Rand looked nervous. As a METMA agent, it was probably not kosher to get Infected. Tam thought of offering him a hit of Tabasco but she’d left the camera bag in the Humvee.

Somebody in a full environmental suit got out of the helicopter and walked towards them. The suit made it difficult to make out the newcomer’s build, but Tam could see from the walk that it was a woman. The environment suit was white and orange but dirty. She’d left out the hood. Straight hair past her shoulders that showed flashes of white at the temples.

The helicopter’s engine died slowly. The woman shouted over the noise. “Ingrid Kosik,” she said. She held out her hand to Miller. He shook it and introduced everyone. Tam was flattered that he remembered her name. “This here’s one of your guys,” Miller rounded off, and hitched his thumb towards Rand.

I don’t think we’ve met,” said Ingrid Kosik. She looked at Rand’s bandages warily. She was chubby, with cratered skin. Her voice was measured, sharp. She reminded Tam of a tough old teacher.

No,” said Rand. “But I know who you are.” Kosik ignored that. She turned back to Miller as if he was the only one she needed to talk to.

I’d like information, Sergeant,” she said.

That thing out there is made of Wrecks churned up like dog food,” said Miller. They all looked at the oncoming Omega. To them, it had become surreally familiar. But Kosik was seeing it for the first time.

What?” she said. She threw an arm up to cover her face. “Oh, God.” From the air it might not have been clear what the Omega was, exactly. The reality certainly wasn’t pleasant.

Don’t worry,” said Giulianova. “We’re blowing the shit out of it.” Miller shot him an angry glance. Giulianova flinched. Miller watched Kosik’s reaction carefully. But she didn’t seem to mind at all that they were planning to destroy it. Good old METMA.

Miller relaxed. “When this thing goes up, it’s gonna be huge,” he said. He pointed to the army Bomb sitting in the middle of the road. “You’d better get your chopper out of range.”

Kosik nodded sharply. “I’m going to need a full briefing,” she said. “As full as possible under the circumstances.”

I can do that,” said Rand. Kosik looked him up and down as if he was the ugly guy who just asked her out.

We’ve got our hands full,” Miller said, meaning himself and Giulianova.

For about two seconds, the issue hung in the air and it seemed to Tam that everybody was pulling in different directions. Then Kosik abruptly said, “Fine.” She looked at Tam and appraised her in the same way she had Rand. But Tam felt Kosik only pitied her. When Tam tried to visualise herself at this moment, she could see why. “Come with us,” the METMA matron said.

Tam couldn’t see any reason why not. “I need to see that thing destroyed,” she said. “It’s personal.”

So do I, and it’s professional,” said Kosik.

The sun was going down and they needed to move fast. Tam said to Miller, “Good luck.” She resisted the urge to throw her arms around him, though even thinking about it nearly made her cry. Giulianova gave her a small wave and a cheeky grin. They made for the helicopter. Kosik, leading the way, made a whirling motion with her arm and the chopper’s engine cycled up again.

Tam had never been in a helicopter. The noise was outrageous. She was made strap herself in. A Mexican-looking guy in chinos and summer shirt was already sitting there, reading from a tablet. He glanced up and tapped a pair of headphones he was wearing, then pointed to something at Tam’s shoulder. There were oversized headphones hanging from her seat. She put them on.

The sound was muffled. Kosik slammed the door and it made the experience seem more intimate. She put on headphones. So did Rand. The chopper heaved itself from the ground like a boulder lifted by a giant. Kosik pointed to the sky. The pilot nodded and gained altitude.

They hovered as Omega Rex approached Miller and Giulianova. The Wrecks moved ahead and attacked them. Gunfire. The Wrecks were cut down. Omega Rex rolled over the corpses. When it passed, they had disappeared. Kosik was more disgusted than ever. She said something that came through Tam’s headphones as white noise.

Unfortunately, the smell of those dead bodies was enticing to the Omega. It went out of its way to collect them. That changed its direction. It was not going to ooze over the Payload any more. Miller and Giulianova scrambled and jumped in the Humvee. Tam and Rand watched from the air. It was like a nature documentary. The Humvee accelerated away in a plume of dust. The Omega followed it, looking like a huge pool of blood.

Then the Humvee spun round and headed for the Omega.

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