“How did it go from being a simulation to being real?” said Tam. The Humvee took a sharp left and she was thrown against some metal canisters. “Sorry,” said someone up front. Zelinski had accidentally put his hand on Tam’s leg when he was thrown sideways. He smiled and said, “Oops.” Hardwire, the hairy tech expert, gave Sergeant Miller a derisive glare and said, “And I’m stuck here with you.” Tam would not have applied the word stuck to being kept in the same room as Miller.
Back to the history of Ep Rex. Zelinski told her that in order to get the best results, the programmers had gifted Nanopoleon the ability to do its own research. They allowed it to interact freely with information on the internet. But the programme was trying to create something that survived, reproduced, evolved. Nanopoleon thought of the real world as just another testing ground, a broader arena that could breed more accurate results. Tam laughed. The sound of Wrecks slamming against the grill was almost continuous. The driver and front passenger occasionally said, “Fuck, shit, goddamn,” or something just as accurate.
“It’s a steep learning curve,” said Zelinski. He carried on with the story but Tam was no longer listening. She was overheating. Maybe it was the claustrophobic space. The windows were shut, naturally, since there was a thick tide of zombies outside. Then she noticed that her arms were tingling, as if she’d been sunburned. In a millisecond, her mind raced through every close encounter she’d had with a Wreck. Some of them were pretty close. There was blood on the door of the church when she hammered on it. Maybe there was some infected slime too. She might have been oblivious. She was angry and stupid at the time.
“I’m burning up,” she said. “Jesus, it feels weird. Like something inside me.”
“Oh shit, I should have told you,” said Zelinski. “There’s Capsaicin in that injection I gave you. Adnea. It’s… chilli. You’re bound to feel something as it gets into your system.”
Her heart slowed. Miller and Hardwire relaxed their grips on their assault rifles. “What difference will it make anyway?” she said.
“Well,” said Zelinski, raising one eyebrow deliciously, “The rate of infection for people bitten while Adnea is active in their bloodstream is measurably lower. Also, the Wrecks seem to find it… repulsive. That’s anecdotal.”
The radio chattered up in the front of the Humvee. The co-driver spoke in a tone that sounded uninspiring. Then they swung over a kerb, turned in a circle and stopped. Tam couldn’t imagine they were safe from the Wreck horde, but there was some kind of canopy over them. The co-driver turned round and said to Sergeant Miller, “Position Eclipse reports some kind of situation, sir.” The guy was immaculately turned out, more like a tanned Mormon than a soldier. He had a goatee worthy of a medal. “The Wrecks were all set on fire. Some casualties. To the Wrecks, I mean. They’re dispersed, confused.”
“Who attacked them?” Miller demanded.
“We don’t know, sir,” the other soldier said. “But the whole gang of them have moved south, towards the lake.”
This announcement seemed to be a disaster for the team. Miller scrubbed his crewtop savagely. Hardwire shook his head like the advertised show hadn’t come on TV as scheduled. After a minute, Sergeant Miller looked at Zelinski and said, “Now what?”
“We’ve still got to rendezvous with them if we’re going to come up with anything,” said Zelinski.
“Right,” said Miller. Then he shouted to the driver, “Got that?” The driver nodded curtly and started the engine. Something about that exchange felt strange to Tam, but she couldn’t figure why. The Humvee started moving very slow. Then it stopped altogether.
“Come up and look at this,” said the driver. Tam, Zelinski, Miller and Hardwire crowded forward. They had apparently pulled into a car wash, a good decision that ensured they were out of sight for a while at least. Ahead of them, the street was crowded with upright corpses.
“They’re not moving,” said Miller. Sure enough, the Wrecks were not walking towards The Cause. They stood around like a bunch of prisoners in a concentration camp, staring, with no purpose.
“Put the foot down, this might be advantageous to us,” said Zelinski. The driver get them moving fast. He barrelled through a foot-high wall and over a bunch of shrubs and flowers as if he was driving a monster truck. They were all flung back into their seats, and Rand ended up in a ball by the back door.
“Watch it,” said Miller.
“Calm down,” the driver retorted.
They picked up speed and the going did seem easier, as Zelinski had predicted. Tam realised why the conversation between him and Miller seemed weird. Zelinski was giving the orders, and Sergeant Miller was following them.