Caleb was put back in his cell and asked a lot of questions by the scientists. They talked to him through the chicken wire. They asked him about his symptoms and tried to gauge how advanced his infection was by the answers. Rand, the soft-spoken METMA suit, watched all this without interrupting.
His condition was updated and the crowd of white coats left. In every cell, a patient was getting special attention. There were more soldiers here. And the light was better.
“What now?” said Caleb. Rand shrugged.
“They’ll probably get you to Pepper Spray more Wrecks,” said Rand. That was when Caleb discovered that at some point, his can of Pepper Spray had been taken away from him. “You said you have strange thoughts,” said Rand. “Could you tell me more about that?”
“Why do you care?” Caleb said. It sounded bitter but he wasn’t. “You’re not a scientist,” he added.
“Still,” said Rand. “I have an interest.”
Caleb tried to express something inexpressible. In the last two hours, he had occasionally felt like running somewhere. He didn’t know where. It was a sudden compulsion, like a craving for cigarettes. It came from nowhere and faded quickly. In these moments, he felt like he was part of a political movement and there was a goal that had to be accomplished. It centred around people. Spreading a message.
“I’m not good with words,” he said.
“Maybe you should have thought twice about becoming a teacher,” said Rand.
Caleb glared at him. “It’s not the same when you’re talking to ten-year-olds,” he said. “You can use small words on them.”
“So describe it as if you’re talking to a ten-year-old,” said Rand.
What the hell, he had nothing better to do right now. Caleb imagined a classroom and tried to adopt the persona of a teacher: a personality significantly different from his own, but also part of him. He said, “I don’t want to be alone.”
He wasn’t sure what had made him say that. Rand squinted as if looking at charts. His face was like a cat. “Maybe that’s obvious,” he said. “Wrecks are getting together in groups. They’re stronger that way.”
“It’s not Wrecks I want to be with,” said Caleb. “It’s regular people.”
Rand thought about that, while the smell of smoke and sound of people dying filled the gap. “Let’s go for a walk,” he said.
Caleb wondered out loud if Rand had the authority to take an Infected case away from his cell. Rand said that he was in charge of most of this. Caleb was a little bit astonished.
“Me and a half dozen others here,” said Rand. “None of us is above the rest. Listen, we’re not being told what to do minute by minute. We’re expected to use our initiative. Nobody’s going to stop me from doing what I want.”
They went to another cage. The homeless guy who was next to Caleb on the factory floor was inside. He was sweating and stared into nothing. His eyes moved towards Caleb but he couldn’t focus. “I know you,” he said.
“We met out in the ward,” said Caleb. “I tried to stop that girl from killing herself.”
The bum laughed. “It’s great, isn’t it?” he said. “Feeling free?” Caleb looked at Rand. The expression on his face must have been ridiculous because Rand smiled. The homeless guy was still talking. “I don’t give a fuck, never did,” he grated. “Now I’m going to make it count.”
Caleb was getting angry. He walked away, and Rand followed. “Please don’t tell people not to kill themselves,” he said. “We need them to do that, it keeps the numbers balanced.”
“So it’s book-keeping, is it?” said Caleb. He was like a child having a tantrum.
“We’d have a hundred Wrecks a day here if people weren’t going the voluntary route,” said Rand. “About half want to be spared the horror of turning into zombies. That cuts it to fifty. We’re managing now.”
“Christ,” said Caleb. He needed fresh air. Rand followed him to the courtyard at the back of the building. Soldiers were doing regimented moves with the usual hut-hut sound. An isolated group seemed to be harrassing some german shepherds.
“They’ve found out dogs are very handy,” said Rand. “They can’t contract Epsilon Rex, did you know that? Could be invaluable.”
A gust of wind brought the smell of smoke across the courtyard. The dogs stopped barking. It smelled like rubber and shit. “Is that where they go?” said Caleb, nodding towards the industrial chimney that chugged clouds into the night.
“Yep,” said Rand. “Every last soul. Wrecks, non-Wrecks, the whole lot. No time to make alternative arrangements. It’s happening too fast.”
Caleb realised that the sound of chainsaws was reaching them from the same direction. His anger mounted. He clenched his fists. People, living and dead, were being mutilated here. He wanted to punch Rand. Or someone, anyone. Wanted to choke them. Bite them.