One after the other, the soldiers with the lassoes efficiently snared the Wreck by throwing the loops over its head and tightening them around its neck with a zip sound like cable ties. Between them they were able to keep it still without getting any closer. They shouted a few keywords at each other as the lightning operation continued.
“Bag on!” “Bag on!” “Secure!” “Secure!” “Push enable!” “Over there!”
The lasso team wrestled the Wreck over to the side of the road. This wasn’t easy, despite it being almost crippled. All Wrecks, from what Tam had seen, had the strength of the possessed or of drug-crazed maniacs.
When they had it positioned where they wanted it, the team leader took out a pistol and shot it in both knees. Several people shouted in horror or turned away. The Wreck couldn’t stay standing. It collapsed in a struggling heap. The cropdusting soldier sprayed something all over it and Tam realised with a slight shock that it was gasoline. She, Caleb and a few of the other onlookers moved back a bit further.
The soldiers shouted: “Primed! Finish action, go!” The team leader took out a book of matches. Not a flare gun, not a flash granade. Matches. “Three, two, one, go!”
The two lasso guys loosened the loops they had over the Wreck, took them off and ran back a few paces. At the same time, the leader lit a match from the book and then set the whole book on fire. He threw it at the Wreck just as the crowd shouted and scrambled to get even further away.
The fuel went up with a gentle sound, like someone kicking a cardboard box. Fump. The Wreck did not groan again but jerked and heaved spastically. Then, as if deciding that this effort was enough, it stopped moving and sank to the ground, melting, melting. The soldiers watched it along with everyone else. Until a gust of wind blew the smoke their way and they got the smell. It was the smell of Hell. The intestinal disease of a demon. Everyone covered their faces with their sleeves, retching, scattering just a second too late. Meanwhile, the soldiers sprayed the ground where blood had fallen and burned that too.
There was reason to be impressed with these guys. They had been trained to deal with a new enemy, one that was immune to gunfire. They learned fast and were now super-efficient at taking on the Scourge of the Wreck.
What happened next was not so impressive. The soldiers inspected each nearby car until they found the one the Wreck had come from. Inside, they saw a woman unconscious and bleeding to death or dead already. They rolled the car off the road and set fire to it without a word. “That woman was…” Tam began, but it didn’t matter what she had to say.
The soldiers scanned the crowd as if waiting for applause. Tam said quietly to Caleb, “Do you think we should tell them about the Pepper Spray?” Caleb shook his head and squeezed her hand. She felt a whole fistful of messages: “Stay quiet. Do nothing. I can’t explain. We’ll talk later.” She looked at him sideways. His expression was cloaked as he stared at the soldiers who stared at him.
They seemed satisfied, though for a minute everyone there felt like terror suspects. All of a sudden, there was a cry. “Please, over here.” Everyone looked to see the grey-haired man on his knees, cradling his wife’s head in his lap. Her eyes were hooded. She was whimpering. The crowd parted. The soldiers seemed to know what was necessary without any discussion. “Let’s go,” said Caleb. Tam finally got the sick joke and they separated themselves from the crowd.
They quickly returned to their car. Caleb took the driver’s seat. He got it started fast and pulled over to get round the line of stopped traffic. They snaked along the verge, swerved round the burning car and hit the road with a clear run ahead of them. A new cloud of smoke erupted behind them as they left the scene behind. The soldiers had just set fire to the old woman.