Everyone watched the horror outside from the safety of a military truck stocked with surveillance equipment. Zelinski said, “Epsilon Rex might send out millions of individual messages to each fibre, telling them which way to move. So they interact in concert.”
All credit to him for his droll analysis. Another way of looking at it was that a heap of human flesh, representing about five hundred people put through a blender, had slithered out of the lake and was now moving around of its own accord. Alive. Or dead? Because they were all zombies, right? Maybe they had been alive after all, in some way. And Caleb was one of them. And now he was in there. Tam wondered if, somehow, he could ever be extracted.
Rand was doing very little except sitting behind everyone with a massive diagonal bandage over half of his face. He said “Ahem,” and Zelinski looked at him. Rand nodded towards Tam. Zelinski said, “Tamara, are you okay? Let me look at you.”
Rand had obviously noticed something and Zelinski, being a doctor, now saw it too. Tam stood still while he looked in her eyes and checked her pulse. Tam’s mind was racing through a series of very plausible initiatives where she got Caleb back. She suddenly remembered a bunch of important things she should do. Like phone the school to tell them everything that had happened. And report her car stolen. And get her jacket from the house.
“I’m going to give you something,” said Zelinski. “Take deep breaths.” He reached for his medical bag. Tam was about to object but when she took a breath it was gasping, difficult, like she was an amateur at breathing. She saw that her hands were shaking. She felt too cold and too hot at the same time.
Zelinski pulled up her sleeve and quickly jabbed her with a tiny syringe. Tam felt weak. It wasn’t the injection. Rand gave her his chair. Zelinski was torn by conflicting urges. He went back to watching the monitors. Rand stayed with Tam, his hand on her shoulder. He spoke to her gently. “It’s fucked up, I know it is. But you’re in good hands.” Tam got a slightly less hysterical outlook as the sedative kicked in. She now found herself watching Miller and Hardwire rather than the Blob on the monitors. Maybe she’d had enough of that anyway.
There was a radio conversation going on between them and the two soldiers by the lake, Giulianova and Ramraid. They were informed that they were in danger and had to return with the civilian. But according to the response, the civilian refused to move. Miller ordered them to coldcock the bastard and bring him back that way.
After a minute they reported they were on their way. Miller turned to Zelinski and said, “The creature’s not going to move in the direction of the payload unless we make it. How do we do that?”
Zelinski hissed through his teeth sheepishly. “Em, I’m gonna need samples,” he said.
Miller coughed with astonishment but appeared to count to ten before answering. Then he said, “It’s too late for that.”
Zelinski flared up. “If we kill it before we’ve learned something, then we’ve wasted our time here,” he said.
“Our deal is null and void since I laid eyes on that thing,” said Miller. “And I’m in charge here. It’s going down.”
Zelinski kicked up a hissy fit and rampaged around the truck kicking things. Hardwire shouted at him that he was damaging expensive equipment. Tam remembered the frustrated, volatile Zelinski she had first met.
“Have you any clue what’s going on here?” Rand whispered. He mistakenly thought that Tam was privy to more information than him since he was doped up for a few hours.
“I don’t,” Tam said. “But it looks like all these guys being here was maybe Zelinski’s idea.”
The Humvee pulled up at the back door. Tam heard a rattle of gunfire. Giulianova shouted something. Miller threw open the door and shot three Wrecks in succession while the volunteer team hauled the pickup driver on board.
He was struggling. The army boys had tied his hands and feet with cable ties. He was young, nineteen or twenty. He cursed and swore a wriggled like a worm. Miller slammed the doors and Wrecks pounded them like a giant drum from the outside.
Tam knew the civilian’s face. At first she couldn’t figure where from, but he ran out of energy and settled down and when he wasn’t grimacing his face became clear. When she met him before, he was calm. Calm was his thing. He was, after all, Frankenbogart.
“He’s infected,” said Rand. “I know. Don’t ask me how.” They didn’t have to ask. Rand was himself infected with Ep Rex. Caleb had been able to sense things too.