EIGHT

“SHIT.” CLAIRE HISSED, FEELING HELPLESS and afraid, wanting to beat against the wall panel until it released the two men.

Trap, it was a trap, a setup. “Listen… it’s going down,” Rebecca said, and Claire heard it, too. She turned, saw David tapping the keypad with one hand, flashlight in the other, his face grim. “David,” Claire started, and stopped as David spared her a pointed glance, a look that told her to wait. He barely paused in his number punching, returning his entire attention back to the controls. She turned to Rebecca, saw that Rebecca was chewing at her lip nervously, watching David. “He must be trying all the codes,” she whispered to Claire, and Claire nodded, feeling sick with worry, wanting to talk action but realizing that David needed to concentrate. She compromised, leaning in to whis– per back to Rebecca; if she just stood there quietly in the freezing dark, she’d lose her mind.

“Think it was Trent?” Rebecca frowned, then shook her head. “No. I think we hit a silent alarm or something. I saw a light flashing in the elevator before the gate closed.”

Rebecca sounded just as scared as she was, just as terrified, and Claire thought about how close she and John must have gotten. As close as Leon and herself, maybe. Claire instinctively reached for her hand and Rebecca took it, squeezing it tightly, both of them watching David.

Come on, one of them has to open it, to bring it back…

A few tense seconds passed, and David stopped hitting keys. He pointed the flashlight up, the reflec– tion just enough light to see each other by.

“Seems that the numbers don’t work if the lift is in use,” he said. His voice was calm and easy, but Claire could see that his jaw was clenched, the muscles in his cheeks twitching.

“I’ll try them all again in a moment, and then again, but since someone else seems to have access to the lift’s master control, we should start consider-ing other options. Rebecca – start looking for a cam-era, check the corners and ceiling; if we’re going to be here awhile, we’ll need privacy. Claire, see if you can find any tools we might use to get through the wall –

– tire iron, screwdriver, anything. If the codes won’t work, we’ll see if we can’t force our way in. Ques– tions?” “No,” Rebecca said, and Claire shook her head. “Good. Take a deep breath and get to it.”

David went back to the keypad and Rebecca walked to the corner, turning her flashlight to the ceiling. Claire took a deep breath and turned, looking at the dusty table in the middle of the room. It had stacked drawers on either side; she opened the first, pushing aside papers and clutter, thinking that David really kicked ass under pressure.

Tire iron, screwdriver, anything… be careful, please be careful and don’t get killed…

Claire forced herself to take another deep breath; then she opened the next drawer, continuing her search. John took the lead, which Leon was only too happy to follow. He may have survived Raccoon, but the ex-

S.T.A.R.S. soldier had been in and out of combat situations for something like nine years; he won. “Get down,” John said, crouching himself, then lying down on his stomach and wrapping the M-16 strap tightly around his muscular arm. “If it’s an ambush, they’ll be aiming high when the door opens; we take out their knees. Works like a charm.”

Leon lay down next to him, propping his right arm up with his left hand, his nine-millimeter pointed loosely at the gate. Outside, the darkness slid past, nothing to see but metal-lined shaft. “And if it’s not?” “Stand up, you take the right, I’ll take left, stay in the car if you can. If you find yourself aiming at a wall, turn around and shoot low.”

John glanced over at him – incredibly, a wide grin was spreading across his face. “Think of all the fun they’re going to miss. We get to blow some Umbrella guys all to shit, and they’re stuck in the cold dark with nothing to do.”

Leon was a little too tense to smile back, although he made an effort. “Yeah, some guys get all the luck,”he said. John shook his head, his grin fading. “Nothing we can do but go for the ride,” he said, and Leon nodded, swallowing. John might be crazy, but he was right about that much. They were where they were, wishing otherwise wouldn’t make it so.

Doesn’t hurt to try, though. Christ, I wish we hadn’t stepped on this thing…

The elevator kept going down, and they both fell silent, waiting. Leon was glad that John wasn’t the chatty type; he liked to crack jokes, but it was obvious that he didn’t take a dangerous situation lightly. Leon saw that he was breathing deeply, sighting the M-16, preparing for whatever was going to happen. Leon took a few deep breaths himself, trying to relax into the prone position –

–and the elevator stopped. There was a soft ping sound, a chime, and the mesh gate was moving, disappearing into its designated hole in the wall. A windowless outer door rose at the same time, mellow light spilled across them –

– and there was nobody. A polished concrete wall twenty feet away, a polished concrete floor. Gray emptiness.

Get up, go!

Leon scrambled to his feet, heart beating too fast, John silent and even faster to his left. An exchanged glance and they both took one step out of the elevator, Leon whipping his VP70 around right, ready to fire and there was nothing. Again. A wide corridor that seemed a mile long, the faint, mingled scents of dust and some industrial disinfectant in the cool air. Cool, but not at all cold; compared to the surface, it was summer. The hall was a hundred and fifty yards easy, maybe more; there were a few offshoots, rounded lights spaced at regular intervals along the ceiling, no signs posted and no sign of life either.

So who brought us down? And why, if they weren’t planning on meeting us with a few bullets?”Maybe they’re all playing bingo,” John said softly, and Leon looked back, saw that except for the place-ment of a few side halls, John’s side was identical to his. And just as empty.They both stepped back into the elevator. John reached for the controls, tapped the “Up” button, and nothing happened. “What now?” Leon asked. “Don’t ask me, David’s the brains behind our outfit,” John said. “Though I got the looks.”Jesus, John,” Leon said, frustrated. “You’ve got seniority here; give me a break, will ya?”John shrugged. “Okay. Here’s what I’m thinking. Maybe it wasn’t a trap. Maybe… if it was a trap, they would’ve tried to get all of us. And we’d be in the middle of a firefight right now.” And the timing. The elevator was only there for a few seconds – as if someone realized we’d called it up…”Someone was trying to keep us from getting on,

weren’t they?” Leon said, not really asking. “To keep us from coming down.” John nodded. “Give that man a cigar. And if that’s right, it means they’re scared of us. I mean, there’s no security, right? Whoever brought us down probably hightailed it to a room with a lock.” “As to what we do now,” he continued, “I’m open to suggestions. It’d be nice to rejoin our group, but if we can’t figure out how to get the elevator going…”

Leon frowned, thinking, remembering that before Raccoon had pretty much blown his career choice, he had been trained as a cop.

Use the tools you’ve got… “Secure the area,” he said slowly. “Same plan as before, at least the first part. Get the employees secured, then worry about the elevator. Dealing with Reston will just have to wait.”

John held up his hand suddenly, cutting him off, his head cocked to one side. Leon listened, but didn’t hear anything. A few seconds passed and then John lowered his hand. He shrugged dismissively, but his dark eyes were wary and he held the automatic rifle close. “Good call,” he said finally. “If we can find the damn employees. You wanna go left or right?”

Leon smiled faintly, suddenly remembering the last time he’d had to pick a direction. He’d taken a left in the subbasement of Umbrella’s Raccoon lab and run into a dead end; having to backtrack had almost cost him his life. “Right,” he said. “Left has some bad associations for me.”

John cocked an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything; oddly enough, he seemed satisfied with Leon’s rea– soning.

Maybe because he’s crazy. Crazy enough to make bad jokes in the midst of situations like this, anyway.

Together, they stepped out into the long, empty corridor and turned right, moving slowly, John watch– ing their back and Leon scanning every offshoot’s opening for a sign of movement. The first side hall was to their left, not fifteen feet from the elevator. “Hang on,” John said, and ducked into the short hall, walking quickly to a single door at the back. He rattled the handle, then hurried back out, shaking his head. “Thought I heard something before,” he said, and Leon nodded, thinking about how easy it would be for someone to kill them.

Hide in a locked room, wait ’til we’re past, step out and pow…

Bad thinking. Leon let it go and they continued their slow trek down the passage, sweeping every inch with their weapons, Leon realizing that the thermal under– wear’d been a bad idea, as sweat started to trickle down his body – and wondering, quite abruptly, how things had gone so wrong so fast.

Reston had an idea. He’d almost panicked after he’d heard them saying things that they shouldn’t have known, hiding in control with the door cracked open. When he’d heard one of them say his name, he’d felt the panic rise into his throat like bile, coloring his mind with visions of his own horrible death. He’d closed the door then, locking it, sagging against it as he tried to think, to sort through his options. When one of them had rattled the door, he’d very nearly screamed, but had managed to hold still, to make no sound at all until the interloper had moved on. It took him a few moments to collect himself after that, to remember that this was something he could handle; strangely enough, it was the thought of Trent that did it for him. Trent wouldn’t panic. Trent would know exactly what to do – and he most certainly wouldn’t run crying to Jackson for help. In spite of that, he’d almost picked up the phone several times as he watched the monitors, watched the two men terrorizing his employees. They were effi– cient, unlike their rumbling counterparts still working to figure out the elevator on the surface. It had taken the two men all of five minutes once they’d reached the living area to get the workers together; it helped that five of them were still awake and playing cards in the cafeteria, three of the construction crew and both mechanics. The young white man watched them as the other one went to the dorm and roused the rest, marching them back to the cafeteria, crowding them with his automatic weapon. Reston was disappointed with the lackluster perfor-mance of his people, not one fighter among them, and was still very afraid. Once the teams from the city came in he’d have something to work with, but until then, all sorts of bad things might happen.

“Dealing with Reston will just have to wait…”What happens when they realize I’m not in their hostage group? What do they want? What could they want, except to hold me for ransom or kill me?

He’d been on the verge of calling Sidney, in spite of the fact that Jackson would certainly find out about it – but he’d risk his colleague’s disapproval, he’d risk losing his place in the inner circle if it meant he could survive this invasion. He was actually reaching for the phone when he realized that someone was missing. Reston leaned closer to the cafeteria monitor, frowning, forgetting the phone. There were fourteen people grouped to-gether in the middle of the room, the two gunmen standing some distance away.

Where’s the other one? Who’s the other one?

Reston reached out and touched the screen, mark– ing off the faces of the bleary-eyed hostages. The five construction workers. Two mechanics. The cook, the specimen handlers, all six of them… “Cole,” he muttered, pursing his lips. The electri– cian, Henry Cole. He wasn’t there. An idea began to form, but it depended on where Cole actually was. Reston tapped at the buttons that worked the screens, beginning to hope, to see a way not only to survive, but to – to win. To come out on top. There were twenty-two screens in the control room, but almost fifty cameras set up throughout the Planet and in the surface “weather” station. The Planet had been built with video in mind, the layout fairly simple; from control, one could see almost every part of every hall, room, and environment, the cameras placed at key points. Finding someone was just a matter of pushing the right button to switch between views. Reston checked the test rooms first, each set of cameras in phases One through Four. No luck. He tried the science area next, the surgical rooms, the chem lab, even the stasis room; again, he didn’t see anyone.

He wouldn’t be in quarters, they’ve certainly cleared everyone else out… and there’s no reason for him to be on the surface…

Reston grinned suddenly, punching up the cameras in and around the holding cells. Cole and both of the mechanics had been using the cells to lay out equip– ment, wires and tools and various bits of machinery.

There!

Cole was sitting on the floor in between cells one and nine, sorting through a box of little metal pieces, his skinny legs splayed out in front of him. Reston looked back at the cafeteria, saw that the two armed men seemed to be conferring, watching the useless, huddled group of workers. On the surface, the other three were still hammering at the keypad and searching for something or other… The idea took shape, the possibilities coming to him one at a time, each more interesting and exciting than the last. The data he could collect, the respect that he would earn, getting rid of his problem and promoting himself at the same time.

I could edit the tapes together, have something to show my visitors after the tour – and won’t Sidney be undone when Jackson sees what I’ve accomplished, how I’ve handled things. I’ll be the golden child for a change…

Reston stood up from the console, still grinning, nervous but hopeful. He’d have to hurry, and he’d have to use all his acting skills with Cole; not a problem, considering that he’d spent thirty years of his life developing them, honing them… Before joining Umbrella, he’d been a diplomat. It would work. They wanted Reston; he’d give him to them.

Contents