Miller said he was confident that the truck could handle a few upset zombies outside. “If you insist,” said Tam. She put her elephant mask over her head. Miller and Hardwire stared at her. “What?” she said.

The Humvee suddenly jolted to a halt and Miller flung the back open. Zelinski and Hardwire helped Rand to his feet. Miller was out. Tam jumped. Her feet squelched. She realised that might mean one of two things. Something in her brain told her not to look down but she did anyway.

She had not landed in a pool of guts. But there was plenty of that kind of thing scattered around. One poor bastard had both his arms and legs torn off. The arms and legs, plus the battered head of another guy, were all nearby. Every individual body part seemed to have been broken, as if tearing them off wasn’t enough. There were a few unidentifiable gobs of flesh like Christmas hams. There was also an awful lot of blood. Tam was not one of the lucky few who are desensitised to these sights, like doctors, military vets and serial killers. And it was different when the bodies were dead already before they’d been dismembered. She found herself heaving as she crossed the few feet to the back of the truck.

Miller grabbed her hand and pulled her in. His buddy Giulianova stood beside him, scanning the horizon. He hadn’t started shooting yet, and didn’t look fazed. Tam rushed into the interior of the truck to escape the carnage outside. As her eyes adjusted she saw a spacious room that looked more like the back of a TV repair store than what she expected. There were half a dozen computers, stacked crates of surveillance equipment and wires strewn everywhere.

Rand was rolled into the truck. Hardwire and Ramraid climbed up and hauled Zelinski after them. Then Giulianova let off several short bursts of gunfire. They echoed through the truck and Tam’s nerves were jangled. Miller slammed the doors of the truck. Then they all waited for the inevitable sound of groans, scraping and pounding.

The walls of the truck did a great job of suppressing the sound. Muffled thumps were all that came through. Both Miller and Hardwire thought so little of the risk that that ignored it and started talking about the observation capabilities of the truck. They checked out the machinery. Zelinski caught Tam’s eye and shrugged. He helped Rand to a chair. Tam joined them. They started talking, then Tam shut them up with a hand signal. The Wrecks had already stopped pounding on the truck. It seemed wrong. Miller pointed at something on the screen in front of him and said, “We’re clear.”

Wow,” said Tam.

Change in behaviour,” said Zelinski. “It’s become characteristic. Do you realise that there are… gatherings like this all over the country?”

No,” said Tam. “What’s going to happen?”

That’s the incredible part,” Zelinski said with relish. He raised a wolfy eyebrow. “From what I heard, it’s different everywhere. There’s a lot of confusion. In Lexington they started digging up sods of earth and eating them. In Greenville they puked up and then collapsed, all dead. Cleared of the infection.

Are we here to watch some kind of reality TV show?” said Rand.

Well, no,” said Zelinski, embarrassed. “Wherever the military finds these sites they destroy them, obviously.”

I don’t know what the fuck’s going on here,” Tam said, rubbing her forehead. “Fill me in, will you?”

Yeah,” said Rand. Tam was grateful for the backing and suddenly wanted to offer him a cup of tea.

Zelinski cleared his throat. “Eh, well, our priorities here are quite closely balanced,” he said. “We want to learn but in the end we want to get rid of the plague too. So the idea of engagements like this is to get as close as possible, observe what happens and then… blow it up.”

Tam and Rand looked at each other. Each of them felt the need to confirm that the other hadn’t known this. Tam trusted the look on Rand’s face. Rand said, “One more time?”

Position Eclipse was set up when the gathering was relatively small. They dropped a package right in the middle that’s full of recording equipment. But it’s also got a bomb in it. When the Ex-Oh decides he’s seen enough, he’ll give the order.”

Miller was studying a computer screen with Hardwire. It seemed like the right time to find out what was going on out there. Tam went to look over his shoulder. Zelinski came with her. He made a startled sound that might have been a laugh.

There was a crescent-shaped line of Wrecks standing at the edge of the lake. Apart from that, the Wrecks appeared to have deserted. But more were constantly arriving. As Tam watched, the new arrivals walked through the line of Bouncer Wrecks and straight into the lake.