Pepper Spraying a target in a deep pit wasn’t as simple as anyone thought. The tester had to lie face down with his hand stretched into the pit and Wrecks nearly caught anyone who tried. The scientists and METMA suits screamed and leaped back every time this happened. It was ridiculous. Tamara had to suppress a burst of insane laughter.
The METMA scientists had been using various substances on the Wrecks in the pit to study the effects. Up to now, though, everything they used could be applied at something like a safe distance. The one weakness of a can of Pepper Spray, it turns out, is that you have to be within reach to use it.
The incredibly angry scientist sighed and looked at Caleb. “You do it,” he said. Tam’s laughter stopped in her throat. She had heard his name used by some of the other METMA agents. They called him Zelinski.
“Hold on a second,” she said. She had a split-second vision of some off-the-rails boys’ club where the elders could order the execution of anyone lower down in the heirarchy. “Because he’s infected?”
“Yes,” said Zelinski. “Because he’s infected, they won’t attack him.”
“What do you mean?” said Caleb. There was a strange murmur among the other METMA guys. Like this knowledge was not meant for outsiders. But Zelinski apparently called his own tune.
“Wrecks can sense when someone is infected,” he said. “You’re safe.”
Caleb looked at the pit, where the Wrecks were milling around like those Italians who stomp on grapes to make wine. Except they were stomping on human organs and bones. He wasn’t sure about it, and Tam couldn’t blame him. Zelinski shouted hoarsely, “Oh come on. They don’t attack each other, right? They can smell it in you. You’re seen as one of them. Let’s go.”
So Caleb took the can and lay down on the floor with one arm dangling into the pit. Tam found she was curious. And ashamed of it. Sure enough, the Wrecks sensed him but didn’t move to grab that arm, bite it, or rip it off. They concentrated on the uninfected forms. It was disgusting. They were like starving animals.
He sprayed the hands and face of the nearest Wreck. It had once been a young man in a shirt and chinos. Dried blood was matted in its clothes and hair. Its face was a uniform bruised purple. The Wreck lowered its hands. It seemed confused. It staggered over the corpses on the ground and collapsed, then writhed like a beetle on its back. It was disoriented, lost… blind.
“Fuck me,” said Rand. The rest of the METMA crew had their own exclamations. Some of them were comically nerdy. “Grok it.” “Jehosaphat.”
Suddenly, Caleb was on his feet. Like a TV presenter trying to sell watches, he rattled off staccato lines of poorly-learned script. “I knew it. Now listen, you want to experiment on me? This is what you use. Force feed me chillies and Tabasco. I’m good for it. I’ve already had a crash course and I think it’s working.”
“There’s some evidence that he’s right,” said Zelinski. “He’s between thirty and fifty percent behind schedule for his infection time.”
They asked him how he had known it would work. Caleb and Tam told them about Doctor Imsam, but couldn’t remember the details. From what they could tell, he just had a hunch.
One of the suits said, “Unfortunately, this isn’t a restaurant. As far as I know, there aren’t any chillies or Tabasco within a half mile.”
“I’ll get some,” said Tam. “Things are still running as normal in town, right?”
Zelinski looked at his watch. “It’s four in the morning,” he said.
“I’ll fucking break in somewhere,” said Tam.
Luckily, they left the boiler room at that point. The night air was cold and the METMA crew almost ignored Tam and Caleb as they crossed the courtyard. Tam asked Caleb how was doing.
“Better now that I’m out of that room,” he whispered. “There’s a Wreck being born every ten minutes in there. I don’t know how it hasn’t fallen apart.” Tam shuddered. On the plus side, chillies really did seem to be keeping him alive longer. There was a method to the madness now.
She had to leave Caleb—once again, without any goodbye—at the Guantanamo-style cell block. Rand brought her back as far as the waiting room and she went through to the car park. She would have liked to tell Ollie everything but there was no time. She kept her head down in case he spotted her. When she got to her beloved Honda there was nothing to greet her but a blank patch of gravel.
Egg Girl had stolen her car. Tam muttered, “Didn’t see that coming.”