, "I can't help but thinking none of this ever would have happened if I hadn't gotten separated from Chris and Alan."

"Maybe not, but then you might never have found me! Who knows how that would've turned out? And, hey, you probably still wouldn't know that your friend was the relative of the enemy, would you?" Steve offered sympathetically, "Speaking of which, this Alan guy, does it seem to you that he's following in Daddy's footprints, or is he more…I don't know, trustworthy?"

Claire's frown deepened when they entered a room done all in red. "I don't know if I'd call Alan trustworthy, but I don't think this is going to be a like father like son deal. He was actually very sad about having to lure Chris into a trap. He even tried to free me, for all the good that did him. His dad kicked his butt. Though I don't know him very well, judging from what I've seen I honestly don't think he'd intentionally harm us of his own free will." She paused a moment before adding, "Wow. Would you look at this room."

The entire room was done exclusively in red. Red carpet, red walls, red curtains, red bed, red everything. It made the hair on the back of Claire's neck stand on end.

"I don't like this room." Steve worded what Claire was thinking, "It's too…discomforting."

"I agree." Claire added, "Like fresh blood."

Without warning, there was a monstrous bellow from the door behind them and heavy footsteps thudded closer and closer. Within second there was the earsplitting scream of cracking wood and ruptured plaster.

"What's…?!" Steve started. He turned to look at the titanic beast-man towering a good eight or nine feet tall directly in the threshold of the now splintered doorway.

"It's a tyrant!" Claire shrieked. She was reasonably upset--here was a creature of awesome power and the all they had to defend themselves was Steve's ax. She mentally cursed Wesker yet again for taking her side-pack and gun. Who knew where they were now? He certainly hadn't been considerate enough to leave them in the torture chamber where she could see them.

"Quick, through the door!" Claire was already opening the only other door in the room. It led straight down a stony staircase well lit by electric bulbs hanging from the ceiling from hooks and wire.

She flew down the stairs just as gracefully as if she had been born to do it, Steve hot on her trail. Her heart was slamming against her chest, abject fear driving her into the unknown.

If they didn't find a way to distract or confuse the monster, they were toast!

The staircase led into a huge earthy cavern hundreds of feet wide with a roof at least a hundred feet up. All the walls and even the floor were made of tunneled-out dirt packed tightly.

But it wasn't the basic appearance of the cavern that caught Claire's attention, it was what was inside the room.

There, laying on a nest of blankets and pillows on the ground not more than ten yards away, and bathed in the wane glow of the cavern, lay by far the largest, strangest beast Claire had ever seen.

A good 25-30 feet long, the large lion like beast coated in tawny fur was sleeping with it's eyes closed and forepaws extended in classic cat style. Upon hearing all the commotion, the great beast opened a glossy reddish eye.

%$#@! Not another monster! We are so dead! Was pretty much the only thought running through Claire's mind just then.

Nevertheless, the roar of the tyrant stomping down the stairs after them urged her onward. With any luck, maybe they'll fight each other and we'll get away!

Hope sprang anew.

"Whoa…that's Kiticore!" Steve marveled as he chased Claire into the open air of the cave and right past the sleepy behemoth.

"What?!" Claire gasped. Her voice could barely be heard above the roar of the tyrant.

"I saw a file about it on a computer." Steve explained, "One of HCF's little pets."

"I don't think I'd ever put the word 'little' in the same sentence used to describe that creature!"

"Hrrrrooooaaahh!!" Tyrant blundered down the steps, and the sleepy giant went from sleepy to feral in about two seconds flat.

Whipping it's furry raptor head around in a frenzy, the beast opened it's jaws in a proud display of it's two gleaming saber-fangs. In no time it was up on all fours, making a strange noise that sounded like a cross between a hissing snake and a growling wolf.

The Tyrant lunged for it.

In one swift motion, the Kiticore beast swatted the other mutant with a paw the size of a tire--razor-sharp claws extended. Tyrant was on the ground so fast it was dizzying.

Claire shot Steve a desperate glance, "We need to find someplace to hide!"

"Really?" Steve hissed, "You know, that thought hadn't occurred to me!"

He was nervous. Claire could tell not only by his words but also his body language. She really couldn't blame him. This clash of the titans would probably not last for long, and then they'd have the victor to deal with.

Mind racing, she scanned the cavern for passageways or hiding places. There were no obvious doors or passages, but what she did see was a huge water bowl large enough to be a swimming pool fed by a hose at one end of the cave. There were dozens of large wooden barrels stacked along the furthest side--easily enough to hide behind.

Steve reached the conclusion at the same time Claire did, and as one they ran for cover as the cavern walls echoed with the roars and hisses of two beasts clashing.

The battle was over even before they reached the barrels; Tyrant lay dead and dismembered at the entrance to the cave.

Once they were behind the safety of the barrels, the two panicked friends waited to see what creature would do next.

They didn't have long to wait.

Having completed it's kill, the Kiticore stretched out forelegs-first in a very catlike gesture. Huge, black, leathery wings unfolded and refolded.

Now fully awake, the creature pricked it's feline ears up and looked around for the humans who had escaped it.

Claire's heart froze when it looked towards the barrels. But much to her surprise--and relief--the huge beast merely sat on it's haunches and coiled it's deadly stinger-tail around it's front legs, just like a big tabby-cat might do. It made no effort to move for the barrels, even though it was looking straight at them.

"Great. Where's a lion tamer when you need one?" Steve joked in a low whisper.

"Forget that. What we need is a way out. That thing just tore that tyrant up like a catnip toy. What do you think it could do to us?"

"Well, what can we do?" Steve returned, desperate for a plan, "I don't see any other ways out of here unless you think we could dig our way out."

Claire shook her head. "I guess we'll just have to wait until it goes back to sleep."

Steve gave a frown of disapproval. "Yeah? What if it doesn't?"

As if in response, the catlike beast suddenly threw open it's mouth and made a weird birdlike chirp. This was followed by more of the same; it's throat rising and falling with each effort.

"What's it doing?" Claire wondered.

"I don't know," Steve admitted, "But it definitely doesn't sound like a threatening call."

Kiticore kept this call up for well over a minute. Then it stopped, flipped over onto it's back, and began rolling around in the dirt like a dog in a dust bath. It started to make small whimpering noises like a puppy.

Odd, why would it do that? Steve found himself thinking. He ran his mind over everything he could remember reading about Kiticore: big, powerful, smart as a dog….wait a minute.

The image of the Kiticore beast sitting next to it's creators in a photo crossed his mind. They'd had no restraints on that thing, yet it hadn't been attacking. It had just been sitting there like an obedient dog at it's master's side.

Steve's eyes shifted over to the corner of the cave where a huge water dish was handy, and then his gaze fell on the huge pile of bedding the creature had been using as a nest. It was all set up like Kiticore were nothing more than a really big dog. If they had considered it dangerous, the logical thing to do would be to keep it in a cage. You certainly wouldn't want something that big and deadly prowling around loose down in the cavern where you had to go to feed and water it, would you?

"Listen, I know this is going to sound crazy, but I don't think that thing wants to harm us." Steve said slowly.

Claire shot him an are-you-crazy look. He could see the doubt in her eyes.

And he had to admit that it was an awfully big chance to take with something as dangerous as Kiticore, but it was worth a shot.

"I think maybe it's friendly." Steve suggested, "I saw a photo of it sitting next to it's masters earlier. And check out the way the room is set up. I don't think it's owners were afraid of it or else they would have caged it. And…look at it." He gestured to the big animal rolling around in the dust, "That's not hunting behavior. I've seen dogs and even cats doing the same thing before. The thing I read said Kiticore is as smart as a dog. Maybe it just wants to let us know it's not going to hurt us."

Claire froze a minute, processing.

"Maybe." She said at last. "But how can we be sure?"

Without answering, Steve crept out slowly from behind the barrels.

"Steve! What are you doing?!" Claire hissed in a low half-whisper, "I wouldn't be willing to bet my life on it!"

But Steve was not listening. He stepped out into full view of the creature, but stayed at a safe enough distance to dart back for cover if need be.

"Hi there, Kiticore." Steve said just as casually as if he were talking to a pet dog.

Kiticore rolled back onto it's feet into a low crouch and looked at him curiously.

Really hoping that he was right about the creature, and more scared than he wanted to let on, Steve held out his hands palms up. He'd long since dropped the ax during the tyrant attack, which was probably a good thing now. He didn't want the creature to perceive him as a threat.

"You're not going to hurt me, are you?" The question, of course, was rhetorical.

Kiticore cocked it's head to one side, as if trying to figure him out.

"That's right." Steve went on, "You're just like a big dog, aren't you?"

The animal stood up and started towards him at casual pace.

Steve backed up a bit, and it stopped, as if sensing his fear.

It seemed to be saying: 'Okay, you want to take this slow, that's fine by me!'

He watched as the animal looked at him with playful eyes. It opened it's mouth slightly and a gentle chuffing sound came out.

As if it were inviting him to pet it.

Steve arched both eyebrows and shot a questioning glance to the barrels where Claire was hiding. She was peering between the edges where two barrels met, a flash of blue eyes and reddish-brown hair. She seemed less worried than she had before, and now she, too, was starting to come out of hiding.

Well, it probably doesn't want to kill me or else it would have tried by now. Steve reasoned, turning his attention back to the huge tawny animal in front of him, Still, it's hard to be brave in front of something that big!

Kiticore was less than twenty feet away now, but wasn't budging from where it sat when Steve had backed up.

Slowly, Steve started up to it. It just sat, waiting, and allowed him to come close enough to touch it.

"Steve! Be careful." Claire cautioned. She was out from behind the barrels now, and less than twenty feet behind Steve and Kiticore, watching their every move.

Gently, Steve reached out and petted the front of one of Kiticore's legs.

It gave a gentle rasping purr of happiness and shut it's eyes in contentment.

Relief washed over Steve in a big wave. "That's right," He cooed, "Nice Kiticore. Nice Kitty." To Claire, he said, "It's safe. Kitty's safe."

Claire smiled a bit. "Well I already knew it was safe. I was worried about us."

"Hah hah. Couldn't resist that, could you?"

"Are you kidding?" Claire joined Steve in stroking Kiticore's fur. It was course and doglike, but not unpleasant to the touch.

The Kiticore beast just rumbled on with it's throaty purr, not even opening it's eyes except for brief instances.

Claire had to admit that it was more than a little nerve-racking to be petting something that big with saber fangs that had just ripped apart tyrant. Heck, even sitting on it's haunches the creature's head was a couple of feet above Claire's and she was standing up.

"So nice to know that not all of these mutants are bloodthirsty killers." She breathed.

She was startled when the creature suddenly bent down and dipped it's head next to their hands.

Steve started petting it's enormous head and even scratching behind it's ears and around it's short, stubby horns. These horns--there were three of them--were arranged in a 'v' shape on the crown of the creature's head and each was no more than six inches long. They were more a protrusion of bone, really. Steve couldn't figure what they'd be used for or why Kiticore had been engineered to even have them.

"Claire. This is so cool! I wonder if Kitty knows commands."

"Kitty?" Claire echoed.

Steve shrugged. "Short for Kiticore. That's what I've decided to call her."

"Whoa, wait a minute," Claire said, incredulous, "How do you know it's a girl?"

"I don't." Steve confessed, " It just didn't seem right to keep calling it an it."

Claire laughed a bit. "You're acting like this is your new pet."

"Lay down." Steve ordered Kitty.

Kitty dropped onto the ground, front legs sprawled out in front of her.

Steve grinned like an idiot. "Isn't this cool?"

He turned back to Kitty. "Stand up."

Once again, the HCF creature obeyed.

"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" Claire asked, an idea starting to form, "If we could take it with us…"

"Her." Steve corrected.

Claire rolled her eyes. "Whatever. It..she..protected us from Tyrant, she may just be our ticket out of here."

"And, she has wings!" Steve added excitedly, "Do you think maybe we could ride her? We could search the entire island from the safety of the air!"

Claire frowned suddenly.

"What?" Steve prodded.

In response, she gestured to the narrow staircase they'd came down, the one which Tyrant's massive body now lye propped against the lower steps of.

"How are we going to get Kitty out? She'd never fit up those stairs."

Steve felt his hopes sink when he realized Claire was right. They'd have to find some other way.

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