THE TALLER ONE, JOHN, POINTED HIS AUTO-matic rifle at the Avi and let loose a hail of bullets.

Like a stream of destruction, they hit the Dac's aquiline skull and blew out the other side, dark fluids spattering across the freshly painted trees. Both eyes popped like water balloons.

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Damn. Low threshold; it's those hollow bones...

Reston watched as the other gunman pointed his weapon at a second Dac that had landed in the clearing. Even without sound, Reston could see the handgun kick three, four times, hitting the specimen in its narrow chest. The Dac's slender neck curved wildly back and forth, a squiggling dance of death before it sprawled, bleeding, against the ground. He didn't see any more of the animals touch down, but the three men were retreating, stumbling back into the woods. Poor Cole seemed quite undone, his mouth open in a silent howl, his lank brown hair practically plastered to his head with sweat, his limbs quaking. Serves him right for not getting to the audio. The lack of sound was annoying, although he supposed the footage wouldn't suffer for it. People knew what bullets and screams sounded like already. The three were moving out of range, heading west now. Reston switched cameras from the one in the tree to a long shot from the north wall. It was clear that Cole was trying to lead them to the connecting door - although he obviously didn't remember that a second, larger clearing was now in their path. For the moment, though, the Dacs had also pulled back; they generally gravitated toward open spaces. The gunmen had only killed two, which meant that there would be six healthy specimens to greet them in the "meadow." Reston had released all of the creatures into their habitats just after the call had come on the cell line from a Sergeant Steve Hawkinson, the man who was leading the surface effort. He had informed Reston only that two Umbrella teams - nine men, including himself - were starting a sweep of the compound, and that the fugitives' transport had been spotted; the three were still in the area unless they had a second vehicle, a highly unlikely possibility. Reston told him that the entry's camera had been covered by one of them and asked for an update as soon as anything turned up, then settled in to watch the show. He poured himself another brandy as he watched the three weave slowly through the trees, John with his weapon pointed above, the other scanning the shadows around them...

He needs a name, too. We have Henry, John, and Red? His hair is son of reddish.

Not really, but it would do, just as "Dac" worked for the Avis. There was no relation to pterodactyls, of course, and the "Av" was for "Aves," birds - and in fact, the Dacs were closer to bats than anything. There were just too many in the mammal series already. At the request of Jackson himself, the specimen growers had added some new classifications for clarity's sake, using some of the secondary contributors to that series's gene pool. Like the Spitters, who were closer to snakes than to goats, but'd been labeled Ca6s, for Capra, because of the cloven hooves...

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... and the Dacs do look like pterodactyls, or at least our modern concept of them, Reston thought, looking at the screen that showed the cage entrance. Two of the animals were still inside. The streamlined, muscular body and the narrow beak, the bone "comb" on the top of the head, the fibrous wings... they were really quite elegant in a brutal sort of way. The two in the massive behind-the-scenes "cave" were clearly agitated by all of the excitement, crawling back and forth on their folded wings and swinging their heads from side to side. Reston didn't know much from the biological end, but he knew that they hunted by motion and scent, and that just two of them could take down a horse in under five minutes.

Not so efficient being shot at, however.

It didn't make a difference, really. The Avis had been created for third-world situations, where ma- chetes still outnumbered rifles. It was too bad that they died so quickly, the handlers would be disap- pointed by the loss - but they would have been tested against firepower eventually anyway.

And speaking of...

The three men were getting close to the clearing, moving out of the north camera's view. That would be where the Dacs would make their play. Reston leaned in to watch, realizing that the scenes he was recording would make his career - and that regard- less of that fact, he was thoroughly enjoying himself.

David opened fire as soon as the thug's light found them, hearing the single shot of a weapon down below -

-and felt the splintering of wood to his left, a flurry of splinters spraying his arm. He was too intent on taking out the shooter to stop firing, but he knew with a burst of dread that they were about to fall, that both young women would smash into the concrete if he didn't do something...... and then he was falling, too, the wooden slats beneath him disappearing suddenly, plunging him through the icy dark. David held on to his weapon, pushing his arms out and bending his knees in the half second of blind free fall...... and then his knees connected with cardboard, with an unseen box that collapsed beneath his weight, sparing him the worst of it. Instantly he was on his feet, turning toward the other flashlight, which was still shining out from halfway across the warehouse, the first man already down. No time to check on Rebecca, or Claire - the raised shouts from outside were almost upon them. The torch-bearer went down in the short line of bullets David sent from the M-16, a guided four-foot arc across the darkness behind the light. The flat echoes of the rounds blasted through the alleys be- tween boxes, and as the flashlight dropped, a single grunt of pain and surprise going down with it, David turned the gun toward the open door.

Come on, then...

Rattatattatt... Submachine gun fire from outside, a sweep across the door... but no one stepped inside. David moved left and sent a burst from his weapon in response, not expecting to hit anyone, the bullets crashing uselessly into the door's frame. He needed to buy them time, even if only a few seconds. "Uunh," a soft, feminine groan from behind him. "Rebecca! Claire! Sound off!" He whispered harshly, still watching the pale, empty square of open door.

"Here. Claire, I mean, I'm okay but I think she's hurt..."

Dammit!

David felt his heart skip a beat and he backed up a step, his thoughts racing, a knot of dread in his belly. It had been less than a half-minute since the first shot, but the Umbrella team would have already sur- rounded the building, if they were any good at all. They needed to get out before the attackers were firmly organized.

"Claire, come to me, follow my voice - I need you covering the door. You see anyone, even a shadow, shoot to kill. Understood?"

He heard her shuffling movements as he spoke and reached out for her as she came close, grabbing hold of her arm. "Wait," he said, and let another burst from the gun fly, hammering into the wall near the door. He immediately unslung the M-16 and handed it to Claire as the submachine gun returned fire, a rattle of bullets spraying directionless into the dark.

"You can use this?"

"Yeah." She sounded anxious but steady enough. "Good. As soon as I say, we're going to start moving for the west door; you'll be covering us."

He was already turning toward the corner, where Rebecca would be. He heard another muffled murmur of pain and fixed on it, moving quickly, dropping to his knees and feeling for the injured girl. He felt silkiness beneath one hand, Rebecca's hair, and ran both hands over her head, feeling for the sticky warmth of blood.

"Rebecca, can you speak? Do you know where you're hurt?"

A cough - and then he felt her fingers touch his arm, and knew she was all right even before she spoke. "Back of my head," she said, softly but clearly. "Possible concussion, cracked hell on my tailbone, limbs seem okay..." "I'm going to help you up. If you can't walk, I'll carry you, but we have to go now..."

As if to prove his words, there was another rattle from the gunman outside - and a shout that had him moving even before it was finished.

"Fire in the hole!"

David spun, leapt up from his crouch and tackled Claire from behind, calling out, "Close your eyes..." as he closed his own in case of incendiary, praying it wasn't a shrapnel...... and the vhump of a grenade launcher, followed by a loud pop and hiss told him it was gas. He moved off of Claire, felt her sit up beside him, heard her ragged, frightened breathing.

God, not sarin, soman, let them want us alive...

Within seconds, David's nose and eyes started to water viciously and he felt a wave of relief. Not nerve gas; they'd used a CN or CS tear gas. The Umbrella team was going to smoke them out. "West door," David said, and Claire choked out an affirmative, the chemical compound disseminating quickly into the frigid air, an effective but thankfully nonlethal weapon. He turned back and felt a hand brush across his chest. "I can walk," Rebecca said, coughing, and David threw her arm across his shoulders anyway and started for the door, moving as fast as he could through the black. He heard Claire gasping but hold-ing her own, keeping up with them. David hurried forward, planning as he went, trying not to breathe too deeply. There'd be people at both doors, waiting - but how close? They'll want to be right there, waiting to subdue their choking victims...

He had it. As they came to the wall, David fished into his hip bag, pulling out the smooth, round anti- personnel grenade and pulling the pin.

"Claire, Rebecca, behind me!"

Already blind in the dark, the tears only hurt; they didn't interfere with his aim as he pulled his nine- millimeter and swept it in front of him, finding the door. BAM! He blew a hole in the door's edge, unlocking it, hearing the surprised cries of the men outside. With hardly a pause, David jerked the door open, how far to the fence, fifty, sixty meters - and lobbed the grenade, a gentle toss out the door, closing it just as fast as he could, throwing his weight against it and thanking God that it was so very durable - and KA-WHAM, the door fought with him as the impact fuse went, dirt and shrapnel slamming against it like a wild beast clawing for entrance. David held on, only a second's war but a fierce one nonetheless. The thundering boom of the M68 gave way to moans and howls of pain, barely audible over the ringing in his ears and the screaming of his breathless lungs. "Cover to the right and head left!" He shouted, and yanked the door open, whipping the H amp;K from side to side. The pallid moonlight showed him only three men, all down, all hurt and screaming and still alive beyond the veil of his tears.

Kevlar, full-body maybe...

They'd expect a run to the front, to their escape vehicle, so David turned left. He fixed his wet gaze on the dark fence as Claire and then Rebecca tumbled out behind him, coughing and crying. "Fence," he said, as loud as he dared, and reached back for Rebecca, sliding his arm around her waist. They stumbled over one of the fallen men, clutching at his bleeding face, and managed a shagging run toward escape, Claire right behind. She sidled quickly after them, the M-16 aimed back toward the front of the compound.

Good girl, we might make this, over the fence and circle away from the van, out into the desert... They ran, closing the distance much faster than David could have hoped, the fence only ten yards behind the rear of the building they'd been in, the building he'd chosen because of it; the others angled toward the front, too much distance, and the first would have been too obvious - then they were almost to the fence when some- one fired the machine gun from the darkness behind them, from the cover of the building's other side. At least one of the Umbrella team had fought logic and come around by the unexpected route. Claire was on it, returning fire, the rapid chatter of the two automatics merging into an explosive duo. The invisible shooter was either hit or ducking as the thundering song went solo, Claire peppering the dark-ness with the.223s.

Rebecca will need help. "Claire! Up and over!" David shouted, reaching out for the M-16. She let it go and turned, scaling the fence easily. "Rebecca, go!" David pulled the trigger and held it, spraying bullets across the cold night, hearing return fire from seemingly everywhere at once, three, maybe four shooters...... and there was a cry from behind him, from Rebecca, only halfway up the metal grid. A few drops of warmth spattered across David's face and he stopped firing, jumping to catch her before she could let go. "Got it!" Claire shouted from the other side, and she fired through the mesh, the nine-millimeter rounds pounding and loud, David's pulse even loud- er. Rebecca was pale, panting harshly, obviously in pain - but she managed to hang on to the fence, even to climb a little as David straddled the fence and lifted her up. He half-carried her over the top, and as soon as Claire reached up to help, David turned and fired again at the oncoming attackers, still hidden in the shadows, his fury drying the last of the chemical tears. Bloody bastards, she's still just a girl... The M-16 went dry and he jumped, then Rebecca was between them, leaning heavily on David's shoul- der, and they were staggering out into the freezing desert night.

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