They saw the aftermath of the explosion from ten miles outside the city, a black and billowing cloud that rose up into the early morning light and hung over Raccoon like a terrible storm or a bad dream, Rebecca thought, a recurring one. Umbrella. She didn't say it aloud, because it wasn't necessary. John and David hadn't gone through the Spencer estate nightmare, but they'd been at the Cove facility, witnesses to what Umbrella was capable of; they knew. Nobody spoke as David stepped up the speed, his knuckles white on the wheel. For once, John didn't crack any jokes about what might have happened. They all knew that it was bad; before Jill, Chris, and Barry had left for Europe, Jill had wired them with her suspicions about another accident, and asked them to keep tabs. When the phone lines had gone down, they'd loaded up the SUV and left Maine to see what could be done. The only question was how many people had died this time.

Maybe this is the end, finally. A blast like that... Umbrella can't cover this up so easily, not if it's as bad as it looks.

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John finally broke the silence, his deep, mellow voice uncharacteristically subdued. "Fail-safe?" David sighed. "Probably. And if there was a spill, we're not going in; we'll circle the city and then call for help from Latham. Umbrella is surely sending in its cleanup staff already."

Rebecca nodded along with John. They weren't technically part of the S.T.A.R.S. anymore, but David had been a captain before, and with good reason. They fell back into a tense silence, the dawn-touched trees spinning past the utility vehicle, Rebecca won- dering what they would find...... when she saw the people, staggering up into the road, waving their arms. "Hey..." she started, but David was already hitting the brakes, slowing down as they neared the three- some of ragged strangers. A cop with a bandaged arm and a young woman in shorts, both of them holding weapons, and a little girl in a pink vest that was much too big for her. They weren't infected, or at least not showing signs that Rebecca could see, but they looked like hell nonetheless. With their ripped clothes and their faces pale and shocked beneath masks of dirt, they certainly could have passed for walking death. "I'll talk," David said, his crisp British accent mild but firm, and then they were pulling up beside the Raccoon survivors. David opened his window and killed the engine, the young cop stepping forward as the woman slipped one grimy arm around the little girl's shoulders. "There's been an accident, in Raccoon," he said, and although they were obviously tired and wounded and badly in need of help, there was a wariness in the cop's tone, a guarded, careful note that suggested just how bad things had been. "A terrible accident. You don't want to go there, it's not safe." David frowned. "What sort of accident, Officer?" The young woman spoke up, her mouth a set and bitter line. "An Umbrella accident," she said, and the cop nodded, and the little blond girl buried her face against the woman's hip. John and Rebecca exchanged a look, and David hit the switch to unlock the doors. "Really? Those tend to be the worst kind," he said gently. "We'd be happy to help you, if you'd like, or we could call for help..."

It was a question. The cop glanced back at the woman, then met David's gaze for several long beats. He must have seen something in David's face that he felt he could trust; he nodded slowly, then motioned for the woman and girl to come forward. "Thanks," he said, the exhaustion finally coming through. "If you could give us a ride, that'd be great." David smiled. "Please, get in. John, Rebecca -

-would you assist...?"

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John grabbed a couple of blankets out of the back as Rebecca reached for her medical kit, careful not to uncover the rifles tucked next to the wheel well.

An Umbrella accident...

Rebecca wondered if they knew how lucky they were to have survived it, but another look into those three exhausted, shell-shocked faces told her that they probably did. They started talking even before David turned the vehicle around and in a very short time, they dis- covered that they had a lot in common, as the child fell asleep and they drove back the way they'd come, leaving the burning city behind.

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