JAY RESTON WAS PLEASED. IN FACT, HE WAS as happy as he'd been in a long time, and if he'd known it would feel so good to be back in the field, he would have done it years ago.

Managing employees, the kind who actually get their hands dirty. Making things happen and seeing the results unfold, being a part of the process. Being more than just a shadow, more than some nameless darkness to be feared...


Thinking these things made him feel strong and vital again; he was barely fifty, he hadn't yet come to see himself as even middle-aged, but working in the trenches again made him realize how much he'd lost over the years. Reston sat in the control room, the pulse of the Planet, his hands behind his head and his attention fixed on the wall of screens in front of him. On one screen, a man in coveralls was working on a series of trees in Phase One, adding another coat of green to a row of faux evergreens. The man was Tom Something- or-other, from construction, but the name wasn't important. What was important was that Tom was painting the trees because Reston had told him to, face-to-face at the morning briefing. On another screen, Kelly McMalus was recalibrat- ing the desert temp control, also at Reston's request. McMalus was the Scorps lead handler, at least until the permanent staff came in; everyone in the Planet was temporary, one of White's newer policies to avoid sabotage. Once everything was up and running, the nine technical people and half-dozen "preliminary" researchers - actually glorified specimen handlers, al- though he'd never call them that directly - would be relocated. The Planet. The facility was actually "B.O.W. Envi- rotest A," but Reston thought that Planet was a much better name. He wasn't sure who had come up with it, just that it had cropped up at one of the morning briefings and stuck. Referring to the test site as the Planet in his updates to the home team made him feel even more a part of the process.

"The video feeds were connected today, although there's some problem with the mikes, so the audio hasn't been hooked up yet; I'll have that taken care of ASAP. The last of the Ma3Ks came in, no damage to any of the specimens. In all, things are going very well, we expect to have the Planet ready days ahead of schedule..." Reston smiled, thinking of his last conversation with Sidney; had he heard just a touch of jealousy in Sidney's voice, a thread of wistfulness? He was part of a "we" now, a we that called Envirotest A by a nickname. After thirty years of delegation, having to oversee the finishing touches on their most innovative and expensive facility to date had been a blessing in disguise. And to think that he'd been irritated when he'd first heard about Lewis's car going off a cliff; the man's accident was probably the best work he'd ever done for Umbrella, because it meant that he would be overseeing the Planet's birth. Another tech was walking across one of the screens, carrying a tool box and a coil of rope. Cole, Henry Cole, the electrician who'd been working on the intercom and video systems; he was in the main corridor that ran between the faculty quarters and the testing area, leading toward the elevator. Reston had noticed the day before that several of the surface cameras were malfunctioning; none of the cameras in the Planet had been wired for sound as of yet, but the screens for the upper compound would intermittently spew static for minutes at a time, and he had asked Cole to see to it -

- but after he'd finished with the 'com system, not before. How am I supposed to stay in contact with these people if I don't have a working intercom system?

Even the flush of irritation he felt for the tech was exhilarating; instead of pushing a button, telling some yes-man to fix it, he would have to attend to it himself. Reston pushed away from the console, stretching as he stood up, taking a last look at the row of monitors to remind him of anything else he needed to see to as long as he was out.

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Intercom, video feeds... the bridge in Three will need reinforcement, that's not a priority, but we really should do something about the city colors, they're still much too flat...

He walked through the sleekly designed control room, past the line of plush leather chairs so new that their rich scent still lingered in the cool filtered air. The chairs faced a wall of high-resolution screens; in less than a month they would be seating the top researchers, scientists, and administrators that were the heart of White Umbrella, as well as the two biggest financiers of the program. Even Sidney and Jackson would be there, to see the initial run of the test program. And Trent, Reston thought hopefully. Surely he wouldn't turn down an invitation to the first test run...

Reston stepped on the pressure plate in front of the door, the thick metal hatch sliding up with only a whisper of sound, and walked out into the wide corridor that ran the length of the Planet. Control wasn't far from the industrial elevator, almost straight across in fact, but the electrician had already started for the surface. There would be four lifts operating within the week out of one of the other surface buildings, but for now, there was only the one indus- trial elevator. He'd have to wait until Cole had exited. He pushed the recall and straightened the cuffs of his suit jacket, thinking about how he would lead the tour. It had been quite a while since Jay Reston had indulged in daydreaming, but in his short time at the Planet, imagining the day when he would welcome the others and guide them through the facility he had managed and transformed into a smoothly running machine had become a favored pastime. Of the hand- ful of people who ran White Umbrella, who made the big decisions, he was the youngest to be accepted into the inner circle - and while Jackson had often as-sured him that he was as valued as anyone else, he'd noted on more than one occasion that he was the last to be consulted. To be considered.

Not after this. Not after they see that even without a dozen assistants waiting on my every word, I've man- aged to get the Planet up and running without a hitch, and before schedule. Id like to see Sidney do half as well...

They'd come in at night, of course, and probably in several groups. He'd have the specimen caretakers at the entrance to greet them and lead them to the elevators (the new ones, not the dirty monstrosity he was about to ride); on the way down, the visitors would hear all about the efficient, elegant living quarters, the self-contained air-filtering system, the surgical theater - everything that made the Planet their most brilliant innovation yet. From the eleva- tors, he'd take them around to the control room and explain the environments and the current series of specimen, eight of each. Then, back out and north, toward the beginning of the testing site.

We walk straight through, all four phases, then view autopsy and the chemical lab. We'll have to stop in for a look at Fossil, of course, and then through the living area - where there will be coffee and rolls, sandwiches maybe - and then circle back to control to observe the first tests. Specimen against specimen only, of course - human experimentation would put such a damper on things...

A soft tone brought his attention back to the errand, alerting him to the elevator's return. The door opened, the gate slid aside, and Reston stepped into the large car, the reinforced steel platform clanking beneath his feet. Dust puffed up from the metal, settling over the polished sheen of his shoes. Reston sighed, tapping the controls that would take him to the surface, thinking of all he'd had to put up with since arriving at the Planet only ten days before. Things were coming along, but he'd never realized just how many inconveniences one had to suffer to get one of these places operational - the lukewarm meals, the constant need to pay attention to every niggling detail, and the dirt: everywhere, thin layers of workman's dust clung to hair and clothes, clogging the niters... even in the control room, he'd had to take all kinds of extra precautions to keep it from getting into the central terminal. He'd had to work with three different programmers to get the mainframe running, yet another of Umbrella's precautions to keep any one of them from knowing too much; but if the system were to go down... Reston sighed again, patting the small, flat square in his inner pocket as the lift hummed smoothly upwards. He had the codes; if the system went down, he'd just have to call in new programmers. A setback, but hardly a disaster. Raccoon City, now that was a disaster - and all the more reason that he wanted things to go well with the Planet.

We need this. After the summer we've had, the spill and those meddling S.T.A.R.S. and losing Birkin... I need this.

Although it had been a unanimous decision, it had been Reston's people who'd gone into Raccoon to take Birkin's G-Virus - an action that had resulted in the loss of their lead scientist and just over a billion dollars' worth of equipment, space, and manpower. It wasn't his fault, of course, no one blamed him - but it had been a bad summer for all of them, and having Envirotest A up and running would ease things con-siderably. He thought about what Trent had said, just before Reston had left for the Planet - that as long as they didn't lose their heads, there was no need for concern. Generic placating advice, but hearing it from Trent made it sound like the truth. It was funny; they'd brought Trent in to act as trouble shooter, and in less than six months he'd become one of the most respected members of their circle. Nothing rattled Trent, the man was ice; they were lucky to have him, particularly considering their recent run of misfor- tune. The elevator came to a stop and Reston squared his shoulders, preparing himself to redirect Mr. Cole's efforts - and just the thought of making the man jump made him smile again, all other worries put aside for the moment. Just a working-class Joe, he thought happily, and stepped out to take care of business.

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