Caleb’s limbs felt heavy. It was like the times that he’d worked out too hard. His muscles were sick, unwilling to co-operate. His blood was getting thicker. Most of his body was numb. No, not numb. Just that some other mind was feeling it now. It was working its way from the body to the brain. His mind would be the last part to go. Then, the new life of the zombie would be his. The body would belong to Epsilon Rex.
Chilli sauce. He didn’t even feel it in his throat. But then his vision ricocheted to another level. It was nauseating. He knew who he was again, if only for a few minutes. Tamara was looking down at him. He had to say something. He was the Oracle, right here and now. But not for long. “The network… is attuned to the end. An instrument playing itself.” He had no fucking clue what that meant.
“What is the Cause?” said Rand. “Where is it?” He was shouting. Impatient. It wasn’t like him. They were losing their minds. They were losing what made them strong.
“It’s close,” said Caleb. It was close, closer now than it had ever been. “Recruiting. Making us bigger. Until we reach the… necessary. Then we go.”
“Go where?” said Tam, but gently. She fought to be there for him while Rand and Zelinski just used him.
“Not like that,” said Caleb. “I mean, go beyond. Ascend.” The Wreck sense came back, a tide that was suddenly up to his neck. The medicine too weak. Like a snowball in a furnace. He heard human voices, arguing. But his inner voices drowned them out.
His arms and legs were paralysed again. He looked at them. Completely monstrous. They were huge and obscene. A mass of fibrous jelly, penetrated by some inner shell. A disgusting ecosystem of many animals thrown together into one being. It was a strange vessel. A machine of sorts. But soon he would own it.
They force-fed him more chilli. The constant pitching of his senses was driving him insane. Now, he could see his zombie alter-ego from the outside and it scared the shit out of him. He wanted to die. But the nugget of Caleb left inside told him that this was his sacrifice, and it was too late to change his mind.
“Vessels,” he said. “We’re all part of one thing. The pattern is forming. We are weak. But we get stronger. The big places… that was a mistake. The network knows. It’s better to absorb. This is our strength. We are all eyes. We are all hands. We are not a place.”
Very quickly, the ebbing disease came back with a vengeance. He sensed that they were talking about what they should do. They knew a lot, if they could just turn it into action. Rand was itching to prove something by going against everyone’s assumptions. Zelinski fought him out of an obsession with making the right decision. Tamara, still the teacher, tried to keep order while at the same time getting to the root of the problem.
There were loud noises. Engines. Everyone left the room. Caleb tried to move. He couldn’t. Ep Rex was becoming his blood. Until it took him over completely, it had immobilised him.
When they came back, Zelinski was shouting. “You’re talking about an end point and responsibility but we’re vulnerable to the point of nakedness. Don’t you understand that? We won’t survive an assault on this house by more than two Wrecks. He was the strong one and now he’s gone. We’ve got to protect ourselves. From one minute to the next. What do we know? What can we get?”
Tam said something and ran towards the bedroom. She came back empty-handed, mumbled something in a piteous tone. Rand made several phone calls. His voice rose to a controlled hysteria.
“All the military are focused on the major cities but small towns like this are being ignored. Now we know that Epsilon Rex is spreading its attack over sparsely-populated areas to gradually mop-up small populations. And it’s working.”
Epsilon Rex touched Caleb’s mind, and he felt suddenly strong. The creatures who cared for him were all part of the pattern, all kernels in the forest. He was nearly ready. Then a liquid was forced down his throat, and his eyes swam with searing bright colour and depth. Someone was looking at him.
Tamara. Caleb saw her as if for the first time. Black hair, round face, deep, intelligent eyes. He wanted her. And she was his already. He was grateful for that, and managed a smile.
“I love you,” he said.
She said, “I love you too honey,” as if surprised.
“I’m not coming back after this,” he said. “Tie me up or kill me.”