They caught up with Zelinski a quarter mile down the road. He had pulled over. When they passed him, he followed on. He was still in the dark about the fake METMA agents but apparently not curious.
Tamara tested Caleb with questions about the events at the Trauma Centre. He gladly told her about the fire, the evacuation and his close call with a Texas Chainsaw-style family of psychotic soldiers. But he didn’t say everything. There were obvious gaps in the story. She glanced at Rand’s reflection in the rear-view and caught him looking at Caleb. He quickly looked away. Caleb was distressed by something that happened, but wasn’t going to talk about it. In time, maybe he would have—except he only had about a day to live. It would probably die with him.
Five minutes later Rand hastily pumped the brake again. “What is it?” said Tam. Looking past him at the road ahead, she could see nothing out of the ordinary.
Rand edged forward at twenty. Yes, there was something. Zelinski caught up but Rand gave him a “wait” hand signal.
On the road ahead, in the middle of their lane, was a man on his back. He had one hand in the air as if reaching for something. It was creepy. Rand stopped fifty yards away. Zelinski pulled in behind. They met on the verge.
“It’s a Wreck,” Zelinski said immediately. Rand nodded.
“You’re sure?” said Tam.
“In rare cases Wrecks become desiccated,” Rand said in a husky whisper. They stared, ready to run. “Like a Mummy. We’re not sure why. It might be safe but…” he shrugged.
“I’ll take a look,” said Caleb. Tam squirmed. She felt like she was losing precious minutes with him.
“Why can’t we just leave it?” she said. The look he gave her was calm, but obsessive.
“It’s weird,” he said.
“It is weird,” Zelinski said—but to Tam, not Caleb. “Please. It won’t do anything to him. It can’t anyway.”
“Hurry,” said Tam. Caleb walked towards the petrified Wreck. Very slowly.
When he got within a few feet, he stopped and held out his hands. He waved them like antennae. The Wreck didn’t move. Tam’s heart pounded like sneakers in a fucking tumble dryer. She just knew the creature was going to rear up and grab him. But it never did.
Instead Caleb called them over. Tam saw a shrivelled, anorexic body with blue skin and clothes covered in dirt and cracked, dry blood. Caleb was fascinated by this thing and absurdly, kept waving his arms over it like a magician about to make someone vanish.
“It feels different,” he said. Nobody asked him to elaborate because nobody knew what to ask. After a minute he dropped his hands. He was grinning. “The infection has moved through the body to one place. Right here.” He pointed at the hand that was raised, reaching out from death. “The Epsilon Rex has focused itself in that hand.”
“Why?” said Rand.
“It’s weak,” said Caleb.
They felt safer backing away from it. They went back to the cars. By the time they got there, Zelinski had a revelation that shot out of him like an orgasm.
“That’s why they eat each other!” he said. “They run out of energy. They allow themselves to be eaten by the others. Other Wrecks can sense when it’s concentrated on one area of the body. They’ll eat that part and the density of Ep Rex bacteria is like fuel to the one that’s ingested it.”
“The army have known about that for a while,” said Rand. “They call it Delta Whiskey, military speak for Death Wish. But they never knew the reason behind it.”
“This one ran out of energy all alone,” said Caleb. “It conserves the last of its Ep Rex bacteria or whatever until another Wreck comes along. So that one could feed on it.” It was a major discovery.
Caleb examined the Mummy once more and came back with something else. “It can still sense,” he said. “If you touched it, it would come to the surface. It could still infect someone.”
A simple, almost intuitive way to survive. But brilliant. They set fire to some of Zelinski’s laundry and burned the weakened Wreck until Caleb couldn’t “feel” its aura any longer. Tam felt good for the first time since this horror had started. Something about discovery really pushed her buttons, even now. She wondered whether any other investigators had a half-Wreck on their team. She was willing to bet they didn’t.