The sounds coming from inside the door were unnatural. A mad chatter of voices that was wrong in ways Caleb couldn’t even describe. He could hear zombies groaning and at the same time, men and women talking like it was a regular day. Wallpapered over that was the sound, becoming too familiar, of people begging to be cured, killed or brought home. “Damn it,” said Rand. “I was hoping to get in there and offer some assisted deaths. Things would go easier that way.”
“Why give them the choice?” said Caleb. “It’d be more humane, and safer, to kill them all without asking permission.”
“It’s been talked about,” said Rand. “I just… have to draw a line somewhere.”
There was a pointless window ten feet up, one of those narrow rectangles. The Stewards had put a chair on top of a desk so they could look in. Rand clambered up and scanned the pit of despair inside, then came back down.
“Two Wrecks. They can smell us. Everyone else is just sitting there.” The Stewards could try to contain the Wrecks if they opened the door, but the risk to everyone seemed too high just to get a few Infected out. Caleb got up on the table, gingerly stood on the chair and hoisted himself up to look in the window.
There were more than twenty people in a tiny room that was almost pitch dark. Luckily, Caleb’s heightened sense of movement made this less of a problem than it would have been before he himself became Infected. All the furniture had been removed. The still-living were slumped, lying down and leaning against the walls as if stuck in a lift for over a day. The Wrecks completely ignored them as they scraped at the door, continually trying the same repeated manoeuvres to open it.
Caleb had dismantled one Wreck before. He could do it again. This entire exercise seemed pointless, and yet—
One of the Stewards was carrying a shiny fireman’s axe. “Can I borrow that a minute?” said Caleb. The young guy passed him the axe. His dense eyebrows crashed in the middle of his head to show bewilderment. “I’ll climb in this way,” said Caleb. “You can open the door when I’m done.”
Everyone was looking at him like a prisoner about to attempt an escape. He tried to block the wild thoughts that were imposing themselves on him. The sane thoughts. He climbed through the opening and dropped down inside.
It felt very much like what he thought a medieval dungeon might be. The prisoners looked at him warily, confused, made drunk by the infection. The Wrecks at the door had not even turned at the sound of him hitting the ground. In the darkness, he could only make out their outlines. That was good.
He picked one and tried to bury the axe in its head. But it bounced off its skull, cut off its ear and gouged a foot-deep wound in its shoulder. That was enough to make the Wreck crumple to the floor. The second one, which had been a woman, turned and regarded Caleb for a second. Then it attacked him.
He was in no way prepared for this. The Wreck had him by the throat in an instant and he fell back under its weight. He tumbled over some people sitting and lying on the floor. The Wreck fell on top of him. Her flesh was freezing cold, hard and slimy. Her stinking non-breath felt like acid on his face. Everyone was shouting, himself included.
An open mouth came towards him. He pulled back his head. It latched onto his shoulder. He managed to elbow it in the jaw before it broke the skin but its teeth had already pressed a good bruise in the muscle just above his collarbone. The hands around his neck were tighter than piano wire. He tried to breathe but failed. The Wreck’s body was impeding his movement completely. The Infected around him scrambled out of the way, wailing.
The door opened and light came in. Somebody picked up the axe. The Wreck jerked as if trying to have sex with him. Its lungs exuded a cough. The second time it was rasping. The third time there was blood in it.
One of the Stewards was pounding the Wreck in the back with the axe. Its attention left Caleb when it sensed that the life it craved was hunting it down. It heaved itself upwards. The Steward lashed it in the head and half its brain flew out of its shell. The beast was down.
The one Caleb had started on was still moving, but they finished that off quickly. There was a general panic over the purple-tinged blood everywhere. Luckily the Stewards had thick overalls and workman’s gloves. But they weren’t too pleased with the experience, or with being covered in lethal substances. Caleb had to agree.