THE BUILDING WAS COLD AND DARK, BUT there was the soft hum of working machinery to break the silence, to listen to over the pounding of her heart. It wasn't too big, maybe thirty feet by twenty, but it was a single room, big enough to feel unsafe, vulnera- ble. Small lights blinked randomly all around it, like dozens of eyes watching them from the shadows.

Man, I hate this.


Rebecca trailed the tight beam from her flashlight over the west wall of the building, looking for any-thing out of the ordinary and trying not to feel sick at the same time. In movies, private detectives and cops who had just crashed someone's house were always strolling calmly around, looking for evidence, as if they owned the place; in real life, breaking in some- where you were absolutely not supposed to be was terrifying. She knew they were in the right, that they were the good guys, but still her palms were damp, her heart hammering, and she wished desperately there were a bathroom she could get to. Her bladder had apparently shrunk to the size of a walnut.

And it'll have to wait, unless I want to go wet the dirt in enemy territory... Rebecca didn't. She leaned in to take a closer look at the machine in front of her, a stand-up device the size of a refrigera-tor and covered with buttons; the label on the front read, "OGO Relay," whatever that was. As far as she could tell, the room was full of big, clunky machines awash in switches; if all of the other buildings were similarly equipped, finding Trent's hidden code panel was going to be an all-night operation. Each of them had taken a wall, and John was going over the tables in the middle of the room. There was probably a surveillance camera set up somewhere in the building, which made the need to hurry even greater - although they were all hoping that the mini- mal staff meant no one would be watching. If they were very lucky, the security system wouldn't even be hooked up yet.

No, that would be a miracle. Lucky will be if we get in and out of this alive and unhurt, with or without that book...

Since they'd walked away from the van, Rebecca's internal alarms had been ticking down to a full-blown case of the nerves. From her short time with the

S.T.A.R.S. she'd learned that trusting her gut feelings was important, maybe even more important than having a weapon; instinct told people to duck bullets, to hide when the enemy was near, to know when to wait and when to act.

The problem is, how do you know if it's instinct or if you're just scared shitless? She didn't know. What she knew was that she wasn't feeling good about their late-night raid; she was cold and jumpy, her stomach hurt, and she couldn't shake the belief that something bad was going to happen. On the other hand, she should be scared - they all should be; what they were doing was dangerous. Something bad might actually happen, acknowledg- ing it wasn't paranoid, it was realistic -

- Hello. What's that?

Just to the right of the OGO machine was some- thing that looked like a water heater, a tall, rounded device with a window in the front. Behind the small square of glass was a spool of graph paper, covered with thready black lines, nothing she recognized, what had caught her eye was the dust on the glass. It was the same finely powdered dirt that seemed to be on everything in the room... except it wasn't. There was a smudge across the dirt, a damp streak that may have been caused by someone's finger.

A smudge on dirt?

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If someone had run their hand over the dusty glass, they would have cleared a path. Rebecca touched it, frowning - and felt the pebbled surface of the dust, the tiny ridges and whorls like sandpaper beneath her fingers. It was painted or sprayed on - that is, fake. "Might have something," she whispered, and touched the window where the smudge was. The window popped open, swinging out and there was a sparkling metal square behind it, a ten-key set into an extremely undusty-looking panel; the graph paper was also fake, just a part of the glass. "Bingo," John whispered from behind her, and Rebecca stepped back, feeling a flush of excitement as the others gathered around, feeling the tension com-ing from all of them. The mist of their combined breath made a small cloud in the freezing room, reminding her of how cold she was.

Too cold... we should go back to the van, back to the hotel for a hot bath. She could hear the desper-ation in her inner voice. It wasn't the cold, it was this place. "Brilliant," David said softly, and stepped forward, holding his flashlight up. He'd memorized Trent's codes, eleven in all, each eight digits long. "It'll be the last one, watch," John whispered. Rebecca might have laughed if she wasn't so scared. John fell silent as they watched him plug in the first numbers, Rebecca thinking that if they didn't work she wouldn't be all that disappointed. Jackson had called, informing Reston in his cool, cultured tones that two four-man teams were on their way by helicopter from Salt Lake City. "It so happens that our branch office was entertaining a few of the troops," he'd said. "We have Trent to thank for that; he suggested that we start relocating some of our security in advance of the grand opening, so to speak."

Reston had been glad to hear it, but wasn't so happy about the fact that they were there, three armed men and two women poking around the Planet's entrance in the middle of the night... "They can't get in, Jay," he'd interrupted, gently, soothingly. "They don't have access." Reston had swallowed his knee-jerk response to that, thanking him instead. Jackson Cortlandt was probably the most patronizing and arrogant son of a bitch Reston had ever known, but he was also ex-tremely competent and extremely savage if need be; the last man who'd crossed Jackson had been mailed to his family in pieces. Saying "No shit" to the senior member was akin to walking off a tall building. Jackson had then made it quite clear that while he appreciated the call, it would be best for Jay to handle such matters himself in the future - that if he'd bothered to keep himself apprised of internal shift- ings, he would have known about the teams in SLC. There was no explicit wrist-slapping, but Reston got the message all the same; he hung up feeling as though he'd been severely chastised; watching the five inter- lopers search the entry building only added to his mounting tension.

No codes, no access, even if they find the controls.

Twenty minutes. All he had to do was wait for twenty minutes, half an hour at the outside. Reston took a deep breath, blowing it out slowly...... and forgot to inhale again as he saw one of them, a girl, push on the window to the keypad. They'd found it, and he still didn't know who they were or how they knew about the Planet - but the way one of the men stepped forward and started punching keys suggested that twenty minutes could be too long to wait for help. He's guessing, random numbers, it's not possible... Reston watched the tall, dark-haired man continue to tap in numbers and thought about what Trent had said at their last gathering. That White Umbrella might have a leak.

An information leak, from someone high up. Some-one who might know the entry codes.

He reached for the phone again and then stopped, Jackson's subtle warning making him break out in a light sweat. He had to handle it, he had to keep them from getting in, but everyone was asleep and there wasn't an intercom, there was a gun in his room, but if they had the code, he didn't have time to...

... override.

Reston turned away from the screen and started for the door, kicking himself as he hurried out of control. There was a manual override switch in a hidden panel next to the elevator, he could keep the lift down even if they had the entrance numbers...

... and the teams will come and collect our little pack of invaders, and I will have handled it.

He smiled, a smile entirely without humor, and broke into a run. Leon watched anxiously as David typed in another string of numbers, hoping their presence hadn't been detected yet. He hadn't seen a camera, but that didn't mean there wasn't one; if Umbrella could build massive underground laboratories and create mon- sters, they could hide a video camera. David hit a final key - and there was sound and movement at once, the low hiss of hidden hydraulics, the distant hum of an engine. A giant piece of the wall to the right of the keypad slid upward. As one, all five of them raised weapons - and lowered them again when they saw the thick mesh gate and the black and empty elevator shaft behind it. "Damn," John said, a tone of awe in his voice, and Leon had to agree. The panel was ten feet across, thick and heavy with machinery, and had completely disappeared into the ceiling in two seconds. Whatever mechanism was operating it was exceptionally pow- erful. "What's that?" Rebecca whispered, and Leon heard it a second later, a distant hum. Apparently the entry code had also recalled the elevator; they could hear it rising, hear the growing echo of well-oiled sound in the freezing darkness of the shaft. It was rising fast, but was still a long way down. Leon wondered, not for the first time, how the hell Um- brella had managed to build such a thing; the Rac- coon lab had also been massive, with God-knew- how-many floors of laboratory, all of it deep beneath the surface of the city.

They must have more money than God. And one hell of an architect. "We may have triggered a warning device or alarm," David said quietly. "It might not be empty." Leon nodded along with everyone else; they were all silent and tense as they waited, John pointing his rifle at the mesh gate. Reston found the flat, seamless panel, and pried it open without any trouble -

- but there was a lock on the switch, a thin metal rod hooked through the top, keeping it from being pushed down. It wasn't until he saw the lock that he recalled it; yet another of Umbrella's precautions, one that suddenly seemed monumentally stupid.

The keys, the workers all have them, I got a set before I came... Reston ran his hands through his hair, wracking his brain, feeling desperate and harried.

Where'd I put the goddamn security keys?

When he heard the lift being recalled to the surface only seconds later, it was all he could do to keep from screaming. They had the code. They had guns and there were five of them and they had the code.

Takes two minutes to get to the top, I've still got time and the keys are...

Blank. His mind was blank, and the seconds were ticking past. He'd already hit the recall button, but it wouldn't bring the elevator back down if someone opened the gate on the surface. For all he knew, the assassins or saboteurs or whatever the hell they were had already pried opened the gate, were now watching the lift on its way up, waiting...

... or maybe throwing a few pounds of plastique into

the shaft... or...

... control, they're in control!

Reston turned and ran, across the wide corridor and ten feet to the right, down the small offshoot outside of control. His first day at the Planet, one of the construction people had shown him all of the internal locks - backup generator, drug cabinet in surgical... manual override for the lift. He'd yawned his way through that particular tour, then tossed the keys into a drawer in the control room, knowing that he wouldn't be needing them.

He hurried through the door, deciding that he could berate himself for forgetting the keys later, wondering how things had gone so out of control in such a short period of time. Only ten minutes ago he'd been sipping brandy, relaxing...

... and ten minutes from now, you could be dead.

Reston hurried.

The elevator was big, at least ten feet across and twelve deep. John squinted as it rose into view, the harsh light from a naked bulb in the ceiling nearly blinding after their long stint in darkness.

At least it's empty. Now all we gotta do is avoid getting ambushed and murdered when we hit the bottom.

The elevator came to a smooth stop. The latch on the mesh gate unlocked and the gate slid into the wall. John was closest. He glanced at David, who nodded a go-ahead.

"First floor, shoes, menswear, Umbrella assholes,"

John said, not particularly bothered that he didn't get a laugh. Everyone had their own preferred method for dealing with tension. Besides, his sense of humor was more fully developed. Right over their heads, he thought, scanning the walls of the elevator car for anything unusual. Well, maybe not over their heads; it was more that they just didn't appreciate his fine wit. He kept himself amused, that was the important thing, it kept him from freezing up or turning into a basket case. The elevator looked okay, dusty but solid. John stepped carefully inside, Leon right behind -

-then John heard a noise, just as a red light started to blink on the lift's control panel. "Be still," John hissed, holding his hand up, not wanting anyone else to get on until he saw what the light was for -

- and the mesh gate closed behind him, the latch snapping shut. He spun, saw that Leon was on board, saw Claire and Rebecca lunging for the gate from the other side and David running for the keypad. There was a rasping click from overhead and Leon, closer to the front, shouted at Claire and Rebecca -

"Get back!"

- because the wall panel was coming down, slam- ming down, and the girls were stumbling back. John caught a final glimpse of their shocked and pale faces in the gloom -

- and the door had closed, and although he hadn't touched a thing, the elevator was going down. John crouched by the controls, punching at the buttons, and saw what the flashing red light was for. "Manual override," he said, and stood up, looking at the young cop, not sure what to say. Their simple plan had just been totally screwed. "Shit," Leon said, and John nodded, thinking he'dsummed it up perfectly.

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