Tam walked out to the car thinking about how to break it to the girl that her brother was dead. But she was no good at that sort of thing. She needed Caleb by her side. Without him, she would overthink it and apply some bullshit reasoning that bypassed common sense. She fought herself all the way in a fierce internal monologue.
Thus it was that she sat into the car, waking the teenager, and blurted out the classic line: “What was his name?”
The inner demons laughed at her. She couldn’t have fucked it up much more than that. Egg Girl’s eyes widened, then she unleashed a scream like some PMS-fuelled harpy on overdrive. She hammered the wheel with her fists. As a teacher Tam was used to dealing with emotional kids. It was better to let the rage subside naturally than to suppress it. The girl cried and shouted at the same time. The words she shouted were, “Fuckers! Those fuckers! Fucking bastards! Those Fucking Bastards!”
“It’s not anybody’s fault!” Tam shouted.
“Of course it is!” said the kid. “It’s those fuckers in the fucking military and the scientists always fucking with things, always trying to change things and make things better! Why can’t they just leave things alone! Why can’t they leave us alone?”
Tam tried to make the point that nobody knew where Epsilon Rex had come from—but the argument sounded patronising. It was better just to let har rant, and be there for her. At the same time Tam wished she didn’t have to take on some stranger’s emotional baggage. Not now.
She went back in after fifteen minutes. The girl was red-eyed and weeping, wasting all her energy like a badly-made musical instrument. Tam said, “Take your time, honey. I’m sorry. It’s shit for us all right now. Take all the time you need.” She nodded and seemed on the verge of something like calm at that point, so Tam thought a bit of space would do her good.
Ollie found her when she re-entered the hall. For Tam, the sheer smell of the place was powerfully disgusting after a few minutes in the fresh air. “Okay?” said Ollie. Tam sighed, then shrugged. “I hear ya,” said Ollie.
Tam’s exhaustion level was building too. As the night went on, she drifted into a haze. The dark, filthy factory atmosphere was more and more like a hostage situation. Each time she thought of Caleb’s face, it was overlaid with rotten flesh.
When ‘851’ appeared on the board, she was too zoned-out to recognise what it meant. She knew it was familiar but in her trance, some subconscious logic told her it was her pin number or a page in a book she was reading.
But it was Caleb’s ticket number. The thought hit her and a wave of adrenaline almost made her explode. Her hair stood up. Sights and sounds sharpened. Ollie was nowhere to be seen. She made several false starts in several different directions. It might have looked comical to witnesses. Then she bolted to the people manning the Death Board. Part of her mind was saying, “What’s your hurry? It’s all over now.”
The Steward pointed her to the door. She saw the same guy as before—and beside him, a grinning Wall Street type who scanned her like the chauffeur at an airport.
“Tamara?” he said. She was caught off guard.
“Can you come with me? I want to talk to you about something.” He went through the door and she followed him. Her mind was competely blank. She had never seen a civilian going through the door.
The suit looked over his shoulder as he walked down a corridor. “Your boyfriend said you might be able to help us.”
She thought, Christ, did you have to scare me like that? But the board was just for calling people. She’d been called. The fact that her victim wasn’t dead simply made her the exception to the rule.
Two guys in environment suits were steam-blasting the floor here as military officers and lab techs hurried up and down. Tam and her greasy companion took a right turn and exited the building. They crossed a courtyard. Soldiers were being drilled. They were snapping lassoes onto a Wreck that was tied up. The sound of machinery was closer.
Her guide opened a door and they went into a flourescent-lit hall. Jesus Christ, it was Guantanamo. There were cages. A lot of soldiers. Some of the cages held Wrecks, some of them seemed to have corpses inside. Some had the appearance of proper jail cells because there were ordinary men and women sitting in them, looking bored. There, in one of them, was Caleb.