There were no signs pointing the way to the next area, but it wasn’t difficult to figure it out. About a hundred yards away, across a weed-ridden courtyard, was a factory with huge crowds of people milling around it. They headed towards it. Tamara noticed a couple of disturbing things. First, there was an industrial chimney behind this building which was currently smoking. Second, she could hear what sounded like digging equipment and chainsaws somewhere in the distance. As they got closer to the factory, these sounds were drowned out by soldiers screaming their heads off at people.
They ran a gauntlet of men in uniform repeating the words, “Keep moving, Infected to the left, Waiting Room to the right,” at the top of their lungs.
The red-brick factory building looked like a huge school. In the middle was a large entrance. To either side, big rooms with high corrugated roofs. They passed through the door to the entrance hall.
Tam was hit by a barrage of noise. It was like Ellis Island in here. The small hall was filled with people, all talking at the same time. A hastily-painted notice over the left-hand wall said, “NO UNINFECTED BEYOND THIS POINT”. People were arguing with stewards in high-vis vests. From the few words Tam could pick up, she guessed they were friends and relatives of Epsilon Rex victims looking for information. Up to now, she had planned on finding someone in charge and grilling them. It wasn’t going to happen. Right in front of her, as they tried to figure out were to go next, a soldier smashed a man in the nose with the butt of his rifle for shouting too loud. This was a barely-controlled riot.
Another uniformed goon came up to them and said very clearly, “Keep moving. Infected to the left. Waiting room over there.” They were being seperated.
“Wait…” Tam attempted to say, but the soldier interrupted her with a brisk “Keep moving,” and actually pushed her towards the Waiting Room while he grabbed Caleb by the arm. In peacetime this would have been grounds for a lawsuit. Now, Tam was merely torn apart by having Caleb taken from her without a chance to say anything.
But he went with the soldier willingly. As he walked away, he turned back and smiled. Tam was ready to explode with anger, impatience and love. She waved like he was getting on a plane. He gave her a thumbs-up and a wink. It wasn’t fair. Caleb disappeared into the crowd. Still, the shouting all around her continued.
She was going insane from the noise and had no choice but to go on through to the “Waiting Room”.
It might once have been some kind of hall for large meetings. Now it was full of people sitting around on cheap plastic chairs, arguing with men in uniforms, weeping and smoking. Apparently any non-smoking policy had been abandoned. Thankfully the ceiling was high and many of the windows were broken. Tamara saw bird shit on the rusted beams.
At the back of the room was another door. There was a digital sign against the wall nearby, with a large whiteboard next to it. The number 625 was flashing in red letters on the display. And there were various three-digit numbers written on the whiteboard. Some guy was writing more and taking some off as she watched.
What made Tam curious was that at least half the people in the room were paying close attention to those numbers. A teenage girl in an ironic t-shirt was standing nearby. “What’s the deal with the numbers?” Tam asked her.
“When your number comes up on the board,” said the girl, “you go through the door and they’ll have some news for you on whoever it is you brought with you.”
“Okay,” she said. But this exchange had amused somebody for some reason. Tam heard a wheezy chuckle from just behind her. She turned to see a portly gentleman in a check shirt with a bone-white beard and ponytail.
“I’m sorry,” he said. He was smiling like he had just finished a milkshake. “I don’t think it counts as ‘news’, if you catch my drift.”
“I’m afraid I don’t,” said Tam. The young girl was also looking over at this rude cynic.
“Well it’s not news if you already know what they’re going to say,” said the fat guy, still smiling. “When your number comes up, you go through the door and they tell you, ‘He’s dead, we burned him, now fuck off.’ Hey, can I take your picture?”