METMA had assigned some thug to dump headless bodies in a mass grave. Caleb had a hunch that he was genuinely dim-witted. There was a bloodstained chainsaw lying on the ground. The mainstay of zombie movies. Maybe it had run out of fuel. The big Steward went back inside and dragged out another corpse.
“Hurry up,” he said. For some reason this henchman expected Caleb to carry on the executioner’s job.
“No, not me,” said Caleb. But he wondered why not. On the blood-soaked concrete floor, one more Infected was already dying. The dopey giant looked at him with serene malevolence. Caleb felt a lump rising in his throat. He cursed through gritted teeth and hacked the Ep Rex victim’s neck. The sensation of a vertebrae shattering ran up his arm. It took a second swing to completely sever the head. The blood that spurted out was thick, thick as the pre-dawn light gathering in the doorway. It spattered Caleb’s shoes and trousers.
“Caleb, what’s going on in there?” said a muffled voice in the corridor beyond the executioner’s room. It was Rand. He wouldn’t come in for fear of the infected blood everywhere.
“I’m killing people,” said Caleb.
“Good for you,” said Rand. It sounded like he meant it in the nicest possible way. Caleb looked around. There were four Ep Rex victims left standing. One of them, a tall, handsome woman, was looking at Caleb like she wanted to be next. But Caleb couldn’t do it. He had to be able to visualise her as a zombie to justify killing her. She wasn’t that far gone as far as he could tell. He saw someone sitting on the ground. A severely-wounded chump in a woolly sweater. Not easy to decapitate sitting up like that. Caleb tried to guide him towards the railway sleeper.
Rand’s voice came again, but panicked this time. “Hey, come here a second.”
Caleb opened the door to the corridor. Rand, still the picture of a friendly stockbroker, looked at him as if he should get the hint. “Do you smell it?” he said. Caleb took a breath through his nose but Ep Rex had dominated his senses. He picked up on mouldy plaster, dog hair, paint stripper and soap. Any one of those might be real, or a schizophrenic projection. He shook his head.
“Smoke,” said Rand. “I think there’s a fire somewhere.”
“Shit,” said Caleb. “Where’s it coming from?”
Rand pointed back East. In that direction were the borderline prisoners, the Ward, Special Holding and further on, the waiting room. Behind them to the West was the executions room, Holding, Testing and the Furnace as well as God knows what else. Caleb noted that the shooting had stopped. Two soldiers had gone down there with limited ammo to take on a squad of Wrecks. Could they have fucked up so badly that they were already dead?
He and Rand started down the corridor. It wasn’t long before Caleb became aware of the smoke too. Two guys in high-vis vests ran towards them. They were coughing. They stopped when they saw Rand.
“Tell me something,” said Rand.
One of the Stewards rasped, “Some of them tried to climb out the window.” Caleb recognised Dogbrow, one of the four Stewards who were meant to be guarding the borderline cases locked in an office. He imagined the Infected standing on each others’ shoulders to get out the high windows. “Lindy panicked. Sprayed them with gas, set ’em up. It’s catching. We’ve got nothing to put out fires with.”
Caleb almost laughed. Home-made flamethrowers in the hands of untrained civilians, but no fire extinguishers. Brilliant.
Rand took off, heroically, towards the fire. Caleb followed. The two Stewards decided to tender their resignations and fled the opposite direction.
After fifty yards Caleb and Rand encountered a billowing wall of smoke that advanced towards them like an army. Rand diverted towards a fire door and they blundered out into the courtyard where Caleb had seen soldiers training previously. Now, there was just an empty expanse of debris. The light of dawn had flooded the horizon. A pillar of black smoke came from the middle of the METMA Centre. From across the courtyard, Caleb heard shouts. Rand heard it too. They ran towards the sound.
They entered the complex again at the other side of the fire. There was something like a blind stampede in progress. Ep Rex Victims were stumbling, babbling through the corridors. A guy in a lab coat was wrestling with one of them. Rand grabbed the guy.
“What happened?” He could barely be heard over the shouting.
“Somebody said there was a fire. They weren’t staying put. It turned into a riot. The army guys have fucking disappeared, we couldn’t hold them back. It’s gone, man. It’s gone to shit.”