“I have to go,” said Tam.
“What?” said Lily. “You’re leaving me?”
Tam didn’t have time to explain that she would be better off here, alone, than in Caleb’s house where a zombie was about to be unleashed. And she didn’t feel like admitting that half the reason she came to Lily’s aid was to sweet-talk a disguise.
“You’ll be all right,” said Tam as the girl’s eyes widened, her face a masterclass of anxiety. “Here’s what you do. Find a place to hide where you can’t be seen through the window. Stay there and stay very quiet. Eventually…” There was no way to finish that sentence. Eventually, Lily was a dead kid. It would take a miracle. “I’ll come back for you. If you hear real people, you can come out.” It sounded hollow. She made her escape, after reassuring the girl some more and telling her to take snacks with her when she went into hiding. She opened the front door and left. Guilt and pity took turns punching her.
She took a reality check before dashing down the street to Caleb’s place. Distraction could be her undoing. The coast was clear for now, though she saw four cars passing by in four different directions in the distance.
She showed the elephant mask to Zelinski. “That’s perfect,” he said, then ripped the white part from around the eyes. “Contrast,” he said. Actually, it looked more like an elephant now. It was a simple felt mask with big ears and a small trunk with a turn at the end. It was Crayola grey and the eyes were now just dark circular patches of netting. She put it on again. It wasn’t easy to breathe. She found a scissors in the kitchen and cut a patch out where her mouth would be. Luckily the trunk fell over it.
Rand came from the gym room. Tam’s breath caught. Caleb was in there. Turning. “Is he…?”
“Is he dead yet?” said Rand, somehow imparting it with a note of sympathy. “No, but it won’t be long. We’ve got to get you into some different clothes. If I was you I’d say goodbye to him now.”
Tam started to say that she had no suitable clothes but she couldn’t form the sentence. She stared at the door of the spare bedroom.
“Is it safe?” she said.
Zelinski said, “He won’t become a Wreck in an instant if that’s what you mean. He’ll be functionally dead for several minutes first.”
“I suppose that’s when we should…” Tam whispered, “…burn him or whatever.”
Rand and Zelinski looked at each other. The wolflike doctor shrugged. He had more stubble now and looked less lupine, more nerdy. Rand, disheveled but never letting his Wall Street persona drop, folded his brow into a deal-closing frown. “Well, we have options,” he said. Then he suggested, spectacularly, that to continue the experiment they should wait until Caleb turned, let him go, and follow him.
Tam was horrified and excited at the same time. To see Caleb as a zombie would be gut-churning. But to chop his head off and set him on fire was no picnic either. Rand’s logic was worth tracing. He said that nobody had watched a single Wreck over time as a means to studying Wreck behaviour overall. The Cause was close and Caleb had said that at some critical mass, a group of Wrecks would change somehow.
“What do you think is going to happen?” said Tam.
“Their behaviour could become even more hivelike,” said Zelinski. “A sort of swarm mentality could emerge that sees them act as a unit. This would be their ultimate purpose.”
“All the groups of this kind are being attacked,” said Rand. “We could get answers that re-evaluate the response to this situation completely.”
Fuck it. Somehow, Tam knew she was never going to burn him, dismember him or just let him walk away. She wanted answers too. And it was Caleb’s wish to help in any way he could. It was a twisted Utilitarian approach. They should be killing every Wreck in sight, for the sake of humanity. But they would just observe this one. For the sake of humanity.
She went into the room. It felt cold. Caleb sat with his back against the wall. He turned to look at her. His breathing was shallow. He looked completely changed. Except that a Wreck would not be breathing at all.
There was no point saying anything. She knelt beside him and touched his shoulder. Imagined what he had looked like once. He smelled alien, like cheese and burnt matches. He whispered something. She leaned forward to hear it, which made the hair on her neck stand up. But he didn’t lurch forward to bite her ear off. Instead he said slowly, in a guttural voice, “I don’t want to be alone.”
“You won’t be,” she said. Only later did it occur to her that Epsilon Rex was making him say that.