The sky was dark. It started raining. Tam wondered if zombies were vulnerable to flu. They had started walking again, and the army dudes limited their discussion of the phenomenon to “The fuck? Well, damn.”
Rand came to. He had never really been unconscious, just brained by a heavy sedative. It wore off. Zelinski ordered him to swallow some painkillers.
“Ah, Jake, good to see you,” Rand slurred. He seemed to have forgotten what happened before. Then he touched the swatch of bandages wrapped around half his face. “My…”
“You lost an eye,” said Zelinski. Under normal circumstances that would be tragic all right, but Rand only had a few days to live anyway. “I’ve injected you with Adnea,” Zelinski went on. “It’s a medicine whose active ingredient is Capsaicin. Supposed to be for arthritis. Anyway, who knows? You might live for weeks. You’re the first official experiment. Congratulations.”
“Where are we going?” Rand whispered.
Zelinski told him that there was an army ‘forward position’ set up especially to observe the gathering of Wrecks outside Varsity, and that was where they were headed. Rand’s reaction was something like mingled disappointment and disapproval. Nobody in the Humvee, Tam included, could think what to say or do that would lighten the mood.
The very next thing that happened was that the radio crackled, and the shouts coming through were accompanied by gunfire. Miller scrambled to the front as the manicured co-driver tried to hold a conversation with Position Eclipse.
“They’re under attack, sir,” he announced. “Charlie headed right into the smoke. Looks like maybe they had a bad reaction to getting all burned that time.” Apparently Rand was more in tune with the spirit of the times than anyone else here. It was better to think everything was basically shit.
“Christ,” said Miller. “Nothing we can do now. Ramraid, floor it.”
The driver, Ramraid, said, “What does it look like I’m doing?”
They had left Varsity. They drove up a winding incline, through fir trees. Wrecks didn’t thin out in the country like a normal human population. They also didn’t act like locals. They came from the trees and walked straight across the road in the rain, heading downhill.
Miller and the well-groomed co-driver tried to keep contact with Position Eclipse. But after a while all they got for their effort was static. Unless it was a practical joke, that was very bad news.
They rounded a bend and a campsite appeared. A big, kitsch wooden sign said “Sunset Basin,” a name that sounded oddly Japanese to Tam. They drove in past a reception building. Ramraid couldn’t stop. There were lots of Wrecks around. They drove through banks of trailers, past a few collapsed tents.
Between two forested hills was a shallow valley leading to a lake. A narrow gravel track arced from the campsite to a lookout point overlooking the lake. A picnic spot. It was just a few hundred yards away. There were two large vehicles and a lot of smoke. Vehicle number one was some kind of communications truck. It was topped with satellite dishes and aerials. Its partner was an armoured personnel carrier with six wheels. Position Eclipse was smothered by smoke from large bonfires surrounding the trucks. They were dampened by the rain. Out in the puddles and spread over the grass, were ten or twelve fresh bodies. Military outfits. Dismembered, disemboweled, decapitated. Not one of them intact. The Wrecks had been uncharacteristically brutal.
“Head down there,” said Zelinski.
“That’s what we’re here for,” said Miller.
Ramraid muttered incessantly as he drove down the trail. He circled the picnic spot, driving through clouds of smoke, gradually slowing. He rolled over body parts. “Damn, man,” said the co-driver. “You can drive if you want,” said Ramraid.
The Wrecks kept clear of the smoke now. But nobody trusted that anymore. The four soldiers started babbling in a style of verbal volleyball only they could understand. After just a few mind-boggling seconds of this, Miller said, “All right. Giulianova, you’re up.” The co-driver took off his seatbelt and slung his weapon over his shoulder. He seemed utterly at ease with what was happening. Ramraid guided the Humvee between the two vehicles. He kept moving at a dead-slow pace and the co-driver baled.
The Humvee then distracted the attention of nearby Wrecks is it went round and round while Giulianova ducked in the door of the communications truck. After a minute he was heard on the radio. “In position and ready to rock,” he said.
“All right,” said Miller. “We pull up at the back of the truck, everybody piles out and into the back of it.” His eyes darted from Tam to Zelinski, then Rand, then back to Tam. “Giulianova will cover us if Charlie’s getting too close. We shut the doors and keep quiet while they try and get in, until something else happens and they walk off.”
“That’s great, except for the last part,” said Tam. She surprised herself.