“Where are we going now?” said Caleb.
“Holding,” said Rand. He scratched his head violently. “How the fuck do we move these things? I’m in a bind here. I’ve gotta think.”
Caleb’s senses were jumping in and out of reality like sparks hopping over the ground. He thought he could hear birds. He concentrated harder and then he was sure of it. There was a cold breeze. He looked out a window. He saw a block of dark blue. Morning was coming. Praise the lord. Angels. Angels?
The haze of sounds and sliced-up darkness was cleared by gunshots. Caleb realised one of life’s fundamental truths. No matter how fucked up you are, the sound of gunshots will always get through to you.
He and Rand stopped in their tracks. More shots. They were fired at regular intervals. There were voices shouting too. It was in front of them. Coming from Holding, in other words.
For a while there was nothing, but Caleb and Rand were both riveted to the ground. Caleb smelled something. It was strength. Unity. Power. Fulfilment. It was a smell and a sound. But neither.
The sounds—the human ones—were coming closer. Then a figure raced down the corridor towards them. A soldier in another boiler suit. It was the guy who had come into the Ward to give off to Rand earlier. His face was all smoke and soot. The boiler suit made him look like a Victorian train driver. He was the one in charge of the furnace.
“Move, move!” was all he said, as if a soldier’s vocabulary was restricted to movie dialogue in a crisis. Rand bolted in the other direction, and Caleb found himself falling behind as the two of them fled back towards the executioner.
When they got to the metal door, the Stewards and Infected were gone. Only Rand and Caleb noticed this. The soldier hammered on the door.
The door opened and a pair of goggles peered out. Feeble shouts and scrambling sounds emanated from inside. “They’re out of Holding,” the furnace guy barked. His voice was younger than he looked. “I tried to corral them. It went to shit. Two civilians down. You got ammo?”
The executioner came out and shut the door behind him. The terrified cries were cut off. Both soldiers stripped off their outer lairs as shuffling sounds heralded Wreck movement. Rand kept saying “Shit”. He was on the verge of panic.
“You, stay back,” Furnace Guy said to Caleb. Both soldiers now stood in camouflage. One of them quickly passed a magazine to the other. They snapped them into pistols and advanced down the corridor.
“What do we do?” said Caleb, just to pass the time.
“The Hell I know,” said Rand.
Caleb noticed the cries coming from the executioner’s room again. “Fuck it,” he said. He opened the door to let the unfortunates out. Their situation was pitiful and they were still human for now.
Pre-dawn light and deep engine noises came through a door at the other side of the room. He could dimly see figures trying to find their way around. There were three bodies on the floor. Two of them had their heads chopped off. The floor was blood from wall to wall. The only objects in the room were a railway sleeper right in the middle and some things like melons or basketballs scattered around. But no, they were human heads. Of course. Who would leave melons or basketballs lying around in a place like this? It only made sense that it would be the roughly-severed heads of people recently murdered.
Gunshots. The soldiers had met the escaped Wrecks.
One of the people Caleb thought was dead started getting up. But his eyes were pulling focus. Wreck sense. It was one of them. Somebody had died and turned. “Get back,” he said to Rand, and stormed into the room. He chopped the creature down with the axe. Maybe it was unsteady because of being newly-risen. It seemed to go down easily. He cut off its head for good measure. Less than a minute ago, that was a human being. What was the difference?
As he stood wondering if he was a murderer, a silhouette appeared in the outer doorway. A tall man, dressed like a slaughterhouse worker. He looked at Caleb for a second and then came into the room. He grabbed the feet of one of the corpses and dragged it outside. It didn’t seem to bother him much that Caleb was a different executioner.
Caleb went to the door. In the pre-dawn gloom he saw a long trench. It was full of corpses. The silent butcher flung the next body into it. Somebody driving a mechanical digger was slowly filling in the trench, burying the newly-dead.