The Humvee stopped, facing Tam, at a distance of about twenty feet. She suddenly felt that her life was not in danger any more. There was a full-on turret-mounted machine-gun on top. The windows were tinted. The engine idled like an elephant sleeping. Nothing happened. Tam’s sense of security waned when an image crossed her mind of Wrecks driving this thing and manning the gun.
A door opened, and Zelinski got out. Tam laughed. He had changed his clothes. He was in a nautical-style blue shirt and beige chinos.
“Zelinski!” Tam shouted. She ran to him. He had a medical bag in his hand and looked round like he was expecting an angry mob. Without thinking, Tam blurted, “It’s Rand. He’s thinking of killing himself.”
“All right, where is he?” said Zelinski. Tam led him to the tour bus. Inside, the able-bodied wounded had all scooted to one side of the bus to stare at the Humvee. They described it to the others. Zelinski spotted Rand and went to him. Curious eyes everywhere.
Without fuss, Zelinski lifted the makeshift bandage somebody had put on Rand’s face. Tam got an immediate look at his injury with no warning. She gaped and slapped both hands over her mouth, as anyone would when they see a friend’s face divided into sections. He was an anatomy illustration.
He tried to fight Zelinski off by thrusting feebly with his arm. Zelinski was completely unfazed by the sight of his face but horrified by that gesture. “What?” said Zelinski. Rand mumbled something about night-time, processing and stone walls. It didn’t make any sense and was spat through clenched teeth.
“God almighty,” said Zelinski. “We’ve got to get him out of here.”
“What about the rest of these people?” Tam whispered. She nodded towards the onlookers. They noticed.
“I’m not here for them,” Zelinski said. He tried to stare her down. But his eyes flicked to the wounded.
“They just got attacked and wiped out,” said Tam. “None of them have had any painkillers.”
Zelinski dipped into his medical bag and came up with a chunky white plastic bottle. But then he didn’t know what to do with it. Handing out pills seemed beneath him. Tam said, “That one’s a nurse.” She pointed to the woman. Not really sure if she was a nurse at all.
Zelinski gave her the bottle with some fierce instructions. She looked awestruck and had to check with the cool guy she was hanging around with. He offered her a smile and she took it and passed it back. “Guys,” said the cool dude, “This man here’s kindly given us some pain relief. Okay? Let’s go. I’m gonna start with Braun, and Surmana, and Ingols. Let me through, there.”
The mood on the bus got brighter. Tam and Zelinski wrestled Rand to his feet. He yelled in pain but then started jerking and shaking as if having fit. Tam was distraught but Zelinski carried on. She followed his lead. They got either side of him and guided him from the bus.
The Humvee’s occupants were now standing around smoking cigarettes. One of them kept watch at the gate, one at the corner of the church. There were two others. They hustled over, grabbed Rand in an efficient chair-style lift and ran him back to their vehicle. He was put in the back and Zelinski followed. Everyone let out a practiced army swearword when the doctor took off Rand’s bandage fully. “Okay, first things first,” Zelinski mumbled to himself.
He gave Rand a shot of morphine. The lines of agony were gradually erased from his face, like the special effects that turned werewolves back into people in old movies. Zelinski cleaned the wound and carefully cut some padding into the shape needed to cover it. He wadded up some cotton and Tam turned away when she realised he was going to place it in Rand’s eye socket. She found herself looking at a handsome blond young man, tall and not unlike Caleb.
“Hi,” he said. “My name’s Sergeant Miller.” He held out his hand. Tam shook it.
“Tamara,” she said.
The other guy was dark-haired with patchy five o’clock shadow and black-rimmed glasses. “Call me Hardwire,” he said.
“Hardwire’s our tech,” said Miller. Then, pointing at Rand, “This the guy we were looking for? The man from METMA?”
“Yes, that’s him,” said Tam. “He’s… infected.”
Zelinski finished up by giving Rand a second injection. Then he sighed with his hand on his friend’s shoulder. It was heartbreaking. But he snapped out of it and jumped from the Humvee to face Tam.
“Your turn,” he said. He took another hypo from his medical kit.
“I’m not hurt,” said Tam.
“It’s not a painkiller,” said Zelinski. “It’s Zom-Be-Gone.”