One national station, W-ASP, was trying to untie the knots from their Ivory Tower or secret bunker somewhere. It became increasingly surreal and Caleb felt like throwing the radio out the window.
First of all they heard a woman hysterically weeping on the phone. “My own father, who’s like, he’s just an old man… what gives them the right to do that to people? How do they know? How do they know?”
The phone call was cut. It might have been a recording. “Professor?” said somebody in the studio.
“It’s not murder to shoot the dead,” said the Professor in a slightly irritated tone. “A second-stage Epsilon Rex victim is a corpse.”
Somebody else broke in, his voice cracking: “That’s not true! Brain function doesn’t cease, it drops to one percent. And yes, the heartbeat stops but there is evidence of continued bloodflow at a low level and some body heat. And we have evidence of digestive function…”
“It’s not digestion just because it’s moving!” the Professor argued. “The digestive and circulatory systems of the victims are transformed into a farm for venom and bacteria. Nobody can come back from that. No human being can be saved once they reach the second stage of infection.”
“What I’m saying is, they’re not dead!”
“Well I’m sorry, but I say they are. Their conscious mind is gone. If they’re still moving it’s because they are host vessels.”
The anchor cut in. “Sounds to me like somebody in a coma, or with Locked-in Syndrome, who’s unconsciously killing people! The question is, can you justify sending untrained deputised civilians to shoot them?”
The strained voice jumped on that: “I’ll tell you what’s going to happen, Michael. When this is all over you’ll see hundreds of people on trial for mass murder! The law doesn’t see this two ways. It’s got to stop!”
Caleb turned off the radio and sighed. They hadn’t heard anyone talking about a cure yet. It seemed that most of the information was coming from the public or local authorities, but not from METMA. Presumably their PR department had its hands full.
“What do you think?” Tam said. Concern in her eyes.
“About what?” said Caleb, afraid to say anything that might upset her.
“What would you do with them? If you don’t know they’re really dead?”
He wouldn’t lead her into a false sense of hope. A mountain of theoretical bullshit and philosophy couldn’t undo what had happened, what was happening to him. But this was a hard corner to squeeze out of. In the end, he didn’t bother trying.
“Honey,” he said, “If we’re in the METMA centre and I die, they won’t let you near me. They’ll take my body and dispose of it in the most sterile way you can imagine.”
She was silent but the tension was like a guitar string pulled between them. After a minute she whispered, “Oh, God.” Another minute. Then: “Drink that Tabasco sauce, will you?”
Caleb had been smart enough to pick up a small carton of pineapple juice from the bar. It was all they had. They were told politely that it was not a cocktail bar. Caleb didn’t exactly care. He ripped the top off the carton and shook Tabasco into it until it was practically humming. Half a bottle of the stuff. Then he said “Cheers,” and knocked it back as fast as possible. He felt like some fifteen-year-old trying to make himself a Youtube star. Except they weren’t filming it.
Sure enough, his throat went on fire in a matter of seconds. But his innards took much longer to react. After more then a minute he got the sense that some kind of live animal was stirring from hibernation inside him. The feeling was disgusting. He was overwhelmed with nausea. He grabbed onto the dashboard and closed his eyes. Deep breaths. Thinking of something else. Oceans of peppermint. Icy caves in the sun.
“What’s happening?” Tam said, alarmed.
“It’s working,” said Caleb. His mouth watered. His forehead produced a blanket of sweat. He felt faint. He tried desperately not to puke but at the same time knew that he must look appalling to Tamara: pale and sweating, gripping the dashboard and gasping for air.
It only lasted a few minutes, during which he kept saying “I’m fine,” for both their sakes. He managed to keep the cocktail down, but it took everything out of him. He didn’t know if he’d done more harm than good. He tried to guage his physical condition. It felt like he might have turned the clock back a few hours on his death. He mopped the sweat from his face. Tamara was looking at him dubiously. He grinned.
“Those germs will remember the day they fucked with me,” he said. She laughed. It was all good.