Hardwire: World’s Worst Tech Detective was ordered to travel with Zelinski and Ramraid. He didn’t bitch. So he was not one of Ramraid’s enemies. Or maybe he was so addicted to his machines that travelling with them was the highest priority.

Giulianova helped Rand into the back of the Humvee. Most of the space was taken up by the Payload. It was an olive-green cylinder that looked like an oversized beer keg. It had make and model numbers stencilled on it. There were also a few obligatory warning signs. It was, after all, an instrument of mass death. Its simple functionality made Tam shiver.

She rode shotgun with Miller. The young Sergeant had reasonable social skills. He sounded educated. They talked about the military’s role in the zombie crisis.

Does that guy Ramraid have something against you?” Tam said.

Miller laughed, a Southern-sounding “Haw,” even though he wasn’t from the South as far as she could tell. “Military School,” he said. “Ivy League parents. They made him do this. He hates the army, hates everything about us. No matter what we did, he’d rebel against it.”

She felt on solid ground, so she decided to ask about Zelinski too. Miller said, “He came to us at our base outside Rounlin. He had an idea, and he really sold it to us. My Ex-Oh was dead, I thought I’d sneak out with a team. Honestly, orders from the hierarchy don’t mean shit to us on the ground anymore. You can’t command this situation as if it’s a hundred thousand guys in one battle. It’s not. It’s a hundred thousand guys in a thousand different battles against different enemies.”

And what was his idea?” said Tam.

Gather real scientific info in the field. Nobody else was doing it. It seems obvious. To see the result of the Cause would be a bonus. I hope he lives long enough to get results.”

One stretch of straight road met another and they turned towards the north. There were no sights worth arriving at. Just a few farms. It was evening. The sun on the horizon was the leer of an evil god, looking at them over the wall of the world.

They passed a cracked wooden sign that said, “Pax”. It was a ghost town. There was a single street with a filling station, a bar, a clothing store, an apartment block with offices on the ground floor, a leather goods store and an incongruous Puppet Maker. All on one side of the street, and all shut down. A cracked road led off to the east. Miller pulled over.

He and Giulianova studied a plain military map opened out on the hood of the Humvee. Tam checked on Rand. They spoke about Zelinski and Tam got the impression that Rand was disillusioned, and disappointed in him. “He’s too driven,” said Rand. “He can’t do things by half measures. And if he doesn’t believe in what he’s doing, then… well, you saw.”

They heard Miller shout, “Move out!” and realised he was talking to them. They leaped back in the Humvee. Miller babbled as the superjeep catapulted into action. “Giulianova thinks it’s going to cross our path again right on this side road. Maybe it hasn’t got here yet. Let’s see.”

He was right, and then some. They swung onto the right-hand street. They passed some dilapidated bungalows and pulled up at the edge of town. They stopped and bundled out of the Humvee. The soldiers jumped up on the vehicle, gamely followed by Tam. They scanned the horizon with binoculars. It was there.

Coming towards us,” said Giulianova. “Nice and slow. Nice and fucking slow, man!” he added, and punched Miller on the shoulder a bit playfully.

Okay,” said Miller. “We got a bomb to plant. I’ll drive up nice and easy, tell me where to stop.” He jumped down and Tam hastily followed. Miller drove the Humvee forward slowly. Giulianova stayed standing on top. After a few hundred yards, there were two thumps on the roof. There they stopped, and the soldiers took the Payload out of the back. Omega seemed to move in a straight line, except when it split in two. With luck, they could place the Payload so it would slither right over it.

It’s got a ring of Wrecks all around it,” said Giulianova. “That might be a problem.”

There was a moment when Tam realised that a sound, which was approaching slowly, had actually been on the edge of hearing for some time. That sound was a helicopter. It came from the north. In a few minutes it passed over their heads. It got as far as the Omega, which was easily spotted since it was essentially The Blob surrounded by zombies. It circled the unnatural rolling heap for several minutes before coming back towards the Humvee. Miller and Giulianova had stopped working.

It’s not military,” said Miller.

It’s one of ours,” said Rand. The chopper landed on the road a polite distance away.