Discovering something about the Wrecks made them feel like kids who had just won a board game. The pockmarked suburban landscape whirred past. Tamara felt big enough to ask the question everyone should be asking: where Epsilon Rex had come from. Rand laughed at that.
“I wish I knew,” he said.
“It’s classified?” said Tam.
“No,” said Rand. “Nobody knows. Hadn’t you figured that out yet? This is why we need information, and experiments.”
“But it must have started somewhere,” said Tam.
“It started in several places at once,” said Rand. “Not in the cities, thank God. But all over the country.”
“What about the rest of the world?” said Caleb.
“As far as we know, unaffected,” said Rand.
It was hard to believe that the enemy they were fighting had so many unknown variables. Tam suddenly felt scared. They were all completely blind. “Zelinski told me before that we might be making things worse,” she said.
“What?” said Caleb. He looked suitably baffled, but there was also a hint of dread in his reaction.
“For instance,” said Tam, “Ep Rex popping up in the country and not the cities might seem lucky for us, but maybe it’s part of the plan.”
“You see?” said Rand. Then, after a pause, “Conversations with that man really fuck with my head.”
Some disturbing visitor attractions had sprung up since they left Varsity. They passed a cosy two-storey house that was gutted by fire. A car was abandoned, its windscreen smashed and blood all over the hood. Any cars they passed on the road were crawling and the few people on foot were sneaking around so slow it was easy to mistake them for Wrecks themselves.
She could be thankful, at least, that the whole place wasn’t overrun. But it didn’t feel like something to celebrate.
The police station was boarded up. There were two dozen bodies scattered outside. Something big had happened here.
On a bend dominated by a second-hand auto dealer, they were surprised to see people backing towards them. Rand stopped. Two people with pitchforks. They saw the Lexus and yelled, “Wreck! Wreck up there!”
The Wreck came around the corner. It was reaching, shuffling. It was surrounded by a loose crowd of about six people. It couldn’t make up its mind who to chase and when it moved, they stealthily kept pace with it at a good distance. Another man ran to joined the group. He was carrying a backpack. Much to Tam’s amazement, he opened it and took out a petrol bomb. They were all local young couples.
Then Tam realised the Wreck itself was, or had been, someone she knew. A parent of one of the kids from school. His name was Peterson. The kid was Leon. She didn’t know his father’s name. She had spoken to him. About the difficulties he had since Leon’s mother left. He was a tradesman and work was slack. That same father was now walking towards them with a raking wound on his chest. A zombie. What was almost worse was that he had no trousers, underwear either. He stalked around with his blackened genitals visible to the world, causing consternation in his home town.
Rand backed up to let the crowd do their job. Tam registered a certain pride in them, though they weren’t personal friends. Somebody somewhere was doing what they had to, calmly, professionally. They left before the Molotov was thrown and Peterson burned.
They turned one last corner and Caleb announced, “This is it.” His neighbour came out to see who was pulling up. A nice woman who worked in a local restaurant. She was carrying her cat.
“Oh, Caleb, you’re all right!” she said. Caleb nodded as he emerged, then paused. He was not all right, not by any definition. He thought hard about what to say next.
“It’s been a hectic couple of days,” he said.
His place, which Tam loved and hated, was a workmanlike starter home of the trailer-park-made-permanent variety. Bricks on the bottom, wooden slats halfway up and a pitch roof. Hard to believe he earned a teacher’s wage, but he had been saving rigorously to buy a proper place with Tam. All four of them went inside, leaving Caleb’s neighbour to ponder the meaning of the strange friends and the damaged Lexus.
When they were in his kitchen, there was a brief moment of silence. Then Caleb said, “Before we start the experiment, I’ve gotta take a shower.”
Tam remembered that she had clean jeans and sweatshirts here. Rand said he needed to phone METMA headquarters. And Zelinski was hungry and thought everyone else might be too. So he made a start on breakfast.