Caleb’s house differed from the ordinary trailer-park home in that he kept a lot of books, had the spare room converted into a gym and had decorated very carefully with prints of classical Greece. He was no interior designer but it could be worse.
She changed into stonewashed jeans and a white sweatshirt. Then she threw on a violet waistcoat and tied up her hair. She had been in teacher clothes for too long.
When she got back to the kitchen Zelinski was frying minced meat like he was going to make a proper meal. “There was nothing ready to eat here,” he said apologetically. Tam explained that Caleb wasn’t big on processed food. “Diet is important,” she said. “That’s turkey mince, by the way.” She ordered him to put on pasta. Then she chopped some mushrooms and threw some seasoning into the saucepan.
They were not looking at each other, focused on their tasks, almost distant from the reality of the situation. Tamara said, “What are we going to do?” Now was as good a time as any to have the conversation, while the two Epsilon Rex cases were out of the room. Zelinski seemed to understand what she really meant, though she hadn’t made it obvious.
“When the time comes,” he said, “I’d recommend we tie him down and at the instant of his death, decapitate him.” There was a long pause. Tam’s stomach knotted while her brain throbbed and her heart screamed in pain. Zelinski said, “That’s far easier in theory than it is in practice, I know. It’s not my decision. You have a choice too.”
“It’s his choice,” Tam said automatically.
Rand was on the house phone. His voice rose a notch. “I’m not coming back,” he said. “I’m taking a sick day. I’m infected. If you know something that’s more compelling than that to draw me back to headquarters, I’d love to hear it.”
After a long silence, he put the phone down. He appeared in the doorway. “Thanks,” he said, “for letting me use your phone.” He didn’t say what their answer to his challenge was, but didn’t leave right away either.
He had told his bosses about the Wreck Mummy but there was no indication that this would change their way of doing things. Rand looked frustrated. He leaned against the doorpost. He swallowed. The sound of frying meat became sinister. “Some towns have been abandoned,” he said. “Somorset, Kentucky… Lexington, Nebraska… some place in Mississippi.”
“You mean they’ve been evacuated?” said Tam.
“I wish,” said Rand. “No, I mean that METMA and the military have pulled out and left them to their fate. Wreck attacks. Too much for them. Other towns are holding up better but everyone’s stretched thin.”
Tam left Zelinski in charge of dinner and turned the TV on. Most channels were still showing regular programmes. The national news was locked in a battle to decide who was going to pay for the cleanup—though it was far from over. There were images of small Wreck mobs. They didn’t seem threatening. But this was the sanitised material. No images of mass shootings, burnings, eating, suffering or even blood would make the mainstream news. 98% of Youtube clips and smartphone videos sent to the stations would not be usable.
On regional channels, she saw a bizarre report about a scientist in Colorado who had apparently owned up to being responsible for the whole thing. She called Rand in to see it. The guy’s name was Urtenso, and he played a powerful hand. He said that Epsilon Rex was supposed to combat cancer by attacking corrupted blood cells. But it had reacted in unexpected ways to DNA splicing.
“It’s not him,” said Rand. “We heard about this guy. We tested their work. It couldn’t possibly create physiological changes like Ep Rex does. He’s hysterical.” Tam wondered how anyone could mistakenly think they were responsible for the outbreak of a disease. His career was ruined now, and for what? To do something that might make it better. But the wrong thing in the wrong place.
“We’re losing control,” said Tam.
Rand just sighed and walked away. Tam heard him and Zelinski continuing their conversation in the kitchen.
She flicked channels. And there was a girl she knew, in a funny t-shirt, being dragged around screaming by cops.
It was the teenager who’d stolen her car at the METMA Trauma Centre. She had driven to Rounlin Town Hall, waited until people started arriving and then thrown a rock at a random politician. In the report, she was named as Veronica Forster. Veronica. What a nice name. She screamed obscenities as she was hauled to a squad car. Tamara saw the words on her t-shirt: ‘Didn’t See That Coming’.