JOHN BROKE THE SILENCE ABOUT TWO SEC-onds after Trent left the cabin. "To hell with this," he said, looking as pissed off as Rebecca had ever seen him. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm not all that happy about being played like this - I'm not here to be Mr. Trent's boy, and I don't trust him. I say we get him to talk about Umbrella, tell us what he knows about our team in Europe - and if he gives us one more say-nothing answer, we should drop-kick his evasive ass out the damned door."

Rebecca knew he was royally ticked, but she couldn't help herself. "Yeah, John, but how do you really feel?"


He glared in her direction - and then grinned, and somehow, that broke the tension for all of them. It was as though they all remembered how to breathe again at the same time; the unexpected visit from

their mysterious benefactor had made it hard for a few moments to remember much of anything. "We've got John's vote," David said. "Claire? I know you were worried about Chris..." Claire nodded slowly. "Yeah. And I want to see him again, as soon as possible..." "But," David said, coaxing the rest of it out. "But - I think he's telling the truth. About them being okay, I mean." Leon was nodding. "I do, too. John's right about him being slick - but I don't think he was lying, about anything. He didn't tell us a lot, but I didn't get the impression that he was bullshitting us with what he would say." David turned toward her. "Rebecca?" She sighed, shaking her head. "Sorry, John, but I agree. I think he's got some credibility; he's helped us before, in his own weird way, and the fact that he's here, unarmed, says something..." "... it says he's a dumbass," John muttered darkly, and Rebecca punched him lightly on the arm, realiz- ing suddenly, intuitively, why John was so reluctant to accept Trent's word.

Trent wasn't intimidated by him.

She was sure of it; she knew John well enough to know that Trent's indifference would absolutely push his buttons. Choosing her words carefully, keeping her tone light, Rebecca grinned at him. "I think you just hate the fact that he's not scared of your big scary self, John. Most people would've wet their pants with you towering over them."

It was the right thing to say. John frowned thought- fully, then shrugged. "Yeah, well, maybe. I still don't trust him, though." "I don't think any of us should," David said. "He's keeping an awful lot to himself for someone who wants our help. The question is, do we seek out this Reston, or do we continue with our original plans?"

No one spoke for a moment, and Rebecca could see that no one wanted to say it - to acknowledge that if Trent was telling the truth, there was no reason to go to Europe. She didn't want to say it, either; somehow, it felt like a betrayal of Jill and Chris and Barry, like, "we've found something better to do than come to your aid."

But if they don't need us...Rebecca decided that she may as well go first. "If this place is as easy as he says... when would we ever have another chance like this?"

Claire was biting at her lip, looking unhappy.

Looking torn. "If we found that book of codes, we'd have something to take with us to Europe. Something that could really make a difference." "If we find the book," John said, but Rebecca could see that the idea was growing on him. "It could be a turning point," David said softly. "It would knock the odds against us down from a million to one to perhaps only a few thousand." "I have to admit, it would be fine to turn over Umbrella's private files to the press," John said. "Download all of their shitty little secrets and pass them out to every paper in the country."

-- Advertisement --

They were all nodding, and although she thought it might take a little more time to get used to the idea, Rebecca knew that the decision had been made. It seemed that they were going to Utah. If anyone had expected Trent to be overjoyed at the news, they would have been deeply disappointed. When David called him back to the cabin and told him that they would go to the new testing facility, Trent only nodded, that same enigmatic smile on his lined and weathered face. "Here are the coordinates for the site," Trent said, pulling a slip of paper from his front pocket. "There are also several numerical codes listed, one of which will provide entry - although the keypad may be hard to find. I'm sorry I wasn't able to narrow it down any further."

Leon watched as David took the paper from Trent, as Trent walked back out to tell the pilot, wondering why it was that he couldn't stop thinking about Ada. Since Trent's little speech about White Umbrella, memories of Ada Wong's skill and beauty, echoes of her deep, sultry voice had been haunting Leon. It wasn't a conscious thing, or at least not at first. It was that something about the man reminded him of her; maybe that supreme self-confidence, or that hint of sly smile -

-and at the end, before that crazy woman shot her, I accused her of being an Umbrella spy - and she'd said that she wasn't, that who she worked for wasn't my concern...

Although he and Claire had come into the fight pretty late in the game, they'd been thoroughly briefed on what the others knew about Umbrella, and what part Trent had played in the past. The one constant - besides being incredibly elusive with in- formation - was that he seemed to know all sorts of things that no one else knew.

It can't hurt to ask.

When Trent walked back into the cabin, Leon

approached him. "Mr. Trent," he said carefully, watching him close- ly, "in Raccoon City, I met a woman named Ada Wong..."

Trent gazed at him, his face giving nothing away.

"Yes?"I was wondering if you knew anything about her, about who she was working for. She was looking for a sample of the G-Virus..." Trent arched his eyebrows. "Was she? And did she find it?"

Leon studied his dark, quick eyes, wondering why he felt like Trent already knew the answer. He couldn't, of course, Ada had been murdered just before the laboratory had exploded. "Yes, she did," Leon said. "In the end, though, she... she sacrificed herself in a way, rather than make a choice. Between killing someone and losing the sample." "And was that someone you?" Trent asked softly. Leon was aware that the others were watching, and was a little surprised that he wasn't at all uncomfort- able. Even a month ago, such a personal conversation would have been embarrassing for him. "Yeah," he said, almost defiantly. "It was me." Trent nodded slowly, smiling a little. "Then it seems to me that you wouldn't need to know anything else about her. About her character or motivations."

Leon wasn't sure if he was evading the question or honestly telling him what he thought, but either way, the simple logic of his answer made Leon feel better. As though he'd known the answer himself all along. Whatever psychology he was working, Trent was quite a piece of work.

He's smooth, cultured, and scary as hell in his own quiet way... Ada would have liked him. "... much as I'd enjoy talking with you, I have some business with our captain that needs to be attended to," Trent was saying. "We'll be at Salt Lake in five or six hours."

With that, he nodded toward them and disappeared through the curtain again. "Too good to sit with the grunts?" John asked, obviously not over his initial dislike. Leon looked around at the others, saw thoughtful and uneasy expressions, saw Claire looking as though she half wanted to change her mind. Leon walked to where she was leaning against a seat, her arms folded tightly, and touched her shoulder. "Thinking about Chris?" He asked gently.

To his surprise, she shook her head, smiling at him nervously. "No. Actually, I was thinking about the Spencer estate, and the raid on Caliban Cove, and what happened in Raccoon. I was thinking that no matter what Trent says about how simple this will be, nothing is ever simple with Umbrella. Things have a way of getting complicated when they're involved. You'd think we would know that by now..."

She trailed off, then shook her head as if trying to clear it, giving him another, brighter smile. "Listen to me talk. I'm going to get a sandwich, you want anything?" "No, thanks," he said absently, still thinking about what she'd said as she walked away - and wondering suddenly if their little trek to Utah was going to be the last mistake that any of them ever made.

Steve Lopez, good ol' Steve, his face as blank and white as a sheet of paper, standing in the middle of the strange, vast laboratory, standing and aiming his semi at them and telling them to drop their weapons -

- and the rage, the pain and red fury that hit John like a hurricane as he realized what had happened, that Karen was dead, that Steve had been turned into one of those crazy asshole's zombie soldiers -

-and John screamed, what did you do to him, not thinking, spinning instead, firing at the blank-faced drone behind them, the round punching neatly through its left temple and the cold air stinking like death as the creature fell -

- and pain! Pain, tearing through him as Steve, Stevie, his friend and comrade, shot him in the back. John felt blood dribble from his lips, felt himself turning, felt more pain than he thought he could feel. Steve had shot him, the mad doctor had used the virus on him and Steve wasn't Steve anymore and the world was spinning, screaming...

"John, John wake up you're having a bad dream. Hey, big guy..."

John sat up, his eyes wide and his heart thumping, feeling disoriented and afraid. The cool hand on his arm was Rebecca's, the touch gentle and soothing, and he realized that he was awake, that he'd been dreaming and was now awake. "Shit," he mumbled, and sagged back against his seat, closing his eyes. They were still on the plane, the soft drone of the engine and the hiss of canned air putting to rest the last of his confusion. "You okay?" Rebecca asked, and John nodded, taking a few deep breaths before he opened his eyes again.

"Did I - did I yell or anything?"

Rebecca smiled at him, watching him closely.

"Nope. Just so happens I was on my way back from the bathroom and saw you twitching like a rabbit. It didn't look like you were having much fun... hope I didn't interrupt anything good."

The last was almost a question. John forced a grin and avoided the subject entirely, glancing out at the passing darkness instead. "Three tuna sandwiches before bed was a bad idea, I guess. We almost there?" Rebecca nodded. "We're just starting the descent. Fifteen, twenty minutes, David says."

She was still scrutinizing him, still wearing an expression of warmth and concern, and John realized he was being an idiot. Keeping that shit to oneself was a sure ticket to losing one's mind. "I was in the lab," he said, and Rebecca nodded, it was all he needed to say. She'd been there.

"I had one just a couple of days ago, right after we decided to leave Exeter," she said softly. "A real nasty one. It was kind of a combination, stuff from the Spencer lab and from the cove."

John nodded, thinking about what a remarkable young woman she was. She'd faced down a houseful of Umbrella monsters on her first S.T.A.R.S. mission, and had still decided to come with them to check out the cove when David had asked.

"You kick ass, 'becca. If I were a few years younger, I think it might be love," he said, and was pleased at her blushing, grinning reaction. She was probably smarter than him by half, but she was also a teenage girl - and if he remembered correctly from back in his day, teenage girls weren't adverse to hearing about how cool they were. "Shut up," she said, her tone of voice telling him that he had, in fact, thoroughly embarrassed her and that she didn't mind. A moment of comfortable silence rested between them, the last dregs of the nightmare fading as the cabin pressure fluctuated, the plane on its way down. In a few minutes, they'd be in Utah, of all places. David had already suggested that they get to a hotel and start making plans, that they would go in tomor- row night.

Go in, get the book, and then get the hell out.

Easy... except hadn't that pretty much been the plan

for the cove?

John decided that once they landed, he wanted to do a little more talking with Trent. He was up for the mission, for getting the book and throwing a few wrenches into Umbrella's works in the process -but he still wasn't happy with Trent's rather selective information. Yeah, the man was helping them, but why so weird about it? And why hadn't he told them what their Europe team was doing, or who was running White Umbrella, or how he'd known to put his own pilot on their charter?

Because he's on some power trip, that's why. Control freak.

That didn't seem quite right, but John couldn't think of any other reason that their Mr. Trent was being such a secret agent wannabe spy. Maybe if he got his arm twisted a little, he'd be more forth- coming...

"John, I know you don't like him, but do you

think he's right about this being a snap job? I mean,

what if this Reston won't give it up? Or what if... what

if something else happens?"

She was trying to sound professional, her tone light and easy, but the troubled look deep in her mild brown eyes gave her away.

Something else. Something like a viral spill, some-thing like a crazy scientist, something like biomonsters getting loose. Like the something that always happens around Umbrella... "If I have anything to say about it, the only thing that will go wrong is that Reston will shit himself and the smell will be terrible," he said, and was again rewarded with a grin from the young woman. "You're a dork," she said, and John shrugged, thinking how easy it was to make the girl smile and wondering if it was such a good idea to get her hopes up. A few moments later the small plane touched down easily and for the first time, the pilot used the inter- com system. He told them to remain seated until the plane had stopped and then clicked off, not bothering with the usual crap about how he hoped they'd enjoyed their flight or what the current temperature was; for that, at least, John was grateful. The small craft rolled across the tarmac, finally coming to a gentle stop, the team standing and stretching and putting on their coats. As soon as he heard the outer door pop, John stepped past Rebecca and walked to the front of the cabin, determined not to let Trent get off before they'd had a chance to chat. He pushed through the curtain, a cold wind blowing into the small passage behind the cockpit, and saw that he was too late. The pilot, Evans, was standing in the doorway to the cockpit by himself. Somehow, Trent had managed to slip away in the few seconds it took John to walk through the tiny plane. The metal stairs that had been pushed to the outside of the craft were empty - and even though John took the steps two at a time, hitting the ground in less than a heartbeat, there was still nothing to see in the endless stretch of tarmac, and no one at all except for the man who'd brought the stairs out. When asked about Trent, the airport worker insisted that the first person off the plane had been John himself. "Son of a bitch," John spat, and it didn't matter, because they were in Utah. Trent or no Trent, they had arrived - and because it was after midnight, they had less than a day to get ready.

-- Advertisement --