Every few minutes some cold, dead hands would pound on the side of the communications truck. But the dead always moved on when they caught sight of the lake. Tam and her new army buddies watched the water on monitors. Wrecks were arriving from all around like it was the first day of a music festival. They strolled into the water and disappeared, or joined the ring on the shoreline.
“They’re not in the blast radius any more,” Miller said gloomily. “Whatever comes out of that lake, we’re going to have to get it closer to the payload somehow.”
“What is going to come out of there?” said Tam. She was getting edgy. The plague was taking on a new form, and she wanted someone to tell her they knew what to expect. Everyone looked at Zelinski. He blew out a sigh and scrunched up his face.
“Omega Rex,” he said. The words ricocheted around the walls of the truck. There was a silence. Then he said, “It’s evolving. Everywhere they decide to do this, they seem to evolve into something else. It’s trying out new things.”
“Can’t you call HQ and ask them to send an airstrike or something?” said Tam. She didn’t know the first thing about military operations. She naturally thought their reaction would be groans and jokes. Instead, Miller glanced at Zelinski and they both looked sheepish, like she’d found their stash of girlie mags.
“We don’t have access to much backup,” said Miller. “This particular unit is, eh, semi-autonomous.”
Giulianova, the squeaky-clean Corporal, said, “Orders from the top aren’t a thing anymore. Nobody knows what the fuck is happening on the ground. We make our own decisions.” That was a novel take on the military hierarchy. It now seemed possible to Tam that this was a gang of pirates. Maybe they went rogue because their assigned jobs were redundant, sadistic or just plain stupid. It scared her. But there was little she could do about it. Rand didn’t seemed bothered. He even nodded as if he approved.
“Okay, this is new,” said Hardwire. He was watching a screen. Miller and then everyone else gathered round him. There was nothing new Tam could see. But he had some kind of control unit in front of him that looked like an ancient Atari console and he twisted the joystick. Halfway between them and the lake, a camera turned and zoomed. A second monitor showed what they were meant to be watching.
The water was simmering, or at least moving. Tam’s guts crawled up into her mouth. This was something she really, really did not want to see. Caleb was in there somewhere, she assumed. As the walking dead, she liked him less than before. But at least she recognised him. In fact, she still loved him. But this was not going to be something she could easily accept.
The churning water turned black. But it was a black-and-white screen. It looked like the lake was full of feeding piranhas. The Wrecks guarding the water did nothing. As it was going on, more of them arrived. They all walked into the water and seemed to dissolve.
Miller found a pair of binoculars. Only now did Tam realise that there was a ladder bolted to one wall. The Sergeant climbed it and went through a hatch onto the roof of the truck. He looked towards the lake, then put his head through the hatch and said, “It looks like blood. Like it’s full of it. Like a witch’s fucking cauldron or something.”
His face vanished from the square of sky. For a while nothing happened. Tam watched the lake boil, morbid. The rest were quiet. Then Miller’s voice came through the hatch: “Company, two o’clock, on the treeline.”
Miller adjusted the camera angle. He zoomed in on movement. A pickup truck had come through the trees from the direction of Varsity. It was making its way down a trail into the little valley full of Wrecks.
“What kind of asshole..?” said Ramraid. The closest Wrecks chased the pickup, but not for long. The driver didn’t seem to mind the attention. He didn’t steer away from them or try to mow them down. The truck left the road and rumbled downhill towards the cameras and bomb. It looked for a while like he was going to ram it. Then he redirected towards the lake.
The churning movement of the water settled gradually. The pickup got closer to the lake. The Wrecks watched it. Suddenly, they all ran at it. The driver skirted the line. The Wrecks broke from it as he came closer. He was pushing his luck. There were nearly a hundred of them. Then he turned back and headed for the payload again.