Tam tried to remember the Frankenbogart she had seen with Caleb. It was during a pit stop. Caleb had spoken to him. He looked fresh-faced, confident, purposeful. This guy was like a drug-addled gang member. His face was overflowing with rage.
“You stupid fuckin’ goons are ruining my play,” he growled. He had a weed-spraying apparatus on his back and it twisted his posture as he lay on the floor with his hands and legs tied. That part didn’t seem to bother him.
Miller said, “Stop acting like an asshole. We’ll take off those ties but I need you to be cool.” Frankenbogart took two deep breaths. His calm was about as natural as canned cheese. Miller gave the nod to Giulianova. He cut Frankenbogart’s cable ties with a multitool. Ramraid shook his head cynically. Miller gave him a glare but he just shrugged.
“Okay, boss man,” said Hardwire. The tension was broken slightly. “We’ve got movement from the Omega. It’s taking a north-easterly direction, around the lake.” Miller went to see Omega Rex on the monitors. Then he turned and faced the corner as if ashamed. There was a brief moment of silence. Frankenbogart kneaded his wrists and sidled towards the monitors. Hardwire watched him. But he didn’t stop him approaching. Frankenbogart looked at the screen. He got his first look at The Blob.
He squealed like a child who just got a fire truck for Christmas. “I knew you weren’t fucking around, man!” he yelled, apparently talking to Epsilon Rex itself. This guy was disturbing. Caleb’s heroic view of him would be pretty dampened if he was alive to see his behaviour.
“Shut up, I’m trying to think,” Miller said, still facing the wall. Zelinski showed Frankenbogart a syringe and said quietly, “This is Adnea. It’ll suppress your infection, buy you more time.”
“Oke-hay,” Frankenbogart drawled, and offered him his arm. Zelinski gave him the injection.
Miller turned round and slapped himself in the face for some reason. “This is what we’re going to do,” he said. “Pick up the payload, get ahead of the Omega and ambush it. Ramraid drives the truck. I’ll drive the Humvee. Giulianova, you’re with me. Hardwire, stay here. Everyone else, stay in the truck. Move out.”
Miller’s men obeyed with a kind of elegance. They didn’t move very fast, but they acted as if this was rehearsed. The civilians watched with admiration. Frankenbogart’s eyes were already lit up but the word ‘payload’ seemed to send him to Happyland. Tam hopped around like a Slinky to keep from getting in the way of the scramble. Rand sat down slowly. Only Zelinski looked edgy. He scratched his head and mumbled.
They were ready to go in less than twenty seconds. Miller and Giulianova stood side by side at the back door of the truck. Miller nodded and they threw the doors wide, guns ready. They expected a rush of Wrecks but it didn’t happen. Everyone waited. Tam thought she could hear a sound, very faint, like caterpillars eating leaves. Miller and Giulianova lowered their guns, which was unnerving. Slowly, Tam and Zelinski and Frankenbogart joined them at the door.
Any Wrecks who had gathered for the Cause but missed it were now grouping together in mobs of ten or twenty. They were tearing each other to pieces. They ripped off arms and legs. They ripped flesh from each other with their teeth. They endured each others’ tortures painlessly, almost gratefully. Each one was ripping pieces off the ones in front. The guts spilled out of the Wrecks in the middle of the circles. Their skeletons became visible and they collapsed. “Just when you think you’d seen it all,” Giulianova whispered.
The dismemberment got ridiculous. Arms moved on their own, crushing organs. Decapitated heads chewed their way through chest cavities. The ones left intact did their best to tear themselves apart before falling into the offal in front of them.
The heaped muscles and bones kept moving. Still churning. Mincing themselves further. Into putrid piles of multicoloured jelly. Zelinski said, “They’re all at it now. It must have used the mycorrhizae to communicate a pattern of new behaviour.”
Frankenbogart said, “What’s my core zee?”
“A fungus spread by Ep Rex,” said Zelinski, “that’s part of it. It transmits messages over a long distance.”
“More Blobs,” said Tam.
Disgusting as it was, one side-effect of the new behaviour was that the Wrecks completely ignored the prey standing in the back of the truck. Miller said, “Well, I feel better already. Let’s go.” He and Giulianova jumped to the ground and raced for the Humvee. There was no threat from the Wrecks. They were busy. Enthusiastic. And less mobile than before.
When the soldiers were gone, there wasn’t much to do except slam the doors and watch their progress on the monitors.