THE train swayed and rocked as it traveled through the Raccoon woods, the thunder of its wheels echoed by a thundering twilight sky.
Bill Nyberg rifled through the Hardy file, his briefcase on the floor at his feet. It had been a long day, and the gentle rocking of the train soothed him. It was late, after eight, but the Ecliptic Express was mostly full, as it often was for the dinner hour. It was a company train, and since the renovation—Umbrella had gone to great expense to make it classically retro, everything from velvet seats to chandeliers in the din ing car—a lot of employees brought family or friends along to experience the atmosphere. There were usu ally a number of out-of-towners on board as well, having caught the connection out of Latham, but Nyberg would have bet that nine out of ten of them worked for Umbrella, too. Without the pharmaceuti cal giant's support, Raccoon City wouldn't even be a wide spot in the road.
One of the car attendants walked past, nodding at Nyberg when he saw the Umbrella pin on his lapel. The small pin marked him as a regular commuter. Nyberg nodded back. A flicker of lightning outside was quickly followed by another rumble of thunder; it seemed there was a summer storm brewing. Even in the cool comfort of the train, the air seemed charged, thick with the tension of impending rain.
And my coat is ... in the trunk?
Wonderful. His car was at the far end of the station lot, too.
He'd be drenched before he got halfway across.
∗ ∗ ∗
Sighing, he returned his attention to the file, set tling back into his seat. He'd already reviewed the material a number of times, but he wanted to be on top of every detail. A ten-year-old girl named Teresa Hardy had been involved in a clinical trial for a new pediatric heart medication, Valifin. As it turned out, the drug did exactly what it was supposed to do—but it also caused renal failure, and in Teresa Hardy's case, the damage had been severe. She'd survive, but would likely spend the rest of her life on dialysis, and the family's lawyer was seeking hefty damages.
The case had to be settled quickly, the Hardy family kept quiet before they could drag their ailing, cherub-cheeked moppet in front of a media-packed courtroom ... which was where Nyberg and his team came in. The trick was to offer just enough to make the family happy, but not so much as to en courage their lawyer—one of those strip-mall, "we don't get paid unless you get paid" outfits—to get greedy. Nyberg had a knack for handling ambulance chasers; he'd have it settled before little Teresa got back from her first treatment. It was what Umbrella paid him for.
Rain splattered loudly against the window, as though someone had thrown a bucket of water against the pane. Startled, Nyberg turned to look out, just as several dull thumps sounded on the train's roof. Terrific. Had to be a hailstorm or something...
A crackle of lightning flickered across the thick ening darkness, illuminating the small but steep hill that marked the deepest part of the forest. Nyberg looked up, and saw a tall figure silhouetted against the trees at the crest of the hill, someone in a long coat or robe, the dark fabric rippling in the wind. The figure raised long arms to the raging sky—
∗ ∗ ∗
—and the stutter of lightning was gone, plunging the strange, dramatic scene back into darkness.
"What the—" Nyberg began, and more water splashed across the glass—except it wasn't water, because water didn't stick in great, dark clumps; water didn't ooze and break apart, revealing dozens of shining needle teeth. Nyberg blinked, not sure what he was seeing as someone started to scream at the other end of the car, a long, rising wail, as more of the dark, slug like creatures, each the size of a man's fist, smashed against the window. The sound of hail on the roof went from a patter to a storm, the thunder of it drowning out the screamer, the screams of many now.
Not hail, that's not hail!
Hot panic shot through Nyberg's body, sending him to his feet.
He made it to the aisle before the glass behind him shattered, before glass all through the train was shattering, the high, jagged sound of it melding with the screams of terror, all of it nearly lost beneath the ongoing thunder of attack. As the lights went out, something cold and wet and very much alive landed on the back of his neck and began to feed.
THE helicopter spun through the darkness over Raccoon Forest.
∗ ∗ ∗
Rebecca Chambers sat up straight, willing herself to look as calm as the men around her. The mood was solemn, as dark and clouded as the skies whip ping past, all jokes and jabs left behind at the brief ing. This wasn't a training exercise. Three more people, hikers, had gone missing—in a forest as large as the one surrounding Raccoon, not that un usual—but with the rash of savage murders that had terrorized the small city over the past several weeks, "missing" had taken on new meaning. Only a few days earlier there'd been a ninth victim found, this one as ripped up and savaged as if it had been run through a meat grinder.
People were being killed, savagely attacked by someone or some thing around the outskirts of the city, and the Raccoon police weren't getting anywhere. The city's chapter of S.T.A.R.S. had finally been called in to investigate.
Rebecca raised her chin slightly, a pulse of pride edging through her nervousness. Although her de gree was in biochemistry, she'd been tapped as Bravo team's field medic, joining the team less than a month earlier.
My first mission. Which means I'd better not cock it up.
She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, working to keep her expression casual. Edward shot her an encouraging smile, and Sully leaned across the crowded cabin to reassuringly pat her leg. So much for looking cool. As smart as she was, as ready as she was to begin her career, she couldn't help her age, or the fact that she looked even younger. At eighteen, she was the youngest person to be accepted into the S.T.A.R.S. since its creation in 1967 ... and as the only female on Raccoon's B team, everyone treated her like their kid sister.
She sighed, smiling back at Edward, nodding at Sully. It wasn't so bad, having a handful of hardass big brothers watching out for her—as long as they understood she could take care of herself when the need arose.
Think, she silently amended. It was her first assignment, after all, and though she was in good shape physically, her combat experience had been limited to video simulations and weekend missions. The Special Tactics and Rescue Service wanted her in their labs, eventually, but field time was mandatory and she needed the experience. Anyway, they'd be sweeping the woods as a team. If they did run across the people or animals that had been attacking Raccoon's citi zens, she'd have backup.