Tam and Rand had things to talk about. If he was right then Wrecks could learn, by absorbing the Epsilon Rex virus, bacteria, whatever, from other Wrecks. He didn’t know the specifics but it would change their behaviour.
“So, some other Wreck learned that if you play possum when there’s a threat nearby, you might not get attacked,” said Tam.
“That’s right,” said Rand. “And now Caleb knows about the concept even though he never experienced or saw it himself. Because he… ingested those parts of the mummified Wrecks. I thought it was just for feeding. Maybe it’s both. I don’t know.”
“What’s going to happen when they all reach the Cause?” she said.
“Good question,” said Rand. His eyes sparkled in a way that was both childish and Machiavellian.
They passed a streetlight with a body hanging from it. It looked like someone who had deliberately hung themselves. Tam shivered. For some reason this was more disturbing than almost anything else she had seen lately.
A guy approached with a shopping cart. Inside the cart was an old lady. She looked hurt. The guy pushing it, heavy-set but not fat. Black hair and a goatee. But Caleb and the other Wreck heard the cymbalish sound of the shopping cart and watched like hawks for a second. Then they darted after him. In a zombie way. Their strides were long but careful, like they were wearing clown shoes. The Good Samaritan couldn’t outrun them pushing an unwieldy wagon. He made the desperate decision to leave his Victim behind. She was infected, obviously. She was of no interest to the Wrecks. But she didn’t seem to know it. She tried to scramble out as they ran towards her, and collapsed in the gutter. Rand drove after the Wrecks. The runner lost them. Hopefully he’d be able to come back around the block and pick up his poor granny. Caleb and his cohort forgot what they were chasing and shuffled on towards the Cause.
“What are we going to do, in the end?” said Tam.
“I don’t know,” said Rand. He didn’t seem to care. To get the answers was enough, even if he didn’t know what to do with them.
“Try and stop them?”
“Oh, sure,” Rand said, completely sincere as far as Tam could tell. “I just don’t know how.”
They came to a junction. Looking right, Tam choked in fear. The kind of fear that’s reserved for the exact moment the rollercoaster plummets downwards. There were ten or more Wrecks in the street just yards from them. Tam almost wet herself but thankfully, her body’s natural impulse was to freeze. Rand muttered something inaudible as an unholy act started to play out before them.
They were walking backwards. WTF moment number one. They were in a loose line and they edged towards Tam and Rand in the Lexus. Beyond them was the next surprise.
It was a knot of people. Real, living people. There were fifteen, maybe twenty of them. They walked very slowly down the street with a circle of Wrecks around them. Tam was guessing that they made a decision to escape. It would be better to form a large group. A strong force with a few good arms. They must have made some phone calls.
They were in tight formation. Those on the outside were testing the air with clubs and flaming torches. The people in the middle were either young or old. There was an air of incredulous anxiety as they made their way down the street. The zombies were staying back. They watched the quarry like lions around wildebeest. Not strong enough to attack. Somehow, they knew it. They edged back to keep themselves at a safe distance of about ten yards from the living. Everyone, dead and alive, was walking along the street in absolute silence.
Tam put on the elephant mask. Caleb sauntered up to the junction and took in the scene with something that might look like curiosity to a fly on the wall. The Wrecks, backing up, came level with the Lexus. They paid little attention to Tam, who was in disguise, or Rand, who was infected. The buffet in front of them had plenty to hold their attention.
Caleb joined the Wrecks. He fit right in. The other one, too. Their movements almost imitated those of their fellow zombies.
“How do they all know what to do?” said Tam.
“A chemical signal maybe,” said Rand, “like Zelinski said. Anyone who’s new to the group feels it.”
“Who’s leading?” said Tam.
“Nobody. If one of them has information, they signal every Wreck nearby when the situation arises. It adds up to something like intelligence. But nobody has to be sentient for it to work. Christ, this is dangerous.”
As the posse moved, they were picking up more Wrecks. It wasn’t going to last.