Tamara woke up. The sun creeping over the horizon had smacked her in the face. She was surprised that she’d fallen asleep in the car with so much on her mind. And bemused by her dreams, which were all about ropes that she couldn’t tie properly.
Zelinski looked at her. His rage had dissolved since they met. He still had a wolfish expression, though. Piercing eyes. Shifty, hyper-alert little movements of the head.
She tried to think. The hours spent searching for somewhere to buy a few goddamn condiments were frustrating to an extreme degree. Then they found an Indian place full of oddball vegetables and different grades of spices. She had bought a huge bag of chillies, and two dozen bottles of some generic chilli sauce. It wasn’t Tabasco but looked like it was genuinely from India. She’d tried a dab of it and burned the shit out of her tongue.
She rubbed her face. She needed coffee now. And breakfast. Then she realised she knew nothing about Caleb’s condition. Was he fading? Already a Wreck?
“The Trauma Centre went on fire,” Zelinski said as if it was ‘Good Morning’. “We’re not going back there. Caleb and Rand have left, we’re meeting them in the commercial park.”
“Oh my God,” said Tam. Zelinski had the radio on low but now that she was awake, he turned it up.
“…Emergency services having to pull back before they could complete the job because of suspected Epsilon Rex cases. Indeed, firefighters may have had to defend themselves from attack. Eyewitnesses describe the scene as a ‘zombie holocaust.’ Meanwhile, there are conflicting reports from the site of a large grouping of Epsilon Rex cases outside the town. The combined army and deputised forces sent to deal with the situation have now got that under control. But it seems to have taken longer than expected and while Army sources were positive, civilians in the area described a ‘strange phenomenon’ related to the behaviour of the creatures.”
“What the hell does any of that mean?” said Tam.
“Means they don’t know what it really is,” said Zelinski. “They treat it like a rabid dog but it’s not an animal. We shouldn’t be acting like that without information.”
“Suppressing them comes first, surely,” said Tam.
“Quite legitimate researchers still think it could be extra-terrestrial,” said Zelinski. “What if it wants to be shot and burned?” Tam rubbed her temples. She was only awake ten minutes and already her head was spinning. She tried to get more from the radio but all that was clear was how little anyone knew. It was like extracts from several different stories.
There was a strange tension in the air. After a few minutes Tam narrowed it down to the extraordinary number of cars on the road for the time of day. It was still only 6am but there were people driving everywhere. Those she saw on the street were talking loudly, urgently. Something had changed since yesterday.
They came to the car park of a HomeMakers. Its bubbly logo spoke of easy DIY and nuclear families. But Zelinski cursed when they had pulled up. They got out and looked around. There were cars sitting in the car park, with people inside. They just sat there. The place wasn’t due to open for another two or three hours. A thin but steady trickle of cars were following on. “I was hoping it’d be empty,” said Zelinski.
“There’s going to be a panic buy,” said Tam. Zelinski looked at her and nodded.
Luckily it wasn’t complete madness yet, and Zelinski knew Rand’s car so he spotted it on the way in. They reconnected in a secluded corner of the concrete desert.
Caleb emerged from the Lexus gingerly. His head bandage was gone, his hair filthy. He was covered in soot and there was a huge dried bloodstain on his shirt. He looked around, confused. When he spotted Tam he held out his hands. But not to take hold of her. He was searching. His eyes were distant. Half blind. She ran to him and folded herself into his grip. It wasn’t like a reunion, not at all. Not even like saying goodbye to a condemned man. No, not even as good as that.
Rand approached Zelinski and whispered something. The young suit looked awful. Zelinski immediately opened the back door of his Focus and grabbed two bottles of Indian sauce. He handed one to Rand and the other to Tam.
“Here,” she said. “Drink this.” Caleb opened the tiny cap and drank it like a magic potion. After a second he coughed and said, “Thanks.” The effect was immediate.
Meanwhile, Rand drank some of the same stuff and doubled over in painful spasms. “Jesus,” said Tam. If he was drinking it at all, then Rand was infected.