ELEVEN

After he’d instructed athens and sent him on his way, he’d prepared the syringes and decided on a place to hide. There was nothing left for him to do but wait. In spite of his earlier feelings of confidence, he was nervous now, pacing through the lab restlessly. What if Athens had forgotten how to load a rifle? What if the enclosure release didn’t work, or the intruders had the firepower to stop the Ma7s?

He’d tried to prepare for every possibility, each plan unfolding into a backup, but what if everything failed, if all of them fell through? I’ll kill them myself, I’ll strangle them with my bare hands! They will not stop me from doing what must be done. They can’t – not after all I’ve accomplished, not after everything I’ve been through to get to where I am…

For the second time that day, he flashed back to the takeover of the compound… the strange, vivid im– ages of that bright and sunny day less than a month ago. Instead of blocking the thoughts as he’d done before, he let them come, inviting them in to re– mind him of what he was capable of doing when the need arose. He abruptly stopped pacing and moved to a chair, collapsing into it and closing his eyes.

A bright and sunny day…

Once he’d realized what had to be done, he’d planned it for over two weeks, working over each detail tirelessly until he’d been satisfied that every variable had been addressed. He’d spent time reading about the Trisquads and going through the master logs, memorizing the routine of the facility. He’d watched the habits of his colleagues, learned their schedules until he could have recited them backward. He’d stared for hours at the sketches he’d made of each building, walking through them in his mind a thousand times. After careful consideration, he chose a date and several days before, he’d slipped into the Trisquad processing room and stolen several small vials of extremely powerful medication. Kylosynthesine, Mamesidine, Tralphenide – animal tranquilizers and a synthesized narcotic, some of Um– brella’s finest work… It had only taken him an afternoon to get the mix the way he’d wanted it, just as he’d hoped. Then he’d waited, much as he was waiting now… The day before his plan was to unfold, he’d watched a Trisquad processing and then asked Tom Athens to come to the lab after dinner to privately discuss some thoughts he’d had on intensifying the suggestibility factor. Athens had been only too happy to accept, had listened eagerly to Griffith’s description of the strain he’d already created – couched in hypothetical terms, of course – and after a nice, hot cup of laced coffee, Athens had become the first to experience Griffith’s miracle. Griffith smiled, remembering those initial glorious moments, the very first -and truly the most impor– tant test of the strain’s effectiveness. He’d told Athens that the only voice he could hear was that of Nicolas Griffith, that all others would be meaningless Babble and the suggestion had taken as easy as that. In the early hours of that fateful morning, he’d played a tape of one of Athens’s own lectures for the compli– ant doctor and the doctor had heard nothing but gibberish. If it had failed, Griffith would have aborted the takeover, no one the wiser. He’d had an unfortunate accident in mind if the strain hadn’t worked the way it was supposed to; Athens’s body would have been found the next day, washed up on the rocky beach. But the incredible success of his creation had proved beyond doubt that it was meant to be, that he really had no choice but to continue…… and so, the kitchen. The drops of sedative in the coffee cups, on the pas tries, injected oh so carefully into the fruit and dissolved into the milk, the juices… Of the nineteen men and women who lived and worked in Caliban Cove, only one regularly skipped breakfast and didn’t drink coffee, Kim D’Santo, the ridiculous young woman who worked with the T-Virus; Griffith had sent Athens to slit her throat as she lay sleeping, before the sun came up… and it was a bright and sunny day, cloudless and clear as they gobbled their breakfasts and swallowed their coffee, walking out into the cool morning air, collapsing to the ground, many of them not making it out of the cafeteria before they stumbled and fell, a few crying out that they ‘d been poisoned as the words failed them and the drugs sent them to sleep. Griffith frowned, trying to remember what had happened next. He’d selected Thurman, unable to resist the petty pleasure of showing the good doctor what he’d created. Then Alan Kinneson, although he hadn’t given the gift to Alan until later, keeping him sedated… He knew the facts: Thurman and Athens had dis– posed of the workers and piled them in block A. Lyle Ammon had managed to keep himself hidden for a time, but had been found by the Trisquads later that evening. Griffith had eaten a late supper and gone to bed, waking up early to move papers and software to the lab. These were facts, things that he knew, but for some reason, the reality had blurred and he couldn’t actually remember what he had seen, what had transpired for him the rest of that day. Griffith searched through his thoughts, concentrat-ing, but could only find the same hazy and uncertain images: a blinding mid-day sun, bathing the sleeping bodies in red. The scream of a gull over the cove, relentless and wild, calling to the hot wind. A coppery smell of dirt and, and…

…blood on my hands, on the scalpel that glittered wet and sharp and plunged into soft, yielding flesh of faces and bellies and eyes and later, the thundering crash of waves in the dark and the spool of fishing line and Amman, Amman, waving…

His eyes snapped open and the nightmare was over. Shaken, Griffith looked around at the cool, soft light of the laboratory. He must have dozed off for a moment, must have. Yes, that was it. He’d fallen asleep and had a terrible dream. He looked at the clock, saw that only a few mo– ments had passed since he’d sent the two doctors out. He felt a rush of relief, realizing that he hadn’t been asleep for very long, but as the relief ebbed, he felt the nervousness slip back into his body, jittering and pulsing anxiety about the intruders that had come to his facility.

They won’t stop me. It’s mine.

Griffith stood up and started to pace restlessly, back and forth, waiting.

The “time rainbow” test, number seven, took only a moment longer to complete than test number four, what David had started to think of as the “chess test.”

John and Karen had shown him to the small table in the big room, standing behind him as he’d uprighted the colored tiles and laid them out. Beneath the heap of nine rainbow-shaded pieces was an elongated in-dentation, perhaps a foot long and two inches across; it was clear that just seven of the tiles would fit.

Seven colors in the rainbow, seven tiles. Simple. So why are there nine of them?

David ordered the pieces by their colors, placing them in a row beneath the indentation. Each bore a different letter on the top, inked in black. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and three violet tiles with three different letters. “Is it supposed to spell something?” John asked. Going from left to right, the first six tiles read, J F M A M J. “Not in English,” Karen said mildly. The three violet pieces were J, M and P. David sighed. “It’s one of those where you have to figure out the next in the series,” he said. “Apparently relating to time. Any thoughts?”

John and Karen both stared down at the puzzle, studying the letters; he wondered if they were as tired as he was starting to feel. John seemed distinctly less chipper than usual, and Karen looked fairly wiped out, her skin pale and gaze somewhat distant.

Of course they’re tired, but at least they’re making an attempt…

David looked back at the colored pieces and tried to focus, but couldn’t seem to manage a single coherent idea. It had been an awfully long day, periods of intense concentration interspersed with violent rushes of adrenaline. He’d run through fear, self-doubt, deter– mination and then fear again, plus a handful of less clear-cut emotions. Now he just felt frazzled, waiting to see what would come next… John grinned suddenly, a triumphant light in his eyes. “The letters stand for the months – January, February, March, April, May, June – July. It’s J, the last letter is J.” “Brilliant,” David said. He started to place the tiles in the indentation as John nudged Karen with his elbow, still grinning. “And you thought all I was good for was easy sex.”

As usual, Karen didn’t bother answering. Relieved to be through the second test, David pushed the last piece into place. There was a faint click and the rainbow lowered very slightly, perhaps a millimeter. From above them, a gentle chime sounded from a speaker, this one hidden by a fluorescent bar. “That all I get?” John quipped. “No parade?”

David stood up, smiling tiredly. “I felt the same way with the other one. We should get moving, see how Steve and Rebecca are making out.” “Interesting way of putting it, David,” John said, chuckling. “Nice one.” It took David a moment to get it, though Karen rolled her eyes almost immediately, then scratched at them. When she took her hand away, David saw that her right eye was extremely bloodshot. The left was also slightly discolored, though not as badly. She noticed his scrutiny and smiled at him, shrug– ging. “I irritated it somehow. It itches, but it’s fine.” “Don’t rub it, you’ll make it worse,” David said, leading them toward the door. “And have Rebecca take a look when we get across.”

They walked back into a connecting corridor and started for the back exit, David steeling himself for another dash across the compound. By his count, they’d managed to take down three of the Trisquads in full; three men outside of the boathouse and a fourth on the run to the first building, then John and Karen’s five between blocks C and D.

Useful information, if you happen to know how many of the squads there were to begin with.

He ignored the inner sarcasm as they reached the metal door, Karen leaning back to turn off the over– head light. They pulled out weapons and took deep breaths, preparing and David felt a familiar sensa– tion wash over him, one that he’d experienced before in tight situations but had never been able to name. It wasn’t a feeling so much as a state of existence and although not a religious man, it was the closest thing he’d found to a belief in fate, a sense that there were patterns at play beyond the realm of human influence. Whatever was going to happen, whatever was al-ready happening even as they readied themselves to step back outside – all of the deciding factors were now firmly in place, interlocking like pieces of a puzzle. He felt it with a certainty that denied reason. It was as though a great wheel of chance that deter-mined outcome, that would show them life or death, success or failure, had been set into motion and was now spinning toward its inevitable conclusion – only instead of slowing down, the wheel would turn stead-ily faster, speeding up as it revealed to them what the cosmos had planned. In the past, he’d often found comfort in the sudden awareness of that spinning wheel, the undefinable sense that the outcome had been decided and all anyone could do was watch it unfold. When he’d been a child and his father had been on one of his drunken, abusive rampages, the belief in a bigger picture had sometimes been the only thing that saved him from total despair. This time, though… this time, it felt like a terrible thing, a dark and whirling carnival ride that they had boarded by mistake, not realizing the truth until it was too late, that they couldn’t go back, and there was no avoiding whatever lay ahead.

We hang on, then. We do what we can.

David stepped to the door, flicking the Beretta’s safety off. Whether or not they had any control over what was to come, Rebecca and Steve were waiting.

The test room was quiet except for the soft hum from the machines marked with blue numbers, nine through twelve, and the occasional rustle of a turning page as Rebecca went through Athens’s journal. Steve sat on the edge of a table and watched her read, his thoughts restless and uneasy as they waited for the others to show up. His chest ached mildly, both from the small caliber round he’d taken earlier and the anxious build of worry for John and Karen. After a quick look at the other rooms in the building, they’d both agreed that the test room was the place to wait. It seemed that block B of the Umbrella facility was mostly devoted to surgical aspects of the bio-weapons research, the rooms all white and steel, ominously stark and unpleasant. Although the building was as stuffy and warm as the others they’d been in, Steve had felt a physical chill as they’d passed the empty operating rooms – as if the chambers themselves had taken on the characteristics of the T-Virus creatures. Cold and lifeless and some– how mindlessly black with purpose… Rebecca looked up, her eyes flashing with excite– ment. “Listen to this: ‘”They’re still waiting for our feedback on expansion ever since Griffith revved up the amp time. ‘We’ve got the space for up to twenty units, but I’m going to hold strong on a max of twelve; we wouldn’t be able to concentrate on training more than four squads at a time. Ammon said he’ll back me up if there’s any hassle.'”

Steve nodded, half dismayed and half relieved by the information. They’d already knocked one of the Trisquads out of the running, plus seriously wounded or killed a couple of the individuals on another team; that was good. On the other hand, it meant that there were still a couple of the squads roaming around out there – unless they’re currently “engaged” with David and the others… He scowled inwardly, grasping for something else to think about.

“Do you know what that means, ‘revved up the amp time’?”

Rebecca nodded slowly, worry creasing her brow.

“I’m pretty sure he means that Griffith sped up the amplification process. Amplification is the term for a virus’s spread through a host.”

That didn’t sound like something he wanted to think about either. By some unspoken agreement, they hadn’t talked about the possibility of John or Karen being infected since David had left.

“Great. You find anything else in there?” She shook her head. “Not really. He mentions the Ma7s a couple of times, but nothing more specific than that they’re a T-Virus experiment that didn’t work. And he’s definitely kind of an asshole.” “Kind of?” Rebecca smiled briefly. “Okay, that’s an under-statement. He’s a money-hungry, amoral bastard.”

Steve nodded, thinking about the partial report they’d found on the Trisquads and for that matter, the very existence of the facility. Calling the T-Virus victims “units,” setting up operating rooms and apti– tude tests to run them through like rats in a maze –

– it’s like they can’t acknowledge that they’re per– forming their experiments on human beings, on real people… “How could they do this?” he asked softly, as much to himself as to Rebecca. “How did they sleep at night?”

Rebecca gazed at him solemnly, as if she had an answer but wasn’t sure how to say it. Finally, she sighed. “When you specialize in one field, particularly when it’s a field that demands linear thinking and a very defined focus on only one tiny element of some-thing – it’s kind of hard to explain, but it’s frighten-ingly easy to get lost in that single element, to forget there’s a world outside of that element. When you spend your days looking into a microscope, sur-rounded by numbers and letters and processes… some people get lost. And if they were unstable to begin with, the ambition to pursue that element can take over, making everything else unimportant.”

Steve saw what she was getting at and was im– pressed anew with how thoughtful she was, how clearly she communicated herself…

… all that and a smile that lights up a room; if –

–when we get out of this, I’m moving to Raccoon City. Or I’ll at least find out if she’s seeing anyone…

There was a sound from somewhere in the building, footsteps. Steve pushed himself off the table and walked quickly to the door.

He leaned out into the corridor and heard David’s voice calling through the empty block. “In the back!” Steve shouted, then waited, anx-iously watching the corner in the hall for David to walk into view, John and Karen both healthy and smiling beside him. Rebecca moved to stand next to Steve, and he saw the same concern and hope written across her delicate features. Instinctively, he groped for her hand, feeling a tingling jolt as their fingers touched, half expecting her to pull away, but she didn’t, leaning against him instead as she held his hand gently, her skin soft and warm on his. John’s booming voice preceded him down the cor– ridor, loud and full of bright good humor. “Get your clothes on, kids, you’ve got company!”

She dropped his hand quickly, but the look that she flashed him more than made up for it – a sweet and wistful expression that made his heart skip a beat, but there was a maturity there, too, a realization of the circumstances they were in, an acknowledgment of priorities.

No more until we’re out of here.

He nodded slightly, and they turned to wait for the others.

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