Tamara’s skin was getting tougher by the second. She had to turn into a kind of emotional zombie. That’s how people get by in war zones. There was a lot going on.
Her heart slowed when Caleb had left the room. She and Rand followed him to the front door. Once outside, he broke the hands off the two mummified corpses in the vicinity like it was how he started every day, and ate them. Rand whispered, “Notice how he didn’t eat all of the second one. It might mean that he’s learning.” Tam was quite sure she didn’t give a shit. In fact, she started to wonder what her part in this weird vigilante team was.
Caleb looked toward the west. For an instant he was like the statue of a frontiersman. Then he lurched down the road, the same direction all unoccupied Wrecks were currently headed. His hands were raised, the fingers twitching like tentacles.
She and Rand backed up to the living room. “We’ll take my car,” said Rand. “Where the fuck is Zelinski?” He took out his phone but by the time he dialed, Zelinski had sneaked in the door. “I was parked around the corner,” he said as an apology.
Rand told him their next move. But Zelinski wasn’t on the same wavelength. “I’m getting that medicine,” he said. “I know a guy on the logistics side of things. Works in a depot, back in the direction of Rounlin. They’ll have it.” Rand hissed like a mother seeing her child reach for the matches. He tried to argue. But Zelinski was a doctor, and he had an idea for a cure. He wasn’t going to be turned around. As they bickered, Tam decided she agreed with him.
“Let him go,” she said. “We’re wasting time. We’ll lose Caleb.”
They shook hands, which was nice. Then Zelinski dashed from the house. He was unarmed except for his Ford Focus.
Rand searched for his keys. He asked Tam to chop some chillies for him. She said she’d be glad to. But at that moment, he doubled over in pain. “Oh, shit,” he said. He ran for the bathroom.
Tam tried to act normal. She knew from experience that Epsilon Rex would make its presence felt in the digestive system first. That was the way it happened to Caleb. His system would be flushing itself out now. She went ahead and cut a lot of fine, red chillies. Then took care to wash her hands thoroughly. There was an explosion in the distance. She dried her hands on a dishtowel.
Eventually, Rand emerged from the bathroom looking drained. He should be under the circumstances. But she found herself unaccountably worried for him. She took his hand, teacher-like. “What is it?” she said.
“It’s started,” said Rand. Oh, Jesus. The poor man. Up to now he had been brazen in the face of doom. He was Infected but he acted like this was his Samurai duty as a METMA employee. Live by the sword, die by the sword. But he was merely in denial. And it had just hit him. People don’t shrug it off that easy. A bout of diarrhea was the first symptom. This was a tangible sign that his body was giving itself over. That he was not in control of his own destiny. Like any human being, Rand was having a crisis.
Tam squeezed his hand. She caught herself before she said, It’s going to be all right. Instead she mumbled, “With the chillies you might have four days.”
Rand stared at her. His eyes were actually a clear but very dark blue. “Four days to finish this thing,” he said. The resolve in his voice was pulverising. Tam would not have dared to imagine that a random trio could solve the Epsilon Rex ‘problem’ in four days. The entire country was dealing with it. But the way he said it made her think. What the Hell. They might as well shoot for the moon.
They gathered their supplies and set out in the Lexus. Its engine thrummed with the power of a stag. They drove down the road a block, stopped and looked around. Clouds had blocked the sun for now. Tam was wrapped in a blanket, the elephant mask over her head, in case Wrecks saw them. But there was no Wreck. No Caleb. They drove on.
Then she said, “Shit.”
“What?” said Rand.
“The girl with the dog. I didn’t want to leave her.”
“Tamara, we can’t look after every orphan. There’s too many of them. Besides, we’re headed for the eye of the storm.”
He was right. But they couldn’t find Caleb anyway, so they circled back. They saw a small group of Wrecks. No living. They passed Lily’s house again and scanned it more carefully.
One of the windows was broken.