The Humvee rumbled back from the field and led them out onto the road. It wasn’t moving very fast. The bomb on board probably encouraged sensible driving.
Omega Rex had moved off, and nobody knew where it was going. Nobody cared either. Except maybe Zelinski, who now sat in the passenger seat beside Ramraid. Hardwire’s monitors continued to broadcast. Tam saw heaps of human flesh, turning themselves over like simmering pots of soup. The signal faded. Tam sat with Rand.
“When will it all be over?” she said, trying to be philosphical.
“It’s already over for me,” said Rand. Tam’s stomach tightened. She was responsible for that. She felt bruised. She had aches in places she didn’t know existed, both physically and mentally. The truck’s engine was soothing. It rocked every now and again like a boat. What the fuck, might as well sleep for a while. She wasn’t exactly important right now.
She lay down on the floor of the truck. It didn’t feel right. It didn’t matter. She stretched out and closed her eyes. After a minute somebody tapped her on the shoulder and said, “Here.” She opened her eyes. It was Rand. He gave her an army space blanket, one of those silvery things that weigh nothing. She rolled herself up in it. It was incredibly warm. God bless NASA, and Rand. He put a rolled-up sheet of packing foam under her head. She was dreaming before she knew she was asleep.
Tam’s dreams were not as nightmarish as expected. The images were less chaotic, more natural and less frightening than almost all her real-life experiences over the last week. She seemed to be purged, healed and soothed.
She was woken by a voice that she thought she might be attracted to. But that thought quickly faded. It was Miller. He was saying, “One of you fuckwads better explain yourselves before I tank you for insubordination.”
Tam sat up to the disorienting sight of Miller and Giulianova standing outside the open rear doors of the truck, pointing their rifles at everyone inside. They lowered the guns as soon as somebody answered them.
“We’re going about this all wrong,” said Zelinski. “I’d like you to make this an investigative mission from now on.”
“That’s not what I’m talking about,” Miller grated. “You stopped without explanation and didn’t answer any radio calls. I thought you were fucking taken.”
“We needed time to think,” said Ramraid. Tam noticed that he and Zelinski were standing side by side, facing Miller and his sidekick. But they were all supposed to be Miller’s sidekicks.
“We thought you were dead!” said Miller. Then he muttered something , rubbed his scalp and climbed in. Giulianova followed, but warily. “Okay,” Miller said. “What’s the problem anyway?”
Zelinski explained, in a slow and even tone that sounded like he was talking to a drug addict, that Omega Rex was a special case which needed some close study. They were the ones to do it. He had found a group with the same interests. They shouldn’t lose sight of their goals. Tam looked at Rand without moving her head. Rand glanced over and she caught his eye. He shook his head slightly. He thought Zelinski was wrong.
Zelinski wanted to look at the Blob, and he’d convinced Ramraid to take his side. Miller launched into a speech about how they could play some things fast and loose but other things were written in stone. Tam sensed an escalation. There were two on one side, two on the other and a few bystanders. She had seen it in the classroom. The tension was there. Like in a group of ten-year-olds, no difference at all.
“Ramraid, you’ve fucked this up completely,” said Miller. He used an authoritative calm that would be fitting in a cop. “But I’ll let it slide. We’ll talk later. For now, get back in the driver’s seat. The nerd comes with us from here on.” He gave Zelinski a threatening glance.
“You’re not destroying it until I can get some answers from it,” said Zelinski. He clearly had no sense of how thin the ice was. Tam did. Miller erupted with a shout that echoed around the truck. “I’ll fill you full of holes and leave you at the side of the road to rot!”
Ramraid shouted back. Hardwire shouted. They all shouted, except Rand, who looked like he had a headache.
Tam got up and stood in the middle of them. She held her hands out in a staying gesture to both sides. Miller was the first to forcefully calm himself. The rest reduced their arguments to mumbles. Tam stared at Zelinski, the man she trusted who was now a child having a dangerous tantrum.
“Zelinski,” she said. “This isn’t a lab. We’ve got to kill it. We’ve got to. But when we do, you can take samples from what’s left. There’ll be plenty to study. Okay?”
The sun filled the truck as Zelinski lowered his head, placated.