He looked like he should. Tall and broad, with black stubble. His face was like one of those friendly sergeants from black and white war movies. Complete with head wound. He looked dirty and tired by not zombified. Tamara shed a single tear before swallowing her emotion and commanding herself to get a grip. She wanted to bury her hands in his hair, strip away the reality of this place and take him to somewhere safe and quiet.
It wasn’t going to happen that way. He was in a cage. He saw her, stood up and puffed out a sigh. He locked his fingers on the chainlink fence of his Guantanamo-style cell.
The guy who brought her here was named Rand. He spelled it for them. The image of a Wall Street trader came from his behaviour: never still, leaping from one train of thought to the next. Apart from that he was a small man about Tam’s age who could cut glass with his hair.
“Now just to fill you in,” said Rand. His voice was very soft, almost wispy. “Caleb says that you have Pepper Spray and somehow you guys know that this is something effective. First things first. Do you have Pepper Spray?”
“Yes,” said Tam. The missing pieces fell into place. She looked at Caleb. He was staring at her with an expression of childlike anticipation.
Tam was still getting her bearings when the three of them were approached by a guy in a lab coat. Her first impression was of a ravenous coyote who’s just made the decision to attack an animal much larger than him out of starvation. He was on them in an instant and his face was full of anger, resolution and need. But instead of attacking them he verbally savaged Rand without introducing himself.
“I am not responsible,” he grated. “We need answers fast. That’s all this is about. I have gone against everything I stand for here. Let’s get this thing done and pretend we’re professionals. Come on.” He glanced round as if they were robbing the place. Then he opened the door of Caleb’s cage, which had not been locked in the first place. Caleb was only staying inside out of politeness. He threw Tamara a quick hug and even quicker kiss, but there was love in it and his touch was enough.
They marched from the room. Tamara felt that these two men, Rand and the scientist, were somehow in on a conspiracy. She didn’t want to be part of something insane right now any more than she ever did.
“What’s going on here?” she said boldly. They passed through double doors guarded by soldiers. The grunts regarded Tam and Caleb but let them through because they were with METMA personnel. Tam heard various competing sounds. Some were like animals. Others were machinery. Others were chemical reactions. There were bloodstains that had not been cleaned. Tam’s heart beat faster though she wasn’t sure why.
“You’re going to be shocked by what you see, get ready,” the scientist said indifferently.
Rand looked at Tam. “We’ve got to test this. We have Wrecks here. I hope you understand. It’s inhumane but hey, you can’t make an omelete.”
Tam felt the sudden urge to run as they approached a door with several guys in lab coats standing outside smoking. What was behind that door, sane people couldn’t stand for long without a cigarette. There were army guys there too, and some boxes next to a trestle table. Coyote reached into a box, took out some disposable dust masks and handed them to Tam and Caleb. They put them on and Tam tasted her own stale breath. Coyote opened the door.
“Hold on,” said one of the soldiers. “Are those civilians supposed to be here?”
“No, they’re not,” said Coyote. “But they’re a couple of geniuses and they might have a solution to this problem. Can you cut me some slack?” He was totally sincere. The soldier thought about it, then nodded. The four of them went inside.
Some kind of industrial-sized boiler room. There were two pits in the floor. One was being scrubbed by guys in hazard suits. Human bones were scattered on the floor. The other pit was surrounded by scientists and METMA suits who were talking urgently and taking notes. Revulsion kept Tam from moving forward. It was so strong she felt paralysed. Caleb followed Rand and the scientist to the edge of the pit. She heard Caleb say, “Jesus H. fuck.”
“The Pepper Spray,” said Rand, and held out his hand. Tam took the can from her pocket. As she approached him she had no choice but to look inside the pit.
It was about fifteen feet deep. The floor was covered in purple, dismembered body parts. Several Wrecks were scrambling at the walls of the pit like dogs trying to climb a tree. A voice in Tam’s head repeated, “They are not people. They are not people…” Louder and louder until there was a roaring in her ears.