In a cloud of dust and rubble, cracked concrete and plaster, Fossil burst into the hall across from the elevator like a vision of hell. Its snout and hands were red, splashes of violent color against its sickly white skin, its giant, impossible body filling the corridor. "Clip!" Leon screamed, not taking his gaze from the looming monster, still a hundred feet in front of them and not nearly far enough. He drew his empty H amp;K and ejected the clip, barely aware that it was Claire who handed him another as Fossil took a step toward them...... and David was firing the M-16, the clatter of rounds blasting through the long hall, Fossil taking another huge step forward as Leon slapped the clip home. John was suddenly next to him, grabbing a rifle mag from David, Claire on David's other side, all of them targeting the creature. Leon found the monster's right eye and squeezed the trigger, the roar of his nine-millimeter lost in the combined explosive firepower, all of them firing -


-bambambam, the sounds blending together, deafening, Fossil tilting its head to one side as if curious, taking another step into the wall of bullets. "Fall back!" David shouted, and Leon backed up a step, horrified by Fossil's lack of wounds. If they were causing it any pain at all Leon couldn't see it, but it was all they had. He tried for the eye again...... and heard Claire screaming something, glanced away long enough to see that she had a grenade out, that she was handing it to David. "Go, go, go!" David shouted, and John grabbed Leon's arm and they turned and ran, Claire pacing

them, Leon praying that they were far enough awaynot to be hit by the shreds of hot metal. Claire ran, terrified, thinking that she'd never seen anything like it. A blood-painted fishbelly nightmare, a curved grin of wickedly sharp teeth and its hands,the too-long fingers stained red -

- what is it, how is it -"Fire in the hole!" David screamed, and Claire pushed off the cement, trying to fly, seeing in that airborne second Rebecca's pale, strained face, the girl slumped against the back wall still a hundred feet away...... and BOOM, she was flying, John to her right, a warm body falling against her back - and they all hit the floor, Claire trying to take it on the shoulder, landing too heavily on her arm instead.

Ow ow ow!

David had thrown himself against her, either on purpose or from the blast, and as she sat up, turning, she saw him grimace in pain. She saw two, three pieces of dark metal stuck to his back, pinning the black fleece to his skin, and reached out to help him...... and saw the monster still standing. Brushing at its chest and belly, at the blackened patches from the frag grenade. A few shards had pierced its flesh, but she thought - it was hard to tell from its silence, from the way it took another step toward them it looked seemingly unfazed. It opened its mouth, its heavy lizard jaws - exposing strings of some un- known meat stuck between its jagged teeth. Silently, it took another step forward, grinning its carnivorous grin, and Claire imagined that she could smell the bloody meat of its breath, of whatever lay rotting in its guts...


She crawled to her feet, ignoring the pain in her arm, reaching down to grab David's outstretched hand and pull him up. The second he was on his feet she pointed her nine-millimeter and started to fire again, knowing it wasn't enough, not knowing what else to do. Four points of injury, all in his upper back, all burning and sharp. David hissed air between his teeth, decided the pain bearable, and put it aside until further notice. The freakish monster wasn't down, it may have slowed but it wasn't stopping, and they didn't have anything bigger to throw at it than what they'd already tried. Run, we'll have to run... Even as he thought it, he was opening his mouth to shout, to be heard over John and Leon and Claire as they emptied their weapons, the rounds as useless as the grenade had been.

"John, get Rebecca! Fall back, we can't stop it!"

John was gone, Leon and Claire sidling backwards, firing just as he was - on the slim chance that it was doing some damage, that one of the rounds might hit something that could be hurt.

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"David, we could go through the test, reinforced steel!" John shouted, and David wasn't sure what he was talking about but he understood "reinforced steel." It probably wouldn't stop the mutant animal, but it might slow it down enough for them to regroup, to work out some plan. "Do it!" David shouted, and the monster took two, three strides toward them, apparently no longer inter- ested in a hesitant approach. At that speed, it would be on them in scant seconds. "Run, after John!" He screamed, and gave Leon and Claire a heartbeat of cover before he turned and ran after them. Steel, reinforced steel - A mantra that looped through his racing thoughts as he sprinted, Claire and Leon turning the corner, the cement curve whipping past him as he saw Rebecca and John in the room at the end of the hall. The room where the madman had gone. "David, hit the buttons, close the door!" John shouted, and David saw the controls, the small lights above the rounded knobs, and veered toward them, still at a dead run. Claire and Leon were inside. David shot his arm out and slammed his open hand into the largest button on the panel, hoping he'd chosen the right one - and he was through, even as a sheet of metal guillotined the air behind him, close enough for him to feel it on the back of his neck. He spun around just in time to see the heavy white body of the hybrid creature slam into the door, its chest smashing against the thick, warped window set into the thick metal. The door shivered in its tracks, and David could see that it wouldn't stand for long.

Please hold, just for a moment...

He turned, saw Leon at the smaller hatch on the south wall, saw the horror in his eyes, the color leached from his face, his trembling hand on the door's lever. "Locked," he said, and outside, the monster smashed into the door again.

Reston heard the noise when he was trying to figure out how to climb into the Avi kennel. The pen was about twelve feet off the ground, an open hole in the wall, and there was no ladder; the closest tree was a good seven feet away, impossible - but his only other way out of the test was the way he'd come, and he didn't dare go back out into the main hall. He'd about made up his mind to attempt climbing the tree to try the jump when the rending crashes had seeped into the room from Phase Two. Reston walked toward the connecting door, curious in spite of his fear. The phases were heavily sound- proofed; a noise like that could only be from a bomb, or a wrecking crew...... which means bomb. They've planted explosives after all, the monsters.

Reston waited by the door for a moment, but didn't hear anything else. The lone Dac let out a cry from somewhere across the chamber, the fight apparently taken out of it with the loss of its siblings; it hadn't tried to attack.


Phase Two was directly behind control, a double- thick wall between them, which had to mean that the renegades had blown up the control center, the most important - and most expensive - room in the Planet. They couldn't have chosen a better target; the facility was practically worthless with control destroyed.

But perhaps they've given me another way out...

Reston wasn't going to make any bets as to whether or not the barbarous mercenaries had finally gone, leaving the broken remains of the Planet behind -

-but if they have...

If they had, he'd be able to walk out. Maybe just walk away and not just from the Planet, but from White Umbrella. He was reasonably certain that Jackson would kill him for what had happened...... but not if Reston disappeared.

A few hundred thousand to Hawkinson, a ride to a safe place...

It could work, if he timed it right, if he changed his name and identity and went far, far away. It would work. Nodding to himself, he cracked open the door to Two, not sure what to expect, but it was still a surprise to see the massive, gaping holes in two of the desert's walls and the cement and wood and steel blown to pieces; each ragged opening was at least ten feet across, perhaps twenty feet high. He didn't see smoke anywhere, but imagined that the saboteurs had used some high-tech compound, some material that scum like that always seemed to have access to.

The heat was still high, and the lights were blazing, but it was definitely cooler with the new ventilation and though he stood for long seconds listening, he didn't hear a sound that might indicate their pres- ence. Unless it was some kind of trap... Reston shook his head, amused by his own para- noia. Now that he'd decided to be free, to leave behind the ruins of his life, he felt a kind of elation. A sense of new possibilities, even of rebirth. They were gone, their mission accomplished, the Planet wasted. Reston walked across the hot sands, stepping over the pieces of Scorp scattered about, finally climbing the shifting dune to peer into the hole.

My God, they managed to get everything, didn't they?

The destruction was nearly total, the gaping hole almost exactly where the monitor wall had been. Thick shards of glass, bits of wire and circuitry, a faint scent of ozone - that was all that was left of the brilliantly designed video-retrieval system. Four of the leather chairs had been knocked off their welded mounts, the one-of-a-kind marble table had actually cracked in two - and in the northeast corner of the room there was another giant, ragged hole sur- rounded by debris.

And through that hole...

Reston could actually see the elevator. The work- ing, running elevator, the lights engaged, the platform recalled. Was it a trap? It seemed too good to be true, but then he heard a distant pounding, somewhere off by the cell block, and thought that luck was finally with him; the employees had left, the sound could only be the blasted ex-S.T.A.R.S. team. Far enough away that he'd be halfway to the surface before they could make it back. Reston grinned, amazed that it would end like this; it seemed so anticlimactic somehow, so mundane... and am I complaining? No, no complaints. Not from me.

Reston stepped through the hole, moving carefully to avoid the sharp glass.

The battle with the food animals had made it hungry, had made it crave; that there was a strong wall in Fossil's way made it only more eager to eat, to fulfill its purpose. It pounded at the strong obstacle, feeling the matter shift, becoming less rigid, and although it wouldn't take much more to get at the animals, Fossil suddenly smelled new food. Back the way it had come, food, open and exposed, nothing between it and Fossil. It would come back after it had eaten. Fossil turned away and ran, hungry and wanting, determined to eat before the food could move away. As soon as Fossil turned and ran, John started to kick at the steel door, realizing that it was their only chance. The incredible beating that the monster had given it made it easy, the thick metal half off its tracks already. Claire and Leon started kicking. In seconds, they'd knocked it far enough from the metal indentation that it fell off, clattering to the floor - and seconds after that, they were running, running for the elevator, David carrying Rebecca and all of them silent. Fossil would be back, they all knew it, and they didn't stand a chance against it.

"NO! NO! NO!"

A man, screaming, and as John rounded the corner, he saw that it was Reston, saw him sprinting down the long corridor, Fossil closing fast. They ran, John wondering how long it would take the monster to eat an entire human. And as they reached the elevator, leapt through the doors, Leon pulling the gate down...... they all heard the wailing scream rise to an inhuman pitch - and then cut off sharply, stopped by a heavy wet crunch. The elevator started to rise.

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